Monday, May 16, 2011

The Pursuit of Slowness is a difficult thing...

It would seem we are suffering from a touch of déjà vu…the first sentence from the last post (in March!!) sums up how things has been for us around here of late.

So what have we been up to that has been keeping us so busy…?

I started working at the beginning of March, and while it is going very well, I have, strangely enough, not had the same amount of spare time to devote to ‘slow’ pursuits.  Meals have become quicker and simpler, the quantity of sweet baking has dwindled and the requirement for housework is ever-present.
In the kitchen, we have started ordering a food box from a local organic market gardener/supplier.  Every Tuesday, Grant picks the box up from Cliffy’s, a gorgeous café/provedore in Daylesford (near work), along with a couple of bottles of local Jonesy’s milk.  On Wednesdays, (my day off work), I go through the goodies we have received this week and plan our meals (lunches and dinners) accordingly, trying to minimise the amount of extra shopping required.  Once meals are planned, Jessie and I walk down the street and pick up our additional items from grocers, delis and specialist food shops around town.  It now means we run into Woolies only for a handful of items each week – mostly toiletries.

The breadmaker has been a godsend – being able to plonk the ingredients in within 5 minutes when stumbling off to bed, and waking up to the smell of gorgeous fresh bread in the morning is a real delight.  And we only just bought our first loaf of bread in 5 months this weekend because I forgot to put a loaf on in time for lunch!

Jessie is going great guns.  We have been taking her to obedience classes at a local park on Sunday mornings since February, and she recently graduated from Class 1, and is now learning with the big kids in Class 2!  And yes, her certificate is on the fridge!

Now, updates on the vegie garden:
Here is some of the produce we have harvested over the last two months.

We spent a lot of time in the garden over this weekend just gone, finally planting our autumn/winter seeds.  We can blame the summer that never really happened for delaying our harvest, as we kept waiting for (particularly) our tomatoes to ripen.  We eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen, so on Saturday we harvested 5kg of green tomatoes and prepared the beds for planting on Sunday.

That brings us to the challenge of trying to use 5kg of unripe tomatoes.  Never fear, Stephanie Alexander was close at hand to provide a Green Tomato Relish recipe.  Three batches later, we have 8 jars of zesty, mustard-yellow relish, ready to fill our sandwiches throughout winter.  Hopefully, next year, we will be able to make some regular tomato chutney as well!  In addition, we've also bought up quantities of quinces and granny smith apples for poaching, stewing and freezing for use over the coming months - particularly those nights where only quince crumble or apple pie will satisfy!  Given that we have already had a couple of subzero nights, there are plenty of those to come.

The corn and some of the pumpkins are staying in for now, hoping for them to finish ripening (they are much closer than the tomatoes were), and we still have the broccoli and some of the radicchio in their beds.  In addition, we have planted garlic, broad beans, peas, spinach, Russian kale, spring onions, rocket, more broccoli, kohlrabi and red curly leaf lettuce.  All except the kale, kohlrabi and lettuce were direct sown into their beds, with the others going into seedling trays to propogate.
Another sap on our time and energy has been property-hunting.  Despite initially giving ourselves six months to enjoy country life and make sure it is what we want to do long-term, we started looking at properties, with the excuse that we were just ‘keeping an eye on the market’.  Of course, it means we have fallen in love, a couple of times, with blocks of land in various locations.  We are yet, however, to secure any of them.  Will keep you posted.

Finally, here are some yummy coffee meringue kisses we made at Mum and Dad's at Torquay over the Easter long weekend - the result of my sister's home-made Easter Egg Ice Cream was six surplus egg whites that I, of course, could not bear to see thrown out!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


My, how busy this slow life has been keeping me!  I apologise for the lack of posting of late, I have been saying for at least three weeks that I need to sit down and write!

After a rocky start, our vegie garden is now well and truly established; our tomatoes are almost higher that my head now, and, while not yet ripe, the fruit is growing in gorgeous little bunches that are promising a variety of cherry, roma and big red tomatoes.

The corn is flourishing, although we have only seen one cob developing so far.

