old fashioned porridge in the country

porridge

It’s been a long time since I last put metaphorical pen to paper in this food diary of sorts. Too long. I’d offer excuses, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t click on this post to read about my annus horribilis (if you did, well… I’ve written previously about my elevated work stress and injuries, blah blah. Ironically, I’ve also found myself unemployed this week – one week shy of Christmas. Life, huh? It keeps on giving).

On a more pleasant note, I began writing this post two weeks ago from the confines of Green Cottage, an original shearer’s cabin in country Western Australia. Located on an 80 acre farm property, it was rough logged and tin-clad, full of cracks, dust and rusted fixings.

It was perfect, in an imperfect kind of way. The kind of place you visit to escape from cell phones and schedules. We booked the farmstay as a creative family retreat: for Aaron to draw, me to write and for Loki to… well, connect with nature as only a city dog can. It was beautiful to watch him embrace paddocks, sheep and dry horse manure with bright eyes and tousled fur. He’s tucked in beside me as I write, his little body heavy with sleep and wild forest dreams.

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One of the main reasons why Aaron and I booked this particular cabin was the presence of an old cast-iron stove. A ‘Homesteader’, I think they’re called, with compartments for hot coals and kindling.

After booking our accommodation, I began planning meals of hot smoked potatoes, herbed damper and roasted vegetables with saffron aioli (in fact, I packed ingredients for most of these things into our vehicle, excitedly unpacking them into a mini-fridge upon our arrival). On night two, I was determined to make it work.

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Fast forward to night four: I had set off the smoke detector three times, blackening my fingers and a depleting pile of kindling. Despite multiple attempts, the only by-product of my efforts were ash and disappointment.

I eventually abandoned the ‘Homesteader project’ for the hooded gas barbecue on the front porch, occasionally relieved by an ageing microwave. Both were effective in feeding us over the course of five nights, with reduced chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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By the end of the week, we created barbecued homemade pizzas with goats cheese, artichokes and pesto, various smoked barbecued root vegetables and a barbecued garlic ciabatta loaf. I also steamed beets and potatoes in the microwave, serving both with herbs and butter.

There were no further kitchen incidents, unless you count the unauthorised consumption of two pears, one banana and Aaron’s jam donut in the dead of night. We assume the culprit was a wily rodent, though any beady eyes escaped investigation (some sad evidence towards the end of this post).

My favourite cooking experience by far was also the simplest of our five nights in the south west. We collected kindling from the surrounding karri forest, stoked a fire in the front garden and drank wine whilst the larger logs caught aflame. As the sun descended in the sky, we prepared the most beautiful, basic dinner of barbecued local Italian sausages, rosemary fried onions and warmed, buttered Manjimup bread with mandatory condiments. Oh, and a little crumbled Cheddar because, cheese.

After eating our fill, we snuggled in plaid blankets with Loki at our feet. We sat, talked and laughed until our candle died and embers flickered in quiet, inky blackness. The best kind of country evening.

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Whilst the original intention of this post was to laud the greatness of a cast-iron stove, I now admit that I’m rather inept at keeping the home fires burning… or even lighting them to start with. Despite retaining my fascination for ‘old-school cookery’, I’m more comfortable with modern heat sources which can nevertheless yield some rather old school results. I’ve produced many smoky dishes, slow cooked meals and charred crusts with the aid of a ceramic stone, gas oven, modern cooktop and good quality cookware, so rather than focusing on Homesteader cookery in this blog post, I’m praising something very old-school that can be made in any modern home: traditional porridge.

Despite being consumed for hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years by varying methodology, porridge (or oatmeal, if you’re American) can be easily recreated on a gas or electric cooktop, or even in the modern microwave. I’ve been eating it since I was tiny and despite experimenting with various commercial evolutions (such as packaged quick oats and flavoured concoctions) my traditional childhood bowl reigns supreme over all imitations: full cream, slow cooked, simply topped with honey (my mother) or blackberry jam (yep, that’s dad).

