Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Frederick Chamberlain 21 April 1922-11 Nov 2012

Somewhere in North Africa - about 1941 - aged 19

My father died last month - that is why the blog has been quiet for a while.  I had a phone call at 9 am one Sunday morning (the phone call I have been dreading for forty years)to say that he had been taken to hospital and was seriously ill.   Four hours later he was dead. And so the mad and hasty flight from hot and steamy Australia to my cold and snowy birthplace began. A life is a big thing and I make an attempt here to sum up his ninety eventful years:  Fred, soldier - Gunner Chamberlain 904741, Police Constable 700E, Freddie, Dad, Pops and Supergramps - the father I loved very much.

My Dad succeeded where so many other men fail – he was faithful, kind, loyal, generous, resourceful, ever cheerful and a very loving son, brother, husband, father to three, grandfather to six and great-grandfather to seven – the youngest bearing his name.

He was the youngest child of seven, and only son, born into a first generation East London family that had previously lived for generations in rural Cambridgeshire around Royston.  His father Walter, however, was given opportunities not afforded previous generations and became a civil engineer with Mowlem's construction company. My father spoke fondly of visiting his fathers’ workshop and office under Blackfriars Bridge – a project that Walter had worked on as foreman engineer. (Walter died just before Mum and Dad got married but Gertie, his mother, lived to 90)  He was deeply fond of his mother Gertrude, or ‘Ike’ as he called her (I don't know why), who came to live with us for seven years during the 1950’s - she having lost her house in Hackney in a wartime bombing raid.

(Dad’s grandfather, Moses Chamberlain was, interestingly, at the forefront of the beginning of the industrial fertilizer industry in the 1850's – he was a Coprolite Digger – a digger up of dinosaur bones and pooh.  A long seam of these remains emerged across the countryside of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk with the processing centre in Royston.  The Chamberlain family suddenly found their economic situation remarkably improved and moved to north London where Walter was able to get a better education and professional training.  I find this a remarkable bit of family history.  Is it in the genes? All I have done for my whole working life as a gardener is collect pooh – horse, chicken, cow – dinosaur would have been much more fun - and bang on about it’s benefits to anyone who has ever been interested?).

Dad about 1944

At 16, in 1938, Fred joined the Territorial Army and then, after being called up in 1939, spent the war years, and his early adulthood, as a gunner in the 8th Army under Montgomery with the next six years in North Africa as a ‘Desert Rat’ then Palestine and finally Italy – which always held a special place in his heart – learning to speak the language, how to cook, ski, play the mouth organ, appreciate the fairer sex and sing – something, which till his dying day never left him.  Interestingly he said that most of the songs in his Italian repertoire were taught to him by the famous tenor Beniamino Gigli.  He spent several years with the British Army in Italy and, at one point, he and his troops were given the job of driving him to safety from enemy territory and as Gigli didn’t want to sit up the back of the truck with the smoking troops he sat up the front with Fred, the driver.  He joined the army as a boy and left as a man.  It’s somehow fitting that he died on Remembrance Day.

(Dad used to amuse his grandchildren with his stories from the war.  One, in particular, was that it was so hot in the desert that ‘Monty’ used to send him to the North Pole to get ice for his gin and tonic – by the time he got back it had melted so he would make him turn around and go all the way back again to fetch some more).

Wedding Day in Leytonstone 1947

While he was on demob leave in 1945 he met my mum, Barbara from Birmingham (then 18 years old), who was working behind the bar in her Mum and Dad’s pub in Leytonstone, London and the rest, they say, is history – spending the next 65 years very happily married and bringing up their three children Stephen, Diane and Paul.  They have been true soul-mates, dancing their way through all the trials and tribulations that life throws at you.

(During recent years Dad slowly left us for the twilight zone of dementia with my Mum lovingly caring for him at home, eventually even receded from her.  He would, however have moments of lucidity.  When I was there in July, Mum had a faded rose in a vase and she told me that Dad had unusually ventured out into the garden, picked the rose and given it to my Mum with a kiss and said “for you my love”).

In 1947 Fred joined the City of London Police Force and spent the next 30 years as a respected police officer with skill as a squad car driver, expert marksman and cribbage player – and, of course enough colourful stories to fill many volumes. His career coincided, in many ways with that of the young Queen Elizabeth, being on duty for the funeral of her father and her Coronation in 1953 – in fact, he shared her birthday 21 April.  He also served as Police Guard for many Royal Banquets for visiting heads of state at the Guildhall and was on duty at the state funeral for Winston Churchill.  He was also one of the first Police Officers on the scene at many of the IRA bombings in London during the 1970’s where some of his fellow officers were injured. For many years the Old Bailey seemed to be his second home.

Dad in a recruitment photo for the City of London Police

The war years had given Fred a serious case of wanderlust and from the late 1950’s he took his young family for the summer holidays on memorable camping trips to Europe where the first stop was always the local wine co-operative.  Holidays and travel were an imperative part of the Chamberlain families’ lives with many adventurous trips and albums of happy memories. (Sitting around camping sites in Spain with dad playing "Lilly Marlene" on the mouth-organ, after he had cooked up his famous bolognese made from canned corned beef, glass in hand and mischievous smile - the family camped next to us were German!)

