Flaming Fridays

Finger food Friday, a long standing tradition in our household, has been moved aside temporarily. The tradition of finger-food on Friday nights started during our working lives as a way to mark the transition from the working week to the week-end. Fish & chips, hamburgers, pizzas, nachos, or tapas have been common, with the rule that generally that the food will be home made. We came to enjoy our Finger-food Friday’s so much that we’ve kept it up even after retirement.

Covid-19 has changed some of our routines, for how long is anyone’s guess. With intra-state area closures in place it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have our usual winter escape to the warm sun in the top end. Not being able to escape the cold, it seems like a good idea to make some changes to our routine that embrace it instead. What better way to embrace the cold than to relax with a nice glass of red, or a glass of warm, spicy, mulled wine while gazing at the flickering flames of a fire. Finger food Friday’s have been temporarily shunted aside to make way instead for fire pit Friday’s (providing it’s not raining).

We have a nice little place for our portable fire ring, and we have a camp oven. Our State visitor restrictions lifted from one to ten people this week, which means we can now share our camp fire, and camp oven dinner with friends too. We don’t have space for ten people to meet the outdoor social distancing rules (1.5 metres between), but we can legally space up to six people around our fire. This week we invited three friends around, and the camp oven dinner was to be a hearty beef in red wine stew with chunky vegetables and home made pull apart bread rolls.

Ok. now’s a good time to confess – I forgot to take photos! The photos above have been pilfered from other fire pit nights. Our guests were very kind, and seemed to enjoy this weeks stew, I’m a bit more critical though, and have to admit I haven’t perfected cooking yet in a camp oven on a back yard, portable fire pit. I manage well enough using the fire pits in campgrounds with their anchored hooks that allow the camp oven to suspend above the flames, and to swing out of the way of the flames altogether if the camp oven gets to hot. I also manage very well in a big fire on the open ground when I can rake hot coals to the side of the main fire.

For the stews I use gravy beef, which when cooked slowly at the right temperature makes a rich, flavoursome, melt in your mouth stew. The meat in the one pictured above cooked to quickly, and lacked that melt in mouth result of perfectly cooked gravy beef. Additionally, I added the chunky vegetables a little to late, and the carrots weren’t perfectly tender like they should be in well cooked stew. This week we tried using heat beads while cooking, and added the wood for the fire as soon as the cooking was done. I think we’re on track to get it right, but we still need to slow down the cooking to get the flavour that will only develop with a slow, gentle simmer over several hours. A few less coals I think will do it.

We had planned to have our usual toasted marshmallows, and S’mores afterwards. But one of our guest surprised us with the most delicious honeycomb cheesecake. Our other guests cooked us some lovely mini quiches and sausage rolls to start us off for the night. Between the lovely pastries to start, Paul’s pull apart home made rolls, and that, oh so delicious, cheesecake, who needed a perfectly cooked stew anyway.

Another garden makeover

Recently I had been thinking that in the coming years my blue garden would most likely have to go. The blue garden, consisting of a lacy, blue plumbago, surrounded by a solid border of blue agapanthus, was planted approximately three years ago. It had been slow to take off, but had a growth spurt this summer reaching almost perfect size by around February with masses of gorgeous blue blooms that almost obscured the fence. By the end of March it was growing so rapidly that it was requiring constant pruning to keep it confined to it’s allotted space.

With the speed it was growing, it was becoming clear that constant pruning would be needed to keep it manageable in years to come. Also, earlier this year the surrounding white stones that enhanced the blue perfectly had become a bit grubby with an accumulation of fallen leaves and other bits and pieces of garden debris. It took almost a week to lift and clean the stones. I figured that by the time the stones were due for their next clean, the plumbago would most likely be needing constant trimming to keep it from overwhelming it’s space. That would be the time for us to consider a garden makeover.

