food

Comfort food

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When I was in my early 20s, my then-boyfriend and I used to go and stay with his grandparents, in their little blue weatherboard cottage in the country, beside a lake. I remember waking early in the morning and going for long walks on the sand, watching dolphin families fish for breakfast. Morning tea with his grandma, served precisely at 10am every day, was always tea in a big pot, and Iced Vo-Vo biscuits.

One year, a few days after Christmas, we were less than an hour into our journey back home to Sydney when we received a sad phone-call: my boyfriend’s grandfather had had a heart attack, and died. We immediately turned around and hurried back to the weatherboard house, which by the time we arrived was already overflowing with family-members: parents, sisters, uncles and aunties, all with their jobs to do, somewhere on the spectrum from grief-counselling to hearse-ordering, depending on their skill-set.

All except me. As the little-known girlfriend of one of the grandsons, I felt acutely in the way. Awkward, a noisy presence (although I rarely spoke) during a time when the family needed to close in, bunker down, and support one another.

Often, food is how we show someone we love them, when they are going through a difficult time. Something hearty and lovingly baked, and left at the doorstep to be consumed when there’s no time or energy left for cooking, or frozen for a later day.

But as a superfluous guest in the bereaved person’s house, I couldn’t do that, so I made the next best thing: tea. Pots and pots of tea. I made so much tea, in fact, that everyone got sick of it. I distinctly remember walking into the kitchen where my boyfriend’s mother and grandmother sat together over the table by the window, and offering to put on the kettle. “I think we’ve all had enough cups of tea for today, thank you Naomi,” they said.

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We had a bereavement in our family this week and, once gain, my mind turned to food.

I can’t erase the pain of those who are most affected, but I can sit in the stillness with them. (I have learned, since my 20s, that sometimes it is OK to be still with someone. We don’t always have to be doing, doing, doing). And the other thing I can do, this time, is make food. Nutritious food because grief can take a toll on the body. Hearty meals because they feel like edible hugs. Handy dishes that only need to be heated up to feed a whole family. And sweet treats, for emotional self-care and to have something easy to offer the inevitable well-meaning guests who drop around.

It was serendipitous, also, that the day after we lost our loved-one, I received a gift in the mail from Sophie Hansen (of Local is Lovely): her latest cookbook, A Basket by the Door. Actually, I received two copies of this book on the one day, one that I had pre-ordered, and another as a personal gift from Sophie.

Sophie’s book is all about food that is made to be given away. The edible care packages through which we share love during the large and small milestones of life: the loss of a loved one, a new baby, a school picnic, pre-exam jitters, a graduation, welcoming a new neighbour… and the list goes on.

This is such a heartwarming concept for a book, don’t you think? There is nothing fancy or flashy in here, and most of the recipes are relatively easy to make. The goal is to share love, not show off. Delicious, tasty, wholesome food that is intended to be given away (although Sophie does make the clever suggestion that we double some of the recipes, to keep some for ourselves as well!), alongside practical tips on how to ensure it travels well.

Country hospitality.

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(I realise at this point that this is starting to sound like a sponsored post: I assure you it’s not. I bought my own copy of this lovely book, and nobody asked me to write about it. I just really, really adore the concept of edible care packages, and even I can cook these recipes!)

For my grieving family, from A Basket by the Door, I have already made a rich and hearty lasagne, half to eat now and half to freeze for another day when cooking feels like too much. I’ve prepared a simple and delicious filling for chicken sandwiches so we can stuff it into crusty bread rolls and take it to the park to recharge in nature. I plan to make and freeze some bliss balls during the school holidays for the kids to take in their lunch boxes when term starts, and there’s a coconut and lemongrass broth that has caught my eye for dinner some night soon.

I baked the blueberry, lemon and rosemary cake you see in the photograph above this afternoon, as a treat for the children when they came home from school, tired, grubby and low on reserves. (It freezes well so there’s a lot of future after-school treats in that tin!)

Sophie made all the food for this book, and photographed it, herself, over two years. Doing it this way - slowly, thoughtfully - meant the food she made was shared in the way it was intended, with family and friends, each dish an individual act of abundance and love.

In this spirit, I was thinking I’d like to send you a care package, too, to say thank you for being my community.

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This blog is my happy place. I called it “Naomi Loves” many years ago, because I wanted it to be a celebration of the things, places and people I love, and that has never changed. In fact, of late I have really fallen back in love with this form of storytelling, and it gives me great joy to write a blog post each week.

