In My Kitchen, November 2019

To be frank, my kitchen is often really messy. At times the cleaning tasks seem daunting. But there are some very good reasons, or justifications, for this. The storage is dated and inadequate for my needs, with limited drawer space and old fashioned cupboards with useless dark corners. The benches are too high and cause back, neck and shoulder pain. As the cheap pine cupboard doors become unhinged, I simply rip them off. Better them than me. The white laminate bench tops are in a sorry state: there’s no point replacing them when the whole kitchen needs a total overhaul. My kitchen is no ‘House and Garden’, and hardly instagram worthy, even on a good day. Occasionally I ponder a few pockets of beauty. My eye, like the lens of a camera, is selective. I have a love/hate relationship with my kitchen. It is a slave driver, but then, as I’m very attracted to frugality and seasonal food, a slave I must be.

I’ve retaliated by commandeering most of the laundry for storage, which now houses the larger kitchen machines which aren’t in daily use ( rice cooker, slow cooker, blender, microwave, second fridge ) as well as shelves dedicated to preserves, empty jars for future preserves, potato and onion storage, seasonal garlic bulbs kept in the dark, shelves of cake tins – loved for their shapes, patina and history,-  small moulds and forms for puddings and soufflé, antique Italian coffee pots just because I like them, collected old biscuit tins to send off when full to someone in need, a huge and ancient gelataio, and that insane breeding area for plastic storage containers, the bane of my life, those necessary evil things, often missing their lids. This area, an annex to my kitchen, is indispensable and strangely, most of the stuff gets used.

In My Kitchen, the tasks seem endless. If I’m home, my annoying but workable kitchen is put to the test all day. Produce from the garden or market is preserved, conserved, frozen, dried, pickled, bottled, and brined. Today I dealt with the olives I picked back in April this year. The lidded 14 kilo container, a throw out icing container from the local bakery, sat in the kitchen for 7 months full of curing olives. Today they moved into jars, and although still a little bitter, it is an old style Greek taste that grows on you. We were forced to pick last season’s olives when green, thanks to the marauding birds that sampled most of the olives before spitting them out on the ground. I’ve always admired how smart some birds are, but I do wonder when it comes to olives, why the birds must try each and every one. Last April’s olives were not as plump as usual, given the low rainfall. I followed the very simple method given here by Mt Zero Olives.

Finally in the jars

I put aside a jar of my preserved lemons last June and have just pulled them out from a dark cupboard. I use chopped preserved lemon in salmon patties, couscous, and add them to smashed baby potatoes, the latter a very nice side dish with fish.

Preserved lemons. Tucked away for months, now ready to enjoy

It’s a fortuitous day at the market when there’s a huge snapper carcass to be had for two dollars. Snapper makes the best stock, so long as the gills and all traces of blood are removed before cooking. Into the pot he goes, along with some wine, onion and some aromatics. Once cooked, the stock is then labelled and frozen, to be married later on to a good Carnaroli rice, and perhaps a handful of prawns.

Great to see this good quality Carnaroli rice stocked locally at the Hurstbridge Deli and Larder.

Other fishy preserves this month included anchovies under oil, a time consuming labour of love, the recipe outlined in my previous post here. Acciughe sott’olio is a great addition to a board full of different antipasti for lunch.

As young ginger is now in season at the market, it’s time to make pickled ginger, another lovely condiment that improves with time, which will be a welcome addition to the table in summer, although I do know a young girl who enjoys pink pickled ginger straight from the jar. There is always a seasonal herb, vegetable, fruit or fish to dry, pickle or preserve in some way.  I’m happily a martyr to the cause, and will be ready for Armageddon, or at least, Armageddon hungry.

Header photo, Pumpkin risotto with crispy sage leaves. Time to use up the remaining stored pumpkins from last Autumn. They are now at peak ripeness.

Thanks Sherry for hosting this monthly series, which can be found at Sherry’s Pickings.

