We’re half way through our first Wairarapa winter and I still have a lot to learn about life in the country. However, this much I know is true;
Sheep are hard to catch.
Removing a rose bush from a sheep’s neck is almost impossible unless you are a real farmer.
I need to make friends with a real farmer urgently.
The chickens will be OK if you skip a feeding in adverse weather conditions, although there will be some associated guilt.
Low mist is a magical thing. It’s also bittersweet and geographically disorientating.
Driving into a fog bank is like jumping into a vat of candy-floss, but a lot less fun than that sounds.
Lighting a decent fire is a skill I am yet to master. Chucking on a pile of stuff together in a slapdash fashion and lighting it will inevitably lead to a black smoldering log and maybe a little smoke.
I’m really happy my man can rescue my rubbish fires. He’s a keeper.
The house log pile will always run out when then man of the house is out. This is even more likely to happen if it’s cold and rainy.
Kids can be paid to fetch logs in from the garage, unless it’s cold and rainy.
It’s OK to burn though a box of supermarket kindling if no one can be bribed to go fetch logs from the garage. Excess kid art work can also be converted into some cheery flames.
If you are a little reckless with power usage, the electricity bill may require you to take a stiff drink before opening.
When the kids run down the hall in the night (as they do) then it might give the illusion that the house is haunted.
Failure to mow the lawn for several months can lead to the most amazing carpet of winter daffodils.
There will always be cows on the road when you are running late for the train.
When the storms come, the rains come, and the roads start closing, then there is a certain peace of mind to be found in the fact there is always a plentiful supply of really good wine within walking distance.
This garden is the stuff that dreams are made off. Even on the bleakest winter day.
The first year we were young(er) and childless. You could say we were footloose and fancy free, although that wasn’t quite true. We sat in a courtyard cafe in the Marais, drinking bad coffee and eating baked cheesecake so good I can still remember each bite eight years later.
The year after that, 2006 we stopped to celebrate in the midst of a winter road trip around New Zealand. Dinner was Hell’s pizza in a motel room in Napier, with 3 month old Ben, snuffling around in the port-acot.
It seems insanely productive now looking back, by the following year 6 day old Dan had joined the family. I drove shakily out from our chilly Island Bay villa to collect a Malaysian, while you chatted to your brother, not knowing he wouldn’t always be at the end of the phone.
Then followed the wilderness years. Lost in the land of the little people. Loosing days and nights and months and thoughts and memories.
Three years ago June 27th was at once ordinary and extraordinary. We were surrounded by dear sweet friends and family. Eating bacon butties on the lawn at Cwm Cadian. Drinking tea, poking smarties onto a supermarket cake. Good times. There may even have been a bag of fresh jam donuts- or perhaps that was another day.
The following year we really got our act together. Booked a babysitter, got dolled up (as far as my pregnant-again body would allow) and stepped out to the Ambeli. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember it was incredible.
Last year we were in transit. Singapore. Heat, pool, zoo, and the buffet. Little did we know back then what the year had in store for us. If we had, then I dare say I’d have gone back for a forth helping of curry and ordered a second wine.
Now today, Te Ngakau in mid winter. The fire is on. The cake baked and iced, and under Ted’s instructions cut into the shape of a Star Fighter. Dan and Ted are dressed as Darth Vadar and a Storm Trooper respectively. Ben is practicing his speech for tomorrow’s speech finals. He’s also worrying about his lack of costume for the school disco tomorrow afternoon (he said he didn’t want one) and taunting Dan that Darth Vadar’s cape makes Dan look like a ballerina. Joe has requisitioned Darth’s helment / mask and is wandering around beneath it.
Chocolate birthday cake (gluten free) … cutting it into a star fighter shape is optional.
200g melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup natural unsweetened yogurt
1 cup dutch cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup rice flour
2 cups ground almonds
100g dark chocolate
A slug of cream
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Should make a thick batter – if too thick add a bit more yogurt to loosen it up.
Pour into 2 greased round cake tins and bake at 180 for around 30 mins until cooked through.
When cake cool make the ganache by melting the chocolate over hot water then stirring in the cream. Liberally apply the ganache to the cake and get the kids to decorate. Party time.
The Dragon Hunters ; Words by James Russell / Pictures by Link Choi – available at Munch Cupboard along with a host of other cool Indie books.
Books are kind of a big deal at our place. You might walk in and think we are somewhat drowning in them, but we like it that way. I started reading to Ben the first night home from hospital when he was just 24 hours old, and have probably read something to the kids every single day since then. Back in the early days, with just one small baby who couldn’t answer back, I think I had the most fun. I got to pick the books and would spend hours with him stretched out, head on my knees and toes not quite reaching my lap, listening intently to ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’ (Probably my all time favourite kids book).
These days I don’t get much input into the kids reading matter. Young Joe is in that feisty stage of wanting the same book over and over again. Dan and Ted are in the midst of a joint love affair with all things Star Wars, scouring the local libraries several times each week for new Star Wars finds, which I dutifully read night upon night upon night. Ben does his own thing, he has reading sussed and is enjoying his independence when it comes to picking books.