Our beautiful little Golden Nugget pumpkins are growing strongly, and they look like they are going to provide us with enough produce to keep us fed over the next four or five months.

We had planted our seeds in December, only a couple of weeks before the huge storms and flooding around Victoria.  Kyneton was not immune, and while we saw only a minor amount of flooding in our garden, many of our other seeds were swept away in the deluge, being shallowly planted.  So we have had a couple of vacant beds, until a few weeks ago when Grant and I, and my sister and brother-in-law, visited the Garden of St. Erth at Blackwood.  The garden is one belonging to the Diggers Club, a seed-saving garden club dedicated to the preservation of heritage varieties of plants.  I have been a member for a couple of years, and love their publications and the access to interesting fruit and vegetable seeds and seedlings.  We enjoyed a delectable Devonshire tea (accompanied by their own homemade berry jam) in the gorgeous gardens, and we picked up a couple of seedlings to fill out the vegie garden.  We now have two lovely Romanesco Broccoli plants, and a bed of russet-coloured Radicchio (a vegetable I have fallen in love with for cooking into a risotto – just a little bitter, balanced by the salty tang of parmesan and the creaminess of butter and the rice starch).

I am now starting to think about the autumn plantings, and preparing the beds accordingly.  We are hoping to head out this afternoon to one of Grant’s colleague’s farms to pick up some horse manure to work into the beds in anticipation for planting in a couple of weeks time.  We are planning two tee-pees of sugar-snap peas, a bed of spinach, a bed of spring onions and we will try our hands again at broccoli and cauliflower despite the seedlings dying in the trays before we could transplant them last time.

Perhaps the biggest challenge over the next little while is going to be balancing my new job with our lifestyle commitment (and the little luxuries I have become used to, like going to the gym in the middle of the day and reading two books a week!).  I am starting tomorrow…feels somewhat like beginning at a new school!  I will be working in Bendigo, which is a 45 minute train ride from here, and should be able to commute by train most days.  It is also only four days per week, so I will have an extra day at home to work in the garden, bake and play with Jessie!

Speaking of the dog, Jessie has been attending obedience training for the last four Sundays and seems to be improving.  She can still be very strong on the lead, particularly when she sees another dog and wants to say hello, but she is becoming more consistent in her behaviour on the lead, and learning to listen to what Mum and Dad are telling her!

While Jessie has been at obedience classes on Sunday mornings, Grant has been mountain-biking with the group out of Castlemaine.  They seem to be pretty serious – most rides lasting around the 2 ½ hour mark – but Grant seems to be improving: he is certainly coming home with fewer injuries!  I have joined the gym a couple of blocks away, and have started running regularly with the ‘morning joggers’ group.  Indeed, I have signed up for the 14.38km Run for the Kids on April 17, so am in training for that with a few others at the gym.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a week-long workshop on strawbale house building, run by a family who are building their place in Pipers Creek, about 15 minutes from Kyneton.  It was a hands-on workshop, absolutely fascinating and a brilliant experience.  Grant and I are thinking that this is the medium that we would like to build in eventually, as it has amazing thermal properties (stays warm in winter and cool in summer) and it is a really aesthetically beautiful building style.  While we didn’t get through the entire build process in the week, I am keeping in touch with Dean and Sherril and will head back on the occasional day off to learn about another aspect of the building process.  The workshop really inspired me, and convinced me that this is the medium that I want to build our home out of.

(Yes, Mum, that is me sitting on the top plate!)

I think that pretty much wraps it up for now, with a promise to stay on top of this blogging caper in future!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Spoils of Country Living

One of my favourite things to do on a spare afternoon is make fresh pasta.  I cannot remember the last weekend I had free to do this at my leisure.  It has usually been a rush to the finish with friends due to arrive for dinner at any minute and the pasta still not rolled through the machine!  So it was a rather delightful prospect for me to have an entire day before me with nothing but a kilo of strong pasta flour, some gorgeous free-range eggs and my somewhat neglected pasta machine before me.  I made my pasta in two batches, for ease of kneading, resting and rolling.