But what really makes me swoon about this blog is you. In 2019, when so many people are saying blogging is dead and the only real community is on social media, you are here. You read, you leave your comments, you send me emails, and I cannot tell you how wonderful I feel to know that we are sharing this little time together, and that you allow me into your world in this small way.

Those of us here on this blog are a much smaller community than on my Instagram or my newsletter, but that makes it feel all-the-more intimate when I am writing to you, and I feel I can be more vulnerable here than anywhere else in public. It’s almost as though we’re family.

And so, I want to thank you. I’d like to give you my second copy of A Basket by the Door (the one I paid for, because the one Sophie gave me has a little note in it that makes it extra special to me). I won’t post this opportunity anywhere else online, I’m keeping it only for this little blog community, because I appreciate you so much.

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If you think you’d like A Basket by the Door, either for you or a friend, simply leave me a comment in this post below (if you’re reading this via email you just need to click on the title of this blog post to see it in your browser, and then you’ll see the comment box), letting me know what your favourite ‘edible care package’ is (either to give or to receive), and what makes it special. (Mine is chicken pie, but the why of that is another story for another day).

I know some of you have missed out on past opportunities on this blog because of time zones, so this time we can take it slow. I’ll choose a winner a week from today, on Friday evening, Australian Eastern Standard Time, and email that person. The opportunity is open to you anywhere in the world and, depending on the laws in your country, I might bake you a batch of my mother’s Anzac biscuits (they travel well) to go with the book.

Big hugs,
Naomi xo

UPDATE 15/04/19: This competition is now closed, and the winner has been notified. But if you’re in the mood for some inspiration, have a browse through all the kitchen-generosity in the comments below. It’s utterly heartwarming! And do still feel free to share your thoughts on this. The community on this blog genuinely makes it my happy place.

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Harvest and home

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Autumn swept into Melbourne last week with one last, brutal heatwave, scorching gardens and people alike, and reminding us that our place on this brown and sunburned land is insubstantial. In my family, the threads that tie us to this landscape are gossamer, only two generations young, and our biology has not caught up with our climate. Every time the mercury rises we are driven inside, hiding from the weather in the relative cool of double-brick walls and high ceilings and air conditioning.

Autumn is harvest time, usually a season of delicious bounty, but heatwaves here and drought there and floods over there have left many of my country’s crops rotting, or burned away, or not even planted. Often we are insulated from these events in the city, the travails of the farmers and producers only an hour or two away from us go unnoticed amid bulk discount produce in the supermarket, shipped in on ice from many thousands of kilometres away. But when a head of broccoli soars to $10.75 a kilo, surely more people will start to take notice.

We do our best to buy locally, supporting our farmers or the high-street shops that in turn support the farmers, and we follow the seasons as best we can, buying our food when it is at its best and was picked just the other day and just around the corner (rather than last month and in another time zone).

But if you can’t grow the crops yourself, it’s not always easy to know what is at its best, when.

This was easier in France. Shopping at the farmers’ markets in Dinan every week, I tried to let the produce inspire my cooking, rather than carrying a shopping list with me (I wrote about that in my newsletter last month, and you can read it here if you’d like to).

I quickly learned from this experience how ill-equipped I was as a cook to plan our meals in this way, and scouted around for some kind of guide to help me. And, this being France, naturally I found one. It was a little book called “Agenda Gourmand: use année de recites avec des produits de saison” (which is fairly self-explanatory even if you don’t speak French, but roughly means “Food planner: yearly recipes with seasonal produce”). There was a week to each opening, celebrating the produce that was likely to be at its best on that particular week, and sharing recipes and other tips for using and cooking with them.

Back in Melbourne now, I have decided to create - and paint - an agenda gourmand of my own, noting down the best times to plant, harvest, buy and forage for food where I live, and collecting my favourite recipes, remedies and stories for making use of them. I hope it will become my go-to food guide for seasonal eating, and maybe something I can pass down to my children as well.

I also hope it will become a celebration of the beauty and abundance of nature, both in paint and in words. Another way for me to make peace with my country, even when the heatwaves are relentless and fierce.

So I have started painting, and I have started reminiscing…

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Pears…

They were never my favourite. Too sweet, too juicy, and with that funny, fuzzy texture on the tongue… not for me. (Although hard to surpass in a rocket salad with parmesan cheese and rocket, it’s true, to complement the pork ragu I like to make in autumn).

