Monday, May 31, 2010

Roly is getting fat!

We heard today that our dog, Roly the Old English Sheepdog, is gaining weight. He has Dave's unwashed shirt, that we posted to him, in his kennel, and he is eating really well. I am so so pleased. When we heard he had lost so much weight, I worried that he was ill, and not just pining.

Now we just need to pay for the kennel, we thought we had paid all we needed to, to get all 6 of our pets to the island, but it turns out we still need to pay for the kenneling in Sydney. Then hopefully they will be with us next month. I can't wait.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Concert

Locals keep saying "In winter..." or "Once winter gets here.." As far as my toes are concerned, winter has already arrived, so I am a bit anxious about what is still in store for us. We need rain, but when it snows near Hobart, the wind comes off it straight to Flinders. So we need to pray for rain, but not snow!

I spent this evening in the town hall, which has a really fancy title, involving recreation centre. The music teacher had organised for her pupils to perform for us, and also for the 'sing Australia' choir to sing, and some adults to perform either a solo, or a duet.

I enjoyed the evening, and all the different performances, some were better, some not so good, but everyone tried really hard. The encouragement they got from parents and friends, the kind laughter that greeted any mistakes, and the enthusiastic applause at the end of each piece was really heartwarming. It was fun so see the different reactions of the children to being thrust into the limelight, in front of a crowd of fellow islanders. Kathleen had the children perform on the floor in front of the stage, so they were not so put off by the audience, but the choir were up on stage, and filled the whole hall with their voices.

There were fifteen different performers, and each performed several pieces, but two of the pieces chosen were of African origin. It was soooo weird to see a group of about 20 Australians doing the equivalent of a 'gumboot' dance, with the correct words, but in high heels and sneakers. For a moment I was almost homesick, but a rendition of Oh Bla Di Oh Bla Da, soon put an end to it.

We then went out into the foyer and descended on the food the mothers had provided. There was a 'gold' coin collection to raise money for the music school, so everyone made sure they got their monies worth. (The dollar coins in Australia are gold coloured, while the cents are all silver coloured, so they want to make sure everyone knows how much to give.)

There was a lot of chat and laughter, and once again it was really wonderful to feel part of the crowd, and included as part of the community.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Galaxias

They're fish. Galaxias - probably G. maculata, although I will have to catch one for a proper ID. The nearest I have been to real live fish for a good few days. I took a walk across the field (had to escape my desk for a few minutes) and to the 'crick' (aka trickle with a few wider spots) and there they were. Only an ichthyologist could find them fascinating, alas. They're about 4 cm long and there in gurt big shoals (well shoals for a barely flowing puddle that is maybe 4 inches deep at the deepest.) It's amazing that they're there at all. Apparantly they're anadromous and move up from the sea.

Hmm. I see they are caught for 'whitebait' - when they move upstream - little fish that are fried whole. To quote the Wikipedia entry: "Foreigners frequently react with revulsion when shown uncooked whitebait, which resembles slimy, translucent worms." Hmm. Remind me not show them to B, uncooked.

Well well. I see it is a strictly controlled 'recreational fishery' in Tasmania.
Amazing what you can learn from a walk to the creek. At some stage the self-sufficiency live off the land bloke will have to try them. After all, we tried mutton-birds. Actually we had muttonbird - cooked by Inge (to show us how it was done and to be nice to us,)this evening, as we had a powerfailure (lost the longer post). It's still a bit on the fried-in-fish-oil stakes, but not inedible.

I think that one of the aspects of foraging is that you have to be 'noticing' and have an eye for detail, and a rather, relentless quizziosity. Funnily enough, in that sense, it fits rather well into the way I persue my other profession - especially with the current alternate history stuff. I probably look up about 400 things a day. It's not a great aid to flow... but it is rather what I am. Most of this doesn't obviously reflect in the books (for eg. if a character needs to look at other ships - I need to know what a crows nest was called in 1437. And I need to know that the telescope was not invented yet.) and I've often wondered if anyone notices.
But I would.
Which is why we'll end up tasting whitebait one of these days.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Alas, poor Zucchini

I finally had to take them out. The fruit was actually dying on the plant. Still, I got the last five, and here we are not far off June. The seasons change, and right now dawn (above) is just spectacular. The book is finally moving -4K words yesterday, but that is meaning I see little but my desk.

I've planted out a garlic clove under a plastic cup - partly to follow Quilly's advice, and partly to keep the $#@#ing mice digging it up and eating it. Roll on kitty-cats! (yes, not good for birds, and I am sorry about that, but the mice are just so darned destructive.) I've also planted - in an enclosed bed Jerusalem artichoke -also mouse sheilded. Oh and we have had an outbreak of snails again. Yep, small farming, dead easy, innit? Anyway, in the electricity conservation stakes (I think this heat-leaking piece of rubbish oven is a major culprit) I did my best to cook on lounge heater/stove thing tonight. Hmm. Well the big 'camp oven'cast iron pots were supposed to produce pitas. It was more like frizbees. Anyway very tasty frizbees, and so what if they don't open up for filling. The filling went fine on top :-)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh, the joys of being a mother!

Another 11 sleeps and then our children arrive to visit us.

I am so excited, and in a way anxious. I want them to love our new lifestyle, have a lot of fun and be happy on the island. But I am also realistic, and realise that they are not just little clones of the two of us. (At 6ft and 6ft 2, they are not little at all.) The boys both have minds of their own, and will decide for themselves about Flinders, but I do want the island to put on a bit of a show, with good weather and beautiful sunsets for them to enjoy. The sunrises can do what they like, the boys will not be around to appreciate them anyway.

With both of them studying in South Africa, we have resigned ourselves to only seeing Paddy and James twice a year, if we are lucky. So I just want every minute to count as a happy time. Cloud cuckoo land??

