Friday, February 25, 2011

When Home is... well, Home

We’re home.

And it’s not a building site; it’s home again.

Only a better version now: with a pristine bathroom and a glorious bay window. A window seat none of us can stop sitting on. We’ve hardly sat on the lounge since returning. Everyone is drawn to the window and table.

It’s been an interesting week to return, coinciding with the publication of an article I wrote about the history of this house for the (sydney) magazine. Stepping out to the driveway in my pjs at 6am yesterday to collect the rolled up newspaper took on a whole new significance.

It continued to be a very unusual morning at home. At 7am the electrician arrived to finish off something electrical in the bathroom, Stuart and Louis left to take the car for a service, I took Lily to school at 8am for String Group and then back home again with Ned.

At 8.30am, the electrician switched off the power.

‘Umm, how long will the power be off?’ I asked, slightly embarrassed.

‘Not long,’ he answered with a shrug of his shoulders. ‘Why? What do you need to do?’

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. It sounded ridiculous but at 9am a radio station was going to call and interview me about the article.

‘I have an interview on the phone at 9am’, I said quickly.

He raised his eyebrows, ‘Oh. Don’t worry the power will be back on in 10 minutes.’

He turned back to his jumble of wires.

So, now it was just waiting for Ned to be collected by a friend for school at 8.55am and a hope the electrician wouldn’t be hanging around in the background needing to ask me a question while I was in the middle of the interview.

Ned’s lift arrived at 8.52am. One down.

The electrician was behind the bathroom door. I cleared my throat and knocked. He stuck his head out, eyebrows raised again.

‘Umm, will you need me for anything else? You know, any questions?’

‘Nope. No worries,’ he answered.

‘Oh good, it’s just I don’t know how long I’ll be on the phone for and it’s on the radio so I won’t be able to speak to you.’

He smiled. Or was it a smirk? I felt a bit stupid.

‘I think I’m going to need to come back anyway. I need to get some transformers so can I come back tomorrow morning?’

‘Tomorrow morning is perfect. Our mornings aren’t quite usually so chaotic,’ I started saying as I walked him to the front of the house. It was 8.58am.

I closed the door and the phone rang.

By 9.20am it was all over and the house felt like home again.

The electrician hasn’t been heard from since though...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When Home is… A Mother’s Cooking. An interview with Food Blogger Jules Clancy

For Jules Clancy, food scientist, self-published cookbook author and creator of the minimalist home cooking blog Stonesoup, cooking has been a passion since childhood.

Little has changed during the intervening years; ‘It's how I relax and unwind but also how I earn my living these days. The thing is I never get sick of it. There are always so many new things to explore and perfect. Food and family are intimately linked for me. It's all about sharing. My boyfriend loves his food as well and we spend hours talking and planning what we're going to cook and eat.’

Growing up as the eldest of five children on a sheep farm, Jules says her mother was an ‘inspirational country cook’. ‘But it wasn’t until I went to boarding school and had to make do with convent food that I realised just how special my mum’s cooking was.’

Jules says that her mother was ‘a pretty classic country Australian cook’; one who created comforting, nurturing classics – roasts, steak, spaghetti bolognaise – that her family never tired of. ‘It was simple but she always used fresh, high quality ingredients. She was also a whizz when it came to cakes and sweet treats. She loved to spoil us!’

And it was ‘something sweet’, such as her pikelet or scone recipe, that Jules first learnt to cook as a small child.

When a little older and at boarding school, Jules and her mum had a ritual; ‘Mum would always make me a batch of lamingtons to take back to school with me after holidays. I used to help her. We'd sit at the kitchen bench and chat and just hang out. My contribution was rolling the lamingtons in the coconut. I still remember how good it tasted licking my chocolatey coconut fingers when we were done.’

Her mother’s kitchen was the centre of the family’s home. ‘It, like me, was a child of the 70s with green linoleum floors and bright yellow bench tops. It had big windows and was always where the action was happening. Everyone used to naturally gravitate to the kitchen. If someone popped in to visit we'd always sit in the kitchen drinking tea. It was rare that our formal lounge room got used.’

