Gingering up the bookshelves

Ginger, featuring art by Leonie Ryder

Ginger, featuring art by Leonie Ryder

Our friend and client Dr Leonie Ryder has just launched her major new book Ginger in Australian Food and Medicine through the Melbourne imprint Australian Scholarly Publishing ($39.95, paperback).

The book cover says it all: “This book traces the history of ginger, one of the oldest, most popular and versatile of spices, focusing on ginger growing and the use of ginger in Australian food and medicine from 1788 to the mid-20th century. The story is set in the context of ginger’s long history in China and India, ancient Greece and Rome, and Britain. Ginger was grown in the first garden in Sydney in 1788. As settlements were established further north, the spice thrived, and large quantities were also imported to meet ever-increasing demand. Including recipes and historical anecdotes with detail from specialist sources, Ginger in Australian Food and Medicine is for a wide readership.”

Strictly Literary is very proud to represent Dr Ryder. I met Leonie in 2010 when she was finishing work on the book and tracking down evidence that ginger was imported to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788.

She is one of those rare individuals to hold not one but two Doctorates — one in Aviation Psychology and one in Food History: that’s a major achievement! She is also an accomplished artist, as the sketches in this delightful volume demonstrate.

Brisbane shoppers can meet Leonie at Riverbend Books on Wednesday May 7 at 6pm (193 Oxford Street, Bulimba). More details here.

Cooks, historians and health fans will find much to love in Ginger, including recipes. You can order one here or in discerning bookshops.

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Ballan in Autumn is Festival Time

PublishingStrictlyLiterary

This is the big week for our little Central Highlands town 78km north-west of Melbourne, when the power poles in the main street magically sprout loudspeakers and spring to life on Sunday. We hadn’t moved in this time last year so Sunday will be our first one … luckily filmmaker Patrick Bonello captured the action and posted it: looks wild!

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So many concerts

We’ve been amazed at the number of top concerts which come to our part of the world. Suzi Quatro was here last month (video by Michelle Bell-Booth on YouTube) and next week (March 15) the Ballarat Symphony Orchestra is playing at Michael Unwin Wines at Beaufort, just up the road to the north-west.

Last Spring we sat in glorious sunshine (the one hot sunny day) next to Lake Wendouree and listened to Jon English, Ross Wilson and Russell Morris for around four hours of solid Oz rock and roll, not to mention blues, all for $50 a head. Thanks to the people at Regional Touring, I guess.

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Jon English: picture by John Cokley

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Ross Wilson: picture by John Cokley

Russell Morris: Picture by John Cokley

Russell Morris: Picture by John Cokley

As Autumn starts we ventured out to the Grampians last week, taking in lunch at Halls Gap and then tasting wine on the way back at Beaufort and Michael Unwin’s wines, taking home two bottles of his signature Umbrella Man chardonnay and merlot.

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Enjoy Autumn … we’ll have some flowers, more visits and other shopping news next month.

Dripping with produce

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We spend a lot of time knocking back cheese and wine and so when we received this email share … well, we couldn’t resist!

On Sunday we ventured north-west to the Talbot Farmers’ Market outside Ballarat and it was a revelation of the happy kind.

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We’ve visited this tiny rail stop on off-days (as have friends) and it’s practically dead. You could fire a gun up the main street and not hurt a soul. But on market days, it’s humming! Wine, food, flowers, produce and nic-nacs … all there.

We noticed VRail was opening their new station that day, perhaps that helped?

But the find of the trip was on the way back home to Ballan, at the tiny locality of Coghills Creek.

There we stopped at the 30-year-old vineyard Eastern Peake and yarned with owner Norman Latta over a glass or two of his excellent wines. Norm and son Owen offer a range of classic wines with made-up names such as “Pinot Tache Blanc du Noir” (a delightful rose) and “Appellation Ballarat” (an inviting pinot noir, 2010 was the year for us).

And for lovers, they’re having a Valentine’s Day party: details here. The Victorian countryside is practically dripping with produce this season … take it in!

