Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When Home is... Kevin McCloud’s Principles

What was a favourite present under the tree for you this year? One of mine would have to be the book by UK Grand Design’s presenter, Kevin McCloud’s 43 Principles of Home.

In his introduction he calls this book ‘something of a manifesto for how we can live’. There is a lot in here on eco-living and elements of modern living but the principle I relate to the most would have to be the one that is printed on the back cover:

“Choose the architecture, garden, decoration and furnishings around who you are, what you dream of and what has made you. The most interesting and enriching homes are those that are full of autobiography; those that are maybe a bit cluttered, feel lived in and are delightful for it; those that have a mix of new and old, borrowed and bought – and not those that resemble furniture showrooms.”

I’m looking forward to writing more about the ‘autobiographical clutter’ of other people’s homes in 2011.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When Home is... Reindeer Food

It’s been a busy month at my home – like all homes at this time of year. There have been preschool nativity plays, ballet concerts, school parties, final assemblies, and for me, a commission to write a piece about the history of our house for a magazine... all of this coinciding around the same time.

But now school and preschool are over, my article is with sub-editors, presents are – nearly – all bought and we have time to just ‘be’ at home. Everyone is exhausted and the weather is warmer so this week has seen the re-emergence of our blow-up pool, staying in pyjamas all morning and not thinking about what to have for dinner until... well... dinner time.

The tree is decorated, our wreath on the door and stockings by the fireplace. Almost all our Christmas preparation traditions are complete. Everyone has different traditions, some handed down through generations of family and some begun only in this generation.

For my children, a new tradition began two years ago when my son came home from preschool with a bag full of ‘Reindeer Food’. On Christmas Eve the children scattered it across the grass and out of their bedroom window ‘so the reindeers could see our house from the sky and have something to eat while Santa filled the stockings’. It was much more exciting for them than leaving the carrots next to Santa’s biscuits and whiskey by the tree.

The following year they asked to make it for friends who we spend Christmas ‘Eve Eve’with, whose children they have known all their lives. It worked well for these friends, that Christmas the reindeer left a trampoline as thanks for the treat.

This year, they also made a jar for friends to take interstate. Hopefully it travels well.

It’s become a pre-Christmas ritual they enjoy as much as decorating the tree. It’s family rituals such as these that make a house a home and there are never more individual family rituals than at Christmas time.

Merry Christmas to all. I will be writing many more interviews in the new year and thank you to everyone who has left comments, sent emails, suggested interview subjects and actually reads what I write! It’s been a fun six months and I look forward to growing the blog in 2011.

And, if you’re interested in the ingredients of Reindeer Food, a recipe is below...

Reindeer Food
6 tbsp natural oats
4 tbsp red lentils
A handful of shimmery stars
A dash of gold glitter
A smattering of red and green glitter
A sprinkling of 100s & 1000s

Place all ingredients in a jar or snap lock bag. Seal and shake.
Leave in a cool, dry place until Christmas Eve, then spread evenly over the garden / lawn / courtyard.
Listen out for reindeer bells.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Home is... a Blueberry Farm in Canada

Eleven years ago, Heather Cameron was a florist living in Vancouver watching organic farming shows on television and dreaming of becoming a ‘country girl with a veggie garden even though I only had one plant out on the deck.’

Today she is a magazine stylist who, along with her husband, runs an organic blueberry farm 40 minutes outside of Vancouver and sells her own line of jams.

Heather’s story is one of taking the opportunities life throws at us, following those opportunities down a path and then following other paths never before considered that open up along the way.

‘I am exactly where I am because of my choices – I could be anywhere if I had decided to stay in the city. I know I always felt I was a country girl at heart. I love the city, but I’d always rather explore the outer areas. Beyond the city, where the calmer folk are.’

Heather and her husband didn’t set out to buy a blueberry farm; ‘it came with the property that we liked. We had no idea what we were doing.’

‘The house was hideous inside. UGLY!! But, I could see good bones, and knew I could fix it. Eleven years later, we are still fixing it – but it’s awesome and it’s ours. The farm was overrun with stinging nettles and blackberries; very neglected.’

So, with a hideous interior and an overgrown and neglected farm, how did Heather manage to make this property feel like home? ‘I painted almost everything white – including the oak kitchen, ripped off the wallpaper – found in every room, including a wallpaper border along the top of each wall. Ripped out all the carpet... Wait – it’s easier to say I gutted the place.’

Being a florist, she had originally planned to plant flowers on the farm and use them for weddings and events; ‘We were growing roses, hydrangeas, sweet peas, lavender, and snow ball viburnum bushes. It seemed like a clever plan – buy land, grow flowers, make lots of cash!’