Me (about 5) my brother Stephen and Mum and Dad on one of our motorbike and sidecar adventures.

The wanderlust continued.  As soon as Fred retired from the police force he and Barbara took off in their camper van on what was to be a round the world trip that would last for over four years.  They travelled overland through Western Europe and then through the Middle East from Iran to Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass, Pakistan and for an extended stay in India (where the family received startling photos of them semi-naked on the beaches of Goa!)  This amazing journey then took them on to Malaysia, Singapore and finally shipping the van to Australia to visit me and my young family in Sydney, having migrated there in 1975 – with Australia quickly becoming their second home visiting many times, with the last trip just five years ago.

Their last trip to Australia in 2007

After 2 years there, New Zealand, Fiji and the Americans beckoned where they spent another happy year working, travelling, visiting family (two of Dad's nieces were GI brides) and making more lifelong friends.

For the last 24 years Fred and Barbara have lived in Wrabness, north Essex – taking the life of their rural village to their hearts.  Fred has always been a gardener –  first with an allotment in Brockley, London and this life-long love continued with their garden in Wrabness with my mum by his side growing vegetables, fruit  and wonderful flower displays – and enough produce to have a roadside stall.  Fred always kept busy with art classes, a stint as Public Footpath Warden and the village hall committee, dancing club, playing bowls (collecting a shelf of trophies) and many rounds of fundraising, working bees and fun nights in various fancy dress outfits taking the dance floor with Barbara.  It was only ill health in the past few years that eventually slowed him down and it was only when his breath was finally gone that he stopped singing.

(I thought, when I was growing up, that all men were like my father – couldn’t they all sing and speak Italian, cook, shop, lovingly care for babies and children, have the amazing ability to turn the other cheek and be ever cheerful and constantly cracking jokes?.  One of my brother’s friends recently told me that he decided to join the Police Force because he said my Dad was always laughing and so cheerful and thought that it couldn’t be such a bad job if Dad was such a happy man.

Even though distance has kept us apart for a long time he is always with me - his voice in my ear when I’m not doing a job well enough – he was a perfectionist after all. I don’t think anyone, ever again, will call me a daft ha’p’orth or tell me that they fancy some cough and sneeze?
He taught me how to be a human being - I would be happy to be half the person he was - and I am so very glad that he was my father). 

Organizing your father's funeral is a very surreal business.  I comforted myself by spending time in his shed.  Don't tell Australian customs, but I smuggled in his hand-made dibbling stick - at least 40 years old (wooden items with soil on them are a definite no-no if you are planning to come here). It's comfortingly on my desk while I write this.  At his funeral, his police colleagues formed a a guard of honour in the biting cold with the City of London flag draped over his coffin.  At the end of the ceremony he had wanted Vera Lynn singing 'We'll meet again' and everyone, fittingly, linked arms and sang along. 'We'll meet agin, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day....................'

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
William Butler Yeats. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recipe: Hummus

Making your own hummus is very quick and very easy - and what's more it's very good for you.

Hummus is high in iron and vitamin C and also has significant amounts of folate and vitamin B6. The chickpeas are a good source of protein and dietary fibre; the tahini consists mostly of sesame seeds, which are an excellent source of the amino acid methionine, complementing the proteins in the chickpeas - and the sesame is where the high source of iron comes from.

It's a great vegetarian food and like other combinations of grains and pulses, it serves as a complete protein when eaten with bread.

No meal in the Middle East would be complete without a freshly made plate of hummus and passions run high over it's origin and 'the authentic recipe'.  In fact, the 'hummus wars' have been going on for some time between Lebanon (who want to patent the recipe) and Israel (who exports the largest quantities around the world).

This is the recipe I have tweeked over the years to be to my taste and I make it at least once a week - it's the ideal thing to give hungry children after school.

1 400g can of organic chick peas.
Juice of 1 small lemon
2 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 small clove of crushed garlic
1 small tsp ground cumin
sea salt to taste
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil (approximate)

Strain the chick peas of all their canned liquid.
Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a smooth consistency.
If, at this stage, the hummus is very thick you may want to add a small amount of water to thin it.

Serve on a plate with the hummus fluffed up around the edge.  Drizzle with olive oil and paprika or finely chopped parsley or mint.  This is making me hungry!

Graffiti from a wall in inner Sydney in the late 70's.
"God hates homos". Written underneath - "But does he like tabouli? 
I can never eat hummus without thinking of this and smiling

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mullumbimby Food and Soil Festival 2012

Repeating the great success of last year, we had another fantastic Food Festival in the Mullumbimby Community Gardens - with a focus this year on SOIL, why and how we should treasure and respect it.

There were all sorts of workshops, with everything from Biodynamics to "What Weeds Tell Us", to making a No-Dig bed to a "Bug Trail" and lots more in between.  In just four short years (I bet it feels very long to the extremely passionate and hardworking organizing committee) they have transformed an old paddock into the thriving heart and soul of Mullumbimby.

My grandchildren particularly enjoyed the lunchtime 'Fork in the Field' where they went on a grazing walk through the garden - picked their lunch, cooked it then ate it - then went home with a lovely palm basket they made in a workshop.

