Almond Bread

Time moves on.

Lives change.

It is inevitable.

In the blink of an eye Christmas is with us again.

Christmas time seems to bring with it more memory clouds that most other months of the year. Im not sure whether its because I realise another year has past me by or whether it’s a time when family traditions are bought back to life.

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Our Christmas tree still has marks of my children growing, ornaments lovingly made at preschool and school still adorn the tree. Their childhood stockings are laid beside the tree, now in readiness for their home comings soon.

 

A visit to my childhood home is filled with many memories and now a touch of emptiness. The same Christmas door wreath welcomes all visitors, family and friends. The heights of the grandchildren and their pets, marked along the door jam remind us of the years, evoking glimpses of the past and stories starting with “remember when…”.

 

We are guaranteed these remain the same. It is with some comfort that I know this.

And Mum’s Almond Bread.

It heralds Christmas.

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I have never attempted to bake it, and I haven’t for this article. I am not sure I can fold the love of a grandmother’s hug into the loaf as much as my mum can.

But I can share the recipe with you.

There are a few steps and you need to plan ahead to allow the loaf to cool for a few days.

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The loaf, allow 2 days for it to cool

But it is so worth it!

It also makes a great gift, wrapped and sealed with a Christmas bow.

 

ALMOND BREAD

3 egg whites                      1 cup plain flour

½ cup castor sugar          125 grams whole unblanched almonds

and then….

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

Then gradually add sugar, beat until dissolved.

Fold in sifted flour, then almonds. (I think this is where the grandmother love is added too!)

Spoon into greased 20cm x 10cm loaf tin

Bake in moderate oven 30-40 minutes

Cool. Wrap in foil & set aside for 2 days.

Using a very sharp knife cut into wafer thin slices

Place slices on oven trays and bake in a slow oven for 45 minutes, or until lightly toasted and crisp.

Store in an air tight container.

TIP: My mum adds extra almonds, as she likes the slices packed full. The recipe may work with pistachios too?

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You are welcome 😊

And happy christmas

 

WASH

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She stands at the sink overlooking the rice fields as the panicle, packed with grain sweep in a cooler morning breeze. The sun starts to colour the sky.

It had been a long night for her.

Her youngest had twisted in pain, his arms wrapped across his stomach, his eyes as big as saucers brimming with tears begged her to make it stop. Yet another night of little sleep for the family as his cries perforated the night in between short moments of fitful sleep.

The number of sleepless nights were becoming too many. Her family could not survive much longer. Her husband could not continue to work long hours in the field with little sleep.

She spied the pamphlet on the floor. It was stained with mud that had been carried into the house on little feet as they had darted outside in the rain to go to the toilet. She hoped they went a distance from the house, but she could hardly reprimand given the amount of rain that fell last night. She will check that later.

For now, she just needed to recharge.

And think.

As her tea brews she can hear the thump of coconuts falling outside. Husband is picking a few for her to take into the market. She wipes the pamphlet and slowly turns it over in her hands, looking with envy at the picture of a woman standing outside a freshly finished brick building. She recalls what the man from SAMIC told them.

“We can offer you a loan to build an outside toilet and install a water filter to give you clean water as well. It would cost you about $30-50 US dollars a month to repay. It will be a declining loan. The money is offered under the WASH program, to help provide water and sanitation. You could be the first in your village.”

Could they earn enough from the sale of the coconuts and rice to repay this and keep the family? She could take the buggy and find rubbish to sell if they needed more money. Her eldest was nearly old enough to help too.

Her breath stops suddenly as she contemplates her children getting sicker. Too many in the district had died already from stomach complaints. They say it’s the bad water and no toilets that is doing it. They had no money for hospitals, yet it seemed only a matter of time before one of her brood fell too sick to recover.

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There is yelling from below as the chickens scatter. The cow is off its chain again. She puts her dreaming aside and heads downstairs to save the animals from her husband. The lack of sleep is showing itself already. Its going to be a long day. Not the day to try to talk about a new toilet.

 

6 weeks later:

It is so shiny! The water so clean you can see the bottom of the tub. There was even enough money to install a path so there will be no mud being tramped across the rugs inside.

She is now running late to market as the neighbours called in to view this new building, quiz  husband on the cost. Some even wanted to give it try, it has created quite an interest. The people from SAMIC have become quite busy now.

