No Meat for 4 months

Through the cooler months of the year we plan to eat some red meat about once a month, but after I returned from China in May, where I had meat in everything. It seemed that every meal I chose seemed to contain some small amount of meat or more probably offal. I got a bit over it, so I thought that I’d skip meat for a while. Then when I was working in Japan in August. I seemed to get invited to a lot of BBQ’s or  ‘celebration’ meals that involved red meat. This was quite an eye opener for me, as I remember when I first went to study in Japan in the early 80’s, I hardly saw any meat for sale, never mind eating any. Now, 5 trips and 35 years later. The supermarket fridge displays are loaded with just as much red meat as there is fish. How things have changed.

Since I have returned, I haven’t been to the butchers at all. It’s now 4 months since I had any meat. I just haven’t felt like I needed any. I’m NOT a vegetarian. I eat what my body tells me that I feel like eating. That is mostly fish and fresh vegetables.

So, at the weekend I was over at the Village Hall, where I am one of the trustees. We were there for the Village Xmas Party. At some point I casually mentioned to my neighbour John, that this fund-raising sausage sandwich was the first ‘supposedly’ red meat that I’d had in months. I’m giving the local butcher the benefit of the doubt here in crediting him with actually putting some small quantity of meat in his sausages, although from the pale creamy/yellow colour of them. I can only imagine what else might be in there, and I’m pretty certain that it isn’t meat. At the butchers, I notice that those pale anemic things are called sausages, while the red meat filled intestine tubes all have other exotic names like ‘bratwurst and salsiccia’.  I asked why and was told that it is illegal to call anything with that much meat in it a sausage. The laws governing ‘sausages’ are strict and you can’t put very much meat in them. I didn’t dare ask what is actually in them, but I suppose that it is mostly fat, gristle and bread crumbs?

Anyway, My neighbour John was shocked, appalled and quite taken aback at this fact and looked at me after my ‘confession’ with that pitying look that said “You poor, hapless, tragic bastard”! He was polite in not actually saying that to my face. But his face said it all. He asked me, “What do you eat when you aren’t eating raw vegetables then”? I told him that I fast 2 days a week!

His eyes rolled back in his head!

He said. “Come to dinner tomorrow night and I’ll feed you up”!

We duly turned up with our bottle of red wine. A very nice one in fact, and were treated to an exceptionally nice meal of medium rare, fillet steak in pepper cream sauce, served with a side of diced peppers and mushrooms stir fried in butter and mash potato made with lashings of salt, butter and parsley. It was sensational! John knows his steak. He also knows how to ‘read’ me. He knows I don’t often eat red meat and along with that he guessed I rarely buy cream, I never use salt and hardly ever use much butter. And he is right. So he decided to slam dunk me with the full trifecta.

And I’m glad he did. It was delicious.

In our turn, we invited them over for a nice salad and a glass of rain water, or maybe a few slices of sashimi and a bowl of green tea!

Best wishes from the now, very well fed, poor, hapless, tragic bastard.


Finally, the rain comes

We have had a week of swelteringly hot days, all up in the high 30s. Yesterday was 39oC way too hot to work out side, so we got up very early and got started working by 6am. We gave up and came inside at 11.00 am. It was just too hot. We have been watering the vegetables morning and night, but they are still suffering. Many of the plants like beans, celery and  cucumbers have dead, dried patches on their leaves.


But at least they are still alive, so that is success. I gave the sweet basil its first hair cut. I tip pruned all the florets that were trying to flower and filled a large basket with the leaves. I like to make a kind of pesto-like paste. to go into the freezer, so that there will always be basil to add to sauces later in the year. We also make real pesto with garlic, pine nuts and parmigiano cheese, but what I’m making here now is just basil, garlic, a little salt and olive oil paste. It freezes well and keeps all year, so that when I need some basil flavouring in winter, I can open the freezer and take out the tub of this frozen basil paste, tap it upside down to drop it out of the container and then slice off a block of almost fresh basil concentrate. Beautifully green and flavourful. The rest is returned to the freezer for later.

