Sunday, October 11, 2015

A ship shipping ship and free trade shenanigans

There was an article in the Daily Mail (UK) recently about this extraordinary ship which clearly called for some witty alliteration. I don't know who came up with the tongue twister, but I'd like to thank them for the fun I and some others on G+ have had spinning off from the original. The fanciful story below is a tale of caution, and is in no way a slight on the ship builders, on their engineering expertise, craftsmanship, morals or professional integrity.

If you shuffle over here, I'll share a startling story about the ships and the ship builders who were to ship them in ship shape fashion to shipping regions around the world.

Shh, it's a bit shady and I doubt the shop steward knows about the shortcomings of his boss.

The super ships were built by Shonky Brothers, the showy local company with the significant signage. It's an unfortunate surname, but their ships are in no way similar to the name. They're superbly slick ship shapers! Rumour has it the ships were to be shunted from the Schippol shipyard slipway, but I'm not sure of that summary.

Significantly, last summer, one of the ship shaping siblings, it's said it was Cyril, was shagging shapely Charleen in the shade of a super ship in his classic Scorpion. Because of the deep shade in the chartreuse Scorpion, they surmised they were sheltered from suspicious eyes. Silly them! Shush wasn't their forte! In a spirited moment, Cyril shouted "shazam" and they were seen by Shane who'd snuck out for a siesta and subsequently shamed the sugar coated Cyril. There were lots of sniggers, smirks and snide comments. Statuesque Charleen, the sexy sheila who usually shimmies around looking sultry, was really shirty.

Cyril was a bit of a sun-baked character. He used to stride around unshaven, with a scarlet parrot on his shoulder singing sea shanties and saying, "Shiver me timbers!" at regular intervals. Sure beats being stuffy!

Sadly, Charleen's shifty snaky boss, Sheldon found out (not about the singing, the shagging). He fancied Charleen and felt sorely snubbed. Sheldon is a smooth talking senior in a litigious multinational that wanted the significant contract to shape the shiny ships. He thought "I'll sue the shit out of them", but that wasn't enough for the smitten spewing Sheldon. If Sheldon couldn't have Charleen, then he'd make Cyril suffer. (It's an odd kind of logic, but some sad sods are like that.)

Sheldon really shouldn't have chosen a skirmish, he could have shrugged and suffered the snub in silence. Sadly he's a slave to his emotions and being a short tempered bastard, he shot Cyril Shonky in his shagging equipment. 

Sheldon's company, which shall evermore be called, We Shit On You From A Great Height Ha Ha, swiftly sued the sovereign state that'd contracted the local ship shaping company. 

These sneaky sharks (apologies to all sharks - this kind of sloppy analogy makes you sound sinister) sleuthed around and found a shocker of a sadistic, but subtle ISDS* clause, under the shameful TPP agreement (or TTIP** depending on where you live). Many smart systematic thinkers believe the ISDS clauses should be shelved because sovereign states will surely suffer substantially. The shocking sneaky clauses leave many speechless. 

It's such a sad situation. Some soar, others are shattered. But is this skulduggery sustainable? Will sovereign states be subsumed by self serving multinationals? That's sobering ... are we stuffed? Secrecy isn't soothing.

The Shonky Brothers previously successful ship shaping business has suffered significant setbacks. Staff were suddenly laid off and are now getting by on a shoestring. Some were paid shush money, others are sick. 

Cyril struggles to sit without slouching. He's really suffering from the shooting of his shagging equipment. 

The whole state shudders to watch We Shit On You From A Great Height Ha Ha erode carefully crafted environmental protection laws and shamelessly shaft the small country which is struggling to cover costs of the suing skulduggery. When questioned about ethics, integrity and honesty, they quote the ISDS clauses, sneer and snort "It's legal, shan't change. We can shoulder your local laws aside! We won't shelve anything, so sod off." 

Something stinks when super-powered multinationals can sue countries virtually unsupervised. It sucks.


Massive protests this weekend in Berlin: (Oct 10 2015)

ISDS clauses: ISDS is a mechanism for corporations to sue governments.
... the authority of sovereign courts is ignored in favour of an international dispute tribunal.

If this is such a great deal, why are they hiding it? There is, among other things, a four-letter answer to this question: ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement). ISDS is a mechanism for corporations to sue governments.

Water and waste management giant Veolia is suing the government of Egypt for lifting the minimum wage. 
Canada is being sued for a ban on fracking and 
Germany for its phasing out of nuclear power; all actions taken under ISDS clauses in free trade pacts.
US corporations are the biggest litigants, having brought some 127 cases thus far against sovereign government decisions which they claim have damaged their financial interests. Taxpayers have the pleasure of footing the legal defence bills. Even worse, the authority of sovereign courts is ignored in favour of an international dispute tribunal.
The reality is this TPP free trade deal is as much about free trade as it is about entrenching the interests of large multinational corporations.

