Another Country Diary

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6 March '02

This country town still surprises me by how alive it is. I've thought about it a lot and why it has been successful in maintaining its 'country' quality and hasn't just become an outer suburb.

Distance has helped. It's a good half hour drive into Canberra even traveling at 100k (hah!). I believe it's because it is a wonderful mix of real rural producers, wanna-be/ 'hobby' farmers and the suburban residents escaping Canberra. There's a sign on the Macs Reef Road that says 'Please slow down, this is a rural residential area' and it is accompanied by some twee illustration of children, school busses, and horses. 'Rural residential' sounds like a council zoning term but with that small acreage farm and larger working farms side by side, the true rural culture is transferred from big to small, old to new. Throw in money from purely suburban residents who leave town in a stream each morning and speed home with their pay checks each night, I think it's a mix that works for Bungendore.   

The latest surprise was when I walked to the post office to catch the last mail and saw the crowd of kids on the oval. It was too late for school but lots of the kids were in the primary school yellow t-shirts, and then I realised that Tuesday night is footy training night for the juniors teams. There were about six adult coaches and around thirty kids (mostly boys but a few girls) in training. The mums get together and talk, the dads tend to wait in the cars and utes reading newspapers or their mail. 

Out on the field, there was ball handling and tackling and general good humour and lots of noise. Discipline however is strict. If you muck around, you sit out the session on the bench. I've never watched an 'at home' match by the Bungendore Tigers, although it's hard to miss the far off noise on a Saturday afternoon in the season, and I've walked or driven past the ground often. 

I'm not a sports fan and I don't hang around the club-house (the bottom pub) but the football team is part of the town culture. If this is going to be more than about my narrow world, maybe I have to put some time into understanding it.

Click for a (147k) bigger image
9 March '02

Red worms? Nah. beetroot saladFresh grated beetroot with chopped coriander and mint and lemon juice, served with Greek yoghurt. 

I'd been threatening to try the Nigella Lawson / Stephanie Alexander recipe that I mentioned (18th Feb.) Daughter Jackie has three girl friends from Melbourne up for the weekend and they had nursed their last night's hangovers enough to be ready for a late lunch. Jackie is 'almost a vegetarian' (chicken, bacon, salami are ok. just none of that nasty red looking meat) so I dug up some fresh new potatoes for a potato salad, Jan made a vegetable frittata and I headed for the beetroot patch. Gee beetroot is red isn't it? I had followed Nigella's advice and used rubber gloves while peeling and shredding, but when it came to toss the herbs with the grated beetroot I used my hands. Hah! (Sards Wonder Soap takes it off, if you ever have the need.)

It was a nice lunch, the girls are all pleasant company and they politely offered to wash up. I just hope that our own daughters are as polite when visiting their friend's houses. Our girls leave their plates for what I call 'the kitchen staff' unless you can catch them in the act of stacking and make them feel guilty. But that's a time honored tradition that you only hope their own future children will repeat on them.

The beetroot salad was pretty amazing and I'll make it again so I've put the recipe up here.

10 March '02

One of the local Max's getting his injectionsOur local vet is a proper vet. 'Proper' as in looking after sheep, cattle and horses, (with an occasional pig, alpaca and llama) and 'proper' working dogs. There's enough work to keep a small team busy, even before you add the town's domestic animals. If you walk the streets of Bungendore, you'd assume that there was some council ordinance which dictated that every home had to have at least two dogs. They are either small dogs like ours that yap at the postperson on her motorbike, or monstrously large Abyssinian Lion-hunting Hounds like the pack that live a few doors up. These howl so loudly that small children quake in their beds at night and call for their mothers. We local Zulu warriors get really pissed off because we know we haven't had a lion around here for years. 

The Bungendore dog population however would number only just slightly higher than the horse population. Because there are so many half acre house blocks in town, and that's the minimum size that the council will approve keeping a horse on, it seems that behind every garage is a horse paddock. You can usually tell which ones by the small cloud of bush flies that greet you at the gate as you walk past. But at least horses don't bay at the moon.

There are some unique problems that the local vets have to handle for the town dogs, that city vets don't. On the edges of town, snake bite is a constant worry in summer. We've friends who lost a pup a few months ago to a snake, (even the local school before its renovations, had tiger snakes under one of the buildings). We get an annual warning about snakes in the chatty vet newsletter that talks about equine and bovine disorders and somehow makes you feel that owning two dogs and a cat is almost part of the tapestry of rural life. 

It was in the vet's newsletter that we found the most common dog name on their files was Max. Our smallest dog (in the photo above) who came second-hand with his name already attached, is called Max. I've now taken to shouting 'Shut up Max' at the corgis who race madly up and down the fence opposite the newsagents, and the kelpie who goes into paroxysms and snarls as you walk past the corner house on the lane. I figured I'm likely to be right more times than not and hey, it seems to work.

Here's a pop-up page of images of the Bungendore Veterinary Surgery.
17 March '02
Toffeed baby apple tart with gingerMeanwhile, back in the oven. 

We don't eat desserts much, except when we have guests to dinner. Jan's parents were staying, having driven from Melbourne to say goodbye to our eldest daughter Jackie who is going to the UK next week. They're both 70+ and with that old folks concern that they  might not see her again. 

So, while the oven was doing the roast (with our own garden potatoes, pumpkin and carrots, brag brag) I decided to cook a desert that I'd been looking at on the cover of Vogue Entertaining + Travel for weeks. The Flavours of Autumn headline and photograph of 'Toffeed baby apple tart with ginger' promised ways to get rid of some of the garden surplus but despite a few useful recipes and a very ordinary photospread on 'Maggie Beer in the Barossa' I was reminded why I rarely buy the magazine. (My only excuse was that apple tart and the fact that I was in magazine research mode again.) We did have plenty of baby apples and a quick scan of the ingredients list matched the pantry shelves.

We made it with short crust pastry, instead of the puff pastry on the Vogue cover shot, but as you can see it worked out ok. There was one minor 'accident' where I ended up with hot toffee over my shoes while reverse engineering the upside down constructed tart. But there was still plenty of the toffee sauce to run seductively onto the plate when cut. A spoonful of double cream was all that it required as an extra (and it tasted pretty good without that). I've filed the recipe and added some engineering comments that were missing from the magazine. Everyone agreed it's definitely one of those 'must save for next years crop' recipes.

Now, there's only the concern about the three buckets of apples still left.

Fred Harden
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