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Bendigo Adventures – Growers and Eaters Forum 2012

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Well, what a day.  Today I stumbled out of bed at 5am and tripped on down to Bendigo for the Growers and Eaters Forum 2012.  There were inspiring and informative speeches, I met some great people and had a delicious lunch!  Here are some of my notes and reflections on the day.

Michael Ableman started off the day.  I have to admit before I heard him speak, I had no idea who this guy was or why he’s so special.  Having heard him talk, I recommend you take any opportunity you can to meet him, or hear him present.  While he was talking, gospel-like murmurs started running through the crowd, people were nodding their heads in approval and were obviously moved by the stories he told.  Enthusiasm in the group was as crisp as the apples we had for morning tea.  True to the nature of Farmers, they stubbornly refused to run on time, and stopped Ableman from leaving the podium when his time was up.

And so they should have.My new idol

Here is a man who weaves landscapes with his words so vivid you can feel them.  From the cliffs of Jamaica to Foxglove farm in British Columbia, Ableman brought his passion, his experience and his knowledge to life.  His dedication to this area is kind of mind blowing, as are his achievements.  Not only that, but after lunch I said hello and turns out he’s also a total charmer!

Today we heard about two problems in society – neglected land, and neglected people.  Ableman is finding inspiring ways to reinvigorate them both. He brushed on some big ideas relevant to Australia including ‘feedback loops’.  The consequences that come back to us from our lifestyle choices, and the way that Australia as an island, and human kind as an island cannot escape these. It should be something at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and there certainly are already some inspiring examples of changing these loops – take A Plastic Free Year for example.

According to Ableman, ‘stories we tell ourselves allow us to accept the things we believe we cannot change.  These issues then become invisible, like wallpaper.’ He says that by doing this, we stop looking for alternatives and stop ourselves from seeing other possibilities.  One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this, was the Carbon tax.  Now I’m no expert on the topic but so much of the opposition to the tax seemed to come from the industries that would have to change.  These are the industries that are built into our economy, and that feel comfortable thanks to the dependence we currently have on them.  For some people the fact that things are and have been like this for ages, stops them from seeing the chance we have to create new positive systems. Yes it’s a big job to change…but it doesn’t mean we CAN’T.Everyone outside for Lunch

Something that I’ve started to come across more and more lately is the idea of taking responsibility for yourself – and I mean on a big scale.  It’s often called the survivalist movement.  I know this seems like an unrelated tangent, but it’s really not.  Recently I read a book called Emergency by Neil Strauss (he’s the guy who wrote The Game), and it wasn’t what I expected.  It was mostly the story of his progression into a paranoid American trying to find as many ways as he could to prepare for some kind of apocalypse.  To be honest, I kind of dismissed the book as unrealistic and not very helpful.  But after reading the book, survivalist ideas have cropped up again twice this week.  First I heard about them here, when I was listening to an episode of Big Ideas on ABC Radio National and secondly, from Michael Ableman today, albiet in a smaller capacity.  The basic idea is, that in an emergency situation like a natural disaster, no one is coming for at least the first 72 hours.  All you have to rely on is your community, your resources, and yourself.  Are any of us prepared for that?  Translate this to the food sector – any instability, disturbance or disruption, and what would we do without the supply we take for granted?

This comes down to the greater problem – that there are simply not enough people involved in producing our food.  According to Ableman, only 2-3% of the population is currently producing all of the food for the rest of us. This is all happening while Australian wages have risen up to 70% and farmer’s wages have decreased by 40%.  Food input costs continue to rise, while the value of food does not. How can we take for granted that this small group will continue to shoulder our heavy burden, when there are not any obvious economic incentives for them to do so?

Monopolies like Coles and Safeway stay competitive by dropping prices.  They do this by simplifying and working in volume. Selected suppliers need to get bigger quickly, and everyone who cannot satisfy this need or is not chosen to, is out of the race.

