Clay water/grey water

On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier.
We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent.  Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some.  3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.

Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. 
Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with. 


I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.


I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.

It’s a good life if you don’t weaken!

First Peaches of the Summer

We are only 10 days into summer and we already have both our first tomatoes and now our first peaches. We’ve been picking zucchinis and cucumbers for weeks already. Nothing quite like the flavours, tastes and aromas of the summer garden. Although this all sounds idyllic, it’s possible because of the worlds unabated consumption of carbon based energy. With global heating racing away, unabated like it is and coupled with an embarrassing total lack of political will here in Australia. We also have to accept the changing weather patterns associated with all this heat, like catastrophic bush fires and massive storms. From someone who has lived through a catastrophic fire event. I can clearly say that I’d rather not have to experience it again and the early tomatoes are not worth it.

Back in the garden, the pumpkins that I planted on the 12th of September are now 3 months old and taking over the bottom of the garden.

From this to…
to this!
They are setting a nice crop.

Strangely, we are just harvesting our citrus crop now almost half a year out of seasonal sync. We should be picking them in the winter. Everything has been dislocated by the extreme weather and the catastrophic fire event. All the citrus got burnt, some very badly, such that we lost half of the trees facing the pottery as it burnt. The citrus grove was planted next to, and on the north side of the pottery, using the building to protect the trees from the worst of the winter’s southerly winds. Sheilded in this way and facing the north winter sun, they were in a bit of a sun trap and it suited them very well. We had good crops.

After the fire we watered them well for the first few weeks, whenever we could find the time during the clean-up. Sometimes this meant in the dark before dinner at 9.00pm. The result was that they all re-shot leaves, some only on half the tree that wasn’t so badly burnt. They went on to flower again as if it was a new year, but totally out of sync. We got the strange out of season crop and they then flowered again out of sync, such that we are now harvesting again in summer and not winter.

The entire right hand side of this tree was so badly burnt that it has remained completely dead and needs pruning off. I’m hoping that the tree will eventually put out new shoots on the right hand side and balance itself up.

Apart from the strangeness of it all. They are probably suffering from PTCD. Post Traumatic Citrus Disorder! Also, when the fruit is ready, it isn’t the usual colour. For instance, the tangelos are pale yellow like lemons instead of bright orange. While the lemonades are green like limes instead of yellow. Strange times. I assume that they will slowly revert to the normal seasonal flowering and fruiting regime over time?

All the peach trees were burnt in the stone fruit orchard, but just before the fire. I had lifted two of the smaller trees that were doing very badly in the draught, as I couldn’t keep enough water up to them. I put one of them into a big plastic tub that was hanging around and the other into a large synthetic plastic fibre plant bag that someone had given us. I placed them in the veggie garden where I could water them better, just to see if they would survive. They had recovered well and are now ready to plant out again, but because they had flowered and set fruit, we thought it better to let the fruit ripen and plant them out next winter when they will be dormant.

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing!

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing! And so unexpected. Janine also picked the first apricot off one of the newly planted stone fruit orchard trees. Where the trees were doing well and growing strongly, I left one piece of fruit on each tree that I thought could cope with a ripening fruit and still grow well. That applied to one apricot, one almond and two apple trees. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing and tasting the new fruit varieties.

The pottery shed is slowly progressing. Today the builders are putting the roof on the pottery studio. That is really good to see. It was ready to roof yesterday, but it was windy and slightly foggy and damp, making it too slippery and too difficult to roll out the silver roofing insulation in the wind. Today is calm and overcast but not wet, so it’s all go on the roof. I can hardly wait to get inside and see how the light is in there. We now have two roofs on. the kiln room and the creative studio.

I spent a long time working out how to get the best light, at the lowest cost, but not interfering with the structural strength, allowing for enough metal strap ‘X’ bracing, covered with corrugated sheeting to provide sufficient structural wind resistance strength. I’m no engineer, but the shed company’s computer program allowed me to input different options, increasing the glass area until the ‘Computer says No!’

