markets

Harvest and home

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Autumn swept into Melbourne last week with one last, brutal heatwave, scorching gardens and people alike, and reminding us that our place on this brown and sunburned land is insubstantial. In my family, the threads that tie us to this landscape are gossamer, only two generations young, and our biology has not caught up with our climate. Every time the mercury rises we are driven inside, hiding from the weather in the relative cool of double-brick walls and high ceilings and air conditioning.

Autumn is harvest time, usually a season of delicious bounty, but heatwaves here and drought there and floods over there have left many of my country’s crops rotting, or burned away, or not even planted. Often we are insulated from these events in the city, the travails of the farmers and producers only an hour or two away from us go unnoticed amid bulk discount produce in the supermarket, shipped in on ice from many thousands of kilometres away. But when a head of broccoli soars to $10.75 a kilo, surely more people will start to take notice.

We do our best to buy locally, supporting our farmers or the high-street shops that in turn support the farmers, and we follow the seasons as best we can, buying our food when it is at its best and was picked just the other day and just around the corner (rather than last month and in another time zone).

But if you can’t grow the crops yourself, it’s not always easy to know what is at its best, when.

This was easier in France. Shopping at the farmers’ markets in Dinan every week, I tried to let the produce inspire my cooking, rather than carrying a shopping list with me (I wrote about that in my newsletter last month, and you can read it here if you’d like to).

I quickly learned from this experience how ill-equipped I was as a cook to plan our meals in this way, and scouted around for some kind of guide to help me. And, this being France, naturally I found one. It was a little book called “Agenda Gourmand: use année de recites avec des produits de saison” (which is fairly self-explanatory even if you don’t speak French, but roughly means “Food planner: yearly recipes with seasonal produce”). There was a week to each opening, celebrating the produce that was likely to be at its best on that particular week, and sharing recipes and other tips for using and cooking with them.

Back in Melbourne now, I have decided to create - and paint - an agenda gourmand of my own, noting down the best times to plant, harvest, buy and forage for food where I live, and collecting my favourite recipes, remedies and stories for making use of them. I hope it will become my go-to food guide for seasonal eating, and maybe something I can pass down to my children as well.

I also hope it will become a celebration of the beauty and abundance of nature, both in paint and in words. Another way for me to make peace with my country, even when the heatwaves are relentless and fierce.

So I have started painting, and I have started reminiscing…

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Pears…

They were never my favourite. Too sweet, too juicy, and with that funny, fuzzy texture on the tongue… not for me. (Although hard to surpass in a rocket salad with parmesan cheese and rocket, it’s true, to complement the pork ragu I like to make in autumn).

And then there was that tarte au poire I ate atop the Eiffel Tower in the autumn of 2011, on the holiday from which, unknowing at the time, I would bring my daughter home inside me.

September was cooling down. It had been raining, and parts of the metal steps were slippery as I climbed, alongside two friends I’d known and loved since childhood. I’d been to Paris before but this was my first time climbing the tower, and no amount of cliché, nor the blisters from the new red ballet-flats I’d mistakenly thought would be romantic on a visit to Paris, could make the moment less magical.

At the top we bought hot chocolates, and my friend Lindy chose a pear tart for us to share. It was one of those moments. Paris in the rain. The Eiffel Tower. Beloved friends… and that tart. Sweet, vanilla pastry, a hint of almonds, and juicy pears (fresh, with the skin still on them) arranged in a beautiful flower and glowing under a delicate glaze.

That was the day I made friends with pears.

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Radishes…

Sharp and clean, with a pepper-like crunch that warms a winter salad and makes orange sing. Slice them thinly, then hold the slices up to a window to see them glow like tiny moons.

Radishes are the first vegetable I remember growing. My mother found us a little patch of dirt around the side of our suburban house in Berowra Heights, and told us we could grow our very own vegetables. She told me she chose radishes because they were so easy to grow, even in cooler weather, and they were relatively quick: you have to harvest radishes early or they become hot and spongy.

I remember the touch of the warm soil as I drew a line in my little vegetable patch with my finger, carving a trench just deep enough to carefully place the seeds along the line I’d made, each of them two hands apart, before covering and gently patting the soil smooth again. The staggering weight of the watering can as I tilted it over my future harvest, barely able to hold it up. And the excitement when the first, green shoots poked up through that carefully tended soil… And then the waiting - oh! the waiting! - with the sublime impatience of childhood, for the harvest day to come.

