Sophie

It is with barely contained glee that I can announce, we saw the trailer for Spring 2015 here today!

Yes, all of the highlights – bird twittering, daffodil nodding, lawn mowing, cat sprawling and of course sun drenching – were condensed into the happy daylight hours of this late winter Saturday. And if the coming season is anything close to what this trailer alluded to, it’s going to be a cracker! So, inspired by this exciting preview, I thought it fitting that the opening image to this post about Sophie Hansen be the spring illustration from her book, Local is Lovely.

But before I continue, I just need to take a quick side-step up to a soap box, and restate my passionate belief yet again – we all need to continue to cook. We need to take produce from around us, where possible, in it’s simplest form and slice it, mix it, bake it, steam it, roast it, mash it or whatever needs to be done to it to produce nourishing, appealing food to fuel healthy lives. And most vitally, our children need to see this happening. They need to be exposed to basic raw materials being crafted into meals so that when their time comes to take responsibility for their own nutrition and/or the nurture of others, this will be their default. Because it’s what they saw.

They need not have seen elaborate haute cuisine, but simply, basic combinations of fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains with a measure of fats and oils keeping things balanced and delicious. If that means thick slabs of bread loaded with generous slices of tomato, fresh cheese and garden herbs, topped with some pan-crisped salami, then the job is done. And if it can’t happen this way each day because the pace of life takes precedence, then that’s ok – just so long as there are times when it does.

So this now brings me to Sophie, a food writer and one-woman cheersquad for the local farmers/producers in her neighbourhood, within which, her farm in Orange, four hours west of Sydney is located. She is a strong advocate for sourcing food locally not only for the deliciousness of it but also to support the local growers, whom she believes are the heroes of our land. In her beautifully laid out read, you will be taken through the seasons, inspired by earthy delicious cooking using seasonal produce and intrigued by a sprinkling of profiles of her local farmers.

local is love

As well a being just a pleasurable, inspiring read, Sophie’s message within these pages is clear, to source locally, cook seasonally and enjoy the process.

Now I realise that most of us may not be located bang smack in the centre of a regional food bowl, and the local supermarket may be as close as it gets to sourcing our produce, and that’s fine too. It is amazing though, if you attempt to sniff it out, there are sources of locally grown staples, even in inner urban areas that can be drawn upon. I have a free-range egg farm close by and I imagine that many of you have a monthly farmer’s market in your vicinity. Some of us have neighbours with fruit trees whilst others are making it their business to learn the art of foraging and finding wild delights ripe for the taking. My point is, use what is available to you when you can and become aware. It’s not about making sweeping overnight changes, but gradual shifts toward a healthier and therefore more enriched lifetime.

So while you ponder this, here is a Chocolate Blackberry Loaf, one of Sophie’s Winter Baking recipes (that you can receive in a free ebook that can be downloaded when you visit her and sign up for her newsletter) to enjoy.

1 cup plain flour
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
good pinch salt
1/4 cup espresso coffee (I used one shot from our little machine at home but you could also make a really strong plunger coffee and use 1/4 cup of that)
1/2 cup natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla paste
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup blackberries (raspberries or blueberries would also be good)

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a large loaf tin. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and a good pinch of salt and set aside. In another bowl, combine the coffee, yogurt and vanilla and stir well. Now cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer, until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the yogurt mixture and mix in on low speed. Then, by hand, fold in the flour mixture and finally fold through the blackberries.
Spoon batter into the tin and bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is just pulling away from the tin’s sides and it feels firm to touch

Chocolate Blackberry Loaf

Postscript: and apart from the ethical, nutritional, sustainable and economic values Local is Lovely expounds, anyone who creates a cake recipe combining chocolate, coffee, blackberries and greek yogurt ought to be worth paying attention to.

Control


At some point, most of us turn our thoughts to uninhabited islands, more specifically being able to exist on one – alone. The prospect of being in a defined space where all that happens is decided by you, where external forces cannot reach and the time spent there yields incredible personal benefit, is well, the stuff of fantasy. Or not. Not actually. I have access to one and can escape to it at short notice. It unfolds in a trice. It’s my pilates mat. For a relatively small outlay, you can invest in your own island, and for reasons I will explain, I encourage you to do so.

As living creatures, we need to move, most basically because we must find our nutrition, organise our shelter, maintain our hygiene and nurture our young. Fortunately we have been provided with a musculo-skeletal system to enable us to do such things. When this system is compromised, so then is our life. There are a range of options available to care for our movement system and it’s wonderful to see so many people adopting them. Purposeful ramblers, runners, cyclists, swimmers and dancers are a common sight, since the automation of our world has all but made these forms of movement redundant as natural actions within our daily lives.

