Our little girls. This month, they both turn 10 years old with Lulu’s birthday on 16th January and Lily’s birthday is on Monday, 26th January. 10 years old which is of course, 70 years old in dog years which sounds much too old, much too soon.
Lily is obsessed with fetching balls and being with her soft toys. She always has a toy on rotation that she cuddles up to and nurses on and at the moment it is a tiger with long legs that drags between her body as she carries it around the house and into the back yard, looking for a patch of sun to lay in for the afternoon. She trots rather than strolls – always getting to her destination as fast as possible.
She is a people dog and will magically appear on your lap without any invitation. I can remember when Lily had her 2nd eye operation to avoid blindness in one eye and with a rather large cone on her head she couldn’t get around easily at all. As I lay in bed that night I heard her crying – desperate for the closeness of someone to ease her discomfort. I slept on the couch that night, holding her tight with the cone uncomfortably between us.
Lulu on the other hand is the quintessential lap dog that prefers to lounge and sleep. She is my shadow that will follow me from room to room. She will watch me leave the house through the office window and still be there at the window when I return, even hours later. She is my constant companion who meanders through the garden slowly – sniffing, licking and watching what is happening around her at a leisurely pace. She is soft and fluffy to touch, loves her ears being scratched and snores gently as she sleeps. She will also miraculously appear the moment you open the fridge or the pantry, hoping for a small morsel to tide her over until dinner.
Unfortunately, Lulu has been very unwell for the past 6 months and her presence in my life is something I’ve been thinking of for some time and I am not sure how much longer she will be with us. Her heart is enlarged and struggling to pump enough oxygen through her body and last November she collapsed after our return from Noosa. I took her to the vet that afternoon and held her close as I cried when the vet explained her health problems that were not curable but hopefully treatable. She is a bit of a time bomb that could go off at any time so I am trying to remember to cuddle and tell her how much I love her every day.
Not long after she collapsed I realised that I had been putting off getting a portrait session with our family. I have plenty of photos of my family and the dogs, but of course none with me in them so I contacted my friend, Jemma Keech, who was kind enough to fit us in. I didn’t realise at the time that the dogs would be turning 10 years old so soon after so it has turned out to be a happy coincidence to celebrate this moment in our lives.
We plan on spending our Australia Day playing fetch with Lily in the pool and giving Lulu lots of treats and sharing a peanut butter doggie cake in the afternoon to celebrate them and our little family. Happy birthday girls!
Photos by Jemma Keech
Towards the end of 2014 I wanted to do something to thank my clients. Something to say I am truly grateful for their trust but in a way that would also be a symbol of this incredibly unique time in their lives. Whether they are newlyweds from 2014 or their wedding is coming in 2015, I wanted to create a symbol of romance just for them.
My light bulb moment came when I was walking through the shopping centre and saw the most amazing coral peonies for sale. By the time I got home, I had decided I wanted to photograph them individually, as each was simply beautiful in their own way and I envisaged the end result as a limited edition signed print to send to my clients and a handful of my favourite vendors that supported me through 2014. It was such a great morning taking my time to photograph them slowly and quietly, thinking about the angles, the light and my choice of lens and settings. I set myself a limit of 2 shots per flower to make myself truly slow down and be deliberate in pressing the shutter.
I began with a Macro 100mm 2.8 lens on my Canon MK III camera body assembled on a tripod to be able to get a very small aperture (f32) to retain as much detail as possible in the flowers. After a short while I decided to try the 50mm 1.2 lens instead and found a look that I preferred at f/16, 1/4sec, ISO 200 (which all of these photographs are shot at).
Then came the time to edit. I can’t tell you how hard this was as each one spoke to me in some way and but I selected 1 of each flower and edited them in Lightroom with Totally Rad Actions Replichrome Fuji Pro 160S preset. Then I exported the JPGS and I needed to decide on which image would be “the one”. I then adjusted the levels and finishing touches with RadLab in Photoshop to get it perfect for printing.
For a while I fell in love with the flowers in black and white as you can see here. I loved the depth and texture that going monochrome gave the flowers but tried to stay true to my initial vision of a coloured print.