I had fun walking round the garden all day with a big silly hat on which said "Ask me a Gardening Question"?  (Of course Murphy's Law says I wouldn't know the first one I was asked and that, of course, was correct!)
Illawarra Flame Tree Brachychiton acerifolium in all it's glory.  The lack of rain in recent months puts  trees under stress which prompts them to put on a more spectacular flowering display.

It certainly is Festival time around Mullum at the moment.  As I write I can hear the loud-hailer from the showground, behind me in the valley, with the Mullum Country Show in progress - with livestock judging, horse jumping and lots of chooks and more folk in big hats.

Just a couple of weeks ago we had the Sample Food Festival in Bangalow - which showcases all the fabulous artisan food makers, chefs and restaurants on the North Coast - and next weekend is the Mullumbimby Music Festival.
'Salumi' local cured meat, sausage and ham makers from Billinudgel at the Sample Food Festival

Golden Penda Xanthostemon chrysanthus.  Another spectacular Australian tree flowering now and namesake of the the street I live in - although a lot of people get it wrong and I get letters addressed to Golden Panda Place! ( It's funny how developers chop down all the trees and then name the streets after them.)

It also serves as a timely reminder that in times of water shortage native plants are going to fare better than many exotics.

These little folk in a different kind of big hat have cropped up around here recently too!  Congratulations to all of my readers in the US who elected Barack Obama for a second term - hope continues!.  86% of Australians wanted him to win too!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Recipe: Any Fruit Tea Cake

This is one of those fabulous recipes that is so versatile - I make it all the time if I have unexpected guests for afternoon tea.  This one is with apple, rhubarb and raspberries.

It's really a chorus of the previous post for 'garden quiche' - "A recipe is a tune that you can sing your own song to".  I make this with any fruit that I have to hand - at the moment that is mulberries, peaches, nectarines, raspberries and rhubarb (lots of rhubarb!).  But, it can be apples, pears, apricots, figs, strawberries, plums, cherries, purple grapes, blueberries - in fact, just about anything.

Preheat oven to 160oC.  Grease a 22 cm round spring-form cake tine.

125g butter at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
11/2 cups wholemeal, self-raising flour (you can use plain)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1 1/2 cups seasonal fruit (see above)

1.  In food processor, beat butter, sugar and vanilla essence until pale and creamy.
2.  Add the eggs, one at a time, until fluffy
3.  Gently fold in flour, cinnamon and baking powder (you can do this with the 'pulse' button)
4.  Spoon mixture into prepared tin and scatter chopped fruit over the top.
5.  Dust the top with half the icing sugar (this makes it crunchy) and bake in oven for 50-60 mins.
6.  Remove from oven when cooked.  Dust with remaining icing sugar.
This cake is best eaten within a couple of days.

Unexpected and hungry guests for afternoon tea!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Garden Quiche

Fresh salmon quiche with dill and spring onions (or chives/baby leeks).  You need about 300 g of skinned, cubed fresh salmon.  For a quiche this large (30 cm) you need 9 eggs instead of 6.

This dish is all about the food I try to cook - what do I have in the garden and larder to make dinner with? Or, to put it another way - how- for the smallest amount of money, and littlest of effort, make something delicious and nutritious that will feed a lot of people? (See quote at bottom of page)

THE PASTRY:  If you have a food processor you can make up quantities of this pastry to keep in the freezer.  I use a simple recipe that I previously posted for Sorrel Tart.  This is double that recipe. Half for now and half for later.
300 g chilled unsalted butter
400 g plain flour (half/half wholemeal and white)
3 tbs full cream Greek yoghurt
1 small tsp sea salt.

NOTE:  Don't be afraid of making pastry - it's so versatile and so much better than the frozen supermarket stuff.  You can use this pastry recipe for sweet or savoury dishes.  All you need is a food processor!

Whaz the butter and flour together then add the yoghurt and pulse until it forms one clump. Divide in half for two pastry cases - store one half in the freezer for another time.

Let the other half rest in the fridge (covering first in cling film) for about 20 mins - it then become rollable - important if the weather is slightly warm, otherwise it will just fall apart.

TOP TIP:  Put it in the fridge in a round flat shape with smooth edges - ready to toll out.  If you just bung it in lump it is much harder to roll out later. I learned the hard way!

Baking blind!
Roll out and line a fluted quiche dish.  You now have to bake it blind - cooking the pastry case without it rising.  If you don't do this and put the eggy filling in straight away - the pastry at the bottom will be soggy - and we don't want that!

Line the pastry with non-stick baking paper and weigh down with pasta or beans - you can re-use this.

TOP TIPS: Don't use foil, it sticks to the pastry.  Have enough baking paper to make 'handles' so you can easily lift out you 'weights'.

Place in the oven on 180oC for 10 mins.  Then take out the baking paper with beans - or whatever you have used to weigh it down - pop back in the oven for a further 5 mins.
It is now ready for the quiche filling.

NOTE:  If this pastry case is going to be used as a sweet flan - i.e. with no further cooking - you will have to cook it for a bit longer, 15 minutes with the weights in and 10 without.

