Sunday, April 27, 2014


A million years ago, my friend Miri and I spent six days rambling all over the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. We had packed six days worth of chocolate, but ate it all on day one, and ended up trading our sanitary pads for the chocolate-covered coffee beans of some German hikers. Priorities. We'd also brought six dinners' worth of what I had thought (while packing) would be the best hiking meal ever: red lentils, couscous, a packet per night of dehydrated beans/peas/carrots, and a packet of Continental Cup-a-Soup. You could put all this in a billy with water, bring it to the boil, then take the billy off the flame, wrap it in a woolly jumper, and all the ingredients would keep absorbing water without any additional heat source. "What's for dinner?" Miri had asked on day 3. "Lentil surprise!" I'd said, but Miri was not surprised. (We were both quite farty by this stage, by the way, because pulses really need a good soak before they're cooked, but I guess we had the whole of Tasmania to make smells into, and a brisk breeze chopping in from the Pacific, so farty-schmarty.)

On day 4, we scrambled down a mountain onto a beach from before the Fall. White sand, gargantuan tresses of kelp washed up out of a grey ocean, and little blobs of bright green seaweed sitting on the sand like cos lettuces. Lentil, couscous, Cup-a-Soup, and reconstituted peas had gotten pretty old by now, so we decided to gussy up our dinner that night with some salty old cos-of-the-sea. I won't say that this was the moment that turned me into a card-carrying forager (because, even before the seaweed-lentil-a-bleu event of 2001, I had spent a lot of my life fantasising about being left behind at our holiday house so I could subsist on bracken shoots, blackberries, and rabbit dung), but it was certainly a formative moment.

I love a walk. I love walking pace and its sensible, intuitive uniting of distance travelled and time. I like having conversations on the hoof. And I do so like eating my environment.

Team Lalor ambled up to the parental estate in Bright last weekend. The forests around Mum's house are particularly excellent for their abundance of feral fruit, and, around Easter, for their abundance of apples. Some of these forest apple trees were perhaps planted on purpose, once upon a time, but some of them are clearly natives, rogue trees with the sort of nuggety fruit noone would deliberately propagate. We have a bit of an Easter tradition afoot, of pillaging the wild apples, more than we could possibly eat before they turn into mush, and making all the apple things: apple and ginger jam, dehydrated apple slices, apple pies, and, as of last year, cider. 

Cider is traditionally made not with sweet dessert apples like Jonathans and Galas, but with bittersweet and bittersharp apples, apples with a degree of acidity and tannininess that make them, as apples, not particularly tasty. The cider apples have names like Improved Foxwhelp, Brown Snout, and Yarlington Mill, names which are, in their own right, perfectly darling. We don't have access to any named varieties of cider apple (though we're growing a Granny Smith, who gives suitably acidic apples), but we found last year that a goodly variety of apples and crabapples from the forests around Bright results in a pretty perfect cider.

So, we walked and we plundered the trees - as high as we could reach, which still left acres of fruit for the parrots - and, as you can see, we not only found apples, but also chestnuts and a few walnuts and a few hazelnuts. The nuts are footpath nuts; the apples are forest apples.

The apples are home now, mellowing, which should make them easier to crush and press when the time comes.

Besides apples and nuts, the forests are teeming with green things. Bakers' Gully Creek is infested with watercress, which I barely restrained myself from harvesting and adding to the latest iteration of lentil surprise. Behind the shopping centre in Bright there is a rampaging hop bine in bloom, pretty much murdering a camellia.

We've been trying to coax hop flowers from a hop bine in our garden for two years now. We bought it as a dormant rhizome on ebay a couple of years ago, and lo, it did verily burst from the earth in Spring, but it hasn't grown like topsy, as hops are fabled to do, and it hasn't blossomed yet. It might be that it's still getting into its stride. I've seen hops flowering at CERES, just down the road, so there's no serious climatic reason why we ain't got no hopping action. Anyway, given the brewing that takes place in this house and our own lack of hop production, there was quite a lot of excitement at the sight of the masses and masses of hops dripping over the pavement. We pressed the flowers between our fingers and they left behind an oily smear - just the stuff a brewer wants - so we stuffed a couple of handfuls into a bag, and now they too are mellowing (or rather, sitting in the freezer) waiting to aromify a beery tribute to easter in Bright.