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Today started off as a really good day, I was taken out for coffee out in town,(while Dave stayed home to write). With lots of chat and laughs, it was great to feel part of the community.

I also got some of my requested books from the library, the Tas library service is very good at sending me most of the books that I ask for. I am taking part in the Australian 2010 MS Readathon, so I am reading some of the classics that they suggest, as well as books of my own choice. So my reading list on their site is very varied.

Then we got our electricity bill. They are only sent out every 3 months, so we had no idea that the two of us were using about 50% more electricity than our landlord and his family did. (And the same time last year is listed on the bill, so we don't have to just take his word for it.)

So, now to the questions. I only use my computer off and on during the day, should I turn it off when not in use? Will turning it on and off shorten its life? I watch TV in the evenings, should I leave it on standby the rest of the time, or turn it right off? We do all the obvious things like not leaving on lights etc already.

But now there is a glorious fire in the sitting room, and Dave attacked the big logs with our new blockbuster, so we have lots of firewood. (Until we got here, I thought a blockbuster was the description of a movie, not a lumberjacks tool!) So who can be sad, while there is warmth and the wonderful smell of dinner cooking?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Flinders Island is doing a passable imitiation of Cape Town in winter - which was rather what B and I feared when we moved here (and has not been true so far). The rain today is thin and damp-making and persistant (most of the time rain here is big drops, and a lot of them - very wet, but not persistant, if you get the difference).

We went into Whitemark PO this morning and posted off a smell-o-gram to Roland. A niffy t-shirt... hope it helps. It should be with him by tomorrow as we sent it express. Then we had tea with Inge and came home before leading fringe of rain. This sort of rain makes staying indoors and warm and dry attractive (I've HEARD gung-ho types (inevitably with desk jobs) say how they like being on a heaving deck in a force ten gale and sleeting rain etc. By the time you have tried it for a few years you may still like the excitement, but well, just being out in the persistant rain and cold wind is not fun. I've tried it. The good part is coming in and being safe and warm and dry afterwards. Facing the elements when you can do that is bracing stimulating, yes. But not day after day - as someone who once fish-farmed through a Cape winter can tell you) So it's been a good day for the fall of Galata. We move on in the book. Only about 2K words, but it was a hard piece to write.

The fire is warm (and thus the house reasonably so) we've had a tasty supper of a clam pasta, and a piece of choccy (BIG treat. Chocolate is one of those things I'm not even prepared to go all self-sufficiency on.) It left me thinking that this phase of our move has to start moving along soon. By next year we might heaven help us be in a shed or a yurt or a tent...

But that is for next year.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Signs of the times.

It is with a little sadness that I must report we now have a very posh sign at our supermarket (the island has one). I no longer feel I belong to this exclusive club AKA 'locals' who actually know where it is. Sort of 'if you don't KNOW where it is (straight across the road from the pub, next to the petrol pumps) then you don't belong and should be obliged to live on a diet of dead sea-birds, saltbush and old Boags cans. It'll make a man of you and eventually you'll be fit to be let into our secret. Ah well. They've done a good job of signage, but it's, well, rather ordinary. Perhaps we can arrange for a few misleading pointers via Green Island, just so that strangers can appreciate the treasures wrested from the erratic belly of the ferry instead of just thinking we have supermarkets like everwhere else.

Knowing the top sekrit location of the Emita Hall (where the Cracker Night was held) is definitely a sign of being one of the local cognosenti. It hasn't lowered itself to any of these infra dig signs, and is suitably discretely hidden behind a screen of trees. And no... it isn't actually IN Emita. Well. Maybe by some definitions of 'in', or 'Emita'. The Emita church and Fire Station mark that well-know landmark 'the end of the tar road', and may possibly share the area with some feral peacocks, but not houses or a town or even village as such, no. That - which in my ignorance might be Emita (Google Earth says so) or possibly Port Davies or both or neither, is about two kilometres back. There is also a dirt road turn off inland just before the Fire Station. If you follow this road for a further two and half kilometers, past nary a sign of human habitation you will come that betraying feature...

A fork in the road!

And if you KNOW where to go, you will take neither of the two roads, but proceed down the track straight in front of you, rather obscured by trees, you'll be there in a hundred metres or so. It's really obvious (if you have lived here since birth) :-).

I can't wait to be able to smile friendlily (because almost everyone here will, and wave. Smile and wave, smile and wave. That really is the way it is here) at the lost tourists, and say "203 Palana Rd.? Now who lives there?" (and look suitably blank). "Ah, you mean Joe Smith's house? Now why didn't you say so? Well now, go back the way you came, turn left at the third brown cow, go on down there until you get power-pole number 4323, and then turn right onto the track. It's about two km down that just after the burned out stump..."

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Which means bulls-eye... or more directly shooting the spot. Time and tide were more or less right tonight and we went down to see if we could get some more squid -- B was netting the third one of the evening getting quite blasé about her skill at avoiding the squirts of water or ink... when it did not work as planned. My stocks and shares in the marriage stakes are fairly low right now because I couldn't help laughing. It got her neatly between the legs, with a big inky-wet splurt. Very cold and very inky. Some serious be nice to B effort is called for, I think.

I've thought about Roly - quite a lot - and have decided I'll contact the quarantine kennel in the morning to check how he is eating, and if I can send the old boy a smell-o-gram (say a sweaty t-shirt, smelling of dad) and some other treats. Doing something is better than just worrying.

And now to Galata (historic fortress across the Golden Horn from Constantinople) again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

cracker night

I'm a worried about my Roly Boy - he's lost a lot of weight apparently. I had a chat to the vet in Sydney tonight. He's fine otherwise as far as he can see, just very thin. I so want to see him and check him out myself - but even if I could afford to, I think it would break his big doggy heart to see me and have me leave. Oh how I wish I could explain. I am heartsore and worried again.

