Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why dream of vineyards?

It looks like my dream house has sold.
I drove past there on the weekend and the “for sale” sign had gone. I hope the purchaser is able to maintain the property and make it productive.
I’d hate to drive by one day and see the vines have been ripped out.

I’m not sure why I find vineyards appealing. I’ve done some vineyard work and some of it was far from pleasant. The very first job I had after my move to the country was netting several blocks of vines. It took four full days and was the most physically demanding work I’ve ever done.

Rolls of bird-netting were attached to the back of a tractor with the netting threaded through a tall T-shaped frame. The tractor was driven between two rows of vines and the net was manually pulled across three rows of vines at a time, one man on either side. The job required the net to be pulled while keeping up with the tractor. The netting was very dusty after being stored away for a year, and along with the dust came a year-old shower of dried leaves and twigs that had been caught up when the nets had last been removed.

Over the years it had been found that gloves were too much of a hindrance, with every known type being tried and found inefficient. Therefore the work was done bare handed, subjecting the fingers to the roughness of nylon netting. It was not surprising that if gloves didn’t last long with this work, the skin on fingers wouldn’t fare any better. It wasn’t long before my hands and fingers were bloody and very sore.

After the first couple of days I was determined not to return, but fortunately the Australia day public holiday came in the middle of the four days and I had time to get over the shock. Surprisingly the last two days seemed much easier. The reason for that later became obvious. Firstly I’d been able to gain a little fitness in the earlier days so found it less difficult to keep up. Secondly, the last two days were on flatter ground. In his wisdom the vineyard manager had started us on the steepest section. Not only did we have to jog along while pulling a heavy bunch of netting, we had to do most of it uphill.

About a month later I was called back to that vineyard to remove the netting. That was far easier. The tractor did most of the work this time, winching the net back into a roll. All I had to do was to keep up with the tractor and anticipate and prevent any snagging of the net on vines and posts. This job took half of the time and the vines were soon ready for the pickers to get started.

My third vineyard job was therefore grape picking and I was paid by the lug (a plastic box with a volume of approx 30-40 litres). I worked continually throughout the day with no breaks. For ten full hours I earned $70. It was a year of drought and the grapes were so tiny that it took many more bunches than usual to fill the lug. Some people picked twice as much as I did, and it wasn’t until the following year that I learned their secret. Where I had been picking everything I came across, some people didn’t bother picking the smaller stuff; they went straight for the biggest grapes and left the rest. Considering it takes the same amount of time to pick a small bunch as it does to pick a large one, it was much more profitable for themselves to get the grapes that filled the lug more quickly and leave everything else unpicked.

While the drought and the resulting small grapes weren’t very profitable for me, it didn’t harm the wine at all. The winery recently won an international award for the Shiraz produced from that crop.

The last work I did in a vineyard was about two and a half years ago. I was hired to thin out the grapes in another local vineyard. That meant removing bunches of late ripening grapes which if left would reduce the sugar content of the crop.
In this job I encountered what is probably a common hazard: large spiders with webs stretching from one row of vines to the next. Most of the webs weren’t noticed until it was too late because we were concentrating on the grapes instead of where we were walking. It was unpleasant enough to walk into a vacant web, but when a spider was still in residence at face height, it was much more than unpleasant.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Goal: To become overweight!

Several weeks ago my employer provided the opportunity to have some voluntary basic health checks, this included blood sugar, cholesterol, hear rate and weight.
My results were exceptional, showing I was in good health – apart from my weight.

According to the scale I was 107kg. While this WAS increased by my clothing, I couldn’t honestly take comfort from thinking I was wearing exceptionally heavy clothing. My BMI (body mass index) was calculated and it was determined that I was obese. While this didn’t concern me too much (especially after seeing so many skinny people being labelled “overweight”) I decided that I should make an effort to lose a bit.
According to the same BMI standard, I would have to lose almost 30kg to be deemed at the TOP limit of a satisfactory weight. To me that is ridiculous. Therefore I am happy to aim to be healthily “overweight”.

Just before I left Sydney and I worked behind a desk for a food company, I weighed a little over 100kg. After my move to the country, helped by gardening and a less sedentary lifestyle, I fell to 95kg. However that turned around again when I started my current job: once again stuck behind a desk.

I haven’t made any significant changes to my diet. I am eating very similar things as before. The main differences have been portion sizes and refraining from snack foods. Gloria has also been making more use of the CSIRO cookbooks for weekend meals. I have still been able to indulge in a piece of homemade cake or a muffin for morning tea every day, as well as spreading a bottle of wine over three evenings on weekends (shared between two).

It must be about 5 or 6 weeks now since I determined to lose some weight and this morning I weighed in at 97.6kg. Still a long way to go, but at least I am much closer to being overweight than I was when I started.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Undercooked, Oversalted and Full of Fat

Are we the only ones?

Gloria and I have been enjoying the new TV cooking obsession, but we get more than a little annoyed with the way celebrity chefs dictate how food should be cooked.

Both of us like our meat to be well cooked – but the chefs insist that it needs to be practically dripping blood. Recently I realised why – bloody meat can be cooked in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, a good well-done steak according to their directions would take around 40 minutes to prepare.
Do the arithmetic. Rare (raw!) steak gets people in and out much more quickly, giving the restaurant a better turnover of customers.

The other gripe I have is the obsession with salt. They continually refer to seasoning the meal they are cooking. Or they complain if a contestant has not adequately "seasoned" their dish. What they mean is they personally like to throw tons of addictive salt into the food they are preparing.

When I eat a meal I prefer to taste the meat, the veggies, the herbs and spices. If I wanted them masked by salt I’m totally capable of picking up the salt pot from the table and sprinkling a bit (or a lot) on my own food.

And their idea of mashed potato is very misleading. It would be better named mashed butter with a hint of potato to hold it together! When I make mash I can actually taste the spuds – and THAT is what I want.

Last night at home, we had a vegetarian risotto created and prepared by Gloria. It had no butter and no salt. It was moist with a good consistency and tasted wonderful. We could actually taste individual ingredients like pumpkin and spinach...
And the best part is – I’ve been given leftovers for my lunch at work today.