With Covid-19 restrictions keeping us within the confines of our own home boundaries, it seemed like to good an opportunity not to bring the garden overhaul forward by a year or two. Initially we considered artificial turf, but after a bit of research we quickly went off that idea. Apparently, even though maintaining real grass requires water and fertiliser it is still far more environmentally friendly than artificial turf. By the time our research told us Synthetic wasn’t the way for us to go, the picture of our back garden with a small expanse of soft, green turf had embedded in our minds. Three weeks ago we decided that now was a great opportunity to commence the inevitable changes, however with real, soft leafed sapphire buffalo grass instead of the anticipated fake stuff.

We still wanted our raised vegetable beds. First we removed the plumbago along with a couple of other plants. The agapanthus have been moved to the front garden. Next the raised garden beds were dismantled and moved to the back fence line. The newly planted seeds are up, and it won’t be long until we’re again eating homegrown silverbeet, lettuce and coriander. The bulk of the paving has been lifted and stored to be re-purposed later, with the paving under the verandah remaining in place. We raked in a good amount of decayed manure into the sandy base, and levelled the site. Then Paul dug the trenches and laid the reticulation.

Next came the laying of the turf, and fitting and testing the sprinklers.

Life isn’t really that different for retirees living under an imposed level three pandemic lock down. We’ve still been able to source supplies for projects, and the restrictions on personal movement throughout the state has meant we can really get productive with our time on the home front. Our garden looks so much bigger now with its newly laid lawn. Of course, although I claim it to be a joint project, Paul has done 99% of the work. I’ve just supervised (and made coffee). It was the 40th year anniversary on 26th April since Paul and I first ‘became an item’ (I think that’s the term used today). I think he’s still a keeper!

Food, glorious food.

From reading several blogs, and talking to neighbours and friends, there seems to be a common thread to everyone’s new status of ‘stay at home’ citizenship. We’re all cooking. Some are sticking with tried and true recipes, others are taking up new challenges from learning to bake scones, to boldly starting a sour dough culture from scratch.

The oven in our household is also getting a good work out as meals and snacks take a more prominent place in our schedules. Bone stock, normally reserved for the depth of the winter months has commenced earlier than usual this year. You’re all no doubt aware that chicken soup is genuinely good for colds and flus, not the canned or packet variety, but a good home made chicken soup. After a bit of research a few years ago on the benefits of home made chicken soup, it seems the health benefits come from the bone stock. The longer the bones are cooked the more they break done, and the more minerals are leached out into the stock. For mine I use 2 – 3 chicken frames, an onion, a large carrot, 2 stalks of celery including the leafy top, a good handful of salt, and a slug of cider vinegar. Firstly I brown everything on the stove top, then add the liquid and salt, and simmer slowly in the slow cooker for at least 36 hours. I have a sheltered position outside where I can leave it to simmer so as it’s not cluttering up my kitchen, and cooking it outside prevents my house from developing the permanent aroma of chicken soup. I’m not one for passing on exact recipes, mainly because I rarely use an exact recipe. If you want to give your own slow cooked stock a go, the guide I’ve provided may set you on your way, or if you like everything to be listed in precise detail, a google search will bring a good amount of recipes for you to choose from.

The bones almost completely break down, and when strained I end up with about 3 litres of a very cloudy, very tasty stock from my slow cooker. I store it in the fridge leaving the fat to settle on top which helps to preserve it. It lasts me for 4 – 5 days and gets used in gravies and soups, added to stews and casseroles, and I cook my rice in it. I started adding bone stock to our daily winter diet approximately two winters ago, and neither Paul nor I have had a cold since. We used to get at least one each winter. Maybe coincidence, maybe not, but I like to think it’s doing it’s job by giving our immune system a great boost. I figure starting on bone stock a little earlier this year with the Covid-19 pandemic raging through the world can’t do us any harm.

As we all know, one needs to eat a balanced diet for good health. Our diet is completely balanced with A good amount of protein, bone stock, our five serves of fruit and veg, grains, etc on one side of the scales, and all the naughty stuff on the other side of the scales. I don’t think that’s how the experts recommend the scales should be weighted, but that’s how it is in our household. One delightful addition to the naughty side of the scales recently has been a couple of batches of Cinnabon’s, a very special cinnamon bun. If you’ve had the pleasure of indulging in a treat from one of the Cinnabon shops throughout the world, you’ll understand me when I say that to eat one of those sweat, cinnamony, sticky, buns could easily be described as ‘food porn’. Anyone listening to all the oohs and aahs that that seem to come with every delicious mouthful would be forgiven for thinking something other than eating was going on.

