Bolshie broads and the lessons in a spoon

Hi All,

Steve is up to his eyeballs in wood shavings. He is out in the shed producing spoons out of Serendipity Farm wood. We have been hunting through our wood piles and have managed to find some Cotoneaster wood that is an amazing light fine grained wood much like oak and very hard. Steve is working on one Cotoneaster spoon now and has enough wood for another one and after that he will be working with some native Cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) that we plucked from our huge wicker man pile of wood in the teatree garden. Native Cherry is beautiful pink wood and if the moth larvae have left it alone it should make some very attractive spoons. We have been thinking about the dog’s diet lately as they seem to have fine-tuned it specifically to straight beef steak and each night we offer them a slight variation they turn up their noses and choose not to eat it. The food that we are offering them would be snapped up by most dogs, our boys are just spoiled and we are doing them no favours in the health stakes allowing them to continue eating only beef steak. Dogs, unlike cats, are not designed to eat only meat. They are NOT carnivores and are omnivores like we humans. In saying that…Earl is quite certain that he is the exception to the rule! Bezial is partial to mashed potato so long as there is a LOT of butter folded in. We have decided that we are going to have to do battle with the dogs on their stubborn and steadfast refusal to back down whenever we try to introduce fibre into their diet. We headed over to Georgetown today to pick up a large sack of dog biscuits. Little do the boys know but there are worse things than potatoes… they are just about to be introduced to the dog biscuit diet. For the next 2 weeks they are going to get dog biscuits for their evening meal. I am assured that dogs will only refuse their food until they are really hungry and the only thing wrong with our two is that they are incredibly spoiled and strong willed. Much like children, you have to give them boundaries and our boys are just about to learn an important lesson, refuse your meals at your own expense. Tonight they dine on Dr Harry’s finest ;).

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We visited our daughters today and Beth showed me some photos that they took over Christmas and was kind enough to allow me to share them with you on my blog…this is Qi. She is the queen of her street and God help ANYONE walking past on the footpath that she doesn’t like. Here you can see her performing a most useful trick for the camera…this trick has been known to get her all manner of tasty treats in the past… if it aint broke…don’t fix it!

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One of Bethany’s chalk drawings on a blackboard in her room…both girls are very talented artists

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Qi waiting for her Aunty Madeline to return from the shop before she is presumably allowed to get stuck into those presents under the tree!

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A white chocolate cake Buche Noel complete with chocolate acorns and a chocolate maple leaf on top

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Christmas dinner well underway…

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A mustard glazed ham covered in fruity goodness

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This cake has NOTHING to do with Christmas but everything to do with carrot cake deliciousness…it would seem that the girls artistic abilities drizzle over into their culinary triumphs as well :). Well done girls! I would sink my teeth into this beauty any day!

Another spoon has found its way out of a chunk of aged Tasmanian oak and into spoon form. Steve has decided to share his spoon making with me and has bravely taken on the task of teaching me to find spoons inside wood. He makes it seem so easy…a line here…a shave there…a bit of a look and the application of an auger bit or a hand held rasp and suddenly there it is…beautiful in its simplicity with smooth sides and wonderful grain. I have decided to make small spoons. Until today, I had wondered why you don’t see small wooden spice and condiment spoons apart from those mass manufactured Chinese imports but I now know that the return that you would get on them is far outweighed by their fiddly nature. I like fiddly things. I like untying knots in things, unravelling wool and Christmas lights. I like the process of taking something exasperating and releasing the calm. It’s a pity I can’t find it in myself to do the same thing but that is another story ;). Making smaller spoons allows me to use the offcuts from Steve’s bigger spoons, minimising the waste and allowing the wood to yield a lot more bang/spoon for our metaphorical buck. While I was digging through Steve’s offcut bucket I noticed a very large spoon blank that had been partially formed. When I say large…this blank was 2 ½ feet (76cm) long and extremely chunky. Steve had apparently discovered a bit of a flaw where the spoon basin meets the handle and tossed it (in his own words) “into the too hard basket”. I looked at this behemoth of a spoon and immediately felt an instant camaraderie. I, too, am a bit of a handful spoon. I am a bolshie broad. I don’t fit easily into societal moulds and bits of me hang over the side protesting loudly and waving banners and the spoon inside that massive chunk of wood called out to me and the deal was sealed. Forget those little spoons for a bit, my very first spoon is going to be a massive great Blackwood ladle. I used our Dremel and a special carving bit to remove all of the spoon that didn’t want to be there…I know it didn’t want to be there because I asked it. The spoon guided me around it saying “Don’t take that bit, I need that!” and “gently…gently…GENTLY! Can’t you understand spoonese?”… As I carefully pared all of the bits that weren’t spoon away, saving the sawdust for using in my compost bucket to minimise smells and maximise the suite of organisms that infest our compost pile, I thought about how Steve goes about making his spoons and how very different our processes were. We both let the spoon talk, but Steve let the spoon “out”…I think I have a bit too much of my German heritage in me to let some mad artist take over the status quo and I like simplicity, order and symmetry. Steve’s spoon has curves, angles and wends its way into being. My spoon is solid, heavy, deep and should last centuries even if it gets used to repel boarders on more than one occasion.