After Jules’ mother died suddenly in 2007, Jules decided to pull together a collection of her recipes for family and friends and with the help of her sisters she tested and photographed all the classic family dishes they had grown up with.

It was an easy task, says Jules; ‘My mum was very organised and kept her favourites in a little recipe book so they were all automatically included. It also helped that I have three sisters who also contributed their favourite things that mum had taught them - it was funny but we all remembered different things.’

Once finished, Jules realised she wanted to share her mother’s simple, no-fuss Australian recipes with a broader audience, so decided to self-publish the book to celebrate the ‘recipes that anyone can learn to cook and that everyone will love to eat.’

Titled and the love is free, the book has been well received. ‘I've had some really lovely emails and notes from people who used to eat the same things when they were kids. And some touching notes from people who have also lost their mums to cancer.’

So, was it cathartic to revist her mother’s kitchen without her mother? ‘It was super comforting and fun. I was especially happy when I followed the recipes exactly and they ended up tasting just like mum used to make.’

‘Normally I can’t help myself and tinker with a recipe so naturally things end up tasting different. I felt like mum was in the kitchen with me when I stuck to the recipe - a wonderful reward.’

For those times when Jules wants to feel closer to her mum, she simply cooks her mother’s tuna mornay. ‘We called it tuna dish and when I make it with processed cheese slices it makes me feel like mum made it especially for me.’

Cooking this meal always evokes strong memories such as; ‘Helping mum mash up the tuna with a fork. Sneaking bits of hot penne when mum wasn't looking and licking the bowl while we waited for it all to bake.’

While Jules has her eyes on her jam-making pot and the big ceramic mixing bowls her mother used for mixing the Christmas cake each year, she was lucky enough to inherit her sunbeam mix master. Originally belonging to her grandmother, it is stuck on high speed. ‘This is fine,’ says Jules, ‘because I mostly just use it for making pavlovas or whipping cream’.

As Jules writes in her book, ‘no family recipe book would be complete without a recipe for pavlova or ‘a pav’ as it was known in our house.’

So enjoy this classic Clancy family recipe, particularly as we near the end of summer…

‘The strawberries from Mum’s garden were always the fruit of choice when in season but mixed berries from the shop would also work when we didn’t have access to mum’s bursting-with-flavour fruit. In the height of summer sliced mango and passionfruit were also lovely.’

‘A word of warning. While it seems so easy to be able to leave the pav to cool and finish cooking in the oven, it can be dangerous. Especially if you have an electric oven like my Mum. I remember one time I’d made a pav and left it to cool and then came back a few hours later, completely forgetting what was in the oven and turned it on to preheat for dinner. Woops. Lets just say that burnt pavlova is not a pretty sight.’

2 egg whites
1 1/2C (330g or 12oz) caster sugar
pinch salt
dash vanilla extract
1t white vinegar
1t cornflour
3T boiling water
whipped cream, to serve
fresh fruit, to serve

Preheat oven to 150C (300F). Line a baking tray with baking paper and grease lightly in a circle about 20cm (8in) diameter. Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is very stiff.

Spread mixture out on the tray to cover the greased circle. Place in the oven and decrease temperature to 120C (250F) and bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave door ajar for pavlova to cool in the oven.

To serve, carefully peel foil from the base of the pavlova and place on a serving platter. Generously smother the top with cream and decorate prettily with fresh fruit.

The pavlova base will keep in an airtight container for a few days but once the cream has been added its best if served straight away.

To find out more about ‘And the love is free’, click here.
To read Jules’ blog, Stonesoup, click

All photos © Jules Clancy

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Home is... a Treehouse

How is it that treehouses inspire the imagination of adults and children alike? Why do they seem otherworldly? I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of living in a treehouse, which is actually quite surprising given I’ve always been afraid of heights. And I was too scared to climb trees.

Since having my own children though, it seems a fear of heights really does disappear when you have the opportunity to be in a treehouse. On our recent overnight trip to that homestead, we discovered an old treehouse deep in the back garden. Despite a fear of falling from a height (Ned) and splinters (Lily) both children were up the tree before we blinked. They were captivated by the thought of being high in the branches, lost in another world. All their ‘earthbound’ fears seemed to be abandoned.

