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An Anzac food parcel of love

Can food speak as words of love from a mother? I certainly tried to make this happen.

PoppyAnzac Day always has special meaning to our family as we have had so many members serving here and overseas. I try not to let it pass without thinking of what it means to Australians and today as I was listening to a speaker talking about letters sent home by Australian soldiers in previous wars I started to think about the words and messages my son and I used in our emails during his two stints overseas and of how I tried to communicate my love to him.

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I remember sitting at an early morning Anzac Day service in Los Angeles, feet in thin soled shoes getting wet from the heavy dew on the grass, pulling a pashmina tight around my shoulders as a shield against the thick early morning fog that hid the gravestones surrounding us. Even the podium a few metres in front of us had swirls of grey mist clinging to its supports. I was still, tense, with hands in my lap, staring at the speaker without listening to his words, absorbed in my effort not to think of what my son might be doing on the other side of the world in Iraq. I looked with unfocussed eyes, beyond the speaker into the grey distance where urban shapes were emerging from shadows. Gradually one shape impinged on my consciousness and it was like being hit in the chest with a fist. A Bunya Pine, that tall untidy tree planted near Australian homesteads to act as a landmark to travellers and those who were lost and now would find their way home. I sat, tears sliding quietly down my cheeks, images of my son flooding my mind, reassuring myself he would be fine. ‘He is trained for this,’ was only temporary reassurance from my husband.

‘Hope the sandpit is treating you kindly. Take care, duck and weave when you have to. Love ya.’ xx Mum

As a mother there really isn’t much you can do when your adult child is serving overseas, other than write or send the odd parcel from home. And if I was lucky I occasionally had a few snatched moments on the phone and then I would pass the information on to our huge extended family voracious for news about G. These conversations were always hit and miss, because you could never return his phone call as his numbers didn’t exist.

 ‘Hi all, I just spoke with G, he’s good, his normal self, no news really. Work is keeping him busy enough but other than that he was more interested in finding out what is going on at home than talking about his side of things…’ Susie

 So write I did, frequently, about nothing in particular, just the news of what our lives were like, about my work, people we were dining with, meals and recipes I cooked, activities with friends and family and places I visited. I tried to make them the most interesting and funny letters I had written. Every time I whinged about no contact, I would think about my Italian Grandmother writing from Proserpine to the family in Piedmont and that it might take 12 weeks from sending to receiving a letter. Italy was so far from Australia that after leaving at 21 years of age, she never saw her parents again. The only time I felt that living in Los Angeles and London was a long way from anywhere was when G told me of his postings.

‘Dear G, I woke up last night and decided that I needed to see you and K for a night before you go away to the other sandpit!!!  … Therefore I think we will come home from London for about five days….’ Love ya, xx Mum

His two sisters felt his absence as keenly as I did and wrote as often. We kept each other in the loop which later expanded to include his fiancé. Food of course was an easy topic of conversation.

‘Mumsie, Just for future reference, you might already know (I didn’t), he says bring on nice cereals and antipasto-type goodies, …, and he has a small bar fridge so he can store jars of olives etc, just don’t send cheeses or anything similarly perishable.  No other tips for care parcels, just make it edible.  Typical, he’s not happy with boring digestives cookies, nah, he wants the fancy deli goods!!’ xx G

 However, just because he wasn’t at home, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t occasionally ask him to provide brotherly guidance to a turbulent sister who had issues at work or disappointments in love.

‘Mumsie, Yeah yeah, I spoke to S the other night, usual brotherly thing, all sorted, I should probably give J a call and see how her job is going. I might do that tomorrow.  I actually got a couple of little love packages from L and S the other day.  These were absolutely great as food was starting to run low out here.  It’s not that we ever run out it’s just that you get a very limited choice, not too bad but weird flavours, ie; Ham and onion sandwiches…’  xxG

I was curious about the people he worked with (on both sides), and would raise cultural issues that I had run across when living in the United States, such as the advertisements on television shows and in the Gourmet magazines that I read but got very little information other than…

‘The Americans do take a little getting used to, we’ve got a team working with us and there definitely is a bit of a culture clash, not too bad but it’s the little things.  The radio plays ads supporting abstinence and lot’s of happy clappy god fearing stuff.  Very bizarre.’ xx G

Desperate for any news at all, I would discuss politics at home and abroad but G was always the mastermind of reticence and self-censorship with a little cynicism creeping in…

‘Yeah life over here for the ordinary person might be better if we left, and I think there will always be conflict where respect is gained through firepower.  Only now are we learning, yet again, that modern western democratic ideals cannot be overlayed onto all countries.’

And so I would go into great detail about my life of museums, art galleries, coffee with girlfriends and teaching at a Muslim girls’ school, keeping fit by swimming none of which I am sure he was particularly interested in but perhaps he was, as he did once say he had saved all our correspondence,  and he would send me details of his day ….

‘Mumsie, Well I’ve finally got here and am starting to settle in.  It’s one hell of a barren place, I don’t think the surface of the moon could look any worse than this, it’s dusty, rocky, mountainous, sandy, windy, and actually quite cold.  … There’s supposed to be a ‘coffee shop’ of some description run by the Dutch and a local store run by some international company as well as a weekly local market which everything going to plan I’ll get down there soon enough and check it out.’

