Technology Has Killed The Letter

I hear the faint sound of a car door slamming. I take a deep breath and place my book face down carefully on the coffee table so as not to lose my page. I quickly dash over to the window for the fifth time that morning. Yes! I say to myself. Finally, it’s the postman.

“Hurry. Go,” I whisper to him willingly after he pops the mail in the box. It seems an eternity before he drives off and I make my way to the post box. I am tentative as I leaf through the letters. Two for mum, one for my brother, one to the householder but none for me. Sigh. It has been two long weeks since my beloved left for London and still no letter. But he promised he would write straight away! Surely it takes less than two weeks to get a letter from London to Sydney. Perhaps it got lost in transit; perhaps he forgot to send it and it is still in his bag; perhaps he is just too busy exploring and is too tired by the end of the day; perhaps he just hasn’t written and has fallen head over heels in love with a gorgeous blonde English girl. Two days after he left my side, these thoughts have been racing through my head every time I check the mail. These summer holidays are just becoming too hard to bear.

Oh, to be seventeen again… But the seventeen when I was seventeen not the seventeen of today.

Anybody remember Holly Hobbie stationery?

Anybody remember Holly Hobbie stationery?

The seventeen of today’s modern developed world will never know what it is like to pine for that long awaited letter from a friend, for those high school exam results, for photos from far away family. They will never experience the excitement, the angst, the sadness or the joy of news via a handwritten note on fine letter paper with matching envelope. There really is nothing like the heartwarming feeling of a handwritten love letter. And why? Because you know it’s that much more personal. You can keep it in the bottom of your drawer, forever. Or you can choose to say goodbye and burn it, with a match. Most messages today would be lost in some cyberworld of forgotten sad, desperate and happy utterings.

Technology has taken that away from them.  And it is taken it away from me. And that is sad for all of us. I don’t even know what my friends’ and colleagues handwriting looks like these days!  If there is no name on it, I have to ask “who wrote this?” That never happened when I was seventeen.

I thought email was a great way to keep in touch with people you probably wouldn’t have written letters to but Facebook makes it almost impossible to avoid anyone. Seventeen year olds don’t email, they just facebook each other. They skype, they facetime, they text. They text with two hands as fast or maybe even faster than we ever used keyboards and typewriters.

old-letters

I text. I admit I love it; I was never a phone talker so it’s a blessing for me to be able to just say what I want to say. Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship and unless my friends are far away, we never facetime or skype. Even when they are, it’s email that does most of the talking.

By the end of this year, I will write at least two letters. Letters to friends I used to write letters to. And maybe a letter to someone whom I met more recently. I will not type them first; I will just pen them. If I make a mistake, I will cross it out and write over it. But firstly, I need to make sure I have their correct street address because even that these days is a rare occurrence. Who needs that if you have email, social media and smart phones to keep in touch?

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Growing Veggies, My Favourite Resources

There really is such a thing as “too much info.”

You can spend hours surfing the net looking for one piece of information. It’s quite astounding how so many people can write about the same thing. And there is a forum on everything! And that is just in English!

But if you have all those hours to do all that surfing, it means you are not spending enough time outside in your garden!

So pick a few main ones that you like and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. I really do find that is the easiest way to keep up with what’s happening, how and when to grow things and what they are posting on their websites. If you don’t use social media, a good site should always have a newsletter or newsfeed so you can receive emails.

Pick websites that are easy to follow, read and navigate. Good photos are always a bonus as well as instructional videos.

Obviously as I live in Melbourne, my resources are mainly Australian based.

Here are some of my personal favourites. If anyone wants to share any of theirs (esp non Melbourne/Australia based), please do so in the comments field.

resources1

Suburban Tomato (Blog)

Liz just happens to live in Melbourne not too far from me so a great reference source for me. It’s very comprehensive and she includes many other blogs and websites from her site. Liz does everything from growing to cooking her own produce from her 12 sq metres of garden. She is truly passionate.

http://suburbantomato.com/

https://www.facebook.com/suburbantomato

Ceres

Ceres is a not-for-profit garden, nursery, organic shop and market, training and education centre. I volunteered here last year in the market garden and learnt so much about growing veggies. They also host a lot of sustainability and foodie events.