Perhaps it was the aforementioned aspect of more time, that in turn meant a longer and more effective kneading time, that produced what I believe is some of my best pasta ever!  The dough was beautifully silky, but not sticky.  

I made the majority into fettucine, that I – cleverly, I thought – decided to bundle into portion-sized mounds to dry, so that I could easily ascertain how much pasta I needed when I went to cook it. 

Not a good idea, as it turned out.  The weight of the pasta turned the mounds into patties, and the warm, wet weather we have had here meant that the pasta did not dry properly and has gone mouldy.  Oh, well, at least we had one batch of the fettucine for dinner fresh the following night.  With the rest of the pasta, I made spaghetti, which I hung to dry on the rack Grant bought me many moons ago.  What an investment!  The spaghetti has dried perfectly and is in an airtight container in the pantry ready to be used when I have thought up a suitably delicious saucy topping.  Will see what the farmers’ market this weekend turns up…

Speaking of farmers markets, we made it to the Kyneton market on Saturday morning, bright and early as it started.  Which was a good move, as the day was already very warm by the time we were leaving at 9.30am.  While small, the selection of produce and stall holders was good, and we were able to purchase a wide variety of in-season fruit and veg to stock us up for the week.  I know I promised photos, and indeed I took my camera, however negotiating other shoppers, bags of goods and an excited puppy was more than enough to manage without pulling out the camera as well!  I did, however, take some pics of our haul once we got it home.

Our list for supermarket shopping was satisfyingly small and restricted almost entirely to canned goods, toiletries and dairy.  Our menu this week has included Caponata (Sicilian Eggplant Stew), Beetroot burgers (made with homemade bread rolls and home grown alfalfa sprouts) and Grant’s famous pasta dish of parsnip, zucchini and carrot in a carbonara-type sauce served with my fresh pasta…Yum!

Kyneton is very fortunate to have many of it’s streets lined with lovely old fruit trees.  One street a block from us is lined on both sides with cherry plums.  While we were walking Jessie late last week, we noticed how heavily laden some of these trees were with fruit, so hurried back armed with a plastic supermarket bag that we filled almost to bursting with these lovely little fruits.  In total, we gathered just over 3kg. 

I decided that I would make jam with this profusion of fruit, so spent some time online searching for others who may be able to share a recipe or some insight into the quality of the fruit for jamming.  Having found many sites that swore by cherry plums as a great beginners jam fruit, I felt confident to proceed.  So, on Saturday afternoon, while Grant worked on rebuilding his mountain bike, I sat down to the mountain of cherry plums to de-stone them prior to jamming.  Two and a half hours later, with sore hands and a stained apron, I had a huge bowl of fruit ready to be made into jam.  I will post on that separately, with a blow-by-blow account in case any others are interested in trying their hand at jam-making.  It really is very simple, and very satisfying.  I now have 13 jars of gorgeous, ruby coloured jam ready for gifting…Scones anyone?

At the request of the lovely Julie, I am going to finish this post with the recipe for pizza dough I always use, and used for our BBQ pizzas on New Year’s Eve.  I picked it up years ago, and cannot for the life of me remember who to credit with it.  If you are using a pizza stone, you can reduce the cooking time to 5 – 8 minutes per pizza.  This recipe makes enough dough for two good sized pizzas, but I made three for the sake of variety.  I made all the pizzas with an olive oil base (no tomato sauce) and toppings of:
  1. Bocconcini, fresh tomato and fresh basil
  2. Ricotta, zucchini (cut into ribbons with a vegetable peeler), goat’s milk feta and chilli
  3. Roast pumpkin, caramelised onions and gorgonzola

Pizza Dough (makes 2 large pizzas)

  • 1 sachet dry yeast
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • 2 ½ cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

