Saturday, 30 July 2011

My birthday treat

It was my birthday on Wednesday and I had no plans, other than taking Sydney for a long walk on the beach.

Graeme (most of you know hubby as Graeme, so I'm doing away with hubby) got up unusually late for work, but another bad night meant I was too tired to question (Kian, bless him, has had two teeth pushing their way through, so the sleeping through was short-lived).

I left the house in a tip to drop Luca off to Michelle's, came back to find a serene, orderly living room and a spotless kitchen. Except no one was home. I did wonder for half a second if Luca had managed to tidy the lounge before we left. Possible. But was he capable of loading the dishwasher?

Then there was a knock on the door with Graeme standing there laughing! That was my first surprise of the day.

Followed by my favourite pikelets for breakfast. Then cheese from Meredith Dairy for lunch and an afternoon at the spa for a massage, facial and pedicure (thank you honey, sis and Jimmy).

As if that wasn't enough, he had saved the best till last. I know it's not cool, but it's my blog and I can brag if I want to. (Do you know how long I've been saving that line?)

My darling husband had managed to find me some outdoor-bred pork from Thomas Dux. And not just any cut of pork. We're talking one of the best cuts. The belly.

Outdoor-reared and hormone-free with a fine layer of fat. Just how pork should be.

Aside from the odd butcher sausage here and there, we haven't bought any pork since we left the UK two years ago.

Uh-oh, I feel a rant coming...

The modern pig is bred to get to market faster and leaner. This is why supermarket pork, which is mostly intensively farmed meat, tastes of nothing — at best. Aside from zero flavour, it's laced with promoters and antibiotics.

And let me add something else: leanness has bugger all to do with quality. When I walk into a butcher's and they shout about the leanness of their pork, I walk straight out. If it's lean you want, buy goat.

Fat equals flavour. You don't have to eat it, but that gorgeous layer of fat will make for tastier pork on your plate, not to mention good crackling (which of course you'll want to eat!).

I'm still on the hunt for pork from traditional breeds. They don't suit intensive farming and therefore the pigs aren't subjected to the appalling conditions that go hand in hand. The result is a slow-grown meat with that all-important marbling that renders down to add beautiful piggy flavour. Yes, this sort of meat will be more expensive, but hey, I haven't had a decent pork roast for two years!

And it was worth the wait.

Rant over.

Graeme cooked it slowly with fennel seeds, thyme and pepper. It was sublime. The meat was how it should be, rich and meltingly tender. The crackling crisp on one side with yielding gooeyness underneath. We're both still talking about it.

And to go with it, a buttery apple sauce.

One of the nicest birthdays I've ever had. I was truly spoilt and I rediscovered just how good pork could be.

Thank you honey.


P.S. If you live on the Central Coast, have you found a decent pork sausage? I've tried the finest ranges in the supermarket and the last place I tried was the butcher in Avoca. I figured a 'gourmet butcher' would tick all the boxes.

I walk in and ask if his sausages are any good. He proudly shows me all the dozens of awards on his wall. I wouldn't get these awards if my sausages weren't any good, he says rather arrogantly.

Oh good, let's give them a try. So, just as I'm about to ask for half a dozen of his fat pork sausages, I assume they're free range?

Go on, can you guess what he said?


Can you guess what I did next?

Awards, my ****. 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Here comes the sun

I thought we'd seen all the rain we were going to see in Bellingen.

It's rained and rained and rained.

And rained.

So persistant, in fact, that it found its way into the car. I don't mean the seats got a bit wet or there was a slight leak. We're talking a pond down by the pedals and one behind the driver's seat. Unless I wanted a very cold foot bath every time I drove the car, I had to wear my wellies — sorry, gum boots.

One afternoon, after I had picked Luca up, he asked: Mummy, why are my lunchboxes floating in the car?

It took a while for pond 1 and pond 2 to disappear and I'm sure I looked like a right twit with my jeans tucked into my khaki boots, especially long after the rain had stopped. But Luca thought it was funny.

Actually, he wasn't the only one. An old man eyed my boots at the shops and in a very broad aussie accent asked: Live on a property, do ya?

Erm, no, I just have ankle-deep water in my car.

Anyway, still very chilly, but on the weekend the sun came out. The Avoca markets were on, and that's where we spent our Sunday morning.

Fabulous location, just by the beach. So Sydney had a good play.

We listened to some live music, Luca had a go on the jumping castle and I bought some beautiful Swiss brown mushrooms and a bunch of jonquils.

Something I've missed is the sight of spring flowers back home. Daffodils at the foot of every tree, crocus and paper-white narcissi.