http://www.ceres.org.au/

https://www.facebook.com/CERES.Environment.Park

resources2

Little Veggie Patch

Little Veggie Patch is a company started by two guys who inspire people how to grow veggies in small to medium spaces. Husband Dean stumbled across this website when he was looking for our veggie patches/crates. Their shop is fantastic and they also have a pop-up patch in Federation Square car park (Melbourne) where anyone can visit. Mainly it’s city folk and restauranteurs who rent a crate so they can grow their veggies. This place a great inspiration for ideas on what to grow and how to grow it. Amazing how much you can fit into a small space. Their educational videos are lots of fun too!

http://littleveggiepatchco.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/littleveggiepatchco

Diggers Club

Great quarterly magazine with free seeds twice a year! They have gardens at Heronswood and Mt Erth. I can vouch that Heronswood is worth the visit for their buildings, gardens and of course shop.

http://diggers.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/thediggersclub

resources3

The Micro Gardener

Lots of tips on how to grow in small spaces and containers. And also lots of DIY projects, most (if not all) using recycled products.

http://themicrogardener.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TheMicroGardener?ref=stream&hc_location=stream

SGA – Sustainable Gardening Australia

http://www.sgaonline.org.au/

https://www.facebook.com/sustainablegardeningaustralia

Sustainable Suburbia

http://sustainablesuburbia.net/

https://www.facebook.com/sustainablesuburbia

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Growing Veggies, Lessons Learnt

Two years ago, we bought our first three vegetable crates. A year later, we had a further two inbuilt patches in our front yard. In addition, we have various fruit and olive trees.

My first three veggie crates

My first three veggie crates

We actually have a reasonably big garden and if we chose to, we could live off it. But the demands of an active sporty boy means that we wanted to save some yard for him.

Year one was a novelty, experimental and I probably didn’t take it too seriously. I had no idea what I was doing. Year two, something changed. I had researched a lot more, visited more garden spaces, did some volunteering at the market garden in Ceres and I really wanted to be able to eat our own food.

So what changed? I became passionate.

And this summer, the hope is to be able to live sustainably off our patches only buying the things we don’t grow like potatoes (although I may but considering they only cost $2 a kilo at the local organic shop, I may not bother). This year I am trying to grow more from seed (I gave up trying to do this in winter).

Growing seedlings using toilet rolls

Growing seedlings using toilet rolls

So what have I learnt? I know for certain that the learning is constant and so much of it is just trial and error.

I expect that my list will grow and grow (hopefully like my veggies!)

And watch out for my next blog post where I will share with you some of my very valuable resources.

  • Make time. Especially during the warmer months. Be prepared to get out of bed at 7am and water the lawns if you don’t have an automatic system. In summer (in Melbourne), it can get so hot you have to do it early.
  • What starts off small can end up big, very big. Take zucchini for instance. They can take over your patch if you don’t watch it. So always pay attention to the spacing recommendation when planting seedlings (or seeds).
  • Water , water, water and fertilise.
  • Pay attention to companion planting. For instance, plant basil with tomatoes. But don’t plant potatoes with tomatoes. Sustainable Garden Companion Planting is one of the good resources out there.
  • Don’t plant what you don’t eat. If you don’t eat carrots don’t start growing them just because you can. You might relish them at the start but after a while you will realise you don’t really want to eat them after all. We had that problem with beetroot. Same with our silverbeet. And that just never dies; we have a crop that is now one year old and just keeps coming and coming! We don’t really eat it so it goes to friends, neighbours and I swap it for a coffee at a local cafe.
  • Maximise your space by checking out other people’s patches and ideas. Go for a walk around the neighbourhood. You would be amazed how many veggie patches you come across and you will marvel at some of the more interesting and ingenious ideas.
  • If you don’t plan to live where you are for many years, keep your patches mobile if you can. Use big pots, crates, etc. Anything that is transportable.
  • Bending down is hard no matter what age so make your patches as high as possible.
  • No dig patches are good but it costs more and the soil tends to sink so you have to keep topping up.
  • Protect your crop from pests. Rats and mice will chew through netting so you will need something stronger than that.
  • Don’t expect to get good returns on your investment for at least a few years. Soil, fertilisers, mulch, equipment and materials cost money even if you recycle as much as you can.
  • Don’t use chemical pesticides if you can possibly avoid it. Go natural.
  • If you plant using left overs from veggies you have bought from the store eg spring onions, basil, garlic etc make sure you are using organic. Otherwise, you don’t know what chemicals etc you are putting back into the soil and the new veggies that sprout from it.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. Just because something grows doesn’t mean it will be successful. Bugs can attack it, heat can kill it and sometimes it just doesn’t work! My broccoli was looking so good but when it came to harvesting time, most of them went straight to seed or just didn’t work. Especially disappointing when you grow something from seed.
  • Be prepared to be overjoyed. There is nothing like picking your first chilli or tomato. It’s so satisfying.