I’ve been known to make up to six or seven of these half litre containers during the summer. As long as I never let the basil flower and keep pinching out the growing tips, the plants seem to thicken up and keep producing more leaves. Once you let them set flowers, they stop growing.

This stuff is fantastic. I love it. It’s one of there few things that we keep in our small freezer section of our fridge. Because it isn’t cooked, we can’t preserve it any other way, other than drying the leaves, which I have also done, but dried leaves are different. This stuff is magic. So intense. The little bit of garlic and salt really brings it to life. And it is surprisingly easy to slice from the block when frozen. Having very little water content and being mostly oil, it doesn’t set hard like ice, but more sort of leathery?

All the mid season peaches are now gone. We only have one tree of late peaches yet to come on. It is netted and we wait for them to ripen. All the berries are now over with over 20 kilos picked this year and safely all preserved, vacuum sealed and stored in the pantry. This recent heat wave has brought on the plums and they are just wonderful, sweet and tangy with that fabulous combination of acid and sugar that make your mouth water. We eat the first of them straight from the tree. Such a great taste, warmed by the sun, the juice trickles down our chins. They are mouth waveringly good. There are too many ripening all at once, so Janine has been stewing them and we have them for breakfast with a little yoghurt.


We are in direct competition with all the birds at this time of year. The Lovely and hard working Janine has been moving the nets around and bagging some of the fruit, keeping one step ahead of the birds, while I have been so busy with orders. It’s a lot of work, but worth it. Having beautiful fresh, organic, clean food that we have grown ourselves, is a major part of our enterprise here.

We work outside very early and then again in the late afternoon and evening. Working inside during the heat of the day. Janine has mown the stone fruit orchard and I have mown the citrus grove and vegetable garden. Everything is looking good and now the heat is over for the time being with a cool change arriving and bringing with it some beautiful, cooling rain. I emptied the rain gauge this morning and we have had 33 mm. Just enough to flow down and top up the dam for a few more weeks of hand watering. The combination of cooler temperatures and soaking rain will bring all the plants back to life and put on a growth spurt.


I bought a kilo of live mussels from the fish-truck man, so we are having mussel and vegetable soup for lunch. I usually just do the simple favourite, mussels in white wine, but as we have so many beautiful vegetables at the moment, I make a combination of green peppers, green and yellow zucchinis, red shallots and fresh sweet basil sauce. I bring it all to life with a jar of our preserved tomato passata concentrate from March. This batch was made with tiny yellow tomatoes, onions, capsicum, garlic and olive oil.

I cook it off and add the mussels to the boiling broth. It fills the kitchen with its steamy fragrance. It’s a great indulgence, but we  have earned it. Everything except the mussels from our own labours in the garden.



The First Tomatoes of the Year, Ratatouille

Yesterday, we harvested the first ripe tomatoes of the year. This is only the second time that we have managed to get ripe tomatoes before Xmas. The only other time was last year. Global warming, What global warming?

We also made our first pickings of our large green capsicums and smaller yellow banana capsicums, added to the sweet basil and yellow and green zucchinis, we have the makings of the first ratatouille of the summer. The egg plants bushes oblige us with the first few small aubergines and suddenly, there is our dinner in a basket.

The weather is very hot now 39 0C during the day. Our friends in Adelaide have had 4 days in a row of  41,42,43 and 41 oC. Way too hot to be able to work effectively outside. I make clay while the sun shines, inside under cover of a roof, but still sweltering. Porcelain slip dries very well on the drying bed in this weather. It’s a good time to make single-stone porcelain.

In the evening we sit outside and cook our produce, Ratatouille with the addition of a small jar of last years concentrated tomato, onion and basil ‘sugo’. I lightly brown our new-season onions in olive oil and then add in our crushed garlic. The roughly diced vegetables are added and turned in the oil a few times to coat them, then the sugo is added and the lid placed on to allow it all to simmer and soften for a few minutes.

We sit and chat into the cool of the evening. A nice chilled glass of rosé goes very well with this simple, fresh and very delicious Post Modern Peasants repast. The flavour of summer!