Cinnabons

We came across our first Cinnabon store In Dubai several years ago, and experienced one of the most memorable food experiences we’ve ever had. The sweet, yeasty scrolls are served warm with a sticky cream cheese icing, and they are, oh so delicious! A google search for a Cinnabon recipe will bring up countless choices. Having a thermomix, I chose a recipe that used my machine to do the kneading for me. When I make a batch, we give away a few, freeze some for later, and eat far more than we should on the day they’re baked. Last time I baked them I made two dozen and sent an email to the ladies from my walking group advising the ‘drive through’ bakery was open. Several ladies drove by to pick up one or two for their morning tea. In the days of social distancing it enabled us to have a brief face to face catch up, albeit through the car window. Just another novel way to catch up with friends without breaking the rules. I hope everyone else is managing to fit in some catch ups with friends while still sticking to the guidelines. Would the idea of a drive through bakery work for you and your friends?


Writers block

I promise myself every week that I’m going to get back into blog writing. The week passes, and still no posts to publish. A new week begins, and another promise to myself, only to be yet another broken promise by the weeks end.

I did a small writers course many years ago. Two things stuck in my mind from that course, firstly, “if you want to be a writer, you first must be a reader”. The second thing was, “if you want to be a writer, you must write”. I can hear those sentences in my mind as clearly today as when I heard them then.

Sounds pretty simple, and basic doesn’t it. I rarely read of late, and I rarely write. Week after week goes by with barely a page in a book turned. Very few of the much loved blogs that I used read avidly even get opened. As for blog writing, I start a draft every now and again, but become so overwhelmed with the feeling that I have either nothing to say, or so much I want to say that condensing it into a blog is impossible. The writing quickly becomes a jumbled mish-mash of almost incoherent words.

Something I realised many years ago, in the days of letter writing, was that it’s much easier to write letters to someone if you write them often. If to much time goes by between letters all those little things that make up one’s life seem to become unimportant with the passage of time, and don’t seem worthy of a mention. Without the little things there’s rarely anything left to say. Momentous happenings in people’s lives are, fortunately, few and far between. I say fortunately, as if life was full of momentous happenings we’d no doubt never get time to read, or to write. How stressful would our lives be if day after day was filled with only momentous happenings.

I’m finding it the same with blog writing. Frequent writing about the little things that happen day to day is easy. Trying to condense lots of little things, or to pick just one or two little things out of the months that have gone by is an impossible task.

So, this weeks promise to myself. I must read both blogs and books, starting today. And I must write. As always I notice that when a lot of time goes by between blogs, the posts initially don’t seem to flow well. But if I’m to get my writing mojo back, I’m going to have to get through the writing rapids of tumultuous waters until I reach the calm flow of putting words together comes again. Providing I make good on my promises, I’ll get there.

Reading between the lines

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m paranoid. In fact I’m a bit of a fatalist, believing that what will be, will be, so there’s no point in getting paranoid. In the big scheme of things there’s nothing I can do. In my little world though, which is becoming smaller by the day. I am listening, and I am trying to follow the guidelines. I am doing my best to self isolate. (Yes, this is another post about Coronavirus).

Reading between the lines is sometimes difficult, and often we read into things more (or less), than is actually there. I’m reading between the lines, and I hope what I’m seeing there is completely wrong.

Here’s how I see it.

Deciphering between the facts, and the fake news isn’t easy. We all have a duty to keep ourselves informed, and to follow the recommendations, but the recommendations change daily, sometimes hourly. It’s hard to keep up. The following fact though is un-disputable:

Coronavirus is a pandemic, it’s killing people, and it’s on the rise – fast!

Governments all over the world have declared a State of Emergency, giving them powers to implement laws rapidly in response to the developing crisis. First come the guidelines, then when they are either not followed, or aren’t having the desired effect, the guidelines, or even stricter guidelines, become law.