Let the fun begin!  You can just about use anything you have, plus six beaten eggs.
Suggested combinations:

  • Chopped fresh herbs - parsley, chives, tarragon, dill and basil with feta and topped with thinly diced tomato.  I just use whatever I have in the garden.
  • Ham, tomatoes, grated cheddar and parsley.
  • Sauteed mushrooms and red onions with creme fraiche.
  • Sliced fresh salmon with dill and spring onions.
  • Roasted vegetables with sauteed onion and feta or goats cheese.
  • Cooked, mashed pumpkin with sage leaves that you have fried in butter, sprinkled with pinenuts.
    This is a 25cm dish.
  • Roast capsicum with ricotta, nutmeg and marjoram.
  • Smoked salmon with some steamed broccoli and chives.
  • I made this one with a bit of left-over ham and grilled capsicum, baby leeks, parsley, ruby chard and dill from the garden.

Now, you lightly whisk the 6 eggs.  Add some salt and pepper - and a dash of cream if you have it, NOT MILK please - it makes the eggs go rubbery.  Pour over the filling

Bake for about 20-30 mins in a pre-heated oven on 180oC until filling is firm and golden.

Delicious cold - if there's any left!
This is really one of my favourite things - and great for lunch or a picnic - I eat it for breakfast!

"A recipe should be a tune that you can sing your own song to."Chef Rick Stein on his French Odyssey

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Computer Hacked - A Snake in the Compost!

I was up early on Friday morning and went out to empty the kitchen scraps into the compost bin.

As I flipped the lid off a tiny mouse flew out, followed by a snake - fangs darting.  This rather startled me, so I retreated to the house to answer my emails.  This is where the nightmare really began. (Within half an hour I knew exactly how that little mouse had felt!)

Yahoo was doing it's normal periodic thing,  and a security check page came up asking to verify my password - nothing unusual about that.  Then, just as I got into my email account, it all started to disappear in front of my eyes - all of my emails and then my contacts list - all of it totally blank.

Then my phone started to alert me of emails coming in - one after the other, and all of them 'failure to deliver' notices - about 50 in all.  And, the very curious thing was they were people I may only have contacted once many years ago (like past Prime Ministers and MP's!) and obviously - since they had been booted out - their email addresses had changed and this message, supposedly from me, could not be delivered to them.  This started to throw me into a panic - what the hell was happening?

I very quickly found out when the phones started to ring.  "Are you OK Di?".  "So you are not in the Philippines?"  "You haven't been held up and don't have any money?".  It basically went on like this for the next 48 hours and I have spent that time trying to sort it out (mostly with my head in my hands!)

These hackers, after obtaining my password (with a page that looked identical to the authentic Yahoo page) had been able to get into my contacts list and send begging letters to them all.  This was not all - they had also been able to send emails to ANYONE I had ever sent an email to - hence the ex-Prime Ministers, car mechanics and George Clooney etc. on my mailing list.

There are several really distressing things about this.  The first one is that the email was entitled 'Sad News'.  Now, most of my friends and family know that our parents are sick in hospital in the UK at present and thought that email was bearing news that they should know about - so opened it.
The second is that some sought clarification and replied to the email - they then kept getting more replies - purported to be from me (the hackers!) that's when they got really worried.  The third is that these hackers now have access to all of my contacts (Yahoo have assured me that they will fix this!).  The fourth is that they then hacked my Facebook account - all kinds of people had conversations with me yesterday (the hackers!) and have had to suspend my account - no great loss.  They were able to do this because my password was the same!!!  The fifth was that I was not able to contact everyone and let them know what had happened because everything had been deleted on my email account.

By this time Yahoo had a little red bell activated on the top of the page which then alerted me to the fact that someone in Nigeria was activating my account.   I had, by then, contacted my IT people and this was the advice I was given by both them and Yahoo.  BE WARNED!!!

1.  Change my passwords on everything and have different ones for each account.
2.  Change my security details (cat's name etc)
3.  Send detailed security report to email provider about what has happened and what you want done.
4.  If you are suspicious when being asked for your password - or even if you aren't - type in a false one.  If it's authentic - the correct page and alert will come up - if not, it will bamboozle the hackers.
5.  Keep a copy of your contact list somewhere else.
6.  Have a back-up email address where you can keep this and other stuff you don't want to loose.

There have been some lighter and curious moments in all of this. When I spoke to my brother-in-law in the UK last night.  He had received one (recognizing it as a scam) and replied "Start swimming Di" - which they replied to "No, this is serious" he replied "Well, get an outboard motor".  He then looked up the Western Union address in London, where you had to send the money to, and found it to be the gift shop at Westminster Abbey!!  So, were they just doing this for some sort of destructive and cruel fun?

Thank you, thank you to everyone who offered to help me.  I was very touched.  And, a special thank you to those who knew it couldn't be me because of the grammatical errors.

I am really, really sorry that you may have been distressed or alarmed by this horrible scam.

NOTE:  The snake was much more benign than these horrible b.......s! - just a baby python.
As I write, Yahoo is restoring my contact list, securing this and restoring my emails.  Thank goodness they couldn't get into my blog!!  Di

Monday, October 15, 2012

Green Manuring: How Nature Feeds Herself!

