Friday, 28 January 2011

Rising rivers

Written on 20/01/11

In case you've been living under a rock, about 1/4 of Victoria is currently under water. It hasn't been the sudden, Act of God type of disaster that Queensland saw, but a creeping, lapping menace. Town by town, the northern central and western regions of Victoria have gone underwater. Yesterday, 52 towns had been affected.

My office is in Barham, and live in the caravan park sandwiched between the Murray River and the services club acting as an evacuation centre for Kerang. The forest where we work (or, more accurately, have been trying to work since October!) is under water for the third time in that period, while local landholders mutter rumours of a fourth. These people know the exact height of water flowing over Torrumbarry Weir that equates to parts of their property flooding, so I guess they're as good an indicator on the matter as the local water authorities.

One thing I have learnt in the last week is that the media and the road authorities aren't all that great at getting the story right. They're reporting roads shut that aren't, and not mentioning ones that are. It made getting to work the other day a long and tedious journey, and other people have been stranded or ruined their cars through a combination of stupidity and misinformation (more of the former, mind you!).

The one thing they did get right, though, is that we need to dig deep. People haven't died here like they did up north, but they've still lost a lot. And everyone is probably a bit over donating to flood appeals because they've already done it for Queensland, but there are people who need to start from scratch here, too.

And now for the things that the media hasn't mentioned - MURRAY CRAYS ARE CLIMBING OUT OF THE MURRAY RIVER!!! (Note: originally the words BECAUSE THERE'S TOO MUCH WATER were tacked on the end of that, but see the Update at the bottom)

I freaked out a little when I noticed one of these about 5cm from my foot, but then I realised that they were sitting there quite passively. These ones did a pretty good job of hiding, though. There's three there, in case you were struggling.

And another three. It would seem that the good people of Kerang are not the only ones evacuating!

I heard a rumour today that the Murray was flowing backwards due to the floodwaters from both NSW River and Victoria entering downstream of here, but upstream of the next weir along. This has lead to the water on the downstream side of Torrumbarry weir (the one just up from here) being higher than the water on the upstream side. Theoretically, water running uphill  may lead to the Murray breaching its banks in our area. I'm not sure whether or not it's true, but I plan to perpetuate the rumour with the following footage of the Murray flowing in two directions at once, just upstream from the Koondrook-Barham bridge:

Who cares if it's true that the river is running forwards and backwards at the same time? It looks like it is (if you're having trouble seeing it, the waterin the foreground is running to the left - upstream - whilst the water near the far bank is running to the right - downstream)! Why should I stick to well-researched facts if the media struggles?? The currents in this river are truly freaky. I had heard mention of their notoriety and never quite believed it, because every time I have seen the Murray it has been a sluggish cesspool of algae. But now I believe it.

Viva la responsible journalism!

28/01/11 UPDATE: This was written more than a week ago. The flood water is still creeping at a rate of 1-2km per day and today, Swan Hill is waiting for it to hit (huh. Guess it's not on a hill, then...). Yesterday I heard that the "puddle" is about 90km long and about 20km wide.

I also found out that the Murray crays were climbing out of the water because of the blackwater coming down the river. Blackwater is anoxic, acidic water, caused by vegetation decaying in stagnant (flood) waters. I'd be climbing out of the river, too, if I were them!

In other flood-related news, PM Julia Gillard has announced a tax to cover the costs of the flood clean-up in Queensland. Firstly, I hope that the Victorians see some of that money. Secondly, I think people need to harden the feck up and stop whingeing about it. The money has to come from somewhere, and I, as a tree-hugger, don't want to see ALL of the environmental initiatives axed to get that money (the broadband network, on the other hand...!). In my humble opinion, we're better off handing over the money than pulling it from somewhere else, because pulling it from somewhere else is exceptionally short-sighted and we'll notice it in five years time when our schools/roads/hospitals fall apart and then whinge about that.

And it's not like we can't afford it - people earning less than $50k are exempt, and whilst the people at the very bottom end of the $50k-$100k pay scale may feel the pinch a little, I would be very much surprised if they were able to tell me that they didn't spend $250 on random purchases throughout the year. DVDs cost between $10 and $30; a milkshake is $6 these days, and who really needs a milkshake??; women would spend at least $75 each year on shoes "because they were on sale"; dropping $20 here and there into the pokies; magazines are between $5 and $10 but that same gossip is FREE online; all-week newspaper subscriptions that people only actually read on weekends; leaving the heater on in winter while you go to work (people actually do that!); going to the cinema costs nearly $20 (I was horrified to discover this - I have been living near an $8 cinema for nearly 3 years and had no idea!!!), or $35 if you add snacks, but a DVD and a packet of chips would set you back about $7... the list goes on! I do think, though, that people who have donated more than a certain amount to flood charities should probably have some kind of partial exemption.

How's THAT for a can of worms :)

Lastly, the river still appears to be flowing backwards!

Monday, 17 January 2011

A blast from the past - Kanga Ball!

I found my old Kanga Ball in my recent tidying adventures. For you non-Australians, a Kanga Ball is also known as a Space Hopper or a Hoppity Hop (click here for more info - who knew there was this much information about it out there!).

It looks pretty big, doesn't it...

Well, it's not. It's really, really not. I remember it being MASSIVE, but I guess it shrunk. Either that or my legs grew. At this point I'm willing to accept either, or both, as possible. I'm also not sure whether it's designed to hold my weight...

