All posts by Clare

Slow Cooking at the Bay

During the Easter school holidays we stayed at a holiday home at beautiful Jervis Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales. Seven days of relaxation and s.l.o.w. Two adolescents, an I’m-almost-done-with-six-and-don’t-we-know-about-it and a four-year old human tornado (aka The Boy) does not really mean relaxation ever happens except in precious little instances. But slow we can do; and slow is probably as close as we are going to get to relaxation for the next decade or so.

Just days of, variously: walking, paddling, kayaking, bicycling, photographing, doing jigsaw puzzles, playing boardgames, watching movies, reading. That’s it, really (minus griping, yelling, sobbing, moaning etc). Eating figures fairly significantly too.

Normally, preparing the family meals is a complete and utter exhausting chore that just has to get done – in our nasty little flatpack kitchen with its horrible stove and non-existent pantry – so kids can get to drama class or Girl Guides or into the bath or into bed. But for some reason, on holidays, cooking in a small kitchen (or when we’re camping, under the stars) is a joy.

Slow, I think, is the secret ingredient. Time to relish and savour. And an appreciative audience of hungry mouths.

None of what we simmered, baked or sautéed is terribly groundbreaking. The ingredients are mostly thoughtful, sometimes merely pragmatic: Wollongong-made pasta; grass-fed beef from down the coast purchased from our lovely local butcher, who greets me by name and dices the steak for my casseroles or rolls up a nice roast for a party; organic parmesan and local organic milk delivered by the milko; the rest from our fruit & veggie box, Woolies or the local IGA here at the Bay; but all are easily obtained (for a stress-head mother of four that means absolutely no traipsing around farmers markets with a crush of hipsters, heavy bags and over-it little ones, however much I’d like to!). But, as Maggie Beer says, it’s cooking from the heart, with time to spare.

So, five weeks’ later with el relaxo completely swamped by school/work/house, here’s a kind of recipe for the sort of good-without-en (as Mum refers to it) holiday cooking from the heart.


Roast Pears and Apples (not quite Pears Belle Helene)

This is for six-ish. Normally I do this as baked pears with vanilla and cream but I forgot to pack the vanilla seed syrup and felt like adding some apples, so . . .


A few pears, especially ones with bruises that need eating quick smart, maybe a few more

A few apples, red are lovely but use whatever you like best.

Orange rind

Maple syrup

Brown sugar



Don’t bother peeling the fruit but cut out any manky bits that offend you. Quarter and remove seeds. Add some more fruit if you can still see the bottom of the dish, or you feel like more fruit.

Place in a big baking dish. Earthenware is lovely. Don’t bother greasing it.

Now peel a few decent-sized bits of orange rind with a vegetable peeler or knife and add that to the fruit. Drizzle over some maple syrup, by which I means a good slosh you can actually hear coming out of the bottle. Then, sprinkle over a good few dessertspoonfuls of brown sugar and dot some chunks of butter on top of the fruit. I like to use a good bit for richness. I prefer to use unsalted but use whatever you like so long as it is proper butter.

Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes in a moderate oven (about 180-200 degrees). It should cook beautifully in that time if the fruit is in one layer. I made the mistake of using a smaller dish a some weeks ago and it took forever.

The fruit will be delightfully soft, and if your oven is hotter than you thought, you’ll have the bonus of a lovely golden skin.

Finish off with a swirl of cream (thickened, pure, organic, just milked, whatever) and then serve.

Christmas austerity . . . bah humbug

I loathe Christmas. The crass commerciality. The Northern Hemipsphere-themed decorations in, what, October? Managing expectations. Too many end-of-year events. The self-imposed pressure to do everything right. Resenting expectations. Being exhausted/wanting to hide in a cave somewhere. Present frenzy. Tired, over-it kids.

“Why are we doing all this?”

Why indeed.

December 1 saw me attempt to decorate The Tree with the kids. We got the string of golden stars draped around our rather modest potted Norfolk pine and then . . . meltdown. Small people fighting over decorations, a teenager entirely uninterested in anything except a book. How hard could it be to do something nice together, I thought? So, I packed away the Christmas decorations, after a little rant about not sharing and do-as-you-please attitudes, and informed the brood that we would be adding one decoration per day and as they were added they were to think about The Meaning of Christmas. Oh dear.

