All good things must come to an end.

22/2/09

Mediocre things come to and end, too.

Our local diet concluded the evening of February 13th at the lovely and delicious Green Herring restaurant. We managed (not on purpose, of course) to order both the wine and meat entrées that came from the farthest distance. But given that the restaurant specialises in local cuisine, that was only Sydney. The service was fantastic, the setting rustic, and I’d highly recommend the dessert platter.

I apologise to avid readers (I'm sure one or two of you exist out there) that I managed few updates as we approached the end of “La Vida Local.” I suppose we were just plugged into the system. Tom would put on the bread machine every few evenings, I would bake muffins every few mornings. We would wait for the rocks in the fruit basket to become edible. We would make pasta. We combed the garden. There were moments of feast and there were moments of famine.

So now that we're on the other side of it, what’s our final thought? It was worth it.

Most definitely. It wasn’t easy, and any attempt to make it a permanent condition would be almost impossible. But there are aspects of the local diet that will be effortlessly integrated into our normal eating habits (and there are aspects that will be gladly left behind).

Now that we have free will, it is difficult to choose Bega cheese over Home Brand and Canberra milk over Woolies milk, when the price is coaxing you otherwise. But it’s worth it.

It is a challenge to travel a few more k’s, and to a few more shops, to get produce for the week, when Woolies is two blocks away. But it’s worth it.

It takes time to make bread from scratch. It takes energy to tend the garden. Aren’t there other things I’d rather be doing? Nope, it’s all worth it.

The value of our experience really resides in the knowledge that we gained about food, the region, producers, consumers, and, yes, ourselves.

Allow me to share some of this new found knowledge:

-Foods that you don’t really enjoy normally, will not miraculously become enjoyable just because they are local and you are eating locally.

-A beetroot the size of a human head makes a lot of soup. More soup than two people are willing to slog through.

-There is a limit to Tom’s ability to consume eggs. Who knew?

-I can survive without chocolate. Who knew?

-The number of dishes requiring washing has a direct correlation with how much food preparation takes place.

-Sometimes it is too difficult to find the motivation to make something to eat (In which case a glass of milk makes an excellent belly liner).

-We are a lucky culture to know the joys of cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, paprika, lemongrass, and the numerous other spices of life.

-On the other hand, simplicity can be utterly delicious.

-Convenience stores are very convenient.

-The Moosewood Cookbook is an excellent local food companion.

-So are Tom, Pip, Emma and Dan, Neet and Dan, and everyone else that supported us nutritionally or emotionally on this little adventure.

Time for a cup of tea…

Of Rice and Men

30/1/09

I’ve heard some rumours. Lets try to clear them up.

Rumour #1. It is expensive to eat locally.

I’m not sure about that… Individual items certainly are more expensive. But you pay for what you get. $5.80 milk tastes like $5.80 milk. Which pleases Tom, who was lamenting the other day that “professional milk taster” is not a career.

However, some things are cheaper. We had a discussion with the previously mentioned broccoli/potato farmer from Cooma the other morning. He told us that it’s not only cheaper for us to buy our produce directly from him, but he also makes a greater profit. Of course, that’s a bit obvious. The majority of profits in the conventional system (that is supermarkets) goes to the transportation and supermarket companies.

But the biggest financial difference isn’t a result of a few dollars saved or spent on particular items. There has been a fundamental change in the way we spend money on food. We generally buy larger amounts of basic ingredients and do a lot of the “value adding” ourselves. Flour and yeast are cheaper than buying bread.

We also never eat take away or buy snacks. That means a savings of one to five dollars a day that I would have previously spent on “health food” at work whenever I felt slightly peckish.

We also utilize more of the “free” stuff from the garden. We’re not spending anything on tea or coffee, because we’re taking advantage of the abundance of mint in the garden.

