Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding my Family

It all started with a small scrap of paper held in the possession of a grandmother. If that scrap of paper had been discarded or tossed onto the hot coals of the open fire by an over-zealous housekeeper, the details of my heritage would have been lost forever. You see, that scrap of paper contained a sketchy outline of a family tree, names of people, birth dates, places - all the information that I had been searching for, in order to discover more about my family history.

My daughter enjoys researching family history and had put considerable effort into researching her father's family history. It was not too difficult to unearth, members of his family had already documented the family history. My husband has Maori ancestry - famous warrior chiefs appear on his lineage, there are numerous records, books and paintings. She also researched her grandmother's family history and again there were records and distant relatives who had uploaded their findings onto the web. It was just fascinating - she was able to present the evidence to her grandmother and confirm that there were indeed convicts in the family. You can read more about her project in a previous post 'The Family Historian.'

Having completed this project she now wanted to know about my family history. I was able to tell her very little. My father's parents had died before I was born. I only knew my maternal grandparents and my mother's father had died long before I was born. Her mother had remarried and the man I knew as grandad died when I was around the age of ten. He was a lovely Christian man. He presented me with a copy of the book 'Mary's Bible' on my eighth birthday. He wrote inside the front cover. It is the only material possession I have from my grandparents. I have read this amazing story of the faith and courage of a young Welsh girl to my own children and keep the book in my memory box to pass on to my own children in the hope that one day they also will read it to their children.

I knew I had Christian heritage but how far back did that go? Longevity appeared to be a family trait. I know that God promises long life to those that trust in the Lord (Psalm 91.16) This fact and just a few childhood memories of visiting my grandparents' home were all I could share with my daughter. I told her about my grandmother's button box which kept me amused for hours - oh to have some of those vintage buttons now - I would stitch them onto a quilt and create an heirloom! And the most delicious home made cake I have ever tasted which came out of a cream enamelware tin from an old fashioned larder - if only I had that recipe today. And the little lawn surrounded by a rose garden which was just a sensory delight to a little girl who only had a concrete backyard to play in.

I wanted to know so much more about my family so I wrote to my uncle and aunt at the beginning of this year and told them about my daughter's family history project and her desire to add in the details of her mother's heritage. And this is how I learned about the scrap of paper!

My aunt told us how it was safely guarded, how it came into their possession and how they 'puzzled about it without much success'. Their eldest son, began searching churchyards and in one he found family graves, the dates on the stones matched up with those on the little scrap of paper!

He contacted the vicar and found out that the family had not only attended the church - they had built the church and were at rest in the crypt. My aunt and uncle were able to visit this country church - the family pews were still there and historical plaques about the family adorned the walls. They were also able to visit the family home where the family had resided for generations - as far back as 1550 when they were yeoman farmers. How exciting it must have been to visit these places. I hope to visit the same places if I have the opportunity to return to England for a trip one day. I have connections to places I never knew about!

She promised to photocopy and send on all the information that they had but in the meantime I had a name - my great grandfather's name, his date of birth and the place where he was buried. The most beautiful location in a region of England I have visited many times. To think I had sailed on the lake there, not knowing that my great grandfather was buried in a cemetery on its shores.

My curiosity aroused, I typed his full name into the google search box. And on the first page a result. My grandfather's name mentioned in a book. The dates and all the details matched - there was no mistake, this was my great grandfather being given special mention in a book about a famous family of America - the Fairbanks family. Why was my great grandfather's name in a book held in the libraries of America's most well known and prestigious universities? Fortunately, I did not have to travel to the US to read about my grandfather. The book out of copyright was now in the public domain in electronic format. I could freely browse its pages and read more about the family that was in fact, part of my heritage. My great grandmother was a Fairbanks, the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My great grandfather was a military officer, he was in Canada to train Nova Scotian volunteers in the art of musketry. They married in Canada, spent time in India and eventually returned to England. Where in Canada did they meet? Perhaps they were introduced at one of the functions that his wife's father was known for, lavish affairs they must have been, for he 'entertained liberally and his hospitality was noted in military, naval and civic social circles.' I also read that my great great grandfather was 'held in the highest esteem by his fellow citizens.'