Anyway, it was the last cracker night tonight SES fundraiser at which the old flares are let off along with some fireworks - apparently firework rules are changing and they won't be able to do it again. New public liability rules or something. I do wonder if anyone in big city ever thinks how all these petty rules (it's the rescue guys and fire service doing this display not arb people) impact small communities. Literally half the island (or of those under 70) must have been there, kids running around together, having fun. Half the island would be maybe 300 people - which by city standards isn't even a shopping-mall crowd. It was... very warming to have a fair number of people talk to us, greet us.

Anyway, I'm a bit too down and worried to write chatty and amusing blog posts tonight, so I'll go back to trying to write a rather grizzly murder scene in the current book

Friday, May 21, 2010

Doggy blue (means 'fight'?)

Well, doggy updates -- they are in Sydney. And Wednesday and Puggles had a 'blue' and both needed to be checked out by a vet. Ah well. They're all fine. Expensive but fine.

We've had a couple of sets of visitors today. The 'drop in' is something we miss a bit, but maybe we're starting to get there. We had young Jeremy and his son Harry this evening(who is the sort of toddler that could encourage childless couples to have 6. Good natured, friendly, easy going and bright.) B and I are fond of kids anyway, so we did the pre-grandparent turn-to-goo.

The olives are all bottled and labelled and put in the back dark corner. They're in strong herbed brine, and should spend at least a couple of weeks in that before we possibly re-brine (less concentrated salt) or transfer into olive oil and vinegar/lemon and/or various aromatics. Now is the hardest part of the process - waiting to see if it all worked out. We have to wait at least a week before trying them.

We did a big freezer clean-out/ sort with the two secondhand wire baskets we bought - the freezer is full. We're doing our best not to overstep any of the fisheries regs with forgotten stuff in corners. Of course some like squid is just damned awkward. We divide squid into tentacles, tubes and wings. Wings are mostly for bait, and the others are cut into serving amounts. So Barbs's battle mother is in 7 bags. (3 tube, 2 tentacle, 2 wing). They're all dated, but not all together. We're supposed to have a personal possession limit of 15. So... 15 what? At the moment we're using bait slowly, because we have our near our quota of wrasse, and we haven't been after flathead for a while. I'm sure we have less than 15 tubes(I'm not even sure that's 15 each -which makes sense or 15 total - which doesn't, but we try and abide by). I'm still a Fisheries Scientist at heart and try and keep to the rules. They're not really designed around (or for) people like us. Gee. What a surprise. We don't fit again.

I've started drying some bunches of herbs against the cold killing off our stock. I need to take Quilly's advice and move some indoors or at least into shelter next to the house... but well, writing, visitors. There is a finite amount of time - speaking of which, back to work. Vet bills to pay :-(

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dog and cat days

The fur-kids should be flying out from South Africa today, to do their last month in quarantine in Sydney. We have missed them terribly (to the point where I hate seeing the pictures because it hurts.) I can't explain to them what we've done. To them Finnegan's Wake must have seemed like dog and cat heaven. I still worry about whether we've done the right thing for them. They were all 'awkward' to re-home -- whether quarantine before coming back has been kinder, I don't know. Well I do know for Roly.

He's a one-man Old English Sheepdog. I just hope the old boy is OKay (the kennels say so)They say dogs resemble their owners and vice versa, and he's hairy, dumb and very loyal. He was actually born onto my lap, and I can't wait to let him sit on it again (yes he has grown a little, but not in his mind)

Puggles (the golden boy at the top is happy-go-lucky) but his sister Wednesday is a problem-child.

And our cats I worry most about. They're all rescues and let's be frank were a little screwball to start. But we decided on this ruinously expensive excercise(and thank you again to all of those who helped with the SAVE THE DRAGONS project - which raised 2/5 of this.) because we thought it was what we would have wanted them to do for us. And we love them very much. I just hope they come through Okay.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Gum Boot Dance

Gumboots aka Wellingtons/wellies are great for wading through wet and muddy spots (one of my earliest memories was the sheer delight of sploshing through puddles in what must have been thigh-high, way too large Gummy-boots). They keep water out. Ergo, they are good for things like smelly feet and foot-rot (ask a fish farmer to explain. And not while you are eating or if you have a sensitive stomach) as well as for small beasties (cardinal rule - always shake out your boots) if you leave them unattended, and, logically if they are going to keep water OUT, they also keep water in. Slosh-splart-splish. You can tell a fish farmer's house by the gumboots at the back door. The people of Flinders of course much more civilized than rof tof en onbeskof Ex-South African fishfarmers and wear redbacks instead (and regard people who wear gumboots as a little odd). But being well aquainted with mud, they ALSO leave them outside the back door. A front door is something you have to prove you have one, and sometimes they even open. Ours has been very useful for bringing firewood in without trotting through the house. I don't think it has actually been used for visitors. Only a townie wears shoes inside the house, and you can spot a city type even if he buys and fades a checked shirt and jeans, by the fact he will fall over the boots at the back door.

Of course you need a verandah over the back door... to keep the boots dry. We have that essential thing... only in the absolute torrential rain we had earlier today - at least an inch in about 20 minutes, said verandah... leaked. Just down one line...

Remember the bit about boots being good to keep water out and in? Well they did in pretty good because I'd parked them under that line. There was a lull in the rain and I wanted to dash out, bring more wood from the shed, and collect more herbs for the herbed brine (which needs to cool before going onto the olives). So I grabbed my boot, tipped to shake and poured water onto my socks. After some quiet and genteel remonstrations with the weather and the leak (which I assure you, gentle reader, could never have had any of those terms I heard corporals and rough seamen and rougher fish-wives using in my mis-spent youth) I ripped the wet sock off and hurtled off to grab James's boots where they had been plonked next to the wood-box, outside the front door. And my haste (it was beginning to spot with rain again) I did not obey the cardinal rule.