We have really earned this meal. We started making this meal three months ago, when we spread the compost and planted the seedlings. Now it’s payback time. It explodes in our mouths and takes us back to last summer. I can feel myself starting to relax into the idea of taking a little time off over the solstice break. This is a well earned, beautiful moment.

I am grateful!


Approaching the Solstice

As we approach the solstice the weather has turned hot and we are getting days in the mid thirties oC. Everything becomes desiccated very quickly if we don’t water morning and night. As the longest day will soon be here, it’s time to lift the onions and the early potatoes.

We plant most of the onions around the shortest day at the winter solstice and harvest near the summer solstice. So that is now. We aren’t very good gardeners, as we try to do too much, so there isn’t always time to do things ‘properly’, but we manage our time as best we can and everything that needs to get done usually does. We don’t plan things out meticulously and then follow through on the plan with Germanic precision. Rather we kind of lurch from crisis to crisis, doing what really needs to be done NOW and can’t wait any longer. I remember that I planted two packets of brown onion seed in late June,  but only a smattering of seeds germinated. I don’t know why. So I planted another packet in late July, when I realised that I wasn’t going to get any more strike from that first germination. The second attempt was also very patchy. As it takes a few weeks to realise that things haven’t worked out as you planned, there isn’t always time left to get the next planting done and germinated in time. So it was very late, at the beginning of August. The last day before I left for Japan, that I sprinkled two more packs of onion seed, a different brand this time, and then flew out for a month or so. When I returned, the unattended seeds had all struck, but were a bit crowded. I was so busy catching up with everything else on my return, I left them to get on with it. They are now ready to lift, but rather small, as they didn’t get enough cold weather to grow out well. I’m calling them salad onions now, small but juicy and sweet. I’m not too sure how they will keep.

The garden girl has been lifting the early potatoes, Nicola and Maris Piper. We don’t get huge crops, using only compost and some chicken manure to fertilise them. But the soil is soft and fibrous, and rich with worms. It looks and smells great, so I’m happy with that. We get about 8 potatoes for every one that we plant, maybe 1 kg per spud. I’m told that commercially, they get 8 to 10 kgs per plant? I’m not too concerned. We do everything organically with a view to growing just enough to support ourselves. This isn’t a business. It’s real life, a life where we aim to be as sustainable as possible. We get more than enough spuds to keep us going all year, more then we need actually. So the ones that get a bit shrivelled and start to get long sprouts on them after storage for a long time, just simply get replanted, back into the garden. They become the winter crop, down in the frost free area of  the Pantry Field.

All the young berries have finished now, as have the raspberries, there are just a few boysenberries left under netting. We picked over 20 kilos of berries this year. We ate a lot of them, but most of them were sterilised and went into vacuum sealed jars for use later in the year.

We have a good crop of cabbages coming along, so we are developing recipes for using cabbage. Finely sliced and cooked in okonomiyaki, shredded in a salad with mint and vinegar dressing, or served with shiso, rocket, mizuma and roasted nor paper strips and dressed with a sesame oil, mirin, rice wine vinegar, sake and soy.

Annabelle Sloujettè called in and introduced us to a commercial brand of pre-fried Chinese noodles in a plastic pack. Not the sort of thing that we would normally think of buying. She made a cabbage salad with these crunchy noodles and a lovely tangy home made dressing. We were very impressed. It was really delicious. She stayed over and we talked late into the night. In the morning we had coffee with her before she left.

She likes a big coffee to start the day.


Friday on my mind

Two weeks ago on Friday I delivered a kiln to Sturt Pottery and then spent the next week welding up another order and delivered it to the Galvanisers on the next Friday. That was last Friday. I spent this week welding up the next kiln order and delivered it to the galvanisers today – this Friday!

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While I was up there, I picked up last weeks kiln, that had been dropped off and dipped this time last week, all in the same trip. It’s good when things work out like that. After all, it’s a 3 or 4 hour round trip up to Sydney and back, so I like to make it pay.


I swap this weeks black mild steel frame for last weeks shiny, newly galvanised one in the factory. I’m getting a head start on next years orders, so there won’t be any delay, as I know that I’m going to be very busy next year, with a lot of projects planned. So getting in early with all this intense work, is a way of banking time. So now I can take it a bit easier over Xmas and the new year, when we have a lot of guests planned to visit.


