On this awfully sad day, at the end of a sad week, it was perhaps not the best moment to finally read the last chapters of Seven Little Australians to my biggest Peanut. I cried so much when Judy died, I had to keep wiping my face on my dress, and I kept thinking about all the children – in Pakistan, in Queensland, the three left motherless in Sydney… I’m moved by the outpouring of love in Sydney expressed by that sea of flowers, I love #illridewithyou but I’m heartsick so this week, rocked by the fact that so much suffering has been enacted on children.
It was a good day to come across a TED Radio Hour special on compassion, and particularly these words from Krista Tippet, host of the podcast ‘On Meaning’.
Compassion is a core virtue that has within it a lot of the other virtues. It’s a really central lens on what it looks like to lead a worthy life, with gracefulness and purpose and a sense of meaning. Compassion is kind, and kindness is a kind of everyday byproduct of all the great virtues. And it is a most edifying form of instant gratification.
Compassion is also curious. It cultivates and practices curiosity. Compassion can be synonymous with empathy. It can be joined with the harder work of forgiveness and reconciiation,m but it can also express itself oin the simple act of presence. It’s linked to practical virtues like generosity and hospitality too. And to just being there. Just showing up.
My best to you this week. May we all exercise our kindness muscles until they hurt.
Krista’s Ted talk is contained within the full TED podcast here.
We’re back in real life after some excellent days out of internet and mobile range. I’ve got some more I’d love to write about Tasmania, but right now, there are several hundred loads of laundry to do.
We camped on Bruny Island (possibly my new favourite place in the world) and it took me right back to my childhood. I can still smell the smoke in my hair, and I have fond memories of setting up ‘Mums Bruny Island Spa’ on a tree trunk: a bowl of warm water, a washer and a bar of soap. I scrubbed all the children’s faces and hands – their filthy feet were beyond recovery- and then I smoothed moisturiser on all their delicious little faces.
Sometimes the beauty of motherhood coalesces into little moments like these, almost tangible in their sweetness, that stick in your memory. It feels even more poignant this week, after the utterly tragic death of mum-of-three Katrina Dawson.
I remembered this piece I wrote for a newspaper a couple of years ago, and I wanted to share it again with you. It’s dedicated to my beloved dad Frank, and his struggle to get his bloody ratbag kids to hold the tent poles.
For a decade of my childhood, my family spent every January at the caravan park at Narrabeen Lakes, even though we lived only half an hour inland in the Sydney suburbs. When I was a young adult I found this hilarious and bizarre, but now I have three small children, the logic of the plan seems entirely clear. A swift escape home from a tent stuffed full of fighting, farting children: sheer brilliance.
I remember constant packing and unpacking, the smell of sausages and sunscreen, and the misery of setting up camp, with my father shouting as his three children sulkily held tent poles upside down or dropped them at inopportune moments. ‘Hold it! Just hold it! What is the bloody matter with you kids?’
I remember the orange tent with three rooms. It was very complicated to erect. We dropped a lot of poles and pegs and my dad would need the afternoon to recover, sleeping on a banana lounge outside the annex with a Jeffrey Archer novel over his face.
Two rooms in the tent were for sleeping, and they were jammed full of canvas stretchers and damp pillows and overflowing suitcases. The outer room held the esky and the zippered pantry (full of Coco Pops and long-life milk), bikes and boogie boards and fishing poles, and the dustpan and broom with which my mother tried hopelessly to stem the tide of sand.
One night, it rained so mercilessly that by morning, water covered the floor. It had soaked the Hypercolour t-shirts and the Okanui shorts and the Coco Pops and the Jeffrey Archer novels. Everything was wet and my dad was too miserable to shout. There was nothing for it but to pack up every last sodden, squeaky item, load them into the Tarago and head for home, just half an hour away. There we found a hot shower, a washing machine and a room where each separate member of the family could be blessedly, delightfully alone.
And when the sun came back out, we went camping again.
Disclosure: I attended this walking tour as a guest of Gourmania, but all opinions are my own.
If you are a food-lover, as I am, and a mother, as I am, and currently on an extended stay with the family in Tasmania, as I am, then you will understand the joy I felt in my heart when I trotted off recently to join a child-free food safari of downtown Hobart.
This is Mary McNeill.
Good face, yes? Mary – former pastrychef, native Tasmanian – is the owner of Gourmania, a walking/eating tour company that takes small groups around Hobart. Mary is full of tales that bring the locavore, artisanal Tasmanian food scene to life. She knows all the producers and retailers by name, and listening in as she chats to the butcher or the winemaker is like being ringside for some sort of ‘in-conversation’ event about food: seriously fun, if you like that sort of thing.
