Slow Cooking Success

When Hervey Bay nurse and mother of three Paulene Christie started a slow cooker Facebook Group almost three years ago, she had no idea she was creating something that would change her life.

Paulene once viewed cooking as a necessary evil—something she did to feed her family. But that all changed when she got her first slow cooker.

She soon realised, as well as the more traditional dishes like soups and stews, the slow cooker was surprisingly versatile and could be used for lasagnas and desserts. Before she knew it the slow cooker had become a cherished kitchen appliance, saving her time and money.

slow cooker central Paulene Christie

Paulene started the Facebook Group Slow Cooker Recipes 4 Families in the hope of finding more slow cooker recipes. She’d visited other sites but could not find what she was looking for.

Since its launch in late 2012 the Facebook Group has grown beyond her wildest expectations. Membership currently stands at over 390,000 with members coming from all over the world.

Paulene credits the group’s success with the fact it’s 100 percent slow cooking. There are no jokes and memes. No ads and no non-cooking questions.

“Many people are already on Facebook a lot of the time—at home, at work, on transport and in waiting rooms. They see their friends sharing the recipes from our page so they visit to look for themselves. The Group numbers just keep multiplying and we currently add about 750 new members every day.”

Activity on the Facebook Group is constant, and sometimes frantic. Paulene now has a team of eight people who help monitor its activity. Members help each other, requesting advice and offering suggestions. It’s a very supportive environment and members feel comfortable sharing their failures as well as their successes.

“I love the sense of community we’ve developed,” said Paulene. “People feel at home there. Every day I see people discover or rediscover a passion for cooking and slow cooking.”

By mid 2014 the limitations of the Facebook Group became obvious and Paulene realised they needed a searchable database of recipes.

Unfortunately, with a family to support, Paulene didn’t have the money to invest in the creation of a professional website so a friend suggested she look at crowdfunding.

“I initially resisted as I didn’t think anyone would want to donate money and I worried I’d be criticised. But I was convinced to go ahead and let people decide for themselves.

“I was shocked. Within two weeks I had the $2000 I’d been quoted for the basic website. I was touched and humbled to receive such support.”

Screen shot 2015-08-28 at 11.46.08 AM

Although Paulene has invested far more in the site since its inception, she knows it would not have been possible without the support of her community. For that reason, she says, she’s committed to keeping the Slow Cooker Central website free to use.

Over 1650 recipes have now been uploaded onto the website. New recipes are added every day and the site receives over one million hits per month.

The Facebook Group continues to thrive, serving as a discussion forum—a platform Paulene intends to keep.

“A lot of people underestimate the time it takes from my life. I’m a busy mum of three children and I work shift work. I’m as time-poor as the next person. But on average I spend 6-8hrs a day working on the group or website. I’m up late at night and back online first thing the next day before I start my morning routine.”

In fact, slow cooking’s very much become a family affair in the Christie household.

“My husband Simon’s been great,” said Paulene. “Initially he’d just listen to me talk about it, but as it grew so did his interest and he’s taken on a bigger role. He’s the dedicated member-adding person for the Facebook Group and checks each request to ensure spammers and trolls are kept out of the group. He’s also become a keen recipe developer!”

Not only has Paulene’s love of slow cooking started a mini online revolution, it also means she’s now a published author.

slow-cooker-central

“ABC Books approached me in late 2014 with the idea for a Slow Cooker Central cookbook. They set up a competition for members to submit their recipes and write a brief introduction to the recipe. Those selected not only saw their name and creation in print, but they received a free copy of the recipe book.”

Publication involved a gruelling seven month process for Paulene and the editing team, but it was all worth it when the book was released in late May. It was so eagerly awaited by the slow cooking community it went straight to number one on the non-fiction best seller list and number two overall.

Paulene’s not surprised by the popularity of slow cooking, decades after crock-pots first appeared in homes around Australia.

“People love that it saves them time and money, and sometimes even helps them eat more healthily.

“At the end of the day everyone is tired and there’s the temptation to resort to takeaways—an expensive and unhealthy habit. With slow cooking, dinner is ready to simply serve.

“People who slow-cook also save money on cheaper cuts of meat and lower electricity bills.”

As for those who still think of slow cookers in terms of soups and stews dating back to the 1970s, the recipes on the website will come as a surprise.

“We’ve had big fads take over the group in waves,” said Paulene citing cola beef, fudge, slow cooked caramel and christmas cakes as recent favourites.

“I love watching to see what will inspire people next,” Paulene says of the fact play dough and finger paints have recently become a popular topic.

As for Paulene’s personal favourites; she says her popular Lamb Obsession is without a doubt her number one choice, followed by a sweet lamb curry and her husband’s creamy garlic prawns. “Breakfast quiches are almost a daily feature in my slow cooker,” she said.

