There’s someone living in my kitchen …

There’s someone living in my kitchen.

She tucks herself away at the back of the countertop.

She’s shy and unassuming (so no photos).

She burps a lot.

And farts.

I met her about seven weeks ago. Well, I didn’t really meet her. I made her. Just as Doctor Frankenstein created his monster, I created my kitchen creature. And I named her Frankie. (Get it?)

Every day I feed Frankie her special diet – flour and water – and she springs to life, bubbling and blurping. She’s inveigled her way into my heart and into our lives.

I talk about Frankie a lot. How much I love her. How she’s changed my life. Did I mention that I made her? From scratch?

You see, Frankie is my sour dough starter – a living culture who occupies a pretty vintage Pyrex bowl beneath a diaphanous veil of cling wrap, tucked away in a corner of the kitchen countertop, well away from the busy-ness of the “work triangle.”

Frankie likes to keep to herself and you’d almost not know she was there.

But for the daily feeding.

And the burping and farting.

Frankie comes into her own on baking day. So far, she’s breathed life into sour dough loaves, semolina loaves, fruit bread, olive bread and ciabatta rolls. She’s been a whole-of-family hit in tray-sized slabs of pizza draped in home-made pesto, thin-sliced potato and thyme.

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She’s turned out to be quite the versatile gal.

I love Frankie but every now and then, we tire of one another. I notice the kitchen is veiled in a fine layer of flour, that the oven has been blaring for days on end and that my baking apron seriously needs a good wash.

So I tell Frankie it’s not her, it’s me – and quietly pop her into the fridge. In a few hours she settles down, stops her bubbling and plopping. She simply goes to sleep. She’s like a hibernating bear … a placid, tiny and cute bear, snoozing in the fridge behind the zucchini pickles.

It’s inevitable. After four or five days, I’m missing Frankie like mad. I lift her out into the warmth of the kitchen and feed her a daily ration of flour and water. Within an hour or two, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, she gives up a tiny burp and a fizzle of mini-bubbles. She’s awake and we take up where we left off. All is good with the world.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Frankie and me but I’ve heard of sour dough cultures that are decades (even centuries) old. There’s a good chance that Frankie will outlive me and that just doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, for now, we’re taking things one day at a time and just seeing where life leads us.

No pressure.

No big plans.

My kitchen creature and I are living in the moment.

 

 

** Special thanks to a couple of brilliant Tassie bloggers, Alex at Hello from Tassie and Holli from Twins, plus one for inspiration and instructions on creating and caring for Frankie. Without you, we’d be nothing. :)

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Upcycled tissue box gift tags

Being fifty-something, I’m obsessed with interested in bringing new life to old things. I get fidgety about turfing stuff off to landfill when it still has some practical use.

Recently, I’ve been eyeing off tissue boxes and been amazed at the design work that goes into making them look good.

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Rather than waste those good looks, I started collecting our empty tissue boxes and thinking up a way to re-use them.

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The result is these upcycled tissue box gift tags.

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A super simple transformation that gave me an on-hand supply of gift tags and another reason not to purchase over-priced commercial gift cards/tags (which just creates more turfing to landfill).

I used a paper guillotine to slice the tissue boxes up into random rectangles, working around the branding text printing and any glue lines on the reverse. You could easily achieve the same thing with a ruler, a pencil and some scissors. I was able to create 5-6 reasonably sized tags from each tissue box. I’ve managed a mix of florals and muted patterns so have male and female gift recipients covered.

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tissue box tags, upcycled, upcycling, craft, DIY, boomers, fifty-something, midlife

tissue box tags, upcycled, upcycling, craft, DIY, boomers, fifty-something, midlife

tissue box tags, upcycled, upcycling, craft, DIY, boomers, fifty-something, midlife

I punched a hole in each, threaded through some rustic jute twine. Voila!

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These are perfect for twisting around the neck of a wine bottle, taping to flower bunches or knotting over a vintage jar brimming with home-made yo-yo biscuits.