And then there was that tarte au poire I ate atop the Eiffel Tower in the autumn of 2011, on the holiday from which, unknowing at the time, I would bring my daughter home inside me.

September was cooling down. It had been raining, and parts of the metal steps were slippery as I climbed, alongside two friends I’d known and loved since childhood. I’d been to Paris before but this was my first time climbing the tower, and no amount of cliché, nor the blisters from the new red ballet-flats I’d mistakenly thought would be romantic on a visit to Paris, could make the moment less magical.

At the top we bought hot chocolates, and my friend Lindy chose a pear tart for us to share. It was one of those moments. Paris in the rain. The Eiffel Tower. Beloved friends… and that tart. Sweet, vanilla pastry, a hint of almonds, and juicy pears (fresh, with the skin still on them) arranged in a beautiful flower and glowing under a delicate glaze.

That was the day I made friends with pears.

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Radishes…

Sharp and clean, with a pepper-like crunch that warms a winter salad and makes orange sing. Slice them thinly, then hold the slices up to a window to see them glow like tiny moons.

Radishes are the first vegetable I remember growing. My mother found us a little patch of dirt around the side of our suburban house in Berowra Heights, and told us we could grow our very own vegetables. She told me she chose radishes because they were so easy to grow, even in cooler weather, and they were relatively quick: you have to harvest radishes early or they become hot and spongy.

I remember the touch of the warm soil as I drew a line in my little vegetable patch with my finger, carving a trench just deep enough to carefully place the seeds along the line I’d made, each of them two hands apart, before covering and gently patting the soil smooth again. The staggering weight of the watering can as I tilted it over my future harvest, barely able to hold it up. And the excitement when the first, green shoots poked up through that carefully tended soil… And then the waiting - oh! the waiting! - with the sublime impatience of childhood, for the harvest day to come.

Something else I remember: the extraordinary underwhelm of my first bite. Pepper! I suspect I wailed, “Too hot!” The flavour that now brings me so much delight (is there anything better, paired with pomegranate seeds, watercress, honey and fresh mint?) was a resounding failure in my childhood vegetable patch. I don’t remember what came next. Carrots, maybe?

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Apples…

The apple tree at the front of our house is fruiting this year. It’s just a crabapple tree, nothing we can pick and munch for morning tea like the gala apple I’ve painted here (I had to label it in the ‘fridge: “Mummy’s art, don’t eat.”) I chose the crabapple for our tiny front yard because the blossom trees on the next street over were so spectacular that in spring they would take your breath away. I think you could see those rows of blossoms from space, and that’s something special in the inner city. I love these trees so much I contacted the chief arborist at our local council to find out exactly what variety they were, so I could have my very own piece of blossom heaven.

I missed the blooms on our tree last year, because we were in France, but my husband tells me they were every bit as glorious as I’d hoped. And now our little tree is fruiting. Every morning as the children and I set off on our walk to school, we say hello to our tree and inspect the baby fruit, which seems simultaneously so improbable and yet so lovely in our tiny city yard.

In Dinan, there was a public apple orchard. Mostly cider apples, growing wild and unharvested on the side of the hill beneath the castle walls. There was a path winding through the apple-trees down to the river (they called the path a ‘Chemin des Pommiers’ - an apple walk), so covered in fallen apples in October that a gentle stroll became a slippery and treacherous clamber. But the air inside the orchard was perfumed with apple-flavoured honey.

Also this podcast about apple trees, with Lindsay Cameron Wilson, makes me so happy.

What are your stories?

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Listening & noticing

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We first noticed it on a Saturday night at the beginning of September: the unnatural quiet.

We were returning from the playground, where the children had spent a rousing hour-and-a-half making friends via a game of Ralph’s invention. It involved tossing his soft car-toy into the midst of a group of children who were spinning at top speed on a merry-go-round. If they managed to catch it, they’d toss it back, causing gales of laughter as Ralph ran hither and thither to pick it up like an eager puppy. Over time, the game evolved into chasings, with everyone chasing the one person who held the car, which they’d then pass to someone else if the mob of children got too near. A bit like under-six football, only with a lot less rules.

The children’s French language skills are coming along swimmingly, too. Mid-way through the game Ralph took a break in order to run up and tell me, “A girl said ‘bonjour’ to me, so I said ‘bonjour’ back.”

So, practically fluent.