Time frames for the virus to peak, and then begin to decline are hinted at. Some say six months, others indicate the end of June. I’m sure you’ve heard a few possibles that could be added to that. Clearly, without a crystal ball these dates are any bodies guess. My thoughts are the governments are tossing the idea of an end time frame into our minds to try and prevent despair from setting in. I do hope the dates are somewhere near to correct, but from reading between the lines I suspect those time frames are only going to signify the end of the beginning, and I think the government knows that too.

Here’s what’s happening in our little corner of the world – the lines I’m reading between to make that assumption:

Our state government of WA has ordered the closure of Rottnest Island, our holiday island. The reason is so as the island can be used for an isolation area for those in need of it, or/and for an enforced isolation area for those who aren’t abiding by the self isolating laws. A whole island……

I believe as I’m writing this that our premier and state government are in negotiations with hotels to re-purpose the buildings as medical facilities. WOW!! Now, that to me sounds like a seriously huge number of patients that are expected. So, we can clearly find the buildings, that just leaves the problem of the medical staff to man the buildings, and the medical equipment to use. We clearly haven’t got enough of either. No-one in the world has.

We’re being told how important it is to distance from everyone. It hasn’t been working in other countries, and now several countries appear to be putting a limit of two on any gathering. There can be no social gatherings, no funerals, no weddings, and no birthday parties. Apparently these distancing measures are to flatten the curve.

My thoughts are that the idea if flattening the curve isn’t going to make Coronavirus disappear, it’s only going to postpone the inevitable. It’s a way of buying time. Time to re-purpose buildings to use as medical facilities, time to manufacture more masks, more protective clothing, more ventilators, and time to train more medical staff. I think the end of June, or the end of six months, is the time the governments are hoping to buy so as the world has a chance of caring for its sick and dying. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to everything. I think the beginning has barely begun yet! Unless a cure or vaccine miraculously appears, I think we’re in for a long ride.


Styling a very small house – the lounge room

It’s been three years and three months since we took possession of our little seaside cottage in the south west town of Busselton. It was a gigantic leap of faith when we placed an offer on the little place, sight unseen, whilst we up in Katherine in the Northern Territory. Our offer was accepted, and we travelled down to see what we had let ourselves in for.

A lot of work was needed for sure, but we were up for the challenge. What we hadn’t anticipated was the difficulties of furnishing such a little place. There have been many, many errors along the way, mainly with furniture that just didn’t work. Finally though, I think we’re there. We think we now have the little house functioning to the best of it’s ability, and without any walls being knocked out, or any additions to the main structure. 

Our little house has no grand entrance, in fact there is no entrance hall or foyer at all. The front door opens directly into the living room. The living area comprises of the kitchen, dining room and lounge area, with the front door opening directly into the lounge. Without obstructing the access area from the front door through to the rest of the house, the furnishing area of the lounge area is 2.3 metres x 5 metres, with a second door to the outside patio area about 3/4 of the way along the longer side. The length of the room is sufficiently generous, but the 2.3 metre width proved to be a real challenge.  

Firstly we purchased a gorgeous, white leather chaise type sofa. We bought it second hand, before we had taken possession of the house. Yes, it fitted, but it was clearly completely wrong for the area, and had to go. With the limited market of selling second hand away from the main metropolitan area we could only  manage to get a little less than half of what we’d paid for it. Never mind – no use crying over spilt milk, as my dear old mum would have said. 

MMMM….. the sofa could only be positioned so as to be looking at a blank wall along the entrance way. What had we been thinking – it clearly had to go.

Next came a new lazy boy sofa, with two little occasional chairs. In hind sight I think these were purchased as a bit of knee jerk reaction to the beautiful, but too big, white leather sofa. They looked fine in the small area. The sofa was a small three seater with a recliner at each end, and the middle section folded down to form a small coffee table. For two people it was okay, but accommodating three on it felt a tad squashy. The two occasional chairs both looked and worked well in the area, but the reality was there was only comfortable seating for four people. Finally, I broached the subject. I thought the lazy boy sofa  had been a mistake, and I thought we should go back to our original idea of an L-shaped sofa. 

