Here we go again…

Melbourne is back in lockdown due to another coronovirus outbreak…

Anxiety induced panic buying has led once again to emptied supermarket shelves and toilet paper shortages as supply chains fail to keep up with the surge.

It’s tough, particularly for those who have had to close businesses or can’t work because their workplaces have closed. I planned to go to a couple of shows at Melbourne’s Rising Festival this weekend but the arts are one of biggest casualties of lockdowns. The Festival has been cancelled, as have restaurant bookings. I feel for the artists, businesses and hospitality staff who are impacted and pay the biggest financial and emotional price to keep the rest of us safe.

I wrote about my joy at being able to re-engage with the arts after the last lockdown concluded and look forward to doing so again after this one.

Meanwhile in my shrunken world I writer, cook, garden and walk, and feel very fortunate that these pleasures remain. I have also been enjoying my new mindfulness colouring book which helps me concentrate in zoom meetings. Stay safe people and see you out the other side…(hopefully next week).

Best ever gnocchi recipe

600g potatoes unpeeled (choose big old white-skinned ones high in starch and similar size)

150g flour

50g Parmigiano cheese, freshly grated

1 dessertspoon salt

extra flour

Scrub potatoes clean and boil whole in their skins in salted water. As soon as cooked, drain and peel whilst still hot. Hold with a tea towel to protect your hands. Mash potato thoroughly in a large bowl making sure there are no lumps. Incorporate the flour, Parmiagiano cheese and salt into the potato. Flour your hands and knead the mixture like bread with the heel of you hand for about five minutes folding the dough in on itself until it is velvety to touch.

Cut the dough into four pieces, covering three with with an inverted bowl whilst you work on one. Roll each section into a long sausage shape about 2cm thick on a floured surface. Use a sharp knife to cut into 2 cm lengths. Make each section into a gnocchi shape. You can do this by rolling each piece over the prongs of a fork or I just flatten them and round the edges off with my fingers. Lay them out on a piece of kitchen paper until all the dough is done.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and drop in enough gnocchi. Only add enough to fill the base of the pot without crowding. As soon as the pieces start to float to the surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and into a colander to drain. Repeat till all the gnocchi is cooked.

My favourite gnocchi toppings are burnt sage butter, pesto or a tomato sauce. For the sage butter simply toss some fresh sage leaves into a small fry pan with a slab of butter and cook until the sage starts to crisp and pour over the gnocchi – it’s decadent, but delicious.

If you have more gnocchi than you will eat, they are easily frozen in single layers divided by kitchen paper for a later meal. Simply take out of the freezer and boil in a pot again until they float to the surface, or try them fried for something different.

Opening up, getting out

One of the things I have enjoyed most about being home this spring has been to observe the changes in the forest on my daily walks. The bushland spring blooms are tiny, prolific and colourful, if short lived, displays. Some of my favourites include the chocolate lily (arthropodium strictures), blue pincushion (Brunonia autralis), button everlasting (helichrysum scorpiodis), milkmaids (burchadia umbellata) and the tufted grey-green perennial kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) with its red-geeen spikelet flowers

The emergence of spring blooms seems in some way more symbolic this year as Melbourne opens up after its own long slumber, the 111 day pandemic hard lockdown. The flowering seems to auger new beginnings as we all start to find our way back out into the world.

The background hum of traffic has grown louder as the roads become busier. What now appears as mayhem makes it seem as if many have forgotten how to drive.

My local village fills with day trippers seeking out fresh air and greenery. The sight of them sends me scurrying back home from my walk to my little patch of peaceful solitude.

I find the sudden acceleration of pace confronting. When a friend suggests we go out to a restaurant for a birthday lunch I am simultaneously excited about seeing friends in the flesh and terrified of being out amongst a crowd of people. One friend calls it ‘fogo’ (fear of going out).

Having adjusted to lockdown life, I feel reluctant to return to the whirly of life as it was ‘before’ and hope to retain some of this more sedate existence.

Lockdown life, the new world order

I adapted quickly to the new world order, and confess that other than missing my family and dearest friends, I have been quite content living the homebody arrangement the COVID crisis invited (though I would prefer the lifestyle without the crisis). The biggest challenge during lockdown has been that my writing time has been haphazard. When I physically go to work, the commute provides a perfect window of structured time for writing and instilling a new routine has presented some challenges around work commitments and life chores.

I have been working on my writing, if not my manuscript. You might call it legitimate procrastination activities. Everybody is online now, and there has been a plethora of offerings for writers. Here’s a few I’ve participated in to stay in touch with creativity during lockdown:

  • Sisters In Crime set up a YouTube channel and have been running a regular Murder Mondays discussion with crime writers as well as moving their other offerings online.
  • Yarra Valley Writers Festival is a new event local to me this year that didn’t let a little lockdown hold it back. They went online and presented some terrific session with a range of Australian writers.
  • I have continued to enjoy write club with crime writer extraordinaire Candice Fox on Facebook. While I haven’t taken part in her live Wednesday morning sessions due to work commitments, I have been replaying write club during my free time each week for some inspiration, to hear what she has to say, and do a bit of writing to the sound of Candice tapping away on her computer. I’ve always liked Candice’s writing – big bold characters and a unique Australian voice, and write club has been a lovely way to get to know the person a bit. I’m now quite taken with both the woman and her writing and she’s very generous with her time and knowledge. This week a comment that really resonated was: ‘Sometimes you don’t feel like it…just set yourself up to do it and try, and don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t happen…’ (her advice worked, I wrote this post whilst watching a replay of her write club this week).
The Tempest, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery
  • I’m a bit of a writing workshop junkie, and have been doing the Australian Writers Centre Crime and Thriller Writing with LA Larkin via Zoom for the last four weeks. AWC has a solid track record of producing excellent writers course and this one has not disappointed. Courses are a great way to keep your brain connected to your creative projects when you are struggling to actually write – particularly when they set homework as this course does.
  • Despite the global COVID tragedy, lockdown has resulted in some terrific creative opportunities for writers, including ones we may not have had access to otherwise. Newcastle Noir went on line this year and I also bought a ticket to Thriller Fest in New York City, which would not have been possible if they were not forced to go online.

As the world slowly reverts back to something more like it was before COVID, I hope that the online writing opportunities continue to some degree, particularly for those we might not get to otherwise.

Main image: Lockdown, Clunes, Victoria