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The Dirty Life

I was at a party last month and, as usual, I found myself drawn to a certain crowd.  The ones gathered in a quiet corner, wearing their "good" Blunnies, deep in conversation.  The dance music blared, waiters balancing trays of cocktails and paella swept by largely unnoticed.  The discussion had turned to keeping chooks and for me there is no finer party conversation.

It seems a lot of the friends I've made in Tasmania share a similar dream.  One of wanting to either grow as much food as we can or at least know who did.  Have a few chooks, grow veggies, keep a house cow. Some even go that one step further than the dream of a big veggie patch.

Like one friend who bought a scythe from here so he could cut his grass without trying to wrangle a temperamental brush cutter, and break away from the oil addiction. Or the couple from London who dream of harrowing their fields using draught horses instead of a tractor. Then there is the family who moved miles into the Tasmanian wilderness from Marrickville, and now live a life more in common with Almanzo Wilder than the city one they left behind. Complete with a house cow.

So where am I getting to?  This book.  The Dirty Life by Kristan Kimball.  This memoir is one of the most heartening stories I have read since Animal Vegetable Miracle.  A real page turner, I couldn't put it down.  I laughed, I cried, I dreamed.  It's the tale of a New York gal who falls for a farmer and they move to a 500 acre derelict farm to start an organic CSA business.

Kim Kimball is no Lisa Douglas. Never before have I read a story of such a transformation. From NYC writer to a real, in all weathers, in all hours, when all seems hopeless, despite sickness or snow, hardworking-fingers-to-the-bone farmer.  Kristen with her husband Mark provide a whole diet, everything from vegetables, grains, dairy and meat, for 150 members every week of the year.  An incredible feat. Especially as they use draught horses, Amish tools and hand milk their cows. Their story is so amazing, their compost heap so enviable, their passion, their faith in the universe, their sheer hard work and their love are all so admirable. Everyone who cares about their food and where it comes from should read it. And be inspired.

A while back whilst I picked up a novel and on the back cover was a quote from a famous American actress along the lines of "I'm buying this book for all my friends."  I read the book. It was okay, but I didn't feel the need too rush out and distribute copies.

But the Dirty Life? This is the book I want to buy for all my friends.  At least for all the ones who wear Blunnies.  Or the ones who dream of wearing them.  It's as if Kristen bundled up all of our collective dreams and turned them into her reality.  Her life. A glorious, hardworking dirty one.

Keep it wonky

I bought a copy of Mollie Makes on zinio as I couldn't wait for the hardcopy to hit the stands. A gorgeous crafty mag full of handmade goodness. Clever things to make, beautiful photos, lovely handmade interiors, interviews and lots of inspiration.  Kind of Martha gone edgy. 

But I've rather taken a fancy to this manifesto I saw by Aardvark.  I love the typesetting and the words. The perfect to do list.  It would look quite nice in my kitchen I think....


This is the windowsill in my kitchen today.  I love the light here, south facing, always soft and always something interesting sitting on the ledge. Today there is a jug filled with kale from the garden, the last of the tomatoes desperately trying to ripen, my new matryoshka measuring cups and a thrifted little wooden bowl and spoon filled with cooking salt.

Today is my first day off in ages, child free, nowhere to be, and I'm enjoying just wasting time reading blogs and drinking coffee.  But, there are pears to preserve, quinces to pickle and a couple of barrow loads of compost to shift.  Maybe one more coffee first, then I'll get right onto it. Truly I will.

What's on your windowsill today?

Quince love

I don't remember exactly when, as an adult, I first tasted quince. But I do remember being overcome with an incredibly strong feeling of homey familiarity as soon as that sweet ruby fruit passed my lips, and a vague memory of having tasted it before, as a child.

It was probably at my grandmothers house, who always had some sort of fruit in the fridge that was stewed, you didn't poached fruit back then, you poached eggs and you stewed fruit.  We always had stewed fruit, usually apricots, for sweets (not dessert) after tea (not dinner) with lasings of ice-cream.

It's a feeling that still persists everytime I eat a quince, one of nostalgia, which is one of the reasons I love to eat them.  As well as being enchanted by their flavour and the magical transformation that occurs when you cook them, they're also gorgeous to look at.

I have planted two trees in my garden, and impatiently wait for them to bear fruit.  I have to resist the urge to plant more because I know in only a few years I'll have enough fruit for the whole neighbourhood.  A generous friend let me come and pick as much fruit as I wanted from her eight year old tree. Even after seven families before me had already picked their fill, the tree was still covered in fruit.