Something else I remember: the extraordinary underwhelm of my first bite. Pepper! I suspect I wailed, “Too hot!” The flavour that now brings me so much delight (is there anything better, paired with pomegranate seeds, watercress, honey and fresh mint?) was a resounding failure in my childhood vegetable patch. I don’t remember what came next. Carrots, maybe?

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Apples…

The apple tree at the front of our house is fruiting this year. It’s just a crabapple tree, nothing we can pick and munch for morning tea like the gala apple I’ve painted here (I had to label it in the ‘fridge: “Mummy’s art, don’t eat.”) I chose the crabapple for our tiny front yard because the blossom trees on the next street over were so spectacular that in spring they would take your breath away. I think you could see those rows of blossoms from space, and that’s something special in the inner city. I love these trees so much I contacted the chief arborist at our local council to find out exactly what variety they were, so I could have my very own piece of blossom heaven.

I missed the blooms on our tree last year, because we were in France, but my husband tells me they were every bit as glorious as I’d hoped. And now our little tree is fruiting. Every morning as the children and I set off on our walk to school, we say hello to our tree and inspect the baby fruit, which seems simultaneously so improbable and yet so lovely in our tiny city yard.

In Dinan, there was a public apple orchard. Mostly cider apples, growing wild and unharvested on the side of the hill beneath the castle walls. There was a path winding through the apple-trees down to the river (they called the path a ‘Chemin des Pommiers’ - an apple walk), so covered in fallen apples in October that a gentle stroll became a slippery and treacherous clamber. But the air inside the orchard was perfumed with apple-flavoured honey.

Also this podcast about apple trees, with Lindsay Cameron Wilson, makes me so happy.

What are your stories?

Middle aged?

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PA026249Please add two more items to my list of Things My Parents Did That I Thought Were Really Boring But Now I Like Doing Too: 1. Looking at other people's houses, and 2. Going to garage sales.

I remember traipsing around Berowra Heights with my mother while she delivered pamphlets for a part-time job in the 80s, and she would get SUCH a kick out of looking at the way people designed their front gardens, the facades of their houses, even their letter boxes. It was kind of interesting but kind of boring and I never could quite understand why she found it so compelling… until I owned my own house.

On Saturday, as we strolled through the perfect spring sunshine and in and out of unexpectedly cool spring breezes, hand in hand with two pretty adorable children, through Carlton North and into the back streets of Brunswick, I could hear my mother's 1980s words coming out of my 2015 mouth.

"Look at what they've done there - I like the gloss on the paintwork on their fence," I said, without a hint of irony or sarcasm. And, "Hanging plants like that would look good on our balcony, too," and, "I don't like this street as much as ours but imagine how amazing it would be to have a big front yard like that."

Maybe home ownership makes us all middle-aged, whether we are six or sixty.

And also, garage sales. Oh my gosh. Garage sales were so bo-o-o-o-oring when I was a teenager. By this stage we were living in the bush without electricity and Dad was building our house, so my parents would scour the newspaper every weekend and circle garage sales, then off we'd go, looking for second-hand floor-boards and fence-posts and old generators. It became a truly monotonous way to spend the day, weekend after weekend.

But now! Apparently Mr B and I are little old ladies because there is nothing we love better than a garage sale, full of miss-matched teacups, old books, kooky clothes, 70s glassware and ceramics, and enamel just about anything. One of our favourite things is when the warmer weather comes about and all the students in our street host impromptu garage sales on the grass strip that divides our street.

Our walk on Saturday, through the sunshine and the breeze and past all the houses we admired, had a purpose. Our goal was to visit one or 10 of the several thousand garage sales being held in Melbourne that day, as part of the Australia-wide Frankie and Friends Garage Sale.

What we bought:

1 x quirky painted enamel cat-brooch 1 x succulent plant and pink-painted concrete pot from Pop Plant 2 x sweet, vintage little fruit-embellished glass bowls from Pip Lincolne 2 x chocolate and hundreds & thousands doughnuts from All Day Donuts 1 x jingly jangly (but a bit smelly) gold necklace for Scout 1 x truly hideous gold-glitter purse, also for Scout 2 x lucky-dip parcels (resulting in glitter transfer-tattoos and stickers, plastic dinosaur, rocket-ship pencil) 2 x adorable edible teacups made out of biscuits and lollies

What we resisted:

Seriously, you will never know what it cost me (other than money I didn't have) NOT to buy some of the amazing handmade stoneware, super-fine gold rings, limited-run letterpress prints, vintage Little Golden Books and beautiful vintage clothes also on sale that day. Budgets. Le sigh.

