Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012: Other bloggers' best bits

I was going to write about all the things that stand out for me this year – finding a local food co-op that supports my ideals on food, green smoothies that have become a good habit, spending the day with awesome sourdough makers, time alone just the two of us in the Hunter, the garden. Oh, my garden

But rather than harp on about me and what all of this has meant for my happiness, I'm going to mention instead the best bits I've enjoyed from other writers. This band of bloggers (and there are too many to list here) are a support network in many ways. Knowing there are other people who do things the way I do, who think the way I do is exhilarating. It's togetherness.

These are some of my favourite reads this year. The tender, the funny, the inspiring, the informative, the beautifully written... all of it. I'll do more of this type of post next year so I can include more from my band of bloggers.

  • The beat of my drum from Maxabella Loves. "Beautiful music is playing within you." I always have danced to my own beat, but it's good to see it written so well in black and white.
  • In pursuit of simple from Inner Pickle. "Turns out there's nothing at all bloody simple about it." So true.
  • Some day from Foxs Lane. "Some day they'll be just down the hill." Just like my mum.
  • High from Typically Red. "... as high as the glass of wine I'm about to pour myself right now." Oh yes.
  • Memo from Che & Fidel. "Please keep yourself fit and healthy. I need you." I need to pin this on my wall.
  • Natural alternatives around the home from The Little Gnome's Home. "Coconut oil is used as sunscreen." Going to try this.
  • The cost of buying supermarket brands is too high from Little Eco Footprints. "... someone is paying..." And paying a very high price.
  • Can ya dig it? from Happiness Stuff and Nonsense. "Love this stuff. It's getting into my veins." My sentiments exactly.
  • Buying plants from This Brown Wren. "... large glass bottles of 'happy cow' milk." I live in Steph's bubble too.
  • Conversation inducing from The Beetle Shack. "... busy hands and a still mind." Collecting seeds, just like mum and I did yesterday with the coriander. My first year collecting my own seeds.

If you like coming to my little place, you'll love reading these posts. It's funny, now that I look at them all together, I see that they sum me up perfectly. I like that.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Turning two

Our luscious, bumbly, tender-hearted little boy is two. Two whole years. It was a rocky start – it's hard to imagine the tiny baby and toddler are the same person – but I can't get enough of him now.

I love how he yells for me first thing in the morning, how he likes to sleep on my chest and wake me just to kiss me all over. I love the way he loves his brother, his lip-flapping sound for a horse and the way he can talk to me without saying a single word.

Please don't grow up too fast.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Wishing you...

... a wonderful Christmas. One where you get to slow down and notice the important people around you. One where you get to dance and be silly, eat and be very very merry.

Thank you for coming here over the past year. I've loved it.

Monday, 17 December 2012


An unusual moment of winter coats and gumboots in the middle of December. We ventured out in the rain to jump in puddles. I'm getting to the point where I can hardly tell the difference between my boys if they've got their back to me or if their eyes are hidden. I can't quite believe that last picture of Kian – he's not even two. I was in two minds to put it up here, because whilst I think it's beautiful, it's a reminder that he growing up so fast. Too fast.

A lovely moment at the end of a strenuous week. Mummy, Mummy, please can you take a picture of me with my orange beetroot?

The moment we found a cicada with its glassy, veined wings on our doorstep, followed by several moments of giggling and whispering between two brothers as they discovered its chirping, buzzing sound whenever they gently touched it. It was as fascinating for me as it was for them.

More fleeting moments.

Joining in with Lou here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

He who picks

My mum used to make savoury pancakes for dinner when we were kids. Stuffed with something like tuna and cheese, I think. I always like adding to our repertoire, especially if it means Kian has more than two mouthfuls. A wrap of sorts has so many possibilities: a Mexican-inspired filling of beans, chilli, avocado and coriander; sweet, buttery onion with chunks of spiced meat; pumpkin and ricotta; curried vegetables...

But we never have wraps. The trouble with bought wraps is their list of ingredients. I can't bring myself to buy anything I don't want to put into our tummies. I make flatbreads but they crisp and crumble and it's not quite the same.

Until I started thinking more about mum's pancakes in Egypt and back to my time in France when I used to wander the main square in Montpellier looking for a bite to eat. There were always sweet crêpes filled with chocolate spread and savoury galettes made with buckwheat flour and oozing cheese.

A couple of weeks ago, I filled a big paper bag with buckwheat flour at my local organic shop and came home and made the batter. I let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two, and then cooked ladlefuls in a knob of butter till brown and set.