However, our eldest, who is fourteen (not the one with the book), came up with a lovely idea. She traced out a Christmas tree with string on a corkboard, trimmed it with some co-ordinating decorations in our higgeldy-piggeldy collection and found online some printable tags for us to write down one thing each day for which we were grateful and pin to the tree, with almost a month’s worth of gratitude waiting for us after Christmas. We did this most days, at dinnertime, and although we have yet to read all our tags, just the doing was enough to get us all thinking less about what we wanted or were unhappy about, and more about the good things what we already had.

Let’s try that again . . .

I love Christmas. I’m a December baby, so this month has always been exciting to me. I’m a bit like Wombat in Mem Fox’s Wombat Divine . . .

Wombat loved Christmas. He loved the carols and the candles, the presents and the pudding.

I love going Christmas light spotting with the kids, pulling out the decorations from under the house and stringing them about the place in mismatched glory, reading Christmas stories with the little ones, watching some favourite, ever-so-slightly-cheesy Christmas movies with the kids . . . Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express and A Christmas Carol (the animated Jim Carrey version – is Jim Carrey ever not animated?) . . . and choosing presents.

I worried about how much we spent on gifts for our children and our extended family as opposed to how much we gave to charity. Our six-year old chose a small gift to take to school for their charity Christmas drive, we made a  modest cash donation and bought our Christmas  cards from one of the charities we support, and our four children each chose a special gift for a child in migration detention in Australia, which they loved doing. We stick pretty well to a budget and don’t go for flashy presents, except for a bike or a special art class at odd times for which grandparents and uncles and aunties usually chip in too, but when I totted it all up the contrast was stark.

10:1, roughly (including the gifts on behalf of Santa Claus), in favour of our first-world white children and their cousins and a couple of thank-you gifts for our kind and supportive parents.

It was amazing to see it, and think about what we could have done with that money. Solar panels for a family in East Timor, sponsor a child’s quality education in Africa and leave change.

Why were giving gifts to each other on a budget instead of paying it forward extravagantly?

It didn’t seem to fit with the idea of healing love and a small baby who was supposed to be a world-changing gift, or the story of St Nick delivering presents and kindness to those who needed it most.

It’s a common theme, whether it is wrapped in sermons to “keep Christ in Christmas” or blog-posts on not buying-in (boom) to the materialist consumerist waste-fest, give time not presents etc.

Partly, I agree with the sentiments and partly they irk me. It seems a little humbug and a little mean. Austerity is the new black, it seems, but should it be the new red-and-green?

Over the last couple of days, I have reflected on what we did give our children this Christmas.

We gave them time and love, spending a happy, peaceful day together, just the six of us, instead of our usual distracted and busy lives.

We gave them thoughtful gifts, things they needed, things to share and play with together and special things, longed-for and to be enjoyed.

We also gave them the opportunity to experience the pleasure of giving. Even Mr Four. I had forgotten just how much little ones enjoy giving out the presents! Our eldest was busy making gifts for everyone – simple, but ever-so-thoughtful. Our second created a gift card for the family to share a treat together, to be paid for our of her own money. And this year, I asked each of the children had to make or buy a gift for one of their aunties and uncles or grandparents in my family and they did so well, choosing thoughtfully, spending time making and presenting it carefully.

It was such a delight to see the gifts for our children, our nieces and nephews and our parents, chosen with care and love, gratefully received, and with pleasure. Surely that’s worth something.

So perhaps, that 10:1 ratio is a more of an investment in our family – in showing of love, having fun and in teaching to our children, my Grandma’s (famous in our family) maxim:

give generously and receive graciously.

That’s not to let us off the hook about how we give generously to the poor in our town, or our global neighbours or poor overstretched Mother Earth.

But I realised that our kids are already learning the lessons about caring for others, that they’re not materialistic monsters, they love giving and they understand the value of a simple, thoughtful gift.

 I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The monthly donations, the everyday ethical choices, the commitment to tread lightly and advocacy and action for a more just world are Christmas everyday in small ways. Let’s ditch the sackcloth-and-ashes austerity Christmas and give joyously, generously and without guilt.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Our eco building project . . . stage one is go!

Back in July,  I was wondering if we’d ever get started.

. . . a few months later . . .

We’ve ditched the building loan idea, scaled back our expectations and found a different builder.

Early on, we discussed with our architect, Nathalie Curtert, the possibility of staging our project:  fixing our leaky, mouldy unventilated and dingy 70s bathroom first, and then moving on to the glorious sunny, open-plan kitchen/dining room with actual inside-laundry room (not lean-to cubicle). Nathalie responded with a beautiful plan which accommodates that possibility.

