In My Kitchen, December 2017

I’ve been dithering around in my kitchen since returning from our long trip and am feeling totally uninspired. Where’s the menu and those kitchen fairies who clean up? Returning to an overgrown vegetable patch, and the loss of 13 chooks, courtesy of Mr Fox, has robbed me of fresh ingredients, my backyard larder and the inspiration for most of my meals. When I look back on my December posts from the last four years, I can see energy, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garlic braiding, Italian biscuits, summer fruit cakes and short breads. This year, none of those things have happened -yet. 

Making do with what’s available, I made a huge batch of dolmades using leaves from our grape vines. Blanched in boiling water for two minutes then drained, they are ready to rock and roll. Although tedious to stuff 65 little parcels, once made, they become a staple in the fridge for hot summer nights, preserved with oil and lots of lemon juice.

The berry crop is huge this year, especially the boysenberries. They make a sweet addition to home-made yoghurt, something cool and luscious for breakfast. Making the weekly yoghurt is such an easy thing. I’m finding that 1 litre of organic milk creates a firmer and tastier yoghurt than the cheaper milks. Yoghurt is added to tahini and lemon for a quick drizzling sauce for falafel, or as the basis of tzaziki, or whipped through puréed mango for lassis, or served on the side with red lentil dhal and a few stir fried greens.

Another frugal standby is Pasta e Ceci, one of my favourite soups. I ordered it twice while in Italy this year and on both occasions I was disappointed. I put this down to the use of canned chickpeas, which retain a bullet like texture when used whole in these soups, and the lack of depth in the accompanying brodo, which should have hints of rosemary, a touch of chilli and tomato and good olive oil. The old Italo- Australiane, the Italian women migrants who cooked for their families in the 1950s and 60s, brought with them the old contadine ways of  turning cheap ingredients into something deeply satisfying through slow cooking, herbs, and knowledge based on tradition. Modern Italian restaurant cooking has lost much of this old knowledge and has turned to economical shortcuts and speedy cooking. 

I have resumed bread making. Despite our local and wonderful artisan baker in St Andrews, I can turn out two large loaves for $2 and there’s no need to leave home. It’s a way of life now thanks to Celia.

Last week’s loaves. I need a new slashing tools. Everything is blunt.

And in my kitchen are these gorgeous gifts from Alberto’s family in Pavia, Italy. His grandmother edged this tablecloth and napkin set. The work is exquisite. Grazie ad Alberto, Dida, Stefania e Claudio per la vostra meravigliosa ospitalità e amicizia durante il nostro soggiorno a Pavia.

Hand crocheted edging by Alberto’s grandmother.

Two litres of Campari jumped off the duty-free shelves on my way back into the land of Oz. I developed a taste for Spritz in Como, but based on Campari, Prosecco and soda, rather than Aperol which is not so pink and a little too sweet. Summertime drinks by the pool? You bring the Prosecco.

Hand over the pick stuff.

Thanks once again Sherry for making In My Kitchen happen so smoothly each month. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more posts on the kitchen theme: you might even find the C word in some of them.

 

48 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, December 2017”

  1. Hello Francesca. Loving your napkin set. So very pretty. You are more organised than me… I started to compile a post this morning, then deleted it… opting to head out into the garden instead. Happy December to you. xx

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  2. Mother Nature finds a way of moving in when one is absent from the homestead. Havoc and destruction is usually caused, thus needing a lot of hard work and patience to restore. Still, you have managed to pull together a range of meals any Mediterranean peasant would drool over. Our tropical Brazilian cherries (Grumichama) are prolific and we’re making all sorts of chutneys, conserves and liqueurs. Mangos are being given the same treatment. My Xmas gift to myself will be an ice-cream/yoghurt maker. I know it goes against the grain of purists but everything melts rather quickly in the wet tropics. Even the frozen strawberry/mango Daiquiris have a life-span of 15 minutes. And in my senior years patience is no longer a virtue. So for you and Mr T., it’s back to returning the farm back to a food bowl once again.

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    1. Yes indeed it is. You might be short on Patinece Peter, but your food is always beautiful and delicious. Make sure you get a real icecream maker- with a mini compressor, not those cheaper ones.

