In the studio (and kitchen) with florist Mikarla Bauer


 The afternoon Alice and I visited florist Mikarla Bauer, was golden and brisk. We came for afternoon tea and found the lovely lady in her Southern Highlands' studio, pottering about (literally) in a space that I could happily move into tomorrow and live in forever. This is where she lives and works, growing flowers and arranging them into unique and beautiful creations for all kinds of clients. It's also where she meets with 'her' brides, offering them cake and rose infused lemonade (as she did us), poured and served in vintage china in the sweet garden. Yes, this place and this lady are divine. 

I first met Mikarla at a workshop hosted by Jumbled store in Orange and was more than a bit impressed with her style, warmth and creativity. So when planning a visit to the Highlands a couple of weeks ago, I called and asked if we might be able to swing by and do a little story on her studio. She generously said yes, offered to make afternoon tea and we were set.

And because, during our visit, I was so consumed with taking photos of every corner of this beautiful space, chatting to Mikarla, gobbling up her hummingbird cake (recipe below) and generally swallowing down touch of creeping jealousy for this incredible workspace, I asked Mikarla if we could please do a little interview post visit, via email. 

So here below are this lovely local's tips on the perfect Bundanoon weekend, cooking with edible flowers and her life as one of the most in-demand florists around.

Mikarla in the studio

How did you come to be a florist?
My late grandmother Bobby was a florist and her work inspired me pursue it as my career after dabbling in fashion and interior design. My parents are avid gardeners and the beautiful blooms they have growing in the garden may it easy to start experimenting. I did an apprenticeship and have been lucky to work in some amazing flowers shops in both Sydney and Germany.

How would you describe your style and approach to your work?
Rambling and wild with little quiet patches. Fizzy and frilly flowers work best contrasted with smooth large focal flowers, so I play with that a bit. And color; I am all about punchy, crazy color combos.

Can you tell me a little bit about this space, your studio and home?
My studio is located in Bundanoon on my family's farm. Housed in what was once the dairy and milking sheds; it's built of double brick and is very cool and perfect for storing delicate flowers. Plus, it still has the original big blue barn doors that I can fling open to let light in, and an iron roof that I love to hear the rain pelting down on.

My studio is fitted with workbenches custom-made by a local builder in recycled hard wood. It was a luxury but they are the perfect height and width and I adore them. Depending on what I’m working on, and the season, I’m always changing how I style the studio. Right now it's all about hanging bunches of lemons and new spring blossom.

You mentioned that there's a field of peonies growing strong just behind your studio; is the idea of a flower 'farm' for your clients something you're working towards?
Yep the aim is to grow 50% of the flowers and foliage I use for a job. So the 500 peonies I planted two years ago should give me a good flush for my November brides. I also have Daphne, Hellebores, roses and dogwood in the garden.

Mikarla on living in Bundanoon

What do you love about Bundanoon?
Bundanoon is the most vibrant and fun little village. It has only one shopping street with all you could need, A good little butcher, a pub, a fantastic bakery that does brilliant coffee, a newsagent that knows the magazines I buy and reserves them under the counter for me and a town hall that hosts weekend growers markets and is home to the gardening club. I think I am the youngest member by
about 30 years, but it's such an inspiring and informative group. Bundanoon is fringed by national park and has a fantastic climate for gardening.

Currently I’m between our little Manly apartment and the farm. So I can cruise around Manly during the week with out the hordes of tourists then head down to the farm on a Thursday and start prepping for weekend weddings. It's a pretty good mix of city, sea and country!

If you had friends coming up for the weekend; what would be your perfect itinerary of places to eat/play and shop…
Saturday we'd kick off with a big breakfast fry up and potter around the garden. We'd pick a posy to take to the gang at Eccose, have look at whats on show and dream of how amazing the paintings will look in the cottage and then head off for a hearty ploughman's plate at the Exeter cafe. After lunch we'd amble over the road to follow and pick up a $3 second hand novel from the shop there. Winning already!

To walk off all the ham and cheese, we’d then take a slippery dusk walk down to the glow worm den. This is a deep mossy cave buzzing with glow worms and beautiful tree ferns.