I was pulling the last of my broad bean crop when I was reminded of the dual nature of plants like this - while it had been feeding me and my family, it had also been feeding the soil!
The last of the broad bean crop

WHAT: Green manures are a cornerstone of ecologically sustainable gardening. These are annual fast growing crops, usually a legume combined with a grass, that are grown to build both organic matter and nitrogen levels to improve the soil.

HOW:  Broad beans are part of the large pea/bean family - legumes, and they have the ability to 'fix' nitrogen from the air onto their roots. I'm going to get technical here, so bear with me.

Plants such as clover, lucerne, peas and beans have an important advantage over other plants - they able to obtain nitrogen, a major element needed for plant growth, from the soil air. They do this by forming a symbiotic relationship with a group of bacteria called rhizobium, which live within a specialised structure, called a nodule, on the plant's roots. The rhizobia can take nitrogen (N2) from the air and convert it to ammonium (NH4), the form of nitrogen plants normally obtain from the soil. This process is called nitrogen fixation. And this was all going on while you were having a cup of tea!

Nitrogen nodules on the roots of my broad beans.

FACT:  Although I dozed off in most of my history classes, I do remember the teacher talking about mediaeval 'strip rotation' where a field was left 'fallow; every third or fourth year and a green manure was planted to revitalize the soil.  Not only does the soil get a nitrogen burst, but it adds valuable organic matter as the spent plants rot down.  This is what farmers used to do before the advent of chemical fertilizers.

Green manuring can be done with lots of leguminous plants that can be bought in bulk from seed suppliers - like cow-pea, vetch, alfalfa, clover, lucerne and lupins.  The Greeks actually did it two thousand years ago with broad beans.

NOTE:  It's a good tip to mix your green manure seed with a cereal grass like sourghum, millet, barley and oats - not invasive couch or kikuyu please!

WHY:  The cereal grasses help to break pathogen cycles in the soil, suppress weeds and provide bulk carbon for decomposition with the nitrogen rich legume plants. ( If you know about effective composting you know why this is important).

WHEN:  My daughter has just launched into the daunting task of trying to landscape her garden.  Half an acre of weeds have just been bulldozed which has left the earth bare.  The very best thing to do now is plant a green manure crop - we have pigeon-pea, sorghum and lupin - we were just waiting for some rain (yeeh, 43 mm last night!)  Initially this will ensure a living mulch over the soil to suppress weeds growth.  Then, just before the plants reach maturity we will slash them and let them break down into the soil.  Don't be tempted to cut the green manure too soon!

Use this method wherever you have a bare patch of ground that you want to be productive.

"If the green manure crop is ploughed under when still young and juicy, the soft tissues rapidly decay and a flood of nutrients is made available in a short time. However, almost all the good effects of this green manure will have disappeared in a short time.  If the green manure crop is ploughed under when it is mature, lignins will have formed over the cell walls.  Since lignins decompose slowly, the organic matter added to the soil in this way will last a  much longer time"
Introduction to Agriculture, J. A. Sutherland 1962 (Australia)

I am in awe of the ingenuity of Nature and her ability to regenerate - in spite of our meddling and damaging ways!  One of the joys of living in Sydney was being surrounded by three wonderful National Parks (Royal, Blue Mountains and Kuringai) and going for walks in them, particularly in the springtime. It was here I cut my 'horticultural teeth'. With increased knowledge, I began to notice that the leguminous plants performed a particular function - the short-lived acacias(wattles) behaved as pioneers, colonizing forest edges - enriching the soil for the seedlings of longer lived plants - like eucalypts (gum trees), and the tiny yellow pea plants on impoverished soils (eg. Bossiaea and Dillwynia) disappeared once the soils improved.  What they were each doing, in their own way, was enriching the soil with nitrogen - playing a vital role in their ecosystem.
Dillwynia retorta Heathy Parrot Pea

So.. Green manuring is just a simple way of capturing Nature's knowledge and harnessing it for a simple, cheap and effective way to organically enrich your soil.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recipe: Creme Caramel

This perennial favourite desert was a special request when my daughter recently came to visit.  This is for you Edwina. (Plus, we had just been to the dairy and had lots of lovely fresh milk and eggs).

You might wonder why I am bothering to post a recipe for such a popular dish (there must be thousands of variations on the net) - it's just that this one works, and I have tried so many that don't.  I think it's good to have a repertoire of 'tried and trusted recipes' up your sleeve - ones that require few ingredients, simple to make, turn out the way one expects and taste delicious.

Creme caramel, originating in France, has been around for centuries and been adopted by many other cultures as a national dish.  I love anything caramel and will always choose 'caramely' dishes on restaurant menus. I have particularly happy memories of a trip to Europe in the 1980's - especially travelling around Portugal with our three children. It seemed that we ate dozens of versions of this dessert (and omelette) probably because they were written in French and were the only thing we could read on the menu! I can have a stab at most languages that I come across, but Portuguese absolutely defeats me.

It's a simple dessert to make - just the caramel process requires some patience.  It's like riding a bike - it's easy once you get the hang of it.  This recipe is one I have 'tweeked' over the years to be 'fail-proof' - so here goes!
TIP:  It's better made the day before as it needs to be thoroughly chilled before you can turn it out.