Edna the Chook, came in to check out the new studio too.

I then worked backwards from there, to find the biggest size of standard ‘off-the-shelf’ cheap aluminium windows that would fit the space. No use in paying double to get a custom window made that is only 100mm larger. So I back-tracked down to the best available size. We ended up with 4 windows that are 2.4m. x 1.2m. (8 feet x 4 feet) plus a sliding glass door that is 2.4m x 2.4m.

It will end up darker inside when it is lined and not so oppressively metallic and shiny.

First Tomatoes of the Summer

We harvested our first few tomatoes on Friday, 4th December. That is so early for us, reflecting on our more than 40 years of history here.

This variety is all folded wrinkly and is called Rouge de Marmande. It’s one of several different varieties that I planted this season. There a many more on the way just turning colour now. I’m really looking forward to cooking up some of our summer garden ‘passata’ or ‘sugo’ sauce.

The thing that I really enjoy most at this early stage of the season, is just brushing past the tomato bushes while weeding or watering and getting that distinctive smell, that the leaves give off when touched. That’s the promise of summer. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.

Seasonal Dining, Stuffed Zucchinis

Now that the new crop of zucchinis is starting to produce in earnest, we are able to pick half a dozen small, day old, or even just hours old, flowers with small fruit attached every morning. So we are enjoying the experience of stuffed zucchinis every second day.

Of course we don’t have to pick them so young, but there are so many in this very fertile early period, that we don’t want them to get any bigger, or we won’t be able to eat them all.

We have 7 plants. That’s too many, but when you plant the seeds, you just don’t know how many are going to germinate, and then of those how many will survive the onslaught of the snails and slugs, to grow to maturity and fertility. This year every plant seems to have grown well, with a few others lagging behind as late germinators which are still coming up.

I’ll have to do a cull. But in the mean time, we have plenty of zucchinis to stuff for lunches or light suppers.

These flowers were picked later in the day and have been fertilised, so the flowers have closed up, and if left on the plant the flower will drop off as the fruit grows.

On the other hand, these flowers were picked first thing in the morning and are still wide open. In this form they are much easier to fill with the cheesy stuffing.

So what’s in the stuffing? I like to mix cottage cheese or ricotta with any or all of the following; chopped garlic, chopped olives, chopped up dried tomatoes, preserved artichoke hearts, split and diced into smaller bits, capers, a diced chilli and perhaps even some finely diced chorizo. I also sometimes add sage or thyme leaves, even preserved capsicum section. What ever you have in the fridge or pantry. Give it a good stir and spoon it into the flowers. Squeeze them closed onto the stuffing and place in a wide pan with a little olive oil and a dash of white wine. cover and steam them for 6 minutes.

This results in the zucchinis being just cooked, sort of firm snappy fresh, but heated through. The filling will have cooked together into an homogenous mass inside the flower, which will have wilted completely. I don’t use salt. There is quite enough in the preserved veggies, but a grind of pepper is nice.

You know when summer is about to arrive when the zucchinis are coming on. They are the first of the plantings that we made in the garden mid way through September to start to produce. Zucchinis are the first summer veggies to produce fruit. The tomatoes are still small and green. The capsicums still haven’t flowered yet, nor have the aubergines. But the nights are getting shorter and the days hotter. I just brushed past the tomatoes plants yesterday, and the aroma of tomato foliage was so strong and promising. I can hardly wait.

I can eat these every other day for a week, but them I hit the wall and I don’t want to see another zucchini for a while. That’s when it’s time to slice them longways and BBQ them. Then there is always cut into rounds and steamed with a few sprigs of mint. Or grated and mixed with a little grated potato and an egg to make zucchini fritters.

By the end of summer, we’ll be sick of them and hanging out for some Brussels sprouts! you know that it’s autumn when we start to think about zucchini bread and zucchini cake! Just to use them up!