But here was the first change of path; at one particular ‘very posh’ wedding little bugs came crawling out of the flowers onto the white tablecloths. ‘A nightmare come true’. Heather stopped using her own flowers and started buying them at auction.

To get more exposure for her floristry business, Heather decided to invite Victoria Magazine up to the farm; ‘I sent some images – and by images, I mean actual photos in an envelope. I think I even handwrote the note. No jpegs at hand back then. I said I make great pie, and if they come, I’d bake them one. They came. Seems rather easy, but I sent a lot of pictures of my work, our yard, my mom and me.’

During their afternoon of drinking tea, eating pie and sitting in the garden, the editor asked Heather if she had even considered a career in styling. ‘I had no idea there was such a job. Making things look pretty?! Seriously?! Seemed like a fun gig.’

And so began another path, working freelance for a variety of magazines setting up scenes and creating stories with pictures. In the meantime they cleaned up the farm and kept the blueberries. Having always enjoyed preserving food, Heather decided to make a few jars of blueberry jam to sell each year when the farm opened.

‘My jams are simple – not fancy, but memorable. I use old fashioned/slow cook/small batch methods, no pectin. This gives you half the sugar and twice the fruit. It’s like the Great Grandmother’s use to make, before we all got over processed and covered in sugar.’

Heather had been perfecting her recipes for years, originally taught by her mother-in-law; ‘She taught me what she knew, then I improved upon that. There was a lot of trial and error. I remember exploding peaches in our apartment in the city. I didn’t process them properly and they fermented. Not pretty.’

Then last year the freelance styling work dropped off thanks to the struggling magazine industry and yet another path opened; ‘A friend asked if I would make her jam for her new restaurant. The magazine industry had tanked, so I had a lot of time on my hands. It snowballed from there. Other friends with bakeries asked for it, then more shops, then I approached a trendy Vancouver grocery chain and they took it... It wasn’t my plan, but I love it.’

Today, Heather now has her Missing Goat jam label, ‘I’m not a serious gal, it had to suit me and be memorable’, their blueberry farm is now certified organic and growing and the family has grown to include three-year-old Lily.

They have ducks, originally bought to eat up the fallen berries at the end of the season, but now ‘part of the family’. In Spring there will be chickens; ‘I can’t wait to throw all my scraps to them.’

From all these unplanned paths that have been explored perhaps the biggest surprise is how much this farm feels like home to Heather in a way she never envisaged before her daughter’s arrival; ‘I thought of our home as a business, not really a family home. I always loved it but now it’s a real gift.’

‘Seeing Lily in the garden, grow pumpkins and sunflowers... Pick fresh berries and vegetables, camp in the yard with her dad... She’s so lucky – we are so lucky. I think I took it a bit for granted before she came along.’

For more information about Heather, visit her blog A Day in the Country
For more information about the Missing Goat Blueberry Farm, visit the

All images © Heather Cameron

Friday, December 3, 2010

When Home is... a Mud Room

What do you get when you mix rain and snow? Mud, apparently. In parts of America they even refer to this as ‘mud season’. This same season obviously applies to anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore houses on this side of the world often have an extra room to deal with such messy weather: a Mud Room.

Given the weather in Sydney at the moment I could really do with a Mud Room. Defined on the website as a room that ‘constitutes a clear boundary between indoors and out’; it is also there to ‘help keep the house clean’.

The only problem is that a mud room shouldn’t be your main entryway – which is really for receiving guests – it should be accessed from the side or back of the house. That could be an issue with our terrace house and its very narrow side passageway.

Given we are running out of living space, bathroom space and bedroom space I’m not quite sure why I’m dreaming of a room that’s sole purpose would be storage; a room that people are simply meant to drop their wet clothes, school bags and boots in and quickly leave.

But it seems there is no logic to the weather so I won’t analyse my daydream about the mud room either.

Images via

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Home Falls Apart... an interview with Author Isabel Gillies

When Isabel Gillies gave up an acting career in New York to move her family to Oberlin, Ohio she felt her life was close to perfect. Her husband had a teaching job at the University and they could give their two little boys a more carefree childhood in the country.

When they bought an 1877 redbrick house, built by a mason, Isabel felt all her dreams had been realised. The perfect house for the perfect family. As she notes in her book, ‘I’ll never be able to write about how great it was.’ Only it was not meant to be. Within months of moving in, her husband announced he was leaving Isabel and the boys; her perfect home metaphorically falling down around her.