5 eggs
500 ml milk
2 tbs caster sugar

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water

1.  Heat oven to 160oC
2.  To make caramel, dissolve sugar in water in a small saucepan over a moderate heat.
3.  Bring syrup to boil and simmer steadily until a deep-golden caramel.
TIP:  Watch like a hawk - this may take 5-10 minutes.  It can burn very quickly once the colour starts to change.
4.  Remove from heat and allow any bubbles to subside, then pour straight away into an oven-proof dish.  (I use a straight sided souffle dish for this).  Tip the caramel around so that it coats the sides evenly.
5.  To make custard, lightly whisk together eggs and sugar and pour onto milk.
6.  Whisk, then strain into caramel-lined dish.
7.  Place dish in a baking dish and pour in hot water to come halfway up sides - you are, in effect, steaming the custard (this is called a bain marie)
8.  Bake at 160oC for 45 minutes until just set (it will be firm to touch).
9.  Remove custard immediately from baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
10.  To serve, place a deep plate over custard and carefully invert.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hippeastrums or 'hippies' to you!

I want to officially nominate this plant Hippeastrum amaryllis as the floral emblem for our region - the name says it all (they are commonly known as 'hippies'!)

Where I live has attracted varied groups of settlers over the years - many because of it's natural resources; timber cutters, whalers, dairy farmers and banana growers - to name just a few., but it has also attracted folk seeking an alternative (better?) way of life - the hippies (counter culture conscious seekers or, as my father would say "dope smoking utopian layabouts"!)

'Hippies come in lots of bright colours

The year 1973 was a momentous one for this region.  On the 1st of January 1973 Britain joined the European Union and, after decades of importing agricultural products from Australia - particularly cheeses and butter, it suddenly stopped.  This, in effect drove many dairy farmers out of business and suddenly made their land very cheap.

A fairly unique scene at Main Arm - Hippeastrums massed as a border in front of a sugar cane field, in front of the rain-forested ridge of Koonyum Range in the background.

Early in 1973 a group of University Union students approached the Nimbin Chamber of Commerce to hold a festival of music and discovery and the Aquarius Festival was born.  This was held in May, attracting an enormous amount of young people and many just stayed and stayed, buying up the cheap land that was now on offer and so the 'Rainbow Region Counter Culture' was born.

Remember that this was the time of the Vietnam War and its' protest movements, the Cold War in Europe (which drove me away from it's shores), the permissive society - and sex, drugs and rock and roll!

They're everywhere at the moment - on the counter at Santos food shop.

It's interesting to think that many of the ideals these original groups espoused have now become mainstream and I think we have a lot to thank them for - environmental responsibility, composting and recycling, alternative power, peace movements, political conscious raising, local and sustainable food production, wilderness protection and land regeneration.

Hippeastrum amaryllis is one of those bright and sunny plants that herald summer.  A native of tropical South America and the Caribbean - with a common name of Barbados Lily - their stripes and unusual markings are a result of crossing between the 75 different species. ( If you have red one and a white one you can bet your life that you eventually will have a striped one).

Used with great joy in my neighbour's garden - they're just asking you to walk up the path and through the arch into the rest of the garden.

I think they are best used like this - massed as a focal point, where the summer garden will then take over when the flowers die down.  Perfect for under a frangipani tree too!  They need to be seen, so don't bury them at the back of a bed.

They grow from a bulb, are incredibly tolerant of all kinds of soil conditions - including the weeks of dry weather that we are experiencing - and the very wet soil that we also get!  They just don't like cold and won't tolerate frost.  Apart from that they are pretty trouble free.

NOTE:  I was recently listening to a radio program that interviewed some of the original commune members from the Aquarius era and one of them, who has since moved away, said his legacy from that time was "to always have more in his pantry than in the fridge".  Well, I reckon then that my dear old Mum must be a hippie at heart because, when I was growing up, our pantry was always full - and often with hippeastrums.  In the UK they are invariably grown as a pot plant and my mother would spend the winter scouring Dutch bulb catalogues and ordering all kinds of exotic varieties.  Once potted up they would spend time in the pantry until their shoots emerged from the soil.  We then got a daily running commentary of the 'hippies' progress until glorious bloom time - oh joy! (It was too cold in my part of the world to grow them outside)

'Remake the world closer to the heart's desire'
For my Mum and all the other Hippies

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hot Composting

Never look a gift horse (or cow!) in the mouth.  This old saying came to mind when Dave came round with the gift of a few bags of cow poo - ( I had tempted him with rainbow chard and basil seedlings).  I was about to make a HOT COMPOST pile and this was just what I needed?

"My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that let's you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap". Bette Midler

HOT COMPOSTING is all about striking it rich in your own backyard! It's all about using what you have to make the best conditioner for your soil to give you the healthiest plants -  and that means healthier for you - making sense yet?

HOW MUCH WASTE does your home and garden produce?  Do you know that a lot of this could be put to good use as vital components of a compost heap?  Heap - WEEP! - that's what I want to do when I see my neighbours raking up leaves and putting them in the garbage; tossing their lawn clippings in the bin; seeing green waste prunings poking out of the top of their wheelie bins etc. etc................................