This is seasonal dining

Summer approaches, hot days of fruit and fenestration

It’s not quite a week since I wrote that we picked the first youngberries of the season. Now, 6 days later we are in full harvest mode. This morning we picked 4 kilos of berries, we also picked 250 grams of blue berries and half a dozen strawberries.

Up until today we have been keeping up with the harvest. Eating them as we go in morning fruit salad. Then Janine made a sorbet/icecream sort of thing with just fruit and fresh cream, whipped up by hand intermittently every hour or so through the day as she took the batch out of the freezer as it stiffened. It made a pretty delicious dessert after dinner.

We have been up since early to do the watering and picking before the heat of the day set in. We are expecting 30oC today, so will spend the middle part of the day inside and out of the sun.

I also picked half a dozen hours old zucchinis with their flowers still attached. I will stuff these with cottage cheese and olives for lunch. This is our simple seasonal cuisine.

My inside work will be trying to finish off the big 4 metre x 2 metre arched window for the gallery space in the new pottery building. I’ve been plodding away on it for a couple of weeks now. It’s slow work as TIG welding aluminium creates a lot of heat in the metal frame, and aluminium expands and contracts a lot, which can lead to warping. Usually I would clamp a smaller job down onto a heavy steel-plate bench. but this window is so large, its bigger than my welding bench. so I have to be patient and allow it to cool down and shrink back to size between welding sessions. Hence the slow progress.

So far, I’ve been lucky, and it hasn’t warped much and is still within 1mm of square. That’s pretty good for my low level of skill.

Living with the seasons – the first youngberries

We used to say the first ypungberries of the summer, but over the years of global heating progressing apace and nobody in government prepared to admit it or do anything to cut carbon emissions, we are almost certainly heading for a difficult future.

You can’t fix a problem, until you admit that you have one. The carbon industries through their financial leverage on both political parties and continued deceptive advertising have brought us to this critical point and show no signs of letting up.

So now we have to say the first young berries of the season, because it’s nearly all over in the late spring. We only have to put put one net up this year, as all the other fruit trees are either burnt , or badly damaged and cut back very hard to remove the damaged wood, so there will be no cherries or peaches, no apples, pears or plums, no avocados. Just the youngberries. They survived the fire because they were directly behind the house. I am grateful for what I have.

Youngberries are so special, just the right balance of sugar and acid. Unlike the mulberries that we have been feasting on for the past few weeks that have a mild sweetness, but with virtually no acid. They need lemon juice and zest to give them a bit of a kick. See previous recipes.

These berries are so nice, that we will be just eating them fresh off the canes for the first few days, until the crop overwhelms us and then we start to bottle them for later in the winter. We’re pretty lucky to have something so simple and so special fresh from the garden.

Gladys and Edna Change Trees

Our new ‘Tree Change’ Chickens Gladys and Edna have landed.

We have been given a couple of young pullets. This was a nice surprise for us, as I was missing Hillary’s presence in and around the garden these last few weeks. She always kept me company whenever I was working outside – which was often. We had intended to get another coupe of chooks in the fullness of time. I had gone in and cleaned out the chicken house pretty thoroughly, then limed the soil to sweeten it. I took the laying box out into the sun and cleaned it pretty well and left it to bake in the sun to help clean it of any mould or fungus etc. I locked the house up and left it to sit. I thought that that would be it for some time. As we are flat out busy, The thought of getting new chickens was quite low on my agenda.


Last week, our very good friends Warren and Trudie asked us if we were interested in some more chickens, as one of Warrens clients had two to give away. They were living in a small hutch in a carport in Balmain. A small, densely populated, inner city suburb. I gather that their life was largely spent on concrete. We said yes, the time was right for us and they arrived here serendipitously on the weekend. We put them in their new house and they seemed to settle in straight away. They didn’t even explore their new surroundings. The first thing that they did was scratch at the earth floor, start to excavate a small hole, scratch out a few worms, which they ate with gusto, eat some soil and then take a dust bath, laying on their side and flicking dirt all over themselves and each other.They knew they were chooks and this is what chooks are programmed to do.