Armed with bottles of Cape Grim water (from the cleanest source on the planet, Mary tell us) our small group in sensible shoes starts the tour at Tassal Salmon, where we taste three incarnations of Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon. (The farming of this salmon in freshwater tanks is the industry that saved the Huon Valley economy when the apple industry collapsed. Thanks for all the fish, indeed.)
The salmon: gorgeous. And the shop, a wonderland of fishy accoutrements that we had no time to explore. The tour was on the move up the road to the Wursthaus Kitchen.
This shop, packed to the gills with meats and cheeses (and featuring an in-house butcher) is a charcurterie-lovers dream (and vegans nightmare.)
We try the most amazing Australian wagyu beef from Robbin Island (up near Cape Grim of the ‘clean water’ fame). The cattle are grass fed on sand dune vegetation between two pristine white-sand islands on the far northwest coast. The beef: marbled and meltingly delicious. We didn’t try the wallaby – an ‘acquired taste’, Mary says carefully.
We taste some cheese, including a raclette that recently won Best Cheese in Australia. Shamefully, I cannot read the name of it. This may have been the point where I start dribbling on my notes?
Next stop, Jackman and Ross Bakery, who win my heart forever with their automatic double-shot policy and their flaky pastry, then onto Takagi Sushi, where the sushi is lovely and fresh, but my stomach contents are starting perhaps to fight a little with each other. It’s time to undo my top button. I make the mistake of winking at one of my fellow food-tourists as I do it, and she looks at me askance. Read that one wrong. Note to self, etc.
Not to worry: walk it off: both the awkwardness, and the pastry/sushi combo! Past funky Criterion Street and into Cool Wine, where it’s time to taste a selection of Tasmanian wines. Mary is impressive again at the wine shop. ‘Stewed pear, is it?’ she muses with the owner. ‘I’m almost getting a sweet candy at the end.’ I nod in agreement. ‘Very…drinkable!’ I offer. I enjoy myself sniffing and inspecting the glass like a proper grown-up. The wines are good, and so are the tales of eccentric winemakers.
Revived, we head up to Spice World, a Hobart institution where we sniff some lovely evocative boxes and eat a good cinnamon scroll – not too sweet; perfect.
It’s hard to keep up with Mary at times. There is a real sense of energy around the Hobart food scene – restaurants and specialty stores opening and thriving. ’Best poached eggs in Hobart!’ Mary throws off as we pass Betsey. ‘Fabulous whiskey, ‘ she advises as we pass the Lark Distillery. I’m trying to remember where we are, to take notes, but I’m full of wine and butter, the sun is shining, and I just let it all wash over me. I couldn’t be much happier.
Time for a bite at the Brunswick St Hotel, which started life as a sly grog shop in 1832, but was a rundown old lady until its renovation by three Melbourne boys some years ago.The renovation – all 30′s lead-lights and convict brickwork – is gorgeous. We taste a Pirates Bay calamari and chorizo dish; served with more great stories about the provenance of the food.
Next, we’re treated to a cheese (and honey) tasting session at the Bruny Island Cheese shop which occupies a sweet corner of the historic sandstone Salamanca Arts Centre. (No Matthew Evans sighting, but they do stock his Fat Pig ham.)
Last stop: Smolt in Salamanca Square for Earl Grey ice cream and a final story from Mary: this restaurant and bakery is where the French Antarctic Mission stock up on their Ciabatta bread every year. To finish, an exquisite pair of hand-made chocolates from the Cats Tongue chocolatier in Huonville.
It’s the end of our four-hour tour and I’m full; both of good food and of interesting tales about the Tasmanian artisanal food industry. This tour has given me a real insight into the passionate attachment that Tasmanian makers and growers have to their way of life. It’snot only fascinating, it’s inspiring, and it’s wonderful to observe in this way.
If you love a bit of history with your food, and own a pair of sensible shoes, then a Gourmania tour is a fantastic way to spend a morning in Hobart. More details here.
PS – It’s been a very food-centric few weeks for me in Tasmania. Deliciously so. One more review to come: the Agrarian Kitchen School, and that’s it for the sponsored Tasmania posts. ( Can’t promise to stop talking about the food though…!)
It does feel kind of fitting to be posting this column after spending some time with the Cloaca Professional, aka ‘poo-machine’, at MONA yesterday. Even on a nice day out- whoomp, there’s the poo.
This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, Dec 2014
The thing about becoming a new mother is that no matter how many books you read and how many message boards you scour, you can never be truly prepared. Parenthood completely changes your life, in ways big and small.