Last year, Isabel published a memoir Happens Every Day chronicling this crisis time of her life. Beautifully and intimately written, it reads as a conversation between friends and is extremely difficult to put down. Told without anger but with insight, understanding and compassion, Isabel’s story is compelling and will leave readers wanting to know more... thankfully, her next book is due to be published in August 2011.

Home has always been important to Isabel, even when she was young, ‘When I got married and really had to make a nest for little ones, I don't think the idea or feelings about the home changed very much, it's just that before I felt like I was playing house and then suddenly it was the real deal.’

In Ohio, her redbrick house became an emblem for a perfect family that Isabel soon discovered no longer existed. Did such a devastating experience change those feelings about what ‘home’ really is for her?

‘I never in my life thought I would live in a house like that. I had grown up in apartments, and this house felt so REAL. I felt I had to treat it like a respected elder in the community. It sort of felt like mine, but really I felt it belonged more to American history. I respected it more than I lived in it. I think I would have grown to feel like it was mine, but I didn't live in it for very long.’

‘There were bats in the attic of that house, and 100 year old glass windows. It was a trip. I felt that had my kids grown up in that house, it would have sunk into their bones - all that history. I thought they would be able to feel that house wherever they were in the world.’

Renovating it into their ‘dream house’, Isabel could imagine her family growing old here together. As she wrote in her book, ‘Everything was planned out for our big family life for the next 20 years. Anyone who walked in the doors could feel that.’

When she became concerned about her husband’s feelings for a colleague who was also a friend of Isabel’s, she felt their home would communicate the stability of their family, ‘I wanted everything to look as calm and pretty as possible. I also wanted her to really get the picture of just how lovely the life going on inside this brick house was.’

She writes in the book that when she realised the marriage was falling apart, she still believed the house would save them, ‘The room started spinning, but my eyes found the side of the counter. Josiah and I had spent hours deciding what shape the curve of the counter should have. There are many different grooves you can choose or you can have it quite plain. We chose to have one groove in the middle of the curve. Elegant and simple. I held onto the counter and felt the groove under my hand, reminding me that we had built this house. We had chosen colours and fixtures and a life.’

But it was not enough. As Isabel tells me later, ‘It was an important place because as much as I loved to have it, it also taught me that home is a lot more than a house.’

‘When I think of that house now, it seems sad to me... Maybe you never can feel anything but pensive about the place where a family you loved ended, or rather, changed.’

‘When I think of the frumpy, funny faculty house we rented before we bought the brick house, I feel happy.’ Despite being ‘worn from years of professors and their families making their lives for a bit of time in it’, Isabel felt very strongly about this home, ‘It was a bird’s nest that just stays in the tree for years while different birds use it to raise their young. It was warm, generous, and smelled of must and wood.’

Leaving Ohio meant moving back into her parents’ apartment in Manhatten, the home Isabel had grown up in. ‘All my feelings about home and what I had built and what had gone away and what was ahead of me, had been put in a powerful blender and I didn't know which way was up.’

‘However, all the good feelings about a home are inside you and are impervious to the blender. They travel with you no matter what is going on in your life. So, in many ways, my feelings about home in my twenties and when I was in Ohio, and then when I was back in New York and even now, are very much the same.’

Now remarried, Isabel, her husband and her sons still live in Manhatten in an Upper West Side apartment. ‘Again, even though our home is probably the most grown up home I have ever made myself (I am 40 after all), I still feel like I could be in the apartment I lived in when I was 23.’

The relationship she has with ‘home’ is no different today; ‘I love the time at the end of the day when I know the kids will be home soon from school and then my husband will follow soon after from work. I wander around and plump the pillows, neaten the mail table, turn on lights in the bedroom and start to heat up whatever is on the stove so it smells good when they walk in.

Home, for Isabel, is still and will always be about creating a safe, happy nest for her family; ‘I hope that maybe if I do all that stuff, it will go into their insides and they will take a homey feeling with them wherever they are, whoever they are with, and for the rest of their lives.’

For more information about Isabel, visit her website here.
For more information about her memoir, Happens Every Day, click here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When Home is... Finding Buried Treasure (or bits of crockery)

In our last house we found a letter in the ceiling. When my parents ripped up carpet in their Mountains cottage, they found newspapers from the 1940s. Kate Morton recently talked about finding ‘to-do’ lists in the back of a cupboard in her childhood home. And yesterday my five-year-old dug up a piece of broken crockery in our garden.