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  3. Sounds beautiful. It makes me miss living in a house with a garden as I have been in an apartment now for eighteen months. I’ve started making my own bread recently, however, and is lovely filling the flat with the smell of fresh bread. Something that’s definitely well worth doing!

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  4. I can imagine your mind must be all over the place after being away for so long and becoming attuned to life in Europe. Whenever i have an unusually severe bout of scatter brain i make a list, lose it, mutter to self in unfriendly manner and repeat step one, by this time i am determined to gain the upper hand and crossing just one thing off the list feels so good – even if it is only “buy Campari”:)

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    1. I like your list priorities Jan. We once met a Swedish man in Laos. He had just retired and everyone kept asking him how he prioritised his day, with so much time. He said he made a list each day, then threw it away. The act of writing a list was enough. Then he resumed his hobby- to write poetry like Wordswoth. Since then, we have a special book- it’s called Eric’s book of lists, after this fine fellow.

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  5. One of the compensations of returning home after a lovely long holiday is familiar space and routine, also not without its challenges.
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your chooks, and eggs. I empathize with both the joys and realities… of everyday homelife.
    But you have brought some of lovely mementos of your travels home with you and melded them nicely with the comforts of home.
    I’m tuning in to the flow. C will come… and will go!

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    1. Thanks Dale, so nice to hear from you. Hope your garden is looking lush and plentiful. Your course has probably finished for the year- keen to hear your future plans. Hope to travel up your way sometime next year- shall keep you posted. xx

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  6. That’s fascinating — and sad — about the Italian restaurants loss of traditional recipes. Your broth must be just lovely. So sorry to hear you lost your chooks (and I love the chance to use a word I learned from Aussie bloggers).

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Mae, Aussies find it difficult to use the more commonly know word, hen, for their backyard chooks- it’s part of our culture and so we tend to stick to these things. Glad you got to use the word. Seasons Greetings Mae.

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  7. Welcome home, I know it is difficult to get back into the swing of things again after a long absence. And, as others have said, it is so sad about your chooks (love that word). Will you get more? That soup looks gorgeous, hope you intend to post the recipe. And what a beautiful table cloth and napkins, almost too wonderful to use…the first red wine spill would drive me crazy.

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    1. Thank you Liz, it’s nice to be home. We have begun to replace the chooks ( can’t get used to using the more widely known word, hen) and have 4 new ones to date. We ‘christianed’ the table cloth last night- no red wine but a few oily food spills, so into the soaker this morning. I love old linen and tend to collect it, but this set came with a request to be used. It’s a good shape too. I have posted that soup recipe but have since made a few adjustments so I might do a new, updated post. The old one seems to have left out salt. Best wishes for the season Liz. xx

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  8. Hi Francesca
    It’s always nice to be back in one’s own space and routine after a trip away isn’t it? Thanks heaps for joining in IMK this year; especially when you were travelling. Sad about your chooks. Hubby just turned to me and said “do they have foxes 🦊 down there?” Yes I replied. Have a wonderful Christmas break and see you in the New Year Cheers 🥂 Sherry xx

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  9. Loved following your journey, some of the places you visited brought back wonderful memories. Home renos are slowing down my silly season prep, the tradies were meant to be long gone by now. I can’t even summon the clarity of thought to write a list! Esp sorry to hear that food in Italy has got caught up in the global instant gratification trend, thank god for home cooking I say. Cheers with a campari spritz

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    1. I should have prefaced that comment re Italian food with ‘some food in Italy…’ as we did find some good food, but on the whole, it was not. We walked to Testaccio in Rome, to get away from the touristy places but even here, the ceci soup was disappointing. I have the feeling, Sandra, that we have set our standards too high and now going out to dine is not the joy it once was. At least the wine is cheap in Italy and France and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg like here in Melbourne.
      Renos always take much longer than you expect. If it’s any consolation, we have been renovating a house in Brunswick for 21 years now. It’s a running joke.

