Sunday 29 April 2012

Fig Jam with walnuts

My wonderful fig tree´s produce is coming to an end, so I picked all the ripe figs and made the last batch of fig jam of the year. Right now the tree was left with 3 or 4 figs still to mature which I will pick and eat in a few days.

Not a very big tree, but very fruitful!

When we bought the house 5 years ago, the tree was already here, in the front garden by the driveway and every year since we have been here it has produced kilos of fruit, without so much as a bucket of water once in a while (just rain water when it sporadically pours), or any fertilizers either. As we can't eat it all I do give some away to friends, and during this fruiting season that started at the end of January until now, I have made 4 batches of jam, giving some jars away too, baked a fig cake and a fig tart.

Fig cake (before baking)

Last year the leaves of the fig tree were heavily affected with scale and we had to spray with white oil.

There were always lots of ants feeding off the sweet honeydew produced by the scale, and this weakens the tree eventually.

This year I examined the leaves closely every couple of days and managed to pick a few leaves with scale and just cut them out and threw them in the rubbish. Apart from that a couple of times I saw some sort of beetle eating the ripe figs that were opened. Those figs would go straight into the rubbish bin by the driveway, although some of the beetles managed to fly away!

A beetle on a fig

Well, enough about the nasty bugs, let me give you the recipe for the fig jam.
This time I added rosemary to the original jam recipe and it was the best ever (so said my husband)!


1000kg figs
700gr sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Port wine or Muscat wine (sweet wine)
1 cinnamon stick or 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 stick or two of rosemary (optional)
A handful of walnuts, toasted and sliced (optional)

Slice the tops of the figs and cut them into small pieces, add lemon juice, cinnamon, rosemary and cover with the sugar and let sit until the sugar dissolves.
Slowly bring the mixture to a boil in a moderate setting, stirring occasionally, during about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and the liquid is thick. Let it cook for 1 hour in very low heat. Remove the cinnamon stick and rosemary. Add the toasted walnuts
Let cool and pour into sterilized glass jars and refrigerate. Consume within 3 months.


As I used a sprig of Rosemary from our old woody bush, all the leaves broke away and at the end of the cooking when I tasted the jam the rosemary leaves were still woody, so I had to pick all of them out of the pot with a pair of tweezers! What a job that was!
Still the taste is great, so if want to use rosemary put it in a muslin or calico cooking bag, it won't break away and you won't have to pick out the leaves with tweezers.

If you are lucky enough to have figs in your garden or can buy them cheap, try this out, you won't regret it.
I'm now looking forward to baking some lovely things with passion-fruit,  yesterday I picked the first two that had fallen from the climber that was planted last year and the vine is packed with fruit.

Passion fruit

Tuesday 17 April 2012

A to Z of Australia - I is for Islands (Part III)

Finally my last post about Islands in WA, hope you have been enjoying them.
In this post I write about Penguin Island which is my favourite of them all!

Garden Island is a limestone outcrop, about 10km long and 1 and 1/2km wide, just 5km off the coast of Rockingham, linked to the mainland by a road. 
It is now the base of the Royal Australian Navy.

Although discovered by the Dutch (not named but shown on Dutch maps in 1658, 
it was named "Ile Buache" by Baron Hamelin the Captain of the Naturalist, one of the 
3 French ships that visited between 1801 and 1803. (Jean Nicolas Buache, was a 
marine cartographer in Paris).
The island was renamed "Garden Island" in 1827 when Captain James Stirling, prepared a
garden and released a cow, two ewes and three goats to pasture. The first settlement of 
450 people was made in 1829 in a place called Sulphur Town. The island was an important 
anchorage and disembarkation point for ships until 1897, when Fremantle´s harbour was 
After World War I, it became a holiday resort with wooden cottages erected at the bay, and 
during World War II, gun batteries were located at the island, as part of the coastal defence 
system for the Fremantle Harbour facilities. At that time, the island also became part of a 
training base for the Secret services, known as "Z special unit".
Following the war, the island reverted to a holiday resort once again, and the home of the 
Royal Australian Navy reserve fleet.
In 1973 the 4,3km causeway linking the island to the mainland was finished and as of 2008 
the island is now used as the main naval based on the west coast of Australia, home to five 
frigates and all the submarines of the Australian Submarine Service and base to the 
Navy diving teams. 
Access to the island is no longer allowed to the general public, unless granted by the 
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Penguin Island is located 45 min south of the city of Perth, and a 5min ferry ride across 
from the suburb of Shoalwater (near Rockingham).
The ferry departs on an hourly basis from 9am till 3pm and the last ferry returns to base 
at 4pm.
An unlimited day ticket costs $12 and if you wish to include a visit to the Discovery Centre, 
where the penguins are fed the ticket costs $17,50.
The island is opened from early September to early June including weekends and public 
holidays (except Christmas day), but is closed during winter when the penguins come 
ashore to breed.