I thrust my bare foot into the boot.

And my bare foot was NOT alone in there.

For future reference, the little tree-frogs ALSO like you to remember the cardinal rule of boots.

Anyway, the frog and I both lived, although both of us were a little discomforted by the experience. I got the herbs, forgot the firewood. And we have now bottled 22 bottles of black olives and have run out of jars but not olives.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On field mushrooms

Tall trees and mushrooms - - has an excellent post on ID of field mushrooms of the various Agaricus species. We had some in supper tonight (and have been eating them fairly steadily, and I have a large fried and frozen supply, and about 2kg (wet) - or about 300 grams dry in the pantry cupboard. Having read up extensively, and talked to and show specimens to locals, I made up a cheat sheet for myself -- I recommend the Tall Trees and Mushrooms guide for more detail and pics, but for print-and-take-with-you... here is my personal cheat sheet. Understand this clearly: Eating wild mushrooms is dangerous passtime, and you do it at your own risk. Some can kill you, and some can have serious consequences. I'm not responsible for your decisions, you are. Remember: if in doubt - throw it out. Always ask locals advice and try to find someone who has real expertise to guide you.

My friend Morrie2 over at Tall Trees and Mushrooms (who knows more about this subject than I ever will) reckoned most of these sensible - except the first, as he reckons that would exclude a lot. Well, I live in a place of big paddocks, so it works for me. This advice (and it advice NOT a safe guarantee) applies here. I don't know about the rest of the world.

1)location - is open grassland/field - at least 10 metres from trees. Don't even look under trees or anywhere near rotting wood. (I know this cuts out a lot of edible mushrooms and a lot of area. At this stage my idea is over-cautious is best. We have lots of big paddocks here.) if it is growing in a cowpat, or moss or rotten wood leave it. You want grass around it.

2) how big is the mushroom, and what colour is it? If it is smaller than 5 cm cap ignore it. If the colour is anything other than a shade of mushroom-white (white with overlays of grey or brown) ignore it. (this hopefully takes out the galerinas.) And definitely ignore green shades (especially with white gills - Amanita phalloides - deadly - which shouldn't be growing out here anyway)

3) clear grass around the base of the mushroom to see if it has a volva. If it has leave it!!!! (Amanitas have volvas and A phalloides is deadly and shouldn't be growing out here anyway. But never take chances.)

4)Is the cap dry? good. If shiny/sticky, leave it.

5) Turn it over. Do gills go down the stem? - reject - if not: What color are the gills? If white or yellow or orange reject. If pink keep and see if they turn brown, if brown, then

5) Smell it. If it smells mushroom/anise-mushroom, good. If 'chemically' reject.

6) then check for an annulus (it must have one), check if the stem snaps cleanly from the cap, check if it peels easily.

7)back home check spore print - it should be brown.

8) cut and check staining. If yellow, discard. Pink or no stain is fine.

9) cook. If it smells chemically when cooking (indian ink/phenol) don't eat it. Eat one small slice. KEEP the rest of the mushroom unsliced, for ID if necessary. Do not eat any other sorts of mushroom. Wait 24 hours (at least) before eating more. If you get sick in any way - take the mushroom and yourself post haste to medical assistance.

Which all seems a great deal of hassle for some mushrooms - but they are very delicious and can be abundant and free. But be careful and read up and learn to recognise the toxic sp. (they don't look that like the edible field mushrooms, but people still make mistakes.)

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well, I bottled the first bottles of black olives today - the first bowl I consider 'ready', into strong herbed brine with a dash of vinegar. That gave just over 7 bottles of Olives - the standard 350 ml jar. I figure we're looking at another maybe 18 jars. 25 + 6 green olives. Now that sounds a lot, but by the time you add giving friends a jar and the serious locust factor AKA Paddy and James (my sons, coming home from Uni in 3 weeks)... maybe we DO need to pick some more. The ones in raw salt were a bit of a failure in my opinion. Or not to my taste anyway. The small number I did in wood-ash lye I won't at this stage do again. The awkward thing is it'll be yet another week before they can really be tried. - 31 jars of what might be a total flop and quite a lot of work, is a little worrying. But ever onward. It has already showed me how well the local grapevine works - I mentioned to Rosemary that our herb production of everything but parsley was... moderate, and of course I am using that for the herbed brine and need to dry some really soon as the temperatures are dropping - down to 3 centigrade this morning. Next thing Carol shows up at my study door with a huge bunch of marjoram, sage, thyme, mint and garlic chives. It can be a pretty good community to be in.

I want to try some roll-mops with the Australian Salmon and the Wrasse - the former is Okay fresh - just, and the latter is acceptible briefly poached in Thai green curry, or a crab-and-tomato Tal grottli, probably OK as part of fishsoup/stew so long as it has 'in liquid'cooking. I really, really need to catch some crabs in this place that are not pea-crabs! Anyway, when the boys get here, there will be some more serious efforts. At the moment I am focussing on finishing the current book. The weather -- daytime -- has been glorious clear without being too hot. Fortunately this rotten cold is still hovering, snotty and feeling a bit miz. It'd be difficult to resist this sort of temptation otherwise.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The life of Riley

Somehow people have developed the illusion that a self-sufficient life in the country is quiet and tranquil, and entirely effortless. In a bizarre way it's rather like people telling you about having been reincarnated and remembering their past lives. Funnily enough, they all seem to have been princesses or heroes. Oddly no one seems to remember having been a drudge, or a deserving flea, born to a higher state this time around. I've often thought that my violent and immediate dislike of the very smell of turnips -and knowing full well exactly what it would taste like before tasting it, was the nearest I have ever come to real evidence of reincarnation. But in that former life I must have been a very hungry peasant somewhere in Northern Europe... a dull Baldric-type life, much afflicted with insufficient food, and entirely too much of the little there was must have been turnip. Still, I must have been a good peasant, as I've moved on to Flinders Island in this round. Which again makes it all seem very unlikely, as I don't have a particularly saintly nature. And likewise rural life is sometimes quiet (you know, like when the green rosellas have a domestic dispute outside the window just before dawn), sometimes tranquil (when the wind actually makes such constant roaring sound that you wake up when it stops) and never ever effortless. Like the illusion that being a writer is effortless...