It’s white porcelain and was obviously a plate or saucer as you can see the rim on the back of it. A pale blue flower is painted on the porcelain giving the impression it was once part of a ‘good’ china set. Or ‘from the olden days’, as my son said. It’s rubbish but it feels like treasure.

I have always loved old houses; not just aesthetically but because I really believe that old houses carry the stories of the people who came before us. How else is it that houses have ‘feelings’ about them?

I’ve thought a lot about the families who lived here – we have a list of all the previous owners dating back to 1883 – but I’ve never found any evidence of their existence. Until yesterday.

How did this piece of china end up at the back of our garden? Who used to eat off it and how did it get broken? Perhaps it was thrown in frustration after an argument about renovating?! Or perhaps it was innocently dropped by a child who was too scared to tell their mother. Maybe they had been playing tea parties with the wedding china and buried the broken bits hoping no one would ever notice the missing plate?

I think we might re-bury it so its story can continue. It belongs with this house and one day, years from now, another five-year-old may dig up their very own treasure.


In other ‘housekeeping’ matters, I will shortly be posting an interview with American author Isabel Gillies about what happens when your house metaphorically falls down around you as it did when her marriage collapsed.

I have just been interviewed by my cousin-in-law about my thoughts on home. Aside from being extremely stylish herself, she also has a very stylish blog, Wilona and Me. If you’re after ideas on decorating and design definitely have a look. Thanks Meagan, it was lovely of you to ask me!

Friday, November 19, 2010

When Home Has Its Own Story to Tell... an Interview with Author Kate Morton

"Have you ever wondered what the stretch of time smells like? I can’t say I had, not before I set foot inside Milderhurst Castle, but I certainly know now. Mould and ammonia, a pinch of lavender and a fair wack of dust, the mass disintegration of very old sheets of paper. And there’s something else, too, something underlying it all, something verging on rotten or stewed but not. It took me a while to work out what that smell was, but I think I know now. It’s the past. Thoughts and dreams, hopes and hurts, all brewed together, shifting in the stagnant air, unable ever to dissipate completely."

And so we enter the crumbling castle of Kate Morton’s third book, The Distant Hours. It’s a castle that feels so alive it’s a character itself. As a reader you feel the weight of its secrets, the burden of bearing witness, the consequences of acts occurring within its walls.

There is no greater joy than to be transported to another world through the pages of a book and in all Kate’s books that other world happens to be between the walls of a home. A grand house, a walled garden and little cottage, a castle: all remain as vivid as the characters who inhabit them.

Says Kate, ‘It’s one of my favourite parts of writing; creating the home in which my people move.’

‘For me, as a person, not just a writer, I adore old houses and buildings that feel like they bear the imprint of previous lives... the generations of people who have lived and loved and fought and worried and dreamed within their walls.’

Growing up in one of the original farmhouses on Tamborine Mountain in South East Queensland was a reminder to Kate they weren’t the only family ever to call this house home; ‘It was the sort of place where you’d open a built-in cupboard and find traces of people who’d been there before... an old to-do list, a single shoe.’

‘My mother is a second-hand dealer and she’d go to deceased estates to help families sort through belongings and work out what was valuable and not. I’d go with her sometimes and I felt I was seeing a house without its inhabitants but still wearing the clothing of the inhabitant, which was extremely poignant.’

‘We’d sort through old journals, letters, doctor’s reports, minutiae of someone’s daily life that’s not really valuable to anyone else but paints a picture of them. Even as a child I really got that and was moved by it.’

And now as a writer, Kate remains fascinated by such stories, ‘My favourite thing is the way the past and present touch one another. I’m not interested in the past without the present.’

In all three books, the past leaves an indelible print on the present and it is through the built environment that Kate so evocatively captures her characters’ journeys; ‘The atmosphere of the house pretty much parallels the atmosphere I want the book to have: the feeling it gives the characters when they are inside and the feeling it gives the readers when they inhabit it with the characters.’

The built environment, fully formed before Kate begins writing, also helps her get to know her cast; ‘I learn more about my characters as I watch them go inside and walk around the rooms, I see how they live and breathe there. It’s like a film inside my head, but a film where you can feel things and smell things. The atmosphere is so alive and I just write that down as I’m experiencing it.’

When reading The Distant Hours, it’s hard not to feel transported into a ‘whispering’ castle that ‘bore the unmistakeable signature of stillness... a depth of aloneness – loneliness almost – cloaking me’.

Or feel anxious; ‘the ominous creep beneath my skin? Perhaps it was only that a gust of autumn chill came then, seething beneath the door, angering the lock so that the key fell to the floor.’