We knew he didn’t want or need clothing or books but food was frequently a subject discussed in our emails as he is a terrific cook. So my sister, my daughters and I all sent food parcel after food parcel, including Anzac biscuits and the heaviest fruit-filled cakes I could carry.

‘Dear G, Here is my latest offering. If you don’t need it, use it as currency for something you do. The lady at the post office in LA couldn’t believe how heavy the fruit cake was, but her eyes widened and she smiled in delight, when she made me unwrap its many layers of brown paper and alfoil and smelt its aroma…’

‘Mumsie, One good thing though…  the food here is phenomenal, it is without a doubt the best food I have ever eaten during 11 years in the Army.  We get T-Bone steak, Eye Fillet steak, curries, fresh Naan, fresh fruit salad, good cereal etc.  That being said I’ll never turn down any home cooked goodies (or spicy stuff…).

Cooking the biscuits and cakes let me pour all my love into that food to nurture him and keep him safe. I felt I was contributing. Although after receiving that email, I did wonder if our gifts were redundant…

‘Dear G, Glad to hear the playpit is feeding you well. It sounds as if there is an opportunity for a good barista – what are your entrepreneurial skills like?  Perhaps we could dip in chocolate and send you the cockroaches that are said to be hatching in plague numbers in Queensland due to the unseasonal heat. Unseasonal, in November, unlikely.

Today, full of memories of other cakes, after the Anzac service I came home and cooked a fruit cake as a  message of love to my children. I found a recipe from my Grandmother, born in 1902, who lost a brother in France in World War 1.  Flexible as always, I fiddled with the recipe a little because fruit cakes are like that, using whatever was in my cupboard and fridge. Into a large packet of mixed fruit, I added raisins, chopped apricots, a few figs and some dates. I didn’t have sufficient hazelnuts so I made up the mixture with walnuts and almonds as well. I had plum jam so used that instead of apricot jam.

I poured my love into this cake as if it was my children, I chopped the nuts and crushed their obstacles, added spicy ginger to give warm love to their life and sweetness with home-made plum jam. And as I incorporated the flour with Granny’s old spoon, and gently blended the fruit, I was whisked back to the many times they sat around my bench, licking the bowls, stirring the alcohol into the fruit and always helping to make and eat the fruit cakes for past Christmases, christenings and birthdays.  As this cake rose it reminded me how integral baking and cooking is to binding our family together.

 

web-fruitcakeGranny Young’s fruitcake

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Butter and dust with flour a 25 cm (10 in) round cake tin.

250g butter

1 cup brown sugar

375g dried fruit

½ cup dried figs, chopped

1½ cups prunes, chopped

1½ cups hazelnuts, skinned and chopped

3 eggs

1¼ cups self-raising flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1¼ cups plain flour

1½ teaspoons mixed spice

3 tablespoon apricot jam

1 tablespoon instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespoons water

web-cake-ingredients1In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then mix in the eggs one by one. Sieve together the flours and cocoa and mixed spice. Mix together the fruit and nuts. Add the coffee to the jam, mix together and add to the fruit. Add the flours and fruit in alternate batches to the mixture. If it feels a little dry, just add a small amount of milk to moisten the mixture.

Cook for about 1¼  to 1½ hours and remove when a skewer inserted into the mixture comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin. For additional flavour, trickle a couple of spoonfuls of brandy or rum over the warm surface. (Great for when you send it to an alcohol-free base!).

 

 

 

Fig leaf ice-cream

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All the world may be discussing American politics but I have my own disaster, which is particularly sad news during summer. My KitchenAid Ice Cream maker has sprung a leak and nothing we try seems to be able to repair it.  I am sad that such a reliable piece of my kitchen equipment hasn’t stood the test of time and use as it was only 10 years old and I know it hasn’t been dropped.

I noticed iridescent blue droplets in my freezer drawer and wondered where it had come from. I knew we hadn’t been drinking blue curacao cocktails so thought it might be the purchased icy poles that my husband had bought for the grandchildren.

Because I can be quite spontaneous in my cooking, I prefer to keep the ice-cream maker in the freezer so that it is always ready to use. As I lifted the ice-cream maker tub from the freezer I saw small droplets down the side under the little prongs. Not realising that they had originated from the ice cream maker I wiped them away and used it.

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I adore making ice cream and my family love eating it. They will eat it for breakfast if they think they can get away with it. When I take the lid off the container, I often find finger marks swirling around on the surface and the volume gradually decreases whether I have served it or not. The mysterious freezer night raider strikes again. Even the 2-year old grandson knows where to find it in the freezer drawer and boy does he look disappointed if he cannot find any. I mean really Nanna, you have let the side down!

My fig tree has been bursting with beautiful foliage and I was thinking of what I could do with these flavoursome leaves. I wrap fish in young fig leaves and cook them under the grill for a quick and delicious summer meal.  The leaves impart a citrusy coconut flavour to the food and this is one of the nicest ways to serve fish.ww_fig-leaf

I leafed through the emails my sister had recently sent over in which we discussed our favourite restaurants and chefs in London. She has a professional ice-cream making machine which I envy but then again I don’t need to feed 12 people very often.

