In My Kitchen, a Winter Post. July, 2018

On cold winter mornings, routines are simple and meditative. Kindling, or morning wood, is gathered to start the wood stove. Small twigs are arranged like a Lilliputian teepee, while dry leaves and balls of crunched newspaper are tucked into the gaps. The moment of truth- a match is struck and the fire roars. An old whistling kettle waits on top of the stove, hot water for that second cup of tea. If the morning is frosty and old Jack has painted the paddocks white, I often recall my father’s early morning footprints crunched into the grass of our suburban backyard, a memory so old and yet so fresh. Long before breakfast, when we were still tucked up in bed, Dad would take a bucket of left over kitchen scraps, mixed with pollard and hot water, down to the chookhouse at the rear of the yard, always singing the same song, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning.‘ His optimism enabled him to travel through life with grace. Somehow this pastoral Rogers and Hammerstein song, frost and chooks, will always be connected in my mind. As we all tend to begin our day in the kitchen, it is a fitting place to practice optimism. Turn off the news.

Morning wood.

On fortuitous mornings, left over cooked vegetables await on the bench, ready to be mixed with an egg to make an old-fashioned breakfast of Bubble and Squeak, although there’s rarely much squeak (cabbage) in my kitchen. Or perhaps a slow cooked pot of oat porridge, always with a pinch of salt, I hear my ancestors say, soul food that sticks to the ribs for longer. The stock pot goes onto the wood stove, while some Barley or Farro is soaked. Sourdough Bread, having undergone a secondary overnight ferment in the fridge, is ready to bake. And so another winter’s  day begins. While it’s not my favourite season, winter does offer some compensation- soup, wood fires, comfort food, along with the chance to don berets and scarves.

Risotto, red wine, rosemary and taleggio.

There’s often a good winter risotto in my kitchen. I nearly swore off risotto for life after my time in Lombardy last year where I ate risotto every second day- risotto con zucca, risotto milanese, risotto con funghi porcini, and this one below, the star of them all, risotto con vino rosso, rosemarino e taleggio. ( risotto with red wine, rosemary and taleggio). It doesn’t matter how many photos I take of risotto, summer or winter, it always looks totally unappealing, a bit like a dog’s dinner. And yet these photos belie the reality.

Winter is also the time for pasties and it’s always good to have a stash in the freezer for an easy lunch. I used commercial puff pastry for this lot. These were filled with cooked Puy lentils flavoured with sautéed onion, Worcestershire sauce and herbs, then mixed with mashed roasted pumpkin and peas. The plum sauce is from last summer.

Of course there’s always soup in my winter kitchen. Since being too busy is my new normal, I  make soup often- some to take to my mother, some for our hungry renovating builders, some for the visiting kids, and sometimes I get some too. This one, Ginger and Carrot soup, is a cure for head colds and sore throats.  Served with a sprinkle of chilli and yoghurt, it’s a real pick me up.

Another beautiful loaf.

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough recipes lately and have been amazed at how different sourdough starters behave. The bread above was based on a recipe by Maurizio from the Perfect Loaf.  The fermentation is so rapid: the wholemeal levain is a wild beast of a thing. Sourdough bread making is not just about the recipe- each day in the kitchen, the weather, the heating or lack of it, the temperature of the water, the humidity, and the patience of the artisan, create a unique environment and these wild yeasts love to dance to their own rhythm.

Morning marmalade

I’m waiting for this loaf to cool so I can indulge in my other favourite winter breakfast- toast with marmalade. My mother’s grapefruit tree is heavily laden and many, I fear, will go to waste. I made one batch, or 8 jars, of grapefruit marmalade, but how much marmalade can you eat in one year?

There are always lots of books in my kitchen-dining area; with the cold weather, they are beginning to proliferate on small tables. The blue journal on the right now lives permanently near the kitchen bench. New breads that pass the taste and method test get added to this journal. There’s something special about handwriting a recipe. It becomes a part of my personal repertoire, and is ingrained in my memory, standing distinctly apart from the tsunami of recipes that come my way, either from books or the internet. Notes get added with each bake: ingredients are adjusted. I have another handwritten book dedicated to cakes and biscuits. The book on the left, Community, offers some intriguing salads, which will be more useful in Spring and Summer.