Ultimately I chose Peony #5 (below) and had 60 limited edition prints made by Neve Albums. The photograph was printed on Hahnemuhle 300GSM 100% cotton rag paper at 5×7″ which I then signed and mailed with a personal note. I have loved receiving emails and text messages from my clients of them showing me their new piece of artwork in their homes.
I loved the whole process of creating a piece of art and when you see the print in person it is easy to mistake it for a watercolour print rather than a photograph. I hope to do more personal projects like this through 2015 and this project certainly got my creative juices flowing.
If you follow my Instagram feed then you know that I like to cook. It’s my thing. I simply love the process of conceptualising, planning and bringing to life not just a meal but a shared experience for my family and close friends. I consider homemaking an art and I try everyday to become better at it and being able to feed my family nutritious meals that are interesting and delicious is a challenge I accept wholeheartedly as part of it. I’m not really sure where my passion came from exactly but there was a point in my early 20’s when I discovered Martha Stewart magazines, started reading cookbooks like novels and following food bloggers (fun fact: my very first blog was a vegetarian food blog!) and tried to replicate it for myself in my kitchen.
I still have cookbooks on my bedside table to read at night and I still read Martha Stewart monthly (Thank God for digital magazines!) but cooking has evolved from a daily chore to another creative outlet for me and to be honest it can be a little therapeutic. I can wind down from the day by pulling together a meal that is as delicious as it is beautiful and doesn’t take hours to do.
Just some of our meals from the last couple of months from Instagram
My style of cooking is best described as au pif which is a French expression meaning “by the nose”. Using fresh and economical ingredients I cook by touching, tasting and smelling as I go, rather than going word for word from a recipe — although the concept my have been as a result of a recipe I tried months earlier. I will try a couple of new recipes each week (usually for Sunday dinner) and if they are well received I will put a copy in my recipe box for future use. Generally though, I try not to spend more than 30-45 minutes actually cooking our main meal of the day and I don’t usually work from a recipe. Instead I choose meals that have little preparation and don’t need much attention which they cook.
The focus of summer in the kitchen is usually about keeping cool and letting people choose how much they want to eat themselves rather than loading up plates so I put everything on the table and let people choose what they want. Lately I am planning meals about 2 days in advance and my go-to meals during summer are fajitas and tacos, burgers, anything on the BBQ with an easy salad or tapas, paella and pizza (since we bought this I haven’t cooked in my oven since Christmas!) and all of these meals are made from scratch using whatever I have in the kitchen. The chips to go with the burgers are homemade and oven baked. The pizza dough and sauce is homemade. The marinates and dry rubs for BBQ meats and seafoods are homemade. It might sound labour intensive but it has been my process for at least the past 10 years where I cook with real ingredients rather than packets and it not only tastes better but its more economical. For example, the pizza sauce I make in 15 seconds costs about $1 for 8 pizzas compared to using a pre-made pasta sauce costing $4 and I know exactly what ingredients are in it. Of course there are times when I spend a little more time and money in the kitchen creating something special, but cooking for my family and friends is my way of giving them a big hug and letting them know how much they mean to me. It is my love language.
Last summer I gifted my clients one of my go to recipes for any time of the year customising our large family paella to a 2 person meal. It does get more traction in summer being a one-dish meal with little effort that looks like you took hours to make it. Placing a large paella pan in the middle of the table always gets a few oohs and aahs and it is definitely a meal to be shared on a large scale.
What is my secret to a good paella? Time. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on your favourite summer playlist and take your time to develop all the flavours. Don’t rush a paella with a high heat in the browning stages but rather go slowly and enjoy the process. I promise it makes it taste so much better. Make it a complete meal by throwing a couple of handfuls of frozen peas on the top of the paella for the last few minutes of cooking and serve with balsamic vinegar and lemon wedges. Our large Paella pan is a large 46cm non-stick version similar to this which doesn’t heat up as much as an aluminium version which may need less time on the heat.
If you’d like my recipe for Paella you can download it for free from here. Happy cooking!