March 27, 2017 § 3 Comments
Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning. Gloria Steinem
How do I start. 1 year, 9 months and 3 continents have gone by since I was last here. After many false starts and false promises I find myself cross legged on the couch in my Melbourne suburb home and ready to share a story. The windows are open and autumn is rolling in across the busy streets right up to our front door. And by god does it feel good! Not only to be here again, but to feel a sense of coming home – settled.
It recently dawned on me that it is exactly 3 years ago to this day that I made the decision to leave Australia in search of a dream.
I was living in Darwin and had gone to Bali to do a yoga teacher training course. Some whimsical desire to get away from it all and move from my head and into my heart. I never had the intention of becoming a yoga teacher, I just wanted to go away for a month, do lots of yoga and explore my mind – that inner world – sweep it out, open the windows, give it a good air and take the duster to it.
One morning, in a little seaside village of Bali, I found myself in a cafe where you could sit on top of the rice fields, eat organic eggs and watch the golden light rise over the sound of the roosters. Dark clouds were brewing in the east and my heart was dancing. I realised what kind of a negative state of mind I had been in in Darwin. I was reeling from a recent break up and stressed and anxious in my job. The weight of it only seemed to dawn on my once I saw again how things could be good.
With the morning sun on my face, my mind drifted to the previous day when I had stopped to watch an old man painting the gate at the guest house where I was staying. It wasn’t a huge gate by any standards, but it had taken him two whole days to complete. He sat there in such concentration, with steady slow even brush strokes, totally absorbed in his task. The man who painted the gate became my inspiration, my guru, I decided I wanted to be more like him – to be more present, to be more absorbed and joyous in each task, to love each daily ritual.
Because it is my nature to up and leave when inspiration hits and this was no exception to the norm, I started dreaming of my escape. I would quit my job back in Darwin and become… well I didn’t know what… maybe a yoga teacher?
The idea I had planted must have taken hold. Within that very same week one of my fellow students approached me with an offer to teach yoga in her women’s surf school on the west coast of France!
It didn’t take me long to come back to her with a loud and resounding YES!
You see, I had always wanted to learn another language. Not just to get by with a few words but to really know another language. For about a year I had been taking evening French classes with the idea that I would one day move to France and make this dream a reality. How elegantly life seemed to weave itself into place.
I decided I would take a year off, move to France, teach Yoga in the surf school and enlist myself into French classes. I would devote a whole year to learning French!
Little did I know that no more than 6 months later, life would continue on its mysterious path and in some intertwined and serendipitous twist of fate, I would meet and fall in love with a French painter. His name was Jon. When Jon was young he had a map of the world on his desk. In the bottom right hand corner was Australia. For any reason he spent a great deal of time when he should have otherwise been doing his homework looking at it. His eyes would drift through Europe to Africa, South East Asia and come to rest on that island continent straddling the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. He would wonder what the seemingly empty country draped by sea was like. Ever since, he dreamed of visiting one day.
By the time we met I had forgotten about the old man in Bali but in those early days Jon would tell me how he loved the work he did. How painting was a kind of meditation for him where his mind was set free through the labour of his tasks. I respect him deeply for this. In his beautiful and broken English he would say. “I love doing hand jobs”. I would try to hide my smile. I never did want to correct him when his English was muddled, because as well as being sometimes hilarious and enormously cute, it offered a peek into the structure of the language I was trying to learn.
It wasn’t until recently that I remembered the old man who painted the gate and I realised the poetry of it all. Pay attention to your dreams. Dreaming after all is a form of planning.
May 6, 2015 § 10 Comments
I have found myself wanting to apologise for my scarcity here this last year and a half. I don’t want to say it too early for fear any new feeling will just as suddenly disappear, but finally there seems to be a tentative impression that I am coming back – into the kitchen that is. I guess it says something about the type of year it has been. Before leaving Darwin, I was tired, stressed and overworked with new jobs, break ups, house moving, and of course that very solid North Australian heat. All in all it left me largely uninspired to do much in the kitchen. This surprised and saddened me, and I questioned the things that made me happy and how I identified myself with them. With some deep nostalgia, I began to miss what I felt was an essential part of the person I was. The person who took joy in the stained colour of a knife left after chopping vegetables, the smell of lemon and spice hitting a fry pan, the feeling of dough sticky and stuck on my fingers, or the scent of sourdough every time I opened the fridge. I missed time to be still, to gather thoughts, to listen and watch more closely, and to pull it all into something creative. There was however, somewhere in amongst it all, some small confidence that it was just a phase and when more time permitted, that willingness to potter with taste and smell, colour and texture would one day creep back.