When Edie, the young woman who comes to visit the castle, ends up having to stay the night Kate skilfully conveys the oppression and fear she feels; ‘Things are otherwise when the world is black. Insecurities and hurts, anxieties and fears grow teeth at night. Particularly when one is sleeping in a strange, old castle with a storm outside.’

But what about when one is sleeping in her own art-deco era home amongst the hills, antique shops, cafes and workers cottages of Paddington in Brisbane? ‘The atmosphere of my home is definitely created by sounds from outside’, says Kate. ‘The possums and turkeys on the roof, so clumsy and loud, the possums sneaking under the eaves and running under our ceilings, branches scratching against windows.’

‘But after a boiling hot, humid day, one of the best sounds is those big, fat raindrops starting to fall on the corrugated iron roof... and a vivid childhood memory would have to be the noise of the iron roof contracting under the really hot sun.’

Since becoming a mother, Kate feels she has been searching for ‘the house’; ‘The one where your children will look back and think “that’s where I grew up, that’s where I skinned my knee, those are the stairs we fell down, this is where we had Christmas”, all those markers of a human life. I don’t know that I have found that house yet. Maybe it doesn’t exist or maybe it’s a dream.’

Or perhaps she has already found it; ‘Home really comes to life with the sound of my husband playing the piano and my children making noise. Suddenly I’ll turn around to see a seven year old wearing rollerblades inside or I’ll hear the sound of little bottoms sliding down wooden stairs... All the people I love most are within its walls, making noise, being themselves and living their lives.’

Much the same as her characters really.

For more information about Kate Morton’s novels, visit her website here.
To read her journal, click

Author image © Fiona Harding
Book cover images courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Home is... Cookbook Author Tessa Kiros’ Kitchen

You can’t miss the child’s red shoes that adorn the cover of Tessa Kiros’ cookbook Apples for Jam. Her book stands out amongst the hundreds of other cookbooks appearing on the shelves in bookshops because those slightly scuffed, well-worn shoes suggest that behind this cover lies something more than lists of ingredients and cooking methods.

I recently showed a friend of mine who is an amazing cook this book... just as she was leaving after a cup of tea. She opened it up and within seconds closed it again.

‘Oh no, don’t do this to me’, she said as she stroked the cover – those shoes – ‘If I start now I’ll need to read the whole thing in one go!’

And she’s right. Another friend had loaned it to me and I lost a few hours of the afternoon inside its covers. And I keep dipping back. It’s not just for the food but the story Tessa weaves in and around the recipes. Here are those stories of life; universal memories of childhood, moments of motherhood, of creating a sense of family and the security of home through the meals you cook for those you love.

And to top it off, she lives in Tuscany.

Having worked as a chef in London, Sydney, Athens and Mexico and travelled the world, Tessa’s food is a rich blend of many different cultures. She is also the author of five other cookbooks, the most recent being Food From Many Greek Kitchens. While Apples For Jam is about the recipes she remembers from childhood and those she cooks for her own children, her latest book sees her visit the Greek kitchens of her friends and family.

But today we are visiting her kitchen; the one she shares with her husband and two daughters in the hills of Tuscany. And while we’re in the kitchen, why not start with what it’s like to cook there.

‘Italy, or at least where I live – in the countryside in Tuscany has wonderful ingredients. It is difficult not to notice what the earth is giving us all the way through the year. The slow and steady cycle of things here. The repetition each year. In that way for me it is different from living in an international city where almost everything is available.’

So what does Tessa enjoy cooking the most? ‘There are many meals depending on the time of year. In Summer we love barbecues; huge salads outside and ice cream and picnics in the garden. In Winter we’re inside around the fire; roasts, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, pies... I love pies for the family in winter, and warm crumbly kind of desserts with a splash of colour... yes that would cheer things up.’

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home for Tessa. And not just for cooking, ‘Whether it be to sit at a table with tea and biscuits and friends, or spend time in alone... The kitchen for me should flow into the rest of the home.’

After becoming a mother, she found that her thoughts about food and cooking changed, ‘Nourishing young ones is a grand responsibility and a wonderful opportunity. I shop mainly for organic produce these days and since being a mum I am far more aware and more careful about what I will serve. I see food now also as the building blocks and the fuel that we need to proceed. Not just the sheer enjoyment side of it. I try and twirl them together now.’

In Apples for Jam, Tessa likens feeding a family to ‘stitching all the bits together on a steady thread'. As she explains, ‘It’s about holding it altogether. If that is our job for now then let us do it well. Once our place is to prepare the meals we should splash them with love and any extras that we can and still do it elegantly. Nobody wants to know the other details. Just if you did it and if you did it well. A family has many needs. Varying dynamics. Sometimes we need to rise above and take in what we need to do instead of getting stuck in the stickiness of it all.’

