A Cabin and Shared Garden in Northern New South Wales
Images by Amelia Fullarton
Here at IN BED we’re fascinated by the different and evolving ways people are choosing to live. From co-housing habitats in New Zealand to living off the land in Mallorca we’re lucky to get a glimpse into the many different lifestyles of talented and creative people around the world. This week we meet Cass McCarthy, a full-time mum and university student studying food and nutrition as she prepares to embark on a lifestyle-change of her own. Cass currently lives with her partner Nick and son Finn in Billinudgel, Northern NSW but the young family will soon be relocating to Ireland to become full-time farmers and purveyors of fine food -- a long-time dream of Cass & Nick. We spoke to Cass about the home she’s made in The Northern Rivers, her business ‘First Year of Food’ and the nerves & excitement of embarking on a new journey.
“We currently live in a small cabin on our friend’s 3 acre homestead located in Northern NSW, about 20 minutes north of Byron Bay. It’s surrounded by farmland so it feels very rural, however we’re 5 minutes from the beach and only 30 minutes from the Gold Coast. It’s the perfect location. We moved here a little over 3 years ago, not long after our friends bought the property. This beautiful cabin had only ever been used as a storage shed, so after some minor renovations they turned it into a little home for my husband Nick and I to live in. Our son, Finn, was born 2 years ago (in our kitchen), and he now takes up a lot of this small space!”
“Our friends live in the main house; about 30m away on the other side of the vegetable garden. Living on a shared property like this has been such a wonderful experience, especially during the height of lockdown. It helps that we share common interests and are all pretty laid back. The layout of the property means we have lots of privacy and space, yet we enjoy each other's presence/company without it ever feeling like we live on top of each other.”
“I love that I can stand inside both upstairs and downstairs, and no matter what direction I look, I can see outside. All four walls have large windows that bring in so much natural light and provide views over the garden and surrounding farmland. It’s so nice to be able to spend time inside without feeling like you’re really inside. The same goes for our outdoor bathroom which is on the back deck. Showering with a view over the neighbouring paddocks and fruit trees kind of makes me feel like I'm on holiday. I guess the timber cladding, exposed rafters and the simplicity of the whole space also makes it feel very warm and homely. I love spending my days here.”
I love that I can stand inside both upstairs and downstairs, and no matter what direction I look, I can see outside.
“Our bedroom is upstairs and similar to downstairs, it has lots of windows. We can lie in bed and look out at the treetops, which I love. The surrounding canopy makes it feel as though we’re sleeping in a treehouse. Many windows leave little space for art to hang, but to be honest, we have very few belongings at the moment. We’ve always rented small spaces, and this one has no storage, so we live quite minimally. Everything we own is inside this home with no cupboards. All of our furniture is second hand or handmade. We’ve been planning to move overseas for quite some time, and that has meant that we have intentionally not collected many things over the years.”
“My most treasured objects are those that live in my kitchen. Because we don’t have many belongings, those objects that we do keep have to fulfil two purposes; they need to be beautiful and practical. For me they are things that I use almost daily. Old ceramic bowls that were my great grandmothers; a timber knife block and old Scottish spurtle that once belonged to our friends mother; a ceramic bread urn that was gifted to my parents for their engagement; a small grain mill that was gifted to us as a wedding present; a lamp that belonged to my parents that bring back memories of my childhood home; and two mortar and pestles, one timber and one stone, that I collected on travels around Italy and Indonesia. They all have a story and a function.”
Because we don’t have many belongings, those objects that we do keep have to fulfil two purposes; they need to be beautiful and practical.
“First Year of Food came about when Finn was almost ready to start solids. Knowing my experience cooking wholefoods and nutrition knowledge, friends in my mother’s group began asking for some guidance with what to feed their babies. I started a WhatsApp group to share recipes and ‘how-to’ videos, and that’s basically how the idea for the First Year of Food was born. While the website has information and resources on starting solids, my current aim is to teach parents how simple it can be to prepare nourishing meals for your family using everyday ingredients. I plan on sharing my favourite whole food recipes, snack ideas and kitchen hacks, which I hope anyone who cooks will find helpful. I’m a firm believer that real food should be accessible to everyone, and making staples such as ghee and sauerkraut at home costs just a fraction of the price of store bought products. Once I have finished my degree and am a qualified nutritionist I will dive deeper into the nutrition side of things and offer consultations. I’ll eventually add to my journal, which is where I will write about my passion projects and thoughts on topics close to my heart such as regenerative farming.”
“The two recipes that people share and love the most are my Pea, zucchini and feta fritters and Yoghurt flatbreads. They’re both very easy to make, and they can be made in advance so are great for meal prep.”
“My earliest food memory is watching my mum cook. I used to love it and I remember always asking her a million questions about what she was doing, usually whilst picking parsley leaves off stalks for her to chop up and freeze for pasta sauce. I can appreciate how much patience she had now that I have a son who insists on pulling over a stool to watch me cook and chat to me non-stop.”
“There are so many things that I love about this area. Besides the pristine beaches and beautiful hinterland that this region is renowned for, I love that we have access to such great food. There are so many incredible producers, artisans, farmers markets, cafes and restaurants here. We’re really spoilt for choice. My favourite spot is Bruns River at high tide. It’s magical.”
Beyond beautiful beaches, living in the Northern Rivers has also had a profound influence on Cass’s approach to cooking and after many years in the region she has picked up a range of skills that will be put to use in her upcoming sea-change.
“I moved here almost 7 years ago to begin farming full-time. Working on various organic farms, growing seasonal vegetables, working alongside chefs, and seeing and tasting the meals that they would create has taught me so much. Vegetables that are grown in soil that is full of life and that are picked at their peak really don’t require much more than a simple seasoning, maybe some fresh herbs, a little fat and acid. Produce that fresh is incredibly vibrant and flavourful. It’s living food. Having a garden and growing your own food really forces you to get creative in the kitchen and think about ways to minimise food waste. The last of my cabbages are about to come out of the garden and they will get fermented, some for sauerkraut and some whole to use for stuffed cabbage rolls. Spring has only just begun and I already have a glut of zucchinis, so I’m freezing batches of fritters, I'm braising them with herbs and lemon to have with omelettes or pasta, and I’ve already begun making pickles to give as Christmas gifts. It’s deeply satisfying.”
Having a garden and growing your own food really forces you to get creative in the kitchen and think about ways to minimise food waste.
“This is a huge year for us! We are moving to Ireland at the end of December. Nick is from County Clare and living over there has always been on the cards. The pandemic really made us rethink things and now that Finn is a little older the time has come. Most of Nick’s family still live in the same village and we are very fortunate to have access to some of their farmland. It’s been a dream of both of ours to start a small regenerative farm and artisan food business, and we are finally in a position to take the plunge. It’s exciting and nerve racking and we are probably a little crazy, but we cannot wait. I’m really looking forward to farming again now that I’m close to finishing my degree. Leaving our family, our friends, our darling Bonnie and this beautiful home behind is going to be really difficult, but we’re ready.”