The Discovery centre hosts 3 daily Penguin feedings at 10,30h, 12,30h and 2,30h, 
although the Sunday we went there, the ranger said the penguins were already on their 
5th meal, so not very interested in eating any more!

They have 10 Little Penguins, 9 males and 1 female. The eldest was a 19 year old male who 

had mated with the only female for the past 10 years. Penguins mate for life, and until he 
dies they will be a couple. Apparently in the wild the Little Penguins will live for about 
14 years but in captivity they can live longer, and they are only about 30 to 40cm high.
While they were fed on tiny pilchards, the ranger was telling us the story that they wanted 
to train the penguins that were hand-reared to go out into the wild, but once they tried 
putting live fish in the tank and all except 2 penguins left the tank and looked through the 
glass from outside the pool, at the fish swimming around. The two inside were apparently 
being chased by the fish instead of the other way round!
So, the poor penguins would never survive at sea on their own, as they are too used to their 
regular feeds and contact with humans. 

With full bellies, now we can turn around and look at the visitors!

Wooden trail that goes around the island

The island can be accessed on foot from the mainland during low tide, but it´s 
recommended that when you return later in the day you take the ferry, 
as last year a couple of people died when walking across as they couldn't swim
and the current was too strong.

We just visited the Discovery centre and walked around the island this time,
but I would certainly love to go back, so next time I have overseas visitors I 
will certainly take them to the island and maybe do one of the longer cruises 
around the area.     

The island is small, with a 2km trail around the island and a lookout point 
in the middle of the island. Apart from the walk, there is a lovely picnic area, 
and you can swim, surf, snorkel, kayak or bird watch.

The island and surrounding Marine park is a haven for Pelicans and the very noisy
seagulls, sea lions, dolphins, stingrays and over 50 species of birds.
From the island you can do a 45min "Penguin and Sea lion cruise" on a glass
boat, that costs $34,50, or you can do a 90min "Shoalwater Safari cruise" costing
$85, visiting sea lions at Seal Island, the playful wild dolphins, stingrays and pelicans.

Don't you think Penguin island is such a cute island? 
Are there small and  interesting islands where you live?

Tuesday 10 April 2012

A to Z of Australia - I is for Islands (part II)

Western Australia whose capital is Perth (where I live), is the State with most islands, a total of 3747! 
It would be hard to visit them all !!!

Just off the coast of Perth are the most known of WA´s islands -  Rottnest, Carnac, Garden and Penguin Islands. Apart from Garden Island where public is not allowed I have been lucky to visit the other 3. In this post I will talk about Rottnest and Carnac islands, and the next post will be about Garden Island and the cutest ... Penguin island.
Rottnest Island (or Rotto) is located about 18km off the coast, and it is 11km long and 4,5km wide, with a total land area of 19 square kms. The island has been a beloved holiday destination for Perth residents for over 50 years.
Private ownership of land is not allowed and the island is under the control of the Rottnest Island Authority. Revenue is collected from landing fees on all visitors to the island, boat moorings as well as managing rental accommodation.  

It was first inhabited by Aboriginal people until rising sea levels separated the island from the mainland about 7000 years ago. The island´s  Aboriginal name of "Wadjemup" means "place across the water". In the 17th century when the Europeans explored this part of the country the island was inhabited, and the Aboriginal people on the mainland had no boats to make the crossing, so the island had probably been uninhabited for several thousand years.

Map of Rottnest
The first Europeans known to land on the island were Dutch sailors from the "Waeckende Boey" in 1658, as a description of the island was in their journals, described as being dangerous for the ships due to the rocky reefs below the surface....
In 1696, the island was given the name "Rattenest" (rat´s nest), by Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh, who spent 6 days exploring the island, and who described the island as "a paradise on earth".
What was thought as rats by the Dutch are the Quokkas - they are used to people and their food
Me giving a Quokka some biscuits - their hind legs are similar to Kangaroos 
Other explorers who stopped at the island were the French expedition of the "Naturaliste" and the "Geographe" in 1801, when they planted a flag and left a bottle with a letter, and the English Phillip Parker King in 1822 and Captain James Stirling in 1827.
In 1831, after the establishment of the British Swan River Colony at Fremantle, William Clarke and Robert Thomson received land grants on the island. Thomson moved in with his wife and seven children in 1837, developing pasture land for hay production and salt harvesting, which was exported to the mainland settlement.
In 1839 the island was converted into a prison camp for Aboriginals, used until 1931 (except for the period between 1849 to 1855). The "Quod" - as the prison was know is now used as tourist accommodation.
Around 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned there, and it is estimated there may be as many as 369 graves on the island, with 95% of the deaths being due to influenza.
In 1881, a Boys reformatory was opened in a building adjacent to the Quod, which included a workshop, kitchen, dormitories, school room and four small cells. The boys were taught carpentry, joinery and gardening.
In 1901, the facility closed and the 14 boys were transferred to an industrial school on the mainland.
During World War I  there was an internment camp that housed German and Austrian suspected enemies, and during World War II, it housed Italian enemy aliens. The facility was closed halfway through the war and its occupants sent to other internment and work camps on the mainland.

