I was tempted to call this post,”Let the Winds Blow High”, as most of the ‘lads’ were keen to get kilted up for the Celtic birthday party. Prior to the event, there was much talk about free- balling it, always a wonderful tease for the ladies. Sadly these were vain threats, tales “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. There were no Bravehearts on the day.
The anticipation of a themed party is as much fun as the event itself. The opportunity shops ( charity shops) were thoroughly scoured in the weeks leading up to the party, in search of kilts, tartan cloth, scarves and rugs, green clothing, Celtic knotted jewellery, Scottish bonnets and hats, and anything quirkily Celtic. It’s amazing what you can find. I wanted to come as Grace O’Malley ( Gráinne Ní Mháille ),¹ my Irish heroine, or wear a T-shirt printed with the label, “If lost, return to Jamie Fraser”, but the latter, with its Outlander reference, would have been lost on all the other party goers.
Our Celtic party happily coincided with the weeks leading up to St Patrick’s Day so the local $2 shops provided green kitsch galore. Online shops are a great source for Scottish flags and hanging four leaf clover strings. And red wigs were popular too.
Decor and dress ups were the easy part of the theme. The finger food proved far more difficult, especially given the balmy afternoon, the lack of good cooking facilities, and the general preference for Celtic style drinking on the day. I had planned to cook up some local Mt Martha mussels and stuff them with spinach, cheese and crumbs as my token nod to Brittany, but the day just disappeared. The Cornish Celts were represented with some mini Cornish pasties that I made before the event, based on this recipe. Other finger foods came in the form of sausage rolls and filled pastries. My sister whipped up some potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon, a fitting cross -Celtic food. Green coloured cocktails were popular, say no more!
Picture file below can be opened separately for a costume and decor guide to a Celtic themed party.
How much do we hear about Myanmar these days? Or Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, other than the dominant news from the USA? Since the demise of Berlusconi, we rarely hear about Italy, unless there’s an earthquake. National disasters, terrorist activities, real or imagined, and narcissistic world leaders with toxic tendencies tend to dominate our mainstream media. We are adrift in a polluted sea of fake news.
Against all odds, in 2015, a peaceful election was held in Myanmar, enabling a remarkable transition from a military led dictatorship to an emerging democracy. There is still a long way to go, not that any one cares much, when the eyes of the world are so focussed on the golden-haired beast. I’d rather contemplate these golden temples.
The sandy perimeter of Port Phillip Bay is transformed into a natural amphitheatre on sunny evenings as thousands of residents and holiday makers drag their chairs onto the beach to watch the unfolding drama. The lighting is usually spectacular and moody, heat haze softening the detail of looming vessels, late afternoon sun turning the ripple of a ship’s wash into a flash of diamonds, while lone paddle board rowers or frisbee throwers appear as blackened puppets in a Wayang show. The vast expanse of water and sky are a Cyclopean back drop. Let the show begin.
Enter the crippled Norwegian Star, a cruise boat that had left Melbourne Port the preceding Thursday, now being pulled and guided along by two tug boats. The Norwegian Star became stranded at sea due to a malfunctioning propeller system. As the ship was still only 30 kilometers from Wilson’s Promontory, Melbourne’s famous heroes, the tug boats, came to the rescue. The movement across Port Phillip Bay took more than 10 hours as the audience raised a glass, stubby or binoculars from the comfort of their gold class seats. A tragedy in slow motion.
Relax with Max at the Bay Show
The Norwegian Star
Heroes, the tug boats of Melbourne
The crippled ship assumes the shape of a glowing white ingot as it turns the corner at Mt Martha on its slow journey back to port. The cruise ship, with its 3000 passengers, has been saved by the powerful little tugs.
Another creature enters stage left, a dark, elongated and slightly menacing container ship, the Hyundai. The sky blackens: the sea turns turquoise.
This sleek, fast-moving character is transformed into a comic figure as it moves off into the distance; the lighting changes once again, as the Hyundai becomes a colourful Humpty Dumpty or a cubist cupcake on the horizon, precariously balancing its load.
Today, on the 8th anniversary of the Black Saturday Bushfire, many locals in our small community will gather quietly at the Community Centre to reflect on the loss of loved ones and homes. Some will do this privately with family, while others, like myself, hope to meet up with dear friends who also experienced that similar life changing catastrophe on this day. There will be Prosecco no doubt, and a toast to the Wedge Tailed Eagle, Bunjil, and stories to repeat about our mad lives, lives lived in parallel, indelibly etched in Technicolor, like a Mad Max sequel that has unscheduled, insidious reruns in our dreams. The extreme level of adrenalin coursing through our veins throughout that first post- fire year was almost addictive. Living life on the edge, post traumatic stress brings extreme highs and lows, paranoia and hurt contrasting with overwhelming love and respect for those who helped us through it all.