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Out with the old, in with the new

We have just learned that our friend and valued colleague Donna Meiklejohn has been named one of Queensland’s 125 most outstanding women leaders! So proud to know her:

You can view the list here, at the YWCA Queensland’s 125 Leading Women site

The YWCA has been celebrating 125 years of continuous work with and for the women of Queensland, and reckons that this list “is a fitting tribute to the thousands of women who have shaped both this great organisation and this great state over that century and a quarter”.

They continue: “We feel that each of these 125 women represents a facet of what it means to be a leader. Each has contributed something significant to her community, and at the same time is the embodiment of one particular type, style or field of leadership.”

Donna’s citation reads: “Donna is an award winning journalist who has had a long, high-profile career in news and current affairs journalism as a presenter, writer and producer in the commercial and public media. Donna started work in country radio in the 1970s when the industry was dominated heavily by men and went on to become the first woman appointed by an Australian commercial television network to an overseas posting. She is best known for her roles as presenter of the national ABC viewers’ forum Backchat, and the flagship current affairs program Nationwide. She is currently lecturing at the University of Queensland, nurturing the journalists of the future.”

But here’s some news: we hear that Donna’s services have now been secured by QUT instead for 2014, and more power to them!

Here is just a taste of the company Donna finds herself among:

Christine Anu

Sallyanne Atkinson

Anna Bligh

Quentin Bryce

Sarah-Jane Clarke & Heidi Middleton

Keri Craig

Cathy Freeman

Caroline Jones

Elizabeth Kenny

Deborah Mailman

Kay McGrath

Sarina Russo

Julianne Schultz

Georgie Somerset

Samantha Stosur

Merle Thornton

Kath Walker

Mary Woods

Robina Xavier.

First flower 2013

We promised flowers and even started a countdown on July 7, predicting first rose blooms 154 days later on December 8 (according to the locals). But it seems nature is a little eager this year and our first rose poked its nose out a month early. And the other bushes are positively groaning with buds, dozens of them.

So we dug in and planted proteas from Garden Express mail-order service, peonies from the Tangled Maze and Mistydownes Nursery, and a peach and an apricot from our local Growmaster in Ballarat.

And finally for this post, our regular road trip around our region. This time we visited the nearby booktown of Clunes, the vineyards and cellar doors of Avoca, and the delightful gem of a little cider brewery and deli just outside Ballarat.

Here’s how:

Good shop bad shop

Today we start blogging by mobile — yeah yeah I know half the world’s doing it mobile — now the other half is too!

One of the things I find most frustrating about writing a shopping blog is not being able to do it “on the move” … Now I’m going to get with the crowd. Let’s see how it goes!

What’s in a post?

In philosophy class in Sydney during the late 1970s I learnt a very strong and useful lesson, that what we do depends on who we are. Technically, this is expressed as essence (or identity) informs action, but more anecdotally my professors taught me that “do follows be”.

This maxim had quite a pedigree: Dr Wilf Radford channelling Dr Austin Woodbury channelling St Thomas Aquinas channelling a collection of ancient luminaries such as Aristotle and Plato. Across the years I have become aware of many (many!) competing perspectives, principally the doctrine that “form follows function” which I understand as the reverse of “do follows be” or something like “we are what we do” (compared with my preferred framework, “we do what we are”).

Happily the years have also helped me understand something I didn’t grasp when I was a young philosophy student, something which my professors probably understood all too well but were not anxious to see in my typed or laboriously handwritten college assignments: a well-adjusted understanding of life includes a well-stirred mixture of “do follows be” and “form follows function”.

Fast-forward 35 years to my current quest to understand shopping, retail, and many other things cultural as one way to understand journalism better. When I buy items or services and try them out, I experience their design and their usefulness but if I’m careful and check in my peripheral-vision mirror, I can also see my own actions expressing some of my personal identity. What I buy and how I use it today says something about who I am now, but these factors can also influence who I become tomorrow.

I was interested to see how this works in practice. Earlier this year I decided to invest $659 in a do-it-yourself raised garden bed system from Birdies Gardens on the Gold Coast. The buying decision came from our joint household desire to acquire such a garden bed for our little mansion in Ballan, because one of us is already a gardener and one of us wants to become a gardener (or is willing to give it a shot). Essence and identity was actively informing action.