"Under Mpu Dibiaja's tutelage, Kusuma Sari learned that farming was the management of life and death. She knew that life's richest food is death, and understood the usefulness of discarded things: the peels of a mound of garlic, the carcass of a humming bird, the wastes of the stable and expired offerings.  Such things she put back into the earth with the same cheer as that with which she cut down the ripe baggage of bananas or bid permission from a tree to harvest its fruit and flowers.  Kusuma Saris learned early to appreciate the ingenuity of nature"  
The Painted Alphabet, Diana Darling (A wonderful book I read while working in Bali)

GARDENERS NEVER HAVE ENOUGH COMPOST - this is the life blood of good gardening - so let's roll our sleeves up and get down to it.  You make this in ONE GO - so get the mower ready, and all the garden waste that you can find.

1.  WHAT YOU NEED TO GET YOU GOING: 1.  A frame - I made this from old timber pallets held in place with some metal star pickets. 2. Flossie - the goddess of composting.
THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM THE COLD COMPOSTING BIN METHOD.  We are going to make something that is real SOIL FOOD and not just a SOIL CONDITIONER.

2.  THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COLD COMPOSTING AND HOT COMPOSTING.  When you make compost in a bin like this it is really only useful as a soil conditioner.  WHY - because to break it down it uses the nitrogen contained in compost scraps - this depletes it of most of its available nitrogen - a valuable plant nutrient.  HOT COMPOSTING uses nitrogen from the air to activate the heap and therefore RETAINING much of the valuable nitrogen.
3.  RULE NUMBER ONE for HOT COMPOSTING - the finer the components, the hotter the pile will get, and the quicker it will break down.  So here we have Dave's cow poo - the pats were so dry they were really only good enough for playing frisbee.  A moment of divine inspiration came to me and I decided to mow them up.  Normally I would soak them in water to make a slurry - but I was short of time and water (it hasn't rained for ten weeks).  ANY KIND OF MANURE or URINE acts as a COMPOST ACTIVATOR - it fires it up!!  (I did get covered in clouds of bull dust, but I figured it was worth it)
FACT:  Urine is extremely high in nitrogen and therefore too valuable to flush down the toilet.  Use it to activate your compost heap!!  IT'S FREE!!!

4.  RULE NUMBER TWO - DON'T THROW IT AWAY - mow it up to put in the compost.  Before I mow,  I go around and do any weeding and pruning that's needed, then it gets chomped by the mower (better than ending up in the tip?!)  This makes the perfect combination of carbon to nitrogen - just right for your compost.
5. RULE NUMBER THREE - SAVE YOUR BACK FOR SALSA DANCING!.  Compost piles need air, and most books will tell you to 'turn them'.  You can save yourself the effort by putting a couple of perforated pipes in the middle of pile.  In Africa I have seen them replicate this by building the pile around several bamboo poles and periodically wiggling them.

6.  RULE NUMBER FOUR - LAYER, LAYER, LAYER.  Just think 'lasagne' and you will get it.  For hot composting you need about 50% GREEN stuff (fresh lawn clippings, animal manures, green waste, comfrey, green weeds, kitchen scraps, seaweed) to BROWN (dry grass, straw, shredded paper, dry leaves, wood ash).  Repeat the layers and make sure to WATER EACH LAYER.

7.  RULE NUMBER FIVE - Keep going until the pile is at least one metre square. It needs to be this big to work - to create enough heat so that the heap breaks down and kills any weed seeds.  CONVENTIONAL HEAPS DO NOT DO THIS and you cannot put seeding and rooting weeds in them.

Flossie, being unusually modest, working her composting magic!
8.  RULE NUMBER SIX - Cover the pile and leave it for six to 12 weeks.  IT WILL GET HOT - this is the energy being created by the activity of all the micro-organisms - it will gradually loose heat as   it breaks down and this activity decreases (then the worms take over!)

The compost is ready when it looks like this - happy days!
This kind of heap is ideal for the backyard gardener.  If you have land and lots of waste go to Hot Composting with Dave to see how to do it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mt Jerusalem National Park: On our Doorstep!

Standing on the edge of the caldera looking across to the Western rim over Doon Doon.

Yesterday Michael and I did something we had been planning to do for a while, but never seem to get round to, and stepped out into the amazing landscape that surrounds us - we went for a bushwalk.  I am so glad I did (even though we took a wrong path (busy chatting) and added two hours to our journey - but that did mean we went up Mt. Jerusalem!)

We live in an ancient landscape on the edge the Tweed volcanic caldera - one of the largest and best examples of an erosion caldera in the world - with various volcanic plugs still visible throughout the area - the largest of which is Wollumbin (Mt. Warning) - which would have been twice as high as it is today before it blew it's top over twenty million years ago.  
Mullumbimby farmhouse at the base of Mt. Chincogan - typical of the old style architecture

I am lucky to have as the backdrop to my garden another of these volocanic plugs - Mt. Chincogan, and be able to see Wollumbin in the distance over to the West.  In aboriginal mythology Wollumbin is the father and Chincogan the mother - protectors of the land - watching over all living creatures and it's sacred places.

