Renovation: Wrapped up in Wisdom – With Marcella #145, #146, #147, #148 & #149 (of 466)

I’m still buzzing from my recent attendance at a Furoshiki workshop at the local library! I feel like I have been bathed in creativity and beauty. Each time our teacher wrapped another random object in fabric with a combination of folds and knots, we all exclaimed with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. We’re all now sold on this ancient Japanese art of wrapping things in fabric.

Attending the workshop was a deliberate, much-needed break from painting a bathroom and bedroom. While there’s something beautiful about a freshly painted room, there’s nothing easy or effortless about it. My muscles were aching and lungs longed for fresh air. I exchanged the hard, wooden handle of the paintbrush for the soft folds of fabric. A welcome change.

The instructor explained how this traditional technique had been replaced with modern, habits during her childhood. She recalled with regret the shame she’d felt as a teenager when, out with friends, she discovered in her bag and little snack wrapped lovingly by her ‘traditional’ mother in Furoshiki folds. She quickly hid this from the sight of her friends. She was aware of the wonderful irony that she was now teaching us that ancient, sustainable art.

These past couple of years, Nick and I have certainly appreciated the inter-generational support of my parents. As we’ve developed our property, inside and out, Dad’s age-old winching techniques have helped remove dead trees and tightened new fencing wire. Mum’s decades-old Anzac biscuit recipe has kept us going over many brief coffee breaks.

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Workers take a well-earned break

My mother and father have known me all my life. They therefore knew when I was struggling alongside Nick with the depth and breadth of the physical labour involved here in my new farm life. They offered help. They did it willingly, pointing out that others had helped them so much over the years as they’d built their houses.

Nick and I would, at other times, struggle along with the work, just the two of us. We were so grateful then when help arrived with different perspectives and age-old wisdom.

Certainly from my Mum and Dad I’ve learnt the value of hard work. I grew up seeing them work hard, both of them, physically and mentally. Now, as I move about the house and the property in mud-stained boots and paint-splattered track pants, I recall my Mum saying that ‘a hard-working woman is attractive to a good man!’ I trust this is true. Nick tells me it is.

It certainly hasn’t been an easy start to married life, but it’s been a wonderful way to learn about, and from, each other.

Nick’s only known my parents a few years, and I’ve been on the other side of the world from my parents for 17 years before meeting Nick. All four of us together, clearing land, building a deck, replacing fallen fences and working on all the home-improvements, has given us plenty of opportunity to know each other better. The real knowing that comes in the context of real, down-to-earth work. We’ve sat around the table together, too, eating to be energised for the next task before us. But the real knowing has come in the dust, dirt and debris.

Marcella’s chapter of soups was a great place to go for simple, hearty meals to get us all through those winter work days. Always easy. Always tasty.

#145 ‘Risotto with Sausages’, #146 ‘Potato Soup with Carrots and Celery’, #147 ‘Crostini’, #148 ‘Vegetable Soup, Romagna Style, #149 ‘Summer Vegetable Soup with Rice and Basil, Milan Style’ with hard-working parents/parents-in-law at our table.

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Renovating Zucchini and Home – With Marcella #142, #143 & #144 (of 466)

Nick doesn’t like zucchini. He likes every other vegetable. I can’t think of any food he doesn’t like. Except the humble, green zucchini (or ‘courgette’ for my Irish friends).

Each fortnight, we order a box of local fruit and vegetables from the wonderful Pheasants Nest Produce. The contents of the box are fresh, seasonal and varied. Except for the regular appearance, in and out of season, of zucchini. I’m quite partial to them.

Nick doesn’t like zucchini. But he’ll eat them if they’re not really like zucchini. So to Marcella’s chapter on vegetables! She has many recipes for zucchini. Even the zucchini flower makes and appearance in the book.

Living, as we do, 15 minutes’ drive from any shops, we’ve become skilled at making do with a fairly well-stocked pantry and freezer, and our fruit and vegetable box.

