How to hunt a truffle in France (and it’s not what you think)

How to hunt a truffle in France (and it’s not what you think)

Truffles in Manjimup are hunted with the help of a specially trained canine. Sometimes they don’t make the cut: it’s true, dogs sometimes flunk out of truffle school. There are tales too, of truffle pigs “helping out” with harvest in Europe, sometimes taking out truffles, or worse, a finger in their enthusiasm.

I wonder though, how many people have heard of other ways to sniff out a truffle in time?

In a far flung French village called Mens I had the good chance to attend an open day for a nearby eco-centre, Terre Vivante. After arriving, I wandered the quiet streets and stopped to photograph a quaint little rose garden.

“Vous aimez les roses?”, a voice called from a balcony above.

The voice was Michel, a retired postman who turned out to have a passion for restoring antique radios… and hunting truffles. Cheerily serving me “apero” upstairs, he chatted away about life in Mens. Together with our drinks came dainty little radishes sautéed in butter, straight from the potager beside his roses. I could tell there was more. He leaned in to tell me the big secrete.

Michel planted a trufferie nearby, he whispered with a sideways glance, 18 years ago. It was 12 years before his first truffle formed. That’s a long wait, Michel. Without a truffle dog, or pig, how did you hunt les truffes?

He leaned closer. In that part of France, Michel whispered, there is a very special truffle fly (Suilla pallida). It senses just when the truffles are ripe, and descends to lay its eggs. If you see the fly, you know there are truffles, Michel explained gleefully, swigging the last of his little glass of porto.

The sacred truffle fly… best not be swatting that one!

What else will we learn of dark and dreamy truffle secrets come June 26, at our Pop Up Degustation Lunch? I’ve no doubt Fervor’s  Paul “Yoda” Iskov have some truffly tricks up his sleeve.

Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Truffle season in Manjimup has begun as the last colours of autumn fall to the ground. There’s a kindness in sporadic winter sunlight, relief in the rain. A fire in the corner crackles and pops. Our wheelbarrow is full of promised wood, and us? We’re sweeping the hearth in preparation for an 8-course Truffle Degustation with a special guest chef at the end of this month: Paul Iskov, and Fervor.

There’s a lot of talk about “WA’s hottest chef” at the moment, and I’m glad. Paul’s a lovely, down to earth guy, who happens to be doing extraordinary things with foods most people haven’t heard of. Paul forages for ingredients that our very land has been offering up for thousands of years. We met last year at a Fervor pop-up dinner in Busselton, where I had a chance to speak, and also, bring some apples to the menu. The smell of saltbush recalled summer time running through dunes to the beach. With Fervor and fire, saltbush scented memories became dainty crisps, paired with a native lime spliced gin aperitif. Nothing less than of my whole childhood in a moment (minus the gin!).

The Fervor experience is unlike any other long table. Why? Paul Iskov’s an artist, attuned to his craft, going after what moves him. That’s why Fervor is so special, and inimitable. For our first pop-up dining event at Stellar Violets, this will be an intimate event. A gathering for a few, in a special setting we’re yet to share with the world. It’s hard to think of better people to work with than Paul, Steph and team.

Our story began in 2012 here in hometown Manjimup, when I brought together a few friends to found Stellar Violets. Our vision is to create an arts & cultural hub, a place where people to connect to food provenance and the land. Working alongside my Dad in his apple orchard business, I saw how little was commonly understood about apples. Few people who called really knew what time of year we picked fruit.

Journalists would ask to photograph apples on trees in the Spring – blossom time!

I saw this as a symptom of a larger problem. People are too far from their food. It’s not enough to buy food in a local store, or even to follow the catch-cry “know your farmer”. If we’re going to sort out our imbalanced environment, we need to walk again where the trees grow, sit by the vegetables, harvest by hand, and taste it all fresh-picked. The way we used to…

As we grow closer to understanding the impact of what we’re choosing to eat, so we begin to explore our modern relationship to the land. The more I learn, the more I care. I want to look after the land for future generations. I want people to taste what we taste, the real deal. Listen to the land, please.

