Sunday, 29 May 2016

Fat of the Land


Months ago, in what seemed like another life, it was the height of another glorious Tasmanian summer. The sun was shining, temperatures soared into the low 20’s and our tiny little garden patch was going nuts, providing far more tomatoes and zucchinis then we knew how to handle.

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At the peak, several kg's of zucchini and tomato would be harvested every few days
In particular, the 4.4kg monster (now downgraded from a delicious, sweet zucchini to a somewhat less appetising marrow) would require a burst of creative inspiration to appropriately consume. The easiest to find a use for are tomatoes. Tomatoes and cheese on crackers, tomatoes on toast with cheese and tomatoes in lasagne  with a cheesy sauce are just some of the varied and delicious uses I was able to think up. 

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The green sauce was best!
I even tried deep-fried green tomatoes, which had the added bonus of using surplus eggs. Delicious, but I am guessing, probably not healthy. This left the large marrow to figure out. Luckily, what to do with over-sized marrows is a solved problem. A quick check in an old cookbook for the recipe and a beer or two later I was away!

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How to turn 4.4kgs of marrow into 2kgs of nondescript beige cubes..
Before it could be cooked, the marrow needed to be cored, peeled, diced and salted. Due to its age (I had left it a month or two too long in a futile hope it would grow even bigger!) there was some nasty black stuff that oozed out when it was opened. Even the chooks were not very interested in those scraps…

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The chooks were smarter than to try and eat that muck
After this stage, I was getting hungry so made some tempura batter using a home-brew stout and cooked up some cocky salmon Rach had caught a few weeks ago. Delicious!

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Dark beer makes an excellent base for tempura batter. In this example I used my own home brew milk stout. To make sure no one drank it by mistake I put it in a XXXX Gold bottle

Hunger sated I could get back to putting the marrow in a large pot. Add in some vinegar and mustard plus a few secret ingredients (basically salt, chillies and onions!) and then simmer for a couple of hours. By this stage I was pretty thirsty, so another beer was required. A few beers later the resulting pickle was scooped into jars which had been sterilised in the oven.

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With just months of gardening and hours of cooking you too can have 5 jars of pickle!
Months later, here in very hot and humid Laos, all that’s left are memories of pickles and cheese on crackers and a cool, sensible summer. Somehow I think I will cope though….

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That's right, In Laos you drink beer with ice
 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Selling up and a (final) trip to Trial Harbour

Zeehan Manse has been a hive of activity. Recently, the possibility of living and working in Laos for at least a year has transformed into a definitive. Preparations have begun in earnest for the upcoming overseas move. We will be heading away with only a few bags each. The threat of enormous excess baggage charges acts as a strong incentive for the culling of unneeded and superfluous items. Dozens of facebook and for sale gumtree postings, donations and a garage sale have helped reduce our possessions marvellously. There is still much to do, we leave in two weeks for Brisbane and aim to take only what can fit in the back of the station wagon (plus the motorbikes obviously). We plan to write about our experiences to a new blog, which can be found at http://teamventure.wordpress.com.
 
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In between the packing, selling and procrastinating life goes on. The chooks need feeding, copious amounts of tomatoes and zucchinis need picking, eating and cooking. Attendance at work is still, if not for much longer, required. And if one is lucky enough to get the holy trifecta of a day off work, sunshine and all chores completed you think about a trip to the beach! Many people do not immediately associate beaches and Tasmania together. Sure, they probably think green rolling hills, old convict built stone buildings and a general ‘UK’ vibe, but not beaches. Yet, the east coast of Tasmania probably has some of prettiest beaches in Australia (and thus, the world). Sure, the water temperature rarely exceeds 18 degrees Celsius, but they are pretty.
 
A lovely Tasmanian beach
 
Unfortunately, Zeehan lies on the west coast of Tasmania. Beaches on this side take the full brunt of swell and storms that have travelled thousands of kilometres across the Southern Ocean. Still, on a summer day with little wind they can be pleasant. Trial Harbour, a little over 15 minutes drive from Zeehan has a small community of off-grid shacks, a camp ground and an old Telecom phone booth with a missing ‘2’.
 
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Before the railway was built between Strahan and Zeehan, passengers and supplies used to come via Trial Harbour. The tiny gap in the reef and small sandy beach apparently enough to be considered a safe harbour. Prospectors and families hoping to get rich in the new silver mines walked with all their belongings up the dusty trail to Zeehan seeking fortune.
 
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Today, Trial Harbour is good for abalone, crayfish and brave surfers. Those willing to risk their 4WD can drive south along Ocean Beach. 30km of soft sand and freak waves later you will arrive in Strahan. Locals dryly suggest this trip should only be done in a convoy. There is the occasional washed out wreck of cars that went alone.

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After it became obvious we were not getting anywhere in the treacherous sand two-up on the motorcycle, plans for visiting the nearby Little Henty river mouth were shelved and we headed back home. Not quite ‘There and Back Again’ but a good outing nonetheless.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

When it rains it pours


Summer in Zeehan has been dry. Record breaking, locals can't believe this weather, bushfire emergency dry. By the middle of January, we got our first fire when a small blaze was ignited by a rare bolt of lightning. Watching the smoke rise from my kitchen window, I called 000 but was informed four people had already called. Ten minutes later a helicopter began water bombing (a small squadron of helicopters had evidently been pre-positioned in anticipation), making short work of the fledgling blaze. The 2016 bush fire season had begun!

Lightning strikes, giving locals something to talk about

In the weeks that followed, depending on the prevailing wind, the weather alternated between hot and clear, or hot and smokey. The town was full of fire fighters from across the state and country, helicopters constantly buzzed overhead and it took a very long time to bring out my meal at the overflowing local pub. More worryingly, the lone blackberry bush at the bottom of my yard got smashed by the unrelenting heat. This was disturbing as it meant I needed to walk around the corner to obtain a reasonable quantity of delicious berries.

Long, hot days exact their toll on the exposed black berries
Unlike other parts of Tasmania, there are no water restrictions in Zeehan and I was able to ensure a steady supply of water to the thirsty zucchinis and tomatoes. An upcoming interstate trip concerned me though, one or two days without water could jeopardise the entire crop, including my prized mega-zucchini. Thankfully, a couple of days before leaving the forecast changed to rain. In fact, it was going to rain every day! I left Tasmania safe in the knowledge that the garden would be watered and the bush fires extinguished.

Northern beaches are not only too warm, but full of terrors
The trip to Queensland was great fun, although I found both the air and ocean to be too hot. I feel that after a swim, it is not right to start sweating before you can even dry off! On return to the more sensible Tasmanian climate, I discovered that it had indeed rained. In fact, it had rained so much that the tomatoes had begun to burst. The fresh rain also encouraged an ungodly swarm of small insects to hatch and begin hovering over the town. A deep, low buzz can be heard whenever you venture outdoors. The birds do seem happy with their bonanza though.

Tomatoes drink till they burst
 Not quite as happy are the chooks. The warm weather has encouraged them to begin moulting, egg production has ceased and small mites have moved onto their feet. I can't do anything about the egg predicament except scowl and chastise them as I walk past. The mites however, are a problem that can be solved.

Not shown, eggs
I mixed a small quantity of pestene powder (containing sulphur and rotenone) with a little bit of oil. Then it is simply a matter of catching all three chooks, tipping them upside down and brushing the mixture onto their feet. Be sure to hold them firmly as it stings a little bit on any open sores. Luckily, the chooks appreciate my efforts and we remain friends.

A happy chook