What food memories does she hope to leave with her daughters? ‘I would like them to know about food, where it comes from and that what we put into it – our efforts, our beliefs are what will show up in our pots and on our plates. I would like them to remember tasting different ingredients, food from different cultures and above all to have their own lovely warm and aromatic memories of what they loved as children all the way through their adulthood – not that it was a drag and they had to eat zucchini.’

Not surprisingly, Tessa’s feelings about home have always been and will always be closely intertwined with food; ‘For me home is a cosy open place, where people join at meals especially or over tea. The family materialise out of their various corners for lunch or dinner and then often disappear again. Bringing them all together in this way has an almost magical quality to it.’

Her most favourite time of year in the kitchen? ‘Christmas at home I love.’

Luckily Christmas isn’t too far away so what better excuse than to include a festive recipe from Tessa’s latest cookbook, Food From Many Greek Kitchens.

These are icing sugary/buttery, and melt-in-your-mouth honest bundles enjoyed at Christmas.

Makes about 22
50 g (1¾ oz/1/3 cup)
almonds, skin on
250 g (9 oz) unsalted
butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons icing (confectioners’) sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon brandy
300 g (10½ oz/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
about 250 g (9 oz/2 cups) icing (confectioners’) sugar, for dusting

Coarsely chop the almonds into small pieces. Toast in a dry frying pan over a low-ish heat until just coloured. Cool.

Whisk the butter in a bowl using electric beaters until it is very pale and thick, about 8 minutes.

Add the icing sugar and whisk it in well. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and brandy and whisk them in well too.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and beat them in until you have a smooth dough which is hard to keep mixing with the beaters. Add the almonds and mix them through with your hands.

Press the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to180°c ( 350°f / gas 4 ) and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Break off pieces of dough, about 30 g ( 1¼ oz ) each, and roll them into balls, slightly flattening the tops.

Put them on the tray allowing a little space between each one. Bake until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the tray for about 15 minutes.

Dust about half of the icing sugar onto a tray or large plate or your tin where you will store them.
Gently move the kourabiedes to sit in a single layer in this, then sprinkle the remaining icing sugar over their tops so that they look like they are snowed in. Will keep in a tin for many days.

Recipe and images from Tessa Kiros: Food From Many Greek Kitchens, published by Murdoch Books RRP $69.95

All other images courtesy of Murdoch Books

For more information about any of Tessa’s cookbooks, click here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When Home is... a Change in Breakfast Routine

Why does it seem wrong to have your normal weekly breakfast on a Sunday? On those Sundays when I do just throw a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and pour a mug of tea while pulling out the boring Weet-bix carton from the pantry for the kids, I find the day feels distinctly un-weekend-ish.

On a Sunday when one of us does pull the carton of eggs out of the fridge or finds a packet of bacon in the back of the freezer, the day feels much less structured and full of possibilities. Strange, given that there are only so many ways a Sunday can be full of possibilities with three children and one who sleeps in the afternoon but there you go: the power of bacon.

Today there was no packet of bacon. There was a tub of fresh ricotta, however, and a husband who reached for Bill Granger’s ricotta hotcakes recipe. What better way to mark a Sunday and particularly fitting as I am currently writing up an interview with cookbook author Tessa Kiros. It wouldn’t feel the same if I was eating a buttered slice of slightly stale multigrain while writing about her kitchen in the hills of Tuscany, would it?!

Her interview will be posted shortly, but in the meantime here’s that Sunday Ricotta Hotcakes recipe... the only downside was that with five of us there no longer seems to be quite the same number of hotcakes to go around.

Bill Granger’s Ricotta Hotcakes (taken from Sydney Food)
1 1/3 cups ricotta
¾ cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g butter

Place ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a mixing bowl and mix to combine.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the ricotta mixture and mix until just combined.
Place egg whites in a clean, dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites through batter in two batches, with a large metal spoon.
Lightly grease large non-stick fry pan with a small portion of the butter and drop two tablespoons of batter per hotcake into the pan. Cook over low to medium heat for two minutes or until hotcakes have golden undersides. Turn hotcakes and cook on the other side until golden and cooked through.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Home is... Good Storage Solutions

‘That’s what we do here, my mum does storage’, Fiona Chandler recently overheard her six-year-old daughter tell a friend who had asked why there were so many boxes in Fiona’s home office.

‘Oh,’ answered her friend, ‘We have stuff everywhere at our house.’

