settling in a little more

flowers

Whilst Julian worked his butt – and hands and fingers – off rebuilding a fence that divides the cottage, its gardens and surrounding fields from the paddocks –

I pottered about the cottage, unpacking china and cookbooks, cooking meals on kitchen benches that were clearly built for miniature gymnasts (our cottage was one of those used to house the athletes at the Sydney Olympics and moved to our land soon after in two pieces), gathering flowers, and sneaking in a bit of knitting on the porch.
the trailer

We’d brought up the kitchen dresser, a large bookcase and Auntie Barbara’s old pine table in the trailer, so after a little help getting them across the field, through the garden gate and up the cottage steps, I pushed the furniture (with a sliding flattened cardboard box underneath) across the verandah, over the doorway and into the cottage.  So satisfying!

tied down

helping

Our kitchen is pretty rudimentary.  We will leave the cabinets on the stove side intact – but probably replace the stove – an inefficient electric number that no matter how high we turned up the oven, couldn’t manage more than a gentle braising. But the sink side needs redoing.

No exaggeration, the benchtops on the this side only come up to my thigh – and they bow in the middle – and when you spill coffee on them, it leaks down the inside back of the cupboards below.  Nice!
unpacking

We don’t want to spend a lot of money that could be much more wisely invested in farm infrastructure and animals because in a few years time, we want to build our own strawbale home.

Nevertheless, we do want to enjoy living in our little esky cottage and as we both love cooking, a few Ikea cabinets with lovely drawers and a huge china sink (a former display model that we bought for a great discount in the bargain section!) will certainly boost our kitchen’s aesthetics and functionality.

funny assortment

But cupboard space will still be at a premium, so we removed the hideous white melamine, falling apart cupboard that filled up a third of the wall next to the kitchen, and will use the lovely old wooden dresser Mum and I wheeled 2 kilometres home for our china and glassware.  ‘Cause even more then spanky new, sophisticated Ikea cabinets, I adore lovely old wooden furniture that comes with an awesome story :-)

straighten

cutlery

breakfast

on the stpve

I also took up a beautiful new whistling kettle – a complete extravagance, but hey, I reckon all those dreadful night duties and weekend shifts spent in a highly stressful environment are owed a little luxury, don’t you!

Of course, the kettle was meant to sit atop our new Nectre Baker’s Oven that was to be installed whilst we were there.  Oh how many daydreams I’d had, picturing my steaming kettle glistening next to a simmering dutch oven whilst the fire below crackled and glowed and a loaf of bread baked below that.  They were such good dreams!

Alas, the fellow installing our stove FORGOT.  Hmmm … I have to confess, it was all I could do to remain civil whilst he cheerfully apologised for his oversight.  All I could think was how I have NEVER had a job where I could just FORGET to do something I alone was responsible for.

It did take several minutes of hurling ugly succulents into the compost heap, and cranky texts to my mum before I could graciously let go of my disappointment and return to enjoying the loveliness we still had before us.

quilts

with needles

knitting

Good thing we had plenty of quilts and knitting to add some warmth.  And that the cottage and garden were bathed in sunshine from 6am onwards.  Yep, it was all good.

bookshelf in the garden

bookshelf

dappled corners

So very, very good – and I am counting the days until we return … and that wood stove is installed.

lilly pilly jelly

with the basket

The previous owner of our wee farm was a big tree planter!  He and his dad (an arborist) planted a grove of walnut trees (which were burnt down shortly after by a neighbour’s out of control grass fire!), a grove of native hardwoods which cover the hillside in front of the cottage, and a superb windbreak that encircles the cottage and its garden.

too high up

They planted the windbreak with natives so as to encourage the local birdlife – immensely successful! – and in one of the top corners is a cluster of lilly pillies.  This tree belongs to the myrtle family, grows very tall, has vibrant, waxy green leaves, and produces thousands of little pinky red berries which the local wildlife love.