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A chunk of dry cotoneaster we culled from Serendipity Farm. Steve uses his chainsaw to cut a sliver from the side of the log and then runs it through his thicknesser to make a thick plank. He then draws a spoony outline onto the wood and cuts out the shape with his jigsaw

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After some serious rasping and shaping with an auger bit on an angle grinder he removes all of the bits of spoon that aren’t “spoon”…

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Almost finished aside from the handle and the final sandpapering

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Hows this for a massive great chunk of Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood)? This is MY spoon/ladle and over the next few weeks I will be slowly allowing it to take shape (or…I will hurl it in a fit of pique across the shed where it will remain until some rodenty creature adds it’s own mark to my shame! 😉 )

I love to think of the spoons that we are creating heading off into the kitchens of friends and family. I love to think of the continuity and the simple day to day use that these spoons will be part of. Stirring preserves and jams while the kitchen resonates with discussion and music or simply being part of it all…these spoons will see kitchens that I will never see…they will be privy to amazing celebrations and the darkest moments in someone’s life. Babies might cut their teeth on the ends of these spoons, harvests will be put up, and stews will be stirred, strange regional specialties that I can only marvel at will be spun into existence and all from a chunk of Serendipity Farm wood that was destined for the fire. I thought about attempting to embellish them but something stopped me… most probably the inner German who likes things simple, unadorned and classic and that wants these hand crafted spoons to find their own voices and speak for themselves. I can see this becoming something that Steve and I can share. We are so very different and our interests are incredibly variable but this is one thing that we can do together, side by side in the shed and sharing a common bond of creation. It is going to take a LONG time for my ladle to emerge. It has promised to fight me every step of the way but in so doing, it promises to give me some precious life lessons in that process. I sometimes think that we bypass so many opportunities to learn and grow in life because they are tossed into the “Too Hard Basket”. It might be time for us to go back there and pick something out and give it a go…see if you can’t find whatever it is that exists inside your chosen chunk of life and pare away everything that isn’t it. In so doing, you might just find something precious

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This is the spoon that Steve made for Christi to give to her daughter who is getting married. It’s made of Tasmanian oak and has a very classic shape. It’s hard to get too artistic when you don’t know the person that you are making the spoon for and although this spoon started out with some “interesting” collar bones that Steve swears the spoon told him it needed, my Germanic need for Art Deco simplicity came to the fore and said collarbones are now only a memory (you can thank me later Molly! 😉 )

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The chunk of aged Tasmanian oak board that Steve used to create this spoon…another reason why we should take to heart the lesson “you should never judge a book by it’s cover…”

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We ran out of Eco oil (a blend of edible orange and tung oil) to finish the 2 spoons that Steve made but you can see them here with Christ’s winning spoon almost ready to be finished and sent and being guarded by Mr Steve Vai himself 😉

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And here they are after a nice rub over with Eco oil. It really brings out the natural beauty in these spoons. The first spoon is the cotoneaster spoon, the second is the Tasmanian oak spoon and the third is Christi’s winning spoon in Blackwood. We will send them next week and I hope that you enjoy them girls 🙂

