My​ Notes from New England

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Lara Flanagan is a city girl turned country, someone who fights daily battles, but lives with gratitude and hope. Plant-based food creator, writer, explorer, photographer, an advocate for “slow living”, MS warrior — Lara’s story is beautiful…

Hi Lara. Please share a little of your history with us in the New England area.

I grew up on the Gold Coast and have always considered myself a city girl! I lived in Japan for 12 months when I was 20 and in the UK for five years in my late 20s.
I knew little of the New England area until an opportunity brought me to Tenterfield in 2012. I was on my own with Archie and Rissie, who were then four years old. I thought Tenterfield would be a three-month experiment, but instead, some six months later I bought a cottage – and Tenterfield became home. Those few months had turned me into a girl of New England.

What is it about Tenterfield you most love?

There are so many things that I love about Tenterfield. I love the four seasons, and that life moves a little slower. I love the sense of community. I love that you can go outside at night and see a blanket of stars. I love that every road seems to lead to somewhere beautiful. I simply love this place; it gets in your blood and becomes a part of your soul.

You have multiple strings to your bow! Firstly, tell us a little about the inspiration behind your food choices/menu creation.

I have always had such a strong relationship with food and a fantasy of a long harvest table filled with foods of all descriptions. Where I am at now has come after a series of twists and life-changing turns. At the end of 2012, when I was preparing to move into my Tenterfield cottage, I had the first of a series of serious health issues. The health issues persisted, and in early 2013, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Initially, I went down the traditional route, which is really the only option you are given in the early stages of an MS diagnosis. The medications I was put on had severe side-effects – life was a struggle.
In the winter of 2013, I stumbled across a programme called Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS). This OMS programme was developed by a doctor called George Jelinek, who himself has MS, and who had watched his mother die from MS. With the help of my family, I went to an OMS retreat in Victoria. The thing that got me most was the word “overcoming”. How could you overcome a disease that was degenerative and incurable?
The OMS programme was based on a predominantly plant-based diet, flax oil supplementation, vitamin D, exercise and meditation. I came away armed with knowledge, but it took me a while to implement. To cut a long story short; increasing ill-health, doctors who provided little or no hope and a journey into despair made me realise that my one hope was to ditch the medications and change my life. I could not accept that the way I was living was my fate.
Initially, I looked at my change in diet as a punishment, and I resented it. I had lost the dream of my harvest table and any joy I found in food. Then a chance holiday to the New England area of the USA helped me to come home with a completely different outlook. By mid-2015, I took a leap into the unknown and quit my job, went freelance, started my blog and began creating recipes that were all about joyful eating.
In 2016, another great leap saw the kids, and I travel around the world for nine months – three months in the USA, three months in Costa Rica and three months in Italy. The USA reminded me of the potential of good food, Costa Rica reminded me of the simplicity of food, and Italy was like soul food. Italy reminded me how good food, cooked with love, shared with those you love is the essence of life.
I now embrace a fully plant-based life that is filled with joyful, beautiful food, and the dream of my harvest table has returned. What was important to me then morphed into an idea that life should be a FEAST.
F is for family-friendly and fun, E is for economical, A is for attainable and achievable, S is for sexy (as in looks good on the plate!), and the most important, T is for taste.

What’s involved with your FEAST courses?

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Rebecca Everett from our Tenterfield Health Food store to do some recipe creation for her. That relationship became a friendship, and we are both passionate about food. Bec is also qualified in nutrition, so she provides a solid knowledge base.
A chance conversation one day in 2018 led to the creation of FEAST courses. Our FEAST courses are all about sharing our love of plant-based food. Our courses combine a workshop with a dining experience. That experience is not formal but rather, the chance to share a feasting table with a group of people.
I avoid using the word vegan because of many negative connotations to the word. I’m also aware that the region I love is very much sheep and cattle country. I am a vegan, but Bec is not. What our workshops are about is simply sharing our love of plant-based food in a way that is delicious, fun and filled with joy.
With FEAST courses, I have found my harvest table! What is amazing is our courses this year have been booked out six weeks in advance, with people coming from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, as well as locals. We are now working on plans for our 2020 series!

Where did your interest in photography begin?

When it comes to photography, I am very much a self-taught amateur. There have been times when life has been tough, and I developed a mantra that I needed to start the day with something beautiful to help me retain my inner Pollyanna. Photography has now become an obsession, and I love recording my morning moment of #startthedaywithsomethingbeautiful
I also (in a way) wanted the kids to have a record of our daily lives. This region is so beautiful; I love capturing every nuance of it.

What does the term “slow living” mean to you, and how do you practice this in your day to day life?

We live in such a fast-paced world, where we want everything now. I am not criticising technology, as I could not work, travel and live the way I do without it. But I do worry about our reliance on modern devices and the increasing lack of importance that is put on human communication. So, for me, despite a busy life, I try to focus on living slower. Slow living means living more with less, being grateful for what you have. Stopping and smelling the roses, going out at night and being in awe of the stars.
Animals help too; there is nothing like watching your flock of chickens interact or feeding the magpies in the morning to realise how beautiful simple things can be. I guess it is all about taking the time to appreciate things, being grateful and being appreciative of the world around you.

How have your personal challenges helped shaped your beliefs/the person you are today, and your choices?

My personal challenges have changed me completely and have certainly influenced the way I live now. With the diagnosis of MS and then in 2017, the very tragic loss of my dear friend and sister, I have realised that life is short. Life is short, but it is so precious. I have realised what we own does not matter. What matters is living well.

You have a blog, which can be accessed through your website: mynotesfromnewengland.com – what types of subjects do you generally write about?

I write about anything and everything. It could really be called a blog about a lovely life of nothing! I have shared my travels, my health challenges, my grief and heartache — challenges of a former city girl living in the country. And of course: food. Life is always about food. I think now that most of all I write about hope.

What sorts of products do you stock in your online store — and how do you source them?

I am just about to launch my online store, which I have been working on for the last six months. My store will stock a few things I love. I have sourced a range of vegan bags; I have shirts and books that are based on literary inspiration, and I have also been working on a series of small cookbooks. My bags I sourced from a supplier who works with a factory in China that had to tick all the ethical boxes for me. It has been a fascinating challenge, and I am looking forward to launching this in July.

What’s the best way to contact you/find out more about you?

Either via my blog or via Facebook or Instagram (My Notes from New England). My email details are on my blog as well!

Thanks, Lara.
Interview: Jo Robinson.

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