No straight lines in nature

As soon as that break in the weather came, my mind wandered to where mushrooms huddled en masse, patiently waiting for the sharp side of my knife. The excitement builds inside me, just as it did when I was a wee laddie, sporadically searching for field mushrooms all over our farm paddocks. Excitement for that moment when you’re fortunate enough to spot a specimen lurking under grass, weeds or pine needles. They hide so well, and ever vigilant eyes are a mandatory for a successful picker.

It’s a similar high to what I used to get as a kid, clambering under the supermarket registers looking for small change. I guess I’ve always been looking down at the ground for some kind of treasure. Once it was coins, now it’s wild mushrooms. The buzz equally exhilarating.

The season has definitely started. How long it will stick around for is anyones guess. It’s never dependable, it’s not open for calculation. It just is what it is. Like most everything else in nature. No straight lines. No certainty.

I don’t know what I’m doing when I cook. I just do it. Here there is also no certainty. The outcomes are never predictable. But I just do it. It’s not like I’m throwing caution to the wind. I just do what feels right at the time. Most times it works, sometimes not so much. I’m no expert. I’m far from being able to say “this is the correct and only way” to do any particular thing. But at least I try. That’s all we can do.

 

In culinary terms, if someone tells me I can’t to it, or I’m doing it all wrong, well it just makes me want to do it even more. Not only because I want to prove them wrong, hell I just don’t like being told. Why? Because if you’re told you can’t do something, then chances are you’ll stop having a go. And then, what do we become? All the same. Boring and void of imagination.

I keep telling myself that I need to retreat. I need to get away from the noise and visual pollution of 2014. I find myself walking forests looking for food, facing my fears and talking to myself…a lot. My time alone in the bush is when I feel most real. With a basket of found mushrooms and a mind of new ideas, I’m a complete man. When I cook a meal, I take pleasure in the possibility of it succeeding. When I consume said meal, I experience what I’ve just worked for. I feel contentment in a job done, done all the way to the end. When I look at my food, I can see truth and beauty, I see no bullshit manufacture, I see real. I cannot communicate well enough, how much this has altered my life. Let me assure you though, it’s totally rad.

Pizza with wild picked saffron milk cap mushroom, home made chorizo, home made passata, home grown garlic, jalapeño, sage and thyme.

 

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  • April 15, 2014 - 9:59 am

    Alice - Those mushrooms are heavenly Rohan. There’s something to be said for finding such treasures, alive in nature and creating something from scratch. Such love!ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 1:34 pm

    Rob Wilmot - Love your pizza Rohan,it looks delicious and real – just like the mushies.ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    Elyse - Talking to yourself is always a winner- you always get the answers you want!ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 7:58 pm

    KC - A heavenly home grown pizza. I’m really curious to know how sage and jalapenos go together.ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 10:31 pm

    Cle-ann - Beautiful, just beautiful, and YUM !ReplyCancel

Filling my nut sack

I hunted over a few dams this morning hoping to get another duck for the pot, but to no avail. I spotted two pair of blacks but they where too fast for this old boy. Hiking back to the old farm house, dreaming about a roast duck stuffed with chestnuts got me thinking. I have no nuts in my larder, it’s time I did something about that. You can gauge when the chestnut is in season because they pop up at the Daylesford Sunday market. Each autumn, there’s a few boys who stand diligently over a bed of hot coals roasting chestnut. The smell is powerfully alluring and I bet those fella’s make a killing from their trade. Each sunday I hold back from buying those bags of hot roasted chestnut, because I have a few places up my sleeve to fill my own baskets with.

I’ve been checking in with a few of my nut locations of late and it seems the nuts are all ready for me to harvest. On that walk home today, with my shotgun resting over the shoulder, I decided that this day was as good a day as any to fill up my nut sack. For a few days now, the Autumn break has been keeping us on our toes. Wet but not exactly cold. It’s hard to decided whether the weather is really turning or it’s just a little precursor for more wintery conditions that are sure to arrive a few months down the track. Either way, it’s drizzly, overcast and wet underfoot. It’s perfect whether for harvesting Autumnal nuts. And perfect weather for walking through puddles like a pair of turkeys.

