Monday, July 27, 2009

Our big fat gay wedding

Marriage is a wonderful thing - if you happen to be straight, that is. If not, well, you're simply "not allowed". I don't understand why straight people hold the monopoly on marriage, given that 1 in 3 of our nuptials end in divorce. So I was pleased to hear that Sydney's gay community is gearing up for a mass illegal gay wedding on 1st August to protest these laws.

Making a stand against injustice is what people of conviction have been doing for centuries, and what gives me hope is that, slowly but surely, they have been successful in changing public opinion and government policy. In the 1700s slavery was taken for granted, but following the persistent advocacy of John Woolman and others, a bill was pass in England in 1807 abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In the 1800s women advocated for the vote, and in 1902 most of them in Australia got it. Aboriginal women (and Aboriginal men) waited a further 65 years until they were recognised as citizens in Australia. Now we all accept that women have a right to vote, and are ashamed that Aboriginal people were so recently categorised as "flora and fauna".

Yet, here we are in 2009, and gay couples are not treated as equals. Haven't we learnt that freeing slaves didn't collapse the economy, giving women the vote didn't send democracy into mayhem and giving gay people the right to marry won't make a mockery of the sanctity of marriage? I hope that August's big fat gay wedding leads to a change of opinion and policy that lasts longer than the average straight marriage. ;)

Photo is with kind permission from Lydia Marcus

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The new veg restaurant on the block

I love it when a new vegetarian restaurant is born. And it's even more exciting when that new dining venue is a hop, skip and a jump from my home. So, one Wednesday at lunchtime I skipped over to Loving Eden in Glebe, and gave it a try.

I have to admit that it is a dining experience not dis-similar to being at your grandma's place, as recipes do not follow any rule book or even the menu for that matter, the ingredients are practically picked from the garden, and if you don't know what to order, the chef comes out and makes up your mind for you.

Having first sat down at one of the non-descript front of shop tables, we soon discovered the large outdoor dining area and relocated. Outside it's easier to see why they named the place "Loving Eden". It's quite spacious, there are a number of plants and Buddhas around the perimeter, and soon a vine will cover the pergola. The outdoor chairs and tables are a bit "cafeteria-like", but the atmosphere of the place will probably pick up over time. The waiter, who is also one of the owners, told us that they have plans to introduce live music of a calm, spiritual nature.

While the prices are particularly affordable (entrees are $5, main dishes are $9) they haven't compromised on quality. I'm told that the tofu is made fresh daily. We were given a quick explanation of which types of noodles are in which soups and how the flavours differ, which was helpful as titles such as "Wonder noodle soup" had not left us any wiser. Typically, the noodle soups are not filled with loads of vegetables, as the flavours and noodles themselves are supposed to be the main ingredients.

We began with the crispy rolls as an entree, which were delicious and quite unusual. The rolls were filled with mushroom, eggplant and tofu, wrapped in rice paper, and fried in breadcrumbs. They are served with a small side salad and sweet chili sauce for dipping.

For mains I decided to order the Wonder Noodle Soup, which was a non-spicy dish, and it arrived with a side of ingredients that I was free to add to the soup according to my taste: basil, lemon, home-made soy flavouring and sprouts. I liked having that level of involvement in creating my meal. My companion ordered the satay tofu rice, which was a surprise in that the satay recipe had almost no peanuts in it, but was nevertheless a lovely dish.

Although the current menu is completely vegan and offers a number of gluten free choices, we departed with the promise that the full menu (yet to be printed) will include a delicious selection of vegan cakes and ice creams, as well as the option of gluten-free alternatives to almost any dish. So, I guess we have to eat there again when the new menu is in place. Who wants to join us?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Creating your own worm community

One of the things I decided to do while Pete was away was to build my own worm farm, or rather - my own worm community. While I am very grateful that there are two large compost bins and two worm farms within our unit block, I had become weary of carrying my compost downstairs every week or so, and then making an additional trip downstairs to my neighbour's worm farm to collect the all-important worm wee for my garden. It was time to get my own worms.
Not satisfied with buying a plastic box complete with its own worms, I had decided to put two of my white styrofoam boxes to good use and make my own. Having helped my brother set up his worm farm not long ago, I felt that this was a project I could manage. There's lots of information on the web about worm farms, but if you're interested, here's how I did it:

Step 1: Doing the research. I enrolled in a free evening course on worm farming through my local council (The Watershed in Newtown). This was completely unexpected, as while I was googling instructions I happened to find out about this course on the same day, and it was really informative. They tell you what worms eat and don't eat, how to care for them, and how long before you can expect to be harvesting worm wee. Then you all crowd around a worm farm and see how it workds. This was when I began to see the worms as real animals, rather than slightly squirmy things.

