Thursday, 27 December 2007

The post might get through

I have written elsewhere ( about my interface with the letter boxes of Carwoola during the election campaign. This became part of a little local storm, as a few residents decided to launch into the postie for poor service. I replied that the postie was entitled to launch into a few residents for crappy post boxes. However, being my usual conciliatory self I did allow that some of the post boxes around here are pretty good. Here is a selection (the hand is my favourite):

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Grave matters on the Internet

For various reasons Frances and I found ourselves at the Australian War Memorial with a couple of hours to spare on 19th December. After having a squizz at the T E Lawrence meets the Australian Light Horse (as it turns out after 3 years fighting the same people from different directions) we had enough time to start one of their guided tours. It was highly excellent and strongly rated for any of you who have some time to spare in a North Canberra-ish dircetion.

One of the points the guide made was that all known Australian Dead are listed on the brass panels in the rememberance area. But I noticed that East Africa wasn't listed as one of the areas covered in the plaques out in the courtyard. So, knowing that there are two dead Australians buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Dar es Salaam I decided to check them out to see if they were listed.

To my slight surprise, and great pleasure, they were listed. There were slight inconsistencies in the listing (I suspect the original burial sites were shown rather than where they are now) which I passed on to the Memorial. They replied very promptly that they were researching the matter. To help them I had enclosed the two photos to the sides of this.

At the Memorial I had also scanned a commercial map of the Somme battlefield to see if I could pick up a reference to a village we had camped at in 1997. While camped there I had gone for a run and passed a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery which made sense of all the lumpy dirt and fishponds around the village. Several years later similar thinking made me realise why there were a lot of round ponds beside the train line a couple of hours North of Hue in Vietnam.

However, I couldn't remember the name of the village so resolved to look it up when I got home. It turned out to be the village of Aubers and the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915 appears to have been one of the greatest stuff ups of WWI. Yes, I know Haig set a pretty high standard, but this seems to have have been one of his more extreme efforts at incompetence (many of the ponds in Aubers would have marked the site where deficient British shells killed British soldiers for example). Anyway:

  • back to the War Graves people and they give directions on how to find the cemetery; then
  • off to Mr Google-Earth; and
  • here is an aerial view of the cemetery (through the help of Mr Gmail)!

Monday, 17 December 2007

White Christmas (Carwoola style)

Season's Greetings to you all!
For a close-up of the pretty white flowers, see Kunzea ericifolia in: may also take you to some entertaining spots!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Zymurgy (continued)

After the near disaster posted in Beer gets skittled and the previous coverage of brewing in Interesting things to do with yeast I decided that the time had come to get ready for the cooler weather of next Winter. This means a batch of Imperial Russian Stout (which takes at least 6 months, and preferably longer, to age) is needed.

My interest in this stuff started when I was in Moldova and took to drinking the dark local(ish) beers to accompany my evening meals (when I was eating alone - while Moldovan wine was very good, knocking off a bottle solo was not a good idea when the pavements were icy).

One evening the waiter offered me a Baltica #6 as a good dark beer. I jokingly said "is that the alcohol content?" at which he examined the label and pointed at the number 8 in front of the % sign sign. It was very nice, which led me, on return to Australia to investigate beers of Russia.

I don't know what they did before the Crimean War but apparently during that campaign one of the English breweries started shipping beer to the troops, and as with India pale Ale they gave it plenty of alcohol to preserve it during the long voyage. This stuff was lethal: at one point the troops rebelled as the content was cut from 12% to 10% and was, as a consequence, rated as not worth drinking.

Previous foray

Rob Ey and I went down to the best (if not only) home-brew shop left in Canberra and sought the owner's advice on how to go about this. He gave us two cans of molasses, some hops and some boss-yeast. It turned out rather fine - and I suspect Rob still has some left nearly three years later.

Current effort

I went back to the brew shop - still functioning at Kambah - and got a slightly different set up this time. The guy's opening gambit was two 3Kg cans which would have tuned out about 10% alcohol. On being asked to drop it to 8% or thereabouts he offered:

  • a 3kg can of ESB Extra Special Stout (from Sydney);

  • a 1.5kg can of Black Rock Malt extract (from NZ); and

  • a Belgian yeast pack to replace the stuff with the ESB (since that would cease to function at about 5%, while that offered would go up to 10%, if the carbohtdrate was around).

I made this up on 9 December 2007, with no apparent grief except that after mixing up it was still at 30 degrees C, which is a tad warmer than recommended for yeast. However I have brewed in Adelaide with an ambient temperature up to 42 degrees and 30 was room temperature at the time, so rather than wait around for several hours for it to cool I lobbed the yeast in. Within 15 minutes it was bubbling well.