Two 9,2inch guns were installed at Oliver Hill in the middle of the island, and two 6 inch guns were installed at Bickley Point, for the defence of the Fremantle port, which was then the major base for the Allies in the Indian Ocean, and a number of concrete lookouts and bunkers were built around the island also.
Ferry  from Fremantle to Rottnest

The island is an important bird area supporting the breeding of various birds such as the Fairy Terns, Banded Stilts and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. The "Quokka" (the "rat" found by the Dutch) is the most prominent animal in the island and it has no predators. Some lizards, such as King´s skink, (also found on Penguin Island), frogs and Australian sea lions also inhabit the island.

Black lizard - King´s skink
From the 1900´s the island has been mainly used for tourism purposes with over half a million visitors a year, with an average of 330 thousand arriving by ferry or air taxi, coming for a day trip only, with December and January being the busiest months.

The ferry transport from Fremantle is quite expensive at around $100 per person return ticket. So make the most of your day by going early and returning on the last ferry at 4,30pm if you are just going for the day! (There are special´s sometimes...)

The main settlement is in "Thomson Bay" facing the mainland, and Geordie Bay and Longreach Bay on the north side of the island. All the bays are sheltered and suited for swimming and boating. Permanent boat mooring can be leased from the Rottnest Island Authority. The varied fish in its waters makes this a popular diving destination, especially for crayfish (check the maximum limits). 
One of the many bays in the island

Geordie Bay -  Self-catering accommodation in the island, with a wind turbine in the distance
Accommodation in self-catering villas, units and cottages is available for up to 2850 visitors. Because of the high demand during summer, ballots are held annually for accommodation for the December-January and Easter school holiday periods.
Other options include the Youth Hostel, the Rottnest Hotel, Rottnest Lodge and camping sites.
Most of the up to 5000 daily visitors arrived by ferry from Fremantle, Perth or Hillary´s harbour.
Visits to the island´s shipwrecks can be made by glass bottomed boats, scuba or snorkel, and the first underwater interpretative trail in the Southern hemisphere is in Rottnest´s waters.
The island has a coffee shop, a few restaurants, a general store, bakery and liquor outlet, a sandwich shop and clothing stores.
Cars are not allowed in the island, but you can hire bicycles or take your own in the ferry, or take the island bus that  goes around the whole island and stops at the various bays.

Some of the events held in the island during the year are: 
In March the annual "Rottnest Channel Swim", with swimmers crossing 19km from Cottesloe Beach (in the mainland) to the island.
In September the "Rottnest Short comedy and short film festival" showcases Western Australian short comedy films, stand-up comedians and musicians.
In October there is a Marathon and Fun run in the island, with participants able to run distances of 5km, 10km or marathon (42,2km).
In November, the island is a popular destination for the Year 12 leavers celebrating the end of their exams - "Leavers week" or "leavers", and the island is closed to the general public during this time, with identification and proof of being a secondary school leaver required to access the island).
In December the annual 1,6km "Swim thru Rottnest", is held between the Army Jetty and Natural Jetty.

Rottnest has few permanent residents, most of it´s workers commute from the mainland.

There is a barge that makes a return trip to Fremantle daily to deliver supplies and remove rubbish. Since 1995  a water desalination plant suppies the island with it´s water needs, which were previously supplied by rain water collected in tanks, and later supplemented by fresh underground water.
Power is supplied by diesel powered wind turbines, and there are two fully automated lighthouses to aid maritime traffic, plus an extensive network of flashing markers and transit beacons to indicate safe passage through the rocky entrances to the bays for smaller boats.

I have only been to Rottnest once since we moved to Australia, but I wouldn´t mind spending a short holiday there, as the island is very pretty, the waters are clear, and you get the feeling of being on holiday and relaxed when you are there. Pity that the ferry is so expensive!

One of the lighthouses in the island
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Carnac Island, about 10km south west of Fremantle is a smaller nature reverse island.
In 1803, French explorer, Louis de Freycinet, captain of the Casuarina, named the island "Ile Pelée" (Bald island). In 1827 captain James Stirling changed it´s name to Carnac island, in honour of John Rivett Carnac, second Lieutenant on his ship HMS Success. The island was also used as a penal settlement for Indigenous Australians during the Swan River Colony, then as a whaling station and a quarantine station for the Port of Fremantle.
It is now becoming popular with commercial tour operators, as a tourism destination for nature lovers.
Carnac island - you can see the only beach (the right side of the photo) where visitors are allowed to go
Here you can find Australian sea lions, who use the island during the non-breeding season. They are protected animals, as only a few thousand exist in Australia. Breeding is done on offshore islands 200km north of Perth for 4 or 5 months every 17,5 months, then the males migrate south probably to relieve feeding pressure from the females and young pups.
They look docile, but they are a wild animal that can become aggressive if they feel threatened.