Step 2: Collecting all the materials. I already had two styrofoam boxes (which we picked up free from the supermarket), and I also collected a milk crate to stand it on (a few bricks will do the trick) a tap (constructed from a small bottle with a long narrow neck), some newspaper, soil, worker's tape, a skewer (or anything to pierce small holes) and some worms (I took my worms from the neighbour's worm farm, but ideally you need about 1,000 of them which you can buy online or from the Watershed).

Step 3: Construction begins. I chose one box to be the ground floor box and the other to be the first floor box. The ground floor box is where the worm wee will collect. The first floor box is their playground. I punched small 1mm holes about 1cm apart in the bottom and in the lid of the first floor box for ventilation, then one larger hole (about the size of the bottle neck) in the ground floor box for the tap and tape the tap in securely so that no water can escape. I then wrote "Aletia's Worm Community" in bright colours on the box, because I wanted it to be a happy place where the worms were valued and comfortable.

Step 4: Preparing the bed. I lined the first floor box with shredded wet newspaper, followed by soil up to a height of about 10cm (or a third of the box). Then I placed the worms on this bedding. When they were ready for bed, I tucked them in. (No, seriously, you have to put about 5-10 layers of wet newspaper as a blanket over the whole bed, as worms don't like sunlight.) It was suggested to me that I wait 2 days before giving them any food, as the newspaper provides them with nutrients while they settle in, but I gave them a few bits of food and then increased it a few days later.

Now they're on a full diet, and I have even noticed baby worms appearing. It is such a delight! I just hope I don't smother them too much - I must let them grow up without interferring in their development.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Following in our grandfather's footsteps

My brother and I are training for the City to Surf this year. In addition to raising money for charity, we will also proudly carry on a family tradition. You see, my grandfather ran it a few years ago and got onto the evening news for being one of the oldest competitors. He was so chuffed he decided to run again the following year. Sadly he won't be competing this year - he just turned 89 and has gotten a bit more frail, but he's really pleased that some of his descendants will follow in his footsteps, quite literally.

My grandfather has given us quite a legacy to live up to. He's an eccentric, is as stubborn as anything, and has a strong sense of adventure. He has a mind for the mathematical, an eye for mechanics and a nose for a good bargain. Well into his 80's he was still playing tennis, managing his own home, metal detecting (a funny habit where you take a magnetised device to children's playgrounds and beaches searching for lost coins), fixing everyone's clocks and, much to my mother's angst, travelling around the world. So running in the city to surf was just another little challenge to keep himself amused.

I can see my grandfather's qualities in my cousins and siblings. For some, the mathematical mind has found an outlet working as an engineer and for others it is in music. Some have fulfilled their sense of adventure and challenge by travelling the world and others have chosen to manage farms or classrooms of children. More than a few of us have been labelled eccentrics at one time or another.

As we plan for the race, my brother and I egg each other on with that Jack Percival thing of mathematical planning, obsession with time and sense of adventure. We'll aim to finish in 100 minutes, we say, calculating that to equal 7.142857 (approximately) minutes per kilometre. We'll buy running clothes from second hand shops and trade in our relaxed lunchtime catch-ups for daily training sessions around the park. It should be fun.

Better run... see ya!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Black or white

When the news broke that Michael Jackson was dead, I was eating breakfast at a small town café in the middle of nowhere. Or, perhaps I should say that my head and heart were in the middle of nowhere. My body was halfway between the Aboriginal community I had been visiting in rural Queensland, and my home in Sydney. I was literally between two worlds, and feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of reconciliation.
On the one hand, the experience of being amongst a remote or rural community is so beautiful and “real”. I was sleeping under the stars, sharing a breakfast billy tea by the campfire, and getting to know incredibly courageous people who have survived so much. On the other hand I witnessed so much pain. Everyday life is fraught with street violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, dire health problems, incarceration and suicide.
As I return to the “reality” of my laptop, hot running water, superannuation, private health insurance, and a postgraduate education, I begin to feel torn between conflicting notions of what it means to be Australian, and to belong. I realise that my own sense of displacement must be nothing compared with the experiences of thousands of Aboriginal people who manage to live simultaneously in two such different cultures every day.
And as for Michael Jackson, I suspect he was even more confused than any of us. While his lyrics indicate that “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”, his own transformation from a black boy into a white man tells a different story. I grieve - not only for a life snatched away, but also for a talented young African-American boy who lost his identity, and for children everywhere who are robbed of their parents, land, culture and sense of place in the world.