Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The purpose of ballet

We are not doing very well with the fishing at the moment. In my last 4 fishing sessions I have managed to catch no take-home-able fish at all. Okay, before that I caught 4 squid, but since then I have only managed to scare off the fish.

We went out in a little tinny boat, only suitable for the estuary, (no superstructure, or padded seats) to catch Salmon. We did not even have a nibble, and we had taken the smoker with us, so we could eat some for lunch with the bread Dave had baked at dawn. But we eventually settled for bread and butter, with no fish.

Then the boat owner went off to do something to his cows, and Dave went for a dive, so I took a light rod to the beach. I was casting out from a sandy beach, between two sets of rocks, so as not to lose the lure. All the other beach fishing I have done here to date has been off rocks into deeper water. So there I was taking a few steps into the waves and then throwing out as far as I could.

Suddenly I realised the point of all the ballet classes I had struggled through. Poor Mrs Suckling, she did her best, but I was not flexible, able to keep time or even interested. But I did master a "step-together-step-hop" move that she spent months drumming into me. It is ideal for casting far out with a light rod from a sandy beach, as long as you substitute "cast" for "hop" at the end. So I had a ball, literally, dancing on the sand, throwing my lure into the sea, and, not suprisingly, catching nothing.

At least this is Flinders Island, so there was no one around to watch me, and wonder what the crazy South African was doing now! The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the view was absolutely stunning, what more could I have asked for? Well, apart from some fish.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Did you know formalin damages DNA? The useful stuff you learn on this site! Barbs went to try and scrounge 2 millitres of 97% alcohol from the hospital today to preserve some ant specimens for my entomologist friend back in SA. Alas - semi-undertandably - they can't do that. But they did let us have a few drops of formalin. Which we can't use because it does the DNA in. Ah well. Some idiot would probably try and drink the 97% (even though it is full of methanols.) Anyway got to get the word count up, as I am skiving tomorrow - we got an invitation to go salmon fishing with one of the locals, and as Australian salmon are likely to be one of our major food sources, and my only attempt at catching them ended in a fat zero and being broken up, I'm keen to learn.

Monday, March 29, 2010


The Green Roswellas decided to have a riot outside the bedroom this morning. Actually I think they're called Rosellas, but it was more like the aftermath of an alien abduction scene. Screech squawk chatterscreech squawk (repeat). Clatter about on the tin roof. Screech squawk chatterscreech squawk (repeat at increased volume). (Translated: "Where have BEEN all bloody night, you useless bum?!" "I was abducted by Aliens." (swat) "Aliens! ALIENS! I'll GIVE you bloody aliens. It's that Myra Greenfeather from the pub, you lying bastard.")

After this promising start I got and went for a walk. I was not disembowled by any Wallabies or abducted by aliens. It was still dark, so perhaps they were all in bed. I've been trying to get a good picture of the Green Rosellas for about two weeks now, but they're not easy with my little point-n-shoot. They're rather startling green and bright blue wild parrot-type things that fly about these parts in... shall we say, rather loud groups. They seem prone to things like crash landing in gum trees and falling off the windi-dry (which has an Australian name that avoids me right now). I think the master designer had got carried away with the beak and had to put the rest of the bird together in a hurry before knock-off time.

For my lunch today I had Vegemite on my sandwich (all part of the 'Learn to be Australian' thing). See what it has done to me already. It's either that or wrestling with the Australian PLR registration - which, as I have to fill in one form for every ISBN of every edition of every book I have been involved in (and I don't have enough fingers and have run out of toes to count on), could have this effect.

But I think I'll stick to blaming the Vegemite.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goose my banana passionfruit

Banana passionfruit - it sounds like one of the dodgy e-mails I get sometimes offering viagra... two new taste experiences today, firstly the banana passionfruit. Um. Well, I'll plant some. The flowers are beautiful and the scent... scented. The taste is a let-down. If it grows (and it grows in Lady Barron) I think it could be good for jam or a cordial. But as ready-to-munch fruit, not really a great hit.

Second off - on the opposite extreme - Cape Barren goose breast. This comes in as the best poultry I have eaten. (and me, as you might guess, I have tasted a lot of different birds). The meat is deep red and so flavourful and powerful it should be a chef's signiture dish. Australia should be famous for this, and have epicures from across the world beat their way here to taste it. It apparently breeds in captivity and can be effectively domesticated so long as you have big grass-paddocks. Having been endangered it is now doing rather well out here, and a limited harvest is permitted, under licence. B and I had two little pieces each, simply rubbed with a little oil to stop them sticking and grilled hot and just with salt - medium rare - pink inside. This licks ostrich with one hand behind its back, and a blindfold. There is some gameyness to it, but unlike wild duck or francolin (where 'gamey'can be the dominant description) - it tastes like poultry - add the gameyness and you're somewhere between grass-fed chicken and turkey - but the meat is not in the least dry. Just like that, with a simple green salad (in the picture, made from our garden with our first green beans - thin fingers of green crispness, and our very first sunripened tomato), it's a winner.

It'll perfectly partner a green peppercorn sauce - the flavour is strong enough to match it and lift both, or with oyster mushrooms and red jerepigo... or, well I think there are slew of stunning possibilities. Yes, you get the picture. I really loved it. I was telling John about our crab-soup and the wrasse and he shook his head. "Right. You'll eat the whole island at this rate. I reckon you'll love mutton-bird." I don't know... but there is such a lot to taste and try here. Years worth, I reckon. The island doesn't even have its own abbatoir anymore. Meat comes in from tassie - although my guess looking at them is that the grass-fed island lamb and beef - without even going to the exotic possibilities, should be worth coming all the way here for. For a self-sufficiency guy, a forager and foodie like moi... wow. It's hard to beat. I just wish they wouldn't ship the good stuff away without enjoying it here. People should come here to eat food as it should be: seasonal varied and wonderful. I am offering mouse on the spit, as my own meat-catch (yes -another mouse in the bath). It's a South African treat, and I'd be very hurt if you refused (The locals like Jimmy-the-plumber's-offsider have had some fun winding me up with seeing what tall tales we'll swallow, so a bit of quid-pro-quo, I reckon ;-))

We had a still, hot humid morning and howling curl your bean-shoots windy afternoon, and now a still evening. Probably snow by morning at this rate. Need to understand the weather? Come to Flinders, all your seasons in a day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

a flat day

One of those 'and nothing much happened and I worked on the book' days. I am a little closer to understanding what 'Byzantine' means as I spent several hours trying to come to terms with the relative ranks of heirarchy in Byzantium. Answer seems to be: the more ranks and more heirachical and stratified your socety, the more inevitable its fall. Hmm. Maybe I could get quite keen on the whole Aussie 'tall poppy are you?' syndrome.

There are some green beans almost ready for picking and the first sign of cucumbers. And more of these.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Crab soup

So far the only crabs I have been able to catch are about an inch long - I gathered a bunch of them at lunch time (low water)in about 10 minutes and some tiny ribbed mussels, along with some little mantis shrimp and some burrowing shrimp (my experience with the latter two says 'bait'). These are the little hoon pea-crabs I've mentioned before - and catching them was a matter of finding a bunch of them pigging out on a clam and swooping in from behind (nippers in front).