So feel free to add your learnings in the comments section! Happy veggie gardening!

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Congratulations, It’s A Boy! And He’s Sports Mad.

How did that happen?

I am not natural athlete. I dabbled at sports and although I was pretty good at badminton, tennis and squash, I simply never had the passion to be great. My dad was always the kid that was picked last but mum tells me she had some talent.

Husband Dean is a bit of a sporting natural. Soccer, basketball, cricket, rugby…. You know one of those men who was good at everything. He still is, annoyingly (only because I am not).

Passion, a powerful emotion of boundless enthusiasm.  No truer words to describe my son and football (Australian Rules). Let me explain. He doesn’t just play the game. He studies it. He records and watches games over and over on the television. On YouTube, he watches games, highlights and instruction videos. Most of the apps he uses on the IPad are sports related; the same goes for Xbox. The expensive grass in the backyard is in tatters with the constant running, throwing, batting and kicking. In temperatures close to freezing, he is still out there in his shorts and t-shirt. The trampoline doubles as a space for him to toss balls up as high as he can in the air, catching them to practise his marks*.  All of this while he commentates. Even that he does with the utmost fervour. Harvey was 7 years old when Dean stripped the original commentary off this youtube video and overdubbed it with Harvey’s version.

At times, he drives me crazy with the incessant ball throwing, kicking and commentating inside and outside the house. It’s a constant battle to get him to wear long pants. Yet, we cannot help but indulge him. I have been to more football matches in the last two years than I have been in my entire life ten times over. We send him to football camps and he plays with the local teams both days on the weekend during winter. We recently drove more than an hour to a clinic at the Geelong Cats stadium where he spent three hours meeting and kicking a ball around with some of his favourite players. His jersey is filled with autographs. So now the jersey sits by the laundry tub patiently awaiting my decision as to whether to wash it or not! In the highly unlikely event that the ink will run, I will be even more devastated than Harvey.

A real case of Where's Wally.. An avid Geelong Cats supporter, Harvey is one of around 800 kids at this clinic

A real case of Where’s Wally.. An avid Geelong Cats supporter, Harvey is one of around 800 kids at this clinic

Suddenly, without even realising it, I have turned into a footy mum. In cases of rain, I take plastic garbage bags to sit on and a hand towel to wipe the seats. In cases of cold, I take a blanket to keep warm. I may look like an Eskimo and suffer from beanie hair but I don’t care. I am not a thermos person but I may even succumb just because I can. I surprise myself by actually enjoying the game with the occasional passionate outburst. As an added bonus, I quite enjoy watching men with beautiful muscles. Why had I not noticed that before?

To wash or not to wash? Number 26, his hero.

To wash or not to wash? Number 26, his hero.

It seems Harvey is showing the same passion for cricket. As for becoming a cricket mum? The jury is still very much out on that one.


I wrote this a little while back and posted it on facebook. It gives you a bit of an insight how passionate these kids can get.

It is Thursday afternoon, Harvey’s favourite day at after-school care as Josh, one the guys that works there, organises a footy match between the kids. Josh is both player and umpire. Most of the kids are kitted out in their footy jerseys; Harvey has the whole outfit – Geelong jersey, socks and shorts. Today is the grand final and when I arrive, there is around 10 minutes to go.