Trusty apron

I never thought I would become an apron wearer but then, I never thought I would need to look for my glasses all day, or carry around an oven timer. I bought this colourful apron in Chiang Mai, Thailand  a few years ago: it is short and bohemian, a bit like me really. If I wear it, I’ll have a more organised day.

Once again, I’m linking this post to the monthly series, In My Kitchen, now hosted by Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings.   Thanks Sherry, it’s forced me to look for my writing mojo, which has been in hiding for a while.

In My Kitchen, February 2018.

The morning beach snap featured above might seem incongruous in a post about kitchens. This is the view just past the banksia trees and over the gravel track from our camping kitchen, around 30 steps away. On still days we carry the table and chairs down to the beach, placing them in front of an abandoned boat shed, and dine in style while watching the light shift over the bay.

Camping Buddha

From February to April, we travel between two kitchens-a camping kitchen by the sea and our home kitchen, the more demanding task master during this season of abundant garden crops. As the two kitchens are only 1/¼ hours apart, an easy freeway drive, we alternate every three or four days. When setting up the beach kitchen, we aim for functionality with solid metal stands, stoves and shelves and frivolous decor mostly sourced from local opportunity shops. I’ve tried minimalism and it doesn’t work for me.

In my beach kitchen I usually mix 1970s Chinese enamel ware and cookware with a few old Balinese sarongs ( my curtains) and junk from the local op shops. Old hippy mid-century retro Chinese vintage, with a touch of Greek fishing village might best describe the style. Things change each year, depending on what floats my way.

The beach suburbs from Dromana to Sorrento are loaded with vintage shops and ‘oppies’, Australian term of affection for a charity shop. Today I found some wonderful treasure to add to my beach kitchen. These Balinese placements were a steal and are both functional and decorative. They turned up in Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul),  Rosebud.

I can’t resist old dolphin bottle openers. Neither can my eldest son, who owns quite a few and displays them swimming together along a loungeroom cabinet.  These two have found a home in the beach set up and get a workout on hot days. Pass the dolphin.

An old preserving pan for $3 from another op shop found its way into our beach kitchen. So many uses and lightweight.

A birthday gift from my children, this wok burner is perfect for camping. With fierce heat and stability, it’s a joy to fire up a big wok full of mie goreng. This one will be added to our home verandah on our return.

A pile of books for a few gold coins. Freshly donated, all new looking and many unread, they were stacked in piles on a table, the eager volunteers keen to do their job and get them up on the shelves. I remarked to Mr Tranquillo that books on a table are far more appealing than those shelved in bookcases. Books on tables invite fondling, turning and perusing. He reminded me that it’s an old marketing ploy. When a line in a shop isn’t selling, you simply take it off the shelf and display it on a table. No price reduction, no promotion needed. This stash will live in the caravan and once read, will be returned to the op shop or perhaps the communal laundry, which has become a freecycle centre at our beach camp.

A  five-minute meal, a bowl of lightly curried mussels, French style, served with some chunky bread. Easy food from my beach kitchen.

Moules marinière à la crème et au curry
Moules marinière à la crème et au curry.

The secret is out- best op shops on the Mornington Peninsula:

  • Salvos, Dromana
  • Vinnies, Rosebud
  • The Rotary Warehouse, Capel Sound
  • The Habitat for Humanity, Capel Sound
  • Search and Rescue op shop, Blairgowrie
  • Jack and Andy’s, Sorrento
  • and plenty of smaller oppies in each small beach suburb along the way. 

‘She threw back her head and cried with pleasure

One woman’s trash is another one’s treasure’.

Thank you Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this series once again.

In My Kitchen, December 2017

I’ve been dithering around in my kitchen since returning from our long trip and am feeling totally uninspired. Where’s the menu and those kitchen fairies who clean up? Returning to an overgrown vegetable patch, and the loss of 13 chooks, courtesy of Mr Fox, has robbed me of fresh ingredients, my backyard larder and the inspiration for most of my meals. When I look back on my December posts from the last four years, I can see energy, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garlic braiding, Italian biscuits, summer fruit cakes and short breads. This year, none of those things have happened -yet. 

Making do with what’s available, I made a huge batch of dolmades using leaves from our grape vines. Blanched in boiling water for two minutes then drained, they are ready to rock and roll. Although tedious to stuff 65 little parcels, once made, they become a staple in the fridge for hot summer nights, preserved with oil and lots of lemon juice.

