Monday, 30 July 2012


Everyone we talk to says it's been long and cold.

I say it's glorious.

What say you? Tell me I'm not alone.

I also say I need to pay closer attention to my son's fringe when I'm cutting it.

Friday, 27 July 2012

My birthday in pictures

I had a lovely day. All my boys were home. The sun shone. I pottered in the garden in a perfect temperature under a perfect blue sky. Fresh fish. My favourite chocolate. And now for a quiet evening. Off to have kangaroo fillets with béarnaise and greens from the garden....

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Food that sings

Organic carrots at FIG, my local food co-op, are cheap. Usually when I apply the word 'cheap' to food, I mean cheap and nasty.

But there's nothing nasty about these carrots, or anything else that I get from the co-op. I don't need an invitation to wax lyrical about my food co-op. Ever since we moved to Australia, I have struggled with the challenges of sourcing and buying fruit and veg that makes me feel good. Until recently, I bought a bit in a little gourmet grocer (do you hate gourmet as much as I do?), a bit at the supermarket, spent a fortune in a health food store, and supplemented it with a very small expensive weekly box delivery.

I have spent almost three years thinking we would never be able to eat the way I want us to.

If it wasn't breaking the bank, it was breaking me. That might sound a touch melodramatic, but for a while there I lost that connection – with food, with nature and with farmers. 

In the UK, I found it easier to find that connection. My weekly box came box with notes and beautiful anecdotes about who was growing what, and why the month's crop of purple sprouting broccoli was wiped out by a sudden change in the weather. It was very real.

I also found a little connection at the supermarket. The Big Four over there are just as bad as the Big Two over here, but I shopped somewhere that paid farmers a decent price for their milk. It was probably far from perfect, but I felt a connection and talking to all those producers and growers over the years, I believed this supermarket was committed to fostering good relationships with its suppliers. That feels right to me.

Labelling helped too, of course. I could tell my pork was raised in the open fields of East Anglia from outdoor bred pigs sired by pedigree Hamsphire boars and my raspberries grown by a nice chap called Harry Hall in Berkshire.  

Sadly, labelling over here is not the same. Beef is Australian and pears are grown in Australia. That's about all you get in my supermarket. When you think of the sheer scale of this beautiful country, there's a lot of connection lost for me where food is concerned.

Organic isn't everything. In fact, when it's packaged in loads of plastic and sits for days on end on the supermarket shelf looking miserable and tired, I'd probably rather go for the fresher stuff on the other side, even if it has been buffed and polished till it sparkles. (Actually, if it sparkles, I just go without.)

Nor is local. People pay too much lip service to local, especially people who don't care. I once ate in a restaurant in the West Country that was so proud of its locally reared chickens. 'It's all local', I remember them saying. I like a story, so I visited the farmshop down the road who sold these chickens. It turned out they were caged chickens. 

But when you combine organic with just-picked and local, and when it's perfectly in season.... well, it's food that sings. I have my connection.

Back to carrots. I ended up with 10kg last week (it was quite some singing).

Here's how they ended up. (And they all went down a storm in lunchboxes the next day.)

Carrot and sesame burgers with chickpeas, lemon and cumin

Kakiage (tempura vegetables)*

Do you need that connection too? Do you wish we had an affordable supermarket full of food that sings? One that could fill the gap that co-ops, farmers' markets and box schemes can't meet?

* Make the tempura batter by mixing 1 beaten egg with 1 cup of iced water, then gently mix in 1 cup of flour and a good pinch of salt. Pay it very little attention and don't worry about lumps. Whatever you do, make sure you have iced water and don't over mix. I added grated carrot, zucchini, red onion and red capsicum. I still had batter left over, so I dunked cauliflower in there too. Add spoonfuls of the mixture to hot oil and deep-fry until browned all over. Drain then dip into equal quantities of soy sauce, mirin, sake and a bit of sugar to sweeten.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

To school or not to school

Proud as punch of his colourful crab – a WilderQuest Discovery activity in
Wyrrabalong National Park

We made the decision a while back that Luca wouldn't be going to school next year. It didn't take us long to decide. In fact, my heart knew in an instant.

I'm really grateful that it was an easy decision.

We want him to have a long childhood. We want him to have more time to play and have fun. There's a lifetime ahead of systems and institutions and rules. I'd rather all that wait for a little while longer. Truth is, I'd rather put it off for as long as possible.

It really was very easy to decide. Especially when I started reading about the Finns and how they've reformed education in their country. Hearing that children don't go to school until they are 7 was music to my ears. Particularly when theirs is such a success story – the country has one of the highest performing school systems in the world.

The Finns are, apparently, fans of the 'less is more' approach. They do extended childhoods. They like simple and they like common sense.

I'm quite a fan of the Finns. Heck, I'd even move to Finland if I didn't think another move round the world would kill me.