One of my treats, when living in London was to go to Brett Graham’s Michelin star restaurant The Ledbury. His food is imaginative and delicious and I have been enamoured with the flavour of fig leaf ice-ream and granita. I also follow another wonderful chef, Maria Elia who uses fig leaves to flavour a panna cotta.

Now I planned to make fig leaf ice-cream. I pulled out the recipe my sister had sent me which uses yoghurt to lighten the custard base. I picked the healthiest looking, most luscious unmarked fig leaves, prepared the custard and pulled the ice cream maker from the freezer.

This time I didn’t see any blue droplets so unknowingly I poured the mixture into the freezer bowl and set it to work. The ice cream took a long time to get very cold and naturally I blamed our hot weather. Eventually I decanted the still soft mixture into a container and put it in the freezer. That is when I noticed the disaster waiting to happen.

There was a blue ring of liquid coating the bottom of the ice cream maker and leaving a mark on the kitchen bench. Sadly, I think this means it is the last time I can use this machine.

However, the ice-cream was delicious. Here is the recipe my sister sent to me. I don’t know it’s origin but it may be from Brett Graham or Maria Elia or she may have adapted a recipe and created this one. ww_fig-leaf-ice-cream1

Fig Leaf Ice-cream

 

250 ml milk

250 ml cream

250 gm sugar

2 tablespoons liquid glucose

Finely grated rind of ½ lemon

½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

6 medium-sized fig leaves, washed, dried then torn

500 ml yoghurt

 

Combine milk, cream, sugar, glucose, lemon rind and vanilla seeds in a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the simmer then remove from heat, add fig leaves and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and once it is cool, add yoghurt and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Strain again before churning in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

 

 

 

Girlfriends are so important

ww_the-girls-backs-on-logWe were off to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island which has to be one of the most glorious places to have a girls’ week-end away. A southerly was battering the boat and my girlfriend and I were struggling to stand upright against the swell that was tossing the passenger ferry around like flotsam.

ww_point-lookoutSea water was splashing against the windows of the lounge area where the passengers had crowded to avoid getting wet from the spray that washed across the outer deck. Bracing against the seat, I looked around the lounge and noticed that my friend and I were the only people chatting; our travelling companions were all head down, looking at their iPhone or tablet. This silence was broken only by giggles coming from the front of the sitting area where I saw two little girls playing with each other.

Version 3I had seen the little strawberry topped hat looking out through the rain drops sliding down the glass as the passenger ferry rolled and splashed its way across Moreton Bay through the squall that was making our passage distinctly uncomfortable.

She was playing very happily by herself, running her finger down the wet window and drawing pictures. Occasionally she would turn to the child nearest her and play with her. I have no idea whether they were siblings or friends but when I asked to take her photo, she immediately wrapped her arm around the other little girl and gave her a hug, including her in the shot.

Version 4My girlfriend smiled at me and I reflected that this is what I would experience over the next two days in the company of my girlfriends.

Some of our friendships have start way back when we were as little as these two girls, sharing simple pleasures, some started when we were thrown together as a disparate group at school or later at university when a common interest, subject studied or another friend brought us together.

At the beach house, as I sat sharing a glass of wine and laughing at our reminiscences of past boyfriends I realised how important these friendships are in helping you get through your life. We talked about our worries for our children and our hopes for their careers and love life and how gut wrenching it was when they left home. We mused over the sorrows and tragedies that have occurred hoping that our friendship acts as a barrier to despondency and loneliness.

ww_the-girls-sitting-on-logWe complained about the incremental changes on our bodies that ageing causes and moaned of the challenges faced when dealing with our ageing parents. Although most of us are experiencing it, none of us could determine the best form of treatment for AMS (Ageing Mother Syndrome).

Some of us are married to our first husband, some onto our second marriage and others divorced but we remain friends. The wonderful thing about a friendship with our girlfriends is the acceptance of what you are. It is a liberating feeling to know that you don’t have to appear with make-up on each morning and who cares about the bulges that no amount of yoga or Pilates will tighten up and make disappear. We were content, sitting  on the deck, sipping a coffee and talking about what interests us. We have all followed different career paths and there is no need for jealousy or envy. I am happy to delve into their experiences and adapt their strategies into my life.IMG_0320.JPG

Having a girlfriend as a friend means listening while she talks, trying to see her point of view and abstaining from being judgemental. We walked along the beach fluidly changing groups depending upon whose knees were stiffening up, discussing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We exchanged opinions about people and politics and argued about how to make the country a better place for the next generation. We laughed at ourselves and each other.ww_the-three-girls

Sharing girlfriend time is as refreshing as a tonic and for me, more effective than meditation or a health retreat. I came away happy, knowing I am valued for whom I am and confident that I can deal with what the world might hurl at me this year because there is always a friend I can turn to.ww_frenchmans-beach-1

 

 

 

Organising myself into 2017

 

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A perfect place to knit and read

I looked at my 90-year old father on this New Year’s Eve and mused that he could possibly, although highly unlikely have made 70 New Year Resolutions. What a challenging concept. Why would you want to change yourself that much? So why am I bothering this year? Only because this year’s decision could be fun and thus more likely to succeed. In 2017 I am resolved not to more organised but to be less disorganised in my life.

