A call from Pope Francis to make chutney

pope francis laughingLast week I made some pear and apple chutney. It turned out ok. I found some basic internet recipes and then just bunged whatever I had into the pot. Sultanas were a good addition but overall I think I used too much vinegar. It was Pope Francis who set me off on this chutney session. I didn’t get a personal phone call but I did feel he was nagging me none the less.

This Pope really seems to get into our lives. From encouraging parents to bring their children to Church, to reminding us not to waste our food, he really gets down to the basics of how to live a good life.

I do try to use all my food wisely by planning meals and using left overs. But I know there are always vegetables I never get around to eating, cheese that I don’t store properly so it goes to waste and left overs in the freezer that I toss out because I’ve forgotten what they were in the first place. So when I saw that bowl of saggy looking pears and apples, which no one was bothering to eat, I knew something had to be done.

Over summer I’ve been reading Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel (thanks to the kind friend who gave it to me.) It’s a beautiful and practical book that encourages everyone to live simply. It talks about the value of home and the value of the home skills.

Simple living is “living a life that’s not complicated by wanting or having too much. It’s being satisfied with enough, whatever that may be. It allows you to discover the significance of home life and how your home can nurture you. It’s a lifestyle that allows you live well on little money, thereby enabling you to build a family and a home that is based on authenticity and love.”

Now isn’t that exciting! But also daunting… the book has some high ideals like making your own soap and knitting your own winter jumpers! Still, as it’s the start of the year I’m inspired to make some small steps.

Living a life of poverty or simplicity isn’t a new idea in the Catholic Church. Saints, Popes and everyday Catholics have been trying to live simple lives for centuries. However Pope Francis’ message really seems to be hitting home at the moment. It’s as though we are hearing an old message again for the first time.

Why does living a simple life seem so inspiring? Why would we be crazy enough to welcome a little poverty into our lives?

I suppose it has to do with our heart. Living simply, not creating unnecessary needs for ourselves, de-clutters our hearts so we can love. Our hearts are free to love people rather than things.

So perhaps it’s part of some plan that for now I don’t have a working oven, our plumbing is a bit hap hazard, we are fighting a battle against an ant invasion and I’m sitting here pregnant during a heat wave. Can’t say I’ve always born it graciously.

It’s a crash course in living simply and de-cluttering my heart. I bet if I told Pope Francis about it all he’d have a good chuckle.

Supermarket Retail Therapy

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

This is usually good advice. However sometimes I like to splash out in a very small way. I remember reading in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project that sometimes it’s good to have a modest splurge. It can give you a little kick of happiness for a long time.

Usually when I shop I try and be very stingy. I don’t buy fancy brands and I look out for specials.

My reward for all this thriftiness is spending about $1 more on a few special items.

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This week I couldn’t resist buying a few tins of chickpeas and tomatoes in their gorgeous Italian packaging. The tomato tin is so pretty you can use it as a vase afterwards.

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There is plain old honey and then there is Beechworth honey. I have a sentimental attachment to the place because my in-laws, who live in Albury, have often taken me there when we go down to visit. Beechworth has the best bakery you’ll find anywhere and a lolly shop worthy of Willy Wonka himself. It’s also famous for it’s honey. The queen of all honey has to be this Tasmanian Leatherwood. It’s sweet, it’s smoky and it’s perfect on hot, buttered toast.

I’ve always thought that if I lived in Middle Earth, I’d have to be a hobbit. There is no need to live like an elf or rule a great kingdom. But I do like the little luxuries to be absolutely right.

Three reasons to be grateful

Have you ever had one of those weeks when you have too much to do? This is my week. Pressed for time, I even resorted to getting a coffee from the drive through at McDonalds. A new low I felt. However life’s not too bad; here are some good things happening.

1. Soup: this months Donna Hay magazine has some truly delicious soups to try. My favourite so far has been the pea and ham; the bright green soup puts me in a better mood. The recipe calls for sour dough bread crumbs to be sprinkled on top – this is an inspired detail!

2. Inspector George Gently: I’ve recently rediscovered this TV show and am loving it. It’s brilliantly written and you’ll laugh and possibly cry with each episode. I also like feeling I’ve just had a history lesson on 60’s social issues with murder solved. Haven’t had much time but there is a long weekend coming up…

3. Jane Austen: my drama students are performing some scenes from Austen and their enthusiasm is awesome. At first they absolutely HATED Mr Darcy when he snobbed Lizzy. Then they LOVED him when he told her how much he “ardently admired and loved her.” It’s so wonderful for them to be 17 and truly discovering Austen for the first time. I’m grateful to be part of that.

So chin up. Life’s still pretty good.

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Today is a day for Chocolate Brownies

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Today is the sort of cold, miserable day when you must make brownies. Please go and buy yourself some dark chocolate, you will have the rest of the ingredients at home. I’m afraid I can’t give you my personal brownie recipe. It’s pretty scrumptious, if I do say so myself.