The final siren sounds (Josh makes the appropriate noise). Harvey kicks the ball to his team mate, who in turn kicks it to Ben who takes a mark*. The pressure is on. Ben has to kick to tie the match. There is silence on the field, even from the parents who are watching. Ben takes a few moments to compose himself and sets himself up to kick the ball. He drops the ball on his foot and boots it. The moment descends into slow motion. The ball flies high through the air. It has the distance but does it make it through the centre goals? From where I am standing, it looks in. But NO, it just misses. One point is not enough to tie the time. My eyes dart over to Harvey. By this time, he is staring up at the sky with his hands clasped around the back of the head. He slumps down to his knees in total despair. Seems an eternity before he peers up. By now, tears are streaming down Ben’s cheeks. His team mates are crying as well. The other team, in the meantime, are jumping up in the air in jubilation, hugging and patting each other on the back. Josh has even given them a mini grand final trophy. Harvey gets up slowly, walks over to Ben and pats him on his back. He nods at his team mates in acknowledgement of what just occurred. He saunters over to me trying so hard not to let the tears show. But it’s not working.

These kids are 6,7 and 8 years old. Shudder to think what they will be like in 10 years time.

*To mark a ball is to catch a ball

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“Why Did I Ever Think It Was So Hard” Lasagne

It’s only fairly recently that I realised that lasagne really wasn’t a difficult dish to make. Or better still my cooking skills and interests have evolved. The first time I made it (in my early 20s when cooking was something I just had to do if I wanted to eat), I remember the corner of the lasagne sheets at the top were horribly crunchy. I think now that I didn’t cover it with enough sauce.  I also thought what a hassle to have to make the meat sauce as well as béchamel AND then having to assemble it.

Things have changed. Not only do I make the bolognese and béchamel but I add a third filling of ricotta and silverbeet.

Bechamel sauce used to intrigue me. I couldn’t work out why it was so lumpy. Donna Hay and the whisk saved me.

There’s not much to this recipe. The good ingredients speak for themselves.  I try to use organic where possible. This recipe would feed around 6-8 people. Three of us had it for dinner, then lunch the next day (school and work) and we still had some left over!

Bolognese sauce

Vegetarians – instead of meat, use vegies like diced pumpkin, cauliflower and mushrooms

Bolognese sauce

  • 700g jar of passata
  • 500 grams good lean mince (pork or beef)
  • Oregano and basil (I used dried but can use fresh)
  • 1 large grated zucchini

Heat oil in pan, add mince, sauté till brown. Add salt, pepper. Add passata, zucchini, dried herbs. Lid on, simmer for half hour at least.

Silverbeet and Ricotta

Ricotta and silverbeet

  • Three big handfuls of silverbeet (removed from stems)
  • One tub 250-300 grams ricotta
  • Garlic (two cloves crushed if fresh; I used a heaped teaspoon of minced).

Chop or tear silverbeet into small pieces and place in bowl. Add garlic and ricotta. Combine well. Add salt, pepper.

Bechamel sauce

Bechamel sauce

I find Donna Hay’s recipe the best and so easy. One, one, one – ie 1 cup, 1 tbsp

For this recipe

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp white flour
  • 2 cups milk (I used low fat)

Melt butter in saucepan. Turn heat down. Add in flour. Stir vigorously with wooden spoon until it forms a smooth paste. Pour in milk slowly while whisking (this is an important step to stop lumps from forming). Turn heat up a bit. Keep whisking until it thickens (this happens around boiling point). Add salt, pepper.

Extras

  • Grated cheese (I used tasty but I think a bit of parmesan and pecorino would work too)
  • Lasagne sheets (I used fresh but dried is okay too)

Assembling and baking

lasagne-ready

Preheat oven to 180c.

In a baking dish (I used a 33 cm by 22 cm), spoon a little bit of the bolognese on the bottom.

Top with one layer of lasagne sheets. Do not overlap. Cut smaller pieces if necessary.

Spread with half the bolognese sauce.

Top with another layer of lasagne sheets.

Spread with all the ricotta and silverbeet.

Top with another layer of lasagne sheets.

Spread with the remainder of the bolognese sauce.

Top with the béchamel and a couple handfuls of grated cheese.

Place a piece of foil over the dish (leave a bit of slack so the cheese doesn’t melt onto the inside top of the foil)

Bake for 20 mins.