I got the book that I won from Emily over at “Sincerely, Emily” in the mail today. If you would like to see a cracking way to use up some of your zucchini’s this season, check out her latest post that pairs potato and zucchini in a most scrumptious, innovative and healthy way…

http://emilysincerely.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/zucchini-and-potato-au-gratin-sort-of/

It’s a lovely book full of weird and off the wall creations that really makes my heart sing because I can’t be abiding with boring things and I love to create customised recipes because life is too short to eat lima beans if you don’t like them. I, personally, LOVE lima beans but I do understand that there are some of you out there (mad, foolish people that you are) who don’t and so I won’t go hunting for a lima bean recipe to share with you from the book but on opening the Index I get instantly excited by the possibilities. I might be the Sidmouth equivalent of Letitia Cropley (if you don’t know who I am talking about, head off and watch “The Vicar of Dibley” for goodness sakes… you are missing out severely if you don’t!) but there are amazing combinations in this book that I haven’t even heard of and I had heard of Gremolata before the chef that taught me commercial cookery so that is no mean feat in a book! I am going to treasure this book because it doesn’t only instruct, it educates. It doesn’t only share; it gives you the impetus to try new things…to experiment and in so doing, to create new recipes of your own. That’s what makes the cooking world go round folks and “Put ‘em Up!” A comprehensive home preserving guide for the creative cook from drying and freezing to canning and pickling by Ms Cherri Brooks Vinton is one of those rare tombs that you simply don’t want to put down let alone lend anyone. Please don’t ask me for a lend of my copy because I won’t be letting it out of my sight for a good few years yet. I have too many things to learn from it like… “What the heck are ristras?”…and “Heirloom watermelon jelly?” …and “Agua Fresca?”… and any book that talks about probiotics and kimchi in the same breath as “red hot vodka” and something as lascivious as a “Strawberry Blonde” (whatever that may be…) is one that is going to be kept in the kitchen, just out of reach of Earls questing mandible’s and right there where I can find it, amongst my wooden spoons ready for duty at a moment’s notice. Thank you SO much Emily. You have given me something wonderful and this coming harvest surplus is going to be such fun to preserve :o)

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My wonderful new cookbook and Emily’s lovely personal note to me included 🙂

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We picked up a few bags of soft toys for the boys to deconstruct on Christmas Day and included in one of the bags was this sock monkey… every man needs a sock monkey in his music room so Earl didn’t get to sample this one…”better luck next time Earl! You are going to have to be content with raiding the clothes hamper and stealing Steve’s dirty socks”

I am officially terrified of our vegetable patch. Steve, who just watered the veggies, is in agreement. The tomatoes have gone mad and have not only invaded the “Poland” of their neighbouring tomato bed but they have both joined forces and are threatening to go all Genghis Khan on the poor lettuce bed. Beetroot that are supposed to be “medium” are now exploding from their bed and the spinach that we were expecting to be lucky to get a few bunches from because it was so slow in taking off, has taken off with a vengeance and is rivalling the silverbeet (Swiss chard) for height and stature. I am not really complaining because aside from going exponential on our derrières the veggie garden is producing edible vegetables. I can only put it down to using compost as the base of our garden beds, lots of small chunks of decomposing wood for air and room for roots to grow and the wonderful black organic compost that we picked up in Exeter as the soil substitute that having to build upwards forced us to utilise. It has certainly excited us regarding vegetable growing and eating and its true folks…home grown veggies taste MUCH better. Steve is eating things that he would have turned up his nose at in the not so distant past and is eating them raw in salads. He didn’t even realise that he ate spinach and perpetual spinach in a salad the other day, he just raved about how tasty it was. You want your kids to eat their veggies? Try growing them :o). Our newfound excitement at being able to eat what we are growing notwithstanding, our terror is still rising. How much bigger can zucchini plants get! I have already cut off their Samson like locks army style in an attempt to allow my poor eggplants to get a bit of light and within a week they were towering over the poor huddled eggplants cowering beneath their enormous elephantine leaves. Not only are they growing faster than is physically possible, they are armour plated and cutting their leaves to put them into the compost heap without wearing gloves is a painful lesson that I will only have to learn once. Our cucumber crop is promising to be amazing as each of the 6 vines is covered in flowers with tiny little Lebanese cucumbers at the bases. I can hear my daughter Madeline applauding as I type that sentence and she will put our excesses to good use sliced thinly with some rice wine vinegar, mirin and sesame seeds. Our corn is magnificent, our silverbeet tastes delicious, our beans are going gangbusters and all in all we are having a great vegetable season.