‘Good luck’, said Andy, ‘that means we will have to get rid of all horizontal surfaces in the house.’

I muttered that he might be my first project, which made him hurry past the cluttered, untidy bookshelves and back into his study. ‘There’s opportunity on them there shelves,’ he hollered from the safety of his ‘cave’.

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A quilt project on spare bed

He is right of course, as I work under the philosophy that all flat surfaces, i.e. the tables, couches, benches, floor and beds should be covered because what else is a flat surface for. The only time our house looks remotely like the pages of an interiors magazine is when I go away for a holiday and leave him at home. He probably has a blissful time and able to find everything he needs but within an hour of my returning everything starts to look as it did before I left. knitted-trim-quilt

I do have a history of clutter. I remember my grandmother advising me not to leave my new baby on the floor as I would never find her again and my brother-in-law once asked me whether I had just moved into the house in which I had been living for 2 years.

It isn’t that I am untidy, it is just that I have a lot of projects on the go at any one time: I am making a recycled jumper quilt, knitting a baby rug, knitting some washcloths out of gorgeous brightly coloured cotton, sewing a balloon skirt, altering an Italian cotton skirt as well as reading numerous books and magazines and that is before you open the food cupboard and fridge where I am making ginger beer, sourdough and jams.

However, I do acknowledge that just occasionally, having a system or plan to work with can be of assistance in achieving my goals.

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Painting, boring but great effect

To start the momentum of this 2017 New Year Resolution I needed a significant project and what better task than to tidy up the dark area outside my laundry where I store my gardening equipment. Naturally I don’t start small and the easiest most effective way of making it look better is to paint it white. I am full of admiration for all those house painters who finish their jobs so quickly. What a tedious and time consuming job the painting of my slats has been and a very fiddly task particularly when negotiating the copper piping that leads to the hot water system. It wasn’t just a matter of slapping on a coat of white paint because the slats had many coatings of timber oil that had gradually darkened over the years. So I had to wash them, paint them with primer and then 2 coats of white paint on the inside and 2 coats of pale yellow on the outside to match the rest of the house. I was going to just do white but it started to look like a gingerbread house and very tizzy so I went with the yellow that blends with the corrugated iron and timber walls near by.

Andy just looked at me as if I was crazy, ‘Why change what works?’. This man could live in a cardboard box and be happy, as long as it had a wine bar. Interior design really isn’t his thing, nor does he ever feel the need to change the look of his environment. Once it is painted, leave it that colour and then you don’t have to think about other design considerations such as matching up the trim colour.

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My projects on ‘Our’ workbench

I really didn’t mind as this area is my space and I am Head Gardener so I get final say in what goes. He has his ‘cave’ where he sits contentedly surrounded by his books, computers, drones, electronic gear, shredder, printer, and I get the rest of the house including his workbench which is usually covered in my current outside project like the ‘weed tea’ being irrigated by the aquarium aerator so that it doesn’t stink the house out and the wreaths made from the wisteria vine, and the baskets made from palm inflorescences. Somewhere underneath all these things sits the hedge trimmer and the tree saw.

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First attempt at weaving palm inflorescence

But getting to the back of the house and my garden space, this I could do.  I moved the potting bench away from the walls, threw down an old sheet and up the ladder with paint brush in hand I went. Each day I could see the space lightening up. Even the Master and Commander noticed the increase in light. This is a work in progress and now I have the walls painted I can begin to declutter the workbench and floor. By declutter, I don’t mean throw out, as I never toss anything away until I am totally convinced I won’t use it again in some form or other. To me declutter means being organised.

 

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Storing garden gloves and florist wire

Pride of place is the back of the slatted door. If nothing else is achieved this year, I believe I can meet my resolution just on the back of this door. How good is this solution for garden gloves? So simple but it has taken me years to think of this. Check out my solution for storing all the small bamboo sticks that you collect with orcids and how to store the craft and florist wire. I will have no excuse not to wire the roses I am drying onto one of the wreaths sitting on the bench.

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Garden glove storage

This is a good reason not to throw anything out. Three years ago, I had used the plastic piping in the garden to secure stakes over which I had thrown bird netting to protect some fruit trees.

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Storing florist wire

I plugged the piping with an old broom handle that I had also refused to discard.  I own up to asking the assistant to cut the broom handle as I felt he should be involved with the project and I sense a reluctant tinge of admiration for my ability to upcycle most things. Not that he would admit it mind you.

In the meantime, I go out each morning with a cup of coffee and just admire my handiwork  and eventually, as I do have all of 2017 to be organised, I will get around to tidying up the pots and bags of compost. You don’t want to rush a genius.

Then I hear a voice from the driveway where my father is practising his golf swing.   ‘Dull women have immaculate houses.’

Version 2

Never too late to improve your swing.

My father is right, I realise.  Go out and enjoy yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Rather than making resolutions each year, perhaps it is better to strive to improve on the present while enjoying and liking who you are.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Day 2016

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Never forgotten

Each night I get a dose of what my husband calls ‘war porn’.  No, I am not into video battle games or S&M in the bedroom this is what I see when I turn on the television and watch the evening news whilst preparing dinner.