In My Kitchen, September 2019

I’m in Bali still, which reminds me of a good song about London. A long stay of about 3 months is only made possible thanks to my beautiful kitchen here, which has become an anchor and refuge, a place to make a comforting meal, making this house a home. It is a galley style kitchen, and came equipped with very few cooking tools. To the existing small saucepan and frying pan, I added a pasta pot and a small wok. It surprises me how little you really need. I did visit a huge kitchenware shop in Denpasar, Dapur Prima, for a peruse, but only bought a jug for my palm sugar syrup, a few heavy spoons, ( I despise Uri Geller light weight spoons), a soup ladle and a grater. Storage containers to hold pantry odds and ends have been re-purposed from empty 2 litre wine casks, ( we have resorted to wine casks, given the price of wine in bottles ) ice cream containers for packets of rice and pasta, along with recycled durable brown paper bags to store a few potatoes. This takes me back to the sensible way we re-used most of these items in the 70s and 80s, before kitchenware became a fashion accessory. We used large wine cask boxes to store files and magazines, often nicely covered in wrapping paper for teaching topic notes, ice-cream containers for oddments  in the pantry or for pegs in the laundry, and if we were lucky enough to buy wine in bottles, we would take them to the Scout bottle dump, where they would be sold to raise funds. A crate of lemonade in bottles was delivered occasionally in summer, then swapped when the next load was ordered. Newspaper and cardboard went to the Australian Paper Mills in Alphington to be recycled. Little plastic pots were used for plant cuttings, glass jars used for chutney and jams or for shed storage of nuts, bolts and seeds. Old suits and clothes were made into children’s overalls –  my three children wore these when crawling about on our brick floors. Handmade clothes were seen as more desirable than a piece of junk from Target. Recycling, re-purposing and re-using was a natural practice then, but now the need has become more urgent. A new generation needs to learn the ropes in this throw away era, while the older generation needs to re-acquire the values and practices it once held so dear. I hope to start afresh when I return to Australia and attempt to move closer to zero waste.

Apart from a country wide ban on single use plastic bags, Indonesia, and Bali in particular, has a scheme in place for collecting plastic bottles and cans. I save mine for one of the collectors at the beach. See Plastic bank in Indonesia. Over the past few years, I’ve often met an ancient woman, poor and dressed in a faded tattered sarong and white shirt, walking up and down the beach path all day, rifling through rubbish bins, dragging a huge bag of rubbish behind her. She is a street recycler and is part of the local scheme that offers a cash incentive for returning plastic bottles and cans. When her bag is full, she takes it to one of the plastic banks a couple of kilometers away, and then returns to start another round. Her toothless smile is radiant, as she greets us with a selamat siang /sore ( good afternoon). I find her enchanting, beautiful and her energy amazes me. I sometimes wait around on the beach in the afternoon, with my bag of recycling, to add to hers. Since this scheme was put in place, Sanur, a beach suburb of Denpasar, has radically improved. Primary schools also have recycling days for bottles and cans. Slowly the banana leaf wrappings are returning. Indonesia is determined to change it’s relationship with plastic. With a population of over 270 million, their need is even greater.

 

In my Balinese kitchen, I spend as much time sorting through flowers as I do preparing food. One of the morning routines I’ve adopted since coming here in July is collecting spent flowers along the paths in the morning before the gardeners sweep them away. These flowers last for one day. They are arranged in a saucer, bowl or platter, and placed on a fabric background: I then photograph them and post to Facebook, my daily antidote to bad news. Called the Dharma project, I have now posted 31 arrangements: each photo is chosen from a selection of 10, and explores the way colour changes with different backgrounds in the morning light. It is also a spiritual meditation on life, death, order, and transience.  If I miss a day or two, the cleaning staff bring me flowers. I am touched. Balinese make daily floral offerings: canang sari follow set rules in terms of arrangement and colour whereas my arrangements are usually based on what falls from above each day, although I sometimes resort to a little selective pruning.

I’m very partial to kue tradisional, traditional Indonesian cakes. These sweet morning treats were available at the market last week- boiled sweet agar- agar ‘snakes’ with freshly grated coconut. I remember buying them in the 80s and 90s when they came wrapped in banana leaves: now they come in little cellophane containers.

These little sachets of Terasi come in chocolate wrappers, each one containing the right quantity to toast before adding to your sambal. Made from dried prawn, Terasi is a very stinky condiment and an acquired taste. I have very fond memories of my children as teenagers, taunting each other with an open block of Terasi. There is nothing more rousing than a putrid block of compressed fish waived under your nose while dosing in the morning. Now my eldest two children, who are in their late 40s, still play Terasi and fish sauce games when they get together at the beach camp.

I love these ceremonial dishes used by Balinese women to carry flowers  offerings at small temples. The silver ones are usually left on top of family shrines and contain all sorts of oddities- everything a spirit could want, perhaps a cigarette, wrapped sweet, crackers, a jar of soy sauce, or a favourite drink. I use these bowls constantly in my kitchen, for washing vegetables or prepping the myriad of ingredients required for an Indonesian sambal cooking paste, for collecting flowers, or to store shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, white pepper and chili.

Candlenuts and garlic ( above) are an interesting substitute for pine nuts in pesto, made in the uleg.

