Fig and Fetta Fantasia

Ever since the fresh fig supply stepped up at Casa Morgana, I’ve been imagining all sorts of fig dishes and recalling fig episodes in my semi sleep. I’m harvesting around 20 plump figs per day and many are beginning to rot on trays before my eyes. One of those memories involves making fig jam in Languedoc, France, in 1985. At one point, we had many ‘baguette with jam’ eating Australians staying with us and we were burning through the confiture at a rapid rate. We noticed a field of ripe figs going to waste and approached the farmer to ask him if we could pick them to make jam. Mais oui, he said dismissively, gesturing that the crop was nothing more than pig food. At some point mid jam making, Helen thought it would be nice to add some ginger to the mix, so we sent the 14-year-old girls off to the local supermarché to buy some. They returned empty handed. Sunshine demonstrated how many times she attempted her best pronunciation of the request. Je voudrais du ginger, s’il vous plaît, was met with blank stares, compelling the girls to adopt some very stereotyped French accents, repeating the word ginger over and over again. They were hysterical with laughter by the time they returned.

Figs and fetta, a marriage made in heaven, or Greece.

Another fig food memory was eating Saganaki served with a sweet fig sauce at Hellenic Republic, Brunswick, when it first opened. That sauce is based on dried figs with pepper and balsamic and can be served all year round with fried cheese.

This little entrée draws on both experiences. It is warm, sweet and jammy on top, and cold and salty underneath, with the nuts providing a Baklava style crunch. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and makes a very elegant starter.

Fig and Fetta Fantasia.

Ingredients, for two serves.

  • 150 gr (approx weight) quality Greek fetta cheese, sheep or goat, such as Dodoni (not Bulgarian as it has the wrong texture for this dish)
  • 6 large ripe figs, halved
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 dessertspoon vincotto
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped.

Cut the cold fetta into 4 thin batons.

Heat a small frying pan. Warm the honey and vincotto together until beginning to bubble. Turn down the heat and add the figs to the honey mixture. Cook gently on both sides for a few minutes so that the figs absorb some of the liquid.

Meanwhile, toast the walnut pieces in a small pan and watch that they don’t burn.

Assemble the dish by laying two fetta pieces on each serving plate. Top with hot figs and drizzle with the remaining liquid. Scatter the toasted walnuts on top.

Sweet and salty, cold and hot, smooth, sticky and crunchy.

For Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella, a fig fancier.

Smyrna Fig Tree after the rain.  Now in full production after 6 years. Will be rewarded with deep mulch.

Watching The Ships Roll In

As the afternoon reaches its zenith, it is traditional for holiday makers, local residents and sunset chasers to drag their chairs down to the white sandy shores of Port Phillip Bay, and waste time in the loveliest way, ‘Watching the ships roll in, And then I watch ’em roll away again.’ As time gently floats by, the moody sunset spectacle begins, all the more dazzling for its reflected glory in the gentle waters of the laguna: pink shifts to orange then purple and black bands ribbon the twilight.

There goes Green Toll again.

From our comfortable perspective, we imagine what life might be like atop one of these vessels. I have no interest in going on a cruise but I wouldn’t mind travelling in one of these ships as it makes its way from the Port of Melbourne to the heads at Queenscliff and Portsea. A working boat perhaps, a container ship or rig.

The Queen Mary 2. More chairs arrived on the sands to watch her progress through the Bay.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Autumn and Keats. A Pictorial Conspiracy.

When I first studied Keats’ Ode to Autumn as a 17-year-old student, I was naive, optimistic and ignorant, full of expectation and youthful determination. The possibilities of life stretched out endlessly before me. I was in the Spring of my life: this metaphor, now considered clichéd, was not lost on me at the time, but then again, how could I have fully understood the real depth of this Keatsian analogy, not having travelled very far through the successive seasons of life. My literature teacher laid strong foundations for future and deeper understandings. Good literature requires frequent visitations.

‘To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core
.’

Heirloom apple varieties, maturing at different times. Not so prolific but each one offering unique taste and texture. Not perfect, and never supermarket worthy. Some to stew: others to slice to go with a sharp cheddar or soft cheese.

I’m now in the Autumn of my life and am delighted to be here: I wouldn’t want to be 18, or 38 or 55 still. Those times were good: each season brought blessings and joys, angst and worry. Each season does. I just happen to love Autumn more and cling to whatever this season brings, knowing that my winter is not so far away.

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.’
Symbol of female sexuality. Ripe figs are autumn’s bounty. Spring and Summer played a part with rain then sun. Maturity comes in Autumn.

