In My Kitchen, December 2020

It is only in very recent weeks that we have returned to some semblance of ‘Covid Normal’ here in Melbourne. This has had a huge impact on my life in the kitchen. While the meals I prepared for two were interesting, healthy and varied over the long 8 months of no socialising, I managed to lose the desire to cook for larger groups, or provide for little gatherings at home. I’ve lost confidence in cooking: I now prefer spontaneous meals, rather than planned events. A corollary of this is that I no longer write blogs. Let’s hope this little post will be akin to dipping my big toe in cold water before diving right in.

Bulgar Mejadra, the Palestinian version of Mujadarra, which uses bulgar wheat instead of rice. I prefer this version. Recipe from Falastiin.

One thing I’ve noticed, now that I’m able to travel more than 5 kilometers from my residence, is that food shopping has become rather special: it’s louder, brighter and more tempting than previously, akin to a 3D technicolour movie experience after a life of black and white. The local supermarket supplied me with the basics during the ‘iso’ months, but I’m excited to be travelling to my preferred food outlets again. Years ago, one relied on the inner suburbs for more interesting goods, be they Middle Eastern, Indian, Italian or Greek. With the gentrification of the inner suburbs and consequent rent hikes, more interesting food supplies can now be found in developing suburbs on the fringes. Fortunately for me, this means a drive through our back hills and dales which ends up being relatively close.

Today’s pick. Zucchini and cauliflower.

My vegetable garden is booming. There’s nothing better than fresh stuff picked on the day of cooking. This year I’ve planted two types of zucchini – Romanesco are producing well at the moment and I love the more delicate flavour of this variety. Blackjack zucchini are in flower and I mainly use these for pickles and soup. Two of my late cauliflower have grown into florets- something I find more desirable than creamy heads. These stalks are really nice in stir fries or battered with besan flour. I’m planning to save the seed of this non heading variety 

I took a month off sourdough bread baking- to match my month of doing nothing much except watching Netflix. But happily I’m back into it with a vengeance, especially now that I can order from a wholesaler who supplies top organic flours. During covid, I relied on Amazon for flour deliveries, but can now travel to pick up the good stuff.

Breakfast treats from the Bakehouse, Portland Victoria. Not in my kitchen. In a motel room.

We recently enjoyed a short getaway to Western Victoria, once the metaphorical ‘Ring of Steel’ was lifted from Melbourne. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Bakehouse in Portland, where Kim bakes the most amazing sourdough goods. There are wonderful breads to choose from, but her sourdough patisserie goods are irresistable too. The range changes daily- fresh bombolini, danish, brioche, croissants and more- all light and buttery but made with a sourdough levain. The Bakehouse Portland is only open from Thursday to Sunday, and it’s best to arrive early. Her bakery is at the rear of 31 Percy Street Portland, VIC, Australia. Once inside the shop, you are transported to a classy French Patsisserie: I was surprised to learn that Kim began making sourdough only 5 years ago and learnt mostly from youtube and instagram, and not in Paris. There’s hope for us all, you just need the passion. If you’re travelling through Portland, do not miss this bakery.

Berries in my kitchen

The youngberry bush is flushing daily. I think it’s time to make jam again.

There are always a few dozen fresh eggs in my kitchen. I sell around 5 dozen each week which subsidises the cost of grain and fresh straw. My girls have a good life runnning through the orchard and hiding in the berry bushes. One strange thing that happened during lockdown was the secret expansion of the flock and the hatching of chickens. Yes we do have rather too many, but who can resist a lavender coloured Pekin Bantom with attitude?

What? is all she said.

This year’s garlic crop is curing in the shed. It takes a month or so to correctly cure garlic for long storage. The harvest is now finished, with a count of 230 garlic bulbs, enough to keep the vampires away for next year. Thanks Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this series. You can follow Sherry’s link for more worldwide in my kitchen posts.

45 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, December 2020”

  1. So, so nice to see this drop into my box a short while ago. I can well understand you not having had an urge to write but perchance now you have dipped your toe into the liquid stuff you feel like a short swim now and then . . . ‘twould be welcome ! From your top: Have always made Lebanese mujadarra . . . love bulgur, shall try ! More than a little peagreen about your just cut vegies . . . love those flowery caulis ! Have followed your bread productions with envy . . . guess I won’t get there . . . Wish I had known you were staying in Portland a few days – my friends a few kms out would have enjoyed good conversation at dinner . . . absolutely love the look of that showoff Bantam: the only friend on line who also is past counting her coloured productive flock lives in SW France . . . thank you . . . do come back . . .