Is it, as Peter Nelson writes in his book Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb, because; ‘They represent freedom: from adults or adulthood, from duties and responsibilities, from an earthbound perspective. If we can't fly with the birds, at least we can nest with them.’?

For me, the thought of living in a ‘real’ treehouse is as inspiring as the thought of living in an old windmill or a houseboat. Even as a child I thought such homes would be a more exciting place to live than a castle or a palace. I wonder about the reality though: getting your grocery bags up the ladder into the tree, or up all the stairs inside that windmill, or across the water to your houseboat. How would the postman find you? Or the plumber?

Yet, would that all be a small price to pay for the freedom of the ‘earthbound perspective’ I most certainly have from living in a house built on a street behind a fence?

Tessa Williams wrote about treehouses for adults in The Telegraph back in 2008. She even found a couple of people who own them:

"Earlier this year, Victoria Harris and her husband had a treehouse built at their home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. "It's a luxury, but it's been a wonderful and practical extension to our living space. It's an extra room, without encroaching on the ground space in our garden. I incorporated electricity and internet access into the design, so that I can go there, answer emails in peace, and just enjoy the solitude. It's built in a pear tree and there are pears within reach."

A treehouse has made good business sense for Claire Strickland, who owns a B&B in Normandy: her luxurious treehouse comes with a modern kitchen and bathroom, and sleeps five. Built in two large sweet chestnut trees, it was made from red cedar by the French company La Cabane Perchee. "It cost about £58,000 to build, but we now rent it out for around £780 per week. We have installed a summer kitchen outside, but people stay even in the depths of winter, kept snug by electric radiators and the natural insulation of the fragrant cedar walls.

"People love the escape a treehouse offers," says Claire. "All our guests say they sleep brilliantly up there. We don't quite know why that is, but we put it down to the magic of the tree."
PS: If anyone reading this blog does live in a treehouse, windmill, houseboat, old church, cave or anywhere unique, I’d LOVE to hear your perspective!


There was a lovely surprise in my inbox the other day from Garden Swings letting me know that they were featuring Some Home Truths on their site. Perhaps if there isn't the room in the backyard for a treehouse, there might be for a garden swing!

Book cover image © Peter Nelson

Monday, February 14, 2011

When Home is... a Rickety Cottage and Garden in the Barossa Valley

How do you get a Barossa girl, who at the age of 17 declared ‘I will never move back to the Barossa’, do just that? For Cherie Hausler, it was thanks to a rickety 160 year old cottage ‘looking for the love it deserved.’

‘It’s funny how a place makes its way into your heart and quietly keeps growing there as you go about the business of life experience,’ says Cherie about the decision to move back.

After many years of living overseas and in other Australian cities, Cherie, who met her husband at highschool, felt the long list of memories they had in the Barossa drew them back.

As did the cottage despite its sorry state; ‘just short of sheep running through it’.

‘There was no garden to speak of (see sheep), and layers of patch up jobs in the form of alternating mission brown, antique white and heritage green paint, nearly clouded the beautiful bluestone cottage it originally set out in life to be. Nearly.’

‘There were signs of grander days gone by; the original German bakers oven poking through the overgrown wormwood, a gnarly old apricot tree still managing to bear fruit, and inside the lovely thick walls with deep-set sash windows, and a peak of hundred year old floorboards calling out from under the 70's carpet.’

But it still felt like home, the moment the couple walked in; ‘It immediately had such a nurturing feel to us. Once we felt that, it may not have mattered what the place looked like at all, we knew we had to live here.’

Having lived in the house for the last six years, the couple have made many changes; ‘We have resurrected as much as we could, always paying respect to the age of the property and the history that has gone before us. The cottage is about 160 years old, so we had no intention to modernise it. One of the first things we did was have the layers of paint sandblasted off the stonework and were so excited to see the giant bluestones emerge from the dust!’

‘We have done some basic things like patched walls and filled in missing architraves, and re-plumbed the kitchen. But things like the new cupboards have all been made by local craftsmen who understand the floor and walls may not sit at 90 degrees to each other, and have the skills and sensibility to create a seamless update or replacement.’

