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.

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.

Cooking Catchup – With Marcella #124, #125, #126, #127 & #128 (of 466)

The past few weeks I’ve been catching up, turning up, clearing up and cooking up – not storms, mind you, though there have been storms brewing, literally, the last few days. As the thunder has rolled and the hail stones have fallen, I’ve been reminded that I’m in a different country to the one I’ve been living in for so long.

I’m living in another time of transition, just now. I don’t love transition – though I often love the fruit of it and the next stage. I just don’t like the waiting to arrive.

While this past year hasn’t afforded the time to cook as often from Marcella’s book. The recipes remain one of the few constants in my life. Constant, in the sense that I know the recipe will work if I follow it. Even my brother, who is not known for trying lots of new foods, pronounced while looking tentatively into an unfamiliar concoction brewing on the stove, ‘It’ll be good! It has to be. It’s in the book!’

Recently, in another book, I’ve been reading the wisdom of Qoheleth, the Preacher. Ecclesiastes reminds me that everything in this life is transient. I may struggle with transition and wish things to be concrete, but wisdom is found in acknowledging the fleetingness of things. In these mist-filled moments, I am exhorted to enjoy the life that God has given me. Eat, drink and be merry. Do whatever work God gives me, with all of my might. Wisdom is seizing the day as it is, just one day. Just one, among many, in the light of a certain and concrete eternity to come.

I’m glad then, that one book (Marcella Hazan’s ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’) fits with the exhortations in another book (Ecclesiastes, The Bible). So here, below, you’ll find the fruit of my eating and drinking and being merry with many different folk, as I live through transition and put my hope in a sure, eternal future to come.

#124 ‘Frittata with Asparagus’ with my Mum and two Aunties at my parent’s table, outdoors in the warmth of an Australian Spring.

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata

#125 ‘Grilled Chicken, Alla Diavola, Roman Style’ with family at my parent’s table, making prior use of their BBQ for this delicious dish.

Grilled Chicken alla Diavola

Grilled Chicken alla Diavola

#126 ‘Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil’ with a wise, like-minded friend at my Australian table. (This particular photo is of leftovers eaten the following evening).

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

#127 ‘Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms’ with my family visiting at my table, for my Dad’s birthday dinner. The blossoms travelled from my parent’s garden and made for a tasty start to dinner.

Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

#128 ‘Asparagus Risotto’ – with Mum, Dad and Brother continuing at my table. Dad declared it to be ‘much better than the frozen risotto packs he heats up when at work!’

Risotto with Asparagus

Risotto with Asparagus

Not Neglecting the Book (Not Much) – With Marcella #119, #120, #121, #122, #123 (of 466)

Forgive me readers. It’s been four months since my last posting of anything regarding my Marcella-n cooking adventures. Not that I’ve been working through the book at any great rate, anyway.

Here are the five that I’ve cooked over these past four months:

#119 ‘Pan-Fried Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives’ (with steak cut and served by my lovely nephew at the butcher shop where he works) – with my brother, my niece and my nephew (the butcher) at their table.

Pan-Fried Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives

Pan-Fried Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives

#120 ‘Sautéed Sea Bream or Sea Bass with Fennel, Sicilian Style’ – cooked for a dear, old friend (the friend took me out for a beautiful dinner that I wrote about here) – with Byron at the table of a kind friend who loaned me her harbour-view apartment while she was away. I didn’t take a photo of the food – but I did take a photo of the view.

The View

The View

#121 ‘Tuscan Peasant Soup with Cabbage and Beans’ – with Peter and Sonja at my table.

I felt the need of something green!

I felt in need of something green!

Shazzameena following Marcella's instructions!

Shazzameena following Marcella’s instructions!

The soup with the requisite poached eggs and parmesan on top. It really worked!

The soup with the requisite poached eggs and parmesan on top. It really worked!

#122 ‘Spinach Sauce with Ricotta and Ham’ – with Helen and Janet at my table. I forgot to take a photo…but just imagine pasta with lots of green sauce. Very yummy.

#123 ‘Tomato Sauce with Sautéed Vegetables and Olive Oil’ – with my brother, tonight, at my table.

Sauce cooking on the stove.

Sauce cooking on the stove.

I plan to get back to the free-writing prompts tomorrow. If you’ve missed the past three days of 15 minute free-writing stories, take a look back at the past three posts.

Ciao!

Dale, Ralph, David and Jeremiah At My Table – With Marcella #118 (of 466)

This blog started out focused around my table. That’s not to say that all posts had to be about food, or my table, for that matter.

In the past few months, the focus of my writing has been on rest, down streets, in books, and sometimes less frequent than I’d have liked. In short, my focus has been ‘all over the shop’!

This is not to say that nothing has been happening at my table. I’ve had a lot of ‘visitors’ – just not many of the ‘present’ or ‘live’ kind – though I’ve enjoyed many games of Scrabble with my brother at my table (he, you’ll be pleased to know, is both live and present).

At my table, I have been keen keeping company with several men. Dale (or Ralph – I’m never quite sure which name he’d like a friend to address him with) has been providing much food for thought in recent weeks. Dale Ralph Davis has written two books on the Psalms – each book covering 12 Psalms. The first, ‘The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life’, I read some time ago. The second, ‘Slogging Along in Paths of Righteousness’, I finished yesterday. I’ve read both while consuming my porridge of a morning.

As I’ve kept company with Dale (or Ralph) and his examination of the Psalms, I have therefore also kept company with David (writer of many of the Psalms). It has been very helpful to spend time with the words of one who has trusted in, and cried out to, his God. Those words have encouraged me to ‘keep company’ with the same God.

This morning, I moved onto another book by Dale (or Ralph) – a collection of sermons he preached on the book of Jeremiah. I look forward to keeping company with this intriguing prophet for some breakfasts to come.

Today, I fancied some soup. I had swept up some autumn leaves in the back yard of the apartment block where I live – and I fancied something simple and warm for lunch. I turned to Marcella Hazan’s chapter of Soups.

Her ‘Chickpea Soup’ required no shopping on my part. I had a tin of tomatoes and a tin of chickpeas. I had some beef stock. I had some garlic. I had some fresh rosemary in the garden.

It was took little effort to make the soup and little effort to invite my neighbour to join me. After keeping company with men who were not present and, in the case of Jeremiah and David, not live, it was good to have a live, present, woman sharing a meal with me – at my table.

Chickpea Soup

Chickpea Soup

Lunch Today: #118 ‘Chickpea Soup’ with Phillippa at my table.