Thursday, 31 May 2012

Knock knock

Hello, you! Come on in.

So what do you think? Do you like it?

I hope you do. You doooo?? Oh good.

I did like the old style, but, you know, I have to live with things for a while before I can work out whether it fits. And as it goes, it wasn't quite right.

I'm evolving, and so is the blog.

I wanted more space and more green. I still wanted that touch of blue, but it needed a touch of orange... Luca's favourite colour and all that jazz. Kian hasn't told me what his is yet.

Oh, and I had to have a big tree for the boys to play under.

What do you mean where are they??

Under the tree! Can't you see them... Look, they're waving.

Now, where were we?

Cup of tea?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Garden and market love

Watering the new seedlings

Visiting the Mangrove Mountain Country Markets for the first time
Beautiful organic fruit and veg, sourdough bread and mushrooms
I chatted to growers and farmers, while the boys played behind the stalls

Three generations, seedlings for sale, herbs and more sourdough...
because I never tire of seeing beautiful bread

We bought warm Tuscan bean and bacon soup and sat on the grass tearing chunks from our olive sourdough.

I love markets. Just as other people love shopping or lying on a beach, I love markets. I love the energy, the good food and the people.

Hope yours was a lovely weekend too.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Alpaca poo and thyme in a bath

The garden has come a long way since we built the first two beds in October. And so have I.

I came across Nicola Chatham late last year. We had already built and planted our beds using the no-dig gardening method. I discovered that being in the garden, for Luca, really fills him up, and it was so easy being with him.

And although we did have some success with greens and a beautiful tomato glut, plus great fun with our worm farm, I was still very lost. And I found the whole process very frustrating, because I was thinking of gardening purely in terms of results. In fact, I'd have been quite happy for someone else to do it all, so that all I'd have to do is pick what I want for dinner.

But that's not what gardening is about. Besides, I wouldn't have anything to teach the boys. Gardening is work in progress. It's a journey. And honestly, I only learned this a matter of days ago when I got lost out there and realised just how much it has to teach me.

A big part of this transformation is down to Nicola's Abundant Veggie Patch System*.

Nicola Chatham
I love how Nicola doesn't promise self-sufficiency.

She got me with that word. Abundance. Such a great word. We all want abundance.

I learnt all about permaculture basics, and found the concept of zoning fascinating. I've since moved my greens to the right zone!

I learnt how to do a sunshine study on the house and work out the best location for a veggie patch. How to design a bed and get the dimensions right. Where to get materials and do everything on a budget.

This is what I've found wonderful about the course. There are so many lessons weaved into it.

Suddenly, I started looking out for people dumping their rubbish on the side of the road. I found several great buckets and a baby bath to use as a planter, and I picked up a compost bin and plastic pots at garage sales nearby.

One place we decided to build a bed was on a slab of concrete. We used tarp to line it, drove out into the country to collect a load of bricks (thank you Freecycle), then Luca and Graeme spent one afternoon chipping away the mortar and lined them up.


Through the course, I learnt that you can make your own soil, and crucially for me that it was all about carbon and nitrogen.

I don't know about anybody else on the course, but I loved the whole layering of the carbon (such as newspaper, brown grass cuttings, hay) and nitrogen (such as chicken pellets/horse poo, green leaves, fresh grass cuttings). Yes, I've heard mention of nitrogen before and people say to dig in manure, but until now all the advice has been a bit wishy washy.

Anyway, I found bags of horse poo by the roadside for 50c a bag, collected newspaper, all our grass cuttings, pruned trees and bushes in our garden for the green foliage (remember, nitrogen!), and bought other bits and pieces such as hay, mushroom compost and molasses.

Once you've put all the layers in and wait for a week or so, you can start planting straight away.

Layering the garden bed

Soaking the hay in water and molasses

Meanwhile, we got a few little surprises from the beautiful mushroom compost that we bought from Kim Margin...

We also made our own compost using the same recipe. The boys got shredding indoors, then soaked it in buckets, layering it with chicken pellets, horse poo, mushroom compost, hay, greenery, and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. 

A second bed by the garage next to our chilli plants 
and blueberry bush (well, bush by name, not by nature;
it's a stick in some soil at the moment with a fancy tag),
ready for some brassicas to go in. 