We brought them snails from the vegetable garden, which they fought over and snaffled down without hesitation. We also brought them a load of chickweed, lettuce leaves, spinach and cabbage leaves, which they torn to bits and downed feverishly. They weren’t very interested in the dried feed ‘layer Pellets’ and scratch mix of grains that we had in there for them. They seem to be very happy with the dirt. I hope so.


We will have to wean them off their inner city Balmain diet of sipping Chardonnay and eating smashed avocado on organic sour dough rye. From now on it’s going to be snails, worms and free range weeds and grasses and whatever else they can find for themselves. The move doesn’t seem to have bothered them one bit. They have both laid an egg a day, without interruption since they arrived. Going from a small inner city flat to 7 acres of garden, orchards and grassland bordered by bush will give them plenty of scope to live out a more ‘natural’ chooks life.


I’ve shown my self to be very shallow and fickle. These chooks have completely taken my mind off missing Hillary and I am now quite happy with the ‘transference’ of emotion. Welcome to your change of trees Gladys and Edna! Happy scratching.

Janine delivers snails fresh from the veggie patch.
Gladys and Edna explore the laying boxes
Cottage garden flowers in the stone fruit orchard.

First Zucchinis of the Season

Zucchinis come on so quickly. I planted all the new summer vegetables together at the one time back on 12th of September, then six weeks later, we had or first pick of new season fruit on the 22nd of Oct.

All the other summer vegetables are still growing a frame work of structure but not even flowering just yet, However, the earliest tomatoes are just starting to flower, but they are still a long way of having edible fruit. Due to Global Heating, in the last few years, we have been able to pick our first few ripe tomatoes just be fore Xmas.

I decided to pick the small fruit with the flowers still on and stuff the flowers with cottage cheese seasoned with a few chopped olives, capers and an anchovie. I fried them in a little olive oil for a minute or 3 and then added a little white wine and put the lid on to steam them for a further couple of minutes. The delicate flowers collapse around the seasoned cheese stuffing, while the fruit remains firm, but heated through. The flavour is very delicate and the texture matches perfectly. Our first of many such meals this season.

If I were Italian, I’d probably batter them and deep fry them, or in Paris they might cook them with a lot more butter. But I’m me, so I don’t use any salt, except that in the olives and anchovie, and I only use olive oil and then only a dash of that. This is meant to be healthy, fresh, organic, nurishing food. But not boring.
I’d actually love to be writing about building the pottery, and better still about making and firing pots, but alas, all this rain has put back the builders start date another few weeks. I’m starting to be resigned to the fact that we won’t be making anything meaningful in the pottery till this time next year. Disapointing, but it is what it is.

Nothing is perfect etc.

Living with the seasons – mulberry pie.

In keeping with my philosophy of self reliance, we eat as much as we can from our own property, using whatever there is in the garden. This week the mulberries are on. The season will last a month and the birds will get the bigger share of the crop. We have a bowerbird that survived the fire somehow and a new arrival of a wattle bird. They spend the day in the foliage cackling, croaking, clicking and chirping. It must be beautiful for them in there with such abundance.

When we moved here in 1976, kookaburras were the only birds around. As we slowly developed the place digging dams for water storage, mowing the weeds to create some lawn and planting native shrubs all around the edges. We created a small paradise. Over the following years we had thousands of smaller birds move it to colonise the ‘new’ territory. It made it very hard to harvest any fruit from the newly developing orchard. It sort of proved the old saying ‘If you build it they will come’. The fire cleaned out all the shrub dwelling passerines, as they went to low dense cover to hide. This part of the forest burnt fast and fierce. However, we have started to see some migration of the smaller insect eaters back into the garden from territory farther afield.