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We prepared porridge frequently during our few days in Green Cottage. Despite being summer, the weather was unpredictably cold and wet which provided perfect opportunities for warm breakfasts, scalding cups of Builder’s tea and evenings by the traditional pot belly wood burner.

The first porridge morning was Aaron’s idea, after he discovered a jar of oats in the cottage pantry. I was already crumbling some Weet-bix biscuits into my cereal bowl, so I left him to his own devices until waterlogged oats overflowed from the boiling pan. Being Aaron, he ate the oats anyway with a glug of milk and some banana. I spent a few minutes scrubbing dried oats off the cottage cooktop. The next morning dawned with a cool breeze and a request for some tips on perfect porridge. He’s been using these ever since.

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Despite being more of a ‘guideline’ than a recipe, I’ve included my default method for porridge below with suggested quantities. I’ve also listed a few porridge toppings that rock in our household, my favourite being nut butter (pure peanut or tahini) and sliced banana.

I’m quite aware that my method contradicts that of Scottish purists (who advocate for only salt, oats and water whilst cooking). Despite my Scottish surname, I’m going to come straight out and say that I use milk for the entirety of the cooking process which creates extra creamy, delicious oats. Do as you will, I say.

horses apple2Wishing you and yours a beautiful, peaceful Christmas and a blessed start to 2016. May there be plenty of porridge.

– Aaron, Loki and Laura x

My kind of Porridge

Serves 2

  • 1 cup wholegrain rolled or steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups full fat milk (either dairy or plant based, I like coconut or almond milk but Aaron prefers creamy cows milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a pinch of sea salt

to serve: dairy/plant milk or cream, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup to drizzle, ground cinnamon, fruit (sliced banana, blueberries, grated apple, sultanas, sliced figs, mango and toasted coconut), toasted nuts or seeds (I like toasted, crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds), nut butter (peanut butter with sliced banana is divine), cacao nibs, chia jam or French conserve

If you’re organised, add your oats to the milk and soak overnight in the refrigerator (in a covered bowl or airtight container). Transfer to a small, heavy based saucepan in the morning with a splash of water to loosen. If you’re pressed for time, place the oats directly in the saucepan and soak for 20-30 minutes to produce creamier porridge.

Crank your burner to medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, add a little more water to loosen and stir regularly, watching your porridge thicken and ensuring that no oats stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep adding water until the oats are soft, smooth and creamy (around 20 minutes).

Spoon your porridge into two bowls, top with a splash of plant or dairy milk and any other toppings you desire. For more inspiration, I’d suggest that you head over to my dreamy, super-mum friend Heidi’s porridge archive on Apples Under my Bed (second to my parents, she is my porridge heroine).

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sheeps

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last days of summer + pet-friendly holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe – Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

crewpizza

Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

beers chips

Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

azlokibeach

summer to autumn

silhouette

It’s late on Thursday evening. Six past eleven, to be exact. The world seems quiet; inky black except for the occasional headlight beam from the highway. The skyline, once illuminated by clouds of rich crimson, has become embedded in a dense cloud of onyx. The air is heavy, thick with the scent of grass and scorched eucalyptus.

Despite being thirteen days into autumn, it was hot today. Yesterday was even hotter, a humid 37 degrees Celsius, or 98 degrees Fahrenheit (if you’re from the northern hemisphere). Even now, I can hear garden cicadas droning a final ode to the sweet heat of Australian summer. They’re working in well with the ice-cube percussion from my depleting water glass.

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Despite our recent uncharacteristically warm autumn weather, I’ve dedicated this particular post to the ‘official’ last days of summer that occurred two weeks ago. We spent four days at the seaside village of Gracetown (above) enjoying warm sunsets, cooked breakfasts, wine tasting and dips in the pristine blue sea.