In fact it went rather ballistic and did a very good impersonation of a volcanic mud pot for about the next week. It then calmed down to a steady splut whenever looked at until I decided to bottle it on 29 December. The image to the left show the condition of the fermenter once the goodies had been extracted. Note especially the traces of the ruption on the outside of the vat.

I will offer a report on the outcome in about 6 months time.

Having bottled this I reassessed the level of ongoing current slurp stocks and decided that a honey-wheat was indicated fairly urgently. So, also on 29 December a Morgans wheat beer was duly fired up with some Coles generic honey to give it the required sweetness. Probably reflecting the lower level of fermentable product this started to bubble nicely the next day.

A further re-assessment of stocks was made on 7 January. The news continued bad, primarily because two weeks had come out of the cycle for no short term quenching of the thirst, so the Morgans was bottled and a serve of Thomas Coopers Brewmaster Wheat Beer was fired up. Since the honey supply was also low (due to it being used for the good purpose of marinating wings) the batch has got malt extract.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

More flowers from the block

Following on from here are some more flowers that have emerged later in the season.

This is the "standard" Kunzea ericoides which seems to be the initial coloniser of regenerating paddocks (if the brambles and briars don't get in first). In close-up it is obviously a really spectacular flower!

Here is a long shot up the track, showing the blooming K. ericoides across a paddock, together with a passing mushroom hunter!

This is the Blue Devil Eringyium rostratum, described by Ian Fraser as "an essential component of native grasslands".

Floating on the top dam we have Ottelia ovalifolia, which is apparently a native water plant.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Beer gets skittled

My previous coverage of brewing has been detailed in: While that will be the core repository for matters zymurgic the events of 4 December were worthy of a post of their own.

In the past I have used a pipe and siphoned the beer out of the top of the vat. This became easier with a valved pipe but when I got a tap for the base of the vat I found it much easier for solo efforts to use this approach. However, earlier in the year I found that the first tap I had acquired was getting rather stiff, to the extent that when trying to turn it off it started to unthread itself. Since the problem disappeared with the acquisition of a new tap (OK, one I found at the Captain's Flat tip) I was rather happy.

However when just starting to bottle on the glorious 4th the problem of unscrewing reared its ugly head. So there I was in the laundry trying to work out how to avoid losing, or at best spreading over the laundry floor, all 23 litres of Dark Ale and not worrying at all about repeating myself in the matter of profanity. Frances came along and between the two of us and a gripper cloth we managed to only waste about a litre (assuming the other 22 litres survived the rougher than usual handling).

At least it was only the laundry floor (OK and the washing machine) which took a bath on this occasion. As covered in the previous post, once before - when I used glass rather than plastic - a bottle exploded on me and the consequent bloodbath covered most of the walls as well.

I'm not going to make this blog a report on my daily activities, but with the chance to combine a pun and a metaphor in just 3 words I had to use the title.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Weather 'tis better ...

I find it difficult to resist a chance for a pun like that. My previous post about the weather is under the URL

A bit over a week later, after more or less constant threats of storms but no action here at El Rancho, the radar was again largely blue and yellow on the evening of 30 November. This time it started to rain about 7:30pm. About an hour later, after steady rain producing 8mm, I could hear a strange noise from the drive. On going to look, I found that the creek was roaring across the road. I think this means that there had been a really heavy downpour up at the source (in the headwaters?) of the creek.

December Gardening

As suggested last month, this is becoming a mini series with the previous episode at Possibly with a total of three posts we are now at the "series" level.
Vegetable doings
The material covered here actually starts on November 30, when we decided that the time had come to start really picking the "eating" broad beans. (I add the qualifier to distinguish this crop from the "green manure" broad beans, which we started picking in October, because we didn't need to use them as green manure. ) The upshot of our decision was that we got 2.5kgs of beans from about 1/3rd of the plants. A couple of days later I picked the rest and estimate that i got another 4 kgs. About 5kg of these were frozen and the rest we (mainly me) have been eating with our evening meal.

It has also been interesting to see that we have fruit on two of our tomato plants. Since one of the traditional challenges of growing tomatoes in this area is to get fruit before Christmas, I think we are well in front of the game. Let's hope that the wire roofing keeps the possums out of the area.

Fruity matters
We inherited a number of fruit trees of unknown varieties, several grape vines and a few small olive trees (that had been browsed vigorously by the kangaroos). I've covered elsewhere the acquisition of some additional olives and the pruning of the vines. We now seem to have:

  • Pear trees, heavily fruited up by the washing line;

  • apple trees (in the main vegetable garden - vigorously pruned by the reclining yellow box, but really laden with fruit);

  • one almond tree (that seem to be resisting setting fruit);

  • a plum tree:

    an apricot tree; and (in front of the kitchen window)

  • a peach tree!

