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.