We currently have 2 nascent populations of just a few individuals of superb wrens and fire tails. They are very busy nesting in the 4 remaining established native hypericifolia shrubs in our garden. These small trees were part of a much larger, longer hedge and somehow survived the catastrophe. Which is good for the small birds. I hope that they have a good breeding season and that their numbers recover quickly. We have been having some nice rain lately, so it could be a good summer for them.
Back in the noisey mulberry tree, it only takes a few minutes to pick a bowl full of plump, ripe fruit at this stage with so many ripe berries to choose from, but picking isn’t the slow part. What takes time is snipping off the hard little stalks. These stalks are very firm and spoil the mouth feel of the soft, luscious and sweet, juicy fruit. You don’t have to de-stem, but the resultant pie is so much nicer without the annoying little hard stalks getting stuck in your teeth.


I use a recipe that I got off the internet. I like it because it’s so easy. However I have adapted it to suit myself. Most puddings and cake recipes I read seem to me to have way too much sugar in them. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I halve the quantity of sugar in most recipes, to no noticeable ill effect. Fruit recipes often call for equal parts of sugar and fruit, or half the weight of fruit as sugar. I have reduced this to a 1/4. Then I also add a squeeze of lemon or grated zest to give a little bit of tartness to cut through the bland sweetness.

I’m too lazy to make my own pastry, I’m always busy, so it’s amazing that I can make time to cook anything from scratch. So I buy frozen pastry packs in a dozen sheets at a time and they last half the year. Clearly, I don’t make a lot of pies. It’s not that I’m keen on home made fancy deserts, it’s more to do with the fact that I hate to see waste, and I can’t eat all the fruit raw!

In the early years here , we used to bottle the mulberries and vacuum seal them in ‘Fowler’ jars. but as soon as the youngberries were planted and came in to full production, we forgot about the mulberries, as the youngberries are just so much better in every way. So these days we eat the mulberries for a couple of weeks until the youngberries come on, then we leave the rest of the mulberries to the birds. We have to net the youngberries to keep the birds off, other wise we wouldn’t get hardly any.

Once the mulberries are de-stemmed, I mix 400g of the berries with 100g of sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons (approx.) of flour, the juice of 1 small or 1/2 of a large lemon, I also add in the pulp off the glass juicer. A squeeze of vanilla essence and a dusting of cinnamon powder.

I pre bake the base @ 180oC for 15 mins filled with a glass jar full of dried, home grown, baking beans that I keep in the pantry for exactly this purpose.

Hint – Put crumpled up, non-waxed, plain lunch wrap paper in the pie first, so that the beans don’t stick to the ‘pricked’ pastry base during cooking. Remove the beans and paper and continue cooking for another 5 mins until golden. If the base lifts up, just press it down again after it cools a bit, don’t burn your fingers.
Pour all the ingredients into the pie crust and if you have some left over pastry, lay a few  strips over the top as decoration, or you can lay another whole sheet over the top and prick holes in it to let the steam out. Bake @180 for about 15 to 20 mins, or until it looks done.


The smell of this pie when it emerges from the oven fills the room. It is enough to melt the Heart of the Knave and induce him to steal. My mother always said that the way to a mans heart was through his stomach! So, as I live with The King, and don’t want to be ‘beaten full score’, I surrender the tart to my King and we enjoy it en-concorde. 

A nice seasonal desert, or afternoon tea. To be savoured and enjoyed in late spring, and then anticipated for the rest of the year.

Eating Seasonally and other incidental things

We are now half way through spring, and have been harvesting broad beans for a couple of weeks now. We start with the early little beans eaten raw to savour that unique broaden flavour that we haven’t tasted for 11 months. Broad beans have a short season, but that makes them all the more special. We pick the small immature bean pods and cook them whole, then as they mature, we pick the larger pods and shell them for the beans inside. They are really delicious at every stage.

