No Bullshit Tim - The food loving wine maker

In a previous life, I used to be a wedding photographer, judge me, I totally deserve it. It was one of many odd career choices I found myself in (for the strangest of reasons). I vaguely remember once working at a fancy wedding in country Victoria where the bride, upon hearing about my love of food, told me I should make contact with a bloke called Tim who was based in Castlemaine. That was a long time ago, and over the years Tim and I have bumped into each, not literally, just figuratively, it’s not like we’re both ridiculously clumsy. On the rare occasion we do catch up it’s always something related to food, be it scaling mountains for elusive mushrooms or chewing the fat at a farmer’s market he’d organised. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the bloke is his no-bullshit passion for food, so I thought I’d get on the road and pay him a visit.

I didn’t know much about Tim’s past until recently when I discovered he was brought up by parents obsessed with food. They loved the idea of growing food themselves, they even prepared it for a family restaurant they owned called ‘Peaches’ (named after the old peach packing shed it was based in). Tim’s parents were early adaptors in the early 1980’s (way ahead of the hipsters) and grew all the fruit, veg and nuts and anything else they could for their family and the restaurant. No wonder the guy has an innate love and passion for food. It’s proof that what we do as parents can hold a strong influence on the choices our children make.

But I’m not visiting Tim to just talk about food, right now I’m interested in his other project. Yes, he has two passions, growing, cooking and serving good food AND making beautiful wine. His drive for producing good food and wine is insatiable, and he’s doing it for all the right reasons. Simply because he loves it.

Tim is based in the lovely town of Castlemaine in central Victoria, where he’s worn various hats from managing the local farmer's market, working at a farm to table restaurant and now proudly wears a wine makers hat, producing vino with his mate Pat at the co-op they’ve aptly named ‘Boomtown’ (after the boom and bust nature of many of the goldfields towns or the area).

I arrived to visit Boomtown on a grey autumn day in late April, the temperature had dropped but the rain had yet to bring the much needed break in the season. The old industrial shed where Boomtown is located was as warm as a mother-in-law’s embrace. The air was musty and the concrete floor chilly and cold, Tim’s smile however was a warm and friendly welcome. As I arrived he was steaming French oak wine barrels he’d picked up secondhand and was giving them a good clean before they’d were to be filled with the next vintage. His steamer had blown a seal and before we sat down to talk we jumped in his ute and headed off to a nearby winemaker to source an emergency part. The drive wasn’t more than a few minutes and before I knew it we were in a massive tin shed filled with stainless steel wine vats speaking with a bearded wine expert, a mate of Tim’s. I didn’t say much, I couldn't get a word in, instead I just listened to the two speak a language unfamiliar to me, ‘wine makers talk’. Really it’s a sight to behold, as an observer it’s intriguing. It’s like listening to someone speak Italian or Spanish, I can understand little snippets of words I’ve picked up traveling, but really I have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. And in true wine maker fashion, in the early hours of a weekday morning, we tasted many varieties of the next batches of wine the bearded expert had been working on. My mouth didn’t know what to do with all the amazing foreign flavors swishing around cheek to cheek. It was like visiting a nude beach for the first time and not knowing which set of boobs to look at or which penis to be intimidated by, an overload for the senses. (Truth be told, I’ve never visited a nude beach in real life, only in my dreams, and it was super weird). 

Boomtown wines

With our mouths tingling with half cooked vintage we returned back to Boomtown so Tim could repair his barrel steamer and continue cleaning whilst we talked passionately about the good things in life. He set to work cleaning whilst I just hung about, listening to him explaining the various reasons for using old oak instead of new oak because it allows grapes to tell their own story and not to be influenced by the flavor of new wood (finally some wine talk that made sense to me). He explained his preferred way of making wines with as minimal influence as possible, he wants the fruit to change the wine every year instead of manipulating the process to achieve a consistent wine each year. This approach is akin to good cooking I reckon. Let the ingredients tell their own story.

Cleaning the oak barrels with hot steam

Someone recently asked me how I got into food and I still don’t know how to answer that question after all these years. You just care enough or you don’t. But if you do care you have to have an open mind, you have to be willing to take on new experiences whilst celebrating the seasonal traditions year in year out. For Tim, it was food that got him into wine. It was a logical, gradual progression he explained “I’ve always been drawn to food, obsessed with cooking and growing my own food, then I started realizing that the wine I was drinking didn’t really make sense in the way that the food I was enjoying did”. This wasn’t anything like the food he was obsessing about, local, seasonal, organic, small batch etc. Tim recalled a big shift happened when he visited a Tasmanian restaurant ‘Garagiste’ (no longer exists) where “the ethics and values they had in the kitchen were mirrored with their wine list” “Everyone that worked there was just as invested in the wine as they were in the food. It made more sense than anything I’d ever experienced”.

From that point he found a new interest in sourcing wine better suited to his food. At some point, the fascination took hold and he found himself in a wine making co-op in an old factory building in Castlemaine. I’m always interested in hearing the progression of how people get to a certain point in time, and how they change in 5, 10 and 20 years. The evolution of an individual is a magic thing to observe, Tim’s story is no different.

Goose liver pâté

It was reaching midday so I pulled out a goose liver pâté that I’d made from some geese I dispatched a week prior and served it on fresh sourdough, but it wasn’t enough, we needed lunch. Tim took me around to some food producers operating out of the factory precinct which has developed into an interesting food hub over the years. He grabbed some fresh herbs and veg from the independent grocer and handful of amazing streaky bacon from the small goods butcher (Oakwood) passionately ran by the German ex-pat Ralf. With the ingredients for lunch secured we returned to the shed for Tim’s much anticipated pasta. He often cooks a meal at the cellar door but there isn’t a kitchen in any sense of the word. He’s confined to an electric hot plate and a bench. These are the kind of restrictions I enjoy when I cook, it keeps things simple out of necessity. “this is a normal vintage lunch, a pasta, some salad, bread and a bottle of wine”. Sounds pretty amazing to me, but then again, I’m fairly easy to please. With the Rolling Stones live album ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s out’ playing loudly over the speakers, Tim prepared a simple salad of greens, tomato, anchovies and capers with a magic dressing perfectly suited for mopping up with chewy bread. The pasta was as simple as they come, fried bacon mixed with pasta, eggs, pecorino and olive oil, Carbonara OG style. Tim knocked the top off of one of the wines under his label, ‘Minim’ and we sat down to enjoy the good things in life; good food, wine and conversation.

It’s a rare occasion to Tim sitting down for more than five minutes as he always seems like he has something brewing, a hot pot boiling, something to clean, someone to talk to. It was nice to finally have him alone to catch up over wine and good food. “There are so many things I want to do, but I just don’t have the time” he explains. It’s so true for people driven by passion, time is their Achilles heel.

Understanding that he can’t do it all, he and his wine making mate Pat often open Boomtown to budding wine makers, who, in exchange for labor and work are allowed to use equipment to make their own wine whilst learning the wine making process. But for Tim it’s not just about teaching, it’s also about learning.

 “That’s the whole reason this place exists, for us to learn off other people and for small produces to have the ability to make their own wines”. There isn’t much structure to the system other than that, an admirable approach where people that possess fine skills share trade secrets encouraging growth of not only an industry, but a culture. More wine makers means more variety in the wines, something that’s been limited in the region. “a lot of the wine that has been made in this area has had a certain formula in mind, and with a limited palate to work with because everyone was obsessed about planting French varieties, shiraz, pinot in the cool areas and cabernet. I think that’s a big part of it here, we want to make wine slightly differently to a lot of other people. We work with a lot of different varieties from a broad area and we make our wines without any cultured yeast, without filtering the wine, so we’re really comfortable with the wines looking different every year, that’s how the vintage comes through”.

That’s the thing about Tim. He’s not driven by wanting awards or making millions of dollars making mass produced wines, he’s driven by getting the best he can from what nature provides each year. He loves cooking with the seasons and understands that the availability and quality of the food he sources is determined by the natural conditions, the same can be said about his approach to making wine.

Where will he be in years to come? He’s still not quite sure. He has moved into catering events at the cellar door where he blends his two passions of cooking and wine, a partnership that’s been working pretty well for millennia. His legacy, what he does want to be a part of, is making change. He wants to see a culture that does embrace seasonally determined food with as minimal tampering as possible, where the approach to sourcing food with these principles is just second nature, not something that we have to think about. If it’s part of culture in countries like France, Italy and Spain then why can’t it exist here?

“It would be good to be a part of a generation in time that was pivotal in influencing that big shift that needs to happen, where you live as an example of someone that doesn’t even think about food in terms of trying to frame it in certain context, it’s just innate. You grow stuff, you get stuff from the shops but when you do you’re not sub conscious in your choices, you’re just doing it because it’s in your nature”.

The cool autumnal air was sneaking in the shed, the sky had become a little darker and it was my cue to head off and let Tim finish cleaning secondhand oak barrels. We cleared the table, totally satisfied with full bellies of pasta and salad. As I headed off Tim handed me a bottle of red to “share with the miss’s” which put a smile on my face. We parted ways and I hit the road invigorated from a day spent with someone I share common values with in food. Simple values, but good values. Just like that bottle of red we shared later that evening.

 

Go visit TIM:

MINIM WINES
BOOMTOWN

The machines that feed us

Curiosity is a funny thing, being a curious person can take you to places you never imagined you'd end up, then you find yourself asking how you got there. I pondered this very thing while staring at lamb carcasses cooking over a fire. They hung from steel posts balancing in the air via a delicate construction of wire, gravity and hope. Through an eye stinging smoky haze, the meat dripped with hot rendered fat in the most prehistoric of ways, the smell of smoke and meat intoxicating. How did I get to this point, this moment, cooking in this ancient way, and at a vintage bike show?

 Steve checking the lamb early on Saturday morning. We need more coffee. 

Steve checking the lamb early on Saturday morning. We need more coffee. 

Growing up with my bum warming the seat of a few Honda bikes on a farm was definitely a starting point, as was the show CHiPS. Bikes had a place in my childhood, then curiosity and desire brought them back in adult life. Curiosity for these machines, how they work and where they can take us got me back on two wheels. In the process, I've met and made many new friends, one of whom asked me to cook at their vintage bike event, The Machine Show in Braidwood NSW.

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After years of doing commercial food related events I'd promised myself to put it all behind me and just focus on cooking food for my family and friends. I find when you commercialise something you're passionate about it, it often turns into a chore and you can lose the love for it. I almost reached that point with food a few years ago so I set myself rules avoiding doing anything with the combination of food, money and customers. Obviously, I broke my own rule.

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I've written about how I love cooking in a peasant style, my favourite meals are often those cooked outside, or in tiny inadequate cabin kitchens where you have no choice but to return to the basics of cooking. Cooking with fire is something Steve and I are used to, we both get out bush where fire is the only practical option. When I was asked if I'd like to cook at the show by my mate Matt (event organiser) I said yes immediately. Cooking good food and vintage bikes, sounded like an adventure in food to me. So, I organised a bunch of local lambs, sourced Australian made corn tortillas, made a huge bunch of chipotle chili sauce, and my taco partner Steve made a heap of zingy, garlic slaw, we were set.

 Choppers in the mist

Choppers in the mist

 

The ride up to Braidwood can be magnificent, that's if you take a few days to ride over the high-country wilderness, with superb winding roads, spectacular views and untouched nature, but we took the Hume, so we got dirty truck stops, shit stained dunnies, fried food, plenty of Highway Patrol and an awkward conversation with Kevin the truck driver that had a sweet spot for hairy bikers. Actually, I kind of like cruising up the Hume on the bike. It's well made, comfortable and its lack of vistas means your mind gets all zen and shit. One can process the things that one has put off. This vast emptiness of thought can also encourage huge unwanted 'anxiety in a helmet' panic attacks, no biggy, nothing to see here, I'm totally fine.

 

Steve took his beast, the ex-army Landrover with cute matching trailer. He's been stupid busy at his restaurant in the bay since before Christmas and was eager for down time. Eight hours on the Hume putting along alone in his beloved Landy was fairly appealing I imagine. I noticed he sparked up a celebratory Cuban as soon as we left the country roads and entered the Highway, clouds of cigar smoke would intermittently exit the driver's window with each puff and his truck subsequently stank like a big night with Castro, Che Guevara and the Buena Vista Social club. But he was happy and that's all that matters.

