Monday, 25 April 2016

If Life Gives You Pumpkins...


All things in life are relative, relative to the projections, thoughts and ideas we place upon them. We label events as good, bad or in-between according to whatever we're holding in our head at the time. Take pumpkins, for instance. (And we did, although 'take' is a little accusatory; 'help the environment by preventing wastage' is more apt, but more on that later.)

A hike through the bush? Sure, said my sis, albeit a little hesitatingly. She was a bit flat. Me too, but I had two choices: lay in bed into the late morning worrying about life on a beautiful, sunny Sunday or drag my negative butt to something that will kick the blues into oblivion - and that same butt into positive action. 

A hike it was we agreed and a couple of hours later we were in amongst the flora and fauna. Lisa wanted to see a kangaroo and did right away, albeit off in the distance but the posse of three or four roos filled her heart's desire. She also mentioned running out of tomatoes, with the last few late season ones I'd given her a while back leaving a yearning for more.

Our target destination was Greens Bush, a native forest, wildlife haven and the largest remnant of bushland on the Mornington Peninsula (yes, incriminating evidence). Surrounded by farmland (we were soon to discover), Greens Bush was proving to be elusive, a fence between it and us precluding entry. While we walked a dusty, soft-dirt track alongside it hoping for a gateway soon, we noticed little scratchy tracks under the fence (or Lisa, being the environmentalist, did), where kangaroos had slid beneath the fence into the forest. Tempted to follow their lead and enter via a 'kangaroo highway', as coined by Li, we resisted, her ancient wisdom and respect for the land precluding such a violation of the environment. When you're out with Li, you stick to the human highways.

A zucchini! Huh? Random. What was a zucchini doing in the Aussie bush? "If anyone's going to find a zucchini in the middle of nowhere, it's you, sis," she said. She knows me well. The thing is, the discovery of a zucchini (or courgette depending on where you live) in such an unlikely landscape is so much more than the discovery of a sweet, tasty vegetable. It's the instigator of curiosity, questions and imagination, the invitation to a potential mystery, the smell of adventure. Alerted to the possibility of imminent excitement, we crossed through the thick-ish bushland (to our left; Greens Bush was on the right) and were faced with a wide expanse of neatly cultivated, vibrant green farmland - and beyond that the expanse of big blue sea - a heart-kickstarting vision to make the lethargic drag out of bed well justified. 

Edging the farm was a rough tangle of weeds, small bushes and the occasional piece of rubbish. With Italian noses that can sniff out a food source at 500 paces, we ventured further along the farm's outskirts until the telltale tendrils of retiring zucchini plants had our food radars radiating brighter than the over-hanging sun.

A few zucchinis later, we had obviously justified our ownership of them by the nature of their location and the fact that some were enormous, woody and obviously of no interest to the landowner. Yes, rationalisation works wonders. Zucchinis, as you're well aware by now given the pictures, became pumpkins, and became a few large heirloom tomatoes, one ripe, and the others promising tomato (and late-season basil) salads in a week or two. Number two of Lisa's expressed desires fulfilled.

As you well know, pumpkins ain't no wildflowers. They're heavy! With a few returned to the car early on our walk, and poised on a gum tree en route in honour of nature's incongruity, sheer brilliance and versatility, we ventured on, with subsequent findings stashed in little cubby holes we covered with dead branches to obscure them from the view of any other potential hikers who might like to assume ownership of our already claimed booty. We made markers by poking big sticks into path's soft soil, thereby alerting us to their position on our return.

All in all, we collected 12 pumpkins of three different varieties, around 6 zucchinis and the same of tomatoes. While there were more pumpkins to be had, you can only carry so many pumpkins through the bush and my wish is that the remainder drop plenty of seeds and fertislise the soil richly for our return next year. We came home elated.

As it happens, I caught up with a very dear friend the next day. He's one of those special kind of people that you're very lucky to come across in a lifetime. One who warms your heart just by his presence. Wise. Warm. Real. I wish you have a friend like that. He told me that he's heading overseas to meet up with his probable wife and that he bought a one-way ticket. While truly happy that he's so truly happy, I was feeling the pain of this imminent separation strongly. I joked, in my sadness, 'You find a probable wife and I find pumpkins.'

Washing them later, as they still had that rich, giving soil stuck to their bottoms, I felt forlorn, deprived, and sorry for myself, the pumpkins little consolation for my loss. Somehow, as I washed my pumpkins with a mix of hose water and tears, yesterday's exhilarating pumpkins had turned to pig fodder - until I reminded myself, if life gives you pumpkins, make pumpkin soup.

I like pumpkins. 


 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Double, Double, Toil & Tomatoes


I offer this in honour of my Nonnas, and Nonnas the world over, who have collected the garden's produce in their aprons. 

While the fabric differs, the cultural fabric remains the same. 
It clothes how we cook, how we eat, who we are. 
 It demands clean, lean, fresh, ethically sourced food grown, flavoured, prepared and shared with love. 
God bless them.
While they grew maybe two varieties of tomatoes, we grow maybe 20.