‘Floor coverings and ceilings have been replaced (or removed in the case of the floorboards that were hiding in our bedroom) and the whole house has been repainted inside but we are very conscious of not doing 'too much' - it's a farmhouse and we don't want it to lose that humility, it's part of the “come as you are” feeling that makes the house so welcoming.’

As a freelance writer and food stylist, it’s not surprising that the kitchen is Cherie’s favourite room in the house; ‘We have a space that allows people to be involved, or watch from a the dining table, as food is brought in from the garden to the mixmatched tables that make up our kitchen "island".’

‘Having a woodfired oven that heats the room in winter and also turns out some pretty impressive pizzas helps too.’

But it’s also the view from the kitchen window that is perhaps her most favourite; ‘I still get excited to look up from washing beetroot in the sink to see cows looking back at me through the kitchen window. The fact our neighbours are all four-legged definitely hasn't worn thin yet!’

Gardening has always been an interest – ‘we've managed to find some soil to grow something no matter where we've lived and how small the space available’ – but it’s only now they have the space that Cherie has been able to ‘live out the ideal of a big veggie patch and orchard, that I constantly romanticised as a city dweller’.

‘Gardening is such a brilliant way to soften the edges of day-to-day life. Maybe it's too cliche, but that connection to the earth really effects every part of you, whether you choose to notice it or not, it will always make things feel better when your hands are in the soil. Sitting down to a meal made up entirely of what we've grown in our garden always makes me pause a little before eating. There's grace in gardening, for sure.’

This love of gardening has led to a new business venture: Scullery Made Tea. Cherie hand blends her teas using locally grown seasonal fruits and herbs which are dried and combined with whole leaf tea. While always a tea lover, she says, ‘The idea that I could grow a 'patch' of lemon verbena as opposed to a pot of it definitely drove the tea making venture.’

Collecting quite a following, her teas are now sold in cafes and gourmet stores throughout Australia.

Living here has definitely sharpened Cherie’s focus on food as well as tea; ‘Having the chance to grow food and eat by the seasons is something I am constantly inspired by, so it naturally pops up in most of my work one way or another just because I'd rather talk about that than most other things!’

It’s perhaps not surprising that the meal which most says ‘home’ to Cherie is one that is grown in her garden; ‘I know we've all done pesto to death but it really is comfort food taken to a whole new level when you can pick your own herbs. And I'm not talking just basil, although I adore our basil in summer. I love going out to the garden and letting it decide on dinner for me, so throwing in nasturtium leaves, stinging nettles, marjoram, oregano or even calendula can make up pesto in our house.’

‘One of my absolute favourites is stinging nettle pesto, especially as nettles appear the same time as our geese start laying their beautifully rich eggs, so homemade gnocchi is usually part of the deal. This is the world's easiest gnocchi too, regardless of goose eggs or not!’

Stinging Nettle Pesto & Goose Egg Ricotta Gnocchi

‘This pesto recipe is completely and utterly inspired by Louisa Shafia’s in Lucid Food, but I couldn’t believe I didn’t have any garlic in the house, or quite ready in the garden, when I went to make this, so I substituted the garlic with fresh chives and it was so nice I think I might make all my pesto without garlic for a while. It still had that lovely garlicky warmth but without the ‘burn’ that raw garlic can sometimes leave your tummy with. And I used verjuice instead of lemon juice. And threw in some capers. You get the idea.’

‘The ricotta gnocchi is something I’ve been making for so long, because too many of my other gnocchi efforts turned into potato soup, that I make this by feel now so if the quantities aren’t exact, just add a little bit extra of one thing or another.'

'It’s pretty much bullet proof, so there’s quite an amount of leeway to play around before you’d get close to mucking it up.’

For the pesto...
1 bunch unsprayed, organic stinging nettles (or equivalent in basil)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 bunch garlic chives
1/2 cup pinenuts
1/4 cup verjuice
1 tbsp organic capers
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

For the gnocchi...
1 free range goose egg, or 2 free range chicken eggs
300g ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups unbleached organic plain flour
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
sea salt

parmesan to serve

To make the pesto the only effort will be the initial dealings with the nettles, after that everything goes in the food processor and you’re done.
Make sure you have rubber gloves on or at least use tongs to handle the nettles prior to blanching. They’re quite mean at this stage.
Remove the leaves from the stalks and place into a saucepan of boiling water for only a minute.
Remove and let drain and cool completely.
Once the nettles have been boiled they can no longer sting you so feel free to pick them up in your bare hands and squeeze as much water out of them as possible before putting them into the food processor with the other pesto ingredients and pureeing with enough extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency paste. Season to taste.