 

 5 hours of slow fire cooking and it was pure lamb magic. 

5 hours of slow fire cooking and it was pure lamb magic. 

We spent the weekend cooking lambs, making tacos, making tacos and cooking more lambs. It was fun when it got busy and especially joyful when people came back for more, especially when a Mexican bloke came up to me after we closed one night and told how he'd momentarily re-visited home while eating our tacos. Pretty good vibes from that. That's a radical feature of food, it makes people happy, it can transport our minds to memories and feelings. That chipotle sauce of mine is powerful stuff.

 

It's the second year this event has existed and it was encouraging to see more bikes, more people and more love for bikes of all types. That's what attracts me to it, it's not just choppers, choppers, more fucking choppers. Look, I like choppers, I ride a chopper of sorts but man 'the scene' drives me batty. For something that was born out of breaking the rules, building machines on the cheap and being anti-establishment, it's now very steeped in rules and standards, it's expensive and has this dumb mucho behaviour that dictates what it means to be cool (mostly males…..no surprise there). The tough guy bullshit, it's so base level, it's not needed to have a good time, it's the domain of the shallow, the ones that can't think for themselves. And don't get offended if you're a bloke and like choppers, I'm not referring to everyone in this space. Take a breath, think bigger picture. 

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I like old choppers, I love to look at them, to admire them but I don't want to ride for days on end on one when I could take the Dyna Dad Glide and feel like I'm riding a rumbling sofa (which is also reliable). Hey, everyone has different vibes man, you ride your bike, I'll ride mine, let's get along with a shared love for riding no matter what the combination of frame, motor, front end is. When I see the sticker 'Ride Choppers or Fuck off" I'm the bloke that says "ok" then fucks off happily because my main bike is stock. Maybe I should make a sticker that says "Ride Stock and Bake Cookies, who cares? ". The oddities and intricacies of social sub-cultures. The irony of not understanding a culture that in some ways I partake in is not lost on me.

 

On top of my excessive over thinking about human behaviour, I was bummed out with the few drongos being actual drongos and messing up the venue with fire, destruction and all round dumb male behaviour, yes it was men again (sad truth, can't deny it, we have to acknowledge it). Just because it's a biker event doesn’t mean we have to take a step backwards in evolution and act like we're 1970's hard core bikers destroying and vandalising stuff after we've had a few too many brews. It's 2018, there are now gay, vegan, gluten free, feminist, leftist bikers, get over it. Let's move forward not backwards, this is why bikes don't have a reverse gear. But seriously, what attracts me to people that ride bikes, is people that ride bikes. Not drongos that destroy something that has taken so much work to put together for our pleasure and enjoyment. No wonder these events get pulled after a few years of dealing with the idiots. That’s no fun. Aren't we more than that? Is this the peak of a subculture desperate to hang onto the past or can we be innovative, challenging, as intelligent as the pioneers that engineered the bikes we love to ride today. I find this kind of behaviour so base, primitive and just dumb. It's not challenging anything, it's not clever, it's just base level stupidity. Humans again, letting down other humans. Observational opinion over.

 

Apart from the few turkeys, I had a blast catching up with friends old and new. Hanging with people from around the country that I usually only interact with via the small electronic device I'm permanently attached to. To see distant friends in real life is a real joy, to talk, to laugh and enjoy the machines we love is something that means a lot to me. It's not just the machines, it's about learning more about personalities and the uniqueness of human individualism. I learned some new things about my friends that I didn't know. Motorbikes brought us together, that’s fairly rad.

 

We packed up the taco stand on the Sunday with the wind howling down hampering the wind-up process (a killer hang-over didn't help much either). Our plan was to spend two days enjoying the trip over the high country and ending up at a mate's place for a sneaky deer hunt in some high-country bush. We hammered those mountains, only stopping to meet at fuel stops for a quick confirmation of the next stop. It was all going well until we got to Adaminaby where the weather turned fowl and I got drenched on the bike for a few hours. Meanwhile Steve had to turn down the heater in the Landrover because he was getting too hot and his lips were cracked from the dryness and overall warmth. Then just on the other side of the Jagungal Wilderness, after I'd passed the worst of the worst weather, shivering like a paint mixer at Bunnings, my clutch cable snapped and we had to unpack the trailer and lift the bike onto the high rise ex-army trailer. That was fun, we both really enjoyed the experience.

 

We got back on the road and drove for hours eventually reaching Rosco's long house for a late supper, of which we ravaged like hungry beasts. Over a glass or two of wine we agreed that a pre-dawn deer hunt was the go so we all buggered off for some shut eye in preparation for an early start. I didn't pack a high-powered deer rifle in the bike, it kind of encourages unwanted attention with the Highway Patrol. Knowing this Rosco kindly offered me a 30-06 which I refused because I'm an idiot and was being polite. Maybe too much riding over the weekend had effected my judgement. In any-case here we are on an amazing private property full of deer, Rosco has a shot at a dirty great big Sambar stag, misses, runs off into the bush looking for a blood trail to start tracking, meanwhile the dazed mega stag does a quick loop around the scrub then stands directly in front of me probably about 30 metres away, broadside, head to fucking tail, turns to look at me and gives me that 'fuck you idiot with no gun' look they sometimes give you then disappeared into the bush. All I could do was yell "Steve! Behind you!" which didn't fire any projectiles in the direction of the deer, because it was just loud noises I was making; one mammal screaming at another mammal in the middle of the high country bush like a true drongo.

 

As disappointing as the impromptu deer hunt was, we did have an awesome massive weekend. We started the drive home, with my broken bike behind us on the trailer, Steve smoking his stinky cigars, Freya the Vizsla dog behind me licking my ears from the backseat, overall it was a pleasant journey. I was pretty quiet, tired and emotional, my jeans still damp from the rain over the Jagungal wilderness ride. I could be heard quietly grumbling to myself "I said no to a gun"………"I said no…..who says no?".  Never again.

 

 

Thanks for Matt and Soph for putting together the show. Steve for being an awesome Taco mate, EzyLee for being the best taco flipper north east of Canberra (and the pics) and Rosco for the usual Wombat welcoming hospitality that we love.

 

Return to Eucumbene

It had been far too many years since our 'annual' fishing trip to the Eucumbene. Life has a way of keeping you distracted. This year we were determined to make it happen, so we locked the dates well in advance and wouldn't allow anything to push it out.

I wanted The Searched to be a place to drop two wheel adventure stories but in this case I'm happy to make an exception. Many of my good mates live nowhere near me, so all our conversation is via text or Instagram comments, it's not very real. When the opportunity came up to road trip in the car with Raynor for a few days, I jumped at it. In his 4x4 I had a captive audience, and we had a lot to catch up on. An integral part of good friendship is good conversation.

We headed out of town straight after work to make a dint in the long haul to our high-country destination. We pulled in to Tallangatta late, the sleepy town had already shut down for the night. A few street lights buzzed with summer bugs aimlessly flying about and you could hear the distant sounds of backyard conversations over old wooden fences long past their prime. We made camp at the old showgrounds, our tents sat under an amazing clear sky complete with shooting stars, zooming satellites and the celestial masterpiece. The air was so warm I slept under the stars with just the net, it was magic.

Early the following morning we headed out of town towards the high-country village of Corryong, another sleepy town rich in history, the home of the 'Man from Snowy River' and our last stop for supplies. With the 4x4 loaded up we headed east towards the towering mountains. There's a road that heads straight towards the heavens following the path of the huge power lines that are feed by the snowy hydro power station, half way up there's an old wooden sign covered in moss and aged by the sun. It's the welcome to the Kosciuszko National Park sign and it gives me goose bumps every time I see it. It's one of those visual cues that evokes a range of emotions from excitement to fear, adventure and a sense of isolation and danger. The drive is all climb at this stage, passing through dense eucalyptus forest dotted with huge granite boulders, on the other side of the range the road winds down into steep valleys where gigantic walls hold back damns of water for the snowy hydro system. The landscape of the Jagungal wilderness is nothing short of phenomenal. It's wild and pure, and if you look past the obvious you can see little evidence of human interference. There is a healthy ecology here, and as we whizz past eagerly towards the river, we marvel at the purity and talk of future hikes to get a closer look.

The road curves around more mountains eventually finding it's way out of the woodlands and into rolling hills of alpine grassland approaching the deserted town of Kiandra. Once a bustling gold rush town, now just a scattering of surviving buildings, an old steam powered battery, the graveyard and mullock heaps of discarded rock, the scars of industrious mining activity from a century ago. It's at this point that we loose ourselves in the buzz and excitement, we drive over the river returning back to woodland towards the rough track that leads down to the money spot. Two grown men woo-hooing with excited hearts beating in anticipation of what lay ahead. The track down is a bit rough, 4x4 only and it's easy enough to get down, but hard to get back up. It's a steep goat track of lose rocks, sharp boulders and deep holes that will give most 4x4's an ability test. I ran out as a spotter for some of the more challenging sections of track, then ran ahead of Ray's ute, I desperately wanted to spot the camp site from a distance making sure no one had got there before us. Panting like a hot dog I stepped up on a rocky ledge and happily spotted the money spot, empty of humans. I turned around to Rays who was riding the badly eroded track and gave him the thumbs up. I could see the smile for miles.

camp

It's the first time I'd taken Rays to this spot, we normally camp at the edge of the bush in a legal camp site, but this camp is my preferred. It's more remote and close to decent runs on the river. The remoteness and poor accessibility puts campers off which means better fishing.

We didn't muck about and set up our tents, shelter and collected firewood, enough to keep us sorted for the next three nights. As soon as the last loop was tied on the tents we donned the waders and put the rods together for an afternoon on the water. Fly fishing is one of those activities that, in its course makes you do other things. Fly fishing a river like this means a lot of hiking will take place. We set about heading over open woodland hills, down steep heath covered descents, crossing over the water to alpine wildflower grasslands. On the hike you couldn't help but notice the millions of grasshoppers that jumped away from our feet as we hoofed it. Rays being the smarter of the two set up his rod with a grasshopper pattern while I stubbornly stuck with the old faithful Royal Wulff, which has served me for many years on this river. Even though I have never seen so many hoppers at my feet I decided to preserver with the Wulff and it was my downfall. Also I lacked any hopper patterns that resembled anything like what was actually on the ground, all mine were disco hoppers with bright stripy fur and iridescent foam. I did eventually move over to a hopper but didn't have much luck. It goes to show that the person with the closest resembling fly wins the day, and Rays did well landing a few good size trout, while I picked up a nice pound and half brown, the smoker would be full that night!

 Rays nailing it with the hoppers

Rays nailing it with the hoppers

We fished the river hard that afternoon and into the evening. It's tough going with slippery rocks, snakes, gusty valley and march flies that bite with a sting even through clothes, all part of the adventure really. We worked our way upstream into the evening, parts of me already starting to feel tender and in need of recovery. As the sun dipped the temperature dropped rapidly and our fire crackled along warming our bodies and (*inserts cheesy ness) our hearts. Spirits were high that night, I reckon we drank more than we should, we were caught up in the excitement of a ripper day of road tripping, hiking, camping and alpine fly fishing. Under a clear night sky I hit my head on the pillow, hoping to hear the howl of dingoes. Alas the dingoes were quiet on this night.

 Look at the colour of this trout. It's amazing. 

Look at the colour of this trout. It's amazing. 

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Waking up knowing we had another two full days on the fly on this beautiful river was a ripper way to start the day. After a hot camp coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich, we began the hike all the way down to the pond in the river, our intention was to fish a bunch of unknown runs. I'd never been down that far before so it was all new territory to me, and it was exciting. We climbed up and down the mountainous country through more grassland, open woodland and patches of bright yellow everlasting daises. In the valley below we kept a close eye on potential good runs of water, while a pair of Wedge Tail eagles kept an inquisitive eye on us from above. One flew low to the ground with an impressive and foreboding shadow rippling its way over the features of the landscape. In the distance, we spotted the pond and began the decent off the high ground down to the water. At the end of the pond was a small run that I lay a few casts in to and pulled out two small rainbows. It seemed like the day could be productive after all!

