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.
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.
There are some days down by the Bay when the world seems lost in watercolour. The days don’t have clear edges, they don’t seem to begin nor do they have distinct intervals. It is only at sunset that a sense of time can be perceived as the late summer sun breaks through the hovering heat haze. On these days, the humidity creates mesmerising atmospheric effects, with obscured horizons and Turneresque painterly seas.
On a day like this, ships, or sometimes a mirage of a ship, appear on the lost horizon, giving rise to thoughts about Fata Morgana.² Shapes emerge from nowhere, lost in a soupy mist, magically and mysteriously.
We cart our chairs and a bottle of wine down to the beach and set up in front of an old boatshed, spending a few hours meditating on the passing parade of ships. Some are famous cruise ships, others are time-tabled ferries to Tasmania, while others seem malevolent. Once we saw a black piratical ship on the bay which we labelled the ‘Ship of the Dead’. We are waiting for it’s return, perhaps to pick us up on the way through.
I once wrote a children’s story about some little kayaks being stuck in the shipping lane in the black of night. The terrified kayaks escaped by riding the ship’s wake back to shore. The story had lots of sound effects, the blasting horn from the ship’s warning system- three honks and you’re out- and the sshhwash sshhwash of the ship’s wake. I could rely on this story to put little ones to sleep when camping by the sea. It’s a scary story with a happy ending as the kayaks surf their way back into their unlocked boatshed. Now that the children are older, they wait for that blasting horn and sense the danger for some lone yacht or fishing boat caught in the shipping lane.
My brother, an EPA man who sometimes works on the bay, informed me of the pilot system used to aid boats in and out of the shallow waters of Port Phillip Bay. The pilot boards each ship, either at the port of Melbourne or at sea near Queenscliff. Their entry and exit from the ship makes for terrifying reading,
“the pilot boards directly from the launch with the ship steaming at about 7 knots. The high degree of seamanship and skill shown by the launch coxswains during this procedure is relied on by the pilot and the deckhand, who assists the pilot to board from the exposed foredeck of the launch. In heavy weather this can be a hazardous operation but with experience the pilot knows when to leave the pitching deck of the launch and to grab and scramble up the rope ladder to the security of the ship’s deck.”¹
² A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is the Italian name for the Arthurian sorceress Morgan Le Fey, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths. Although the term Fata Morgana is sometimes applied to other, more common kinds of mirages, the true Fata Morgana is not the same as an ordinary superior mirage, nor is it the same as an inferior image.
Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognisable. A Fata Morgana can be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions or in deserts. This kind of mirage can involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands and the coastline.
Although today marks the start of Autumn, Melbourne is experiencing a late heatwave with temperatures hovering around 33º to 35º ( 91-96 F) for the week ahead, with little chance of rain. The garden, although dry, continues to pump out vegetables at an unseemly rate which sees me trekking off to the supermarkets for pickling vinegar and sugar, as well as opportunity shops for more clean jars. It’s pickling season, a task that always seems to coincide with hot days. Each week I make two batches of bread and butter cucumber pickles. These are popular with all members of the extended family and friends: most are given away.
This is today’s cucumber pick, explaining the surge in pickle production.
After a three-day weekend at the beach, we often return to some rude surprises in the garden. This fella ( yes, I know it’s really a sheila) will not become an ingredient in my kitchen! The seed will be dried out for next year. It weighs 4.76 kilo.
After we settled in our new home, we began planting an orchard. Wendy, a local food farmer, was running permaculture courses in grafting at the time. Most of our heritage apples were supplied by this group at a nominal cost of $1 per pot. We planted around 15 different heritage apple varieties. The cuttings for the grafts were collected from old farms and apple specialists around Victoria and taste nothing like the commercial varieties which are marketed today. Now, 5 years later, the apples are beginning to bear well. The ripening of each variety is staggered throughout the season. Mr Tranquillo, the fruit bat, eats most of them before they get a chance to feature in any cooked dish.
The chooks never let us down, with enough eggs for us as well as the troupes at the beach, where most are eaten on the weekend.
Last month I met some special visitors from the bloglandia: first, the lovely Julie from Frog Pond Farm visited from New Zealand. A week later, EllaDee, from the Nambucca region of New South Wales, visited for morning tea, accompanied by her husband Wayne. They are travelling around Victoria in her ‘Nanavan”. On meeting for the first time, we continued the conversation we have been having for a year or more: time passed quickly and pleasantly. EllaDee brought tasty gifts from Macksville: macadamia nuts from Nambucca Macnuts and honey and wine from Gruber’s winery. I am working on a special dish using these treasures.
As the welcome swallows move out from their ‘bespoke’ little nests, their discards often fall to the ground intact and find their way into my home.
These old tin numbers were found at a ‘trash and treasure’ market down by the Bay and snuck onto my overcrowded kitchen dresser. The other numbers in the set, 9, 6 and 0, were acquired by my daughter in law, Maxine. With these numbers, we can send each other photo scores out of ten, despite the limited range. The area around Rosebud (‘Guns and Rosebud’) specialises in weekend markets. Some sell craft, local vegetables and locally produced foods, others just sell trash.