I've been looking for a way to deal with our most common rock-fish - wrasse. So I thought I'd try a mix between Tal-Grottli bisque (grottily?) from IIRC Malta and Bouillabaisse - cook the crabs whole and then toss the mix into a blender, sieve the shell out, and at least get the crab flavour. So I did this, along with some of Inge's tomatoes, Lisa's red onions and garlic and a red jalapeno chili. Some sherry stuff we'd been given and Tasmanian pepper - not a single bought ingredient, outside of the olive oil I softened the onion in. The soup was then brought to a rolling boil and I added the wrasse (chopped into boneless inch-wide squares, and some abalone just after. The fish had about 3 minutes and the abalone maybe 2 before I took it off the heat. I added the pre-cooked mussels and some of my chopped parsley. Served with fresh pao rolls (made with flour and some potato - the way they did Mozambique to save flour) it was superb - and near as dammit all free or foraged food. I could feel self-righteous and thrifty for nearly half a bowl - which was as long as took me start feeling a little unwell. I need a stronger liver.... it's RICH. Still, you can eat wrasse like that and really enjoy it.

John-boy popped in to lend us a couple of paddle-skis - one kid-size, the other a real fishing sit on kayak I can definitely set crab-traps from. Work presses so I need to get the wordcount up before I go and try this. Thank heavens the weather is set lousy for the next few days. It makes resisting temptation so much easier.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Island News and pears in red wine with Tassie pepper-berries

Occasionally something just works perfectly. Usually rather sadly this is not my attempt to buy the right multi-million dollar lottery ticket. This one is more likely to just cost me money... I've mentioned Tasmanian Native Pepperberries before. I had come across a recipe that had black peppercorns with pears preserved in wine and ea de vie. So, as I am rather short of spices still (had to leave them behind, and are slowly accumulating rather than bulk buying) I decided to try pears in red wine with these. Do it if you can.

For those interested I used 5 very green pears - 600 grams, roughly 120 grams of sugar (adjust to the tartness of your red wine) 300 ml of revolting red box wine (Stanley-never-to-be-bought-again-even-for-boiling-tongue-in in this case - tannic, nasty), a half a tsp of ginger and about 15 pepperberries. The pears I peeled and quartered - (you could do them whole, but your waiting to use time will go up) and packed into clean sterilised preserving jars. Bring the wine and sugar and spice to the boil, taste (should be like slightly tart gluwein) and add sugar if needed (start with a bit less sugar if the wine is gentler) and fill jars to cover fruit. I then processed the bottles in a waterbath for an hour - which may be a bit long but the pears were very green and still were a nice eating texture.

We ate the first bottle after a week, and the colour had drawn through them, leaving them a deep rosy pink rather than the purple-bloody red of the wine. The pepperberries (and ginger) had given them (and the sauce) a bite and the wonderful amalgam of complex spicy flavours. We had them with ginger ice-cream, and it was one of those desserts where you take a spoonful and just hold in your mouth (some of us quivered a bit).

Today we went and bought some more jars and pears (we have to use the wine. It's dangerous to even have it in the cupboard)

This morning Barbs and I put in our first little bit of volunteering for 'community service' - helping put the Island News to bed(Essential fortnightly local paper, with everthing in it from local news, times for the tip, and seasonal information (like what plants and animals you see in March.)). It's still collated by hand, 34 pages this issue, and B and I were the newbies on the production line. I was stiff afterwards, and I am deathly slow compared to the old hands. It's serious business, with a bit of stirring from Peter, but everyone works at like the fish-shoal will move off any minute. All done in an hour and a half. It has a circulation of IIRC 540-ish which on an island with the population of Flinders (somewhere between 700-900 depending on who you believe) approaches the miraculous. Put together by volunteers and for sale at the princely price of 80 cents its something I bet you wouldn't see many other places. It's been running for 55 years - not one of these newfangled community papers - this is the real thing. Isolation does some wonders for community cohesion sometimes. And the proof reading and editing would put the products of a few multi-million dollar publishing houses to shame. Yes, actually I was pleased to be involved.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spices and reconditioned rainbows

The frenetic pace of life out here is just so enervating! I'll need to find a nice quiet city for a rest. It all happens at once. See, it's the ferry coming in - and the new wood-burner arriving along the milk and post (which came by plane, but let's not let one detail spoil a good yarn) which had in it a little parcel which would have fitted into our post-box, but John-the-postmaster felt he had to give it to Barbara. He hasn't had the occassion to hand over many parcels address to 'The looney ex-South Africans'. It says a lot about Flinders that it got to us. It's the sort of treat that big-city people should try giving to their post-office. It contained yet more Australian bush herbs-and-spices. Saltbush, Lemon myrtle and dried river mint. The smell of the Lemon myrtle is so citrus as to make you think you'd opened a freeze-dried lemon grove and added water. I do want to plant some (if it'll grow here, if it's not an undesirable invader)... but maybe not TOO close to the house. Thank you for making the postmaster's day for him, Ian. I'm looking forward to trying them, preferably on unsuspecting victims. Ah, but it wasn't over yet because we also got the reconditioned Rainbow (oh yes, Australian rainbows are far too good a quality just to use once! A quick rinse in Bass strait and the colours are all fresh, ready to be used... actually it's a kind of vaccuum cleaner that sucks through water (like a sort of high-speed-spinning hubbly-bubbly) and not a bag or a filter. They're very good for house-dust which as you probably didn't want to know has large amounts of dead house dust mites in it. These are those lovely little sf-looking critters of which every human habitation is full, and are harmless enough, but my immune system thinks they should make me sneeze and cough. The particles are very small and mostly pass back out of ordinary vaccuum cleaners, but they get into the water and mostly stay there, one hopes.) The machines are way too expensive for us new, but we have bought a 'reconditioned' one. The Rainbow came in by plane just to ruin my theory, and B has been industriously vaccuuming. The side-effect of the high speed hubbly bubbly is a little humidifying - which you can scent if you so desire. This sort of thing is not really very typical of us, but the machine came with a little pack of essences. So B tried the spice (cinnamon) and the pine later. I hadn't the heart to tell her it smelled rather like a new-cleaned public convenice, but she told me so. So, having dealt with a week's excitement in one day, I will now return to the Bosphorus, until I cook supper.
Home made Pizza. With saltbush.
Might try a pinch of the lemon myrtle in the water next time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