Anyway, in my illusionary world I have decided it's probably a good life-choice for the hyperactive and restless, as well as the not-particularly-intellectually-gifted (or they would work out that going to a supermarket for a loaf of bread is a lot easier than kneading dough) and a strong back because carrying loads of wood is a little more like hard work than flipping the switch on a heater. We will leave out the part about cutting down the tree and cutting it up, because part of me always wants to ask if you don't have to cut it down again. I think these delusions are why so many rural shifters don't last too long. Still, while it is hard work, and like any work a lot of it is repetitive, there is enormous satisfacton to it. And that hard-to-define thing quality of life is a biggy. It often seems to go hand in hand with just straight quality. My veggies aren't what any office-working supermarket-shopping person would call 'quality' - they have holes from caterpillars. They'd be less good than the stuff in the shop if I transported it thence - but here, well, firstly it's fresh (sometimes with added frog or caterpillar) and secondly it's MINE - watered by the sweat of my brow (no wonder it tastes salty and smells yuck). And thirdly - it satisfies that innate mean-ness of me. I never paid a long chain of middlemen or the government for most of it, which delights long generations of "careful" ancestors. It must be in the DNA or something, because, like the satisfaction of barter, it makes 'retail therapy' seem like a weak shandy compared to overproof whiskey.

Still, it's not the life of Riley. If you want that: stay in the big city, and stick close to your desk 9-5, enjoy dining out, watching TV, take-outs, repairmen... and that sort of thing. Otherwise, well, learn to cook in batches, think ahead and seize the day when the weather is good or the mushrooms come out or there are olives being left to rot. And sometimes it means sitting an writing on a glorious Sunday, because you're behind.

Oh well, it was always my choice. And it is beautiful, and satisfying, even if it is sometimes hard work.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Long, long ago, in another life, I used to work in the most wonderful shop, called "The Wine Cellar". They sold over 1000 labels of wine, and then some beers, mixers and spirits. We often had tea sitting outside, and I would make a point of sitting in the sun, (unless it was midsummer) so that I could get my 10 minutes worth of sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, to process calcium so that I would not get the old ladies common ailment, oestioporosis.

Wow, now I spend so much of my time outdoors, I can't even imagine needing 'sun time'. If we are not fishing, we are mushrooming, or I am walking to town, or just cutting the lawn with the brushcutter. I thought that, having been warned that the island gets its rain in winter, we might be short of sun, but so far we have had only a handful of days when it has not shone at all. Mostly the weather changes by the half hour, and some of the rain showers last only 5 minutes and then the sun is out again.

While that does make hanging washing outside a whole new ballgame, so far I have been up to the challenge, and we do get clean clothes to wear.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mixed fry

The pic is sunset on the tidal flats where we go to collect clams.
Ok so it's very late and I'm too tired. But I caught my first Australian salmon - in a a throw net. Today was Policeman Pat's farewell at 2pm, and we had visitors from 11.30-1pm, and I wrote from about 4 AM, and picked mushroooms at 11 AM, then after the farewell tea, cut a ute-load of firewood, collected some nice clams, caught mullet and australian salmon in the throw-net, collected a few oysters, speared flounder, scoop netted swimming prawns. I also fitted in baking a fruitcake, making rolls, and I've gutted and cooked the fish. And now I am going to bath and go to bed. Tomorrow I'll try and be entertaining :-)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

stuffed squid

I can recommend this for serious gastromomic impact and actually very little hassle. And it was good for disposing of leftover squid and rice and stale bread. A win all round.
Soften one small fennel bulb, large spring onion, 1/4 of a jalepeno, and some green bell pepper in a little olive oil. Low temp, lid on. Meanwhile crumb a large slice of stale bread, add an egg, some leftover rice, and salt pepper and thyme. Add in the softened veggies - put the sausage-meat-like mix into the squid tubes with a teaspoon (do NOT try this with really tiny squid that a teaspoon doesn't fit. I have been this stupid... once) close them off with a toothpick - or if like me tonight you can't FIND a toothpick until dinner is finished, with a piece of dried spaghetti. It worked very well - and could be eaten. Put the stuffed squid into a small pot, add some chopped tomato and a little thickening, season - but remember it will reduce so not too much. Put to simmer on the slowburner, and then get on with writing for the next 20 minutes. Any leftover stuffing can be fried in little patties as a side dish. And then serve.

Now I shall return to my battle of the wills with the new label on the tall green olive bottle. Every five minutes I stick it down. Go back to the Hellespont in the book... Then the other side comes off. Soon there will be superglue!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dangerous stuff

... in very small quantities. My friend Pete Hawkes who is an Entomologist who works on ants has sent me a bunch of sample bottles with preserving alcohol (do not drink this). Ant size of course. From South Africa. It got opened by Australian customs, before being sent on (there is a sticker on the envelope). So I am now probably listed as highly suspicious and dubious person, if I wasn't before. Pete didn't even put a note in the envelope, to explain why he was sending 10 little jars - like 3 ml in each, and a bunch of sealing plastic envelopes. Must have puzzled the customs officer no end. I think I might try a note in the ant-return (they're for specimens of the various local ants - particularly big (maybe 3/4") solitary seeming things.) Of course it has turned icy - wind off the snow on Tassie I reckon so not an ant to be seen. Or maybe it was me sneezing at them. The snot will not GO AWAY.