Tom and I haven’t been keeping detailed accounts of our budget. Baking bread and picking vegies have taken a higher priority (is it that our budget was never a high priority?). But when we sat down and tried to decide if this experiment was more expensive or cheaper than our regular eating habits, we determined that… we didn’t know. But nodded forcefully at each other when it was suggested that it surely wasn’t any more expensive.

Tom did point out that some savings probably come from the fact that we are actually eating less. Which brings me to…

Rumour #2. You will loose weight on this diet.

Yes you will. Tom has suggested that we try to make a fortune selling the idea.

We haven’t been logging our weight, as was suggested that perhaps we should. But we’re certainly not getting any larger.

Having said that, I just finished a lunch of bread, cheese, bread, and ice cream. Hazelnut and honey ice cream.

Rumour #3. Eating locally is not good for the environment because not everything should be grown in an area.

Yes and No. Eating locally is about eating responsibly in general. Which means, even if we have access to a resource intensive crop, such as rice (which we do), we’ll choose to forgo it.

It’s true that Australia is experiencing a drought, and that agriculture places stress on a very fragile system. But you can grow a lot of food in a backyard, even under water restrictions, and especially with efficient use of grey water. Also, buying from local producers creates greater accountability on their part. If you can say “I’ve seen your farm on our way to so-and-so. And it looks: lovely/productive/destructive/like you’re using an inefficient and archaic system” then they have a greater responsibility to follow practices that are agreeable to their customers. And that does equate to more efficient water use. As well as erosion mitigation, reduced “pollution,” and the practicing of organic principles.

If you think about it, importing grapes and strawberries from the US is not benefiting the environment either. For that matter, consuming mangos and pineapple like we live in Queensland is a bit indulgent. And can we convince ourselves that water is not an issue in say California and Mexico where this “environmentally friendly” food is coming from? Perhaps the signs that emerged all over my hometown stating that “our water is more precious than gold” give us an indication. (In the agricultural areas they say “food grows where water flows.”)

I’ll try to impress you and use numbers that I came across during some Environment Centre research (all properly citable): Air freight accounts for about 10% of international transportation. However, air freight emissions are 177 times greater than those of goods shipped by sea. Which means most imported foods, like dried fruit, canned veggies, pasta, and coffee get a pat on the back, but fresh produce is a greenhouse gas giant. (On the other hand, should we consider the packaging required for sea freighted foods as compared to fresh local foods? Hmm)

Even domestic transport is an issue, particularly when using refrigerated trucking. The CERES report on food miles in Australia estimates that the road transportation distance for a typical Melbourne food basket is 21,073 km – almost the same distance as Australia’s coastline. The total distance for all transportation of the food basket was 70,803 km.

That means the average food basket has done more miles than the person buying it will go on holiday each year. That’s not fair.

Rumour #4. Developing countries depend on our consumption of their exports.

That is true. But does truth make it correct? I’m going to expose all of my naivety and idealism in expressing my opinion that although this is the current system, it is not necessarily beneficial. Fairtrade has made huge advances for many communities overseas, but in general we are not talking about fairtrade. Cadbury/Hershey’s chocolate, Foldgers coffee, and Lipton tea are the mainstream .

After reading Thor Heyerdahl’s book Fatu-Hiva (which, given, was written in the ‘70s about his experience in the ‘30s), I don’t have faith that our markets are offering much to these people that they didn’t already have. Aside from some small conveniences, like, say, modern medicine (whether or not modern medicine is actually available to them is another issue).

I wouldn’t deny that, in the short term, reducing our imports from third would countries would have a significant effect. I have read and contemplated arguments for both sides. And it can be said that it is truly a personal preference whether or not you view exports as beneficial to developing countries.

I suppose the way in which my opinion differs from the mainstream is that I don’t believe that we are confined to the current system. I don’t believe that we have to be contented with choosing the lesser of the evils. However, my degree wasn’t in Utopia Creation, it wasn’t even my minor, so I’m not exactly qualified to design it. But I will defend my choice to eat locally in this instance.

