Another Country Diary gumboots
Another Country Diary

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16 December -25 December.
Footy over, Sunday morning is the time for the Juniors cricket on the oval. There's a relaxed dress code and the organisation and umpiring seems to be the older kids while the parents watch from the shade. Or more usually chat to each other, with one eye on the game so that they can offer the occasional "good one" and some encouraging clapping. 
Artichokes are so damned picturesque (and equally fiddly to prepare) that it's almost better just to look at them. Before I bring them into the kitchen I shake out the bugs, this year dozens of small ladybirds and the usual earwigs. Then I leave them sit for a bit so the rest can crawl out. You still see a few floating in the sink when you're cleaning and trimming. Fly away ladybird.
Ahem. Today class we are talking about the sexual characteristics of poppies. Those downy soft flower cases, their silky sheen, then how they split open and their crumpled unfolding are all a sensual delight. The big Oriental poppies in our garden are a bit butch to be feminine like that, but the silky sheen on the flower head and brilliant colours suggest to me red satin kimonos and concubines (ok and hairy testicles).  It reminds me of the joke about the psychiatrist showing a patient Rorschach inkblot cards and with each new card the patient described seeing some sexual activity in them. At the end the psychiatrist said 'Well, you're clearly obsessed with sex' and the patient replied 'hey, you're the one with all the dirty pictures'. Garden porn anyone?
Section of Pomegranate bushThe pomegranates like the hot and dry weather and the bush has more flowers than ever before. I remember one spectacular tree in a small town in central Victoria where we were shooting a country bank manager commercial for ANZ bank. It was summer, dry and the wheat silos wobbled in the heat haze, but on the railway station platform there was a big old pomegranate with lush glossy green leaves and brilliant flowers and red fruit.
Drying off the glace cherriesMaking glace cherries seemed like a good idea to use those, not so big but ripe sweet cherries, we picked two weeks ago. I mentioned that I dried some, a big hit , and as we were planning on making panforte, I thought that it would be nice to try and make some of our own glace fruit. Now that I understand the process, I'll think twice before I try it again. The procedure takes ten days (or more) and involves daily pouring off the sugar and glucose syrup, increasing the concentration, pouring it back and leaving it (covered with greaseproof paper so it all stays wet and to keep bugs off).
The last part of the process uses a higher concentration, it's left for three days and then drained and slowly dried off. The process works for all fruit and some vegetables and the advantage of this method of preserving is that they can be stored for years. 

I'll tell you if a panforte with glace cherries tastes odd. We've got our own hazelnuts too (skite skite) and it seems like it's meant to happen.
I rounded the corner in Tarago and was hailed by Kevin. He was trying to hitch a lift before heading to the train as a fall back. He needed to get into Goulburn so I said sure, hop in. After introductions, we were passing the concrete bunkers that I mentioned in this diary entry and I figured he might tell me some more of the story. He welcomed the chance and I was then entertained for the rest of the trip, and when I dropped him in town, and thanked him, he said 'You got me talking didn't you?' and  posed for the photo. There was a lot of stuff I'd like to put down, and I'll add it later, but for now.. the bunkers were storage depots for aviation fuel for Canberra Air Force base during  WWII. And the concrete buildings were knocked down and are part of few local sheds and part of the house where Kevin lives. I photographed the sign on his yard in this entry.
The Digital Mechanics group had a quiet Christmas lunch at Bistro Moncur (as in Mon Coeur) in Woollahra. I've been there with Doug (and Jan) a few times before and it's always great food. It was started by chef Damien Pignolet and has been a consistently award wining bistro in Sydney for many years.
Doug gave the team the choice between the traditional venue (a much loved Italian) and they went up market (of course!). It has been a busy time for Doug and the DM team getting P&O finished. I watch somewhat frustrated from the side lines as I'm not able to help the last stages to get it launched, but he's done a great job and I'll be pleased to have been part of it at all.
One of the pleasant surprises of a great lunch was the after dinner 'sticky'. The Hungarian Tokaji Furmint was new to me (it's been around for a long time on  European winelists but this was my first encounter. A lovely, slightly oxidised sherry taste with no overpowering sweetness but lots of dried fruit flavours. So when I got home, I had to look it up. Apparently the Tokaji story began in 1650, "when a Calvinist pastor made a wine solely from grapes that had dried and shriveled on the vine.  He presented the finished wine as an Easter present to the wife of the Transylvanian prince, Gyorgy Rakoczi.  The priest had stumbled on, quite by chance, a wine formula that would become symbolic for Hungary for centuries.  The special properties of the local soil, combined with the metabolic effect the grape fungus, produced a unique sweet wine prized since its first production for both its medical and pleasurable taste".  

The medicinal qualities I cannot vouch for, but it is significant that "until the end of the 19th century Tokaji wines were still sold by apothecaries as well as vintners.  Maria Theresa was under doctor's orders to consume two glasses daily". Lucky Maria.
Watching people in a restaurant is one thing, taking their picture unnoticed is another. Especially when they're as pretty as this young girl, who was lunching with her parents and older sister (yeah I worked it out by their faces). What a great chin, beautiful fresh glowing complexion. 

She's a red-head (with all that entails to me) but I'm not making apologies and I'm not a dirty old man.
It's very dry. In the last two weeks the lawn has died off (we don't water it during the restrictions) and it's a chore each night to rotate the sprinklers and alternate the drip systems. The worst thing is when we're late home from work and miss the hour and a half window we can water in. We're lucky to have town water at all, there are a water tankers along the roads everyday, and people filling up plastic drums at the tap near the council yard. In the newsagent's window there's a Christmas tableau with a toy koala and a kangaroo. There was a green gum branch but as the sign predicted, it's all dry now, and the toys aren't stirring at all.
Christmas Eve I left work early, picked up a few last minute items and was home in time to walk (with Jan and the dogs) down to the butcher. We'd ordered a few of Paul's smoked chicken breast fillets (he does a ham and smoked trout as well) to give away in hampers of local food. I bought the local Capital brand olive oil, the smoked chicken and added some jam and preserves of our own. I figure you can't miss a chance for an indoctrination campaign in eating regional food.

These two girls approaching in the image above I've seen before. They are obviously friends and often wear similar clothes, this time the dual festive orange outfits caught my eye.  
Rob and his wife Sarah own one of the larger and oldest sheep properties in the area, but each year he sells Christmas trees to make some extra cash (and I'm sure he needs it in this drought). Each year we buy one to size that will fit into the corner of the kitchen. It's not Christmas until it is decorated and the lights are turned on. It's now officially Christmas.
We always have a present for the dogs wrapped up, usually a hide bone. Fudge, the larger dog, remembers this and we've had to rescue a few small parcels from being dog chewed. We keep theirs on the mantelpiece but he's always very interested when a new present is placed under the tree. He's got a good memory when it's something associated with eating.

So, a Merry Christmas to you Fudge (and to you all).
Fred Harden  
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