On the garden front - I finally gave up and pulled out the cucumber plants - we got 4 cucumbers (accidents) and a couple of jars of gerkins (what I had hoped to get off them). Not bad for planting in mid-January though. Tomatoes should be dead... but I got 3 more little coctail ones which will be welcome. This year tinned tomato is kind of 'allowed' as really we only got here after the season. But we're being sparing on it. Reality allows the Zucchini a few more days tops and they too will go to the compost - one of them just flowered and 3 of 5 have little Zucchini. And hold thumbs - 4 jalapeno chilis FINALLY going red. Veg is slowing down though. I still have sliverbeet (swiss chard), carrots, fennel, beetroot, leeks, spring onions, a little lettuce, very very peppery chinese cabbage, some parsnips, snow peas, feeble spinach (curses) and broccoli. And potatoes and broad beans -- the last two not looking anything like ready yet. I think I'd better harvest some thyme and parsley (the parsley just LOVES this place - thyme - which I use a lot of less so. We will politely avoid mentioning mint as it has all DIED. What kind of gardner can't grow mint? And I have a severe lack of rosemary, a situation only forgivable by the price of lamb here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tim Tam goo...

Hmm well B got to write about catching her battlemother squid last night, but she left out the glorious scene where she got down onto the big truck tyre (a fender, I guess) to net one of mine. It squirted black, gukky ink as she lifted it, in a beautiful arc... over her head to splash my boots. Talk about a lucky night - that and a 1.85kg squid.

Today the predawn was saw me getting up to the sound of drumming rain. I did not dance to the beat, as I'd hoped for a few Trevally this morning. Time and tide are
right once every 2 weeks... and really this morning would have been the best. Oh well. The Island skies were flashing their winter petticoats, with lacy flounces of white edges against the rainful dark clouds. It rained. And now it is cold. So the fire/heater is at work, warming us and incidentally drying mushrooms. Maybe the rain will bring more out.

I've bottled in herbed brine the first two bottles of 'green' olives, complete with a little wreath of fennel to keep them under. I am not terribly enthusiastic about the taste of the rest! Still very bitter.

I pulled up my tiny bait-trap in the dark last night, when we finished squidding, and fished the token shrimp out of it - and left it on the veranda to wash, with the zips open... and lo and behold today the little suberb fairy wrens (AKA Tinks) were cheerfully climbing into it and eating the little amphipods off it. Quite happy... I guess a trap is only trap when you can't walk out at will.

And finally we had a new taste experience today - someone brought us some Tim Tams (a very Australian layered chocolate coated buiscuit) and explained that you needed to bite off catercorners (diagonal) and then suck coffee through it like a sort of buscuit straw. Then, very hastily you need to put whole beastie in your face, because it is melting from the inside. A sort of hot chocolate mouth-bomb... try it :-)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Big One

The tide and the weather combined to make today a good fishing day again. So, having had a week or so off fishing, we hit the wharf with renewed energy. And I caught nothing, did not even have a decent sized take on my bait! Dave caught two little ones that we put back to grow bigger, hopefully really fast!

Then it was the usual day of cut the lawn, do the washing etc.

This evening we went back to the wharf for the sundown squiding. There were already two people fishing when we arrived, and the sunset was really truely magnificent.

Then my rod went mad. Catching a squid is rather like reeling in a wet plastic bag. They drag through the water, and only fight a little as they are actually landed. (The jigs we use for squid have no hooks on them, just a row of spikes, so you can't catch fish on them, at all.) Well, as I said, my rod bent over at an amazing angle, and started jerking. "What you got??" asked the local fisherman. "It's too far out to see!" says me, thinking 'how am I supposed to know, you live here.' Then I started to panic, and asked in a really girlie way what I should do next. Just reel it in slowly, keep the line taught, I think they said. So I reeled and reeled and pulled and got a squid into the net Dave was holding ready at water level, as I reckon it would have broken my line.

Back home it weighed in at 1,850kg, certainly the biggest one we have caught so far. We finally came home with 5 squid, with Dave again catching more than his fair share, but mine was the biggest. So hopefully squid is going to be on the menu often.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ok so another exciting day at the office. Well, I thought, as it was mother's day I'd tell you about Inge who who is a most redoubtable great grandmother, and probably my favourite islander, whose mixture of broad Australian with the accents of her native Germany always make me grin. She pops in probably once a week for a coffee and a chat and to give my feeble gardening efforts the benefit of her bright eye and sense of humour. She's two bricks and a tickey high but walks with her little dog, and is, as I said a new and very proud great grandmother, but has her garden in terrifyingly pristine order. We had that storm the other night and as the little screen on the top of her gutter blocked, so water was fountaining out her gutter and "Ruining me garden!" So out she runs in the pouring rain and fetches her ladder and climbs up and fixes it, all the time 'thinking the lightning gonna hit me roof, and me mit me nightdress on.' And knowing that it's a metal ladder... She's not one to let anything stop her, and seems in a way representative of the attitude and way of life here. A lot of the islanders are elderly. But they seem as sharp at 90 as a fair number of 50 year-olds I've met. I put it down to muttonbirds, the diet, the excercise. We hope for windless days. "You never escape the wind on Flinders." Which is not strictly true - but Glady (sp?)one of the other redoubtable great grandmothers was explaining that when they were little and living on one of the offshore islands windless days were a problem. They got everywhere by sail. All of them - girls boys -the lot HAD to know how to sail from very young. A different world.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mushrooms, olives progress