 You can't even see me fishing. So camp. 

You can't even see me fishing. So camp. 

We often fish with a tag team system. I'll fish and Rays might spot for me, then we swap. It's also a good system to be able to talk to each other about the runs and where might be the best place to present the fly to. It's one thing knowing how to cast a fly line, another to know where the fish are. Stream craft is a necessary skill for any half decent flyfisher-person. So I'd taken the first cast for the morning fish and now it was Raynors turn. On a run of fast shallow water he layed down his first cast and a dirty big brown trout decided to get itself stuck on the in of his line, right on the hook too. I quickly grabbed the net and we cautiously landed the 2+ pound beauty. That was pretty well much the remainder of the day, Rays catching good size fish while I got missed strikes and landed small fish. 

Later in the afternoon we met up with Hatto upstream, he'd come up a day late for reasons unknown but was a welcome sight fishing water upstream. The three of us fished the remainder of the day all the way upstream to camp. Exhausted I cracked open a coldie and rested my old man aching feet, what a ripper of a day! I butterflied the largest fish and we grilled it over hot coals on a wire fish rack and smoked the two smaller trout, which we served with fire roasted spuds, home made relish and plenty of chilli sauce. We ate like kings and almost drank like lords. I could hardly keep my eyes open, a bit knackered from the big day so hit the hay pretty early. 

The final day of fishing is inevitable, like mortality, you just have to accept it. There was a real buzz getting up with the sunlight, preparing a camp coffee and a big feed to fuel us for another massive day on the water. Over the woodland hills again, across the river, scaling the grassy alpine rises and pretty bunches of yellow paper daisy. It's such a sight to behold up there, it's uniquely Australian, and because it doesn't get many human visitors, it's pure, so clean you can drink the snow melt water all day long. We started out at the pond away down stream from camp and fished all the good runs. The hoppers dominated all day, Raynor filling his vest with good size trout. Just after lunch Hatto and I spotted some trout in a nursery of slow water on a side run. Hatto started flicking a fly right on top of the fish while I spotted Raynor in the corner of my eye hooking into yet another decent fish. I may have secretly rolled my eyes in disgust, then I saw the fish head peak out of the water and I realised it was a big one, well a big one for this small size river. He had landed the most beautiful brown, he was shaking with excitement, a happier bloke I couldn't imagine. 

That evening we ate more fish, we grilled the monster, shared stories, cold beers and plenty of laughs. I don't really believe in luck, everything is just a mathematical probability, there doesn't seem to be any magic left, but I do feel fortunate to have good mates that share a love for fly fishing and spending time out where we feel we belong. 

I first came to this river six years ago and I was a very different person. A lot has changed since then, but the river remains the same. Each time I visit, however, I leave a different person. This river tests me, it literally hurts me, my feet, knees, legs all sore from slipping on rocks and down steep embankments. The heath, prickle and brush scratch me, the sunlight burns me, the wind taunts me, snakes want to bite me and the march flies sting me, but it's breathtakingly beautiful and I enjoy every minute I'm up there. So many times I just have to stop to take it in, amazed that I'm in such a magnificent place. When I leave, I feel a great sadness, I know it will probably be another year until I return to fish the water, and that sucks. But the memories of each visit do not. They make me smile when I'm down and cheer me up. You can beat an egg, but you can't beat that. 

 Heading out, back to reality

Heading out, back to reality

 Post fishing dip

Post fishing dip

The story behind the cheese (Drysdale Cheese) - Corinne & Peter

I have a massive list of places and people I want to ride the bike and visit this year. So many people with a passion for good food and booze! Chances are I won’t reach them all, you just can’t do everything you want, but I did get to tick one off the list recently.

I was pretty stoked to fire up the Little Ripper and head down the coast to visit some cool humans doing great things with goat cheese in Drysdale. A while back I bought a ticket for a cheese making course for my girlfriend and she returned inspired and refreshed, I had to meet the people behind the cheese.

The road down to Drysdale is one I've travelled a bit recently and it's not much of a ride to be honest, apart from a nice spell of winding roads through Stony Reservoir near Meredith. As for the rest of it, it's dry, parched pasture this time of year, and to make things worse you have to ride past a disgustingly smelly cattle feed lot. Seriously, who in their right minds thinks it's a good (healthy or natural) approach to feed thousands of cattle in a confined space to finish them off on grain just to have a consistency in end product.? They live in cow shit in those pens, it's ridiculous. I'm reminded of this every time I ride past, and even at 100kmph you can't avoid the stench of human stupidity. Grass fed all the way. Eat less meat, eat the good stuff. Eat well. Rant over.

I did pick a rad day to ride down, a beautifully sunny 'Australia Day'. Over the years I think I've made my opinion (for what it's worth) known about this day, even lost a few friendships online but who cares? If you can't see the injustice of not wanting the day to be truly celebrated by all, on an appropriate date respectful of the 40,000 y.o. culture that the formation of what we call Australia destroyed in the process of formation, then we probably aren't really going to be real mates anyway.

On a positive note, all the bogans were out parading in their Aussie classics of Holdens, Valiants and Fords. What a spectacle of polished chrome and sunburnt faded paint on the old girls, brings a tear to the eye seeing these classics on the road, might also have been the stench of cow shit. Spotting these cars also made me realise how much I talk out loud alone on the bike with a few “what a ripper!” and “you bloody beauty!” popping out from under the helmet to oneself.

I pulled into Drysdale hot and bothered in my leathers gaging for a coldie. I got some last-minute text directions “ours is the house with the yellow picket fence” and there I was, pulled up the front of this beautiful old weatherboard named 'CorioLynn' warmly greeted by Corinne and Peter. Corinne asked “so what do you want to do?” I quickly replied “have a cold beer!” After a few hours on the bike on a stinker of a day it was a real treat to sit at their old wooden table, in a cool dark kitchen sharing a beer and talking about what we'd do with my visit. I don’t dig formal occasions or formal plans, I find life a lot easier if you just go with the flow, so we just went from one place to another for the rest of the afternoon into evening talking about what they do with food, and why.

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First off, we headed out to the male kids from the current season. The gang of kids were nearby grazing in weedy paddocks on a magnificent historic property originally set up post Crimean War as a place to rehabilitate returned servicemen. The property is now in private hands but still has the ceremonial old canon parked in the driveway which still gets fired up once or twice a year!

I’ve had plenty of contact with goats over the years, friends have them for milking or meat and I’m very fond of their friendly nature and cheeky behaviour. To be expected, these young male goats were cute as. They came up to greet me with a nuzzle and a cheeky bite on anything, apparently, camera straps are appetising. 

It didn't take me long to pick up on Corinne and Peters approach to food production, as amazing as social media is, it only tells a small portion of anyone's story. A real-life connection is still the only real way to truly hear and feel a person's story. They explained how the land owner was managing the weeds with machinery, but the goats did a better job, and they convert the weeds into food. Makes sense. The kids are the product of impregnating the female milker's to encourage milk production. A lot of people don't vibe on this reality yet happily consume dairy, which is odd and ignorant. I reckon you really need to have an understanding of where and how your food is produced, unfortunately dairy production is an unknown process for a lot of people. I've never understood the logic behind being a vegetarian for the sake of reducing harm to animals whilst consuming dairy, but I don't understand a lot of humans anyway, go figure. In any case, Corinne and Peter are both trained Pharmacists with the logic of science, driven by their personal ethics and are happily producing and consuming meat as part of the process to produce milk. They approach it as a linked system, where the meat is as valued as the milk is.

I'm always curious to get other people's take on the ethics of food production so I asked Corinne about the vegan approach of not supporting dairy for this reason (male offspring is killed as a ‘by-product’ of dairy production). Her response was pretty clear and sound. What do we do with these species of animals that humans have managed for so many thousands of years? They only exist because of generations of human farming techniques. I posed the question, what do we do with all these animals that we’ve manipulated and managed for the benefit of human food production if we all stop eating meat? The practical answer is to continue managing it. You simply can’t release these animals into the wild in Australia, the results would be ecologically devastating. You can't simply keep farms going with all the investment of time, resources and money but not yield any return. Do we shut off breeding and let these species simply become extinct? Or do we look at better ways to manage the situation? Let's face it, it’s highly unlikely the masses are ever going to stop eating meat or dairy. We can’t even get people eating healthy food, so what chance have we got turning people vegan? These conversations need to be had, as uncomfortable as they might be for some with passionate and emotional opinions. I'm no expert nor does my opinion count for much but I do find great value in visiting and talking to the people that produce our food to explore ideas that better help me understand the systems in play.

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My inner monologue questioning the value of dairy and its place in human culture was distracting me from being present with Corinne and Peter, I turned my inner monologue off and took in the surroundings. The warm afternoon sunlight was dipping low, so to make the most of the remaining light we jumped in the ute and headed to the dairy just a few minutes down the road. It’s not a massive farm, they don’t have many milkers (just 30) and have no intentions of upsizing. I love this approach! So often you see food producers start small, become successful, convince themselves they need to expand, grow the business and lose a little bit of that special thing that made them special in the first place. It’s often the case where an expansion of a business results in short cuts being made and ethics compromised, but not with Corinne and Peter. They milk their 30 goats and aren’t planning on increasing the heard. They also only milk once a day, where many goat dairies milk twice a day. A twice daily milk is good for making more cheese to sell but puts pressure on the bodies and health of the goats producing the milk. The Drysdale goats are absolutely loved, each one having an individual name, personality and relationship with the farmers. The name tags made it easy for me to make conversation with the goats as their friendly noses snuggled and rubbed into me, nibbling at my dusty road worn shirt. I couldn’t tell if it was an affectionate thing or if a lot of them just had very itchy noses, but man did they love a snuggle, I obliged like a kid in a petting zoo. Goats are amazing creatures, inquisitive, cheeky and affectionate, in fact I found their company to be more pleasing than many humans I know. 

Corinne and Peter have a daily routine of an early morning milking and an afternoon check-ups on all the animals for health and feeding purposes. Peter took a pole saw from the ute and cut off branches from a row of Tree Lucerne to feed the goats. It’s great seeing these guys use what nature provides, reducing the energy inputs involved associated with supplementary feed. The goats pushed and nuzzled their way to access the green leaves of the branch, making light work of it, stripping the branch bare. As entertaining as it was, it also represented good farming techniques. The guys took me over to check out the veg patch on the farm which grows amazing produce for themselves, the goats and the public. They had a pretty good garlic harvest this season and look set to nail the pumpkin department. I really liked the approach they have to growing veg, it’s similar to mine. I asked what varieties of a few good-looking plants were and the response was “not sure, just planted the seeds” or “got this of a lady in town”. They had amazing looking eggplants with spectacular dark leaves and a cucumber called ‘hand grenade’ that looked like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They also grew a variety of tomato, “an old wog variety” that's ripe to eat and still appears green which is great to stop the birds from eating them. They got those seedlings from an old Nona in town, and the plants are thriving with the coastal climate and rich black volcanic soil. That’s the thing about Corinne and Peter, it’s not just about goats and cheese, in fact Peter said the cheese had taken over a lot of other things he was enjoying, that’s when they took me back to the old house to show me their amazing backyard. 

“So what did you guys plant?” I asked pointing to the 180 degree view of established healthy natives, rambling vegetable garden, fruit orchard and grape vines. “All of it!” they replied proudly. This is what I love about visiting people, you get to see hidden things that are so special. These two humans had a vision to turn a blank paddock into something amazing, a return of native vegetation to benefit the ecology and a food bowl to provide for a growing family. They’re been at it a while, the kids are all grown up adults and out in the big world now, but what they created in the backyard remains totally functional. The yard is an expansive labyrinth of wooden and wire fences, partitioned vegetable gardens cover the sloping land down towards the creek where tall Mana Gums and wattles stand tall, like they’ve always been there. “There was nothing here when we arrived” Peter tells me. I looked and admired what these guys have done and was almost lost for words, and a little bit jealous of such a bounty. So much food was all around me, small integrated systems of chooks eating waste, making eggs and producing meat, ducks mowing the grass under grape vines, juvenile goats trimming hedges and millions of life forms in the soil, all the detritivores doing their part in a complex natural system that was encouraged by two pharmacists that decided one day that they wanted to create something out of nothing. 