Still lots of room for more plants in the 'concrete' bed. 
Strawberries went into pots on Mother's Day, and we cleared some room for them to sit in the sun all day.

The kale is loving it here. Drilled a few holes in the bath and in went 
mint, thyme and tarragon. Also in pots: 
oregano, more tarragon (I can never have enough),
Vietnamese mint (thanks Nicola!), rocket,
basil, parsley and coriander.

Spinach, chamomile and spring onions on the left. Our old bed (right) isn't being neglected. 
Luca and I have just planted broccoli, cabbage and cauli, plus peas, marigolds and wild rocket.

Even as I sit here, I can see the leeks that still need to be planted (a fiddly job that keeps getting left to another day), the carrots, lettuce and watercress. I'll wait for Luca, because it's his garden too now.

Picking up alpaca poo in the Yarramalong Valley (sorry can't resist one of Graeme's jokes here: what is Kian saying when he's straining? al-pac-a-poo.... Geddit? C'mon, not even a little laugh? I'm still giggling at that one weeks later)...

Anyway, where was I? Yes, we're doing lots of things for the garden at the moment, and I'm glad to say I haven't visited a garden centre or DIY chain once. Driving out to farms for poo (why do I like poo more than manure?), borrowing a wheelbarrow from a friend to load bricks, shredding the paper, screeching the car to a halt with the boys in the back for a big black container....

I'm writing this down so it cements it for me. Gardening is as much about the doing, as it is about the harvesting. So while I have moments where I would love to have Jamie Oliver's gardener chap from Jamie At Home carrying bunches and baskets of organic goodness into my kitchen (doesn't everyone have that dream?), I'd probably be missing out on a whole load of life lessons.

This is still the very beginning of my gardening journey, but I feel I'm on the right track now. It was the perfect course for me to get me on the path of creating abundance. (So thank you Nicola*).

Because the goal that I've set myself is to have a kitchen garden I can be proud of within a year. All I have to do is learn to enjoy the getting there. 

* Nicola has a rather lovely free newsletter called Sprout that you can sign up to on her website. That's how it all started for me funnily enough. I got to know her that way and when her course came up, I had to do it.

Monday, 21 May 2012

You can't miss me now

A lot of people comment that they don't know how to follow me. They couldn't work out the 'follow me' tool and don't understand what an rss feed is (to be completely honest, neither do I).

But most people, I'm glad to say, are on Facebook. I joined very late.

It is a good tool, I've found, and actually most people don't post about pointless things. Or at least my 'friends' don't.

I'm using it wisely, and keeping it fairly quiet.

Now, though, it looks as though I'm going to have to step up my FB activity, because I've set up a page for my blog.

This way, anyone who isn't a 'follower' or who thinks of Google Reader in the same way as a Country Style reader can still keep up with the rodents, the rants, and the orange pompoms.

OK Mum?

So, all you have to do is come over here and hit the 'Like' button. Which makes it very simple for me, because I can now get rid of all sorts of silly widgets (gadgets?) on the blog and make it cleaner. I don't like busy spaces.

My house is a mess, but at least the boys can't get to the blog.

And I know you're thinking it (where's the Facebook button?). Well, it's coming. So, too, is a new look.

It's all coming in time for celebrating 100 posts.

Incidentally, thank you Amanda for sharing a recent link that led me to the Darling Tree, the work of a beautiful Australian designer. This is where I got a very pretty Facebook button...

So stay tuned!

And just because I want to put a picture of the boys in...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hello autumn

I think autumn is my new favourite season. It has to be. Look at these colours.

Everywhere we look it's big blue skies, burnt oranges and purple reds. Well, maybe not everywhere. I wish there were more of these beautiful liquid ambers around. They're only dotted around here and there.

So Luca and I are on a mission every morning. To spot another 'idciduous' tree.

'Look Mummy, I just saw a idciduous tree'.

We both want to plant more. In fact, as we've been talking trees so much lately, he wants to plant a mango tree. And a banana tree. And an apple tree.

I want more of these liquid ambers. So I've made a promise that once we have our own house, we can plant those trees.

The mornings and evenings are chilly. But it's hard to snuggle up and get cosy in Australian houses. They're just not built for the cold. Three houses later and I think I've figured out why houses over here don't do cosy. It's to get us outside.