And so it came to pass that spending the day with the people I loved, doing things that my parents used to do that I once thought were quite boring, turned out to be one of the best kinds of days a weekend can throw out there. I guess I'm middle aged.

Or old.

To market, to market

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Do you have a local market? A growers' market has just started up around the corner from us, though I haven't had a chance to visit it yet. We love markets large and small at our place: the hustle and bustle - and fresh produce - of the Victoria Markets; the amazing ring of food trucks at the new Batman Market; the sheer colour of the Rose Street Artists' Market; and the handmade goodness at Northern Regards… just for a start.

Markets can inspire fierce loyalty, and I think that's kind of lovely, don't you? My friend Arrayah Loynd, an award-winning photographer, and her friend Jo Skuse, an anthropology student, are so passionate about their local St Andrews Community market that they have produced a stunning book celebrating the market and the people who bring it to life.

Called "Meet Me at Market," the book is richly populated with gorgeous photography and wonderful stories. The friends have a Pozible campaign running at the moment to raise enough funds to produce, print and distribute the book. If you'd like a copy, you can pre-order one in time for Christmas, here (there's one week left to the campaign so you'll have to be quick).

So tell me: what are your favourite markets?

All images are from the Meet Me at Market Facebook page, used with permission

Meals on Wheels - Treat Yo Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A couple of weeks ago we headed over to the new Batman Market at Coburg and let me tell you one thing for free: it was street food heaven.

We were there quite early, at about 9.30am, but already a string of food trucks had formed a wonky kind of circle at one end of the market, and the air was filled with wood smoke and coal smoke and the scent of things cooking. Delicious things. Mr B inhaled as though he was just coming up from a long dive and said, "It smells like South America here." Which is one of his highest compliments.

We spent a bit of time exploring to try and build up an appetite, then gave it up for a lost cause and stopped for a ridiculously early lunch. I'm talking 11am or something. Maybe even earlier. But we have babies who need naps and I wasn't going to miss out on tasting at least one of those truck menus before we had to head for home.

So we chose the Treat Yo Self Quesadilla Cart, run by two super-friendly ladies who served their quesadillas in toasted tortillas from an adorable, tiny, old-school caravan with (joy of opera-singing choirs) a coffee machine.

I ordered a blueberry and custard dessert quesadilla for a certain hungry two-year-old, and a latte for me. She all but inhaled that quesadilla, so I went back to buy another filled with nutella and banana, at which point Mr B and I were all "what the hey, let's do this," so we bit the bullet and called it lunch.

My quesadilla was made with black beans, tomato, onion, cheese and green salsa and yes, it was every bit as good as it sounds.

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ps. More food trucks of Melbourne

Melbourne dispatch - CERES Environment Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the banks of the Merri Creek in East Brunswick, Melbourne, is the prettiest, sweetest-smelling city dump you will ever find. What was once four-and-a-half hectares of landfill has been converted, metre by metre, into an oasis of green, sustainable paradise. It's called the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies, or CERES, which is a handy acronym since Ceres was the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture. (How long do you think it took them to make that one work?)

I took my ever-so-green parents to CERES while they were visiting last week, for a stop-off at the organic market, a wander through the nursery and shop, a peek at the farm, and a leisurely lunch at the outdoor cafe while listening to live music.

Behind us, children slid joyfully down a dirt slope on their backsides, landing almost under our cafe table with squeals of laughter (and a few anxious "Mummy I'm stuck!" pleas from the smaller children, half-way down the hill).

Other littles watched the free-range chickens with delight, and bus-loads of school-children could be seen at one workshop or another as we explored the grounds after lunch. Glancing around the market and cafe, I don't think I'd ever seen so many string bags and braids in one place (and I used to live in Glebe, people).

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There was an exhibition inside the train carriage called Forest by artist Stefanie Robinson. The name is kind of (and I imagine intentionally) ironic, since the exhibition comprised mostly paper. Long, narrow strips of paper falling from the ceiling almost to the floor, through which you had to wander to see. From a vine twisting along the ceiling, woven nests of blue and brown also hung among the paper forest, and such was the installation and the space that you never could step back and get a view of the whole thing. Like a real forest, you could only really see it and appreciate it from inside.

Reading about this exhibition later, I learned that Stefanie had made the hanging nests from objects found in the landscape after natural disasters, such as Japan after the Tsunami, and country Victoria after the bushfires.

I went in alone and it was beautifully quiet, just the rustling of the paper and the sound of my footsteps, which I instinctively tried to soften. I don't know why.