As well as the olives we purchased some currants (black and red) which are producing well. We purchased a passionfruit that seems to be going OK and 2 female and one male kiwifruit. One of the females got munched early on but the other two are doing very nicely. In addition to all of this we were given by various nice people:

  • Raspberries (doing very well, and are probably going to need some hefty bondage and other forms of discipline in the near future); and

  • Rhubarb (one of which - described by the donor as the best rhubarb in the world - is already producing and being eaten with ice cream).

The main business at the moment is roses of various varieties. We have had mauve ones (that got transplanted from in front of my study) many red ones including this wonderful specimen and some nice white ones. In addition we have a couple of floribunda climbers on two sides of our deck.

Frances has planed a lot of dahlias here and there around the garden and I had got some cuttings from a pink tree dahlia from the Eys. The latter all rotted for some reason, but a white one which I acquired at the Melbourne garden Expo seems to be developing rather nicely. Watch for some images as the season develops.
While we were staying at the Eys in January Frances took some cuttings of fuschias. The two images below show what they look like now.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Yer actual monotreme

On 30 November I was called out of the shower as an echidna (aka spiny ant-eater) was exploring under our deck. A few photos were taken.

This is the long view to give an idea of where it was at the start of the episode (just to the right of the steps).

Close up 1 - it looks to be 3/4 asleep to me!

Close-up 2 - getting ready for movement.

For reasons that escape me, Frances thought it worth taking this image of me assessing the beast's progress under the deck. It was aware of my presence so had done the usual "ostrich act" and dug itself in against the foundations. When we checked again 30 minutes later it had taken itself off.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Recent changes (since Nov 28)

This page will be a log of what's been did - nothin' will be hid - since 28 November. It will hopefully assist the reader to follow what is going on! Needless to say folk are welcome to go back through the older stuff as well (where an entry continues an old posting a backwards link is usually provided).

New pages

This one!!! an echidna visits us An arguable title. Disaster just avoided.

Major updates additional product commentary later news and a couple of explanatory comments inserted. the first addition has been to give Google a mention and some traditional abuse for XXXXsoft. I am sure there will be more by the end of the month! An explanation of the bushfire.

Deleted pages

There isn't really much point in putting in links to pages that aren't there any more is there (if in fact it is possible)? However, the post of "updates since October 30" has gone, replaced by this.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Election 2007

As those with a biological approach will know the photo to the left is of a weasel.

Lets start the narrative off with a quote from "The Australian" at 16:14 on election day.
"PUNTERS have rallied to back Prime Minister John Howard to win his seat, but Labor is still a raging favourite with bookmakers to win the election.
"Centrebet's Neil Evans said Mr Howard's price closed at $1.50 today after two punters helped themselves to $1.72 overnight with two separate bets of $10,000 on the big boss. Mr Howard, however, was a drifter overall after opening at $1.18.
"Labor's star candidate in Bennelong Maxine McKew on the other hand was firmer after after being backed in from $4.25 to close at $2.40, he said.
"Head-to-head, Labor finished at a miserly $1.28 with Centrebet to win the election, after opening at $2.75 when Kevin Rudd took over as opposition leader in December last year.
"By contrast, the Coalition blew like a gale over the same period to close today at a juicy $3.70 after being a $1.40 favourite when Mr Rudd took the reins. "

The Australian (or The Ocker as I refer to it) has been all over the place in the election, and Iam sure some of their writers (especally Denis Shanahan) have hated having to write articles with a positive view of the ALP. I like the article quoted above because:
1 it plays nicely to Australian's love of gambling;
2 the language is very Australian; and
3 it ends with the right answer (I hope)!

My involvement with this election began some time ago when I discovered that our next door neighbours were the local bwanas for The Greens. Of course, I was immedately around their to offer to help.

My first bit of work was delivering leaflets to the 504 letterboxes in the area covered by the Stony Creek Gazette. In so doing I tried to minimise my carbon footprint and did approximately 150km on my mountain bike; 30km on the hoof and 30km in our car. A great incentive for some exercise!

Part II was handing out How to Vote Cards at the pre-poll venue in Queanbeyan for three hours on the day before the election. This was quite good fun: not only were those handing out cards for the othe parties quite good fun (to quote the Electoral Commision Officer in Charge "Everyone plays very well together.") but the ALP candidate - second preference for the Greens - turned up for a fair bit of the time. He was a Colonel in the Army and had done quite a spell in Iraq, so is basically quite a cluey guy. Also very pleasant - as one would expect a politician to be (apart from those representing: the Liberal Party; the National Party; Family First; One Nation; the Pauline Hanson Group; the Christian Democrats/Fred Nile Party; the Democratic Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats).

