Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beautiful things

A local potter displays her wares at the Avoca Beachside Markets. I already have one of her blue polka-dot pots holding my utensils in the kitchen. And there's one in England cradling some garlic in my mum's house. I intend on buying more. A whole lot more. I love her stuff so much I'm going to feature her on the blog very soon.

Pink rhubarb for a recipe feature I'm working on. I made jelly with the juice, then planned to eat the pulp with some yogurt or bake it in some shortcrust pastry. It didn't happen, because it was too good to eat straight from the fridge.

A little surprise in the garden. My heart sunk when I saw all these mounds. Some wretched thing digging up my tomato seedlings, I thought. The wretched thing, or things, were mushrooms. It's all that lovely mushroom compost I added to the beds. It's just a shame I'm the only one in this house who likes to eat them.

What do you think of all those blue spots? Are you going potty over them too? 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Working with nature

It doesn't take much nowadays to get me excited about the prospect of a few hours in the company of other adults (excited beforehand and then I fall asleep, huh?).

A council-run composting and worm farm workshop. Riveting, don't you think?

Well, it was. Even more riveting was the fact they were giving away free compost bins and worm farms. What a fabulous thing for a council to organise.

The local CWA hall was packed on Wednesday. Full of people who wanted to learn and go home with a freebie for their garden. The room had a beautiful energy about it. There were people – like the gentleman sitting beside me – who kept an immaculate lawn but knew nothing about composting or worm farming. Others had tried to compost in the past but ended up with a sludgy mess and gave up as a result. Surprisingly, I was one of only three people who use a compost bin and keep a worm farm.

I feel quite confident about composting now, having done Nicola Chatham's online gardening course earlier this year. Our worms do their jobs well, and even though any niggles I have about harvesting the castings will get covered in Nicola's next course*, I went along because I knew I'd learn something. I'm in my element when I can delve deeper into something that inspires me. It's why I ask lots of questions. It's the one thing people always say about me...

Anyway, aside from feeling very sad at one point when it was pointed out that over a third of everyone's bins is made up of fruit and vegetable scraps filling up our landfills, and how all this needless waste gets converted to ozone-depleting methane, it was a worthwhile morning.

Here are some notes I made for you.
  • Composting is really quite easy. The reason why people give up is they add too much nitrogen-rich matter (kitchen scraps, fresh lawn clippings, manure, mushroom compost) and not enough carbon, or poor layers (newspaper, brown leaves, dried grass, hay). I follow the 2:1 ratio for layering – 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen or thereabouts. I keep it in mind, but I certainly don't lose any sleep over it. As long as there's enough carbon in there, your compost won't turn smelly or wet.
  • If you fill your compost bin right up (the way I do it, layering with as much variety as I can get my hands on), and you turn it, say, once every 10 days, you will get beautiful rich compost within 10 weeks. How exciting is that?
  • If you just want to add your fruit and veg as you go from the kitchen, you'll still get to make 'food' for your soil; it'll just take longer. Always finish with a carbon/poor layer which will keep any flies at bay.
  • As for worm farming, you don't need to go and buy one of the expensive kits. All you need is a polystyrene box or two. I might be making one of these myself to extend our little worm family. (I promise I'll try and get out more.)
  • You generally start off with around 1000 worms. You can buy worms in garden centres or get some from someone with an established worm farm. Or get your little tikes to harvest worms from the garden – they don't need to be special composting worms. Ordinary earthworms will do the job just as well (according to the workshop).  
  • Worm juice, which is actually their pee, is liquid gold fertiliser. Just dilute with water to a ratio of 1:10 and it'll make your garden (and your indoor plants) very happy.
Luca and I spent the next day starting to fill our third (freebie) compost bin. We cut down the last of our winter broccoli and cauliflower and tore them all up ready to go back into the next cycle.

I came home that day and looked at my worms in a slightly different light, now that I know a little more about these spectacular creatures' anatomy and how they breed.

I discovered melon is one of their favourite foods, so that day they dined on melon skins and their usual banana skins. I made up two watering cans of diluted worm juice and drizzled one lot over the tomatoes and basil, and the other can went over my leeks to perk them up after the aphids almost got them.

I love working with nature. I really do.

Do you like composting? Do you skip in the garden knowing you're turning waste into magic? Do you squeal with delight when you turn that tap on the worm farm and it all comes gushing out?

Perhaps you think I ought to get out more too?