In 2011, the Australian Gillard government announced it would no longer adopt international investment arbitration into its trade agreements and investment treaties with other states on the basis that investor state arbitration “constrains the ability of the Australian Government to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters; concerns no doubt based in part on Philip Morris’s claim against Australia under the Hong Kong-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
Australia has now mollified its approach under the Abbott government;

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Maralinga; a world apart. It's much more than a place where nuclear experiments were conducted, and well worth visiting.

The tale of secretly testing numerous atomic bombs, and a wide variety of nuclear devices in Australia in the 1950's and 60's, by the British, is a yarn of epic proportions; with twists, turns and sub-plots worthy of an airport novel bought for a long haul flight. 

There are lies and cover-ups, as well as betrayal, misplaced trust, wilful blindness and the obsequious kowtowing to the British, by what appears, from our current time and place, to be a fawning Anglophile Prime Minister (Menzies). 

Personnel involved in the programme, who had strong moral and ethical ideals were warned that Maralinga had become British territory and that whistle blowing on the reality of what happened, the hugely secretive goings on, could result in being shot, or a 30 year jail term under the British Secret Service Act (page 43 Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists). 

Trust us! Nobody could have been out in the blast areas, was the cry. But there were people out there. 

Families, such as the Milpuddie's, who were found camped in a crater formed by a bomb blast - innocent inhabitants going about their daily lives, had their lives changed forever (further information here). The ongoing negative ramifications of living, eating food and drinking water from dangerously contaminated land, lives on in children and grandchildren. 

There were human guinea pigs (Indoctrinee Volunteers and here), animal and vegetation experiments and numerous weapons development tests alongside the more dramatic and "explosive" weapons tests.  Much of the information only came to light 30 years or so after the events. Much more is considered so secret by the British government, that it's been classified (hidden), and will remain that way, forever. 

It's quite a story.

Walking on sites where world changing events occurred can have a deep impact. Sometimes immediate, sometimes surfacing and resurfacing long after the event.

People talk about the impact that visiting Gallipoli had on them, or the sobering effect of seeing the trenches and hearing stories of WW2 battles at Flanders Fields. Sites such as these, of Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, The Berlin Wall, and similar places around the world have become places of pilgrimage. Destinations where hordes of diverse people gather to share thoughts, reflections, prayers, and hope. Hope that powerful people in the future will pause, tread cautiously and act wisely before making decisions which will set in motion similar catastrophic events. 

Although Maralinga has a different history to those above, in its own way, the impact of what happened there changed the world, many servicemen, and more locally, the landscape and displaced Maralinga Tjarutja indigenous people, forever. 

It needs to be remembered warts, dirty dealings and all. 
I didn't know what to expect as we drove up the long, often featureless, un-signposted road to the gate in the Boundary fence at Maralinga, where the caretaker and tour guide, Robin Matthews, greeted us with gentle courtesy. 

The place was a name from my childhood and not much more. Like others of my generation, I knew there was something to do with testing an atomic bomb, but as a child I suspect my parents didn't discuss the implications of this in depth, and shielded me from discussion. The Cold War was also little but a name. In hindsight, I expect there was unspoken communication between my parents and relatives, as carefully worded news filtered out about what was happening at Maralinga. But having a father who'd been deeply scarred from service during WW2, I also suspect they didn't want to dwell on details or meaning.

So Maralinga remained nothing more than a little visited memory. There was a vague recollection of a Royal Commission, (part of the official report is here) but mostly, it was a place off-limits, with prohibited entry, closed to the world, out in the desert .... somewhere. 

Then  a few months ago, my husband suggested visiting. He'd been doing some research and found that tours were possible. Due to the remote location in South Australia, two nights camping, and a one day escorted tour in a minibus, could be arranged by contacting Maralinga Tours. Being stumped for an idea for his 60th birthday, I figured it'd be a memorable gift! A bit out of the ordinary, educational (an important aspect for gifts in our family!) and completely different. Also, I felt ashamed at my complete lack of knowledge of the area or history of this significant event in recent Australian history

We'd been listening to Len Beadell's Blast the Bush as an audio book over what felt like a few hundred kilometres of corrugated, dusty red roads, sometimes having to turn it off as the rattling made it impossible to hear! I was beginning to get a feel for the challenges Beadell had faced, surveying roads to be ready for the expected heavy machinery and hoards of military and other personnel who'd follow to conduct a wide variety of highly secret tests.

But what would be here now? The dot on the map stated in confident black print Maralinga, though some maps show "Maralinga Village" and elsewhere, "Maralinga Community". 

Words have power. River. Lake. Village. City people and visitors from overseas are regularly perplexed about the use of these words in outback Australia where rivers are often parched, barren depressions in baked rusty-red sand, and lakes are crunchy with glittering white salt. This often leads to discussions about why there aren't more people living in remote areas. "There's no water" we say, and their reply is "But look at all the lakes and rivers on the maps, there must be!"