One of the things I had not predicted was that I would become a poo inspector. A poo expert. A ‘poo-melier’, if you will. From those early encounters with meconium – that weird first baby poo that looks like Vegemite and sticks like Superglue – faeces have been a daily, if not hourly, feature of my life. The glamour! Oh, the glamour.
Apart from the usual newborn poo-explosions, including one that memorably sprayed my front like a scatter-gun, there was a terrible incident that involved a three-inch long, half-digested piece of dried mango that I had to slowly extract from the baby, like a clown theatrically drawing a coloured scarf from his mouth. And of course, with three kids, I’ve spent a lot of time toilet training. My biggest girl liked to poo in corners to see ‘what it looked like’, and my middle kid T-Bone was often so deep in thought that he missed all the warning signs. Once he once announced to a large gathering ‘My bum is doing something…’ before a foul odour penetrated the throng and we were all forced to vacate the room.
My smallest loved the thrill of new bathrooms so much that every time we were in a supermarket or shopping centre she would announce ‘I haffa poo Mama!’ It’s dicing with the universe to call a toddlers bluff on this one, so I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out by the toilet with a trolley full of groceries as little Pudding happily perched on an exciting new throne and assured me ‘I sink it’s coming soon Mama…’
My husband Keith and I have gotten used to the emergency call ‘Code Brown!’ Like superhero bottom-specialists, we move into a swift, well-honed routine. One fetches baby wipes while the other peels soiled garments off a child with the patented Fold n’ Contain poo-management system.
Once, we’ve repaired a severe poo emergency on a train bathroom with no water and a floor so disgusting that no part of it was safe to touch. As the train lurched about, we stripped, cleaned and changed our child in a wordless, smoothly choreographed routine honed over years of co-parenting. It was, in fact, a very romantic moment. (That’s marriage with kids – even the romance involves poo.)
The thing is, the whole ‘public poo’ business reflects all of life with small children. There is no privacy. There is no line between ‘Mum’ and ‘me’ for little ones. Your kids see you, everything to do with you, and (beg pardon) everything that comes out of you, as their territory, and their business.
Now, my kids are seven, six and three, and I feel that intense merging beginning to lessen as they strike out, every day, further into the privacy and mystery of their own lives. They can handle their own toileting, mostly, and I can take some space back for my own. I find myself holding a stronger line. Get out! I tell them. Give me some peace! I’m on the toilet! One day the whole family might even function with a lifestyle in which pooing is a private business conducted alone, and discussed with nobody except, perhaps, a caring GP, should questions arise. Until then, I’ll continue my work as Chief Poo Inspector.
For those of you wondering, it’s sort of half-work, half-play over here. We’re staying in a little house in Hobart with a bungalow out the back, where for four days of the work week, Keith trots off to do his solar cell physics software thing while I manage life with childrens.
He’s going fine in his new little office. In fact, we had some beautiful weather a few days ago (it all seems to have disappeared in the mist now) and he was tinkering away at his laptop, when the neighbor wandered out to do some gardening, unaware (or perhaps entirely aware, who knows?) that the window of Keith’s little bungalow looked out over her otherwise private backyard. (The gardens here in Hobart are amazing, by the way. Flowers for days.) All as normal, except that she had forgotten to put her top on. Keith quite lost his train of thought for a few moments as she wandered about pruning the rosebushes. But then she went inside and he was able to turn his mind back to science.
That is, until she returned. Completely starkers! Nude as the day she was born! She pottered about like that for a while. It’s true that the garden is very impressive, and perhaps, like Prince Charles talking to his organic broad beans so that they grew strong, the nudity is the magic. Could the gentle pressure of her naked form, or the occasional spray of light perspiration, be the key to all those wonderful flowers? Is it possible that all these fecund cold-climate gardens are due to naked Tasmanians? I never saw Peter Cundall with his kit off, but perhaps it’s just a Tasmanian secret, like all the relatives with the extra heads?
On the whole it was perhaps the single greatest moment of Keith’s working life.
Disclosure: I attended this course as guest of the Wildside Kitchen, but all opinions are my own.
Some twenty-something (ahem) years ago, my sister did a course at catering college. Amongst other tricks, she learnt the French technique for proper onion-chopping. It’s called a ‘brunois’ and it looks like this:
Thank you, internet. So helpful. Anyway, Sam taught it to me and ever since, I’ve been dicing my onions real professional like. But that brunois lesson was the last time I had any training from a proper chef, other than the one-sided cooking-show relationships I have with Manu and Pete and Colin and George.