Please note this post is about Australian politics and as a result makes no comment about political parties in other countries. However, if pressed I could probably find room for: the US Republic Party (aka GOP - presumably an acronym for God Orful Party); New Zealand First (home of Winnie the Poo); the Conservative Party of Canada; and any political party I have heard of in the UK in the parentheitical list which closes the previous paragraph.

Getting back to work, as opposed to vitriol, I opened up a How to Vote station at a booth in the suburb of Letchworth in Quenbeyan at 7:45. I found that as yesterday I was joined by some folk from the Liberal Party - their workers aren't always bad, it is just the elected Members that are a pain in the freckle - the Australian Labour Party and a group called "Your Rights at Work" who are basically Union aparatchiks boosting the ALP. As with the previous day everyone played well together with some amusing badinage, especially when a punter refused every leaflet except one: this was always followed by a comment that "we'll count that one for you". It was good that The Greens scored a few under that system.

The best comment was when a fairly horny-handed son of toil took me aside after he'd voted and opined that "You'd better make sure that bloody Bob Brown (for the benefit of OS readers, the Leader of The Greens) kicks some butt in the future. Especially about that fxxking pulp mill." I said that Bob was doing his best. My colleague then went on to discuss a member of the Shadow cabinet - who used to front Midnight Oil and the Australian Conservation Foundation. He seemed to have some trouble finding the right words so I contributed the ones in [ ]. "Now that fxxking bald basterd .... [ Peter Garrett ]. Yeah that'sim. He's a fxxkin' ..... [ sell out? ]. Yeah thasright."

Right on brother. [Moving forward, Bob Brown proceeded to make some VERY vigorous comments about the pulp mill when interviewed about 9:45. I think he will kick butt OK.]

For the few days preceding the election I had been using "Hi hi! Hi ho! Little Johnny's Gotta go!" as the sign-off line on my emails. This had generally been well received (about 6 compliments and no complaints). However one must recognise that I, and the bookies, might have got it wrong. Thus in a spirit of preparing for the best, and worst, of all possible worlds I have drafted three signature blocks for use as from 25 November.

  1. If the ALP win a majority in the House of Reps: "Calloooo, Callayyyy. Little Johnny's; Gone awayyyyy!"
  2. If the Howard Coalition of the Weasels somehow get a majority in the Reps and maintain a majority in the Senate: "Oh Woe is me; and lack-a-day; Johnny Weasel's; here to stay; Unless he's later beat; by Costello (that is, Pete)."
  3. If the Howard Coalition of the Weasels somehow get a majority in the Reps but the Greens hold the balance of power majority in the Senate: "Oh Woe is me; and lack-a-day; Johnny Weasel's; here to stay; But it might still be fine; if Kerrie Tucker holds the line."

OK, it ain't great poetry but the emotion should be OK. There are now 9 minutes to go until the booths close , so I must go and get ready for a night in front ot the Toob. Some folks reckon that a broad punt at whether scenario 1 will get a run should be available within 30 minutes after the polls close. If that is so, it gives many hours of boozing before either:

  • Rudd would be game to claim; or
  • Howard is fit to quit

(perhaps I am a poet?)

We now move on to Stage III: the count. By 8pm it seems that pundits are beginning to suggest that Rudd is over the line. One of the questions is whether Mr Howard is going to hold his seat. Certainly the reaction of the folk in the Tally Room is very positive that he is going to get his butt kicked outtathere! Yahoo!!

By 9pm everyone was saying the ALP had done enough to win. I was getting mightily ticked off by the poor sound quality of the ABC telecast, due to the interference from the cheering of the crowd in the Tally Room. The main anchor kept blaming this on the activities of The Chaser team (possibly because of the crap they deal on him in their program) rather than recognise that one of the Chasers got it dead right when he talked about the intense hatred most people felt for Howard. (From talking to one of Frances' friends who was in the Tally Room, it seems that the problem was that people moved through the room as the night progressed and every time they put up a Bennelong result it was seen by people who hadn't been aware of the news. So they cheered: loudly!) The media also for some reason seemed unable to recognise a correlation between the Government's loss of seats in Queensland and their policy of intervention in indigenous communities - perhaps I am imagining it, but the patterns looked very similar.

At about 10pm I gave up waiting for the Squire of Kirribilli to produce a sword and do a ritual and went to bed. This is being written at 6:34 the following morning when it appears that there are now two Australian Prime Ministers who have left public office by losing their seat. It is in some ways a pity since I'd like to see him on the Opposition benches being malicious and wriggling. Who will take over as Leader of the Liberals will be VERY interesting. With even more good news, Mike Kelly has won Eden-Monaro so we have a Labour Member. I look forward to seeing Gary Nairn's billboards get ripped down and burnt.