  • Place yeast, sugar and 2/3 cup of warm water in a bowl.  Combine, then leave for 5 minutes or until yeast is bubbling.
  • Place flour and salt in a large bowl and made a well in the centre.  Add olive oil to the yeast mix and pout into the flour.  Using your hands, work the liquid into the flour until it forms a thick dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is shiny and elastic.  Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  • Preheat oven to 180C.  Roll out thinly, place on a pizza tray and cover with a clean tea towel.  Leave in a warm place for another 30 minutes.
  • Add your toppings and bake for 15 minutes or until base is cooked and toppings are bubbling and golden.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

…and here’s to the Year of Slow Living!  2011 has started promisingly for us, with the last few days being very relaxed.  As previously posted, we had planned a quiet New Years’ Eve at home, with homemade pizzas on the BBQ (thanks to Jane and Jonesy for the beaut pizza stone!).  The only alteration was the swap of red wine for white – as in Melbourne, we had a very warm 31 December and, unlike our place in Melbourne, no air-conditioning here!  Despite struggling to stay awake until midnight, we dug in and were able to see in the New Year with half a glass of wine and a pat for the dog.  Party animals that we are, we were in bed by 12.15, and, briefly before falling asleep, marvelled again at how quiet it is here at night…even on New Years’ Eve!

My New Years Resolution is to become inseparable from my camera, in order that I can illustrate my stories here more effectively.  We’ll see how that goes…

One of the nicest things about living here has been the visits from friends and family.  Lunch tends to be an all-day affair, beginning in the late morning, while dinner results in a houseguest and company for breakfast the next morning too!  While we are not that far out of the CBD (I have to keep reminding myself that many of our neighbours commute every day to Melbourne for work) guests don’t tend to do the ‘quick drop-by’ on their way through from another commitment.  We have the luxury to sit and chat for hours over meals and those intervening periods well filled by another glass of wine or a cup of tea.
So it was when my sister and brother-in-law came to have lunch on Sunday.  Arriving soon after 12pm, they were taken on the requisite tour before sitting in the sunshine out the back, admiring the new vegie patch and tucking into warm olives with fresh rosemary from the garden, and brie with freshly baked gluten-free bread.  That rolled into lunch, followed by a walk to stretch the legs and the stomach in preparation for dessert that my sister had brought with her.  Already failing in my resolution to take more photos, credit to Lauren for taking some snaps of her delectable Angel Food Cake with Poached Strawberries and cream (photo below).  Oh so good – we polished off the remainder for dessert last night – still fantastic!  Coffee in the lounge rounded off the afternoon.  What a pleasant way to spend a Sunday!

On Monday – Grant’s last day of holidays before heading back to work – we decided to do a bit of a tour (with Jessie in tow) of the local towns and villages surrounding us.  We started in the very picturesque village of Malmsbury with a picnic lunch in the Botanic Gardens.  As we sat by the artificial lake, eating and drinking, watching the ducks on the water and the children in the park opposite, I realised I had left my camera at home again…what a pity, as the day and the surroundings were so beautiful!  From Malmsbury, we drove through Taradale and Elphinstone (two very small historic villages) before taking the road towards Daylesford, aiming not for Daylesford itself, but for the Chocolate Mill on the road between Daylesford and Castlemaine.  Grant has mentioned the Chocolate Mill many times since we moved, mentioning that it is famous for its Hot Chocolates (served in white, milk or dark chocolate) and that they have recently been awarded Victoria’s Best Hot Chocolate.  I finally took the hint, and so we ended up there yesterday afternoon, and, yes, the Hot Chocolate really is all that.  We ordered both a milk and a dark hot chocolate, in order to ‘share and compare’.  Trumps for dark chocolate.  Our final stop of the day was Trentham, where we had a stroll down the main street.  Intrigued by a truffle shaver in the window, I stopped in at Idyll Foods, where I found a small but rather delicious range of fresh fruit and veg as well as pantry ‘essentials’.  The shopkeeper, speaking with another customer, pricked my ears when discussing local winter truffles, and how Trentham was a truffle-dog training centre, and that they hold a truffle festival in July each year.  Have already marked it in my diary and will ensure an adequate report ensues.  I limited my purchases to some gorgeous looking kipfler potatoes and nectarines that I could smell from two metres away.  Back home, I cooked up a simple dinner, with those kipflers (roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper) taking pride of place next to an unassuming but rather satisfying brown-rice bake and tomato and herb salad.  Pleased to report that I remembered to get my camera for recording that!

