Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The grass is greener…

Last week I went to Fremantle for a work meeting I’d organised, my food experiences were varied, some excellent (Maya) and some mediocre (conference catering).

If you visit Fremantle, make sure you go to Maya, the goat curry is not to be missed. The meat is cooked on the bone, and is served in an unctuous, rich sauce.

The hotel was recommended to me because of their lunch buffet. There certainly was a lot of food on offer but after 3 days it was a little dull. I’m always left disappointed by conference catering. The menus look so good on paper, but are invariably lots of heated stews with rice, salad that you have to dress yourself and watered down soft drinks. The desserts seemed to be (unashamedly) mass produced cheesecakes. I guess trying to provide hot food for 60 people all at the same time is problematic. But the dishes just don’t have any flavour, and have been sitting in a Bain Marie for a long time. I’ve only had one enjoyable corporate catering experience (Whisk in Sydney), they served things like lovely fresh salads in mini cardboard takeaway boxes, rice paper rolls and mini bagels.

Anyway, the point is that after a week of eating out, I looked at my camera, and saw this.

The dinner Rob cooked for me the night before I left. Ocean trout with dill and parsley, julienne of carrots and zucchini, and steamed freshly dug pink eyes (not pictured).

Simple, fresh food. That’s what I wanted to eat.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Red seeds of Pittosporum bicolor (Photo: Rob Wiltshire)

This week is a little odd for me; I feel I should be at Mt Field National Park immersed in native plants with Rob.

Nothofagus gunnii - deciduous beech or fagus (Photo: Rob Wiltshire)

The week long field trip was the highlight of my undergraduate studies, and in later years I went along to help out with the students. Even though the itinerary is the same every year, there was always a new plant, fruit or flower to find.

Notelaea ligustrina – Native Olive (Photo: Rob Wiltshire)

It’s where I learnt that “the bush” is not one homogenous form, but varies with altitude, rainfall, aspect, soil type or underlying rock. I came to learn what species of plants are indicative of rainforest, dry or wet eucalypt forests, alpine or moorland. How each site is different even within these broad vegetation types. To break up the vegetation into layers: canopy, understory, and groundcover. How plants adapt to the environment with leaf shape and size. Or indeed how many species converge into a cushion or micro herbfield to survive in alpine areas. To identify plants by flowers, colour, leaf shape or smell.

This brings me to a few tools I wish I’d had when I was learning. EucaFlip and TreeFlip; Rob’s two publications to help anyone identify Tasmania’s native eucalypts and other trees. Now this may seem biased, but I think they are quite beautiful. You can find out more about them here. But it doesn’t tell you that upon request, a class set will be distributed to any school in Tasmania for free. Children love them, and are great at using them to identify trees, a wonderful way to get them interested in our native flora. So here’s hoping for a whole generation of Tasmanian botanists.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hut inspiration

We have come to think of our (yet to be built) home as the hut. A couple of years ago (try 5 years!) Rob found a book in Fullers, ‘25 Houses Under 1500 square feet’ written by James Grayson Trulove. His favourite house was a very small (only 10 feet wide), simple house in a rolling 20 acre hillside vineyard overlooking Mt St Helena (USA). As sweet as this house looked I couldn’t imagine living in a house that narrow. Indeed, it was built by two architects, William Turnbull and Mary Griffin, as their family retreat, with the building an exploration of how minimally they could impact the site. Apparently they were inspired by Charles Keeler’s definition of California architecture as "landscape design with occasional rooms in case of rain."

William and Mary’s house in the vineyard.
Photo sourced from Turnbull, Griffin & Haesloop Architects website.

Looking inside the living and breezeway.
Photo sourced from Turnbull, Griffin & Haesloop Architects website.

The house, only 640 square feet (69 square metres), is deceptively simple and combines architecture and landscape to make large rooms out-of-doors. It is sited on the only flat area in the vineyard, the house and its companion building, the wash house, flank two opposite ends of a carpet of grass. It is a narrow, gabled-roof building divided in half by a pass through covered porch. In the summer the doors can be opened, the porch serves as a breezeway. In winter with the doors closed the porch becomes a mud room.

Inside the breezeway.
Photo sourced from Turnbull, Griffin & Haesloop Architects website.

The kitchen and living area.
Photo sourced from Turnbull, Griffin & Haesloop Architects website.

Looking through the end window.
Photo sourced from Turnbull, Griffin & Haesloop Architects website.

Rob was completely infatuated by it though, drawing plans, and making little balsa wood models. Gradually I came around to liking the design, he was right, we spend a lot of time outside and if designed well the space would feel more spacious than it is. We did make our hut a little wider and longer. The hut is 4 metres wide and 27 metres long. The hut is split in two by the breezeway, which will have a polished concrete floor, so that muddy feet (both human and dog) don’t matter. This will be the entrance to the hut, with a set of double glass doors on either side which we will be able to open flat to the outside walls. This will be the place to dump coats, hats, shoes, keys. To the left will be a corridor that runs down the back of the hut, leading to two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Our bedroom will be at the end overlooking our vegetable and flower garden and the orchard. It will also have a set of double glass doors opening out onto the front patio. The other half of the hut will be an open plan living area with a cathedral (hopefully timber lined) ceiling. On leaving the breezeway, you will enter the kitchen which will flow into the dining area and sitting area. Like the original house, there will be a full length window seat under the end window with book shelves at each end. There will be a set of bi-fold doors that also open out onto the patio, blurring the boundary between the inside of the hut and outside. There will be a second smaller hut that will be the laundry and shed.

We have twiddled with the materials the hut will be made of. The original house was constructed of vertical Douglas Fir cladding, with a shingle roof and timber windows. We thought in keeping with the huts locality, it will have vertical celery top or eucalypt cladding, a silver corrugated iron roof and solid aluminum glass doors and windows.

The hut design did limit the sort of property we needed to buy. We wanted a block facing north so that the length of the hut took advantage of the aspect. Also with the length of the hut it needed to be quite big! However, we had already decided on a rural property. After only a few years of looking we found 9 acres of pasture in the channel region of Tasmania, with a northerly aspect. The hut site overlooks our block, looking down the gentle slope to the dam, across to a bush covered hill opposite. The other drawback was more subtle and one we hadn’t foreseen. We have been penalized by only building a small hut, one that suits our needs. The hut, unfortunately, has proved difficult to value! Strangely enough, there isn’t a house exactly like it in our neighbourhood that has sold recently. But after being patient for so long we can wait a little longer; hopefully soon there will be a little hut on the block.

If only it was as easy as photoshop!

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