Saturday, December 24, 2016

The week before Christmas

The week leading up to Christmas has been a busy one.

I have been up early every morning when the light is so soft and pretty that I literally scramble to catch it with my camera.

The last load of feral goats for the year have been mustered and trucked out.

The working dogs played an important role capturing the goats in this muster.  They worked all day in the dust with no complaints, just the occasional the splash in the trough.

In the garden I am picking zucchinis, cucumbers, lettuce and capsicums. 

I believe the first tomato for the season needs a little bit of fanfare.  I scoffed this beauty sliced on sourdough with soft goat cheese, basil and honey roasted figs.   It felt like a true celebration of my summer garden, right there on the chopping board.

Why make a normal gingerbread house when you could make a gingerbread chook house?  In true Australian style there is even a pesky (lolly) snake hiding in the straw.

Merry Christmas friends. May it be calm and peaceful. x

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Christmas list

Hello friends.  How is your Christmas shopping progressing? Are you completely organised or completely bewildered with the whole thing? Here are a few tips and ideas that help me each year.

When it comes to gift giving our list has been whittled down over the years.  We only buy for immediate family and special friends and we try to keep the whole thing fairly low key.  I believe in quality over quantity and try to shop locally when I can.  In saying that, online shopping is also my friend at this time of the year.

Homemade gifts are still my favourite and this year I will be baking, assembling and packaging biscuits, mini gingerbread houses and dried apricots and figs.

Here are some other suggestions and links for gifts that are slightly unique, one off or handmade. 

Although most of my family live in remote areas far from delivery services, for those who do live in urban areas a flower delivery is a surprising gift that can become part of the recipient’s festive d├ęcor.  The bonus is that fresh flowers don’t need cupboard space after Christmas.  My favourites are East End Flower Market and Flowers By Alice if you happen to live in Adelaide.

Many people in my life work with dogs, horses, motorbikes, light aircraft or all of the above.  There are many options for accessories in these areas and hard-wearing leather and saddlery goods are a timeless gift.  Two favourites are Kent Saddlery and a.l.lcreations for custom made belts.

For clothes and homewares why wouldn’t you choose an Australian designer? Doops Designs are a new favourite of mine.  All screen printed items are original designs, hand drawn and hand printed using eco-friendly water based inks that are 100% solvent free.  Just good stuff. 

Magazine subscriptions to any of these three independent publications would be welcomed by most of the girls and ladies in my life: Far West Living, Graziher or Lunch Lady . 

I hope some of these links might help or inspire you.

Now, back to the gingerbread men, figs and apricot chaos in my kitchen. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Christmas photo shoot

There was this day way back in October when I packed up the kids into the ute with all of their swimming gear.  For once we decided to leave the dogs at home!  In addition to the kids and the swimming paraphernalia I also had an old timber table, stools, linen, glassware, sparkling wine, old spoons, a chair, a wreath, all of the ingredients for a Bloody Mary including ice, vintage cocktail swizzle sticks, emergency clean up gear,  camera gear, four gingerbread houses and just to test my limits, an ice-cream cake. 

What unfolded was certainly my most ambitious cooking, food styling and photography project up to this point in my very amateur career.  While the kids swam in the creek I styled and snapped and furiously wiped up the drips and rearranged things and waited for the prettiest light I could possibly capture.  There may have been flies and glare from the afternoon sun and the occasional incident involving two small people, mud, water and towels dropped in the prickles.

Thank goodness for the magic of photography and for Claire, the very trusting creator and founder of Graziher for letting me loose on these wonderful projects. 

If a Bloody Mary for Christmas breakfast takes your fancy or you are interested in reading about our own twists on some festive traditions treat yourself to the summer issue of Graziher magazine.  You will be supporting a beautiful and unique independent publication.

I hope the countdown to Christmas isn’t getting too hectic for you.

Are you getting whole heartedly into yet?  Or perhaps like me you are taking one small Christmas step at a time.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friends and apricot mania

When I sit down and look at the photos that I have taken over the last few weeks it reminds me that life is full of fleeting moments, travelling, planning, routines, dreams, meals, expectations, mess, noise, conversations and occasionally, quiet understanding.  All of these things have intertwined to make up the colour and rhythm of our life lately. 

We have had some horse riding adventures with a like-minded horse crew.

Horse riding adventures often lead to fossicking adventures.  Abandoned woolsheds always deliver when it comes to light, texture and a good dose of nostalgia.

There is nothing better than locally grown fruit, particularly when you are saving fruit that would otherwise be wasted.  Last Sunday afternoon we met up with our little food loving community and filled our buckets and crates and cars with apricots and nectarines. 

