In My Kitchen, October 2021

In hindsight, when it comes to kitchens and cooking, 2020 was the year of sourdough baking. It appears that 2021 is emerging as the year of the picnic. As we tentatively step out of lockdown, picnicking in the great outdoors has become an exciting option. The media, social or otherwise, has jumped on this bandwagon, with food sections dedicated to suitable recipes, and an article in the Guardian about famous picnic paintings. There will, no doubt, be a plethora of picnic cookbooks coming our way. A few packed sandwiches, some cheese, breadstick, purchased dips in plastic tubs and a thermos of tea, does not a picnic make, though it’s a speedy solution to lunch in the park on a road trip. A good picnic is a carefully orchestrated event, where the food excites the palate and the setting is well chosen to give pleasure per se, enticing one to loiter at the table, the fresh air enhancing the flavour of the food, or encouraging a postprandial nap on a rug under a shady tree or on comfy folding chairs. A tartan rug really does add that traditional picnic touch.

Sugarloaf dam, with some excellent walks and picnic tables

When thinking about the accoutrements for a picnic, I am reminded of a wonderful passage by Marlena de Blasi,

“always ready in the boot is a basket fitted with wine glasses, two of our most beautiful ones, plus two Bohemian cut-crystal glasses, napkins made from the unstained parts of a favourite table cloth, a box full of odd silver, a wine screw, a good bottle of red wine – always replaced immediately after consumption – a flask of grappa, a Spanish bone- handled folding knife, a pouch of sea salt, a small blue and white ceramic pepper grinder, plates of various sizes, a tiny plastic bottle of dishwashing liquid, two linen kitchen towels and paper towels”.1

Now that is organised. I would add a blanket and two comfy chairs.

A walk in a park

On our most recent picnic, the day was still and the sun shone gently. A day for hats and sunglasses, but not forcing us under cover. The event was organised by a friend to celebrate a significant birthday. The setting was perfect as only the Australian bush can be on a clement day: the stringybark gums sparkled in that grey green Australian way, like a Piers Bateman painting. The bench seats were draped in tartan rugs, the table covered with a linen cloth, linen napkins, beautiful mismatched champagne flutes, and retro brown stoneware. And there was Moët Chandon on arrival. A warm cheese and artichoke dish was served on sourdough: I had forgotten how good this classic dish is. It was followed by a zucchini tart, and an exciting composed salad. I made the birthday cake, a rather over the top concoction. As bench chairs are fine for eating but not so comfortable for loitering, we retired to our folding chairs for duration.

A picnic for the learned elders with tartan and Moet.

I plan to go on many a midweek picnic over the next few months while the weather is still mild. The maps are out, there are plenty of unexplored spots close to home- national parks, waterfalls, formal parks next to weirs, village parks with lush shade and tables. I’m thinking more about those classic picnic dishes, such as French onion and gruyere tarts and quiches. I was reminded about the tarts of Elizabeth David in the excellent recent article in The Saturday Paper by Annie Smithers of Du Fermier fame. And I also plan to improve my pastry making techniques thanks to the opening chapters of All Day Baking: Savoury, not Sweet, by Michael James, a book I acquired recently.

Making lasagna sheets

A long anticipated purchase, the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, finally arrived last week. The item took exactly 32 days to arrive. Following its journey on the Australian Post app, the parcel travelled from Sydney to a sorting centre in Western Australia then back to Melbourne, an unnecessary journey of around 8000 kms. I know things are slow at Australia Post at present but this one wins the prize. Despite this, I love this gadget and will be using it often.

Fresh Tagliatelle, butter, crispy sage leaves

Further cooking episodes in my kitchen included the weekly Indian night, in this case a Palak Paneer. The paneer came via the supermarket and is definitely not in the same street as the homemade version. One hack I have since discovered is to soak prepackaged paneer in hot water for twenty minutes before using it. It becomes softer and less rubbery. The home made lime pickle was opened for the occasion. It is the perfect accompaniment.

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Indian night with palak paneer and lime pickle.

I was keen to make some spanakopita rolls which required some good firm ricotta. My son graciously found me a tub, which contained 1.5 kilos!! Once opened, ricotta has a very small cooking window before it goes off. Consequently we had ricotta in everything last week. The cake below included 400 g of ricotta, almond meal, lemons, and 6 eggs as well as sugar. Nice, but incredibly filling.

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Another 450g of ricotta went into these lovely warm savoury ricotta patties. They were a success and the recipe will be handy over summer when staring down the basket of leftover ricotta. Served with leftover marinated peppers and capers.