We walked around the block talking about food systems, imported asparagus, wine and chooks. Corinne picked up a chook here and a duck there, she sat with the goats. This lady clearly loves animals. It always amazes me that there are people out there that have very strongly formed opinion about what a dairy farmer is, what they think about their animals, but has never actually taken the time to get to know that farmer or ask why they do what they do.

Corinne told me how this season their mobile butcher couldn't do the job due to injury so her and Peter decided after years of watching him that they were competent to do it themselves. The butchering part she had no problem with after having helped the butcher for many years, but she was concerned about the dispatching. They did it, they managed. These are animals they have raised from babies, year in year out they do it. They have an understanding that this is the process, they believe in it as a system, they do it well and not without consideration. This husband and wife team are intelligent, thoughtful humans. They want to do what they believe is best for their farm and their community, I value and respect that. I admire the effort and consideration that's not immediately obvious when you look at a block of their cheese on the shelf. When these guys open their shed cheese shop once a month, they have lines of people cueing to be served, and they sell out every time. The reasons are obvious to me.

Too much food politics and existential thought, I needed another coldie so we headed into the kitchen where I sat and watched the preparations for dinner while flicking through photos I’d taken. Corrine has a Croatian background and talked about meals where she integrates her produce with traditional cooking. She’d made some killer flat bread gozleme with a tzatziki with backyard cucumber, goat yogurt, mint, salt and slurp of olive oil. I could not stop dipping the gozleme and had to make a real effort to hold back to leave space for mains. Glad I did because it was slow braised kid, like the ones in the paddock we'd feed earlier. Melty, sticky and well cared for by-product of the cheese we enjoyed later. The kid was served with grilled zucchini and crispy BBQ potato grits. My favourite food is simple food and these guys obviously embrace a similar peasant food approach, a mixture of Croatian tradition and a passion to serve their family real food that’s easy to prepare, has good nutritious value and tastes amazing. Both being Pharmacists these guys know and understand the benefits of healthy food intake versus a reliance of medication to treat the ills of processed foods and inactivity. It really isn’t simple to get your head around it. 

We’d shared the meal outside under a frame of climbing vines and a stunning summer evening sky. After a few glasses of Rosé and good conversation our outside dinning was cut short by very welcome summer downpour. The Rosé ran low so we opened a bottle of Peters home-made wine, the technique secretly taught to him by Croatian relatives on Corinne's side. A simple natural wine of crushed fermented grapes, that's basically it. It's wine that's been enjoyed for thousands of years and it was wonderful. He’s done a pretty darn good job of honing the technique over the years and I could have sat up eating cheese, drinking wine and talking about family history and food all evening, but I had a big ride the following day to the border of NSW to meet a pretty lady and needed rest. 

Before we finished up I asked why the two got into farming in the first place and the answer was oddly “mad cow disease”. They explained that they were working as Pharmacists in the UK in the 1980’s when a big outbreak of mad cow hit and they discovered that feeding of animal meat to herbivores was obviously not a good technique and started asking the question “what is in our food and how can we do it better? They became students of permaculture principles and eventually found their way to goats and the blessed art of cheese making, which has taken over everything, probably to the detriment of the veg patch as Peter explained. He has plans to return the focus to the garden patch and the integrated food wonderland that is their backyard, but I reckon they’re already doing a great job. They do much more than most of us do.

In the morning we grilled goat halloumi and ate true goats feta with backyard tomato and that beautiful gozleme before we headed out to the dairy in the early light. The rain that passed overnight created a spooky mist around the town and the farm was fresh and steamy. It was a real pleasure to watch the milking process, even more so to see Corinne showing a new farmer her techniques or 'industry secrets' as she called them, she's very much about sharing the knowledge. I really liked the simplicity of Corinnes system, especially the magnets with every goats name stuck to the wall so Corinne can easily keep track of which girl has been in, and which is still to process. I also had a chuckle at how eager the girls were to be milked! Some of the cheeky buggers would climb up the shed gate, peeping over with a goat moan as to say "is it my turn yet?" There's something to be said about keeping things simple, and this milking shed was just that. No bells and whistles, no fancy equipment, just the bare essentials and a bit of ingenuity,  and it produces a very real and honest bunch of cheeses. 

It’s rarely just about the food. I'm interested in the story behind the food. I’m keen to learn about what drives people to do what they do. Corinne and Peter filled me full of hope with their approach and passion. They clearly love what they do. At some point, Peter said how amazing it was that Corinne gets paid an income from doing what is effectively a hobby. A pretty good outcome for all those years of hard work and dedication. I appreciate their approach to the realities of dairy production, and how they value the meat as much as they value the milk. The approach is truly holistic, as hippy as that sounds. But really, these guys are the coolest modern peasants around and they’ve been doing it long before a hipster like me propagated a tomato in a dunny roll and thought he’d solved the worlds problems.

Corinne told me that people ask her why the hell she shares her techniques and secrets with new farmers eager to learn as they set up their own goat diaries. She explained to me she has a desire to see more of their operational approach on other farms. I wish for the same thing, I'd like to see more Drysdale cheese farms around the place.

You can learn more about Drysdale cheese here. 

Thank you to Corinne and Peter for letting me into your private world of food. 

 

Great Ocean Road - Steve Earl - La Bimba

The Great Ocean Road is one of the most used tourist roads in Australia, I've heard it's the second busiest tourist road in the country. To me, it's more than just a road, it's loaded with personal nostalgic value. It think is was 1984 when my folks bought an old onsite caravan at the then original Anglesea caravan park. It had a canvas annex, bunk beds and a familiar smell of BBQ food. I remember playing mums cassettes like 'Born in the USA' by the Boss and 'All the Girls I've loved before' by the heartthrob Julio Iglesias. I remember swallowing lego and watching the series 'V' on a tiny portable television, scared out of my wits. I remember Goonies, Return of The Jedi and Alby Mangles movies played at the old shed that was the holiday cinema. I remember kangaroos on the local course and fishing for bream off the pier, and how could I forget the endless hot days at the beach, boogie boarding until my chest was covered in rashes, then falling asleep to the soothing sounds of a day night match being called on the radio. Some of my best 80's memories are from time spent on the GOR. 

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For decades I've been drawn back to this coastline for the beauty, fun and food. Each year for many years I've returned to the beach surf fishing for Australian Salmon and Mullet, two of my favourite eating coastal fish. But there are many culinary facets to this coastline to enjoy and that's why I returned, to visit a old mate that feels the same about food as I do. 

THE RIDE

There's a few sections of this road that I really love. It's like when you're looking for a new house and you set out a list of things you want, a fire place, garage, a good oven, 12 person spa and a walk-in freezer. For this road I want high cliff faces, ocean views, tight corners and a close proximity to salty water, so much so that I can taste sea-spray. There are some sections of this road that tick all these boxes, but I have to get to the road first. I'd packed fairly light as I had a bed waiting for me on the coast, the Little Ripper was nimble on the road, it all helps, let's face it, the 600cc donk has to carry me, itself and the rest of the bike up and over hills, and that can be a challenge with a headwind. Torquay is almost perfect due south from our highland town, and it's downhill all the way to sea level which is a good thing, because silly old Ro made a bad choice on waiting a little too late for a petrol fill up. Luckily for me an old mate has a farm nearby and I managed to score a litre of gas to get me to a fuel stop (Thanks Tommy). I pulled into Anglesea relieved to see a petrol station and to stretch my back. Riding with a bulging disc probably isn't a great idea but my Chiro had instructed me to go live my life as I normally would, so I took his word for it, literally. With a quick fill up and a gulp of icy cold service station water I geared back up to begin the ride that I had been excited about for a long time. This is where the road gets fun.

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Immediately as you leave Anglesea, heading west along the GOR you go up a little rise, the ocean to your left, and it's as blue as the ocean (did I just say that?) On a good day, of which this day was, the sky and the ocean are both a magnificent blue, one rich and dark, the other bright and light. There's also a magnificent green colour to the water around here, just where it meets the land and the water isn't too deep. I am very colour blind so I hope green is the right description. Whatever the colour may be, it's beautiful like a naked siren demanding your attention (that's if you like staring at naked sirens) but I was riding a dirty little chopper so my eyes where on the road, of course. 

It's at this early part of the road where you see some ominous road signs that'll keep any rider and driver on their toes. Due to the high traffic of international tourist drivers, there are road signs reminding people to drive on the left when in Australia. Jeebers, you think they'd have figured that out, but obviously not,  enough to necessitate instructional road signs. On full alert, I dropped down gears as I entered the first of the corners, the pipes on the bike growling, the sound bouncing off the earthen walls of the land side ensuring a permenant smile on my face. The road takes you through Aireys Inlet to Fairhaven past 'Max Rockatanskys' house from the original Mad Max movie. You can see why they picked this area to film, it oozes such great Aussie beach vibes. After the relatively straight section exiting Fairhaven, the road closes in with eucalyptus woodland as the road heads up and around cliffs that mask a perfect view of the ocean. Every now and then you'll get a momentary glimpse of blue water in the distance, it's the combination of bush and ocean views that's a winning formula. It has prehistoric vibes, and for place that's populated with visitors and locals it's an amazing feature for it not to have been ruined yet, it's the drawcard for many of us GOR lovers. 

Lorne is the next big town, and it's the Surfers Paradise of the GOR. It's geographic location means it gets a lot of day trippers that can't be bothered going the extra mile to the next place, so they stop here. I know some people that have been here for a long time will not like this situation, but Lorne now has a tacky tourist vibe about it, it's much different to the Lorne of my childhood. I'll often just stop for the toilet or fuel then keep going as I did on this trip. Just outside of Lorne you enter the best section of the GOR. It ticks ALL the boxes, and on two wheels on a fine day, it's pure magic. I putt along happily at safe Dad driver speed (the actual speed limit) as idiot riders scream past me, taking the corners like it's a race track, and missing out on what the road is all about, the vibes, not the race. By now it was late afternoon and peak day heat had arrived, continuing to raise that big old smile of mine. I was happy that it wasn't getting dark and cold, like an afternoon in the long drawn out Daylesford winter, instead it was perfectly hot, and even though I was wearing my old leather jacket I was comfortable putting along in the warm breeze (although by now I was starting to think a great deal about that first cold lager waiting at the end of the ride). 

I've driven these corners for over 23 years (eek!) and every time is different. The weather, my mood, the conditions, it's always different. This ride I will remember for a while, it's my first time doing it on a bike and it's a totally different experience. Winding around the curves of the bushy oceanside hills, over many creek crossings, I reach the first of the lush green paddocks that cover the road all the way into Apollo Bay. I passed through the cute holiday village of Skeanes Creek and I finally enter my favourite town on the GOR and my stop for the night, Apollo Bay. A town sleepy in winter, a crazy busy town in summer. A place just far enough away from Melbourne to have retained some of those classic Aussie coastal town feels without getting too touristy, although sadly this too is changing. I pull into the main drag, it's pretty quiet for a warm Saturday night, which I was pleased with as I got a park right out the front of my mates Steves place, La Bimba. A restaurant of my liking, the food is quality, it's local where possible,  the menu seasonal. I walk up the stairs to give old mate a bear hug hello. The weekend has started. 

 

THE FOOD

I've not only been a friend to Steve Earl for years, but I've also been an admirer of his work. His approach to food aligns closely with mine, I don't think there's been a conversational point about food we haven't agreed on, we're also deer hunting mates. Generally we're both obsessed with food and that's why I'm here. Steve IS La Bimba, he's the head chef and owner, and he sources a lot of the food himself, he used to raise some of the livestock on his farm and he grew some of the food. He's much more passionate about wine and beer matching than I am (and does a better job at it too) and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone else with a work ethic like his. Over the peak summer season I hardly hear boo from him as he's working everyday, I mean like everyday, seemingly for months. Then he collapses and we go deer hunting in Autumn for recovery, which really is an oxymoron because when we hunt we also indulge with plenty of good food and wine. Life is to be celebrated after all!

