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.
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.
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.
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.