‘So do we,’ her daughter sympathised, ‘My mum just works out ways to hide it.’

Indeed her mother has worked out many ‘ways to hide it’ and three years ago turned these solutions into the storage brand Fiona Kate.

Living in a small house with two small children and another on the way, Fiona saw how much clutter the family had accumulated but had never found a successful way to store it; ‘Every time I thought I’d found something to store all the toys, baby clothes and books in, they would either break or the kids would get paint on them and it was too expensive to go out and buy another 10.’

‘I tried wicker baskets that just got dusty and were too big so all the small toys would disappear to the bottom. Plastic tubs just looked ugly. I couldn’t find the right sizes to fit my shelves or I’d go back and the shop wouldn’t have the same colour. I just wanted something useful that I would never have to think about again.’

Working as an Art Director designing homeware brands, Fiona decided she should just make her own boxes. ‘I wrote down a list of all the things I wanted: it needed to be strong, fun, classic and flexible enough to carry a child from baby to teen and beyond.’

From experience, Fiona knew that corflute, a strong propylene, would be the most durable material she could use. She had a prototype made, let the kids play with it, made a few changes then had them made up.

It wasn’t long before girlfriends were asking where she had found the boxes and soon after her house was used in a magazine photoshoot. One of the staff saw the boxes and asked to include them in the photos. More people started asking about them and suddenly Fiona and her husband realised they may have stumbled into a business.

‘I would never have thought this would be a business idea or that I would ever start up a business. I was just trying to solve all my own storage issues!’

They decided to see what would happen. ‘I said to my friends “these are the sizes I’ve made. Can you go home and tell me all your storage issues, measure the sizes you need and what colours you want?”

With all their feedback, Fiona made a few more prototypes which were tested by ‘jumping, sitting and dragging’ and before long had the finished product out in the marketplace.

As her four children have grown, Fiona has stumbled across different storage issues to those she had with a house full of babies and toddlers. But, as the boxes have been designed to outlast any childhood phase, she has found that what first housed nappies moved on to housing blocks, then lego, then trainsets, and now stores a soccer kit.

Fiona spends a lot of time designing and redeveloping her products in much the same way as she did when making those first boxes. ‘I use it and use it to make sure it will work and last. I give it to the kids to try out... they enjoy helping. Actually they most enjoy telling me what’s wrong with it. It’s like I have my own quality control team.’

Sometimes the kids come up with their own storage issues that need solving. ‘My oldest son sleeps on the top bunk and wanted something to keep his lego men and other precious things out of the way of the other kids. “I can’t sleep with a box, Mum” he said to me but he wanted something to put those things inside.’

‘I designed the ‘Storage Bandit’, a little woollen bag, and gave it to him to test out. He loved it so I gave one to each child and all of them used it for something different. I then gave it to a few girlfriends. I didn’t tell them what it was for, just asked them to use it. None of them ended up giving it to their kids. One used it next to her front door to keep her keys in, another used it on her desk and another in her car. Everyone could find a use that suited their needs so I will sell it now.’

As everyone has different needs and all houses have different storage problems, it has always been important to Fiona that her brand is able to be used in a multitude of ways to solve a multitude of problems.

When asked to pick a favourite product, she is quick to choose the crate box; ‘It’s got handles, looks stylish, I can carry it around, it goes camping and to the park and all I have to do is wipe it down. We’ve used it to carry food for parties to the park and then it becomes a table too.’

When the family renovated their home, not surprisingly, built in storage was well thought out. ‘I don’t like clutter,’ says Fiona, ‘but we have an extraordinary amount of stuff that has just become well hidden.’

‘Every corner of the house was used and many features have two uses. The kitchen bench seats open up for storage, the kids have bench seats, cupboards and bookshelves in their rooms. All are easily accessible so the kids are able to get to everything.’

‘I don’t need a tidy house but I do need a systematic house and then I find life much easier. The kids know where everything belongs. There are hooks for hats, there’s a book cupboard. I try to make it easy and doable.’

So, does a systematic house make the morning rush to get six people up, dressed, fed and ready to get out the door for work and school easier? Fiona laughs. ‘My system for the morning would have to be... I shout about socks a lot!’

‘I’m not the best mother in the world or the best housekeeper. I don’t get stuff done on time and I don’t have it all sussed. We’re just an ordinary family trying to work it all out. But I do think that anything that drives you mental you just need a solution to. Otherwise you end up being that shouty, scary woman!’

To find out more about Fiona Kate products, visit the website here.