Blistering a bunch of red peppers, peeling then marinating them in olive oil, garlic, pink salt and herbs is something I often do for handy lunches.

And now, getting back to picnics, you are invited to Manet’s picnic in the park, Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, painted in 1862-3, an intriguing painting. That nude woman is looking right at you, she’s caught your eye, she knows what you’re thinking which is just as well, because the two over dressed dandies look like they’ve drunk the contents of that bottle: one chap has rather glazed eyes while the other gesticulates madly- he’s probably a real bore. Maybe the oversized woman in the creek will leap out and splash them with a bit of luck. And as for that picnic food, not much effort went into it.

Monet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe sparked uproar when it was shown at the Salon des Refuses in 1861

Happy picnicking dear reader.

Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s pickings, for managing to host this group, despite not feeling well of late. Brava Sherry.

  1. p 249. Tuscan Secrets, A bittersweet adventure. Marlena de Blasi, 2004
  2. I provided a link to The Saturday Paper but understand that access is based on subscription. This, along with its daily Post, and the Monthly, is worth every cent. In these strange times, you are what you read.

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.

In My Kitchen, August 2021

It’s challenging to write about my kitchen exploits without resorting to the L word. L is for lockdown, of course, and Melbourne has had it’s fair share, with 234 days since the pandemic began, but who’s counting. One of the crazy things that happens when we come out of lockdown is the excitement of shopping for food in a venue of one’s choice, which for me simply means anywhere but the local Coles supermarket. It’s like panic buying in reverse. The post -lockdown shopping list is always a huge one. My haul just after Lockdown 4 lasted very well and took me through to Lockdown 5, thanks to the spare fridge running in the laundry. My solar power app indicates that my fridges hardly make a dent on my power consumption. Unlike that wonderful cultural habit seen in parts of Asia and the Mediterranean where shopping for perishables takes place on a daily basis, lockdown style shopping is the antithesis.

Braised peppers, Turkish bulgar pilaf.

I know that my food preferences have radically altered since 2020, the year when life changed for everyone. We eat more simply than ever, waste less, and write a weekly menu which we follow unless I get side tracked. I rarely eat out these days, but when doing a big post lockdown shop, I always buy the same treats for lunch- a big fat samosa or a freshly made gozleme.

Over the last two months, we’ve probably eaten more Asian than Italian food and I’ve developed a real fondness for cooking in a Vietnamese claypot.

Claypot cooking- Vietnamese style fish in caramel sauce and fresh herbs

I’ve also discovered an excellent fish sauce, Nước Mắm Nhĩ 3 crabs fish sauce which has more depth of flavour than the cheaper brands. The search for a better quality fish sauce began after I read ‘New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table ‘ by Mai Pham, 2007. There is a traditional saying about fish sauce, ‘without good fish sauce, the father’s daughter will not shine‘. Mai Pham says she has always been struck by this saying.

On one level, it points to the Vietnamese view of the universe and how everything is seen from the family’s perspective. The implied pronoun- in this case ‘she’- is replaced with the ‘father’s daughter’. On another level, it suggests that without good fish sauce, the quintessential sauce of Vietnamese cuisine, food can never taste good, no matter how talented the cook. “

I know, dear reader, that, like me, you’re probably thinking that the daughter’s skill as a cook would make her more marriageable, and that her role in the traditional family was defined by this. Nevertheless, this particular fish sauce is good, and you only need to use a few drops to transform all sorts of dishes that require a little salt. It makes a wonderful nuoc cham dipping sauce, but I also add a few drops to an Italian style pasta with prawns. But please don’t tell the Italians. Non autentico ma buono!

Spaghetti with Tasmanian tiger prawns.

Another very tasty addition to this spaghetti prawn dish is prawn oil. This is a trick I learnt from Adam Liaw’s ‘The Cook Up’ on SBS. After de-heading and shelling your prawns, gather the heads and shells, fire up a wok with a little oil, and toss the heads around until bright red, then slowly add more oil. The addition of a little tomato paste adds to the colour of the oil. Once made, drain the brightly coloured oil into a jug or jar, then start cooking your garlic and prawns in some of this oil, which will coat the strands of spaghetti with a umami loaded pink gloss.

In My Kitchen, Vietnamese noodles and Chinese condiments.

Above are some of the ingredients that add excitement to my non supermarket shopping. I tend to use the rice noodles in Char Kway Teuw, my favourite Malaysian dish, or in Thai Drunken noodles or Pad See Ew. The Sichuan Chilli Douban sauce is reserved for that Sichuan classic, Fish Fragrant Eggplant, while the little jar of XO mushroom sauce is a wonderful base for any claypot concoctions such as mushroom and tofu.