chicken drawing and oysters

Hell must be to be a chicken plucker with wet-sticky hands, a frantically itchy nose and feather allergy. Well, the level of hell reserved perhaps for lesser sinners, deserving only of irritation. Yesterday - as B said - was a busy one. Having been informed by several people that there were no oysters (or mussels) on the island, we collected our clams and found my imagination. I may tell you that my imagination was delicious fried in garlic butter. Exquiste even. I hope I discover the imaginary mussels too. I have found small ribbed mussels (by ton-loads) out in the bay. I'm sure they'd eat well enough, if we can't find blue mussels. I showed the imaginary oysters to John - one of the people who had told me I was out of luck. "Right! What kind of oyster is it, Dave?" he asked looking at the prize specimen (which was a good one - about 5 inches long.) "You tell me. I'm the bloke from South Africa. You're the local Tasmanian expert." A slow smile spreads across John's face despite his attempts to restrain it. "Right. Then it's a Tasmanian Native Oyster," he said utterly failing at the trusty native guide imitation by laughing. I think they're actually the flat oyster, Ostrea angasi - but I reckon probably Tasmanian Native oysters to us from now on. We were just off to start cutting some fallen deadwood (beginning on the winter fuel collection) with his chainsaw, having been visiting Lisa (who took me straight into a mental mixture of O'Grady's They're a Weird Mob and that Tuscany book. You can see how incredible hard work carved the farm and the garden out a piece of vacant bushland. The walls of the kitchen are hung with fresh and drying peppers. She still has, uses and plainly loves her wood stove. Outside the kitchen there is a sort of big porch area - real working farm style - not a place for sipping sundowners, but where bunches of garlic, more chillies and ropes of onions hang. The perserving cupboard is there too. Opened it reveals rows of spring-top jars, with every color and form of summer stored up. Tomatoes, pears, plums... The garden too fills me with envy and admiration. She's been on the island 50 years... there are fig trees, lemons, pears. The garden doesn't have the expensive Fort Knox appearance - and suffers a bit from possums - but it still has a vegatable fullness and richness that would make most of Salamanca market's barrows tuck up their wheels and creep away in shame. We're by this stage desperately trying to stop her giving more of her produce to us. We still came away with garlic and sweet red onions, carrots and pink potatoes and a bag of big mild chilli peppers(so mild I can actually eat them raw) She has explosive ones but we avoided those.
The chicken drawing (and this unless you are very demented, or name is Pollock, is not art) and plucking are best not written about. I am sure they'll eat well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I bit off more than I could chew.

Today we decided that if we were going 'all the way' over to the East side of the island, we might as well make it a worthwhile trip!

So we got up early and hit the estuary at low tide and collected clams, and amazingly enough, Dave found some oysters.

But we had to hurry as we had an appointment at 10 to see a wonderful lady we had met on our bus trip. So we had a coffee with her and she gave us a huge selection of fresh veggies from her garden, including a lemon, which is beyond price with the amount of seafood we are eating.

Then off to the farm our landlord is working on, in time to almost lend him a hand with a sheep. We had another coffee, and then borrowed his chainsaw to cut some firewood. He is getting us a wood heater for the house, which should arrive next week, and the wood needs to dry out a bit before we can burn it. We have had no need for a heater yet, but the daytime temperatures are definitely dropping fast. So we cut and packed half a load of firewood before we ran out of petrol, and we had forgotten to take any with us. That will do us nicely for a start, I am sure.

But now I feel as if I have done a day of hard labour. Definitely I need to break tasks down into less per day, so as to keep busy every day, rather than trying to fit it all into one morning.

Still we have come back with several meals, and proved that there are oysters here, even if not very many. So it was a good day, or so I will think by tomorrow.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The March of Zucchini

And so it begins... The march of the Zucchini.
There is another one that needs harvesting today. The wildlife however is adding a new dimension to it - something had been digging up seedlings, so I set two traps. Well, this time around they caught 2 mice. The second I spotted in the torchlight at about 9.30 pm, when I suddenly relaised I'd forgotten to cover with plastic cups the surviving beans - my night-garden looks like a disgruntled kids tea party, with added nightmare elements as the gut section of the mouse had been eaten. I retreated to put on boots - which I was an idiot not put on in the first place.

This morning there was evidence of a wild and busy deadly night out there. Firstly the gate had been knocked down. Secondly there was a large dead rat in a bloody puddle between the beds. Cause of death - undetermined. Could it have been post- election violence, Australian style? Have I become a sleep-walking raticide? Was this the effect of cannabilistic excess?

The garden is - despite the depredations, coming along. My tyre-tower potatoes are nearly ready for another tyre.

We went to a harvest festival and barbeque on one of the farms on Summer road today. As it was spattering with rain, the entire thing took place in the farm shed. Corrugated iron... and it rained. It was rather like Nottingham Road's annual carol service (held in the sale-hall - with real sheep and calves and any kid under five that showed up dressed as either an angel or a shepherd in with them. Last time one of the angels got her hand sucked by a calf... it was one of few bellows that was louder than the inevitable drumming of the rain on the tin roof). This too was drowned out by the rain that bucketed down. Good thing too: the farmers need the rain, and I was singing. The rain stopped and we cooked snags (see, I learn. They are called sausages elsewhere) - we talked, kids rode bikes (a unicycle yet! I WANT one) a couple of chooks looked in and we were a world away from Africa. Or Venice, that I must now return to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On ant safari

Patiently, silently with hardly a yell to the porters for another Gin and Tonic the great white hunter stalked his prey, his eyes fixed on it as it moved through the undergrowth... (Barbs, approaching quietly from the rear) "What on earth are you doing?"

Me - still on my aching haunches peering intently at grass-stalks. "I saw one of those jack-jumpers on the kitchen veranda. I'm trying to follow it to its nest. Need to find it before Chris's kids get here."

"Oh. So do you actually want a gin and tonic? Because we don't have any gin. Or any tonic."

I lost it at the bottlebrush tree, having painstakingly followed it across 10 yards of grass. Fortunately Barbs found the nest - and some bigger bull-ants (I think they also have a toxic bite) today when she was mowing - about a yard from the bottle-brush, as plain as could be. Normally I'm pretty live-and-let-live, but 5% of people react very badly to them, and with kids I am not prepared to take a chance.

The island is small enough that, if you can deal with getting up early enough, you can see dawn over the ocean and sunset over the ocean on the same day. I wasn't that heroic and all I saw this morning walking back was this.

Sadly -although I took a torch down, the tide was still covering the flats, and the wind-chop made wading and looking impractical. And cold. Did I mention cold? And wet too. What a woos I am. So I came home, before the first signs of the election today. By next time I hope we'll be able to vote. I'm still faint but persuing with Australian politics, but I am looking forward to it.

Someone asked for a picture of the house so here it is.

Not exactly Finnegan's Wake - but houses like that are probably once in a lifetime experiences (Finnegan's Wake was built by an Irish cabinet maker called Murphy as his dream house. It was built on a sinstral spiral and had very few straight walls, most being curved). We're renting it until we buy and build so... we'll see. In the meanwhile it's well built, weathertight, roomier than we expected and, most importantly, we have a home. A place for me to write, and a base for us to explore from.