Paulene’s adventures don’t look like slowing down any time soon. Before Christmas she’ll be launching a Slow Cooker Central App and revamping the website.

“We’re making a major investment in the site to include more of what our members want,” she said.

On top of that she’s already signed contracts for more Slow Cooker Central books —in June 2016 and 2017.

It’s going to be a busy time.

“Simon and I would love to be able to support ourselves and make this our full time job,” she says of her slow cooking success. “But for now we are happy working side by side doing something we love and that others seem to value. That in itself is reward enough for now.”

Note – I’ve also posted this interview at my primary blog, Debbish.

Thanks very much to Paulene for her time and I can’t wait to see how the group continues to grow! Check out the website and Facebook Group for yourself. 

Are you a fan of the slow cooker?

Local profile – Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay

As an avid reader and lover of books it’s a no-brainer that I adore bookshops. I particularly love that they’ve morphed over the years and become so much more than places you buy books. Not only can you enjoy coffee and snacks, but many create a wonderful sense of community and promote a love of reading and books to future generations.

Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay (MRHB) does exactly that. I first met owner Cate Akaveka when I attended an author event not long after she purchased the store and was impressed with her obvious love of reading and passion for sharing that with others.

MR collage

Cate and her husband moved to Hervey Bay from Sydney in 2001. Her oldest (of two boys) was a baby and they were keen to move out of the city and try a different lifestyle.

Cate bought Mary Ryan’s in August 2013 after leaving the state government. She was keen to invest in something which would keep her employed and when she found out that Mary Ryan’s was for sale she knew it was karma. Or kismet. Or similar. 😉

“I knew right away that it was the right business for me and I can’t imagine doing anything else now. I think I love pretty much everything about owning a bookstore.”

Cate really liked the staff and was very happy when they all agreed to stay on after she purchased the business.

Cate says she’s always been a passionate reader and still has a lot of books from her childhood.

“My mother said she always knew what I was reading because I would become the lead character. I guess I was Anne of Green Gables for a significant amount of my childhood!”

I follow the MRHB Facebook page and am often agog and the myriad of activities on offer.

They have a couple of book clubs—including one for teenagers—which meet monthly. There’s a French conversation group that meets one Saturday each month. And on the first Saturday of each month, there’s a get-together called Coffee, Tea, Philosophy.

It’s a group Cate started because she really wanted to have some meaningful and thought-provoking discussions about things that matter. Fortunately, a few other people felt the same way and this group has now been meeting for over 12 months. Newcomers are always welcome, so it’s something I’m pencilling into my diary!

On top of all of the regular activities I also love the author events on offer.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some great authors at the shop including Brooke Davis, Inga Simpson and Josephine Moon. My favourite author event was with William McInnes last December. People are still talking about it!”

mary ryan hervey bay

Cate says these events are her favourite part of the job.

“I like to see Mary Ryan’s as more than a retail outlet, but rather an integral part of the community. I think it works because a lot of our customers feel like family and seem to enjoy a ‘sense of belonging’ when they come in.”

MRHB’s cafe is always busy and Cate suggests the that’s because the food and service are consistent and the staff have been there for a long time. In fact Café Manager, Chris, was actually on board before the café even opened.

Cate also thinks customers enjoy the ambience… that the book / coffee combo creates a homely and welcoming feel.

The store doesn’t have a full kitchen so focuses on light lunches, cakes etc.

“Our most popular dishes are the ones that are home-made. Chris’ cheesecakes have become quite famous and we have a number of customers who phone us to hold some for them.”

Not having a set menu means the MRHB team can mix it up a little. In winter (generally May to September) the store offers home-made soups and in summer, pasta and salads.

And something I didn’t know… was that from 2-3pm on weekdays, they have a happy hour with half-price tea and coffee.

But back to books… Cate loves some quirk and names Tom Robbins as her favourite author. And her favourite genre? Literary fiction—books she describes as well written and featuring words in a way that make her want to read them over and over again. She picks Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie as the best book she’s ever read with Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North coming a close second.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for the team at MRHB will order it in for you, or they can help suggest some options. Cate laughed when I asked her about making recommendations and said they’re occasionally surprised. As much as they think they know what titles particular customers will enjoy, there are always some that come completely out of left field which (she thinks) is a good lesson in not making assumptions… or judging a book by its cover! #sorrynotsorry

food

Pop into Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay and say hi to Cate and the team. You can find them at shop 5, 15 Central Avenue, Urraween (opposite Stockland Shopping Centre). Telephone: (07) 4194 2111.  Follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date with their latest activities! 

Check out Cate’s recent interview about the closure of ABC Bookshops and any impact it may have on Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay.

