In My Kitchen, January 2021

It goes without saying that we are all rather pleased to see the end of 2020. As a friend Cristina, from a Un Po’ di Pepe succinctly points out, Addio 2020 is too polite a term to farewell the year from hell: she offers some fitting Italian sendoffs including the colourful Vaffanculo 2020. I’m not prepared to make any commitments or plans regarding this New Year. Should 2021 be any different? This will depend on the successful uptake of the vaccine and its availability worldwide. Meanwhile the main threat to our planet, global warming, still crouches in the other corner, ready to spring back into action with more destructive weather events around the globe. At this time last year, Australians were far more passionate about taking radical steps to deal with the urgency of global warming. If there’s one positive outcome from Covid-19, it’s the reduction in emissions as a result of minimal air and car travel during 2020. The skies are still silent, and only recently has the road traffic snarl returned to its pre- Covid level.

Looking back over the year 2020, there were more kitchen highlights in my life than usual, since I spent most of the year in that room. I came to enjoy winter at home, improved my bread shaping techniques, sourced some wonderful flour via online shopping, and shared more shopping activities with others. I discovered a reliable fishmonger who was prepared to deliver to our fringe country area. The woodstove provided a permanent source of hot water for beverages while the small baker’s oven below was used to reheat food. Because we were home for most of the year, we wasted less food. We didn’t dine out- except for a rare take away treat of fish and chips from our nearest village. It was quiet. Home life became far more rewarding (I’m excluding house cleaning from this broad statement ) and the car was rarely used. We recently installed solar panels and look forward to the benefits over the coming months. Maybe being forced to change one’s behaviour, courtesy of Covid, is one small answer to solving the climate crisis.

Looking backwards, highlights from my kitchen in December 2020 included:

Lobster for two, with a warm butter sauce infused with garlic.

For the first time in many years, Australian lobster became available to locals as the two major supermarket chains bought the annual Western Australian quota and marketed lobster for $20 a piece. They were small, and came precooked and frozen, thus sparing the need to kill the delicious beast humanely. Thanks to the ongoing trade war with China, (whose trade war it really is and why we’re having one is a long story ), the usual Chinese market for lobster suddenly disappeared. It seems rather odd to me that in ‘normal’ years, Australians are not able to buy an affordable Christmas crustacean. I remember the stories my grandparents told me about their Friday night treat, a crayfish and a bottle of beer to share. They were solidly working class with rarely a shilling to spare. Lobster, more commonly referred to as crayfish in those days, was considered working class food during the 1930s. It is now the food destined for the wealthy in Hong Kong and China. Long live the trade wars that allow Australians to eat locally caught foods.

Festive Breads

These two sourdough breads saw us through the week after Christmas and both are my favourites. I try not to make them too often. The dark rye bread teams beautifully with any smoked fish, along with dill pickles. It is also perfect for breakfast with Seville Marmalade. One of my goals for 2021 is to master the art of smoking fish. Other than wholemeal rye, the flavours include anise and fennel seeds and orange rind, with molasses providing colour and caramelisation to the crust. The other loaf is a Panmarino, a white loaf flavoured with fresh rosemary and encrusted with salt flakes. It is loaf supposedly evoking the bread of the D’Este family of Ferrara in the late 13th century. I’m still playing with this recipe, but if you’re keen to make it, the recipe is here.

Baklava instead of Christmas pudding.

I was quite happy with this baklava but felt that the inclusion of honey in the syrup tended to dominate the flavour. I added both walnuts and pistachio in the mixture. Have you ever tried to chop pistachio nuts? It’s not a job I can recommend, and even the very patient kitchen hand, Mr Tranquillo complained. This dessert lasted well for a week and I ate most of it for afternoon tea in the week following Christmas. Couch, book and baklava- I can highly recommend it. Prosecco may be added.

Vegetarian Sausage rolls

I made a huge batch of vegetarian mini sausage rolls for my daughter’s Christmas catering event. At some point in our tradition, sausage rolls crept onto the menu as a substitute for those who don’t/can’t eat the seafood starters, or for fussy kids, or committed vegetarians. These were popular with all her guests, regardless of their food preferences, so I guess they’ll stay on the menu. The recipe can be found here, though I’ve slightly adapted it since then.

Mango Fundraising time

Every year, some of the local schools organise a mango fundraiser. This year our mangoes arrived in early December, supporting the after school drama programme at Eltham High School. Some are still lolling in the fridge and will soon be pureed and frozen for a summer mango mojito.

I’m so glad that Christmas is over. January is one of our busiest months as all the garden and orchard produce lands in the kitchen in abundance. The garlic, 225 bulbs, has been stashed in the dark for the year ahead, 12 kilo of peaches have been picked to date and the zucchini are being transformed into pickles, a good summer condiment to serve with feta or cheddar cheese on busy days. Thanks once again Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for continuing with this series. It has been such a wonderful place over the years to connect with like minded people.

27 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, January 2021”

  1. Your year sounds better in retrospect than I think it did when you were writing it from the trenches. I wish you — and the world — a much better year in 2021, though I hope you still have lobster!

    be well and safe… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That lobster sounds wonderful, how awful that they usually ship it all to China. Maybe another change from the old normal, this time a good one. Your baklava looks delicious. It is an annual staple at a Christmas Eve dinner with friends (not in 2020 though). Although tasty, it’s usually so sweet that it puts my teeth on edge.

    It sounds like you have been very productive through the pandemic, and upbeat. Happy New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Liz, the upbeat side of things is always there, like yin and yang I suppose, and depends on how I feel as my fingers hit the keyboard. That lobster was little- I was lucky to get a three mouthfuls…..Happy New Year.

