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Happy winter solstice 2014

Happy solstice to all for tomorrow, and warm thoughts to everyone south of the equator. Tomorrow marks the shortest day of the year for us. Each day will bring us more hours of daylight thereafter: trickling slowly at first and then with increasing speed. This torrent of extra daylight will slow down again in autumn, stopping at summer solstice.

Tomorrow in Canberra it will be 9 hours 46 minutes between sunrise and sunset. By contrast that figure will be 14 hours 32 minutes in 6 months time.

Keep warm all: see you again on a longer day.


More food to die for


From gathered mushrooms to old meat: this is my attempt at sort-of bresaola. I hadn’t heard of it till about 3 weeks ago. It’s air dried cured beef. I picked it in a mixture of salt, special pickling salt containing nitrates, sugar, herbs and spices for about 2 weeks in the fridge. Then a quick bath in wine and balsamic vinegar.


It’s now wrapped in muslin and hanging under the house. It’s really a little warm for this kind of caper: should have been doing this a few months ago over winter. I’m also using the wrong cut of beef: chuck not round. But it’s only a little piece, so if it all goes horribly wrong I’m not throwing out very much. We’ll see in a month or so.

Foraging: a step forward

I’ve taken a step in foraging if only a little one: I’ve eaten a bit of mushroom I found. Not just any old thing: this was a slippery jack.


I went exploring in a pine forest today, with the expectation of encountering interesting fungi to view and photograph. But when I found these, I had to take a few home!


clockwise from bottom left, here is:
-old ammonia test: started pink then turned blue
-whole mushroom
-fresh ammonia test (pink)
-raw slice
-cooked slice (fried in olive oil)

In the interests of caution, I ate precisely one slice. It was pleasant: mushroomy and nutty. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I have many more years of exploring and blogging ahead though.

Edit: 3 days on and I’m still here! I dried the rest of the mushrooms, which has not affected the lemony, almost apricot smell they have. I’ll try a bit more again in a few more days.

Companion planting

This is a post from a while back that didn’t get published at the time.

These days we’re coming to think of our garden as a tiny created ecosystem. I’m now trying to expand what started with companion planting and the chickens to another kingdom: fungi. The idea of foraging for mushrooms is a tempting one, but comes with its dangers. Foraging for spore-bearing mushrooms for companion planting had many of the benefits without the risk!

The ink caps are endemic it seems and grow on decomposing matter. We have a ready supply of decomposing matter in our chicken manure, so I hope to be able to keep a colony supplied. And curiously, structures in the fungus are damaging to nematodes. Nematodes are a natural part of the soil, but some species eat vegetable roots.

We have what appears to be a species of ink cap that grows naturally in the garden:


Using some shaggy manes (I think!) that I found in a garden, I’ve inoculated my garden beds.



Hopefully they’ll flourish and I’ll have a poo-digesting, nematode-busting, soil-stabilising and curiously autodigesting ally in the garden!

Slow and steady

Here’s today’s progress on the laundry:


We’ve started varnishing the bench top in marine grade polyurethane. This is coat number 1 (of 4!) on the underside, so lots to go.

Laundry progress

There’s nothing like putting a 430 mm hole in an expensive bit of wood to get the heart pumping. Lacking a 2 foot wide hole saw, I broke out the jigsaw. But these are notorious for making wobbly, wonky cuts.

Enter the diy jig!


I found a bit of board and popped holes in the right places.


Screwed it to the foot plate of the saw


Screwed the board to the centre point of the hole to be and around we went…


Success! It’s not perfect, but much better than I could have achieved freehand.

This is another testament to the usefulness of a box of screws rescued from an old fax machine:


After sanding, this is the trial fit:


Next step: varnishing.

Autumn rabbits?

This was meant to be an Easter post but circumstances conspired.

This shouldn’t be overly surprising: we don’t celebrate Easter. At least not at the same time as most of the world.

It’s autumn here in Canberra. The days are getting shorter and cooler, and the ground is looking forward to its leafy blanket. It’s harvest time too and we’re enjoying tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, figs, berries and stone fruit.

With chickens moulting, there are few eggs to be found, and I’ve not seen a rabbit in a while. The imagery of spring, so relevant in the northern hemisphere, is seriously out of place here.

But what’s a parent to do when the shops are full of chocolate bunnies and eggs? Even though we can tell our kids that the festivals of the northern hemisphere are six months out of phase here, I wouldn’t want them to miss out on anything tasty! And the point of celebrating the sessions as they happen is not about privation.

Here’s what we’ve done this year. While chocolate spring is in season, we’ve stockpiled it’s gooey bounty for the real, southern hemisphere spring: September. And for right now, we’re celebrating the abundance of autumn with something slightly more seasonal.


Punnet of raspberries, melted chocolate, and some sticks


Drizzle a little chocolate into each raspberry and insert the stick. Pop them in a tin.


It’s fiddly but goes faster than you’d think. Pop them the fridge to set.

Once set, dip in the remaining molten chocolate.


Three-year-old had great fun with this.

I call them “raspberry pops”, but three year old thinks “chocolate raspberries”is more appropriate.

We bought our raspberries this year but hopefully our canes will be established enough next year that we have our own to use.

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