12 months later, we reluctantly realised that staging was the way to go only way we could get started.

We could use our savings/tax return/family tax payment (gotta love that middle-class welfare, well maybe not in a macro sense, but for on mini-micro economic scale it is a boon!) plus a small short-term loan from a generous brother and not need to deal with dithering, demanding banks and actually get going with something. Plus, fixing the bathrooms would add value to our home which would mean we could refinance to do the next stage without all the hoo-haa around constructions loans (they’re awful, avoid if at all possible).

So, back we went to the green builder only to find that $30K had turned into over $40K and it wasn’t going to happen all over again.

What a saga.

Tip: you may love your green builder but putting your precious project out to tender can be the best thing to do.

We found another builder. Maybe not quite so green but practical, a great communicator and pretty much spot on with his quote even including the contingencies covered by the first quote. Happy to do grey water piping, insulation, double-glazing on the skylight, suggesting ways we could save money (what the heck!) but still maintain quality and the outcomes we were after.

That was about two months ago and after six weeks we are getting to within a week of moved back into our home today with (almost) two (definitely) brand new, modest-sized, water-efficient, light-filled, well-ventilated, locally-produced-almost-everything beautiful bathrooms for our gang of six!

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some details what we’ve done to make our bathrooms sustainable. But for now, here’s what we had and what lay beneath and a sneaky peek of what the after looks like!

Have you got a green building project you’re working on, dreaming of or have completed? Love to hear your experiences!


Our old bathroom with the benefit of a camera flash. Never was it this bright.
Our old bathroom with the benefit of a camera flash. Never was it this bright.
The leaky, mouldy shower.
The leaky, mouldy shower.
What lay beneath . . . Dr Seuss-style vinyl bathroom wallpaper uncovered during demolition. Eek.
What lay beneath . . . Dr Seuss-style vinyl bathroom wallpaper uncovered during demolition. Eek.

2014-09-28 12.36.03

Our glamourous Australian-made bath!
Our glamourous Australian-made bath!

Our eco building project . . . starting?


Our project is still a paper dream, over six months after receiving council approval.

We’ve waited patiently for builders’ quotes.

We’ve whittled down those enormous figures to something a bit more manageable.

And, in the last week, after months of gathering all the information the bank needed to do a valuation so we could at last know if we had approval to finance this dream (no, we don’t have a spare $100K sitting in the bank account, sadly), we got our answer. Not the one we were hoping for.

Our initial budget was $80K-$100K, which is a heck of a lot of money to us, but we’d done our research on building costs, were confident that the architect could deliver an outcome within that budget and got the builder to give an initial estimate before we submitted our DA. All good, all on track.

By the time we get the formal fixed-fee quote which the bank requires, the budget had blown out by $65K, and we’d already spent $10K on professional fees plus were covering about $20K of expenses ourselves. So, we decided to ditch the side deck, pergola and new cladding. That saved about $20K and building materials we probably didn’t need. But still way beyond what we could comfortably afford. So, we dropped the garage, (we’re going to re-roof ourselves the teensy existing one for a couple of hundred dollars), joinery and the loungeroom window seat.

The end result is that about $125K of borrowed money, plus $20-30K of our own, adds about $90K value to our abode.

(Don’t you just love how three inconvenient zeros can be rendered by an innocuous capital K.)

Cold comfort that our budget and original estimates of end value were spot on.

All of which leaves us wondering how sustainable green building is if you can’t actually afford it without a massive loan? Or decades of saving? Or compromising the green bit – reducing building waste, recycling materials, low toxicity, quality work that will stand the test of time.

Is green a luxury?

Or is our idea of green unrealistic?







Not messing about too much with food

I’ve been enjoying exploring the world of variously raw-clean-vegan-whole foods (I’m a curious omnivore). There are really creative cooks (or whatever the not-cooking version of a cook is), with a passion for healthy, delicious food that doesn’t mess around too much with the basic – fresh and unprocessed – ingredients.

I quite like that. Throwing a few frozen bananas, some natural peanut butter, and a dash of cinnamon and maple syrup in the trusty Magimix to whip up “icecream” to go with my standard fruit platter for the hungry hordes post-school, is ideal, for someone who’d rather be gardening, is supposed to be working and should probably be vacuuming the remains of yesterday from under the table. Anyway, now the big kids do it themselves if they feel like an creamy icy fix – what’s not to love?

