Dear Prime Minister Turnbull, please fix foreign aid

I am writing in support of Australian foreign aid. I shouted agreement and gratitude at the TV when Charlie Pickering delivered a segment on the topic a few months ago, and I continue to be heartbroken that people of the world are dropping bombs on each other at vast expense.

I do not pretend to fully understand armed global activity, nor national budgets, but I do know that given a choice between spending time, effort and money on overseas military engagements versus well-thought out nation building projects (Oh. So. Very. Many. To. Choose), I choose the latter. This is not simply throwing money away, rather investing in the future of humanity, of which we are a part.

To be honest, I would prefer blindly giving a bomb’s-worth of food directly to anyone who even *might* be an enemy (in this complicated world of “the enemy of my enemy is, well, a friend of Russia”), than manufacturing, delivering and dropping that bomb upon them, their land, and the people around them.

I hope and trust that you are familiar with the goal of 0.7% GNP going to foreign aid. Please, help us move toward it, not away from it.

On behalf of TEAR Australia, I make the following two concrete requests:

  1. Stop the fourth consecutive cut to Australian aid so that we don’t reach our lowest ever levels of aid.
  2. Start the journey to fulfil our global promise to invest our fair share in a future free from poverty.

I can only assume TEAR Australia has sources indicating that a fourth cut is en route. If not, then I am grateful for small mercies.

(I sent this via http://dearprimeminister.org/ then added the links here.)

Strawberry Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar

We served up some strawberry sauce with dessert last night, and someone wanted the recipe. Of course now I can’t find that recipe, but this one is pretty close. Also looking around I found another page about preserving strawberries which I’m keen to try out next season. So Amanda, here’s how I did it, well roughly. Sorry if the numbers aren’t dead on for the ingredients – it probably doesn’t matter too much. This is slightly different to my recent jam post, plus the balsamic adds to the flavour.

Strawberry Sauce Recipe

  • 6 cups strawberries. Cut off the green top and wash the fruit. Don’t used any soft, rotting or damaged bits; cut that part out and give it to the chooks. Process them all in a blender, and pour the puree into a pot and start heating on the stovetop.
  • 3 cups sugar. Add the sugar to the pot.
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or more to taste. Add the vinegar to the pot.
  • Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t catch on the bottom.
  • From here on it is personal taste: cooking longer will reduce and thicken the sauce more (and eventually make jam), or stopping sooner will result in runny sauce to drizzle over your favourite dessert food. I used the frozen dish trick and stopped when it gave the first hint of setting.
  • Pour warm sauce into warm sterilised (oven or boiled) jars or bottles and seal. A funnel of some sort is pretty important here.
  • I keep mine in the fridge since it’s only one or two bottles, but I reckon you could keep sealed jars in a cool dark cupboard no worries.

Strawberry jam: my turn

I keep reading about other people making strawberry jam, and since it’s the peak of the season right now, I’ve made time (supported by grouse family) to make some myself. I’ve taken inspiration from Rhonda, in particular her jam post from 2009, and since starting to make it, noticed Clare’s post from Friday (and nicked Eva’s picture since I neglected to take one).

We went to the local farmer’s market on Sunday morning, and bought a tray of ‘jam’ (i.e. cheap) strawberries and a bag of (tart, green) Granny Smith apples just in case pectin was unavailable. Sure enough, the local shop didn’t have any, so I pulled up this recipe and mostly followed it. The resulting 1.5 cups just looked like slightly thick apple juice, but I trusted that it was useful pectin.

Pectin Recipe

  • Wash and cut up (but don’t peel or core) 6 small, tart, green apples
  • Put the apple pieces in a pot with two cups of water and a tablespoon of lemon juice
  • Boil for 40 minutes, then strain through a clean tea-towel, then boil for another 20 minutes
  • Throw the pulp into the compost bin
Shamelessly taken from Clare's blog

Pic taken by Eva. She’s three. I’m as impressed as her mother.

Now I have pectin – and I wanted pectin because if I’m going to the trouble of making jam, it will jolly well set! Adding that to Rhonda’s recipe (2009 jam post link above) I came up with my own recipe. The tray of strawberries was a smidge under 4kg, so after we ate some, gave some to neighbours and put some in the fridge for the week, we had 2kg to cook.