But I also wanted to buy and try the raised garden bed for review on Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia because that’s what we do here, and it was an opportunity for the function of blogger to inform happened next.

The act itself of buying was not particularly riveting even though, in engineering terms, it was a fairly complex process of deploying web browsing software, online searching using Google algorithms, hypertext mark-up language, shopping cart software, electronic funds transfers and email protocols.

But the trying … the acts of receiving, assembly and use? Now, they were character building in the true sense of “form follows function”. Step 1, delivery. This took a lot longer than the five days promised when we ordered. I fired off a polite email in the direction of the Gold Coast and received a prompt and repentant reply, saying that there had been a problem in the factory and a delay in putting together our order. However, everything was on its way now and would we please accept two gifts as compensation: a Birdies gardener’s planting bench and two Birdies worm towers?

“Well, yes, thanks very much, why not?” we replied, and within a few days two large and heavy boxes landed on the front slab next to our little garden shed. Formidably heavy boxes. Formidable enough to stop me moving them anywhere so I simply cut them open right there on the first available Saturday morning and started the “easy process of assembly”.

Remember our DIY-assembly compost tumbler and the handy shelving? I reckoned I could safely double the advertised assembly time (the tumbler box said “assemble in minutes” and took more than an hour) but what is a multiple of “easy assembly”?

Here’s what you find in the boxes: 20 pieces of 820mm-high coated corrugated metal like the Zincalume you use on your garden patio or shed, and four steel L-shaped corner supports; each of the metal pieces is drilled with two lines of 11 holes and once these are overlapped and aligned, this makes 24 joins around the cross-shaped garden bed.

According to the instructions, each hole gets a bolt, two washers and a wing-nut, so … lemmee see (reaching for pencil behind ear) that’s a jigsaw puzzle with 1080 individual pieces. No, wait: there is also a long piece of rubber lining to go inside the corner supports and another to go around the rim as a safety protector … 1082. This was starting to look daunting even though the instruction sheet was barely a page long, including a detailed diagram. A Saturday morning cinch was turning into a major exercise.

There was another element to the puzzle. Each of the 20 corrugated sheets came with a sheet of cling-film attached to protect the light-tan “paperbark” paintwork but this feature was not mentioned in the instructions. Carefully removing the plastic film took more time and effort but was not included in the “easy assembly” time.

And so I began. At first I started timing myself for this blog report but after the first few hours I gave that away as a bad joke. It would be not only ridiculous to try to count this job in minutes and hours but also time-consuming and annoying in itself. Clearly I had underestimated the job. Let’s just get on with it.

But internally I began to grumble. Grrrr. Remove the cling film, line up the corrugated sheets, get a bolt, two washers and a nut and whack them through the top few holes in each vertical line so that I could achieve a relatively rigid structure in the windy Ballan springtime conditions before returning to fill in the remaining holes.

I realised I was gradually fencing myself in because it was easier to work on the inside of the garden so that the bolt heads not the wing-nuts appeared on the outside of the metal (to match the advertising images). So I found a stool as a step on the inside and a bale of pea straw as a step on the outside and plugged on.

Our young Swedish friend Miranda arrived from Melbourne and found herself press-ganged as a bolt-washer-wing-nut assistant for the holes close to the ground. I had discovered that despite all my good intentions it was physically impossible for me to stand on either side of the corrugated structure and reach down to fit a bolt and washer from one side and (while holding them steady) attach a washer and wing-nut on the other side. We didn’t realise it but it was our choice of the 820mm-high raised bed which had caused this; I would need orang-utan arms to do the job on my own. Thanks Miranda!

The sun was firmly nestling in the western sky by the time Miranda and I had worked our way around the structure and reached the stage where most of the 24 joins had some nuts and bolts in place and the garden bed was finally standing: about half complete. But, ah yes, the old problem of “instruction sheet not matching what’s in the box” finally raised its head. Two things became very obvious: many of the holes which were supposed to line up didn’t; and we were going to be short of washers by a long way.