In the mean time, I also picked up a trade-back kiln. One of my kilns that has not had a lot of use, so I will do it up and offer it for sale as a 2nd hand kiln, but with a 12 months, as-new, new kiln warranty. I’d really like two get this job done before Xmas too, if I can squeeze it in.

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I’m starting to feel a bit tired after all this intense work. I need a couple of days in the garden to ground me and get the vegetables back up to scratch.

It’s been so hot recently, up in the high 30’s recently. We have had to water morning and night to keep everything looking pert. It’s all I can do with all this welding to keep things alive. All the grass has dried-off and started to turn brown now. We have been lucky to have had a green vista for so long. In past years, during the dry times. The grass was all burnt off dry brown and crunchy in late spring.

Yesterday, it was so hot, that I fuelled-up and commissioned the ‘house’ fire-fighting pump for the first time this summer, and used it to wet the roof of the house with rain water to cool the house down. It works like a charm and drops the temperature by 5 degrees inside the house within minutes. Nearly all the water is collected in the roof gutters and runs back into the water tank. It is a productive way to test out the fire fighting system early in the season, and get everything back up to scratch, before it is needed in an emergency, when there is no time to waste.

For dinner I steamed a fillet of taylor and served it with freshly harvested kipfler potatoes and multi-coloured zucchinis, green, black and yellow. This was accompanied with a Japanese inspired green salad of red and green Mizuma leaves, rocket, shiso, red coral lettuce and green spring onion. Dressed with a finely sliced, filaments of roasted nori paper and a shiso dressing. I also salted some sliced cucumber and after draining, dressed it with sesame oil and some lightly roasted sesame seeds.

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It is all lightly aromatic, crunchy and goes well with freshly picked red French radishes. A multicultural Australian meal, perfect for summer.

All these ingredients fresh from the garden, except the fish and the nori paper. It’s a wonderful reward for our efforts.

It’s a Busy Time of Year

I have only just delivered the last kiln off the factory floor and now I’m back in there welding up the next one. I want to get into and out of the galvanisers before Xmas, so that I can work on it over the summer break, so as to get a head start on next years orders. The galvanisers shut down for a month over the summer as does the local steel supply yard, and many other businesses as well.


I have the next frame all tacked up already. I can cut the sections and start to weld the bones of it together while the old faithful automatic hacksaw does it’s job, slowly and relentlessly.


When I made my first kiln. I cut all the steel out with a hacksaw blade by hand. It took two days. I don’t think that I’ve been so bored in all my life. When that initial kiln was sold, the first thing that I did was to spend my profits on a 4″ angle grinder and this wonderful old ‘chug-a-lug’ cast iron automatic hacksaw. It has been the most important thing that I have ever bought, with the possible exception of my home. It has worked continuously and reliably for 35 years. All I have ever had to replace are the blades, about once a year. It is such a fantastic invention. It cuts while I weld. and the angle grinder cleans up the edges.

I don’t want to get caught with no options, so I’m getting in early, as early as I can and doing all the welding and ordering of parts now. Then I will have the luxury of setting my own agenda of work and relaxation over the summer. We have relatives visiting from inter state and also from overseas, so we’ll be busy relaxing as well as working.

There a lot of veggies starting to bolt in the sudden heat, so we are try to eat them as fast as we can. i made a risotto last night with lots of garden produce. I used leeks instead of onions because that is what we have plenty of just now, and loads of fresh veggies, so much so that the result wasn’t really a risotto, as it only contained half cup of carnaroli rice, but a large bowlful of carrots, zucchinis and some mushrooms.

Veggieotto, with a little rice added. Cooked in fish stock from the bones of our dinner from a few nights ago.

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We are now picking from our 3rd tree of peaces. Well protected by plastic bird netting. We get all the fruit form these trees. they are the newer low chill varieties that we have been forced to grow now. These are the third generation of peach trees that we have grown here now over the 40 years of our Post Modern Peasant Enterprise. Modern varieties of peach trees seem to have a productive life here of 15 years. The Lovely decides to make a peach cobbler for desert to follow our veggieotto.