Her smile is one of relief. Her children are better, she sleeps at night. They all have renewed energy to face each day.

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She climbs on the bike beside her husband. Today she is making her first repayment at the SAMIC office. As her children run ahead on the path, with energy levels tripled she knows she has made the right decision.

Maybe she will ask her husband if she can learn to read soon. A better world awaits her and the children, with a little help. She nods at the Spirits as the bike weaves to market, her smile beaming in the midday sun.DSC04353

 

**Inspired by experiences while travelling in Cambodia with Good Return and Xplore.  If you wish to know more, especially the WASH program also see SAMIC.

All photos are my own

Local Volunteers

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Volunteer numbers in small country communities is declining. Many clubs have folded as there are not enough people to fill not only executive positions but to come along and be part of the Club, including fundraisers, events and activities. This is a trend across Australia as a whole.

Volunteers can still be found, quietly working within communities. I have come across such people, in my own backyard.

While visiting my mum – who is recently widowed – I enjoyed the company of two astonishing local ladies who regularly check on mum just to make sure all is OK. They live just up the road, but if you are looking for them you will rarely find them at home. You will find them helping others in the local community.

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Just up the road…main entrance to Curlewis

They might be keeping an elderly person company or gently coaching another to take a few steps after an operation, organising a vehicle for a family so they can drive to town for food and appointments or feeding someone else chooks and ducks while they are in hospital. Our community might be small but there is always someone needing assistance. This mother and daughter seem to know who and seem to know when.

Glenda is a trained nurse. Up until a few years ago she had her own business where she would visit people in their homes and care for them. Her daughter Phoebe jokes when we talk about this. Her mum always went over and above what was needed to be done and there were many days she stayed with the client or did that little extra, making her late home for dinner or to help with homework. For Glenda, it wasn’t a 9-5 job.

I asked Glenda “Why do you do it? What motivates you to help people” thinking this was an easy question. She hesitates, sits back in her chair and ponders her answer. “People need help and I can help them. I work with them so we achieve something together. It’s teamwork and gives them back confidence. One small achievement for them helps take away a lot of self-doubt”

There are also other wonderful people supporting this community. A few years ago the local church surveyed the community by door knocking on the 120 residences and asking what people thought the community needed. Not surprising the biggest issue was something for the youth to do. Curlewis is about 17km from its larger country centre Gunnedah, situated in north west NSW about 5 hours inland of Sydney. While many of the youth travel to Gunnedah for high school there are very little other activities to fill their time outside those hours.

Youth drop in

What started as Kids Club through a church has grown. Phoebe and her sister Crystal, with the help of others could see the youth needed not just an activity or two in school holidays but a regular place to go, to mix with others in a safe environment.  With the help of others in the community they have established the Curlewis Youth Drop In Centre. The church has provided them with a building that is decorated with lounges, bean bags and provides a welcoming space one a week.

Over a quiet cup of tea we reflected on why there are less youth offering to volunteer in the community, or regional NSW as a whole. Phoebe has observed that the more willing volunteers are young adults who have lived away from the community and returned or have experienced a life elsewhere. We wondered whether these see the community from a different angle and appreciate the positive aspects rather than being caught in the monotony of their own world. It can be easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day micro happenings of a small town. Becoming independent and living with other cultures and strangers can help people appreciate their own community and potentially bring back newly learned skills and confidence. It will be a challenge to break this cycle. The Youth Drop In Centre is doing this in its own small way.

Each week the centre has 20-30 youth attend. At first the number of adults that came along to help were the same ones that started the centre. Over time others became interested, just helping prepare food or work in the background. Now there is a roster to share the load. The adults enjoy the banter with the youth and vice versa. The young love hearing stories from the elderly volunteers. It’s a win-win.

Many articles highlight the value of volunteering for young people. It looks good on a resume and can help get a scholarship. It also builds teamwork and organisation skills, supervisory or communication skills and confidence with working people outside their home environment.

As a parting question I asked Glenda how does she feel when she has helped someone? What is it like when she sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes and a smile of achievement beaming back at her?

I was expecting emotive words like warm, happy, joyful, proud or delighted. Instead she couldn’t respond; the question was too hard to answer.

Why? Glenda volunteers her time to help others. That is all. No self-gain, no feeding a personal need, no recognition required. The sign of a truly wonderful person who Gives.