Dessert!The solution needs to be supporting smaller scale, local and independent growth.  We need to find a way to get people on the land and keep them there.  Things are changing, with 150 farmers markets around Australia and 70 of these in Victoria alone.  But it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be all about the farmers.  At the beginning of the 1800s, people spent around 90% of their time earning their food.  Nowadays, it’s about 17%.  Yes, this sort of system allows us time to have an education, to better ourselves and therefore our society, but convenience is ruling our lives.  The corners we cut by buying cheap, mass produced food  are coming back to bite us in the butt.  And they’re going to bite hard.

There is the problem of course that many people can’t afford to shop at organic farmer’s markets. But that shouldn’t be seen as an excuse – we should see it as an opportunity to build capacity. Today I met a lady who gives workshops in the Ashwood College Permaculture Garden, focusing on doing exactly that.  She teaches people who don’t have enough to eat how to grow their own food, and begin to support themselves.

I also saw Jamie Oliver speak in Melbourne last month, and something he said stuck with me.  He said that he’s never met a child who was involved in the growing and cooking of a vegetable who wouldn’t eat it.  Another point he made was that many poorer families or individuals simply lack the knowledge to shop for, prepare, and serve their familier healthy and nutritious food.  Oliver believes that food and cooking classes should be as mandatory as Maths and English in our schools and today Ableman suggested the same for learning about land and producing food. Should we be looking at a whole revolution of our education system?  Are we already moving towards this, with programs like Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation? I can’t wait to see what else is going to come out in the next few years.

There are amazing steps being taken, but the crux of it comes down to Michael’s closing point: That revolutions can be talked about online, but they cannot be manifested there.  Hands on participation is vital for our farmers, our food, our health and our planet.  The best bit is it’s not hard to take that first step!  There is so much support out there, regardless of whether you’re a complete novice or already a greenthumb. And you’ll feel it, once your hands are in that soil.  The connection to something big.  To something powerful.

As another one of the speakers Katie Finaly said, “I’m a farmer, because I love what I do.”   Farming, and providing people with the food they need is a noble and amazing thing.

If you wonder why I blog about food so much – go outside, dig a hole and plant something in it. When you see the results, you’ll find that connection I’m talking about.  When you take it inside and cook it, you’ll the find the joy I’m talking about.  And when you serve it to the people you love, you’ll feel the pride and the satisfaction and just like me, you’ll never want to stop.

I really had an incredible day, and feel inspired by what I heard today.  I hope I’ve managed to share some of that with you, and if you’re interested in learning more get on the Slow Food Melbourne website.  They’re a great group of people – thanks for a wonderful day!

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How to: Sourdough

How to: Sourdough

Although it’s surprisingly simple to make, I have written a surprisingly long post about it.  Since I started making bread people have been giving me tips and books and information left right and centre!  So I’ve included some extra information, and there’s a recipe at the end so you can all get started on your own loaves.

So, as you all probably know, sourdough doesn’t use added yeast.  By letting some flour ferment and grow its own yeast, you can create a ‘starter’.  This is mixed into the dough and the bread still rises but with a distinctly sour (and delicious) taste.  Here’s some tips about making and keeping your starter:

  • It’s easier to grow in wholemeal than in white or 80 percent flours. There’s more nutrition for the yeast!
  • Keep it in the fridge, and if it gets too sour, keep 1 tablespoon and refresh your starter with more flour and water

The leavening in sourdough breads begins as a “wild” starter, a mixture of whatever microbes happened to be on the grain and in the air and other ingredients when flour was mixed with water. Seedy Sourdough

I don’t want to put you off eating bread by talking about the things that live in it, but this stuff is kinda fascinating.  Here are some facts I read about sourdough in a book called ‘On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen’.

Sourdough has bacteria in it that somehow delay the bread going stale.  It also has quite a bit of acid in it, and these acids fight off “spoilage microbes”.  This means not only does it taste better, but it lasts longer! (Depending on how many people live in your house).

It isn’t easy to make good bread with sourdough cultures.  One reason is because the bacteria grow faster than the yeasts, and almost always out number them.  Poor yeasts!  This is a problem because the tricky little things reduce the yeats’ gas production so sourdoughs often don’t rise very well.  Yep, that’s right.  The yeasts gobble up the sugars that are made by the enzymes, and fart out carbon dioxide – making little bubbles that rise in the dough. So these bacteria are kinda like a deflatulent for the yeast.  Interesting.

