life lately (and blogiversary number two)

eleanorblog2It’s been a busy week. Or rather, a ridiculous fortnight. Long work days, high stress, lots of autumn rain and late night milk runs in the dark. However, in the midst of all that, this little blog passed its second blogiversary on 21st May, 2014. Yes, number two.

Two years. That’s twenty four months of recipe notes, hastily snapped photographs, butter-smeared camera lenses and foodie dialogue with those whom I’m now privileged to call friends. I can hardly believe it, but yes… this blog survived its infancy. And the journey has been rather good.

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So. I guess it’s customary for the blogiversary celebrant to write a bit of an update on the blog’s evolution and other ‘happenings’ over the past twelve months. I wrote a rather extended post last year, loaded with growth points and facts about my humble (and somewhat ignorant) beginnings.

Well, this year will be a little different. In my ‘old age’, sunny enthusiasm for extended explanations has somewhat waned (I do now have a toddler blog, after all. Exhaustion is unavoidable). However, I do want to say a couple of thank-you’s and share some dot points about what will be happening for myself and Aaron as we travel into the tail end of 2014. Read on, amigos.

A huge thanks to:

  • All of you who have been following this blog since its first humble incarnation. Your comments, kind words and tips on the blog and via social media (facebook, instagram and twitter) make all of the late nights and frustrations seem worthwhile.
  • My family and friends for putting up with my food styling, photo snapping and fussing around meal times. I love you hugely.
  • The (rather large) handful of bloggers who have become beautiful friends whom I’m yet to meet. Your notes and internet hugs are always treasured.

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A few snippets of news:

  • I now have a second blog, Second-Hand Stories, which has been well-intended but woefully neglected over the past few months. It’s got nothing to do with food (very far from it!) but if you’re interested, click here to read about the contents. I’m hoping to devote more time to it over the next six months.
  • In approximately five weeks, Aaron and I will be jetting off to the Northern Hemisphere for a few months (partly for work reasons and wholly for adventures). I’m uncertain as to the availability of internet access in different places, so please understand if the frequency of my posts and other commenting seems to drop.
  • Leading on from the previous dot point, if any of you are interested in guest posting on the Mess between July and possibly November 2014, let me know via private message on facebook or twitter. Depending upon the volume of willing guest posters (ha! Or lack thereof…) I may not require every offer but I would love hear from you.

Facts and Stats:

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So, that’s it. Another blogging year completed! I cannot wait to see what the next year holds… a huge thanks to all of you for being on the journey with me.

Laura xo

*Thanks to my gorgeous friends Em and Pete for letting me use the above picture of their daughter in the opening shot. I love it. All other shots are from my Instagram account.

curing olives. and an intro to hippy vic

olivebowlLast Sunday, I spent approximately five hours with one of the most beautiful, warm, strong and wise women I know.  She greeted me with a hug, dark eyes sparkling. We drank coffee from cornflower-blue mugs before fastening our jackets and heading to the local farmer’s market. The air was cold but dry. We bought field mushrooms in brown paper and long-stemmed roses with the thorns still attached. She selected a cauliflower, white and tight-packed, whilst her two under six splashed in puddles. Patterned wellingtons and wide smiles gleamed against the greyish sky.

pomestallsHer name is Victoria. Vic for short, or Vicky if you’re feeling in-between. You might recognise her from here, here and here; she’s relatively famous around these parts as my eternal best friend, frequent clean-living inspiration and occasional cooking buddy. Over the last twelve months, she’s also answered to the pseudonym of Hippy Vic, the lifestyle blog she created as a means to share her organic gardening ideas, recipes and nutritional tips with the general public.

Since its establishment in October 2012, ‘Hippy Vic’ has gone from strength to… uh, dormancy. Vicky’s life has rolled forward with home renovations, part-time study and parenting responsibilities and a thick layer of metaphorical dust has settled on ‘Hippy Vic’. Vicky has now forgotten her WordPress password altogether. Sad but true.

bubblesnlegsSo, what to do? Last weekend over a bottle of vino, Vicky and I decided to re-establish part of ‘Hippy Vic’ right here on Laura’s Mess. Rather than an official ‘guest post’ series, Vic’s going to send me bits and pieces ranging from recipes to photographs, gardening tips to interior decorating. I’m going to post these fresh ideas for her, formatted and edited, for your reading pleasure (posts will be tagged under ‘guest posts’ and ‘hippyvic’ for easy reference).

If you’re unfamiliar with ‘Hippy Vic’, give Vic’s original ‘hello’ post a read before embarking on this series with us. Today’s post has been primarily written by me, however there will be many pure, honest-to-goodness, 100% ‘Hippy Vic’ posts to enjoy as time passes… I can’t wait for you to ‘meet’ her!