On February 9, 2009, an unprecedented firestorm, the worst in living memory, destroyed more than 2000 homes and killed 176 people in Victoria. In my nearby community, 69 houses were destroyed and 12 people were struck down. Most of the residents in St Andrews considered themselves well prepared before this event. Many residents belonged to Fireguard groups, and had done some basic training about protecting their homes in the event of a bushfire. The advice, at that time, was encapsulated in the slogan “Stay and Defend”. I am so pleased that the advice has now been radically altered to “Leave and Live”. Understanding the ‘Leave and Live‘ message is based on the principle of early self evacuation. You don’t wait for a fire to descend on the district: you leave on days of Severe Fire Rating early in the morning and only return when conditions change. Every one seems to have a different trigger point when it comes to self-evacuation. Some still have none at all.
People often ask me questions about that day, the first enquiring whether I was there at the time of the fire. I wasn’t. I left early: in fact, I left on Thursday, February the 5th, given that conditions were so extreme at our place. Temperatures were in the high forties that week, and it hadn’t rained for months. The bush was tinder dry. The eucalypt trees continually dropped their leaves, the lack of humidity in the air made stepping outside quite frightening, and the whole countryside seemed to be charged and expectant. I could sense this. We had experienced an ongoing drought for years. I also recalled this fire triangle, a simplified diagram included in a short unit of study in year 10 Geography, a subject I had been required to teach in the preceding years.
The next question always concerns insurance. Yes we were insured but like many others, we were vastly under-insured. After the fire, we received a payment for our contents and destroyed house fairly promptly from our insurance company. The figure was based on our specified premium for contents and house, which had not taken into account rebuilding labour costs, escalated costs of building materials, and the 2009 replacement value of our possessions. If you live in a bush fire prone area, I would advise you to re-calculate these things annually, and to carefully adjust your premiums to reflect current costs and values. Go through each room and consider everything in it. You will be surprised how much it adds up.
The other question people ask is if we rebuilt. No we didn’t. We fully intended to, but knew that this would be a long, drawn out process and would probably cause more stress than we needed. Our grandchildren were then aged 11, 4, 22 months and 12 months old, with another one on the way. I found it almost impossible to care for them in our temporary accommodations. My children, who had grown up in that house and on that mystical land where the moon rose over Mt Everard, often seemed more devastated and disoriented than we were. We decided to sell the land and bought a house in the neighbourhood. It was, in hindsight, a sensible thing to do. We could be an extended family again, a tribe with a home and a big table to share.
Another gathering at our place. we went often to care for the bush and remove weeds.
The pizza oven survived. I recently found out that some potential buyers of the land baked in this oven successfully one Christmas. It is still there. A survivor.
My kids always looked devastated after the fire.
These photos always look a little bleak.
Our paved verandahs. This one was made by Luke Slingsby and our son Jack, an inspired design in the shape of a guitar.
Another work day on the block. In the background, a donated caravan. We love it still and have completely restored it to it’s former retro glory.
People still ask questions and I am happy to talk about it, especially if I can save one life by repeating these fire warnings. That old adrenalin and paranoia creeps up on me from time to time, especially on anniversary days like today. I am sure the fire took its toll on my mental health in many ways, but I can happily say that on extremely dangerous weather days when I evacuate, I take nothing much with me, other than my camera, phone and laptop. I don’t value anything in my new place. I do have new possessions but they hold no intrinsic value. It’s liberating.
Saturday WordPress photo challenges usually see me trawling through my travel files in search of a colourful response. This week’s challenge, Repurpose, drove me to the garden.
I am rather partial to junk: I’ve managed to successfully refurbish my home with other people’s discards. It’s in the garden that repurposing is most at home. I use old dog beds, stripped of their comfy covers then recovered with shade cloth, as protection for delicate new seedlings. Old worn out pool lounge chairs get the same treatment, their metal frames so handy in the vegetable garden. Black poly piping is bent into hoops, supported by found metal reo from building sites, creating frames for shade cloth or bird netting. Shabby looking clothes airers, long past their prime, become supports for cucumbers.