Grrrr! More grrrr! Check the instructions again; check the diagram. Well, for a start the diagram clearly shows a rubber washer on the inside of each wing-nut and there were none of them. But it also shows a separate steel washer on the inside and the outside. But what’s this? A closer examination suggests that the head of the bolt is roughly the same size as the washers … perhaps the bolt people had supplied bolts with washers incorporated but had not told the instructions people to change their text and diagram?

The local hardware is just across the street so next morning I strolled over and for a handful of change I bought 100 more washers which would hopefully complete the job. It turned out I needed more than 100 but as the job progressed I became less and less obsessed with perfection at each join (bolt, washer, washer, nut) and keener simply to finish the #@$#! job. By mid-afternoon all the holes that lined up were fastened. I did a tour de force with our mighty little Ozito cordless drill to tighten up all the fastenings and as I went, one or two more of the recalcitrant holes came into alignment … fix those one at a time.

Stand back! Now it’s easy to see why all those holes had not lined up perfectly. I was working on a piece of ground which had previously been levelled as a car-parking area: nearly flat but not perfect. Lay a spirit level along the top edge of the raised garden bed (better still, just squat down and look with a beady eye) and the problem is obvious. It looks as though the holes have been machine-measured and engineered for installation on a flat surface and would be perfect on a similarly machine-measured and engineered surface. But there you go … my garden is flat but not perfect, like most gardens, and so a percentage of those holes will forever remain unfulfilled.

Tell you the truth I can’t really bring myself to care right now: the structure seems fine, the dedicated gardener in our family is very happy, and if any of those damned holes leak I’ve got a solution: Selley’s pipe and gutter gunk (sealant) ought to do the trick just fine!

NEXT … fill the above-ground swimming-pool sized void. We visited Crossroads garden supplies at the edge of town and consulted the guru … he reckoned we’d need four bales of pea straw to line the base and provide nutrients, topped with 5 cubic metres of half-and-half soil-compost mix: $270 later, including delivery, and the ingredients were piled in the yard, waiting.

Naively, I had imagined us plonking the straw bales into the bottom of the void then the garden truck backing up and tipping the soil inside, job done. Ho ho: not so fast. “The little truck that could” couldn’t reach over those 820mm sides so we scored a big shovelling job. Divvied-up it was a morning’s hard labour. Our Central Victorian Highlands’ version of the Antarctic blizzard made this a nerve-wracking and challenging task but doesn’t beer taste better when the gardening’s done?!

Back to my philosophical ramblings … my conclusion is that the imperfections in my garden, which revealed the consequential imperfections in the engineered design, have helped me stop obsessing about perfection and get closer to a more peaceful state of mind (“near enough is good enough”).

This is a reassuring result for me and one which can be useful in my work as a reviewer of products and services. Might even be something in this for other reviewers.

Many reviewers, especially in the food and travel field, but also in the literature and new products fields, draw attention to imperfections. I know; I have done it myself and have read and edited thousands of similar literary, movie, food, wine and accommodation reviews since 1981. Drawing attention to imperfections does what sociologist Daniel Miller says some academics do to other academics: make yourself look big by making others look small.

You see it a lot: Reviewer X goes to Restaurant Y and criticises the service, the ambiance, the ingredients, the style of cooking, and then the amount of the bill at the end. Many reviews go so far as to allocate a score for these features, effectively ranking the restaurant on a long list from “perfect” to “rotten”. I think this encourages the next guest to look for imperfections instead of enjoying the overall experience, and it encourages customers to anticipate being ripped off, sometimes even before they sit down.

Wouldn’t it be better for us journalist-reviewers to focus on the excellent aspects of a meal, or a performance, or a holiday/travel experience? There’s no need to sugar-coat everything or to ignore frustrating moments, but in my experience frustrating moments can be exploited in the telling of a story without trashing a product or a service.

Take the bolts, washers and our raised and filled garden. In the end the important things were that the price was affordable, the service pleasant and accommodating, and the construction and filling worked fine in the end, with a few minor adjustments and allowances. Now, a month later, the veges and flowers are shooting up and soon we’ll be harvesting.