I haven’t heard many sermons, but I imagine that they might sound like what I’ve just written. But, I’m not actually trying to preach to anyone. I’m just putting forth our personal reasons and reasoning behind this local thing. As important as it is to tread lightly on the environment, it is as valuable to tread lightly upon each other (a bit of wisdom from “Sea Change”). Diversity of culture and opinion gives this world it’s appeal (preceptive commentary from Xavier Rudd). So, I hope that I can value differing opinions to the degree that I would request that you value mine.

We are blessed (by whom I’m not sure, but I’d probably say Mother Nature) to have access to sufficient nutrition in abundant variety. And when the clock ticks over on the 14th of February and this becomes all but a distant, delicious memory, we will enjoy rice once again. And mangoes, definitely mangoes. And chocolate. Tom will probably brew a cup of coffee. I’ll buy my favourite French nougat from work… and we will regard these small, tasty events as special occasions.

Our Shopping Cart

26/1/09

There has been a request. Seeing as it’s from my mother, I don’t know if it’s of interest to the general reading public, but I’ll address her question nonetheless. Which is: “so, where does it come from?”

I’ll start closest to home.

At the moment the garden is providing us with green beans and cucumber by the arm load, as much basil, sage, and mint as we desire, zucchini, blackberries and raspberries, and a few tomatoes and hot peppers. In the scheme of backyard gardens, it’s not that much really. But we have apples, beetroot, pumpkin and corn on the way. And have already devoured our bounty of strawberries, lettuce, and leaf chicory.

Unfortunately for us, it has been a slow year in the garden. Armed with a bin full of compost, delicious black worm castings from our adopted worm farm, and a head full of permaculture principles from a short course that I took, I was prepared to produce a forest of food. I planted out dozens of punnets of tomato seeds, saved from successful plants from last year. I forbid Tom from digging the bed for fear of chopping up our worm friends. We bought a fancy trigger head for the hose. We bought a shiny watering can for the grey water.

And almost every one of those little tomato plants died.

Tomatoes, the keystone of every garden. The anticipated fruit. Firey red, warm and juicy. Each plant green and fuzzy, with its distinct aroma, aiming for the sky. Then each one slowly wilting, developing a dead ring around it’s base, and then gone. We don’t know why. We took our dilemma to the Canberra Organic Growers Society, but despite the centuries worth of gardening experience present in the room, our tomato quandary remains a mystery.

Regardless of our shortcomings, we are still experiencing a bounty of tomatoes. Which brings me to our second source of produce… I am lucky enough to work at the Environment Centre with the experienced and wise (not only in matters of gardening) Barbara Schreiner. As part of the Environment Centre’s “Food For Life” project, Barbara has planted a small-space demonstration garden on site. It is open to the public for inspiration and information on starting an urban garden, particularly in a small space. In addition to Barbara’s garden, the Sustainability Learning Community has a student garden behind the centre. As it is summer and students are avoiding campus, there is an unbelievable abundance of unclaimed food.

And their tomatoes are doing better than ours. Which is an understatement. Their tomatoes - of various varieties (narrow and orange, fat and warty, tiny and sweet) - are literally dripping off the vines. Tom’s insightful comment was “if I was homeless I would get my food from here.” Dear, we do get our food from there. Kilos of it.


Demonstration Gardens at the Environment Centre



The next best place for local food is the farmers market. The Northside market is a fabulous festival of food each weekend that gives me an anxiety attack if we don’t get there before the 8am rush. The Southside market is a bit quieter and houses gems that you don’t find anywhere else. But you’ve got to be cautious when making assumptions about farmers market produce. One of the weekly stall holders at EPIC drives from Murray Bridge, South Australia every week. According to Google Maps, that’s 1,087km each way! Not exactly local. And a few months ago Tom was extremely pleased when he bought some delicious local sausages from the markets, only to find out that they had MSG in them when he read the label at home. Obviously the key is to talk to the stall holders. They are more than happy to tell you about their produce. And they are the ones that happen to know the answers to your questions.