We use broad beans in many ways, but they best in my opinion just lightly fried very quickly in olive oil, so that they are just warmed through and sprinkled with dried sweet basil and some cracked pepper. I take them off the heat as soon as the outer shell starts to split open.

I served them with a few fish cakes that Janine made.

We also made a broad bean risotto with Mushrooms, garlic and chilli.

I add the broad beans late in the cooking so that they don’t over cook.

We had a visit from some old friends for lunch. People who hadn’t been here since before the fire, so I cooked a small batch of Flatolli for them. Flatolli is my lazy flat version of Italian Canolli, without the deep-fried pastry tubes, hard boiled in lard. The filling is the same however. Ricotta and/or mascarpone filled with dried fruits soaked in liqueur.

I pre-baked the little pastry sections with beans to weigh them down, then filled them with a creamy desert filling. Easy! And very yummy.

I also attempted to make a pear, ricotta and almond flan or tart. I pre-simmered the quartered pear sections in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon stick, then placed the finely sliced poached sections on the almond/ricotta filling. This turned out very well indeed.

No one complained!

I’m trying to find ways to be useful and creative while we wait for our eternally slow builders to turn up. After we finalise our plans in June, paid our deposit on the first of August, we originally thought that we would have the building up to ‘lock-up’ stage by the end of September. Three months for a tin shed didn’t seem too unrealistic. But now we learn that the builders are saying end of November, from our current experience with them, we will most likely get to lock-up by mid December or even Xmas.I certainly hope that it is done in this calendar year!It’s a challenge to stay positive. 
In the meantime Janine and I are working on the gabian wall. I hope to finish that job by the weekend. We had a small group of our ex pottery students – who have become good friends, turn up to help finish the tall metal framework in front of the house and start to fill the gabian enclosure with crushed, recycled, concrete building material.

Janine loading crushed concrete lumps from the tractor bucket in the metal mesh frame.


In a small personal sacrifice, I smashed up the last of our broken terracotta garden pots. It’s somehow comforting to get to find a positive and creative use for all these ‘dead’ terracotta planters. I couldn’t just trash them. So this down-sizeing to rubble, but up-scaleing to art is a suitable solution. Turning this disaster into something positive is a constant challenge. The final terracotta pot to go into the wall was a large cylindrical pot that was a ‘second’ grade reject from the Parliament House project in Canberra that I worked on with Cam Williams back in 1986. This pot was the very first piece made for the parliament and was fired here in Balmoral in our old kiln to test the body, slip and firing technique that we planned to use to do the rest of the job. As 250 pots were commissioned in total, we needed to rent a factory space and set up a very big kiln to get the job done on time. This first pot was the big test. It sat next to the old wood kiln chimney for the past 34 years, As it was broken into several pieces, it no longer had any real value, other than sentimental. It did however represent one year of my creative life. I thought that it was best up-cycled into the last bit of our new wall. Now, I will always know where it is. 


We still have two other examples of these big cylindrical pots in our garden, just 2nds with minor cracks that happened during the 2 year project. One is still intact, but the other was smashed by the tree loppers when they were clearing up the mess here in our yard straight after the fire. One of the workers drove into it with the bobcat loader.Janine and I re-constructed it with wire strapping just to preserve it until I have the time to do a full kintsugi repair.  It will take a lot of gold!


We also have 1 of the 5 massive, extra-large pots made for the New Parliament House Building out in our garden. There were only 4 of these 1.5 dia x 1.5 metre high monsters ordered for the project. The first one that we fired got a hair line crack, so we had to make another one. I got to keep the ‘spare’ one in the garden.

This large pot has been sitting here in the garden for the past 33 years and has grown a very lovely green, grey, black, patina. I’m so lucky that it didn’t shatter in the fire, as all the garden around it was reduced to ashes.


From black to green, from down to up, from negative to positive, from rubble to art. Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect. I’m grateful to be still alive to be able to re-build a creative and beautiful environment.