Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Winter's Day at Eden

Would you care to join me today as I take a walk in my garden at Eight Acres of Eden? It may be a little chilly but the sun is shining and has brought forth an abundant harvest of mandarins.

The tree is loaded with vitamin C to ward off those winter colds and chills. The lemon tree next door is also dripping with fruit - time to get the juicing machine out and freeze the juice in ice cube trays (and then transfer into freezer bags) for summertime drinks. I'm also going to preserve some lemons for cooking chicken and fish. If you have not used preserved lemon before you are missing out on a culinary delight! It is so easy to prepare - I will show you how I do mine in a future post.

The sugar snap peas are climbing up their tripod in the raised vegetable garden beds. My children often eat these peas before they reach the kitchen bench. Now that is what I call fast food!

And other vegetable seedlings are flourishing in the winter sunshine. Our property is frost free and I do not need to worry about a cold snap .... one of the many advantages of living on a hillside property. In winter there are less pests around to destroy our seedlings and the bandicoot has not attempted to climb up and over the corrugated iron sides of our beds to munch on the luscious new leaves. Winter is a good time to garden in Australia! The snakes are in hibernation and I'm prepared to weed in parts of the garden I am hesitant to venture into on hot summer days.

The camellias and azaleas are in full bloom and dripping with flowers. They adore the acidic soil.

Some of the blooms are bigger than my hand - bold and beautiful! These are not shy, retiring flowers and they do not hide in the background. What a beautiful greeting each morning as I draw back the curtains in the living room - they are planted just outside the window.

I prefer the smaller blooms and buds - perfect for displaying in tiny, glass vintage bottles. I cannot wait for more of these to blossom, they will be coming inside to be set out on tables. No arranging necessary - now that's the simplest way to decorate with flowers

It is such a beautiful winter's day I thought of going for a walk in the fields that adjoin our property but I needed to start preparing dinner.

So I was thankful for a teenage son who offered an invitation to those who wanted to go for a walk and was prepared to take his little sisters to go and greet our equine neighbours.

They were drawn home by the aroma of a home cooked meal. My older children come home from their afternoon dairy job and when they reach this paddock they say they can often smell dinner and when it is bread baking or lamb roasting they walk even faster. To think the aroma from my kitchen travels several kilometres!

On this occasion it was a fish, leek and cauliflower bake browning up nicely under the grill. Would you like the recipe? A one dish meal that combines fish pie with cauliflower cheese. It is a delicious family meal perfect for a winter's day and so easy to prepare.


Mashed potato - for the topping
1 cauliflower steamed.
1 large leek thinly sliced
1 tin tuna, salmon or any steamed fish of your choice
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
green tomato chutney (the magic ingredient)
cherry tomatoes
chopped chives

1. Boil a pot of potatoes to make mashed potatoes and if you have a steamer basket steam your cauliflower at the same time. I tell you steamer baskets are the best time saving invention ever!

2. Place your steamed and drained cauliflower in a baking dish.

3.Break up tuna chunks with a fork over the cauliflower and combine.

4.Fry sliced leek in a knob of butter.

5.Add flour and stir in until dissolved.

6.Add milk about 500ml stirring until sauce thickens.

7.Stir in grated cheese and a good dollop of green tomato chutney (or any fruit chutney)

8.Pour the leek and cheese sauce over the fish and cauliflower and combine.

9.Top with mashed potato and some extra grated cheese. Decorate with cherry tomatoes halved and snipped fresh chives.

10.Bake or place under the grill until cheese melts and is bubbling and golden on top.

11. Serve with a garden salad and crusty bread ensuring that the crusty, cheesy topping is evenly distributed among children or face unending requests for 'plenty of the top stuff'!

Fruit, flowers, food, family. Notice that some of the best things in life begin with the letter F!

Hope you are having a wonderful week. We are attending a riverside wedding this weekend. It is being held in a beautiful location in my valley, a ten minute drive from my home. I have to go and put the finishing touches to the handmade gift I am preparing for the bride and groom.

With Love and Joy,

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Kitchen Dream Fulfilled

Meet Stanley or Stan for short, my newly installed wood stove which on this cool but sunny morning is keeping my large kitchen/dining and family room cosy and warm even though we have full length glass doors and a large expanse of white tiles (great for summer not so warm underfoot in winter!).

It has been a dream of mine for a long time to have a country kitchen with a traditional wood stove. Even before I was married I would cut out photos of kitchens from the English decorating magazines. I still have that scrapbook from the late 1980's. Most of the kitchens had timber cabinets and Agas or Rayburns. Those kitchens were classic farmhouse kitchens - they have not dated and the only indication that these were 80's kitchens were mug trees on the benches and the occasional Austrian blind at the window!

