Thursday, 30 May 2013

Roasted, toasted and ... "duck"!!

Autumn is in full glory on the mountain. Red, orange and golden-brown leaves of all shapes and sizes herald the soon to come frosty winter. And, spiky coated chestnut husks are all around on the ground.

As we are nearing the end of “chestnut season”, I thought I’d reminisce and share with you a tale.

On a visit to the bohemian city of Melbourne one cool autumn day years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a little lady selling roasted chestnuts on the sidewalk.
Chestnuts! Real chestnuts!
Imagine my joy. I’d never eaten them before!

I'd moved from a warm temperate part of the country to a mountain region where hand-made seasonal signs advertising abundant autumn harvests are seen wherever you go. In the city, street vendors sell warm chestnuts to passers by. And, the Chestnut Festival is a hugely popular annual event.
It seems, chestnuts are considered highly and are very welcome here.

Without hesitation, I bought a bag. I was so excited to sample this aromatic delicacy which evokes sighs and nostalgic, wistful thoughts from folk far away in the Northern Hemisphere.
And, yes, I was very familiar with the "Christmas Song". It’s a classic.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Sounds so cosy. I imagine snuggling down in a big comfy armchair, warm tartan blanket tucked around my knees, enveloped in a rosy red glow as I stare into the flickering flames.

I've had a very romantic notion of chestnuts from a lifetime of cultural references in movies and literature.
Although, in our topsy turvy world, Christmas here is far from cold, and chestnuts in summer are, well, not on the menu.

And so, grasping the little brown paper bag containing the warm promise of new found delight in my hands, I searched for a place to sit. Settling my backside on some lovely old time worn church steps, I took a moment to indulge my senses.
There, on that cold but sunny mid-morning, newly arrived in this huge, handsome, bustling metropolis, amid cars, buses, delightful old trams and people to-ing and fro-ing, was I.

With the autumn sun gently warming me as I gazed at the beautiful old buildings, I reached into the bag, peeled back a crisp rich, mahogany coloured shell revealing its plump golden nugget and savoured,

my first ever roasted chestnut.

The buttery chewiness was at first alien to my taste buds. But soon, I found I had to have another, then another. One after the next, tempting me to finish them all.
With a full belly and a feeling of contentment, I smiled.
Finally, I knew.

A week or so later, and with the recent memory of that fine morning still very fresh in my mind, I came across raw chestnuts for sale at my local fruit & veg store.
I thought, "I'll take some home and roast my own".

I had no “open” fire or chestnut roaster to toast them in. But, I had heard that they could be cooked in a conventional oven.
I bought two dozen, took them home and spaced them out on a flat tray, then placed them in the pre-heated oven.
And, smiled in anticipation of the warm, creamy, nutty delights to come.

I busied myself about the kitchen. Soon, my son would be home from school and we would discuss his day over a bite to eat.
When he arrived, I excitedly told him that there was, “a surprise waiting in the oven”.

Uh huh. Yep, you all know what’s coming, right?

Almost as soon as the words came out of my mouth… Bang!!
The sound that came from the kitchen was like a car exhaust backfiring. In the oven?

I opened the oven door to find that one of the chestnuts had shattered, leaving a coarse residue of cream coloured powder all over the interior!
“What the … ?”

Clearly without thinking, I quickly took out the tray - loaded with the (UN-detonated) remaining nuts and placed it on the stove top.
As I turned away to get a dish cloth, the kitchen suddenly became a culinary war zone, as the rest of the chestnuts EXPLODED!

These seemingly innocent glossy brown pods had turned into organic projectile missiles, discharging the same coarse dry powder and shell fragments all over the stove, rangehood, sink, benches, shelves, cupboard doors, top of the fridge, the ceiling, the floor - even into the bloody salt pig!

And, all over me.

My back was covered in pulverised creamy-white 'soot' and chunky bits. I would spend the rest of the evening finding more tiny bits in my hair. Later, I found pieces of shell in the next room and half way up the stairs!

In the aftermath, when the last remaining nut had blown, as calm as can be, my son turns to me and says,
"aren't you supposed to cut into them or something before you put them in the oven?"

Oh bloody hell, that'll teach me for not doing my research before I attempt an unknown dish! Haha!

So, I now have my own fond memories of roasted chestnuts :)

These days, we buy farm-fresh raw chestnuts from our favourite grower here on the mountain - a dear old Greek man who, along with his sweet wife, has been growing and harvesting them for many years.

And, we oven “roast” them at home.
It’s not as romantic as on an open fire, but we relish the smell throughout the house just the same and eagerly await these little earthy-sweet morsels on a cold evening.

Minus the rapid-fire eruptions and resulting clean up.

Ahhhh, I love autumn – I think you all know that by now :)


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Meet Casper

It was my birthday on Friday and in this, my fiftieth year, hubby decided to spoil me with a new bike.

A turquoise mountain bike with the model name CasperPro.
Seeing as how much I love all things paranormal, it’s seems fitting that I call him "Casper"!

