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June 2014
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July 2014

Connecting with the story behind your food {Roadkill Kangaroo tail stew}

Roadkill_Roo_tail_stew_Little eco footprints

I recently enjoyed a meal that I had been planning for months. A meal made from ethical, frugal and sustainable meat that would have otherwise gone to waste. The slow-cooked stew was nourishing, delicious and proudly served to my family. The key ingredient? Roadkill kangaroo.

Conversations about ethical meat have had me waiting for an opportunity to take my foraging to the next level. Roadkill kangaroo is sadly a frequent occurrence in my neighbourhood.

I have been buying kangaroo from the supermarket for years. It is a healthy and sustainable meat. But it is also packaged in plastic and transported half way across the country before reaching the supermarket shelves. Slowly, as I digested the idea of foraging roadkill kangaroo, the idea of buying it from the supermarket seemed more ridiculous than scavenging it from my local roadside.

A friend who knew of my mission told me of a kangaroo that he had dragged off the road moments after it was accidentally killed. It was fresh, looked healthy (other than being dead) and had bright clear eyes. Once an animal starts to stiffen and its eyes become cloudy, it is no longer safe to butcher.

Collecting just the tail seemed like an achievable introduction. Indigenous Australians have long cooked kangaroo tails by roasting over coals. And the internet is littered with recipes for kangaroo-tail stew or soup – both commonly eaten by early European colonists and in the Depression era.

I searched the internet for tips on how to chop off a kangaroo tail. Failing to find any useful advice, I gathered an axe and a hack-saw.

My husband and I headed out into the dark and tried to look like we weren’t doing anything unusual each time a car passed by. After a few surreal minutes, we returned home with a kangaroo tail.

Armed with a kitchen knife that was in need of sharpening, we clumsily removed the skin. After around half an hour (serenaded by grumbles from my husband that I was taking my passion for sustainable food too far) we were left with meat that looked like something we’d pick up from the butchers.

I seared the meat and placed it in a slow cooker with potatoes, onions, carrots and a single bay leaf. I intentionally kept the ingredients simple and covered with tomato passata and water and simmered for 24 hours. I removed the vegetables overnight so that they didn’t overcook and returned them to the pot an hour before serving.

The stew was delicious. It was the most time-consuming meal I have ever made – but it was also the most meaningful and memorable.

Roo tail stew is something I won’t make often – but I am glad that I’ve added roadkill stew to my list of skills. For me, a large part of sustainable living is connecting with the story behind my food and gaining competence in growing and foraging my own food.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should head out and try roadkill. Indeed, it is actually illegal to be in possession of any part of an Australian native animal without an appropriate licence. On that note, I will say that the stew pictured above may in fact be beef and perhaps I am telling a rather large "tail".

Your roo tail stew may be switching to free-range eggs; or increasing the frequency of meat-free meals; or buying free-range ethically grown meat. Wherever your food boundaries currently sit, consider nudging yourself a little closer to truly connecting with the story behind your food.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 28th July 2014. 

Time to toughen up

Doing without makes us more confident and capable. Little eco footptints

We recently had a week where everything went wrong. The washing machine broke, our hot water system died, we ran out of gas, and to top it all off we ran out of water.

A few years back, each one of these events alone would have been enough to leave me panicking.

But this time was different. We hooked up the old twin tub, did without hot water for a few days, survived the freezing nights by adding layers and snuggling under blankets, and bucketed in water from a nearby tap to wash the dishes and flush the toilet.

It seems living in a shed last year toughened us.  A year without the luxuries of heating and running water taught us to make do. We discovered how little we really need. Sure, bucketing in water and heating it up on the stove to wash the dishes is a hassle. But it's not impossible.

The experience reminded me of why I love camping, and in particular, multi-day hikes. Camping, especially if you have to carry everything on your back, forces you to pare back to basics. It reminds you of how little you need to survive. Of how little you need to be happy. Some of my most memorable moments are cooking dinner on a tiny portable stove or tucking into a bag of scroggin while sitting, exhausted, with friends.

Carrying days’ worth of water reminds you just how precious drinking water is and teaches you to use it sparingly.

I once watched a Buddhist monk wash his alms bowl. He carefully poured less than a handful of water into his bowl and slowly used his fingers to wipe the bowl clean. He then used another small handful of water to rinse. His bowl was spotless.

It's good to be reminded that endless running hot water is a luxury - not a necessity.