My husband also loves the old wood stoves and in recent months as winter approached, we started discussing installing a wood stove against the stone feature wall in the family room. I even dared to ask the price of the new Rayburns at the barbecue store. I somehow kept myself from saying 'How much?' or 'Are you having me on? I could have a whole new kitchen for that.' I brought home the brochure and dreamed a little more!

So it was onto eBay to check out second hand stoves for sale and there were a few but pick up only from Victoria (a very long drive!) and instructions to bring 4 strong men! Little did we know that some friends had an old wood stove sitting under their house that they had purchased 10 years ago with the intention of one day restoring and installing in their kitchen. We approached them - would they be willing to sell? The answer was yes! We found another strong man to help us lift the stove onto the ute and a few weeks ago Stanley came to live with us! He needed a little work but was not in bad shape at all for an old guy. You can still buy new parts for these stoves - they are still being made.

He is of Irish descent!

When the shadows are being cast across the room and the cat has come in you can be sure that the sun has slipped behind the clouds and it is starting to get chilly again. We lit the stove for the first time yesterday - the cat and Stan are going to be good friends! I even baked my first batch of bread rolls - not too bad, a little brown on top but it is early days for me learning to cook on a wood stove! Thank goodness for agrarian blogs - there is one homesteading blog which shows you in words and pictures how everything works, how to clean it, how to bake in it and this particular lady also owns a Stanley. Let me know if you would like the link.

Now we do live in Australia - we will not be making use of Stan during our hot summer months so he is not a replacement for our modern stove. Stan has an Italian girlfriend and she lives just around the corner!

Meet Sylvie - the Ilve! As we were in the process of putting Stanley back together our previous smaller, cheaper stainless steel stove was in failing health. Cakes were taking an hour to bake and were still soggy in the centre, roasts were taking all day. We thought it was just a faulty thermostat but when my husband took it apart for further examination it was a poor prognosis - the electrics were 'stuffed' in his words! I was not quite ready to attempt cooking all our family's meals with the Stanley and as were in the process of redesigning the kitchen we decided to purchase a new stove - my husband insisted it had to be quality and practical for our large family and take into consideration that we do sometimes cater for crowds when we host family celebrations at our home. A trip to the store which specializes in stoves was fruitful as this particular Ilve was heavily discounted.

I have been giving Sylvie the opportunity to prove herself over this last week and can report she cooks like a dream! The best cakes, muffins and bread I have ever made and the pizza function produces perfect pizzas. I am in kitchen heaven! I love the old wood stove but I also love the new Ilve and believe they can coexist happily together in this family home.

Stan is a little jealous but I'm going to give him the chance to prove himself with my next sourdough loaf. Have you ever tasted wood fired sourdough bread? It is something else! But have to say, Sylvie baked yesterday's sourdough beautifully - a better rise, better crust and crumb than all my previous loaves.

So expect more kitchen posts and more recipes in the days to come. We are in the midst of planning an 18Th birthday celebration for my son. The guest list reached 86 yesterday - I did not realize we knew so many people! The stoves are going to be busy. I am going to be busy!

The old white fridge has been moved out of the kitchen to the office/library which means a few more paces but it is actually not that inconvenient. It needed to be moved to accommodate Sylvie and the original layout of the kitchen was not good - a fridge next to a stove is not a good idea but this is the configuration we had to live with when we bought this house.

My husband wants to make the office into a walk in pantry but I have chosen for the shelves to hold books for now rather than tins of tomatoes. I would love a walk in pantry - it is another of my kitchen dreams together with a dresser to hold my favourite china.

My beautiful china which awaits a dresser on which to display it - one day!

Another extravagant gift from my husband. A set of Scan pans, they are, in my opinion, objects of beauty. He rarely brings me flowers or chocolates - he knows the way to my heart is pots and pans, dishes and stoves! He did not know he would need to buy his wife a new stove to use these on when he bought them. I highly recommend them.

More things from my home which I love - books, china, a vintage sewing machine and patterns - all found at garage sales!

It has been worth the wait. It seems slowly but surely all my dreams are being fulfilled in this place. We have lived in so many places and packed up the boxes so many times when rented homes proved unsuitable or were sold by the owner. I can remember longing for somewhere to be settled, a place to call home which would be the place my children would have the fondest memories of and always want to return to. We are now planning for that future, the renovations are for the long term, when in the not too distant future, God willing, grandchildren will sit around our table. We are not planning to downsize! We need to upsize! The living room is being renovated to accommodate another sofa (involves moving a door). A window seat is planned for the corner window in the family room. All these renovations are planned with people in mind - places to sit and talk over cups of coffee, a warm kitchen that welcomes and produces home baked food to nourish the people I love.