During the following week the Deputy Prime Minister (Leader of the National Party) and Deputy Leader of the Liberals (Peter Costello, aka Captain Smirk) also chucked in the towel.

Summarising the event, the big picture is generally very satisfactory. No more Coalition Government; no more turning off the sound of the TV as Mr Howard whines; the Greens probably holding the balance of power in the Senate. It is a pity that The Green candidate didn't get up in the ACT: they had a chance to get their votes to do some heavy lifting and failed. Also, in NSW the Greens candidate failed to get re-elected continuing my string as being the kiss of death to candidates I work for.

Finally here is another, very appropriate, photo of a weasel.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

On the radar

When we first came back from New York there was quite a lot of conversation about the drought in Australia. That tended to die down as a result of a lot of storms in January - March although a few Hanrahans started muttering about floods. Then it went dry again until a deluge in June (followed by dry in July to October).

November has decided to make up for things a bit: by the 22nd we were up to 71mm for the month and it started raining in the afternoon. At 17:20 this is what the Met Bureau radar looked like - the system is basically moving down the screen (ie South) and X marks our house!

We ended up getting 22mm of rain out of this storm, which nicely topped up the rainwater tank, and removed the need to use the bore for lawn watering!

This was the radar image at noon on 7 December. I think the December total is going to get a bit of a boost this afternoon.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

'Tis the season ..

.. to be jolly HOT!

This post is written about events while Frances was in Adelaide visiting her family, so she will not feature greatly in it!

After a couple of days birding in Western NSW, with the temperature over 37 degrees Centigrade it was nice to be back in canberra, where it was still well over 30C. This led me to spend a couple of hours sitting on our verandah with a cooling glass or 3 of honey wheat home brew. This was totally peaceful, with only birdsong and the rumbling of thunderstorms (see below) to disturb me.

{A parenthesis: While so relaxing I was reading "Dark Victory" by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson about the immigration crisis of 2001. We missed most of this as we were in Tanzania at the time, but it should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand Australia and why Little Johnny Weasel (our current, but hopefully only for another week as I write, Prime Minister) is the foulest bum on the face of the planet - possibly excluding Dubya, but after reading this book it is no longer a clear decision. The book continues a line of excellent tom,es by good journalists - probably a topic for a separate post, but it would add another level of parenthesis to do so now!}

A side effect of heat is bushfires. As I drove down to visit Ingrid and Alex I was following Engine 1 from the Stony Creek Bush fire Brigade.

This is what they were heading towards.

Here are some of the firies from Captains Flat mopping up. Note the house - apparently unscathed - in the background. An article in the Bungendore Mirror explained that the owners of the house
were lighting up a pile of trash (with a permit to do so) and it got away from them. We wondered why anyone would be daft enough to light a fire in this weather until a week later when Frances twigged the melted "For sale" sign meant that they were tidying up to sell the place. They can now add "wide fire-break to road" to the list of outstanding features.

As well as fires we get thunderstorms. This is a shot of one building up just North of the fire scene: as well as the storm it gives a nice feeling of the Molonglo Valley with cattle and a bush covered hill (Sugarloaf if I have it right) in the background.

On getting home I thought these Callistemon flowers, in our back yard, made a nice contrast to the storm gathering in the background. Since the 2 hours has passed there has been some flashing, much crashing but very little actual rain. Hopefully later.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

November Gardening

This could possibly be part of a series, with the first being an October entry In fact with two related posts it is already a mini-series!

This could well be contrasted with the pre-weeding of the onions and garlic photo in the earlier posting. As is usually the case Frances is doing the weeding.

The aim of the exercise. The garlic was pulled because it looked a bit over the hill; we have more peas than a diabetic dachshund; and the best crop of strawberries we have ever grown. I have decided there are only two seasons: Winter and when we don't buy vegies!

Monday, 5 November 2007


On 5 November I was roused from my computer by Frances yelling for me to go to where she was. As she wanted me to hurry I guessed this was not another fallen tree (since they, traditionally, don't move too much once they're recumbent).

In fact it was the photographed mini-lobster walking down the concrete path in the vegetable garden. It was not a happy camper due to the attention of a large number of ants. After lobbing it into a bucket and thence into our dam it was much happier. I don't think the ants were so jovial: they seemed to make a strategic error in heading for the centre of the water rather than the side.

It could be noted that after getting 51mm of rain in the last few days the dam is now full. It could also be noted that the presence of yabbies may explain why the dam leaks a little bit!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Weekend stuff

Frances and I spent some of this weekend out in the bush (about 1200m above sea level) on birding duties. There has been a very dry spell for about 3 months, but we re now getting some rain.