So while we were in the throes of painting kitchen cupboards white, eradicating the final vestiges of 80s/90s decoration, I was disguising zucchini. While cutting holes in walls, I was hollowing out the vegetable, ready to be stuffed with other delicious ingredients.

It doesn’t take many dips into Marcella’s book to realise that most Italian cooking requires very few ingredients. Most can, thankfully, be achieved little or no travel to the supermarket, if you have a good store cupboard, some herbs in the garden and few fresh ingredients.

She often allows for substitutes, too. I say ‘allows’, as Marcella is normally wonderfully prescriptive. This girl finds that comforting and reassuring. Substitution proves very handy when you’re tired from a day of manual labour and you know that the prosciutto that is 15 minutes’ drive away, can replaced with sliced, baked ham from Christmas, nestling conveniently in your freezer.

The broccoli that regularly appears in your vegetable box can be paired with tinned anchovies from the pantry and sautéed into satisfying simplicity, then mixed with some boiled, dry pasta.

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Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce

May I also mention how convenient leftovers are the following evening after painting a re-plastered wall with a new opening in it?

#142 ‘Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce’, #143 ‘Prosciutto and Cream Sauce’ and #144 ‘Hollowed Courgettes Stuffed with Beef, Ham and Parmesan’ at our table, with little fuss, much appreciation, and no need for a trip to the shops.

 

Renovation: Making Room for a Fridge, Freezer and Gelato – With Marcella #140 & #141 (of 466)

One of the aspects of renovation has been, for us anyway, a decluttering of unnecessary things from our home.

When working out how to fit the fridge in our kitchen, rather than leaving it in the laundry (for goodness sake!), we thought about how much storage is actually needed in the day-to-day operation of a kitchen. It turns out not nearly as much as we usually think. So, having done some decluttering, we were then able to empty some cupboards, rip them out, and move our fridge into place – in the kitchen!

I had been reading an article at the time on minimalist living and the writer suggested getting rid of things in your kitchen that you never use. Then storing the things (somewhere out of the kitchen) that you would use once or twice a year.

I’d go one step further and suggest borrowing those items from others who, like you, would only be using them once or twice a year. Or perhaps they have never used them since the initial two-week burst of post-purchase enthusiasm.

I’ve done this with a pasta-maker and an ice-cream maker!

From inside an occasionally used ice-cream maker

Over the years I’ve been working through Marcella Hazan’s book, I’ve borrowed machines from two different households for the purpose of making gelato. I currently have one that the owners seem reluctant to take back. It’s currently out-of-the-way in a hall cupboard, taking up way too much space for its purpose. I shall keep it until I conquer the remaining few gelato recipes, and then insist they take it back! Most of us attempt making gelato or icecream maybe once or twice a year, until we see our favourite supermarket brand is on special.

Still, I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve made already. These two most recent attempts were no exception. Both were easily made while deep in the throes of renovation, as dust-filled carpets were lifted and old tiles jackhammered up.

Black Grape Gelato

Banana and Rum Gelato

Both were easy to make and soothing to eat. We ate them out of some random teacups because that’s all we could find at the time.

The carpet and the mysterious lumps underneath, now gone.

The fridge on a journey between the laundry and the kitchen.

#140 ‘Black Grape Gelato’ and #141 ‘Banana and Rum Gelato’ at a makeshift table with Nick and my Mum and Dad who had been helping us with several days of toting old rolls of carpet, sanding down old grout and concrete, and generally keeping us sane.

Renovation: Cooking up a home – With Marcella #139 (of 466)

Is it all worth it?

Renovation, with all its dust, disturbance, decision-making and difficulties, has me wondering.

In my past life, alone and abroad in Ireland, I rented a number of homes over those years. I chose them for their simplicity, neatness, safety, and the few weeks or months I could see it would take me to make each house a home.

I chose those homes.

When I married Nick, nearly two years ago, I moved into his home on a piece of land with magnificent views from Razorback back toward the city of Sydney. It has been a place of peace and healing for many who have visited and stayed for that purpose.