IMG_9309Curing Olives: A Crash Course in Brine

I love olives. I can’t say that I always have (as a child I would have rather eaten a chunk of liver) but in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate their salty, succulent flesh in everything from pasta to sushi (yes, our local Japanese does this!) or a salad roll.

Olives are like natural little flavour boosters. Their concentrated salty richness adds a rounded savoury flavour to braised or baked dishes; a bit like anchovies, but minus the fishy aftertaste. In recent years, I’ve also started making thick, rich tapenade to spread on sandwiches and foccacia. However, despite our regular household olive consumption, I’ve actually never made my own cured or brined olives. Mostly because I’ve never had access to a mature olive tree (correction: I’ve never had access to a mature olive tree that I could raid without getting into trouble). Visiting Vicky’s organic garden changed that.

olivemontVicky’s tree was positively heaving with ripe, blackened fruit last weekend. A light carpet of fallen fruit lay on the moistened grass, gleaming in the afternoon sun. Most were blemished but nevertheless collected with small, eager hands and smiling faces before being squirreled away into plastic bags (these were later discarded: do not use blemished or fallen olives for curing as a soft, blemished olive is a spoiled olive that is not fit for consumption). Vicky and I scaled the lower rungs of the tree and pulled off the firm, glossy fruits. Both green and black were collected for me to take home, alongside some rosemary, sage, old fashioned mint and raspberries.

plotmontUpon taking the fruit home, I washed it carefully and separated the unripe green from the softer black fruit (their different densities result in different cooking times). I then followed the method below, which I developed from a variety of different sources including this article by Kimi Harris and this reference guide from the now-defunct ‘Burke’s Backyard’ (ah, I used to love that show as a child).

salt montTo cure your olives (of all their ailments) you will need:

  • fresh, unsprayed black and/or green olives
  • non-iodised salt (I used non-iodised Australian rock salt)
  • water
  • sterilised glass jars with lids

Wash your olives well. Discard any blemished or soft fruit, then soak overnight in cold, clean water. Make sure that the fruit is fully submerged, as this soaking process helps to eliminate some of the bitterness from the skin. Weigh the fruit down with a plate if necessary.

The next morning, rinse your fruit. Separate the green and black into different piles, then use a sharp paring knife to cut a deep slit in each olive, down to the stone (I cut one side of the olive only, but some sources suggest cutting both sides).

prepmontPour your olives into your sterilised jars (make sure you keep the green and black separate) until the jars are two-thirds full.

Make your brine solution: use 1/4 cup non-iodised salt for each litre of water. To make the brine, mix your salt and water together in a medium saucepan. Heat the water until the salt dissolves (don’t let the mixture boil, or you will end up with a salt crust all over your cooktop!).

brineLet the water cool, then pour it over the olives in each jar until the fruit is fully submerged. Weigh the fruit down with a plate if necessary.

Leave the olives to cure for one week, then change the brine solution. Continue to do this once per week (you may notice some ‘scum’ that rises to the surface; just skim it off and replace your brine solution) until the fruit are ready.

blackjarredBlack olives should be ready after 2-3 weeks, whereas green olives may take 4-8 weeks (due to their high level of bitterness and added density). Taste your olives to ensure they’re soft, a little bit salty but deliciously edible. If they are still bitter and hard, leave them to cure for another week or so (update: I’ve revised my estimated curing times here).

As my olives are still curing, there will need to be a part 2 to this post: dressing the olives. I’m thinking of using olive oil, chilli, garlic and rosemary and will post some finished recipes and photos in the next two months (or whenever my olives are ready, *sob*!). I’ve also made something similar to this marinade from Jamie Oliver for store-bought, non-marinated olives. I’ll definitely be using a batch for the home-cured fruit.

roselaceTo store: the olives can either be stored in the brine solution (with a thin layer of olive oil over the top) or in an olive oil marinade in sealed, sterilised jars for up to 6 months (preferably in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard).

leahherbNote: our Sunday market photos were taken at the Midland Farmer’s Market (Old Great Northern Highway in Midland, Western Australia 6056). Whilst our purchases mostly included fruit, vegetables and flowers, they also have stallholders who make artisan bread (including spelt flour loaves), a range of preserves and occasionally, gourmet cheeses. There were also lots of baby chickens, geese and ducks for sale (a favourite for the under-six pair) alongside bric-a-brac, fresh eggs and meats.

One last note: a beautiful friend of mine, Emily, has recently started up her own blog called Bless this Mess (a big cheer for us messy chicks!). It’s full of encouragement, gorgeous nourishing recipes, work-out ideas and applicable wisdom for tired minds and bodies. It’s swiftly becoming a place where I go for a smile at the end of a chaotic day. I’d encourage you to drop by and say hello. I love this girl – I am sure that you will too!

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