Confusion reigns. How can you explain desert to someone who lives in a place blessed with generously regular rainfall, and has never known drought? How do you explain that so much of our harsh, beautiful land is unforgiving and deadly to those who don't know how to live there? Water is scarce. Without it we die.
Strolling on Lake Gairdner

And so it is with the village of Maralinga. It's a village in name only. The word village conjures up something alien to this land, it's a foreign word, and sits uncomfortably here. If you're visualising a cosy holiday-style, quaint village you'll be sadly disappointed. There are no cheerful homes with the warm glow of lights at night, no bustling tourist stores selling a variety of wares of questionable quality and value. No drinks machines with chilled beverages for the dust covered, weary traveller. Just a kind of ghostly silence, the soughing of a stray breeze through dry leaves of she-oak and desert oak, and the constant regular thump, thump, thump, of the intrusive generator bringing power to the caretaker Robin, and his family, as well as the small groups of tourists. (Bring on the solar panels!!)

Maralinga village is a sombre place. Starkly beautiful in a desolate, almost, but not quite, abandoned way. 

"Camp anywhere you like" says Robin, "make a fire, and if you run out of wood, we've got lots more." 
And so, between the checkerboard ranks of chipped and cracked concrete slabs, 
which were once the termite resistant bases of barracks and laboratories used by thousands of men, we set up camp, walked up to what was once a fountain ... 
... near the remains of the swimming pool ...

... watched the sun set, and phoned home ....

... by accessing the Telstra mobile phone towers which dot the distant railway line linking the east and west coasts of Australia.

But what of the tour itself? 

Tour guide Robin's breadth and depth of knowledge of the various tests and impacts on the Maralinga Tjarutja peoples, his generosity in sharing, his passion for educating others, unflagging energy and enthusiasm were extraordinary. 

This is our history. Up close and personal. Dramatic events on Australian soil with far ranging consequences, which should be taught in schools. Relevant. Confronting .... and regularly ignored. 
298 burial pits, up to 26 metres deep, are now filled with pulverised buildings, contaminated soil, machinery, planes, Toyota LandCruisers, double decker busses, tanks, bulldozers, labs, almost everything which had been left or discarded has finally been decontaminated, burnt, bull-dozered and buried - over 30 years after the British left, pretending that everything was safe, but knowing full well it wasn't. It took around 6 years and $108million to conduct the clean up which was finished in 2000, (More here)
Lunchtime at the decontamination and maintenance sheds.
No one wanted to picnic in the decontaminations shed. 

We'd been joined by other visitors, and for some, the sheer scale of ... everything .... was overwhelming. So much destruction. Vast areas of land impacted (the site measures about 3,300 square kilometres) Too many bombs and experiments, exploring the unknown effects of ways to .... not to put too fine a point on it ... kill people or render equipment useless. 

When the nuclear tests were conducted, little was known about the effects of atomic (and other) bombs and weapons - how do you find out unless you do trials and tests? The military and British government wanted answers to their questions, and what is now known to have occurred shows that the decision was that The End Justifies the Means. 

What happens when an atomic bomb blast hits a bus, a plane, specific plants - at this distance? At a different distance? How about at this angle? And this? And what of people? What happens if they roll, unprotected in the radioactive dust? Now wearing different clothing? How can we decontaminate them? Can we? How do we clean up after contaminating the land? Can we? How much can we get away with before the public begins to question? Do we need to share information? How can we convince the people of Australia and the UK that these experiments are vital to our security? Do they need to know? 

And from the British government, the thoughts seem to have been: "How secretive can we be? Do we need to tell the Australian people (or our own for that matter) what we're doing and how much it's costing?" 6.8 million pounds was spent to build just the airstrip and village - and that was barely the beginning. This was at a time when the British people were enduring severe rationing and using food stamps sparingly. Yet many, many millions of pounds were poured into further construction, the various tests and transporting vast quantities of equipment (including double decker busses, planes, trucks etc etc etc) and people overseas to Australia. Not a cheap exercise by any means.

Little of this is comforting, or nice, or reassuring. Naively placing trust in our elected political representatives without maintaining constant vigilance and questioning what's happening, wasn't then, and isn't now, wise. 
"... Menzies agreed to allow the British to use Australian territory and personnel for the tests without question or even serious discussion with his colleagues: “Cabinet papers show he devoted more time to organising the young Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Australia than he spent on the atomic tests.”
The official line was that there were no Aboriginals in the fall out zone of around 800,000 square kilometres, - roughly 5 times the size of the UK. But for men who reported sightings, the penalty of sharing that "embarrassing" information with anyone other than superiors was that they could be shot or jailed for 30 years. (here) There was strong incentive to keep quiet! 
The reality was that this vast area had been home to the Maralinga Tjarutja people for thousands of years: "A labyrinth of criss-crossing dreamtime tracks connected the Tjarutja to their ancestors, their stories, their living community. The Tjarutja showed no signs of deprivation in an environment in which Europeans couldn't last longer than a few days without help. Early Europeans who encountered them noted their nomadic qualities, their love of walking great distances through a magical garden of spirits, to meet relatives, to sample new food, to visit their favourite rock holes, to attend corroborees."
 "Despite claims to the contrary, Aboriginal people did wander through radiated lands. They camped in fresh craters, to keep warm and to trap rabbits blinded by cobalt pellets. When discovered, they were compulsorily showered, their finger nails scrubbed with soap. The women suffered mscarriages. They were herded in trucks or pushed onto trains, expelled from a sacred site at Ooldea, a day's walk from Maralinga airport." 