This morning, as I was watering the vegies (a rather unrewarding job before the seeds begin to shoot!  I feel like I am just watering the dirt at the moment) I saw the first shoots on my broccoli seedlings.  These are currently being raised in a seedling tray, and will need a few more weeks there before I can transplant to the main vegie patch – but at least it feels like a start!

This weekend is the first that we will be able to get to the Kyneton Farmers’ Market – will be sure to take my camera and post lots of snaps.  It will be lovely to be able to walk with the puppy to a farmers market and home again with all our goodies!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2 more sleeps...

Well, with Christmas behind us, and the New Year fast approaching, I have had a moment of panic and guilt at being an absent blogger.

With the start of the New Year, of course, comes the official start of our Year of Slow Living, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the changes we have been making so far.

While we moved all our stuff in nearly four weeks ago, I spent the first week sleeping on my parent's couch while I finished up at my job in the city, while Grant started his new job in Daylesford.  Having now had three weeks in Kyneton, the house is beginning to look and feel like home and the boxes that are yet to be unpacked are able to be stored in rooms we don’t need to look in every day.

Our first, and perhaps most exciting, development, was the adoption of a puppy three weeks ago.  Not really a puppy, Jessie is 18 months old and was abandoned before being picked up by the pound.  When her owners did not come forward to collect her, she was sent to Pets Haven shelter in Woodend where we met her on 11 December.  She is a Labrador/Rottweiller cross with the best of both breeds’ personalities (in our opinion!).  We have had some settling-in issues, but on the whole, she is a little treasure, and has fitted in well to our new family.

Christmas was spent this year with my family at the beach, which was a great opportunity for Jessie to experience the ocean for the first time!  This was also the first year since I finished my undergrad degree that I have had time to ‘properly’ prepare for Christmas.  Those who know me well know that I love Christmas, and always have the most expansive plans for baking, crafting and celebrating.  This year, I had two whole weeks in which to intersperse the unpacking of boxes with baking gingerbread, making chocolate truffles (two kinds!) making a fresh wreath for our front door, wrapping presents and preparing a four-course Christmas Eve extravaganza (with matching wines) for the family.  And this is the first time in a very long time that I have been able to truly enjoy that whole process without getting stressed and feeling pressed for time.

In the few days since getting home post Christmas festivities we have begun preparing for 2011.  We did our sale shopping this year in Bendigo – a very nice change from the manic shopping mentality of Melbourne.  The stores were no more crowded than Melbourne’s on a normal shopping day – in many cases they were much less crowded!  Armed with a shopping list, we made our way through in about three hours.  Included in our haul was a breadmaker (our Christmas gift from Grant’s parents), a blanket for our bed, and a new down jacket for me.  Even in December, we have both been surprised at how cold it gets here overnight and in the early morning. 

The last two days have been dedicated to the building of raised garden beds and the planting of our vegetable garden.  While our landlord has kindly allowed us to plant a vegetable garden, the soil quality is not great and much of the garden is already well established.  So we have selected an area at the back of the house that was set up as a dog run by a previous tenant with fences all around.  Consequently, this setup ensures that we can keep our own little Jessie OUT of the vegetable garden!  I have added below my plan of the garden and what has been planted this round.  The next round will be in March/April.  If it all comes off, it will be a delicious bounty of fresh produce that will allow us to avoid too much reliance on the local Woolies.

Tomorrow evening, New Years’ Eve, we are planning a quiet night with some homemade pizzas cooked on the BBQ and a nice bottle of red that we have had cellared for a few years.  Whatever you have planned, we send lots of warm wishes for a happy New Year, and I look forward to sharing more of our stories with you in 2011. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

By Way of Introduction...