At the end of it all we shared a cold beer, a chat and some delicious cake served on the back of a ute.  More Sundays should be spent like this.

Subsequently my kitchen and cool room are now over flowing with apricots which has led me to plenty of apricot related baking.  I started with easy apricot slice, which is more like a cake. (recipe below) 

Soft sourdough buns with chunks of apricot hiding in the middle.

Wood oven dried apricots.

Now I am thinking about homemade apricot liqueur for Christmas presents and since the theme of the day is apricots, I thought I would share a recipe. 

Apricot slice/cake
225g plain flour
¾ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs
¼ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
180g butter, softened
8-10 apricots, halved (depending on size)

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line a 30cm x 20cm slice tin with baking paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.  Place eggs, milk and vanilla in another bowl and mix to combine.  Pour the egg mixture into the well in the dry ingredients, add the butter and beat by hand or with electric beaters until smooth.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared tin.  Push apricot halves into the mixture, arranging in rows.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons extra sugar, then return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Are you noticing the colour and rhythms of life at the moment?

Are you baking or harvesting or snooping in old sheds? 

Happy Friday friends. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Making, growing, sharing and balancing

As life races towards the end of the year and the calendar starts to fill with school events, social events and farm commitments I have been trying hard to prioritise and make time for the small things.  This can take effort and also means politely declining to some invitations and events in order to keep some sanity in the house. 

For me, sanity comes in the form of cooking and trying new recipes like these steamed bao buns which I stuffed with slow cooked pork shanks, shredded carrot and chilli sauce.  For anyone who likes to experiment with bread, these soft buns were very simple to make. Next time I will use roast duck as a filling. 

Calmness can always be found in the garden but often I rush through it turning hoses and irrigation on and off while heading to the clothesline.  Sometimes it is nice to stop and notice the light and these spectacular alliums that are almost ready to flower.

In the garden there are also tiny zucchinis.

And an apricot tree that is absolutely loaded with the promise of summer jam making and preserving.

Spending time with the horses is always time well spent.  Like all animals they can have their challenges but in many ways they force us to slow down and pay more attention to our levels of patience and acceptance.

Last time I hit the second hand shops I scored three stools which originally came from a local high school science laboratory, for $10 each.  They are sturdy and perfect for our shed where people tend to congregate in the afternoons.

Zara and I recently caught up for a chat about renovations, babies, chooks, bees and artichokes.  Whenever we catch up we usually exchange small gifts, just because we both appreciate the same things.  I gifted Zara a well-worn copy of The Magic Pudding for a special little place on the bookshelf. 

In return Zara gave me a robust looking jar of kombucha.  Now I have some research and experimenting to do!

I have made some time recently for this podcast.  The behind the scenes world of the food industry is endlessly fascinating for me.  If you are interested in real, seasonal food and community you will love the interview with Alex Elliot-Howery from Cornersmith

Are you rushing to every school and social event on the calendar?

Are you doing some polite declining?

I hope you are finding some balance.  Enjoy your Sunday, friends. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Biscuits, bread and broccoli

When my children are older and have ventured out into the big wide world I hope they always remember the aroma of freshly baked biscuits from our house.  I cook bread, cakes and the occasional slice but biscuits are top of my baking list.  I find they store and freeze easily, travel well, they don’t need cutting and they are perfectly acceptable without sticky icing or filling. 

Lately I have been experimenting with a recipe based on basic Anzac biscuits from this cookbook.  Firstly I tried the addition of dark chocolate.  The warm golden syrup gently melted the chocolate during the mixing process and the results were an immediate hit with our young biscuit connoisseurs. 

Secondly, I baked a batch of traditional Anzac biscuits for a school P&C function. I prefer my biscuits on the crunchy side so I left these in the oven until they were thoroughly golden.  

Given my obsession with baking there are times when I think that perhaps our sugar and butter consumption is a little on the high side.  I omitted the sugar completely from this batch and added a handful of chopped, dried apricots and sunflower seeds.

In this case the young biscuit testing crew sniffed out the lack of sugar immediately, declaring the dark chocolate variety much tastier.  The sugar free biscuits were flakier but I enjoyed their oaty texture with the occasional chunk of apricot, just to keep my sweet tooth happy.

When it comes to sourdough, my children both prefer individual rolls rather than slices of bread.  I intentionally removed these rolls from the oven before they became too brown because soft white rolls are perfect for small hands and easy lunches.  

In other news, I have broccoli that has self sown growing strongly in completely random places in my garden.  Sometimes broccoli is more attractive to my children served with a little bowl of soy sauce.  I am not sure if it is the salt, the dipping or the tiny bowls but soy sauce always seems to be a winner.

I don’t adjust all of my cooking just to suit the younger members of the house but it is funny how cooking evolves as our lives move into different stages. 