Friday, March 19, 2010

P-Plater crabs and dawn walks

Someone (naming no names) omitted to tell my legs that this getting fit idea involved them. Actually, that same someone also forgot to mention how hard it is to get out of a nice warm bed, from next to cuddly wife to go out into the pale predawn and take a brisk walk. I'll find him one day (this someone) and we will have words. Anyway, as you can see by the picture I did this thing. It's about 2km down to the beach, and a lot of it is down a little back track.

There was a spectacular lonliness to the beach - Mr Somebody had obviously forgotten to tell anyone else. The sky was grey and overcast, and the tide was already fairly far out. The diffuse soft light made it look like the opening shots for one of these angsty movies... except they would have some gulls or peewits or some fowl creature doing haunting cries, or played suitable mood music. Instead we had the Black Oyster-catchers making noises like off-pitch elderly cricket phones. I'm a biologist and a forager (and I am never too sure which trumps which) so sand and mud-flats and low tides hold a fascination for me, and I put the fitness walk back on hold for a wade-and-fossick. The sand above the tideline was suspiciously dimpled. Now sand patterns are caused by the washing of the waves... and the sea, well she has no sense of humour. A very serious thing is the sea, and don't you forget it. She'll leave ripples or fans or layers on the sand yes, but dimples no. Dimples mean something is living there, and neither the biologist nor the forager minded me digging. I like to understand these foodwebs (because what looks like desolate mud is a seething arcology of life. Some of which you don't want to eat, and some which you don't want to know. Digging and sorting produced some tiny wedge shells - too small for dinner for me, but considered utterly yummy to some tiny pea-crabs (which should maybe be called p-crabs (you have p-plater drivers here in Tassie), because when they get bigger they'll be crabs. At the moment they're just greedy clam-eating hoons, so busy scoffing the free grub that they didn't even notice me pick the shell. When I put it down they were very embarrassed and shook down into the sand, just eystalks protruding. So I left them to get over it and walked on. The shallow water is full of little pimple-mounds with holes in the top, that something must live in. There are different burrows in between, and every now and again, scooped out basins of slightly deeper water, with scatters of shells - stingrays methinks. I need to get down there earlier, with a torch. Yes, now that you mention it, a lot of people do think that I am barking mad. This is not true. I leave all the barking to Roland -Old English Sheepdogs just do it better.

I lifted some drifts of seaweed from pools saw a couple of tiny translucent shrimp shaking their nippers and yelling "Homewrecker" at me before I put it back and walked back through a few spatters of rain. There were snails out on the driveway - I didn't have to walk to the beach to find molluscs, so it thought I'd better check the veg before settling in to write. The mouse that had been digging up my pea-shoots had had me set a trap inbetween them.

Unfortunately, he must have brought big brother along, because the trap was conspicuous by its absence. And to pay me back for my impertinence, it had dug up a round dozen broad beans that had just germinated.

So: Once I found the trap (on the far side of the garden) I planted some more, and went back to my desk job. Spies in 16 th century Venice right now. Talk about shifting worlds. But it's actually come out well this morning so maybe the walk did me good.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The island is looking at the idea of having a community garden, so that fresh veggies and fruit do not need to be either flown or ferried in. This is a very good idea, everyone seems to think so, but who is to control it? I think blood will be shed, before that is decided, even if it is just a bloody nose. The garden has not been funded, never mind the land allocated, yet, but already the power struggles are beginning. I think there is going to be a lot of fun in store on this subject. But we saw and spoke to a lot of new people at the meeting last night, and, of course the TV guru, who was trying to keep the peace. Unfortunately I have not watched enough Australian TV to have seen one of his programmes, but I will look out for him in future, as he seems really knowledgeable, likeable and level headed.

Our son Paddy took part in a University residence competition to make an advertisement for Gillette razors, they came second and won a microwave for the residence. If you want to see their movie advertisement go to Paddy is the one shaving, and our younger son James is one of the onlookers.

I am having a quiet day today, with a blank canvas, and just reflecting on how life has changed, from shopping to catching, from mountains to sea, from surrounded by family to isolated, from a complicated garden to a small flat rectangle. I am realizing just how happy I am. There are low points, or course, no place or lifestyle is absolutely perfect, but this is as close to idyllic as I could ever hope to get.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The galleon

Our ship finally came in. By plane, via the airport. In the post in a cardboard box. It was intact, so we had to blow it up. If you are not confused already its model is called 'Zambezi - Australia'. And says it was proudly made in China. Ah, the wonders of modern geography. They say it is a small mixed up world. I didn't realise how right they were.

The inflatable Kayak arrived, as you may gather. We took it down for a paddle and a quick swim. It's not quite the disaster area I had a sneaking suspicion it might be, but I won't be taking it miles offshore for a day's fishing.
But it's a start.

I also popped into the hospital to have an anti-tet shot after an unprovoked attack by a vicious fishhook.

The town has been invaded by aliens from Shamrockia or it's St Patrick's day.
It's obviously taken quite seriously here, which is rather nice, considering that a lot of Australians have Irish antecedants... and this could hardly be further from Ireland.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homes and other people's gardens

"Und here ve haff der mine field, and zen moat and zen ze ha-ha - ze pit vith razor sharp spikes..."

Ok perhaps I exaggurate just a trifle, but with dug in wombat proofing, wooden pallisade wallaby proofing, a metal slide rim for the possums and a final bird-net layer, there are less secure houses in Johannesburg. It was a fascinating trip around some very impressive gardens. In a nutshell (or at least Fort Knox) - you can grow almost anything on Flinders (there are soil issues, and bugs etc, but it is a temperate climate, which is not too extreme.) But there are a lot of volunteers eager to help you with redistributing the produce. It was fascinating however to see the different approaches - and levels of success in different people's gardens. I learned that soil can be over-enriched, which I hadn't known, and saw several neat ideas. The trip was also fascinating for the inveterate people-watcher like me, with a cross section of islanders who grow veggies - from the humble back garden patch to things that cost more than your average family car to set up. A frightening number of them said "Oh you're the new South Africans in John's place." I began to feel a little like the new giraffe at the zoo, only less interesting. We'd been told to bring a 'cut lunch'. I was good. I did not explain that we Africans liked to cut ours fresh, and could we have the attendees list to browse over. It was time away from the desk and writing, but worthwhile in terms of learning what would grow and what we'd have to do.

And what not to do. Heh. Local wisdom has it that you bury a dead critter (sheep, wallaby, feral pig) under each fruit tree. The vivacious owner of a large and struggling orchard/garden describing the process... "you know, legs and arms coming off and maggots spilling." Fancy some fruit from that tree?! At least we savages butcher our enemies on the spot before burying them under the corner posts of our buildings without having to drag disintegrating bits. Anyway Josh Byrne assured us this was a bad idea and anerobic fermentation would have a detrimental effect on the roots, to say nothing of the acidification of the soil from all the puking at the bouquet and charming sights.

This one however was a life lesson to me.