After that, we’ll haul ourselves back up the hill and trot off to the Bundanoon hotel for a schnitzel as big as a bread board and some local red wine in the dining room that boasts four kinds of tartan decor and excellent people watching. Then we’ll retire to the farm and stoke the fire an a glass of red and a hot pudding

Sunday I would start with a 20 minute walk up the street to the town hall to have a poke around the farmers market, a hot coffee and almond croissant at the bakery. Then drag all the jams and fresh veg we could haul home for a Sunday lunch cook up. My ideal would be roast lamb shoulder and baked parsnips with mint sauce and salad leaves from the garden.

Your favourite local coffee place?
Bundanoon Country Bake House is great.

Your favourite local restaurant?
The local Chinese is so bad its good. If you like your pork fluro pink and your prawn chips extra salty give it a shot. Just note that you will need to drink at least 2 liters of water before bed. Or get the fellas at the butcher to sort you out and cook up a storm at home!


Mikarla in the kitchen

The beautiful cake you made us today was decorated with edible flowers - how often do flowers creep from the studio into your kitchen
I love cooking. Mid week I cook to power myself along for a very long and physical day. I particularly love porridge with stewed fruit and soups to keep me warm during the chilly Bundanoon weather. Weekends I like to experiment using my poor fiance Mitchell as a guinea pig. I baked a whole chook with a Parmesan and pistachio crust last weekend. He gobbled it down.

Spring now finally here! So what would you cook for friends to celebrate the new season's arrival, and how would you decorate the table?
Grilled leeks with labne and dukkah to start. Then we'd have crisp shaved kohlrabi, dill cucumber and borage salad and juicy steak with horseradish cream. For desert I would probably cheat and grab a pie from Montrose Berry Farm up the street. I'd decorate the table with tall branches of blossom and  green apples.

I've been told that borage is good with cucumber ... any other good flower/food combos you know of and don't mind sharing?!!
I dress salads with red pineapple sage flowers, mauve rosemary flowers and nasturtiums for colour. For desserts and iced cakes I love using violets and rose petal.

Mikarla's lumberjack cake

500g granny smith apples, peeled, grated coarsely
1 cup (200g) finely chopped dates
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup (250ml) boiling water
125g softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
1 egg
1½ cups (225g) plain flour, sifted
60g butter
½ cup (100g) brown sugar
½ cup (125ml) milk
1 cup (75g) shredded coconut

Grease and line deep 23cm square cake tin. Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan-forced. Combine apple, dates, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water in medium bowl and stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat butter, vanilla, sugar and egg together in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in apple mixture and flour. Pour into prepared tin and bake in preheated oven 40 minutes.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and heat gently until sugar dissolves and butter melts. After the cake has had 40 minutes in the oven, pour warm coconut mixture over it and spread
thinly to cover.

Return to the oven and bake a further 20 minutes or until topping is browned and crisp. Cool cake 5 minutes before turning out top-side up onto a cake rack. Allow to cool before cutting into squares; I served it with sweet Greek yogurt and violets.

The Friday List


Good morning all! Spring is about to spring and the countryside here in Orange is looking just beautiful with blossoms blooming everywhere and paddocks greening up almost before our eyes as the bitter cold gives way to milder days.

We are off to visit friends in Harden tomorrow and then to Grenfell on Sunday morning for the Breakfast Table (I'll be there to chat about my book and will be selling and signing it there too!). So if you are in that area, pop down and say hi, should be a great morning (from 8am at the Henry Lawson Oval, Grenfell). In the meantime, as always, here's a little round up of links that I loved this week. Happy reading...

The program for our annual wine festival has just been released and is full of fantastic events; including a cracker here at our farm on October 26. Here's the full program for Orange Wine Week 2014. See you there!

Love this outdoor setting and glimpse into life in San Fransisco's Sunset district

It's been a while since we threw a proper dinner party... way too long actually... so hoping this post might help get my entertaining mojo back...

Ruby grapefruit and rhubarb lemonade via My Little Fabric

Ever mistaken art for food? This is great - eating Robert Gobers bag of donuts..

Talking of food as art, these double chocolate almond butter trail cookies are indeed a thing of beauty.

Would love a big bowl of this spiced beetroot and ginger soup with coconut cream for dins tonight.

This new-to-me blog is set to become a big favourite; Liesl Made is all about cooking, sewing, knitting and growing and it's gorgeous.

The Guardian's 10 best healthy snacks. 

The ultimate coconut vanilla sundae. 

I loved this video (below) on an orange blossom harvest in Liguria. It's just beautiful and well worth the eight minutes!