In one corner of my ornamental garden, found objects create a structure and backdrop for birds, succulents and herbs. Most of these objects, old teapots, vintage metal grape harvest bins, broken cups, beautiful colonial enamel ware jugs and a rusty metal chair, are survivors of the Black Saturday Bushfire. My enamel jugs and teapots added a colonial air to my former home. Rusted and tarnished from fire and rain, they now live in peace in my garden.
The day had been planned for months, the invitations printed and sent out with plenty of notice. The venue had been chosen and booked long before, and decorated by Barnadi on the day with long-stemmed, exotic flowers. An old warehouse near the then emerging Docklands precinct of Melbourne, it edged the sea, allowing cool breezes to enter the wooden, cavernous space. The catering was chosen carefully, the cake ordered and delivered. A wedding reception was to be held with all the usual trimmings. Friends and family had flown in from the UK, Australian friends returned from their beach holidays to don frocks and finery for the occasion. The children were excited about being invited to attend such a big wedding reception.
Barnadi and Adam’s wedding reception was held 10 years ago today in Melbourne, followed by a civil wedding service in Bath, Britain. It was a double wedding celebration as the couple had friends in both countries. Adam’s sisters were bridesmaids, his friends were best men, and I became best man/woman/Mother of the Groom to Barnadi. Adam’s elderly, courteous and gentle father, Ray, flew in for the occasion, and naturally, was supportive of this union of two men in love, as we all were and are.
It was a traditional wedding in every sense of the word. The grooms wore immaculate matching suits and ties, with flowered lapels. After the service, the cake was cut followed by the groomal waltz. Speeches were made, and the usual dirty jokes read out, some involving rings, bringing mirth to the assembled witnesses and friends. Kids danced with their parents and too much champagne was drunk.
Despite the lack of legal recognition in Australia and Britain at the time, they celebrated their commitment to each other with a beautiful wedding, a public demonstration of their love, which is, at least for the non- religious among us, all that a wedding, gay or straight, should be. It should also be legally recognised. I was hoping in my heart that by today, we would be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in a special way, and that this country would have finally put an end to marriage inequality. We would then have another good reason to party into the night with this loving couple. Despite Australia’s tardiness in getting its act together, those who know Barnadi and Adam, recognise their true marriage and rejoice in their love.
Last count, same-sex marriage is legal in these countries:
The Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010),Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Brazil (2013),England and Wales (2013), France (2013), New Zealand (2013), Uruguay (2013), Luxembourg (2014),Scotland (2014), Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017), Ireland: (2015),USA, ( 2015)
Scratchy photos courtesy of Barnadi’s facebook site, with permission.
What does the name Paris, said in a French accent, conjure in your mind? Let’s add to that initial sensation with more names of eating places, bistro, café, restaurant,brasserie or names of fast foods, tartes, crêpes, baguette or frites: names of streets and places, rue, arrondissement, porte, pont and parc,église and musée. My list could go on forever. The names of commonplace things sound far more romantic and exciting in a foreign language. There’s more resonance, frisson, and nuance in saying or thinking the words. The very naming of things in your second or third language takes you to that place, is an admittance into a new way of thinking, invoking the culture and history of a place. Foreign language gives you a different perspective on life.
I’m reinstating my monthly garden series today, in the hope that it becomes another posting habit in this new year. The January vegetable garden delivers an abundance of food and with it comes the search for novel ways to deal with the glut. Like our ancestors of old, some will be dried, preserved, or frozen for leaner times. Expect that there will be yet more zucchini, tomato, bean and cucumber recipes as the summer months go by. But in the meantime, as I navigate my way through the narrow paths that criss cross my orto, I have once again come to admire the work of my friend and yours, the bee. Without these busy visitors, I wouldn’t be eating so well and neither would you.
If bees are scarce in your neighbourhood or vegetable garden, try to encourage them. Grow more purple flowering plants in your garden and let some of your Spring crops go to seed. Be rewarded with spectacular beauty, whilst simultaneously attracting cross pollinators for your crops and those of the neighbourhood.
Towering seed heads in a vegetable garden look magnificent, adding drama, shade and wind breaks for smaller sun shy lettuces and young plants below. I grow Endive lettuce mainly to watch them bolt after Spring, tying them to poles near the tomato patch. The blue flowers of the bolted radicchio are the brightest of all, growing to around 8 feet high. They open during the morning then close on very hot days. In the meantime, fading leek and artichoke flowers do the job.