This time of year there are a few varieties of nut to forage for. Three that get my attention are hazel, walnut and chestnut. All substansially different from each other, but all very delicious in their own right. And like many things that are natural, these nuts magically pair well with other natural in season ingredients such as autumn hunted meat. Chestnut stuffing for ducks and geese, walnut and rabbit salad or hazel nut and quail roast, they all work well together. That’s saying something about the benefits of eating seasonally right?

I dragged the ratbags to our first spot. It’s a farm located not far from home and that’s well covered with fruit and nut trees. Here all three nuts are available, some in more abundance than others. The girls and I quickly get busy bending down picking this bounty from the ground. Chestnuts have fallen in great numbers this last week. Their spiny outer core stings if you’re not wearing gloves. Luckily for us pickers many of the nuts have already popped out of their spiny casings and are easy to pick.

Chestnut are a funny creature. Well funny to look at anyway. They clearly lack any ability for conversational humour. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can see the resemblance of Banksia Men, from the May Gibbs classic, Snugglepot and Cuddlypie. Or maybe it is just me. Those evil banksia men haunt my dreams.

As I pick nuts from the ground each year I can’t help but ponder two things. Firstly I think how much nuts have been an important food source for humans for thousands of years. Serving many cultures well, year after year. Secondly I can’t help but giggle at the fact that I’m eating food that’s fallen to the ground. It’s natures junk! Sometimes a nut tree will reside in a paddock, the same paddock stock live in. Today sheep poo was everywhere! But we still picked up those nuts. Those nuts that sat peacefully next to piles of sheep manure. It’s like totally natural dude.

The big old foraging sack starts to get heavy. The girls start to wain in the enthusiasm department, and the drizzle became as thick as politicians lies. We call it a morning and decide to move it on over to the next picking spot. In the truck we go, wet denim, wet skirts and a wet and muddy dog. With the heater on full blast we drive a half hour over to the secret spot for walnuts. I’ve been taking the girls to this secret spot for about four years now. Every school holidays, around easter time we return. There are usually so many walnuts, that we can fill our baskets in no time. Our pesto nut is then sourced for the remainder of the year.

This year however was different. There are two trees at this spot. One massive old girl and one a little smaller but still well over 80-100 years old. We hit up the big tree first, but the catch was poor. The summer has been dry, not as many nuts as last year had formed. I walk over to the second tree a little ways off. To my disappointment instead of a big mass of leafy tree it was open and light. I discovered that all that remained was dirty big stump. That beautiful old tree had been cut down. Can you believe it! All that remained to mark that she ever existed was a a sad grey stump. I didn’t cry but I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream. This tree had given people nuts for decades! Kids probably adventourosly climbed her, birds and insects called her home.

A few walnuts from the previous year sat rotting at her feet. They where her children, hanging around what was left of their mother. A bitter day for this forager. I’ve lost an old mate. I felt like that kid at the end of ‘The Giving Tree’.

On the drive home I lamented that I’d been unknowingly forming relationships with bits of nature here and there. A secret pear tree, a fig tree or a prime mushroom valley. These places and things in nature I now love. I lamented that I do, because when you loose them, you loose a part of your life. But that I guess, is what it means to be with nature. I must accept that even though everything seems intact, the illusion is false. Everything around us, everything we can sense, is all working towards return into a state of disorder, just as quantum law suggests. Chaos.

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  • April 10, 2014 - 11:12 am

    Jane @ Shady Baker - I have never eaten chestnuts but I bet they are good, especially with wild duck, which I love. They are an unusual looking nut aren’t they? Great photos, happy nut gathering to your crew!ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 2:22 pm

    Alice - I’m hearing your pain Rohan, there’s such a sadness and brutality as to why someone would chop down a perfectly good tree! So relieved to hear there was still an abundance of chestnuts though!

    My folks in tassie used to have 3 apple trees in their home. One day I returned to find (the fuji) had been chopped down by my brother. It had apparently contracted some sort of rot, but I recall being sad (as I’d) been eating from the branches over 10 yrs by then! I was livid!!!ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 6:34 pm

    MPR - Nuts are far from nature’s junk. They’re seeds and without them there would be no more nut trees.