Orange Blossom Harvest from FoodieTV on Vimeo.

BakeClub at the farm kitchen


A couple of weeks ago, we hosted our second BakeClub cooking class here at the farm kitchen, (the first was No Time to Bake last November) and again, it was the best of days. Bake Club's one and only Anneka Manning came to stay, teach and cook with us and we had a full house of students from all over NSW, even Victoria.

Anneka is a real food hero of mine; there's nothing she doesn't know about baking and through her brilliant business BakeClub, she is sharing it all, one class/book/blog post at a time. But for Anneka's top five pastry tips, you need look no further than this very post; she shares them right here (scroll down a touch).

The theme for this particular class was 'Winter Pies and Tarts' and did our students ever get value for money - in one morning Anneka covered puff, (sweet and savoury) shortcrust and filo pastry. We made five different tarts (recipes were taken home in goodie bags with a copy of Anneka's book and Wiltshire pie dish), then sat down for a beautiful lunch together with a range of Cargo Road Wines to match.

We made the above roasted pumpkin, tomato and oregano tart,  plus venison pies with puff pastry lids (recipe follows), chicken pie, blue cheese and leek tartlets and a rich, chocolate pecan tart to finish.

So after we'd wrapped up the cooking class, Anneka, my gorgeous friend Pip (who helps out at the farm kitchen and without whom I'd be lost up there), and I kicked everyone out into the freezing elements for 10 minutes while we reconfigured the space for lunch. Then we opened the doors up again, and set out our selection of pies and tarts with a big green salad and ate together.

Needless to say, the day wasn't entirely geared to our gluten-free friends!

Anneka Manning's top 5 tips for making great pastry

Here are my 5 Top Tips for Making Great Pastry to help you get over your pastry ’fear’. In no time you will be making beautiful homemade pastry that will really make the difference between a good pie or tart and an outstanding one!
  1. Keep your cool. Always keep everything – ingredients, utensils and hands – as cool as possible. If you have warm hands it’s a good idea to put them under cold running water for a minute before rubbing in the butter. On warm days you can chill your bench top by placing a freezer bag filled with ice cubes on it for a couple of minutes before wiping dry, dusting lightly with flour and then rolling out your pastry.
  2. Hands off. It is important to handle the pastry as little as possible when mixing and rolling. Overworking it will ‘develop’ the gluten in the flour, which can make the pastry hard to roll. Overworked pastry is also more likely shrink during cooking and to be tough in texture once cooked.
  3. Take a break. Always rest you pastry in the fridge both before rolling and before baking to help the pastry ‘relax’, and to set the butter. This, in turn, will make the pastry easier to handle when rolling, less likely to shrink during baking, and lighter in texture (less tough). Sadly though, no amount of resting can fix dough that has been overworked and handled too much.
  4. One direction. When rolling out your pastry roll it in one direction only at a time, starting near the centre, to stop it from being overstretched (which will cause it to shrink considerably when baked). Also, to help roll it evenly and stop it sticking to the bench top, use a medium pressure and turn the pastry a quarter turn after every roll.
  5. Go naked. There is no need to grease your tart or pie tin before lining it with pastry – the high butter content in the pastry will naturally stop it from sticking. I have also found that non-stick tins with a dark coating aren’t great for baking tart shells as the pastry has nothing to ’grab’ hold of when baking and will tend to slip down the sides of the tin, casing it to shrink dramatically. It is best to just stick to the traditional uncoated metal tins.

Above is Anneka's incredible chicken pie with cheat's puff pastry and honestly it was one of the yummiest and most loved up pies I've ever had. We shared the leftovers with Alice and Tom for dinner that night and it got even better with a reheating!

Below, meet Anna, who also came along to help out. She's bearing a tray of little venison pies. The filling was of shanks braised in stout and aromatics, then shredded from the bone back into the rich casserole then topped with puff pastry lids - recipe is just below. Yummo.

Venison and stout pies

These are gorgeous pies with bold flavours and tender meat beneath a golden puffy lid of pastry. for best results, make the filling well in advance then gently reheat before serving. You can also forget about the pastry and serve this as a casserole in its own right. Try with mashed potato and/or parsnip or a lovely cheesy polenta. Use either diced shoulder, shanks, osso buco or other good braising cut. Serves 6.