The kitchen commando is particularly sensitive to what he perceives to be constructed war zone scenes and the excessive zeal of news correspondents dressed in combat gear.

I engage him in discussions on what he thinks is appropriate reporting, interrupted by the occasional critique, hurled like a missile at the computer screen.  His opinions I suspect are still based on experiences from the Vietnam War.

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Finding a Great-Uncle

I accuse him of being an armchair critic, safe in our bunker, whilst we watch whole communities disintegrating under enemy fire in far off sandy places. We see families wandering dazed from the bombardments their cities are being subjected to, with children being plucked out of rubble and raced to emergency vehicles. This is what he describes as soft war porn, ready images of the distressed individual, or the fighter wandering into the haze firing at unhittable targets. He dislikes the hyperbolic language used to present the ‘news’ for our voyeuristic delight.

More boring and less dramatically reported are the conditions that our troops are experiencing, the dust particles that tickle the nose, the energy sapping heat that makes you irritable, tired and less patient, the constant tension from always being alert to your alien and rarely welcoming environment.

Remembrance Day is a trigger to reflect on the service our men and women give to us in Australia and elsewhere defending and supporting the values and morals which makes this democratic country a safe haven in which to live.

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Reflecting on their sacrifice

Of course they are paid to do this, but when deployed they don’t leave if the conditions become uncomfortable and unsafe. They cannot turn away from the ghastly sights that unfold in front of them. War is brutal and horrible, there is no escaping from that fact. They don’t have a ‘trigger warning’ allowing them to distance themselves from this harrowing place they find themselves in. They cannot choose not to participate because it might cause them distress. They learn to deal with the issues, develop resilience and keep going in an environment that is often debilitating and toxic. But then they return home to a totally different world and sometimes find it difficult to convey to their families and friends the shattering effects it has on their mind and body.

 

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Villers-Bretonneux

In his tragic warrior, Ajax, the Greek tragedian Sophocles portrays the psychological wounds inflicted on Greek warriors after fighting in the Trojan War.   Twenty-five hundred years ago Ajax struggled to deal with the guilt over atrocities inflicted during that conflict.  This is often thought of as the first example of PTSD.

Living your life doesn’t mean that you spend your time in rosehip jelly, insulated from what we don’t want to see or hear about.  I watch friends coping with family  members suffering from PTSD and it isn’t easy. We aren’t living in a simulator where if it becomes too terrible we can turn it off and walk out of the room. No-one should have to deal with these ghosts by themselves.

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Today I will reflect not only on those who served and didn’t come home but on those who have returned and are dealing with life after what they have experienced. That can be just as challenging. No-one is ever the same when they return from the ‘Theatre of War’.

A father comes in many guises

Father’s Day in Australia really isn’t a big deal in our house. Of course I’ll have my father to lunch if he isn’t playing bridge or golf with his mates or lunching with his wife of 61 years. Our children might phone in to say hi, but if they don’t, their father isn’t going to be cast into the doldrums feeling neglected. He knows he is loved.

I, like other women I know, have played father to my children. Whether it was because of long hours at work, divorce, or death there have been many times when I have had to play the traditional role of father as well as mother.

Sailing Days

A competitive father and disgruntled daughter

I have kicked the football, thrown the cricket ball, discussed dating and sex education and offered the ‘don’t drink and drive’ advice often to a withering scowl. I have learnt to communicate in grunts and lived with nocturnal teenagers.

Web-The-Craigs-1My husband was in the reverse situation of playing mother to three boys and a girl. He adores them all and is immensely proud of his brood of 7 children and 10.5 grandchildren.

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What do you mean I cannot raise my daughter like the boys? It worked for these three fellows.

He is the first to admit that bring up a girl in a family of boys was a challenge.  He isn’t the most demonstrative of men, (read that as hugging), but he can cook a mean brownie to take to the school rugby and is prepared to defend his daughter’s honour, even when she doesn’t want him to.

Whether you are a father or mother, being a parent is equal parts fun, hard work, lonely, terrifying and exhilarating. It isn’t a role for that can be discarded when you are tired, busy at work or disinterested. It is a job that demands everything of you, it is draining emotionally and physically and you should not expect devotion; that is for the dog. Affection must be earned.

You will never stop being a parent no matter how old you grow as my Grandmother told me when she was 100 and still worrying about her girls. My father at 90, is not above giving me advice, nor is he above competing with his grandchildren when he can.

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Showing off

Fatherhood is fun but the competitive nature of the man keeps coming out. He has to climb higher trees, do what his kids do and do it better. For some obscure reason lost in the Neanderthal mists, he continues to compete despite the handicaps that age eventually imposes on his body. I doubt if we women are any less good at accepting age gracefully.Web-Canberr-trip-1998-3-(1)

I trained as a midwife and thought I was prepared for motherhood, but nothing prepares you for that gut wrenchingly complicated feeling when you hold your baby for the first time. As their stepfather says, ‘If you thought too deeply about fatherhood, you mightn’t do it.’Bill with newborn Angus

As a father (and mother) I accept that we are to blame as we started it all. Yes, I realise that you blame me for your separation anxiety dating from when you were forced to leave the home that you and your mother shared but you had to make room for the others. My fatherly advice is ‘Get over it.’