I hope you enjoyed seeing my new stoves which are going to help me so much as I start to upsize my cooking for this big family that God has blessed me with. Wish I could find the SD card for my camera - had to use my son's 3.5 megapixel Olympus for these stove shots - sorry they are not the best quality.

Do you have experience of cooking on a wood stove? I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time,

With Love and Joy

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is there Humour in your House?

It is inevitable. We are sitting around the family dinner table having a serious discussion about politics, the environment or some other important topic such as resolving mastitis in dairy cows - well, it is a serious issue for those who work on dairy farms - when some smart alec, on this occasion, my teenage son interrupts 'Oh the funniest thing happened today at work.' All heads turn in his direction, he is already laughing, we know this is going to be a good story and what's more, it is true - this really happened. Two guys turned up at the farm as my son was pushing up the cows in the direction of the dairy shed. They had come to look at a gate - this thing does tend to happen on farms by the way. They are watching the herd when the younger bloke, a Maori 'fella' as my son describes him, upon seeing a rather large beast (the bull) in among the herd turns to my son and asks 'Ay, whatcha been feeding that one bro?' My son being a New Zealander can do the accent and at this point most of the members of my family are in hysterics- we can just picture it! The smile would have crept across my son's face as he tells him 'We don't milk that one mate.' The older man whispers in the ear of his young companion and a sheepish smile appears with the realization 'Ahh!'

At this point we have all forgotten about the serious stuff and we are all telling funny stories about life in the country. I'm not worried. I love to see my children smiling. Laughter and joy are another two of the characteristics of my home that I want to actively encourage. Laughter is good medicine for the soul, it makes a heart glad (Proverbs 17.22) and needs to be heard in every family home!

Do chickens chat?
Have your children invent funny captions for your photos- this encourages creative humour!

So how do we have humour in our households without resorting to crass or irreverent jokes, tales or put-downs? Humour should never humiliate! Real life funny stories are permitted in our home, even embarrassing incidents can be related with the permission of the perpetrator but dad is always ready to step in and say 'That's enough.' Jokes can wear thin and if the retelling of humorous incidents in the company of others may cause humiliation it is stopped in its tracks.

Nevertheless, we do let our children know that it is fine to sometimes laugh at yourself and we do this by sharing with them funny stories from our younger days and pulling out the old photo albums to show the kids that mum and dad also made fashion mistakes, especially in the 80's!

Yes, that is me in the middle in the 1980s - going somewhere in London on the tube.
Bananarama hair was so in! And big hair is returning so they say!

Talking of fashion mistakes, apart from big hair, I let my daughter know that little red leather ankle boots with flat soles do make you look like an elf and should never be worn when the library floor has just been polished. My children love to hear me relate the story of the day when as a college student, I not only skidded on the parquetry floor but went the complete length of the room on my backside. It also happened to be exam season and the library was packed with students revising who thought my slide was so spectacular they gave me a round of applause!

I was in a clothing store the other day when I knew I had to alert my daughter. I beckoned her over and said ' Trust me. Whatever you do- do not buy a pair of these'. I held up the offending item. 'What are they?' she asked. You don't know what leg warmers are? I replied. 'All the trendiest people wore these in the eighties.' 'You didn't mum did you?' ' Unfortunately, yes, with my little red ankle boots!' They did keep my legs warm but were not very flattering and I cannot believe they are back in fashion! Thankfully, she decided a scarf was the much safer fashion accessory!

A funny moment on a busy day. Rather than pointing out the fashion mistakes of others (yes, I know there are plenty of examples around these days!) use your own experiences. Mind you, I could not help laughing at the dress up dolls I found in a bookstore recently. The same daughter was with me so I called her over. We were soon both laughing out loud as we flicked through the various outfit ensembles for the paper dolls - everything from ball gowns to loud shirts for the Hawaiian vacation. 'Shall I buy it for the twins - they could have one doll each?' I asked my daughter.'You are not serious mum?' Why was she so concerned about paper dolls? Well, these dolls just happened to be President Obama and his lovely wife Michelle! I'm being serious Right here in Australia! The real one couldn't make it but you can console yourself with a paper edition! I want to know why there was no Australian version - where was Kevin and Therese?!