The indispensable stalls at EPIC for Tom and I are: the chemical free potato and broccoli man from Cooma, the garlic and fresh herbs man from Moruya (who also has wonderful oranges. Yay!), the Homeleigh Grove olive oil producer from Hall, the multicoloured carrot people in the corner, Majestic Mushrooms from Murrumbateman, the organic leafy greens and potatoes from Gleann Na Meala in Hall, the fresh herbs from Kambah, and the guy with beautiful onions and eggplant from Thirlmere. We have also managed to find at the markets, pistachios from Cootamundra, a smooth and tasty Alinga wine, and incredible alcoholic cider from Orange (which is not strictly within our radius, but worth the indulgence). When not eating locally, we also stock up on the unmatched sourdough from the stall in the back corner.

The Southside market has Michael and his amazing meat from Mountain Creek Farm. I have had the pleasure of meeting Michael on various occasions, I have heard him proclaim his philosophy (which includes the belief that “wine, cheese, meat, and people get better with age”), and I have enjoyed his delicious, pasture fed (except in the case of his pork), heritage breed meat. I recommend having a chat with him on a Sunday morning at the markets, and I definitely recommend his products.

We get organic, free-range eggs from my boss, John, at Healthy Life in the Canberra Centre. Tom and I have personally looked after these chooks, fed them, collected and washed their eggs, and taken them to bed when they roosted in trees. The eggs are fantastic and they have a cult following at Healthy Life. So, if you want some for yourself, move quick on a morning Sunday-Wednesday. John also grows certified organic garlic, which he brings in intermittently this time of year, but it’s worth jumping on if you happen to see it.

As an alternative to sugar, we use honey. I often see the bees that make our honey frantically exploiting the flowers in our garden. At least I like to assume that they are the same honey bees that live in the neat little hives just a few houses down the road from us. The hives are owned by and older couple, that has a “honey for sale” sign hanging from their mail box. Just inside the door they have a wooden cupboard full of jars radiating golden light. If ever you are trotting by with $3.50 in your pocket, stop in for a jar, and if you show ample enthusiasm they will take you round the back and give you a “tour” of the hives.

The list is getting long, but it goes to show that we’re not starving…

We also shop regularly at Choku Bai Jo in North Lyneham. If you have not heard of it, it’s a relatively new shop that outlets farm produce. Much of the produce that was once only available at the markets on the weekend, in now available throughout the week. But the spectacular thing about Choku Bai Jo, is the milk. They have 2 litre bottles of Country Valley organic milk. It is divine and it is from Picton. That makes it the only local milk that I have come across, aside from goats milk, which I can’t bear to drink straight. As a side note: Canberra Milk comes from Bega and Orange, which is not terrible, but it’s not 200 km and it means we’d be buying something from Woollies besides toilet paper (and that breaks my heart). Choku Bai Jo also has Highland Organics cheese (which is the same company as Country Valley milk). They make cream cheese. Which Pip brought to our attention when she hosted us for a hearty local meal. The cream cheese was spectacular with her baked apples, and it was good again when I bought it for slathering on bagels.

Eco-Meats at the Belconnen Markets have a few local things. Their goat comes from Cootamundra and their pork is “local” though I didn’t actually ask what local means to them. But their organic beef comes from Dubbo, and who knows where exactly their crocodile comes from.

As Nature Intended, also at the Belconnen Markets, has the local goats milk that I mentioned (it’s worth a try - perhaps you will like the faint taste of hay and poo in your tea, plus the farmer is a lovely bloke that I had a nice chat to when I called the number on the bottle). As Nature Intended also has Kialla products in bulk and in large bags. Kialla is not local, but if you are looking for good quality, stone-ground, family owned wheat products, they are a good one. And their flour comes in charming calico bags that someday you might find another use for.

Other than that, the Belconnen and Fyshwick markets have little local to offer us.

When they open next week, the ANU food co-op and Regional@CIT will be valuable resources (and I might finally get my vinegar).