These days, our camping is in the comfort of a camper van. But these trips still remind me that it is possible to stay warm by layering and snuggling. And that everything we need can fit into a van.

Our recent chaotic week of living without has reminded me that it's good to be a little extreme every now and then. To push your boundaries and move beyond your comfort zone. Living without gives your true self less to hide behind and can boost your confidence in your own abilities.

I think that's why I like environmental challenges. For example, living without single-use plastic or wearing just six items of clothing for a month. I like that challenges push me beyond my comfort zone and that afterwards I settle into somewhere better than before.

So perhaps next weekend, consider rugging up and heading out for a hike, picnic or camping trip. Or challenge yourself even more. Turn off your water mains for a day, jump into the freezing ocean, or climb a mountain. Simply because you can.

I suspect that we are all a little tougher than we think we are - and realising that is a powerful thing.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 21st July 2014


Some housekeeping: A change to the Little Eco Footprints inspiring reads page

I often stumble across inspiring reads that I think you would like too. Rather then send them off into the social media abyss, I'm old-school and list them on an inspiring reads page.

I've started including little notes about why I found a particular article inspiring and a teaser quote. I've contemplated doing a weekly round-up post, but rather than fill your crowded in box or feed with an additional post each week, I like the idea of the space being there for you to pop over to and browse whenever you have the time and feel like some inspiration. 

Overwhelm and contaminated time

Finding -time-free-of-contamination. little eco footprints.

Moments for quiet reflection can be hard to find these days. We are faced with endless distractions and information overload, and are constantly connected to our digital devices.

Apparently we can't even sit with our own thoughts for a few minutes while we fill our car with fuel. Many new petrol stations have TV screens at each bowser saving us from a few boring moments.

This continuous connection, and distraction, is one of the major contributors to an epidemic of "overwhelm".

Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, provides a well-researched overview of the causes and consequences of overwhelm.

Like many working parents, Brigid found herself juggling family and career, and feeling guilty about neglecting both. Not only was she doing too much, she felt she should always be doing more.

One of the culprits is what time-use researchers call "contaminated time". It's particularly prevalent in mums. Time-use researcher Ellen Galinsky says: "For women these days, your to-do list is always going . . . It's being overwhelmed by everything you have to do and having that tape running in your head about it all the time."

This contaminated time makes it very difficult to live in the moment. We're neither here nor there. Which is a shame. As author Annie Dillard points out: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

That thought scares me, because it means distractions are causing moments to pass by without me truly living them.

One solution to overwhelm is to set aside leisure time free from "contamination" and to focus on living in the moment.

Brigid argues that you can't wait until you are on top of everything before taking time off. I'm guilty of this. I often delay leisure time until I feel I'm on top of things. If I could just finish this report, answer a few urgent emails, do the dishes and get dinner ready, then I can go for a walk.

But we're never truly on top of everything. There will always be things to do. It's simply a matter of prioritising pleasure.

One-solution-to-overwhelm-is-to-set-aside-leisure-time-free-from-contamination-and-focus-on-living-in-the-moment. Little eco footprints

I've started setting aside time most afternoons for my daughter and me to go exploring. I try to ignore the sense of being besieged by "busyness", switch off my phone, and focus on living in the moment. We simply wander, explore, and soak in each other and nature.

Exploring. Little eco footprints

I return from our wanderings feeling refreshed and better able to give my undivided attention to the task at hand.

I've discovered that by doing less, I actually achieve more.

This is not surprising, as research has shown that play and leisure nurture innovation and creativity and keep our brains flexible. On the other hand, stress and overwhelm shrinks our brains - literally.

To make time for leisure, other priorities have to fall away.

Ultimately, we need to prioritise what's important.

We can work, play and spend quality time with family, but we have to set aside dedicated time for each.

And we can't do it all.

Ironically, while researching this column and contemplating what is most important to me, I hurt my back. There's nothing like a trip in an ambulance, a day in hospital and the prospect of a few weeks' rest to put everything into perspective.

All of a sudden, most of what was contributing to my overwhelm doesn't seem that important after at all.

It looks like I'm going to have plenty of time to contemplate a quote I recently stumbled across:

"Practise not-doing and everything will fall into place." - Lao Tzu

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 30th June 2014

Over the past fortnight I've had plenty of practive "not-doing" and have a new-found respect for the importance of looking after myself. I will resume regular weekly postings on Monday.