So I quit my job and most of my life in Darwin, on a quest to slow down, come to Europe and learn French. I went from Darwin, to Paris and then to a small surfing village near Bordeaux where I taught yoga in a women’s surf school. After going briefly to the States for a friends wedding I came back to Europe to spend three weeks with my uncle on his little piece of land just on the outskirts of Brussels. Here I picked vegetables from his garden on the same land my great great grandfather farmed and I cooked them in the same kitchen my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother and my great great grandmother all cooked in before me. And perhaps with the memory of all my ancestors behind me, I began to feel that old love creep back in. That old joy of rinsing the thick soil off carrots and beats, of breaking the florets off a broccoli. That old delight in allowing the ingredients to tell me what to do with them. And that old pleasure in plating it all up and sitting around the table in the autumn evening light. The joy in someone else enjoying what you cook. And finally some quietness and stillness started to sink below the surface. I never really thought it would take more than a year.
My next move was to Toulouse. A pink city in the south of France. And I have been here for roughly the last five months. For the first time since leaving Australia I have a little space to curl up in at the end of the day and call my own, an oven to cook in, a bath to sink in, and a lovely little french man to get to know. At the end of May, I move to Maine for the summer where I have some work managing a cafe for some friends at 44 north. Its a little late to pledge something for the new year, but I am hoping this one will hold more pens with words and more wooden spoons.
Bisous a tout le monde!
May 25, 2014 § 3 Comments
I have almost been living off this drink the last 6 months. Served ice cold and sipped on the verandah in the evenings, the colour matching the turmeric setting sky. Its gently spicy and refreshing in a heart warming kind of way. AND, its body pleasing too. Turmeric has great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is wonderful for settling an upset tummy. Interestingly, when served with black pepper the bioavailability of curcumin – its active ingredient – is enhanced 1000 times.
Iced Turmeric Tea
1 tsp powdered turmeric or 2 Tbsp fresh grated turmeric
2 – 3 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
A handful of freshly cut lemongrass (2 Tbsp of dry lemongrass tea would work too)
1 tsp peppercorns
2 Litres boiling water
Place all ingredients in a large bowl or glass jug. Pour over boiling water and allow to seep until cool. You will end up with a rich tonic that you can then store in the fridge. To serve, add around 2 shots of tonic to 1 cup cold water or mineral water and squeeze in some fresh lemon or lime.
March 1, 2014 § 3 Comments
Morning wakes sleepy and drug like. I dream’t about a house the plan was something like another. I had made a garden out the front and it resembled the one here. The dream slips like sand through my waking morning mind and away. A heavy stumble to the kettle and a slow and steady gaze out the open window. The couch is near enough to tempt me back into a horizontal position but I resist. The kettle begins to boil and slowly ever so slowly bit by bit I begin to wake. This precious time, the early morning half dreaming half waking groggy bliss before the day creeps in and with it the anxieties of life. I want to cherish these moments more, pay closer attention, spend more time with them. That is the idea.
Toast gets pushed down then forgotten, then pushed down again, then burnt and forgotten, then finally remembered and eaten slightly black and cold with lukewarm tea that was also forgotten.
This will like any other day, come and then away and like the toast be forgotten. A day lost in a dreamy warmth with no memory to fall on, to live in. There is almost some regret in letting it pass so quietly. My thoughts flitter, they are transient, watched only by a half open and sleepy eye. I am aware that I am not defined by who I am now, I am fleeting and I am constantly and forever changing.
I am in a place that is not quiet yet home. Its slowly nestling its way into my heart but in the meantime I miss the longer shadows that I know will be creeping around down south. I miss those things that are crisp and clear – the breath in white puffs as it escapes off the tongue.
It is this early morning time as well as that exact same moment just before bed that I know is when I am most honest with my thoughts and the way they express themselves on paper. It is this honesty I want more of, to spend more time in. That space like a quiet and small peeping winter.
February 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
I love the Darwin light this time of year, bathed in deep grey clouds, colours become heavy and soaked. These photos were taken in the mornings blue hour after a night of pounding rain that left everything distinctly amphibious.
A new year has started, and in just one month Darwin and I will celebrate our first anniversary. I have a new job, the fourth since arriving here, and I have just moved house for the 17th time in the last 10 years. A little late, but happy new year to you all!
November 24, 2013 § 3 Comments
Three years ago to this day I started a blog, inspired by living and working as a cook at Friendly Beaches Lodge and, of all things, an article in a Jetstar inflight magazine about blogging. Before I read the article, I didn’t even know what a blog was (yes, mainly becuase I had been living under a rock in Tasmania). Whilst I don’t remember exactly what the article was about, I do remember that something in me stirred and at 25 000 feet above the Bass Strait en route to Melbourne I decided to start a blog. It would be a food blog, with stories and recipes and a focus on sustainable, local, seasonal, unplugged cooking. But, most importantly it would be a place to keep me creative, to force me into the kitchen and taking photos, a place to try to pull words from my thoughts and scrawl them on a blank screen. And so I wrote, “What better thing to do on a hot spring day than start a food blog…” 3 days later I was unexpectedly on a plane to Sierra Leone and my “food blog” was momentarily hijacked by travel stories.