Where these sources leave gaps, we fill in the blanks with roadside stands, garden gifts from friends, or go without. But at the moment, you could hardly consider our diets meagre.

Confessions of a Local Eater

20/1/09

Perhaps you’d like an explanation.

I’m not exactly sure when the seed was planted (pun definitely intended), but there were two things that can take a lot of credit for our decision to try being Locavores (and for those of you who speak Spanish, that word is spelled with an “a” to distinguish us from being crazy, but draw your own conclusions).

One contributing factor was the “Food Matters” workshop put on by the extremely generous and knowledgeable Fiona Tito-Wheatland. I enjoyed the workshop so much that upon returning to work at the Environment Centre, I ensured that it would take place again – this time at the Environment Centre. Which conveniently meant that Tom could attend. Obviously I had no ulterior motive. But I knew my non-existent plan worked when Tom walked out of the workshop and said “I am a changed man.” Yes the workshop is that good, and I will take this opportunity to advertise that it will be held several times this year at the Environment Centre, so check out their calendar of events (www.ecoaction.com.au/events.php).

The second contributing factor was the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” in which Barbara Kingsolver (also the author of the famously good “Poisonwood Bible”) and her family eat only within their county for an entire year. It details their life in the garden, the joys and misfortunes of raising poultry, the efforts of canning, cheese making, and baking, all interspersed with recipes, insight, and facts about various aspects of current food culture. Again I recommend it to anyone.

After the buzz of consciousness created by that book, the Locavore movement spread across the US and internationally. There is an official website (www.locavores.com) which explains the basic concept, but essentially the goal is to eat within a 100 mile radius for one month.

Tom and I have our own version and it’s no accident that we happened to pick the most fruitful (still pun intended) time of year for our experiment. Our local eating attempt follows a pretty simple principle “we will eat as close as possible, whenever possible.” Most of our food comes from within 150 km (approx 100 miles), but our milk and some produce comes from within 200km. For those people who raise an eyebrow at this arbitrary 50km allowance we have given ourselves (like 150km isn’t already arbitrary), we kindly remind you that this is not an exercise in starvation - though it felt like it was for the first few days.

We also have a few exemptions that we considered necessary: salt – our compromise is pure lake salt from Western Australia (when I come across Murray River salt, we will be using that and be half a continent closer); pepper – our compromise is native Mountain Pepper Berry from Tassie; and wheat – our compromise is disappointing.

After MUCH research I have found three reasonable sources of wheat, all stone-milled, organic producers, but all of them less than local. Canberra used to have something called the “wheat belt” right around its waist, but from my understanding the drought has caused many producers to turn to other means for their livelihood. Much of the fields we see growing around Canberra are either oats, or stock feed. I found such feed from a Cooma producer at the farmers markets, and when I got excited about the prospect of truly local wheat, the farmer commented that it would be fine for human consumption if I “didn’t mind eating a few grasshoppers.” Well, I don’t. But Tom, being quite sensible, pointed out that the bigger problem for us is rocks and dust, not grasshoppers. If anyone has a brilliant idea for refining stock feed, you’ll make my month.

The other exemption we have is less well defined, but something like this: We will not turn down a dinner invitation if extended, however, we will only consume what is actually prepared (which excludes those tasty chips, and crackers, and dips, and imported cheese that are always brought out before dinner) and we will try to provide local wine as our drink of choice. We put this to the test the other evening at Dan’s (which was a delicious event of a meal and an almost purely local dinner to begin with) and aside from having to divert our eyes at the cracker and cheese eating, we managed pretty well. But one doesn’t refuse macadamia and honey ice cream when it’s already been served up and is slowly melting in a bowl in front of you. You just enjoy every second.

Tom has a few exceptions of his own: jerky and homebrew. His justification is that he made them. But interestingly he also made delicious tomato sauce, that has at least some local ingredients in it, which he has managed to resist. But what would a bike-building, solar-panel-installing man do if he couldn’t enjoy some jerky and beer?