All I know is that I tried to bounce but it just wasn't the same. My knees don't really bend far enough to maximise the SPROING. Also, seeing as there is now far more of me than there is of the ball, my centre of balance is all out of whack, plus, because I have to bend myself in half to bounce, each bounce requires a little grunt (much like getting out of a chair does, now that I'm at the ripe old age of 28!).  That's not just a smile of pure, unadulterated, childlike joy - it masks my fear of slipping and braining myself on the sideboard behind me!

Maybe I need an adult-sized one... cos I need to find new and creative ways to injure myself!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Fair Trade Toffee Brownies

The other day, just before Grant toddled off to his job in remote WA, I made the exceptionally ill-advised decision to bake a batch of brownies. The intention was good - I always send him away with baked goods, which he then uses as a means to bribe the guys on his work sites. Apparently it works a treat. Buuuut the fact that only 2/3 of the brownie fit into the container I was sending him away with, coupled with the fact that I have a propensity to comfort eat, did not bode well for my waistline.

I don't think I've mentioned it on my blog before (I've been too busy swanning about the South Pacific on a cruise ship - more on that another time), but Grant and I got engaged late last year. If you want to see a picture of the ring, either check out my FB profile picture, or jump on the Michael Wilson website. My ring is the Anise (2nd row, 2nd from the left) and it's GORGEOUS. This is one such instance where beauty is NOT only in the eye of the beholder!

My point is, you'd think that with a wedding less than ten months down the track, I'd be starting to think about trying to look my best for our big day. But no, when I saw yummy toffee brownies in front of me, I kind of went OM NOM NOM NOM NOM. Silly Nessa.

Then again, Grant proposed to me while I was wearing hi-vis and had frizzy hair, so maybe the bar on personal appearance isn't quite so high after all...??

So I thought I'd share the fatness recipe with you. It's from the Fair Trade cookbook, which Grant bought me from the Oxfam shop (in the knowledge that I was into tree-huggery stuff) when we first went a-courting. I am somewhat ashamed to admit it is the first recipe I have cooked from it in all that time, but in my defence, the recipes LOOK more complicated when they have the words "fair trade" in front of every freaking ingredient! And I thought it was only fitting that he should be the beneficiary of the first recipe from the book, and this is one of the only transportable recipes - thus far, most of what I've sent him away with have been from the CWA Biscuits & Slices book Jordana gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago - so there you have it.

I'm actually in my sometimes-home caravan park cabin in Barham and don't have the recipe in front of me, but I will do my very best to remember it for you. I really am winging this... And if it's horribly wrong when I check it, I'll change it.

Obviously you mix it well between each step.

1. Melt 100g dark eating chocolate and 30g (40g??) of butter in a large bowl over boiling water (don't let the water touch the bowl)
2. Mix in (this is where I start to struggle) 230g (???) castor sugar (I remember vaguely wondering whether it equated to 2/3c but then didn't actually bother measuring to verify!)
3. Add 3 eggs, lightly beaten, and mixed with 1tsp vanilla essence (I may be getting this mixed up with a gingerbread recipe I recently made... one had one egg and one had three... but I'm pretty sure I have this the right way around!)
4. Add 300g plain flour, sifted, with 1tsp baking powder mixed in. Mix batter around until fairly smooth and no dry ingredients remain
5. Add 200g (???) chopped pecans
6. Meanwhile (and I'm not sure how you can actually "meanwhile" this, because it requires a fair bit of attention), unwrap an entire packet of Columbines (the recipe called for 205g of "fair trade toffees" and that was my best guess as to the equivalent product), unwrap them, restrain yourself from eating them (SO HARD!!!) and place them in a saucepan on low heat with 300ml of thickened cream. Stir until melted (tip: don't let the Columbines touch the bottom of the pan without cream as a barrier, as I suspect it would burn very quickly)
7. Spread 3/4 of chocolate mix into pan lined with baking paper (the recipe said what I took to be a lamington tin (approx. 20x30cm shallow pan), but when I looked at my lamington tin I just knew it wouldn't hold the batter, so I went for a deeper, square cake tin)
8. Top with 2/3 of Columbine/cream toffee mixture (reserve the rest for decorating - the coconut you see in the photo isn't in the recipe; intead, they melt more dark choc and drizzle the toffee and the melted dark chocolate over the top. Also, the fact I didn't need to re-melt my toffee makes me think that Columbines aren't quite rigid enough, but it tasted great!)
9. Top pan with rest of chocolate mix and bake at 180oC (160oC F.F.) for 40-45 minutes. It's baked when it's firm to the touch
10. Let cool in pan 20 mins then turn onto wire rack (or if you're a dumb-dumb like me, forget about it for an hour... buuuut it only seemed to make it moister!). Decorate when cool (or sooner, if you're impatient, like me!)

Now, hopefully I got the recipe mostly right (the only parts in question are the castor (that's right, people, you should be spelling it with an O!!!) sugar and the flour, but I'm pretty sure the flour is right because I remember getting a bit anal about it with a teaspoon and a set of scales) and it turns out looking something like this:

But then I realised that there was something missing:

That's better.

There's greens on it now!

In the end, I ate the above piece for lunch on the day he left and popped the rest in the freezer... but I look forward to the day I bust 'em out and - I'm told - reheat them with some fudge sauce and a wee bit of vanilla icecream. Yummo spagummo!