It was probably the best and most productive of the gardens... and a charming lady of 96 kept it... by herself.
She also teaches Scottish dancing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Flounders Keepers

á la meunière means 'miller's wife style', or dusted with flour and then fried in shallow oil, rather than tossed in the dung heap as you may have thought if your grasp of French is similar to mine. I owe this fact to our elderly Time-Life 'Fish and Shellfish' edited by Richard Olney and long out of print. Having moved out of home unable to boil an egg (Remember I grew up in South Africa in an era where 1)most men didn't cook (other than to burn meat on the braai (barbeque)) 2)Servants were a norm in any middle-class household, and certainly any 'white' one.) and finding myself living with someone I was very much in love with... but who had even less of an idea about how to cook, and having a moral objection to paying someone less than I would be prepared to do the job for - which would have meant paying a cook my entire salary at that time, I learned to cook out of these books. They're in the old French style of cooking - and the old methods too. There is no such thing in these books as a short cut, if a recipe called for chicken stock, it involved boiling a chicken carcass with a bouquet garni. Being me I learned the short-cuts pretty rapidly, but not before learning to do it the hard real way. And learning to do it all very quickly, because at 22 you're both impatient and really hungry by supper time...

As time has worn on I find my cooking has gradually leaned away from the French towards rustic Italian in style, but I'm still obsessed with fresh ingredients, quality and often as minimalist as possible (yes I can hear a lot old friends packing up laughing and wondering how I can sit and type with my pants on fire) - but prettying up food a little takes seconds and you enjoy as much with all your senses as you do with your mouth. And one man's complex is another's simple. If you think about it I focus on bringing out the best flavours in something. If it isn't up to much you do have to lift it... but tradition is dead right on sole (or by extention, flounder)á la meunière is the right way to do fine fish, where you really want to taste and savour the fish. Flounder can be cooked skin-on, just remember (Luke) you must go to the dark side first. It's thicker and slightly curved. These flounder were pretty well pan-sized, just a few centimeters over the legal limit. I dusted them with flour, salt and fresh Tasmanian native pepper (I am getting really fond of this spice. Oddly even ordinary black ground pepper Australia seems to be better quality and fresher and more flavourful than South African, which is not something I could say about the dried fruit mix. What's all this rubbish in there? Green blobs belong in primordial oceans, not in fruit-cake mix).
Shallow frying fish needs high heat, and seriously, that's where I disgree with my classical French recipe. Olive oil is not good for fierce heat frying, and neither is clarified butter. I use rice-bran oil (because I bought it out of curiousity) for this but sunflower or canola are fine too. We come back to the difficult bit of cooking a fish perfectly - and at least these flounder are close to the same thickness. The joy here is that I'm not cooking for a restaurant client that I have to humour and be nice to. It's OK to have a tiny piece (less than the size of a five cent piece and about as thick) not quite cooked up against the spine right against the head, if not cooking it is going to mean the rest is just perfectly done, and Ms. Fussbudget is not going to send it back to the kitchen to get overdone. I didn't marry Ms. Fussbudget, and B knows the choices :-) If you don't like my cooking you can cook for yourself.

Anyway, the greenback flounder was superb. It's delicately textured, clean flaking rich little fish (probably lots of those omega 3 oils), with almost a hint of sweetness to it. It comes off the bone easily and even the skin is good. We had a salad of lettuce thinnings, pumpkin seeds and island tomato (and I'll leave out the tomato next time.) and baby potatoes with it, and I pronounced it the second best meal I have had on the island. Worth going out in the dark with a spear for.

Tomorrow we are going on a bus-tour! (before you die of shock, this is organised by the local council and will go to various gardens to look at the possibility of organising a community garden for the Island. Some bloke called Josh Byrne - I gather a TV gardener? - will be there.) I will get to steal with my eyes again ;-) It's worth going on a bus tour for - which also means I should not be writing about cooking, but about Hekate.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hunting and the hunter

Imagine, if you can, being out in the sea -- knee deep maybe, but two hundred yards from shore on a 'dark' - a moonless night, a smuggler's night. The looming bulk of Strzelecki mountain blacks out a part of the sky. The rest of it is spiked with a shawl of fairy-light stars, and the sky is so clear that they seem close. It almost looks as if you could poke one of them with your flounder-spear and short out the whole lot. The sea, silent and just about as black as the mountain is lit by four tiny patches of underwater light. We're out hunting the hunter -- and a very unusual hunter it is too. Okay so I'm an ichthyologist so I would think so, but flounders (or soles) are weird with eyes that have migrated onto one side of their heads. They are the hunters of the shallow sand and mud flats where there is no cover and prawns and crabs and shoals of little needle-nose garfish think they are safe from ambush. Not so. The master of camoflage is lurking... and we're out in the dark doing something probably as ancient as humanity, trying to spear fish.

Okay so we're trying an art that was old before neolithic fish-hooks, that was common (and still practiced today)in ancient Greece. We do have an underwater light and not a piece of burning pitch-pine, and, rather than a poseidon-style trident off a Greek vase, a multipronged spear polycarbon spear (although Rex is still using a trident with a wooden shaft). To make up for this we have John-boy turning the light away just as you are ready to spear, and laughing like a drain at your cursing. It's still something humans have done forever, really (probably the turning the light away too). It fits in well to my ideas on self-sufficiency. Besides that there is something really very special about being out in the middle of the bay and having another flounderer come past "how many yer got?"
"Aw, 'bout seventy. n'you?"
"Yeah, 'bout that. It's a bad night."
(needless to say the real score is about 3 at this stage.)
I tried (and failed) to catch the needlelike garfish swimming into the pool of light with my hands. And caught a large swimming prawn... which like the idiot I am, I dropped. Barbs was better at spearing than I am, although I probably have the edge in spotting rocks that I thought looked like flounders.
Then back to gut and bag flounders and have the hot coffee we were dying for... somewhere near midnight we finally crawled into bed.
Flounders tonight for our tea (that means supper in other parts).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

We left the island

We got to Flinders on 14 January, and now today, 13 March, we left the island for the first time. We had the most fantastic fishing trip out to catch flathead. Yes, the boats all around us caught more, some by a factor of 10, but we had a calm, cloudy day, so not too much sunburn, a calm sea, so no seasickness, and a wonderful view. There were small islands all round us, we landed on Kangaroo island, and had a look at some muttonbird chicks, and a small penguin.

But to me the best part of the day, was just being out on the sea, in a little "tinny" boat, catching some fish with a handline, (a new method of fishing for me!) and the good company. The chat between the boats, was fun, with one of the other boats even lending us some special tackle to we could catch more!

We have got 7 meals worth of flathead to eat, and had a really terrific morning, and seen the island from a whole new perspective! The mountains appear a lot higher from the sea.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shrimps, Tasmanian pepper berries and wattleseed icecream

No it's not Sauron. A flathead (one of the Platycephalidae, don't ask me which right now) But all science fiction and fantasy writers should do a little bit of marine work. It would lend a real 'we have met aliens' feel to their work. In some parts they're called lizard-fish. There is no concrete evidence of them ever having been presidents, prime-ministers, or anyone's boss, despite appearances. They're certainly one of the better eating fish, also despite appearances.

