The lovely Northern Rivers local Cass Amundsen chats to us all things farming, permaculture, home growing & cooking, motherhood and of course nourishing our little loves bodies the best we can. Cass introduces her new project, First Year Of Food. Born from her own mother’s group, Cass shares simple wholefood recipes, nutrition & cooking tips for nourishing young ones. Expect down to earth, authentic advice along with beautiful meals for the whole family from this lovely lady.
We’re big fans of your beautiful recipes and approach to organic home growing, can you tell us little about yourself, what you do and how you came to fall into this beautiful life of yours?
Thank you, I’m so happy you enjoy my content. It’s been a long, slow and pretty challenging journey getting to this point which really began back in my early twenties. I found myself beginning to question where and how the food I was eating was produced/processed and long story short, I decided to leave Sydney to pursue a career in farming, food and nutrition. I spent the next decade educating myself through various courses and getting hands-on work experience. I did everything from natural beekeeping, fermentation and cooking classes, permaculture design, volunteering on organic farms, a livestock apprenticeship and then eventually moving into full-time farm work in 2014.
I’m currently in my final year of studying a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition and during this time I have become a mother. I spend most of my days being a full-time mum, studying, gardening, developing recipes and working on my website. We live on a friend's 3 acre homestead 20 minutes north of Byron Bay, where we have a large vegetable garden, some fruit trees and layer hens.
You’re about to launch a new project called First Year Of Food, Is it really the most important year of eating?
Eating well during each life stage is crucial for varying reasons, however a baby’s first year of food is important not just due to their dramatic increase in their nutritional needs. It’s a time of exploration and learning. It’s when they are first introduced to different foods and ingredients, including allergens. Research is showing that exposing babies to diverse colours, flavours and textures from a young age encourages their acceptance of foods and may reduce picky eating down the track. Feeding also helps to develop gross and fine motor skills, while eating meals alongside your baby teaches important social, behavioural and communication skills that they’ll carry into adulthood.
Can you share with us what it offers & how it came to be?
Absolutely. I felt really relaxed and well prepared for my son to start solids, I guess due to my studies and cooking experience, however I was quick to realise that most of the women in my mothers group didn’t have the same confidence. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and as nutrition is an unregulated industry, it’s hard to know who or what to trust. They asked for some guidance so I started a WhatsApp group for sharing my recipes and ‘how-to’ videos, and that’s 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’ll be sharing my favourite whole food recipes, snack ideas and kitchen hacks, which I hope anyone who cooks will find helpful. I also believe 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 am a qualified nutritionist I will dive deeper into the nutrition side of things. My journal is where I will keep my passion projects and thoughts on topics close to my heart such as regenerative farming.
What did life look like for you before children? Was it a big change when they came along? We are always curious about who our mothers were before they became dedicated to their little people.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my life hasn’t changed all that much, besides having much less sleep and much less time for myself. This question has made me realise how boring I am these days, a far cry from my earlier years galavanting around Sydney! I’ve been living a slower paced life for many years now and I was studying full-time prior to having Finn, which meant that I didn’t have to adjust to putting a career on hold or spending so much time at home. I’m a real homebody and I always have been, which I think has made surrendering to those days when you can’t leave the house a little easier. Thankfully I still spend most of my days at home studying, gardening and cooking, although now I have a very loud little person hanging off me.
How do we help the inner city in all of us? What’s something that will help us slow down and find time to nurture our inner organic grow your own vibes so that they start to take root in our lives?
Oooh so many things! Ditch your T.V; reduce screen time; read more; begin meditating every day; spend more time outside; learn what foods are in season; buy some produce from your local farmers markets each week instead of the supermarket; sign up to a CSA; volunteer at your local community garden; befriend neighbours who may have a garden you can help with; get a worm farm and/or compost for your kitchen scraps; dig up a patch of lawn and plant some seedlings; grow your own sprouts for salads; grow herbs in a pot on your balcony or windowsill; cook at home more often; experiment in the kitchen; learn how to pickle, ferment and preserve. The list goes on!
Try not to think about it and answer straight off the top of your head… favourite 5 ingredients to cook with?
Lemon, fresh herbs, spices, olive oil, anchovies.
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, it really does feel like a leaf out of your book. What’s the emotional attachment here and why did you choose this recipe?
My pleasure! I chose this because you really can’t go wrong with bolognese. It’s the ultimate crowd pleaser and such an easy sauce to prepare. I’m all about finding ways to increase the nutrient profile of family favourites and my version is loaded with vegetables and hidden liver. This adds a boost of extra iron, which is one of the most important nutrients for infants and children (shhh, they’ll never know it’s in there). While I don’t advocate hiding vegetables in food, I’ve blended them into this sauce which is handy if you do have a picky eater at home. It’s also a fantastic meal for pregnancy and postpartum, so save this one if you ever need to cook a postpartum meal for a friend. I recommend making a double batch and freezing some - your future self will thank you!
Very Full Bolognese
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- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 leek, roughly chopped
- 1 zucchini, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 capsicum, roughly chopped
- 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 500g pasture-raised beef, lamb or pork mince
- 200g organic pastured chicken livers, chopped into a fine mince
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 bottle passata OR 2 tins BPA free crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp salt-free tomato paste
- 500ml bone broth or stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put the onion, leek, zucchini, carrot, capsicum, celery and garlic into a food processor with a splash of water and blitz into a paste.
- Heat a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the olive oil and vegetable paste. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When it begins to dry out and caramelise, add the mince. Break it up with your spoon and once it begins to get a little colour add the livers, herbs and bay leaf. Cook for another 2 minutes.
- Stir through the passata, tomato paste and broth. Lower the heat and allow it to simmer with the lid off for at least 30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and the sauce has slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve with your favourite pasta. My choice would be spelt spirals or a GF chickpea or red lentil pasta.
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Imagine the world opens up again and money is no object… where are you taking your little family to share your favourite food and the lifestyle that comes with it?
When the world opens up again we are moving to Ireland. My husband is Irish and we have access to some family farmland over there, so we are packing our bags, brollies and every winter woolly we own to start a farm. If money was no object we would still do the same thing, although it would make things much easier and remove any financial stress. A stopover in Sardinia and Norway along the way wouldn’t go astray! Some Mediterranean feasts, salt water and sunshine followed by Scandinavian food, forest walks and fresh mountain air. Just to ease our transition from the sunny Northern Rivers to County Clare. I think that would be a much welcome delight.
For you, happiness is…
Sitting around a big table surrounded with the people I love most. Eating and sharing the food that we’ve raised, grown and cooked. Lots of chat and laughter, drinks flowing, fire roaring, music playing. That for me is pure happiness.
Currently I am:
Drinking: Mayde Tea
Cooking: Slow-cooked everything
Planning: Our farm in Ireland
Listening: Uni lectures
Growing: Broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, silverbeet/chard, kales, garlic, peas, onions, herbs, lettuces
Wearing: Madre Natura pants and an old knitted jumper
Watching: Regenerative farming videos (nerd)
Reading: Uni papers. Although I just ordered Toxic by Richard Flanagan so I’ll get stuck into that soon.
Follow Cass on Instagram at @firstyearoffood and @cass_amundsen