 

One dish I enjoyed making recently was Terong dan Tahu Balado, eggplant and tofu balado. Balado is a Sumatran word, a Padang cooking term meaning red sambal. I love the long thin green eggplants here and hope to grown them when I return to Australia. They don’t carry any bitterness, and soften easily when cooked. They are also the perfect eggplant for light smoking. I used my Aldi fake Nutribullet for making the balado sambal. It churned through the shallots, garlic, long mild chilies, terasi and tomato in seconds. My stone Uleg looked on dejectedly, feeling suddenly obsolete, a kitchenware anachronism.

The two photos above are not from my kitchen but from Massimo’s Italian restaurant in Sanur. On the left, is Amarena ice cream with Chantilly cream and Amarena cherry syrup, served in lust- worthy Amarena blue and white bowls. And on the right, burrata with rugola. This cheese is made daily and served with home made chunky bread, and a bottle of EV olive oil and balsamic to apply your own dressing.  In between this entree and shared dessert, we ate a wood fired Napolitana pizza. This is the sweet Italian-Indonesian life, la dolce vita,  away from my kitchen. I have a regular table, naturally. Massimo is from Salento in Puglia, but has been operating his Italian restaurant in Sanur for more than 25 years, is married to a Balinese, and has Balinese- Italian children. Many of his recipes emanate from Salento. His business now includes many sidelines, including the production of gelato, hand rolled pasta, wood fire pizza and cheese- making, including some hard cheeses. A booking is required at night, but I like to pop down there at lunchtime when the big barn of a place is almost empty.

Easy Indonesian style Tomato so

This Indonesian style tomato soup featured in my recent post. A quick and easy soup, it really does require luscious vine ripened tomatoes and fresh stalks of lemongrass.

On our verandah, parpardelle con napoli, a good old fashioned standby, and a bottle of Two Islands Pinot Grigio, a wine made from Barossa grapes in Bali.

If you’ve read this long rambling post, thank you. I know, it seems to be more about the urgency of dealing with recycling than kitchen things. But then, most of our recycling problems start in the kitchen, ours or someone else’s, if you  happen to eat in restaurants. I usually try to make my posts ‘plastic free’, but not wishing to appear hypocritical, I’ve included some lovely Balinese items that came wrapped in plastic, cellophane or plastic foil.  It happens here and it happens at home, and then I wonder where it’s going to go. The header photo was chosen after Dale, from daleleelife.101, mentioned recently that it looked like a fruit salad of flowers. And thanks once again Madame Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series.

In My Balinese Kitchen, August 2019

It takes a while to adapt to cooking in Bali, given that the local restaurant and warung food is so alluring and economical. You could think why bother, but in the end, when living in another country for around three months, cooking with local ingredients becomes part of the experience. It involves getting to know what locals pay for things, observing seasonality, enjoying chats with stall holders at the traditional market, buying less more often, and learning ways to cook with unusual ingredients. It is also nice to relax at home, and not feel compelled to go out to eat.

mango and lime smoothie.

We did bring a few items from home, including a large block of Parmigiano Reggiano and a kilo pack of good dried spaghetti. Extra Virgin olive oil is available in Bali, but only Italian brands of dubious source. My 1/2 litre bottle of good Australian olive oil was eliminated from my packing at the last minute in order to lower our overall luggage weight: Mr T had added a second stringed instrument to his list of essential items! Good parmesan cheese is much harder to find in Bali. A quick pasta dish sauced with shallot, garlic, chilli, and fresh tomatoes, liberally sprinkled with parmesan, is a quick and comforting home style meal. We also brought along our Aldi brand copy of a Nutribullet electric blender: its powerful motor churns through tropical fruits in seconds, so useful for an afternoon fruit smoothie, and handy for making pumpkin soup and Jamu.

My market shopping list usually includes the following basic ingredients: red shallots ( bawang merah), garlic ( bawang putih), snake beans, limes, potato, tomatoes, bananas, small pre-made packets of Bumbu Bali, sambals, peanut sauce ( pecel), and a few small cakes ( kua). The large supermarket sells herbs such as basil, oregano and mint, as well as very reasonably priced tempeh, and tofu( tahu). Unfortunately I haven’t found a source of fresh coconut milk, and so rely on small tetra packs for santan ( coconut milk). The ladies at the market sell small rounds of palm sugar for around 20 cents a piece. Palm sugar, gula merah, is extracted from the coconut palm tree: the nectar is boiled and then shaped in small coconut containers. It is organic and very tasty, with hints of caramel, coffee and other minerals not noticeable in regular sugar.