Maybe I’m becoming a gardener after all?

It’s nearly Spring … the flowers know

Spring starts on Sunday and the flowers are getting ready to celebrate. Our snowdrops were out first, followed yesterday by the daffodils, and we can see new buds on the rose bushes in our long garden.

Pip’s pruned them all on July 7 and those “in the know” out here say 154 days from then, we’ll see the first flowers on the bushes on December 8, 154 days after pruning. We shall see … but the first shoots shot out this week and they look strong and healthy.

pips wild chair

More pruning and shaping happened last week when Pip attended her first Wild-Wood Chairs Workshop organised by the Wombat Regional Arts Network in the Shire of Moorabool. Here’s her glorious chair, shaped, drilled and nailed using found timber and her own hands. Might look rickety but it’s tough and strong and now occupies pride of place on our veranda.

Pub Grub

We’ve been frequenting the “locals” in the Ballan district now since the start of the year and we can report back on eating experiences.

Hudson’s in our hometown Ballan has recently re-opened its dining room and looks like becoming a familiar haunt. Host Kathleen is encouraging a local music group (of which I could become the humble keyboard player) which tries to rehearse weekly and had an acoustic afternoon last Sunday. Ah, beer and music! So far we’ve tried the lamb shanks (cooked to perfection to falling-off-the bone stage), pork chop, salt-and-pepper calamari and mixed grill and not been disappointed in quality or serving size.

The Royal Hotel in Meredith is a nice place to stop off between our base and our friends to the south in Lethbridge and Bannockburn. Quiet dining room and easy parking.

We enjoyed our visit to the Gordon Hotel in Gordon (now there’s a surprise) because lunch was easy, pleasant and warm and it set us up just nicely for our magic visit to the Old Trout Hat Shoppe over the road.

The Farmers Arms Hotel in Daylesford holds happy memories because we enjoyed lunch with new friends and so far have been there twice. Established in 1857 (according to its website), it claims the prize as the oldest pub in town. It probably boasts the most extensive menu and beer+wine list among the crop we’re reviewing today and you’d expect that in a tourist town like Daylesford.

And our surprise find of the month is the Wallace Hotel (yes, in Wallace, just up the road from Gordon and Ballan). It’s like Dr Who’s Tardis: bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. There’s the very respectable dining room at the front and a pub bar, then whoa, a huge restaurant and functions room at the back, big enough for any country wedding. So far we’ve enjoyed two Sunday lunches there and then met the good folk at the Ballan Chamber of Commerce at their monthly dinner. Let’s see: we’ve had the fish and salad, vegetable soup, Margarita pizza and steak pie … good nourishing and tasty fare, what more could you ask? Well, how about the ornate pressed-metal ceiling and the welcoming fireplace?

The pubs round here? We’ll be back!

 

In the Garden in the Outback

Our lifelong friend Dallas Scott has gone into retail in the Outback town of Longreach, Queensland. and opened “The Garden Shed”, a spot for specialty botanical-theme gifts. Always the practical one, Dallas says she has stocked her shop with practical wares, “to be put to good use immediately … no dust & bug collecting!”

So practical that her shop provides free Wi-Fi for customers, lovely!

Dallas describes “The Garden Shed” (in Crane Street … every street in Longreach is named after a bird) as “a taste of South Melbourne in Longreach” and for once a sloganny-sounding promotion is rooted in truth … daughter Patience lives in South Melbourne and has added her tasteful stocking advice and big-city brands to the line-up. Let’s see: Helen Kaminski hats, Portmerion Botanical china, Mor Marshmallow products, French Hansi lemonade and mustards as well as what Dallas says are “the most expensive tea towels offered in Australia”.

As well as practical, Dallas is also generous: she says: “Every month a selected charity will be showcased in the Garden Shed to raise awareness and collect gold coin donations for the charity.”

Longreach is a day’s drive (1200km) north-west of Brisbane and site of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the QANTAS Founders’ Museum. We’ve been to both and they’re outstanding.

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