Friday, January 16, 2015

The shack dimension

I think any minute I will see a goanna walk, in that prehistoric gait they have, past my window as I sit and absorb nearly 5 years’ worth of peace. The sand hill which nestles the shack is dry, sporting tufts of grey shrubbery, a few escaped succulents and lots of sand. This morning I cleared the sparse, prickly, dead weeds from the front where I like to sit and watch the sea. I came across a hole large enough not to be a snake hole; fresh, white sand having been cleared from its entrance quite recently. I am looking forward to seeing the occupant as, over the years, several individual, prehistoric creatures have wandered slowly past this window making me feel even more that the shack is in a different dimension than the rest of the world.

The longer you have been away from the shack, the stronger is its effect. You can leave home with your head full but arrival at the shack empties it. The first morning here begins your transformation to a new dimension where your whole, “real” life no longer exists and is replaced with space, which refuses to be filled. Time almost stands still; days become long and languid, ruled by nothing and filled simply with the light and sounds of the sea.

Any others you may encounter have been similarly transformed. Children and dogs frolic with cricket balls, sand castles, little boats and beach towels. Parents cease to fret and, instead, enjoy fun, laughter and relaxation. Even testy teenagers are happy!

At the kiosk, the only shop for 20 kms, the shop keepers smile and chat, fill lolly bags, talk about fishing and are happy to see you back for the holidays. Outside, the wall is lined with kids’ bikes and at the door sit dogs, waiting patiently. Here, children ride their bikes in groups of mixed ages and there is not a smart phone or head phone to be seen anywhere. Fashion is not in this dimension either; everyone has bare feet or thongs, an old hat and a t-shirt over bathers.

In the last 5 years, since I have been in Tasmania, McMansions have sprung up here but those people are either inside with their technology, out fishing in their McMassive boats(as evidenced by the increase in Four wheel drives and empty trailers lining the streets near the boat ramp)  or have similarly been transformed into the shack dimension and blend with the rest of us.

Day one of waking in the shack dimension often ends without even walking the few steps to the beach. After so much yearning for a swim in warm water, a paddle on my board and a long walk on the beach, unbounded by coves or cliffs, it may seem odd but such is the transition. I don’t have to do anything and for a couple of days I don’t. I sit and watch, I read, I sleep, I look out for the goanna and I feel wonderful.

Life is good. I am there and taking it slow.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Australian Outer Hebrides

I am in Adelaide for a couple of weeks, celebrating my mother’s 92nd birthday, spending time with son Hugh, gardening with friends, walking on the beach and having the odd swim in a much warmer sea than ever happens in Tasmania. Two glorious weeks of November weather; balmy nights, warm – hot days and streets lined with the wonderful jacaranda trees in full bloom everywhere I go.

As I drive familiar streets and take the freeway in the Adelaide Hills I sometimes listen to 891, Adelaide’s ABC radio station. Yesterday I heard the claim that in a study of Australian housing it was found that Adelaide has the biggest average house size in Australia and Tasmania, the smallest.

This I can verify as I found it amazing, when I moved to Tasmania, that the houses were so small. The house I bought is what I thought was very small; a little, old cottage, but which Tasmanian visitors asked of me when they saw it for the first time “Why do you need such a big house?” !!

imageMany people, when building in Tasmania, struggle to see why the minimum house size allowable to build is now 70 square metres, up from the previous 60 square metres. I know a few people who live very comfortably in their 60m2 houses, such as this one. In Adelaide everyone wants to build the maximum size that will fit on their block of land and I doubt anyone even knows the minimum house size, whereas in Tasmania most people want a small house no matter how much land they have.

This morning I have been re-reading a wonderful book from my mother’s bookshelves, called The Sea for Breakfast by Lillian Beckwith. These gorgeous books, written in the 1960’s follow the writer’s stay and subsequent move to the Outer Hebrides and are a joy to read for transportation to a simple but testing life, rich in Gaelic  language and traditions, of a small, island community.

