About Stella Orbit


Posts by Stella Orbit:

Thrift in the kitchen

IMG_4748(Note: you should read this post as if you are mimicking Nigella)

My enduring and long-standing passion for food and cooking has recently turned to improving our kitchen efficiency. This sounds awful and not about deliciousness, but it is. It is about reducing waste, using smart ways to cook more efficiently and most importantly turning left overs from worthy but not that satisfying meals to truly special dinners. Just because there are only a few of us, doesn’t mean we can’t make meals as if we were a huge family, I just need to be clever about it. It takes planning for a small family to cook well without wasting things. Sure I could just buy portions, rather than a whole chicken, and I could forgo food like slow roasted lamb shoulder, but I won’t. Essential to my recent efforts is the idea that I could do better. Cook better, plan more successfully and have routine dishes that follow on from one another. I am less successful with a strict menu planner with a week’s worth of recipes to shop for and cook. I need more spontaneity than that. I need to be able to see bargains at the markets, then plan around what I’ve sourced.

While I usually make everything from scratch, stock, tomato puree made by my indefatigable husband who processed hundreds of tomatoes over summer, home grown veg and herbs, with very few processed foods, I have improved on this lately by creating meals in a series. This works particularly well in cooler weather. I will be working harder in summer to continue this project. Let me give you an example. (Look away vegetarians).

Our family is small. Three people, one of whom may or may not eat dinner with his parents. A leg of lamb feeds 6 or 8 people. Lamb is expensive, you can reduce costs by buying from the farmer, which we do. What I really needed was a way to use the leftovers in a more sophisticated way. I hate cold lamb, hate it with a passion and will not eat lamb sandwiches. Introducing lamb pilaf – I started with recipes that were designed to use up leftovers, but a bit of research lead me to Azerbaijan’s national dish, delicious and fragrant with saffron. What I did then was modify the recipe. The roast lamb is already cooked, so I add it – scattered on the top of the cooking rice – only at the last moment, so it is warm but not more cooked. I also force myself to cut up the lamb straight away after dinner (or more frequently, ask my lovely husband to do it) and put it in the fridge ready to go. Planning, planning, planning. Roast lamb Saturday night. Pilaf Sunday night and lunch Monday. Tick. Tick. Tick. Thrifty and low effort.


Lemon and Curry Leaf Rice – Ottolenghi

Some of my more recent meal series are more elaborate. There is a rice recipe in Plenty More, Ottolenghi. I could eat it every single day of the year, I love it that much. It’s easy, a few ingredients, some of which can just live the freezer until it’s time. Then I discovered this chicken dish, Lebanese Chicken and Rice. This dish has similar flavourings to the Lemon and Curry Leaf rice. The Lebanese Chicken is made by poaching the chicken and the resultant stock is not all used in the final dish. Saturday night make the Lebanese Chicken, a family winner. Reserve the left over stock – measure it exactly for the rice recipe. Freeze. When it is time for Lemon and Curry Leaf rice, use the frozen stock as the base for the rice rather than water. It has an improved depth of flavour and takes no more time and makes full use of the chicken. No wastage.


Roast Lemon Chicken

Roast Lemon Chicken is another dish on high rotation in my kitchen. Without a chicken, the weekend is fine, but it just feels a bit off kilter. Roast a chicken. I like to use lemon and thyme, perhaps sage, or tarragon when I have some. I also like to roast chicken with a pool of white wine in the base of the casserole. Enjoy delicious chicken for dinner. Then straight after dinner, strip the remaining chicken from the bones and put in the fridge, then make stock from all the bones in the pot you cooked the vegetables in – be careful to remove all the herbs and lemon from the cavity or the stock will be bitter. Then leave the stock quietly simmering on the stove while you watch a movie or RockWiz or what ever it is people watch on Saturday night.


Left over roast chicken soup

Next night make this soup with noodles, some corn, coriander and chilli or indeed if you want the chicken to go even further make Chicken, lentil and kale soup. You have already cooked the chicken, you have made stock while you watched tv, and the lentils take a short time to cook. The left over chicken will make two dinners – or even soups for two grown up people and one small person’s chicken noddle soup – as well as two lunches.

