Tag Archives: Brisbane

My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

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Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

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Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

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I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205

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’.

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.

Generosity of spirit

Well done to Lincoln Sherlock who showed by his quick response to an emergency situation that he is a selfless and brave man. Even more so, as once he had saved this man’s life, he left the scene beside the Brisbane River without seeking to be noticed.

Recently I saw a young girl pull up in a car and rush to ask an elderly man if he was okay as he leant puffing and heaving against a light pole on the side of busy Kelvin Grove Road. Another young girl passing by also stopped to see whether he needed assistance. It was heartening to watch.

Realistically very few of us are placed into a situation where they save a life but during our day kindness doesn’t have to be so dramatic. A smile, a greeting and a gesture of friendship or assistance without expectation of reward are what create a good society to live in.

A delicious goat cheese from Le Fromage YardOn the week-end I bought some cheese from two young people, Stephanie and Pierre who have started a small business. I like their cheeses and I like them so I sought them out at the market. After purchasing the cheese, Stephanie placed another small goat’s cheese into my bag. I am becoming a regular customer of Le Fromage Yard and this generous act was much appreciated.

I don’t think generosity of spirit means that you have to offer a gift that costs money. It can be a simple genuine act of spontaneous friendship, kindness or thoughtfulness. The pleasure the person receiving this act should be sufficient and because happiness is infective it will make the giver and the receiver feel happy.

Rarely do you have the opportunity to return the gesture, rather, you pay back that generous act not to that person but to another individual because most people respond to kindness and want to reciprocate. Pay it forward, as the saying goes. You will never know what effect small acts of generosity of spirit may have; such as letting a car move in front of you when waiting to get into the carpark. I am willing to bet however, that it will have a ripple effect on those around you.

Sitting out the New Year

I am so over all the suggestions for what to do to celebrate New Year. I hope I don’t have to listen to too many more ‘If you’re wondering what to do tonight….’ comments over the radio. I never wonder, I will sip champagne, have a delicious meal with my husband and daughter and be totally satisfied that we are together looking out on a safe and peaceful Brisbane.

It must be a fault in my character but if I feel obliged to do something I become unenthusiastic about doing anything. That goes for New Year celebrations. However having found a wilful spider weaving a web around my Christmas Tree I decided to clean out the very small store space under the stairs. Not too many Daddy Long Legs met their fate down the nozzle of the vacuum and it wasn’t nearly as cluttered as anticipated. Son’s aviation manuals from almost 2 decades ago are being seriously culled; daughter’s stuffed toys and dolls are being deposited in her storeroom and I have offered the Grandmother’s Chafing dish which hasn’t been used in over 15 years to the children.ball leg_1 top of leg 1

I polished it up, and it started to look beautiful again with the small details on the legs giving it a lovely old-world appeal. I love using silver cutlery and dishes at every opportunity but our lifestyles have changed so much we never use warming dishes. Our dining room next to the kitchen and the deck makes such contraptions sadly superfluous. If no-one wants it I suppose short of finding an alternate use for it, we will wrap it in tissue and store it for another couple of years. It is like all the beautiful but well-worn tablecloths we inherit and rarely use: some things are just too difficult to throw out. Perhaps that could be my resolution for next year: use it, if not give it away or don’t buy it in the first place. Have a happy New Year. 

Craft versus Art – How to have a spirited dinner party conversation

Politics, religion and art are topics of conversation guaranteed to produce strong opinions around our dinner table with more dissension than agreement. Last night was no different as we struggled to define what is Art and what is Craft or perhaps Fine Craft with the subjects of the debate being the exhibits in the current Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT7) here in Brisbane. A friend who is quite a good artist had also visited the exhibition and was happy to throw in his contribution to the conversation.  I always look forward to his Christmas Cards as they are often chosen from one of the many sketches he makes when traveling.

He felt that some of the exhibited works were more craft than art but wasn’t able to explain what prompted this concept. We couldn’t come to a conclusion because they have so many common characteristics such as imagination, creativity, skill, and of course how the piece relates to the viewer and what it’s meaning is. Using the expression of Craft would not demean the work but it does define the different disciplines required to produce each piece. One thought we had was that if the work has a connection to a utilitarian origin then even though there may have been great skill in creating that piece with an imaginative application and use of materials it might be categorised as craft.

Lou looking at Dilly Bags

Lou looking at Dilly Bags

My favourite exhibit was the enormous bags created by Lorraine Connelly-Northey from pieces of recycled iron including rolls of discarded fencing wire and the rusted inner springs of a mattress. They all were wonderful and different and I wished that I had a wall big enough to exhibit one of them. Both my sister and I thought that these were fantastic; clever, imaginative and creative based on the utilitarian ‘dilly bag’. As a woman I carry a bag everyday of my life filled with all manner of goodies. When I was on crutches a couple of years ago, negotiating stairs, the ‘dilly bag’ was essential as once I had got up the stairs I wasn’t going down them again until I had to. Everything I thought I would need for the day was thrown into the bag and slung over my shoulder.

These bags were only one of the many fabulous pieces being exhibited.Dilly bags- APT Brisbane Dec 2012Go and have a look at these and the other exhibits. They challenge your conceptions. Some are beautiful, some ugly, but all make you rethink the object’s frame of reference. It is a huge exhibition and almost impossible to view one visit. It is free so don’t rush it, go back again and again and you’ll see something different each time.