If you’re a regular reader of The Mess, you might remember some previous posts about Gracetown, Margaret River and the south west region over the past twelve months. You could say that I’m a little bit in love with the rolling fields, artisan produce, deep red wines and friendly country folk. The rest of this post simply contains photographs and notes from our end-of-summer trip; however, if you’d like a bit more background to the region itself, click on the three links below:

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Any south west adventure always starts with a visit to Yallingup Woodfired Bread, a traditional wood-fired bakery that creates certified biodynamic sourdough, rye and fruit loaves. Owner Gotthard Baue is a truly passionate man who takes pride in his work (take a look at this video for an introduction to Gotthard and the bread process itself).

During this trip, we bought two loaves of sourdough and a dense and sticky rye ‘rock’ loaf that was divine with cheese. Some of the best bread on the planet, I’m certain.

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Upon arriving at our house in Gracetown, we happened upon this little guy:

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He’s an Australian wolf spider. After relocating him from the bathroom wall to the garden, we took some photographs like the one above. I think he’s cute.

Overseas friends: wolf spider bites are non-lethal despite often resulting in a mild case of nausea, headaches and localised pain. Don’t let stories of spiders scare you off visiting Australia and/or the south west region. morries

The restaurant above is Morries Anytime, where we stopped twice for coffee, cake and morning eats.

Manager-cum-barista Alex Brooks makes arguably the best flat white in the Margaret River region whilst head chef Rosie Griffiths serves up nourishing, creative cuisine that showcases the best of the south west’s fresh produce. Love this place.

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Right near Morries is the Margaret River Fudge Factory with its spinning wheel of chocolate goodness. Beware the taste test boxes. You may never leave.

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beef

Pictured above is the Margaret River Farmers’ Market, a beautiful one-stop location for fresh, organic local produce, artisan cheeses, biodynamic meats and a range of other wares in the heart of the town centre. Open every Saturday from 8am – 12pm, this market has fast become a fresh produce hub for locals and tourists alike.

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*For some reason I just had to take a picture of this ink-scrawled face.

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One of my favourite stalls was that of the Margaret River Bakery. I’m in love with their danish pastries, baguettes and cakes. They also have a fixed location at 89 Bussell Highway where you can sample their wonderful cooked breakfasts, snacks and coffee. Go there. Your stomach will thank you.

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It’s tempting to end with a cliché by saying that ‘all good things must come to an end’. But instead, I’ll just finish with a photograph of Gracetown as the sun dipped below the horizon.

We returned to Perth late on Monday evening after a stop-off for dinner with Elissa in Bunbury. A great end to a beautiful weekend.

harborGoodbye, Australian summer. Until we meet again.

south west rambling

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A couple of weeks ago, my husband booked a surprise trip to the tiny town of Quinninup to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. We stayed in an old raised timber cottage surrounded by karri forest on the banks of the aptly-named Karri River.

It was beautiful; the kind of place that provides an immediate sense of calm. Mismatched furniture sat proudly upon floorboards and a handmade woven rug in the tiny living room. As the sun was absorbed by inky blackness, Aaron set to work placing rough-cut logs, kindling and newspaper into an old pot belly stove. Flames became fire, fire became warmth. Perfect remedy to the encroaching south west chill.

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Despite it being springtime, the nights were cold and quiet throughout the entirety of our stay. Perfect for red wine, warm blankets and filling meals eaten fireside. We spent lazy days in the small towns of the south west, exploring vineyards, caves, abandoned logging trains and open patches of forest. It was blissful, in every sense of the word (*the cow second to the right has the best cowlick I’ve ever seen).

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rail rustThough I’m not intending this post to be another Mess Guide (like my previous Margaret River and Melbourne posts) I thought I’d include a few snapshots, links and travel tips from our stay; mostly for those who are interested in exploring more of Western Australia’s south west.

Despite dozens of trips over the years, it’s still one of my favourite places to go for a holiday. I mean that; wine country, fresh air, organic food and plenty of open space to walk, breathe, stop and… just exist. When I think of recuperation, I think of the south west. I’m blessed that it’s only three hours from my hometown.  trainbitgreendoorOn our second day in Quinninup, we took a drive to the nearby town of Pemberton. In a patch of karri forest, we discovered winding pathways, tiny creatures and hand-etched trees.