However, the need to grow, like the need to breathe, remains the same.
The work and the responsibility to keep up with an abundant harvest and not let any go to waste, but share it, cook it, sauce it, salad it, bottle it, preserve it, also remains the same. 
Tomato sauce courses through our veins and ties our ancestral umbilical cords.

   Shakespeare: Double, double toil and trouble,
                        Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
                       
Fillet of a fenny snake,
                        In the caldron boil and bake.

          
            Nonna: Toil the soil or you're in trouble,
                        Wash the beer bottles and light the fire.
                        Fill with sauce and wrap in newspaper,
                        In the cauldron boil and bake.

                        And do it properly
                        Because I'm watching.
                        And don't worry about rhyming,
                        It's all about timing.

                        The figs need picking,
                        The prickly pears peeling,
                        The chestnuts gathering,
                        The beans shelling,
                        The zucchini plants pulling,
                        And the winter broccoli planting.
                        And hurry up about it
                        Because I'm watching.


Foodliterary Regards,
Julia
















Saturday, 13 February 2016

Gardens Grow More Than Fruit



Inspired by Lakshmi, The Hindu Goddess who emerged from a lotus flower bringing material and spiritual wealth, fortune and abundance, I was inclined to step into the centre of my ginormous zucchini plant and emerge.

Grown from a tiny seed smaller than my pinkie nail, it has grown strong arms, legs and big, wide open hands. With a giving heart at its centre, it has showered me and many others with both flowers and fruit. (Yes, zucchini is a fruit: a type of botanical berry, which is the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower).

Lakshmi, who sits at our solar plexus at our very centre, is all about nourishment, abundance, taking in, giving and receiving with open arms. She is surrender. Sitting at our core, she is our essence, our truest self. She is represented, aptly, by the colour green. With my garden now looking like something from the Land of the Giants, she has clearly been to visit. I am blessed.

Having arisen from a lotus flower, Lakshmi is also a creature of miracles and transformation. The lotus flower grows from mud and murky waters. The dark, earthy water actually nourishes it, makes it stronger, wiser.

No matter how dark, how muddy, how murky our experiences have been, we can grab onto Lakshmi's skirt tails and also arise with a clean, clear, pure heart that's washed of the mud, the murk, the conditioning; a clean, clear, pure and fearless heart that's open to giving and receiving love and that's open to all of the material and spiritual abundance that a loving heart attracts. 

Let us leave the garden gate open for Lakshmi and her unlimited abundance and nourishment, as well as the active energy of her husband Lord Vishnu. Of course, all of their Divine friends and relatives are welcome to enter and join the garden party too.

Foodliterary Regards,
Julia






Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Eat My Flowers


Not one for wasting precious garden space on growing something I can't eat, I've never bothered much with flowers. Yes, pretty. Yes, fragrant. Yes, probably earth's way of smiling, but without a more practical function, like frying, roasting, or braising, it's not just the soil space I can't justify, but the time and energy required to raise these little babies too. 

It's a peasant thing. When you've grown up with parents who grew what they ate in their home country, and much of what they ate in Australia, flowers always took a back seat to beans, broccoli and basil, unless, of course, they were zucchini flowers chopped into a glistening zucchini, potato and noddle soup, finished too with a sweet sprig of the said basil.

So, what possessed me pop a few sunflower seeds in? I've always loved yellow gerberas, none that I've ever grown of course, but their happy, smiling, nodding heads always pushed my sentimental buttons. Sunflowers have the same bright disposition so, after I was given a small packet of seeds at a garden show, I tossed a couple in and, with the busy-ness of life, quickly forgot about them.

Some time later, I couldn't make out 'the weeds' that were growing along the back fence. (Yep, it's been pretty crazy busy of late). Perplexed, I left them in in case they turned out to be something I could munch on. It finally dawned on me once they reached about waist height - and I did a little skip of glee around the garden. I was stoked - or showered with sunflower anticipation. I was being smiled upon indeed.

The results are more than I could have imagined or expected. The sunflowers I've seen usually have one long stem with one flower perched atop. My babies have so many heads, so many flowers, so many buds waiting to bloom with just another good ray or two of summer sun, I'm buzzing like the bees buzzing around my babies with shared excitement. Either these smiles are of a different variety or I'm more blessed that I thought - and I'm running with the latter.

Of course, when I showed my gardener - an elderly Italian from the same village as my parents who basically does the lawns and shares produce and good food stories with me - he gave me a non-plussed, almost confused look. Always polite and forever diplomatic, he searched for his words a bit and then said, "Um... You can eat the seeds of those, can't you?" 

Foodliterary Regards,
Julia 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Bit of Berry Therapy

 
When the world gets 
Too much to bear,
Take to the hills
And pluck berries
In the fresh country air.






 
So we did - on a weekday in the dawning days of the new year when all is supposed to be, as they say, rested, relaxed and rosy. On the contrary, the congealed leftovers of a too busy work year served with an accompaniment of almost losing a loved one and a sticky sauce of family dynamics left us gasping for earth, air and the comfort and perspective they bring - and they did.