Remove the foil.

Bake for another 15-20 mins until lasagne is cooked and golden brown.

lasagne-ready

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More Meatballs

Cast your mind back to my previous could-it-be-the-best-ever meatballs recipe.

Well, this one is easier. Instant meatballs using good quality sausage meat. Another great meatball and pasta recipe.

Spaghetti Meatballs

Spaghetti Meatballs

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Interview With A Smoker (The BBQ Kind That Is)

Inspired by Patrons of the Pit, hubby Dean recently decided he was going to become a master smoker of the BBQ pit as well. His enthusiasm was catching and the next thing I knew, I was on eBay scouring the pages for a Weber Charcoal Kettle BBQ. Within a couple of days, a $38 Weber BBQ had found itself a new home.

It was obviously meant to be as smoking has become an obsession. One weekend without a smoke and he goes into withdrawal. He even has a special smoking flannel jacket.

Of course, the only way to accurately capture his thoughts as he smokes away is to ask him. He has been smoking for a while now but here he talks about his first smoking experience.


Ros:
You now have a wood fired oven, a weber kettle charcoal and smoking BBQ and a weber q gas BBQ. Is there anything else you think you need to complete your outdoor cooking life?
Dino:
More BBQs of course! Is there such a thing as too many? It’s like different colours to a painter – a bit of this a bit of that. They’re just tools and a man can’t have too many tools.

What is your experience with the weber kettle?

I’d imagine it’s like flying an old plane. No fancy stuff – just a lid and two vents. They are temperamental but reliable as hell. Turn your back on it and it’ll steal your beer! I think you should be allowed to wear flying goggles to work one.

What were your first thoughts when you realised the meat was done?

How unbelievably easy and basic it was. Just a man, his vents and the meat! I cut it to see if I had done it correctly and there they were – the infamous smoke rings!! It was akin to taming a great white shark in my mind.

You made your own smoker. How did you go about achieving that?

Well I got the idea from YouTube. It’s basically a bent piece of sheet metal with some holes in it. I like eBay and the like but if I want something I don’t have the patience to wait by the mailbox for 3-7 working days! So I set to making one. I cut, drilled and bent this piece of metal into a sculpture! Well – I had a guy bend it for me. He has a machine that does that so there was instant respect between us – me as artist and him as artisan…

Make your own smoker

Make your own smoker. The special coal lighter he bought didn’t really work so he made his own out of wire mesh! Trial and error the first time. But success in the end.

What would you do differently next time?

Well – Michelangelo I’m sure had no regrets with David. My smoker as a sculpture will be the only one. No regrets – it’s perfect

What will you smoke next?

Any dead animal is fair game. Free range dead animals of course.

Explain the process

It’s more of a state of mind than a process. Low and slow is the rule we smokers follow like disciples. Very low temperature for a looooong time. Light up a few coals – add them to the rest of the coals in the smoker. Add the water and add the meat. Throw on some wood chips and watch the smoke fire up. Then it’s like flying the plane. Turning the vents one way and another to keep the temp as low as possible.

How long did it take to get going, light the coals ready for the meat?

Oh fucken days – it’s like waiting for something off eBay! But I use that time to meditate myself into the place I need to be. In that place you’d be booked for speeding if you were doing 12 miles an hour! It’s a place where eyelid muscles operate independently of your mind.

Smoking jacket

Smoking jacket

How do you ensure the temperature was maintained?

Well there’s no App for that! It’s something you learn and pass on to future generations. Like flying the old plane. You have two vents and that’s it!  Open and close them in different increments and combinations and she swings around like a big ship. The temperature rises and falls and then steadies…maybe! Once she’s steady there is usually eye-lid malfunction.

Can you describe how you felt when you first tasted the meat

Well there’s smoked meat and then there is YOUR smoked meat! One of the proudest moments in your life. Best enjoyed on your own – just the smoke, the meat and you.

Were you pleased with the result?

Was Michelangelo pleased with David? When he stepped back and had a look at the finished thing – it had taken him a few years. There’s a smoker right there – a guy in no rush.  Imagine how many BBQs he had in those couple of years.

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