It works. (Hang on, is that why Australians spend so much time outdoors? That's it, isn't it?? Because it's so freaking cold inside.)

And when it's cold, I make pumpkin risottos and curried vegetable parcels.

Roast chunks of butternut squash with sage. Make a risotto the traditional way (splash of wine, lots of stock). Once the squash is soft and caramelised, give it a rough mash and fold it through the risotto with lots of freshly grated parmesan. Lots. Kids will love this. Mine do.

I fried slices of onion in coconut oil until slightly softened, then stirred through some mild curry paste (this was intended for the boys' dinner). Added cooked chunks of potato, carrot and sweet potato, then spooned dollops onto rectangular strips of butter puff pastry. Brushed edges with egg, sealed together to make neat parcels. Then brushed all over with more egg and baked until they looked like this. And because even the mild curry paste had a bit of kick, I served some yogurt alongside to dip into. Great for lunch the next day, Graeme says.

This was meant to be a garden post. A big garden post, but my sister in Perth has just called me and demanded to know when my next batch of recipes were being posted.

So this is for you sis.

And I promise if you move over here, I'll cook all of this and more. In return for cleaning up Kian's mess, of course.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Happy mother's day

It's been a crappy week. A really crappy week. My eyeballs ached. My back was sore, my legs screamed at me and my chest hurt. It went on for days. I longed for silence, but the boys seemed to play louder on the stupid wooden floors, rolling everything that had wheels, jamming anything together for maximum effect. Luca's hearing went at exactly the same time, so I couldn't whisper. I had to repeat myself over and over, yelling to get myself heard.

It's been a week of frustration and contemplation. Contemplating if we are the only family to have moved across the world away from all our support.

I didn't enjoy being a mum this week, as hard as it is to say it. It felt lonely.

On day number 4 of feeling yuk, instead of lying down and resting like I should have been, I ventured into the garden and for the first time ever, I felt its restorative power.

As I dug, planted, shovelled manure and mulched with hay, I felt better. I was lost for a few hours in my own world.

Day 5 was the community playgroup. This time Luca came too. It was fab. Luca ran around the back yard trying to tickle the chickens with their own feathers laughing himself silly and Kian gave the decking a good soaking. I was tired afterwards, but it was lovely to get out and see some people.

Cleaning abalone Daddy caught that morning

I'm on Luca's chair, I'm playing with his scissors and I'm laughing at you

And today I almost forgot the crappy week. A lie-in (yes, 7.30am is a lie-in!), breakfast in bed, a very special card and lots of kisses and cuddles.

Then a visit to my plant seller man with Luca so he could chat with his pet sulphur-crested cockatoo. We filled baskets with strawberry plants, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and peas.

The five of us ran around a rugby field trying to get our kite to soar, but Kian and I gave up and played on the grass underneath the bright autumn sky.

The afternoon was spent planting strawberries, chasing Kian down the road, repotting chillies and blueberry, pulling chicken pellets out of Kian's hands, soaking hay in water and molasses, watching Kian snap off immature aubergines and try and eat them, staking a climbing pea, and catching Kian's hands before he picked off all the strawberry flowers.

It was fun.

And because we were all so grubby, I got in the warm bath with them.

Luca beamed a big smile and said 'Mummy, I love it when you have a bath with me'.

After stories, he said 'I love you right up to the stars and back again'. I have to try and beat his stars each time, with tallest buildings, mountains, and as far away as Grandma lives.

But 'the stars are much further Mummy'. They're always much further, so Luca always wins.

But I still love playing it.

Thank God the week ended well.

Hope everyone had a lovely mother's day too.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Time to celebrate

We've been saving this bottle of bubbly for over a year now. Waiting for something to celebrate. We're normally rubbish at celebrating.

I'd like us to celebrate the little things more often. I guess it's another way of being grateful.


Graeme's just negotiated a four-day week and we're over the moon. A long weekend every week. Four days, not five, of doing the boys' breakfast, lunch and dinner on my own. Bedtime hour shared over three nights, not two....

OK, I'm sure you've definitely got it now. (Sure?)

Seriously though, I can hardly believe it. So we reckoned it was time to pop that cork.