That is until I spent the day with Head Chef Michael Ross from the Wildside Kitchen, learning how to do a full Christmas lunch, starting with the pickled peaches, progressing through the pork and passing out – with post-prandial pleasure – after the plum pudding. (I’ll stop that now.)
This class was great fun. We cooked all morning, we ate a big lunch, and I carted a towering pile of Tupperware containers back to our house to share with the family for dinner. Merry Christmas to us, alright! And a happy new year.
(‘Why are you making that face?’ asked my eight year old. ‘I don’t know,’ I had to tell her. ‘It’s just my face.’)
The Wildside Kitchen runs a number of cooking courses (French and bread-making, among others) but the one I attended was designed to take amateur cooks right through a Christmas lunch menu. Now, I’m a creature of habit. I will likely cook this menu for the rest of my life, so if you’re reading this, family, I really hope you like macadamia nuts.
Watching a professional chef at work is quite thrilling. They chop very fast,and they juggle numerous boiling and simmering things. It’s like a circus for foodies. Michael taught us how to debone a turkey and how to French the bones of a pork roast, and he kindly answered all the questions I had been saving for just this opportunity.
I picked up a couple of great tips to add to my single ‘brunois’ kitchen skill. For instance: you might make chicken stock, like I do, using the carcass of the bird every time you make a roast. Well Michael blew my mind when he taught me how to make a jus. He prepped the carcasses in the same way I would for stock: a pile of bones,some carrot, onion, bay leaf, but then instead of filling the pot with cold water, he added just 1/2 litre or so of chicken stock, then let it all bubble away for a couple of hours on the stove, until it melted down into a reduced, gorgeous sauce. He strained it out, stirred an obscene amount of butter through it, and voila: the most delicious jus. Totally freezable (before the butter step), and ready for gravy the next roast around. I loved it.
At the end of our mornings cooking, a delicious feast. I’m planning to try and recreate the whole menu for Christmas lunch in a month’s time. Will I present something this wonderful? I’ll keep you posted. I think plying everybody with wine might make up the skill shortfall.
In the meantime, here’s Michael’s roast pork with stuffing, simply sublime to eat.
Macadamia Nut Stuffed Port Rack
I pork rack
300g macadamia nuts
100g pork mince
Clean pork rack and score skin. (Michael also spent a good amount of time cleaning and scraping the rib bones.)
Chop macadamia nuts and diced onions, sweat onion off in a pan then add the macadamia nuts and lightly toast. Add breadcrumbs, pork mince and herbs, then season to taste. Cut a hole next to the bone on the pork rack and fill with stuffing, adding some whole prunes as you go.
Put into oven and roast on 220 for 30 mins then reduce temperature to 180 degrees for one hour.
Disclosure: The family spent the weekend as guests of Tarraleah, but all opinions are my own.
In the central highlands of Tasmania; halfway between Hobart and the wilder west coast draws of Strahan and the Franklin River, there is a little town called Tarraleah. We stayed there this weekend so I could attend a Christmas cooking course at their Wildside Cooking School (more on this tomorrow.)
Tarraleah was a bustling hydro-electric village in the 20′s and 30′s, then a virtual ghost town until it was bought up in 2006 and renovated into a quirky wilderness resort with resident highland cattle and a Pleasantville-esque string of gorgeously restored 1920′s cottages. We stayed in the Superintendents Cottage, a beautiful house, built on a grand scale and full of ghosts but not the smell of ghosts, if you know what I mean. (Great for those with sinus or allergy issues.)
The two littles loved sharing a room and judging from the hidden evidence discovered in the eight year old’s queen-bed suite, Peanut spent the weekend luxuriously reading Jeffrey Archer short stories and eating sugar packets. Oh joy! That’s about as good as life gets, no?
I adored this sun drenched breakfast room where we ate all our meals. We had such nice weather that there was no chance to use the fireplace, but it does snow at Tarraleah.
The houses are decorated with a lovely eye for detail, but there was nothing delicate or fragile – nothing that we had to keep safe from the kids, who are in a big Hide and Seek phase.
A piano, a lovely long hall made for chasings, and a good bath down the end. Hello Pudding! Wash your ears!
There is neither mobile phone nor Internet access at Tarraleah village, which all adds to the retro charm of the place. I fact (set your nerd alarms…..NOW!) Keith, Peanut and I all spent some good hours engrossed in the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica. Later we watched an Indiana Jones movie together, and Keith took the kids spotlighting with a torch (where they saw wallabies and possums and got thrillingly close to a creature that turned out to be a beer can on a rock.)