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We left the playground and sat down at a table outside a restaurant in the heart of town. I ordered us a tuna salad to share, and a glass of wine for me, and leaned back to enjoy the evening. That’s when I noticed it: the quiet. The town, which we had left two hours earlier bustling with the now-familiar throngs of thousands of tourists, buskers, market stalls and families, was now all-but empty. Two old men at a table nearby, smoking over pastis. The woman from the Presse across the square, leaning in the doorframe of her shop and watching the dusk. An old English sheepdog, asleep on the flagstones.

That was pretty much it, other than us, and it felt uncanny, to say the least. I said as much to the woman who brought us our salad. “Oui,” she said, her face widening into a broad smile, “c’est tres tranquil!” (“Yes, it’s very quiet!”). In the space of one afternoon, the school holidays had ended, and the crowds had melted away like mist in the sun. Now, I thought to myself, I am about to discover what life is really like in the village.

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And one great lesson I am learning from life in this village, now that tourist-season has closed, is that there is a time and a season for everything, if only we learn to listen for it.

At first this felt restrictive because, in Australia, we are used to doing all the things, all the time. We eat when we can (hungry or not), and often on the go. We work all the time. Early morning. Late nights. Weekends. My husband brings his computer, iPad and telephone with him on holidays. We do our shopping at odd hours, slotting it around our long days. Pick up this on the way home from the office, grab that on the way home from school, shop for those at 9pm on a Sunday night, and order the rest online at 1am on a Tuesday after finishing a deadline.

I get my coffee take-away and eat at my desk, and our mealtimes are likewise scattered. For breakfast, Mr B grabs a banana for the car and snacks at work when he gets hungry. Often I forget to eat lunch and then pick at unhealthy anythings scavenged from the pantry all afternoon. I feed the kids their dinner and put them into bed, and then by the time Mr B gets home from work I’m often too tired to cook again. We are keeping Uber Eats in business.

By comparison, this is our life in the village:

* The church bells ring at seven in the morning. They don’t start earlier and the inference is, what person in their right mind would get up before seven in the morning anyway?

* On church-service days (including weddings and funerals), the bells start ringing 12 minutes before the hour, and continue all the way up until the hour, to give everyone in the village time to get to church

* The markets run from eight until one on Thursday, and that’s where everyone in town stocks up on fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses and spices for the week. It’s seasonal, and you just have to roll with what’s growing (no California oranges or New Zealand kiwis here)

* The cafés and restaurants open at noon until about two for lunch, and seven until nine for dinner. Outside those hours most are closed and even if they do open, you can only get drinks

* I’ve yet to see a take-away coffee cup

* The shops don’t open before ten each day, and they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. “Sundays are family days,” my friend told me, with an expressive gallic shrug that seemed to add, “naturally”

As you can imagine, we came unstuck at first. I used up the last of our milk on a Saturday night and shock! horror! Had to wait until after ten on Tuesday morning to buy more for my tea. More than once, I failed to buy enough fruit and vegetables at the markets and had to go without for the rest of the week. (Going without is better than facing the prospect of picking through the genuinely-rotting ‘fresh’ produce in the local supermarket to find something edible. I’m not kidding: if the supermarket was a cartoon, there’d be little wiggly smell-lines wafting above it).

When we first arrived, my kids’ little tummies were used to having lunch at eleven or thereabouts, and we roamed fruitlessly from café to café, searching for something that was open before noon. We had the same problem when I wanted to take them out for dinner, but nobody would serve food until after their bed-times.

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But as time has gone by we have slowly adjusted to these new rhythms and, somehow, they are beginning to make profound sense.

I take menu inspiration from what’s fresh at the market, rather than arriving at the supermarket with a ready-made list and very little idea of where my food is coming from. When it’s time for coffee, I take five minutes to sit at a cafe and people-watch while I sip, noticing and appreciating the taste… and the moment of peace.

Mealtimes are for proper meals, and we enjoy them thoroughly. But when mealtimes are over, we stop eating. I don’t snack any more, and I’m noticing the difference to my waistline. Sundays, when all the shops are closed, are for big cook-ups for the week ahead… or for long walks and picnics if the weather is just too good to resist.

It feels as though we are training our bodies to notice the rising and setting of the sun, the rhythms of the harvest, the turning of the globe and the changing of the seasons.

I am storing these life-lessons away, tucking them into my suitcase alongside the souvenir biscuit tins, vintage ceramic jelly mould and new winter coat that I also picked up here in France, in the hopes that they can be woven into my daily life when we return to Australia.