Indian lunches are always welcome on a freezing day. I prefer a main meal for lunch, with a simple soup for dinner rather than vice versa. This is one of the changes that came about since lockdown- big lunch, small dinner. The main dish here is Moong Dal with spinach, accompanied by lemon rice, and a left over Muttar Paneer from the previous day. Did you know that dal means ‘split’ in Hindi? And Moong/mung means yellow, though whole Mung beans are green. As a general rule, dried split beans don’t need soaking while whole beans do.

Eating with the eye is a rather important idea, especially when serving a simple cheap meal such as pea soup. These large yellow dried split peas, unlike the tiny yellow moong dal, definitely need pre -soaking. This is a vegetarian version of that classic pea soup I grew up with, which was loaded with salty ham bones or hocks. In this version, the flavour comes from the vegetables, ( onion, parsnip, celery, carrot, swede, turnip and parsley) the salt from a small rind of parmesan, the latter added after pureeing and re-warming. The extras on top add more flavour and texture- garlic sourdough croutons and fresh marjoram leaves.

Above is my cake of the year, one that will be repeated often. The mandarin almond syrup cake recipe can be found here. Almond meal is on the list for my next mass shopping event. The mandarins are fattening up in the orchard.

During one of those treasured spaces between lockdowns 4 and 5, we headed into the city with Daisy and visited every Korean and Japanese shop in Melbourne’s CBD. She was keen to eat at a Sushi Train restaurant, one of the highlights of the day, after spending her hard earned pocket money at the expensive KPop store. This is my little non- kitchen addition to this month’s post, though it is food related. My message to all – enjoy these moments of freedom, the breathing spaces outside of lockdown, which is how we measure time now. Do something special, especially with the little ones who’ve had their world turned upside down.

Thanks once again Sherry, for hosting In My Kitchen. It’s always a pleasure to put together these kitchen posts together each month.

In My Kitchen, June 2021

Here we go again, lockdown number 4 in Melbourne. From whence it came and who’s to blame? That’s the name of the game, again! I can vividly recall the range of emotions and behaviours that accompanied each previous lockdown. During lockdown number one and two, I settled into a new set of routines that were pragmatic and budget centred. We stocked up on beans, pulses and grains, not toilet paper, and got on with the business of surviving safely. We walked more for exercise, and I cooked more for others- soups, pizzas and bread to send to adult children and grandchildren down the road. They often shopped for me: the care went both ways. It was a time of sharing and there was a sense of generosity and reciprocity in the community. And for many, pride in our State leader, along with a sense of common struggle. We would stay safe, we would stay at home and we would get vaccinated once it became available.

This time around, I’m struggling to conjure up the same emotions. This time I’m fearful and angry. Angry at the lies that are told by the fat rogue at the top, our own Trumpian shouting clown, and annoyed at vaccine hesitancy in members of our community, though things are slowly improving on this score. It goes without saying that if more people were vaccinated ( fully) the virus could not shut down a whole community. This time there’s no financial support for our workers, epecially those in casual employment, though some is offered to businesses by our State. And this time, many children, back at home without their school mates and caring teachers, are more anxious. This virus strain is more virulent. I’m still very focussed on life in my kitchen- that one room, along with my garden, is my sanity saviour in the end. 

Every June, my pantry stash of garlic starts sprouting green shoots. In order to extend the supplies to November, when the first harvest of new garlic appears, I’ve resorted to freezing it in handy batches. One of the hacks I found involves peeling and roughly chopping the garlic in a food processor, then popping teaspoons full into mini patty pans, covering with a little olive oil, then freezing them inside a muffin tin. Once frozen, they are removed and placed into zip lock bags and stored in the freezer. Pull out a little round or two and throw into the pan. The only annoying part of this hack is peeling the garlic.

One of the things I never managed to do during lockdowns 1 to 3, was to sort out my lovely collection of serving ware into categories. It was satisfying to put the Asian bits and pieces together so that my Doutsa, as I like to call him, ( kitchen hand in Sichuan) can find them. There are old Vietnamese fish patterned bowls, Chinese oval serving platters, Chinese rice bowls and many delicate little Japanese saucers. All rather out of date but timeless, collected second hand along the way.

