Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tales of Country Vic, Part 2: The Dark Side

So, as described below, my first two WWOOFing adventures went like a dream; lovely people who welcomed me into their homes, gave me some nice-to-pleasantly-grubby jobs, with lots of time off.

My third WWOOF experience was with a Swiss/Australian family with four kids under 8. All adorable as heck, from affectionate, smiley baby Tya all the way up to the pretty, imperious Yaysia. They lived on a big, sloping property in a magical, leafy, mountainy, rivery spot, with no TV and a hand-made pizza oven. It was a deliberately child-centric household - and as a direct result (I believe) of being listened to and considered equally important as their parents, the children were well-behaved, clever, and utterly secure in themselves. It was idyllic.

My first day, and the father of this little Swiss-Oz clan gives me my first project: find the septic tank. OK, I say, I like digging. It's in this vicinity, he says, pointing to where the plumber has spray-painted a patch of violets bright pink. Alright, I say, undaunted. About half a metre down. No problem.

First, I relocate the violets. Easy-peasy. Dig them up in neat square patches, gentle with the roots, carry them down to a new designated spot halfway down the slope. Under the soft soil of the violet patch, I hit clay. Hard-packed, typical Victorian-style clay, the kind I used to eat as a baby while my parents sweated over their own back garden. No worries, I think, and put my back into it. Then I hit the rocks.

Lord, the rocks. Have you ever tried digging up a patch of clay that is filled with rocks? With a shovel? It's virtually impossible. I struggle on fruitlessly for several hours.

I need a pick, I tell the owner, when he returns briefly from his job of pruning branches that are overhanging the spa. Nup, he replies. I can't have you going through the tank. You'll just have to find the edges of the rocks and dig them out. OK. I'm not defeated yet, I am working up a good sweat but I still have some energy. So I try to find the edges of the rocks that I keep hitting every time I try to jam the shovel into the ground, but it's pretty hard because this ground is basically 80% rock; if there are edges down there, they are obscured by more rocks.

So I keep relocating more violets, making the hole wider and wider, and slowly, incredibly slowly, I manage to dig out some rocks, smaller fist-sized ones at first, then I keep widening the hole until I find the edges of some of the bigger rocks. By this time I am trembling from the constant jarring of the spade handle that vibrates up my shoulder, and I have to stop regularly to catch my breath. Sweat is pouring off me. Determined (pig-headededly so), I keep going, angry with the rocks now as I am with the owner for palming off this sh*t job. There is a lot of internal swearing as Fyn has decided he is king of the growing mound of dirt and rocks piled next to me, and babbles away happily unaware of my struggles.

I manage to unearth half of one rock that is the size of a basketball - and the rest of it is still lodged in the clay. I slam the shovel into the clay around it again and again, trying to find a bit that gives. There is none. I go wider. The rock reveals itself to be the size of two basketballs. I collapse on the swing set, heart pounding, face red. The owner comes up and asks me if I could use a break. I look at him, unable to speak, and nod.

"Why don't you and Sofia (the Finnish au pair who is also staying with them) go and collect the logs I cut last weekend down the back of the property, and bring them up to the wood shed."

Sofia and I spend the rest of the afternoon lugging barrowfuls of logs uphill. We take it in turns to heave the barrow, but the other person still needs to pull it from the front as it is so heavy it is splitting under the weight.

I know how it feels.

* * * * *

There is one saving grace at the end of this sorry tale: this man; this man whose vague, hippy, work-shy ways are seriously starting to grate on me, this man who nearly breaks my back by working me so hard on my first day, spends his weekdays working at the Cadbury factory.

After carting twelve loads of wood, I stagger into the lounge room, where his wife looks a little stunned at my appearance and tells me I look shattered. I am too tired to reply, so I just smile weakly and collapse into the nearest chair with a groan, legs trembling and back aching.