And when the land says, dig truffles… we heartily heed the call, of course!

Last Spring, Paul called in to Stellar Violets with Jess Shaver to forage in our garden. We found garlic scapes a-plenty. “Scapes” are the emergent flower bud, traditionally cut off to direct energy back toward the maturing bulb. Scapes to harvest, young broad beans, warrigal greens (native spinach), and some lovely edible blooms. We chatted about the ins and outs of growing food; he has a number of edible native crops on his Busselton property. I seeded the idea for a pop up that day, and here we are.

Paul’s returning to Stellar Violets as part of 2016’s Truffle Kerfuffle Festival, to serve an 8-course truffle degustation lunch, fused with native flavours, locals foods and fresh bits from our garden. Wine is sponsored by Ferngrove with cool climate whites and reds sourced from their nearby Frankland vineyard.

Recipe: The Ultimate Garlic Paste

Recipe: The Ultimate Garlic Paste

Lara McCall of the amazing Burnside Organic Farm changed my life for the better the day she shared this recipe with me. Our fridge bulges with jars of this paste. Make enough to last a year, harvest your garlic, save some to plant, some to roast whole, make paste with the rest, repeat. Here at Stellar Violets it’s slathered on bread, spooned into all manner of dishes, and eaten straight from the jar. No-one leaves without demanding the recipe. Now lovely Lara has agreed to share it here. Merry Christmas.

Garlic Paste

Keeps for a year in the fridge.

This recipe was passed to me by a Lebanese friend Nadji. Passed down from his grandmother. I love to keep sharing this amazing recipe.


Quality sea salt 3 to 4 teaspoons

Lemon juice about 1 cup

Extra Virgin Olive oil about 1- 1.5 litres

500g of peeled garlic (takes a while to peel, set aside a good amount of time or use 2 same sized stainless steel bowls, shake garlic with bowls together).

Peel the garlic, remove the rough end

Place in the food processor with the salt

Blend until a paste

As the food processor is running, start adding the oil in a fine stream, approx half a litre

Add half the lemon juice

Continue with the oil, alternating oil, lemon juice, until the paste thickens.

Taste and add salt if necessary.

If too thick, add more lemon juice

If too liquid, add more oil.

Place in jars.

Pour more oil on top to cover.

Seal and refrigerate.

Can also place in pantry unrefrigerated. It will ferment and taste milder.

The salt is important as it is the preservative. The lemon juice is for acidity to keep it safe.

The Weedy One: Diego’s Fantastic Foraging Feast

Bundanon’s Spring Festival – “Siteworks 2015”

On a Saturday in September we celebrated Spring with a bunch of art-lovers at Bundanon’s Siteworks 2015. The properties at Bundanon, and Riversdale were gifted to the Australian people by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd in 1993. The drive into the property winds through thick, verdant prehistoric giant fronded fern infested forest, opening out on arrival to a wide, open, green valley, which on this day was filled with volunteers, campers, stall-holders and entertainers. Three objects atop the hill caught our immediate gaze, a 15 foot high spider-like creature, that looked like a recent alien arrival from Stephen King’s nightmares, a 1970’s-styled playground rocket ship, and a wine barrel come Stone Henge Sun Dial. Two inflatable white bunnies greeted us as we descended to the rivers edge. All across the grounds, spring is singing with bounteous beauty blossoming throughout. But, the tranquility of the flowing wisteria and Illawarra flames was broken by the startling appearance of something that resembled a T-Rex’s ominous head poking around a corner. This was Erth’s Allosaurus, an incredibly life-like giant sized dinosaur that scares the life out of the kids (and some of the rest of us) with its frightening appearance, and extremely loud amplified roar.