Approximately 500 metres from the road, there was also a timber hut constructed from fallen tree bark, branches and vines. It looked reasonably old, but remarkably intact. An adjacent fallen tree propped up half of the hut with its momentous stability. The whole structure conveyed a sense of history, creativity and ‘story’ that will forever be unknown to us; a sharp contrast to the growing scrawls of history on this karri tree:lovetree

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Our journey brought us to a winding unsealed road in search of organic sourdough from Yallingup Woodfired Bread. Aaron had visited this bakery during a previous trip to the south west but largely forgot where it was; after some navigational adjustments, our car pulled up beside a hand-painted concrete sign:

bakerysign

The bakery uses an honor system for payment: choose your bread and drop your pennies in an earthenware bowl. It’s trust and simplicity, country style. The way life used to be.

breadhonorbakery breadeditedThat evening, we ate bread by the fireplace, each chunk dipped into local Mount of Olives extra virgin olive oil and toasty Providore dukkah. Each mouthful was washed down with a new favourite wine from Stella Bella vineyard, the 2009 Serie Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon: deep, dark vine-ripened fruits, mellow oak and fine tannins with a lingering finish.

Snuggled under blankets, we watched three episodes of the largely unappreciated Firefly (which we’d brought from home; I’d still barrack for a continuation of this series) before drifting off to sleep. twigs

Our second day in the south west was mostly spent touring vineyards and caves, with a breakfast stop at the Margaret River Bakery (regular readers will know that I adore that place).

As the sun dropped in the sky, we stopped in at the ‘Pemby Pub’, also known as the Best Western Pemberton Hotel. We drank beer by the open fire before feasting on gnocchi, calamari, chips and coleslaw with tinned baby beetroot.

The timber furniture and emerald carpet oozed old-style country hospitality, accentuated by a request from the bar staff that we ‘chuck another log on the fire’. I loved everything, even their unidentifiable red sauce (Aaron’s guess was barbecue, mine was sweet chilli mixed with plum). Everything tastes better in the country air.

stools pubpembypub

The last two days of our trip were spent in a beach shack in Augusta where we were joined by our good friend Paul. We took a road trip to Dunsborough beach and spent an hour exploring the sand dunes, rocks and sea foam.

The south west has some of the most beautiful, unadulterated beaches in the world. No fancy cafes, water fountains or throngs of sun-baking teens. Just air, sea, sand and windswept grass with an occasional fisherman by the coastline.

sandsunset landlubbers grassscene gorgeous grassy

Our remaining time was spent seeking out boutique vineyards, jetties and cafes that Paul hadn’t tried yet. We also took advantage of our beach shack’s positioning by the Hardy Inlet, where moss covered jetties gave way to sea bird nests, tranquil lookouts and pelicans on rocks.

jetty timberrrr pelicans

With Paul’s help, we found Pierro vineyard, nestled in an idyllic patch of lush garden. The boys tasted premium Chardonnay whilst I explored an old country farmhouse, a rambling vegetable garden and knobbly vines. I’m a little obsessed with ochre, rust and crumbling aged timber.

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We also stopped in at the Berry Farm Cottage Cafe for boysenberry pie, scones and bird watching. This was my first sighting of an Western Australian blue wren. Fascinatingly delicate and vibrant.

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Our last night in the south west was spent at Russell Blaikie’s Muster Bar and Grill. We dined on snapper, eye fillet, dukkah-baked pumpkin and pork belly with two bottles of earthy Shiraz.

It was a beautiful celebration of the week-that-was; a week of little responsibility, ambrosial calm, luscious greenery, perfect simplicity. Sometimes I wonder why we city dwellers have made life so unnecessarily complicated. I’ve renewed my wish for a house in the country someday, surrounded by an organic vegetable garden, dairy cows and scratching chickens.

In the meantime, it’s back to the hamster wheel. I’m due at work in thirty minutes and I’m still in my pyjamas. Until next time.

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