I am feeling a bit like death warmed over, however, unless mushrooms now cause a streaming snotty nose and sneezing, I don't think that eating some of these was the cause. There are rather a lot of them out there - the huge kind that are fleshy and bruise pink down near the creek (which the locals pointed us at, and all the bugs seem to adore), and the ones I tasted the day before yesterday, and we both had some of last night (that's 48 hours since I ate the first, so reasonable to assume they're OK). They are brown gilled, with gills not attached to the stem, with brown spore prints, do not have volvas and they grow in open grassland a long way from any tree so they're not destroying Angels, Death Caps or any Amanita.

some of these are now drying, others were cooked and frozen. They're all from the field next door. The house was so mushroomy as I fried successive small batches in butter - and it was absolutely lovely, earthy, nutty, with hits of aniseed... just overwhelming mushroomy - that we had to open a window. It actually took very little time (and they cook to next to nothing) as they're very light compared to bought mushrooms (the pink-bruising ones are the opposite - huge and dense and meaty.) I think they're both species of Agaricus (the same as the bought mushroom - which also bruises pink but doesn't get quite as big!)

Olives - in theory they should be due to stop the water-change sequence on Monday and be brined. In practice, the green ones (which should be more bitter) are nearly ready and will be fine by Monday. The black -- eugh. Still very bitter. I conclude that the porcupine was less than effective, as all the greens got a slit cut in them instead. So I cut a slit in the contents one large bowl of blacks (about 1/4 of the total) and we'll have to taste. The woodash lye still have 10 days of water change to go and are still vile. The very ripe in salt... mixed bag - some wrinkled and quite edible, some plump, juicy and... vile. Not salted, not leached bitterness. I pricked them all and put them back in salt. It may not work, but the alternative was a bit like playing olive roulette.

And now I must contrive something for supper. Not containing Olives (we don't have any) or mushrooms (tested pink bruising ones. One slice only, despite being told they were fine by both David and Inge. Advice from mushroom guide - don't mix mushrooms.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

One for the Frog 'n Toad

"The frog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine..." Well, the little tree-frog from outside (could easily be same one I evicted from his lettuce, poor fellow) wants to be all mine... or rather he wants all mine to be all his. The log-box is just outside the glass door to the lounge that the tree-frogs regard as the local Amphibian MickyD's ("Just nipping out for a few fries... flies.") Inevitably I suppose some of them have taken to lurking in woodbox - from whence a certain amphibian got transported along with a fire-destined log to the big copper coal-scuttle that serves as a holding point. This seemed a fine, warm, comfortable place to him, until that homewrecker came along to put more wood in the fire.

"There's a frog!" said B, removing herself sideways at something close to the speed of light.

"Where did it go?" I asked, merely (at this stage) relieved not to have made froggy fricasse.

"Under the sofa," said B.

Now the sofa in question is a big old, heavy solid three seater long enough to sleep on. "Why didn't you stop it!?" (I am well-known for my gifted ability to ask really stupid questions.)

B (with dignity) "I thought it would be very happy under there."

With memories of my then 2 year old son James and the cute froggy he decided to keep as a pet in a hole he dug for it in the matress in his cot, and the wonderful bouquet of over-ripe deceased frog we had to search for, I could not agree with this generous sentiment. Down on my belly I peered underthe sofa - a froggy I did espy, Although I doubt that he was looking at me with love in his dewy eye. "Pass me the big brass spoon, Love" (we have a huge old brass spoon at the fire. Probably for making possets of frog or something). My attempt at spooning with froggy merely led him deeper under. "If I move the sofa forward we can tip it."

"You'll squash him."

"No I can see him. He's in the middle."

So with some grunting the heavy sofa was moved, and tipped onto its back legs. Not too far - because there is not that much room. And the intrepid frog-hunter slid his head and arm underneath, while B balances it, by leaning her whole weight on the back.

I've said and done some stupid things in my time. But "It's just hopped between your feet..." probably deserves a Darwin award.

Frog is now returned to cold outer world. Next time I might try roast frog legs. In the meanwhile here is an altogether more welcome green frog from South Australia, which I have allowed to pose temporarily in the woodbox but will happily follow under the sofa. Thank you very much, Ian.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eye of Newt etc.

How many ingredients go into your average cauldron? Well, into your supper? I went to see the local doctor yesterday, and the subject of diet came up (not literally, merely in conversation). He's nice bloke with a fondness for Arthur C Clarke (I must give him SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS to read) and he gave me the line about their only being one healthy diet - the pyramid with I forget now 5-7 fruits and veggies at the bottom and a small volume of protein at the top... a diet which he obviously considered atypical. I've always wondered about quantities in these diets, as I did in the bit of research that showed that average meals had decline from 11 items used to prepare to just 7. Hmm. We don't eat a LOT of anything... but I did a count of last night's supper for eg. Fishcakes, tomato relish, salad, noodles. or to break it down: fishcakes - Fish (wrasse -have to use it somehow), salt, Tasmanian pepper, 1 egg, breadcrumbs (and as I made the bread - yeast*, milk powder*, canola oil*, oats*, flour*, salt*, sugar*) green pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, thyme, chili pepper. All of the vegetable/herb ingredients are fresh.
tomato relish: tomato, onion, chili, vinegar*.
Salad: lettuce, spring onion, snow peas, tomato (THE tomato), beetroot leaves, cucumber, fennel leaves and pumpkin seeds* dressing.
Noodles - out of a packet.
Items with a star * didn't come from the island, and we paid for. We're working on it. Definitely do salt soon.
So we used 30 items...
OK - we can eat steak and potato for a few days:-)