In My Kitchen is a monthly event. I quite enjoy the rhythm it gives to my writing life, with now 26 posts on this theme. I like to look back over the first post of past months and am reminded of similarities and differences in past seasons, as my activity in the kitchen is often defined by seasonal produce. Thanks to Maureen of The Orgasmic Chef, who now hosts this monthly international gathering. Maureen has taken up the reins from Celia, enabling this wonderful meeting of kitchenalia to continue.
It seems that carrots receive a lot of bad press. The most common expression featuring the humble carrot involves reward and punishment, ‘the carrot and the stick”, an enduring approach to behaviour modification and a recurring political weapon. Any one for tax cuts? A quick search through my cookbooks, especially those with listings by ingredient, revealed very short chapters devoted to carrots. Italian cookbooks ignore them as a principal ingredient: Asian books only make passing reference to them. I do use them but they rarely star. Like Italian nonne, I finely chop carrots to form part of the trio in a soffritto, that little tasty stir fry of tiny chopped ingredients that is the foundation of a good soup. I throw chunks of carrot into a slowly cooked root stew and I grate them into a cake. And then…not much else. My carrot repertoire is small. I don’t fancy them in fritters, nor as sticks ( a case of neither carrot nor stick changing my wicked ways ) when other candidates do a better job.
Maybe we have forgotten the taste of freshly pulled carrots? The trend, here in Australia, is to pack carrots, devoid of their fine greenery, into plastic bags where they probably linger for months in a chilled warehouse before reaching the consumer. They taste like mould. Some go into the soup, the rest end up in the compost heap.
Freshly pulled carrots, either home-grown or bought at a farmer’s market, need to be dealt with quickly before they wilt and lose their vibrancy. Since purchasing carrots from the Peninsula market gardens, I have been keen to trial recipes where carrots star. My favourite to date is a ginger and carrot pureed soup with coriander pesto. It went down so quickly with the troupes at the beach. No time for a photo.
This recipe from Maggie’s Kitchen makes a colourful side dish to go with a baked fish or a roasted chicken. Where Maggie uses verjuice in her recipe, I substituted Vincotto. The saucing is wonderful in this dish. You could easily leave out the currants and pine nuts for a simpler version.
Carrots in Verjuice with Goat’s Cheese and Pine Nuts.
1/4 cup dried currants
1/3 cup verjuice
1 bunch baby ( Dutch) carrots, green tops trimmed to about 2 cm, scrubbed
1/4 cup pine nuts
100 g unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup marinated goats cheese, or fresh goats cheese, or chevre
Place currants and verjuice in a small bowl and leave to plump.
Cook carrots in a saucepan of boiling water until almost cooked. Leave carrots to cool a little then use a clean towel to rub skins off while still warm. Set peeled carrots aside to cool, then halve lengthways.
Drain currants, reserve verjuice.
Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low heat until light brown. Transfer to a bowl, then add butter to the same pan and melt over medium heat to high, then cook for 2-3 minutes or until butter turns nut brown. Add reserved verjuice and cook until reduced and syrupy. Add currants, pine nuts and parsley, then transfer to a serving dish. Top with chevre or spoon over goat’s curd and serve at once.
Every summer my extended family spends time camping at Port Phillip Bay, simply known as ‘The Bay’. Geographically, the bay covers 1,930 square kilometres (480,000 acres) and the shore stretches roughly 264 km (164 miles), providing a wonderful summer playground for many Melbournians.
We love the bay and its ever shifting moods, skies and tides. Storms are exciting; sunsets are to be witnessed and documented. The bay provides space for private reflection when melancholia descends. On hot airless nights when it’s too difficult to sleep, the shoreline affords a cooler sandy space to while away the hours. Daytime brings children and families to play and dig sand castles on the emerging tidal sand bars, older children learning how to snorkel or body surf in safe, lagoon like warm water. On gusty days, wind surfers and kite surfers arrive in vast numbers.
Over the years, environmental concerns have been raised about the delicate nature of our beautiful bay. The EPA monitors water quality, land care groups work to protect the creeks and natural flora and fauna along the shore, old invasive practices, such as groyne installation, have thankfully gone out of mode. Bay lovers are more aware than in days gone by, about the importance of sea grasses and protection of native flora. Fish species are monitored and catch limits imposed. The bay has a healthy stock of pinkies, snapper, flathead, and whiting. Removal of shellfish such as pippies, is an offence.
One environmental pest we would like to see removed is the Jet Ski. Our national icon, Leunig, poet and cartoonist, puts it this way:
– Michael Leunig –
Ode To A Jet-Ski Person was written by Michael Leunig and comes from Poems 1972-2002, published by Viking
Thanks Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack for another engaging Saturday morning travel theme, Environment.
Every year from February through to the end of April, a caravanserai of family members lands on the foreshore at Rosebud. Aunts, Uncles, Great Grandmothers and Nannas, nieces with new babes, daughters, sons, lovers and ex- lovers from USA, the mob gets bigger annually. Cousins try to work out if they are first, second or once removed. Four birthdays are celebrated at the beach and Easter Eggs are buried in the sand on Easter Sunday.
One of the family rituals is to meander down to the beach ( a mere stone’s throw away) at sunset. The oldies have a drink in hand, the youngsters dig in the sand or cartwheel in the setting sun. Ed, from Sunday Stills, has nominated Sunrises and sunsets for this weeks photographic challenge.