In some ways the books reflect a life not dis-similar to some parts of life in Tasmania which often seems to me as I read the books, more related to the Hebrides than mainland Australia. One of these similarities relates to an attitude to work. Statistics put Tasmanians on the bottom of the list of per capita earnings in Australia but, from my perspective, apart from the unemployed, most people earn enough to have a deliciously simple life, scouring tip-shops and second hand shops for cast off clothes, pots and pans, garden tools and timber for renovations etc and swapping this for that with others, at every opportunity. Time and work are often shared, and customers and friends all blend in together.

I love the line in The Sea for Breakfast where the woman is wanting to get some small windows made bigger in her newly acquired, tiny, stone cottage and enquires about who could do the work for her. A man called Erchy is suggested who “quite likes a bit of work now and then, just as a change, when he can spare the time”. This perfectly describes a lot of people in Tasmania too and I think that is one of the things that makes Tasmania foreign to the rest of Australia, on the whole. Visiting Adelaide after about 18 months of my 4.5 years of simple life at the bottom of Tasmania has highlighted this difference more than ever.

None of this is a criticism of anyone or of any place; it is simply fact and interesting to notice!

Life is good; get there fast then take it slow.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Labne, asparagus and quail eggs, all on a Cygnet Thursday

By the end of my Thursday afternoon various goodies had assembled on my kitchen table. Thursdays are wonderful here in Cygnet! We start the day at 9.30am with Happy Swappers in the Cygnet Community Garden, where anyone can bring home grown fruit or veg, home made goodies, food plants and cuttings or seeds and place them on the sharing table. Then each person is free to take whatever they choose from the table. We chat and laugh and all go away with something from someone else. Today I took some rhubarb and a jar of Sally’s vegetable stock.

Next we spend 2 hours gardening in the community garden, and Jo picks a selection of whatever is ready to harvest and we share that too. Today I took some globe artichokes, a couple of hakurei turnips and a few handsful of young broad beans.

There is always something new to try at lunch time in the community garden as they are all such good cooks, with a broad range of skills and cultures. A few weeks ago Sita brought some labne which she had made and it was so delicious I made some for myself. It has been in the fridge developing flavour ever since. 

Back home by 1pm I clean myself up and get ready for customers to my home shop, The Garden Shed and Pantry. Today I had a visit from Morag who wanted some kefir grains. She brought me a dozen quail eggs and we made a swap. Yesterday Erika gave me some asparagus of which a few spears were left over and I also had a left over leek from my own garden.

I have a neighbour who loves to grow radishes and also loves to eat my sourdough bread so we do a swap; I give him a loaf of bread every so often and he keeps me supplied with radishes.

On my preserves shelf I still have a few jars of passata from last summer’s tomatoes. On my bench I have some salt made in the oceans of Tasmania…. the only bought thing in this whole episode!

So, I cooked the artichokes and drizzled them with lemon juice and pepper. I boiled the quail eggs for 4 minutes. as Morag said, to hard boil them, then removed the shells. I sautéed the leek, gradually added the rest of the ingredients and served it topped with my labne balls.

I must say that this was one of the tastiest throw-together meals I have ever made; the labne being a key in making it so. I had rolled the drained yoghurt in herbes de provence, which was a perfect addition, as it accidentally turns out!

The lightly hard boiled quail eggs were each a delightful mouth experience as they were popped by the tongue. Nothing beats asparagus spears and those first, young broad beans of the season are an annual treat, after months of leaves and broccoli.

I thought of taking a photo….. but I was more attracted to eating than photography by this time. Compared to all the meals I have eaten out in the last 6 months, which truthfully is not many, this is way better and that is exactly why I don’t eat out much. Exceptional ingredients, with no food miles, grown with love, often shared with love and each with a story will always win.

Now it is time to make rhubarb crumble and relax.

Life is good and sometimes life is bloody good. Every now and then life is great.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No work and all play makes me very happy today!

A friend came by and brought me some of her wonderful asparagus this morning and all day, on and off, I have been thinking about how I would have it tonight….. raw in a salad, steamed as a vegetable, baked in a tart…. or what!

So, about 5pm I wandered out into the garden with my basket to see what was there that would make up my mind for me about cooking the asparagus. (I had already eaten quite a bit raw during the day.)

First there were the chooks to say hello to and some eggs to collect. Next I noticed that one of the chicories was stretching upwards before going to seed, so I decided to cut most of it off, as I really love chicory. The rest of it will shoot again and go to seed which will self sow and give me next more chicory next winter and spring, without me having to do a thing.