Upcoming events (check FB for details):
  1 August - Chris Collin (author of the Funky Chicken)
  8 August - Tara Moss
  8 August - National Bookshop Day
 18 August - The Reading Hour
 3 September - Indigenous Literacy Day

**Pics all from MRHB FB page**

A tale of two cities

It’s a tale as old as time, said someone other than Charles Dickens about love and hate and everything in between. It’s also what comes to mind when I read letters to the editor or online comments about the Fraser Coast’s duelling siblings—Maryborough and Hervey Bay.

I’m in the unenviable position of having a foot in both camps. I grew up in Maryborough, worked there briefly after University and continue to visit my mother there to this day. However, as a child I spent weekends and holidays in Hervey Bay, which became my home after I made a seachange two and a half years ago.

Via rainbowbeachaustralia.wordpress.com

Via rainbowbeachaustralia.wordpress.com

I was working for the (then) Maryborough City Council at the time Hervey Bay first really started to outgrow Maryborough. It was the early-mid 1990s, the tide was turning and a rivalry developing between the two councils. We’d always been lumped together as a region for State and Federal Government purposes but the sleepy satellite city of Hervey Bay was suddenly on everyone’s map. I had no problem with this and worked closely with my counterpart in the Hervey Bay City Council. Opportunities to collaborate and garner economies of scale were a no-brainer.

Fast-forward twenty years and Maryborough really hasn’t grown at all. It’s far from the bustling city of my youth. Hervey Bay on the other hand, continues to grow exponentially. Unsurprisingly, services and facilities gravitate to the more populated area. That was once Maryborough. It is now Hervey Bay. And that’s the cold hard fact that many struggle to accept.

I had a conversation with a long-term Bay resident recently and they reminded me that Hervey Bay-ites once had the same issue—just in reverse. It wasn’t exactly a lightbulb moment but I was forced to remember my Urangan-based grandparents travelling to Maryborough to the supermarket, for medical appointments and to visit government offices.

hervey-bay-39058_001

Via seahavenbeachvillas.com.au

I don’t remember them whining about it and I think that’s because it was all they knew. Anyone over 35-40 can still probably recall Maryborough in its heyday. They remember when it was hub and Hervey Bay the toddler gadding about and babbling incoherently. They’re the ones who feel Maryborough’s changing fortune more than others. Younger people have no idea and struggle to believe Maryborough was once bigger and better-serviced than Hervey Bay.

Like I said, I understand where Maryborough peeps are coming from and its dying CBD devastates me, but I also understand the logic in services, facilities and shops gravitating to where the people are. And – sadly – that’s not Maryborough. It’s a vicious circle because it means people subsequently move to where the services are located.

So… is Maryborough doomed? I hope not. Perhaps things will turn around again. Who knows?

I just believe though in the meantime, rather than bicker about ‘who’ has ‘what’ we should accept reality and work together and at least try to get along.

I submitted this to the Fraser Coast Chronicle a few weeks ago (but think it's too long and a bit convoluted!).

A busy weekend in the Borough

It’s that time of year—the festivals start and the whales make their way up the coastline. And it all kicks off this weekend in Maryborough, starting with my favourite event on the Fraser Coast….

Relish Food and Wine Festival

I first went in 2013 and was pleasantly surprised by the event. My expectations were very high second time around, and although there were more food options in 2014, there didn’t seem to be as many stalls and I really struggled on the gluten-free front. My friends were delighted with what was on offer, but I asked at place after place for coeliac-friendly meals to no avail. In the end I bought a bag of organic gluten-free corn chips from someone selling salsa.

relish

Nonetheless I’m looking forward to this year’s event with a stack of new sessions available. Not only can you attend the wine or beer and food matching options (for $25), but there’s also a Wolf Blass Master Class on board the Hervey Bay Boat Club’s boat travelling on the Mary River (for $30) and a long lunch featuring some great local chefs (for $85). I did think about offering my services to live-tweet the lunch (in exchange for a sumptuous repast), but….

On the beer and wine tasting front: Wolf Blass, Vintner’s Secret, Kingsley Grove, Crane’s Wines (a fave of mine from 2013), Clovely Estate, Uncle Bob’s Estate Organic Wine and Yenda Craft Beers will be in attendance.

Of course there’ll be food on sale (and I’m crossing my fingers re GF options) as well as music, stalls and the crowd favourite—foodie talks and cooking demos.

The event stretches from Queen’s Park right around the Portside precinct to the lovely Gatakers Artspace.

Tickets are available online for $12 or at the gate for $15. The gates open at 11am with things wrapping up at 6pm. Check out the Relish site for more info, including a map.

For social media fiends, there’s a Relish Twitter account, Facebook page, and Instagram account.

The hashtag du jour seems to be #relishfrasercoast.

Horsemanship Spectacular

If horses and people riding them are more your thing, local (renowned) horseman Guy McLean will be doing his thing at Susan River Homestead on Saturday evening.