I’m not entirely convinced that a frozen squishy mix of vegetables, fruits and the seemingly inevitable coconut oil qualifies as cake or cookies or pudding . . . but some creations are truly delicious and pretty convincing alternatives to the traditional treats. Like the Vanilla Slice from Wholefood Simply. Incredible.vanilla-slice-1

Or these banana cookies I made recently.

Banana Cookies
Banana Cookies

The best thing about this non-fussy approach to food – besides how easy it is whip something up – is the (mostly) unadulterated tastiness of real, healthy food.

My current favourite place to find afternoon tea treats is Wholefood Simply and I also love The Healthy Chef, My New Roots and Plant-based Munchies for everything from breakfast to dinner.

What about you?

Our eco building project . . . consent

After months of design, reports, fine-tuning and negotiating with council, we now at last have Development Consent for an extension and renovation to our nest.

Design concept for our home by Designing Green Architecture
Design concept for our home by Designing Green Architecture

A glass of two of sparkling white Rhone-via-Victoria has been savoured!

When we moved into our 4-bedroom-plus-study weatherboard home last year, we had plans to build a new living/dining/kitchen/laundry where our enormous sun-drenched deck is, renovate the mouldy, leaky bathroom, add a modest ensuite and a new garage with workshop for Michael’s coffee roasting and beer brewing.

We have a perfect north-facing block, with a view to the always beautiful Illawarra Escarpment and a lovely decent-sized backyard for the kids to play in and me to garden in!

We want to make sure our home performs as well as it can in terms of energy and water efficiency, durability and be beautiful and comfortable to live in. And the biggest challenge? Doing it within our budget.

Over the coming months, you’ll see the before, the during and the after. I’ll share our challenges, solutions and compromises. And hopefully our little suburban dream will provide some ideas and inspiration for how we can all live gently on Mother Earth.

[true] Conservativism


What comes to mind?

 Good sound values, protective concern, rightful caution, the sanctity of hearth and home, kith and kin?


Inert certainty, stuffy moralism, judgmental rigidity, fearfulness?

It’s too easy to caricature and judge, fall into the trap of a dualistic ‘us v them’ mentality. But no one has all the answers and no one is completely wrong. (Here’s an interesting podcast on the benefits of stepping beyond our natural ‘moral tribes’).

I’m not so sure that rigidity, fearfulness, exclusion or inertia are confined to conservatives. Or rather that perhaps the negative aspects of conservatism are apparent across the spectrum of movements, beliefs, philosophies and politics.

The positives of conservatism have much to offer. There is value in caution, in not ditching the tried and true in favour of the latest rage, stepping back to analyse and assess rather than diving in. The precautionary principal underpins ecological protection, if an activity is accompanied by the risk of serious damage, that will outweigh any benefit. The values of hearth and home, kith and kin often find expression as parochialism and racism or so-called family values that give little space to the reality of our diverse human relationships. But, positively, those same values can provide a sanctuary, a place of security and nourishment or relationships of care and love.

Maules Creek on the big sky country of the Liverpool Plains in NSW is an endangered White Box-Gum Forest, the last of its kind and home to an amazingly diverse ecosystem. It’s also part of the Gomeroi nation. And the site of a massive open cut coal mine owned and operated by Whitehaven Coal. The mine, which has government approval despite community opposition and in the face of the precautionary principle, will require the Leard State Forest to be clear felled. It will substantially and negatively impact on the water table, which is estimated to drop 5-10 metres, and disrupt the subterranean water system. Most sobering perhaps, the mine will emit 30 million tonnes CO2 each year, equivalent to the annual emissions of New Zealand’s entire energy sector (see

It is also the location and focus of a campaign by an unlikely alliance of greenies, local farmers, the Gomeroi people and now, religious folk (apologies to religious folk for the twee appellation).

On 12 March 2014 at Maules Creek, elders and leaders of the Christian and Buddhist faiths, members of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), took a stand against the continued expansion of coal mining in Australia. The ARRCC (a rather piratical acronym) includes members from every major world religion and is committed to action on “the greatest moral challenge of our time”, to use the possibly prophetic, albeit now infamously hypocritical, coinage by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. (Yes, he really did say that.)