The berry crop is huge this year, especially the boysenberries. They make a sweet addition to home-made yoghurt, something cool and luscious for breakfast. Making the weekly yoghurt is such an easy thing. I’m finding that 1 litre of organic milk creates a firmer and tastier yoghurt than the cheaper milks. Yoghurt is added to tahini and lemon for a quick drizzling sauce for falafel, or as the basis of tzaziki, or whipped through puréed mango for lassis, or served on the side with red lentil dhal and a few stir fried greens.

Another frugal standby is Pasta e Ceci, one of my favourite soups. I ordered it twice while in Italy this year and on both occasions I was disappointed. I put this down to the use of canned chickpeas, which retain a bullet like texture when used whole in these soups, and the lack of depth in the accompanying brodo, which should have hints of rosemary, a touch of chilli and tomato and good olive oil. The old Italo- Australiane, the Italian women migrants who cooked for their families in the 1950s and 60s, brought with them the old contadine ways of  turning cheap ingredients into something deeply satisfying through slow cooking, herbs, and knowledge based on tradition. Modern Italian restaurant cooking has lost much of this old knowledge and has turned to economical shortcuts and speedy cooking. 

I have resumed bread making. Despite our local and wonderful artisan baker in St Andrews, I can turn out two large loaves for $2 and there’s no need to leave home. It’s a way of life now thanks to Celia.

Last week’s loaves. I need a new slashing tools. Everything is blunt.

And in my kitchen are these gorgeous gifts from Alberto’s family in Pavia, Italy. His grandmother edged this tablecloth and napkin set. The work is exquisite. Grazie ad Alberto, Dida, Stefania e Claudio per la vostra meravigliosa ospitalità e amicizia durante il nostro soggiorno a Pavia.

Hand crocheted edging by Alberto’s grandmother.

Two litres of Campari jumped off the duty-free shelves on my way back into the land of Oz. I developed a taste for Spritz in Como, but based on Campari, Prosecco and soda, rather than Aperol which is not so pink and a little too sweet. Summertime drinks by the pool? You bring the Prosecco.

Hand over the pick stuff.

Thanks once again Sherry for making In My Kitchen happen so smoothly each month. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more posts on the kitchen theme: you might even find the C word in some of them.

 

In My Kitchen, August 2017

I’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, the start of a long journey, and can happily say that I don’t miss my kitchen at all. Yesterday Mr T commented on the length of his fingernails, believing that they grow faster in the tropics. Mine are also long and white, but I suspect they’re flourishing due to the absence of work: my fingers and hands no longer plant, prune, dig, sow, pick, cut, peel, chop, grate, gather, sort, cook, stir, pour, knead, shape, or roll. My cooking and gardening hands are on holiday. Some one else is in the kitchen. This month’s post takes a look inside some Balinese kitchens and the food we have enjoyed along the way.

The staff at Tirta Sari, Pemuteran, are multi skilled. One minute a waitress, next a basket maker. These little banana leaf baskets are used for sauce containers and rice.

One of my favourite kitchens is Tirta Sari Bungalows, in Pemuteran, situated in the far north-west of Bali. I’ve stayed here before and I’m bound to return, just to relax and eat well. The food is traditional, Balinese, well priced and some of the best I’ve eaten in this tropical paradise. Each dish is beautifully presented on wooden plates, covered with banana leaves cut to size. The freshly made sauces, such as Sambal Matah, are served in small hand-made banana leaf baskets. The plates are embellished with flowers and dried ceremonial palm leaves and basket lids. These artistic flourishes connect the traveller to the role played by flowers in Balinese ritual and ceremony. Dining here comes with heightened sense of anticipation: guests are made to feel special.

Staff peeling Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih ( shallots and garlic) for the evening’s fresh sambals. Do you know the legend of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih?
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Preparing freshly caught Marlin for the grill. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran.

You can tell a good Balinese restaurant by the authenticity of its sauces. Pungent and spicy traditional sauces and sambals are served in more modest warungs, while western styled restaurants serve industrial ketchup, believing that the Western palate cannot handle spiciness.

Preparing the little banana leaf baskets for rice and sauce. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran. Bali

Balinese classic favourites include Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado, Urab, Pepes Ikan, and Sate. The best Gado Gado I tasted this year came from the kitchens of Lila Pantai. It disappeared before I snapped a photo. The Balinese version of this dish tends to be deconstructed and is often served with a little jug of peanut sauce on the side. A reliable source of Balinese recipes can be found in Janet DeNeefe’s Bali. The Food of My Island Home, a book that I refer to often when back in my own kitchen.