The bread making continues. On a Winter’s day, a north facing window is a baker’s best friend. Sunbaking below we have a 500 gr bowl of pizza dough, a large bowl of sourdough wholegrain dough and a starter sharing the ledge with a sleepng Buddha. It does get rather hot, so they are moved once they’ve started to rise.

On occasion I’m left with a spare sourdough loaf, due to a stuff up in pick up or drop off, which is annoying. There are two solutions- make lovely oiled croutons to freeze or remove the crusts, blitz in the food processor, toast in the oven, blitz again, bag and freeze. Waste not, epecially during lockdown. I know I’m going to love these crumbs on top of a vegetable gratin. Much better than a bag of shop bought saw dust.

one loaf of stale sourdough = the best crumbs for the future

The lemon trees are at their best in winter. One of the top priorities is making a batch or two of preserved lemons. I love using the salty peel in tuna cakes, mashed potato and smashed baked potato. Whatever fish you use to make your fish cake, preserved lemon takes them to another level.

Preserved lemons are so useful.
Tuna burger/cake/pattie on a coulis of San Marzano and oregano. ( stash from the freezer) along with a winter salad. We still have tomatoes ripening in the window, and always have tons of garden greens.

Some other dishes that passed through my kitchen recently are pictured below. Some of these will land in my lockdown cookbook that I’m slowly assembling.

Vegie pasties, lightly curried, the vegies bound with a little red lentil dal. The pasta frolla or buttery shortcrust pastry is not my favourite thing to make, but I plan to get over that.
This is one of my favourite pasta dishes, especially when red capsicums/peppers are cheap and plentiful. Sadly I can never grow fat capsicums. The sauce is creamy, based on almond meal. Here it covers Paccheri, a rather large shaped pasta.
I love my Vietnamese clay pot and find it so handy for a speedy dinner. The rice is cooking in the ricemaker, the tofu has been pre-fried. Into the clay pot goes ginger, garlic and spring onions, then some mushroom XO condiment, some sliced mushrooms, greens from the garden, the tofu and the sauces. ( light soy, kecup manis, oyster, water ) and thickened with cornflour just before serving. Extra rice is always cooked for tomorrow’s fried rice.
Yesterday’s plain rice is today’s fried rice. Old school fried rice, includes garden cabbage, supermarket frozen prawn, aromatics.
This is not my cellar. It belongs to Bill Calabria of Calabria Family wines in Griffith. We travelled to Rutherglen and then Griffith for a week, and returned with some tasty and unusual wines. I loved this cellar.

Dear reader, thanks for your support over the last 8 years. I’ve been rather neglectful of my blog and although I have many travel stories to tell and recipes to share, I’m struggling with sitting at the computer for too long. This monthly piece, In My Kitchen, appeases my urge to write, and calms my rather angst ridden brain. Thanks to Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for continuing to host this blog gathering. It’s the prod I need.

Farewell dear Kim, of A Little Lunch. Your stories of your kitchen life were delightful to read and your comments were always warm and wise. Vale, and deepest condolences to your family from this blogging community across the sea.

In My Kitchen, May 2021

Just when I thought we had turned the corner, and winter had signaled an early arrival, along came a big sunny weekend, throwing me back into the sensuality of summer and late autumn. There’s a hot breeze blowing today: outside a lawn mower buzzes somewhere in the distance and the roar, now approaching now distant, of weekend Harley motorbike riders echoes along the valley below. If you listen carefully, there are insects too, a neighbour’s dog, and other domestic sounds, but still no jet noise above.

My kitchen routines happily shifted into winter mode last month. After the first cup of tea, I get stuck into things early- soaking the beans, feeding the sourdough levain or baking bread, making stock with leftover bits of vegetable, and deciding on the two meals of the day. Anzac biscuits always appear in April and the first of the Nanna soups are made, an old fashioned thing based on Mckenzie’s soup mix, the most comforting of soups. It’s a seasonal shift and one I really enjoy. But with this recent May Indian summer, we are back working in the vegetable patch, getting sunburnt, layering compost, and picking the last of the borlotti beans, small zucchini and yellow cherry tomatoes. Another bucket of late picked figs arrives to laze about on the north facing windowsill- if we leave the doors open, European wasps find their way straight to the ledge to seek out that ruby jammy flesh. The long lasting red peppers keep ripening. I’m yet to find a recipe for these but may dry some, make some Biber Salcasi or preserve them sott’olio, under oil. The summer – autumn season has been hugely productive this year but now I’m looking forward to the chards, bitter leaves, snow peas and brassicas of the coming season.