“The Weedy One” Diego Bonetto: Our Favourite

Of all the artists at Siteworks, we were excited to see that our favourite, Diego Bonetto, would once again be taking people on a wild, edible plant foraging tour. We must admit to a kind of Diego fanaticism. Some people plan weeks in advance to watch The Eagles at The MCG. Meanwhile we’re amongst patches of Stinging Nettles hoping to catch Diego. In fact we love him so much, immediately after finishing his first Siteworks foraging tour, we turned around, and followed onto his next walk.

As a boy, growing up in the North of Italy Diego’s Nonna shared with him traditional ways of how to identify, prepare, cook, and use the edible and medicinal plants growing around them. Having been an artist in residence at Bundanon Trust, Diego knows the place well.

The journey begins with Diego reaching down, cutting a yellow flowered Dandelion out of the soil, thanking the plant, and then sharing its story. The USDA recently announced dandelion as the most nutritious plant in the world. Diego recommends all parts of the dandelion, including slow, low roasted dandelion roots for a healthy, hot drink, similar to coffee, but markedly better for you. Then onto the benefits of fleabane. Did you know that you can save about $80/month in pet flea treatments by using fleabane? Or, that if mozzies are bothering you, all you need to do is burn some fleabane and its good bye mozzies.

 Next was plantain, a very good bush bandaid, and diuretic. Then onto the next plant, Diego, snapping off a piece, and sharing it around. Its lemony taste was so appealing one guy stripped the thing bear. Mulberry – pick the berries, and eat them right there on the spot. Diego recommends eating food right there at the source. As soon as a plant is picked it begins losing nutrients, so Diego say, “Whenever you can, pick, and eat, pick, and eat.” And, then we come to, Stinging Nettles – incredibly high in all sorts of vitamins, and minerals, stinging nettles are great in a soup. Scotch Thistle – the first plant to be declared a weed in Australia because the burs got caught in sheep’s wool and were an expensive burden to the wool industry.

 Want Help? If you want to know whether a certain plant is edible, take a clear, hi-res photo, and send it to Diego. He’ll identify it for you, and let you know of its properties.

During his Wild Stories walks, Diego relays hundreds of incredible, useful plant facts. As he says, “I can talk for hours.” But the walk, and talk with Diego, is an engaging, performance to be experienced as is. There is way too much to take in, so just enjoy it, and when you want to learn more, visit his website. 



Inviting women to bring our creative gifts home in the Wheatbelt, with the Liebe Group

”It was a cold, blustery day when we arrived, only to be warmed through to the cockles by the Metcalf family’s boundless hospitality. Deb and Simon Metcalf are long time farmers in Wongan Hills. Wongan means whispering, and atop the beautiful Mt O’Brien, the wind did blow. Wongan, wind, wheat fields, waiting for rain. Beneath the Wongan Hills Nature Reserve, there were few trees, and vast, flat expanses of land that had no end. It was time to seed, and time for rain. Even the wind seemed to be asking, When?

I was invited to speak at the annual Liebe Group Women’s Field Day in Dalwallinu, after a chance meeting with Deb Metcalf a couple of years ago at the Agri-Future’s Rural Women’s Award (formerly RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards) night. The only thing we have is our own story, and I always speak to that. On the awards night my dear effervescent friend, Catherine Marriott, invited me to share the handover speech. I spoke about the hardship and uncertainty in farming, and how important it is to recognise and apply our creative gifts. Deb Metcalf introduced herself afterward, and the idea of coming to Dalwallinu set seed.

Come June, I packed my bags with pieces of Stellar Violets I’ve pulled together over the past three years; soul gardening practices, laughing yoga, sustainable waste management, and stories of charismatic wheat farmers in Italy and France. As the first rains in a month fell outside, I spoke about Bringing Our Creative Gifts Home, and it was my hope to inspire the ladies to explore beyond the back gate, remember their authentic selves whilst wearing so many hats, and bring their own creative gifts home. Home within their own hearts, and home to their Wheatbelt communities.