Welcome to the first post of 'The Good Life - a year of slow living'.  This blog will be a journal of 2011 - the year we pledge to live slower, walker more lightly and savour the small joys of life.  I am a first-time blogger, so this is very much a learning curve for me.  I look forward to hearing you feedback to help me make this blog as interesting and informative as I can.
So, about us.
My husband, Grant, and I have been living in Melbourne, Australia, in a two-bed townhouse 8kms from the CBD.  My background is in Art History, moving into Arts Event Management in recent years, while Grant has been working in Climate Change and Sustainability Services for a large international firm. Needless to say, work has been keeping us busy.
Long days at work have been augmented by early morning gym sessions on one side and industry events, drinks with friends, music lessons (guitar for him, piano for me) and Yoga classes on the other.  Who needs kids when we have our own plethora of extra-curricular activities to be ferried to and from?!
The Yoga classes seemed to work for a while, then we began booking regular massages.  One day last year we finally came to the conclusion that we were burning the candle at both ends, and it wasn't making us happy.  The rushing from one thing to another, constantly thinking about the next thing on the list, the noise and speed of city life just weren't doing it for us.
In late 2009, we started looking at land to buy around the Heathcote area, contemplating building a 'country house' - a simple weekender that we could disappear to on a Friday night and return refreshed to work on Monday.  Around the same time, Grant proposed, so building plans were put aside in favour of wedding plans.
We were married in July this year, on remote Kangaroo Island (off South Australia) and honeymooned in Europe.  We planned the trip to include as little time in major cities as possible.  Toward the end of our honeymoon, staying in rural Somerset, UK (at Edington House - just magic!) we became convinced that perhaps we needed more than just a weekender - maybe we needed a total tree-change.
So, Grant has now secured work in the beautiful town of Daylesford, I will be a lady of leisure until the new year, and we have rented a sweet cottage with a large garden in Kyneton, approximately half and hour from Daylesford.

Our Year of Slow Living will begin on January 1 2011. We will be trying many new things, and promise to share with you the failures as well as the successes.
We officially move into our new place in mid-December and the first challenges will include: 1. Living without a TV, and 2. Planting (and maintaining) and vegie garden.
Please do contact me with your feedback - I would love to hear from others doing similar things, or those who are considering doing so.
In the meantime, I made my Christmas Puddings this week.  If you are planning on doing the same, you might like to try Grant's grandmother's recipe (passed on to me by Grant's mum, Pat - an excellent cook; I only hope I do the puddings justice!)

Grandma Colwill’s Christmas Pudding Recipe
Makes 1 large or 8 mini puddings

250g Raisins
250g Currants
250g Sultanas
50g Glace Cherries
2 tablespoons Sherry
250g Butter
250g White Sugar
3 small eggs
125g Plain Flour
125g Self-raising Flour
½ teaspoon Mixed Spice
1 teaspoon Bi-Carbonate of Soda
1 large cup of fresh breadcrumbs

* Combine the raisins, sultanas, currants and cherries in a bowl.  Sprinkle over the sherry, mix well, then cover and leave overnight
* Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition
* In a separate bowl, sift together the plain flour, self-raising flour, mixed spice and bi-carb soda
* To the butter/sugar mixture, add the mixed fruit, flour and breadcrumbs alternately, mixing well after each addition
* Prepare your calico - bring a pot of water to the boil, add the calico and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove calico from the water, allow to cool slightly then squeeze excess water out.  Dust plain flour on a bench, place calico on flour and dust with more flour until both sides have a light coating of flour - this will waterproof your calico.  Line a large bowl with the calico and fill with the pudding mixture.  Bring the loose ends of the calico together and use cotton string to tightly seal the parcel
* Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Immerse your pudding in the water, helping it to float by tying the ends of the cotton string to a wooden spoon placed across the top of the pot
* Boil for 3 - 3.5 hours, topping up the water as required
* Hang up to dry (I place a clothes horse in the bath and hang my puddings from that!) then store in the fridge until Christmas Day!
* On Christmas Day, boil your pudding as before, for 2-3 hours.  Cut the string and remove the calico.  Serve on a platter with your favourite accompaniments - brandy butter and custard for me, but Grant is voting for custard and vanilla ice-cream!