This month’s In My Kitchen is largely a photo post of the food that I enjoyed picking or cooking recently. As I read the posts of other contributors, especially those of my North American friends, I can almost hear that big sigh of relief and joy as they embark on their first dinner party or interstate family visit, now that they’re immunized. ( See Mae’s post here) It’s a liberating feeling for sure and I feel much the same way. Thanks Sherry for hosting this monthly roundup. See Sherry’s Pickings for other like minded kitchen posts.

Late pickings, transitional season.
Daily pick, the greens. Parsley, lettuce, kale.
the best bean to grow, for beauty and taste, the Borlotti.
Lemon and almond ricotta cake, late window ripened figs.
Autumn apples and rhubarb.. The beginning of a crumble or pie?
Yesterday’s lunch, five spice tempura battered squid on an Asian garden salad
Today’s lunch, Warm pumpkin salad with Halloumi, lentils, rocket, and za’atar.
Stocking the pantry with winter staples: carnaroli rice for risotto, bulgar wheat for Turkish meals, lentils for soups and dals, couscous for a break from potato, besan flour for pakoras.

In My Kitchen, April 2021

This month’s In My Kitchen post takes the form of a small, April journal, interspersed with photos of ingredients and dishes that entered or exited my kitchen recently.

Tagliatelle with mushrooms- swiss browns, porcini and fresh shitake. Autumn bowl.

At the Beach, Easter ’21

I’m lying on a comfy bed inside my caravan on Good Friday afternoon. The day is hot and still, though the cooling sea air finds its way through the windows and ceiling extractor, making a little lie down even more enticing. The small space is darkened by blockout curtains: it’s womblike, cocooning, soothing. Someone is tuning a guitar in the distance, followed by a sampling of acoustic bluegrass notes. Wattle birds make scratchy chatter in the nearby banksia trees. It’s not quite #vanlife because it’s a caravan and I’m probably disqualified anyway. I think it must be the small space that is so appealing about a van, reminiscent of the cubby houses I used to build in my childhood, with planks of old timber, worn blankets smelling of shed and dusty hessian bags.

It’s olive time at home, and although we have netted, the cockatoos find their way in.

There’s not much to do except walk, read, write or plan the next meal. Fortunately, some good things, like hot cross buns, were made at home and brought to the beach camp to share with others. This year’s hot cross buns were a big hit with me, and I’m a very fussy customer. Over the years I’ve attempted quite a few different recipes and I may have finally found one to suit my discerning palate. The two recipes I used this year were similar with regard to ingredients but differed in technique. I’ve learnt quite a few things along the way, and am happy to say that the 32 buns were all eaten, with praise offered by my appointed samplers, Daisy and Helen. Sourdough buns last much longer than yeasted buns. Cinnamon affects the rising action of sourdough so should be added later, or at least after an initial autolyse. Butter is better added in chunks rather than melted, and is also best added at the end of the mix. In hindsight I preferred using a stand mixer for the dough over the hand built version, given the wetness of the mix and the delay in adding the butter. An overnight proofing in the fridge makes the dough much easier to shape. Allow 24 hours once you begin your mixing and monitor ambient temperature: around 23c-24c is ideal. I’ve finally invested in a thermometer/hygrometer, an important tool in the bread making process. I may make some Not Cross Buns to practise my technique throughout the year.

Mark 1. Fruit soaked in vanilla, lots of cubed butter added at end. Machine mixed, 10 hour ferment, long second proof due to colder kitchen. Not sure about the vanilla soak.
Mark 2. No vanilla, no mixed peel,. Hand mixed. 20 hour ferment. Quince glaze was too sticky.

If you’re not into sourdough, yeasted hot cross buns are fast and easy to make, assuming you have a hungry horde to feed, as they don’t keep very well. Why bother making your own buns? The answer partly lies in the image below, taken from a Coles packet of HC buns. Bakers Delight and Brumby’s buns are also loaded with numbers too, with 27- 32 listed ingredients. Small independent bakeries are more likely to make buns without a bunch of numbers: they are more expensive but then, they’re meant to be an annual treat. Real butter goes on top of a good bun, not a mixture of oil, dairy and numbers, known as spreadable butter.

Coles Hot Cross Bun Info

Help indeed.

The best shared meals at the beach are fairly well planned. We either decide on a particular cuisine or theme. Indian nights are good value, with family members bringing their favourite curry, which drives nearby campers mad with desire as the onions and spices slowly cook. Pizzas done in the Baby Q Weber work well but are very slow, giving new meaning to the notion of slow food. I usually bring 8 balls of 48 hour fermented dough from home for our beach pizza night, but supermarket pizza bases work well enough when desperate. My favourite flour for pizza, buns and bread is Wholegrain Milling’s organic stoneground baker’s flour which I buy wholesale in 25 kilo bags.