500g diced Mandagery Creek Venison shoulder or 1kg Mandagery Creek shanks
2 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil
1 knob unsalted butter
2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup stout or dark ale
2 cups hot veal stock
375g frozen puff pastry (thawed in the fridge)
1 egg, beaten.

Preheat oven to 140C. Dust the venison in the flour and season well. Place a large flame-proof casserole pan over medium-high heat, add a couple of glugs of olive oil and the butter and in batches, brown the venison on all sides. Set aside, reduce heat to medium-low, and add a little more olive oil. Now cook the onions and herbs, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until completely soft and golden.

Add the tomato paste, mushrooms, vinegar, stout and stock and season well. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, add the venison, cover with a lid and place in the oven for 2 hours, or until very tender*.Remove from the oven and set aside while making the pastry lids.

Increase the oven temperature to 200C. Line a large oven tray with non-stick baking paper. Roll out the thawed puff pastry until about 5mm thick and cut into rounds roughly the same size as the tops of the pie tins or ramekins you are using. Place the pastry rounds on the lined oven tray, brush with the beaten egg and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and puffed up.

To assemble the pies, divide the hot venison mixture among pie tins or ramekins. Place the pastry lids on top and serve immediately.

*If using the shanks; please increase the cooking time to 3 hours and make sure they are in one layer only. I tend to use a large, deep-sided baking tray covered with foil.

Anneka and I are hatching plans to host these classes and lunches more regularly, so if you would like to join us one day - the best way to stay up to date with the events as they are posted, is to subscribe to this blog's feed either by entering your email in the box to the left, or by following Local is Lovely on Bloglovin (such a great way to follow all your favourite blogs) and you'll be completely in the loop!

The Friday List


Happy Friday everyone! Here below are some links for weekend, baking, reading and exploring. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did. We are heading off tomorrow morning to Griffith's annual Feste Delle Salsicce and can't wait. This year I'm one of the sausage festival's judges (too funny) and so I'm under instructions to fast from now onwards so I have a fresh palate for the tastings! Will post some pics and stories next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend and happy reading!

This new-to-me blog is just one stunning post after another - check out Hortus Natural Cooking. I'm also bookmarking another new discovery Tea & Fancy. If you like bright, sweet and happy blogs; this one's for you.

Armchair travel - 24 hours in Savannah via Everyday Musings and Porto via Cereal Mag.

The Logan family make beautiful wine in nearby Mudgee, their cellar door is one of Australia's best so it figures that their family home is outrageously cool (yet warm at the same time) and beautiful. I loved this story on Hannah and little Clementine, and their newly renovated pad over on The Grace Tales  

And here's another beautiful family home; this time over in Israel. I adore that kitchen.

A summer picnic in iceland. A ginger cake from Jamaica, a rhubarb panna cotta tart from Hummingbird High and a mandarin and lemon cake that looks almost too pretty to eat. But not quite.

Confessions of a food photographer via A Beautiful Mess

Food, travel and family collide in my favourite way here in this post from Golubka Kitchen; it's all about Dovga, an Azerbaijani wedding soup (can't wait to make this recipe), plus stories about it's heritage and that of the writer, and some beautiful pictures from Russia's Sochi region, her home region. If you haven't yet discovered this blog; please set aside a bit of time and have a good old scroll because it's stunning.

A chicken and barley soup to come home for


Hello! It's nice to be back here after a couple of weeks away from blog-land. I have loads of great posts lined up for this little space, but in the meantime...wanted to quickly share the below recipe...

Tim and I have just wrapped up a brief visit to Hong Kong and it's pretty nice to be back home with the kids, on our cold, quiet and sodden farm. We were there for a trade show, as part of a NSW Dept of Trade and Investment producer delegation, and it was, I think, a success. We/Mandagery Creek Venison exposed ourselves (in a tasteful way) to some potentially significant new customers and also found ourselves sharing ideas and experiences not only with a bunch of fantastic producers, but also professionals from different nationalities and business backgrounds.

Working and living from home, from a farm, can sometimes feel a bit insular, so we count ourselves very lucky to have had this experience; essentially a big fat injection of motivation, endorsement for what it is we are doing and excitement about doing it even better.