We've made quince jam using the recipe from Apples for Jam, and a little quince paste.  But my favourite way to cook them is to peel and quarter a big batch, leaving the core in place, then cover with water add some sugar maybe a vanilla bean, star anise or cinnamon stick, and cook in a slow oven for hours until they turn a lovely shade of deep red.  Leaving the core in place seems to help make the syrup lovely and thick and add a richer quincy flavour.  You can then cut out the core easily from the soft fruit, without any waste, a task that is much more difficult with a hard, raw quince.

I keep a big jar of these in the fridge, just like my grandmother's stewed fruit, to use in tarts, on porridge for breakfast, or on a cake like this buttermilk cake from Heidi's gorgeous new book.  Or they are fine just as they are after tea for sweets, with lashings of vanilla ice-cream.

Heirloom tomatoes

It's not often someone will share a tale of their late grandfather's clandestine past, but I'm sure glad that my friend did share hers. What a story!

Last autumn my friend gave me a bag of her home grown tomatoes. And she told me they were grown from seeds from her dad. Last year's tomato crop was a good one, so, tasty as they were, I put them into the fruit bowl next to our own bumper crop and didn't think too much more about them.

This year was different. Summer just didn't play ball and it's been too mild produce anything much more than a meagre crop of mealy tasting tomatoes. I gladly accepted another bag of my friend's tomatoes when she offered.

After one bite I was in heaven. Here, was a perfect round red tomato full of incredible flavour. When everyone else's tomatoes were as bland as soggy paper. How did she manage it? I was curious of their provenance and after some prodding she divulged their history.

Seems some years back, her grandfather was a market gardener on the outskirts of a city that shall remain nameless. As successful as his own garden was, her pop, as he was known, coveted his neighbours tomatoes. Spied through the fence, they were unlike any tomato bush he had seen, incredibly prolific, growing on strong thick stalks, almost like tree trunks and each plant producing masses of perfect red tomatoes. The neighbour was an old Italian fellow, who had developed this cultivar over the years and was very proud of it. But he wouldn't share the seeds. With anyone. Ever. What a meanie.

So, my friend's pop did what any self respecting gardener would do, he jumped the fence in the middle of the night, plucked a couple of ripe tomatoes off the vine and hotfooted it back over the fence. He saved the seeds and started growing these tomatoes himself. Very successfully for many years. And he shared the seeds. And he gave some seeds to his son, who gave some seeds to his daughter, who passed on the seeds to me.

Who would have thought a tomato could provide not only a delicious legacy but also an enduring tale of a grandfather's bold escapade. I feel lucky to share the spoils. Now that's what I call a real heirloom tomato.

Beautiful Sunday

The day started like any other Sunday.  Up at 5am to bake biscuits and toast walnuts before heading out into the garden at dawn to pick violets.  Then pack the car and head off at 7am to market. No breakfast in bed for me today, but a promise to do something special when I get home.

Seems a box of our cakes was a popular gift for mums in Hobart.  The market was one of our busiest yet, helped by a quick visit to the local ABC radio to chat to Chris Wisbey and Alastair Wise about cake and custard.  I was very excited to meet Alastair, least of all because I'm a big fan of his mum.  We chatted a little about cake and ate one Alastair's delicious Portuguese tarts before heading back to the market. Before leaving I did get Alastair to taste one of our cakes, I was hoping he'd say "I hate this", but he didn't say anything.  I wonder what he thought....

We returned to the stall and it was just about empty, lovely Kelly who was minding our stall said she'd been swamped with people buying up big as they'd heard us on the radio!  Talk about news travelling fast!

Time enough to barter some market bounty for a Sunday night feast before pack up. When I got home there was a collection of beautiful handmade cards and presents of heart shaped jam tarts, rose petal tea, beeswax hearts to hang in the window and two brand new books to read. Lucky me! We cleared the coffee table and decorated it with candles and flowers before eating the market spoils beside the fire.

A really beautiful Sunday, and not like any other Sunday after all.

Hope your Sunday was a beautiful one too. xx

All stops to Pemberley

Do you like my new tea towel?  It came in  today's mail. I love it.  I bought it from this cute etsy store that sells lots of gorgeous Jane Austen inspired goods.  Did you know Pip is reading Pride and Prejudice for book club?  I better sign up. I don't think you can ever have enough Jane Austen in your life.