For many thousands of years this green paradise, resting in the shadow of the majestic Wollumbin, was home to the aboriginal Bundjalung people.

The Bundjalung enjoyed a warm sub-tropical climate. The landscape varied from towering mountains to the bountiful sea, providing an abundance of food and materials that met all their needs.

Wollumbin, the mountain named by Captain James Cook as Mt Warning, towers 1100 metres above the sea. It was named by Cook in 1770 as a warning to other seafarers of the numerous treacherous reefs along this coast.

He did not know that the Bundjalung people for many miles around called the mountain Wollumbin, and that it was an important sacred site, as their lives and religion were strongly linked to the land.

Wollumbin, with the volcanic plug of Doughboy Mountain in the foreground

Whenever you walk in the forests around here you come across enormous felled trees like this - discarded by the loggers because, once cut down, they discovered them to be hollow inside.

Following explorations by Cook, white settlement began - and, consequently, the displacement of the Bundjalung forever.  In the 1850's a British timber logging camp was built at the back of Mullumbimby - the start of white settlement in this area.  A place where the cutters could feed their livestock on the grasslands and get their valuable timber down the Brunswick River and out to the waiting ships - taking the rainforest timber, mainly red cedar, back to the UK.

Fortunately, these remnant forests are now protected and part of the Jerusalem,  Nightcap and Wollumbin  National Parks system - fought hard,  and long for by locals and environmental campaigners.

Meditation Rock - with views to Byron Bay Lighthouse (clinging to the side of this rock was a beautiful clump of pink, flowering Dendrobium orchids)

Once up here, and taking in the magnificent views, you only have to step over to the southern side of the rim and walk for about ten minutes to get wonderful views the other way, down the Wilsons River Valley to the Byron Bay Lighthouse.

The walk takes you under towering cliffs, through lush vegetation of palms, orchids, ferns and huge eucalypts to Meditation Rock - where you just have to pause for a while to enjoy the sweet air, smell springtime and listen to the birds.

 In five hours we didn't see one other person - just this fellow - a diamond backed python.  He was a small one - only about
2 metres long!

This walk reminded me of a chat I had with Dorothy, the 86 year old member of the Book Club I belong to - who looks about 70, with a vibrancy that belies her years.  When I asked her what her secret was she said "You just have to get out there and KEEP MOVING".  Thank you Dorothy. (By the time we got back to the car I could also hear my dear old Dad in my ear "It's lovely when the pain wears off!")

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies - One pan, easy recipe

I am very lucky to have a great cook and food writer for a neighbour, Belinda Jeffery - and this 'one pan' brownie recipe is an adaptation of one of hers - delicious and easy - with the wonderful crunch and taste of macadamia nuts.  (I was recently curious about a dish I read about for pan-fried salmon that required a sorrel sauce made from a 'beurre blanc with a shallot reduction' - might as well have been talking hindustani.  Ring up Belinda, and within one minute gives me the exact recipe - she's my kind of gal).

Macadamias in flower
Around these parts the hills are dotted with plantations of 'lollipop' trees that give it a very distinctive look to the surrounding countryside and, at this time of year, are in full of very fragrant flowers - which will bear fruit - well nuts - macadamias - in about 8 weeks.

Macadamia nuts are about the only native Australian plant that have become a commercial export crop. They are indigenous to this part of the world, occurring naturally in Australian sub-tropical rain-forests.

The edible nut is encased in two outer shells, the inner one  defeats ordinary nut crackers - a brick works!  However, it easier to buy a special 'macca cracker' or buy them directly from the grower at our Farmers' Market.

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies
250 g butter
250 g good quality dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa)
1 1/2 cups castor sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup wholemeal self raising flour (you can use white flour)
100 g roasted macadamias, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt

1.  Pre-heat oven to 180oC
2.  Place macadamia nuts on oven tray and roast for approx. 5 mins., until just golden
3.  Grease 25 cm square, shallow cake-tin and line with non-stick baking paper.
4.  Break up chocolate and heat in large saucepan (you will mix all ingredients in this so you need a large one) with butter until melted. Give it a good stir - it should be smooth and shiny. Take off heat. Cool until just warm.
5.  Add sugar and combine with hand whisk.  
6.  Whisk in beaten eggs.
7.  Add flour and salt and stir until combined (don't over-beat)
8.  Stir in toasted macadamia nuts
9.  Pour into pan and bake on 180oC for 40-45 minutes.  Test to see if cooked by inserting skewer - if it comes out clean, it's cooked.
10.  Don't attempt to slice up until completely cool - you can even put into the fridge for a while.
Using a ruler helps to cut up into even squares!  If you put them in an airtight tin they will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks - if you are lucky!

TOP TIP: For a delicious desert - simply place a brownie in each bowl, add some stewed or fresh berries and lastly, a dollop of ice-cream/yoghurt or cream.

NOTE:  If you are looking for a plant to use as part of an edible screen or hedge you can't go past the macadamia Macadamia integrifolia.  It grows from 2-5 m, evergreen with fragrant flowers in spring and a good crop of edible nuts.