Deconstructed Gado- Gado. The new shop right on the sea near the Banjar at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari.Sanur, Ubud.
Classic Nasi Goreng with grilled tempe sate sticks on side. Tasty version from Savannah Moon, Jalan Kajeng, Ubud.

I am often amazed by the simplicity of Balinese kitchens. Many a meal is served from a mobile kitchen on the back of a motorbike, or from little yellow and green painted stalls, such as the popular Bakso stands, now seen only in the countryside.

Classic sate with sides for a son-in-law.

Many working Balinese grab some nasi campur for breakfast. Nasi campur is a serve of rice, often in the shape of a cone, surrounded by little portions of other dishes, perhaps some chicken, or tofu, some soupy, bland vegetable curry, a boiled egg or perhaps a corn fritter, all topped with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and a serve of home-made sambal. Heavenly food. I love the vegetarian version of this dish. In the pasar, or fresh market, this meal is packed up for a traveller for around $1 or so, depending on how many sides you add.

Stall holder makes Nasi Campur. Pasar Sindhu, near Jalan  Pantai Sindhu, Sanur, Bali
Nasi Goreng Seafood.

Every now and then, a traveller needs to lash out and eat Western food. In the past, eating Western cuisine in a Western looking place translated to high prices, bland food, poor quality and slow service. Things have improved, though it’s still much safer to eat in Balinese warungs and restaurants. Modern western cooking relies more on refrigeration, freezing and the pre-preparation of soups, sauces and various components. These ideas are quite foreign to Balinese chefs who prefer to make everything to order. The fish will be freshly caught, or purchased that morning from the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran: the vegetables will not be pre-chopped, the stocks will be made on the spot. Unless a Western restaurant has an impeccable reputation for cooking and serving foreign food, they are best avoided. The Three Monkeys restaurant in Ubud is one place that gets it right. Mr T ordered a remarkable Italian/Balinese/Melbourne fusion dish- Saffron Tagliatelle with prawns, lemon, chilli and sambal matah. I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two. The tagliatelle was house made, the service was prompt, the level of spice just right. I had snapper and prawn spring rolls which were also sensational.

Heavenly fusion food at Three Monkeys, Ubud.
A new take on Spring rolls. Prawn and Snapper. The Three Monkeys, Ubud. 59K IDR

Another very reliable western style restaurant in Sanur is Massimo’s Ristorante. This year, guests may watch the girls making fresh pasta down the back of the shop. Massimo has also introduced fresh buffalo mozzarella and burrata to the menu, which is now made on the island.

Making green pasta, Massimo’s, Sanur, Bali
Vanilla Stick Lady in The Pasar Sindhu Market.

Many thanks to Sherry for hosting this monthly series. My kitchen posts will be on tour for four months and one of these days, I might get my hands dirty again.

A collection of well used Ulegs outside Janet de Neefe’s cooking school, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.

Next post. Return to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In My Kitchen, February 2017

Strangely enough, February is the busiest month of the year in my kitchen. It’s also the hottest month in Melbourne, although this year we have been spared ( touch wood) those soaring temperatures of over 40ºC. The kitchen frenzy comes with the flushing of major annual crops such as zucchini, tomato, cucumber, chilli and now plums. It’s a bumper year for plums. I have another 5 kilo waiting for me in the fridge. Our annual beach camp is interspersed with busy times back at home preserving and freezing crops for the cooler months, as well as watering the garden and clearing away the fire hazardous leaves and fallen branches. The Sagra delle Prugne is around the corner.

Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.
Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.

Meanwhile, we eat simply and cheaply. When not eating zucchini fritters or Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup, I turn to Vietnam for inspiration. Cá nấu cà chua, fish, tomato and dill soup, is perfect for a hot day. I found this recipe last year while in Saigon and now that summer has arrived, I am delighted to make it with my own produce. The fish market at Preston provided the economical red snapper for this dish. Light and sustaining, it tastes like a wet version of cha ca la vong.

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Chopsticks and Vietnamese fish, tomato and dill soup. Summer time in Melbourne.