To recycle a cliche there is good news and bad news.
The bad news first. Australia is the home of the bush fly. What is known as "the great Aussie salute" is a constant motion in which the hand is swept across in front of the face to fan away the flies. We have been told this weekend that as a result of the drought (last 5 years, not the last few months) the population of beetles that bury cattle poop has dropped drastically: thus more poop = more flies. Here is a shot of Frances supporting this research finding.
The good news (well the photogenic news at least) is that the rains have led the marsupials to start continued foetal development. (When things get dry the foeti just get put into suspended animation until food and water become available again. Don't ask me how this happens, but it does.) Frances took this piccie yesterday.

At El Rancho, as well as the marsupials, the reptiles are also doing well. We have a good crop of large lizards (including the water dragon to the left).

There are also a few snakes: here is a photo of onethat has taken up residence near the clothes line. So far it hasn't been identified, but it is likely to be fairly venomous so we're tending to give it some room (but it isn't aggressive).

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Garden situation, late October

We have inherited a good lot of irises from the previous owners, of which these are the lairiest,

These pale ones also have a subtle charm!

We were kindly given some yellow flags by a friend and despite most of the water exiting the pond in which we placed them we now have some beautiful flowers to look at across the lawn.

In the vegie department we have a good crop of onions beginning to appear as well as several varieties of garlic. Needless to say there are also weeds which Frances removes!

This is an overview of the legume area. It was under the yellow box shown in so is really a remarkable recovery. Notice that the supervisor is still on the job!

We have several varieties of peas and they are all producing heavily. This is far and away the best we have ever done with them, despite their pounding from the fallen tree. This section are snow peas.
The potatoes are really hitting their straps. They are growing faster than we can mound them up again. Fortunately we have some straw to dump on them to slow them up a bit.

Various recent birds

The image below is of a great egret. I had hoped to get one of it sitting in a dead willow, but it flew as the shutter went, giving a much better shot!

This is an image of the Bar-tailed Godwit seen in and near Kelly's Swamp on 25 October 2007

On 24 October I was unsuccesfully searching the Australian National Botanic Garden for an alleged Spangled Drongo. Instead I found some flowering grass trees (Xanthorrhea sp) which were being thoroughly investigated by Red Wattlebirds. I don't know if this was a search for nectar or insects but the images are OK.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Interesting things to do with yeast

I am sure there are a very wide range of things to do with yeast. The two main uses I make of this product are baking bread (basic simple stuff in a bread machine) and brewing beer. However for the sake of completeness this post will also note some other people's efforts in the latter direction.

Vey little more will be said about the former. I use one of Lauke's mixes (usually the German grains one) for the bread and do not muck about adding fruit etc. As we live some 22kms from the nearest shop it is really good to have a fresh loaf available in the kitchen whenever we want one (and remember to fire the machine up the previous night). Although I am not greatly into 'sensory' things the smell of the baking bread is also quite pleasant on a cold winter morning.

Beer making
There are a couple of ways of beer making. The first is to delegate the task to someone else and just drink the stuff. This will be covered by commentary on various ales I have purchased and sampled. For the purists, it will also cover stouts and wheat beers, but rarely lager or pilseners because they are generally blander than I wish to drink. The second way is to make it yourself, which is my usual source of fermented product.

Commercial Brews
I generally don't use these too much since they are either expensive or uninteresting (or in some cases - often Irish-themed pubs - both). However I usually have a few cans of VB somewhere around for guests and will acquire some of the expensive stuff as a treat from time to time.

The local shops don't really seem to carry a wide range of brews: some Matilda Bay or James Squire is about the extent of interesting stuff. It is interesting to compare this with the situation in New York City where our local supermarket (a Coles-equivalent) carried about 50 brands of beer ranging from Bud Light (who does drink that gnat exudate?) to several of the great Belgian Trappist ales. They had obviously absorbed the Chuck Hahn philosophy of getting "people to drink more beers" rather than getting "people to drink more beer".

A comment about beer in New York must be followed by a reference to the Brooklyn Brewery. Not only do they do a very good lager (almost an oxymoron) style but they have some very robust ales. We got a six pack of Monster (about 10% from memory) and it was genuinely excellent, although approached with caution. They also have an excellent, albeit very high decibel, Happy Hour on friday nights.

An apparently reliable source of expensive but very good stuff in Australia is a stall ( in the Victoria Markets in Melbourne. They have a reasonable range of imported and microbrewery lines and appear fairly knowledgeable about their product. Recent acquisions from there have included:

  • Weihenstephaner Korbinian: A brew from Bavaria, running at 7.4% alcohol. Pure nectar. One of the best beers I have ever drunk.
  • Purrumbete Brewing Company Red Duck Porter. 6.4% alcohol. tastes more like an old ale than a stout. Not bad but while the comment on the label that "Does not include any real ducks" makes it worth an investment, it is nowhere near the appeal of the other two brews covered here.
  • Red Hill Imperial Stout. At 8.1% they can justify the "Imperial" tag. This is an offshoot of a winery of the same name who run a tasting venue along with the brewery. Its on the Mornington Peninsula so easy to visit when we are next in Melbourne. It has now been sampled and is rated "magnificent" (Martin) and "very nice" (Frances). It is full bodied and tastes like a good stout should. I could quite imagine sinking about 6 of these and being very willing to go and fight at Borodino! The tasting venue will be definitely be on the itinerary when we next visit Melbourne!