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Composting for tiny gardens (even courtyards & balconies)

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Hello! This is my city garden! It is the size of a single car-space, because until two years ago, it was a single parking space. We gave up having a guaranteed place to park our car in favour of creating a green room in which to relax, ponder and play, and it was the best decision we made in our entire home. The photograph above was taken last week, while I was cleaning up after a garden party during which we had had 40 guests over for afternoon tea. It was a warm day, and there were not one but three compost receptacles decomposing away in this very small garden. But nobody could see them, and nobody could smell them. Hurrah! 

How did we do that? 

In my ongoing quest to reduce waste in our home, and lessen our impact on the planet, it has particularly irked me that we didn't have a composting system. Even after we built the garden, I continued scraping mountains of food-scraps into the bin every day. 

Essentially, space was the problem. Even the smallest of compost bins were quite big in relation to our garden. They'd create a giant, plastic eyesore, taking up precious growing-space. And, more to the point, occasionally smelling bad. (I know, I know, properly managed composts don't smell. Much. But if your garden is so small that you can all but touch both sides of it when stretching out your arms, that puts you in very close proximity to the compost no matter where you go. I live in Australia, friends. Things get hot in the summer. Pile as much dry matter and mulch as you like into that bin, the stench of slowly rotting watermelon rinds and browning banana peels will find a way to cut through, as do the sandflies. It's gross.) 

Day after day I kept scraping rinds and pulps into the rubbish bin, wishing I could scrape the guilt of my wasteful habit away with them. And to add insult to injury, I was paying good money to buy compost for the the garden in spring-time! I did my best to keep the waste low, by planning better, shopping smarter, and being more creative with my cooking. Thanks to the magic of the Instagram community, for example, I now have a host of delicious ways to use the green parts of leeks in my cooking. Recently I've learned how to dye fabric using avocado seeds and skins. But still, the rubbish bin is full of compostable matter every week. 

Or I should say, was full. Enter the composting cannon. 

Fair warning: I am about to wax lyrical about this product. I'm not being paid, sponsored or in any other way encouraged to say this stuff. These links are not affiliate links, and these makers don't know I'm writing this blog at all. I'm just thrilled to finally have found a solution to my organic waste problem.

(BTW in case the composting cannon doesn't appeal to you, I've also provided a bit of a product round-up of some other fantastic composters for small spaces, as well as beginners tips on composting, at the end of this blog post.) 

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I discovered this little Australian invention at the CERES Community Environment Park, but you can also buy it online here. It is such a simple idea. You simply bury the cardboard cylinder in your garden (or in a planter box or big pot). Empty your food scraps into the cylinder, add a bit of mulch or shredded paper for dry matter, and push it down with the plunger provided. There's a mesh lid that keeps vermin away, holes in the side for worms to make their way through, and the whole thing breaks down over many months, delivering compost direct to your garden! 

When I first took mine home, I couldn't quite figure out how it worked (it was just too simple - surely I was missing something!). So I've created a kind of mini tutorial for you in case you want to try it yourself. 

How to use the Composting Cannon in a tiny garden

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Step 1: Take the cannon out of the box, stare at it a while, and scratch your head. It will look like the picture above. There will be three cylinders, all with holes in them, each one fitting inside the other (like matryoshka dolls). Wire lids sit on both ends. Finally figure out that you have actually bought three "cannons" for the price of one, and feel very silly for not realising this in the first place. Separate them out. The wire lids are sized to fit the different width cylinders. 

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Step 2: Find somewhere in your garden where you can dig a hole about 12 centimetres wide, and 30 centimetres deep. If you're using pot plants, as long as the pot is at least 30 centimetres deep, you can use that just as easily. (The only challenge will be if your pot is too shallow - you don't want part of your composting cannon sticking out the top, looking ugly). Bury the cannon, leaving just enough of the rim sticking out of the top so that you can fit the wire lid over the top. 

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Step 3: It's ready to use! Tip any plant-based food scraps you like into the cylinder (some tips: citrus, onions, dairy and vegetable-fat products will slow down the composting process so should be minimised; and meat and animal fats should be kept out altogether because they attract rats - and smell really bad. There's a more extensive guide to what should and shouldn't go into a compost in the download at the end of this post). Now add a handful of mulch, dry leaves or even shredded paper on top. Use the plunger (it comes with the kit) to push everything down, then put the lid back on. Repeat this every time you have more food scraps, and that's it.