Now I find myself choosing my tissue boxes more carefully, looking for upcyclable designs. I’ve been surprised to discover some very dapper designs amongst the private label supermarket brands!

Walking the talk … Surf Coast Walk #1

Being fifty-something, I’m fiercely aware of the “use it or lose it” mantra. I’m consciously trying to stay on the move, standing instead of sitting, walking instead of driving and walking for the sake of walking. Just. Walking.

We recently promised ourselves we’d walk the full length of the Surf Coast Walk, one section at a time. Or half a section at a time. Whatever we can manage.

The Surf Coast Walk is a 44km trail that ribbons along Victoria’s surf coast, from Point Impossible to Fairhaven. It’s designed as a hop-on/hop-off experience, so you can walk it all at once, or bit by bit.

The Surf Coast Walk brochure invites you to “Explore inspiring landscapes on foot or bike beyond the edge of Victoria’s beautiful Great Ocean Road. Relish the rich ochre of the Bells Beach cliffs, the deep blue of Bass Strait and the leafy green of eucalypt forests.”

We begin our promise early on a sunny Sunday morning at the Point Impossible car park. According to the brochure, we have 11.4km ahead of us – 5.7km to Yellow Bluff and 5.7km back – and can expect the section to be mostly flat with no steps and a well-formed path.

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We linger in the car park briefly, pretending (to whom?) that we’re part of the early morning surfie brigade checking out the break below from the clifftop vantage point. Who are we kidding?

(Because someone we know might have written it), we read the interpretative signage which serves up the low-down on the local flora and fauna, the Aboriginal history and legendary big man, William Buckley.

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We head off on the track, setting a cracking pace. The path runs through coastal vegetation between the Point Impossible Beach and rural land, just behind Torquay Tigermoth World.

Point Impossible Beach is a “clothing optional” zone. No need to panic; sand dunes separate the walking trail from the beach. We keep our eyes averted. Just in case.

Every now and then a rabbit appears and hops across the path in front of us. We can hear birds scurrying in the heathland and above, the drone of a light airplane. A tigermoth? In the blue, blue expanse above we spy a dwarfed white plane and a crescent day moon.

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After a couple of kilometres, the white gravel trail gives way to a corrugated reddish gravel road and eventually we find ourselves on a trail winding along the beach side of The Esplanade, just across the way from the impressive homes of the Torquay Sands Estate.

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We’re curious, so we take one of the paths leading down to Whites Beach. We’re delighted when the landscape opens up to the broad expanse of beach, peppered with other morning walkers and a smattering of lively dogs enjoying a frolic off-lead. Leaping high to catch frisbees. Bounding through the shallows. Sniffing each other’s bums. Normal happy doggy stuff.

surf coast walk, torquay, coastal walks, being fifty-something, boomers, midlife, victoria surf coast

surf coast walk, torquay, coastal walks, being fifty-something, boomers, midlife, victoria surf coast

surf coast walk, torquay, coastal walks, being fifty-something, boomers, midlife, victoria surf coast

The damp sand is solid enough for walking so we continue along on the beach, fielding some stray balls for eager pooches, chatting with other walkers and taking in the sights and sounds of this sun-blessed beach. It’s another beautiful morning on the surf coast!

We reach Yellow Bluff and decide to head back along the beach and take the last possible path back through the dunes to reach the trail. Our pace has slowed by now and we’re a little worried about losing our way. The drone of a plane taking off from the airport lets us know we’re on track. Soon we can see the car park in the distance.

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We egg each other on to a “sprint” to the finish and reach the line in an undisputed photo finish.

The car park is now full. Either the surf’s up or there’s a “clothing optional” event happening.

Neither is intriguing enough to restrain us from slumping into the car and prising off our walking shoes and socks. Our cheeks are flushed. We have windswept hat hair. Our legs are heavy. We’re all chatted out.

But we’ve done it: Surf Coast Walk Section 1, walked and talked.