So if Locavorism was a church we’d probably be going to hell. But the truth is, we didn’t want to set ourselves up for failure. We want to make our best attempt and feel idealistic and believe that we are making our little difference in the world. Everyone does it their own way.

Now I’ll just mention vinegar, because the last time I mentioned something it appeared shortly after. And I could really use some vinegar…


This evening's dinner of homemade pasta with vege-basil sauce.

You've got to start somewhere

16/1/09

Tom and I have been trying to think of a charming name for this thing we're doing...

Local Eating.
Regional Consumption.
The fabulous “Close Proximity Diet”

However we present it, the standard reaction is “Interesting, but what do you eat?”

Because it’s pretty obvious what you don’t eat: the things that people generally consider the joys (or necessities) of life - chocolate, coffee, tea, rice, baked beans and tuna from a tin (necessities in Tom’s case), sliced bread (not really a joy, but a convenience).

Perhaps it will surprise you, and perhaps it won’t, that thus far this is what we’ve eaten:
Vegetable pizza topped with mounds of garlic on a homemade crust.
Stuffed zucchini and eggplant covered with golden cheese.
Bubbling mushroom, spinach and onion quiche.
Goats milk potato bake.
Pistachios.
Tomatoes.
Prunes.

Delicious.

I won’t lie. There have been a few meals (mostly lunches) that involved gnawing on a raw carrot or devouring a whole cucumber to fill in where the leftovers ran out. But it’s still early days in this experiment and at least those carrots were straight out of the ground, bursting with flavour and crispiness, and the cucumbers were sun warmed, sweet and juicy (except for the awful bitter one that must have had a dis-privileged spot in the garden – I hope he’s one of a kind).

I thought consuming half a bag of mini-marshmallows (remains of an American Christmas gift) before we started this “diet” would put me off processed sweet stuff and propel me eagerly into local eating. That is what I rationalized, but in actuality, marshmallows were just the first thing I saw in the cupboard on the eve of our diet and the sugar hit has left me with lingering sweet cravings. Cravings that would be satisfied by, say, chocolate (or the tim tams in the fridge at work – and why aren’t they there when I’m indiscriminately eating?!).

So, this idealistic, lovely, warm-fuzzy idea of local eating that I was “really looking forward to” is bloody hard!

It shouldn’t be. But there are a few things working against us. The first is that, despite a bountiful resource of delicious food in our back yard: gushing, sweet tomatoes; tart, juicy blackberries; tender, green beans; we look in the cupboard for food. It’s in our house after all. And about 10 steps closer to us than the garden. But the nature of food in the cupboard is that it’s not fresh. It has been packaged, and likely preserved in some way in order to survive in there.


Ripe Garden Snack

When I did the “temptation removal” ritual at the start of this diet, the cupboard was the most strikingly different from it’s original state. Stark seems an apt description. A shelf that normally overflowed with at least four different kinds of rice, two varieties of lentils, a few other dried beans, Asian noodles and Italian pasta (both of which available in their cheap 95cent form or their gourmet, high fibre form), cous cous, quinoa, half a dozen boxes of pappadams, bags of popcorn, oats, muesli (granola for any confused Americans), and Tom’s pride: a shoebox (actually a ski skin box) full of curry pastes, powdered coconut milk, sesame seeds, tomato paste, and other such convenient, packaged flavour; now housed a basket full of potatoes and onions, a jar of pistachios, a jar of prunes, some alfalfa seeds for sprouting, and, hiding back in the dark corner, Tom’s beloved jerky (sure he made it, but it’s a stretch to convince yourself that the soy sauce, pepper, and 13 or so other ingredients – including the beef – are local). And that was it.


Anyone for a prune?


