Creative in the Countryside: The Shady Baker

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Image above (c) Tegan Jane Photography

Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us about yourself, where you live and how The Shady Baker came to be?

Jane:  I am a baker, vegetable grower, blogger and farmer who loves to take photos and write about food. I live on a sheep and cattle property with my husband Terry, and our two children Annabelle and George in outback New South Wales, Australia.

In 2011 I contributed some recipes to a friend’s website. From there I realised I could start blogging independently.  I began with a very basic blog called The Shady Baker.  Gradually I started connecting with like-minded bakers, mothers, vegetable growers and interesting women.  Living in a slightly isolated situation, my blog gave me an opportunity to be creative and share my life with a generous online community at any time of day or night. 

The Shady Baker has recently had a complete overhaul and nowadays is more a journal about life with the occasional recipe.   

Nicola:  Your blog is full of delicious, simple recipes.  Why is cooking fresh and wholesome food important to you, and what message do you want to share with others through your recipes?

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Jane:  Cooking fresh, wholesome and seasonal food makes sense and fits into the natural rhythm of life.  Cooking is about providing food for my family, which not only keeps bellies satisfied but gives comfort and creates lasting memories.  Living some distance from the nearest supermarket requires resourcefulness with regards to food.  Cooking thriftily with what is on hand and minimising waste is necessary, rather than just a feel-good notion.  

I have a large vegetable garden so cooking with the seasons is something that happens naturally. Our children have an amazing knowledge of growing food, without me having to teach them. 

My message is that preparing food from scratch is always healthier, cheaper and more rewarding than processed, packaged food.  With some basic skills, seasonal ingredients and a little prior planning, it really isn’t difficult.

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Nicola:  Can you tell us about the farm you live on and what a normal day is like living in the outback of Australia?

Jane:  Our family owned property is located east of Broken Hill in western NSW.  Our main business is Merino sheep and Hereford cattle. 

I am up at 6am and the day always starts with ABC radio, a pot of tea and breakfast before the children get up.  I find this quiet time in the kitchen important to plan and organise my thoughts for the day ahead.

In the early hours, I might prepare meals for the workers that help us, check my vegetable garden or feed pets.  This is always accompanied by the soothing sounds of my coffee machine warming up.

By 8.30am my youngest child and I get down to the business of distance education schooling through School of the Air.  This involves me delivering George’s lessons, which have been sent out in advance from his teacher based in Broken Hill. 

In between schooling, I deliver food to the paddock for my husband and his work crew.  I might drive around our water tanks and troughs checking for problems.  You could also find me helping out with a mob of sheep being brought into the yards.  Or attending to school administration, my garden, the fruit trees, or our sheepdogs and horses.  My days are varied and largely depend on the season and what part of the farming cycle we are in.

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My spare time is devoted to photography, writing and baking projects.  And of course family time!

Nicola: your photography is beautiful and your Instagram account is one of my favourites.  Has photography always been an interest of yours, and from where do you draw your inspiration?

Jane: My interest in photography was ignited around the time I started blogging.  Blogging has inspired me to continually improve my photos.  My husband has been very supportive and enthusiastically bought me my first DSLR camera.

I resisted joining Instagram for years because I knew it would become addictive. However I eventually weakened, and now, of course, I’m addicted!  The power of Instagram still amazes me.  It has helped me make friends, reinforce existing friendships and it has brought many work opportunities my way.  It is such a wonderful place to showcase skills, talents, and interests, in a way that is easily accessible to the wider community. 

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My inspiration comes from everything I see around me, and the beautiful light we are lucky to experience. It might be the last rays of sun falling on my vegetable garden; it might be everyday work with our livestock, or my children with their pet animals.

Nicola: I know you write for Graziher magazine.  Can you tell us a little more about how this came about?

JaneL Claire Dunne, the editor of Graziher, initially found me through Instagram.  At the same time, I was following the launch of Graziher closely through social media.  I was thrilled to be featured in a profile story for their second issue, and Claire also asked me to contribute a recipe with photos. 

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From there I have been fortunate to obtain a regular spot contributing recipes and photos for each quarterly issue.  This is a dream job as it is something I can do from our property, although I have been known to travel chasing perfect autumn leaves or spring blossom!  Working for Graziher challenges me to write achievable, reliable recipes and take engaging food photos, all while keeping within a seasonal and rural style. 

Graziher is an independently published magazine presenting stories about women who love the land.

Nicola: And lastly, we’d love for you to share why you love living off the land, and what the most fun part is?

Jane:  I love being constantly surrounded by the natural beauty of our property.  We have endless horizons, red dirt, blue skies and freedom that many people can only dream of.  Even during the driest and hottest times, when the landscape is harsh and unforgiving, I can still see the beauty in the sunrises and sunsets, and in the hardy plants and animals. Living off the land keeps us closely connected to the cycle of life, both the triumphant times as well as the heartbreaking ones.

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The most fun part for me is having the independence to live our lives and raise our children in the wide open spaces with no traffic, shopping malls or noisy neighbours. The moments spent catching yabbies, riding horses and hosting lunches in our paddocks make up for the long hours and unpredictable nature of farming.  As a family, we are part of a hardworking, resilient community who we can rely on.  I can’t imagine ever swapping our lifestyle for suburbia.

Jane Smith

Blog:                    The Shady Baker

Instagram:          @theshadybaker

Writing for:        Graziher magazine

CreativeNicola Judkins