The gelling negativity started melting as we played 'I Spy' in the car for replacing thoughts with moment-to-moment presence. It thinned and seeped away as we farm-hopped for the best pickings of cherries, raspberries, plump-as-you-please blackberries and blueberries. It dissipated as we squashed a colourful palette of berries between tongue and palate and licked sticky juice off stickier, purple fingers.

BIG bucket. They must've seen us coming.

It rose from our shoulders like steam from a just-roasted shoulder of lamb as we felt for the ripest, tasted for the sweetest and looked for the largest. It evaporated as we filled the kitchen, our hearts and our stomachs with inventive berry dishes as we struggled to make use of the multitude of multi-coloured berries we over-bought in our excitement.

The heaviness melded into the earth as sugar melded into hot fruit boiling in readiness for jam. Hands wrapped in tea-towels to twist hot lids onto hot jars, we sealed it right out of our jelling jam - tight.


It completely disappeared as we stopped the already busy, new year work schedule and made the time - to simply stop and make jam.

  


Mmm...
Pluck, pluck.
Then we ride back 
To our car on the 
Back of a bumpy truck.







Sweet As

Foodliterary Regards,
Julia

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Anyone for Food Literature, Food Lit, Foodlit or Food-Lit?

Call it, spell it, space it or hyphenate it as you will, but what exactly is it? And does anyone really care?

Yes, I care. I care because I love food and I love literature. I'm enchanted by food’s power to bring joy, unite people, connect them to the earth, and define and sustain cultures. I'm also enchanted by literature's power to deeply move people and inspire. When food and meaningful language are entwined across the page, I am enthralled. When I'm the one entwining them, I'm enraptured.

While a proliferation of food writing is being penned or key-stroked these days, respectively little of it falls into the genre of food literature, otherwise known as 'food lit' from here on. The literary aspect largely confines food lit to substantial works of fiction or non fiction, the most exquisite example of the latter I've been privileged enough to read being famous Chilean author Isabel Allende's Aphrodite; A Memoir of the Senses. So taken by its playful, hilarious, yet wise and informed approach to aphrodisiacs, I had to review it. You can read the review, Love, Lust & Aphrodisiac Stew, on Allende's website. (Just scroll down to the last review, published, along with many other works, under my earlier name, Julia Hebaiter.)

As for food lit in fiction, food is either a central theme (as in Like Water for Chocolate, Babette's Feast, The Magic Pudding, the debaucherously riveting La Grande Bouffe, etc) or plays a significant role somewhere in the narrative (the three witches' infamous recipe for spell-casting in Macbeth and the strawberry-picking picnic in Jane Austen's Emma.)     


Rather than launch into a detailed, high-brow definition of food lit (and who needs it; this life, at least, is short), I also aim to maintain a literary element to my posts. Yes, it can be achieved in shorter than book length pieces. So, what does that mean?

In my blog you'll discover:
Earthy,
Often funny
Food adventures,
Experiences
And stories
For the love
Of good food,
The land
And inspired
Food language.

You will NOT find:

- Umpteen recipes (and, God knows, who has time to make them?)
- Glossy food-porn images to salivate over
- Restaurant reviews, unless an   
  experience has blown me away
- Anything that's 'trending'
- Anything glam, except for what nature herself kindly offers. In my world, this crimson-flowering broad bean plant, together with its cousins, made a pretty glam statement in my garden this spring. By the way, according to a broad bean grower at the Mulgrave Farmers' Market, broad beans should be planted quite cosied in to next to each other because, "They're like the Lebanese. They love their cousins!"



You will also find dirt (under my nails), simple food art, like my loquat Xmas tree (did you know loquats are the first stonefruit of the season?) and my dehydrating kiwi fruit mandela. You'll also find quirky quotes, ridiculous stories and images of the diverse range of produce I glean from the local neighbourhood, some legally and some stealthily.

So, am I a thief, I hear you ask? To find out, and don't let the title fool you, you'll need to read an excerpt from my Stolen Fruit Tastes Better, published in Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture. 

You should also expect fun, frolicking adventures in food, whether in my kitchen or garden, on a cycling food tour, at food events and festivals, at farm gates, at farmers' markets, or wherever is rocking my food world at the time - and I do get around to some pretty fabulous places. If you like, take a look at these four pages of fab places for starters. 

Warning: Being conventional bores me to banality and back. We weren't born to be sheep; we were born creative, unique individuals with unique voices. Sameness has me wanting to chew my own arm off when I'd rather be chewing a juicy, well-marinated, slow-cooked spare rib. My food lit blog is where I play, be free and lift the lid on traditional food writing. It's where my wild child will sometimes emerge, occasionally run rampant, let loose, get cheeky and revel in some food frolics. If you're expecting a conventional food blog, don't.

In inviting you to play and be free with me, I hope it rocks your food world too.
And, just for the record, 'literature', according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, refers to 'writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features...'

In short, they go beyond a recipe or restaurant review ('not that there's anything wrong with that') by speaking not just to our tastebuds and other senses, but to our imagination, our creativity, our connection to each other and the land, our universality, and our experience as human beings.

Foodliterary Regards,
Julia