The Maralinga airstrip is still in use, and at 2.4 km long with a 600 metre offshoot at each end, could, if needed, be used to land the Space Shuttle. It's routinely used for military training exercises, visiting dignitaries and camels. Mounds of fresh camel poo were evidence of a reasonably large group of them passing through, possibly on their way to reliable water supplies. 

Dramatic. Mesmerising. Overwhelming. Words soon fail when looking at the vastness of the areas impacted. Soil turned to glass, burial pits, land where there were trees, but now nothing grows, no life, everything blasted into vapour. Warning signs. Danger - don't camp here. Don't make a cooking fire. Death and destruction. Yet, for all of that, I want to go back. See more. Try to understand (though I doubt that will ever be possible) what it is that enables one country to be a doormat and allow its land, people, employees to be nothing more than a disposable commodity, an experiment, to be used and abused without question or apology.

What, if anything, have we learnt about integrity and honest, ethical behaviour, from this ongoing chapter in Australian history?

We only need to read the final sentence from this report in the Australian Institute of Criminology to know the answer:  "One wonders if the interests of a 'handful of natives' might on some future occasion again be deemed subordinate to those of the dominant culture."

Thinking about the closures of Aboriginal Communities currently happening around Australia, about the vilification of whistle blowers, denigration of scientists concerned about our changing climate, the scornful belittling of those who work to protect our environment, the cruel treatment of lawful asylum seekers, it's obvious that our dominant political groups and culture still have a lot of room for positive, wholesome growth, not just in regard to the Traditional Owners of this country, but relating to many other groups as well.  


Further reading:

There's a lot more about the deliberately hidden and devastating costs of the programme here:

Too high a price to pay video with footage from the tests and cleanup:!/media/105376/nuclear-tests-at-maralinga

This link should take you to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and an article about the extreme secrecy, the coverups, Australia's pathetically lax attitude to vast quantities of dangerous tests, and the appalling treatment of the traditional owners of the land. 


British nuclear tests at Maralinga – Fact sheet 129

Maralinga, prohibited area sign on the Emu/Nawa Road (A6457, P042)
Between 1952 and 1963 the British Government, with the agreement and support of the Australian Government, carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast, and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. An official history of the tests (JL Symonds, A History of British Atomic Tests in Australia, AGPS, Canberra) was published by the Department of Resources and Energy in 1985.
Maralinga was developed as the permanent proving ground site, following a request of the British in 1954, and, after its completion in 1956, was the location of all trials conducted in Australia. It was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement. Following the two major trials (Operation Buffalo in 1956 and Operation Antler in 1957) there were a number of minor trials, assessment tests and experimental programs (dating from 1959) held at the range until 1963. Maralinga was officially closed following a clean-up operation (Operation Brumby) in 1967.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I'll see if I can quietly sneak over here without anyone noticing, check out what's on the table and snaffle that sandwich. Tippy toe, tippy toe ... shhhhh.
Oops, they've noticed me, I'll pretend I'm just strolling past, scuffing my feet in the dirt. Nope I wasn't looking at your food. No, not me. True dinks. Cross my heart and hope to die. Must have been someone else.
Look! Behind you! There! That's the emu you're looking for!

Hrmph, they didn't fall for it.

Oh I give up pretending. I'll stretch myself to my full height and stare them down. Intimidation and threats always work!
 What's this? Foiled?
Did they read the signs saying not to feed me?? Damn.
If at first you don't succeed .....

... Emu entertainment on site 34, Mambray Creek, Mount Remarkable National Park.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Big Bugs!

Near the Eyre Peninsula are some wonderful sand dunes and I came across these strange "fossilised" shapes in the sand. Turning them over gave no indication of what they were, or why there were there. Was it something to do with lightning strikes fusing the sand in the extreme heat? They weren't fossilised wood, as they were too uniform and tree roots and branches are anything but uniform! In my mind they look like Dead Man's Fingers, gnarled and arthritic.

I posted a picture on FB and G+ and had some interesting suggestions, but nothing seemed to fit with the location, shape and sheer number of them. They only seemed to come in two shapes, finger-like ones, some hollow, some solid; and egg shaped ones, some incredibly fragile, others thicker and filled with sand. When tapped gently together, they make a flat, glass-like sound.

They're clearly different to the formations below, which look like sand, blown into random formations by salt laden winds. These are strange, surreal shapes, some like skinny mushrooms on top of spindly trunks, others curled and twisted into tortured shapes.
And different again to tree roots or branches. These are long, misshapen, hollow and generally near the tree line or vegetation. There's lots of variability in both length and shape.