Of course, with repetitive motion, does at times come injury and the very issue we are aiming to avoid we may have encouraged. As a runner, I have welcomed a few of these issues! So to engage in movement that will nurture your system, safeguard or repair it in times of high intensity activity and require a level of concentration so focused that external thoughts are impossible to entertain, has got to be worth undertaking. And it is. Pilates or Contrology (as Joseph Pilates coined it) can be your way of moving throughout the stages of your life in a strong, flexible and centered manner.

You may have come to the understanding, as I have, that there is very little in life we have, or really need to have, ultimate control over. But to have a sense of mastery of our own movement is ultimately very rewarding – both practically and intrinsically. Whatever point you are at today in terms of age, injury or level of flexibility (or inflexibility) you are ready to begin a Pilates sequence.

Postscript: I shall leave Joseph Pilates to make the final point today.

”A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.’

And with that, I shall sling my island over my shoulder and escape to mastery of the mind and control of the body.

Stash

chocolate cherry nut refrigerator cake

At any time you care to name, there can be at least five of these chocolate biscuit slab cakes under our roof. As odd as that sounds, it is the plain truth, and if you would like this to be your reality, read further.

Once upon a time we had a dishwasher. Alas, on one dark and stormy night, to my horror it leaked everywhere and was certified beyond repair. My greatest fear was that we would never survive the interval of time that would elapse whilst a replacement was sourced and installed. It may be, that we would have to (gulp) wash dishes. In the kitchen sink. By hand.

As today’s therapists will purport, exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for eradicating irrational fear. Accordingly, we exposed ourselves to dirty crockery, soapy liquid and hot water and within a week I realised that not only did we survive without a dishwasher, life had become less complicated. Suddenly there was nothing to unpack, load or maintain. Our dishes were always ready to use, not backed-up waiting for a ”full load” and plunging hands into warm water whilst gazing into the garden through the kitchen window, was indeed pleasant. So the decision was made, family life would continue on without a dishwasher.

A simple enough solution but now, what to do about the gaping underbench void left by the departed.

Well this is what I did – I created a stockpile storage solution or as the children affectionately term it, the ”Doomsday Preppers Cupboard”. I simply fit out the space with an Ikea storage drawer system and concealed it with a pull across curtain. These drawers are filled with wonderful supermarket buys. Multiple purchases of nuts, canned food, pasta, dried fruit, cereals, and other assorted weekly staples, when the prices are really low. Having a healthy supply of all of the essentials without the pantry clutter is an effective way to operate in the kitchen.A stockpile to draw upon not only saves a considerable amount of money spent on the yearly grocery bill but enables you to pull together a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake at a moment’s notice. All of the ingredients for this recipe can be plucked from the stockpile, with the exception of eggs and butter, which are basics I always have on hand.

chocolate refrigerator cake 150g butter
100g golden syrup
200g dark chocolate ,chopped
1 beaten egg 350g plain sweet biscuits (Marie, Milk Coffee, Digestives etc), broken into chunks
60g walnuts
60g sultanas
100g glacé cherries
75g pecan nuts

  1. Line a square or rectangle baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  3. Add the chocolate, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and stir until the chocolate has melted.
  4. Gradually add the beaten egg and continue to stir until the mixture has thickened a little.
  5. Remove from the heat.
  6. Combine biscuits, walnuts, sultanas and half the glacé cherries in a bowl. Pour the hot chocolate mix over this dry blend and mix together.
  7. Spoon  the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing it down firmly.
  8. Put the pecan nuts in the bowl that contained the chocolate mixture and stir them around to coat them in the chocolate.
  9. Scatter the pecans and the remaining glace cherries over the cake,
  10. Refrigerate for three hours or until set, then cut into slices of the desired length,

Wash up your dishes – by hand.

a piece of chocolate refrigerator cakePostscript: Not only will your stockpile hold the constituents of a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake, but also the foundations of most week night family meals.

Comfort

  

And so once again, it is all about to change.

Autumn is packing away its leaves to make way for Winter to unfurl its blanket of chill. It’s now with haste that laundry is whipped in before the early afternoon crispness descends and cats position themselves in ever diminishing wedges of sunlight. It’s not going to be the same as we have become accustomed to over previous months, we must now prepare for difference.

We all vary in our response to change – either shunning and resisting or welcoming and adapting. Either way it does present as a challenge and usually it is underlying fear of the unknown that creates the difficulty. These are the times when as humans we seek out comfort, immersing ourselves in rituals and activities that bring about a feeling of good.

