Cues From Nature For Christmas

Take a few cues from nature to create inexpensive ways to decorate your Christmas.
Christmas preparations can be expensive and wasteful but it needn’t be, especially when you use a little of your creative skills and make the whole process an enjoyable preparation rather than a stressful consumer exercise. Years ago I sat in the garden with my young nephews and made Christmas tree decorations by painting whole walnuts with gold acrylic paint. They seemed to enjoy the process of making something as well as helping to decorate the tree. The kernels inside the shells have long dried out and gone to dust while the outer golden shells still look wonderful on my tree years later. I like to add a few new decorations each year, so taking some cues from nature and a relaxing stroll around the neighborhood I collected fallen pine cones and gum nuts. The pine cones look marvelous just as nature made them and the gum nuts got the gold paint treatment by me – the nephews are busy with university life these days. Christmas need not be an onslaught of bright lights, shiny plastics and tinsel. Next time you are out in the garden or in the countryside look around at what nature can provide by way of decoration. Summer fruits, flowers, leaves and nuts can provide beautiful decorative table settings. Christmas wreaths made of eucalyptus branches with their elegant, elongated leaves perhaps with some added flowers or gum nuts are a perfect match for our relaxed, summery Christmas style but perhaps the nicest way to celebrate Christmas is with a display of summer fruits – all too easy in Australia.

Have a wonderful Christmas – eat well.

Farewell To Glenora Heritage Produce: The Future Of Our Farmers Markets

One of my favorite stalls at farmers’ markets around Melbourne was Glenora Heritage Produce. I say was because I just heard that Glenora are no longer attending farmers’ markets. Lots of customers will miss their produce this spring and summer, especially as they were well loved for the quality and variety of their spring greens and heritage tomato varieties, so much so they supply some of Melbourne’s top restaurants. Does the loss of Glenora’s participation indicate a change in the health our farmers’ markets? I have certainly noticed a recent decline in the number of fresh produce stalls and I am hearing anecdotally that the wholesale market and restaurant supply chain is probably an easier business model for a lot of producers than picking, packing and transporting produce to Melbourne for the vagaries of our farmers markets. For market gardeners there is also the loss of valuable farm time or the cost of hiring staff to fill the gap while they or family members attend to the uneven numbers of weekend customers at urban and regional markets. I say uneven as attendance can vary wildly due to weather, sporting events or long weekends and the popularity of farmers markets themselves. Perhaps it is the popularity of farmers markets that will slowly kill them off because with every new market around Melbourne there are fewer farmers to go around. The success and durability of farmers’ markets is in maintaining a good balance of customer numbers with the number and diversity of fresh produce stalls. Fresh produce direct from the growers is after all the essence of what a farmers’ market is, not value-added artisanal foods, preserves and take-away food. While customers will enjoy these things, they are discretionary purchases after all and not something you will solely travel on a weekly basis to buy.
Reports, such as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Report June 2014, and other similar studies from Australia and from the North American experience have consistently arrived at the same conclusions; there is a need for this balance of customer and produce stall numbers but also for an energetic and experienced market manager and board (if there is one). The revenue to support managers and helpers (sometimes of charitable groups that take a cut) come largely from stall holder fees and the fee structure is also a fine balance of cost versus number of stalls. Reliance on volunteer helpers and managers is rarely durable and infrastructure support and good management comes at some cost.
What to do then?
My feeling is that to maintain a thriving farmers’ market managements need to do everything they can to support existing primary producers and encourage new entrants to the market by subsidising stallholder fees to some extent in acknowledgement of their significant transport costs compared with stall holders that prepare food in a Melbourne premises. For accredited farmers’ markets there is also the expectation that the farmer themselves will be in attendance and perhaps that requirement could be loosened. Even in boutique wineries one cannot always have the wine-stained hands of the vigneron/winemaker doing the pours. Balancing these concerns with what we all love about a farmers’ market, having direct interaction with the producer and knowledge of provenance, is a tricky path. Additional support could be given by allowing farmers to also sell some value added products, for example, quiches, tarts or preserves made with their produce to help them in lean times, so long as the competition is balanced. This is where nuanced management is needed. Finally, having the right venue is also important. Although locals might not begrudge a $2 donation to the primary school by way of an entry fee, many customers will not always be so forgiving if there is not much in the way of primary produce to buy. The focus on school revenue raising at the expense of market support and diversity has been a cause of many market failures.
In 2011 the Victorian Government funded the establishment of the Victorian Farmers’ Market Association and their accreditation program and the current government has been funding management for regional Victorian markets but support within Melbourne is largely dependent on community group and council partnerships with councils providing support for market establishment. What is perhaps needed in the long term is direct marketing and management funding from grants and not a model totally dependent on stall holder fees covering everything. But perhaps the elephant in the room is the loss of agricultural land to housing. Green wedges and smaller agriculture holdings are needed to ensure farmers’ markets in Melbourne have a future.
Some of the wonderful produce from Glenora Heritage Produce
Glenora Heritage produce- Spring Greens