This is our father’s day message to you, our children. You are the most awesome, overwhelmingly frustrating and challenging thing we do in our lives and you changed us and our lives from the moment you arrived. We have adored being a mother and a father however, there are some points that we hadn’t anticipated including:

  • Never having a moment of privacy again and no, you cannot always cross swords with me when I am having a pee!
  • If you want to share my bath you had better stop complaining that Chanel No 5 is too girlie. There is a perfectly good shower over there that you can have on your own,Version 2
  • Our dog appreciates the delicious well-balanced meals I cook every evening even if you don’t so if you don’t like what I’ve cooked, help yourself to cereal and milk,
  • No, I don’t eat cold toast because the butter doesn’t melt; my toast, like all my food is always cold by the time I have cut yours up,
  • Experiencing that feeling of rejection when even at 4 years old you let me know that you prefer the company of your friends to me,

    Bill playing with Angus on Main Beach

    A new take on dermabrasion

  • being prepared to look like a fool in public and being chased around the house wearing a hat made from newspaper shouting Ninja at the top of my voice, but why do I always have to be the baddie,
  • Never catching a fish off the beach again because I am untangling little people’s lines

    Beach fishing for Gus and Jemma

    What do you mean that I never catch a fish?

  • Feeling utterly desperate when you are lying in a hospital bed running a fever,
  • Being appalled at my wish for you to grow up so that we can talk as adults,
  • Knowing where to find a hairdresser when the home dye job turns green,
  • Wishing you hadn’t grown up because you are drinking too much of my whiskey,
  • Being impressed when you turn up with a replacement bottle,

    Andy teaching Sophie to tie a bow tie

    Its easier when I do it on myself

  • Being furious that you don’t share my opinion but delighted that you have an opinion,
  • Being enormously proud of your every achievement,
  • Being asked for advice on your love life, knowing that you probably won’t take it and realising that we are the same – human and fallible.Old memories 6

 

For our family, father’s day is just another day to talk with each other, toast our strengths and peculiarities and take pleasure in each other’s company.

Hello Possum

Possum sitting in bird feeder

 

Dame Edna may have popularised the greeting ‘Hello Possums’, but in my bed, no thank you.

I grew up in a wonderful family that embraced animals as members of the family and allowed our dogs and cats onto our beds at night. The coolness of a winter night was often measured in cats: a one-cat or two-cat night. Competition was high between the sisters and I can remember waiting until my little sister was asleep to creep in and lift a cat off her bed and into mine. We never rolled onto them, even the new-born kittens survived without being squashed.

A father I know recalls when kissing his young son goodnight, being asked to also kiss his son’s friend and discovering that each night a baby possum had been crawling under the covers and snuggling up to the small boy.  I am amazed that a small possum would sleep next to a child without scratching but I guess it was a nice warm non-threatening environment as long as it din’t mind being squashed occasionally.

They are such voracious feeders and devour my flowering plants regularly.  They are an absolute pest in our garden and I have pulled down the passionfruit vine in defeat and planted a jasmine across my railing in an attempt to deter the hungry mammals from carousing on my deck each night as they munch on their passionfruit cocktails.

In desperation, we have strung wires above the deck railing  to deter them from using our handrail as their footpath. Our barrier would make a European border patrol proud but hasn’t acted as a deterrent.  The possums regarded the high wire as an opportunity to practice their circus act and still manage to leave their horrible stinking trails along the railing.

Colin viewing the world

Alert to the situation

Possums aren’t cuddly although they might look cute when curled up in my bird feeder with their large pink domed ears and matching pink nose. The smaller ring tail possum fights for dominance against the brushtailed possum on our verandah each evening. That is the only place I want to see or hear them.

Fortunately I am married to a man who tolerates our cat sleeping on my side of the bed only because Colin ‘chat bizarre’ has learnt that sleeping on your master’s chest leads to being catapulted violently across the room.

However I am becoming less tolerant because a hot husband snuggled up to my back and a warped cat snuggled up against my tummy raises the temperature in bed to intolerable levels on other than absolutely freezing nights, of which there are few in Brisbane. In fact last night was so warm I opened the windows and the door to the verandah to avoid suffering heat stroke or a night-long hot flush. I was absorbed in reading about beautiful gardens in Australia but slightly unnerved by the bronze snake fountains and decided to roll over and join my sleeping husband.

As I snuggled up against my dozing companion a movement of the bedroom curtains caught my eye and a tug at the blanket that had fallen off the end of the bed. ‘Come on puss’, I said reaching over the end of the bed and came eye to eye with a brushtailed possum climbing up the blanket. We both bounced off the bed with me tripping over the blanket whilst flapping my arms and shooing it out of the room. My intruder didn’t seem to very perturbed; it ambled slowly over to the doorway, turned and looked at me as to say, ‘I’ll be back,’ before it walked the length of the verandah and jumped off into the banana trees. Too late, Colin arrived at the scene, nose up, sniffing possum smells.

Web-Cat-in-doona7516

‘Possum, what a quaint endearment,’ said my husband cuddling up to me. ‘No you deaf fool, I was chasing a possum and much use you were in defending my honour as neither you nor the cat came to my rescue.’ Snores and purring were the only response.