Also like a real forest, this exhibition was intended to evolve and grow over time. I wish it had lasted longer because I'd have loved you to be able to see it, too. I contacted Stefanie later that afternoon to ask if I could include some photos I took from inside her dreamlike forest on my blog, and she kindly said yes.

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Melbourne dispatch - Rose Street Markets

P1124119On any given weekend throughout the summer months in Melbourne, you will meet this guy on the corner of Brunswick and Rose Streets. He spends his days ushering passers-by into the Rose Street Artists' Markets, a former junkyard just around the corner. Not wishing say no to a be-leathered, be-studded, double-hatted 'Tin Man' in a kilt, we dutifully took a turn into this haven of all things designed, crafted and handmade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAP1124120OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis market has been around for close to a decade, and the Tin Man is such a dedicated supporter he has become a bit of a Fitzroy icon himself. After I asked if I could take his photograph, we stood and talked for a good 10 minutes while he crooked a little finger at Madeleine in her stroller, and she grinned her gummy grin back up at him.

The markets themselves are a combined indoor-outdoor space, dedicated to artists and designers who want to hone and sell their wares and ideas. I love seeing the fabulous things the stallholders create. Trippy fish sculptures suspended in resin, in tuna and sardine cans? Why not? Jewellery made out of vintage postage stamps? Why, thank you. Tiny planters made out of neon dinosaurs? Don't mind if I do!

There's also a rather cute little cafe, which I'm yet to test out but I'll be sure to let you know about it when I do.

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Today

Exploring Nicholson Village while it is still cold, holding hands and holding coffee, squinting into the parallel sun. Toy stores with hand-made and hand-painted wooden bicycles, puzzles, little upholstered toddler armchairs made by an old man in his shed on the coast. A bookstore just for children: pop-up books, cut-out books, glorious collections of classics. Then it is our dear friends from Sydney, Aaron and Jutta, well-met in Carlton Gardens. To me, "You're so big it's hard to hug you now!" And to Mr B, "You look positively svelte by comparison." The instant chatter of good friends with months of sharing to pack into mere hours. Aaron and I lag behind. I am footsore with pregnancy, and he limps after having just finished the Oxfam Trailwalk at 6am. I am astounded he is upright.

Outside the the historic Carlton Exhibition buildings, the lineup for the Taco Truck snakes around corners, but we head straight inside to browse the Finders Keepers markets and marvel in all the crafty talent. We buy some hand-painted gift-cards, a three-tiered cake-stand made from old records, and little grey winter pantaloons for the baby, spotted in ladybird red.

Back into the sunshine, which is high and hot and glorious now despite the calendar insisting it is mid autumn, we enter the happy, eclectic bustle of Brunswick Street. Italian paperies, an old-fashioned puppet workshop, vintage clothing, milliners, outlets for emerging artists, and pubs, cafes and restaurants that spill out into the sun-drenched street.

We take the back streets to Min Lokal for a late lunch of grilled haloumi on radish and chat potatoes, Moroccan spiced baked beans with labna and dukkah, and crispy pork-belly over caramelised apple salad.

Then we hug and kiss again. "I can hardly reach you," they insist as I awkwardly try to bend forward, past my own belly and into their arms. We part ways but I am not as sad as usual because I will see them again next week when I head up to Sydney for a brief visit of my own. Mr B and I walk hand in hand back up Brunswick Street, looking in all the shop windows. A drunk man sitting on a park bench enjoying a brown-bottle beverage from a time-honoured paper bag yells at me: "You're pregnant!" then dissolves into gales of laughter.

Home as the sun begins to set, it surprises me how early it sleeps these days. Mr B heads into the bedroom for a little rest and the dog follows, eager steal a nap on the bed since I always tell him no. I rest my aching feet on the couch and read a couple more chapters of The Harp in the South before starting on the roast butternut squash soup that will be our dinner.

How was your Saturday? All photos are from Finders Keepers today. I must remember to take my camera out more often, but I was too busy having a good time.

To market, to market

This morning we decided it was well and truly time to stock the 'fridge with fresh fruit and vegetables, after a fortnight of eating junk and takeout during the packing, moving out and moving in. First stop was the Queen Victoria Market, early before the crowds and heat could gain a stronghold. Next, we headed across to the Farmers' Markets in the idyllic setting of the Collingwood Children's Farm. It was glorious. (Yet again, I forgot to bring my fabulous new camera. Thank goodness for Instagram, but I really do need to get into a proper camera-carrying habit since Mr B was so generous at Christmas.)