In Canberra - near where we live - the facilities of Dan Murphy's have been recommended as a venue worthy of exploration. This was backed up by offering a bottle of Velkopopovicky Kozel from Plzen (yes, folks, the home of pilsener) in the Czech Republic. This however is a dark beer which runs in at a surprisingly light 3.8% and had a very pronounced malty taste. Worthy of further testing.

Home brewing
Most of the beer that I make is created in a 23 litre fermenter acquired many years ago. I gave up bottling into glass when one shattered as I was capping it and required a fairly brisk visit to hospital: fortunately at that time we were living 400m from the second biggest hospital in the ACT! So now I use PET soda bottles which a) are free and b) work completely well as long as the filled bottles are kept in the dark. The one way I do use bottles is when I am able to get some swing-tops (typically Grolsch, but we did return from a trip to Europe with several empty Fischer bottles in our luggage). However I did find recently that a brew of Thomas Cooper's Stout (see below) blew the bottom out of one of them.

The unusual thing about my brewing technique is that I have found it to be a pain in the rectum to use sodium metabisulphite as a steriliser. A good swill of hot water from the tap seems to work just as well. I did try the metbisulphite once recently and for some reason the brew hardly had a secondary fermentation. To paraphrase John Wayne in Fort Apache "It was better than no beer, but only just."

A useful discovery for any readers in the vicinity of Canberra is that Butts and Booze now appeart to exist in Queanbeyan and offer quite a good range of product. The have shuffled around Canberra for years trying to find the balance between reasonable rents and accessibility and like many residents (including us) have found that the answer is to get into NSW!

Recent brews have included:

  • Thomas Cooper Stout: Generally like a stout should be. Dark and sweet with a good long lasting head. Probably not the best thing for Summer so some of it might get left a bit until next Winter.
  • Thomas Cooper Wheat beer: I like the taste of Wheat beers as much as anything in the fermented products area. Following the example of Matilda Bay "Beez Kneez" I use honey as the additional carbohydrate when brewing this and it makes for a very refreshing slurp.
  • Morgan's Yukon Brown Smoked Ale. Thrown on 25 October. I have tried this one in the past and rated it as pretty good. This time I have used Brigalow Extra Malt Brewing Sugar rather than the basic CSR sucrose. I bottled it on about 6 November and had a first bottle on 25 November: it is truly excellent and will be brewed again. The smokiness reminds me a bit of some of the nicer malt whiskies!.
  • Morgan's Ironbark Dark Ale. Thrown 20 November. I have a memory that this was an ingredient of our (so far only) attempt at Imperial Russian Stout: hint to self, must do that again to get ready for next Winter. Bottled on 4 December as covered in ""

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Marathon trip

This is essentially recording some stuff around our trip to Melbourne which had the purpose of me running the marathon. The sub-text of that is that I had found that the time I ran in New York (10 months earlier) would have put me at #15 in the ACT Vets 60 – 65 age group. As I turned 60 (or as Frances put it, depressingly, entered my 7th decade) 2 days before the race this seemed to be my best chance of additional fame.

Day 1 was a drive from Carwoola to Marlo on the East Coast of Victoria. This started by confirming that the shortcut through Captains Flat and Jerangle actually cut 20 minutes (as well as 50km) off the trip. The highlight of the drive was seeing a lot of echidnas wandering around. We have seen them in the past but this year they seem to be everywhere.

We started touristing at the Bemm River rainforest walk where there were a lot of birds calling, but as usual in rainforest, none were visible. We moved on to Cape Conran, taking a photo of a young person boogie-boarding and added a few bird to the list. A call was made to the Cabbage Palm Creek picnic area but no topknot pigeons were seen. A large number of mosquitos were seen and felt (and killed).

We were booked in to the Marlo Motel who recommended the pub across the road as a provider of food. The Motel was good, but the food at the pub was overpriced and rather ordinary. The next morning (Day 2) was my actual anniversary so I didn’t cop even the warranted criticism for an initial stuff up for our walk. We recovered from that and had a very enjoyable stroll from the French’s Narrows lookout to the Southern Ocean. Highlights were: a number of white fronted chats – including a great distraction display; copulating pied oystercatchers; and adding striated fieldwren to my life list.