To read Fiona's blog, where she answers commonly asked questions about all things storage, click

All images © Fiona Chandler

Monday, November 8, 2010

When Home is... an Australian in England

What happens when you move overseas only to feel more ‘at home’ than you do in the country of your birth?

Louise Craig moved to England at the age of 26 and from the moment she stepped off the plane, felt she was home. Here she writes about the experience of falling in love with another country...

‘It’s nearly 12 years since I left the place where I was born; six years since I left the country where I grew up. I’ve lived in four cities and 12 houses. Every move’s been for a good reason, another step along in life. But now I’m ready to stop for a while – not because I’m tired, but because I finally feel content.

The odd thing, or so my friends tell me, is that I feel content in a place that isn’t home. I’m an Australian living in London. I’m supposed to be here for a ‘working holiday’, experiencing life abroad before I go back home to settle down.

But what if I never get around to going home?

I grew up not so much feeling that I didn’t want to be in Australia, but rather that there was a wonderland out there, far, far away, called England, and that I was destined to be there. It was a place of good manners, proper tea and sturdy cakes, E-types and plummy accents, tweed and pinstripes and Liberty prints. It was green of hill and cool of weather, and as far from humid, big-country-town-like Brisbane, where I was born, as I could get.

The trouble was, I’d never actually been to England. But I couldn’t rest until I discovered whether my fantasy world was real. At 26, when I finally organised myself to travel there, it wasn’t for a holiday – it was to live. I left my job, sold what little I owned and banked heavily on the fact that I’d like what I found.

Friends and family wished me well, but also that I should find what I was looking for. What was that? Proof? A place to satisfy my Anglophilia? My spiritual home?

The proof came the moment I arrived. It was real – what a relief! And the satisfaction arrived very soon after. Every building, every street, every garden square transported me to other times in history and connected me with thousands of characters who once occupied the same space. Even now, with childlike wonder, I’ll break into a spontaneous smile as I walk along the street – I’m really here, really part of this other world.

I’ve fallen in love. In central London, where I live, I don’t get mad on the Tube or upset at the grime; I relish the cold and the grey; I’m at peace with the gaudy neon advertising signs that tower over Piccadilly Circus. Rather, as the Gallagher brothers would say, it’s the little things that make me so happy: the old-fashioned curve of a street lamp, the red of a pillar box, the whirr of an electric milk float early in the morning.

I make a game of picking out Margo Leadbetter types doing their weekly shop in Waitrose, and I’m the only person I know who, when it rains or snows, opens the window and pokes her head out to enjoy it.

Eventually I took my first holiday back to Australia – in the July two and half years after I left. Friends and colleagues in London gasped that I’d left it so long (not to mention remind me, in astonishment, that it was winter ‘down there’).

Naturally, friends and family in Australia asked when I would be home – for good, they meant. My instinctive reaction was to reply that I’d be going home at the end of this holiday. A perceptive aunt tut-tutted and reminded me that I meant I’d be going ‘back’ not ‘home’. Suddenly, I didn’t know what I meant.

She asked, too, whether I felt as if I’d been to England before. Gosh – yes. There is a chilling, yet reassuring, sense of familiarity about the place. But why? Is it because I spent the 26 years before arriving subconsciously swotting up, watching thousands of hours of BBC television and reading mountains of Tatler and British Vogue magazines?

Is it that my head has lived in England all my life, but the rest of me in Australia? It would certainly explain why I could explain what Quaglinos, an OAP and a double-yellow line were before I’d even stepped foot on English soil.

But during that holiday ‘home’, I watched an Australian travel program on television in which they provided advice on visiting London. Tellingly, a lump rose in my throat as I watched the images of where I now live and work and play. I missed it and felt homesick.

I couldn’t understand why because, in London, I had the same, more understandable, reaction when the ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ advertisements for Australia appeared on television. It occurred to me, painfully, that I wasn’t at all sure where the bloody hell home was.

Arriving back in London at the end of that holiday, the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac at Heathrow and two things happened: a huge grin cracked across my face and a light bulb went on in my head. I was home again. I’d just given myself permission to have more than one.

Some might say I’m na├»ve to the realities of living on this expensive, overcrowded island. Whatever it seems, this England affords me an overwhelming feeling of contentment and a place to rest my spirit. I’m learning that home is wherever you choose it to be: where you are happy, where you feel an affinity, where you have people you love, where you’ve been for so long you can’t remember being anywhere else.

So, have I found what I’m looking for? It’s a question I hardly dare ask myself; except to say I don’t feel as if I’m living away from anywhere. I just feel at home.’

All images © Louise Craig


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