My mystery objects were spread over a wide area, and didn't appear to be specifically related to the vegetation at all. They seemed to be mostly in large (really large!) bowl like depressions and I wondered (not knowing anything about these things at all) if it could have something to do with salt laden winds somehow blowing the sand up the incline and it rolling back making the shapes. Unlikely and weird, but nature can be like that sometimes!

Frustrated by conflicting suggestions, I wondered if the Museum of Victoria might have someone there who could confidently solve the puzzle. One email, and a couple of hours later I had this response from Simon at the Discovery Centre:
We think these are the remains of cocoons of a native weevil, Leptopius duponti. These calcified cocoons are not always regarded as ‘fossils’ in the strictest sense, but nonetheless may be quite old depending on their original locality – for example they are quite common in the sand dunes of the West Coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Some examples of these calcified cocoons have proved to be made of sand or gravel cemented together, and sometimes of limestone. The distinction of whether they are fossils or not depends on the chemistry of the material that holds the cocoons together.
In 1925 it was reported by A. M. Lea in the Records of the South Australian Museum (3; 35-6) that these sands contained the calcified pupal cases of insects, more specifically weevils of the genus Leptopius (see attached for this article and illustrations). As this type of weevil is still alive today, commonly called “Wattle Pig”, we now know the adult female Leptopius sp. feeds on the foliage of acacia trees and lays her eggs on the leaves. When the larvae hatch, they are thought to burrow underground to feed on roots, and when ready to pupate they make a chamber in the soil instead of a true cocoon which is cemented by a secretion from the larvae (rather than a webbing, in the case of other taxa). The emergent adult then climbs the trees to feed, and the empty cases are left to weather underground and can become mineralised. Some of these cocoons from the Eyre Peninsula are estimated to be up to 40,000 years old.
Hooray for Simon at the Discovery Centre!!

And as someone commented, that's one large weevil, and from the point of view of the acacia trees, it could well be an evil weevil!

Now to find out what these are! About 10cm long, found at Mt Remarkable.

And then there's this critter lurking in the toilets at Mt Remarkable, he looks particularly unfriendly ... I hate the thought of finding him under the toilet seat! That's a standard house brick (3"or 75mm) he's sauntering over and looked like something I'd expect to see in the tropics.
And last, but by no means least, a moth the size of a small bird at Mt Ive. It was quivering and difficult to photograph with a phone, but you can get a sense of the size (again on a standard house brick). He and the centipede are about the same length, but the wings on the moth were massive!
Isn't nature awesome!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Apples galore = time to bake an apple cake!

The apple tree is laden, and I'm stewing, dehydrating, and giving them away. I'm also cooking them into all sorts of yummy things.

Yesterday's effort was this lovely moist German (or Dutch?) apple cake, source unknown.

  • 500 gm apples (I used Granny Smith) Peel, core, slice thinly. (You can sprinkle lemon juice on stop them browning)
  • Mixed spice - a generous pinch and a bit more because it tastes good
  • 225 gm butter
  • 195 gm caster sugar
  • 6 eggs (you could possibly use 4 if that's all you have, and use milk or yogurt to make up the extra liquid - I'll try this next time and see how it goes)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 195 gm plain flour
  • ... mixed with 2 flat teaspoons baking powder
  • Salt - a pinch
  • Cinnamon - 1/2 teaspoon or more generous if you like
  • 75 gm ground almonds (I think walnuts would go well - or macadamias!)
  • an extra Tablespoon of caster sugar to sprinkle on top

Oven @ 160 Celsius
23cm circular cake tin (spring form works well, lined with baking paper)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl

  • Cream the softened butter and sugar
  • add vanilla
  • add eggs one at a time - beat well after each egg. 
  • After the 3rd egg,  add 1/2 the dry ingredients
  • after the 6th egg add the remainder of the dry ingredients.

Taste test if you're that way inclined and don't have problems eating raw egg!

Ladle 1/2 the batter into the lined tin, layer on 1/2 the apples.
Put the rest of the batter on top of the apple layer and cover with the remaining apple.

Lightly dust with cinnamon.

Put in the centre of the preheated oven for 1 hour, turn 1/2 way through if your oven cooks unevenly. At about one hour, sprinkle with the 1 Tablespoon caster sugar and cook for a further 15 or so minutes. I got distracted and it was at least another 1/2 hour. Thankfully I didn't have a charred disaster!


I've now tried the recipe with extra apple, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon nutmeg. It was delicious! I also want to try it with some finely chopped preserved ginger and cardamom instead of the nutmeg.

Terry McNeil (G+ profile here) suggested the following: try adding some citrus zest, either lemon or orange. You could replace a little of the liquid with a tablespoon or so of a liqueur like Calvados. Drizzle some caramel over the cake. If you're feeling adventuresome,, the tiniest bit of freshly minced rosemary is a nice addition or some dried fruit.

Thank you Terry! So many variations to try!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A simple cheesy treat!