Near that chicory is a self sown red cabbage that is simultaneously growing a wonderful cabbage and sending up shoots with flowers, in a circle around the head. I picked one of the flower shoots and it was so sweet that I picked most of the rest of them, leaving the head for another day. I left a few shoots to continue flowering and set seeds which will self sow and provide me with red cabbages next winter and spring, without me having to do anything.

Earlier today I did some mowing and noticed how wonderful the dill is looking. These dill plants were dug up from a self sown clump that was very congested and moved to a more open area where they have done really well. So, I cut some fronds. I am surprised they have not gone to seed yet but soon they will and I will leave a few to self sow so I will have dill next winter and spring without any work at all from me.

There is one enormous frilly mustard reaching to the heavens. This gorgeous, lime green, frilly, beautiful plant is self sown. I am not sure why I didn’t get many this year but I will let this one go and hopefully it will give me more next year, without me having to sow any at all. I picked some of the pretty leaves as I passed by.

I looked over into the paddock next to my vegetable garden, where dairy cows sometimes graze. There, pecking away at this and that, were 3 of my chooks. I opened up the bottom of the chook yard fence a few years ago, just enough for a chook to get under, so my lucky chooks have free range over maybe 20 acres or more but they don’t don’t go that far away. I threw them some snails I found slithering through the perennial leeks and watched them fight over them.

While I was there, I cut some of the leeks which are so dense now that I just cut them at the ground and use them like spring onions, green tops and all. I love this patch which multiplies by growing little nodules around each leek which then grow into more leeks. If I thinned them out it would take me hours so I don’t bother. I love them thin and sweet. Eventually they will go to seed and grow fabulously beautiful heads of flowers that the bees will flock to and next winter and spring I will start picking the fresh leeks again, without having to do anything in the meantime.


By this time my basket was full and dinner was pretty much worked out, without me having to decide a thing. So, I slowly stewed the chopped leeks and most of the rest, in olive oil with the lid on then added the asparagus, s and p, and several beaten eggs mixed with some milk. When it was nearly set I grated over some good, sharpish, English cheddar (one of my ridiculous indulgences!) and put it under the grill to brown a little.

As I sat and ate my dinner I thought of the lovely 20 minutes or so I had spent in the garden, the fun it was tossing snails over the fence and watching the chooks race to get them and how nice it was that Erika had bothered to drop in on her way to work early this morning to give me some of her asparagus. And how I don’t even have to sow any seeds or do any work at all for this dinner to grow itself in my garden and my friend’s garden next year.

Life is good. Let things go a bit and watch them come back.

Look at the colour of that!
Red cabbage shoots about to flower.
                       I love dill.
Fat Bastard asparagus from Erika. Beautiful.
The final result of 20 minutes in the garden and 10 minutes in the kitchen. All of which made me smile! And there’s leftovers!
image   Punnets of cucumber  seedlings from yesterday’s Cygnet market. Soon to be a summer lunch ingredient.
And so the seasons go round and round….

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Greater desires = more work

Masanobu Fukuoka’s book The One Straw Revolution, written back in the 1970’s, is even more relevant today than it was then. A scientist himself, while researching various areas of agriculture, came to the conclusion that chemical agriculture was leading the consumer and the land on the path to illness, and that there had to be a better way. So began his journey into natural farming, using observation and patience to guide him. Eventually he developed simple ways to grow rice and a cereal crop in rotation, without chemicals or hard work. The book is a delightful and insightful look at life and agriculture through the eyes of a Japanese scientist turned farmer.

Masanobu Fukuoka 1913 - 2008

In one chapter he is discussing the supermarket’s desire to offer the same vegetables all year round and all the same size, with fresh (unnatural) colours and how this puts incredible pressures on the farmers to move towards out-of-season production, with huge losses if the products are different in size as well as the problems of expensive cold storage and chemical coatings to every piece of fruit and vegetable to ensure artificial long keeping.

Then he puts this back onto the consumer by saying….

…..To say that what one eats is merely a matter of preference is deceiving because an unnatural diet creates a hardship for the farmer and the fisherman as well. It seems to me that the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy them….