Less waste, more taste. Less work in the kitchen. My newest favourite idea which is gaining momentum is a pasta bake on Thursday nights. We shop at the markets on Saturday. By Thursday night, the fridge is often full of odds and ends, a few of this, a bit of cheese, a handful of this, handful of that. Most of that will go with pasta, particularly if it is then topped with left over bread made into crumbs and topped with parmesan or better yet other delicious melty cheeses. By Friday night I am aiming for a near empty fridge, ready for the next day. Last week it was a small amount of bolognese based sauce (one serve for small boy for dinner) with silverbeet and kale added to it and stirred through pasta elbows and topped with bread crumbs and cheese. I aim for a single two person serving. Use all leftover vege and other ends but not too much pasta or sauce so it fits neatly into a small pyrex baking dish. This week it was mushroom, kale and cheese sauce with tiny bit of left over bacon. Topped with primo sale – which is a fresh cheese that softens rather than melts. Left over stale bread turned into rough crumbs – I didn’t even bother to dry them first.

Pasta bake

Pasta bake now on for Thursday nights

This new addition to the routine gives me something to work towards for the end of the week. Soup of veges and lentils is also a good way to turn nothing into something, particularly if there is stock and pulses on hand, you can make anything. I am working to increase my base recipes made from what is to hand repertoire so I can use everything up. Feels satisfying, will make full use of costly protein and other nutrient dense foods, and is simpler that trying to think through options when I’m busy. I now have options for post roast meat dishes, I have ideas for Thursdays, I have lunches at the ready. While I love the idea of Nigella’s pantry, particularly that scene from the early series of her throwing open the enormous space full to the ceiling with glass jars and natty bits in snap lock bags, it is wasteful. It uses too much plastic for one thing and it encourages shopping for particular specific meals. This is fine for special celebrations but for every day more thrift is my new goal. Use what is on hand. It takes water to grow food. It takes effort to make a garden. I am working to make full use of my resources.



Scare tactics


Age spots waiting to happen

Yesterday I did my own head in. Since my own mind is susceptible like no other to my mental obfuscation, it is easy to put one over myself. It takes mental discipline to not allow it to happen. It is still singularly disappointing when my own mind turns on itself. In the long lead in time from referral to appointment for a skin check up, I had convinced myself that my failure to comprehensively comply with skin safe/sun smart/cancer avoiding routines, meant that I was harbouring multiple deadly skin lesions. My Celtic genetic pool has blessed me with the kind of freckly, pale and easily burnt skin that doesn’t belong in a country with no ozone layer. I haven’t been sunburned for a long, long time, but I still have some sun exposure in the garden, at the pool, in life in general. I am pretty good at wearing hats and sunscreen and I don’t seek out the sun. I have many freckles and significant ‘photo ageing’. Most of this damage is a result of my childhood exposure. The 70s were not great for Slip, Slop, Slap compliance. Aside from the childhood persecution that I received from the freckles, I am now more prone to age spots (excellent!) and other skin lesions. So far, so cheerful! Read More



New Year’s Day 2016


Swimming is rhythm and blues.

As a child I learned to swim. I spent a good deal of my childhood in the water. Endless somersaults underwater. Holding my breath for as long as I could. Hearing the rushing blood in my ears. When I was nine I had a pair of swimmers the colours of the Australian flag. I wore them until they fell apart. For a short time I swam in a swimming squad. I wasn’t very fast and remember it as endless laps. I was probably ten. I could dive and swim reasonably well. I could turn and I churned up and down. At home in our pool, I stayed under the water where the noise was less until the pressure built up in my lungs and forced me to the surface gasping.

For a while in my early thirties I swam at Victoria Park, where you can swim outside all year round. I used to go as the sun was going down and swim slow breaststroke for a kilometre. The moon would rise over the city and I could float on my back and watch the stars come out. For while I went regularly enough and swimming was rhythm and blues. Deep blue early autumn sky and bright blue water.