Here's an excellent cheese recipe, good at any time, and a real treat when camping!

Whether it becomes Paneer or Ricotta or you invent your own name, you'll be making cheese!  It's easy, quick and mostly successful ;-)

Two litres of full cream milk makes about 250 grams of soft, cheesy goodness. You can use less or more milk depending on your needs.

Heat the milk in a saucepan. Stir with a slotted spoon to prevent a skin forming and to distribute the heat. Keep an eye on it! You can be guaranteed that as soon as you wander off or get distracted it'll boil over or burn.

When the milk just begins to get a little surface jiggle and appear to come alive keep stirring (not too vigorously) and add 1 - 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. If you only have lime juice, add that, or white vinegar.

Within seconds, all being well, the milk should begin to separate. At that stage, gently pull the curds to one side of the saucepan. This encourages them nestle together and helps the rest of the liquid to separate.

Occasionally my lemon juice hasn't resulted in separation of the milk into curds and whey (perhaps they weren't acid enough??) so I've added vinegar as well. It worked!

Now, gently pour everything into a muslin or chux lined sieve which you've placed over a bowl to catch the whey. You can add salt, chili, herbs or your favourite curry powder to taste, depending on how you'll be using the cheese.

Let it drip for about 10 minutes, then you can put it in a container to shape it into a round, square, or leave it crumbly.

The soft cheese is great crumbled in spicy Indian dishes, sliced and grilled for sandwiches, or used plain with fruit then drizzled with honey and cinnamon.

The best part, apart from the satisfaction of saying you made your own cheese? It's about 1/2 the price of buying it from my local supermarket, and takes less than an hour to make!
Top left: the milk is just beginning to jiggle.
Top right: we have separation!
Bottom: the curds before being pressed to shape. 
As for the whey, don't throw it away! It's great as the liquid in bread (here's a good, simple bread recipe), can be frozen for later use for sauces or failing all that, can be used in the compost.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Apples galore! And how not to prune an apple tree.

Real gardeners probably shouldn't read the following. It could be distressing.

The hubster knows even less about this thing called gardening than I do, and while he often shows little interest in the mundane, repetitive aspects of day to day plant care, on the odd occasion he is ... let's use the word energetic.

Last winter he took the chainsaw to the apple tree. 

The apple tree needed pruning. 

He was fast.

He was decisive. 

He was enthusiastic. 

He didn't have a clue what he was doing. 

But he had fun! He was a Happy Husband!

There were lots of rather substantial limbs strewn around the garden, reminiscent of trees after a cyclone. 

The apple tree looked very wonky. Misshapen. Forlorn.

It's possible the husband was proud of his workmanship. I didn't ask.

The wifely member of the partnership was not happy. 

The horticultural neighbours were aghast. They prune with understanding, knowledge and many, many years of experience. We could have asked their advice they said, with sad, sad faces and tearful eyes.

The tree survived. 

The tree thrived. 

The tree did not get bugs or rot in the torn ends of the limbs.

We constructed a net to keep the rainbow lorikeets off the fruit. The fruit grew and grew and grew. There is lots of fruit. It's large. It's prolific.

The codlin moth seems to have been frightened away.

We're eating apples. Lots of apples. Apple crumble. Apple sauce. Stewed apple. Apple pie. We're freezing containers of stewed apple for later in the year. We've spent hours peeling and slicing apple to be dehydrated. The neighbours are receiving gifts of bags of apples. 

One year I tried to make apple cider, but I botched it up and ended up with very tasty apple cider vinegar. Maybe I'll try making cider again!

I'm sure there's a lesson in here somewhere, I'm just not sure what it is.

PS. A friend suggested what the lesson was! Prune all deciduous trees hard every year. Though perhaps with a little more planning, and a little less chainsaw enthusiasm ;-)


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bread. The staff of life - it's easy and fun to make!

I injured my elbow a while back which meant that kneading dough for bread wasn't possible.  I enjoy the process of mindful kneading, watching the dough change, grow, and at times expand so much it overflows from the bowl, in a luxury of sticky bubbles and glorious yeasty aroma. But that wasn't to be with a tightly bandaged and extremely painful elbow. What to do?

I'd seen Alton Brown on TV and watched him prepare a no-knead bread and cook it in his dutch oven. Perhaps that was worth trying as a temporary stop gap measure till my elbow healed?

No-knead breads were something we tried in the 70's. Back then we joked ... No knead. No work. Not because they weren't much effort, but because the results were ... unimpressive to say the least.

Perhaps back in the 70's we tried to rush the process, because this time, more or less following what I could only call a slap dash method, the results were outstanding! Not only are my loaves significantly cheaper than what's available at the supermarket or local bread stores, they're far tastier, and allow for a wider range of ingredients, and best of all there are no unknown additives!

