I think he popped up in a discussion about bees. He had some. And cows and chooks as well. He seemed to be a man of few words, but he shared his life through photos. Cooking with a friend. Risotto, I think. Mastering butter. Tomato harvest. His newborn. A calf. Or was I wrong? Plenty of words, here. Take it away, beeso.
I know that my mum, when visiting Lantanaland, gets a kick out watching her son, conceived on a dairy farm but never milked a cow until his thirties, get up at 4.30am to hand milk a dairy cow. Just for fun.
She had it pretty tough when I was born, my mum, and it meant I grew up doing a fair chunk of the housework. When I was fifteen I’d had enough.
“Why do I always have to do the washing up,” I moaned.
“Because I cook. One cooks, the other washes up.”
“So if I cook, does that mean I don’t have to wash up?”
So began an interest in cooking. This developed when I moved to Brisbane to flirt with a university education. By the time I was running live music venues and getting married I’d figured there were two ways to cook good food.
One—spend money on fancy ingredients and wow people with the different and the exotic. Couldn’t do that, too poor. The other was to get hold of the freshest ingredients and the cheapest way to do that was to do it yourself.
We lived in inner city Brisbane on a block that had heard of topsoil the way a desert has heard of rain but settles for a mirage. The Wife surprised me one birthday with permission from the landlord to get chooks, so we built a chookpen. I grew veg badly in the ground but with more success in my aquaponics bed. That little bit of fresh food was both inspiring and a tease. One beautiful day we had homegrown, fresh-picked asparagus, less than five minutes old and a freshly laid poached egg. It’s still one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
Exposure to the fabulous River Cottage and a great book, A Year of Slow Food, had me itching to spread my wings. I wanted bees and fruit orchards and cows and ducks and pigs and a rooster. A new, better paying job and The Wife becoming The Dr Wife (epidemiologist) meant that we could perhaps get some land and at least make a start. Well sort of.
On our budget, land meant a tiny house on a block that was almost all lantana, a noxious weed, no complete boundary fence on any side and in a bit of disrepair. The Dr Wife took some convincing but was turned by the fantastic view and the tranquility. I saw a perfect north facing block and a chance to at least get started.
I’ve learnt a lot. About snakes and foxes and electric fencing. About hand milking a cow and robbing bees. We are not self-sufficient. I know what that is and it is an unrealistic goal. We’re just not set up that way anymore. Once every second house had a lemon or a mango but Lantanaland had no fruit trees when we came here. I understand too that I am not a real farmer, because I grow and produce for me and my family and friends, there is no pressure to make a living from it.
What I can do is impart some understanding and tie people back to the land. Quite a few kids have had a go at hand milking and squirted a bit out. One of the kids here recently helped me make some cheese. I get mates to help me fence and I make them fresh pasta and show people the gardens and feed them home made cheese or honey and tell them stories about the fun and the failures, because there are definitely more stories about that.
I started Lantanaland the blog after stealing the idea of a bloke who is now a mate, the devilish Dirk Flinthart. He’s doing something similar to me in Tassie and writes his blog as a record for his kids, for later. I thought it was a fantastic idea. I like the idea of recording things but I’m hopeless at keeping a journal, a blog gives you more focus, more drive.
One day I’d like Lantanaland to be a business. I’d like to do for strangers what I do now for mates, show them where the food comes from and how good it can be if it’s fresh and grown to taste good. Not to travel in cold storage then look good under fluoro lights. How good tasting food doesn’t have to be expensive, you just have to have the right skills. It’s a long way down the track, but at least I’ve started.
The picture I have sent is not a meal as such, but something to illustrate the simplicity and taste of my sort of food. It’s just cheese and tomato on a cracker. With a twist. I grew the tomatoes and they are a juicy red all the way through, full of sweetness. The cheese is my stock standard cheese I make to deal with my everyday milk, because two people can’t drink five litres a day. It’s similar to a Danish feta, but richer, because my milk is raw and full of the cream from my jersey cows. It is made with milk that is about 10 minutes old. You can’t buy cheese like this in Australia.
If you’d like to tell your food story, hit me up @flavourcrusader or email me at info AT flavourcrusader DOT com
ABC Gold Coast: Rachel Fountain, Lantanaland: Crowdfunding an orchard halfway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane, 10 May 2013.