Author Archives: outsidethesquare101

#98 Allow yourself to be seduced

Once you reach a certain age, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to fall in love.

That excited fluttering in the stomach when thinking about the object of your affections, the anticipation of sharing time together, the sheer joy of knowing you’ve met your perfect match at last.

I thought it was too late for this to happen again, but now realise there’s no age limit to infatuation:

#98 Allow yourself to be seduced

Harris Farm Markets has decided to favour our town with its presence and I’m smitten.

You’re very welcome!

I’d heard about this market for years from family and friends in Sydney. They’d regale me with stories of the freshest of local fruit and vegetables, the most exotic groceries imaginable, displays to make your head spin, anything and everything a foodie ever dreamed of, and all coming together under one roof. A magical land akin to a Willie Wonka factory but designed for adults.

AND NOW IT’S IN MY TOWN AND IT’S WALKING DISTANCE FROM HOME!

As I think about it, all the adjectives, adverbs, similes and metaphors in my repertoire don’t do it justice. Instead, sit back, relax, and enjoy photographs that display the long lost art of effortless seduction.

From fruit and vegetables …

Onions looking glamorous
Assorted heirloom tomatoes to make Maggie Beer envious
Can you get fresher than Living Lettuce?

To deli items …

You can never have too much cheese
or exotic crispbreads …
Oils ain’t just oils here
Instant nut butters

…to coffee and desserts

Grind-your-own
Organic single herd milk. (Yes, it’s really a thing!)

… not forgetting a seafood stall and a butchery, a smokehouse and a florist, a juice bar and an on-site baker’s mill—among too many other delights to mention.

I realise I’m in the early days of my infatuation and that the shine will inevitably fade. I’ll emerge from these crazy, heady days of unbridled pleasure with an overstocked pantry, feeling a tad guilty about neglecting the lovely Swedish baker and the excellent bulk food store to the south of the town, the well stocked essential ingredient shop in the town centre and the European deli to the north.

But until that happens, I’m basking in this flood of oxytocin.

And did I mention it’s walking distance from home?

#97 Explore Ways to Cook … Parsnips?

Every home gardener knows it.

One year, you produce crops so lush, so abundant, so profuse, that you’re convinced your gardening skills are unparalleled. Then the very next year, you can almost hear the whispering coming from the garden as the veggies declare, “It’s my right, as a living, growing seed, to deprive you of my bounty this year for no apparent reason.”

And so this summer, the zucchini plants refused to flourish (I know! Who can’t grow zucchini?), the eggplants lay down their drooping arms early, and the sugar snap peas refused to be either sugary or snappy. Only one garden bed flourished while my back was turned.

And this is why I find myself forced to:

#97 Explore ways to cook … Parsnips?

Months ago, I threw some newly purchased seeds into an empty garden bed which then appeared to stay dormant for so long that I forgot I’d ever planted anything. Imagine my surprise when these lush leaves appeared, seemingly by magic:

What was this strange growth?

It was parsnips! Purportedly a winter vegetable, it had decided to grace my garden bed—no, take over my garden bed—with summer produce.

So what do you do with a glut of—parsnips?

It turns out you can make several delicious dishes, beyond the well known roasted parsnip.

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The easiest dish to cook is from a recipe sent to me by a friend when I put out the call for parsnip help. Called Parsnip Puff, and featured in an early Beverley Sutherland Smith cook book, my friend had scribbled the word ‘great!’ by the side of it, which is always a good sign.

Not only does it taste richer, creamier and more flavoursome than plain old mashed potato, it even looks yummier:

Good enough to eat!

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Buoyed by this success, I moved on to the ever reliable, ever moreish parsnip chips.

Just peel a parsnip with a vegetable peeler until it’s been reduced to a pile of shavings, then drop these into a pan of sizzling peanut oil until they turn golden. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and try to stop yourself devouring them in one go. So delicious.

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But why restrict yourself to savoury recipes? What about giving Catherine Berwick’s parsnip and maple syrup cake a try? Honestly.

It has a 5 star rating from 194 reviews, which is very impressive, but more importantly, it charmed my friends over the festive season:

It even freezes (if it lasts that long)!

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But there’s no point keeping parsnip all to itself.

This zucchini slice from Taste (4.9 stars from 822 reviews!) can be raised to a 5 star rating with the addition of a grated parsnip (and carrot) in the mix. If you have fresh golden eggs directly from a friend’s chickens, it will end up looking like this and keep you going in snacks for… ooh, at least a day:

I’m now sold on parsnips, and plan to grow them again next year.