Like most Australians, I have grown up with lilly pillies and yet have been woefully ignorant about the edibility of their berries!  It wasn’t until this year, whilst watching Tilba River Cottage, that I realised how delightfully useful they could be!  Cordials!  Champagne! Ice cream!  Jams!  And such a pretty pink :-)

D72_0547

So my first harvest at Wombat Hill Farm – lilly pilly berries.  Collected with dear little friends that came over to help celebrate our first weekend at the farm.  In a rope basket of course!  Unfortunately most of the berries were so high up we had no hope of gathering them.  But enough were picked for one little jar of home grown goodness …

liquour

I followed the recipe and instructions from the Forster State School in New South Wales – which just so happens to be around the corner from where my grandparents lived by the sea in the Manning Valley – meant to be I say :-)

lemons

Added the juice from one of Mum’s lemons …

jam pot

Honestly, I’ve never had jam set like it!  I don’t know whether Mum’s lemons are especially high in pectin – or perhaps lilly pillies are?

set

But it was obvious this lilly pilly jam – jelly! – was not going to be dolloped.  By the time it had cooled in the jar, it could be sliced like quince paste and possessed such an intense flavour that it was best served in small amounts.

on bread

In fact, our lilly pilly jelly tastes brilliant with Erica’s divine 3 year vintage cheddar cheese from South Coast Cheese at Tilba – they were made for each other.  Perfect!

the solitary jar

So now, I reckon we need to plant more lilly pillies – luckily, they are very fast growing – and work out how to gather all those up high berries so as not to waste them.  Unlike Paul from Tilba River Cottage, I will NOT be climbing our lilly pillies with ropes and safety gear and shaking the berries down into waiting sheets.

But I do want many many more jars of this lovely stuff, that’s for sure!

 

the teachers’ presents


crafting table

Hmmm … it’s just occurred to me, as I uploaded these photos and thought back to the crazy busyness of last week, that this is my second last season of teachers’ presents.  It truly is so unbelievable it gives me a jolt.  Surely it was only yesterday that I cross stitched a Prairie Schooler Christmas Sampler for the lovely Mrs. Solomon and sewed it into a little hanging quilt as a thankyou for a wonderful Year 1.

That’s one of the curses of just one child.  There’s no second and third etc. go round.  Nope – only one chance to get it as close to right as you can.  And no time for savouring.  But I also know how privileged we are to even have one go and for that I am grateful.

We’ve always given teachers’ presents.  Maybe because I spent so many years working in education, I know just how lovely it is to have a student and her family recognise the contribution I made to their year and present me with something sweet and thoughtful.  I’ve always wanted to pay that forwards.

And I want Abby to understand how important it is to show gratitude – it’s a sign of respect and affection.  Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but gee whizz, I think there’s a little less gratitude bumping around every year.  I want her to be one of those lovely people who are remembered and appreciated for showing gratitude.  It’s not hard or expensive – just a bit of time and effort.

Also – I am so very grateful for all that my Abigail has been given by her teachers.

She’s not the most straightforward of students and, apart from a couple of grim years half way through primary school (the Year 3 teacher – we seriously wanted to present her with the dirtiest lump of coal we could find – she was a drunk and a bully), has been blessed with lovely teachers who have always recognised her strengths, enjoyed her quirks and cheerfully walked the extra mile.

As for her high school teachers – my goodness, they regularly reduce me to misty eyes and choked up throat they are so wonderfully thoughtful, compassionate and encouraging.  No matter how grey and wobbly I become, I will never forget the incredible contribution they have made to our lives and will cheerfully sing Star of the Sea’s praises to all.

However, with the plethora of teachers Abby has in highschool, we’ve whittled down the handmade gifts to those who are TRULY marvellous.  For the rest we whip up a more generic but still homemade gift.  This year Abby chose her Japanese teacher – Mrs. Devine, her textiles teacher – Mrs. Pearson, and her Legal studies teacher – Mrs. Maraschello.