There’s so much energy in the cities, which pull most of the people, money, and resources in this country. In rural areas, it’s harder to pull together what’s needed to fully realise the projects we dream of. I don’t know the story behind the Pianwaning Trading Agency, but my photos paint a picture. An enormous grain silo hums across the road, and the trucks bore out of there like… veritable bats out of hell. I’m sorry if you aren’t a Meatloaf fan, I have at least one friend who will appreciate the reference.

The question of rain hangs from year to year, yes, and haunts, like the whispering wind. But there is such raw beauty in these places. Not just in the landscape, but in the courageous faces of the people who live there, who keep on keeping on. I went away thoughtful. I admired the women of the Liebe group conference, the ones I met with the warmest of hearts. The ones whose lives I could only imagine, from what I learnt briefly in my time there.

I would have done well to sit in the audience, and listen to the stories from Wheatbelt women. I know they would be filled with resilience, ingenuity, innovation, and courage. Thank you to the Liebe Group for inviting me, and Stellar Violets to visit. I know your group is named after Mr Wilhelm Friedrich Gustave Liebe, but ‘liebe’ also means love in German. I certainly felt that with the encounters I had.

To fnd out about the next event, see Liebe Women’s Field Day.

Library Love Songs

Library Love Songs

My caring local librarian sent home an unsolicited book for me the other day: Inspired by Light & Land: Designers and Makers in Western Australia 1829-1969. Why yes, I am inspired by just that, Life and Land, I thought smiling to myself as I thumbed through the pages, uncovering the fascinating cultural and artistic heritage of colonial Western Australia.

The old photos reminded me of how different the world we live in today is, less than 200 years later.  The south west of Australia is quiet and remote compared to the rest of the world, yet, we are more mobile and connected than our forebears could have dreamt. At least, we have the potential to connect. It doesn’t mean we manage this most necessary of human needs to our best abilities, and indeed, navigating the complexities of our modern world requires more than a little nous.

Life and health coaches abound online to help us with that, pitching ten-week turnaround plans and a designer life that looks superb on instagram, with unlimited online support and bonus silicon cupcake moulds. Some, not all, offer useful information. Other work is misleading, and could be harmful if not taken with a grain of salt and additional research conducted across diverse and reputable sources. I’ve been contemplating that lately, as I attend to healing some health issues, through eating very well on the GAPS protocol, which I didn’t have to sign up for, by the way, I bought a couple of books, and read free articles online. I also found an xperienced naturopath to work with me. For my health and general wellbeing, I need physical places, people, and connections I can experience with all my senses. The internet is a marvel, yet with its presence, more than ever we need to consider how our physical environment can nurture us.

From the beginning I wanted Stellar Violets to become a physical place for inspiration, learning, creativity, and connection. I want to encourage people around me to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, at the centre of a beautiful space, out here in the real world. We began collecting books early on, books about how to live well and flourish, inside and out. Our collection includes many books unavailable through Australian inter-library loans, having only been released in America. I knew at some point in the project, we’d have a chance to create a library. Enter stage left two vintage train carriages, and an idea. An idea shared by a 9 year old girl called Abby who lives just down the road.

We’re seeking a librarian, by the way, if you know of one. Or at least, a book enthusiast with some time on their hands. We hope to convert part of one train carriage to a library. That had been decided. Over apple pie and tea we were discussing the marvellous carriages with friends when one of their girls exclaimed,

“Imagine if you put a library in it, that would be awesome!”

I looked at her, stunned for a moment.

“Well, that would be totally amazing, I think we will do that! Can you draw us a design?

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer  said ”Don’t die with your music still inside you.”

For us, it’s more a case of don’t die with your library books packed carefully away in boxes, especially when you could have built a train carriage library. There’s still time to compose a few library love songs!

If you’d like to help make our library dream come true, read more about Placemaking at Stellar Violets, and if you can, make a donation.

If you love reading and learning, check out our book review Listening to the wise woman’s call, healing for jarrah. On Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest by the late Chrissy Sharp.