Speaking of hops, and, erm, therefore speaking of kangaroos, this paddock next door to the Harlot estate is a gigantic kangaroo dinner-table-cum-loo. Technically it belongs to some guy, but in fact it belongs to the Eastern Greys, who turn up nightly for a nibble and a poo. The guy seems to understand this, and has left the paddock be for yonkers.

Mum had shown me an ad in a gardening magazine for wombat poo. In fact, you can buy it online - "that special manure for that special person's special pot plant".* I'm not proud of myself for this, but I'm mentioning it in the spirit of confession: I was moved by the combination of wombat-poo-for-sale and the fact that I'd seen WilburHund eating the roo poo the day before and the fact that I am really a bit of a thief to go into the roo paddock one morning and fill a plastic bag with the freshest of macropod droppings. It's now mellowing on one of the bathtub gardens on our driveway.

So, walking. Not only is it good for the soul, it also results in apples, hops, poo, and possibly seaweed in your lentils.

* It's my birthday in a month. Just saying.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


You know those pairs of photos that appear now and then on the internet: the first one depicts an award-winning baby, cooing and gurgling as she leans out of a perfectly chiseled pumpkin; the next one is an attempted replica - a grizzly infant looking like he's just been bottle-fed lemon juice and fish oil, covered in the disintegrating gloop of a mismanaged cucurbit? This kind of thing. The moral is: if you're not a professional baby/pumpkin wrangler with a top-notch camera and a lot of clean cheesecloth wherewith to conceal the less photogenic aspects of your house, do not try citrouille au enfant at home. And if you do try this at home, do not display your attempts on the internet, unless you want to propagate international mirth, which is quite a reasonable desire. (Alternatively, the moral is: do unto babies as you would have done unto your good self on an equivalent scale, which might mean not imprisoning your naked infant within a giant fruit.)

So, this is one of those blog posts. I show you someone's stylish craft project, and then I show you my surely-I-can-do-that attempt, which, of course, falls pretty flat.

Here is the stylish craft project, Easter egg candles, ftw, all the way from Lithuania:

Artful photo of pastel vegetable wax candles in eggshells from here.

I saw these candles in my daily Etsy digest a few weeks ago, and realised immediately that not only did I possess a goodly supply of eggshells (thanks, Shirley Chook, our champion layer of the month), and a goodly supply of wax (thanks, bees), and a goodly supply of devil-may-care crafty can-do pluck, but I also had an Easter coming up, and various dear relations, who would surely appreciate receiving some stylish, handcrafted Easter table decor, made from eggshells and beeswax. Because nothing says hope and resurrection like an ovum membrane filled with stuff from the abdominal glands of insects.

It turns out not to be very easy to hold a bit of wick right in the middle of half an eggshell while pouring molten beeswax around it, so some of my wicks are sort of akimbo. It's also quite hard (given our amateur wax rendering skills) to completely rid beeswax of all the non-wax gunk that comb accumulates, so my wax is not so much golden, as baby-poo brown - caramel, if we're feeling charitable - and it contains bits and pieces of bee residue you'd probably rather not know about.

So them's my candles. They'd probably look a bit better if posed in the presence of cinnamon quills and raffia, and they'd probably look a lot better if I too had used vegetable wax in various alluring shades of pastel rather than beeswax in various unalluring shades of slumgum. In the end, I decided not to impose them on my dear relations, because I want to keep them sweet for the cat hair textiles I'll be knitting them all for Christmas.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oh tam'a'rillo

One of my favourite activities in the whole universe is catching up on the previous Monday's Q and A on iview while I make tamarillo chutney. The producers of Q and A always rig up some sort of semblance of political pluralism on the show's panels, which means that there's invariably someone by whom I can be righteously appalled. There's nothing like fulminating against the freedom commissioner while chopping onions, unless it's spluttering over Tony Jones' perennial habit of giving his gentleman guests more talking time than his lady guests while I manhandle tamarillo skins into the compost bucket.

Our Number 1 Tamarillo has been festooned with red baubles for a month now (the Number 2 Tamarillo, on the other hand, is being oppressed by a banana passionfruit vine and so has no fruit). They're one of those fruits that costs about $50 a kg if you buy them individually cradled in plastic at your local supermarket, or you can get hold of a sapling for about $6, and spend the next three years trying to find ways to use them up. This latter, as you might have guessed, is my situation. I don't love eating them fresh, 'cause, while they're tasty, they leave a bit of a sting round my mouth. Chutneyfied, on the other hand, these guys are excellent. We get through a lot of chutney round here, on account of how I make about 58 serves of lentil curry per week, which lentil curry certain members of the household find pretty unenthralling unless it's doused in condiments.