Yesterday was quite momentous - I had to take a driving test because the South African beaurocracy is so corrupt that South African driver's licences are not accepted here. Fair enough. The idea of a South African mini-bus taxi driver being allowed to drive (let alone in Australia) is enough to fill me with cald grue. Our local (about to retire) Copper has an interesting task (interesting in the interesting times sense). It hadn't occured to me that as the police on the island are shall we say limited in number and the island is big... and everyone has cell phones, everyone (at least anyone who is up to anything) knows where he is. I was a fisheries scientist working in the fishery of last resort for years. It was full of characters and not a few scoundrels - some nice guys and some scumbags - and several fat rogues who were oily polite to me (and it wasn't up to me to catch them)while they thought they were pulling the wool over my eyes about what they were up to. You do get a little paranoid about being watched. Anyway... I'd love to hear the stories from both sides one day. I bet the straitsmen (the rogues who populated these islands once) are less distant than you may think. Anyway - although I was nervous because in 30 odd years of driving you pick up habits that probably aren't in the recommended manual of driving school style - I passed.

So we went after squid last night and I set a little bait-trap for crabs/shrimps. Barbs proved that now she has the hang of squid, she can catch them - she got 2. I got none - we did get our first crustaceans too.

No they're not very big, but you have to start somewhere. I caught about 50. Not sure whether they'll be bait or part of pasta or stuffing for calamari tubes.

We went down early this morning again and we got a trevally and flathead. And the postman brought us some presents from South Australia. Tasmanian Native pepper, bush tomatoes and roasted wattleseed powder. I'm about to have the native pepper on some grilled flathead, and will make Icecream with the wattleseed - possibly not tomorrow... we have an expotition to sea with John.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

He Passed!

Dave passed his drivers test! I am so pleased. We can now both drive if we have to, which is a huge load off my mind!

So we went shopping to celebrate. Free milk, past its sell by date but the ferry has not come in so there is no fresh, and pears to cook in red wine. The red wine was a bit of a challenge. We have no bottle shop, we get alcohol from the pub even if we want to drink it at home, and the lady there does not drink wine. So which would be good for pears? We bought the cheapest, and we will see how it does on the pears, they should become red, if not, we will not try drinking it!

Wind, weather and tide should all be right for squid tonight, so off to the jetty we will go, for another beautiful sunset, and hopefully some food.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jumpin' jack

Or Jack Jumper - a kind of ant - Myrmecia pilosula - is another of those little Australian delights I keep discovering. Do not discover this one for yourself by putting your forearm on the edge of the raised bed that said Jack Jumper was occupying. I'm not, fortunately, one of the 3 percent of people that are violently allergic to them. It's more or less like a wasp-sting but does seem to keep recurring.

So we ventured into Bowmans today to acquire some more pre-paid time for my cell phone AKA 'Mobile' in these parts. We decided we needed two 'phones in case one of us is at the beach and the other gets bitten by a Jack Jumper or attacked by sudden shortage of milk (a very serious condition, which can cause absence of coffee) while the other is at the library - so we have one on contract and one cheapo. "Can we have some airtime for the cell please?" I ask after the important preliminaries have been dealt with (This is an island. Agriculture is still its mainstay. Mention of yesterday's rain obligatory). I get a rather puzzled twinkle from behind the slightly lowered glasses. (you can imagine the thought-processes. 'Humour him. He could be dangerous. Came out of a cell. Besides he's a foreigner, and they _are_ odd')"What?"
"You know. Time. For the cell."
(Blank look, or perhaps assessing distance the door.)
I take out the phone (slowly, no sudden movements ;-)) "It's pre-paid, we need to put some more money into it."
A light and possibly relief dawns "You mean mobile credit!"
And there I thought mobile credit was credit moving just out of reach. A kind of cruel teasing game played by bank managers...
We are divided by a common language.

So we went to Walkers (the supermarket. You need to know it is there, as signs are not Islandish. If you don't know where these essentials are, you shouldn't be here. Or ask someone, really. I could get to like this attitude.) to get milk - the lack of which as I may have mentioned can cause serious conditions like drinking black coffee and not out of choice) and to manage in our talented fashion to forget the Eucalyptus oil again. (to repel March Flies. Which bite, and can be a bane on windless days. I hope they really are absent after March) I also wanted some powdered mushroom soup, which was O/S. So B asked one of the staff, busy listing stuff on a sheet of carboard - presumably for re-order, if we could possibly request things. She attempted to keep a straight face and was betrayed by her dimples and said 'No.' And then packed up laughing. Heh. They were very nice to us, explaining things like instant mushroom gravy, and yes they'll order mushroom soup for us. Ah, we have a purpose in life. We are the dim country cousins for Flinders Island. I've always wanted to do more than just be a good bad example.

Last night BTW we had our first official gale according to Willyweather (the weather site which we live by). The house creaked a little, the wind roared (there really is no other word for the noise) through the pines. If I'd had a little dog called Toto I'd have wondered if we were going to end up in Oz. But we're here already.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Flounder lights

No, these are not Flinders Island crayfish. Seeing as my brother saw fit to remind me that Crayfish season just opened in KwaZulu Natal I dug out a picture of us grilling our catch at Mapelane last year. So far I haven't actually SEEN a Flinders crayfish. I haven't -- to be fair -- spent a lot of time diving and looking, or as John sensibly suggested gone for a night-scout with a bright torch on a shallow reef. The abalone has been pretty easy diving, with plenty of fish seen but not a solitary crayfish feeler. The downside for night cray expeditions is the nearest likely place is a good 20km off - and driving at night here is a challenge, shall we say. We need roo-bars. Anyway, my night expeditions just came a little closer as I celebrated passing the knowledge test of Tas licence (now thanks to South African government ineptitude and corruption we cannot simply exchange licences - but have to redo them.) by buying a flounder/prawn light (an underwater light). I've rigged a little "boat" - a plastic crate with a innertube stabiliser outside in which the motorbike battery can travel while we wander about in the dark in the chilly water with me weilding a spear or possibly flinging a net about. This is all fraught with misadventure, I can tell. Anyway, B has taken the potential for interesting things one step further and ordered an inflatable paddleski (sit-on kayak). It's probably a pup... um one of those purchases that SOUND like a good idea... but as I have in vain tried to find a canoe/kayak seller who will answer my e-mails about delivering a non-inflatable one to Flinders... We'll give it a try. And we may be lucky. I thought it worth trying anyway. I want to try setting dillies for crabs (You know -you go to Picadilly and catch crabs... well this is like that but only totally different). Actually it's more like hoop/ring-netting. You lower a hoop of iron with a net under it - and a smelly bait in the middle, and hopefully the crab/crayfish wanders onto it to eat. Then you - on the surface, 'snatch' (lift really fast) the hoop and hopefully the crab falls into the net and can't swim faster than you can haul. In practice it's a great way of finding snags on the bottom and falling overboard into freezing water, and if that fails, getting bitten by the escaping crabs on the surface. This is what we call 'fun'. You should try it! Really, you'll love it.