*I'm joining Nicola Chatham for her next course on organic gardening in pots. Nicola's also covering worm farming – yippee! I'll post more details soon, but you can get her free Organic Veggie Patch Kit here in the meantime. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Clickety clack

This train is chuff-chuffing along picking up speed and I'm running out of puff trying to catch up. The garden has suddenly taken off with the spring sun flooding more of the beds with its warmth. The peas are out of control, the broccoli and cabbages need picking and eating, the cauliflower is still growing its leaves long after we've beheaded them all and now I see the leeks covered in aphids.

I've got packets of borlotti bean seeds waiting to be sown and all my kale and basil seedlings are waiting to be given a home. Trouble is, I haven't moved on the previous tenants yet.

Recipes are still in my head and not on paper or shot on camera, which is where they should be if they are ever to get to the magazine on time, and I'm supposed to be interviewing a breadmaker this week for another feature. Oh, and I'm also attending a compost and worm farm workshop tomorrow and I've just realised it's the end of term so that means saying thank-you to Luca's preschool teachers. It was cake last term. I think we'll do tangy onion chutneys this week.

Say no, woman!

Well, yes, but I'm so inspired to do it all. The more I give to the garden, the more it gives back. I love my little blog and the creative freedom it gives me and the fact I don't have to do it, so I squeeze that in too. I don't normally have three deadlines in the space of a week...

I have the same hours in a day as everyone else (not sure if that would be news to you?), so to fit my life in as it currently looks, something has to give. If I want to indulge what inspires me, if I want an abundant garden, if I want to cook from scratch (and face all the washing-up afterwards) and still have plenty of time for my children, there are things that fall by the wayside.

Me for starters. If you knew me before Kian was born, I looked a certain way. I look... different to how I looked then. I wear maternity baggy tops and I can only fit into one pair of jeans (ever wondered why there are very few pics of me on here?). It doesn't make me happy, but I can't possibly fit exercise into my week. Ahem, ahem.

I don't make much time for me. I tend to forget about me. We all do it, I know. I forget to moisturise. I forget to each lunch. It's been years since I had my hair cut.

But on Friday night, I did something for me. I was invited to a group meditation at a friend's house. Never been to one before, but my whole being said go! A chance to relax, be centred and switch off from everything. No matter how busy you get, I know this is important.

I switched off all right.

The sounds were beautifully soothing and comforting. And when the lady chimed the bell at the end, I sat up in a daze.

Then came a voice: Who was that snoring like that?

Oh dear god, please don't let that be me. Please. I can handle falling asleep at a Rolling Stones concert and in every facial I've had. But not here with all these people.

It was me. I quickly and quietly asked someone if I was loud.

Moderate, but it means you went really deep, so that's good.

I was mortified.

But wow did I feel great afterwards. I was even more motivated than I was before. The following day I felt calm and present.

I'd like to go again next week, but not sure if they'll have me back.

Do you fall asleep whenever you try to relax? Do you ever feel like your train is running away with you?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Six years ago today...

Every year on the same day I look through our pictures as bride and groom. On a beautiful September's day in Devon, my mum gave me away and we were surrounded by our favourite people in the world with blue in the sky and greens as far as the eye could see.

I remember my wonderful sister, the coolest reverend who told funny jokes during the ceremony, dabbing my armpits when I was nervous, our drive through narrow country roads in a TR6 and tripping over my dress when we did the foxtrot to Jack Johnson's Better together.

I remember Kiwi sparkling wine and West Country cheeses after we danced to the jazz band playing the Jungle Book's I wanna be like you for the third time (and after they refused to play it any more).

And I'd never forget the food. Even if going through nine different caterers was exhausting and very trying, even if I missed all the canap├ęs, we got what we (I) wanted in the end. A hog roast, simple Italian-inspired salads bursting with flavour, and one of our favourite desserts, English summer pudding.

What I'd do right now for a wedge of Montgomery cheddar...

Is it uncool to wish ourselves a happy anniversary? I will anyway. Happy anniversary to us.

More pictures here: Five years ago today... 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Happiness is...

Finding roadside horse poo for the garden on an unexpected detour in the country one Monday afternoon...

Seeing free-range eggs for sale next door to the distillery down the road that not only makes a terrific gin, but a coffee liqueur so good Graeme has been having it for breakfast...

Making friends with the people who make the best coffee in town and discovering it's their coffee in that liqueur...

Watching the garden grow before my eyes. Feasting on falafel and kofta spiked with our very own coriander and parsley... mint and lemon in the salad... flowering thyme to go on the sumac flatbreads...

Hearing Luca say to Graeme yesterday: can we go and live in a forest? Mummy won't mind living in a forest. She likes trees. Trees relax Mummy.