I can honestly say that my vegetable patch is a little wild and disordered, but there’s purpose and beauty in all this chaos. The bees agree.
My young visitors have learnt to respect and admire bees. They now know that the world depends on bees for the future of 70% of all crops and walk through the purple flowering bee garden with a little more ease, in their hunt for ripe strawberries, raspberries or a crunchy radish.
If you have a vegetable garden to share with us this month, add a link to your post via a comment below and I will then pop it onto the end of this post. Happy Gardening.
The other day I noticed some of our peaches ripening on the bench too quickly. This is not normally a problem, given that I live with a fruit bat of a man who has an addiction to fruit, a dependence he has passed on to some of his grandchildren. The likelihood of finding fruit in prime condition, hanging about and ready to be eaten, is a rare event. He was being polite I am sure, knowing that I have a preference for summer stone fruits. Thank you kind sir, but I can’t eat 12 pieces of fruit in one day like the rest of you.
The slightly too ripe peaches were skinned, stoned, ( it’s beginning to sound like a medieval tale of torture- bring on the rack), then thrown into a blender, puréed and frozen into ice blocks. On Christmas Day, at around 11 am, they emerged once again and were shaved into the base of a crystal stemmed glass and covered with chilled Prosecco. Not quite a Bellini, more like a special breakfast beverage and one I can highly recommend.
The day started to improve dramatically. We began with a small pot of Manuka smoked mussel pâté on salted plain biscuits, a quickly imagined and executed festive treat, consumed only in the interests of sobriety. My simple Christmas vegetarian meal followed, Stilton and Walnut Double Baked Soufflé, the pre-planned part of our day. It was whipped up the night before, requiring minimal re-heating in the oven ‘on the day’, and accompanied by a few colourful trimmings, picked baby leaves from the garden and a psychedelic dollop of home-made Beetroot and Caramelised Onion Relish . These little puffy fellas were served with a Roaring Meg Pinot Gris from the Central Otago District of NZ. At this point, I was more than happy about losing my traditions, amongst other things.
And that dear friends, is how my quiet Christmas Day at home, senza famiglia, went. The dessert, a grown up trifle full of garden berries, followed much later on.
I’m posting my simple festive recipes here as they are most fitting for a light luncheon or entrée in any season. The soufflé recipe comes from Delicious Magazine.
The Smoked Mussell Pâté. Throw a handful of good quality smoked mussels into a blender. Add a couple of Tablespoons ( 1/4 cup) of cream cheese and a little sour cream. Blend until smooth. Add chopped chives if you have them nearby. Adapt the quantity to suit your numbers.
The Twice baked Stilton and Walnut Souffles ( makes 6)
300 ml milk
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
25 gr unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
25 gr plain flour
2 tsp English mustard
4 medium-sized free range eggs, separated
175 gr Stilton cheese, crumbled
50 gr walnuts, roughly chopped
leaves, chutney to serve
Heat the milk in a saucepan with the celery to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 180C . Butter 6 X 150 ml ramekins/mini souffle dishes thoroughly and place in a deep baking tray.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then stir in the flour to form a smooth paste. Remove from the heat and slowly strain in the celery infused milk, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce. return to the heat and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring to thicken. Cook a further few minutes then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Beat the mustard and egg yolks into the sauce and stir through 150 gr of the Stilton, the walnuts.Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl till they form stiff peaks, then using a metal spoon, fold a little egg white through the souffle mix to loosen it. Fold the rest of the egg white gradually into the souffle.
Divide the mixture among the 6 buttered ramekins, then fill the baking tray with boiling water so that it reaches halfway up the outside of the ramekins Bake for 30 minutes or until the souffles have risen and are cooked through. Carefully remove them from the bainmarie, cool,then chill until needed.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and using a palette knife, carefull loosen the souffles from their ramekins. Turn each one out onto the baking sheet. ( if at this point , some of the mixture has stuck to the bottom of the ramekins, don’t worry. Just lift it off with the knife and gently place it back onto the souffles. They may look a little ugly and shrunken at this point also. Don’t fret- they puff up agina with the second baking.) Scatter over the remaining 25 gr of Stilton.
Return to the oven for 10- 15 minutes until risen and golden on top. Serve with watercress, or baby leaves lightly dressed and some interesting chutney.
The best part of this recipe is that it can be made ahead up to step 4, then wrapped in cling foil. They can be frozen for up to 1 month and defrosted in the fridge overnight. Or they can be kept chilled for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, continue from step 5.