    Sorry about the loss of your walnut tree. I’ve a few in my back yard and although she kills most of the plant life back there, I do get a lot of walnuts from her.ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 12:19 am

      rohan - Yes of course they’re not actually ‘junk’. It was a metaphor.ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 9:22 pm

    :: Things To Read On The Bus | meetmeatmikes - […] Rohan said NUT SACK. LOL. […]ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 10:41 pm

    Rowan Wildwood - Know your feeling of sadness at the loss of a tree friend. For the past nine years I have gathered elderberries for my winter cough syrups and and odd bottle of wine from a beautiful stand of elders. This year they are gone. I couldn’t put my sadness into words but you have described what I was feeling. Love your writings.ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 11:08 pm

    Alacoque - It’s so frustrating when nature isn’t respected, especially when the benefits are so clear and direct (nuts!). When I was mushroom foraging on the weekend I came across piles of perfectly good mushrooms that had been harvested then dumped in a pile for some unknown reason. Such a waste and ruined for anyone who came along to forage afterwards. There’s something special about trees though- they’re such wise old things that have witnessed and withstood so much.ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 12:24 am

      rohan - That sucks! What they cut the mushrooms and then decided they didn’t want them. Maybe they weren’t sure if they were safe or not? Bugger. :-( ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 6:21 am

    Linda - A feeling of emptiness, of theft. I used to have a secret mushroom spot, but for some reason they just don’t grow there any more. And they certainly don’t grow where I am now, even in boxes – and how I have tried!:) Fingers crossed for you finding a new nutty tree to forage from.ReplyCancel

Methylchloroisothiazolinone – Because we care about your health

This morning, like most weekday mornings of late, I enter the bathroom sweating like mad. I’ve been jogging in an effort to loose this last legacy weight from my previous way of living. And quite frankly I’m tired of being called ‘portly’ or ‘big fella’. The truth is, I’m desperate to have a bikini body by next summer. I suppose it might have something to do with health and fitness.;-)It’s no news that I’m looking down the barrel of turning forty. Just a few more years and I’m there. Just look at my beard, I’m not far away from auditioning for the role of the shopping mall santa. Bad humour asisde, I want to at least feel the best I’ve felt all my adult life as I’ve been a slob since my teenage years. I’ve really had enough though. Slow learner eh.

Into the shower I go. Greeting me every morning, unavoidably at eye level is a bottle of shampoo. And every morning I read the same thing printed on the back of the product. It tells how the company is passionate about hair and caring for our hair. It tells how this passion and expertise have been significant to the professional salon experience worldwide. It kindly provides a tip from some expert hair care stylists, of which is to massage the shampoo into wet hair and rinse thoroughly. Which is a godsend I must admit. I’d be lost with out that tip. All these years I’ve been washing my toes with shampoo. How awkward.

Most importantly of all, is the list of ingredients printed in upper caps. Some of which are real doozies. Glycol Distearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine,  Xylenesulfonate, Dimethicone, Sodium Benzoate and Hydrochloric Acid. It’s a Mr Whites shopping list for a weekend in the desert! Of course we don’t eat this stuff, it just goes on the head of the person that actually uses the shampoo. But I can’t help thinking that I don’t know what any of these ingredients are, or what they do once they reach my body. I can’t help but wonder if these synthetic ingredients cause any destruction to nature in their production. It’s just shampoo right. Everyone uses it. So it can’t be that bad, right?

 

I’m not in the business of shampoo bashing, because it just opens the doors to a world of pain. I mean the reality is that everything we have in our lives, from paper to plastic, lotions to plaster dry wall, so many things we’ve incorporated into our lives do have some impact on environment. Thats quite a paradox of us to consider. It’s so ingrained in our lives. It’s unfathomable to consider removing these things from our lives. Yes?

I’ve read somewhere about ‘off-gassing’ from common house building materials, and how it can impact on our long term health. I’ve read about high heavy metal levels in children that live in congested cities. The list of potential health impacts seems endless. Enough to give you an anxiety attack. Thankfully we have xanax, let me just pop one now.