However, a house large enough to contain many guests, and a property of 100 acres containing a good number of Charolais cattle, has been a big jump in workload for this former resident of small houses with postage stamp gardens in Ireland.

While the house itself was serviceable and adequate, I knew from the start that there would be a good bit more than a few weeks ahead of me to make it feel more like home.

Eventually, once we’d sorted the very basic elements of living together, combining goods and chattels, those basic renovation needs had to be faced.

But renovation is never basic. No matter how economically one might approach it. In fact, in our determination to do much of the work ourselves, we’ve faced many months of work, dust, and a house that has often looked more like a tool-shed than a home.

Nick and I are so alike in the areas that matter most, but we have some differences. He is good at living with a little chaos and upheaval. I need things sorted, simple and settled. Nick loves the journey. I long for the destination!

We’ve been working at this long journey together. I with determination to reach the end, and Nick with his patient application to improving many things he was admittedly happy with just as they were.

We’re almost there.

In the meantime, with stoves pulled out from walls, and dust hastily wiped from benches in order to combine some simple ingredients, we’ve fed ourselves and others. Slowly, but steadily, I’ve been working through Marcella’s cookbook.

Pork and Rosemary Filling

Pork and Rosemary filling ready to roll!

To indicate some of the time this renovation process has taken, this recipe was created back in January of this year. Not much time for writing when one is renovating!

Rolled Chicken Fillets with Pork and Rosemary Filling

The finished product with a few steamed vegetables.

#139 ‘Rolled Fillets of Breast of Chicken with Pork and Rosemary Filling’ with a patient, loving husband, and an understanding friend called Liz, at our table.

Married – With Marcella #133, #134, #135, #136, #137 & #138 (of 466)

Between recipes #132 and #133 a marriage happened.

Along with 21 months of time.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. Life has been wonderful and full, happy and hard, blessed and challenging – sometimes all at once. That’s life for most of us whether we’re married or not.

More about the hubby and the new life, sometime soon.

With lots of things added in my life, writing has been somewhat subtracted. I’d like to remedy that by starting simply.

Starting with today’s focaccia baking.

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An impromptu visit from a favourite aunty, along with life lived 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest shop, meant a rustling up of some focaccia to pair with half a jar of olives and assorted bits of salad from the crisper drawer.

It very quickly started to disappear.

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Early in my life here at Razorback, on the edges of the Sydney basin, I ventured into Marcella’s bread chapter. Her recipe for Pizza Bases (and subsequent toppings) went down a treat with some early visitors to the farm here. Her Olive Oil Bread was also good, but was soon eclipsed by the ‘Five Minute Loaf’ or ‘No Knead Loaf’. More about that some other time.

For now, it’s good to be back.

Over the past year or two… #133 ‘Pizza’, #134 ‘Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Basil and Parmesan’ (pizza topping), #135 ‘Olive Oil Bread’, #136 ‘Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Amarone Wine’, #137 ‘Spareribs, Pan-Roasted with Sage and White Wine’, #138 ‘Focaccia with Onions, Genoese Style’ with the hubby, family and friends at my table.

Less Hating. More Relating – With Marcella #130, #131 & #132 (of 466)

I’m not hip, and I know it.

In case I didn’t know it, I was gently and respectfully reminded several times recently, while making a decision about a technological purchase. The store I entered was hip. The staff, eagerly ready to help me, were hip.

There use of phrases like ‘people over 40’ and ‘the responsible purchase’ had me wondering if they’d done some kind of cyber, wireless profiling of me as I walked through the doors.

It was fun, though. It’s fun to rub shoulders with the ‘youth of today’ every now and then. It helps keep me keep in touch and keep things real…the reality of being older, that is.

My favourite ‘youth of today’ to rub shoulders with are, of course, my niece and nephew.

A couple of weeks ago, while cooking dinner for them, my nephew made use of a phrase I rather think I’d like to adopt…if only my aging mind could recall it quickly enough in appropriate situations.

In response to the niece’s playful joke at the nephew’s expense, he uttered:

‘Can we have less hating and more relating, please?’

I think we can, don’t you?