Although I fear they’re already out there muttering, “If she thinks she’ll get an abundant crop like last year … tell ‘er she’s dreamin’.”

#96 Uncover Historic Secrets in your Own Back Yard

Some years ago, I volunteered to clean archeological remnants that had been uncovered during the extensions to our local art gallery, MAMA. Every broken pottery piece or metal item that was unearthed had to be carefully cleaned and catalogued because it represented a glimpse into our history.

Discovering that one generation’s discarded items are a later generation’s history lesson made me wonder what secrets my own back yard might yield.

#96 Uncover Historic Secrets in your Own Back Yard

In this venture, I was helped immeasurably by the chickens who scratched around and inspected every square inch of soil, every waking hour, with forensic detail. Pretty soon, I was picking up small archeological scraps daily, wondering how I could have lived there for twenty-five years and not noticed the veritable treasure trove at my feet.

So I washed and dried every small discovery and carefully stored them all in a pottery dish protected with glass.

It’s amazing what you can find … if you look

When the archeologist involved in the MAMA dig returned recently to our LibraryMuseum to tell us about her work and share the fascinating history the items revealed, I asked her about my own small finds.

She shook her head.

Of very little interest, she suggested gently. To anyone.

I might have guessed.

… sigh …

But it was still fun to sort through the detritus of a past age in my little quarter-acre block and see what it revealed.

One of my favourites was the old metal soldier with no head and badly damaged legs:

Still standing to attention.

I imagined some little boy playing with him for hours and being heartbroken when he was lost.

Then there were a few loose marbles found separately over several months. Did these roll away from my imaginary friend as well?

A glass stopper was eventually reunited with its bottle neck:

and there was the usual assortment of patterned crockery chips:

mostly blue, of course

But the most exciting find was a 1910 ha’penny with King Edward VII’s profile on it:

I wonder what a 1910 ha’penny would be worth now, taking into account inflation?

But all these trivial bits and bobs from the past were trumped during a recent visit to my sister’s back yard in Sydney’s inner west.

For there, in all their prehistoric beauty, were what could only be described as dinosaurs.

I give you:

TWO brush turkeys.

Just hanging around an inner suburban back yard as though they belonged.

Beats chipped crockery any day.

#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

There was barely a whisper about the history of our First Nations people while growing up in Australia in the 50s and 60s.

Occasionally a momentary regret at my ignorance would surface—like the year a young Irish girl, who spoke Gaelic*, attended our school for a while. As we crowded around this transparently-skinned lass with nary a freckle on her pale face, listening to the glorious lilting description of the lush green hills of her homeland, we assured her that we, too, knew and spoke an indigenous language.

We managed to string a few words together— ‘yoothamurra’ (the name of the property where one of us lived) , ‘burrumbeet’ (a tiny town nearby, where we occasionally picnicked) and ‘bet-bet’ (we were reading The Little Black Princess that year)—but even our new Irish friend Noírín, saw through the pretence.

Later, any historical education I may have gained—white or indigenous—was waylaid by taking predominantly scientific and mathematical subjects. But on the basis that it’s never too late to be educated, the time has come to:

#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

It’s clear why Australia Day is thought of by so many as Invasion Day, because that’s exactly what it was. Changing the date to a more inclusive one seems a no brainer. Back in my childhood, in the land of the long weekend, it was always celebrated on the Monday closest to January 26th, so it would fall on any day between the 23rd and the 31st of January.

By way of proof, my 1968 diary entry:

(Early to the realisation that James Bond films were not for me)

Note that entry for January 29: ‘… It’s a public holiday for Australia Day.’

So—hardly a date set in stone.

Then there’s our national anthem. We stood for God Save the Queen until about 1984. Then we switched to Advance Australia Fair which exhorted Australia’s sons to rejoice. Australia’s daughters made a fuss, so that became Australian’s all rejoice. But if the daughters were cross, imagine how the oldest known civilisation on earth must feel having to claim to be ‘young and free’. So that needs to change.

I’ve just finished reading Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s breathtaking book,

outlining the evidence that land cultivation, sustainable farming practices, housing, water and fire management were all practised for aeons before the arrival of the white settlers. The victors always get to rewrite or whitewash history, I guess, but reading it gave me one of those rare moments when the worrying way we’ve managed this continent hit home. By introducing cloven-hoofed animals to clomp around the place, destroying the soil and eating what little arable grasses exist right down to stubble, we’ve done a great disservice to the land.