For the ricotta gnocchi, mix the flours and salt in a large bowl, and making a well in the centre, add the ricotta and beaten egg(s). Use a wooden spoon to pull the ingredients together and form into a rough ball. Take a handful of the dough, leaving the rest covered in the bowl so it doesn’t dry out, and on a floured bench work it into a long ‘sausage’, about 1 1/2cm in diameter. Use a sharp knife and cut the sausage into gnocchi, slicing through about every 1 1/2 cm. Gently squeeze the gnocchi away from the sausage with your thumb and first finger, as you cut it, to give it a bit of shape. Let the gnocchi sit on a floured board until you have cut all the pieces, making sure to keep them separate so they don’t try to stick to each other.
When all the gnocchi are cut, drop them into a large saucepan of boiling water and cook until they pop their heads up to the surface. This will tell you they’re ready. Drain and serve immediately with pesto, some parmesan and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

To read more of Cherie’s recipes and life in her Barossa Valley cottage, read her blog, here.
To find out more about Scullery Made Tea, visit the website,

All photos © Cherie Hausler

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When Home is...Stuck in a Moment of Time

These past few weeks, while we have been living back in my childhood suburb, I have found myself spending a lot of time stuck in the past. We lived in three different houses here – the first house when I was seven and the third house I left when I was 19.

My entire family left at the same time, actually, and when my father died five years ago my parents had spent 11 years away from this suburb. So why has his death been haunting me during my stay here? We’re living in my grandfather’s house surrounded by my grandmother’s crockery, glasses, furniture and photographs yet it’s my father’s presence I feel most strongly.

Driving here late and alone the other night, I couldn’t help but take a detour towards the last house we lived in. To get there I had to pass another house once owned by close family friends, one of whom died the year after my father. They hadn’t lived in the suburb for years either, except their house looked just the same. A new family now live in their house and mine, yet it wouldn’t have surprised me to knock on the door that night and have these friends open it with welcoming arms. It also wouldn’t have surprised me to have seen my father sitting on the balcony of our old house, a glass of red in hand.

I was and am constantly surprised at how grief works; how it sits bubbling away just under the surface no matter how much time has passed. I am also surprised at how often I am now drawn to books that explore this most powerful of emotions.

Coincidentally, while staying here, I bought Kim Edwards’ latest book The Lake of Dreams. I enjoyed her first book, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, immensely and bought the second without knowing anything about it.

I say coincidentally because it just happens to be a book about an adult daughter returning to her childhood home, haunted by the death of her father 10 years previously. The book is filled with clever observations about life, growing up in a family full of secrets, living in a small town but what resonated most deeply was Edwards’ descriptions of grief. More specifically, how their grief affected the home...

“I felt myself drawn back to the summer after my father’s death. We’d gone through our days doing our usual things, trying to create a fragile order. We made meals we hardly touched, and passed in the halls without speaking; my mother started sleeping in the spare room downstairs, and began to close the second floor down, room by room. Her grief was at the centre of the stillness in the house, and we all moved carefully, so quietly around it; if I allowed myself to weep or rage, everything might shatter, so I held still. Even now, when I went back to visit I always felt myself falling into those old patterns, the world circumscribed by loss.”

It amazes me that more homes don’t fall down under the weight of the emotions we leave imprinted on their walls.

Monday, February 7, 2011

When Home is... the Art of Afternoon Tea

“No afternoon tea party is complete without a gorgeous teapot... I pounced on this divine silver-plated teapot in Venice and lugged it around for three months, much to my husband’s dismay...”

And so begins Alexandra Nea Graham’s personal journey into the world of afternoon tea. With her exquisite drawings, she captures a world that revisits the old tradition of taking the time over simple pleasures: cooking, brewing tea and sitting down to have a chat and enjoy homemade food with friends and family.