Over the years I’ve found that one of the best ways to promote relating and do away with hating, is to eat food. Together. At a table. Right up close and personal. Close enough to hear the munch and crunch and sip and slurp of the potential enemy beside you.

It may be a rare thing to sit down with an actual enemy, but we certainly have times where we sit with someone for whom we’re feeling something less than love. It could be someone we’ve eaten with many times before, but things are currently strained. It could be someone we’ve never eaten with, but we’ve decided to invite them to our table to understand why they’re like they are. To have a little less hating and a little more relating.

A squashy table with some food, some questions and some understanding can do that.

This past month: #130 ‘Veal Scaloppine with Lemon’ with veal purchased from the shop where my nephew is apprenticed as a butcher, #131 ‘Warm Red Sauce’, and #132 ‘Piquant Green Sauce’, with various combinations of family members at various familiar tables.

Books I Read in 2015

Now that it’s nearly one month into 2016 and nearly two months since I last posted on this blog, it feels strange to be posting and possibly a little silly to be posting a summary of last year’s reading. However, as a few friends had asked for book recommendations recently, and I was feeling more and more scared of posting anything the longer I left it, I figured I’d just go ahead and post this list.

For now, I will simply put an asterisk next to the books that I’d heartily recommend…then in a later post, I may (or may not) get around to explaining why I recommend them. Just keeping it real, folks!

And just to keep it really real, on the device I’m currently using, I can’t work out how to highlight the titles in order to italicise them…sorry!

Fiction

*The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

*Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

The Housemaid’s Daughter by Margaret Mutch

*The Spare Room by Helen Garner

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party Bub Alexander McCall Smith

A Light in the Window by Jan Karon

Academy Street by Mary Costello

*The Storied Life of A.J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

*A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

*The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

*Paper Towns by John Green

At the Water’s Edge by Sarah Gruen

Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Suspect by Michael Robotham

The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres

*Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

After You by Jojo Moyes

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

*Wonder by R.J Palacio

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

 

Non-Fiction

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Suprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter

*The House of Grief by Helen Garner

*My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

*Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

*Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

 

Biblical and Applied Theological Books

*Invest Your Suffering by Paul Mallard

*Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Alberry

Hearing the Spirit by Christopher Ash

Sing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms by Michael Lefebvre

Finding God in the Psalms by Tom Wright

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

*The Road We Must Travel by Chan, Peterson, Hybels et.al

*Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness by Dale Ralph Davis

*True Word for Tough Times by Dale Ralph Davis

New Testament Wisdom for Everyone by Tom Wright

The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges

*Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung

*Heading Home by Naomi Reed

*Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity

 

 

Growing Up – With Marcella – #129 (of 466)

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This past year, while I’ve been on the same land mass as my family, I’ve had the joy of occasionally travelling up to my brother’s to cook dinner for us all and catch up for the evening.

I still feel there’s so much to catch up on…so many days of life and inches of growth that my niece and nephew have experienced while I wasn’t looking, while a sea or two or three and a nation or two or three or ten have separated us.

Every few years I’ve parachuted in and seen them that bit older and wiser and chattier and funnier.

Yet, I think back to the baby boy I held and spent time with for the first four months of his life before I flew away for the first time. Eighteen years later, he’s taller than me, and he’s still so lovely and he makes my heart swell and hurt with love all at the same time. He’s a butcher in the making just now. He’s always been a sensitive, caring soul in the making.

I think back to the little, feisty toddling girl I met for the first time when I traveled back many years ago. She was already a budding actress and a very clever little girl. She could put her mind to anything and do it well. She still can. She loves quiet time. She loves learning. She’s pretty much the same height as me now, and I can’t believe how she’s grown into a young woman already. She knows more about doing her hair and makeup than I do. All while she excels at school.

I’m so proud of them both. I love having more time to see them. Though these days I have to take what time they can give me in the midst of their busy, social lives.

But I’ll take whatever time and hugs and laughs I can get. I’ll take, and give, as many ‘I love you’ s as we can say. I’ll keep enjoying all the cooking and feeding and sitting and taking around a table as we can manage.

