In My Kitchen, September 2021

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.

Risotto all’onda. A springtime risotto with celery and peas. Leftovers will make arancini.
No waste in these dark times. The leftover Spring risotto above becomes some arancini with marjorum pesto two days later.

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.

Rad Na. Thai recipe full of rich gravy on fresh rice noodles and tofu.

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?

Another version, fresh rice noodle, tofu, broccoli, soya chilli paste.

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.

Carrot cake with cream cheese topping, caramelised walnuts, borage flowers.

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.

Eggplant and ricotta lasagne. No troops to eat it all, but leftovers freeze well.
Salting the limes for Indian Lime Pickle. I love this condiment but now must wait another week before cracking open a jar.
Sometimes you just need a falafel. So cheap to make, and always keep wraps in the freezer so you can pretend you’ve been to a famous Lebanese take away shop so far out of reach.
Once a week I make pies and deliver 7 down to my family in a nearby village. So far the tuna, potato, leek and dill pie is the favourite. Now that winter is over, the pie run may have to stop.

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.

22 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, September 2021”

  1. Lovely, Francesca. Your posts are like opening the lid of a box and finding all sorts of absorbing treasures inside! I love the story of the Ghillie Dhu – I think my husband is one of those, though the clothes of leaves and moss might raise a few eyebrows😁 I had a spinal fusion this time last year and he acquitted the job description of the wee Ghillie so well!

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    1. I’m pleased to hear that you have a Ghillie Dhu also Jan. I hope that all is well on your spine now, and that Ghillie is still tending to you with kindness.
      My Ghillie often brings sticks and leaves to bed with him- he is not an evening shower fairy- and spends many hours outside cutting wood or making new garden beds. His ancestors also come from the highlands and he is dark.

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  2. That eggplant and ricotta lasagne looks good Signora. Do you use pasta sheets as well or does the eggplant act as a sheet? Fried or grilled. Also love the look of those rice noodle dishes, the marito loves those flat rice noodles but I haven’t tried my hand at them yet. Love the look of the rad na, will be googling.

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    1. The fresh pasta sheets are from La Tosca, and are supposedly ready to use but are much better if dunked in boiling water briefly. The eggplant was painted with evo then baked till golden both sides. The passata was ours from last summer. The ricotta layer is mixed with two eggs and dried oregano. Then put into a large round aluminum baklava pan with 2 inch sides and baked. So nice to cut large cake wedges.
      The rad na is tasty with lots of gravy. There are plenty of veggo versions for il marito but I can send a link if interested Signorina.

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  3. I didn’t know he was a Ghillie Dhu, but he’s in the kitchen right now, fixing breakfast. It’s great to have an ID.
    All your kitchen adventures look fabulous. It’s strange how we were strictly confined to inside for a year, and then just stopped doing that, thanks to the vaccine. I think your authorities are a lot more fearful. We still have much higher illness rates though our schools and businesses are all open.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. My consort, mate, kitchen hand, lover gets a new title each week, but ghillie dhu suits him best, given his Scottish highland origins and nature, and often his work outfits.
      The problem in Australia has been the slow rollout of the vaccine, though it’s picking up speed now. Given that currently only around 45% of eligible Australians have received both doses, the government cannot ethically open up until at least 70% is reached. Not so much fearful, but sensible, moral and cautious. The constant debate centres around the economic imperative of opening up versus the ethical considerations of protecting the population from hospitalistion and death. I’m sure that’s the debate elsewhere in the world too, now that the Delta wave seems to be climbing. The other debate looks at how one measures percentages. The stats look much higher than they actually are if your starting point is age 18+. Best wishes in the coming season. It was wise of you to travel about in summer while the going was good.

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  4. So much learned from this post, Francesca! I had no idea what a Ghillie Dhu was. My husband is kind of that…I do a little fine-tuning after him, but at least he makes the effort. Eggplant lasagna in a round tin–I have never cooked it that way. And the slicing it like a pie. I have always used an oblong pan–round next time for me! Good to know about the ready-to-use pasta sheets, too. I left a bit of mine exposed during baking, and they were….very crunchy. A quick dip in a hot bath will be my go-to next time. I so enjoy our monthly visits in your kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very fortunate to have a Ghillie Dhu too. They make the best partners. I know what you mean about fine tuning… that usually means benches and storing things in the right spots. We can’t have everything.
      The lasagbe was made in a 30 cm tin with 5 cm sides. ( 12 inches by 2), a lightweight thing I found in a middle eastern shop. By dunking the sgeets in boiling water fir a minute two, they stretch more and are softer to shape into your tin, rectangular or round. The problem with fresh pasta sheets that advertise ‘ready to use’ us tgat they rely on a vast amount of saucing to create the wetness needed to soften. If you soften them first, you are then in control of your saucing.
      Thanks for your lovely comments Lois.

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  5. You have long been one of my long distance kitchen muses. We too have no good local takeaway options so I have been relying on inspiration for our lockdown food which has turned out to be one of the better things about lockdown… culinary challenges keep FOMO at bay. I also discovered at-home felafel wraps, new ways to stirfry… I now precook any proteins, steam or roast veges, combining with noodles & sauce if required at the end… it has made my efforts much more edible but I’m tempted to try velveting one day!

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  6. Reading your post made me want rice noodles (great tip for the microwave, thanks!) followed by an intense desire to decorate cake, and then make a huge lasagna… I’m just one person at home and my freezer is already full of things that I’ve saved “for another time”. Your photos are so inspirational and I love reading your text too, thanks for sharing

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  7. Ciao Francesca. First of all, where do I get one of those Ghillie Duhbs? I could really use one! You are right, September is a busy month in the garden, which is interesting, because our seasons are reversed. Your September is like my March! Love all of your dishes in the post. How do you ever have leftover risotto? I always have to make it especially for arancine. Maybe I need to make more? Sorry to hear things are still yucky in Melbourne. I hope things improve soon. Forza! Cristina

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  8. Thanks as usual, Francesca. In reply to dayleelife, covid has turned me into a cake baker, something that never entered my wildest dreams! Even though we have had few lockdowns in fnq (but we do feel for our southern cousins), during the initial long one a friend and i began cooking together every friday, and cakes were an easy first choice. My favourite…the world’s best chocolate cake (aka espresso chocolate cake), which happens to be flourless, a recipe i copied from a colleague 17 years before and had never baked till lockdown. ♥️

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  9. i also have a ghillie dhu who has been looking after me splendidly while my broken rib is healing. thanks so much for joining in IMK. this will be a short comment from me. hope lockdown ends for you soon!! Had my first jab today which hurt like heck for a couple of hours and hurt when it went in!! but at least i am on my way. I love all your photos. and i just cannot believe you have a 50 year old daughter …. wow you look fabulous!
    cheers
    sherry x

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    1. Glad to hear you have a Ghillie Dhu too. You definitely need one, hope you are on the mend. I also have a 51year old son, and a youngster, the 41 year old. Child bride. Haha. Thanks, not feeling too fabulous at present.

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  10. Hey Francesca .. how I wish I could be so organised to write up a menu for the week. Mind you, Andrew does most of the cooking 😁Your food photos look fabulous ..! Love the lasagna and the pies Yum! Seeing your arancini balls makes me realise I haven’t done these in ages .. super use of left overs right 🙂 As I have loads of limes – (my trees think they are supplying for the entire valley), I have also made Indian pickle! Might take ages to make, but so worth it! Hugs

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