Salads in (vintage) jars

Being fifty-something, I’m always on the look-out for new lunch ideas. I’ve counted the beans and figured I’ve had close to 20,000 lunches in my fifty-something lifetime. No wonder I’m keen for something novel!

I noted a lot of online chatter about “salads in jars” and my fancy was tickled sufficiently for me to give it a go.

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Regular readers will know that I have an abundance of vintage Fowlers preserving jars. I’m working my way through them, gifting them full of home-made cookies, filling them with creamy soy wax to make scented candles and storing all sorts of bits and bobs in them. I’m down to a collection of about seventy-five now (so watch this space).

The “salads in jars” project looked like a one stone/two birds proposition – healthy lunches + purposeful use of vintage Fowlers preserving jars. Win. Win.

The concept (not complicated at all) is that you make up multiple salads, layered into jars, and store them in the fridge. The trick is keeping the greens away from the dressing. Theoretically, you can make up a week’s worth of salads and have an easy, convenient option every day.  I’m not convinced of the food safety issues around storing salads for five or so days. But I can vouch that our salads remained crisp and crunchy, for two days. I’ve found knowing there are two days’ of lunches prepared, packed and ready to go is a satisfying way to begin the week.

How do you make a salad in jar? There are few rules … it’s all about using your favourite ingredients and layering them up, using common sense, from the bottom of the jar. Ours have been different each time, but always with a couple of tablespoons of dressing squeezed into the bottom of the jar and finished off with lettuce/greens on the top.

Our ingredients have included carrot, cherry tomatoes (they last better than sliced tomatoes), hard-boiled egg (whole), cucumber, snow peas, red onion, capsicum. I’ve seen others included sliced meats, but again, I’m unsure of the food safety issues involved there.

Come lunchtime, you just grab your jar, empty it out onto a plate and there you have a dressed, crispy salad, ready to go.

salad in a jar, fifty-something, midlife, boomers

Be warned. Once you start making meals in jars, you may find yourself on a slippery slope. I’ve already slid into breakfast in a jar thanks to seeing this recipe for Blueberry Overnight Oats over on the always-fabulous The Life of Clare blog. This recipe led me down another rabbit hole of LSA and chia seeds. I love the scenery down here. And the flavour. And the novelty of it all.

I’d love you to give salads in a jar, or breakfast in a jar, a go for yourself. Perhaps you’ll dare to go for a full week of salads? Let me know how it pans out for you … and if you need any jars, I just happen to know where there are a few (dozen).

A little Islay whisky education at Whisky and Alement

Being fifty-something, I appreciate the finer things in life. Single malt whisky is one of them. Thanks to a family connection (on Mr P’s side) we’ve developed a taste for the single malt expressions from Islay, Scotland’s most famous whisky island. They’re peaty and smokey, earthy and warming … and definitely not for the novice scotch drinker.

We recently took up an invitation to learn a little more about Islay and its whiskies at a Saturday afternoon “Islay Session” at Whisky and Alement, a Melbourne CBD whisky bar.

islay_1

In the tradition of fine whisky bars, Whisky and Alement is smallish, dark and intimate with the star of the show being an amazing, chock-full, beautifully lit backbar of gothic proportions, featuring the world’s premium whiskies.

When we arrived, the tasting places were set, poured and ready for our delectation.

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islay sessions, whiskey and alement, islay whisky, single malt whisky, fifty-something, midlife, boomers, melbourne

The session turned out to be a 1.5 hour presentation delivered by the very knowledgable Julian, with a giant 200-year old map of Scotland as his backdrop.

We officially tasted six of Islay’s finest expressions, with an additional Ardbeg dram unexpectedly poured at the end (when we thought things couldn’t get any better).

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Julian had chosen the expressions to match his fascinating story of Islay’s history and tradition, and demonstrate how processing factors impact the characteristics of the whisky.