The second problem is that the acid conditions and bacterial protein-digesting enzymes weaken the dough gluten, which makes it less elastic and the resulting bread more dense.  A little…less interesting.

Ok, enough of that, here’s how you make it!

Illustrated Basic Sourdough Recipe

Step 1. Making a starter.  If you know anyone who bakes sourdough, you can always ask them to share!

– 1.5 cups whole-wheat bread flour (preferably stone ground)

– about 1 cup lukewarm water (35-40 degrees Celcius)

Mix flour and water together to make a very thick batter. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand for 3 days away from drafts, so it will absorb the yeasts in the air.  Re-dampen the cloth when necessary. After 3 days the starter should be smelly, gray and slightly bubbly.

Step 2.

Add your starter to ½ cup of lukewarm water and 1 cup of flour.  It won’t look like a dough yet, it should look a bit like thick pancake batter.  Put the cloth back on and let it stand for 24-36 hours, or until it is spongy and slightly bubbly.

Then add ¼ cup of lukewarm water, 2 tsps of salt and 2-2 ½ cups of flour.  Don’t put all of the flour in at once, only use as much as you need to make a soft, but not sticky dough.  Knead for about ten minutes (less if it’s a wholemeal loaf).  If you don’t know how to knead…I’m really not sure these pictures will help .  It’s hard to explain in writing.  This video seems about right – it’s essentially fold, squash, stretch and turn.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWj8oHMPFm0

Return to the bowl and let it rise at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or until doubled in size.

Step 3.

Punch down the dough. You heard me! Just not TOO hard. Also, this is the point that you cut off some dough to keep for next time!  Next time you can start from step 2.  Shape the dough or put it in a baking tin and cover again.   Let it rise at room temp until it has doubled in size again, about 8 hours.

Step 4.

Bake it baby! Heat the oven to 210C,  you can slash the top of your loaf to make it look pretty, and bake for about 20 mins.  The loaf should look golden brown on top, then lower the temperature to 200C and bake for another 15-20 mins.  The loaf should sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom if it’s cooked through.

And voilà! You’re done!  From here on out, it’s easy.  You can use different types of flour, different amounts will make different sized loaves.  You can put other things in too – at the start of the post is a picture of the seedy loaf I made the other day.  Sooooooo good, especially toasted!

Let me know if I left anything out, otherwise can’t wait to hear how it all goes!

xo

To eat or not to eat, that is the question! Seriously.

Ok, it’s late tonight so I’m going to be efficient. Dot points it is!

Updates:

  • I found the culprits for the veggie munching! Check out these fellas!  I tried the soapy water, but it didn’t seem to help.  Any other suggestions?

    Hungry Caterpillars

  • We finally built the possum fort today!   I heard him running around and squeaking last night, I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up to more messed up pots! Plus, today was such a nice day.  Here’s our handiwork:

    Possum Proof

  • Final update – I started making sourdough! I don’t have any pictures yet, but so far so good! It does take a while, but tastes greaaaattt, and it’s so cheap too! So much satisfaction 🙂
  • Ok I lied, here’s the final update.  I’m reading a book my sister lent me called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, I highly recommend it! Great writing, great information.  Have a look: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/
Now, here’s the crux of tonight’s post.  While reading that book, something occurred to me.  I’ve been a vegetarian for something like seven years. I remember the day that I stopped eating meat – I said to myself that I couldn’t endorse eating meat until it could be done in an ethical and sustainable way. The problem is, I somehow lost my passion for it, without losing my belief that we have to be really conscious of the food we eat.  How could I stop being a vegetarian when I’ve been telling people for years that the meat is bad for the animals, our health and the environment?  Now I know that’s not true for ALL meat, but over the years I’ve seen a lot of meat products that don’t really reassure me.
Today though, I think I worked out what has been unsettling me.  While I still feel like there are certain health and environmental benefits to vegetarianism, I guess this kind of eating doesn’t leave room for the animals.  They are a vital part of our ecosystem, even our food system! They provide important fertilisation for the ground and keep ecosystems in check.  As you can tell, I don’t know all the details – but I know that we can’t just stop greenhouse gasses by not eating cows.  My understanding of our environmental and health problems, and of ways to deal with them has deepened over the years. Suddenly it’s not enough to just pretend I’m solving the issues by trying not to be a part of them.
There’s plenty of me that struggles with the idea of going back to eating meat, but maybe it’s time I gave it a try.  Maybe it’s more effective to support local farmers who raise animals in an ethical and cruelty-free way than to boycott it altogether. Argh! What a dilemma!  Any thoughts? Opinions?  I’m still a bit unsure about this whole thing, I’d appreciate any advice.
Ta! xo

