To get rich might be glorious – but, to be content has its merits too.
We are packed and ready to leave this special place with so much history and future potential. The old and the new worlds are co-mingled here. We breakfast in the street on food cooked on the back of a bicycle and then go looking for a driver. He’ll be here some where along this little bit of road. As we walk along, we are reminded again of how we are seen as being quite exotic here in this remote part of China. There can’t be too many foreigners like us around these parts. This is made obvious to us by a giggle of teenage girls who point and talk about us as we pass. Suddenly, a couple of them run along after us and then past us for a few metres. Once out in front, they quickly turn and take our photo on their phones. Then look nonchalantly straight past us, into the distance, back down the street, as if they are just looking back along the street as if there is nothing unusual going on, just as you do every day! Then, as we get level with them, they turn sideways and snap our image again, but this time in profile, from side on. They run back giggling to their friends to look at the images and chatter and laugh. I turn and wave at them and they wave back, then burst into chatter and laughter once again. We have made their morning more interesting!
We are looking for our amazingly honest driver from the other day. The one who returned Leo’s wallet full of money. We want him to drive us on this last leg of our journey. He was so honest. We find him in a cafe on the corner. A few days ago we paid him Y80 for 4 hours. Today he wants Y200 for 2 hours. I don’t hesitate in agreeing. He was honest enough to return the wallet, which he could easily have ‘forgotten’ to do. After-all, “to get rich is glorious” in China! Or so he has been told. And that windfall wallet, would have been an easy start for him towards glory. But he didn’t and in so doing restored my faith in the goodness of people. So I thank him and think that the Y200 is like a reward for goodness. He’s a nice guy, and I like him. Even though I can’t tell him.
I smile. He knows.
So now I’m finally back home again.
It’s good to see The Lovely again and be back in my own familiar life. My own home, my family, my bed. I’ve only been away a few weeks, but there is so much that needs to be done. I was busy before I left. Now that I’m back, the work load seems to have multiplied. First, I need to help The Lovely catch up with house work, then, the weeding of the garden and we have several weekend workshops booked over the next few weeks of winter. She has done one while I was away, with the help of our good friend Val, and the next one starts today. So it’s up early to get the portable wood-fired kilns out onto the site. I have built 3 new portable wood fired kilns since we last did these workshops, this time, a year ago. They are a great improvement in speed, ease, size and effort.
The day goes well and the new larger kilns perform really well, being the most productive and popular kilns on the day, turning over the work, faster than the older kilns.
Fortunately, I am home just in time to see the last few tomatoes ripen in the window sill. I cook them with a few of the last capsicums and some garlic, broccoli, pumpkin and lentils cooked in marrow bone stock.
This evening, I set about making a new batch of stock to replenish the skerrick that is left in the fridge. There is something very positive about messing about in the kitchen in the evening, fussing over the wood-fired stove, roasting, simmering, reducing a vegetable and marrow bone stock. There is something so essential and wholesome about it. It warms me! In every possible meaning of the word. In some ways, It defines my existence here, living this, positive, practical, hands-on life. Making something out of (almost) nothing. Creating capital, forestalling waste, making do and in so doing, avoiding buying some inferior mass produced product that is probably bad for you, as all the packaged stocks that I’ve seen are made up with artificial everything and loaded with a lifetimes allowance of salt to boot. What I make is a concentration of leggy vegetables that are on their way to seed, a few marrow bones and some garden herbs, reduced down with a bottle of good, local, red wine, into a firm jelly-like essence of flavour. Using a spoonful of this home-made delight beats using a stock cube of unknown origin and content.
There is a massive frost in the morning. Everything is pure white and crunchy under-foot. This is bad. It will kill off a lot of sensitive plants that were struggling on in the near absolute cold, but it is also very good! It will help kill off all the over-wintering fruit flies and while it is at it, it will ensure that we will get a better crop of apples and pears. Old stone-fruit species, especially apples, need to have a few frosts over the winter to ‘chill’ and stimulate the flower buds and make them fertile, come the spring.
It’s winter and the citrus harvest is now reaching maturity on the trees. There are lemons, Myer and Eureka, plus ’lemonade’ lemons. Then there are ruby-red grape fruit and oranges. Plus tangelos and bitter Italian chinottos. Lastly, there are Tahitian and kaffir limes. They all go in together in a radical seasonal mix of flavour and colour.
I try some new ideas about making marmalade. I make marmalade every year and I always like to try a new variation on the theme. You never know what you might learn. The recipe that I have evolved over the past 4 decades has changed so much that I don’t know what it was when I first started out. I use about 1kg of mixed fruit and use only the juice squeezed from that fruit as any liquid in the mix. I like to peel out all the fibrous pith from the fruit after juicing, so that I mostly use the coloured peel with just a bit of white on the inside. This is mixed with 300g of sugar and boiled and stirred for an hour. It’s pretty easy and quick, so i can get 4 or 5 batches done during a session. This makes about a dozen small jars. Up until today, I didn’t really know what the recipe was, so this time I separated out all the parts of the fruit and weighed them before cooking. So now I know.
1 kg of mixed citrus breaks down into;
200g of peel
460g of juice
275g of white fibrous pith into the compost
65g of pips and other discards
Put the peel, juice and 300g of sugar into the pan and boil while stirring for an hour.
That’s it, pour into hot sterilised jars straight from the oven, 10 mins at 120oC. cap with lids that have been simmered for 10 mins at a low rolling simmer. They will ‘pop’ after 15 mins to let you know that they are now vacuum sealed and good for storage for the coming year.
I don’t boil and stir for an hour. I just don’t have the time for it. For the past decade I’ve been using the ‘jam’ setting in the bread maker machine. We have a bread maker machine and have had one for the past 20 odd years. It’s one of the few kitchen gadgets that we own. We have even worn the first one out! But we never make bread in it! We use it for making dough, which we then roll out into bread rolls or a plaited loaf, which we bake in the wood stove, or in this case to make marmalade. It works a treat. The best part is that it leaves you free to get other things done, while it ‘minds’ the jam and it never forgets to stir, or lets it burn or stick. It even rings a bell to let you know that it’s time to bottle.
Winter is the time for marmalade on toast for breakfast with a warm bowl of milky coffee. So french! We talk and plan the days jobs ahead. Wood splitting for the up coming stoneware wood firing is high on the list.
Working hard to make money, takes so much time, that there isn’t anytime left to enjoy the life that I want to live. So I decided a long time ago that it was best to try to live with an absolute minimum of money and have a lot more time for having fun and being more in control of my everyday life. When you get used to doing most things for yourself and making do, you find that you need less money. I guess that one reason is that I’m so tired by night time that I just don’t feel like going out.
This mentally focussed but physically demanding existence has it’s contentments, but non of them are money.