Well – no surprises who this cushion is for :-)  I am always a little dubious about themed presents – we can blame my Year 10 Music Teacher for that – she told us at the beginning of the year she HATED musical gifts.  But Abby assured me Mrs. Devine loves Japanese looking things so I dug this piece of simple sweet fabric out of the stash – I like to think it’s quite elegant and not at all corny – and found some pretty calicos to go with it.  I worked up the patchwork on the computer and quilted it with one single large chrysanthemum. It just seemed to need a yoyo in the middle.  Mrs. Devine was delighted.

japanese cushion

little people

The lovely pink and red fabric and the floral used for the binding are MADE in Japan – so that was an extra bonus!  And the blue check made me think of all those lovely indigo woven fabrics to be found in traditional Japanese textiles.

corner

yoyo

The crazy tote went to Mrs. Mara.  We gave her a cushion that last time Abby had her in Year 9 – Abby thought a bag would be a nice alternative for this year.  This was a truly last minute gift.  I had been mulling over the design for a few days and the night before Abby wanted to give it, even DREAMT about how it could go together.

So, Tuesday morning I was up at 5 knowing just what to do.  I cut and sewed the strips, used a dinner plate to make the circular bottom, added a heavy piece of cardboard (chopped out of the back of a large drawing pad) that I covered with the same red lining as the bag, lined it, added the strap and catch, sewed the two cylinders together and voila!  A tote.  I adore it.

And the funny thing – Abby left the Christmas card on the dining table.  Then popped the present on Mrs. Mara’s desk without a note.  Yet, that afternoon Mrs. Mara sent a lovely email saying as soon as she unwrapped it and saw the colours and lovely sewing, she knew exactly who it was from and loved it.  That brought a happy smile to this mum’s face … and the daughter’s too.
the bag

side on

the toggle

princess

lined

flat bottom

Mrs. Pearson’s cushion.  Same pattern as Mrs. Devine’s.  A few different fabrics.  Same chrysanthemum.  And yet it looks so utterly different!  So busy and hot and energetic compared to Mrs. Devine’s cool, quiet elegance.  Hmph – amazing what colour can do, huh!  I used precious Owl and Pussycat fabric because Mrs. Pearson is a fabric guru and I knew she would recognise and love it.  She did.

owl and pussycat

close up quilting

looking across

pink corner

For all my cushions, I use Ikea feather inserts – they just keep their shape soooooo well.  They can be completely flattened to pancake thickness by a sleeping dog, then with a few punches, be brought back to looking plump and gorgeous.  And, hating zippers like I do, I always use a simple envelope back – but I like it to cross over by a good 20cm.  That way there’s no gaping.

cookie jar

The rest of Abby’s teachers – and darling Bob, the lollypop man – each received a jar with the layered ingredients to make Donna Hay’s Choc-chip and Cranberry Oat Cookies.  Recipe included.  They were a big success.  Highly recommended.

Next year – our last year of teachers’ presents – will probably bring more presents for the same lovelies.  But there will be an extra special one for Bob.

Apart from my grandad, Bob is the loveliest gentleman I have ever known.  From the very first day he has shown Abby such friendship and enthusiasm for everything she does.  He waves to me every morning when I drop her off.  And I make sure to come at least 10 minutes after the bell rings every afternoon, because sure enough, Abby will be standing there with Bob and they’ll be chattering away about what they’re both up to, flipping through Abby’s drawing books, carefully inspecting her latest doll, or he’ll be nodding enthusiastically whilst she tells him her latest story.

He’s like her grandad.  (Apart from my dear old grandad, poor Abby completely lucked out in the grandad stakes).  I’ve got those teary eyes and a lump in my throat just writing this.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Bob for being there for Abby everyday.  I know that she knows that even when some days are a bit hard, there’ll always be Bob in the afternoon.  He’s a school treasure.

So next year, for Bob, there’ll be a quilt – with stars of course.