Comfort of course is quite intangible, as the very thing that makes one feel good may not have any appeal to another. You do need to establish what constitutes yours, as it will serve as your armory in times of uncertainty. Defining your sources of comfort is a highly individualised exercise, but the time spent consciously and deliberately identifying these sources is time exceptionally well spent.

I have put this to task recently and have amassed a reassuring stockpile. Taking my cup of tea to sunny garden space (yes I am like my cats) is a wonderful mid-afternoon treat. Retiring to a blanketed sofa on a chilly Sunday night to be immersed in an 18th century Cornish copper mine saga, watching the protagonist Ross Poldark do his best to be noble, is a wonderful place to be. Pulling a baked dozen from the oven or settling the lid on a rumbling stew, provides an inner satisfaction that can not be manufactured.

Building a fabric of inter-looped yarn by rhythmic needle clicks, a pastime that calms the mind and rewards the creator –

 and then pulling such fabric on when the day’s work is over, only amplifies this simple pleasure.

Running alongside a sun-glistened bayside horizon, passing warmly jacketed dogs and masters while inhaling chestfuls of ion-laced breeze – magic.

And drawing the blinds on a task-loaded day to return once again to sun dried sheets and fluffed pillows.

Locate that irresistible journal or notebook that you knew you someday would need and gather your comforts. Pen them for referral, as times of change will always present.

 home bootsPostscript: If you would like to add these hand-knitted home boots to your comfort armory, here is a similar pattern to those I have made (which was purchased from Lincraft so cannot be reproduced here)

Market

market flowers

Should you ever need inspiration to cook, connect with community or remind yourself of the basis of life, find your local market. I make it my business to take regular trips, because I leave mine not only with a bounty of produce, but also with a prosperous soul.

To be amongst our food in its purest form, watch buyers make their selections with reverence and sellers deal in a rhythm that indicates years of involvement, creates an awareness of the essence of life unlike most other experiences. Regardless of age or background, we are people and we need good food. And to all present at the marketplace this is the shared value.

I know what I want, but I love to observe the selections of others. Sometimes I ask how they will prepare their unfamiliar purchases, and have found that people speak passionately about their methods. Observation is as rewarding as interaction at the market.

amongst the produce

As we leave the market, trolley loaded, culinary inspired and economically satisfied, we know we are part of the population and (very thankfully) our place on the globe.

market trolley

Inevitably though, with aspirations larger than realistic consumption, it is usual to be left with the ordeal of excess. Once family and neighbours have been exhausted with handouts, there is no other recourse than to cook. And as it so happened on our latest excursion, the contents of the tightly packed commercial banana box ripened quickly. An over-supply. So I turned to my good friend Delia who of course had the answer: a lovely Banana and Walnut loaf. The beauty of it lay not only in the demerara crunch topping, but the fact that the recipe calls for four bananas. In three loaves time, I was cheerfully a dozen bananas down.

This loaf is an absolute breeze to bake – and consume. Rather than me taking the credit, you can pay Delia a visit yourself here and she will pass her recipe on personally.

Banana and Walnut Loaf

And so, the box is ready to be broken down now, only to make way I guess for the next windfall to be proudly marched home and stored in its place.

banana box

Postscript: and just knowing the market, that hive of energy and abundance is always there, provides a sense of security that as humans in 2014, we often overlook.

Patty

patty cakes

In a distant age the pterodactyl flew, the Brachiosaurus trod and (according to my children) I was a child. And it was back in those dawning days that we consumed little cakes. No party table was complete without a stand of these delicate little paper-cased delights, smoothed over with silky icing and decorated in a very understated fashion with silver balls or sprinkles. And to us all, they were affectionately known as patty cakes.

We did know of cupcakes. That was the equivalent term our US cousins used, and we heard it bandied about often enough as we consumed our generous diet of American TV and story-books. Despite this, we continued to refer to ours as patty cakes and not much more was said about the matter until recent days.

In a juggernautish manner, cupcakes have stormed our cake world. In a speed that would have impressed Darwin, this evolutionary process saw the little patty cake forced to extinction as the lavish buttercream topped, supersized baked phenomenon, was naturally selected by our gluttonous appetites and now solely inhabits our bakery counters and benchtops. With all of that colour, whip and magnificence, how could it have been otherwise?

I do think there is something to be said about a nice little cake with a cup of tea. Similarly, in a sea of sugar-laden party treats, a small cake leaves room to be tempted by other celebration table goodies. So I bake patty cakes.