There is literally no maintenance - the worms do all the work for you, not only breaking down the scraps and creating the compost, but then carrying that compost through your garden or planter box, delivering it directly to the roots of your plants. 

According to the website, each of these cylinders will compost more than 20 kilograms of organic waste during a four-month period. So with three, that's more than 60 kilograms transformed from stinking landfill into beautiful, nutrient-rich compost for the garden. 

This is a really unobtrusive composting system. My three, when I'm not topping them up, look like the picture below. Actually they look even less obtrusive, because wind and birds cover them each day with the mulch, which I had to move aside to take this photograph. 

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The contents of your cylinders (and the cylinders themselves) will start to decompose after about four months. It takes even longer than that for them to start to be unusable, after which you can replace them (they are not expensive to buy, especially when you consider how long they last) and start all over again, adding more nutrient-rich compost to other areas of your garden or potted balcony. 

One last thought: I do think you need to be somewhat realistic about just how much food waste you can fit into these little babies. We are a hungry family of four and, thanks to 50 percent of our family being pre-school aged, a lot of food gets dropped, tossed, played with or otherwise rejected (especially the vegetables!) so we tend to generate a lot of waste. On some days, when (for example) we've eaten through four bananas, made freshly-squeezed orange juice for the whole family, had a few slices of watermelon, and made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner, we can fill an entire cannon in one hit. If I've filled all three in quick succession, I do sometimes have to wait a few days and go back to putting the food scraps in the bin, until the food breaks down a little. So that's not ideal, but it is still a LOT better than our previous habits, and a great result for a tiny, inner-city garden. 


Clever composting solutions for tiny gardens 

Here's a quick round-up of some innovative composting solutions I've discovered online that appear to be great for reducing organic waste and creating garden nutrients when you only have a small space in which to work. (Remember I've only tried the Composting Cannon. I think I'll try the Bokashi next, and the two systems can supplement one another). 

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Composting Cannon: a cylinder that is buried directly into your garden and slowly breaks down

 

 

 

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Compot: another system (more like a plastic bucket) that is buried directly into your garden

 

 

 

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Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler: a barrel on a stand than can be spun every couple of days to aerate the compost without needing to dig or turn

 

 

 

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Bokashi scrap fermenting: a system that is used to actually ferment kitchen waste (including meat and fish) by using micro-organisms to break down scraps, without creating bad smells

 

 

 

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Hungry Bin: a continuous-flow worm farm, on wheels so you can move it around your garden or balcony 


What do you think? I'd love to know your ideas or experiences on composting or otherwise reducing and reusing food waste in small spaces. And in the meantime if you're keen to get started but this is all new to you, I've created a handy, guide below with some basic tips on composting for beginners (including what to include and what not to include in a healthy compost), whatever system you decide to use. 

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Meals in the Mail - an update

* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


One month ago, I came up with a little idea to collect some recipes via the mail, and make them into a zine or mini-book. I thought maybe I'd get 10 or 20 recipes, and it would be something cute to post as gifts in future letters I'd send. 

What I received was so much more. So far, the stacks of mail you see in these pictures contain 50 recipes, and more arrive every day. Many of them are illustrated recipes, or lovingly decorated in some way, and most of the envelopes likewise have been beautifully and carefully made. There are recipes from all over the world: some new, some traditional, but all of them are connected to stories. Stories of new love, family celebrations, cooking lessons, and adventures in travel. 

I've decided that these recipes deserve so much more than simply to be photocopied and stapled together. I want to showcase the creativity and vibrant beauty of the mail, the recipes, and the stories that go with them. So I will turn them into a 'real' book, in colour, that will celebrate not only the food, but the letters as well. 

I'm sticking to the original plan of sending the book to everyone who participates, so I thought I'd let you know there's still time to join in if you want to be part of this lovely project. The original date to have your mail postmarked was 1 July, but I've decided to extend it for another two weeks, until 15 July, to see if we can collect a few more recipes in the mail. Imagine what a wonderful book it would be if we could get up to 100 recipes and letters!

If you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy this project, please feel free to invite them to take part. The more recipes and letters from as many corners of the world that we receive will help to make it such a beautiful legacy of food, friendship and tradition, don't you think? 

To join in, simply send a favourite recipe of yours to me in the mail, as well as a few lines about what makes it special to you, at: 

Naomi Bulger
"Meals in the Mail"
PO Box 469
Carlton North
Vic 3054
Australia

Don't forget to include your return address so I can send you a copy of the book! 