A 25 kilo bag of organic premium white bakers flour via Terra Madre wholesalers has finally arrived. These big food safe bins will hold 20 kilos and come with a good airlock lid. The remaining five kilos are decanted into an everyday container with handle.

April 11. Thoughts from the couch on a wet Sunday.

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of the anti-cook, and whether I might become one. You know those days when a bowl full of numbers in the form of a packet of Indomie, a popular Indonesian instant noodle brand, is all you can imagine. Adding a chopped spring onion is going too far down the road of kitchen mess. Or a cup of instant miso soup for an overdose of salt, the zen answer to bonox. There’s no shortage of good food here: I have a garden full of it. But putting it all together requires a herculean effort as well as a desire to eat well. No one told me that one of the side affects of the Covid Jab is loss of appetite and a disinterest in wine. This is outrageous! Why didn’t they tell me on the carefully printed side effects sheet? Along with kitchen apathy comes a keen desire to spend more time in a horizontal position watching streamed TV series. An Easter Lindt chocolate or two and a heat pack are my new daytime friends. If you’re over 50, join the club and suffer a few days of sloth and achy joints, or perhaps smoke one, but don’t become vaccine reticent. That packet of Indomie has 17 mysterious additives which are more likely to cause more blood clotting than the Astra Zeneca Jab. An anti- cook I may become, but I’ll never be an anti- vaxxer. I’m part of the herd, and hopefully part of the solution.

Mid Autumn pickings.
Those quinces are still waiting for me to get off the couch.

Thanks once again Sherry for hosting the IMK series. At present I like writing more than cooking and so my contribution may seem a little curlballish, or googly to use an old cricket term, but that’s life. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more inspiring world kitchens.

In My Kitchen. February 2021

As often is the case, my February kitchen post will look a little like a tour of the orchard, as this month is most fructiferous. This abundance is due to a few factors: the orchard is now mature and is producing far more fruit than we can ever use, the garden has finally developed its own microclimate, and most importantly, we have experienced an unusually high rainfall in our locale, the second highest in our 40 years of record keeping. The birds are not so interested in the fruit crops- ripe nectarines have fallen to the ground: no cockatoo or parrot gives them a second glance. The rabbits, the most destructive creatures during years of drought, are not interested in ring barking, and the grass is still green in the paddocks. We now have 64 fruit trees, which includes two nut trees and 10 olive trees. Much of that fruit travels through my kitchen between January and April. Some is left on an outside table for friends and family to help themselves. This season is a rarity, and in these times of the pandemic, where we go in and out of lockdown (another one was announced today in Melbourne), this glut is a blessing. I sometimes feel like Anna Frith, as she roams through orchards of unpicked fruit in that extraordinary novel, Year of Wonders, set in 1665 during the plague in Eyam, England. ¹

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_20210206_071741_816-1.jpg Apples ripen in waves, with heritage apples producing in different months. I was mulling over the word ‘heritage’ this morning as I stood in the early morning rain taking photos of my Rome Beauty apples. Has ‘heritage’ become the new wank word of the fruit and vegetable kingdom, just as artisan, bespoke and atelier became overused in the last decade? I’ve become a little suspicious of the word ‘curate’ too, overused as it is in the shallow lands of the advertiser. But here I am with lots of old style apples, so I guess the word ‘heritage’ may stay.

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The pears are nearly ready to pick with only two varieties coming in- the Beurre bosc (a great keeper) and Clapps (a poor keeper). The latter will be be used the moment it’s picked, in pear clafoutis, pear and almond torta ( my handy recipe here), or gently poached in saffron and wine.

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The tomato glut is easier to handle. Three kilos will make a wonderful rich soup ( my recipe here) and another kilo or so lands in a gazpacho. After that, they are sauced, or eaten on toast. I’m happy to have too many.

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Tomatoes and Pimientos de Padron, Galician peppers, good for tapas and grown near Santiago de Compostela. It has taken me years to get these going and they are now very happy in my microclimate. Best picked while young and green, around 5 cms long, they are then scorched in olive oil in a pan and sprinkled with flaked salt.

I feel like a child again when I enter the dark world of the quince tree, the heavy hidden fruit inviting me to dream, not so much of the kitchen but of Renaissance painters of fruit. But it’s not their turn yet….