I visit the vegetable garden now and am rewarded with the products of our particular Summer: volatile and untrustworthy, youthful and full of energy, promises are made and broken. Patience is important when dealing with summer. Autumn is long and slow, with cool beginnings, windless warm days and soft pink, crimson, turning to tangerine sunsets. The ‘conspiracy’ is now over: we are loaded and blessed with fruits and vegetables and I’m not in a hurry to tamper with the season or hurry it along.

Chillies mature slowly, abundance comes in Autumn

Hiding along walkways, slow maturing pumpkins need another two lazy months before they surrender their sweetness and hard flesh for storing. Meanwhile, the zucchini are on display again, more loud and showy than the petite summer offerings: new flowers, bees and prolific fruits appear daily. Large seed filled zeppelins appear far too quickly now.

‘To swell the gourd’

Only in Autumn do the Pumpkins emerge. They don’t enjoy the harshness of young summer.

There could be a part two to my Keatsian story: to think that we have only just begun our gentle waltz through Autumn.

Just picked, a bowl of Zinfandel grapes ripen further then dry to sweet nuggets.

My previous Keatsian posts can be viewed here and the full verse can be found here.

Catering for a Celtic Birthday Party

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.

Getting kilted up.
Getting kilted up. Promises, Promises!

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.

Irish Yoga
Irish Yoga T- shirt.

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.

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Lassie draped in Scottish flag

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.

¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_O’Malley

My Myanmar

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.

Buddhist temple, Myanmar
Buddhist temple under a stormy sky, Myanmar

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.

My Myanmar, a thousand golden pagodas
My Myanmar, a thousand golden pagodas
More moody temples, Myanmar
More moody temples, Myanmar

For those who take part in the Wordpress weekly photo challenges, the prompts now occur on Wednesday. This week’s challenge is Against All Odds.

Gold Class Seats and the Norwegian Star

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.

Paddle Board rower or Wayang Puppet? The Norwegian Star in teh background.
Paddle Board rower or Wayang Puppet? The Norwegian Star in the background.

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.

Bay Show
Bay Show

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.

The Norwegian Star on its journey back to Melbourne
The Norwegian Star on its journey back to Melbourne

Another creature enters stage left, a dark, elongated and slightly menacing container ship, the Hyundai. The sky blackens: the sea turns turquoise.

Another ship enters the stage from the left.
Another container ship enters the stage from the left.

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.

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The Hyundai as cupcake
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Pull up a chair, and let the show begin.

Black Saturday 8 years on. Questions and Answers

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.

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View from our driveway after the fire.

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.

Making a birthday speech for someone. My old house, full of stuff.
Making a birthday speech for someone in the family. My old house, before the fire, full of stuff.

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.

fire triangle - an important Geography unit taught in Victorian schools
The fire triangle – an important Geography unit taught in Victorian schools.

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.

special brick
Special brick. This handmade convict brick came from my grandparents chimney in Port Albert. We used it as the keystone brick in a chimney built by our stonemason friend, Tony.
Teh footprint of our old house. We saved one of the handbuilt chimneys in teh separate cottage. after getting an engineers report . It is still there today,.
Part of the footprint of our old house. We saved one of the hand-built chimneys in the separate cottage. The local Council wanted it removed but we contracted an engineer to provide a safety report. It is still there today and I hope it can stay. We stacked up all the usable mud bricks for future use.

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.

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.

My other posts on this topic are here and here.

Repurposed Garden Art

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.

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I couldn’t part with my old enamel teapots. They turn up in all sorts of places in 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.

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More jugs as garden art.

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.

My favourite colonial water pitcher.
My favourite colonial water pitcher.
Buddha lost the pointy top of his head. Now he is a rock collector and pool guard.
Buddha lost the pointy top of his head. Now he is a rock collector and pool guard.

Love is all you need?

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.

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The wedding party

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.

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The grooms, A and B.

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.

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This cake looks a bit bent

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.

Paris. It’s all in the Name

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.

Names on Bridge
Names on locks on the Pont des Arts, Paris.
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A bookshop in Paris. I love bookshops in Paris and Rome. The smell, the words….
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Busy scene at Au Bourguignon du Marais
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The corner at La Perla.
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Strolling around Le Quartier Latin, Paris
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Names Everywhere. Not so quaint in English.
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Le Bistrot des Tartes. Inviting
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Where French meets Yiddish, La Marais
French meets Italian at Pippo en paris
French meets Italian at Pippo in Paris

Pour ma petite-fille, Mischa Belle.