 

**Article originally written and published for The Australia Times GIVE Magazine. Publishing here to celebrate International Volunteers Day

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countryhorizons_bvmarketsroadsigntotownIt is normally a sleepy little village. Its 180 odd residents living a quiet life tucked under the shadows of the southern Liverpool Plains mountain ranges, at the very beginnings of the Mooki River that will weave its way across the plains to Gunnedah. The bustle of school traffic, children’s laughter in playground and the toll of the bell are the only sounds that would break the quiet air during the day.

I know at least one day of the year when the population of Blackville would more than triple.

I witnessed it last Sunday.

The annual Blackville Arts and Market Day.

The road from Curlewis to Blackville was picturesque as the remarkable realm of the Liverpool Plains shone in the morning sun. A carpet of green crops, fading yellow canola and fallowed black clay rolled out in front of us, a band of hazy blue of the mountain ranges bordered the panorama. Pockets of trees lined paddocks, cattle and sheep enjoyed their morning feed as, across the plains farming families finished their morning chores.

Blackville is not really on the way to somewhere or the way from anywhere. It is about a 40 minute drive from Quirindi to the north-west and Merriwa to the south, as the crow flies. I recall my dad used to refer to the Blackville area as “gods own country” – if there was a hint of rain in the skies Blackville seems to always get it.

We rounded the final bend and were greeted by ‘road closed’ signs just past the town signage. There are few places that can close off the main thoroughfare of town for markets. Blackville can, and did.

Smiling faces of the local committee greeted us, the hospitality of rural Australia evident in the air.

Welcome to Blackville.

The stall owners stood behind their wares, a sense of pride as they happily showcased their goods. From watercolour paintings, jewellery of many shapes and material, fashion, wood crafts, hand dyed scarves, straw bags, metal ornaments, clay homewares, photography, home furnishings, local produce from the plains and the tastiest honey I have had for some time. It was an exciting array of goodies.

The homemade lime and coconut cake was delectable with my morning coffee, enjoyed in the spring sun with a wisp of a breeze keeping the heat at bay. We watched younger ones tuck into fairy floss, washed down with a frozen cup of pure delight as a duet played gentle music to entertain.

Ahh this is how Sunday should be!

After our fill of tastes and a bag full of goodies we set off on a different route home. I am a bit like my father in that I try to never travel the same road twice on a road trip. We circled back to Spring Ridge and a pit stop at the local Royal Hotel. The residents of Spring Ridge wont go hungry while ever they have the burgers at the Royal!

One cant help but relax snuggled in this country.

Sunday road trip.

Family, spring, fresh air.

Living a dream.

 

 

Some great stalls that were there:

Food River Station – produce and gift ware profiling the great Liverpool Plains

Wattle Tree Love – lovely hand dyed scarves

Colourful bags and baskets

Buzz Honey – The best honey for a long time – Phone 0429 074 520

or head to the Blackville Arts and Markets Facebook page for more information.

Half time oranges and Tee Vee Snacks

The crisp dark night took me back. The scent of the frost settling on the orange tree picked me up and gently eased me back into the old lounge with its well-used green chairs, open fire and stripe shag pile carpet.countryhorizons_oranges1

State of Origin football night was a family affair, complete with oranges at half time. After a hearty meal of meat and three veg the first of the children would get a seat on the lounge, the last spreading on the floor in front of the fire. Mum with her knitting and dad commanding the TV to watch the weather and then settle for the football. No remote control to flick through the stations – but we only had two channels to choose from so it wasn’t such a chore.

Out the front of the house was a prolific orange tree, the envy of many visitors and travellers. Every year we waited with patience for the first frost as the fruit always seemed to be sweeter once the bite of Jack Frost heralded in the winter air. We enjoyed fruit on tap for months.

At half time in the footy we were sent out in the bitter dark cold to grab a few oranges off the tree for our dessert. Mum would sit with a towel in her lap and lovingly peel the oranges to share as we settled in for the finish of the game. She had a knack of keeping the peel in one long length that snaked to her lap as she unwrapped nature’s vitamin C offering.

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No wifi, no checking social media status, no idea what our friends or other family were doing at that very moment. We didn’t care. We were engrossed in capturing the sweet juice as it slipped down our chins, savouring the sweet flavours that tingled our buds in the warmth of our family home and writing memories for later.