I swam a lot when I was pregnant as I tried to counteract the fatigue and my sedentary job. Then I didn’t swim much. Not much at all for the last five years. But every time I did, I’d feel better. Every time I went into the water, especially where I could see the sky, my heart would leap.

Now that Benedict has lessons every summer we have found ourselves pool side, watching a small be-googled sprite try to master floating and making forward progress in the water. I didn’t always go to the lessons, as we tried to fit more into our Saturday. Occasionally, I’d swim some laps.

This summer I decided to swim. On new year’s day I swam some laps. Then I enrolled in some stroke correction classes. A week’s worth. At 8am. My first swimming lesson since about 1984. I had swiftly talked myself into it. But into what exactly? What did I want to do? Swim better and more often, small aims. I was nervous. Then I met John who was in the class with me. He was significantly more nervous than me and less confident. John seemed to me to be a reformed smoker. He struggled for breath in a way that can only occur with serious impairment to your lungs. He was gentlemanly and full of self-doubt. The first class we just showed what we could already do. I fared reasonably well in the breaststroke test but my freestyle technique involves swimming frantically like you are being pursued by sharks. Lots of sharks.

Our teacher asked us what we wanted to achieve. I replied that I just wanted to swim smoothly and easily and to work on turns. John looked pale, he just wanted to make it to the other end of the pool. We agreed to work on a few strokes and turns. By day three the teacher had clearly decided that I was selling my not terrible skills short and she asked me if I wanted to dive. Lucky for John he had to leave a bit early that day. I cautiously threw myself into the pool off the side and didn’t smack into the water in that way that can happen if your hands don’t go in first. Go off the blocks, said Rose. You can do it. So I did. And survived. Then I did a few more and some tumble turns and breaststroke turns, and backstroke turns then some breaststroke starts because hey why not? We stopped short of butterfly and my freestyle started to actually look slightly less ungainly after the fourth day. Then I had to remember to glide in the breaststroke. I had to remember to resist the urge to do anything but glide underwater in a streamlined (more or less) shape. The glide is when you are moving smoothly and is when you can move faster through the water. The strokes propel you forward but the glide takes you further. You must resist moving your limbs to glide.

At the end of day three, my legs were screaming. I went to Pilates class begging for mercy. I could hardly move the next day and after the lesson came home for a six-hour lie down. For five days it felt too much and I could hardly do anything else. On Saturday, the last lesson, I just wanted to swim forever.

It reminded me of the last major physical challenge I had set myself eons ago now. Yoga intensives starting at 6am with Peter Thomson.

Early morning after early morning,’getting the numbers up’ as Peter called it. Rhythm and repeated practice. Repetition. The first is the same as the next, and the tenth, and the hundredth. Precision and consistency are important.

Over and over and over. When you cried with frustration and exhaustion Peter would know that you were then ‘ready to practice’. Before that point, you were only getting the numbers up and preparing to begin. The experience of repetition and the emphasis on consistency, the first is the same as the next and the tenth is a lesson I learned from Peter. It’s the same now. The first lap is the same as the sixth and the tenth and the twentieth. That’s when you are consistent and rhythmical.

After the week of lessons were over, I was ready to start. Now all I have to do is get the numbers up.

See you in the pool. I’ll be the one remembering to glide.

Where you’ll find me


Where you’ll find me.

I’ll be in the middle distance, concealed behind the washing on the line.
I’ll be in the half-light of the quiet kitchen buying myself two minutes before I turn the light on.
You can see me, but only if you look in the liminal spaces. This is where I hide, when I am trying not a lose myself to the mothering.
Softly breathing so I do almost fade out, completely still so you can’t hear me.

Why I quit NaNo … at 39018 words


Today I quit NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 39018 words. I’ve still got three days. I’m only about 5000 words behind target to finish on time. But I quit. I’m giving up. As painful as it is, I am quitting.

Why? Read More

NaNoWriMo 2014

Participant-2014-Web-BannerNaNoWriMo starts today. Read More

Where were you mum?

Look mum, I'm up here!

Look mum, I’m up here!

There is a perfectly good playground on the top of a hill in Canberra, and the parents are ruining it.