The Sin Bin

So, the other thing working against us is that this is not what people do. I think that’s called stating the obvious. But the truth is the market for us is very limited. Foodies are willing to spend lots of money for gourmet local honey, cheese, wine, and olive oil. So you can find those things around. But when it comes to butter or flour or sugar, they are more than happy to spend that cash on organic Danish or South American imports (fair trade of course). That means wheat farmers – if not out of business from the drought – don’t go boutique, they go Woolies. I’m not saying that sugar can or should be grown around Canberra, but is butter too much to ask?

19/1/09

Butter! Bega Butter. On a whirl-wind tour of the coast this weekend we visited the Bega cheese factory first thing Sunday morning (after sleeping in the dry bed of the Bega River – and having two mid-sleep visits from the police).

Unfortunately Bega products aren’t perfect when it comes to local. What used to be a co-op before the drought, is now a corporation that buys farms to ensure an adequate milk supply. Which means that some milk comes from a farm in Victoria. However, the friendly woman in the shop, selling us the cheese, told us about her 150 cows that supply milk to the Bega factory and her father’s cheese recipe that is still used by the factory. And she assured us that “most” of the milk is, in fact, from Bega Valley. So, when it came to buying Bega butter, we weren’t too hesitant. Well, spending almost $50 on dairy products, would make it appear that we weren’t hesitant at all. But, we hadn’t had breakfast yet and we were hungry. Nonetheless, Bega cheese from Woolies won’t work for us, as it travels around to distributors and warehouses before making it’s way to Canberra. But direct from the factory does have it’s charms and when we saw the “Bega Valley Producer” sign next to (quite happy looking) black and white jerseys on our drive to Brian and Sam’s, we did get some warm fuzzies.

We stopped in at Brian and Sam’s to say g’day over a cup of (mint leaf) tea. But when we were offered lunch, we weren’t about to turn it down. In the esky we had exactly five blocks of cheese, two kilos of butter, half a capsicum, a few bites of stale bread, two bottles of fruit wine (another stop along the local producer coast tour), a cucumber or two, 3 eggs, and some oranges. Whatever was on offer at Wandella Woods was sure to be better than a citrus and capsicum omelette, no matter how much butter we put on it.

What we didn’t expect was a local-lovers feast to be laid out before us. In the garden we picked sweet snap peas, carrot, cucumber, zucchini and a bounty of juicy, sweet strawberries. In the orchard we enjoyed plums literally exploding with flavour straight off the tree, and gathered a few peaches, while admiring Brian’s arboretum seedlings. For lunch we had the fresh veggies sliced up alongside beef barbecued in homemade plum sauce and herbed grilled zucchini. Dessert was a fruit salad medley, and we were only slightly envious that Brian and Sam enjoyed it with ice cream. We were happily sent on our way with rhubarb, and left over peas and carrots.

The rest of the coast presented us with few local eats, mainly because Sunday afternoon, with an outdated food guide, is not the best way to travel. But we did find some other treasures, including the town of Central Tilba, which is adorable, and a straw hat that I have been searching for all my life. We visited yet another cheese factory, where we learned that club cheese is cheese made from… cheese. Strange, but tasty. Not local though.

Just when I was lamenting that we would be too late to make it to the stonefruit in Araluen, we came across a roadside produce stand selling blood plums (Tom’s favourite) and peaches, from where else but Araluen.

Tom didn’t manage to catch any fish for dinner, mainly because he never even took his rod out of the boot. We did find some amazing camping spots and fantastic fishing beaches, some that were sure to have a bite or two from Tom’s latest obsession – Luderick – but everywhere we looked we were in a ‘no fishing’ sanctuary zone.

So in the end, this will go down for us as “the weekend of the cheese.” Aside from our beautiful lunch (which did include cheese) and the wine we tasted at 10am, we ate cheese, cheese with sauce on it, cheese with a carrot stick, some of Pip’s mum’s excellent plum fruit leather (a much appreciated gift), some fruit, more fruit, and then some cheese. I think that’s not healthy. But it’s more a function of poor preparedness than the nature of eating locally.

Because this evening we had rosemary roasted pumpkin, and tomato and basil stuffed foccacia. And that was good.