We have also made our first large pick of young berries. Up until now, we have been eating what we picked each day, but the season is suddenly in full swing now, so we get up very early and go out to do the harvesting before it gets too hot. We spend 3/4 of an hour and pick 7 kgs in one go. They are really coming on. The lovely Lady of Household Management, Ms Janine Beeton, can’t be beat’n when it comes to household frugality. She has them all sorted, cleaned, steamed and bottled by mid morning, while I’m cutting steel. The vector of post modern peasantry and petit-capitalism.




It’s a busy time of year.

Kilns, what could possibly go wrong?

We end spring with a very warm day of 39oC. This is the start of Summer. Not as hot a it was last week at 42oC, but still hot enough for the beginning of the season. The vegetable garden needs to be watered twice a day at times like this, if we want all the small seedlings to survive and thrive.


I have finished the big new gas kiln commissioned for the pottery at Sturt Workshops in Mittagong. I spent the last week making the burners and gas manifold, pressure testing and test firing. Then I had to disassemble some of it to get the height down, so that it would fit into its new home under the low wall beam access.




Once it was shrink wrapped and onto my truck, I drove it up to the main drive way to meet up with Dave the truck driver. Mr. ‘Lift and Shift’, with the giant ‘palfinger’ crane. This amazing piece of technology can lift a kiln, or anything else, weighing up to 1  1/2 tonnes from a distance of up to 15 metres away!  All goes to plan. I am always relieved when things go right. They always should, I measure twice and do a lot of prep, but in anything that involves 1,000kgs, slings, chains, shackles and welded brackets, there is always the possibility for unseen eventualities.

Generally speaking, it always goes to plan, but that doesn’t stop me from being concerned, and taking every precaution to make sure that everything is right. There have been times when other forces have intervened and made the job a lot more difficult. See; Delivering a kiln, What could possibly go wrong?

Posted on 26/06/2015
We travel down to Mittagong without a hitch. Slowly and carefully, avoiding the pot holes and bumps, so that the kiln doesn’t get too shaken about. Dave skilfully manoeuvres the kiln into the exact position to fit on to the pallet lifter inside the building. It rolls into position without any problems. Nothing goes wrong!  It’s perfect, just the way it was planned.
I take off the wrapping and look inside. It’s beautiful. It has travelled well, but there is just a small glitch. In transport, the bouncing and shaking on the truck has caused the brickwork to settle just a fraction of an inch, and now the arch has settled down a millimetre or two and just touches the door seal. I sand it down along a section of 50 mm x 1 mm. It’s perfect! If this this kiln turns out like all the other that i have built for potters, Art Schools and other institutions. It will last for 20 years or so without any major maintenance.
Cleaning the burners of spiders webs or dead insects, occasionally there are mud wasps that build their clay nest in there over the summer break. All small but annoying things that need minor attention. I once had a potter come to me with her burners that she had purchased from me for her own home made kiln. She told me.”These burners don’t work anymore. Not like they used too”. I told her to bring them to me and I would have a look at them. There is usually only one thing that can go wrong. The flame safety sensor gets pushed too far into the flame and gets damaged, then stops working all together, cutting off the supply of gas. I countered this by making a substantial Stainless steel bracket to hold the sensor firmly in place. However, this was not the problem on this occasion, as the gas was still working, but only just apparently.
When the burners arrived, I shook then upside down and lots of things came tumbling out, pieces of blown-up pots, wadding, some fresh and dry, others hard and fired, a bottle cap, even a 100 mm. ( 4″) length of snapped off ceramic pyrometer tube! I would have thought that when that broke off, for whatever reason. I would hear it break and go looking for where it landed. If it wasn’t on the floor of the kiln. I’d go looking elsewhere. I’m amazed that it could have gone straight down a burner flame nozzle and disappeared! Anyway, no matter! No wonder they weren’t producing a clear flame anymore. Simply fixed. It’s amazing what pushing a bottle scrubbing brush down a burner can achieve!
Kilns. What could possibly go wrong?