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Steve has a simple and realistic approach to food. He's travelled around the world enough to have developed an appreciation and understanding of the importance of a culture that cherishes it's food as an integral part of daily life. He believes in what should be the basics of good food consumption, local, ethical, seasonal, but he's also realistic. It's like the concept of self-suffienccy, which is total bullshit, not everything is possible to be done by one person, instead you're better off being realistic and just doing what you can. Steve is the ultimate opportunist when it comes to ingredients. He knows you have to be able to change things quickly in order to take advantage of the occasions when an ingredient presents itself. This is how you cook to the seasons and to the availability of produce. It's how I cook most of the time. I remember once Steve telling me a story about his local fisherman that sends him text messages with his daily catch and sometimes apologies for the lack of Snapper but offers a catch of another non-target species with a comment like "I'm sorry that's all I caught". Steve's not disappointed, instead he's excited and jumps at what ever is available, he'll cook what ever comes off the local boats, which is a far cry from most of the other food on the strip in the bay, with most of their seafood coming from the Melbourne or Adelaide seafood markets, and more disturbingly, asian fish markets (the food miles are unbelievable). There's a few 'famous' seafood items available on the main street where the shops have large signs promoting their famous food item, and tourists flock to buy and consume it. The sad truth is that the main ingredient isn't local, it's from Asia. I reckon this is pure deception and if most people knew, they'd be as pissed off about the situation as I am. I mean, a city person visiting a coastal town and paying money for food would love nothing more to know that what they're eating is from the little fishing fleet parked in the marina. I would, but maybe I'm wrong. 

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Steves menu at La Bimba changes seasonally, and there's always great specials when the produces comes available. Like any good chef he makes use of cuts and produce that might otherwise be destined for pet food, but have great culinary offerings, roast pig head and duck hearts? Yes please. There's also an non-apologetic appreciation of the fine things like sexy oysters and passionately crafted wine. In a way, he operates on a simply formula, to be opportunistic and use ingredients when they come to light, to prioritise seasonal produce but also to be realistic with the balance of what the customer wants and what he wants to serve. The paella for example does not have Mekong delta slave prawns or imported frozen calamari but does feature seasonal Victorian seafood. No one is perfect and Steve is under no illusions that he is, but what's important is the effort he puts into passionately serving food driven by his ethical principles. In the scheme of things, this should be the standard approach. 

After a few post bike ride beers alone at Steves beach shack I walked in the evening light into town for a feast. I walked slowly along the beach, most of which was deserted, that's what I love about this place. Sometimes you can get those quiet moments on a beach, after the crowds dissipate for the evening. The beach here has so much to offer, the beauty of the native coastal flora on the dunes, the washed up ocean debris to explore, the still freshwater creek and ancient rocks formed thousands of years ago, smoothed with eons of tidal water slowly forming them into unique boulders and rock pools. I sat on the beach, a few minutes taking it all in. it's as close to meditation as I get. 

 

When I got to La Bimba Steve was still madly busy with peak service so I settled down with a wine looking out at the bay taking in the vibes. After the service rush had backed off a bit, Steve joined me we and had our normal conversation about recent meals and our scores of beautiful produce and what we did with them. We talked food politics and the bullshit that people and companies spin on the daily to make a buck with cheap food. The wine flowed like wine, and we endured a plate or two of oysters, Guanciale with pickled turnip, fish ceviche with tiger milk and squid ink crackers, some Venison Tartar with beach mustard, pickled allium and walnut puree, house made sourdough, baked local snapper with paprika and fermented garlic scape, grilled duck heart with coffee glazed chicory and desert lime, amazing baked carrots and creamy potatoes. 

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By the end of the night with a full belly I headed back home with Steve and his partner Holly for a few nightcap vinos on their beach shack veranda, the smell of the ocean and cool night air made for a perfect ambience to close the night. I slept well, happy to have been able to catch up with friends, to talk to people that love food as much as I do, and of course, in the morning I would ride that fantastic GOR back home. I drifted to sleep with the sound of waves crashing in the distance and the breeze visiting through the open window. I was content and exhausted. Another great adventure to remember, until the next time. 

 

Thank You to Steve and Holly for accommodating my two wheel food adventure. 

Volcanic Crater Camping

It's not impossible for me to remember what life was like without kids, but it's been so long now that the feeling of just having to think about myself is as distant to me as home ownership is a reality. Having kids is a beautiful thing, but it's not automatically an easy thing. They demand, (politely and unknowingly) your love and attention, not to mention the food. Jeebers! young girls will eat you out of house and home! Something I never knew. Being a parent can sure be challenging at times, frustrating even, but I wouldn't have it any other way. My two girls are my little buddies and I absolutely adore them. They're not perfect, just like me, just like all of us, but to me, they are beautiful in their own unique ways, and I love hanging out with the little rats.

Sequoia

Many folk will relate to the convoluted separated parent sharing schedule, I get the girls every other weekend and a few days during the week. Some weekends we do bugger all, we just hang at home. Really that means the girls hang out and have fun while I do domestic duties, they periodically come over to where I am in the garden or the shed and cuddle me, often saying a few very predictable sentences; notably, "I love you Dad!" "What are you doing Dad?" "Why are you doing that Dad?""Isn't that dangerous Dad?" or "Dad what's for lunch?" I love those weekends. I tend to get lots done and I also enjoy the weekend vibes in our little country town. We especially love the Sunday market where we walk up the hill to buy our weekly food ingredients from local farmers, and maybe we find some treasures at the trash market. It's one of the things I love about our little hill top town, it definitely has some European market town vibes, reminiscent of those I've seen through France, Italy and Spain. Some weekends (if the bank account allows), we'll head off on an adventure. Sometimes it's a crazy one like the time we drove Kate's (barely roadworthy) 1966 Holden station wagon to the west desert country of South Australia to buy an equally old Viscount caravan for a ridiculously cheap price. Kate and I do love adventure, and our madness for adventure is rubbing off on the kids. They also love camping which is a score for us as it's one of our favourite pastimes. This past weekend we decided to have a mini local adventure, something we've been talking about for a while but never seem to get around to for the typical interruptions of work and other commitments, our best-laid plans often go awry, but not this weekend.

We live in a pretty beautiful part of the country with no shortage of amazing places to visit not too far from home, the town we live in is a tourist town for this very reason. Some weekends it's so busy with tourists there's no better option than to skip town and return when tourist heat cools down. A short drive from our home is one of many extinct volcanos in the region. The name is familiar to most people but the location is not. We used to drive past the old girl (Mt Franklin) every day when we lived out of town, but now we've become the tourists, visiting a sight in our 'local' backyard (15 minutes from town, north of Daylesford). In the guts of the extinct volcano is an oasis in a crater which has been turned into a beautiful park planted with many different types of deciduous and northern hemisphere species of trees many years ago. It's an absolutely spectacular sight in autumn, early spring is also a pretty sight to behold. The trees are bursting with fresh green foliage that provides a real sense of optimism, new life for the oncoming warm season. In spring, before the hot and dry summer arrives, the grass at the camp ground is still lush and green, in places it's so thick you can lay down and have a snooze in the warm sun and stare into the blue oblivion.

On Saturday morning (after a few hours of landscape gardening at home to make a last rushed garden bed before summer arrives), I packed up the truck with all our gear and with only five seats I had no option but to 'reluctantly' ride my bike behind my duel cab dad mobile that Kate drove. It's not a long trip but it is pretty, you drive past green paddocks with content livestock munching on the green pick of spring, then you pass through a patch of cool eucalyptus woodland that shares its aromatic perfume as the sun warms its canopy, then out through the other side of the bush to more open paddocks of rich volcanic soil with flowering golden canola and rolling hills of grazing stock as far as the eye can see, to the north is the big old volcano covered in a mass of pines. The road leading to the mount winds around the foot hills formed thousands of years ago, back in time when the old girl had active lava flows. With a few final bends you enter the crater where the trees change from pine to ornimental varieties of many kinds, even a few old sequoia (Californian Redwoods). It's always a great feeling entering the crater, it just has a special vibe about it, like mabo or the constitution. There is a volcanic crater, in our backyard, that we love to visit. That’s all I can say. It's just rad.

Mt Franklin

Sometimes, especially in winter, the place is empty bar a few die-hard campers refusing to let winter stop them from having adventure. But not this weekend, instead the place was packed with campers everywhere! Seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to enjoy the weather with a bloody camping trip to get away from it all, but we all ended up at the same place (bloody humans). In no time, we found a nice flat spot and quickly set the mega bell tent. For a tent of this size it's amazing how easy and fast it is to set up, which is important as it saves on precious beer drinking time. We fell in love with this tent design after doing a few events with our mates HomeCamp, an Aussie camping outfitters and we've loved our tent ever since. It's old school canvas so when the warm sun belts down on it there is that familiar canvas aromatic that reminds me of childhood camping in the early 80's when everything seemed to involve canvas, the camp chairs, tent, annex, and trailer cover. It's funny how smells can take you mind to special memories, for me this tent reminds me of mum and dad and happy childhood camping adventures.

Camping Mt Franklin

With plenty of sunlight remaining in the day and our spot set up and secured, we headed off to our next favourite town Castlemaine, there's a place we like there that's perfect for ice-cream, well it was hot after all! If you're ever in this town and it's a hot day (actually anything over 15C is reasonable to allow eating this ice cream) then look up 'Ice Cream Social' and try one of their home-made concoctions, my favourite is the chili ice-cream, but they have heaps of more exciting recipes to try, so be adventurous. With delicious frozen sugar and dairy product in the kids bellies and a few bags of supplies we headed back to camp for one of the most important activities of the day, camp cricket. Now, someone is going to get upset with me for this next bit, but I don't care, it is what it is. My kids, and Kates kids….are absolutely horrible at sports, and definitely hilariously horrible at all things cricket. It's like watching the three stooges but there's four of them. One kid just kept running from one crease to another not knowing what was going on while we all watched in bemusement. At some point there was a puffed exclamation "I don't know what's going on!" as she continued to run aimlessly. Another kept on throwing the ball at the batter at the non-strike end, go figure. The wicket keeper had their hands on their hips more than on the ball, and when a ball was hit far to the boundary you could've read a short novel waiting for its return. Let's not forget tears of being bowled without ever hitting a ball or not getting enough time batting. The whole thing is hilarious to observe and as a parent, I feel it's probably best for me to internalise my laughter instead of making the kids feel bad. Instead I just told them what a great job they were doing *cough! We had a ball, and that's the important thing!

camp cooking

As the day cooled off I got the fire going to finish cooking Kate's masterpiece. She'd half braised a lamb shoulder in a cast iron pot on a bed of onions and garlic, slow cooking in a balsamic and thyme gravy. We cut, buttered and foil wrapped potato's, destined for the coals and enjoyed a cool drink while the fire crackled away and slowly cooked our dinner. It's often the way that camp fire meals take a little longer than expected, you can't control the heat like a home oven so the kids were 'starving' by the time we started serving (and so were we to be honest). The smell from the pot was tantalizing. The leg had been braising for hours back at home and now on the hot coals the mixture of aromatics could make any omnivore heady with anticipation. We served up the meals and the conversation went silent for a spell, bar the "ooommmmm mum this is so yummy!" Kate absolutely delivered on the dinner. I am a lucky bloke.

Braised lamb shoulder with balsamic and thyme onions and coal cooked potato

The light began to fade, along with our minimal supply of cold beverages. We played one last round of 'kick to kick' before the light went out completely and we all retired to the warm fire, the kids getting sticky with toasted marshmallows and us adults winding down with the day's activities, mesmerized by the relaxing power of a crackling fire. We all agreed an early night was a good idea, who doesn't like to go to bed earlier when they go camping? The six of us snuggled into our bed set ups, some in swags, some on yoga mats, some on fancy inflatables. There was a good hour of giggles, singing, farting and then the eventual snoring.