Seriously, though, I think it's all very good. Luca turns five next year and he'll be doing pretty much what he's doing now. Two or three days at a preschool that genuinely embraces unstructured, play-based learning and the rest at home.

Trouble is, we're looking ahead to 2014 when he turns 6. We don't know where he'll be going to school. Have I looked into schools properly? Not really.

You see, one of the main reasons for keeping him back is because Luca is a highly sensitive child. (I might do another post on this trait, because I think it could help a lot of parents who might not know they're raising a highly sensitive child.) He wouldn't cope. The world can be a bit too much for Luca most days – and too much for us, as a result! There's the fact he needs a lot of downtime (he still naps). I just know, as his mother, he'd go to pieces in a school playground.

Maybe the reason I haven't started looking at schools is because I don't think the school system, as it stands, is where Luca will thrive. Not in his early years, anyway.

We've been talking about homeschooling. A bit strange, given that I've always ruled us out as a homeschooling family.

Keeping him back was the easy decision. It's knowing what to do after that.

Do I want to homeschool? I don't think I do. But then I'm speaking as someone whose days are filled with endless bickering. Toddlerhood will be past us by then. But I still need quiet on my own every week.

How will I homeschool and work at the same time? I've heard that you only have to do three hours a day when you're teaching children at home. But does that work in practice?

There is a huge homeschooling community here on the Central Coast, which is comforting to know. I know the resources are there, and I know it can be a much richer way of learning.

In fact, from the little information and insights we've gleaned so far, we both agree it would be perfect for Luca.

This is how he'd thrive. This is how he thrives now. He's infinitely curious, questions everything. I fantasise about all the different projects we could do, walks we could take, trips we could go on.

I think about all the gardening he wants to do, and how he could carry on really indulging his creativity and his love of drawing.

But I don't know if I could do it. We know what's best for him, but are we committed enough?

Maybe we'll homeschool till he's seven, and make a decision then.

Or maybe I'll find this elusive small school that I've set up in my head – the one that couldn't care less about results or about homework. The one that doesn't tell parents what they want to hear. The one with a proper fruit and vegetable garden that isn't just there to give parents a warm, fuzzy feeling about where they're sending their kids every day. The one that lets children learn at their own pace. The one that does school three days a week, so I can homeschool and watch him learn the other two.

Have you seen it?

I have no idea what to do. But we have time still.

If you're a parent facing a similar predicament, what are you doing? Have you found a school that fits the one in your head? Or do you homeschool? How do you homeschool and keep sane keep everyone happy? I would love to hear from you.

P.S. Drum roll please... Giveaway winners about to be announced. Congratulations Carly and Joanna!


Monday, 16 July 2012

Brown sugar

Luca has asked to go camping. He wants to make a fire and he wants to sleep in a tent. We've said summer's not far off. A few times now.

In the meantime, he's seen Jay Laga'aia and children on TV with marshmallows on sticks. 'What are those white things called?', he asked.

Marshmallows are not high on my list of things to make. But I'm not about to buy any. 

Junk food doesn't have to be junk. Made with unrefined sugar and gorgeous eggs from FIG, it's not junk out of a packet. It's a treat. Even better, he's learning about sugar dissolving in water, what a sugar thermometer does and what happens when you beat egg whites.

Pillowy soft squares of homemade marshmallow. Straight on the barbecue.

We stood on the decking under a cold dark sky and toasted our squares. Burnt bits of sugar and melting goo underneath.

I didn't think I would, but I went back for more.

Guess who stopped at one and turned his nose up? 'Daddy, can you make them nicer next time?'.

I can't wait to go camping now and take a tin of these with us.

From the River Cottage Family Cookbook. I love Hugh. Don't you?

Psst, have you thrown your name in the hat for some organic cacao and coconut goodies?

Friday, 13 July 2012

A secret muddy puddle

The lull is passing.

I packed two changes of clothes. Flannels. Bottles filled with warm water. Two sets of bowls, muffin tins and wooden spoons.

We were off for a walk and heading for the mud.

There are lots of puddles near us. But only one passes the squelch test.

It's become our secret muddy puddle.

Luca was, well, like a pig in mud. Pigs would love this, was the first thing he said. His friend, little piglet, was joining in all the fun. Apparently.

I watched as he made me chocolate cake, chocolate muffins and a chocolate roll.

I expected – and wanted – Kian to do the same. I was prepared, for heaven's sake. I was hoping to watch Kian, especially, wallow about, throw clumps of it at his brother. Have a mud fight. Even play in the watery puddles. Anything.

He took a few steps towards the action. Very steadily. Then turned right around.

There was a moment of stirring, but it was just a moment. And I had to bring the mud over to him.

Yoghurt gets smeared and rubbed in at the table. Dog bowls get played in and poured all over each other. Food under the table gets squished and fondled.