One of those leaders is Thea Ormerod, president of ARRCC, whose thought-provoking opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald raises the deliciously radical  concept of counter-cultural climate activism as conservative:

 The movement to wind down coalmining in Australia may be counter-cultural but it is the truly conservative one. Its aim is to keep the Earth’s ecosystems more or less intact for those who suffer the impact of climate change in developing countries, for our own young people here and for future generations. Not a radical position at all.

But as Ormerod states, people of faith are no strangers to the radical path, pointing to the non-violent resistance movements of anti-Apartheid and opposition to segregation.

The irony is that acting to safeguard Earth – creation, gift of God, Mother, sacred country, blessed realm – is now seen as radical, when really, it is the ultimate conservative position.

What could be more conservative than fighting for your home and your children’s future?

For more information on the Maules Creek campaign, and to get involved in the Alliance click here.

P.S I think there is a world of difference between this idea of conservative and the recently reported views of our Prime Minister concerning “ultimate conservationists”.

Just Banana Cookies

Just Banana Cookies
Just Banana Cookies

I came across this recipe for banana cookies on the book of face recently that was just right for the daily afternoon mummy-energy-slump v hungry-hordes battle.

It’s simple, fast and free of stuff you might want to avoid like grains, sugar or dairy. I  tweaked the original and doubled it, as you do.

Here is my version:

4 bananas

2 cups rolled oats/quick oats

1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Chef’s pinch of cinnamon (a generous three-fingered pinch my big girls and I adopted after a cooking demonstration we went to – particularly for salt, uh-oh!)


Mash the bananas, mix in the oats, cinnamon, vanilla and nuts. Drop spoonfuls onto a lined baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees.

Makes enough for four ravenous kids and one afternoon-slumped mummy.

That’s it!

I am going to try some variations next time: drop the nuts and use a mix of seeds – sunflower and sesame are always yum; a slosh of maple syrup instead of vanilla; adding dates.

Grandma wisdom, food and life.

Grandma (and Grandpa) wisdom will change the world.

Well, some things. Like making do, making your own, mending what’s broken and saving up for something. And playing the piano. Or bowls.

I was blessed with two Grandmas I grew up knowing and loving dearly. They taught me lots about how to live and love, in their own different and precious ways.

They both lived through the depression and post-war rationing, and knew first hand what it was like to go without, although they never had to raise a family without a wage-earner as many women did.

Grandma Molly was the kind of lady that everyone loved. She had an enormous heart (despite its physical weakness) and an incredible zest for living. Even when her body was falling apart, she never stopped being interested in life. She was definitely the life of the party, and could knock out a tune on the piano for Grandad Reggie to croon along to. There’s no doubt her spirit is alive and well in my extended family!

Grandma Joan was a great cook (and doyenne of the lawn bowls green). When they lived on the farm she cooked everything on the wood-fired stove. Coming from a blessed realm of electric fan-forced multi-function oven with actual thermometer, wood-fired everything doesn’t sound so hip. There was always something delicious to eat at Grandma’s – real Melting Moments and Monte Carlos, cakes and slices. Grandma knew all the classics, of course, but certainly wasn’t hide bound when it came to trying something new! Everything was made from scratch and her skill and high standards were passed down to Mum, Auntie Ann and Auntie Trish.

So, I am the lucky inheritor of a taste for great food, the ability and expectation to be able to make it myself, the experience of a welcoming and generous table. And the importance of doing something you love – whether it be lawn bowls or bringing out the piano and forte in the pianoforte.

Eating well is not really about eating gorgeously-rich and decadent food (I have no problem with that!). It’s not simply eating fresh, real food. Or being conscious about how our food is produced, how it impacts on living creatures, the natural environment or other people. All those things are important ingredients – even the occasional decadent indulgence – to eating and living well. We need to nourish our bodies, not just fuel them.

Grandma Molly knew to put off her diet for another day and enjoy the special feast. Grandma Joan knew the value of good food prepared with love.

You are what you eat. And a little of what you like will do you good.

And don’t forget a dash of music and a game of bowls.

A balanced diet.


I’m a book worm.

I love my chick lit (if it’s Jane Austen), crime (if it’s Miss Phryne Fisher) and speculative fiction (if it’s the magnificent seer and wordsmith, Margaret Atwood, or Isaac Asimov), and lots of other things too.

I love non-fiction too – science, economics, jurisprudence, spirituality, ecology, history, and dreaming – and lately I’ve been reading some insightful, clever and often downright beautiful books, which I’ll share on my virtual Live Gently Bookshelf.

Suggestions are most welcome!