But this one stall more than made up for it, especially as I've never even seen jonquils before. What a treat!

And the scent was heavenly. I'll happily swap all the English spring bulbs for a bunch of these every spring.

Someone else agrees too...


Monday, 25 July 2011

My first creation

It was meant to be an elephant design. I had started tracing over my favourite illustrations from Luca's books, but hubby came home and suggested I start small and build up my confidence.

He was right.

He came up with the idea of a rainbow and I'm proud to say it was a completely joint effort. He drew and cut the shapes (with one eye on the Tour de France). I painted, cut and glued the felt (with my back to the Tour de France).

Never imagined I'd enjoy this sort of thing, but it was fun. Especially doing it together.

Up on Luca's wall now. What do you think?


Should have put a darker colour in the middle
Fiddly raindrops

Pleased as punch

Friday, 22 July 2011

Sleep glorious sleep!

He did it!




Not a whine, cry, whinge, nothing! My gorgeous little boy slept from 11pm to 6.30am. I know that sleeping through is 7 till 7. Minor technicality, all right?

The point is, and more importantly, I didn't open my eyes, or stir until 6.30 this morning.

I've been dancing all day.

I'm thinking we should celebrate. We've got a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that we've been saving.

Or would that jinx it?

Few more nights like that, and maybe I won't need Botox after all.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Luca's artwork

I hang most of his work from the ceiling
Until I come up with my first piece of felt art, I'll show you what I've done to liven up Luca's walls. I've used his artwork.

Happy to have finally found a home for all those frames I've got stashed away from garage sales.
This is a very special one
Luca's first (recognisable) face

I love this one

And now it's on the wall

His handprints on a canvas
We did this one together at home using those paint pads

It's all pretty basic but I'm having fun and Luca gets to feel a sense of pride at the same time.

Now, back to the felt...Maybe if Kian sleeps long enough today, I'll get a canvas painted at least.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

What's got into me?

I'm thinking about my own Facebook page. Shock. Horror.

I look in the mirror every morning and try to imagine what my face would look like without the road map my forehead has become. Maybe if I stop smiling and frowning? Hmmm... In the meantime, I've bought into all the marketing hype, ditched my all-natural rose and frankincense creams and am piling on the paraben-loaded anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing stuff. More shock. More horror.

No I don't want the wrinkles on my face to tell the story of my life. I even found myself pausing a little too long to read the Botox sign at my doctor's surgery. Gasp! Choke!

Seriously, is this what lack of sleep does after a while? It's been seven months to the day since I last had a proper night's sleep — you know, where you go to sleep, stay asleep and wake up to daylight streaming through the window. There isn't much I'd give up for that right now.

But surely, I can't blame Kian for felt art??!

I'm a lot of things, but crafty, I am not. I can't sew a button. I can't draw, unless we're talking stick men and animals that all resemble a very long fox. Nor have I ever shown any interest in wanting to learn how to be creative in that way.

Until I had children, that is.

I love beautiful, handmade things. Original artwork and illustrations. And I want my little boys to have examples of these on their walls, to appreciate art from an early age.

I came across Anou Design recently and fell in love with her canvases. Aren't they gorgeous?!

It's exactly what I'd love in my boys' rooms. But can I do it myself? Moi?

Well, I've just been shopping. Canvases, check. Acrylic paint, check. Felt in various colours, check. Now then, glue. Can't I just use some PVA glue? Luca has some in his drawer.

No. Unless I don't mind it eating all the felt up. Craft glue is what I need for this, apparently. Have so much to learn.

I'll use one of Luca's paint brushes.

That just leaves one important thing. The design. Don't think a stick man or an elephant-cum-fox will cut it. Think this will have to be a Mummy and Daddy joint effort.

Just when do I think I'm going to have time for this? Only five more contestants left on Masterchef, then I'll have my evenings back...


P.S. Who are you rooting for btw? I have my eye on Kate. I, too, have visions of a B&B with a foodie slant one day...

To FB or not to FB

I am quite possibly the only person I know on this planet who's not on Facebook. My friends tried to get me to sign up a couple of years ago. No thank you. Nop. Definitely not.

I just felt at the time that if I had something to say, I'd call, email or text.

I don't have the time to tell people what I'm doing every second of the day.

8.51am Changing nappy
9.02am Just tripped on a toy and banged my toe
9.35am Post has arrived

Yes, you know who you are.

Nor do I get these silly games on FB. And the fact you feel obliged to accept these 'friends', which apparently need culling later anyway.

I have stood resolute against FB, not wanting there to be another excuse for wasting time on the laptop, when I could be relaxing with a book. Sorting out family photos. Cleaning the house (whatever next).