The remainder of the drive to Melbourne was fine, although the tollway was clagged badly so we left it to its own devices. Some amusing bumper stickers seen en route:
  • ”Adventure before dementia”
  • “I used to have an open mind but my brain kept falling out”

It is also salutary to note that our fuel consumption on this leg approached 35 miles per gallon (8l/100km) to contrast with about 30mpg normally. The difference is driving a long distance at a steady 110kmh.

After checking in at the Ibis pub we went to the Vic Markets to acquire some bottled goods (dark brown in hue) for after the marathon. A very interesting process and some user feedback will be added in another post.

For the evening meal we went to the “Namaste on King” restaurant. This was of the Indian persuasion and was absolutely splendid. We know a tad about Indian grub after our time in Dar es Salaam and this was an excellent mix of spiciness and tastiness and very reasonably priced: a total contrast to last night at Marlo.

The following morning I went for an early morning cater around what used to be called “the Tan” track around the Botanic Gardens. As the old tanbark has been replaced by gravel I reckon it is better referred to as The Beige. This was done satisfactorily and we headed off to the Gardening Australia Expo at Caulfield Racecourse. The event was quite interesting in terms of quite a lot of unusual plants being available and several were purchased. However, as a friend noted it was quite expensive and there was nothing about garden design or such like. I spent the afternoon dozing (after bumping into Rob Ey – with whom I was to run on Sunday – in Spencer St. as he got off the airport bus). The evening was a visit to Docklands for a meal: we (Frances, Rob and I) went to Medici and put ourselves outside some Italia grub and a bottle of Tantanoola Tiger Cabernet.

On the Sunday Rob and I trotted off to near the Melbourne Cricket Ground – hereafter referred to as “the G”. This was the start of the marathon and we were pleased to get there with about 20 minutes to spare. Then it turned out that there was a problem on the road so the start was delayed by 20 minutes. Given that Rob’s flight back to Canberra was fairly tightly scheduled that could have been tricky.

When we got going the next issue was that the kilometre marks were a bit hard to spot due to them being on cards at ground level. However it seemed that we were travelling at about 5m 10secs per kilometre which was a tad brisk. By about 10kms Rob had issues with a blistered trotter and we lost a little time at one aid station trying to find the first aid dudes and then at the next one (15kms), getting the blister dealt with. We the poddled off again and for the next 15kms (mostly at about 5:25) trotted along with some thought given to how Rob’s foot was going.

By 30kms said foot was going rather well, just in time for my body to start disimproving its relation with my pain receptors. Rob expressed – quite firmly on a couple of occasions- the view that walking would not assist this so I might as well keep running. His arguments were persuasive and I found that as we approached 40km, having dropped to about 5:45 per km, I hadn’t walked at all – a first for me in marathons. We then trotted past Frances – who had wondered what had happened for her to miss us (not realising the 20 minutes delay at the start). A steady couple of kms including a very unpleasant ramp over a road going into the G, a lap around the outside of the G and finally ¾ of a lap of the sacred turf only a week after the Aussie Rules Grand Final. The result was a finish in 3 hours 54 minutes and 35 seconds, according to my watch. Most excellent and extremely satisfying. It was even better to find the official time was 8 seconds faster than my time and I was 17th out of 58 in my age sex class. It will also be the 15th fastest time logged by a member of the Canberra Veterans AC.

After rehydrating – I am told there is a lot of water in light beer – and gently strolling along Southbank in the afternoon I felt an early night of stacking zeds was in order. Despite waking after a short while and getting Frances to strap my right ankle (and waking again about 4am to undo the strapping) I slept for close to 12 hours and woke feeling fine.

We then headed off to a new Botanic gardens at Cranbourne which was excellent, including a nice walk through some heath with a bunch of birds. Much excitement was caused by spotting a 60cm Tiger Snake which staff of the gardens came to catch to relocate to the bush from whence it had come. Most entertaining, especially as it was the first tiger I had seen. The best bit was when it made a break for freedom between the catchers feet! We then headed further South to an historic garden run by the owner of the Diggers Club of which Frances is a member. A few $ were transferred to the club and we spent an enjoyable 40 minutes exploring the excellent gardens before returning to the City for another Indian repast with friends who now live in Melbourne.

The journey home the following day (Tuesday 10th ) commenced with another visit to the Victoria Markets where much good value meat was purchased. After a little grief we found our way out of Melbourne, including finding a new motorway, replacing about 30km of suburban slugging with 110kph trundling. We stopped for lunch at Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park and to do some birding. Relatively few birds were about, but another visitor did show us where a koala, plus attached joey (note the nose just above the diagonal branch), were hanging out. After this excitement, a few hours more blat and we were home.