The recipe remains private for two reasons. Firstly it’s not mine to give; its my school friends Mum’s recipe. Secondly if I gave it to everyone it wouldn’t be special. Lets face it – brownies are even better than a cup of tea. They are perfect for every occasion. Every birth, marriage and death deserves a good brownie. I did tell one friend the recipe and she made them for a party my boyfriend (now husband) was having. It was all very awkward. Wasn’t that a breach of recipe etiquette?

So I’m afraid you’ll have to hunt down your own recipe. Just a clue, as you set off on your quest, the greater the chocolate, the greater the brownie. Also, if you love cheese, I once made a Nigella Lawson brownie recipe with cream cheese in the middle. Even feta cheese would work just as well – perhaps better! Its the sharp cheese flavour with the chocolate that works so well.

My goodness this is all too delicious! Without any more brownie recipe reminiscing, I’m off to the kitchen. Hope you have some happy baking!

7 ways to be a better cook

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We should all be professionals when it comes to cooking – or so I learnt last year.

When Eloise was about 6 weeks old, I somehow made it out of the front door to a cooking course. I had booked this pre-baby in all my naivety – didn’t really believe babies could make you tired…

The chef teaching us was passionate about food. She was soon waving around her sharp knife and trying to turn us eager amateurs, into half decent cooks.

Here are some of the basics we learnt:

1.       Keep your knives  sharp

With sharp knives you can work quickly. “A woman can do a lot of damage with a sharp knife!” the chef said. In a good way.

2.       Scrap bowl

When you start cooking, get out a bowl. Instead of making many messy trips back and forth to the bin, you keep everything neatly in one place and empty it at the end. Seems simple but it really helps!

3.       Keep your chopping board sturdy

Put a wipe or damp tea towel under your board. This keeps everything stable and safe.

4.       Perfect at least ten favourite recipes

Find ten favourite recipes and work on them until they are near perfect. This means you can cook without too much worry, no need for a recipe and the familiarity of the food is quite comforting for those who eat it.

5.       Try new recipes – don’t get stuck in a rut

Favourites are good but try and learn how to cook something new. Explore cook books and ask friends for recipes that you can try.

6.       Present the food well

Food seems to taste better when it looks good. This point is proved when you look at a platter of fruit. It’s far more appetizing when it’s cut up well.

7.       Stay positive

Even if your cake is a little flat, your lasagne not as cheesy you might like, and your steak overcooked –  never say a word. Smile, act as though it’s perfect and you’re sure to fool even the fussiest eater.

Of course, the real challenge now is to keep a very active 9 month old baby entertained while I whiz around pretending to be a master chef!

My Kitchen Rules

My Kitchen Rules; must admit I like this show. I can’t commit to watching it every night – but I love every bit I see.

It demonstrates the cooking talent of the amateur cook. And it’s quite impressive. I’m captivated by the cooking technique of these “characters”.

It’s amazing to think that all over Australia, every night, men and women are cooking up something marvellous. Flavours and textures are all combined to create beautiful food and all in about 45 minutes after a long days work.

I love meeting people who have a passion for cooking. My Mum’s friend sent me a recipe for lasagna, after I cheekily asked for her secrets. The recipe was unapologetically lengthy and detailed. Another Mother casually told me she was experimenting with baking different types of bread to see which her children preferred! Who has time to bake any more you wonder? Someone who loves baking that’s who.

The other day on a talk show they were discussing whether it is OK to serve take away at a dinner party. Unbelievably some thought this was fine. How does that make sense? Home cooked food is usually cheaper and always tastes better than anything you can buy. The point of a dinner party is to cook, and thus treat, your guests.

This woman on Sunrise also said that if she had more than 6 guests she would call in the caterer. My, my – what a precious approach! Lots of Aussie families have 6 or more people to feed every night. And do these families fork out the big bucks or have to live on some sort of pirate stew? No – they develop the skill to cook for a crowd on a regular basis. After all it’s just a matter of doubling quantities.

At least these cooks are only “judged” by their family – not by two smarty-pants in suits like in My Kitchen Rules.

Back to ‘My Kitchen Rules’  – I’m a big fan of the Bondi guys and the cupcake queens . If you could combine the Bondi healthy, delicious food with the cupcake queens beautiful deserts, it would be perfect.

I didn’t want to make this post about breastfeeding but it did occur to me that in my home, my kitchen does rule. My baby really is being served top quality. It’s food at the perfect temperature, with a taste that has variety; it fulfils her hunger and thirst and comes with a warm cuddle. Perhaps it’s a bridge too far, and I’m not basing this at all on science, but I believe it will set her up for a wonderful foodie life. A life of happy eating, where she will love good food and find the true joy of sharing food with those she loves.

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