Yours sincerely, 
Naomi x

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Meals in the Mail (a new idea)

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* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


I've had an idea. Shall we write a book together? A recipe book? 

Often I tell people that one of the nicest, easiest (and completely free-of-charge) gifts to enclose with a letter is a recipe. All you need to do is write or type it out neatly, fold it up, and there is something personal, thoughtful, and useful for your pen-friend.

Over the years, I have received some wonderful recipes in the mail, from family, friends, and strangers alike. First, I was thinking I might like to turn them all into a little "meals by mail" recipe book to share with you. But then I had a better idea: what if we were to share all of our recipes with each other? 

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So here is what I propose: 

1. If you want to take part, simply send me a letter. You need to send it by post, not email or in the comments. My address is: 

Naomi Bulger  "Meals in the Mail"  PO Box 469  Carlton North Vic 3054 Australia

So that this project doesn't drag on forever, let's say your letter needs to be postmarked by 1 July, 2017, to be included. 

2. In the letter, you will need to enclose two things: a) a recipe that you love (write it, type it, illustrate it if you like! anything as long as you like the recipe and it's legible); and b) some words telling me what makes your recipe special. They could be a sentence or an essay, or anything in between. Maybe the recipe was given to you by someone you love, maybe it is part of a family tradition, maybe you cooked it for a memorable occasion, maybe it's simply something that is always popular with your friends or family... just share with us the special meaning behind the recipe. 

3. It's not at all required that you decorate your envelope or include anything else, but of course you are welcome to do so and, if appropriate, I'll try and feature some of the more decorative envelopes etc in the book for inspiration. 

4. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea (Oh! Lonely me!) BUT if I receive enough recipes, I promise to turn them into a recipe-book or zine (how many recipes do you think I'll need for a book? 20? 30? More?), celebrating the recipes, the letters, and the wonderful way that food links us to people we love and memories we treasure.

Plus, I promise to send a free copy of the book or zine to every contributor. 

Are you in? Let's do this, to celebrate food, nostalgia, hand-written communications and community all in one go. Then we can stir, sizzle, mix and bake each other's recipes, and weave them into our own stories. And I would really appreciate it if you could tell your friends, because maybe they want to share their recipes, too! 

ps. These recipes, from top, are from my great-grandmother (via my mother), Ashwatta (via Ashwatta's Art on Etsy), and Meaghan (via @polaroids_and_snailmail). 

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Things learned and loved on Tuesday

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Learned: I couldn't save the world but I could make someone's world better

Loved: Oona Ristola photography

Learned: a recipe for fig, ricotta and honey toast. Yum!

Loved: green and growing homes

Learned: why our children need to read

Loved: knitted comfort food

Learned: three surprising decorating tips

Loved: this book-themed hotel

Learned: how to put together a cheese plate

Loved: the chance to get my paws on a note pad from the Great Northern Hotel, Twin Peaks

Learned: little baby pumpkins make really sweet (and not at all scary) table decorations at Halloween, even if it isn't autumn or Thanksgiving

How about you? What have you learned and loved lately?

 

 

 

 

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Guacamole season (and also a recipe)

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I have been trying to teach the children about seasons for fruit and vegetables. Late in autumn we had a "goodbye green grapes" party to enjoy the final bunch of the season, which was harder to explain than you might expect due to the plethora of gigantic, California-grown green-grapes that started appearing on grocery-store shelves soon thereafter. We made good use of mandarin season but recently had to say goodbye to them, too, and now we are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of stone-fruit season.

You get my drift.

And then last weekend (or thereabouts), guacamole season started. Big excitement!

Guacamole season goes hand-in-hand with daylight saving and Caprese-salad season and dry-white-wine season and also friends-over-at-dusk season. So even though I'm not famous for loving the warmer weather, I am nevertheless quite the fan of guacamole season.

Guacamole season starts with longer days and bare feet. Soggy bathers, sand inside the house, tasting sunscreen after kissing sweaty lips. Cicadas after dark, mosquitos too, and the hum of the fan in the bedroom. Guacamole is made to share and taste and leave and come back to, and then come back to again. Double-dipping is ok because we are all friends here, family probably or practically, and somehow the guacamole bowl is always empty before the corn chips run out. Some people pair guacamole season with margaritas in glasses with the rims crusted with sugar-salt and I totally get that, but I am too lazy to mix even the simplest of cocktails. White wine or prosecco, straight from the 'fridge and therefore too cold for the purists, suits me. Maybe some homemade lemonade, too.