 

pumpkin and blueberry loaf

half a butternut

Julian loves baking with with pumpkin.  Well actually, he likes me to churn out the baked pumpkin goods, with pumpkin pie being our favourite.  Over the years, we’ve fine tuned our recipe to exclude sugar, beef up the spices and often we do away with the pastry all together.  Our pumpkin pie has become a bit of a pumpkin mousse – and is usually gobbled up within 24 hours.

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with cakes that have no sugar – no brown sugar, raw sugar, organic sugar, unprocessed sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave and all those other things that I often find in recipes that claim to be sugar free – and if a little bit of sweetness is preferred, I add a ripe banana.  Maybe that’s no better than all those other substitutes listed above – but it feels noble to us :-0

I’ve also been knocking out the bulk of the wheat flour and replacing it with almond or hazel meal.  I made one of Nigella’s chocolate cakes last weekend – with half the sugar – and half flour/half hazelnut meal and 2 extra eggs for lift and it was fabulous!  And eaten within 12 hours.  Then this weekend, I tried Nigella’s banana loaf – with no sugar, an extra banana, half flour/half almond meal and 2 extra eggs.  It was yummy.  Especially with a smear of cold butter.

Yesterday, with another work trip looming (the poor old thing had a 3.30am departure – ugh!) I baked Julian his chosen farewell treat – a pumpkin and blueberry loaf – using the skeleton of Nigella’s banana loaf.  Now, it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.  But if you’d like to try something that is low in wheat flour and only has pumpkin and blueberries for sweetness … well here it is ;-)

Frankly, I think it is all a matter of habit.  We are so accustomed to eating incredibly sweet things that when the sweetness is eliminated we instantly recoil.  We have found that when you cut that sugar and retrain your tastebuds, well there’s another whole world of delicate flavours and much healthier loveliness out there.  And when we do eat a regular biscuit or chocolate – oy!  It’s overwhelming!

So … here it is … the Utterly Sugarless Pumpkin and Blueberry Loaf!

Heat your oven to 160 degrees celsius

1.  Chop half a butternut pumpkin into 2 inch chunks, cover with water, bring to boil and simmer until tender.  (Our butternut half weighed 950g which will result in less once you cut off the rind and remove the seeds and membraney stuff – it doesn’t need to be an exact science) Drain well.

2.  Place the drained pumpkin and 125g of butter into the bowl of a mixer and beat on a medium setting until it is pale and frothy.  Honestly – you know how it says that in recipes when you’re using butter and sugar and it goes all pale and frothy – well so does butter and pumpkin!  Who’d have thought.

whip the butter and pumpkin into a lather

3.  Add 4 eggs – one at a time – beating constantly on a lowish setting until the mixture is light and smooth.

4 eggs

4. In a separate bowl, combine 90g of self raising flour, 90g of almond meal, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves. Spoon this mix into your eggy pumpkin, with the beaters running on that lowish setting, one spoonful at a time, until it is all combined.

flour and almond meal

5. Add 125g of fresh blueberries …

blueberries

… gently, with no beaters – just a wooden spoon.  Fold them in so that the blueberries stay whole.

gently fold them

6. Pour the batter into a loaf tin, lined with baking paper.  Dust the top with a little extra cinnamon.

into a lined cake tin

7. Bake in your heated oven for 90 minutes – or until your skewer comes out clean.  It is a moist cake – so your skewer will never be completely dry but you don’t want it lumpy moist.  You know what I mean.

bake for 90 minutes at 160

8. Rest in the baking tin until cool – if you try to tip it out warm, it will fall apart.  When it is cool, lift it out using the paper as handles.  Let it completely cool on the bench top, then place in a covered container in the fridge.

slice when cold

9.  Slice and serve cold with a side of yoghurt or double cream.  Now you could drizzle this with maple syrup and that would be delicious but it’s also very good – and strangely refreshing – to eat it in all its sugarless glory, and when you hit one of those blueberries – boy oh boy!  It’s like a wonderful exploding treasure.

serve with yoghurt

If you give it a whirl – I do hope you enjoy it!  We’re totally sold and I’ll be baking that chocolate cake with NO sugar next time.  Well except for that one ripe banana :-)