'The Genealogy of the Fairbanks family in America 1633-1897' by Lorenzo Sayles Fairbanks is one mighty volume. And how grateful I am to a man long passed who chose to record the history of his famous family. He did not just record lineage but gave details of character, occupations and exploits. No doubt my great grandfather was given mention on account of his distinguished military career but the author not only mentions the doctors, lawyers, ministers and politicians of the family but those he also considered to be of high standing who held more humble positions. He mentions a man 'noted for his tender affection of his children', a couple whose home was a centre for hospitality, content and good cheer and a good example of New England domestic life.' He had a strong regard for the wives, mentioning one 'whose energy and good judgment were equal to any emergency. Not many houses were better furnished or more home like than theirs.'
And there it was, the mention of the remarkable longevity of the Fairbanks family and their wives in Nova Scotia - the branch of the family my great grandmother belonged to.

With a little more research, I was able to trace my great grandmother's lineage to George Fairbanks, a man of 'sterling character and a model pioneer' the second son of the Puritan Jonathan Fairbanks, an original settler of New England. And to find out that the original Fairbanks family home is still there, in Dedham, Massachusetts, thought to be the oldest surviving timber framed house in America built around 1637-1641. The Fairbanks family in America Inc, own and preserve this historic building. Annual family reunions have been held there for the past 108 years! You can see pictures of the house and read more about its history here Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to visit the house and even attend a family reunion! If you are visiting my blog and reside in New England you may have visited this historic home or you may even be a member of the family for its descendants are 'found in almost every state of the Union, Canada and Nova Scotia' according to the author. I would love to hear from you!

It was exciting to receive the package of printed materials from my aunt including a copy of that original precious scrap of paper. I also found out that my great grandfather's family history had been recorded in yet another rare book which contained not only his genealogy but also that of a Dr Johnson. I didn't take much note of that until I realized it was the Dr Johnson, Samuel Johnson the famous author, poet, essayist, moralist and lexicographer - the man who wrote the English dictionary published in 1755. How incredible to think that the family history I had been searching for was recorded in a book alongside that of a most famous man. The member of the family responsible for this work just happened to be a genealogist and a keen 'Johnsonian' as they are known.

It is so rewarding to research family history - it can be quite addictive too but it has given me a wonderful insight into history itself. I had connections not only to England and my birthplace but to the countries of Canada and America and real family connections to their colonial past. How much more interesting a trip to New England or Nova Scotia will be for me one day. I plan to visit all of the places my great grandfathers and grandmothers settled and resided in. I have the written information and now I am searching for photographs - I love to have old family photographs on display in my home. A visual reminder of a heritage. It's why I am keeping a family memory box, why I have books on my shelves that will be passed onto my children to read to their children, the stories that were read to them will influence another generation. I hope to ensure that they do have beautiful items to display in their homes that will remind them of me. Even if it is only a few of my favourite recipe books and a box of the laces and trims I used to embellish the bon bons I made for them each Christmas season. And that they know the story of their family - their heritage.

Today, as I once again browsed the pages of the book about the Fairbanks family in preparing to write this post, I became aware that what really matters most is people - there were so many people in this family who appeared to have understood this. The author speaks of the Christians 'widely known and beloved' and a family man who cared more for 'home associations than for office' and of a man who did not live for himself but for others. It challenged me to think about what I value most, what I live for and what I would want my children to say about me. The legacy I leave for my family will not be about the land that we owned, a house or material possessions. It will be about faith passed on, love poured out, the investment of time and the making of memories - the memories that I create. The atmosphere of the home is something that stays with someone for a long time. It is what I do this very day in my home that will make my name tomorrow. It was said about my great great great grandfather that he 'left his children the heritage of an upright and honourable name.' If it had not been for that little scrap of paper I might never have known this.

And as I conclude this post I hope that you were not bored by the details of my family history. It was so important for me that I put this all into, what is after all, my family journal that future generations of my family might read one day. I tend to lose scraps of paper - my grandmother did well to preserve her history! If you skipped through the details that's fine! But if you are still reading let me just ask one question. It is not 'Have you researched your family history?'

Rather -

What are you leaving for your children? What will be your legacy?