Mud in a field?

Not when Mummy wants me to. And not when she's all prepared like that.

They KNOW. That's what it is.

Sydney got muddier than anyone. She doesn't play the same toddler games.

Have you entered my giveaway?

Want to grow your own organic vegetables? You can! Registration closes midnight tonight for Nicola Chatham's Abundant Veggie Patch System. No matter where you are - Europe, USA or Oz - you can join in on Nicola's 6-week practical and fun organic gardening e-course.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My first Food Artisan (with a giveaway!)

I said I'd bring you great food and inspiring people, and that's what my series of Food Artisans will be.

Food that sings to me and people who do much the same.

Because while food is everything to me, it's only part of the story. What I loved so much about my job in the UK wasn't so much conjuring up recipes and writing copy, but going out and talking to people. Producers, cooks, B&B owners, cheesemongers, coffee roasters, bakers, restaurateurs.

Anyone who will talk food with me.

I came across Cocopure at the markets.

I was instantly drawn to them – especially when the only thing my little cuddlebug would eat at one stage was spoonful after spoonful of their cacao cashew coconut butter.

Their chocolate coconut butter is incredible and I love cooking with their coconut oil.

But I actually wanted to find out more about them. Maybe it's because Steven and Monique run a successful family business with five children who eat well. Maybe it's because they homeschool. Maybe it's because Steven owned a graphic design business and now makes coconut superfoods.

Or maybe it's because they went travelling and lived on a boat for three years – with not one, not two, but three children. (We just about managed four months in a caravan with one child and a dog. So, naturally, I'm intrigued.)

See what I mean? Don't you love delving into people's stories too?

I do.

So I did.*


Had you always dreamed of a food business?

Neither of us dreamed of working with food. I had always been interested in food and health, but I grew more interested when I became a mum. We found out about coconut oil and its health benefits in Airlie beach. Steven immediately thought it would be a perfect product for a cottage industry. It was when we settled on the Central Coast that Steven experimented with raw food and started making raw treats. The attraction to cottage industry is that it's a good way to include the whole family.

Would you live on a boat again?

In a heartbeat. What holds us back, beside finances, is the children have settled here. We feel like we've really landed – at least for a little while. Travelling on a boat is very challenging. I have never had a relationship with a house like I did with the boat. Sometimes, usually while I was cooking with everything rocking, I would hate the boat like it was a real living thing. But other times, it was so beautiful. So romantic. I can't even watch the movies we took or look at the photographs, because it makes me really sad that it's over. It was exactly the magical experience we were hoping for.

How did you make it work with three children on board? 

We had no longing at all for city life. We really wanted to be there. I was doing everything I would be doing in a house anyway, like changing nappies, and the sleep disturbances were the same. It's weird, but I felt a bit cooped up in a house. The boat was much smaller, but we were outside a lot. When you sit on deck, the world feels much bigger than when you're in a house. We saw the sunrise, sunset and stars everyday. It wasn't always comfortable, but sometimes we even relished that.

How is life now?

It's much easier, but also much busier. For about a year, I couldn't get over how easy it was to do laundry. And not to have to ration water (28 litres a day)! A regular kitchen is so large compared to the galley. Everything felt large for about a year. 

We had to ration our coconut oil on the boat. Now it's delivered in large drums to the factory and Steven often brings us home a bucket full. With the business and five children the pace is non-stop, but it's also a lot of fun, because we get to participate in all that the children do. 

Is it difficult running a business and keeping family life happy?

I would say so, but that is the challenge for every family, whether they own a business or not. Homeschooling helps us, because it is quite flexible. Steven might work at the markets, but then spend time with us during the week. We always try to eat family meals and have celebrations together. We also make sure family comes first before the business. 

What do your days look like?

This is very changeable. I try to make a rule to wake up early and do yoga for my own peace of mind. Steven and I also drink a cappuccino together each morning. It's supposed to be uninterrupted by children, but never is. Then I usually focus on school work all morning, and we often do homeschool activities in the afternoon. Steven does the lion's share of Cocopure work, whether he works from home or the factory. Once a month or so, we all do a 'Cocopure push', which means we all pitch in and make as much product as possible. It's a very intense week.

So you're a family that eats well?

We aim to be a healthy family. It is so important. (Drinking cappuccinos doesn't count.) I have to plan our meals, but we constantly run out of food because teenagers eat so much. We drink green smoothies regularly and because of the business, we often buy food in bulk. I like to cook food from the Middle East. Slow cooked and soups. Plus raw foods and salad. Steven makes pretty good curry. 

I have found if I don't meal plan and make sure there is enough food in the house, we slide into buying take-out food and eating peanut butter sandwiches. If all else fails, I make porridge for dinner. We are a sweet-toothed family, so it's good to make protein balls out of whatever is in the house. We mix Cocopure with almond meal, coconut, dried fruit and seeds to make healthy snacks. Green smoothies are a good way to make sure children get greens and fruit in one hit. 