Strawberry Jam Recipe

  • 1.94kg strawberries. Wash the fruit and cut off the green top. Don’t used any soft, rotting or damaged bits; cut that part out and give it to the chooks. Cut the fruit to an equal size – small strawberries whole, giant ones into four.
  • 1.6kg sugar. Pour sugar over the fruit and stir it through, then leave it for an hour. This will start to release the juice from the strawberries and start to soften them. (The sugar helps preserve the jam as well as adding sweetness. I will use less next time because the jam is very sweet.)
  • 1.5 cups pectin (which I reckon would do for 3-4kg of strawberries but I used it all). Pour in the pectin, and gently bring the pot to the boil. Then turn it down to a gently rolling boil.
  • Now the long bit: I stirred every ten to fifteen minutes and tested setting a few drops on a ceramic dish sitting in the freezer. This required patience because for at least the first 45 minutes it was not showing any signs of setting. I also regularly removed the scum that rose to the top, aided by a tea strainer.
  • Meanwhile, I put my clean jars and lids in the oven on 150°C to sterilise them.
  • Then when the cold dish (wiped and returned to the freezer between tests) slightly set some, I got excited and started stirring more often and testing every ten minutes. I didn’t want it to catch on the bottom, nor turn to solid goop. I also turned off the oven to let the jars start to cool slightly.
  • When my patience had finally paid off and the mix was setting nicely, I frantically searched for – and found – a funnel with a wide opening. Scooping the jam into the jars (leaving 6mm headspace) was then very easy.

  • We ended up with roughly 2kg of jam. Cost: About $8 total.

Autumn Garden Musings

The past few years have held lots of thinking and talking about reframing what it is to be a Christian, and before then I would have thought it crazy to put something as commonplace as our food sources alongside something as grand as Jesus’ mission in and for the world. But here I am in 2010,  somewhere along the road, thinking about local produce, organic gardening and a whole raft of other elements of sustainable living and God’s great reconciliation.

I feel like a novice, but at least now I have some idea of what I don’t know. Better, there are gardeners in my circle of friends and family who can help me learn along the road. Granted, most of them have a different agenda for gardening, but so what? There’s also at least two rewarding points to being a novice: I am able to recognise how much people around me know; and every little bit I learn (and relearn after forgetting) is an exciting discovery.

I’ve even discovered there are gardeners that know how to use computers! Yeah I know, gobsmacked, who woulda thunk it? So I guess I’m not all that special in being a computer guy who attempts to garden. Some of those peeps who are more interesting and reliable bloggers than me, who garden:

My dwarf peas sprouted a few weeks ago; I’ve got one double-fist-sized pumpkin defying the rain and mildew; and the loquat tree is laden with blossoms ready for what I suspect will be another September fruit-fest. I may be a novice, but I’m having some success. Gardening does seem to have a very rewarding learning curve.

Journey and Destination

You’ve put words to something I couldn’t articulate very well, Josh – thank you. Now I’ll springboard from it. Life is a journey rather than a destination, so surely who we are is ever-changing too. Occasionally I think back to something I’ve said or done and feel terribly embarrassed coz really, it was stupid. But then I remember that was some years ago and I’d never do that now… maybe in a few years I’ll be thinking the same about stuff I’m doing now. I guess that means I will have grown some more.

Obesity is a prevalent problem, but just like everything else in life’s journey there’s generally no quick fix. There’s a great tv ad on at the moment where there’s a line drawn on the ground, and the punchline is “make this the most you’ll ever weigh” and they say things like ‘make small changes’. My synopsis: They’re not telling you you’re a loser coz you’re too fat, they’re not telling you to get skinny. They’re saying live just a little bit healthier than you have been until now. I’m in pretty decent shape, but some improvement certainly wouldn’t hurt me – maybe I won’t polish off an entire swiss roll tomorrow. Getting going in the right direction, rather than teleporting to the destination.

Fusion call it Content and Process (well they did back in 2001), and I’ve heard of task-oriented vs people-oriented, and there’s Journey and Destination. Of course there are differences between the three (et al) but I think they’re about the same general idea: It’s not so much what you’re doing or where you’re going or what it’s about. No, it’s how you’re doing it, who you step on (hopefully noone) on the way there, and who is involved. I guess when you’re trying (as per Josh’s post) you’re assuming you’re already there and trying in vain to act as if you are, whereas if you’re training you know you’re not there yet, but you’re on the way.