Tomorrow’s recipe – that beetroot and caramelised onion chutney.
I once owned many histories of Renaissance and Medieval Europe. Most of them mentioned the words Tradition and Change somewhere within the text, if not in the title itself. That period, perhaps more than any other in history, encapsulates this historical concept so well. Things don’t change suddenly. Old ways continue side by side with the new, traditions and beliefs endure, long past their relevance to the society practising them. A clashing of paradigms might take a century to resolve, only to be followed by a reactionary movement, another turn of the wheel, bringing about upheaval and further revisions to practice and belief, whilst simultaneously drawing legitimacy and cultural validity from older traditions. History is usually written and re- written from the perspective of the current paradigm: facts alone stand for very little.
Now what’s all this got to do with Christmas in Australia, I hear you ask? Some traditions keep dragging on, despite their increasing irrelevance to a largely non- Christian society. Most Australians recognise, and are comfortable with this basic fact, embracing Christmas as a secular holiday. Or many see it as marking the beginning of summer and a long holiday for families. But before being let off the hook, before descending on beaches and rivers to play in the sun, certain archaic traditions must be followed. Shopping takes precedence over all others, with a slowish start in early December, building up to an insane frenzy as the weeks march by, as glossy supermarket magazines extol the virtues of catering for a family, with visions of excess, not unlike those Renaissance feasts of old. Catering for large numbers is not something that comes naturally to most, so Curtis or Jamie or Nigella can show the fashionable way. They make it look so easy.
I’ve observed mothers going slowly mad with stress, bent on purchasing more and more each year for their children. Bucket loads of plastic crap, or designer labelled clothing, or the latest gizmo, or a better version of something that they already own, helps to create yet more landfill for future generations to deal with. The consumer obsessed are still shopping at 11pm on Christmas Eve, still hunting for the unattainable. It’s the season of sadomasochism, as those indulging in these pastimes gloat about their pain, yet are unable to disengage.
Stores ship in mountains of wooden tasting prawns from the frozen bowels of somewhere, grown especially large for the holy day/holiday occasion, costing twice as much and tasting unlike a prawn should. Prawns on steroids, no brine from the sea or sweetness of flesh. Decapitated legs sawn from Alaskan crabs now grace the window displays of our supermarkets. What happened to their bodies? Slabs of smoked salmon unfreeze before greedy shoppers’ eyes, cheap manufactured mince tarts and puddings appear two months before Christmas, only to be replaced by Hot Cross Buns in the New Year. Easter is similarly meaningless and just around the corner. Here are the large bright cherries, gassed up to artificial ripeness, yet more cheeses, more Pavlova, more hams and prosciutto, pigs, baby goats, lambs, chickens and ducks, and especially that Imposter, the Turkey, followed by more and more mountains of food, in search of new tastes and more waste.
I pulled the plug on excess this year. Gifts were still purchased, and a few lists were made. Simple little biscotti studded our pre- Christmas gatherings, as well as Lisa’s cardamom shortbread. A large Christmas cake, made early in December, was given to my mother, the keeper of our old English/Irish traditions: she has more use for it than I do . A last-minute pudding was made for my daughter, who catered for her in-laws this year. I tasted some of the left over pudding: it wasn’t like my mother’s, it didn’t have the taste of tradition, that secret ingredient, nor the advantage of slow aging in a cloth. The children rejected it: it didn’t contain any silver coins. My mother keeps old sterling coins and generously studs hers at the last-minute before serving, a tradition she has kept but one that I am happy to see die with the next generation.
The leftover coin-less pudding has been returned to my house, like a Christmas boomerang, reminding me that some traditions can’t change that quickly. Now it’s time to convert that fruity brandied reminder of times past into something that might be pulled out once again, renewed and reinterpreted, into something that is more suitable to our summer climate.
The following recipe is the traditional Australian way to deal with that left over Christmas pudding.
1 litre tub vanilla ice cream, slightly softened.
200 g left over Christmas pudding.
Amaretto to serve
Whizz the ice cream in a food processor until smooth, fold in the crumbled Christmas pudding and scrape into a freezer-proof container. Freeze for at least 2 hrs, or stash for longer. Scoop into bowls and top with amaretto.
My favourite Christmas read this year comes from Roger at Food Photography and France.
Postscript. After microwaving my plum pudding and serving with some brandy cream, I have to say it tasted dam good, so it will not be put into ice-cream after all, but stashed well in the freezer for a winter treat.