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.