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      1. 21 years of dust and mess and tradies, no thanks. The current job, removing a wall to open up a room for light and air has been very slow, about 5 months. We are almost done, polished the floor this week, just some painting left. Eating out is Brisbane is frustrating to the point I’d much rather eat at home. I just wish for help in the kitchen. It’s a combo of dull menus, lazy cooking and crap wine lists that put me off.

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  10. Loved your posts from Italy and am glad to see you are keeping the spirit alive with Pasta e Ceci – which looks very inviting. I’ve found adjusting to being back home takes a while, but jumping back in making bread must help. Those edged table cloths look lovely – obviously lovingly made. I have a sweet tooth, so I would choose Aperol over Campari for a spritz. Campari on its own (over ice) is fantastic, though, when you need a bit of bitterness. Christmas baking can wait.

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  11. Even us transplants have adopted the word ‘chooks’ in preference to the less colourful ‘hen’. Really sorry to hear yours were taken by foxes. I wondered as you were traveling in our spring if you would miss out on planting very much of your garden. And I also wondered if your very wet week washed everything out you managed to get planted–I hope not! I do find it a bit awkward getting back to cooking after being away for a while. In my case I am so happy to be home eating things I know won’t give me undesired reactions, but still it was a couple of weeks before I hit a stride again. I suppose it is inevitable that some traditional foods succumb to shortcuts, but Gah! I didn’t think it would happen in Italia!

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    1. Most Italian cooks are foreigners and so they have learnt the restaurant recipes for a living, but not through any knowledge of Italian tradition. Not all Italian food was bad- in our three weeks there, I recall enjoying around 5 meals. We didn’t eat at tourist places ( except at Trastevere in Rome, which is one giant tourist trap).
      The rain was not so dramatic after all. We got 130 mms – nice- and it was gently spread over two days, so no damage casued to our gravel tracks or replanting. In fact, the wet encouraged trillions of self sown plants to emerge.
      I also experienced extreme discomfort in the gut in England- I found it hard to find anything edible there ( except my friend’s bread and the home cooking of another). we self catered mostly in Scotland so things were fine, foodwise. French food was delightful.

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  12. The epitome of soul food going on here. Bloody foxes………I too made some dolmades from grape pruning but ate them all, didn’t think to preserve some! Absolutely exquisite napery, how thoughtful. Welcome home, I hope it doesn’t take too long to settle back into things.

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  13. Signora, welcome back! The inspiration will come…..you aren’t the type that can stay low for long. Very sorry to hear about your chooks. My Small People would be devastated if something happened to ours (two of which have finally emerged from the nesting boxes after seven weeks of broodiness – seven weeks!). I have bought these contraptions called “Predator Eyes” which are meant to help ward them off, bought after we lost three girls a year ago. The berries look fabulous. I’ve been trying to grow mulberries from seed (my favourite) and it is a dismal failure after five attempts. You probably won’t like hearing that I’ve been madly researching and booking things for next year – fancy Puglia in July, Signora?

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  14. Always fancy Puglia, how nice, but I would avoid the months of July and August, though Puglia won’t be as busy as the north of Italy, yet it could be in August, when all the northerners and everyone else from Europe comes down for the Puglese beaches. Oh, do I sound like the holiday crintch? Sorry Signorina. You may not have the option of choosing a later month, unlike this vecchia who hates crowds. Enjoy your planning.
    I have 6 new hens, and all is back to normal. I am trying to keep the numbers down ( we had 15 chooks before). They live in a wonderful safe cage, but I guess we were away for too long and some fox learnt how to climb an 8 foot net. This has been our first loss in 8 years. Oh and you should have seen the vegetable patch when we returned- finally getting it back into production.
    Buon Natale Signorina.

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  15. Francesca, I’m just now popping in with a belated reply and a “Happy Holidays” to you ‘n’ yours. You mentioned suffering from a lack of inspiration (blog-wise) in comparison to years past —
    me, too, but I don’t have a fox in my backyard to pin it on, lol! — yet you managed to write and photograph a delightful post. Way to persevere! Loved your soup, breads, fresh berries, and dolmades preservation tips, and those table linens are indeed exquisite. Today I got two bottles of Prosecco in preparation for New Year’s Eve… I’ll bring one if you bring me some “summer”! (Winter has officially arrived…) Happy New Year! xo

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