Wishing you fresh biscuits and pretty light this weekend, friends x

**If you are interested in this biscuit recipe I am happy to email it to you. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Projects, schemes and momentum

Isn’t it funny how projects and schemes come along?  Years ago I started this blog and I took a few photos, cooked some bread, grew some vegetables and in between all of that I continued to be a mum, wife and distance education supervisor.  Not too much has changed except our farming business has expanded and our children are growing at a rapid rate.

It has always been my grand plan to fully embrace cooking and workshops on a small commercial basis once our children were older.  When that time will actually come, who knows?

As time has rolled on other little projects have slowly appeared.  Suddenly I find myself trying to source panettone and baking gingerbread walls and roofs in October for a Christmas photo shoot

Recently Ellie, from The Darling Design Co helped me to overhaul my blog.  In the meantime Ellie has been creating a blog and publication of her own, featuring real people and real stories from the far west region of NSW.  Ellie kindly invited me to write a blog post for Far West Living and I have included some of my favourite places in our region.

Sometimes I help out with some  styling, photos and social media bits and pieces for our school cook book which is fun, gives me more photography practice and supports our school fundraising in a very small way.

I still bake bread and take photos and take care of my family but I jump at all of these extra opportunities.  As a mum living on a sheep station I don’t have a career of my own, as such.  I am perfectly happy with this arrangement.  But, a little independence is healthy for all of us. 

It is motivating to connect with other young women who have a passion for life on the land and it is a pleasure to contribute to their ventures.

Some days I question where all of this is leading me on a personal level, but I do know that whenever I say yes to projects, momentum is created.  You just never know what might be around the corner.

The photo of my husband with our horses has nothing to do with my personal projects, but it does remind me of why we live where we live: the good bits, the tricky bits and all of the bits in between.

Do you have any projects on the horizon?

Are you searching the internet desperately for pre-Christmas panettone? Perhaps that’s just me.

Happy Friday, friends x

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wool, water and wildflowers

Muddy roads, wet sheep and rained in shearers can cause some logistical challenges when is comes to the annual job of shearing our sheep.  Last month shearing was interrupted several times by rain but we got there in the end thanks to flexible staff and a good dose of patience and persistence by everyone involved.  

With paddocks full of green grass there has never been a better time to enjoy home grown, home slaughtered lamb. 

Looking around our property we now have full dams, a running creek and abundant wildflowers.  Such a dramatic contrast to what our landscape can look like at this time of the year.

On an afternoon walk we spotted this well camouflaged echidna looking for some dry ground.

About 40kms away the Menindee Lakes are bursting back into life with water flowing and wildflowers swaying in the surrounding sand hills.

In the vegetable garden there is asparagus, flowers, weeds and some spring vegetables slowly establishing themselves. 

School holidays mean that right now we have a bit more time to appreciate our surrounds, cook, garden, read and spend time with our horses.  Thank goodness for the holidays.

Are you into podcasts?  Or maybe just looking for some beautiful links and ideas? If so be sure to visit My Open Kitchen.  There is so much goodness here that I don't even know where to start.

Happy Sunday, friends x

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ten years of chatter and tangled hair

I don’t blog a lot of details about our children.  However, an important milestone is on the horizon so I have made an exception to my own rules.

Our Annabelle is about to turn ten.  I recently watched her board a big bus for her first real school camp and I could barely believe that she has been in our lives for ten years.

I watched her mingling among the school crowd while the bus was packed and details were ticked off various clipboards.  She can be tentative, rarely at the front of the pack but never lingering right at the back either. 

Annabelle mostly wears a proper cowboy hat to keep off the sun off her face and farm boots for practicality.  She constantly reads books, instructions, labels, magazines and any other written words she can get her hands on.

She bravely takes a long bus trip to school every day and has never complained about it.  Not even on the hottest afternoons, the coldest mornings or when the behaviour of her fellow passengers has been questionable.

Animals are some of her best friends and her pony, Buddy, is perfectly suited to her kind personality. 

She notices the pretty light.  She is organised.  She will eat the strongest, smelliest cheese but won’t even go near Vegemite.  Her birthday present request is for a pocket knife, because it would be handy, in her words.   

This year Annabelle has pruned my roses, tackled public speaking, won a hard earned medal for running and spent endless hours quietly making yards,  jumps and accessories for her toy horses. 

Her musical tastes are wide and varied, just like her parents.  This song is played almost every night, at least once.  

Sometimes her courage and positive outlook on life stops me in my tracks and reminds me to keep my own attitude and behaviour in check. 

How can we be parents of a ten year old?  I can still barely believe it.

Go gently this Friday, friends x