Kitchen Scraps – A Virtuous Cycle

My previous post covered a great option for saving kitchen scraps from landfill with a community based deposit system called ShareWaste. In the absence of a council collection ShareWaste is one option but another way of directing food waste away from landfill is to privately organise a food waste bin collection for your house or band together with your neighbours and split the cost with a shared bin. This may be an expensive option but easy if you want to do something positive but not have to think about it too much. If you are fortunate to have a garden and have a little time to play with waste then consider composting or start using a Bokashi bin or worm farm and improve the quality of your garden beds and plant growth with free home made mulch and fertilizer. Bokashi bins are a fermentation process that turns your kitchen waste into a rich soil conditioner while a tap at the base of the bin also allows harvesting of a rich liquid fertilizers every 2 or 3 days. Bokashi bins are great for dealing with citrus, onions skins and meat; the sort of food waste that isn’t conducive to worm farms and they can also be used indoors. Bokashi bins are available from Bunnings ($39 – $59 depending on size) or from Bokashi Composting AustraliaHungry Bin, a continuous flow worm farm is a neat, easy to use system for converting your kitchen scraps to quality liquid and worm casting fertilizer. Hungry Bin, about the size of a small wheelie bin, can easily fit in a small garden, patio or on a balcony provided you have a shady position; worms don’t like the heat of direct sun. You can buy this system online from There are lots of ways to create a virtuous cycle for your food scraps even if you don’t have a green thumb. Consider sharing your valuable fertilizer with others, swapping it for some home-grown vegies.


Give Kitchen Scraps New Life With ShareWaste

I live in an apartment and love cooking, so every time I trim or peel fruit and vegetables I seem to generate an enormous amount of potential compost that ends up in landfill. I find this troubling.  Apartment dwellers are the worst recyclers; pizza boxes with the odd slice of pizza are routinely found in the paper recycling dumpster not to mention all kinds of plastic and polystyrene packaging. I’m not sure why this is so and efforts to educate with glossy, cheerful instruction posters and newsletters have not improved behaviour. It is not surprising then that body corporates are reluctant to add another contaminated waste problem by including a food waste bin in communal rubbish rooms. Some suburban councils are dealing with the burden of food waste in landfill by collecting or at least trialling the collection of dedicated food waste bins from kerbsides which is great. However, apartment dense inner city councils are reluctant to go that route because of the contamination problems experienced. A wonderful option for those of you who live in apartments and actively want to do something about recycling your food waste is ShareWaste. ShareWaste is a community initiative where people who have garden space can offer those that don’t a place to bring their kitchen scraps to be composted.  ShareWaste brings the two parties together in your neighbourhood. Taking a bucket of scraps to a neighbourhood site should not be seen as too onerous. It can be done as part of your weekend walking or riding exercise regime and it might be a great way to meet people in your community. Think of the cities in Europe where people have  to routinely do this for all their waste, general kitchen rubbish included. In some European cities bottle bins, general rubbish dumpsters, waste paper and plastics dumpsters are all in different locations too. We have it pretty easy in Australia but for how much longer? Just as water restrictions taught us to be more careful and self reliant with household water, ShareWaste is a way of empowering citizens to get on with the business of reducing waste and greenhouse gases. Food businesses too have been in on the act not only with food waste recycling (LifeCycle coffee ground waste to mushroom growers) but also with schemes that move surplus food from one business to another(Yume) or make surplus food available to community markets (Lentil As Anything’s Inconvenience Store) and to charities (Ozharvest, SecondBite and FareShare).

The number of composting sites in Melbourne is rapidly growing, so you can easily be part of the solution. Check out ShareWaste online or their easy to use App, sign up and then contact your nearest deposit house by email. Clicking on the house symbol on the Melbourne site map tells you what each active composter is willing to accept (anything but citrus and onions, only eggshells, no meat etc). Some want food for worm farms, so ShareWaste could be seem as a food delivery App for hungry earthworms.  Sharing is caring with ShareWaste.