Without a word, she hurries into the kitchen to collect the box of chocolate that they keep for WWOOFers, brimming with Time Outs and Crunchies, and places it next to my chair.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jamie's sexy Swedish buns (for Anny)

Massive, messy, delicious blueberry buns for those who don't mind getting their hands stuck into some claggy dough. Courtesy of Mr. Jamie Oliver.

For the dough:
1 x 7gm packet yeast
375ml warm milk
1 tsp ground cardamon (I replaced with ginger)
2 large eggs (I used eggs from the farm I stayed at in Kyabram)
pinch salt
200gm caster sugar (I used soft brown)
50gm melted butter
800gm plain flour, plus extra
15gm unsalted butter
75gm demerara sugar

For the filling
400gm blueberries (I used frozen)
75gm caster sugar
1 orange (from my the tree in my parents backyard)

Stir the yeast into the warm milk, and set aside. Beat the eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add the spice, sugar, melted butter, 500gm of the flour, and the milk and yeast mixture. Stir constantly as you add everything in until you have a thick, gluey consistency. Mix in the remaining flour until you have a dough. Use clean, floured hands to bring the dough together, then dust the top with flour. Cover the bowl with Glad Wrap and leave in a warm place (like Melbourne) to prove for an hour or so, until doubled in size and full of air pockets.

Meanwhile, put the blueberries and sugar into a bowl. Add finely grated oranze zest and a squeeze of the juice, then mash together with a potato masher. I had to put mine in the microwave so it got pretty wet, but it's better if you keep it chunky rather than juicy. Line a large baking tray (or 2 small ones) with greased baking paper.

Dust a clean surface and your hands with flour and gently stretch and pull the risen dough out until it's a bit bigger than A4. The next bit is very messy, be warned! Don't be worried if it seems quite wet. Using a slotted spoon, spread half of the blueberry mixture on to the dough, without using too much juice. Pull the sides of the dough up and into the middle like an envelope, and keep turning and pushing the dough together. Mine was getting very messy at this stage, so I didn't play with it too much.

Cut the dough into 8 portions, then attempt to shape them into rolls by whatever method you prefer - I didn't even attempt Jamie's instructions to stretch them into a sausage shape and then knot it, I just curled them around into a vague roll shape as best I could. Arrange them on the tray/s, leaving plenty of room for them to spread. Push your fingers into the top of each one to make a well, and spoon in a few of the remaining berries. Spoon over a little of the blueberry juice, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Cover with a damp towel and leave to prove for about 20 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Once the buns have risen, cook them for about 25 minutes, until golden and crispy. Serve them hot and delicious, or with a little butter, to your loved ones.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tales of country Vic

Well. What an amazing few weeks it's been so far. I've only been on two WWOOF assignments, but I am absolutely loving everything about it - the change of pace, the change of scenery, the new experiences and people, the scratches on my arms and the dirt under my fingernails.

I've planted Bok Choy seedlings, heaved a barrow, laid down a big area of wet newspapers and mulch ready for planting, washed dogs, baked bread and cleared weeds up to my waist. I've taken a V-Line train. I've squashed wolf spiders and eyeballed a croc (leering from behind a thick pane of glass, mind you).

I've met some great characters - young Sam, the inspiration for my first written piece for the creative writing class I'm doing. Elvis the growling rooster. Nettie, the woman with a thousand lives and a heart of gold; and her two grown boys who brought me flowers from the roadside (sweethearts, both of them). Marshmallow the newborn calf with the cutest pink nose you've ever seen. Brucey the overenthusiastic border collie. And Screech the cockatoo who thought he was a cat, sidling up to you and resting his head on your leg until you stroked the downy feathers under his crest.

The warmth and generosity of the people I've stayed with has been a pleasant surprise, but the beauty of the Victorian countryside has left me open-mouthed. Where have I been all these years? After heavy rainfalls all over the state last night, on the train journey home I looked out of the window and actually caught my breath at the sight of the trees rising out of the vast pools of still, muddy water.

I have seen some beautiful sights on my travels, but this was something else entirely, something that pulled at my heart and said you belong here. It only took 7.5 years away for me to realise it.
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