Is there a possible solution for us many humans? Well I don’t think any one of us has that answer. I do, however see hope in world. Hope in the form of options for us to take. One option that burned brightly for me was to feed my families with food that didn’t have unrecognisable ingredient lists as long as the ones on that bottle of shampoo. If we as choice makers, are fortunate enough to have that magic combination of sun, soil and water, we have the opportunity to reclaim power over the food we eat by growing some of it ourselves. We also have many opportunities to buy or produce from people that give a shit about growing real food for the city folk, or people that provide an outlet for some real good food. At least with food we have some real fine choices at our fingertips.

There are people out there that are aware. Eyes have been opened and care is given in the from of  thoughtful choices. Ultimately, it’s our daily choices that can be the power of nations. We are makers of a better future. Our wallets and purses decide what we insert into our bodies (and our families bodies). There are so many good things out there, and yes, the vegetables I deliver are in that category, otherwise I wouldn’t get up at 5am every saturday morning to deliver them to Melbourne! I do it because I believe that the people that want to make change are like a good virus. Their choice to be better consumers can be contagious to the people that surround them, and the result will be a sway from unhealthy food. We have an opportunity to support these producers of real food.

 

With our support we can create an environment where many local producers can provide a ‘real food’ service thats more honest than the current one. My dream is to see young and old folk setting up micro farms growing food for Melbourne families. Farms that would exist just an hour out of the hustle and bustle, where the air is clearer and the soil fresh and pure. Food just like we grow in the backyard, free from the application of chemicals. Food that’s grown when it can be grown naturally, seasonally. I know that takes some getting used to because I’ve walked that path myself. Even now my veg boxes are reducing in variety of veg as the peak season winds down.

It’s a lot to digest I know. Every morning the back of that bottle of shampoo is a reminder to me that I’m awake. I’m aware. I question. Do you think we’re at a moment in time where most of our population simply carries on with each new day, leaving the thinking to the ‘stylist experts’ and chemists that invent our products? How do we wake everyone up for them to take notice? Will our future be ok if for the most part, we simply pour that metaphorical shampoo over our heads without asking what it’s is made of, what it is doing to our bodies and what cost it has on our environment. That answer will only be known to our decedents. In the meantime I’ll stick to living off mostly home grown, minus the Methylchloroisothiazolinone.

 

 

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  • April 8, 2014 - 1:34 am

    Lucinda - I love your way of thinking.. All of it.
    On a side note- get onto organic care shampoo, cheap as chips and is all sorts of great. Not tested on animals, planet safe, us safe, not full of crap- it ticks all the boxes.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 1:34 am

    lemmiwinks - I don’t use shampoo (just water), not for any compelling reasons, just I read something (probably in some stupid women’s magazine) about not using shampoo and then we went on holidays and forgot the shampoo in a motel room. Time to start the experiment. That was about 2 years ago.

    I have no doubt that it helps that I keep my hair about 1/2 to 3/4″ long.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 1:56 am

    James - Have you read “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie?

    http://www.amazon.com/Slow-Death-Rubber-Duck-Everyday/dp/1582437025ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 4:01 am

    Alacoque - It’s a bit like that rule of thumb- if your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as food (or an ingredient) don’t eat it. I think once you start taking those baby steps such as growing a few herbs, fruit & veg, avoiding plastic bags, cooking from scratch, it slowly snowballs into a very wholesome and aware way of living. People panic because the situation seems overwhelming but just change one thing you can do today and let the process unfold in its own time. All those small changes add up to something pretty significant.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 4:25 am

    Megan - Inspiring stuff. Keep up the hard work.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 4:25 am

    Stacey - There’s no going back is there, once you start down this path…? Good on you Rohan. Your ‘ramblings’ are like a phone call from a friend who gets me. Thanks for putting your life out there like you do.

    If you’re looking for an alternative, try baking soda mixed with water instead of shampoo, rinse, then pour through water with a with a splash of vinegar instead of conditioner. Works for me and my kids.