It’s hard to resist home meals using tempeh and tofu. The first picture below features a classic Tempeh Manis. This involves a few preliminary steps but then it comes together quite quickly. The tempeh block is cut into strips then deep fried in neutral oil then drained. A paste is made from shallots, garlic and galangal which is then fried in a little oil. Lemongrass, chilli, daun salam leaves, are then added, followed finally with the kecap manis and palm sugar. The tempeh is returned to the sticky sweet sauce and tossed about. This is one dish you can make in advance.

To cut the sweet stickiness of the tempeh, I also made a quick cucumber and dill pickle, a recipe I found on Moya’s instagram post a few weeks ago.

Another tofu and tempeh dish is a quick stirfry consisting of shallots, garlic, whole chilli, snake beans and pre-fried tempeh and tofu. To bring it together with a tasty sauce, I heated a small block of pecel pedas ( spicy hot peanut sauce) in a little water, then added it to the stir fry. The result is very similar to the Balinese classic dish Tipak Cantok, a local version of gado gado. A few prices are of note here. A block of tempe and tofu costs around 30 cents. A bunch of snake beans around 50 cents. A little block of very tasty Pecel– why would you make your own peanut sauce when it tastes so good- around 20 cents.

Little blocks of hot and spicy Pecel, peanut sauce.

Sometimes we enjoy a simple light meal of a cheese, tomato and shallot toastie. This is Mr T’s specialty, always served with Sambal ekstra pedas or hot chilli sauce.

Fruit from our friend Wayan is always welcome. The salak (snake fruit) comes from his parents’ farm in Sideman. He often brings large papaya and other lovely tropical fruit, knowing we have a blender.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to make some Jamu, given that fresh turmeric is prolific and cheap. Jamu is a traditional tonic used by the Balinese as a cure all. The recipe involves peeling around 150 grams of fresh turmeric and some ginger, then blending it into a puree with a couple of cups of water. The puree is cooked for 10 minutes or so, which is then sweetened (I added a touch of grated palm sugar). Lime juice is finally added. It is then strained and stored in the fridge for up to a week. I was pretty excited yesterday when making my own Jamu, and didn’t think through the process entirely. Now my manicured painted nails have turned from pink to an odd coral/orange colour, the skin on my palms is still bright yellow, the white kitchen sink stained, and the threadbare tea towel I used for straining the Jamu looks like an abandoned saffron Buddhist robe. I’m imagining my innards stained a psychedelic yellow and look forward to dying some cotton for crocheting with fresh turmeric on my return. The colour on the cloth is sensational.

Jamu in the making, before it went everywhere.

One of the first things we invested in is a 19 litre returnable water container ( around AU$4) which can be refilled for AU$1.80. A nearby store has a swap and go system. I use this water for washing vegetables, cooking and drinking- it lasts for about a week. I am very aware of my plastic consumption while I’m in Bali, and have tucked away all the soft clean plastic to bring back to Australia. Despite the fact that the Australian plastic recycling industry is now in strife, with much of our recycling being added to landfill, the soft stuff is coming home with me: I’m not going to add to Bali’s plastic problem. I take small net bags to the fresh market- the ladies are impressed with these. Like Australia, Bali has banned the single use plastic bag but also like Australia, small plastic bags are still available for fruit and vegetables. Being part of the problem involves being part of the solution.

Cooking and drinking water supply with a very effective pump.

Thanks Sherry for hosting the monthly event, In My Kitchen. You can find other world kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, or you can join in, a very supportive way to join a blogging group.

Uleg, a very nice size, for grinding spices and pounding sambals.

In My Kitchen, June 2019

Winter is a tricky business. Throughout June, winter is still a novelty. Everyone walks around saying how much they love wood fires, barley soup, root vegetables, scarves, knitting and red wine, and how pleased they are that scary old summer is finally over. With the lowest rainfall on record, the first four months of 2019 were quite unpleasant, the ongoing drought finally breaking in May. These cold wet days are very welcome. Our garden sings once again. And yet I know that this love affair won’t last. By July, me, my bones and I, will want to fly to a warmer zone to dodge the worst of it. I’ll enjoy the remainder of this month and then I’m packing my bags.

Kitchen Garden

A visit to my kitchen is often preceded by a spin around the orto, my vegetable patch out the back that inspires most of my cooking.