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement Eha. I think a little swim now and then in the blog pool might be good therapy. I have many stories tucked away and photos galore. My chook and bird friends are fine, but the conversation tends to be a bit limited.

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  2. hi francesca
    glad your post link worked out:) Love your chickens and am very envious of your beautiful garlic. you must be feeling so free now, now that the restrictions have lifted. we were so lucky here in QLD – we only had them for a short time. the really hard restrictions i mean. take care and have a fab festive season.
    cheers
    sherry

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      1. I’m fine, thank you, but I don’t venture far from home and living in the middle of a desert without your gardening or culinary skills, well, the oppressiveness of it all can be overwhelming. Hopefully, the light in the desert of this second wave is real and the vaccine will bring us back to some level of normalcy.

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  3. Lovely post, Francesca. I do wonder about the changes to our lives that La Corona has wrought but truly you have been through worse, Francesca. Cooking and sharing food with friends and family who also love to eat, cook and share, is such a cathartic and joyous process, I hope you’ll find your joy in it again – especially when you make such beautiful bread – that’s just meant for sharing and laughter..

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    1. Yes, the bread will always be there. Mr T is happy with just bread and cheese, and maybe some sort of pickle. So maybe keeping the feasts simple might be the answer.

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  4. I’ll second Jan’s comment – lovely post, and may your joy return. Oddly, covid has done the opposite for me – i now bake where i almost never baked before, a result of weekly cooking with a nearby friend begun during local travel and gathering restrictions.
    I love the chicken caption, and am in awe of the depth of your food and produce knowledge. Ill never reach it, but i love reading about it. Louise, Cairns.

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    1. Thanks Louise. Daily life in Cairns was probably not too badly affected by covid though I imagine tourism has taken a huge blow and the fruit industry would be suffering badly, with no backpackers. Nice that you got into baking with a friend. I’m still baking heaps, but give most of it to family. It’s the planned gatherings I have trouble with: I’ve become more anxious over the last 6 months. These things creep up on you. Thanks for your continued support, it really helps.

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  5. Welcome back! I couldn’t resist rechecking over and over to see if you had written anything, though I did enjoy all the Instagram photos in the interim. Your spring return is like a Greek myth, with the dark underworld gods defeated and the fields and farms beginning to yield some good food. I hope we don’t have to wait 6 months for the awakening here, though I much fear that it will be the case.

    be well… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Mae. Yes, let’s hope this Greek myth has a happy ending and there are no tragedies lurking around the corner. I think of you often, along with other friends and family in USA, and wonder when things will improve. At least the election result brings hope.

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  6. Hello Francesca, a lovely visit to your kitchen as always. The dish (actually the whole meal!) in your first photo looks delicious. Fresh zucchinis are a beautiful thing aren’t they? Your bread is inspiring, again, as always! How comforting to have all of that garlic in storage.

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  7. I’m glad you are back to ‘normal’ down there Signora, in time for natale with the famiglia. It still is strange to me getting dressed up and leaving the house to see people or go to a gathering. The chooks were good company during lockdown :). Our garden is flourishing too, we have seven varieties of tomotoes, the zucchini and cetrioli have kicked off, and we have our first apples, plums, and passionfruit. Your cauliflower looks fabulous!!

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  8. Your good company has very much helped keep my keel even during covid. And I really enjoyed your first excursion beyond the ring of steel. It’s possible your desire to cook for larger groups is now keeping mine company in absentia. Probably not as much the case for you but more often than not I think many people I encounter like homemade food as much as anything else but don’t appreciate the amount of effort and time it takes. We had recent dinner guests who were astounded the lasagne they were eating on Sunday evening began with remembering to get the mince out of the freezer the Monday prior (was supposed to be previous Sunday but I forgot), slow cooker meat sauce on Tuesday, make Bechamel sauce and assemble & bake lasagne on Thursday so it had a couple of days to form up, and they enjoyed the supermarket garlic bread given to us just as much as the homemade they’ve had previously. But like you, I do what I do for myself and enjoy it, however scaling back foodie things has given me time to develop and enjoy other pastimes.

