There are a few months in the year when you yearn for daylight savings to begin, or cease. September is one of those months. Long before a respectable morning hour, the insistent morning light finds a way into your consciousness, and once the idea of daytime is planted, that dreaming state is over. There’s something rather demanding about this month, especially if you’re a gardener, farmer and home baker: suddenly, there’s just too much to do. I was rather enjoying my winter approach to each brand new day. I finally learnt the art of sleeping in, which has become a sweet ruse. By simply staying put long enough, the first cup of tea arrives, and if undrunk due to an extra bit of dreaming, a frothy strong coffee will follow. The bringer of drinks, my kindly Ghillie Dhub1, spends the first hour of each morning cleaning the train wreck of a kitchen. With good timing, I often arise to a clean canvas.
Since Melbourne has been in lockdown for most of this year, all sorts of trips and events have been cancelled. There’s no point in planning anything until things dramatically alter. A small shopping trip to a boring supermarket has become the welcome chance card in a Monopoly game, ‘Get out of Jail Free’. I’m really looking forward to the days when my vaccination passport allows me to go further. The Victorian countryside has never looked so appealing.
As a consequence, the kitchen repertoire has expanded to include a greater variety of dishes, since we live nowhere that offers any form of appealing take away. Food has become the highlight of the day. I’m sure this is also the case for many others in semi- permanent lockdown. I usually do a fridge edit each Monday, and write up a possible weekly menu. One welcome ingredient that only lasts a week or so in the fridge is fresh rice noodles. I’ve recently learnt a few hacks regarding their preparation. Take out the required quantity of fresh noodle from the packet, in my case, around 300 gr for two people, place them in a long lidded microwave box, and ding them for 1.5 minutes or so. Then remove and put them into a wide bowl, dressing them with a tablespoon or so of oyster sauce, or Kecap Manis, using your fingers to gently coat them. The noodles are now ready to add to your chosen recipe. In the average home kitchen, fat rice noodles don’t stand up to fierce stir- frying without breaking up, (Char Kway Tiew or Rad Na for example), so forego that smoky taste, and add these prepared noodles to a hot wok, leave them to heat and catch a little without moving them, then add the other precooked ingredients ( greens, prawns, tofu etc) then the sauce. Stir gently through. Old dog learns new tricks. Don’t you love kitchen hacks?
One of the other features of lockdown for many is the absence of celebration. Significant birthdays come and go without much fanfare but a cake can always be delivered. I made this carrot cake with the de rigueur cream cheese topping for my daughter’s 50th. Happy birthday dear reader, if you missed out on your birthday celebration this month.
Below are a few dishes that we enjoyed over the last month. I often cook too much but then, on those busy days in the garden when the thought of cooking yet another meal drives me insane, it’s nice to find something hidden in the freezer. The big lasagne made 10 serves, so there are 6 portions left. And there are always extra pies to be found, left over from my pie making days. I often try to replicate typical takeaway meals that we miss in lockdown.
Below is a collage from my Instagram page ( @francesca.morgan ). As you can see, bread and birds featured often last month. The first pic shows a beautiful mask made by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial fame. It is the most comfortable mask I’ve ever worn and the fabric goes well with this new season. Call me paranoid, but lately I’ve been wearing two masks at once when shopping, which often matches my tendency to wear two pairs of glasses at once- sunglasses on head and readers on face. It’s been a maddening month, but taking photos daily, walking in the bush and cooking goes a long way in the sanity stakes. Thanks once again to Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, who hosts this series each month. It is always a pleasure to look back on some positive experiences in the kitchen and remind myself that we are very fortunate to have so much food.
1In Scottish folklore, the Ghillie Dhu or Gille Dubh was a solitary male fairy. He was kindly and reticent yet sometimes wild in character but had a gentle devotion to children. Dark-haired and clothed in leaves and moss, he lived in a birch wood within the Gairloch and Loch a Druing area of the north-west highlands of Scotland.