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In the breeding season the local Cuckoo shrikes are hard pressed to find enough to eat while they are cramming their noisy brood full of insects and we give them a bit of cheese to help them out. Here you can see the rare large spotted nosey bird hunting for cheese…

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While we were in Launceston today I took a heap of photos to share our beautiful city with you all. I don’t get to go there often now and I really do appreciate it’s beauty. While I was taking a few shots of the Japanese garden near the library I noticed someone taking photos and realised it was me! Can you see how tired Earl is of me stopping and taking off the lens cap? 😉

Steve is going to head off and go “floating” again on New Year’s Day. I knew that he would love pootling around in his aluminium dinghy if he took it out a few times. There is something soothing about skimming a large body of water with only a thin skin of aluminium between you and a cold splash and it’s great fun to steer your little coracle between the drifting jellyfish that the tide wash up and down the river twice a day from the sea and back in a never ending cycle of jellyfish waltzing. You can be master of your own possibilities and should you manage to catch a fish you can get your wife to fillet it for you and cook it fresh from the boat…like veggies from a veggie garden to your plate, fish from the boat tastes amazingly good…unless you caught blowfish in your ignorance… Steve used to enjoy catching fish when we lived in Albany Western Australia. I worked strange hours as befits a cook and he would drop me off at work and head off fishing till it was time to pick me up and head home. He spent many a hot summer moonlit night with only the city lights and the sounds of the humpback whales singing their sea shanties in the harbour to keep him company. He would drop me off early in the morning on my day shifts, before the sun came up, and would make a beeline for the aptly named “Salmon holes” where accompanied only by a little Chinese fisherman who couldn’t speak a word of English but who using sign language to ask Steve for his unwanted fish heads and for a time they shared silent communion with the waves and the dolphins in the breakers and the sea, he would catch his bag limit of 7kg Australian salmon and then face the daunting task of carrying them back up the almost vertical steps half a kilometre (straight up) back to where the car was waiting. Salmon fishing is an Aussie male rite of passage. Something that “the blokes” do and that needs to be accompanied by an esky bedecked with beer and bait and tales of “the mongrel that got away” and “I bloody nearly had it!” echo semi-convincingly around the pub with your mates after a day of sunstroke and sunburn. What more could an Aussie bloke want? Aside from a bbq to slap the catch on when they got back and a doting wife with a fridge full of amber ale to keep the stories growing exponentially long after the sun has gone down and half your mates are asleep. Steve is new to blokish behaviour but it certainly hasn’t taken him long to embrace the amber fluid in its chilled form and I haven’t heard him “whinge” in a long time…”we will make a bloke out of you yet young ex-pat Stevie boy!” 😉

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Christof in Oz’s photo of the steps leading down to where Steve caught those salmon “You’re legs are like coiled springs young padawan!” 😉

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Generic touristy shot pinched from the interweb of the walkway running along the top of the cliffs above where Steve used to fish for salmon…beautiful, amazing scenery, good fishing and subject to random king waves that have swept many unsuspecting fishermen to their deaths in the past few years.

Well it’s time to wrap up this post and head off to embrace the weekend. It will be 2013 the next time we meet. We managed to all mill together over 2012 and we survived the Mayan apocalypse en mass…we learned, we grew and we shared and 2013 can only give us more opportunities for the same. I can’t wait to share it all with you and I just want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for coming along for the ride on Serendipity Farm…I know I tend to take you in the old 60’s land rover with the bung suspension and I tend to go through the back paddocks and hit every damned pothole on the way but you have to admit…sometimes I find something special to share with you and you are the very first people that I want to share it with every single time :o). See you on the Boxing Day equivalent of New Year’s Day…you would think that some entrepreneur out there would have cashed in on the possibilities but for now, your poor long suffering wallet is safe from New Year’s Boxing Day 😉