I made some home-made pitas -lovely crusty outside and soft and steaming inside, and we had Flinders Island style whatchamacallits - stuffed with spinach, fennel, spring onions, parsley from the garden topped with some spicy tomato and garlic that I cooked up, a sprinkle of cheese, and some flaked Trevally, and eaten rather messily. I need a pizza oven :-). I said to B that what the island really could use was a pizza -takeaway. Especially on nights like last night. I didn't feel like cooking. For me that's like saying I didn't feel like breathing. I miss the diving with Lemmings (the Lemmings - my brother, Brian and moi - only one would have to head toward the coast and the others would hasten after to fling themselves into the water after them. Good diving, great food, excellent red wine and better company. Ah well. Good memories.) And lo-and-behold we got a notice in our postbox that Freckles - the local cafe, not the book by Gene Stratton-Porter - is doing takeaway pizza which sound good. However, island style takeaways... Wednesday and Friday nights orders in by 7.15pm. Heh. I SAID it was a whole different world. Seriously, out of tourist season the island probably couldn't support a full-time take-away and the pub (which serves food too).

So who will come out on a black predawn crabbing/floundering/prawn expedition with me? I promise there will be floundering (possibly in the mud). We have our first visitors coming in April. I wonder if they are braced for this?

Monday, March 8, 2010

I believe it was a public holiday today. Ah to be 'public'. Anyway, it was raining cats and rats (bouncy ones with pouches) and I finally did a bunch of roundtuit stuff - which somehow extended the list! And now there is thunder rumbling away at us. It's been very odd weather - quite warm - mid twenties I reckon and wet. Not what I expect. Anyway, this too will pass and I daresay in winter we will long for warmth. I missed a call from my brother and am now suddenly realising we're a long way from were we came from. I think this probably loops back and hits you from time to time. I'd better get offline now as I need to unplug.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Certainties: Death, taxes and zucchini

(with thanks to Melissa for the appropiate title). Few things are truly certain - and while everybody knows the first two - zucchini - aka corgettes aka baby marrows are punting hard to get into that realm. Back in the dark ages when we moved out Finnegan's Wake, I plunged into home gardening with huge eagerness. And a packet of Zucchini seeds. I lots of space, and a packet of seeds. So I planted all of them in good well manured soil. About 30 plants, IIRC. I got my first lesson in self sufficiency when they started to bear... and bear. And bear. And BEAR... Now there is good Yorkshire and Scots blood in the bloodline - to say nothing of depression era parents. "Waste not, want not!"

Much ingenuity and even picallilli followed. To the ingenuity I owe the fact that we all still eat zucchini. A bit of overproduction is the life-blood of the self-supporter. You want something for the inevitable less-than-formal (and sometimes formal) trade that develops with other gardeners and foragers. Besides the fact the fact that it's better and more varied food than you can buy, there is this moment of delight in knowing the tax-man isn't keen on 45% of a zucchini. He just wants money (which is pity. I rather fancied posting a few zucchini to the 'revenue service'). But there is no point in having tons of glut of something your neighbours and friends have a glut of too. So I've never planted more than 6 Zucchini at once since.

I have seven now.

Winter may rescue us.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mr Saveloy

Well, rather tired (after a rather short night) and daydreaming of that lamb-chop-in-a-piece-bread I walked to the Autumn Market, as I am determined to get back to being fit. It was further than I anticipated and a mistake, because it does not run to Zululand time.(Zululand time = 2 hours after real time. If you get invited for dinner at 6 in Zululand it means 8. Approximately. Give or take an hour either way. It nearly drove me scatty when we lived there as I am precise about time, and B moreso. However if the Autumn Market opens at 10 AM... be there at 10 to 10. Not ten past... Or the good bits may just be gone. It was hot, brisk and busy at first. I saw someone with a nice bunch of beetroots but by the time old slow-coach got there... Anyway, we did get a few bargains (B was doing cream scones in the Anglican stall - which left me on my own.) I did manage some island-grown coctail tomatoes - just as well as we're 4 green fruit and 8 flowers into tomato production. And a raffle ticket... I have supported about 2 million good causes with raffle tickets. Never ever won even the booby prize. Um. I'll have to give up buying them now, as I won 4 wine glasses... without stems. Is this the way the world is going? Not sure I approve. There is a reason for that stem, besides making them sound good when you touch glasses.

However closer to the realms of international tragedy, there were no lamb-chop-in-a-piece-bread. Not even snags with or without onion. Just another thing I had not met, the saveloy. Let's just say I not going to be a big fan.

I added some brocolli seedlings into the beds, and something that called itself climbing spinach. Ah my garden! We ate our first two carrots this evening... you remember those funny little pencils that once came diaries - about half as thick as normal pencils? Yes? Oh well, these carrots were nothing like that. Pencil leads maybe.

Friday, March 5, 2010

close and personal

Well, the proofs are in - and it is raining. A long day of staring at the computer screen. I've turned in I think 14 books to publishers now, and it never gets any easier to let go.

Tomorrow is the Lions Autumn Market at the showgrounds (so the island gospel AKA the Island news informs us - published bi-weekly and paid for cheerfully it seems by the locals - imagine a suburban paper people paid for or that people drove in to fetch and wanted!). The only country paper that - if you go in to Bowmans, you can buy the day before it comes out. We're SO advanced we have time travel here. The Market should be interesting... you know, it's almost impossible to explain to big city people just how PERSONAL life in a place like Flinders is. Go into the Post Office (which is also the Wespac bank) and you will know the people serving you. You'll know John and Leanne (even if the spelling might avoid me) by first name, and they'll know your name. If post arrives... as some of ours has, without the box address - you'll get it. They'll tell you about chooks and about where to fish. Go into the General Dealer (and this has all the charm of stepping back to better time when there WAS a real general dealer - like the trader's store deep in rural Africa, you can get a kettle or a blanket or a cell-phone charger or magazine or the Island News or a shirt) and Lois is almost bound to introduce herself, Helen and anyone else in the shop to you. I get to feeling I ought to carry a note-pad around with me, because everyone knows the two crazy new South Africans who are staying in John Woolley's house, (there really is an address and a road we live on. I don't even bother to say it anymore. People look blank - I just tell them who owns the place!) and I get introduced to so many people it takes me weeks to work it all out. Because you do work it all out - the island fits together like a jigsaw. I daresay there are fueds and factions, which we'll doubless come across, but people know each other and need each other. There are grumbles about this that and the next, yes... but people greet each other. Because short of flying out this is it. If there is a fire or another ferry saga - these are the people you have to deal with, and deal with the situation with.