My faithful old bike has seen better days and many muddy tracks and it was time for him to retire. 
We've already been out and about this weekend, and this is a sweet ride - much more comfy and better to handle, with more modern components - that's hubby speak for, "it's got good gears and crank set, brakes, rims and shocks. Much lighter. Goes well. You'll love it".

And... I do :)
Victoria has some amazingly good cycle paths and designated trails, and the degree of going ranges from easy-peasy to, "OMG, are you kidding me?" And everywhere in between.
And I mean everywhere.
Some days, you just feel like a quick, flat 10 km ride and on other days, when you feel like a heart starter, there are hilly trails and steep paths that will oblige.

However, I'm a sooky la-la, and opt out of even considering the huge hills and defiant inclines that taunt many a super fit cyclist. Even the names they have been given can send shivers down your spine. Names such as, The Wall and The Devil's Elbow. And they are just two of many well known "climbs" more suited for road bikes here.
Me, I'm just happy to ride 30kms on trails that offer a variety of flat terrain, some rocky forest paths and undulating hills, with the goal to ride further in the future on my list.
Hubby, on the other hand, has rugby player strong legs that can power him easily up some gruesome grinds - whether he's on his road bike or mountain bike.
And, regular 100km early morning rides are not unusual for him.
On those days, I'm still snuggled in bed with Jack snoozing happily by my side, heh heh. 

I have to say though, there's something pretty cool about setting out in dawn's darkness, as the world slowly awakens and hitting the trails before they become busier as the day progresses.

Or, watching the sun go down at the other end of the day and heading home for a well deserved dinner :) 

There are plenty of cycle-friendly places with lovely scenery. Some that even have little caf├ęs at the beginning, or end, of a ride. Joy :)

I really look forward to exploring more paths and trails on Casper. And, for the next few months, there'll be chilly mornings ahead. Brrr.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sweet Sunday

Last Sunday still sits sweetly in my heart as I remember this Mothers Day.

It began early. A 7km bike ride with hubby at sunrise where, along the way, a mother roo was spotted with a joey in her pouch.

(apologies for the blurry image - I was too excited to hold still enough)

Back home, a quick shower, then out again for brunch with my boys at our favourite cafe on the mountain.

Afterwards, a special treat. A visit to
Cloudehill Nursery & Gardens
at the top of the mountain.

 At any time of year, it is beautiful. But, for me, it excels in Autumn.

This is a wonderful place to visit. There is a fantastic range of plants, garden art, tools and accessories for sale.

Although, if you want to be truly inspired, you must pass through the garden gate

and go for a wander through the five acres, where garden rooms with living walls of green hedges and herbaceous borders reflect some of the finest gardens in the world - one in particular that comes to mind, is the beautiful Hidcote in the Cotswolds.

Fine examples of Japanese weeping maples, near-century old European beech trees, magnificent magnolias and Himalayan tree rhododendrons, give the garden an air of serenity and permanence.


Garden axis lead the eye through long vistas to focal points of interest.

Artworks and sculpture are displayed throughout.

There are many places to sit,




Secluded spots where you can take your shoes and socks off, wiggle your bare toes in the cool grass and lay back, bathed in soft golden light, savouring the peace.

As you turn seemingly endless corners and pass borders edged with tall, waving ornamental grasses and generous, billowy shrubs, you could almost imagine you were in a medieval garden.

 Look carefully. Do you see? Could it be a trick of the light, or a purple pixie?

Gods and Goddesses are at home here in their Autumnal ocean.

The Maid, Mother and Crone are honoured in the seasons.


And the Goddess of Harvest resides within her potager.

On the fringe of the adjoining woods, words from scholars and bards of old provide pause for thought.

 indeed it is

Soon, a dappled stairway leads you enticingly downwards, towards the woodland.

Deep within, you come across a walled garden, and a doorway where Pan, god of the forest, guards his domain.

Further on, earthen paths lead you to the wilder part of the adjoining garden 



to the tangled wood.

Where faeries, goblins, sprites, trolls and creatures of the forest dwell.

They watch with glittering eyes as you pass by.
A flutter of movement from the corner of your eye, reveals... nothing, as you turn your head.
Seen, yet, unseen.

It is a world not unlike Froud's or Rackham's.

A sepia toned other-world.


Tread carefully here. This is an enchanted place.

Though tempted, take care not to wander off the path.
There is a living presence all around. Wonderous, magical. But, we don't belong for too long.
This is their home and we are welcome - for just a while.

One could spend a long time here. But beware. One day in this realm could be a hundred years in the "real" world.

 What blue orb is this? Dust on the lens? Or, the pixie dust of a fern fae?

Following the sunlight, past the iron-arched glade,

and up the steps,

you return to the land of golden red and brown.

I will come back to Cloudehill in Spring. It is quite beautiful then too. If you like, I'll take you on another visit when the bluebells carpet the meadows with hues of blue as they kiss the sunny lips of daffodils.

And so, the perfect end to a perfect day was a plate of fresh, home made pancakes - courtesy of our boy, who can whip up a mean crepe - with maple syrup and ice-cream.