  • 4 cups flour ... I usually use 2 bread flour 2 wholemeal. But you can also substitute rye, spelt, soy for some of the wholemeal. I've also used Atta flour which was fine. Note - all wholemeal can be somewhat heavy and adding soy flour seems to help it rise.
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 Tablespoon oil (I've successfully used butter, olive, coconut, macadamia and avocado oils)
  • 1 teaspoon or so of sweetener to nourish the yeast. (I've used white, brown, dark cane sugars and assorted honeys - all were successful). I'll try molasses soon.
  • Grains: Sunflower seeds, Pepitas (pumpkin seeds), linseed, raw buckwheat and I'm sure there are many more interesting grains available in different areas.  The selection here isn't exciting.  I might add 1/4 cup of each, depending on how I feel and what's left in the pack.
  • Liquid: If I have leftover whey after making soft cheese, (here's the soft cheese recipe!) I use that, it gives a slightly different flavour depending if I've used lemon juice or vinegar for coagulation, otherwise I use water. Depending on the amount of wholemeal and whether I'm distracted it can vary between 2 and 4 cups. I heat it to be snugly warm to an arthritic knuckle.


  • Combine all dry ingredients and mix to distribute the seeds, yeast etc evenly.
  • Make a depression in the middle. This stops the flour puffing up when you slosh in the liquid.
  • Add the warmed liquid. 
  • Stir till it looks like a muffin mix and is just combined. It shouldn't take any effort at all. 1-2 mins max.
  • Spray a small amount of oil on top and around the sides of the bowl. 
  • Now cover and let it rise (Not in the hot sun! We have temps up to 45C here and the dough dries out and lumps up in an awkward way) I put a large soup bowl on top and leave it on the table then tend to forget it till a few hours later when it begins to smell deliciously yeasty. I've also left it in the frig overnight and let it rise the next day which worked well.

Now the messy (fun) part
Scoop the dough onto a floured area. I use a baking tray generously sprinkled with flour just to keep everything together. It's quite sloppy and very sticky, so the challenge is to scoop and flop the dough onto itself a couple of times - not too much! I do it about 8 or so times, but when it's extra gooey a few more times with extra flour so I can get it into the pan without too much sticking to the tray. If you're using a dutch oven, juggle the dough into a large well oiled bowl to rise again while the dutch oven heats.

Turn the oven on to 220C (that's according to the flour pack, but I've also cooked the bread at 200C which worked fine).

If using a dutch oven, grease it and put it in the oven to heat (if you're camping and have an open fire, put it in the coals).

Then after 20 mins CAREFULLY (burns hurt!) put the dough in the dutch oven with a splash of olive oil and sea salt on top and cook with the lid on for 20 mins. Take the lid off and cook for about another 20 mins. (Half way through I turn it 180 because my oven cooks unevenly). Then check for doneness - it should look golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it with your knuckles.

Yesterday we wanted square bread to make jaffles - I only had one standard loaf tin and two petite loaf tins. I cut the dough into halves and one half into halves again then kneaded (not in the traditional way, more a lethargic fold and flop) - till they were neat and the right shape to fit into the pans. I left them to rise about 15 mins then put them in the oven. The small loaves took about 15 mins, at 200C the larger loaf tin about 20 - 25.

Today I used 2 cups bread flour and 2 rye, added a mix of seeds, some cardamom, some finely grated orange rind and a sprinkle of caraway seeds.
Oh. My. Goodness. That's a winning recipe!!! The dash of orange rind is amazing!

As an aside I'd always accepted that it was vital to follow the recipe on the back of the flour pack precisely if you wanted perfect bread of the knead variety. It was an eye opener to follow a discussion on Instagram where a friend went to a bread making class and used far more liquid than I'd ever dreamed of - it seemed to be far too wet, but it worked. He posted pictures of the process, and there was a discussion about the % of liquid and what happened when that % was varied. I figured if he could get great results there was nothing to prevent me being a bit more relaxed about quantities and working on the trial and error basis. It's been fascinating to see the different textures that come from adding more liquid.

Would I go back to the traditional way of making bread by kneading, knocking back and kneading again? Possibly not - this way of making bread works wonderfully, it's quick (apart from the rising time) and there's little chance of aggravating my elbow.

Why do we outsource so much cooking when it's so easy to do our own?  I feel we've brought into the con that food preparation is too hard - it's the domain of a professional, and in doing so, we've lost the skills and sense of achievement of making a meal from scratch .... and to be honest, I really appreciate the positive comments, the outlet for creativity and experimentation ... and the wonderful aromas!


Sunday, April 27, 2014

On iconic Australian wildlife ...

... and what to do if you come across an injured animal.

It's a horrible feeling to run over one of Australia's higher profile, and much loved animals, and it occurred to me in only a mildly tongue in cheek way that knowing what to do really should be included in any immigration qualification test.

Christmas Eve last year, we were pootling along a quiet country road, eucalypts arching overhead, birds twittering quietly in the summer heat, listening to Christmas carols and singing along in a toneless way when a man stepped out into the road and flagged us down. A rapid discussion ensued - should we stop? Could he be a crazy fellow with an axe hidden behind his lycra covered body? Why oh why did he look panic struck and dishevelled?