Greeen Smoooossshiiieeees!

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Ok, I promise after this post I’ll write about something other than food.  But I had such fun making these that I had to share!

Wrinkly Lemons

The smoothies were inspired by two things; First of all, this awesome website http://kemisrawkitchen.com.au/blog/ with fabulous green smoothy recipes.

Secondly, by the large amount of not-so-fresh-fruit in my kitchen.  While I appreciate the home grown lemons Mum, turns out I really only have so many uses for them.

Ingredients

Ingredients included:

– Soft oranges

– Wrinkly lemons

– VERY soft kiwis

– 1 Suprisingly fresh apple

– Lots of baby spinach

– A tub of vanilla yoghurt

– Awesome amazing delicious raw honey

Yes, admittedly, I made a mess.  But it was soo much funn!!!  I advise you, if you’re ever home alone with old crinkly fruit, GET ON IT!

What A Delicious Mess

They were a little tricky to get your head around at first, but they were so tasty! Couldn’t even taste the green stuff, I swear!  🙂

Also, bonus points for frugality, right?

Any tummies rumbling out there?

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Any tummies rumbling out there?

Ready for another one?  Oooh, look here I go again! This catch up business is fun.  True to my warning…more food photos!  These ones are from a dinner party at my place last month. On a whim, I decided to make Ravioli.  Not from scratch – the pasta was bought from the South Melbourne Markets (although I have since acquired a pasta making machine, so next time will be different!).

Roast Baby Beets

We made two flavours; roast beetroot ravioli with sage butter sauce, and roast pumpkin ravioli with tomato sauce and parmesan. All I can say is, YUM!

Roast pumpkin

The filling was surprisingly simple and tasty.  After we roasted the vegies, we blended them in Mum’s ancient food processor and added fresh ricotta cheese.

A bit of garlic and rosemary went into the pumpkin mix, and I added some balsamic vinegar and sugar to the beet batch.  The colours were so vibrant, it was really a lot of fun!

Beetroot mixture

Pumpkin mixture

Such stunning colours

Luckily I had some help with the assembly!  After trying a few different strategies, we found it worked best to slice the past sheets in half, put the mixture on one half and fold the other over.

First attempt

After the pasta was in place and joined with a bit of water, we could slice the ravioli into individual squares and run a fork around the edge.

Not sure if you can anticipate the mess we managed to make from the photos.  Holy smokes, now that was a lot of dishes. Having said that,  it was totally worth every one!

The production line

The Ravioli turned out better than I could have hoped.  They were pretty big, and the sauces really brought out the flavour of the fillings.  The lasagne pasta sheets we used worked perfectly…the only problem was we were so busy eating that we didn’t get a photo of the finished product!

Here’s the pile just before we cooked them all, you’ll have to use your imaginations for the rest.  Steaming bowls of fresh deliciousness…heaven!

Finished Ravioli

Thanks a mill to Asanka for the beautiful photos, and to everyone else who helped out. It was a great night and I can’t wait to do it all over again!