'What thou lovest well is thy true heritage.'
- Ezra Pound

With Love and Joy,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Free Range Cook

A good cook book should be more than just a collection of recipes. A good cook book should inspire you to put on your apron if you wear one, reach for your mixing bowl and make a conscious decision to spend time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. If it is a really good cook book you should be able to follow the instructions and reproduce a dish that looks not too different from the photograph of the cook's original. And for my family it needs to pass a few more tests - provide sufficient quantities in order for each person to have a generous portion and the obvious one - the food needs to taste delicious and keep them coming back for more. The all important 'make it again mum' criteria!

'The Free Range Cook' by Annabel Langbein is a really good cook book. It accompanies the international television series of the same name currently being aired in both New Zealand and Australia. What is so different about this show that sets it apart from other cooking shows? For me, it is the location and the down to earth non-commercial style. The location is New Zealand's South Island where Annabel cooks for her family and friends at her lakeside wood cabin - no chef's kitchen with sleek shiny appliances here, rather a two burner gas stove top and an outdoor wood-fired oven. Bottles of homemade preserves line the shelves of her small rustic kitchen. There is no big chain supermarket sponsored display of food in a studio kitchen. No major appliance brands are actively promoted. No fiddly recipes that require a degree in engineering construction. The produce is nearby though, just a short stroll - fresh being the operative word as much of the produce comes from Annabel's own abundant vegetable garden.

My own garden is in a beautiful forest setting but not so picturesque - it needs to be protected from the creatures that also want to share in our harvests. I've resorted to growing salad vegetables in an old bath tub covered by a wire cage. The dream of the potager and sprawling open vegetable garden had to die - in order to grow vegetables to maturity!

The style of the food is as the title suggests 'free range'. This is not just referring to the eggs used in the recipes but rather the process of gathering the produce as a whole which may be fresh from the garden, purchased at Farmers' markets or sourced directly from local growers and producers. After just a few shows I was inspired to visit our local produce markets, get my spring seedlings planted and my husband even watched the show and declared we would be possum proofing our vegetable gardens the following weekend!

It is official - my veggie garden now resembles a prison exercise yard! All visitors are welcome except for wallabies, possums, bandicoots and bower birds!

Annabel takes her fresh produce and shows you how to turn it into beautiful food. The recipes are simple, the processes uncomplicated and having made a few of the recipes from the show after frantically scribbling down the ingredients onto scraps of paper I decided I would buy the recipe book! Now that is something I don't do very often - I have a basket full of recipe books but to be honest there are only a few books that I use and refer to often. Ones with few or no pictures don't inspire me but I've also looked through many a celebrity chef recipe collection packed with photos supposedly for the non-professional and sighed, don't they realize I'm running a home kitchen not a restaurant? I need books that offer simple wholesome food and versatile family recipes that can be served to young children, hungry teenagers and husbands brought up on traditional fare. I also want stylish food that I could serve at dinner parties to my friends who have on occasion dined at the award winning restaurants in my little town. This book offers simplicity and marries it with style. Food that can cater for both families and foodies!

The Free Range Cook book is a hardback volume and contains over 150 recipes. There are recipes for every course and all occasions. The chapters are divided up into sections referring to the source. 'From the Oven' features breads, tarts and pies. 'From the Garden' - obvious really but a great selection of healthy salads, easy dressings that transform the most basic of foods, vegetarian dishes and my favourite recipe so far - the salsa Verde is sensational.

The recipes are not mean!

Which is a good thing in this family home!

Turn to the front index and you will see the contents for 'From the Farm' and ' From Lake and Sea' have been inter-changed (overlooked by the editing which thankfully is not repeated on the pages that really matter!) A very minor mistake but one I noticed. There are enough recipes in these chapters to satisfy both meat and fish lovers, though 'whitebait fritters' will have to remain a distant but pleasant memory of my days living in New Zealand's South Island! Most of the other ingredients are not so exotic or unique to NZ and this book is definitely one for the home cook, even better if you have a garden and grow your own produce or have access to Farmers markets where you can purchase direct from the grower - it is the 'seasonal' and 'fresh' aspects of Annabel's free range style which will translate into delicious outcomes. I made the 'silver beet, feta and pine nut roll' using fresh organic silver beet and it was the most enthusiastic reaction I have received from my children for a pie, even on finding out that silver beet was the main ingredient! They pronounced it delicious - good, I just planted more silver beet! The other section especially relevant for the region where Annabel's cabin is located is 'From the Orchard' so the inclusion of fresh peach and plum recipes comes as no surprise.