I'm thinking I might change the name of this blog. I think it's time. Something snazzier.

Graeme has come up with something for me. The Fork 'n' Blog.

He's a funny man my husband.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

September giveaway: Australia Walkabout Park

While my brother was visiting, we spent half a day at the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park. This is the place to see Australia's wildlife. Reptiles, koalas, flying foxes and dingoes are all here. But we come for the indigenous marsupials who roam. Free-ranging kangaroos, wallaroos (not quite a wallaby, not quite a kangaroo), wallabies and pademelons in a peaceful bush sanctuary.

We arrived just in time to watch all the kangaroos and emus gather for their 10am feed.

Luca was three and Kian a few months old when we visited last. It was a different experience this time round with a toddler who charges everything in sight.

What I remember from our first visit were the incredibly tame kangaroos – I was amazed at how comfortable they were with children running around. They lie about while you pat them and snuggle up to them, and when they've had enough, they just jump away.

What I don't remember is their cheek. One madly rummages through the picnic bags in the buggy and steals an apple, while another buries its head in my lap looking for the last cream cheese sandwich. I try and guide it away but I am too busy laughing.

Meanwhile, an emu chases Luca and his lunch around the picnic table. Kian just watches in his own way.

We think we have it all under control and turn our backs for a second, and there are kangaroos all over the buggy. Heads buried in the bags. Graeme has to literally pull them away. Very gently, of course.

So, naturally, we give up and pack up our food.

After a long walk along bush tracks and ancient Aboriginal sites, Luca gets a lesson in throwing a boomerang. The boomerang-throwing workshop is held every day at 12pm.

The lovely people at the park have given me a family ticket worth $60 to give away to one of my readers who'd like to experience kangaroos in their element and emus peering over your shoulder as you picnic.

Look at that beautiful face... All you have to do is leave me a comment and be a follower (the grey 'follow' button up there on the right). Did you know I have a Facebook page by the way? You could earn yourself an extra entry by joining me there too. Just leave me an additional comment to say you have. I'll pick the winner a week from today.

Oh, look at that, the boys are wearing stripes again. The same stripes. At least you know I don't plan my children's wardrobe...

Update: giveaway now closed. Congratulations Anna!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Food styling minus the food

Remember my mentioning a while back about the food styling and photography course? It was today.

I went to bed last night like a kid on Christmas Eve. The alarm was set to go off at 5.45am at which point I was going to leap out of bed, shower and dress, grab my camera and catch the train to Sydney.

I was going to arrive on time, shake hands with interesting people, swap stories and learn from an expert. I imagined beautiful ingredients, an array of props and the sound of everyone's camera click-clicking away.

The hours would fly by and I would be dancing around silly with someone watching over my shoulder suggesting ways to improve my exposure, pointing out the shadows dancing on the food and helping me compose the shot in such a way that a little light bounces off here and there.

I was to come back inspired, giddy with ideas for shooting the next lot of recipes I'm working on for a magazine, with lots of images to show you.

I'd feel like I had a great day out. Worth every penny. Worth the time away from my husband and children.

You know what's coming, don't you?

The alarm did go off, I did leap into the shower and I enjoyed a peaceful journey into the city. Oh, I did arrive on time and there was some shaking of hands.

The rest was very different.

I was conned. And so were the other five people there. Someone out to make a fast buck and stroke his own ego in the process.

I realised today that most of us are trying to make a worthy living out of something we love doing. Maybe from home, from a studio or from the shed out the back. That's what I did for years in the UK and what I'm trying to do here.

It is honourable thing to do. What isn't honourable is when you take someone's money and offer very little in return, which then sullies the integrity of everyone else's work. But I won't let it. 

I only took a handful of pictures. This was one of them. A food photography course, and my best shot has no food in it.

I did, however, get an awesome welcome from my three boys when I got back. And we do have some giddiness resulting from one or two glasses of red...

How do you handle disappointment? Does writing it down help you too? Wine?

Friday, 7 September 2012

If we hadn't come to Australia...

My sister and brother have left. It's just the four of us again. And Sydney, of course.

That's the downside of anyone coming to visit. It's the goodbyes. They're crushing. Here one minute, gone the next. With no idea when the next time will be.

Usually the next few days are slow and rather joyless.

But I prepared myself for this one beforehand. I'm reframing it (a word my brother taught me this week).

Instead of mourning a time when my family lived down the road, I'm focusing on what we would have missed out on had we not moved to this beautiful land.