The perfect wrap. Soft and delicious and better than all those tortillas out there. I can't believe I haven't made them sooner. A couple of weeks ago, I made 'snails' with a mixture of softened onion, grass-fed beef mince spiced with cumin and coriander and a little grated cheese. Luca's had his smeared with avocado. He-who-picks-out-anything-green didn't.

Yesterday felt like another pancake day, except this time I ground the buckwheat groats myself to make the flour – much cheaper that way. A quick blitz of the batter ingredients*, a rest in the fridge and all you need is a good pancake pan. Slices of free-range ham and grated cheese for the boys with a bowl of tomatoes on the side; added wilted spinach and lots of basil for us. I folded the pancakes in half and popped them in the oven long enough for the cheese to melt.

I was in France again.

Except, hang on, I don't remember anyone there picking out the ham and squishing their noses...

Can someone please tell me I'm not alone with a fussy discerning eater? I was always of the belief that picky eaters weren't born picky; that they're somehow conditioned through what they get fed and the choices they get. But it's not true. I have what can only be described as a home-cook-and-food-writer's dream child and... well, one that isn't.

I know his unadventurous ways won't last forever, that it's most probably to do with attention or control, but right now I just want to hear that your child couldn't care less about your cooking either.

Please? It'll make me feel so much better.

* 1 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, 1/2 cup plain flour, 2 eggs, 2 1/2 cups milk, good pinch of salt

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

My drug of choice

I am tired but obviously I haven't been listening. So my body shouted a little louder last week when the hand, foot and mouth virus hit me. A very dark cloud seemed to hang over us for a little while there – someone's mood was almost unbearable. But the cloud has cleared.

I feel like taking it really slowly now, going to bed early and just doing what we have to.

Except, wait, it's Christmas. Am I the only one who thinks the timing could be better?

I stuck my head in the sand yesterday and left the house and all its jobs. We wandered down to the garden in-between rain showers. We picked tomatoes and snipped speckled beans. When we put it all together, I almost cried.

Then Luca found an orange beetroot in amongst the beetroot basket. He raced upstairs, gave it a wash and sat and drew his prized beetroot. He's always had a thing about orange.

All of this in the garden, it's like a drug. It gets me all emotional and I realise when I'm juggling a push on the swing, a brief pause to watch the boys' snails on the driveway and a quick dash to harvest some worm castings, that I'm well and truly addicted.


Thank you by the way for your beautiful comments and emails last week. I'm still thinking about that whole issue. It's obviously something we all question from time to time. What's important for me is to come at it from a centred place and not because of what it might look like: if it feels right, then I do it. If I'm not inspired by anything (last week was a case in point!), then I don't do anything. With any luck, the lull just passes.

How do you deal with your lulls? Do you have a 'drug'? Do you find your head's clearer on the other side? 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Blogging vs real life

I went out on Friday night and had a lovely evening. Not only did I get to see some familiar faces, but I met another blogger (hello Kate), which brought home even more that real life interaction is so much nicer. You get to see a person's eyes and hear them laugh, and you can comment on things that you wouldn't be able to online, such as a striking skirt they might be wearing. It's real and the conversation flows and you open up to things that you wouldn't ordinarily confess to (please Kate, don't tell anyone what I do on trains), because the connection is different. A better different.

I know these are camping pictures but bear with me.

I was introduced to someone else that evening, someone I could have talked and giggled with all night. We had lots in common: we both have two children, we both like gin and we both agree that it's perfectly acceptable to answer the door in our nightwear in the late afternoon and jump up and down when it's a case of wine being delivered. Not sure what else we share, but I'm sure that's enough for a friendship to begin.

Anyway, she found my blog afterwards and wrote to me saying she was glad she met me before she read it, otherwise she would have been all 'oh god, she cooks and has pretty children and makes things and I don't do anything near as creative and her garden actually grows things'. (Hope you don't me quoting you, S.)

Which really got me thinking. How much of the real me comes across in this blog? Do people turn away because they think life here is beautiful moments from the minute we wake up to the minute we close our eyes at night? Surely not?

Yes, I cook, but Kian doesn't eat any of it. ANY of it. He would rather eat cream cheese on toast than the quinoa and roast pumpkin I presented him last night. Yes, I cook, but I don't clean up after myself, and so I only see my kitchen benches when someone comes to visit (the same approach I use for cleaning the house as a whole, actually). 