They made a paper doll version of me! As a child I had curly blond hair

And dresses and cardigans just like these!

Sorry - I could not help myself sharing that story!
My husband snapped this shot on his mobile phone across the road from his workplace. Can you see the store in the background? It is a liquor store, a drive through liquor store no less! No one was hurt in this incident, just some pride.

Can you think of a funnier caption for this picture?

Or how about this one?

This photograph was taken by my daughter and was a local finalist in a competition. There were over 7000 entries - unbelievable! You had to enter photos that would make people smile. Lots of the photos were of children, some obviously posed but others like this picture, impromptu shots of funny moments in time. Always have your camera ready because young children not only say the funniest things - their actions inject humour into a household! Record these incidents so they can be recalled and shared around the family meal table. I'm saving this one for her 21st!

This picture is going into the slide show that his sister has put together for his 18Th birthday party next month - just to prove he used to be domesticated! These days he scrubs milk vats! We started training him early!

And his younger brother is well aware that he was truly an obedient child. When dad said 'Take this rabbit home to mummy' he did as he was told! Rabbits were a serious pest on the farm but I could not bring myself to make rabbit stew!

So many of the incidents that made us laugh actually happened. We do sometimes watch funny movies but it is hard to find ones that contain no crass humour. I'm thankful there are still a few gems out there - our all time family favourite funny movie is 'Secondhand Lions'. If you have not seen this you will laugh yourself silly at the antics of the two old men!

There are so many ways to inject humour into a home. And joy! Allow your children to sing really loud! My teenage son has music playing most of the time and sometimes when I venture down the hall I catch him singing along to Sanctus Real, Casting Crowns or Hillsong United. Now he will definitely not be auditioning for Australian Idol(phew!) but it sure brings a smile to my face as I hear him belting out ' Today, Today I live for one thing - to give You praise in everything I do.'

He is joyful! Living out the words of Psalm 149 verse 5 'Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds.'

I do! Let them sing aloud in their bedrooms! How about you? Is there humour in your house? Not sarcasm or demeaning put-downs - cheap laughs at someone else's expense but laughter that is provoked from sharing good wholesome jokes, relating funny family moments and incidents. And I must add seeing Cadbury's TV ads of eyebrow raising kids and the tap dancing dairy cows and can't forget Toyota's Border Security ads - no man bags or tofu allowed. Now they are funny! Telling funny stories and sharing funny pictures which bring smiles and a lightness of heart.

You have watched 'Funniest Home Videos and you realize that most of the tapes of people are not that funny but the animal ones usually are, so I'm finishing with another picture to bring a smile to your face today. What on earth is the cat whispering into the ear of the dog? I'll leave that for you to decide!

With love and joy and lots of laughter!

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cultivating Kindness in the Home

'Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house... let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.' Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa understood that kindness begins at home and for my home this is one of the characteristics I really do desire to see in operation. Romans 12 verse 10 exhorts us to 'Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love in honour giving preference to one another.' This verse implies that kindness is to be evident in families!

I love that Mother Teresa calls it a living expression and reminds us that it can be seen on the outside! When I see someone who is not smiling or worse scowling, I do believe it is an indication that something is wrong on the inside and all is not well at home. Kindness is cultivated at home and how we treat our children will reflect how they treat one another and the people they meet outside the home.

So how do we cultivate kindness in the home? I am often reminding the children to be kind to one another but I am acutely aware that it starts with me. I have to be the one who is their example of God's kindness - I am the expression that they see and therefore I have to ask myself 'Do they see kindness in my face?' Do I speak kindly or am I constantly barking out orders? I confess sometimes I bark - I know this because on occasion I hear myself and my words being said in the same manner by one of my children. It is an echo of myself! This is a good wake-up call and it reminds me that I can still issue firm instructions in a kindly voice. So rather than yelling 'Your room is a pigsty clean it up now!' I speak directly to the person and say something like. 'You need to tidy up your room because I almost tripped over when I was carrying the baby. Begin with picking up the floor and I will come down later and help you sort out your wardrobe.'

What happens when I speak kindly is that I find the child concerned is more likely to co operate and because I have broken down the instructions into achievable steps I have given him or her a place to start.

We know that kindness can be heard in a person's voice and it can be seen in their face. We have always reminded our children to smile not only when they are having their picture taken but when they are simply doing everyday things - to think about the blessing of having a warm home when they are collecting firewood and to 'whistle while they work'. But more importantly, a smile is for others - so smile when you meet someone and say hello. This can open doors to friendship and it cheers people up.