While at the market, I purchased a big pile of local Southern Squid for $5 a kilo. Yes, there’s an hour’s work gutting and preparing these for the freezer but my little ones love fried squid after a swim in the pool. The best day to buy squid is on the day the market opens for the week. In the case of our nearest fish market, that’s Wednesday morning. Squid needs to be super fresh to compete with is pricey relative, the calamari. How can you tell squid from calamari? Australian southern squid, the most sustainable seafood in Australia, has an arrow shaped tail, whereas the calamari has side wings.

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Hello Southern Squid. Five fresh squid for $7. Now to prepare them for the freezer. More summer jobs.
Arrow head on a Southern squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.
Arrow head on a Southern Squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.

At the same fish monger, I bought some fresh river shrimp from the Clarence river in NSW. These are tiny and eaten whole. They make an excellent beer snack with a little lime aoili. A tempura batter, made with iced water, baking powder and cornflour, protects them as they fry. A pre-prepared salt of interest is also a good accompaniment. I used Herbes De Provence with salt, a batch I made before Christmas. I love special salts and am about to make a celery seed salt and one from our chilli flush. These salts make cheating easy.

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Shrimp tempura with lime aioli and a provincial salt.

To mop up the big soups and fried things, one needs a large cloth napkin. These lovely cotton towels, seconds, turned up in a linen shop in Brunswick for $2 a set. I bought them all. They soften and improve with washing.

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Japanese tea towels turned into napkins

Last week I celebrated the summer zucchini plague on Almost Italian. This zucchini slice is handy and well known. I added almond meal to the mix for a lighter version. It comes with grated carrot, zucchini, chopped capsicum and herbs.

Succhini slice, enhanced with extras.
Zucchini slice, enhanced with extras.

This hungry lad has finally learnt to make a good tuna pasta in my kitchen. It is an easy dish for a 12 year old to learn. Practice makes perfect Noah.

Kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen

And what would be an IMK post without my little Cheffa, Daisy, who always drags her stool to the bench to help with anything I am making.

hungry days by the pool.
hungry days by the pool.

Good food does come at a price around here, not so much in monetary terms but certainly in labour. Thank you kindly Liz, at Good Things, for your gracious hosting of this monthly link up.

In My Indian Kitchen. December 2016

Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.

Spice Kitchen
Spice Kitchen by Rajini Dey. Published 2013, Hardie Grant Books.

Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.

Dark arts drawer.
The Dark Arts drawer.

An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.

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Tibetan Bell reminds me of India and my son Jack

I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.

Prawn pakora or Bhaji.
Prawn pakora/ bhaji.

Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.

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Rajma ( red bean) curry with poached egg and yoghurt.

This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.

Ishka bells, Ishka bells....
Ishka bells, Ishka bells….blah blah all the way. Oh no, those songs are back.

And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
  • pinch of chilli powder
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.

Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.

Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.

Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

My Notes.

I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.

I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.

Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.

I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.

My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.

prawn pakora
prawn pakora with mango chutney.

Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?

In My Kitchen, September 2015

Today I went to the market in Nong Khai and bought some treasure for my kitchen back home in Australia. I tried very hard to exercise restraint but some things have found their way into my luggage. I am sure they are weightless.

Ka tip Khao or rice steamer.
Ka tip khao or rice steamer.

I bought this little rice steamer from an 82 year old woman who pointed to her stomach, then to mine, and told me that I needed to exercise, like her. What, am I that fat? Must be the Chang beer or maybe the Pad See Ew. After we mimed our way through this funny episode, she handed me some change, a little local and unasked for discount! I loved this Ka Tip Khao so much, I went and bought another from the Sadet market. The young folk working in the kitchen ware shops laughed hysterically, seeing it draped over my shoulder like a handbag. Why? Another crazy conversation in Thai followed. You have to laugh.

Rice serving bowl.
Rice serving bowl.

I then bought a lovely rice serving bowl for a few dollars. It’s very light weight, and I can always shove my undies inside it for the journey home. One can always justify some purchases! Like these cute little blue cups below, just two for a dollar, which can fit inside the rice bowl.

Cute little tea cups
Cute little tea cups

I found a shop dedicated to painted rooster ware. It’s nice to specialise!

Painted rooster ware pottery.
Painted rooster ware pottery.

I purchased this little saucer for my kitchen for 30 cents and now regret not buying a few more for small gifts.