Thanks Sherry for indulging me in my fruit fantasies, The fruits do get cooked in my kitchen but my photos of them hanging about in their wondrous world, waiting to be picked, looked a lot more interesting than my plates of food. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more kitcheny things this month.


¹ Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks, 2001.

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.

In My Kitchen September 2020

The season has been fruitful, especially with an abundant supply of all kinds of citrus, though this colourful presence is slowly coming to an end, with Blood and Valencia oranges the last varieties to pick. In Spring, the trees will return to flower and leaf production for next year. We have around 14 citrus trees but there’s always room for more. Most were planted around 10 years ago, with productivity hampered  by drought, wind, rabbit infestation and severe frost. They’ve now reached a stage of maturity where they can withstand most conditions.

There are two citrus trees producing oddities. These knobbly, thick skinned fruit grow on thorny wild trees. One wild tree used to be a grafted Kaffir lime tree. After dying in the recent drought, it re-sprouted, reverting back to old root stock below the graft. Although incredibly bitter to taste, the fruits are exotic, brightly coloured and decorative. They remind me of the Renaissance fascination with formal citrus gardens and the collecting of rare and unusual specimens. The paintings by Bartolomeo Bimbi and Giovanna Garzani, reveal this fascination for depicting bumpy, disfigured lemons and other rare agrumi. 

On that subject, The Land Where Lemons Grow, by Helena Attlee, documents the history of the Italian fascination with citrus and is a great read. Thank you Beck, at In Search of the Golden Pudding, for recommending this. In terms of food writing, it’s up there with Delizia! An Epic History of Italians and their Food, by John Dickie and Honey from a Weed, by Patience Gray.

Seville Marmalade Orange Cake

In My Kitchen there’s always cake: the peasants have no fear of starving. I make a cake weekly: in this cool weather, it keeps well under a glass dome sitting on the kitchen dresser. I often halve them and send some away to other cake loving peasants. Most double as pudding: a couple of slices gently warmed in the remaining heat of an oven, served with something wet ( cream, icecream, custard) have kept us sane during winter and the lockdown. I’ve now made two versions of the Seville orange marmalade cake, pictured above. The recipe can be found here. The second version pictured below is a classic Middle Eastern orange and almond cake, glazed in marmalade. I think I prefer the first version. Excess marmalade can be used as a glaze in many ways. Maybe a chocolate cake could turn Jaffa-esque when topped with an orange marmalade glaze? Or a little Seville marmalade stirred through a rice pudding? Served with Halloumi? Liquified then added to a G&T?

Middle eastern Orange cake glazed with Seville orange marmalade

The little pasta dish below looks quite plain, belying the richness and intense lemon/orange flavoured sauce hiding within its folds. The sauce includes fine slivers of peel from an orange and lemon, which are boiled to soften, and the juice, a little onion, a knob of butter, cream and seasoning.

Tagliolini alle Scorzette di Arancia e Limone, recipe included in the book mentioned above.

The egg noodles from Mantovanelle come very close to those made by hand at home. These tagliatelline are my favourite comfort food. Cooked in five minutes, this gives you just enough time to quickly construct a sauce. Once the pasta hits the boiling water, my large non- stick wok is fired up and ready to go. In goes the EV olive oil, a little garlic, followed by fresh things from the garden, small stems of broccoli, young leaves of kale, some herbs, a few tiny unshelled broad beans, a dash of wine, perhaps some smoked salmon chunks, a few dashes of cream, seasoning and finally the cooked noodles. It’s a merry little dance around 2 stove jets. When the long lockdown ends in Melbourne, I look forward to returning to my favourite food shops which are further than 5 kilometres from my home. Since early July, strict travel distance rules have regulated movement in Melbourne. This pasta will be at the top of my shopping list.

I love this egg pasta and cannot wait to be allowed to drive further afield to buy more supplies.

Tagliatellini con salmone affumicato e verdure

The winter garden has kept us in fresh greens and now that spring is here, broad beans are slowly appearing.

Garden pickings for a pasta lunch.