Whatcha need, to make tamarillo chutney, is a kilo or so of tamarillos, a couple of onions, a couple of garlic cloves, a teaspoonful of the dried chilli that's been in your cupboard for six years, a bit of ginger root (grated), a handful of raisins, mustard seeds (optional), 1.5 cups of sugar, 1 cup of white vinegar. And some jars, and some pots, and a source of heat, and a spoon. Also some mechanism for broadcasting Q and A in your kitchen on a Saturday morning.

Tamarillos are best skinned via the time-honoured process of scoring them with a cross (quel seasonal!), and dunking them for half a minute in scalding water. Then you slip the skins off and accumulate an attractive pile of orange mush:

The orange mush gets chucked into your chutney-brewing pot with all the other ingredients, and simmered and stirred until it reduces down to a jammy gloop. Then you pop it into the jars that you've been sterilising, and screw the lids on and water-bath them for ten minutes.

Which leaves another 3 kg of tamarillos on the Number 1 Tamarillo tree. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wine. With actual grapes.

Steve the automechanic has a very dim opinion of my car husbandry. Our poor old Holden went flat about six weeks ago. The RACV fella came and said the battery was some vestige from the Keating era. He sold us a new one. Three days later, the new one was flat too. I saw this as an opportunity not to drive anywhere for a month. Which was perfectly lovely, with the exception of the morning I signed up to be on the La Trot picket line from 7am. After a month of being carless and fancy-free, finally, on Friday morning, with visiting parents-in-law about to descend from the north, I called the RACV again. A new fella came. I shouldn't have left the battery empty for so long. He recharged it. I lugged the car two kilometres up the road to Steve, who did some expensive things to the alternator, revived the battery a bit more, and then advised me, in terms not so much insistent as pleading, to drive it every day for a week until the battery is back in business. I think he's hoping I'll form sensible new motoring habits. And indeed I would, were driving not (a) expensive, (b) polluting, (c) unconducive to the little bit of exercise I could otherwise get between stints of sedentary work, (d) potentially lethal, (e) incompatible with the reading I do on public transport, and (f) detrimental to the rambling-down-alleys-sampling-stray-bits-of-edible-botany lifestyle.

The fact is, I shouldn't own a car. I should be sharing one with a dozen other drivers: once a fortnight I should have it to buy sacks of chookfood or take Harriet and Bea Cat to the vet or ferry the menagerie to Mum's place for the weekend. Organising a communal automobile arrangement (one where noone minds that I leave the boot festooned with bits of stray lucerne hay and mushroom compost) is one of my long term ambitions. In the meantime, I am driving the car every day for a week. Blah.

The one thing that makes me feel better about driving is acquiring some ridiculously large quantity of biomass while I have the wheels to carry it with: 17 sacks of horse poo, a couple of bales of straw, 50kg of exotic barley for the brewmeister. So as I was taking the car for its constitutional pootle yesterday, I was relieved to spy a man standing on St Georges Road just south of Bell St, surrounded by towering boxes of grapes.

We came home with a massive carton of these lovelies:

Grenache grapes, from Wildwood vineyard in Bulla. 

One of my longterm career ambitions has been grape-treading. Tragically, I couldn't be bothered sterilising the bathtub, so we resorted to our trusty fruit press (an absurdly spendy bit of equipment that we mostly use to crush the honey out of honeycomb, but which was also integral to Operation Cider Y2K13, Operation Feijoa Wine Y2K13, and Operation Pear Juice, and which I am pleased to use as often as possible so as to reduce the cost per use ratio from heinous to ... less heinous).

The result was many, many litres of grenache juice, which is currently sitting in a carboy with a dash of sodium metabisulphite to kill any rogue bacteria. The hydrometer reading (a measurement of sugar content) tells us that we're heading dangerously into dessert wine territory with this stuff. I'll let you know in a year.

Meanwhile, it turns out that pressing grapes results not only in grape juice, but pressed grapes. The chooks were rapturous for about five minutes and now never want to see a grape again.

Here's hoping the citizens of the compost bin have a longer grape tolerance.