City compost app

Would you become a compost donor?♻️ShareWaste is the new app that’s connecting people and turning food waste into a nutrient rich resource #sharewaste #compost #nowaste

Posted by Gardening Australia on Thursday, October 18, 2018


ShareWaste 💚 Melbourne

Did you know that ShareWaste community in Melbourne is one of the most active?We really 💚 Melbourne.Our ShareWaste hosts are people with backyards, chicken keepers, community gardens, farms and even small businesses.Be part of the solution with ShareWasteTom & Eli—–Let people know about ShareWaste and help them make more soil for their garden or recycle their food scraps😀—–

Posted by ShareWaste on Tuesday, October 2, 2018



The Secret To Cooking And Eating In Croatia

It might be hard to imagine that gutting sardines, anchovies and mackerel makes for a great holiday experience but I need to put it in perspective. First put yourself in the UNESCO world heritage island town of Trogir in Dalmatia, in the little 13th C palazzo of celebrity home cook, Tatjana Ciciliani. You have just returned from the local market where Tatjana has been prodding the freshest fish imaginable and selecting the best of the days catch for your lunch. These fish are just out of the water, still curved and taunt with rigor, eyes all a sparkle, so are actually not unpleasant to touch. Tatjana’s enthusiasm for great food is infectious, so learning to fillet fish is all part of the fun of cooking with her. And you are about to cook up a feast that made inquisitive tourists that wandered into the courtyard wanting a spot at the communal table green with envy.

The little produce market was full of great looking fruit and vegetables and in no time we are laden with stuff.

our market shopping

To start we had to deal with those little sardines and we soon got the knack of it; detaching the heads and pulling out the guts in one swift action and then removing the backbone by running thumb and forefinger along the spine.

Soon the sardines were crumbed with breadcrumbs and sesame seeds and fried to golden crunchiness. The delicate anchovies were prepared slightly differently, split and opened up with the thumb and the head and guts just pulled away, before being soused in a heated mix of garlic, capers, vinegar and olive oil, which saw them split in two, free of any bones. Capers feature in a lot of fish dishes in Croatia as they grow wild here at random locations in the limestone walls, largely evading human attempts to direct their establishment, although Tatjana swears by a dried fig as a substrate for seedlings. While two of us were dealing with fish another of our party was making  some seasoned salts by grinding salt with mixed herbs, parsley, capers and garlic for example, in a mortar and pestle. A pinch or two of these ready mixes were great flavouring for several of the dishes. Tatjana said that the salt desiccates these mixes allowing them to keep for days or weeks.

Two dishes down and we were soon onto cooking mussels with zucchini spaghetti, braising veal chops with caramelised onions, and stuffing peppers with sausage mince and barley and poaching them in a sauce made with tomatoes and a smoked pork bone for added flavour. Oh and did I mention there was a bean soup, olives, cheese, prosciutto, mackerel and bream, and lashings of wine –  rose, white and red. We also managed to just squeeze in some ripe fresh figs with lavender-scented mascarpone cream.

This cooking glass in Trogir was part of my tour of Croatia with boutique tour company, Secret Dalmatia. I expected a formal class with us lined up behind stainless steel benches with ingredients lists, bowls and knives etc. instead what we got was the fun, chatter, music and a little of the chaos of home cooking with family but with an unobtrusive kitchen fairy by the name of Ivana who whisked away dirty dishes and proffered clean ones at just the right moment. Secret Dalmatia was the best way we could have experienced Croatia and the secret bits were the added little gems such as the cooking class with the wonderful Tatjana, the peka dinner in an abandoned village with Ana guiding us in with the light of a mobile phone to the only furnished dwelling, or a seafood lunch under the trees at an oyster farm without another tourist in sight.

abandoned village by night

We also heard local stories, legends and historical narratives that were never boring. We could not have done these things on our own with such ease and comfort. Managing on our own, perhaps our memories would have included long queues at ferry terminals, shuffling into the old city of Dubrovnik with the cruise ship crowds and, worse still, indifferent meals; but Secret Dalmatia not only made everything run seamlessly but ensured we dined, and drank, extremely well. A cooking class certainly opens a window into the culture and welcomes you at its table.

Adriatic dreaming