If you’re of similar eon or simply enjoy smaller treats, a batch is not difficult to prepare. For your basic cake mixture, use the one from this blog post. If you like shiny, firm icing purchase pure icing sugar rather than soft icing mixture. Measure out 150 grams and sift it. Add water, one teaspoonful at a time, until a nice spreading consistency it reached – avoid runny. Spread the icing across the cooled cake tops, and give them a token decoration. With the recent cupcake frenzy, there are now masses of decorative items now at your disposal.

patty cake

Postscript: There is  a small clue remaining, that the cupcake was once known to us as a patty – supermarket shelves across our land stock paper cases all clearly labelled – patty pans.

Cotton

cotton knitting face cloth seed stitch

 

Cotton. A sense of comfort and security pervades at the mention of it. The common sense, no-nonsense fibre behind the umpteen babies’ singlets, fresh bath towels and crisp cotton dresses we have loved forever. It doesn’t perform the non-shrink, non-iron tricks of it’s synthetic peers – and that is because it is real and it lived. Organic in fact.

So what a wonderful thread to create with and then pass onto others. And there is something quite rudimental about knitting with cotton. Both material and process, originating from the days of our early kin, have a timeless, almost esoteric feel when you spend an afternoon caught up with them. Knitting takes time and steadies a galloping mind. Cotton moves smoothly across bamboo and produces a firm, sensible fabric to be proud of. After an hour or two in the company of both, inner equilibrium is restored – a calibrated being with an accomplished piece.

The lovely ridged fabric you will produce here, makes an excellent face cloth. Gentle, yet nubbly enough to wipe away all traces of the most frantic of days. Set some time aside and make one for your face and for the face of another.

1 50g ball 8ply cotton
1 pair 3.50mm needles

Cast on 44 sts

Knit 10 rows garter stitch

Row 11 k5 *p1, k1* to the last 5 stitches, k5

Row 12 k5 *k1, p1* to the last 5 stitches, k5

Repeat rows 11 and 12 46 times.

Knit 10 rows garter stitch

Cast off (not too tightly)

Darn in your loose threads.

 

seed stitch face cloth knitting

Postscript: And I have the perfect common sense, no-nonsense,  firm and sensible person to gift this one to.

Honest

autumn leaves

And so it is once again we make our seasonal transition, and as is customary, our greeting from Autumn is one of welcome and warmth. Rich jewel-hued foliage and mellow sunshine provide a glorious backdrop for days spent digging over soil for winter, industrious pegging at washing lines or simply enjoying the treat of coffee-dipped biscuits on a terrace.

The latter is my preference, soaking up sunshine as eagerly as the scotch fingers fill with steaming coffee – I’m grateful to absorb them both! I encourage you to make this practice yours as well, as there are no finer moments in your garden than those spent basking in the warmth of sunshine, coffee and golden thoughts of promising plans. The velvety swish around your legs of a feline who discovers your presence only adds to the affability of the occasion.

There is nothing complex or intricate of Autumn. A season of robust honesty – rich color, decent rain, enduring sunshine and crisp nights. It’s reduced temperatures call for hearty, earthy food. Plain and simple. Plain cake. Gather your faithful core ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flour and set about this reliable, dense Madeira cake – nothing fluffy or fly-away about this one. Your kitchen will fill with the scent of baked goodness, and should ‘the sun be over the yard arm’ bring out your finest fortified (madeira if you have it), adjourn to the terrace and dip away.

madeira cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
finely grated lemon zest of 1/2 a lemon
4 eggs

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees celcius and grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and pale.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then stir through the lemon zest.
  4. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time,beating thoroughly between each one.
  5. Using a metal spoon, swiftly but thoroughly, fold through the flour mix.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for 55-60 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out.

 

McWilliam's sherry

I couldn’t help noticing the driver of the bullock cart laden with grapes, decorating the sherry bottle. Maybe he was returning to his rustic verandah. After such a productive day, perhaps to kick off his boots, dunk a big chunk of cake into his sherry and survey the beauty of the harvest vineyard before him- who knows?

madeira display

Postscript: I must give credit to the Liquidambar for supplying such a stunning array of delicious colour to set off the madeira. This tree personifies Autumn in our garden.

Solla Sollew

pavlova

There are spells of time frequently described these days as ‘the zone’. Living in a delightful, even exhilarating parallel universe, is often cited as ‘being in the zone’. Runners coin it and psychologists advise of its pursuit during times of anxiety. Many shake their heads despondently, thinking it unachievable. Not so, every one of us has been there, long before it held its modern-psycho title and simply didn’t recognise it for what it was.