Wisteria

 
Wisteria  & rosesI have been discussing with my sister, world politics and climate change, both of which are quite depressing topics at the moment. We are disappointed with the current State and Federal Governments and despair for what the future holds for our children.  She has decided my suggestion of moving to a farm is not such a silly idea. I have some reservations about this concept of self-sufficiency although I love gardening and growing my own fruit and vegetables and I can picture myself spreading grain for my gorgeous hens and rooster. I’ll be generous and let her collect the eggs as long as she is prepared to also act as executioner. What a shame our Italian Grandfather isn’t alive to share his skills as a trained butcher and salami maker.

Mulling over how I would explain the idea of us living on a farm to my very urban husband I wandered into my garden wondering which plants would withstand climate change and an increase in temperatures with reduced rainfall.Wisteria in spring 2015I decided as I stood under my wisteria vine, that it would survive the most rigorous conditions. It is one very tough plant. Five years ago I found it in a tangled mess lying on the ground where my tenants had thrust it. The branches were long and twisted upon themselves like a ball of curling ribbon. Some of the lengths hadn’t been pruned for over 7 years making them impossible to unravel, so I hacked them off leaving a few long branches near the base which I trained across the stainless steel arbour that we had installed. The wisteria never hesitated and took to the space with energy and vigour, threading its way in a clockwise fashion along the wires and up over the veranda railings. Its summer growth is so fast that if you stood next to it you would be entwined within it like an enormous carpet python wrapped around its prey.Wisteria 2nd year flowering

When it flowers it looks spectacular and last year, a lunch guest insisted on touching the flowers to check whether I had trailed a fake vine across the veranda. Now as I contemplated the vine I realised I had neglected its pruning this year and it was looking a mess with long summer growth thrusting up and weaving around itself.Wisteria blooms & bud

This proved to be quite a cathartic activity because it is difficult to think of anything else when clambering up a ladder and handling pruning shears. I am always reluctant to prune which is ridiculous as everything grows so vigorously in our sub-tropical climate. So I started slowly nipping the occasional spur, climbing down, reviewing the look then climbing back up again, stretching my arms above my head reaching for the strong arching canes. I think I have managed to determine which are the plumper flower buds and the flatter growth buds.Wisteria buds trimmedIt was a great workout and I enjoyed it. I left some of the canes above the arbour so that I would see the flowers from above but managed to fill an entire wheelie bin with debris.

I also discovered a use for the canes and have woven them into wreaths. My amateur attempts have survived the enthusiasm from the crows seeking nesting material and now I need to refine the technique of adding flowers to the wreaths. Weaving with garden materials is a whole new interest for me.
Wisteria wreathDuring winter this skeletal frame lets the sunlight filter through, lighting the downstairs rooms while in spring the spectacular profusion of blooms fills our house with the gentle scent of wisteria. In Summer my study is illuminated with a cool green sunlight shining through the dense cover of leaves. Almost as good as a holiday. The flowers are so beautiful I am also working out how to draw them onto canvas for a tapestry. I cannot imagine how anyone need be bored when they have a garden.

Wisteria blooms closeup 2

Linzertorte- totally irresistible

Linzertorte

We have had a cold, blustery damp week and I was getting sugar withdrawals. I had been too busy to bake and had avoided going out to the shops so consequently I didn’t have anything sweet in the house, not a block of chocolate, no biscuits or cakes to nibble on with morning coffee. This is not normal for me as my children will verify. Their delight in coming into my study or office was to raid the drawers in which were stashed my supply of nibbles including salted nuts, chocolate and sweet and savoury biscuits. I work better when I am munching and as my weight has never varied more than a kilo or two, my diet suits me.

So when my family were coming for Sunday dinner recently I went into overdrive and cooked not only a chocolate cake but a Linzertorte as well. Talk about sugar overload: this was the ultimate in a sugar fix. The walnut and caramelized citrus cake with chocolate ganache is superb cut into small pieces to have with coffee and the jam tart: this was pure heaven.

I took pity on my nephew who is studying and sent him home with a large piece of each to get him through the next day while sitting at his desk but there has still been enough for me this week. I am thinking of hiding the last piece of Linzertorte from my husband but he knows all my hiding places. I managed to snaffle the last piece for the photo.

I will share this recipe as it is the easiest torte to make and so adaptable that you can use any type of nuts and jams you have in your pantry and it will still taste divine. I used almond meal as I had already used my walnut meal in the chocolate cake.

I didn’t have raspberry jam but had a small amount of homemade strawberry jam and topped it up with homemade blackberry jam, which was just as delicious. I blended the ingredients in my food processor makes it quicker but it is just as easy but slower made by hand. As I had a small amount of pastry left over, I have made biscuits sandwiched with jam to consume later in the week.

Timing: Pre heat oven to 180°C / 350°F when you have formed the lattice pattern over the jam.