Renaissance…I’m back! (with Bread)

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Renaissance…I’m back! (with Bread)

Ok, so the idea of a blog a day seemed much more reasonable when I was living in a lonesome kitchenless hovel and had no semblance of a social life.  But due to popular demand (and guilt), I’M BACK! Hurrah, you can all rest easy once more.  I guess, having now recognised my own short comings and realised a blog a day is not très achievable, I’ll have to modify the outlined goals of this blog.  However, don’t be disheartened, the underlying principle is still the same.  And my excitment about being back on the blogging scene, mixed with a morning spent reading Truman Capote is culminating in these long sentences that he seems so fond of.  Apologies for that.

Ok, so here’s a brief summary in pictures of my week gone by.  The theme is BREAD!! Yippee! Joining the Richmond library was such a splurge that it’s almost embarrassing to remember it was free.  Best borrow by far: The big book of Bread.  Baking at home has never been so risky or satisfying.  I must warn you, that the next few catch up sessions will be largely based around food – my holidays seem to have been overwhelmed by domestic cravings…cooking and stitching and other worldly goodnesses!  So, in case your breaths have been thus far bated, no more waiting! Yay!

Dough rising for the second time

The finished product 🙂

Man, this bread was tasty.  The cheese I sprinkled on the top just before baking was a nice touch too.  I must admit I love cheesey bread toasted with lots of butter and honey…might sound strange but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!  Anyway, yesterday I was craving a challenge.  So my newly bread-wise hands set out to make fruit loaf.  It sure looks pretty, and tastes darn good too, but the texture was less of a success.  The loaf didn’t rise as much as it should, so the end result was quite dense and a bit damp.

Fresh fruit toast for breakfast. Yum!

Well my friends, hope that’s made you sufficiently hungry.  I’m certainly off for a snack right about now.  Hope you’ve enjoyed feasting your eyes on my yeasty treasures, stay tuned for more mouth-watering updates!

Tchuss! xo

Day 25(ish) – Warning. This post contains graphic images. Chocoholics, beware.

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This weekend was the big experiment – making our own fairtrade chocolate Easter eggs.  I have to say, it was HARD WORK! My niece and I had a great time and made a huge mess together, so in those terms alone I would class our efforts as successful…but I just wasn’t prepared for the intricacy involved! May have been a lot to do with the tiny little plastic moulds we were using, but I can’t guarantee it.

Ok, so here’s how we did it.  I started with just plain Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, and followed Mum’s suggestion of making hollow eggs.  We spooned a little melted chocolate in and tried to spread it around – the only trouble was it wouldn’t stick! I think the chocolate was too hot, but when I put it in the fridge it got solid really quickly.  This meant the chocolate wasn’t spread evenly and the eggs were a bit… well the picture probably puts it best.Plus, for some reason the shells were REALLY hard to get out of the mould.

The second try was more successful, firstly because we made solid eggs, and partly because we mixed a few different types of chocolate together.  The lighter coloured eggs are plain Cadbury Dairy Milk, but the darker ones are a mix of Dairy Milk, Green and Black’s ‘Mayan Gold’ (dark chocolate with Orange and exotic spices) and G&B Dark Chocolate.  YUM!! The solid ones came out of the mould a lot easier, and were easier to join as well.  I ran a hot knife over one base of a half egg and smushed it together with its other-half-egg-mate.  This was a pretty effective method, except for the fingerprints I left all on their pretty patterns… Gives a new meaning to ‘hot little hands’.  Well, actually maybe the first meaning is literal too.  Anyway, I digress.

Here’s one of my beauties:

Finally, in the middle of all this melting and freezing and accidental re-melting, I found an ice cube tray.  My niece and I got a little wild, and stepped out of the Chocolate-egg comfort zone.  These mamas not only were the delicious mix of Dairy Milk, Dark and Orange chocolate, they had surprises inside.  Peanuts! De-lish.

I had so much fun, and it was a special experience to share with my beautiful niece Miranda.  Even if it took four hours of fiddling to pump out 16 eggs and 14 chocolate-cubes, it was awesome.  I also have heaps of chocolate left over, so there’s plenty of time to learn before next year! I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for different and better moulds.  Woot woot!

What do you think? Does anyone have any experience in this sort of thing? Any tips or suggestions? Hope you all had a wonderful Easter break! xo