In fact we saw a number of creatures on this trip. Driving into town we had to slow for a pair of chickens crossing the road (a great chance for Peanut and I to shout ‘But why! Why! Tell us and solve the conundrum forever!’ out the window) and at Tarraleah, apart from the resident Highland cattle, we had a kangaroo – with joey! – who liked to hang around outside our windows.
On Saturday night, we spent an hour soaking in our undies in the hot tub that overlooks the cliffs below. It’s beautiful – not perhaps, as relaxing as it might be for a couple celebrating their anniversary with a nice bottle of Tasmanian champagne, what with the three small children we had sharing the spa with us. Also, getting dressed later was a little fraught as we tried to contain our boisterous brood so as not to disturb the quiet massages going on in the rooms around us. In the melee, Keith left his underpants behind. Not just any undies, he says, oh no: a lucky soccer pair. He wanted me to enquire about them at the front desk as I checked out, any maybe, if I could work it in, mention that he scored seven goals while wearing them.
But friends, in my thank-yous to the lovely Kirsty at reception the next morning, as I returned the spotlighting torch, the Indiana Jones DVD and the house keys, I could not bring myself to mention the underpants.In short, I think I can sum it up our visit to Tarraleah by paraphrasing that classic tourism proverb:
‘Take nothing but a Tupperware container full of insanely good turkey roulade*. Leave nothing but a pair of lucky underpants.’
A few articles and essays on motherhood that I’ve loved recently:
1. Helen Garner meets with Rosie Batty, Victorian Australian Of The Year and domestic violence campaigner, whose young son was killed so horribly last February. Helen Garner, a writer I adore, has a magical gift of zoning in on the small, quiet details.
The architecture of Rosie Batty’s face may be monumental, but the air around her is so clear that one can ask her anything.
2. ‘This Is Fourteen‘: Catherine Newman’s gorgeous contribution to the ‘This Is Adolescence’ essay series.
Coming in from his monthly lawn mowing, Fourteen manages to communicate more overheatedness than a supernova. He flops on the couch, conspicuously fanning himself, and asks, breathless and, it would appear, having a small stroke, if you wouldn’t mind getting him a glass of ice water. You bring him the water, then can’t help yourself. “Fourteen,” you say, “it’s, like, ten square feet of mowing. I think you’ll be okay.” “You’re welcome,” Fourteen says. You’d love to stay and argue, but you have to rush out and buy him pants, pants, and more pants. The getting of pants is your new full-time job. If you listen hard in the night, you can hear his legs growing.
Speaking of the night: Fourteen no longer looks like a baby while he sleeps. For years, even as his limbs stretched and dangled, his dreaming face regressed to the contours of infancy: downy cheeks, pearl of nose, the pink, pouched lips of a nursling. But now that it’s been kiln-fired, the face has taken this opportunity to chisel out its jutting new edges: brow and jaw, nose and chin. Like a Neanderthal crossed with a peach.
It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.
So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish humor and capacity for talking about whatever Gus’s current obsession is for hour after hour after bleeding hour?
Are you Mumming it up out there tonight? More power to you.
T-Bone: Come on, let’s play poos and wees.
Peanut – Oh my god, that’s the worst game ever.
Pudding – Please don’t be afraid.
T-Bone lost half his dessert for pulling down his pants in the fancy grocer and shouting’Look at ma penis! Look at ma balls!’ His sisters thought this was champagne comedy but I yanked up his pants and hissed, without thinking, ’What are you, a savage?’ It seems that all this Tasmanian history is making me come over all colonial.
They are still having a blast playing with the dog flap.
As for me, I confess I am hormonal in Hobart.
Yesterday was not a happy day.
I racked up $300 in parking fines before figuring out that the random yellow lines on the road that seem to appear with no particular purpose mean ‘No Standing.’ The DVD player broke, the washing machine broke, the TV signal died, my phone died and I’m not even kidding, the clasp of my bra broke in the supermarket parking lot.
I felt the sticky soporific slow-moving blood of the pre-menstrual female human in my veins. Tired, grumpy, achy. I think the evil powers of PMT worked on the energy around me and sent everything batshit crazy.
Today, I went to visit Mel from Coal Valley View who lives on a farm just outside Hobart. It was such great fun to sit and discuss the strange world of blogging with another blogger. It’s hard to describe to a civilian. Mel made a pavlova for morning tea and then took us down to her strawberry patch where the kids and I picked boxes and boxes of the most massive, delicious berries. She was so lovely.
Along with the strawberries, I stole this pic of the strawberry field from Mel’s blog:
More gorgeous photography and stories of life in Tasmania from Mel over here.
As for me, I think the fresh air and farm life cured me a little. Also, complaining is so restorative to the system.