The problem was that most of the ready made L-shaped lounges were too long on either one, or both sides. After much research it became clear that we had to go down the be-spoke line, and so we ordered our new L-shaped lounge to be made to fit our dimensions perfectly. 

With the new lounge suite on order, we decided we’d also go back to our original idea of furnishing the house with some shabby chic/coastal style furniture. We picked up an old coffee table on line for $40 (you have to have some wins), and Paul took to it with the sander and Annie sloan, old white, chalk paint. The top has had several coats of satin finish, polyurethane. 

Perhaps here is good place to mention the window treatments, which hadn’t been straight forward either. The drapes and pelmets were removed early on, leaving the thin line Venetians for block out. Next we hung full length, white, gauzy drapes which we thought looked pretty good.  However, full length drapes, no matter how fine and gauzy, don’t belong in such a tiny house. Out they went, to be replaced with wide slatted, white, venetian blinds purchased at a half price sale from Spotlight. Our original thoughts had been to furnish the house coastal style, with white shutters and with the shabby chic/coastal style furniture. The wide slat venetian blinds provided a bit of a shutter look but without the hefty price tag. However, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.  We had lashed out on shutters for our bedrooms earlier last year, and finding them so easy to live with, and to clean, we had no hesitation in ordering the hefty priced shutters for our living area too. So far no regrets – absolutely none, I love them. 

Our lounge suite arrived, our shutters were fitted, and our newly up-cycled coffee table looked great. Next came the re-furbishment of a pine entertainment unit to replace the modern look white and chrome unit we had purchased (used, from Gumtree) when we first moved into the house. We were now up to the finishing touches. 

We both love the relaxed coastal style decor, including all the cheap and cheerful little nic-nacs that can be found in any seaside town. Our house displays a few little boat ornaments, and a third little sail boat model has been found for our lounge room.

the mirror above the TV serves no other purpose than to make the room look bigger, and to reflect light. Do you like our little sail boat collection?

Mirrors have been hung in strategic places to reflect light and add a feeling of space. A small canvas with a fishing boat on the shore is hung on the wall.

a mirror at the entrance reflects our little beached fishing boat canvas.

It was all looking pretty good, with the exception of cushions. We searched everywhere, including in the big metropolis of Perth, for cushions with the right colours. Tropical leaves and brightly coloured parrots just wouldn’t do…….  Finally, we searched on line and found what we were looking for at, The Coastal Cushion Company. 

I have to give a bit of a plug and a special thanks go to Kylie Foy from The Coastal Cushion Company (please note: this plug is not sponsored in any way). The selection Kylie has available is amazing, and very reasonably priced. Having found what I wanted, the order was placed, with the cost including postage. Kylie despatched them via express post, and kept track of the parcel via the postal tracking system, keeping me informed all the way. The cushion covers arrived from Queensland three days after despatch,  and were true to the photos I ordered them from. Originally, I had only ordered three, but quickly followed with an order for a fourth for myself, and two more as a gift for a friend. I now want three smaller, rectangle cushions in a plain, moody blue colour, (Hampton Bay navy) which currently is only available in square cushion covers. Kylie is looking into whether or not she can get them for me in the rectangular style. Finger’s crossed…..

So that’s how we managed to furnish and decorate the lounge room in our wee, coastal cottage. Almost every morning when I get up and walk into the lounge I think to my self – ‘I love what we’ve done with this room’. Yes, the shutters, the be-spoke L-shaped lounge that can now, at a reasonably comfortable push, seat six, the up-cycled, shabby chic/coastal coffee table and entertainment unit, the mirrors, our beached boat canvas, and our little collection of sail boats  – yes I love it all. The trial and errors along the way, well that just makes me appreciate it all the more. It makes it that much easier to be able to say, “what a pleasure”!