How heartwarming it was for me recently when a mother struck up a conversation at the tennis courts where my son was having a lesson. She told me she had heard all about my son. Her boys had told her that my son was kind to them. We had quite a conversation about raising children. I don't often stay for the lesson but I was now intrigued - I started watching my son's interactions with the other children. He was indeed being kind! Helping out a younger boy - talking to him and involving him. Calling others by their name, picking up the ball they dropped and passing it back and after the lesson offering another boy one of the veggie chips from his packet. Just little acts of kindness - all things we have emphasized in the home. Learn and use people's names. Share with others what you have - don't be selfish. Let others go before you. Don't take the biggest slice of cake for yourself. Notice how many lessons are taught around the family meal table. If you are not sitting down together as a family around your table for meals you need to! I later told my son how I had been observing his kindness to others and how pleasing this was to God. When you catch your children being good reward them with kind words and an admonition to keep on doing good. So many verses in the Bible do this!

Kindness is usually shown by those who have a tender heart. I do believe there are certain things we can do to encourage tenderheartedness in our children. You may be surprised by these suggestions but they are what I have noticed brings out a tender heart in my own children.

Allow them to have pets. With a pet comes responsibility - you have to look after it. Feed it , take it for walks if it is a dog, groom it if it has long fur, talk to it and treat it with kindness. A young baby learns not to pull the cats tail and to be gentle when stroking the dog. I have observed our family pets make our home a much happier place to be and there are lots of lessons to be learned about kindness.

Give them the opportunity to be around younger children and to serve older people. In this home that is unavoidable! Having a family of seven children with ages ranging from 17 years to 6 months is quite a challenge at times but one of the most rewarding aspects for me was to see the effect a new baby in the house had, particularly on my older children. Simply put, it brought out a tenderheartedness in my 17 year old son which I had been unaware of. He is always talking to his baby brother, tickling him, smiling at him and making him laugh. Being kind!

You might not be having another baby but there might be neices and nephews you can invite over. Encourage your older teenagers to include the younger children when kicking the soccer ball around after church, especially their siblings. The opportunity to serve others outside of their age group is one that should be seized! Have them bake for your widowed neighbour and take morning tea over. Involve your teens in the nursing home ministry that your church runs.

And if you are inviting people over - have all your children come out and warmly greet your guests. That includes your teenagers - even the one working on his assignment can come out of his room for a break and say hello. We have been to homes where the older children have ignored us completely - not even a hello. I find this behaviour disturbing if I am truthful. So we have spent lots of time reinforcing lessons about hospitality - simply by doing it and involving everyone in preparing for and looking after guests. Mother Teresa says 'let no one come to you without leaving better and happier. That includes the Telstra guy who comes to fix the phone! I have children, especially a set of twins who make sure he does not leave without being heartily greeted and fare welled!

There are so many lessons we can teach our children about kindness and I have only shared a few but I must add I always tell them that acts of kindness are deliberate not random. There was a movement a number of years ago which encouraged people to practice 'random acts of kindness.' It was quite a good thing while it lasted but I am much more in favour of deliberate acts of kindness. So we teach our children to purposefully look out for opportunities to help people wherever they go. It may be that they do not see that person again but often that one act of kindness leads to another opportunity to bless that person further. This is how we built relationships with our neighbours and our children have always been involved in extending a hand of friendship to others - spreading love.

There is one more specific action I want to mention that involves an act of kindness and once again it involves the home and family. When you invite people over you often invest time preparing - cooking up a gourmet dish, setting a beautiful table but if you only do this when guests are coming you send a message to your family that the visitors are perhaps more worthy of lavish attention. You don't need to cook gourmet food every night for the family but stir the pot of kindness by taking time to cook people's favourite dishes or set a special table on certain nights. I thought of this as I made rice pudding with just one son in mind. I knew he would be thrilled. I knew he was hoping I would make it as soon as it was featured on 'Masterchef' and he was exclaiming 'Rice pudding I love rice pudding!' It was a forty minute investment, stirring that pot to prevent the pan from burning but so worthwhile - just to see my son's eyes light up when he realized what I was making. It tasted wonderful too!

So what do you do in your home to stir the pot of kindness? Cultivating kindness takes time - like a good rice pudding it requires an investment of our time. We need to model it first, we cannot expect our children to speak and act kindly if we do not do likewise. We must encourage it in the home and it needs to be extended outside of our own four walls - to everyone we meet!

Kindness is infectious - it affects people in good ways. So start to spread kindness today from your home. See what happens and work hard to make it a part of your everyday life.

'Revival begins at the kitchen door.' - Angus Buchan

With Love and Joy,

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