The other chapter I have not mentioned yet is 'From the Larder' - dairy is covered in this section and includes a recipe for creme fraiche. So expensive to buy and sometimes hard to find. I once tried to locate it for for a Jamie Oliver recipe and gave up after walking the dairy aisles of three supermarkets! This section adds to the comprehensive coverage of recipes from all the food groups, most of which have short ingredient lists, clear instructions and handy tips. The recipes are very versatile - one crumble mix resulted in a slice the children raved about, a rhubarb crumble cake the husband approved/consumed (he loves rhubarb!) and there was enough left over to make two individual rhubarb crumbles for the parents - rhubarb was harvested fresh from the garden and I now know how to stop the cooked fruit spilling over the sides of the dish onto my oven - oh so simple! Thanks Annabel!

I could show you the beautiful photographs of the food and the shots of New Zealand's stunning scenery but my camera work would not do it justice. I love the outdoor table pictures to which Annabel adds some decorative natural touches which compliment the type of food she is serving. A grape vine is loosely arranged down the centre of one table, apples picked fresh from the tree, their foliage still attached are set out on another table - no accessories or flower arranging skills required! Gorgeous pictures, gorgeous food - if you want to see some pages from the book for yourself and find some sample recipes and helpful tips on items to stock your pantry with you can do so at the free range cook website here or go and take a peek for yourself in a book shop. I offer up this warning. A friend who called in at my home only got to the third page, glanced at a couple of recipes before she said she was going to be in town the next day and would be calling in at the bookshop. She bought the book - can't wait to compare notes with her! It was her suggestion to have an 'Annabel' evening soon! Don't forget to wear your pearl bracelet Sue and I'll give you instructions on how to pronounce Fresh!

However, I can show you some of my efforts after a rainy weekend ensured, as the book promises, that my home would become my new favourite restaurant!

Crumble is transformed into the best muesli style slice ever!

The first recipe is always a good indication of what is to come. I used freshly milled wheat flour for the sticky buns and made my own version by adding orange peel and chopped pecans to the mix.

'The Free Range Cook' has rejuvenated my cooking and it has only been in my possession for just over a week. It will not be shoved into the basket with the other cook books under the kitchen island but will sit on the bench on the cook book stand for some time I suspect. Hopefully, the stand will help to keep it protected from batter spills - why did I not buy one years ago?! So many more recipes to try. I am looking forward to trying Annabel's versions of drinks and preserves I already make.

Such as elderflower cordial. It is blooming in profusion at eight acres of eden! For those of you who watch the show - notice the pearl bracelet. Can't cook without my pearl bracelet now! Why not!

She also brought me a flower - so sweet!

And this summer, I'm looking forward to packing up the picnic basket with home cooked food and taking more trips with the family to the beach and nearby rivers. And at home, eating outside more - setting out a table under our trees perhaps. Enjoying free range chicken or fresh fish baked with preserved lemon - the pleasure of which I have already discovered but it is time to make some more for the fridge. There is a recipe in the book for this amazing ingredient and it is so simple to make.

Encouraging the husband to take the boys fishing, not holding my breath - this is not New Zealand. The only fish we have sampled lately, is ......

Chocolate fish - another 'kiwi' delicacy. As 'kiwi as' the wrapper says!

Looks like we might have to wait until our New Zealand trip in February to taste real freshly caught fish again. The in- laws keep the neighbours in their seaside town supplied with fish but not this summer - we are going over and it will be fresh fish for dinner every evening - oh what a delicious thought to finish a food related post on!