Another day, another pasta. Rigatoni paired with a vegetarian ragù. The sauce included some mushrooms, dried porcini, herbs, left over thick lentil soup, a little miso, and tomato passata.

rigatoni con ragu’ di lenticchie

In these times, I often find myself looking back rather than forward. I cannot think of anything at present to look forward to- no short drives in the country, a family gathering, dinner with friends, travels overseas, visits to the city, a Vietnamese meal, a trip to the library- it’s a life without anticipation. Often, our next meal is the highlight of the day. The arrival of a book in the post, or a food order from Mt Zero Olives, is an added bonus. In this era of hard lockdown, the future has become blurred. Last night, as we were eating dinner, a spaghetti cacio e pepe, the conversation inevitably led to Rome. Where did we eat that last Roman cacio e pepe, where would we stay next time, an apartment in Trastevere again ( too busy) or over in Testaccio ( interesting suburb) or in centro? Through reminiscing, we came to the realisation that we would not be returning to Italy, or indeed Europe, and perhaps not to our favourite haunts in Asia. This is not meant to be a maudlin observation: I am a pragmatist at heart. Looking back over some of my old posts has given me a chance to relive some of those travels: like writing a detailed journal, blogging is a worthwhile pursuit in this sense. Unlike Facebook or Instagram posting, blogging provides a permanent and accessible log into the past. In the same way, participating in the monthly In My Kitchen for the last 7 years has produced another kind of documentation. Over the years my kitchen posts have gravitated towards seasonal food and simple dishes. My previous September posts expose another story: I’m usually away. Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for continuing this series: it has been an interesting journey.

In My Kitchen, August 2020

This month, I’m inviting you to step inside my kitchen. No one else can come inside these days, but you’re all welcome. It’s one long narrow room that incorporates a kitchen, a small pantry, a long table of 2.8 metres, a wood fired baker’s stove and two old sofas. Above are high beams and clerestory windows and plenty of natural light from the windows facing north and east. All are double glazed making the room easier to heat in winter and naturally cooler in summer. I would argue that retrofitting old windows and upgrading to double glazing is one of the most important energy saving moves you should make, regardless of where you live. Although we have other rooms in the house, we have chosen to live in and heat this single space, along with our bedroom which has a heater set on 17º c for 8 hours overnight. Our kitchen/living space heating consists of one small but very efficient wood stove and one split system inverter. Things are nice and toasty, even on days when the temperature ranges between 0º c and 10ºc outside. We monitor our power usage and note that the winter costs are much lower since adopting this single living space approach. Sig Tranquillo chainsaws fallen trees from the forest on our property which supplies the wood heater, another major cost saving and a gym workout for him.

Melbourne is now in stage 4 lockdown, due to the surge in numbers of corona virus in the state of Victoria. This is one of the most stringent of all lockdowns, and the world will be taking notes on the effectiveness of such a move. Mask wearing is compulsory, no one can travel more than 5 kms to shop, only one person from each household may do this and only for one hour, a night curfew operates from 8 pm to 5am, exercise must be undertaken locally, and only essential businesses may stay open. The vast majority of Victorians are doing the right thing and are determined to make this work. Of course, the media will highlight those who break the rules, and give way too much oxygen to the Karens and Kens of this world: anything newsworthy to feed the coffers of the Murdoch Press.

Dan the Man

In My Kitchen is Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, who appears at 11 am, or later on really bad days. Dan has been doing these updates for months: most Victorians admire and respect him. I moved the TV into our kitchen/everything room at the beginning of the pandemic to save on heating. Before the pandemic, we weren’t so glued to the big screen in the daytime. 

In my kitchen is a Nectre Heater, an Australian made wood heater that is very environmentally efficient and effective. We use it primarily for heating, but also  to cook stock and soups, heat the kettle, and warm leftovers and puddings in the little baker’s oven below. I often use the top to toast bread for bruschetta.

In my kitchen, there’s plenty of research happening. Sig Tranquillo is working on a Scottish history project. Sometimes his clutter fills the large table. Meanwhile, I’m finally back into full time reading and the books are piling up. I can highly recommend, Cal Flyn’s Thicker Than Water. A memoir of sorts, Flyn journeys from Scotland to Australia to investigate the travels and massacre of the Gunai indigenous tribe by the explorer, Angus McMillan. It is essential reading to all those who live in Gippsland, Victoria. More about this book in a later post. The local library sent my books by post but I feel that this is one book I must own. Books, computers, phones, diaries,and notes get swept to one end of the large table at meal time. Oh the clutter.

On sunny days we venture outside for lunch and have now established the routine picnic day, every Friday, on the platform under the old half built chimney. Picnic days can be dangerous, especially when the musical instruments appear.

I’m adding my post to Sherry’s In My Kitchen series this month, despite it’s lack of novel kitchen stuff.  Life is up and down here. I hope, dear reader, wherever you may be, that you keep safe and wear a mask.

Header photo. Turnips from the garden. Despite their vibrant colour, they always remind me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.