 

That warm family lounge sparks another jolt in the memory banks and one I still recall every time I see Tee Vee Snacks in the shopping aisle. To this day they are a special treat, almost a forbidden sweetness. My dad had a routine many years ago of buying the afternoon newspaper and a box of Tee Vee Snacks on his way home of an evening. For those who don’t know they are a plain crunchy biscuit, about bite size that has been dipped in dark chocolate. Just enough chocolate to satisfy the taste buds and allow you to think you haven’t been too naughty!CHN_0209_tvsnacks3

My dad would wait until we went off to bed before settling in to enjoy the quiet of the evening while reading his paper and savouring the Tee Vee Snack biscuits…except for the last few. I never knew whether he left them on purpose or he had his fill but there was always a few left. Left for my brothers and I to sneak in and find the next morning. We felt so secretive, whispering as we cautiously investigated the discarded box hiding amongst the well read pages of yesterdays news left beneath his chair.

Oh how naughty they tasted, eating the forbidden sweet biscuits while mum stirred the porridge over the wood stove in the kitchen. They were too special to crunch, you HAD to leave in your mouth until you sucked the dark chocolate away from the biscuit, making the  illicit discovery last for as long as possible. All while keeping watch to make sure we weren’t caught, though I’m sure they knew what we were doing!

Like all children I thought I knew it all. I appreciated the magical tastes of forbidden biscuit and chocolate and the sweetness of a freshly picked orange, peeled with love and enjoyed in family warmth. What more could there be?

It was then I was introduced to the ultimate sweet flavour sensation found in a packet. I am sure most have enjoyed a freckle at some time – those little round disc of heavenly chocolate sprinkled with 100 and 1000’s.

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Have you ever tried combining them with a raspberry sweet?

Or sampled a raspberry – freckle sandwich?

It is superb. The crunch of the little coloured round pearls of pure sugar, the creaminess of the chocolate combined with the squishy flavour of the raspberry.

Gee Whillikers! A naughty explosion of heaven that dances on your tastebuds. Just try stopping at one.

You are welcome 🙂

Hard Timers

I don’t know what made me think of them or even remember what I was doing at the time. Was it when I spotted the rusted cake tin for sale in the antique shop as I was whiling away the hours waiting for mums operation to be over? The tin with the faded white flowers, dented from wear, stained from working men sweat and dust interspersed with the rusty red of time.

 

If I could see the fingerprints embedded in its crust who would I see? The shearer grabbing the last of home baking as he pulled the next burr filled, fly blown whether from the pen? The farmers wife filling the tin to feed the drovers as they made a camp on their way through their land. They will keep searching for small morsels of feed for their hungry mob? Or would I see the generous neighbour delivering baked goods to the man bereft with grief at the passing of his lifetime companion and she deciding to quietly leave the tin…she had others, she didn’t need this one anyway.

 

It may have been the smell of the cold winter winds that whipped around the geraniums along the footpath as I made my way to wait for mums return. No matter where I pick up the woody smell of geraniums I am whisked back to my grandmother’s small garden where geraniums seemed to be the only plant to prosper. Geraniums and a prolific crop of tomatoes at the back door each summer.

 

What it was, wherever it was, whenever it was I found I had a desire for Johnnie Cakes. Another recipe from my childhood memory vault. Another recipe that I have recently realised may not be what the rest of the world knows as Johnnie Cakes, so I had better call these Tunn’s Johnnie Cakes.

A google search tells me Johnny Cakes are American cornmeal flatbread. I did not know this.

My mum tells me she had never heard of these until she met her future mother-in-law – Tunn. They maybe from a CWA recipe book as Tunn was a very active Country Woman for many years. Or she may have just made up the recipe from what she had in the cupboard at the time. Yes, its another of those recipes that can be made from staples in your pantry, though these days many would not have half a pound of butter at the ready. Unless you have a milking cow at the back door!

 

Others refer to these flat-scone-like-damper-buns with fruit as Hard Timers. I do know they do get a little hard after a few days, but there is nothing like dunking them in a good strong black cup of tea (made with the billy if you can!) to soften them for a treat.

It makes lots. Mum usually halves the recipe, though her notes to the side say to keep the 2 eggs, even if you halve the recipe.

