Another Country Diary

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26 January '02

We sometimes give the cat a splash of milk when we're at the fridge. Max the littlest dog, is  sometimes confused by our warnings not to drink the cat's milk, but that it's ok to finish it, if there is any left. The dilemma is that if he waits, she sometimes drinks it all and he then pushes the plate around the floor noisily, licking up the smell. Jan is trying to explain it here.

Gregory Bateson uses this double-bind example to explain forms of schizophrenia. He quotes Lewis Carrol from 'Alice' talking about the Breadandbutterfly, a creature whose nose is a sugar cube and it's favourite drink is warm tea. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

There were two discoveries today, that cleared up different questions we'd had. I worked out what the mystery fruit that appeared for the first time this year was on the straggly tree in the old chook yard. I picked one of the green fruit and tried to cut through it. After striking something hard I chiseled away the covering and discovered what looks pretty much like a walnut. The leaves match the illustrations in the garden book but I can't tell what variety it is yet. I had planned to chop it down because I thought it was a Tree of Heaven that had suckered (The leaves are very similar, on long stalks). Now I'm glad I didn't and of course anyone can now see that it's a walnut.

The other discovery was that the difference in size of nuts we've been getting from the hazelnut trees, is because one is a filbert (Corylus maxima) and one a common hazelnut (Corylus avellana). Either that or one has returned to a root stock (unlikely) or they're two varieties of filbert or just the sexes are different (choose one).

The filbert has a classic uncircumcised sheath (it's called a bract) that totally covers the nut, and a larger leaf. The common hazelnut folds the bract back in a ruffled collar. You can tell from the photographs that they're different. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
27 January '02
Prize rooster Bungendore Show. Click for bigger image.The Bungendore show is so archetypical, that bottling it and preserving it would win you first prize in any country show section.

I've put together some images of the day as a Real Slideshow. The Real quality is lousy, the picture tiny but it loads fast. I've added some scintillating commentary if you want to know what's going on, and created a mute version where you can imagine anything you like as you watch, without me interfering. Hurry, everyone wins a prize! Choose from this extensive list of options now!
28 January '02
The task for today wasn't cleaning the Aegean stables, but a touch less mythic. In the cool of the morning we cleared the trailer load of horse manure that Kate and her boyfriend cleaned up from the temporary agistment paddock that her horse, Milo, was in. 

(The paddock is at the rear of one of the houses that back along the Bungendore town common. The common is a lovely public space along the Turallo Creek that separates the old part of town from the new estates of Elmslea etc. to the north. There are flat play areas, and a walking path that is shared with trail bikes, horses, dogs and tiger snakes in season.

It's been sitting there for about two weeks and had broken down to become almost fluffy. It certainly didn't smell. We mixed it with last of the composted soil left in one side of the compost heap, and shoveled it around the asparagus bed. It should break down and give the raised bed a fertiliser boost, and lift the level that has packed down with watering over the spring. There are berries now on the asparagus fronds. It's an anxious moment when you think you've cropped the corm too hard and it won't flower and regenerate for next year. Just one more spear and we'll have enough for a last meal... side dish... few chopped in with the steamed veggies...

We also went round all the fruit trees and raked up the fallen and bird chewed fruit before too many bugs got to it. Knowing what to do with it so that it doesn't just hatch destructive forces of evil is a problem. The compost heap doesn't rot down fast enough. It looks like a trip to the tip. The hills are alive with the smell of rotten fruit.

29 January '02
Making jam ...lemon and apricotEver boiled a lemon? 

Me neither until today. The bucket of apricots I picked on the weekend was rapidly going rotten, so while I waited for the latest log files to download so that I can run a report for one of the Digital Mechanics clients, I picked and cut the best fruit up into a bowl. (Working on a 56k modem gives you time during the day for all sorts of things while you wait. Maybe I shouldn't upgrade to that satellite feed, I'd lose my 'free space' time to move the sprinkler, or have a coffee.) 

I looked at the fruit for a while. Jam flashed immediately into mind, but we've got a few pots of apricot left. They should see us out till 2005, given the way we eat jam. Bottling is only good when you've got whole pieces of fruit, and freezing makes it mushy and suitable only for pies and flans (and we eat them rarely when guests come, in winter). This fruit was scrappy and slightly over ripe. So I looked up the jam recipes for an alternative to straight apricot.