I lay in bed, the only one still awake, happily surrounded by little girl snores and the occasional sleeping bag fart (as a dad I have discovered that small girls seem to fart a lot). I looked out through the massive front door that we left open, the flickering fire light keeping me company and I couldn't help think how beautiful this moment was, that it was worth living in it, and really appreciating it because one day it will all be gone. The inevitability of human existence is that it ends eventually, which sucks as much as only buying three beers for a camping trip, (maybe even more). It was a beautiful place to be and even now thinking about it can bring a tear of joy to my eye, maybe it's just road dust. My little gang of girls and my best mate, all together in the tent, it's all worth it, all the frustrations of parenting and adult relationships...yep it's all worth it. With my head on a pillow of rolled up woollen blankets I closed my eyes and listened to the wind in the beautiful elms and poplars above us and the muffled sounds of distant revellers, singing and laughing around a campfire. I smiled in contentedness and was about to gently drift off to slumber when another small girl farted in her sleep. It never ends.

dirty Honda chopper
Morning light

 

Misty Mountain Hop

It had been a long time coming, like a tasty carrot dangling out of reach was this dream of mine to have a weekend out bush. A get away adventure offering balance to my synthetic existence of the weekly office routine. Life circumstances are never predictable, we think we have it figured out then a curve ball surprises us and we find ourselves in a places we didn’t plan for. After years of working for myself, driven by dreams of helping the world, I find myself back behind someone else’s desk. It’s not as bad as before but it’s just not natural no matter how awesome the job may be. I know there is life beyond the desk but I’m also a dad to four girls, which comes with responsibilities. The reality is, this is my reality. 

I have a routine, it’s the ‘Divorced Dad Routine’. Every second weekend is a family weekend, we do things around the garden, go to the Sunday market, maybe camping, have a backyard fire cook up, go family adventuring, you know, the Dad and kids stuff we can’t do on our school nights. The opposite weekend is the adults only one and although I miss the kids, it is a good opportunity to do adult things like ride motorbikes, drink beer and play pool at country pubs with my lady. 

We’re on the other side of a drawn out winter, and for a long time the ‘adult’ weekends have been confined to the house, the weather atrocious, colds and flu’s overstaying their welcome and the winter blues keeping us down. But we’ve scaled that mountain and we’re finally in Spring, and it’s literally a wonderful feeling. In my 20’s I didn’t really notice the change in seasons, but the older I get the more I’m fascinated with how they influence how we feel, mental health included. Winter really has been tough with depression for me this year, Spring has made such a difference. It’s a transition season that offers us hope and growth, as corny as it sounds. Literally, things in my veg garden have come alive, all of their own accord. Obviously, it’s nature, it does these things. For a change, this post is not just about growing food in a backyard garden, it’s about adventure. 

With the recent loss of a friend and the acceptance of a dream project that fell apart late last year, I made myself a promise. Earlier this year I made a concerted effort to embrace fun in life. I grew tired of fighting, of seeing things wrong with the world and wanting to change them. I needed to alter my approach of how I viewed my world. Was there hope? Was there fun to be had somewhere past the darkness and frustration? Yes. I was sure of it. 

I’ve been working on a dirty chopper project all winter. Earlier in the year I bought a relatively cheap old Honda V-twin 600 and I’ve been changing how it operates and how it looks over the cold winter months. There have been some very frustrating moments in the shed, grazed knuckles, scratching of head and maybe a tear or two of frustration. I reckon I’m almost there with the project. Now that I’ve said that, something horrible with fall apart on it! I’ve modified the twin carbs, the exhaust, the back end, lights and I rattle canned the tank. It’s slightly less ugly but still ugly, and it’s a great deal of fun and that is a big part of my MO. 

Little Ripper

 

All week I’d been checking on the weather forecast, praying that it wouldn’t play it’s normal hand and turn nasty just in time for the weekend. It was touch and go there for a little while, but finally the forecast on my phone app settled on a chance of animated showers with the sun coming out behind some cartoon clouds. Finally! I was able to activate P.R.O.J.E.C.T. A.D.V.E.N.T.U.R.E. 

To the annoyance of my co-workers, I’ve opted for a four day week of slightly longer work days to make up for hours, which means I don’t work Fridays. So Thursdays are my Fridays, Saturdays are my Sundays, Sundays are my Sundays, and Mondays still suck. It’s very confusing. Suffice to say, a bottle of something often gets opened on a Thursday night to celebrate this fantastic commitment to work/life balance. Life is too short to just work. I’ve discovered fun, and I want more of it. 

My lady had to head to the city to drop off some ratbag kids to their dad, and I’d ran mine into town to ‘mum’s house’ so all I had to do was pack the bike and head off to the hills, literally. I’d been AR with my packing plan. I'd even written a list of the essential camping items I’d need for this short trip to the bush. The list was minimal and practical. Something to sleep in, something to cook with, rain gear, bike tools and a camera. I figured I’d sort food out closer to the campsite. I packed everything into my trusty Filson bag and tied it to the sissy bar that my mate Dallas welded up for me in his mountain workshop. 

It had been seven months since I’d done a decent size bike camping adventure. Seven long months of winter weather and garage modifications. I felt some uneasiness before I headed off, butterflies in the tummy. I am just a 41 year old teenage boy after all, I still get those nervous vibes (not ashamed to admit it either). I was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Would my bike make it? Would I encounter any accidents? Kangaroos or mountain deer on the road? Slippery conditions? Rain? Just get on the damn bike and stop over thinking! My first stop was the petrol station in my town. I filled that ugly fat tank all the way to the top and re-set the trip meter. As I put my gear back on, I smiled looking at the bike, loaded up ready for adventure. This has been so long in the making but finally I was here, riding alone, heading to the mountain country of my childhood where I once explored the bush tracks on my Honda XR100 with my brother riding with me on the CT125 or the CT110 PostieBike, now I was returning, on another Honda, but a much larger one with a good 30 odd years between rides. 

I headed over the ranges up towards Kinglake. I’d been here a few times over the last few months, back and forth getting modifications done at Dallas’s workshop; ‘Ranch Cycles’. I did the hacking and chopping, Dallas did all the metal fab and engineering work making my ideas come to fruition. I hacked off the plastic rear fender and hideous wide stock seat and replaced it with a steel fender and spring seat. Pure dumb aesthetic motivation but I’m happy with the result. Anyway, up the hills I went. They turned into mountainous country filled with gigantic King ferns and enormous Mountain Ash reaching for the heavens. The roads became slower, each corner getting tighter and sketchier. At this time on a Friday afternoon in the mountains there was no one on the road, so I took my time and enjoyed the sound of the little V-twin working it’s way through the gears. Up and down the ranges I rode, around tight corners and back down into the valley country. I’d booked a night at the ancient Warburton Lodge, reminiscent of The Shining motel, dark and aged with plenty of dubious history. I arrived to find a note stuck to the reception glass door explaining that my room was #10, and that no one was staffing the place so the key was in the door. Classic motel vibes. 

Shinning

I untied the Filson off the bike and headed inside just as my lady pulled up the drive, her beautiful smiling face melting my heart as it always does. We did the obvious thing two adults would want to do free of parental responsibilities for a night, we headed to the pub for a few beers and crap Australian pub food. It’s always nice to be able to have a conversation without the interruptions of rats needing feeding or attention (jokes). With full bellies we headed home to do our traditional watching of crap TV before falling asleep at some ridiculously early hour a result of being over relaxed. In the middle of the night we were woken by the sounds of the bloke in the next room spewing his guts up on the other side of the paper thin walls. As gross as it was I was grateful that it wasn’t me, and we had to just laugh at the regularity of this kind of experience when we stay in our preferred type of country motels. It’s all part and parcel of the motel lifestyle.

I was first to wake in the crisp morning. I walked straight to the window and looked out to the high misty mountains outside the window. The sun was warming the forest that covered them, the tops of the mountains where covered with a thin cloud, a spectacular morning sight. My lady shuffled in bed so I offered her a complimentary motel instant coffee. She took one sip and expressed her dissatisfaction so we went out for breakfast and hoped for decent coffee. It still wasn’t amazing but good enough for the morning kick I needed to ride to our camp site. We left Warburton fairly early, the temperature through the forest valley was brisk to say the least, not that Kate noticed, she was in her warm luxury European vehicle, probably with the electric seat warmers on while I was screaming through the gears on the Little Ripper and loving every minute of it regardless of the chill in the air. We stopped at Poweltown, an old timber town in decline and then passed through the ferny and windy roads towards Noojee. This is my childhood adventure playground, where as a kid I’d camp and explore the bush, getting up to no good and finding my passion for trout fishing. For fun we stopped off at the local trout farm and caught some dinner. It’s fun remember, no fly rod here, just dinner. We made a whistle stop visit at the amazing wooden trestle train bridge, which I’ve been walking across religiously for 30 years. I don’t know why, but every time I’m in the area I drive to it, walk across it, then hop back in the car on drive off. Unexplainable human behaviour. 

With a quick refuel and a stock up of supplies we headed to our final stop, Torongo Falls, about 25 minutes out of Noojee. The road out of town pass’s through a picturesque valley that’s simply wonderful. Yes, I said wonderful. Pretty little homesteads lost in time, with weathered cladding and rusty tin roofs. The paddocks dotted with plump wooly sheep, a few frisky young lambs and beautiful mountain horses all grazing in the warm sunlight on the lush green pick of Spring. The cool clean water of the Latrobe gentle snakes it’s way through the landscape, under bridges and around once loved old farm houses. Like I said, wonderful. 

camp

We found a perfect little campsite on the river and I unpacked the gear off the bike and set up camp. In no time the tent was up so we eagerly explored a track that followed along the river. It’s such a cool little camp spot, and it’s open public access so we weren’t the only ones there, but you could really get a sense of those nature vibes, surrounded on all sides by amazing ferns and grand old eucalyptus. From our campsite we followed the track all the way to the beginning of the waterfall track which rambled it’s way through more tree ferns, Blackwood and magnificent Mountain Ash. This is the forest of my youth, cool temperate rainforest at the base of the high country of the Great Dividing Range, my favourite type of Australian bush.   

There was no shortage of day trippers making the pilgrimage up the muddy track to look at the spectacular falls, all sorts of people from all backgrounds and ethnicity appreciating the Australian bush. I respect that. We did the usual “oh” and “arrgh’s”. We admired the waterfalls, instagramed them to make sure it actually happened, then made our way down the wet track back towards camp.

It was still mid afternoon when we made camp on foot so we hit the old pub for yellow whips and a few rounds of pool, maybe even a dirty bowl of hot chips. The simple pleasures completely distracted me and I lost every game, but had fun losing. After plenty of laughs and a few drinks under our belts we headed back to camp to set a fire up as dusk had cooled the air. 

Back at camp the valley was already covered in a high layer of campfire smoke which arrived with the cool air of evening. Most of the other camp sites were set up with roaring fires, we were soon to join them. I didn’t pack a large axe on the bike (obviously) but needed to split some wood I’d acquired from the local store, so I walked over to the nearest camp and asked for a lend of theirs. The men were Bosnian campers enjoying cigars, cigarettes, beers and grappa around their fire. I split some logs back at camp and returned the axe. Meeting these guys is what I love about camping, you meet all sorts, you experience. They wouldn’t let me leave without a shot of plum grappa which went down smooth like butter. I noticed a large old copper pot hanging near the fire which was exuding some magnificent aromatics. I enquired about the pot's contents and they proudly told me it was full of a beef goulash, which simmered away as the fella’s drank their way through bottles of “50 degree grappa”. We talked a while about their traditional recipes which got my hungry for some cooking back at camp.   

 

With our fire now roaring, the beer cold and the company just perfect it was time to cook dinner. We wrapped two of the trout in foil with an olive rub, and for my trout I literally stuck it on a stick and placed it near the hot smoke and heat from the fire. We wrapped up spuds in tin foil and popped them in the hot coals for a perfect amount of cooking time where they finished up being super fluffy and would have been perfect with a knob of butter, which we didn’t have so we used olive oil and Tabasco. The trout cooked both ways was perfect, although I preferred my more delicately cooked trout on a stick, the meat was melty soft and slightly smokey. 