Julian covered a lot of territory in a short amount of time. Here are three of my personal highlights/takeaways (chosen from many):

1. Learning about (and tasting  the product from) Kilchoman, the only “single estate” Islay distillery where the barley and peat used are locally sourced and where every process, from barley to bottling, is carried out on the island (the other distilleries mostly have bottling facilites on the mainland). Kilchoman appeals to my sense of local … it’s like a “slow whisky”. It’s a new one to me. I’m expecting to hear more about it.

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2. Learning how the term “proof” (as in 57% proof) was coined … (apparently) in days of yore, when illegal whisky distillers wandered the land selling their fare, there was no official method for measuring the alcohol levels. Sellers would pour their scotch over a small pile of gunpowder (yes, everyone carried gunpowder then), set a match to it and, if the powder ignited, it was “proof” of the alcohol level in the whisky. Sounds legit.

3. Tasting a dram from the now closed Port Ellen Distillery. These expressions are rare and expensive … the distillery has been closed since 1983, so this was an opportunity not to be missed. Memorable. Much.

What an amazing afternoon and a fun way to learn and laugh along, fuelled by the warming goodness of some of the world’s finest whiskies. Because, as we all agreed, the world just seems a better place with a whisky or two poured into the conversation.

Where: Whisky and Alement, 270 Russell Street, Melbourne

When: Some Saturday afternoons (check the website for times/bookings)

Cost: $80 pp (including tastings)

Comment: Highly recommended

The little campervan that could

Being fifty-something, I’m up for new challenges.

Last year I found myself in several conversations about the joys of camping. I’ve never been one for camping, caravanning or sleeping in any place other than my own bed or a 3.5-plus-star hotel bed. I’m just not the outdoorsy type. My skin burns easily. I’m a neon-bright magnet for mosquitoes. I love to read by decent lamplight, hide the dinner dishes in the dishwasher and take long, hot showers.

Yet, my friends (bless them) are absolutely certain I’d enjoy camping if I’d just give it a go. Maybe it’s because they know I’ve written the editorial for the Victoria Cabin, Caravan and Camping Guide for the past couple of years. (Ironic, much?)  Maybe it’s because they sense me softening on the notion of camping. Maybe they think it would be rib-tickling to see me fidgeting (cluelessly) by a campfire or nervously (freakishly so) zipping myself into a tent for the night. Or maybe they have a death wish for me.

Whatever their rationale, I have surrendered to their relentless urges. Mr P and I have declared 2014 the year of camping. Gulp!

Our existing camping equipment consists of:

  • 1 x small 2-man tent that Boy Wonder took on a Year 8 “make me a man” camping experience
  • 2 x low-rider, fold-up timber chairs that are perfect for outdoor concerts (these were a gift, we had three but one is v. unstable)
  • 1 x 2-hub gas burner which we sometimes use to supplement the big gas BBQ if we have guests.

After weighing up our options (and me admitting that I don’t think sleeping on the ground is for me) we started exploring the possibility of buying a small campervan. Now, I imagined driving off into the sunset in a vintage hippy van, a Kombi, akin to this:

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Level-headed Mr P soon kiboshed that idea. Too old mechanically, too unreliable, too fuel-hungry, too expensive.

We agreed on something a little newer (though less character-filled, I lamented) and through the magic of the internet, we are now the owners of this lovely lady, the full-featured little campervan that could …. change our lives:

campervan, fifty-something, camping, boomers, midlife,

midlife, camping, camper van, fifty-something, boomer,

campervan, midlife, boomer, fifty-something,

The bonus is that she is fully set up for travelling and comes with all the accessories we could ever need: awning/tent, doubled bed, fridge, oven, crockery, cutlery and even a couple of camp chairs.

The previous owners were Joel and Melanie, Swiss tourists who had been travelling around Australia and needed to sell their little house on wheels before they flew out to foreign lands. Joel and Melanie are the sweetest couple. They ended up staying with us, sharing their campervan stories and I’m sure we’ll meet up with them again one day.

dinner, midlife, boomers, fifty-something

So far, we have managed just one night away in our campervan – a trial night at the St Leonards caravan park, just 30km from home! We managed to erect the tent/awning (without instructions), sort out BOTH the 12 volt and 240 volt power sources (I did say full-featured) and to cook our evening meal in the van.