Now back home, it's time to follow up, reflect and most important of all, catch up with Ali and Tom. Plus, because we're all feeling a bit under the weather (runny noses all round), it's soup this house needs, and lots of it. So today I made a big pot of the below. It is the culinary opposite from the dumplings, noodles, cocktails and strangely coloured teas and iced milk drinks we'd been partaking of over in Honkers. And just perfect.

Chicken, barley and vegetable soup to come home for

This is the perfect comfort food - it's easy to make (which is in itself, very comforting), really good for you (again, a comfort), easy to eat and completely delicious. Make double if you have a pot big enough; it's great for the kids' lunch thermoses and/or just to have stashed in the fridge or freezer for an emergency refuel. Serves 4-6.

1 brown onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp thyme leaves
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery, finely chopped
4 rashers of beautiful, fat double-smoked bacon, chopped into strips
400g free-range chicken thigh pieces, chopped into small-ish pieces
4 cups of chicken stock (or more depending on the consistency you're after)
1 parmesan rind (if you have one lying around in the fridge or freezer - no big deal if not - just adds some extra flavour!)
Three or four pared strips of lemon zest
1 cup pearl barley

To serve - extra parmesan, finely chopped parsely, some toasted pepitas (for crunch and goodness) and a drizzle of olive oil.

Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan on medium. Cook the onion, stirring often, for about five minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, carrot, celery and thyme and cook for another couple of minutes. Toss in the bacon, increase the heat a little and cook for a few minutes, or until it's cooked through.

Now it's time to add the chicken, increase the heat a little more and cook for two minutes or until the pieces are pretty much all sealed. Pour in the stock, add the parmesan rind, lemon zest and pearl barley. Season well, bring to the boil then reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve with extra parmesan, finely chopped parsley, pepitas and a little olive oil. Plus of course, some warm, buttered toast soliders.

Biccies and a little break


Hello from frosty Orange, I hope everyone is keeping warm and well. We are just coming to the end of a crazy week and are looking forward to a relatively quiet weekend (after tomorow's Farm Kitchen lunch!). I've also been meaning to share the recipe for the below muesli biccies for a while, but have been waylaid along the way. And speaking of being waylaid, I'm reluctantly taking a wee bloggy break over the next week or so. Tim and I are off to Hong Kong next Wednesday to attend a trade show and have loads to to before heading away. We (Mandagery Creek Venison) are going with a group of other NSW farmers to show off just how awesome our region's produce and producers are. Yay.

So I'll be back soon with some great new posts, lots more mojo and ideas for local and lovely food, people and places. And in the meantime, will be posting pics and news over on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. See you in a couple of weeks!

Muesli biscuits

These biccies are really delicious and, I like to tell myself, a fairly healthy snack. I used Brookfarm cranberry muesli which added extra yum factor. Makes about 20.

150g butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
finely grated zest of one orange
1 egg
1 2/3 cups wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups muesli

Preheat oven to 180C and line a tray with baking paper. Cream the butter, sugar and orange rind together until pale and creamy. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Fold in the flour, baking paper, cinnamon and muesli. Roll into little balls (about a teaspoon-worth) and place on the baking tray a few centimetres apart and squash down lightly with a fork. Cook for ten minutes or until lightly golden and cool on a rack.

The Friday List


Another week has flown by with big and unrealised plans to post new stories, do more reading with the kids, spend some time in my neglected garden, fold boring laundry and climb my mountain of jobs yet to do. But I did manage to find a little time to faff around on the computer and do some aimless are this week's favourites.
What should I eat for Breakfast today is my new favourite food blog. Gorgeous words, photos and recipes.

Dig this chick is a gorgeous blog set in the Montana countryside about growing, cooking and playing through the seasons.

Let's all make these fritters and never feel bad again about not eating enough greens in one day.

I didn't find any time this week to iron. But I did manage to read this fantastic piece on the importance on eating together and this essay on Noma

I think this recipe for citrus ambrosia just might be the perfect winter pud; light, refreshing, seasonal and easy. How good would this be after a main course of this slow-cooked lamb.

Can't wait for summer so I can make this peach pie

Life changing crackers via My New Roots

Armchair travel - off we trot to South Africa's Pringle Bay. Yes please. 

Have just discovered, and am loving Wild Thyme and Sweat Pea's website and approach to life. Gorgeous.

Chocolate tahini, mocha mousse with lots more stuff...wordy but delicious

Preserved lemons via the Floury Baker. I've been hanging out to make a batch this winter.
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