This week in SBS Food’s Blog Appétit – our round up of food blogs worth bookmarking – we bring you Local is Lovely.
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8 Sep 2014 - 10:39 AM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2014 - 3:16 PM

If you asked former magazine editor Sophie Hansen nine years ago where she would be today, living in the country with a strapping deer farmer was not what she thought she’d answer. Yet a chance encounter with the owner of Mandagery Creek Venison, one of Australia’s top producers, saw Hansen fall in love, pack her bags and move to Orange, NSW, where she now lives with two kids in tow. Local is Lovely, Hansen’s charming blog, captures their life on the land with rustic recipes (think braised venison with pine mushrooms) and personal images that will make you want to pick up and move to the country too. Beyond a depiction of her family’s own idyllic existence, Hansen is a champion for local Aussie producers. Her stories of fellow farmers, complete with dishes they've shared, like Vito Mancini’s blood oranges dipped in chocolate or The Smiths’ walnut and nutmeg cake, will make this blog (and now book) one that you’ll keep coming back to.

"These recipes are a perfect reflection of this time of year and the kinds of foods we crave in our house as winter begins to ease away. Now it’s about brighter flavours, crunchier textures and lighter ingredients. We shake and wake our palates with fresh citrus in salads, like pink grapefruit with avocado (I could make and eat this every day), and maybe finish each meal with a plate of chocolate-dipped blood oranges. And because winter takes a while to fully give way to spring (here in Orange at least, snow falls in October; even November isn’t unheard of!), braises and baking are still in order at this time of year, but in a lighter fashion. I use verjuice in a beautiful venison casserole to make the whole dish sing and add creamy chestnuts for balance to the delicately flavoured meat. Still on nuts, I adore this heavily spiced walnut cake with a dollop of natural yoghurt. If you can, use Australian walnuts from the recent harvest (properly packed and stored, they’ll be beautiful and fresh) or even toasted hazelnuts."

 

I started my blog to...

"Have an outlet to share the stories, recipes and images I was collecting on our travels around farmers' markets and our region (Orange, NSW). With a background in food media, I missed being part of that world after moving to the farm almost 10 years ago, so the blog became my little way to stay connected and keep sharing stories."

 

The must-cook recipe on my website is...

"Well, of course I’m going to say venison, because that’s what we produce. I also think it’s the most tender, most beautiful meat out there. So, I’d say this recipe for barbecued venison with lentils and a cherry and red wine jus."

 

I can’t wait to go back to...

"Cooks Co-op, our friend Martin Boetz’s farm and pop-up restaurant on the Hawkesbury River, and have this entire meal over again. It’s almost a year ago to the day when we ate here and I still can’t move on!"

 

My current food obsession is...

"Blood oranges. We went to Griffith last August and bought a huge box of them straight from the orchard and they were just amazing. Now that they're back in season, I’m heading down to Griffith for another fix. All that colour and flavour, and all those vitamins are just what we need at the tail-end of a bitter Orange winter."

 

Eating...

"Polenta takes me back to my years in Piedmont, Italy. A good friend’s grandmother took me into her kitchen one day after hearing I’d only ever eaten instant before (I know, the shame...) and cooked me proper, slow polenta five different ways. She made me polenta just with butter, with ragu, with dolcelatte cheese, and fried then dusted with sugar. I know I was spoilt that day and on many occasions since in my time in Italy and just can’t seem to make polenta that’s nearly as good as Angela’s. I think it might be the pot..."

 

Nugget of cooking wisdom...

"Use seasonal ingredients, as fresh and local as possible. Don’t fuss too much. Keep it simple, have fun in the kitchen, share the prep, enjoy the meal in company and be thankful for it."

 

I learnt to cook from...

"Many people. My mother and grandmother mostly, but next up would be the women I befriended in Italy. They taught me that you don’t need to know a million different recipes. To relax and work on perfecting a few dishes for each season and build your recipe from those strong foundations. I also find the farmers' markets we attend most weekends (with our own venison) a great source of inspiration and learning; each stallholder is a wealth of recipe ideas and cooking tips because, of course, they are the experts on the produce they grow and have lying around the kitchen all the time!"

 

When I go back to my home town...

"Sydney the first thing I eat is the salt-and-pepper squid from Phamish in Darlinghurst. It’s quick, delicious and our favourite treat on a Friday night after a day in the car driving to Sydney, doing deliveries along the way, for the Saturday farmers' markets." 

 

Friends always ask me to cook my...

"Venison stroganoff."

 

The one thing I can’t cook is...

"Choux pastry. I’ve tried. Really tried. But it always ends in disaster and occasionally tears."

 

If I ever met...

"Alice Waters, I would ask her to please make me dinner."

 

I always have...

"Good pasta, tinned tomatoes, anchovies and dried beans in my pantry; venison, syrup from the fruit I always seem to be poaching (great over ice-cream or splashed into a flute of bubbles) and lots of dairy (because my family is mad about yoghurt and cheese) in my fridge; stock, ice and ice-cream in my freezer. Because we live almost 30 kilometres from town, I try to keep the pantry, fridge and freezer fairly well stocked, but often fall down with my shopping and meal planning. These are things I pretty much always manage to remember, though!"

 

My favourite biscuit to dunk in a cup of tea is...

"A chocolate-covered Digestive. Or, if I happen to have any left in the biscuit jar, a really buttery and just slightly salty shortbread biscuit."

 

My most sauce-splattered cookbook is...

"Skye Gyngell’s A Year in My Kitchen. I love all of Skye’s books; she brings flavours, colour and texture together so beautifully."

 

The most difficult food to shoot and style is...

"Meat! I find that it’s really not hard to make a pretty tart topped with berries or stone fruit look great. Or a gorgeous slice of butter cake... But you really have to work at getting a burger or steak to come across well in photos. Or at least that’s my experience!"

 

Beyond my own blog, some of my favourites reads are...

"My Name is Yeh – holy moly, that girl is talented. Local Milk – again, ridiculous amounts of talent, creativity and style make this one of my favourite food blogs. I love Orangette for the writing and recipes. Kara Rosenlund for the beautiful Australian imagery. Fox’s Lane for the gentle, inspiring approach to life and The Shady Baker for the photos, recipes and snippets from author Jane’s outback life. Le Pirate is a new favourite.

 

Top picks from Local is Lovely

1. Avocado, pink grapefruit and tamari almond salad

2. Venison braised in verjuice with chestnuts and pine mushrooms 

3. Armenian nutmeg cake

4. Blood oranges dipped in dark chocolate

 

Blog Appétit Editor Yasmin Newman

 

Blog Appétit is our curated list of go-to food blogs we love, with a focus on high-quality photography, trusted recipes, strong editorial themes and a unique voice and personality. View previous