We caught up with conversations we didn’t have during the week and laughed like lovers do. Dorky style. Nothing but us in the darkness, the sound of the river and the crackle of the fire, well except for one of the Bosnian blokes who walked over to our camp in the dark and said with a deep, heavy accent; “the goulash is ready, you come try”. Kate was buggered tired by this stage and headed to bed to sleep off a big day, I however spent some time with the Bosnians, hoping for a bowl of goulash. I noticed a few out of season chill on their table which one must never complain about when being treated to fine food by proud guests, so I simply pulled my knife out and started to slice up a little addition to the dish of goulash they had served me. “No no no, very hot, be careful, too much” “Haha you obviously don’t follow me on Instagram” my inner monologue dickhead voice exclaimed. “I eat chill for breakfast” Well, it is true. After my exclamations of the enjoyment of their proudly shared goulash, they put another bowl of slow cooked beef tripe under my nose, which I was mega excited about. I could smell vinegar from the bowl and tucked in straight away. Totally delicious as expected. I admire how so many cultures use and love offal, I wish our culture embraced it more, I certainly have, and don’t seem to have any adverse side effects effects adverse adverse side effects. After a few sneaky grappa’s I headed back to my uncomfortable bed waiting for me by the river. My lady was snuggled in and I joined her, happy as punch, full of grappa. I looked up through the moon roof of my hip Polar tent, up into the ceiling of stars and drifted off to sleep to the meditative sound of the river lulling me to slumber town. 

The morning was one of those perfect starts. The cloud in the canopy, a little mist drifting above the cold morning water flowing downstream. I cooked some bacon and eggs and we packed up camp and headed to the nearest source of coffee, which heralded the beginning of the end of a perfect weekend. It’s always a bit sad leaving a camping spot you’ve fallen in love with, even if you just stayed for the night. I feel like some sort of connection is made with the landscape, the vegetation and the general feel of the place. I will return to this spot, hopefully with a better quality mattress. You couldn’t ask for a better weekend, well I can’t. Riding the bike, exploring nature, hanging with your best mate/lover, making new friends and sharing delicious simple food. Pretty well much covers all the things that need covering in life. 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Don't believe in luck

It appears we’re are living in a world of chaos. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, ferocious bush fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and that’s only the natural disasters. On top of that we have the terrorists, civil wars, genocide, religious persecution, the constant threat of nuclear war, the popular return of bigotry, racism, homophobia and nazi ideology. And Trump, we can’t forget the Trump. But it’s not all bad. 

I struggled to get out of bed on a day off work recently. I had no parental responsibilities, no work, just a day off. I fell into a pit of sorrow after a massive week of work, world events on my mind and the never ending winter. When my lady asked me if I was going to get up I literally said “what’s the point”. It was still horrible weather outside, the world was still falling apart and my recent money woes were lingering like a bad smell. Bed offered a temporary safety net, and I was being a complete sook. I did eventually get up, I went for a jog and did stuff like a normal person (although begrudgingly). 

That day we received some fairly horrible news involving cancer and a family member, I won’t go into details but it’s not good. It put everything into perspective to say the least. We had a weekend getaway booked and paid for which all had to be cancelled of course, which sucked, but not as much as getting a life altering cancer diagnosis I’m sure. I felt guilty for being an absolutely privileged, selfish human. 

The day after the bad news, and on a whim, we decided a walk in hill country would do us a world of good. This place is special, I’ve done lots of thinking out there, getting happily lost amongst the bush and unique beauty of the landscape. It’s also the place where a particular wild mushroom appears for a few short weeks in Spring, the elusive morel. I love this species but never really have much luck due to it’s short window of availability. 

bushwalking

With a cool breeze welcoming us, we left the 4x4 and began the ascent. We followed my reliable mushrooming nose, trained from years of dedicated picking. If you pick wild mushrooms you’ll know about the internal GPS of a wild mushroom picker. we never forget the exact location to return to each year to pick whatever fungal treasure we’re hunting, and it is a hunt, there’s no doubt about it. There’s something I feel, a sense of excitement, a determination to search out and gather food that nature provides. I get the same feeling when I’m fishing or hunting. My senses go into overdrive, my eyes feverishly scan the ground for a hint of black, any suggestion of mushroom is investigated. The morel is a real bastard of a mushroom to find, it looks like kangaroo poo which is everywhere out there and it’s unlike other mushrooms I pick, in that it’s sporadic in its distribution and you’ll often find one lonesome specimen no where near any others, which makes filling a basket a lengthy procedure. In fact, I’ve never fully filled a basket, it’s always been a few hear and there, one meal and that’s it. I guess that’s why they fetch big coin down at the city markets. 

We hadn’t walked for more than 15 minutes when I spotted the first morel, then another, then another. It was like a spinning revolver, firing round after round in close succession. It was so exciting I got goosebumps, which could also have been the cool spring breeze. All I had in the car was some plastic shopping bags (yeah, so sue me) and the one I had in my pocket started to get heavy with morels. When I say heavy, I mean more than I’ve ever picked before, close to a kilogram. It was such a nice experience, being in the bush with my love, doing something that I love and actually having success, which might I add, I’ve not been feeling of late. Most things that have been happening in my life have kind of sucked recently. But here we where, walking in the bush, picking an amazing rare mushroom and enjoying being alive. 

morel mushrooms

There’s a quick recipe that I lean on for these mushrooms, it’s a celebration of wild spring, morel and wild rabbit. It’s super easy and I love it so much that I shared it in my second book. Rabbit backstops are the quick cooking cut, easily pan fried. I tenderise them with a rolling pin, they only need a little tap or two. Then I drizzle over olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked wild pepper berry. I heat olive oil in the heavy cast iron pan my grandfather gave mum. I heat the oil until it’s fairly hot, then add the rabbit, sliced mushrooms (halved up the guts, slugs removed - optional) and a generous handful of fresh sage leaves. The rabbit back-strap doesn’t need much time in the pan but needs to be well cooked, so I go a few minutes on each side. As the rabbit cooks, the mushrooms release all their juices and a dreamy mushroom sauce forms, which eventually reduces and the pan gets a bit dry, that’s when I splash over some dry sherry and add a knob of butter covering everything with supreme awesomeness. Out onto a plate with a garnish of small sage leaves, a drizzle of fine olive oil and some rad cheese, this time I used a beautiful earthy hard cows milk cheese from Bruny Island cheese. My lady and I shared the plate and savoured every mouthful with occasional moans of joy.

Rabbit and morels

I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate we are even when we think things are a bit ‘rough’ in our lives. Here I was a day earlier struggling get out of bed with a little bout of winter depression, a day later I was having a beautiful natural experience. If you think about it, picking wild food to eat is probably one of only a handful of truely natural activities. It’s when we can truely be mammals, real animals, not just humans, but natural animals picking naturally provided food. It’s very ancient, and it’s a beautiful thing that I am 'lucky' to be able to experience. I have my health, my legs work, I have the required knowledge, I have functioning senses and I am fit enough to walk where ever I want and could walk all day if I chose to. There are all things I should be thankful for. 

I don’t know what the future holds. None of us do. I don’t really believe in luck, I don’t believe that thinking positively means that positive things will happen around you, but I do believe in fighting the fight that life presents us with and appreciating what we have, even the smallest of life’s joys. Although the circumstances for the catalyst were not the greatest, I’m glad to have a reminder of what is important in life. 

 

 

An exercise in patience

You know those times when the aeroplane station is super busy and your plane does a few laps until the runway is clear? It’s called a holding pattern, I often feel like I’m stuck in one but it's ok. 

We all have dreams and life goals, those things we want to achieve, the things we work hard for, dream about, goals we beg, borrow and steal to reach. Like most people I’ve had to scrap quite a few life dreams and goals, there’s only a certain amount of head banging on brick walls we can accomodate. As old goals and dreams fall to the cutting room floor, new priorities arise, we rebirth ourselves with fresh ideas and aspirations. 

Life has a funny way of cutting us down a peg or two, throwing us curveballs and challenges. It can be hard, upsetting and frustrating, but when you step back for reflection, taking in the big picture of the span of an entire life, there’s nothing you can do but smile, it’s just life. So many things are out of our hands, and even the things we can influence, well let’s just say we sometimes make poor choices. And that’s ok, it’s also part of being human. 

Every now and then I have a spell of feeling like a bit of a loser, I’m sure it’s a universal feeling. I convince myself that many of the life choices I’ve made have ended me here, just surviving financially, moving from one rental to another, never getting enough ahead to reach that goal, as a result I’m always starting from scratch. It also doesn’t help that many of my mates have ‘made it’. Along the way they’ve bought houses when houses were affordable, built castles and heart warming permanent homes for their families. I know, I’m clearly a bit jealous, I constantly tell myself to accept what is, and that our time will come. It’s all about changing our approach of which we have in recent times, and the future looks bright. I hope. 

I drove my youngest daughter to school this morning and we lamented the continuation of winter weather, how depressing this winter has felt. We started talking about how rad summer will be with visits to the pool, swimming in the lake and eating outside in the warmth of the long days not to mention the variety and array of summer crops in the backyard. I happened to quickly look over at her and amazed at her youthful pretty face, that cute smile and rosy round cheeks just like her dad. I didn’t say anything but had one of those momentary realisations that longing for something like wanting time to pass for us to get to summer was not such a good thing. By summer she will have finished grade 3 and she’ll be that little bit older. That innocence or hers will disappear a little more along with that beautiful world view she has. I changed my mind, I no longer wish for winter weather to hurry up and disappear, I don’t wish for anything but to be in this moment for as long as possible. To appreciate what I have right now even though I can’t stop time itself. 

We’re really lucky in our world, our bubble where even though we think we’re going without, we can in fact be living very beautiful lives. Sure we have to wait for things to happen, but learning to be patient is a good thing. You’d think I’d have it sorted by now, but I’m still working on being more patient and appreciative of what I have. 

This time of year is always one for reflection for me. Coming out of the winter hibernation, feeling like I’m just hanging on, a little depressed, a little dissatisfied, but really I have lots of things to celebrate. My family, love, and possibilities. So many things that frustrate me in life are actually up to me to change. I have immense influence over many facets of my life. I can’t blame anyone else for things that I have the power to change. And this time of the year is when I assess those things and swing into action, spurred on by the positive re-birth vibes of spring. 

A few years ago I established the most amazing vegetable garden in a backyard I was renting, and every house since I’ve been trying to replicate that on some level. Our new home doesn’t have scope for something on that scale so I’m working on some future project at a mates spare block of land. I’m also having some fun volunteering at the skate park community garden in the town I live in. I’ve been weeding and prepping small beds for crops, and my first direct seeding crop has germinated, metaphorically giving me hope for a bright garden future. I don’t own it, but I can make change on a really small level that I’m sure will have some sort of positive impact somehow. In any case, I just love to grow food, that doesn’t cost me much other then a sweaty tee shirt and dirty fingernails. And I appreciate that for now. My other big dreams will have to wait a little bit longer.

Germinated

Don't need much

It's like a long day at work, one of those Friday afternoons that tend to drag out, when time appears to  slow down just to annoy you. It's late winter, it's dragging out and I'm starting to get grumpy. We all are.

Being the outdoorsy type I stubbornly refuse to let winter beat me, I get out in the poor weather all winter. Whether it's a spell in the garden, a walk in the bush or a meander around the lake, anything to get away from the cocoon of a heated house, the endless drone of the gas heater burning fossil fuels in our old energy draining weatherboard house (can't wait for a straw-bale house). It was freezing the other day so I said to my lady "I'm heading off to the garden to warm up" and sure enough, after a half hour of digging I was sweating under my many layers. Winter veg gardening hasn't been the best this year, again we've had to move house and my backyard patch is still it's infancy to say the least. Thankfully we're lucky to have a local market gardener that absolutely nails winter crops. It's not much of a selection but there's a lot that can be done with a few basic ingredients. Most Sundays I make sure I have a few hours spare to walk up the hill to the quaint market and fill a bag with fresh produce to get us through the week. Cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, carrot, beetroot, kale, chard, shallot, leek and potato. It's funny, I used to think winter was a dead season for ingredients, but really, if you know your stuff, it's totally alive. 

IMG_2974.JPG

I'm a big believer in valuing cooking techniques instead of just knowing recipes. Many of us have a few recipes up our sleeves that we've cooked a million times and never measure a thing in the process, we just do. But for people that don't know how to cook, a recipe with measurements and such can be daunting and stressful. Teach a person how to make a pesto, a soup, a roast, the technique not the recipe, and they can go away and experiment with different ingredients, starting on a very real cooking journey for life. This is what I do all year round, winter is no exception. I have only a handful of ingredients to play with, I marry whatever ingredients are in season with my known cooking techniques and I have a world of options available. And of course, I have those my most favoured recipes for each ingredient that I can't help but rely on, because they're heart warmers. One that's been getting favouritism of late is baked brussel sprouts, cut in half, drizzled with olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper and covered with a few rashes of smokey bacon. A wedge of lemon and cloves of garlic if I've got them, baked on high to medium for 30 mins and viola! A beaut dinner served with feta and crusty bread. Nothing to complain about this winter food!