Irresistable.
irresistable rooster bowl

Thai, and Asian markets in general, always remind me of my intense desire to set up an outside Warung, or small street kitchen, back at home. I’ve had this desire since 1979, the first time I went to Indonesia and the feeling just gets stronger. I gazed longingly at these wok burners on stands, and have about 50 photos of them, all different models. Heaven on a stand. I am sure I can pick one up in Melbourne although at a cost! My Warung will be made in time for this summer.

Big wok burner on a stand.
Big wok burner on a stand.

Then these little beauties caught my eye. They are the heavy metal Darth Vader model of charcoal burners. You may have seen these in the past: they came as cement filled buckets or in terracotta forms. I want one badly.

Charcoal BBQs
Small Charcoal BBQs

It is great to see that Thailand is still making these highly decorated kitsch enamel ware plates. They are not in the same street as the old, collectable Chinese ones, Nancy, but they do wear nicely and gather a bit of patina. I didn’t buy any- now how’s that for discipline!

Still made in Thailand. Enamel ware trays.
Still made in Thailand. Enamel ware trays.

This In My Kitchen post comes directly from Nong Khai, in the North East of Thailand, a small town that stretches along the banks of the Mekong river facing Laos, a parallel universe across the bank. But now I’m in my last few days here, and I long for my home kitchen, and a Pizza would go down very nicely too.

Thanks Celia, the hostess with the mostess, for this enjoyable monthly event.  Head to Fig Jam an Lime Cordial for further kitchen inspiration.

In My Kitchen, March 2015

In my kitchen are some wonderful gifts from my next door neighbour, Anna.  Anna’s bay tree is huge and enjoys a good trim if you can reach its soaring branches. Bunches of bay leaves look lovely in the kitchen but are also good for deterring moths in the pantry. A clean out is overdue and these bay leaves will be taped to the walls and under the shelves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnna, who is Greek and 85 years old, still makes the best spanakopita and loukoumades, Greek doughnuts dipped in honey. Sadly there are no pictures as these get devoured as soon as they arrive. She also bought in a bottle of Ouzo and Sparkling wine, and a full-sized hand-woven rug that she made when she was a young woman in Greece. Beautiful gifts in return for a bit of shrub removal. Anna brings in biscuits most weeks, just because she has made them!  She has two kitchens: the pretty show kitchen that looks like it has never been used and the real kitchen out the back in the laundry, where all the serious cooking occurs. Popping in for a coffee at Anna’s place is not to be taken lightly. She serves wedges of chilled Kasseri or Kefalograviera cheese, warmed tiropitakia, honey biscuits or almond crescents dusted with icing sugar, cut and chilled wedges of fruit, chocolates, ouzo and really bad Nescafe coffee which the Greeks of Melbourne seem to favour. Although she doesn’t speak much English and I have failed to learn Greek, we get by very well and speak the same language- that of friendship and love. One day I’ll get in her back kitchen when she is cooking.

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In my kitchen are the first Clapps Favourite pears. They are an early season variety and the fruit ripens very quickly once picked. The fruit is large and tasty and don’t last long as kitchen art.

clapps favourite pear
clapps favourite pear

In my kitchen there is a fresh supply of lentils, chick peas, bulgar wheat and other dried goods from Bas Foods in Brunswick, one of my favourite shops. These go well in curries and soups and are my main source of protein and iron.

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At least once a week we eat a simple curry based on these goods which are complemented with things from the garden.

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In my kitchen there are still loads of tomatoes. I have made passsata, tomato and chilli jam, gazpacho soup and am now about to borrow a dehydrator to deal with the many baskets of little yellow pear tomatoes, Romas and the funny black blushed ones.

waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Tomato chilli jam
Tomato chilli jam
Gazpacho - using up the cucumber and tomato glut.
Gazpacho – using up the cucumber and tomato glut.

I purchased these bulk tagliatelle egg pasta at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick. Three kilo of nidi, or nests cost $10.00. They are stored in a large plastic bread bin from the bakery. These are great for 10 minute meals of pasta and garden goodness with oil and anchovy, herbs and Parmigiano. If you want to experience a real Italian vibe, the deli and butcher counters at Gervasi will transport you back to Italy in a flash. More autentico than the Mediterraneo Wholesalers.

bulk tagliatelle
bulk tagliatelle

Speaking of Italy, which I often do, I am enjoying Dominique Rizzo’s My Taste of Sicily very much. Although I have owned it for a couple of years, it has decided to take up residence in my kitchen this month. I love the vibrancy of Sicilian food: food of the sun, it works well in the Australian climate.