What's your favourite Cocopure product?

Cashew lasts the least amount of time in our fam
ily. Steven and I have to hide it from the children. 

What does good food mean to you?

A table set. Family and friends and most of all, with music. 

You can read more about their story here


Steven and Monique are very kindly giving away two goodie packs, each containing a pack of their single-origin sipping raw cacao (sweetened with organic coconut sugar and Tahitian vanilla bean) plus either a jar of their cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil, or their vanilla coconut butter.

Just leave a comment below to enter, along with your email address. Australian residents only - sorry! Two winners will be chosen one week from today.

And if you know anyone who'd love the chance to try Cocopure, please share!

Update: giveaway now closed. Congratulations to Carly and Joanna. Thank you to everyone who entered.

* Just so you know, I'm not paid for this post. I'm sharing this, just because.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The good stuff

I'm still in survival mode.

And after reading what sounds like very good advice on parenting toddlers (actually, parenting full stop), I'm thinking I should try harder. Ditch the lazy 'battle-it-through' and adopt a more understanding approach. Except that I'm very tired.

So I'm not very patient at the moment. Which isn't so great for understanding a child's perspective. It looks like I'm back where I started.

Working out what is going on, deciding on different strategies and putting them into practice... well, it's draining just thinking about it.

But it's what I will do. Eventually. I'm not one for leaving things to sort themselves out (although I should sometimes). I over-think and I analyse to death. So I'll work it out. Even if by that stage he's a teenager.

In the meantime, we're just pottering.

Quietly, I always hope. But very noisily, in reality.

While I pottered the other day layering vegetable scraps and newspaper shreds in the compost, Luca asked to pick some kale.

Truth is my heart sank. Not because he wanted to pick kale, but because Kian was hovering. Kian copies, like any sibling does. But he does everything more wildly.

I had visions of Luca picking a few leaves, then Kian pulling out all the kale from their roots. Thinking that was tremendous fun, he'd move onto the spinach and lettuce and within a minute, it would look like a whipper-snippered mess.

It was nothing like that, of course.

Luca snipped. Kian watched.

A bit of kale. A bit of spinach.

This is the best bit: I suggested making a juice out of it. And we did.

A juice of kale, spinach, banana, frozen berries, lemon, bee pollen and maca powder.

I have absolutely no idea what the bee pollen and maca powder do. I just know it's good stuff.

Thanks to Nicola Chatham, I'm not only growing all of these glorious leaves on a patch of concrete by my washing line, but because she introduced me to Jessica Ainscough, aka the Wellness Warrior, I'm making juices I probably never would have made.

They drank the lot.

Kian, my fussy little eater, who throws food across the table, who kicks his plate in disgust...

Consumed. And. Enjoyed. Raw. Greenery.

It was a lovely moment.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

My recipe for a mother's survival

Things seem to have gone downhill over the past few days.

It could be a number of things.

It's almost three years since we left England. I don't know when, if ever, mum will be a drive away.

It's the school holidays, which I know for most is cause to celebrate – when Luca eventually goes to school, I'll be celebrating holiday time, too.

But for now, the school holidays have interrupted our flow. A change of routine is normally a good thing, but I need routine at the moment to keep me going.

Or maybe it has less to do with homesickness and a changing rhythm, and more to do with the arguing, the noise and the mess.

It's probably toddlerhood.

The relentlessness of the everyday.

The many battles. The Nappy Change Battle. The Getting Dressed and Undressed Battle. The Wiping Nose Battle. And my biggest battle of all: stopping an 18-month-old scratching, hitting and hurling wooden blocks at his older brother with perfect aim.

So right now, I'm just working on getting through.

We won't be painting with bubble wrap or making pretty pictures with glue and spices.

I'm not going to play shopkeeper and I'm not going to make a cool ball run with scraps of cardboard.

And there will be no mud pie making at the mud pie station (that we won't be building). Or excavating different coloured objects from a very big block of ice.

(OK, so now you know what's on my Pinterest boards.)

I'm just doing the basics.

Until I get through this lull, all I can provide is love (a smidgen), food (cheesy jacket potatoes with tuna and broccoli) and cuddles (plenty) in front of Playschool. Oh, and a few stories.

That's it.

Sometimes, it isn't a question of whether we're doing enough messy play or enough baking. There's far too much pressure out there anyway for all-dancing, all-crafting mothers.

Sometimes (and very often), it's just about surviving.

My recipe: cuddles, simple nourishing food and our favourite Oliver Jeffers books.

What's yours?

My darling toddler. Taken when he wasn't throwing anything at anyone.

Congratulations to Tricia for winning my Australian Museum ticket giveaway. Thank you to everyone else who commented and entered.