As you sat as a child before a reader, who filled your auditory canals with text, and your visuals with correlating  illustration, your very being travelled to another realm. Objects in the room around you dissolved like Max’s bedroom, where vines grew in it’s place. The reader no longer visible, only fascinating words and intriguing pictures feeding a hungry imagination. And once the story reached its conclusion, only then did you become aware of your delicious absence – some glorious time away like the Pevensie children’s journey to Narnia via the wardrobe’s rear. You were lost (happily) in a book.

Even now, as grown beings, we still disappear into narrative, and how wonderful it is not only to make the excursion, but to reflect on it afterward and will others to do the same, pressing your copy urgently into their hands.

I recall with great clarity, the post-lunch summer afternoon I sat cross-legged as a six-year-old, on a timber classroom floor and made the tumultuous journey to ‘the City of Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles! At least, very few’.

Solla Sollew

So absorbed was I by the magic of this tale, that when the teacher closed the covers, I could swear I had just scampered across that exquisite pink bridge and onward to that place of wonder. Even now, when I recall that tale, my memory of Solla Sollew is one of delight. Living in a land of sunshine and colour, smiles and sweetness. And of course snoozing on those billowy pillows …

billowy pillows

Quite marshmallowey don’t you think? Yes, this utopian land I am convinced, is inhabited by Solla Sollewians who dine exclusively on pavlova. What more fitting a dish for this decadent town could there be? Brittle shards of crispy meringue offset with the spongy sweet centre. Topped with rich fresh cream, fragrant banana,  strawberries and a passionfruit tang following through. Make yours on a day when time needs no measure – there is plenty of beating and mixing to be done and of course with the mix-master whirring and the sugar sprinkling definitely an opportunity to get into the zone.

4-5 egg whites at room temperature (or enough to reach 150ml)
1 cup caster sugar
1 tspn white vinegar
small container of thickened cream
1 small banana
2 passionfruit
approx 6 strawberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.
  2. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  3. Beat the sugar in, 1 tablespoonful at a time and beat well between each addition to ensure it dissolves into the egg whites.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 6 minutes.
  5. Add the vinegar and beat for a further 2 minutes.
  6. Draw an 18 cm circle on baking paper and lay on a flat tray.
  7. Pile the meringue mixture inside the circle – heap it up.
  8. Place in the oven and reduce temperature to 120 degrees celsius.
  9. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  10. Leave in the oven to cool with the door open.
  11. When cold top the meringue shell with cream, thinly sliced banana and strawberries, then drizzle passionfruit across it all.

fruit topped pavlova

Postscript: Pavlovas and Solla Sollewians aside, I owe a great deal to Dr Seuss for the enchanting itineraries he devised for me through his pen.

Walking

Bushwalking
Regardless of individual identity there is a singular attribute uniting us – we each tread a path. Of course our trails are as unique as our digital pattern but the questions and disclosures scattered ahead of our steps are essentially ones common to us all. Recently, as boots met earth, cracking summer-splintered twigs cast amongst early autumn leaf litter, a bushwalk revealed to me the intriguing parallels of forest rambles and life passages.

Life, principally the progressive unfolding of a series of challenges to be captured, secured and marked. Exciting stuff indeed. As a challenge presents, the perception is of its uniqueness to us, but in reality it is never a new circumstance as many will have conquered such a quest previously. We are not the first to experience fear, uncertainty and doubt as many have already weathered these emotions travelling this path before us – now they have simply moved off into the distance to negotiate their next rock face. By taking heed of this the psyche steadies, developing a confidence to proceed – we can do this too.

taking a chance

Keep also in mind, that challenges are not by necessity activities that must be achieved in isolation. Those trail blazers have wisdom, so draw upon them. Have them talk you through the steps and sequences they took so you too can coach those who will ultimately follow your path.

creek crossing

Occasionally you will forge ahead on your own.

climbing

The branches and undergrowth will seem unrelenting at times but clutch them securely and propel yourself forward as these impeding bush elements are actually markers of your progress in disguise.

And there will be occasion where the undertaking appears overwhelming. The perceived looming danger outweighing the possibility of newer and fresher tracks. On closer inspection however, this seemingly insurmountable life obstacle is actually the bridge linking two separate banks – banks welcoming you to lives that would be inaccessible otherwise. Traverse this bridge with patience and consideration, the length though vast is inevitably finite.

Tree trunk

In that glorious interval where one challenge closes, the next yet to appear, bask in the peace. Soak up the beauty and the quiet. This is your time to reflect on your achievement and realise your place.

quiet contemplation

As a point of final consideration, achievement, progress and completion are discrete experiences defining beginnings and endings. Beware they should not crowd the senses thus obstructing the delightful simplicity of the walk.

forging ahead
Postscript: And what could be more heartening than being the observer of one making such energetic tracks toward a bright future?