The crooked Carrot

Most definitely a quirky little eatery The Crooked Carrot is located approximately 35 kms from Bunbury on the corner of Rigg Road and Forrest Highway, in Myalup, in the South West of WA. It opens at 6.30am for breakfast, and stays open until 4pm, seven days a week.

It’s a paddock to plate cafe as much as possible with produce coming from garden beds on the premises, as well as the owner’s farms and market gardens in the vicinity.
On site garden beds

I’m told they have a dedicated cake cook. The cakes on display in the cabinet certainly don’t look like the run of mill, bought in, cakes that seem to be apparent in so many places. I gather they make their own pies too.

There’s plenty of tables, both inside and out. I particularly liked the colourful little booths.

Dogs are welcome with the usual dog rules. Apparently every one with a dog seems to do the right thing.

There’s lots of play space for the children, catering to both little kids, and the bigger kids in different areas.

Can you see the dragon in the tiny tots play area?

The bigger kids would have to be a lot braver than I’ve ever been to climb up that towering climbing net.

There’s an old Tram, which is gated off, but I believe there’s plans to turn it into an eating area.

I’m sure lots of farmers will get a kick out of recognising old tractors and farm machinery. There’s plenty of them on display.

The toilets are in another converted tram building.

There’s a set of rules posted in both playground areas.

I love the old truck. We were talking to one of the gardeners there who told us the old truck on display used to be gorgeous. Sadly the children’s owners don’t seem to be as responsible as the dog owners. Parents have been known to watch on as ‘little Johnny’ smashes the headlights, or whacks away at the paintwork, which is now in rather a sad state compared to how it was when originally displayed. I gather this isn’t an isolated event either, it happens on a regular basis.

The mind boggles – perhaps there’ll come a time when children will only be allowed if kept on a leash. I guess that’s not particularly politically correct to even suggest such a thing in the year 2019, but one does wonder what will be next. Today, behaviour such as wrecking a gorgeous old truck is tolerated without a word of reprimand. Will the same sort of behaviour be indulged when directed towards another person tomorrow. We wouldn’t want ‘little Johnny’ to get traumatised by being prevented from letting off steam now would we! ( Now back in my day….. – I think I’m turning into my parents….)

The Crooked Carrot is on the highway in the middle of nowhere. You can’t miss it as there’s always dozens of cars parked outside. It’s popular from the minute it opens until closing time. Be sure to stop in if you’re passing by. Good coffee, fresh paddock to plate meals, and be sure to save some room for one of those delicious cakes though. This place is an absolute gem!

Stats for Katherine trip 2019

This is probably the maddest trip we’ve ever done as far as covering a lot of distance in a relatively short time. It was tiring, but we enjoyed it. Would we do it again – the distance most definitely, but at least three months would be our preferred time frame. Less than five weeks was just a tad crazy!

For those of you interested in cost and distance details, I’ve put together a few stats for you.

We were away from home for 33 nights in total.

The journey was completed in two legs for each direction, with a stay in Broome to rest before continuing our trip. We stayed for three nights in Broome on the way up to Katherine, and for nine nights on our return trip. We also spent two nights in Kununurra on the way up.

The first leg
The second leg

We were at the farm in Venn for a total of eight nights (Venn is 25 kms south of Katherine.) During those eight days we helped plan a wedding, helped with the decorating, and the catering, and helped with the clean up afterwards.

All other stopping points were for one night only.

The return trip – 3rd leg
4th and final leg

There were 8 driving days in total in each direction with an average daily distance of 513kms. The longest of those days was 818kms – and yes, it was to long! Between 400 and 500 kms is a good distance on WA and NT roads. More than that is too much, less than 400kms and you never seem to get to where you’re going.

The total kms for the entire trip, including all the daily trips when we were in one place for more than a night totalled 9680 kms. The total fuel cost was $2684.

The combined costs for paid accommodation was $819.

We travelled up the Great Northern highway to Port Hedland on the way there. On the way home we came via the coast road for a change of scenery. The distance is virtually the same whichever road you take.

The average cost per km worked out to .28cents. The average cost for accommodation was $26 a night.

So there you have it. – the statistics for an almost 10,000km trip in almost five weeks.