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Siciliani love chilli and so do I. Excess chilli dry out on the bench and will be crushed then turned into chilli oil.

chilli drying, waitig to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.
chilli drying, waiting to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.

Finally my secret ingredient for making tasty frangipane cakes. Two tablespoons for the cake and a nip for me. One also for Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who hosts this monthly round up of world kitchens. Follow the link and enjoy them all.

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In My Kitchen, February 2015

Melbourne is experiencing a very cool summer so far. Not that I mind. Usually in February, I sit in the kitchen staring at the computer, monitoring the temperature, the wind and the fire ratings on the CFA site. This year we are blessed with unseasonable cool weather which is perfect for preserving fruits and garden produce AND I don’t feel so anxious.

In my kitchen are too many strawberries: the cool weather, along with proper netting, means a new flush every few days. We have made strawberry jam and coulis, frozen strawberries and strawberry brandy, tucked away for the cooler months.

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And of course there too many tomatoes. This season, the large tasty varieties are a little slow, so these mini tomatoes fill the gap. I am picking a few kilo of mixed heirloom tomatoes each day- they go on pizza, bruschetta, in soups and sauces or straight into the freezer.

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The zucchini continue to provide amusement when their large zeppelin shapes hide under leaves. The big fellas go to the chooks.  The polite ones make zucchini soup, Greek zucchini fritters, grilled zucchini topping for pizza,  zucchini ripieni con ricotta, zucchini pakhoras, zucchini pasta, and all manner of things, along with their fiori, flowers. I also make a swag of Stephanie Alexander’s zucchini pickles to give away. The pickle is lovely with a ploughman’s lunch.

Preparing the pickle in brine.
Preparing the pickle in brine.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.

In My kitchen are Lombardi. This month, my adopted nephew, Alberto from Pavia, hangs around in my kitchen after working in the kitchen garden. Alberto cultivates Arborio rice near Pavia, in Italia but has become interested in Australia over the last two years. It’s good to have him back. Renato, in the Babbo Natale hat, is from Milano. Renato, an IT specialist, became a top fencer in his many months here. At last our cows are well contained.

My kitchen garden provides much of the food that is prepared in my kitchen and I would like to thank them both for assisting us with their labour and for their graceful and courteous company.

Along with the kitchen thankyous comes a big one to our generous host, Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial whose infectious energy is inspirational.

In My Kitchen, December 2014

The last few weeks have been rather hectic in my kitchen. I’m taking it easy in December, especially now that I know my niece will host Christmas Day Lunch. Hooray, I’m off the hook. Now I can safely sneak away to my favourite beach and pretend that the festive season is not happening.

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I am picking around 500 grams of berries every day. Raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries and strawberries are having a wonderful season. It’s time to think about using some in an alcoholic concoction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have consumed many berries with small meringue nests which I store away in tins for a week or so. These meringues had the addition of finely zested lemon peel. Limoncello cream filled the cavities, then raspberries. We also had cinnamon meringue with cherry.

Dolmades rolled and laid snugly in a pot.
Dolmades rolled and laid snugly in a pot.

One of the big sultana vines lost a branch when Mt Tranquillo was pruning.  I wasn’t going to waste these lovely fresh vine leaves.  A big batch of dolmades lasted only one week in my kitchen.

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My daughter- in- law has done some ironing for me. It is so nice when all the tablecloths are ready for the season ahead. This is the blue and white stash. Yes, slightly anal, I know.

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I found this old gelataio in an Op shop (thrift shop) in 2009. It was only $15.00 and had just been serviced. It’s little churning wings broke the other day as I was making some berry ice cream. It has served me very well so I might ask Santa for a new one, unless a spare part turns up soon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beautiful blue plates, a set of 12, seem to be unused and cost $3.00 in total. They were made by Johnson in Australia in the 1950s. Another lucky find in the second hand world of Melbourne. Perfect for a morning tea of mini muffins with white chocolate, amond meal and fresh raspberry.

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Why does everyone always crowd around in the kitchen? Here are a couple of party animals, a reminder to always have fun in the kitchen. Put your finger in the cream, steal a morsel off that platter, help roll out the pizza dough or dance like a crazy spider.

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Thankyou Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, for a wonderful year of IMK.

                                     Season’s Greetings to Celia and to you all.