That is the nub of so many of society’s present day ills; desire for more than is natural to have or be or do.

When I read books and articles I always refer back to my life and the lives of the world I see about me as a kind of reference point for making an opinion about what I am reading. My life here is funded by the tiniest income, so tiny I don’t even pay tax. I can do this for several reasons and one is because I was fortunate enough to have the money to set myself up when I came here with a house, a car and modest household goods. It is only from that point on that I needed to make enough money to live on.

Many people who have chosen to live here in southern Tasmania have arrived with the same ability to set themselves up as me. But then they return to a hectic life of working far from home and lots of driving and shopping and expenses that I don’t have. I assume, thanks to that paragraph in the book, this is because their desires are greater than mine.

It is natural to eat by the seasons and I have no problem at all with preparing delicious meals almost entirely from organic, seasonal food.  I cannot think of much that I eat that is not seasonal except spices and grains (which of course ARE seasonal but because they are dried seeds, are usually available all year round). My food bill is very low indeed, especially compared to the trolleys full of packaged food that I see people wheeling to their cars. I have no desire to even know what all that stuff is.

I don’t feel that my life is lacking; in fact I feel it is very rich and wonderful. I love what I do in my Garden Shed and Pantry home and market shop. I love Cygnet and have no desire to shop elsewhere. It is with great regret that I shop online for certain books and technology and I could not live anywhere without the internet! I love the community garden and all rowing and all the simple pleasures of outdoor, rural Tasmania. 

I have learned to say no to taking on more roles and doing more things because after a certain point, more is not better; more is less do-able. Everyone has a natural state that may not be the same as your friends’ or neighbours’. Trying to do or be more than is right for you is self-destructive. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by what I must achieve this week or tomorrow, even though I know people who can do twice as much as me without any (visible) problem.

It seems to me that the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy them… Thank you Masanobu for your words of wisdom relevant to the field and the soul.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A self sown beauty that always makes me smile

One of my most favourite sights is self sown chicory. The range of colours, the enormous variations that spring up from seeds from one plant, the boldness of a vegetable that grows and grows even when it is mown and the wonderful way the leaves erupt from the centre always make me smile. That they grow strong and sure right through winter and are happy when crusted in ice and frost, their shiny leaves radiant in any light are added features. Also, in winter they are sweet and delicious.

I just went out to pick a basket of greens to make spinach and fetta pie but had to come and get my camera to capture, for the hundredth time, the glories of the self sown chicory display in my garden.

image image
The perpetually mown chicory! I only mowed this yesterday and already it has started growing back.
First harvest. It will regrow.
How did so many different chicories end up self sown in one place?
A more upright chicory
All from the seeds of one plant that hung over the wall. Note how varied they are!
The makings of a spinach and fetta pie.

And here is the one shot I got of this gorgeous raptor which was sitting right outside my window when I opened the curtains this morning before it flew away…. sadly it had a tree in blossom behind it which makes it difficult to see and I didn’t have time to get a better lens.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Deranged chooks

My life seems to follow a pattern that I would like to change!

This is how it goes…. I have an idea, get it going, make a success of it and someone comes along and tries (successfully usually) to take it over and kick me out.

These people have the gift of the gab and the time to weave their evil in other people’s ears, seeming to want to turn my success into theirs.

I will not fight with them. I can see exactly what they are doing but am powerless to stop them.

Since I have come here it has happened twice; first with my Wednesday gardening group and now with the Cygnet library garden. Both these small enterprises were meant to be for my relaxation and hence were meant to be small. They were small gestures to demonstrate to the community that anyone could have a beautiful, edible space to garden in, in a relaxed way.

In both cases people with grander ideas spent many months expanding their vision until they make a bid to take over, with endless criticisms of my small, peaceful, relaxing approach. Holding on to the small and easy to manage has been like trying to hold back a tsunami, so, in both cases, I withdrew, leaving them to their inevitable collapses.

It has always been the same, all my life. I would very much like to change it so that I can quietly and peacefully potter about doing something for the good of the community without some puffed up, deranged chook trying to make themselves top of a pecking order where once there was none!

Life is good. Small is good.