We outdid ourselves for breakfast.

pancake breakfast, camping, campervan, fifty-something, boomers, midlife

We toasted our first night away, and our 34th wedding anniversary in style:

champagne, midlife, boomers, fifty-something, campervan

We spent hours on a tiny, quiet beach, not ten metres from our camper, ensconced in our camp chairs in the cool shallows. Mr P got a nasty sunburn. I applied sunscreen, mosquito repellant and a big floppy hat. Turns out I might be outdoorsy. Just a tad.

This little campervan (which is nameless so far, but feel free to make suggestions) is a whole new ball game for us. We’re aiming beyond the caravan park life (if you’re thinking “grey nomad” please go think elsewhere) and imagining ourselves enjoying some “wild camping” in our beautiful National Parks. Getting back to nature. Seeing the stars. Walking the bush. Settling comfortably around a campfire (where permitted, of course) and then climbing sleepily into the little campervan that could …

I’ll keep you posted.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Book Review

Not sure how to avoid plagiarism? I use Grammarly because, being fifty-something, the last thing I need is a costly lawsuit eroding the “rest egg”. Above all, I want to make sure my work is original and not compromised by cliche or commonness.

Writing is much more than simply sitting down in front of the keyboard and stitching some words together. It’s a craft, a craving and a science all wrapped up in a not-so-neat bundle of craziness and uncertainty. So, while grammarly.com is helping me avoid plagiarism and grammatical errors, I’m on an endless, steeper-than-ever writing learning curve.

I love to read about writing, to discover how others (especially the professionals) navigate the craziness of the writing life.

So I was thrilled when my neighbour delivered this pre-read tome to my back gate: Bird by Bird, subtitled as “some instructions on writing and life” by Anne Lamott.

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This is not a newly published book. Indeed, it has been around long enough to earn its reputation as a bible for writers. Not sure how it’s escaped me up until now.

The cover immediately reminds me of my favourite line from Jo Langdon’s poetry chap book, Snowline: “Above a city I watch blackbirds, beaded to fence wire”.

I think I’m hooked already.

Then I dive in and find the most delightful of things … my neighbour has highlighted passages in the book, journalled in the margins and made notes on the Notes page.

Line and sinker.

Like me, my neighbour writes for a living (she, in research/evaluation; me, in business copywriting). Like me, my neighbour is exploring a more creative style of writing. She’s doing courses and throwing herself into a strict after-hours writing routine in the solitude of her backyard shed. I envy her shed. And I value her opinion. Muchly.

As I progress through Bird by Bird, I realise that my neighbour is even smarter than I think. She is a Clever McCleverty. She has highlighted (for both of us) the creme de la creme of Anne Lamott’s know-how.

The down-to-earth tone, the belly-laugh anecdotes, the mingling of memoir with prescription, and the sharing of real (they seem real?) interactions with writing students all fuse to make a riveting read on writing. But it’s the nuggets of wisdom, the not-to-be-forgotten gems of know-how that make this book a must-read for writers. And my neighbour seems to have nailed every one of them, or at least the  ones that resonated most with me and my experience/knowledge gap.

Here are just a few delicious morsels of shared writerly nourishment:

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bird by bird, writing, reading, book review, anne lamont, fifty-something, boomers, midlife

bird by bird, writing, reading, book review, anne lamont, fifty-something, boomers, midlife

bird by bird, writing, reading, book review, anne lamont, fifty-something, boomers, midlifeAnd then just when I think this book can’t get any better, Anne Lamott hits me with a killer final paragraph (*spoiler alert):

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

I slap the book closed, clutch it two-handed to my chest and give it a big, sigh-filled hug.

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

I must be getting soft.

** Please note: This post is sponsored by grammarly.com … because I believe they provide valuable tools for writers of all kinds.