But here's the dilemma. Once I've checked my emails in the evening, updated my blog, you'll find me... erm... on my husband's Facebook sending messages to friends of ours, sneaking a peek at what everyone is up to (painting nails, on the train, blah blah) and checking out who else I can find.

Which is fine. Isn't it? Yes?

Except that now it's not just about pesky old school friends I never wanted to hear from again. There are local 'groups' on FB, and council services, and mums get-togethers.

Suddenly me thinks I'm missing out. I'm keen to create a community around us here on the Central Coast and if everyone is posting information and organising stuff on FB, maybe it's time to bite the bullet.

I'll ponder a little longer...

Trouble is hubby has had enough and is about to change his password to stop me complaining about some of the silly posts from his friends. Fair enough.

I'll do something soon. Promise.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bellyfish goes belly-up

I'm sad to report that we haven't found our dream local — for breakfast anyway.

We'd been looking forward to it all week. We managed to get the last table outside overlooking the ocean and feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we decided to order the works. The Big Breakfast.

More like, the Big Disappointment. I feel the need to point out before I go into detail that I'm not out to find fault. Far from it. Based on that coffee and cake, we went there expecting great things.

Aside from the coffee, it was pretty awful. Potatoes were more salt than potato. Sausage was more fat than tasty porky meat. Bread, eggs and everything else simply lacked any flavour.

Hubby wants to give them a second chance, if only to try out their live music.

I'm not feeling the love. It could have been an off day for them, but to get every element on the plate so wrong?

What do you think? Have you been there?


Friday, 8 July 2011

I'm excited

I couldn't resist a sneak preview at that cafe. We're still going for breakfast tomorrow morning (we're calling it a date at sunrise — with two children and a dog tagging along), but I can't wait that long.

So I took Sydney and Kian for another gorgeous walk into Terrigal and stopped at Bellyfish cafe for coffee and cake.

Not a great start. Sloooow to take my order and slooower to bring it out. And if you're reading this, Bellyfish, I'm fond of my cake WITH my coffee. They're not separate courses, you know.

That's the bad news. The good is oh so good. The best tasting friand I've had in years. The coffee was sublime. It would have been perfect had Kian not been wriggling and fidgeting on my lap.

I ask the waitress, in anticipation of the real test tomorrow, whether the eggs are free-range and she says YES!

I wasn't expecting that. Nor was I expecting the impressive spiel on the piece of paper she gave me.

Free-range meats from Erina Heights butcher?!

Locally caught fish?!

La Tartine bread?!

It does say barn-laid eggs from the Egg Shed in Erina, which isn't free-range. I know what barn-laid means in the UK. I must look into it.

I can't wait. And they do mid-week lunches for $10. Fab.

Let's hope we get a table...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Questions questions

I'm loving Luca's questions at the moment. If they don't make me laugh, they leave me speechless. Or worse, he has me wondering why I don't know the answer.

Where do lentils come from Mummy?

Call yourself a food writer. Why don't I know this?? I mean I have a vague idea. But I'd be guessing.

That was one of today's questions.

A few days ago, it was where do chickpeas come from?

I'm very proud of my little boy's food curiosity. He knows where milk, cheese and eggs come from, so it's natural for him to ask about more obscure things. But the questions do seem to be getting harder lately.

He even answered one of his own questions in the car the other day as we passed major roadworks. Why is the digger putting sand in the truck? I don't know the ins and outs of laying a road, so I paused to think of an intelligent response. But he beat me to it. The truck's taking sand to the beach Mummy.

My absolute favourite has to be when I came out of the shower yesterday.

Where's your willy Mummy?

Not a question, but while we're on the subject of funny utterings, how about this recent one in the bath: (the look of concentration then a big smile on Luca's face) I'm making bubbles with my bottom Mummy

I love you Luca.

Is this the JoJo's of Terrigal?

Sydney, our choccie Lab, is longing for a proper walk, as am I. So I put the boys in the buggy and head for the lagoon.

Except I figure as I walk down the front steps that the car key is much too heavy to lug around, what with pushing a double buggy uphill and yanking a permanently hungry Labrador every so often. So for the first time ever (and I blame this on you Kian for keeping me awake for the last 6 months), I decide to leave the car key at home. I close the door.

Oh no, where's the house key. Where it always is. On the same bunch of keys.

Sydney gets a much longer walk than she bargained for, while I figure out a way to break in.

At the bottom of the hill coming into town, I notice a cafe that somehow I've never seen before. It's buzzing. Every table is taken. Waiting staff look cool and casual in black. And they're busy taking orders outside.