LinzertorteIngredients

  • 160g almond meal (hazelnut or walnut works just as well.)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (an orange or lime will add a different flavour)
  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 180g butter, unsalted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, yolks only, gently combined
  • 1 cup of jam, (traditionally raspberry, but I used strawberry and blackberry and it is just as delicious. You could use apricot jam also.)
  1. Toast the almond meal in a frying pan over a moderate heat, or in the oven, until it is lightly coloured and gives off the lovely toasty smell of roasted nuts.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before using it.
  3. Blend the almond meal, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon rind, flour and baking powder in a food processor.
  4. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the dry ingredients to make fine crumbs. You can do this in the processor or by hand.
  5. Add the egg yolks and blend together. You can do this gently in the blender or by hand in a bowl. It is a dry mixture and tends to want to crumble. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to one hour. On hot days, if the dough becomes too soft, just refrigerate it for a while.
  6. Lightly grease a pan that has a removable base. I use a long 34cm x 11 cm pan, but a square pan or a round 23 cm pan works just as well. Cut off about ⅔ of the dough and roll it out thinly until about 2-4 mm thick. Don’t worry if it won’t roll out just pat it into the pan and up the sides. Place the torte on an oven tray to keep it stable.
  7. Spread the jam over the pastry. I used the strawberry jam and then topped it up with the blackberry jam. Refrigerate this while you roll out the top sheet of pastry.
  8. Roll the remaining pastry out until it is also 2-4 mm thick and cut it into thin strips. Place the strips across the top of the jam in a decorative pattern. Diagonal works well to form a lattice pattern. Refrigerate to rest the dough for about 30 minutes.
  9. Place the torte into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the jam starts to bubble. Remove and cool in the pan before removing the tart. Do this before it is completely cold or it might stick to the sides because of the jam.Dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream or crème fraîche to cut the sweetness.

 

 

Lemonade days

Web-lemonade-with-rose-2If the thought of lemonade stalls and cool, pale green liquid in long glasses cloudy with condensation seems like a perfect way to pass warm summery days then you could be excused for thinking we are living in the northern hemisphere rather than in sub-tropical Brisbane. Our long Indian summer has delayed Autumn and it is wreaking havoc on my equilibrium. I have capitulated to the realisation that my garden will never be perfect however, this season I am experiencing citrus envy which is threatening to impair the quality of my relationship with my trees.

When I look at the picture perfect citrus displayed on Gardening sheets and blog pages I start hyperventilating with fury and begin raging at the mealy mites, the ants, the grass hoppers and the aphids which have been, judging by their population, orgasmically enjoying our long hot days.Web-tangelo-tree

My latest weapon in the fight to perfection is to release Cryptolaemus larvae onto the leaves where the mealy mites have populated in profusion. These larvae feast on the mealy mite then morph into tiny beetles that resemble lady bugs. They are brown with rusty red heads and move so quickly that I haven’t managed to get a photo of them. I have resorted to wandering through my trees trying, in vain, to count the number of beetles that have hatched. As my non-gardening husband asks, ‘How can you tell whether you have counted the same one three times because it flies around so quickly?”

I adore the smell of citrus blossom and missed it hugely whilst living London, so when we returned to Brisbane, I went overboard and have planted oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, seville oranges, blood oranges and tangelos. As always there will be too many fruit for just one family and my father regularly directs his hose towards my trees so that he can claim watering rights in the form of tangelos and navels for his morning orange juice. I give away jars of marmalade and salted lemons as gifts.

Scale is often a problem, not in the size of my garden or the musical tinkle of ice blocks but in the rough patches on the skin of the fruit. They would never win a prize in our agricultural show and could be used as an example of how not to look in a dermatologist’s brochure. They look ugly but are so delicious.Web-cut-lemonades

Our lemonade tree is one of the earliest to ripen particularly in these still hot days. It is a strange fruit, and has come from either a cross between a Meyer lemon and an orange or a lemon and a mandarin tree. Whatever its source, the fruit is sweeter than a lemon and sharper than an orange.

The delicious pale green juice can be drunk straight or with soda to make a summer spritz. The fruit can be eaten but it does contain a lot of seeds that become annoying. It does not need a sugar syrup.  Even the most discerning four-year old palate will accept lemonade squeezed straight from the fruit.

I have been waiting to see whether the fruit ripened to a lemon yellow or an orange colour before picking but this doesn’t seem to happen. The fruit stays a light lime green, slowly turning yellow by which time it is almost over-ripe. The trick is to test the ripeness of the fruit by gently tugging or twisting the fruit hanging from the branches. If ripe, the fruit comes away easily. I have realised that it is best not to wait until they become yellow because by then they have been attacked by fruit fly and rot on the tree.

Web-lemonade-thornsOur young tree has fruited too heavily and has a decidedly drunken lean to it but I have been reluctant to prune it. The challenge is in avoiding being impaled on its thorns which are sharp enough to use as tapestry needles. Even worse, the rootstock tends to send out rogue branches that would be a perfect material for weaving a crown of thorns. I have already suggested this as an option for the next dress up event at school and I think I am about to be reported by my daughter-in-law for cruelty to children.

Web-lemonade-with-roseIn the meantime I am enjoying fresh lemonade for breakfast.

Nutritionally, you don’t need a large amount of fruit juice so it can be difficult to find the right size glasses. Traditional water glasses are too large and clumsy so I was delighted when I remembered these lovely crystal glasses sitting at the back of the cupboard. A perfect size and shape. The  etched star pattern was the right complement to the homegrown lemonade sparkling in the early morning sunlight.