In field of reputation enhancement B has been hard at work. She decided to walk into town yesterday afternoon to the library. And en route home spotted a bottle that some litter-lout had tossed out of the window. Being Barbs and being offended by it, she picked it up. And in the fashion of Island life, in 50 yards to our gate 5 cars passed and she waved at them. It was only when the last - policeman Pat in his Police Ute - stared rather hard at her and nearly drove off the road, does it occur to B that... it's a BEER bottle that she's picked up. And in Australia you're not supposed to drink in public, aside from the fact that people might assume you're walking back from the pub in no state to drive. And she doesn't even drink beer. It was one of those times when she wished, desperately, that the policeman HAD stopped. Breathalysed her even. Ah well. All things considered they'll just have to get used our eccentricities, and if that includes believing we wave beer bottles after our afternoon trip to the pub... so be it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A feast unknown

Autumn rain and the island fields are turning emerald, and mushrooms are coming up all over the place. Without looking to see if I was very short and had hairy feet, you already knew my greed for mushrooms is substantial. Unfortunately, I also know a fair bit about toxic mushrooms - I'm writing about the Renaissance and a fair bit of assassination came into that. I've done a great deal of research about historical ways of meeting a grizzly end as a result, and mushrooms feature. Also... this is Australia. Everything I knew got left behind. These to me are the most promising. They look right, and smell right, and Inge says they're Ok...

Next of course are the boletes - slippery jacks - I am pretty sure they're edible.

Morrie2 - these are much bigger, some up to 15 cm across.

then there are these 'prickly looking ?puffballs.

and these ones the slugs/snails/mice loved.

I wasn't sure if they were a kind of puffball, truffle, thing-from-Altair, or a undeveloped bolete.
Then there were these shaggy-ish fellows.

with white gills (always makes me wary- not always with reason)

And finally these very dodgy looking ones on the front lawn.

which something as you can see had been eating despite the white gills

But so far I am steering clear of actually eating any of them. Any clues, anyone... even 'don't touch that for your life'

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

olive oil expeiment - fail

Sometimes things just don't work. I'm already making fiendish plans for a better olive crusher... make that a heavier olive-crusher that can crack the seeds and totally reduce the olives to pulp. We actually manged to get maybe 2 ml of oil out of B's hard work and my heating and spinning (I spun a milk bottle of goo on a 4 metre rope. The rope broke sending the bottle over the fence in a lovely 15 metre flight. It landed, unbroken in a bush. Amazing how low the value of shrubs is here If it had been valuable furniture or a carpet, splat!) There is a sheen of oil on the surface, and the little I gathered off the top with a thin-edged teaspoon is soft, fruity olive oil... but that seems to be about as much is we're going to get.

So tomorrow, to the compost heap. Ah well.

We've had a thunderstorm this evening - a brief one of about 15 minutes. This has some of the nostalgia value for the great almost daily summer storms of the Drakensberg which used to roll and crash around the mountain and forced me to unplug and swear a lot. It seems this is not as common here. That should do wonders for the volume of cursing I do.

Monday, May 3, 2010

They say if you get high up enough, you can see tomorrow (they also say it helps if you get high up enough really close to the international date-line). Today was a rather mundane sort of day, with a lot of work and not much wild excitement, unless you count killing a few caterpillars on my brocolli. So as the weather is supposed to turn vile again tomorrow, and the writing had gone reasonably well, we took a drive out, up to the highest point you can drive to on the Island - It's only about 8 km away and only 1300 feet. But sea-level is 8km away from Walker's lookout too, and it's in a little bio-island of its own of windswept montaine grassland, just above the montain heath. Sadly we'd left it a little late and the weather was already on the change. You can see the east and west coast, the South, across to Cape Barren and maybe on a clear day the North East River... pretty nearly the island. Only stayed about 3 minutes because it's COLD and WINDY up there.

On the way I saw a wombat and two wallaby (one of each species) and dismally failed to get pictures of both. The wombat looked rather like a sumo koala bear having a bad day. We saw more ring-neck pheasant, turkey, and peacocks too. Oddly very few indigeous wild birds but that could be that the others are bigger and look like dinner.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bad news for the mick

I'm growing steadily more used to the pleasant cadences of Tassie Australian. It's a bit slower-spoken than Sydney Australian, and easier to understand. Mind you, there are still a few mysteries. How come you fish for brim (bream) but do not barrack for a tim, or run out of stim? And I hear Mick is mighty disappointed he's not going to inherit the Earth even if there are eels in the crick (creek). Well, I suppose English never has been logical, even before it emigrated out here.

A report back on Australian Salmon. Has anyone considered changing its name? I mean if you're going to brand a fish with country's name, make sure it's good eating. Ok it's not terrible, and I think it will make very good roll-mops, and maybe just pickled fish. I think it's what might be called a very fishy fish, without a lot of other flavour. Slightly soft in texture, it was Okay grilled. I smoked some, but oversmoked it a bit (having trouble with the little gas burner(running out of gas)). Hot smoking is a bit of a bastard to get perfect. Cold smoking - always looked on as the black art and mystery, is actually relatively easy. You just have to get the fish/meat salted right and keep the smoke cold. Do that and you're home and well, smoked, rather than dry. I flaked it into cooked barley, caramelised onions, fresh snow peas, spinach (just in case there is any more threshhold carrying) and chopped olives (using up the bought ones). It was edible, but I was wise to choose a strong flavour like barley. Anyway, I have 2 more IIRC to experiment with. It's easy to de-bone and should make good fish-cakes.

The olives continue to have their water changed. It's slightly purple-tinged.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

We are leaving the island!

Well, we have filled out the forms, and are now just waiting for confirmation. But we will be leaving the island and sampling mainland life in Sept for the World Con in Melbourne.

This is rather daunting. They will be more people there than there are on the whole island. But hopefully there will be some familiar faces. I am looking forward to doing some shopping as well as some socialising.