Time is short. They are not! They keep growing!

#129 Fusilli pasta with ‘Courgette Sauce with Basil and Beaten Egg Yolk’ with brother, nephew and niece at my brother’s table.

Free Writing – Ultimate Meringue Therapy

The inside of an egg holds the promise of the ultimate meringue recipe – half of the insides of four eggs, anyway.

This morning I made a batch of meringues for a friend.

When I went to bed last night, and as my friends’s birthday came to an end, I fell asleep with the intention to awake the next morning and make those meringues she loves so much. A promised birthday gift, albeit a day late.

This morning I woke to an email she’d written last night, after my bedtime, telling us, her friends and family, that her dear brother had died that very day.

A day of birth and a day of death.

The thing about meringues is that they’re good for both. At least I trust they are. A light crust that holds things together just long enough – until one reaches the soft comfort of the marshmallow-like interior.

I hope the meringues are a comfort to this friend as she grieves – with family afar, friends nearby, and alone as she settles into bed to sleep tonight.

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Meringue Therapy

4 egg whites

3/4 cup castor sugar

1 cup of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees celsius (or as low as your oven will go – mine is 120 degrees.)

Line baking tray with baking paper (I use two trays).

With electric mixer on medium speed, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Turn the mixer to high speed and add the castor sugar a dessert spoon at a time. Beat until the castor sugar is dissolved.

Sift in the icing sugar and then fold the mixture with a large metal spoon until it’s combined – don’t overmix.

Spoon onto the trays in clumps! I get about 15-16 from this batch – but you could make them bigger or smaller if you prefer.

Bake in the oven for an hour – more if they’re not crisp when you touch them. (I swap the trays around on the two shelves in my oven, half-way through the cooking time).

When they crusty on the outside, take them out and carefully remove them onto a cooling rack.

Serve with a bowl of whipped cream and a bowl of berries.

Cafe Disloyalty

Today, I am to write about the space in which I write. Yet, that very topic brings me face to face with the current crisis that I face.

Perhaps ‘crisis’ is a tad dramatic.

Yet, as I sit here in this new space, two doors down from my old space, I’m feeling a little anxious. Admittedly a little less anxious than I was a few minutes ago as I tried to approach the new space from a different direction so that the owners of the old space wouldn’t see me. Having memorised my name and coffee order within two visits, I imagined them calling out my name in enthusiastic greeting, only to fade on the last syllable as I slinked past them to the other place.

Cafe loyalty or, calling it as it is, disloyalty.

I wanted to be loyal. I really did. I’d made headway with remembering the names of the staff and other fellow patrons. I was enjoying the free newspaper and the feeling of belonging.

I just wasn’t enjoying the coffee.

That’s a problem when you’re sitting in a cafe.

It’s not that I’m a coffee snob. I actually would have been OK with an instant coffee. It was just that this particular blend, in the form of my customary ‘long black’, was literally making me shudder each time a took a mouthful. That’s a problem when you’re trying to look friendly, appreciative, and, well, just normal, really.

So, while I don’t take kindly to disloyalty in any area of life, I had to make the decision. It felt cruel. The reality is, they may not even notice I’m no longer a regular patron…? This is not likely, given that when I visited yesterday, they said ‘So good to see you back after being away for work.’

One thing that nearly held me there, in the old space, clutching my coffee with determination and preemptive shuddering, was the free newspapers and the crossword found therein.

But now I’m here in the new space, with a much better coffee for my tastes, brighter surroundings, free wifi and – you guessed it – a free newspaper.

Coffee and Crossword

Coffee and Crossword

What else can I do, but embrace disloyalty? With time, my disloyalty will become a new loyalty, to a new writing space.

Watch this space.

Postscript: I turned to the crossword. Someone had got there before me. Could this be my punishment for disloyalty?

Two minutes later: the friendly,  loyalty-seeking waitress just brought me the other newspaper in the cafe (after another loyal patron had finished with it). The crossword therein is as yet untouched. I believe I’m hooked.