The year is already a quarter of a way through and here’s hoping that globally it will be a better one than 2016. What a shocker!
Last year seemed to disappear so quickly and yet so much happened worldwide. Here in Castlemaine it was a year of trying to put things in place and build upon the existing. Consequently, I didn’t manage to really get around to any writing, spending most of my time working with The Growing Abundance Project and in my spare time trying to get the garden into some kind of shape.
Back in Autumn last year we finally started the paving out the front of the kitchen, unfortunately running out of bricks before it was completed but at least it is a start and helped stop a quagmire forming with all the delicious rain that kept falling and falling.
It was an exceptionally cold winter making it an excellent time to really learn to master the slow combustion stove. It belted out heat warming the whole house and welcomed me each cold, dark morning with a toasty kitchen to enjoy my first coffee in, as I watch the dawn break through the gums.
Although I had already lived through my first winter with the new kitchen, I didn’t master the finer intricacies of the Esse, happy just to potter along. But last winter everything just fell into place and I fell in love with the gentle heat that emanated from it’s raging fire box. It is hard to explain but it is a completely different way of cooking, it’s more forgiving and gentle. As winter drew to a close I dreaded the coming of spring and the onset of warm weather. I would have to return to a conventional stove!
I spent every spare moment during those short days of winter learning to bake cakes and bread; making jams and of course warming winter soups on the Esse. It seemed senseless to have the stove burning if I didn’t have a pot constantly simmering on the hob. It’s a wonder that I could fit through the door when spring finally came. Perhaps it was all the lugging of wood from the heap by the gate. I certainly went through a fair amount of wood but I was heating the house at the same time.
The kitchen now wears its scars proudly but those first marks on its pristine wooden bench tops hurt, like a blade cutting into my own flesh. I don’t think that I really lived in the kitchen the first year, I was too busy keeping it pristine, styling it for some eternal photoshoot. Now it is starting to have a history, it tells stories of a life in food and of food. Of solitary moments engrossed in my own world and of shared meals and laughter….
2016 saw two more Artists’ Table dinners for Castlemaine Press. Twice a year I open up my kitchen to twelve people who come together for a vegetarian degustation dinner. An exciting challenge for me as I only have ten dollars a head to spend on the ingredients and rely heavily on what I can harvest from the garden. It is also a strange experience to not know who your guests will be, not an uncommon experience in a restaurant but a little unnerving in your own home. What will the dynamic be and will they like my food? I have now held four dinners and each one has been as unique as its guests, from the retired welsh nun who recited poetry and sang songs in welsh as a thank you, to groups of artists sharing the challenges of creativity.
The garden still has a long way to go before it really comes into its own but it has managed to give me the basics and the unseasonably wet winter helped establish many of the trees that I have planted. The long, cold winter and the slow start to spring and summer meant that my summer vegetable garden was a long way behind its usual harvest time. Surprisingly, despite the above average rainfall it was a disappointing year and it wasn’t just my garden, everybody complained of less than spectacular tomatoes.
As the garden develops so does the bird population with scores of tiny wrens and pardalotes now making their homes in the shrubs around the house. Sadly the magpies have become infrequent visitors as a family of ravens seem to have taken up residency and appear to have chased the maggies away. Their squawking a far cry from the magpies melodic morning caroling. Hopefully, as the seasons change they will return and the ravens leave for far off fields.
To my delight, the other morning as I ventured into the kitchen for my first coffee, there, perched on the window sill was a beautiful, tiny robin. A sign that winter is coming and surely an omen of a better year ahead.
Along with the multitude of birds that now call this place home, the above average rain has brought other beasties to the block. A group of Southern Brown Tree Frogs has made their home in the hothouse. Moisture, warmth and an abundance of insects make it the ideal environment, it seems. They keep the insect population down, protecting my young seedlings while I provide a safe home, away from the prying eyes and sharp beaks of the bird population.
The long hot days of summer are behind us and the dry, barren ground has turned a delicious emerald green. Once more the Esse brings warmth to the chilly mornings as I sip my coffee and stare out at the gums dripping with dew and the freshly turned veggie patch.
And so to 2017 and what it will bring. I am looking forward to working on a new project, more to come, and continue to work on the garden, a never ending process that remains one of the most fulfilling activities that I can think of. And of course, cooking up a storm on the Esse.