Especially as there was something else to celebrate. Except I can't tell you about it.

The first time I wrote about it, I jinxed it and it didn't happen again.

Then when I mentioned it again, it stopped.

So I'm not even going to write the words. In fact, Graeme and I have learnt not to talk about it all. I have a  funny way of changing the course of events when I talk about them. And write about them, it seems.

So, we're just celebrating more time together at home, and something else.

To do with a little boy.

There I go again.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A community playgroup

Remember when I wrote about chance encounters?

Well, another chance encounter led to us being invited to a new playgroup. A different kind of playgroup. Not the kind in a hall with a bunch of toys on the floor. I've never been a fan of that kind, even though I've gone to a fair few over the last four years. I always stop going for one reason or another. Mainly because I find it such an empty experience. For me and the boys. 

So when I heard about the Hive, a place for children to play, learn, be and create, and for the adults to connect, share and inspire, I liked the sound of it.

We each had to bring something, so I made some simple cheese muffins. Very easy to make at 9pm when you're thinking about getting ready for bed. I just tipped all the ingredients in a food processor, blitzed then poured into muffin trays. 

I only had Kian this morning, so off we went with our 24 muffins (minus a few that were so irresistible straight from the oven), hoping to play and be, and connect and share.

First thing for the kids to do was feed the chickens - 'it gets the children all excited before they come knowing they feed the chickens first' was what the very kind lady said who has decided to open her house up for the greater good of community. We all hurried down to the garden and watched the kids take turns at throwing their bit of bread. The older ones collected two eggs from the hatch. I think I was the excited child though, watching these beautiful chickens in their lovely run and then to have fresh laid eggs. I WANT CHICKENS!

One little boy inspected her compost bin, so from there sparked a little conversation about composting and what you end up with at the bottom. Luca will love to see all the lovely rich compost at the bottom of her bin, because I can show him that's what ours will look like in a few months.

We had a beautiful herbal tea of lemon myrtle, borage and, I think, damiana with some raw Tilba honey for morning tea. Everyone was amazed (myself included) how Kian drank my tea. So I think it's time I made more herbal teas at home.

The kids played with some musical instruments. Spotted an unusual gecko on the wall. Annoyed her dog.

Then one little boy brought up another egg.

Kian *cough* picked the flowers off her marigolds, and very nearly picked the green lemons from her lemon tree.

It was the first day, so it was more about talking and settling in than anything else. But it feels promising. One of the ladies is going to bring in some clay for the kids to make their own pot, and then take it away to be fired in a kiln. Another lady is going to bring in her sewing machine so they can make a scarf.

There's going to be a lot of organic gardening, and baking. And I've already offered my services. I'm thinking it would be lovely to give each child a jar of cream and watch them shake it till they make their own butter.

I'm loving the sound of it. I hope Luca settles in as well as Kian did this morning. She has a proper garden with chickens, so I think he'll enjoy it. I know I can't wait till next Friday.

Maybe I'll get chosen to collect the eggs.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


It's supposed to be my day. My day to relax and be quiet and do very little.

I haven't really relaxed (one day I'll learn how), I haven't been very quiet and I've got two hours before I have to pick the boys up and I'm panicking about what I still have to do.

Not relaxing because: instead of a quiet walk this morning, Sydney barked most of the way at walkers above us on the cliff's edge.

And not quiet because: I've been talking to Steven from Cocopure who, along with his wife, make gorgeous coconut butters using virgin coconut oil and raw natural ingredients (cacao, cashew and vanilla). They're heavenly.

Plus I chatted to Karl Johnson from Over the Moon milk about his old-fashioned, full-cream milk that hasn’t been homogenised or diluted, and Gloria Cox from Leaning Oak Winery & Dairy about her fresh and soft-ripened goat's cheeses (and how her goats are all pregnant at the moment and won't be kidding till July, so there's little in the way of milk. Had to had that bit in, because even though it doesn't mean anything to anyone else, I love hearing producers talk about their animals and what the seasons mean to them).

They'll be featured in a recipe piece I'm doing for Breeze magazine in their next issue.

So... not as much quiet as I normally like when the boys are away, but when it comes to talking to artisan food producers and food, I could literally chat all day.