The days are lengthening, which means July saw the change from true winter, with its frosts and even occasional snow, to what I call “first spring”. That’s the season recognised in the six-season indigenous calendar by the wattle blooming and the birds going a bit nuts. The mulch-obsessed blackbirds are starting to rip up my garden again, and though I’ll be infuriated by them soon enough, right now I’m glad of the signs of impending warmth.
Technically it snowed here. Just.
Frost on thyme in my herb garden
Wintry holly in a neighbour’s garden
Wattle blooming over a neighbour’s fence
At the end of last month, just after I’d made my monthly roundup post, my friend Maia came back to Melbourne (she’s been working overseas) and managed to get up this way for a day’s mushrooming. She brought two friends, one of whom is a professional mycologist – bonus! We gathered a lot of saffron milkcaps, and learned a lot about other kinds of fungus.
One of the other fungi we saw was the turkey-tail fungus, which is used in herbal medicine as an immune booster. I brought some home and made an attempt to propagate it onto the fungus-friendly stump in my backyard (seen above with snow on it), so I guess we’ll see next year if that worked.
Alison and Maia, mushrooming
A basket of saffron milkcaps
Saffron milkcaps, close up
Turkey tail fungus is used to support the immune system
Here is a guide to the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, in the form of a downloadable booklet. It contains most of the advice I’ve been sharing with people for the past few years, whenever I give them some of my starter.
This sourdough guide contains:
How to store your starter
How to feed your starter
An easy method to make a basic loaf of bread
Scheduling/timing for making bread in winter and summer
Plastic free July is in progress. France bans plastic shopping bags, across the whole country. “Each of those 17 billion plastic bags [used in France each year] takes several hundred years to biodegrade.”
The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery had “offal” as its theme this year. As well as following all the tweets about duck tongues and liver divination, there’s this interesting article on their site: Who ever heard of vegetable offal? Indian recipes for spiced cauliflower stems and stir-fried potato peel.
It’s been a busy month. I launched Eat Local Ballarat, which meant I spent a lot of the month blogging and talking to people about that. Lots of coffees and phone calls and visits to local food vendors, and last Saturday a jaunt on the #3 bus to Creswick to survey the local food scene there. I’ve included some pics of the food and people I discovered there.
But with all the things going on this month, I started to feel like I was losing track of my time, spending too much of it in a flap or else wasting it to no good effect. I sat down and had a good hard think about how I wanted to be spending the hours in each day, to find room for self-care, creative projects, home cooked meals, and other things that matter.
Eat Local Ballarat website
Danny from Danny’s Farm at Blampied
Local produce in Creswick’s high street
Charlie from Zed & Co Free Range Farm
It’s good to have a plan, even if I don’t follow it
Launching Eat Local Ballarat made me refocus and recommit to eating more local food, which has been challenging and rewarding. I’d been taking the easy route on a few things, but I’m trying harder at present, and very grateful that I have the wherewithal to do so.
A surprising amount of my local, seasonal menu has been homegrown pumpkin in its many forms. The spaghetti squash from Spring Creek Organics has also been great, like all their winter veg.
Pumpkins on the back porch
Pumpkin and rosemary sourdough bread
Wonderful spaghetti squash
Creamed mushroom and spinach over spaghetti squash
Gorgeous winter veg from the farmers market
The garden’s a mess, but I think it’s a beautiful one, and it’s still feeding me – mostly greens of various types, including edible so-called weeds like nettles and chickweed.
the messy, but still productive garden
lettuce about to go to seed
sunset over kale, on one of the coldest days so far
chickweed is great in salads
I call this the rocket launch pad
fungus growing on a tree stump in the chard patch
the fennel is growing slowly but surely
There’s been a lot of baking. My sourdough loaves have leveled up since I started using a banneton (proofing basket) a couple of months ago. I’m sure it also helped that I started using a different flour with a lot more character: stone-ground, sifted wheat flour from Powlett Hill in Campbelltown, not far from here. It has a gorgeous golden colour and actually tastes like something!