I grow a lot of food because it's something I believe in, but I have days when I'm so exhausted I don't want to do any of it. The cooking, the gardening, playing shopkeeper or pushing them on the swing.

It doesn't mean what I post here on my blog is any less authentic for it. Everything I write about and every picture I take is real and it comes from the heart. These are largely our best moments, much like a child's photo album or a collection of wedding pictures. 

It's focusing on the good bits so I keep striving forward and not end up on a heap somewhere all tired and miserable. It's remembering the good feelings so that it keeps inspiring me to do more, and hopefully inspire you who comes to read my words.

Like our camping trip, for example (you knew I'd get there eventually). If I wrote about the boys running through an old fire pit and walking the ash all over our beds, I'd probably not do it again. If I took pictures of the filth, oh dear god, the filth that comes with sticky hands and dirty bodies... If I gave any thought to those bloody flies that had me yelling at Graeme that we were mad to go... If I was reminded about how much hard work it was pack it all up and pitch the tent and find a clean plate amidst the filth in the tent and get any sleep on filthy sheets and find any shade in 37 degree heat and get through the washing when we got back...

No, instead, I'm going to look at that beautiful shot of Kian standing by the river playing with his fingers. I'm going to remember the sticks we collected together for the camp fire that got the boys so excited every night. The moment that we all sat down and toasted the marshmallows that Graeme made before we left... The time we spent cooling off in the water beside our tent and the hour that we spent on the canoe drifting down the river with Sydney splashing next to us...

If I just focus on these, it will mean the boys get to go camping again. Because that's what matters.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A relevant Christmas

Three years on and I'm still getting used to steamy days and stormy nights when Christmas is on everyone's lips. On the one hand I quite like it: swims in the ocean and hose fights on the decking are the furthest thing from my mind when I think of Christmas, so I've been happy to ignore all the festive chaos and just go about our days. 

On the other hand, it feels a bit muddled. Café menus are decorated with snow flakes and songs sing of a white Christmas. I've been pondering this lately as creamy sweat drips down our faces. Of course, it's not muddled at all for Graeme who grew up in New Zealand: we weren't confused when we were kids. We knew Santa was slowly making his way from the snow.

Yes, there is that.

I've always said I prefer a cold Christmas, but I might be changing my mind, especially as this will be our first Christmas in this house. I like the bright days. I like talking about what meat we'll cook in the barbecue on Christmas Day and the prospect of plenty of room in the oven. I'm liking glasses of bubbly outside to the sound of our neighbour's Christmas music (even if it means rubbing bite cream when we come inside). It's different, but that doesn't mean it isn't equally joyous.

Still, now that we live here, I'd quite like the celebrations to be grounded in our season, to be about our here and now. To be relevant. Holly sprigs and log fires aren't so relevant.

I'm looking around me to see what this time of year means to me. Tomatoes, slowly ripening in our garden, hydrangea blooms and bursts of purple colour on every street. Stone fruit in my co-op box and big, bright yellow sunflowers.

Christmas sings colour. Just like this tomato wreath.

Graeme and I have a tradition of adding something new to the tree each year – one year it was a playgroup creation from Luca and last year was a vintage buy I couldn't resist. This year, Luca and I sat down and played with air-dry clay. He stamped with buttons and I experimented with the end of a rounded pencil. Hearts, stars, angels and flowers – I left the snowflake cutter in the tin!

Some were hung on the tree and some will be making their way as presents to family around Australia.

What about you? What does Christmas mean to you? Do you like it to reflect what goes on around you or couldn't you care less?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Pure joy

I vowed not to grow them again. They were a pain to plant (a daunting number of tiny fiddly seedlings) and an even bigger pain to transplant into the wheelbarrows (sometimes I lack vision and fail to see that 60 leeks will eventually outgrow a small plastic pot).

Then the aphids came along and threatened to destroy the whole lot. I caught them just before they sucked the life out of the slender stems. Blasting them with the garden hose and squirting with garlic spray seemed to get rid of them. I had another job when Mum reminded me shortly afterwards to earth up the stems to keep daylight out and blanch them, which means more of the finer tasting stuff.

I was waiting for fatter stems, but there I was standing, as I do, in front of the fridge staring at a nice piece of pumpkin and a few slices of smoked free-range ham.

It had to be quiche for dinner. I announced to Luca that we could finally go out and pick some leeks. What the picture doesn't show is how long the white parts were.