It’s also a world that encapsulates fashion designer Al’s lifelong passions: collecting, baking and drawing. And it’s a private world she has recently begun to share through her blog, The Art of Afternoon Tea.

So what came first? ‘I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and I started collecting china teacups when I was around 13’, Al tells me while pouring us tea in the sun-filled kitchen of the 1890s worker’s cottage she shares with her husband, Jim, in Sydney’s inner west.

‘Mum is a great cook and was always getting my sister and I to help her in the kitchen when we were very young. I don’t know why but I’ve always loved the baking side of cooking.’

As she slices the decadent looking raspberry and hazelnut cake, she continues, ‘I think it appeals to me because it’s so visually attractive.’

Holding a Mother-of-Pearl handled fork in one hand and a vintage, hand embroidered napkin in my other, I’m inclined to agree with her. The whole table is so visually attractive it deserves to be captured before our plates become filled with crumbs, cups tea-stained and saucers splattered with milk.

Thankfully, Al has already captured 62 such vignettes and still has many more recipes to bake, and china, cake stands, cutlery and napery to draw. Each week she posts a drawing, writes notes on the collectables, the origin of the recipe as well as the recipe in full.

Aside from her love of drawing, she has another incentive to keep her project going; ‘There is a ban on me adding to my teacup collection until I have drawn them all’, she laughs as we look at the dresser with its shelves of stacked teacups, plates, vintage tins and cut glass cake stands and silverware.

Al can’t remember how the idea for the blog came about, ‘About three years ago I was looking for a reason to draw. While I love fashion design, art is my other main passion and I had been thinking about ways to move towards an illustration career. One day I made a cake, pulled it out of the oven and decided to draw it. It worked out well and I thought I should keep doing it. Then I drew a stack of teacups and it went from there.’

Generally, Al will bake on a Saturday and set up the scene to draw on the Sunday. ‘I draw here,’ she says, pointing to the kitchen table we are sitting at, ‘because the light is so good.’

The illustrations are drawn with mix media; the main material used being coloured pencils and other medias often used are the pantone markers (as traditionally used in fashion illustrations) and graphite pencils.

Al will complete the picture in one sitting. ‘It takes about eight or nine hours to draw a full afternoon tea scene. Once I’m involved in drawing I don’t want to be doing anything else until I’ve finished.’

Realising she could have the makings of a visually different cookbook, she sent word out to friends and family asking for any afternoon tea recipes, particularly any involving family traditions. The response she got was ‘fantastic’.

Using the blog as a showcase for her work has given her a reason to draw and without purposefully setting out to do so, she has managed to create a project that ‘has all just come together. It’s a combination of all my loves through the years coming through really nicely.’

A culmination of her life experience so far too: five years ago, Al and Jim moved to London and spent two years living, working and travelling around. Weekends were filled with trawling through markets, hunting out antique stores and unearthing more pieces for her collections.

If forced to pick a favourite cup and saucer, it would be a Shelley one her husband gave her, ‘Jim found it in a shop I always visited. Bizarrely I had already seen it, loved it but not told him about it and then on my birthday I discovered he’d found it anyway.’

Having bought their house three years ago, it’s only since moving her 'drawing things’ from her childhood home and creating artwork here that this house has really felt like home. It also helps having all her collections around, ‘Everything I’ve collected overseas was bought with the intention it would have its place. I always knew that one day we would have our own home and they would have their own place on my dresser in my own kitchen.’

'Every piece we have here has a story attached to it. Every object was loved and wanted and has helped create our home. I can look around and remember that I lugged that teapot around in a suitcase or I found those cups at a flea market in Paris.’

Al points to the old meatsafe in the kitchen now home to her pantry, ‘I like remembering that we bought this while on a trip to Adelaide for a friend’s engagement party and we organised for it to be brought back to Sydney on the back of a truck.’

Our afternoon tea is nearly finished when she picks up the old lace placement underneath the cut glass vase of roses, ‘I like the story of old things and the intricate nature of them. Look at this piece of lace. Someone spent a long time hand-sewing this and all these years later I appreciate all the work that has gone into it.’