Since then I have often enjoyed, occasionally hated, been frustrated, exhilarated, both ashamed and very proud of this place. I have tried very hard to be honest with myself and have had to learn to be brave, to throw words out to the world and that strangely intimidating public realm. But here I am with 3 years of stories from my wooden spoon and my favourite blue ceramic pot. I am so grateful to each of you who have read this blog. You who have put up with my terrible spelling and my often flippant nature in the kitchen, thank you so much. It humbles me no end to think that I may sometimes write something that someone wants to read and cook something that someone wants to cook.
A small cause for celebration, here are some of the recipes from the last three years that I love the most.
September 28, 2013 § 3 Comments
I had a dismal attempt at trying to grow watermelons this year. The process started with me very excited. I made a little round bed full of compost and manure and planted two little seeds inside. They sprouted and grew… A little… I watered them and they grew some more. They bloomed tiny little flowers and even grew one tiny little watermelon. Then I went away and the little watermelon shrivelled up. Then the rest of the vine shrivelled. And one day they were dead. And that was that.
The sun is relentless here. Unforgiving. I realise my mistake, I shouldn’t have put them in a place that gets all day sun, and I should definitely have mulched them more.
But still, I have been managing to eat some of the very best watermellons I ever had. The local ones are cheep and abundant at this time of year. They are a deep bright pink and so so sweet.
So I have a recipe for you today, a drink, and a very refreshing one at that. It comes out of the beautiful cookbook The New Persian Kitchen. Its a watermelon, mint, and cider vinegar tonic!
Author Notes: “Even if drinking vinegar sounds like a dare — and maybe that’s why you ordered it — it’s anything but. It’s sweet and sour and icy-cold. It vibrates and clangs with fruit and vinegar, and soothes with sweetness and mint. It is the most refreshing drink you will have this summer”. From The New Persian Kitchen
Recipe for Watermelon Mint and Cider Vinegar Tonic
Makes about 5 cups concentrate
3 cups water, plus more to serve
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup honey
6 cups coarsely chopped watermelon
1 cup tightly packed fresh mint, plus more to serve
1 cup apple cider vinegar (preferably with the mother because that is the best kind for you)
Ice cubes, cucumber, and lime to serve.
- Boil the water and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the honey and allow to dissolve before removing from the heat.
- Combine the watermelon and mint in a large bowl and stir in the hot honey water. Leave to cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, add the vinegar and allow the mixture to steep in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight.
- Strain the mixture and eat the watermelon chunks, if desired.
- Store the concentrate in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- To serve, pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the watermelon, cucumber, and mint.
September 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
July 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am typing these words all the way from Papua New Guinea! There are tiny ants crawling all over my laptop and getting squished between the keys. I must have eaten something sweet and forgotten to wash my fingers, they are relentless! Over the top of my laptop, I look out from the verandah to a dense, tropical scene. With fertile soil, abundant moisture and warm conditions, PNG is lush, green, and plump. The clouds are bubbly and ready to burst with rain. Trees, tall and straight with broad canopies, seem to defy gravity, growing on unimaginably steep mountain slopes.
I really like this country. I am not sure if I have met more gentle people. They remind me of my friends and family in Arnhem Land; soft and graceful like the surrounding landscape. The women have huge embraces that envelope you tightly, generously.
This is a journey that work has led me on. I am here working on a project through Charles Darwin University in partnership with the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute. We are looking into why the production and consumption of traditional vegetables is in decline and how this relates to increasing rates of malnutrition. For me it also involves taking photos of food and recording traditional recipes. I couldn’t be happier!
As always, I end up in the kitchen talking to the women. They show me how to cook the traditional foods – choko and pumpkin tips fried in oil with a little garlic, tu-lip shoots a tasty favourite, taro root, sago, fern tips, lowland pitpit and of course pork belly, and pork fat, and minced pork and pork ribs – well you get the picture.
Pigs are regarded very highly, especially for the inland populations. I am told that in the past, women used to suckle baby pigs on their breasts and they slept in the house with the family. I was also told (in jest) that pigs are more important than women because, “you can buy a wife with pigs, but you can’t buy a pig with a wife.” Obviously one can argue that without the women doing all the hard work to raise the pigs, the men wouldn’t have any to begin with, but I suppose that’s beside the point.