In addition to Guy, his liberty horses and some bush poetry, there’ll be refreshments for sale. Gates open at 4.30 and the show starts at 6pm, so you can pop along after Relish. For more information check out the Susan River Homestead Facebook page.

World’s Greatest PubFest

What better way to recover from overindulging in wine and beer tasting than by drinking more?! Yes indeedy, it’s time for the annual PubFest.

Most years we’re champing at the bit (hee hee, notice how I slipped that in given the above event…. #sorrynotsorry) to regain the world pubcrawl record we won at some point in the past. I haven’t heard a lot of talk about the record this year so I suspect we locals are starting to find the event a bit passe. Who knows? We do have a short attention span and get bored kinda easily.

pubfest-header-logo-2015I didn’t even know what the theme was until I looked up the website (yellow Superheroes incidentally) and… the site’s got ‘Information coming soon…’ type text still there, so….

I’ve never been and have to admit it’s not really my thing; however I know you can get PubFest passports and have access to buses to take you from pub to pub and I suspect it’s great fun if you’re part of a group.

For more info check out the World’s Greatest PubFest website.

Sunday Riverside

It’s that time of the month. Yes really! Sunday Riverside is on again at (outside) the Brolga Theatre near the Mary River. Red Betty will be playing on the River Stage and a dinosaur will be dropping by. As they’re wont to do. #gatecrashingdinosaurs

Pics from FB page

Pics from FB page

I’m ashamed that I’m yet to get to a (first Sunday of the month) Riverside event, but hoping to make it this time. There are some chairs and tables around but you may want to BYO chairs and blankets etc. Food and drinks (including the alcoholic kind! 😉 ) are available for purchase, there are kids games and activities, and entry to the event is free.

The afternoon kicks off at 3pm and check out the Facebook event page for details.

Oh… and most importantly… Monday is a public holiday for most of us so we have a heap of time to recover.

Enjoy!

Making the most of what’s on offer

Last week I submitted my first ever article for publication and amazingly the Fraser Coast Chronicle printed it. Because I am *ahem* somewhat verbose, it was much longer than required and had to be culled. A friend suggested I put the entire thing on this blog, given that it’s got a local flavour, so here we go…

My biggest fear on returning to the Fraser Coast after a couple of decades was that that I’d find the region a cultural wasteland.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly the opera-going type, I dislike most stage shows and don’t hang out at music festivals every second weekend. But Brisbane, like most large cities, always had something on offer. So even if I was happier at home watching DVDs and recovering from my working week I knew I could go to trendy markets, a local festival or catch a comedy show.

Which is why I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found on offer since returning to the Fraser Coast.

I’m not normally a ‘joiner’ but have been busier here than I was in Brisbane. In fact, in my first year back I was kept so busy I even suffered from event-going-fatigue.

IDA

Maryborough Regional Arts Council – foreign film night. May 2015

Many people I meet complain there’s nothing to do and yet when I ask them if they’re heading to Relish Festival, Paddle Out For Whales, Sunday Riverside or Flickerfest they screw up their collective noses.

“I can’t be bothered,” they might say.

Interestingly, it’s not the out-of-town shows or big names performing at the Brolga Theatre catching my attention; it’s the Council and community events I most appreciate.

While I’m more than happy to bag the Fraser Coast Regional Council when (I believe) it deserves it, I love that it’s making an effort to entertain its residents and foster a sense of community and culture. Purists and traditionalists may argue for a focus on roads, rates and rubbish but people won’t stay here if there’s nothing to do. We’re not all great at entertaining ourselves and for many—pubs, clubs and weekend sporting fixtures just don’t cut it.

The first time I attended Gatakers By Night I looked around wondering where this eclectic group of people usually hid. Even my mother who knows half of Maryborough saw a lot of different faces.

Gatakers by Night in March 2015. More popular than ever!

Gatakers by Night in March 2015. More popular than ever!

Although you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to a museum, I also recently visited the dinosaur display in the Maryborough City Hall, hoping the Friday night pop-up bar attracted other likeminded Fraser Coasters keen for something different. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t!)

I’ve started attending the foreign film nights run by the Maryborough Arts Council and will be at upcoming events like the Mary Poppins and Whale Festivals with bells on. Or at least with a vague sense of enthusiasm.

Of course not all events are free, but many are and most offer something for everyone. I don’t always appreciate the music on offer at Gatakers by Night but Iove its festive feeling and take the opportunity to have a couple of wines and visit the art gallery each month.

And although (quite frankly) I hate crowds, it’s wonderful to experience the energetic atmosphere of Relish or the Seafood Festival and celebrate with other Fraser Coasters.

Most importantly however, I’m just turning up. I’m making the effort to support what’s on—conscious we may ‘lose it, if we don’t use it’.

Although I’m a well-seasoned whinger it’s not enough to sit back and complain if you can’t be bothered making the most of what’s there. And that’s something even I need to remind myself every so often.