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  3. I am glad you enjoyed my somewhat vulgar farewell to 2020 Francesca! I am drooling over your lobster. Papa’ made it for us on Christmas Eve, but now I have to wait another year to have it again. I am also jealous of the mangoes. they make me think of warm weather. it has been raining non-stop for a week here. Now I remember why I dislike January so much. I hope La Befana is good to you tonight! Ciao, Cristina

    Liked by 2 people

    1. La Befana celebrations were cancelled in Italy this year. That lovely old witch wouldn’t wear her mask, and only had carbone in her sack, so no one missed her. It is beginning to warm up here- we’ve had a rather cool summer to date. The mangoes come down from Queensland, a state so different in climate to that of Victoria. Stay dry, stay well. Ciao Cristina.

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  4. I am always so glad to see a post from you drop into the box. The byline is always practical . . . ‘it is as it is – that makes sense to me. As I have not celebrated Christmas the way most people do for decades, its passage and the arrival of a new year always thrill . . . well, methinks we have to wait for happy thrills awhile . . . Monsters and other problems besetting us do not read calendars. at the moment do feel things will get worse another while, then madly vacillate and drive us more crazed than ever and then, possibly suddenly, fade away . . . ? Meanwhile there is home and food and garden and whatever we find dear . . . I feel lucky . . . Have so enjoyed your Instagram posts but love seeing everything together here wit a few extra words. So agree about other world problems in abeyance . . . I guess one cannot cope with the totality . . . Well, at least many of us could tweak a lobster ‘victory’ for Christmas . . . thank you for your writing and stay well whilst awaiting . . . .

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    1. I’m afraid the often used meme,’ it is what it is’ makes no sense whatever to me. To me, it implies acceptance, a kind of passive recognition that the problems are too great to deal with, or worse, a conservative stance of agreement with the perpetrators of continued global pollution and so on. Just as an analogy, one could say ‘it is what it is’ about racism, or other inequalities in the world, but one wouldn’t. I guess that’s why I continue to write about the larger issues- in my own small way, I’m making a public commitment to change, and will continue to do so. This writing comes from an early grounding in political awareness, that ‘the personal is political, and the political is personal.’
      Yes, a lobster for Christmas, there should be a song about this.
      I can recommend to you Annie Lennox’s version of Dido’s Lament, on youtube on the big screen, a most moving way to address the problem of the dire state of our globe. There will be tears. I’m so glad Annie Lennox didn’t think ‘ it is what it is’ for one second.
      Sending best wishes for the New Year Eha and stay well.

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  5. Fran – I largely agree with what you say about the meme stated but, in this instance and admittedly selfishly, I used it more from a personal viewpoint. Early in life I was taught that one always had to work out whether an ill could be logically and practically changed . . . or whether such action was impossible . . . but the most important matter was to know the difference between the two. A few decades ago I had to survive unexpected life changes I could not alter which took me from one end of the spectrum right to the other. Not one of my friends would have been surprised if I had taken ‘the easy way out’. Somehow I managed to say ‘it is as it is’, not giving in or up but not letting my health and my remaining years be wrecked by anger and subsequent health problems, physical and mental. I still survive, and often it is just that, by acknowledging that there are many things in life I cannot possibly change . . . and remain satisfied with my own morality. Oh, I very much care about the larger issues and do actually work on such in practical ways as much as I can, but . . . when I know I cannot help to change an issue, public or private, then it is as it is . . . for me at least . . . best . . .

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  6. 2020 had its compensations… even if they had upsides, downsides, and we had to work for them. Reasonably priced seafood, wine and fuel in some places and times was one. But at others, particularly over the festive season, it continues. I have already decided my wildcard Christmas 2021 food pick is your vegetarian mini sausage rolls. We have parked any 2021 plans outside our own backyard, both actual and regional, for the moment… an enduring The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock moment, it seems. Take care β™‘

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  7. Your bread looks amazing. We have solar panels for our hot water which will run our underfloor heating and heat our swimming pool. It is such a blessing so I am sure you will make good use of it. It is great to have a reliable fishmonger and so nice that they deliver. May 2021 be kind to you πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Tandy. How fabulous, to use the solar for heating the house and pool. Our house would be impossible to retrofit that way… very envious. Mr fishmonger no longer delivers now that we’re allowed out and about… but we still support him, he has the best supplies. I hope the new year is kind to you too Tandy.

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  8. The lobster looks wonderful as does all your baking… my breadmaking skills have improved too thanks to covid. I do hope 2021 is a better year for all but only time will tell. Keep well x

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A delicious post, thanks Francesca. And the sausage rolls are going on my list for next cooking day. Glad to see your yin…or is it your yang…has bounced back. Louise, cairns

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Louise, when you make that sausage roll recipe, one of the eggs (there are 3) us for the egg wash. I need to revise that detail. Yes, bouncing back, or maybe bouncing up and down?
      Stay safe…

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  10. What a super food post Francesca! How I would love to join you for that lobster, bread and baklava .. and a glass of vino too of course! πŸ™‚ Our peaches are lousy this year. Whereas our plums are loaded. Missing Bill again and his talents in the kitchen! Happy New Year to you both and hugs xx

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  11. yum to sausage rolls. thanks so much for joining in with IMK; much appreciated. your baklava looks very tasty. i always chop things like pistachios in my wee food processor – so much easier than chopping Hope you had a fab Xmas break, and are ready to get on with 2021. interesting about the quality of foodstuffs we can get while covid is on. sooo much better as they aren’t all going overseas! cheers S

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