Hope you have enjoyed this review and if you have the opportunity, check out the 'Free Range Cook' (ABC Saturdays 6pm - persuade the husband to watch the news on ABC on this night!) It was the highest rating television show in New Zealand the other week. The return to the kitchen and home cooking is happening people! We are tired of plastic wrapped food and meals on the run. We want fresh produce - we want to know where it comes from, how it was grown. We want to know how to turn it into meals that are simple to prepare that will nourish our families or like myself you may just need some beautiful visual images on the pages of a book to inspire you again, to try something different, to resist the temptation to reach for the jar of pasta sauce, even if it is organic and to grow more of your own food at home. If this is your desire and you are taking the steps towards achieving that aim, the Free Range Cook would be a worthwhile investment. It is a book that you will cook from!

Signing off with some pictures and words of inspiration that reflect my own philosophy on food.

'Cooking at home connects us with friends and family, nature and our own creativity'
- Annabel Langbein

With Love and Joy,

Foot note : I must let you know that the opinions expressed in this post are my own. I have not been asked to review the book by any person or publisher and have received no compensation from any party. Simply a mum who loves to cook sharing her enthusiasm for a subject close to her heart!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cleaning comes naturally...

We start training them young in this household! The first time that he pulled himself up just happened to be the day when I was cleaning my oven! So it was reassuring to know that I was using non-toxic natural cleaners - bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice. We have an abundance of lemons at the moment - more than enough to use for both cooking and cleaning. Don't you just love such versatile fruit. It took me longer than expected to clean the oven. My little man just loves to be around and to help - he was not giving up the sponge scourer! When I said 'Clean for mum' he obliged by rubbing the door furiously with the sponge dipping it into the bicarb that had been sprinkled on the surface. He understands how this process works! At nine months old!

I am also delighted to report that he is talking - saying his first words. Actually he has been saying 'mom' - that is his pronunciation, ( he's been reading too many American blogs!) for quite some time. I am mum to my other children but happy to be called 'mom' by my boy! Much to his father's consternation 'mom' was his first word. I had to wait until I had seven children to hear 'mom' as the first word - all my others said 'dad' first. Of course he said 'dad' next and has since added 'up', his brother's name and 'bye' to accompany his waves. He has started waving at people on the street. I think he is going to be as outgoing as his sisters who love to befriend people.

They met this young man in the buffet line at a 21st birthday party that we attended on the weekend. How delighted they were to see him at church the following morning. He was visiting from Sydney but comes from Pennsylvania, USA!

Back to the oven! - it really needed cleaning, it has been getting quite a workout lately as I've been testing recipes from my new cook book! The first recipe was for sticky buns. My oh my! I feel a little bit like Julie from the movie 'Julie and Julia.' I can report the buns were fabulous. The family thought they were too, for they were all gone by lunchtime. I think my review could be quite favourable. I have a blog, all I need now is a pearl necklace or in the case of this particular cook, a pearl bracelet! Actually I have a pearl bracelet, faux they may be but I love them!

Also need an excuse to use up all the eggs that the new chickens have been producing. It has been raining quiches and cakes for a couple of weeks now!

Just waiting for the last paw paw (papaya) to ripen. There are more on the tree but it has been paw paw with and in everything for weeks now so we are ready for a break. Do you like my copper pans? They are part of a set of five. I love them so much. They were a surprise gift from my husband. 'But I did not order anything from France' I told the clerk as I picked up the mysterious parcel at the post office. Imagine my surprise and delight when I opened up the 'parcel from Provence'. Shrieks of joy and 'No way!' were heard resonating through the house. It wasn't even my birthday!

Pots, pans, produce and a clean oven which is beckoning me into the kitchen. I've just realized my computer has not automatically adjusted for daylight saving and it is 5pm not 4pm. It is going to be fast food at home tonight - maybe stir fry or pasta. This was meant to be a short update on my little man but I could not resist sharing some more photos of the people and place that I love called family and home. There is no place I would rather be!

I have started experiencing problems with the 'blogthis' button on Picasa that I use to upload my first four photographs for posts. It appeared to work yesterday but was telling me that the task could not be completed but the post was ready with all the photos there until today - the four photos uploaded via this button had disappeared leaving only those I had uploaded individually. Anyone else had the same issues recently? If you see any gaps in my posts where it seems a photo should be could you let me know. It would be interesting to know if this is affecting all browsers. I have just uploaded the missing photos. If you see duplicates you will know why!

With Love and Joy,


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