I will grow them again. I know now what to do (and what not to do!), but more than that, I love that feeling of pulling my own vegetables out and taking them straight to a chopping board. Pure joy.

And this quiche... I've made a lot of quiches, and this one with its raggedy edges is the finest of them all. And with two children competing for my attention, I cut corners. Pastry made in seconds in the Thermomix and I didn't even bother filling with baking beans or trimming my edges – my editors in days gone by would balk at this.

But I'm not working on a magazine shoot; I'm making a meal for my family.

Pure joy.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Dear cabbage white butterflies

Did you think we were running a breeding program? You might well see armies upon armies of your young feasting on our kale leaves as you flutter and hover, but that's not to say you are welcome to lay your eggs in the hope they'll hatch and fatten up nicely.

I am trying to feed my young, not yours. So with that in mind we've planted our own white butterflies to fool you – you apparently don't like competition so we're hoping you'll clear off somewhere else.

Only thing is it did fool you. You left our kale alone and today I caught a few amongst the wild rocket and one of your fat teenagers with his head buried inside my biggest tomato. Since when were you interested in tomatoes?

Tomorrow I'm going to scatter eggshell and make more friendly butterflies* for the tomatoes and rocket. Hopefully, you'll leave the garden for good.

In the meantime, whose chickens would love a bucket full of delicious green caterpillars? High in protein, organic... and hand-picked, of course.

*I made the butterflies by cutting out shapes from used cream cheese pots, then cut slits to attach to sticks. Large pieces of eggshell are also meant to confuse the butterflies and with any luck they'll lay their eggs somewhere 'safer'.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Favourite reads

It's that time of year, with Kian's birthday only days before Christmas and Luca's a short while after, where I take stock of what books we have and look into buying new ones for both the boys.

I still haven't finished reading Simplicity Parenting, but I am taking heed of the advice where books are concerned – just because they are a source of joy doesn't mean we should accumulate more and more. Rather then be consumed and ticked off a list somewhere, good books are there to share a story, beautiful illustrations and words you want to read again and again.

We do seem to have a fair few that are just a bit blah once you've read them a few times, and while it was hard to put all these books on the charity pile, it was good to see the real stars shining on the book ledges.

Julia Donaldson does take up a lot of space, and I have to say that some of her creations are better than others. Luca knows every word in Charlie Cook's Favourite Book and he's also very fond of Stick Man (a good Christmas book, by the way).

We've been fans of Lynley Dodd ever since Luca received the Hairy Maclary series four years ago. While Luca doesn't often request a Hairy Maclary title anymore, he does love Schnitzel von Krumm, Dogs Never Climb Trees, particularly when he's tired and only wants to read the one book.

Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack was a board book we bought for Kian on his first birthday... Pittery pattery, skittery scattery... He's grabbed it almost every night for the past year, and I still love reading this one.

I wish Luca asked for Oliver Jeffers more often. I find his pace and illustrations just perfect for winding down and settling into bed. He writes in a way that makes you read slowly, almost whispering. It makes for a rather good bedtime book, I think. How to Catch a Star is one that always gets Luca asking questions.

Another lovely read is Heroes of the Vegetable Patch, by Ulf Stark and Charlotte Ramel, produced, would you believe, by Ikea. I haven't been to Ikea in yonks, so it was news to me that you could buy books there. Aside from a couple of oddities in the text, this is a beautiful book about children tending an old lady's garden, making friends with the vegetables, dozing on rhubarb leaves and saving a bumblebee. A story full of warmth and colour.

Emily Gravett. We love her. Ever since Auntie Jennifer bought Luca The Odd Egg for his first birthday. He still reads it today, making egg-cracking sounds as he turns the pages. There are books Luca has that inspire him to draw. He literally leaps off the bed and has an urgent need to put pencil to paper. Emily Gravett's books do this to him. The three of us huddle around my feeding chair (which should now be called the reading chair) every night and read Monkey and Me, chanting as we tap our thighs to the beat we've made up. I talk about how I love her illustrations and how I'd love to buy prints of her elephants. Orange Pear Apple Bear is another simple but gorgeous title.

Eric Carle. Who doesn't have a few? The usual suspects are always good of course, but our favourite is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I made up a tune for this years ago and now Luca sings it to Kian.

I've sometimes found the two of them on the sofa or in their bedrooms sitting quietly with Luca reading him a book or two. Very precious moments, especially when they're both blowing the wind in We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

Sam McBratney's tales of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare are wonderful, especially for picking at the start of each season.