Through a misguided idea that all kids need to be able to do everything immediately and need to be helped to do everything, the Pod Playground today was full of helicopter parents hovering. Not just watching closely, but ‘playing’ if you could call it that. At one point this afternoon there was a log jam of fathers in among the children trying to climb the rope ladders inside the acorns to get to the corkscrew slide launch point. I looked up, horrified to see a father with his hand on the nappied bum of a tiny toddler high up in the big kids acorn equipment. This little person wouldn’t have been able to climb up on her own but her father was there, shoving her along with one hand on her bum. The bigger kids pushed past him. He persisted with his mission. Get the child to the top of the equipment. For what? So he can slide down the slide with her on his lap? To give you an idea of the scale and how high up this guy was with his tiny child, here is a shot from earlier this year.

Acorns in the air

Acorns in the air

The irony is that this is a playground is in an Arboretum. It is about nature and growth. To quote from one of its many promotional pieces, ‘the design recognises that play is a vital social development and educational tool for children of all ages, and is particularly important when it assists in forming relationships to its landscape, climate and surrounding context. The world amongst the giant seeds aims to stimulate spontaneity and creativity, to foster the imagination and to challenge and encourage confidence with growth.’

The Pod Playground has won countless prestigious design awards. It’s safer than our house. Much much safer than our backyard. People visit it from everywhere in Canberra and all over the country. It is a sought after play experience with a well thought through intent and experts in design and safety behind it. It is more than million dollars of quality play experience. And yet here are the parents of our future over-achievers with their hands all over their kids and their own bodies blocking the way.

Most of the seating was occupied today and at 11-30 in full sun. Instead I sat quietly on the concrete lid of the  electrics box near the gate. You can see it in the lower left of the photo above. It is one of the very few shady places during the middle of the day. I leaned up against the gate watching on and off as I listened to music, partly to drown out other people shouting at their children to be careful! I inwardly screamed at the mothers carrying babies without hats, and the ones called Jayden. There is a significant issue here, and it isn’t about me judging other people’s parenting, although I will freely admit to plenty of that. The babies without hats! Then there was the mother who shouted at her son, right in his face, ‘stop being a little shit.’ Aside from the obvious, stop being a little shit or what? What was she going to do if he didn’t stop? What reward would he receive if he did? All shades of wrong.* It is much more serious than that.

The mother of one toddler said to her older child, you try telling her she can’t go in there? Well indeed, but don’t give her a leg up. Let her figure it out for herself that she can’t reach the next rung of the perfectly proportioned and safe ladder. She’ll work out she can’t reach, and go and do something else, or cry or eat gravel or something that will be equally irritating to her parents.

I watched Catalyst this week and it featured a story about nature play and how important it was. The Pod Playground at the National Arboretum featured and it reminded me that we hadn’t been for a while. I filled it away as an activity to do over this solo parenting weekend. The story was about outside nature play and how children (some children) do not get enough of it, and also about how vital it is. The story emphasised kids being allowed to take risks, learn things, be themselves and most importantly be outside. As one of the academics, Associate Professor Tonia Gray, who was interviewed said, ‘taking incremental risks, such as this, allows their growth and development to occur in a gradual and sequential rate.’ What she said before that was essentially that while Pod was great, it wasn’t proper nature. She’s right, it is safe nature. So safe you’d have to really be trying.

We aren’t regulars at Pod Playground at the Arboretum for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is very limited shade and the coffee is awful. We do go there occasionally. After today, I will think twice about it, even though Benedict really enjoys it. We have other choices open to us, actual bush for one, just 1 kilometre from our house. With real sticks and rocks. What clinched it for me today was Benedict. After being out of my sight for a good 20 minutes, I went looking for him. He was in the sand sea-saw. Where were you mum? he asked. Just over there I said. I couldn’t find you, he said, so I came over here.

I need to be there less. He needs to want to find me less. Seems to me it is really difficult to take risks and learn with someone breathing down your neck. Or in the case of this equipment, your bum in their face as they follow you through the climbing frame.


* Of course I also shout at my child but I mostly employ the crouched over fierce growling while in public.