    If the b/soda is too gritty, castile soap works just fine with a vinegar/water rinse to follow. Not as cheap though.ReplyCancel

    • April 8, 2014 - 4:30 am

      rohan - I’ll tell you a secret. I don’t wash my hair. It’s so short it only needs running water to clean it. If it was longer I’d probably just use soap. ;-) ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 4:31 am

    MontanaCal - I kind of find it amusing to think of you running, Ro. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean it in a bad way. I am totally supportive of you getting in better shape. You just never struck me as the running type is all. But props to your new fitness regime.

    Beautiful broccoli. I always had possums come and decimate my broccoli before it matured, and what with the cold weather over winter, it never recovered to bear any real food. Props to mad broccoli growing skills too.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 4:37 am

    Dad Berry - I looked up a couple of these “All natural ingredients” on the web…

    Methylchloroisothiazolinone is an allergen for a small but growing portion of individuals. The first publication of the preservative as a contact allergen was in 1988. In 2013, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named methylchloroisothiazolinone as the Contact Allergen of the Year. A common indication of an allergic reaction is eczema-like symptoms including redness and itching, and upon longer exposure also burning sensations and blisters on the part of the skin that is exposed to the allergen. Continued exposure can lead to high sensitization which will be triggered each time the individual comes in contact with the allergen due to the memory T-cells that will remain in the local skin area.

    Glycol Distearate – What most people don’t like about this ingredient is that it’s made from ethylene glycol, which is used to make antifreeze, de-icing solutions for cars and planes, hydraulic brake fluids, lacquers, resins, wood stains, synthetic waxes, and the like.

    Cocamidopropyl betaine is a known skin, eye, and lung irritant. Additionally, at high temperatures and under acidic conditions, it can form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

    Perhaps we should spend time looking up the “All natural ingredients” we find in the food we find on the supermarket shelves that we blindly eat and feed our children.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 5:04 am

    Paul - Mallee Permaculture - Dr Bronners castile soap. There is little it’s not good for.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 6:23 am

    brenda - nice point Ro! having recently shifted to growing the food i feed my family, i’ve started tackling the other choices I make to with regard to products in the home. It is such a convenient world we live in where products are pushed under our nose to “make life easier”. It astounds me that the better options are the harder ones to find. I also read that Bi-carb soda makes a great shampoo and vinegar a good conditioner.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 12:59 pm

    Brian - Hey Rohan, haven’t commented for over a year of following your blog and now twice in 2 weeks, fear I might get the bug :-) Just a quick comment on washing hair, as much as I don’t want to detract from your main topic. I read an article in Grass Roots mag about a year ago where a woman who had very long hair had given away using shampoo and the like all together. She said that her hair dresser had commented how good her hair had been and wondered what she was doing. I decided then that I would give it a go and about a year later my hair has never been softer and looked better. Aside from the fact that the tide is at a fast ebb these days, it has been amazing to think that I had followed the conditioning (excuse the pun) of using this stuff for most of my life, only to find out that it was all a fantastic consumer driven hoax. Interesting. Anyhow your broccoli looks great. I am envious as I have a fair sized garden and am currently fighting a mighty battle with bloody possums just to get anything to put on the table. Keep up the good work mate. cheers.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 2:14 pm

    Pat - Great as usual, inspiring as well. I haven’t used conditioner for years just to save money. My mum used olive oil to keep our hair tangle free and healthy 65 years ago and there were always comments on how great our hair looked.In fact our hair didn’t, see shampoo either only pure Velvet soap. Many things seen today as progress today are retrograde steps.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 2:36 pm

    sarah - hey ive got one for ya..grow a plant called soapwort..soak the root bash it wash hair..doesnt get foaming but thats the beauty of chemicals..people think if theres no foam it wont work..not true..cheap to grow easy to use and spreads like mad..there are alot of plants that do this..check it outReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 10:47 pm

    Holly Findlay - Great post Ro. Nothing more, nothing less.ReplyCancel

  • April 9, 2014 - 6:45 pm

    Katie - I never thought I’d see “bikini body” and “shopping mall santa” in the same paragraph! haha.ReplyCancel