As the judges of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards said: Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation.’

So then I turned to the Uluru Statement from the Heart to better understand how we can become a more inclusive nation. It’s a beautifully worded rallying cry for us all to come together.

Surely a voice in Parliament must be the first step?

Meanwhile, my journey continues …

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*I have it on good authority that ‘Gaelic’ is a term no longer used. The language is known as ‘Irish’ now.

#94 Practise ‘The Science of Wellbeing’

The image above, of the dog contemplating his happiness in the moment while his master dreams of unattainable goals, is a well-known meme for mindfulness and savouring life as it happens.

Having immersed myself over the past 5 weeks in an on-line course run by Yale University through Coursera, it neatly sums up the essence of what I’m learning:

#94 Practise ‘The Science of Wellbeing’

Contrary to what I’ve always thought, studying at Yale isn’t stressful at all. The course is free, I’m doing it from home, and as the professor taking it is a young woman who looks a little like the daughter of a friend, she’s nowhere near as scary as the professors who taught me aeons ago.

Dr Laurie Santos, Yale Professor of Psychology

She sits in a comfy chair with the students around her, peppers her tutorials with phrases like ‘this is so cool’ or ‘you’re gonna love this’, and sets multiple choice exams at the end of each week that mirror her tutorials word for word.

As the course had the word ‘Science’ in its title, I believed in it immediately, and although there’s an element of rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, if the science says it works, who am I to roll my eyes and wonder if it may be a bit too Pollyanna-esque?

Anyway, what’s wrong with roses and kittens?

So what does the science tell us?

Let me summarise to save you the trouble of going to Yale.

The things we think we want are not the things that make us happy. In fact, just about everything our brain tells us that we need to be happier is wrong. This is known as mis-wanting. Analysis of studies (demonstrated by impressive graphs), has shown time and again that beyond a certain income, more money and possessions do not make us any happier.

Hedonic adaptation then means we get blasé about the good things we have in life and stop appreciating them. This puts us on the treadmill of striving for something more, even though that, too, will be subject to hedonic adaptation in time.

So how do we overcome the fault in our brains?

It takes practice, and that seems to be the overarching message of this course.

  • Determine your top signature strengths (as assessed by a questionnaire, or you could ask your friends) and focus on them, as they will lead to the most satisfaction in your life:
I so wanted bravery and zest but got stuck with self-regulation and humour
  • Have experiences, rather than buying ‘stuff’. Experiences have been shown to create greater satisfaction in life.
  • Take a moment each day to savour something special, no matter how small. (Spotted a blue tongue lizard in your garden? That will do it, so make a note of it or take a photo.)
Aren’t you gorgeous?
  • Keep a gratitude journal by the bed to write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for. Every. Single. Day. Because even a bad day will have some little kernel of goodness;
  • Make and maintain social connections. While this may may not work so well face-to-face during a pandemic, at least we have any number of electronic ways to help us (which is something to be grateful for…)
  • Find a good mindfulness tape and practise regularly, even if only for ten minutes a day. (More clever graphs show that this works wonders!)
  • Prioritise sleep (now you’re talking … )
  • Exercise regularly (or perhaps not … )
  • Smile or chat—even briefly—to a stranger, because it makes both you and them feel better;
  • Express gratitude to other people;
  • Make the time to do the things you enjoy. In other words, work at becoming ‘time affluent’;
  • Repeat all of the above.

It makes sense that practising positive, life affirming habits will improve wellbeing. I have a neighbour whose raison d’être is to assail me with tales of what’s gone wrong in his life, through no fault of his own, interspersed with stories of who in the vicinity of our street has died, who’s had a fall, and who’s been moved into a nursing home. It’s exhausting spending time with him but thanks to this course, I now realise why he does it. He’s trained himself so well, practised being like this for so long, that he’s become an absolute expert in misery and discontent. So practise does make perfect.

The course has reminded me of something else, too. To find answers, I could’ve just re-watched the closing credits of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

As Michael Palin said, ‘well, it’s nothing very special’.


If you follow these guidelines, and also remember—when you’re feeling very small and insecure—how amazing and unlikely is your birth, you’ve got it covered.

#93 Try your Hand at Amateur Cinematography

It was an offer too good to refuse.

