The Good (Otways) Life by Ami Hillege

Come on baby, light my fire! Yes, you’ve guessed it. It’s winter! And we love it. There are some folks who will tell you that the long, wet, cold winters here in the Otways will make you a little glum. And for some residents this is the case. It is not unusual for a large number of locals to pack their bathers and head to warmer places; places where the colour of a cocktail umbrella is the most important decision of the day!


Then there are many of us who stay right here. There is something quite magical about the misty winter mornings and the crisp winter afternoons. Each morning when I walk into my kitchen, I do so with anticipation. ‘What will the outside world look like today?’ I do love it when the valley is hidden in a white shroud and the silence is thick and dense. This is why we love hunkering down in the cold season. It is the time of the year when we take a little breather and begin planning for the busy months ahead.


In most kitchens around the district, you’ll find cooks dipping into the preserved food supplies that they put up after the autumn harvest. All the apples that were chopped and stewed now become the heroes in pies and on morning breakfast porridge. The bottles of preserved tomato sauces now come into their own with winter pasta dishes and curries.  There is something quite satisfying in closing the loop when it comes to firstly growing, then harvesting, then preserving and finally enjoying one’s own produce.

Most weeks there is a pot of soup on the old Rayburn stove in our kitchen. Not only is the stove in the center of the house, it is the heart of the home. I love the orchestration that is required to slide pots around on the hot surface, coaxing a meal to completion simply by lighting a fire. My challenge is to use as much from my stores as possible. There are usually still some winter vegetables growing in the kitchen garden. Carrots, swedes, turnips, parsnips and silver beet are picked during the winter months. Parsley is pretty hardy if a frost doesn’t get to it. This common little herb is used liberally in my winter soups.

Travelling around the district it becomes very obvious that winter is a time for introspection. Café and restaurant fires burn invitingly and it is perfectly acceptable to slow the world down a little and enjoy a glass of red wine and a plate of locally produced food. This is when you’ll see those wonderful hearty country style broths and stews on many menus around the district. Inviting friends around for a pot luck dinner is a wonderful way to connect with one another and share a hearty meal together.

f34088_7528e6cca57049c4aab21de3e614c33fLong walks on country roads or along forest tracks are a pleasure. At this time of the year there are no flies! It does not matter if you are an adventure lover or someone who loves to curl up with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate.

Winter is a special time of the year. I’ll see you beside a fire somewhere.






(Recipe borrowed from The Food of Italy – Murdoch Books)

Here’s a perfect recipe to make use of your bottled tomato sauce that you prepared at the end of last season. The key ingredient to making deliciously soft meatballs is bread! Beef or pork can be used. And if you can use local meat, then so much better. So here goes:

Serves 4


180ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Handful of parsley, roughly chopped

A couple of tablespoons of basil and rosemary, chopped

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground

100g pine nuts roughly chopped

50g fresh breadcrumbs

250g ricotta

25g Parmesan, grated

Grated zest of 1 large lemon

1 egg

500g minced pork or beef



2 x 400g tins of tomatoes, or equivalent of your own preserved sauce

100ml red wine


  1. Heat half the oil in a flat-based pan and cook the onion and pine nuts until the onion is soft and the pine nuts are golden brown. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Set aside to cool.
  2. Put the herbs, fennel seeds, breadcrumbs, ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and egg into a bowl and add the mince. Add the cooled onion and pine nut mixture. Season with salt and black pepper and mix till combined. Leave the mixture to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Make the meatballs by rolling about 50g of mixture into a ball, then flatten slightly to make it easier to cook on both sides.
  4. Heat the remaining oil in a large pan and fry the meatballs until golden brown on both sides. Cook them in two batches to prevent overcrowding in the pan. Remove meatballs from the pan when done.
  5. Add the tomatoes and wine to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes. Gently add the meatballs back into the sauce and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for a further 10 minutes.


These saucy meatballs can be served with pasta, mashed potatoes or freshly baked bread.   There is no need to fuss with fancy serving dishes. Put the pan on the table for everyone to help themselves from.

Ami lives with her husband Frans, on a small farm in Gerangamete. Together they have taken to their ‘tree change’ lifestyle with enthusiasm. Ami growschemical free produce in her kitchen garden and creates artisan preserves fromthe produce. They keep a few chickens and a small herd of cows. Ami also volunteers her time for a couple of community groups and is a keen supporter of ‘eat local’ and ‘know where your food comes from’.



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