Would you like to know my guacamole recipe?

A few words before you try this. I have been hunting for the perfect guacamole recipe for a long, long time, and this is the closest I've found to it. Each time I make it it is different, sometimes better than others. But in case you try it and then yell "Naomi, what?!?," here are some things that I look for in what I happen to think makes a good guacamole, and maybe you will agree or maybe you won't.

  1. It has to be smooth. None of this lumpy, chunky stuff
  2. I'm a bit of a guacamole-purist so this recipe is very simple. No onion or tomato or cheese for me. This ain't a meal, folks, it's a tasty snack
  3. No Doritos or other cheesy, processed corn-chips are permitted within a 100 metre radius of guacamole at my house. Get yoself some stock-standard "proper" corn-chips, cheese-free

Naomi's guacamole recipe

Treat this recipe with a fair bit of flexibility. For example I like a decent kick to my guac so I'm generous (ish) with the cayenne pepper and chilli flakes. I also like a lot of lime zing to my guacamole, so I add a lot more lime than others tend to do. Add the lime-juice one lime at a time, to get the taste you like. If like me you love a lot 'o lime, but you find the guac is getting too sloppy, start adding zest instead.

Ok let's go...

Ingredients 4 avocados 2 cloves garlic, minced juice of 1 - 4 limes, to taste 1/2 teaspoon sea-salt 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander (cilantro for my American friends)

Method Scoop all the avocado into a blender, add in the minced garlic, and mix until it's nice and smooth with no big lumps. Now add the juice of one lime, and about half the amounts of the dried spices and fresh coriander, blend to mix them, then taste. Start adding bits and pieces of the rest, plus more lime juice, until you're happy with the flavour.

Serve it with corn chips (the real deal, nothing cheesy), and enjoy!

ps. If you're feeding other people, make the guacamole just before they arrive as the avocado will start to oxidise and turn brown after a little while and you want it to look good as well as taste good!

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Sugar free?

pie I have been trying to give my body a break from sugar. I like sugar a lot more than is strictly good for me, and also, it’s pretty hard to insist that my children have a healthy diet if I don’t model said diet myself.

On Friday I made this sugar-free take on lemon meringue pie from the I Quite Sugar for Life cookbook. It was surprisingly tasty, and I impressed myself with how good (I thought) it looked. Emboldened, I also made a peppermint slice from the same cookbook. It was awful.

Do you have any tips? What are your favourite sugar-free recipes for sweet-toothed folks?

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ANZAC biscuit recipe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This morning Scout and I whipped up a couple of batches of ANZAC biscuits. We made the monster-sized ones you see here for us to eat on the weekend (and one for me at morning tea), then another batch of slightly more reasonably-sized biscuits to take to her friends at daycare. She was bursting with pride.

Growing up, we always had two great recipes for ANZAC biscuits, and I made these using the one of them I still have. I don't actually know if this is Nanna's family recipe, or the one Mum got from the Wideview School Fete in the 1980s, but either way it is quick, easy, and the biscuits always taste delicious.

Ingredients: 

* 1 cup rolled oats * 1 cup flour * 1 cup sugar * 3/4 cup coconut (I prefer shredded though the biscuits you see in these photos used desiccated) * 1/2 cup butter, melted * 2 tablespoons Golden Syrup * 1 tablespoon boiling water * 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Method: 

1. Preheat the oven to 160 decrees Celsius 2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, flour, sugar and coconut 3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over the stove, then stir in the Golden Syrup 4. Add the bicarb. soda to the boiling water, then pour it into the melted butter mixture (if you are cooking with kids, they will love this part because it goes all frothy like a science experiment) 5. Pour the butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well 6. Shape the mixture roughly into balls and place on a greased baking tray (allow room for the balls to flatten and spread as they cook) 7. Bake for up to 20 minutes, checking regularly for colour and turning if necessary

Make sure you don't overcook the biscuits. Base your estimation of their "doneness" on the golden colour. When you pull them out they'll still be smooshy but don't worry, they'll firm up as they cool down. I like my ANZAC biscuits soft in the centre but if you want them to be crunchy, give them a couple of minutes longer.

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ps. Have you ever wondered how ANZAC biscuits came about? They used to be called Soldiers' Biscuits, and were created by mothers and wives and girlfriends to help give their loved-ones the nutritional benefits of oats during the long sea voyage to the front. You can read the story here.

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