BB, my Bunnings buddy, asked me if I knew how to film and edit a video to post on YouTube.

Now I’d read about actors who, when quizzed as to whether they could ride a horse bareback, had brazenly told the director ‘of course I can’. Even though they’d never quite mastered their childhood rocking horse. So I immediately said to BB, ‘Of course I can!’.

It didn’t hurt that he’d also hinted it might make an interesting topic for a blog post.

And so … here we are:

#93 Try your Hand at Amateur Cinematography

Another reason the idea appealed was because BB had built a clever rotating soil sifter based on Costa Georgiadis’ instructions in a Gardening Australia episode,

a neat little contraption that sieves soil as it’s shovelled into a turning mesh barrel, before spitting weeds or big bits out the other end.

How long must I turn this? Seriously?

But BB had taken it a step further and come up with an ingenious method of automatically rotating the sieve without the need of an expensive motor (or an expensive helper for that matter).

This deserved a wider audience.

This had Oscar nominee written all over it.

After a morning’s filming using my trusty iPad, and a few hours editing the rushes (as we cinematographers call the unedited footage), I finalised the grand opus, ready for BB to post on YouTube.

There are a few important lessons I’ve been able to take away from the experience:

  1. It’s probably not a bad idea to rehearse a script before shooting. Maybe even several times.
  2. Keep each scene nice and short … so you can
  3. Reshoot when you’re not happy with it (without driving everyone nuts).
  4. When the Talent says “I’m not sure if you can see this,” make sure you move in for a close-up.
  5. When the Talent proudly points to another part of his design, swing the camera in that direction as soon as you’re aware that’s what he wants. (So it’s important to PAY ATTENTION while filming)
  6. Always make sure there’s a cute dog somewhere in the shoot.

So here it is: the DIY cordless rotating sieve or trommel

I predict a glowing future for BB, now known as the Talent.

Not so sure about the cinematographer …

[Masterful cameo of fed-up trammel turner played by Mrs BB]
[Cute dog played by Captain Oats (without-an-e)]

#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon

And so it came to pass that the great School Reunion Luncheon of 2020, the very one for which I’d lovingly reconditioned my old school dolls (blog post #86) fell victim to Covid-19.

There’s to be no 50-year school reunion this year, and based on our ages, it may be some time before it’s safe for us to travel, or mingle, again.

Perhaps we should

#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon

to stave off reunion hunger.

When it became clear in March that the May celebration wouldn’t be happening, a member of our class of 1970 emailed us all:Alas, the conversation went nowhere.  It appeared that no-one was “tech savvy” nor were they keen, nor able, which was probably just as well. Can you imagine the horror of a Zoom meeting, wrangling forty old school chums who hadn’t seen each other for fifty years?

As an alternative, I threw out the idea of creating an electronic “Reunion Book”, where everyone who’s interested provides information about their life in the intervening fifty years, replete with photos, old and new for compilation and dissemination.

Which is how the production of the great School Reunion Book of 2020 fell to me. Questionnaires were sent out and duly returned. Dozens of old school photos arrived and the great task began.

It was then I discovered that emailing a book that has loads of photographs is … well … impossible. Way too many megabytes. Sharing the document via Dropbox was recommended as a way around this, but my experience with that particular program was still painful after it lost a couple of chapters of my novel. To my relief, it turned out that the class of 1970 is a cohort of women who don’t engage comfortably with computers. Not Dropbox then.

Trial and error led me to the realisation that pasting all documents into Microsoft Word’s ‘Trip Journal’ …

rather than the usual blank document, might be the solution.

By then dividing this into three volumes, and saving each of these volumes as a PDF (for export), it was possible to reduce over 150 megabytes of data down to a mere seven, which could be emailed back to everyone. The things you can learn late in life!

Volume One showcased all the formal school class photos we could muster, beginning with an adorable class of infants in 1958…

through the challenging mid teens …

                                                                               where did all the boys go?!

until we turned into responsible prefects …

Volume Two held all our life stories and current photos, outlining in more—or less— detail what we’d been up to since leaving school. Hearing so many tales about the boarders’ homesickness made me realise that it hadn’t been the jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts that we day-scholars assumed.