So it was with some excitement that I opened a package from my friends at Munch, with The Dragon Hunters book to review. Finally I would get to choose a book to read to the kids. First up I gave it to Ben (7) to review – after all I am an ops manager in my real life, and delegation comes automatically to me. Here’s what he thought;
‘The main characters were Paddy, Flynn, Coco and the dragon. I really liked the book because it was entertaining for me. My favourite part was when Paddy and Flynn tied the rope to the dragon’
Then I read it to Dan (5) and Ted (3). What a joy to finally take a step back from a Galaxy far far away and into an imaginary word that captures everything I love about independent books. I could tell the kids were enjoying it as they were peering into the book, studying the pictures, smiling and quiet. This is just a lovely book. It rhymes, which is always relaxing. It has great illustrations. It’s funny, clever, and it’s about brothers, adventure and being a bit brave. Perfect to read in front of a blazing log fire on a blustery night.
Six years ago we arrived in Wellington, just ahead of Matariki, although I had no knowledge of Maori celebrations then. I just knew that our little rented villa was darn cold, drafty cold, with not a radiator to be seen. Ben was 16 months old, seemingly without interest in shifting forth in any direction. A determined sitter who had to be carried everywhere, every entertainment fetched to within his limited reach. I was heavily pregnant with Dan. Aching and whale like, smiling at my new midwife, ‘yes, everything will be fine, yes I am feeling OK’. I had passed the point of being able to fly home safely. There could be no reversal of plans. We sat on the floor, waiting for our life in London to arrive, neatly packed in a shipping crate.
Just after midnight on mid winter’s morning Dan arrived. I always think of him as a mid-summer baby, born in the wrong hemisphere. I find even now, when I finally feel settled in this land far, far from home. Now, with the drafty, lonely first Wellington house a distant memory. Now with a garden full of flowers, and space, and friends, and my crazy, gorgeous kiwi boys who clearly belong right here. Even now, as mid-June approaches the pull of home is so strong. Thoughts of the path I didn’t choose, the people I wish I could laugh across a table with instead of conversing through a computer screen.
But whereas six years ago the homesickness would be overwhelming, turning me into a great anxious bundle. Now, I pour a wine. Bake a chocolate cake (well OK – I do that most days, homesick or not) and think of trips we’ve taken. Dan’s 3rd birthday party on my grandmother’s lawn. Ted and Baz sitting on a pile of sticks in a Welsh pub garden. Dancing like teenagers at Jake and Lisa’s wedding in a room full of everyone who matters most. Pouring dark chocolate into milk on the bank of the Seine, and all that followed one rather special child free day in Paris. Then I start planning the next big trip. Matariki, it turns out, is a great time to look at the stars.
We are down to the last of the apples. As we started to run low I actually carried a step ladder out to the garden to get the higher ones down. That’s quite a commitment to this farming life (in my book). I have put the last few in the cold store, with the pumpkins. It’s not really necessary, they keep fine in the kitchen, but I quite like the theatre of going out to the old farm cold store. I still haven’t got over how cool it is to have such a place.
4 x large apples, peeled, cored and chopped into big chunks,
2 x Persimmon, peeled, cored and chopped into big chunks
A handful of frozen blueberries (if you happen to have some around)
50g butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup of mixed ground seeds and shredded coconut (pumpkin / flax / sunflower etc)
1 tpsn of coconut sugar (or brown sugar if you don’t have coconut)
Put the fruit in an over dish with a splash of water.
Chop the butter into the ground almonds and then rub together to make a breadcrumb texture. Mix with the ground seeds, coconut and sugar.
Sprinkle over the fruit.
Bake of around an hour on 180.
Now we’re rural, it seems that a constant electricity supply is not something that can be taken for granted. Today, for example, someone somewhere turned out the power, all day long. I took it as a sign to give the garden some attention. Luckily our friend and nanny is staying, and she actually knows what to do with a garden fork, plus she has significantly more strength and stamina than me. She pulled the weeds and old plants from the greenhouse, turned the soil, shoveled in compost and then planted neat rows of salad and red onions. In the outside beds went broad beans and broccoli, and a suspect a fair bit more besides from my bill at the garden centre. The boys assisted way more eagerly than if it had been me in charge of the gardening. Probably because a sense of confidence in what you are doing inspires participation (whereas I tend to mill around, half heartedly pulling at the weeds before giving up and deciding to go and bake some cookies). The boys collected piles of leaves from underneath the old oak for mulch. It all looks very promising. Provided the chooks don’t get in amongst it.
I got a light scolding for letting the sheep into the garden. Admittedly it was all starting to look a bit friendly as the sheep marched straight onto courtyard and peered in the back door, then sauntered off to eat the roses. ‘You’re getting them into bad habits’ I was told. ‘They will wreck the garden’. All this of course is true. I do not always have good instincts with these things.
In amongst the frenzy of winter planting, the pumpkins were harvested. Now, I don’t normally enjoy cutting into pumpkins. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, that cutting the things up is a major disincentive to cooking with pumpkin, but today I was eager to crack into one. If I was a proper blogger, I would have taken some photos of the rather beautiful orange interior. Next time.
Pumpkin and coconut curry
Flesh of one pumpkin (or half if it’s a biggie)
4 -5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
Handful of cherry tomatoes
2 spring onions
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tin coconut cream
1 tbsp coconut oil
Handful of mint.
Fry the spring onion, garlic, chili and spice in coconut oil. Add the pumpkin and brown it slightly, Add the coconut cream and simmer for 30 minutes until soft and sticky. Mint to serve. Good with rice, and chutney, and a sprinkle of slivered almonds.