Figuring that three of us should surely be able to overpower one lone person if he did turn out to be problematic, we stopped and wound down the window a smidgeon. He stumbled toward the car with crazed eyes, gesticulating wildly and gabbling about a koala. Realizing that his intent wasn't malicious, we paid closer attention and made out that he'd just cycled past an injured koala and needed help to get it off the road.

Driving on a bit further, there was indeed a koala in bad shape. It was staggering around at the side of the road and appeared to be injured and disoriented. Doing my best 'action woman' impersonation I commandeered the cheap *billabong blanket and remembering to look both ways before I crossed the road, strode over while unfolding the blanket.

Getting closer it was obvious that the animal had been hit by a car or truck, its eyes were bleeding and it was dragging one leg.  Steve Irwin would at this stage have been proud of his legacy. I remembered watching him leap on assorted animals, and knew that the fight put up by the koala when I tackled him could well be far, far more than I anticipated. I also know they have very sharp, long claws, and no matter how cute they look on tv, they are more like a ball of aggro muscle, intent on discouraging any threats.
Note the length of the claws!
This koala looks docile,
but it can go from sleeping to slashing in milliseconds.
Holding the blanket in front of me a bit like a matador, I knew I'd only have one chance to throw the blanket over him, but given that it was a cheap, lightweight one, that I'd not only have to get it over him, but hold it in place, cover his eyes and somehow tuck his legs in away from me so I didn't get slashed.

I was prepared for the angry, frightened LOUD growling of an animal in dreadful pain, and I knew I'd only have one shot at this before he either headed bush or into the road (horrible thought that I might be up close when another car hit him), so I kind of just looked at him, worked out the trajectory of leap needed and went for it.

Me! I still can't believe I did it. I have no idea why I took over, why I didn't shove the blanket in someone else's hands. Strangely some part of my brain took over and did the directing. And this isn't like me, I'm a wimp. I hate seeing injuries where there's blood and I've been known to freeze in an emergency.

Anyhow, there I was, lying on top of the violently squirming, extremely strong koala, being savagely growled at, now wondering what the hell I was going to do next.

It was all well and good to have his limbs tucked in (no claws in sight) face covered (it's what they do on tv, and is presumably an attempt to calm the terrified creature) but he's got 4 legs, each ending in 4billion long, sharp claws, and a mouth full of teeth, and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to lift him into the esky that my hubby and daughter have brought over. If I let go of any bits, I'm likely to get severely slashed, gouged or torn to bits. (Reminiscent of classic drop bear injuries.) Not good.

Meanwhile, my daughter had called the local wildlife help service (there were numbers on signs along the road) and had been given details of the closest vet that we could take the injured koala to, to receive treatment. This is a free service provided by vets! Hooray for vets!! 

A trucky had stopped and supplied a pair of leather gloves, and the extremely concerned lycra clad cyclist was hovering overhead clucking encouragingly.

Hubby and daughter manoeuvred the esky as close as possible and two of us lifted the distressed animal into it. I exchanged phone numbers with the cyclist as he wanted to know the outcome and hoped beyond hope that the koala could be rehabilitated.

The drive to the vets was distressing for all of us. I was glimpsing in the rear vision mirror and every so often could see an arm extending up from under the lid much like a vampire rising from a coffin. It was horrible and needless to say, he kept growling.

The vet was wonderful, but the outcome wasn't. It turned out that the koala had been hit by a car or truck some time previously, and that large cut was filled with maggots, he'd then been hit again which had damaged his head and eyes. The vet was very compassionate when he told us he'd put the creature down. The worst part was phoning the cyclist to share the news with him, he was clearly very upset and couldn't understand why no one else had stopped to help, as a number of cars had driven past him ignoring his pleas for help.

(Even though the service was free, we did make a donation to help cover expenses.)

If you do happen to hit an animal and kill it, it's best to drag it well off the side of the road. In many areas Wedge tailed eagles and other birds and animals will feed off the carcass and far too many of them are also killed because they are unable to move to safety quickly enough.
A wedge tailed eagle with its wingspan of over 2 metres (about 7ft 5in) and length of around a metre (3ft 6in)  is slow moving on the ground and needs time and space to take off. Seeing a pair of these magnificent birds splattered on the roadside is horrible.

Hunters should also ensure that any feral animals they kill are well off the side of the road.
Wild pigs left to bloat and rot by hunters. 

Wallabies, kangaroos and emus are scatty to say the least. They'll appear to be heading in one direction, then completely without warning will leap in the opposite direction, often directly into the path of the car. Beware when you see them! They're completely unpredictable and passengers, in particular children, can be extremely distressed when one is hit and run over.

A comprehensive list of wildlife care groups is at:

These groups will also give instructions on how to manage if an animal is injured, and you are unable to get it to a vet.

*A billabong rug is a woollen picnic blanket with waterproof backing. The one we had in the car was a cheap imitation which was good as it needed to be discarded after use.