 

So let me share with you Tunn’s Johnnie Cakes. For authenticity I suggest you cook in a wood stove and make sure you wear an apron as you prepare, as my grandmother would have done.

Here goes…

Ingredients:

½ lb (225 gms) butter

1 cup sugar

4 cups self raising flour

2 eggs beaten with 1 cup milk

1 cup of chopped dates or sultanas

 

Method:

Add sugar to sifted flour. Beat eggs and milk and add to melted butter.

Add butter mix to flour and sugar.

Rollout onto a floured board and cuts as for scones

Bake in hot oven. (~180 fan forced)

There was no time on the recipe. Thank heavens for a window in the oven door. Try cooking for about 20 mins.

Serve hot with butter if you can but they do keep.

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You are welcome

Breadcrumbs from Yesteryear

Like most days for the past six months she had been trying to keep busy. Being industrious kept the mind from wandering to depths of sadness and loneliness and would tire her weary body in the hope sleep would come easy each night. She has yet to experience the deep sleep she yearns for but she remains optimistic the time will come soon.

And there was always something to do.

In the first months the task looked enormous and they all struggled to find the start let alone a path through. Bit by bit she was making progress. First around his chair, going through the piles of papers, medicines, bills, notes. Then giving some order to the pile on the cupboard near the dining table. She is trying to downsize the freezer and cooking up whatever is next when she opens the heavy lid, knowing she is now cooking for one.

The farm will have to wait until her children and grandchildren can help. Her joints are frustratingly arthritic, her weakening limbs burn with pain, her resolve is fragile. She can work her way through each room of their house while she waits.

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Today she decides to sort through the bookshelf in the back room. Decades of school textbooks fill one of the shelves, novels from last century another. She pulls off The Web of Life Biology textbook. Its cover is faded and scruffy, the corners of the pages curled and marked.

She is taken back to a winters evening in the old kitchen, father and daughter pouring over the book together in front of the warming wood stove. Teacher and student solving the mysteries of the plant kingdom together while she hovered close and kept a check on the vegetables for dinner.  His rich, authorative voice gently explained the intricacies of the plant flower while she absorbed and trusted his teachings. Cherished times now locked away as memories.

As she leaned to place the learned book on the ‘donate’ pile a yellowing sheet jutting from the heavy pages caught her eye. She steeled herself, not sure what this glimpse from the past would tell her. Families tended to keep a few secrets hidden in the back of closets, or books. What was this breadcrumb of life from yesteryear about to reveal?

The envelope was friable, almost crumbling as she gently pulled from hiding. She could still make out the post mark, sent from Tamworth in 1933.

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It was addressed to

 

Mr Clem Tunningley

Clemisha’s Line

Via Gunnedah

 

The bookshelf was now forgotten as she was swept back to bygone days.

99 Belmore Street

West Tamworth

November 13th 1933

 Mr & Mrs C.B. Tunningley

Dear Nephew and Niece

We received your venerable little packet in due course, & we now tender our sincere thanks for same, & at the same time offer you congratulations & best wishes for success & happiness in your new sphere of life. I daresay you are quite settled now to your happy conditions by this time & enjoying the very nice season for a good start off in the way of crops & stock! I know what a lot depends on the weather to make a success of things on the land, & I trust this is a run of a few good seasons now in store for the chaps on the land. I have forgotten the name of your place, but I will chance this little scrap to reach you some day. Trusting you are both in the ‘pink’ of health as I write this, & I will now close. With all the best of wishes from your affectionate Aunt and Uncle

E.H & Will Donaldson

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In the quiet of the afternoon she takes time to relish the long curves of the hand-written letters, the gentile language of the note. She smiles at the time taken to pen a thank you note to her in-laws after their wedding in 1933.

As if on cue her mobile phone beeps and breaks the repose. She is bought to the now, the books spread across the bed in various piles of keep – maybe – donate – recycle.

She smiles to herself as she reflects what this letter would be these days, in 2017. More than likely not even a letter but a simple text on a phone

Something like…

 Hey there! Got yr parcel. Thx. Congrats on the wedding. Good luck with harvest. Hope alls good, catch-up soon. Cheers!

Footnote: The farm books from Bellevue show that 1933 was indeed a great year for wheat – Clem’s income for that year much higher than others.

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Other stories from the Wedding in 1933

 

 

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / Grigorenko