This small and delicate piece of material encapsulates Al’s feelings about home and life perfectly; ‘I don’t like cutting corners with anything, I like to take the time and maybe ultimately that is what appeals to me.’

To see more of Al’s work, visit The Art of Afternoon Tea here.

Artwork ©Alexandra Nea
Photography ©Sophie Leece

Friday, February 4, 2011

When Home is... the Playground

It’s that time of the year again over here... when home for little people stops being the backyard and becomes the school playground. When the kindy teachers represent maternal figures, their classrooms become second homes and their classmates family.

It’s Ned’s first week of school and my second time as a kindy mum. You would think it would be easier this time around – for me – yet it feels just as hard. His world is opening up and will not revolve around home in the same way it has for the last five years.

He will no longer be my constant companion who enjoys helping with the shopping and the cooking; who likes to play with his jungle animals in the garden while I hang washing on the line. I won’t overhear him say during breakfast when asked by his father what he’ll do today: ‘Oh, we’ll probably need to buy some food and then mummy, Louis and I like to go for a coffee’.

Instead of eating our lunch together at the kitchen table or in the garden, he’ll be opening his spaceship lunchbox along with the 100 other kindy kids at his school.

Despite his ‘heart beating too fast’ and trying to push tears back into his eyes with little fists on his first day, and a concern that he’ll fall over in his new sneakers, it won’t be long before school starts to feel like home. He has his sister and his best friend from up the street in the playground, as well as other preschool friends starting with him.

And as for me? ‘It’s funny’, he told me after his first day, ‘but when it’s just you and your teacher, you don’t feel like you need your mummy around as much.’

So it seems that for another one of my children, our home will no longer represent their entire world. Now starts their journey into a world of many ‘homes’, friendships, relationships and new places of belonging.

A journey that continues for all of us, no matter what our age.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Home is... an Apron

Do you wear an apron these days? Occasionally I remember to when I’m cooking but that’s usually after I’ve ended up with tomatoes splattering onto my white top or flour over a black top. It’s a bit like my reading glasses. They don’t help when I don’t use them.

There are quite a few elderly European women who live in my street and whenever I see them outside their houses – sweeping, chatting, gardening – they are always wearing an apron. I had never really thought much about why until I recently read this chain email about aprons. Or more specifically, the multifarious uses of aprons of another time...

“The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material.

But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.”

In those days – and for those women living in my street today – the apron represents nearly every facet of home: cooking, cleaning, caring for children, creating a welcoming environment. But what about aprons today?

Elke Ricks, who designs and sews kitchen aprons for her label Wonderland Avenue, says ‘I love how aprons make you feel feminine when you have one on.’

As a stay-at-home mother of an 18-month-old son, Elke felt the need to do something creative. ‘I've always been into fashion and started sewing when I was nine. With a love of different fabrics, aprons were so easy; I could have just a few styles and a huge assortment of fabrics.

Elke wanted to create an apron that would both fit a woman’s figure and be flattering so her customers would feel good every time they wore it. ‘The first two aprons I made were the classic apron and the half-waisted apron with a frill on the bottom. I was giving one to my mum for Christmas and she wanted to pick the fabrics herself. She said she really wanted a full apron with a frill on the bottom so I decided to make a few more of them and now that style apron is my best seller!’

‘When I choose my fabrics I think of what would look good in a kitchen and the different tastes people have. Some people love the classy, sophisticated looks, so damask prints and classic colours like black, white and reds seem popular. Others like to have fun and wear the cupcakes or brightly coloured fruits. I like to have something for everyone.’

Unlike the aprons and housecoats of old, Elke is hoping her customers have ‘a bit of fun’ with their aprons; ‘It doesn't have to be all too serious. Put it on when you have some guests over, or surprise your husband one night. Even my three-year-old loves it when I wear an apron!’

But most of all, Elke loves it when customers buy and apron and say; ‘ "wow that is so Jenny" or "that is so Lizzy". It’s like the aprons resemble the personalities of people we know.’

And I think that is probably something those women from another time would agree with.

To see Elke’s range of aprons, visit her Etsy site here or her Made It site here.

Photos © Elke Ricks


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