Okay so maybe this is not the life for the person who worries about his anonymity or is paranoid about his private life. People will know a lot about you, whether you like it or not. It's probably gossip central... But I must admit I love it. In a city you can live next door to someone and never meet them let alone know the name of someone living a mile away. Here neighbours are important. They're neighbours in the real sense... Makes me feel part of the place, even if we aren't. Yet. Give it 30 years :-).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ah bah

It was a beautiful, almost windless (very very rare) hot day, with the swell forecast on some rocks I want to investigate on the west coast 30 cm (it's usually at best over 1 metre - often more). Unfortunately my publisher sent me the proofs for MUCH FALL OF BLOOD and a please it's very urgent can we have these back by close of business Friday. So as it is a 600 page book, Barbs and I have just been doing that solidly. Quick break now for mail and supper.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

...In a piece of bread

Got up before the light this morning to go and dive for Abalone. The tide was such that I could still get in a decent late morning writing session and dive - and the weather and wind look to be on their way. The Abalone in freezer quota is now full. I'm getting better at it (got my quota today without being exhausted), even though everyone seems to think I am moderately insane free-diving from the shore for them. Aqualung/hookah from a boat is the norm.
I need to work a bit more on my down-time (yes, this means something else entirely when you are referring to a skin-diving with a snorkel). Am getting a little frustrated that I haven't found the crayfish yet. Yes, everyone tells me 'it's deep. You need scuba/hookah'. They might be right. But I really really need to explore more. Also been trying to figure how to catch crabs here. Need to get a crab-hawk (a device which is not a trap, for fishing for crabs) maybe. But they only seem to have them in the US. I'm allowed a cray-pot or a bait trap. Bait trap door is 65mm... cray pot has to have 200mm high escape holes. The things I am trying to catch are bigger than 65mm, and smaller than 200mm... Oh well, I'll work something out. But I fancy some crustaceans for a change ;-)

I turned one of the despised wrasse into fish-cakes tonight. It's not going to be a world beater, but with a tomato chutney, a very acceptable tea (as they say hereabouts. Tea is not just a drink jam and bread).

I was just talking to B the other day about one of the differences we've noticed is whenever you go to a function in South Africa - they'll sell you a wors (kind of sausage -coursely minced beef and pork, with coriander seed as the principle spice - not worst, although sometimes...) roll as a fundraiser. Here - on Flinders - much the same thing... well, obviously a sausage, or a lamb chop (that's a first for us) ... in piece of white bread. Fortunately the Island Bakery is still running and does make a good fresh loaf. What would Pratchett's Dibbler do here? Is this Australia, or just Flinders?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mouse mazurka and caterpiller cavort

We live as they say, at the sign of the ups-and-downs. Yesterday's entertainment was the new vacuum cleaner (we had to buy a new one as you're not allowed to bring old one over) deciding to have a little fire unto itself. When taking it back involves getting it back to K-mart in Lonnie, and the ferry situation is as entertaining as ever (what was this about waiting until your ship comes in. Be patient. We live on that happening here) and Doctor Sonya telling me I need to watch cholesterol in my diet (I conclude in my paranoid, persecution-befuddled and byzantine way that she must town shares in a brocolli seed production unit, and is therefore out to recommend that the entire island eats a certain lumpy green veggie - _without cheese_ .) A little research on CSIRO site shows I am less high Cholesterol than 50% of Australians, but I figure I'll eat more whole grains (and brocolli). And drink more red wine and eat more tomatoes, and have gout instead. And do more excercise - which is awkward because I am very behind in my writing schedule.

This morning however I got my extra excercise with a lovely new dance called the mouse mazurka - which involves a mouse on the screen door and a lot of leaping and kicking. Try it, you will love it, and it's very good for the heart and calorie count. The mouse fled outside, laughing fit to bust, little bastard.

Then B went nervously in to town to do her drivers with Policeman Pat - I still have to do mine. Anyway, she passed - which is kind of right because she's a good driver and has been driving for more than 30 years - but logic doesn't always work with these things. You don't do a lot of parallel parking in real life in rural Africa. Anyway, she also brought me a letter from the the bank saying that the Save the Dragon's money was safely in the account - a relief because we've borrowed from peter to pay paul with the dogs and cats.

And that, right now, is that. Ups and downs... oh well, Barbs has developed an alternative to the mouse mazurka, called the caterpillar cavort, which could be a big hit if we can find a reliable supply of caterpillars to drop down dieter's necks. I didn't squish it but just put it out for the skink. A place with lizards that must weigh 2 pounds and walk like sumo wrestlers probably has tiny caterpillars that are poisonous or do kung fu.

And now to my 16th century Black Sea naval battle... I think I need to write about something closer at hand!

Monday, March 1, 2010

On cooking fish

I was thinking about the local fondness for 'flake'(aka shark) -- which is never going to top my list of great fish experiences. It's perfectly edible, relatively bland, and of course, large. I grilled two fillets of a smallish Silver Trevalley the meal before last (a pasta with smoked clams and garden veg last night) and it was one of those pieces of fish where you explore just under the pelvic bones just in case just in case there is just one more morsel of fish left - total additions to flavour - salt, olive oil, fresh black pepper. I figure one of the big issues with fish is that that 'window'in which a piece of fish (particularly thin fillets) is nearly perfectly cooked - not over-not under - just at the taste apogee is tiny. Maybe 30 seconds. Even a fussy-steak gourmet has probably a minute between the edges of 'acceptable' with perfect 30 seconds in the middle. That's a tight margin that restaurants almost never get right, and a lot of home cooks overshoot too. What something like flake, or even baked fish (which conserves moisture, although texture and collagen breakdown continues)does is to allow a bigger 'window'. It's why I prefer grilling (fire, top or bottom heat - all quite different) or even frying fish to baking, steaming, boiling - because you're in a lot more precise control (IMO that strong fishy taste BTW relates to collagen - just as joints of meat with bone and lots of connective tissue tend to be gelatinous and more powerfully flavoured). Anyway, to grill WELL with the kind of fish that needs to be JUST cooked - give me something where I can SEE the flesh, where the fillet is a fairly even thickness. I like a ridged griddle pan, and contrary to most fish cooking instructions cook the fish flesh side down first, on quite high heat for thin fillets (thicker the fillet, lower the ideal heat to allow the middle to cook before the outside is charcoal). The skin always contracts when you cook it. If the flesh underneath is mostly cooked the meat pulls away from flesh. If it isn't... the flesh shape is distorted. It bends and the even thickness of the fillet is not even any more. The skin does protect the flesh from drying and extreme heat, but a thin film of olive oil does that quite well, and you can- if need be - use that to carry flavours into the meat. Some fish benefit from marianade, but I always like to grill new species just plain to 'get' the basic flavours to know what must or can be done.

Erhm. You do get the idea that I am quite fanatical about cooking, especially seafood. I'm just glad to have all of this wonderful fresh new food to experiment on. And a guinea-wife who will try my experiments. Why has she turned purple?

Oh, I have a new wine to add to my like very much, especially with grilled fish. And it's a riesling - which after my formative younger experiences with elderly German riesling was something I thought came out of the nether end of cats. It's a Queen Adelaide from South Australia, and I have to re-assess my liking for white wine and riesling in particular.