Over winter I've been working on a chopper project. An early 90's Honda v-twin 600. It's my first bike in 20 years and it's great to be back on two wheels. It's not a fast bike, it's not big, it's not my dream touring Evo Harley chopper, it will never win any awards other than dirtiest bogan chopper, but it's fun and I like having fun. A few months ago I started the modifications by rebuilding/jetting the duel carbs and fitting straight pipes. I then cut the back end off and had a mate weld on a custom rear fender and sissy bar. It's almost ready for many summer adventures on the road.

A few days ago a ray of sunshine temped me and I jumped at the opportunity for a ride. One of the things that I love about living in the Central Highlands is the roads. They're not amazing in condition some are downright horrible and pothole filled, but the scenery is pretty good if you love the Australian bush and rural vibes. It only takes a few minutes and I'm out of our small hill town and out in the rolling fields of sheep and green crops. The Honda chopper loves the tight corners and equally the open stretches, the throaty growl of the v-twin is magic, it really is a sense of freedom. I often find myself smiling, literally noticing that I'm happily smiling away as I ride. On the bike I'm far away from many things in life that irritate me. Out there it's just the bike, the sounds, the feels, and the bugs in my mouth. 

Honda Chopper

I pushed the Little Ripper up the hills and over to the other side of the range to our old home of Yandoit (Dja Dja Warrung for Brown Snake or Still Waters). A mate has a free range chook and sheep station there, which for a few years I've been eying off a massive patch of stinging nettle. For some reason I never got around to picking the nettle when we lived there, but right now my garden is non existent and I'm also a bit broke, so a harvest of free food is pretty attractive. I must have looked funny riding a loud chopper across the paddock, then proceeding to bend down on all fours picking weeds in a paddock and storing them in my bag. Probably not what you'd expect but I was in my element. After ten minutes my bag was over flowing with nettles and possibility. With the job done I had more time for riding, so back on the bike I went and fired the Honda up. I rode some quiet country roads to a mates place for lunch, then reluctantly rode home. Smiles for miles.

At home I cracked open a stout, put on some music and spent a good part of the evening picking nettle leaves off the stems, then blanching the sting out of them in hot water. With little money to spend on ingredients I used what I had in the kitchen, a bucket load of spuds, onions, a leek, frozen stock, a handful of walnut and the last of many ends of different cheeses. I made a delicious pesto which I served over gnocchi I made from the spuds and the second meal was an onion, spud and nettle soup which turned out to be a real winner, probably because I put in a bunch of half eaten cheese ends I found in a fridge clean out. Two really tasty and healthy-ish meals born out of lack of money and lack of garden. 

Stinging nettle

It's lovely, really lovely that living within ones means, means really making the most of simple things, simple ingredients, simple experiences. A chopper ride, some nice food. It's not extravagant in any way, but sure puts a smile on my face. The more I live with less, the more I realise that I don't need much to really enjoy life. Love Ro. 

Stinging Nettle pesto gnocchi
Nettle and Walnut Pesto

Seeding

I wish I could say that I always do things on a whim, that I act with little consideration for fear of consequences. I’d love to naturally be a free wheelin’ kind of guy, but I’m not really, I’m often calculated, considered, I do things with purpose, reason, logic. I’m the complete opposite to my partner. She is the essence of living dangerously. In many ways she is a caged bird, she is after all, my dreamy hot hippy lady friend that believes in things I don’t understand, burns incense, listens to rad music and would prefer to be on the road sleeping in dive motels not knowing where tomorrows adventure will lead. Sure sometimes I let myself go, it’s not like I’m totally robotic, but really letting myself go is a rarity, something that I am working on. Recently I decided to do something that isn’t fully considered. I’m just doing instead of over thinking and I’m totally ok with it. 


A few months ago we moved into a modest 3 bedroom weatherboard in our Daylesford town. We’ve been living on the outskirts of town for many years now, but with kids and school it seems smart to be in town. Daylesford is beautiful country town one which melts my heart with it’s beauty. I wish I possessed poetic language to romantically describe it, but don’t believe I do. Suffice to say it has pretty old buildings, a quaint main street and a vibrant community. In our little country town there are a handful of community gardens that have been set up as places where anyone can pitch in, grow food and harvest what they like. I believe the one lose rule is that if you take something you should put  something back. What an amazing concept of balance. Imagine that approach adopted on a broader scale of things for human existence. Philosophical pondering aside,  one of these gardens has been a little neglected for a while. For what ever reason it’s just not attracting much activity. I’m not sure how many years this particular garden has been in existence but for years I’ve driven past it wondering about it. I’ve never been drawn in enough to pull over and check it out, I’m always on the way to somewhere and I’ve always had a vegetable garden of my own. But it needs some help, and I’ve felt this urge to do something about it. 
I contacted the community garden guardian and they where happy enough for someone to get stuck into it. They said something along the lines of “that garden needs a champion” I figure that someone could be me. A few weeks went by and some serious life events happened, and now here I am, in a community garden doing things I didn’t expect I’d be doing, I’m bringing a community garden to life to share with whoever wants to share it. 

From a practical standpoint, there’s a bit of clean up work to get the patch up to scratch. Someone must have loved artichokes because the garden is full of them! But as much as they look amazing, they don’t provide enough food for the real estate they take up, so my first job has been to dig up quite a few to make way from more productive crops. 
The soil is rich, red volcanic, and full of promise. There are established fruit trees and berries, of which I have no idea the variety because it’s dead winter and there’s not a leaf to be seen just sad looking sticks pointing to the heavens. There’s a few woody herbs hanging on notably Rosemary, Mint, Thyme and Sage, and a pretty decent size rhubarb plant, oh and many strawberries, which I’m sure the kids will plunder over spring and summer. Whenever I start work in an unfamiliar garden it takes a full season or two to get used to it’s personality, all those things like soil, pests, position, wind all of these factors determine what a garden is willing to provide. It takes a while to figure out which plants work better than others. I have no idea what pests there are, I’m assuming the usual suspects of snails, slugs, possums, rats and humans. Being right in the guts of the community skate park I’m preparing for a bit of teenage destruction. Which I know will be heart breaking but maybe it might be an opportunity to be able to get through to some kids about food, maybe even their parents. That's not really my ultimate plan, to begin with I just want to grow. I want to turn this thing from a neglected garden into something absolutely thriving and amazing. At least this is something I know how to do, all I need is determination, dedication and elbow grease. All of which I have no problems with. I also have some time, not much, but enough to allocate some time to the skate park patch each week. 


I’m not sure where this project will take me. I have no expectations other than growing some veg, of which of course I will be harvesting and cooking lots of. I’d be mad not to. 


There is only one thing that I’m imagining as an outcome from this project. A moment, a warm afternoon in the garden cooking for people, (hopefully some complete strangers) with produce that I’ve grown right under their noses in the neighbourhood, a small charcoal fire with grilled eggplant, zucchini, caramelised cherry tomatoes, and buttery cooked spuds. That will be a beautiful moment. Anything else is a bonus. It’s a nice feeling just doing something, with little plans for an outcome other than sharing. 

Start

It’s funny how life has these twists and turns we never plan for or expect. We start off as fresh youthful blank pages, our lives before us, unwritten. As the years go by we take different paths, we make millions of decisions, some big, many seemingly insignificant. Some decisions lead us to dark places, some bring success in different forms, some bring failure, while others bring heartache, joy, romance, passion and everything in between. If you’re a smart cookie you’ll learn from these decisions. Maybe you’ll make a mistake only the once, learn from it then make an effort never to repeat it. Some of us don’t take the opportunity to learn. Some chose a stagnant life, like black water in a still pond, never flowing anywhere, instead we become a magnet for decay. Some of us are gushing rivers, furiously bending and flowing over boulders and logs, the obstacles and wildness of life. Some of us are geysers exploding with immense force with no apparent pattern other than excitement and chaos. I’m sure I’m a little bit of everything.

Many years ago my eyes opened, and things began to appear phoney. Food, people, fashion, culture, societal expectations and normalities. The more I began to question things, the less the human world made sense. For a long time I felt like I was living in a very fragile civilisation that could collapse at any moment, especially if everyone else realised how ridiculous the whole system was. We value things that have no actual value to our continued existence. We normalise behaviour that’s destructive and ignorant of its impacts. We consume ‘food’ having no idea where it’s come from, who produced it, what’s been done to it and what it does to out bodies. We have the same approach to the clothes we consume, the technology we use, cosmetics, consumables, medication and all the bits in between. I’m no angel in these matters. 

I’ve been told that I’m arrogant because I’ve made statements like this before, because I’ve asked questions that I probably shouldn’t ask. That’s ok, I’m aware that it’s uncomfortable to question the basis of our culture, however my preference is to understand and face certain realities regardless of the awkwardness involved. It’s never been about right or wrong, I’m more interested in cause and effect, reality not opinion, in accepting the things we can’t change instead of creating more comfortable alternate realities. There is a peace in accepting the flawed. If this makes little or no sense then we’re in the same boat, because at 41, a great deal of human behaviour still makes little or no sense to me. I’m content with being a life long student, I also accept that we’re on a one way ticket of learning and experiences. What we do with our time is up to us.

For a few years I was trying to set up a significant social project to address a significant social issue, to fight fire with fire. As much as I persevered, the project couldn’t get off the ground. Maybe it was the wrong time, maybe I just have bad luck, maybe as a wider community we just don’t care enough. Whatever the case may be, it didn’t work, and I’ve dealt with that failure. I’m totally ok with it. It’s all part of the life experience. At least I'm able to say that I tried. In reflection, I’ve spent a great deal of time questioning my modus operandi. I tried to fix a social issue head on, it clearly wasn’t the right approach. In an attempt to put this into perspective I find value in a Mahatma Gandhi quote;  "We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do”. You can take what ever you like from that, I get heaps.

A few months ago a mate of mine died in a horrific motorbike/car accident. His name was Rod. He was a pioneer of change, a legend of sorts. In the 1970-80’s he helped introduce Australia to organic farming certification, he also had something to do with setting up Landcare and was involved in the Greens party in the early days. He was the Robert Plant of the green movement. Cool AF. He was a bit of a secret mentor of mine and I treasured moments with him over the five years we worked together. I value those moments where we had the opportunity to chew the fat over a cup of tea and a puff, talking politics, growing food or riding motorbikes. Not often do you get to meet people with a real passion that in some way parallels your own vision for a better world. There are a lot of curated, big noting, pretend ‘doers’ out there. This Rod bloke wasn’t one of them, he wasn’t fake, he was a quiet achiever, the real deal. A true inspiration, a true hero. This was evident at his memorial service which had a huge turnout that filled the town hall and had people parking their cars on the edge of our town centre as the main street was packed. As horrible as Rod’s passing was, it reminded and encouraged me to do something that I've been putting aside for a while. To live. To really live.

I know it sounds lame, but to me it makes a lot of sense. For years it feels like I’ve been feverishly working at things but not getting far, I haven’t been spending enough life energy on living, in the doing of things that are amazing. I’m not talking about scaling mountains or canoeing across vast oceans, I’m talking about those beautiful things in life that are often overlooked. A great meal cooked with love, sharing time with your lover, taking off on a weekend adventure and being present, searching for music never heard, smelling the early morning as the sun wakes a backyard garden. To me, these things don’t cost the earth but often bring great enjoyment. This is what my New Years resolution was; to focus on being alive.

So this is where I’m at in life. Trying to focus on living. The context has been explained as has some of my motivation.

I’ve written books in the past, and they do a great job capturing a moment in time, a period of an authors life, a snapshot. But as humans and writers we evolve, we think differently, we mature and we change. That’s what’s great about writing online, it does both. Captures moments, whilst allowing for change.

This is my new online record of being alive. All the bits and pieces that hold some importance to me. I could keep it all inside my head, but I see value in sharing. That’s what we do well as humans, it’s what has made us who we are. It’s one of the human traits I admire. I hope you find value in my sharing.