I'm in a hurry. Kian will be crying soon for his lunch. But I have to take a closer look. Words like organic, sourdough and Hunter Valley jump off the menu. Ooh, could this be my dream come true?

My dream for years now is to live, if not next door, then a few minutes away from an exact replica of JoJo's in Whitstable. I loved it so much I wrote about it three times — one of my reviews is on their website. In fact, forget Ocado and Hugh FW, just open a JoJo's in Terrigal, Nikki and Paul, and my life will be complete.

The trouble is I've already set the benchmark too high. I'm not going to find free-range meat, local fish, fabulous cheeses, and the very best calamari I have EVER eaten here on the Central Coast. Am I?

Maybe not, but there's only one way to find out. Breakfast on Saturday morning.

If it's no good, I'll have to do it myself. One day.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

What a beautiful day hey hey

I'm feeling very grateful this week, for this amazing weather. I know lots of people out there are holding their breath for the summer months, but this is the best time of year for me. Incredible blue skies, fresh early mornings to give you energy for the day and a gentle warmth that subsides by early evening and gives way for cosy nights. I'm English, so come on, it's not really winter, but call it what you like, I love it and one of the reasons I'm enjoying being in Australia right now. Ask me in December, and I probably want to get the heck out of here.

My last post was all about what my life lacks down under, so I'll redress the balance. Since moving to the Central Coast, I'm finding plenty to like. Great beaches where dogs are welcome. Amazing views. The gently hilly landscape. The fact we are five minutes away from oh so many things to do on a Saturday morning. The relaxed vibe.

What I really love about being here (and what used to drive me nuts in the UK) is that when the sun shines and the sky is bright, you can relax in the knowledge that the sun will shine and the sky will be bright tomorrow. I don't have to madly plan something to do for the day (when I secretly want to potter around at home), bundle the kids into the car, sit on the motorway for hours to join the throngs that have also decided to venture out to the Hampstead ponds, Dulwich Park, the beach.

I don't have to decide that today is probably the only chance for a barbecue, to sit in traffic again (amongst idiots in convertibles with their shirts off) to get to the supermarket, only to realise that every other bugger wants lamb chops on their barbie, so it's that last chicken drumstick or nothing. I don't have to hang out for that glass of wine with hubby on the decking with thoughts that it's the last balmy night, because I've just heard the heat wave is over. A thunderstorm is on its way and summer's off. It's rain and cloud for the next 364 days.

OK, maybe I'm stretching it with that last bit.

But I don't miss the crowds. It's bright, it's warm (English-warm, not Australian-warm), it's just me and the dog on the beach, and there was oodles of choice for dinner tonight when I went shopping.

It turns out July was the best month for my birthday in the northern hemisphere, and it's the best month for it down here.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

My first post!

I've been pondering what I should write my first post about. Should I write about how we got here? Let's see. Family of four (I'm including our choccie lab) leave the UK for Australia, travel around in a caravan for several months (what a stupid idea), decide to make Bellingen home then six months later move to a stuffy Sydney suburb in the Upper North Shore (another dumb move). We become family of five and relocate to the Central Coast.

So here we are. I like it here. By the beach. Plenty of space. Lovely walks. For the first time in almost two years, I'm thinking maybe this is it. We've come such a long way, but maybe I'll go into that another time. Right now, I want to get something else off my chest.

Stuff I miss back home. It's a long list, but a good one.

Outdoor-bred pork. Streaky bacon.

Image from here

Neal's Yard Dairy. Oh, I miss good cheese. A really good cheddar. Decent feta. Goat's cheeses. Wigmore. The lot.

My Riverford box. (I can cross this one off my list... now that I have my FIG box)

St John's sourdough bread.

Cave-aged cheeses. Gorgonzola, gruyere, manchego.

Proper sausages. Pork sausages.

Appleby's Cheshire. Did I mention cheese?

English asparagus. Picking raspberries and loganberries. Jersey Royals.

Goose fat that I can afford.

Spring greens.

Dulce de leche. Have been searching for two years now. I asked at the service desk of a large supermarket if they had any. Might be with the cheeses, I was told.

Weetabix. Yes, weet-AAA-bix. They're nicely oval, and not so brittle. I'm saving up for a packet in the international food section.

Sea bass and, until recently, Cornish mackerel. We've just found some beautiful mackerel that looks and tastes the same. Perfect for my mackeral teriyaki.

And Christmas when it's cold outside.

I miss so much more, but it's OK. It really is. There are plenty of things I love here. More on that another time. Meanwhile, if there's anyone out there reading this... what's on your list?