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    1. Yes, there’s so much planning in making real food from el scratcho. I bet they loved that slow cooked and matured lasagne. I’m planning to write up my post ring of steel journey and get back into story telling: I do really like writing and airing a few pics. Ring of steel… it makes me smile… only in Victoria could we have such a stalinist expression. 🖤🖤🖤

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  9. Bentornata Francesca! We missed you. I have only been managing 1 post a month lately, and my poor Panforte post just doesn’t seem to want to write and photograph itself. Mannaggia! Slowing down is good for us though, as this global pandemic situation is more stressful than most of us are willing to admit. Your chicken is absolutely gorgeous and so sketch worthy! If I was your neighbour I would be sneaking in with my sketchpad. Ciao, Cristina

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  10. Wow your garden is inspirational with the zucchini flowers and berries! Like many young people I had no idea about gardening till Covid hit and now I am the proud owner of 3 zucchini plants, and everyday I’m thinking about how to make them not miscarry zucchinis! Your sourdough loaves look absolutely fantastic, I’d love such an open score any day 🙂

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    1. Hi Nancy, zucchini plants are the best place to start for new gardeners as they are so rewarding. And the recipes are endless. I find gardening a source of sanity and feel quite spiritually enraptured when being a part of the growth cycle of plants. Thanks for communicating.

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  11. Francesca, your veggies look fabulous and your bread enviable. So glad things are better down your way and you’re able to get out and about a bit. I think having impromptu dinners and shopping in the food market are the things I miss the most. We still get our food via an online service and haven’t had friends over in ages. Enjoy your freedom and thanks for dipping your big toe in cold water!

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    1. Hello dear friend. I think we have twenty something chooks. Lately I’ve been breeding lavender coloured Pekin Bantams because they look like fat balls of fluff. Just unloaded a few extra rooster to a chook dealer. We called them the bonking brothers… they were handsome but at it all day. I’ve made it impossible to go away.
      Yes, zucchini time is upon us too. Always welcome at the start of the season. I guess you’ll miss Bill this year?

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  12. Francesca, I got distracted reading your comments and replies (especially that labor-of-love lasagne…) and now I have to scroll back to the top to recall what you wrote. “Brain fog?!” Back in a minute. Here we go…

    I understand your trepidation about cooking dinner for more than two — and blogging again. It feels like the world has been holding its collective breath for most of this year (if only to avoid breathing in the virus), but the toll it’s taken on creativity and confidence in the kitchen and otherwise is just starting to emerge, thanks to your honest observations. For a glimpse of “real” life in the U.S. (or at least California) I urge you to read Liz’s IMK post at Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons (just to the right of my “fish-mas tree pic” in Sherry’s lineup.) Covid has literally taken the wind out of folks’ sails in more way than one.

    What concerns me is that so many voices have been silenced, and not just death-toll-wise. Vibrant, vocal folks — including you — have been holding back inspiration and JOY from the world, which we all need desperately right now. I’m glad you dipped your big toe in! I, too, have felt less than inspired and my blog history in 2020 proves it. (“What could I possibly write about that would be of interest to anyone?”) Even cooking Thanksgiving dinner for TMOFW ‘n’ me felt stressful, despite my scaled-down menu. Here’s hoping you get your “mojo” back in 2021. I love reading your thoughts! Beautiful berries, bread, and Bantam, too! xo

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  13. First I must say that your photos could grace the cover of a food magazine, they are beautiful. I had never heard of non heading cauliflower before and can imagine how nice it would be in many recipes.

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  14. Your chickens are beautiful, lucky you with all those fresh eggs. And I quite agree with you, blogging has been moved to the back burner as I have lost interest in food and cooking. Shopping was once a great joy but not now. The Romenesco zucchini is my favorite and did well here last summer. I have never seen that variety of cauliflower, I have sprouting broccoli in the garden right now but will search out that variety. Have a good holiday, such a privilege to get out again. It’s amazing what I took for granted only a few months ago.

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    1. That leggy cauliflower happened by accident but I’m hoping the collected seed might grow true to form. I’ve seen this type of cauli in the chinese markets: ( pre covid shopping ). It is quite nice in a stir fry. They market that seed as Fioretto but it’s a hybrid.
      I hope things improve rapidly under the new regime in your country. Best wishes Liz.

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