In no particular order then:

Play School. Many a meal wouldn't have made it to the table if the clever ABC4 people hadn't scheduled this for 4.30pm. The likes of Justine and Jay singing Let's play together on the guitar and harmonica with Peter on piano has us all dancing around the sofa. If it's the right mix of presenters, I'll rush the cooking so I can join in with the catchy tunes. Many months on and we still sing If all the world were paper. They hardly watch any TV, but we do love this. Play School, you have made afternoons at home much sweeter.

Catching our own fish. Graeme is in his element freediving in these oceans. The fact he comes home with red morwong, luderick, trevally (and sometimes bream) is the icing on the cake. Lots of tender abalone lately and Australian salmon for the first time.

A proper food garden. Wanting desperately to grow leafy greens and herbs led me to Nicola Chatham. Not only am I actually doing it, but I enjoy it. I never thought gardening would have the effect it does on me. I retreat there and just while away whatever time I have.

The chance to make school wait. This is a big one. I'm so glad we can put school off for another year.

Swimming with dolphins. Last week, Graeme got off his friend's boat to play chase with a pod of dolphins. He said it was magic. I'm hoping I can go next time.

Garage sales. Oh, I do love them.

Family daycare. A life-saver for us without any family to fall back on. Not sure what I would have done without that time to myself each week.

Glorious winters. Especially down the beach. No need for icky sunscreen. Just warm, long sleeves and a hat to shield our eyes. Even better if we've got music in the background.

A local food co-op. This week I bought something else other than fruit and veg. A jar of pure, unheated, pesticide-and-chemical-free bush honey. The best bit is it comes from less than two hours away.

There's more I'm sure, but there's washing to hang out and dinner to make.

What do you love about where you live? Do you love Play School too? 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Auntie Jennifer

She calls them poppet. She calls to Kian to fetch a book or two and reads to him on the sofa. Luca joins them and they sit there all huddled together, pointing, reading and discussing, while I make a Morrocan tagine. Calmly in the kitchen. Oh, the bliss.

She helps Luca as he sounds new words and puts pencil to paper. She bounces Kian on her lap, plays this little piggy again and again, then knows just how to pat him to sleep when he can't quite manage to nod off.

Even though she hasn't seen them for nine months, she knows.

She knows it all. Thank you sis.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


I didn't know it, but I'm quite fond of stripes. My mum buys most of the boys' clothes and luckily we share the same taste. Classic stripes, French blues and a softness that I find missing in a lot of children's clothes.

I like breaking the rules, and I often pair stripes with stripes. What I also do a lot is step out of the house and realise when we've walked into preschool or something that all three of us are dressed in stripes. Again.

Oh, it's the stripe brigade. 

Just like when we've all stepped out in brown. Or in red. I often wonder if, subconsciously, I wake up feeling a certain colour and pick the same for the boys' clothes. 

Except that Luca picks out his own clothes nowadays.

And on this fine sunny day, he picked out blue-and-white stripey shorts to go with his new blue-and-white stripey cardigan flown all the way from Grandma's house in Uncle Matthew's suitcase.

I could stare at that last picture for hours. All those blues and greens. And those stripes.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A big surprise

I thought my brother was leaving today. He was laying about with the flu for the first week, so it's felt like a very short visit. We had such a lovely couple of days this week driving around the area, stopping for lunch in one place and coffee in another. Just the two of us. A highlight was watching him one evening teach Luca how to play noughts and crosses, only to have Luca make up a completely new noughts and crosses game where they each get to win every time. Uncle Matthew has to win, too.

Yesterday morning, Graeme left us at home and took Luca out. I suspected nothing. Half an hour later, he brings in a birthday card from my sister. Must have got stuck in the post, I thought.

Inside it read: I had the presence of mind to bring presence of mine.

She's got presence and presents mixed up. 

Has she?

Yes look, she means presents e-n-t-s but she's written presence e-n-c-e. She's written it wrong. 

Has she?

I stopped. Graeme was half grinning and rushed downstairs.

No way. No way. I kept saying.

And there she was. My sister hiding in the car with Luca. All the way from Perth to spend a few days so we could all be together. The other surprise was that my brother is staying till Wednesday.

The three of us haven't been together for over three years.

Luca was beyond excited. Auntie Jennifer is another great playmate. Within minutes, they were playing another made-up game of Luca's. It took Kian a few minutes, but he knew this was someone special just like when Uncle Matthew arrived. It wasn't long before he was giving out more of his cuddles.

I don't think I've ever been this surprised. And I thought I didn't like surprises.