Various sea lions on the beach, surrounded by seagulls

Carnac Beach

Little birds who visited us on the boat (sorry don´t know their species)

A Pelican near Carnac island, probably waiting to "steal" the firshermen´s catch!

A snorkeler around a sea lion

This one swam right up to the boat, you could almost touch him, but it could be dangerous...

A lot of boat owners, divers and snorkelers go to Carnac island for the day,(you are not allowed to stay overnight) as it´s close enough and it´s free. Mostly people just drop their boat´s anchor and stay aboard eating, drinking and resting, others venture into the island to look at the sea lions or to snorkel or swim.

You are not allowed to venture further than the beach, as Carnac island has a large population of tiger snakes, one of the world´s deadliest snakes! They are important predators on the island eating seagull chicks, mice and lizards.

Carnac is also an important nesting habitat for several seabirds such as little penguins (never saw them there). bottle-nose dolphins (I have seen a couple there), wedge-tailed shearwaters, pied cormorants, bridled and crested terns...
Visitors are not allowed in the bird nesting areas to avoid disturbing the birds, if the adult birds leave their nests unprotected, tiger snakes or other predators could take their eggs.

There is no fresh water on the island and these species have adapted to the harsh island habitat. 

I have been lucky to have been able to visit Carnac island a few times (never set foot on the beach though!), but that´s the perk of having friends with boats.
My next post will focus on Garden island and the small Penguin island that I recently visited!

Thursday 5 April 2012

A to Z of Australia - I is for Islands (Part I)

Australia is the largest island in the world, and it is surrounded by 8,220 islands within its maritime borders.
Most of them would be uninhabited of course, but there are some pretty big islands, big enough to be independent countries!
The largest of these islands is Tasmania with 68,332km2, and in turn it is surrounded by another 1000 islands! Tasmania is one of the six states and 2 territories that Australia is divided in. I´ve never been to Tasmania, but it´s a place I would love to visit in the future.

The only island I have visited in the Eastern States, is "Phillip Island", in the State of Victoria, located 140km south of Melbourne.
It´s 26km long and 9km wide with an area of about 100km2. A concrete bridge of 640mt connects the mainland town of San Remo with the island town of Newhaven.

Bridge from mainland San Remo to Newhaven in the island
In the 2001 census, the island population was around 7000, but during summer the numbers swell to 40 thousand. The major tourist attraction is the Penguin Parade that brings to the island 3,5 million visitors a year, to watch hundreds of Fairy Penguins (or little Penguins), that come ashore in groups. There is also a wildlife park where wallabies and kangaroos roam free and can be hand fed. The western end of the island is also home to the largest fur seal colony in Australia.

Last year, when we visited Phillip Island it was winter, and the rain and bitter cold wind prevented us from staying to watch the Penguins return home, which was a pity, as that had been the purpose of our visit. Luckily we managed to see the cute penguins in the Melbourne Aquarium a few days later.

Fairy Penguins at the Melbourne Zoo
Aren´t they just too cute?
 The island has also hosted major surfing events like Rip Curl, and is linked to the history of Australian motor racing, having been the site of the original Australian Grand Prix in 1928.
In 1956 the new Grand Prix circuit opened and has held various races from Bathhurst 1000, Australian motorcycle grand prix, superbike world championship, V8 supercars, and the Australian driver´s championship. (Since 1985 the Australia Grand Prix is now part of the Formula 1 circuit and is run in Albert Park in Melbourne).
Entry to the Motor Racing track

The wonderful chocolate factory.
As the day was miserable we stopped at the Chocolate Factory and had some lovely hot-chocolate drinks, tasted some of their chocolate and bought some to take home. 
We drove around the island, found some lovely beaches which could be wonderful in summer, sweet holiday villages, and also came across these strange birds, that I later found out were called "Cape Barren Geese". They are about the size of the domestic goose with pale grey feathers, pink legs and a yellow area on the base of their beaks.
The live on small windswept islands in the southern east coast of Australia, and venture to farming areas in search of food. They are able to drink salty water which enables them to live on offshore islands all year round.

Cape Barren Geese feeding
On Phillip Island looking onto smaller islands. You can see here how miserable the day was!

Do you enjoy visiting islands? Are there any islands around the country you live in?
Do they have such a cute attraction as the penguins in Phillip Island?

Stay tuned to Part II, when I will write about some of the most popular Western Australian islands that I have visited.