Most weeks I make one plain batard and one other breadlike thing, like the pumpkin and rosemary bread shown above or the leek and olive focaccia in the pics below.
June has seen a lot of fermented vegetables, using my new-to-me stomping stick to pound my cabbage for kimchi to release its juices. I picked up my stick up at a local antique store. The owner hand-wrote me a receipt describing it as a “food processor”, which I found charming.
My shaping and slashing is getting better.
Sourdough focaccia with local leeks and olives.
Kimchi in the making.
The stomping stick, aka food processor
I finished a few knitting projects this month, and even remembered to take photos. As well as what’s shown here there were two woolly hats, one of which you can see in a selfie below.
I also grabbed a pic of my red winter dressing gown, made from boiled wool to a pattern of my own design. I finished it months ago but I’ve only started wearing it recently as the mornings have been cold enough to warrant it.
A striped cowl cast on at the pub craft night
This year’s first pair of socks
Boiled wool dressing gown
Despite the chill, I’ve been getting out quite regularly on Clyde (my bike), though I’ve switched to walking to my part-time office job instead of riding, as the evening commute, with the sun setting and wet roads, doesn’t feel safe to me.
I’ve been involved in a lot of public transport advocacy, attending a PTV workshop about Ballarat’s new bus routes and attending the inaugural meeting of Ballarat’s branch of the Public Transport Users Association.
Me and Clyde head to the Food is Free Laneway
Gratuitous bus stop selfie (with new hat)
There have been other meetings as well, like the Food Is Free Laneway volunteers committee I joined. I’m glad to have been able to offer my living room as a meeting space, and I’m looking forward to hosting a FIFL volunteers potluck soon.
On Friday night – a suitably chilly, snowy one – I invited local friends round to observe the solstice with “Cosyfest”, a night of board games and mulled wine. Just before sunset I lit a candle and placed it on the front porch to welcome them.
We were too busy being cosy to take any photos of Cosyfest itself, but good food was eaten, wine was drunk, and Settlers of Catan was played.
And so onward into July! The days are lengthening, but there’s still plenty of winter ahead.
How can we turn environmental and economic crises into an opportunity for a better life?
That’s the question behind a documentary that I watched a couple of weeks ago. “A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity“, directed by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander, follows a group of Australians as they build and live in a small community called Wurruk’an in Gippsland (south-western Victoria).
They build tiny houses and communal spaces from recycled materials, grow their own food, share skills, and struggle with community dynamics.
Scattered throughout the film, providing context to the on-the-ground experiences of the Wurruk’an community, there are also interviews with luminaries about simple living, energy descent, and permaculture.
I had a few reservations about the film, especially how it glossed over some of the more difficult areas. I would have liked to see more detail about the disagreements that ended in some people leaving the community. I would also have appreciated some recognition that the community was heavily dependent on fossil fuel transport, and hear some ideas about how they could live in a regional area, sourcing recycled building materials and bulk foods, and bringing in crowds of people to help with building projects, without depending on cars and vans.
That said, I found the movie thought-provoking and inspiring. It certainly gave me a kick in the pants to reconsider my own lifestyle, and how I can continue to bring it more in line with how I want to live.
For some time I’ve been meaning to sublet my spare rooms. One of the least sustainable parts of my life – both economically and in terms of energy and materials use – is that I live in a three-bedroom house all by myself. The time has come to change that, by finding others who want to share this space and this way of living. “A Simpler Way” helped me get over my fear of the difficulties involved in that, and to realise the urgency of doing so.
I hope “A Simpler Way” spurs others to action, too. With around 45,000 views on Youtube already, it has great potential for inspiring change. I highly recommend watching it, or even better, getting a group of people together for a viewing and discussion. The film is available on Youtube, or you can download a copy (at whatever price you choose) from Happen Films.