I pulled out the Family Circle Recipe Encyclopedia with all the A entries ripped from the binding. (We had entered and re-scanned some of the images as a sample when we were going to do the Murdoch Magazines Family Circle website five years ago. Matt Handbury understandably got cold feet when he saw that we were probably not going to make any money for years from it. It was a good demo though, and I got keep the damaged book.) 

The Apricot and Lemon recipe sounded best but was for 500g of dried apricots, soaked overnight. I'm sure the result of that would have been different, but I had about a 1 kg of fresh fruit, (two lbs.). I substituted fresh for dried and the result was three jars of jam that taste a bit like a marmalade, that set beautifully and I didn't burn that much in the process. The full recipe has my asides and comments.

The time this 'home grown' routine takes, is a critical issue. If I hadn't been able to walk away from my PC to keep an eye on it every ten minutes, the jam wouldn't have happened at all. The fruit would have gone completely rotten waiting for a weekend or evening time that suited. You can understand how in earlier rural communities the pressure of the harvest and conserving what you grew would have been high, especially if you depended on the stored product. Jam has lots of sugar, a few vitamins left after boiling and it wasn't just a luxury, it was a way of cheaply extending plain bread into a meal. It all seems much more remote today when a shop is just a five minutes walk away, and good bread is available fresh each day.

Maybe we just concentrate on the 'privileged gourmand' aspect of all this. Does it taste better, with healthier less manufactured ingredients? Is the pleasure of it on my croissant significant enough to compensate for the the time it took? Is part of my reward in it being something done for loved ones and their recognition and thanks?  
31 January '02
I don't think I want this diary to be about recipes, but the Peach & Tomato Achar, is the only task I've done today that was anything 'country'. That's beside the usual checking the garden sprinklers and moving the hoses etc. I finished off some work for a client about 4.00pm, emailed it, and then headed for the kitchen.

I made a tomato achar (and added a few peaches) a few days ago and I overdid the chilli. It tasted good enough to try it again and this time I held back on the hotness and reversed the peaches and tomato dominance. You get that way when here are tons more peaches than tomatoes. (Although we did have our first salad with our own ripe tomatoes from the garden last night. we've been eating lettuce, rocket and endive for some weeks. The tomatoes will last now until the first frosts and shop bought ones will be scorned until late April)

Here's the recipe. I'm now heading off to Melbourne to greet my daughter who's returning from the US where she's been on student exchange. The wake-up news as I lay in bed this morning was that United Airlines had shut down the San Francisco terminal with a bomb scare. She's traveling United and has sent a number of panic emails and SMS calls to say she's scared to fly and nervously joking, that she won't see us again.

Times have changed, now my reassurances sound hollow even to me. 
1 February '02
Cheese Room at Richmond Hill CafeAurore’s back safe, with an American accent that fades as she picks up on your voice, (and five suitcases full of things for friends and family). We watched some of the mini-DV tapes she took of her school, friends and visits around Seattle. She hadn’t been able to watch the playback on a TV (her camera is PAL) so some of the shots are a bit short but they’re nicely framed and the quality is great. There’s a good short video there when she gets to edit it. Seeing it was some compensation for the 7 months I’ve missed from her life (in spite of almost daily communication at times with online chat).
She said that she had more communication with her parents than when she was at home.
What was hard to handle was the September 11 sections. Their school cleared out the bomb shelters that were from the Cold War days. From the TV clips she filmed the ‘America under Attack’ media line that came through clearly. Because Seattle has a nearby atomic Naval base, they really felt they could be a target.
There was nothing culturally that she said she really missed, but she was starved for good food. So I suggested we go to the Richmond Hill Cafe for lunch and then hit their cheese room. The staff are great there, always pleased to see a young gourmand in the making and they let her taste whatever she likes, making suggestions and explaining what the features were of each sample. We always come away with over $50 worth of cheese so it’s a good investment in a future customer.

It was great lunch and you could see her delight not just from my side of the table, but from the other side of the dining room. (Mine too probably, in having her back safely.)
Fred Harden
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