Peepo! Do you know that one? Janet and Allan Ahlberg's names are synonymous with good children's books, and this one is a classic. Old-fashioned, nostalgic and adorably charming, Peepo is a keeper.

Lastly, we're all allowed at least one book that we dread whenever our children's little hands reach for them... The Tiger Who Came to Tea, whilst very special because of the place it's had in this family's bedtime hour for the last four years, reminds me every time of its author's fondness for 'and'. And then, and all Daddy's beer, and he went, and Sophie found... I decided that I'd count them for you. Thirty-four instances of 'and'. A whole lot of 'ands' in this one little story, but don't let that put you off. Every young child should have this one – if only so that you have to answer questions about the water in the tap.

Over the last few weeks, I've been looking at new books from favourite authors and authors we haven't come across before, trying to be a little more careful about how I fill their space and choosing ones that will really capture their imagination. I'm looking forward to reading Again and Blue Chameleon, both by Emily Gravett, plus Ernest and Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner. Pat Hutchins' Rosie's Walk is another I think they will like.

And just because I want to pore over this one: Oliver Jeffers' This Moose Belongs to Me.

Because WE have to love storytime, too. Don't you think?

What's on your list for new books? What are your favourites and which ones irritate you (just a little bit)?

Monday, 19 November 2012

On a brighter note

Thank you for your lovely comments on my last post. What a beautiful community this is.

We had a very slow weekend – even if I briefly forgot about the time of year and got caught in stifling crowds on a Saturday afternoon (note to council: when you organise your excellent backyard chooks workshop again, please steer clear of shopping centres in the run up to Christmas).

We even booked to go away on a little camping holiday. Somewhere where Luca can finally sleep in a tent under the stars. Somewhere he can watch our very own campfire and toast homemade marshmallows. Somewhere where Sydney can swim in a mountain river and we can hire a canoe and spot the odd platypus. All the fresh air will mean the boys will nod off quickly and sleep soundly, and we can sit by the riverbank with a glass of red...

Who am I kidding? There's no point spinning it. It is what it is. Two nights away with our children. In a tent. Two nights.

Did I mention we're sleeping in the one tent? Or that we're somehow going to divide ourselves up between a double air bed and a single air bed?

The funny thing is I'm almost looking forward to it more than I did our Hunter Valley trip.

What do you think – do we need our heads read?

Now who hasn't entered my giveaway?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stormy seas

It's been a difficult week. I made a decision to take a stand. A stand to protect our two little boys and hopefully in the process, we get to stand up for childhood.

It isn't easy swimming against the tide. It would be easier not to fight it. Swim with it and it's plain sailing, avoiding all conflict and unpleasantness.

But it wouldn't be worth it. And it isn't living our best life or giving them their best childhood.

The storm is slowly passing, and Graeme and I are better sailors for it.

And strangely I'm grateful. At the very least because these two have the two of us.

Joining other gratefuls over here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Spot the giveaway

I've been a fan of local potter, Aleida Pullar, ever since her spotty little pots caught my eyes at the markets. Her beautiful mix of porcelain and stoneware are made into a delightful collection of planters, blossom jars, beakers and trays.

I couldn't resist calling her up (especially as I'm celebrating my favourite artisans) and asking if I could pop round to her studio at Avoca Beach. She paints with landscape and turns porcelain beads into silver earrings. There are glazed tiles and indigo linen canvases. It's all very striking especially in her clean, white-washed studio.

But I still love the spots. Those cobalt and cornflower hues draw me in every time.

And the best bit is that I don't have to wait for the markets to get my hands on a new planter or flower jar. She's happy for people to call up and drop by for a browse.

If you live locally, Aleida is having a drinks and Christmas sale on Friday 30th November 6-9pm and on Saturday 1st December 10-4pm (Studio Latitude 33, 195 Cape Three Points Road, Avoca Beach). Mum, guess what you're getting for Christmas...

Oh, and Aleida is very kindly giving away one of her porcelain beakers to one of you. I do what I always do when I'm picking a gift for someone: I pick what I'd like to receive.

So you know it's a spotty one, and you know it's blue.

If you'd like to enter, leave me a comment to make me smile below and I'd love to know if you can make it to one of her open days. Think I'll go on the Friday. Boys to bed early and jump in the car for a... spot of Christmas shopping!

If you're not already a follower, you can join me with Google Friend Connect or on Facebook. Lovely to have you here by the way.

Giveaway now closed. Amanda @ mammajoy... you win!