One of my classmates wrote a particularly poignant remembrance of being left by her parents at boarding school for the first time:

Standing inside the front door there’s just the dark silhouette, the two of them walking out and away from the front door. It was a large sturdy heavy wooden door that easily glided open and glided shut, with a click. It was a ‘characterful’ door, stained glass in the top half of it and/or either side of it. As the two of them walk away there’s the dull realisation that you are staying … 

Another story recalled those mortifying moments of adolescence:

I’ll never forget that school concert when our Latin Class had to sing My Darling Clementine in Latin—“Oh Divina Clementina”—dressed in togas and holding scrolls, (you couldn’t make this up, could you?) and my toga fell off in mid song. There’s no coming back from that. 

Volume Three contained all the unofficial photographs people managed to dig out of storage—long forgotten school picnic days, a class trip to Tasmania in 1969, and several ‘formals’ held with the boys from our brother school.

I only recall these dances as a vaseline blur. We all knew that ‘men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ so I’d refuse to wear my much needed spectacles on these occasions, which meant I had no idea if the aforementioned ‘men’ had me in their sights or not. The events were terrifying.

Well over half the class contributed to the Reunion Book, and we realise that when we do meet up IRL, we’ll be able to hit the ground running. No awkward, ‘And where are you living, now?’ or ‘Do you have grandchildren?’

Nothing of the sort. Now we know each other well enough to cut straight to the chase. I can’t wait to find out from Sarah* what it was like to run a chalet in Austria, or ask Marilyn* to give me some tips from the head of the Sogetsu school for Flower Arrangement after her years spent translating in Osaka, or quiz Barbara* about the archeological digs she enjoyed with her husband.

A delicious entrée. I can’t wait for the main course.

*Not their real names, but definitely their real lives

 

 

 

#89 Make Maggie’s Dried Mandarin-skin Powder

There’s a lot to love about Maggie Beer. Her warmth, her charm—which I’m assured by people who have worked with her, is utterly genuine—and her taste buds.

Especially her taste buds. If Maggie says this ingredient goes perfectly with that one, you can believe her, and if you have any doubts, just buy me a tub of her Pheasant Farm Paté for a demonstration of how happy her flavour pairings can make someone.

So when a recipe in her recent cook book, Maggie’s Recipe for Life—a compilation of recipes aimed at reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s and other lifestyle diseases—called for dried mandarin-skin powder, I simply had to make this ingredient for my pantry.

#89 Make Maggie’s Dried Mandarin-skin Powder

Now this is where Maggie sometimes challenges her adoring fans. For example, her recipe for the delicious-sounding eggplant, tomato and feta salad begins with the words, ‘Some years I grow up to six different varieties of eggplant in our garden’.

Of course you do Maggie, but did you know that the rest of us consider ourselves very lucky if a bog-standard Solanum melongena bush gives us two or three eggplants?

So it was no surprise to turn to the back of her book for the dried mandarin-skin powder instructions to find this:

Oh Maggie, Maggie. What if we don’t have a ‘very old, very reliable bench dehydrator’, or even a very old, very unreliable one? Or indeed, any dehydrator at all?

So it looks like I’ll have to trust Maggie’s taste buds, accept that dried, powdered mandarin-skin is a worthy creation, and channel her thoughts to come up wth my own method.

The first step, of course, is to grow at least two varieties of mandarin tree. Foreseeing this need, several years ago I planted both an Imperial and a Satsuma mandarin tree. The former produced pip-laden, dry, shrivelled fruits that weren’t worth the space they took up in the garden. But the latter? Deeply orange in colour, sweet as pie, not a pip to be found, easy to peel and abundant. Simply delicious!

Here are the steps to preparing mandarin skin for its journey into powder, what I like to call, ‘respecting the fruit’ by utilising a ‘head to tail’ approach.

  1. Peel the mandarin so the skin remains in largish pieces:
  2. Devour the fruit segments
  3. Gently scrape away the white pith from the skin. The end of a steel vegetable peeler works very well. It doesn’t matter if it tears a little.
  4. When you’ve finished, they’ll look a bit like this
  5. Store them in the fridge until you have enough to spread evenly on an oven tray
  6. Pre-heat your oven to low (90-100ºC) then place the prepared skins on their tray in the oven for 35-45 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should look like this at the end of drying:
  7. When cool, pulverise in a whizzer till they have the luxurious appearance of gold dust
  8. Indulge your senses with the heady aroma of limonene, more glorious than saffron, more functional than real gold dust
  9. Store in airtight container
  10. And sprinkle on breakfast cereal or desserts to re-capture the aroma of your mandarins for months and months.Magical!