A winter vegetable garden is often more productive than those of warmer months. While many Australians enjoy growing summer crops such as tomatoes, winter crops are a reliable source for salads and soup ingredients. I never let my beds lie fallow- if unoccupied, they are planted out with broadbeans ( fava) or filled with garlic, a crop that takes 6 months to mature. In my kitchen garden is abundant lettuce, ( spicy red Mizuna, Cos, Curly leaf, Endive, Bronze, Rugola), and self sown radicchio turning crunchy crimson. Cavolo nero, the Prince of winter, grows darker- a plant that thrives in cold weather. As the first frost has not yet arrived, chilli, tomatoes, basil and beans hang on bravely. Young turnips and radishes slowly plump: their leaves can be used as wild greens with pasta. Self sown leeks have been moved into position while wild mustard and celery appear in the pathways. Thanks to well rotted, mature compost, the winter vegetable garden is booming.

Cookbooks

Books and winter go hand in hand. I was planning to stick to library books for inspiration but a few purchases have crept through the door. The cost of a good second hand cookbook is usually less than half the price of a new magazine. Savers second hand store provides most of my cheap finds, while the Book Grocer is a great source of remaindered books.

Library books on trial. Happy to return all of these except Australian fish and Seafood, which is a superb, and Tartine, which is a great read for those who love sourdough bread baking. The two books by Meera Sodha were disappointing and Eat at the Bar by Matt McConnell was a quick enjoyable read but happy to return it.
New books purchased for $4 each. Two Diana Henry books are a delight to read, and while I don’t think I’ll cook from the recipes. they are good examples of excellent food writing. Magic soups on the other hand excels in food styling.
Second hand finds of note. The timeless classic, Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf, Neighbourhood, by Hetty McKinnon, modern vegetarian share food, and the Baker by Leanne Kitchen, old fashioned classics

Grains

I love warm grains in winter and farro is definitely my favourite. I used to buy Italian farro at the Mediterranean wholesalers, but now find Mount Zero Farro much tastier. Found at my nearby Deli and Larder.

Fish

Many species of fish are at their peak in winter. The snapper were almost jumping at the Preston market last week, along with a winter specialty, a rare item, small gutted cuttlefish. I bought one large snapper carcass to make fish stock to freeze, one snapper to bake, and 1/2 kilo of cuttle fish to freeze. Five fishy meals for $19. I was very happy with this baked snapper recipe from Neil Perry. We devoured young Roger the Snapper with gusto.

Roast potatoes to accompany fish.

Road Trips

No road trip is complete without a tin of home made biscuits and a thermos. These chocolate, date and almond biscotti came along on a road trip way out west, past silos and deserts, wine country and isolated, melancholic towns. Travelling through the Wimmera and the South Australian wine district of Coonawarra during winter is inspiring. The light is silver, the red liquid rewards numerous.

Kitchen Table

I’ve been tempted with the idea of downsizing. Clearing out junk is very satisfying, but when I advertised our 2.8 metre long kitchen shearer’s table on the local Buy, Swap and Sell sites, I received a blunt message from my daughter in capitol letters. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I sheepishly replied that our table was far too big for our needs but soon realised that on an average day, the kitchen table is covered with stuff-  laptops, phones, books, notebooks, lists, baskets of fruit and vegetables from the garden, bowls of sourdough slowly fermenting, a teapot and more. The table ad was withdrawn.

Yarns

In another cosy corner of the Kitchen cum dining room live the wool supplies. They have gathered here to remind me how enriching winter can be. My yarn stories can be found here

Discards for small projects, found at op shops.

Thanks Sherry for hosting this monthly series at Sherry’s Pickings. There’s always more going on in a kitchen than in any other room in the house. 

I am slowly being converted to the joys of Instagram. Less demanding than my blog posts, my pictorial pastimes can be found at @morgan.francesca

In My Kitchen, March 2019

From February through to April, my vegetable garden is at its peak: each week brings another tidal wave of fruit and vegetables through the back door and into the kitchen. The years of weeding, nurturing, staking, mulching, seed selecting and composting have paid off. Our vegetable garden is now nine years old and I often think it has a life of its own. Things pop up of their own accord, though I do have a small hand in this, allowing the prime specimens to go to seed. Time means nothing once I cross the threshold of the vegetable garden gate: it’s another world, another time zone, a spiritual place. I often enter with the simple intention of gathering a posey of parsley, then am overcome by something intangible. It is la terra del tempo perso, the land of lost time, but that time is definitely not wasted. The crops and the earth itself have ways of communicating their needs, more so in these challenging years of drought and changing climate.

Lots of beans in March.

Sometimes I look at a bed of struggling vegetable plants and I know that by adding a few shovels of well-rotted compost, the plants will thrive within a day or two. Compost is garden gold, especially here in the Shire of Nillumbik, the ‘land of shallow earth’ in indigenous language. I have 5 large bins in various stages of decomposition. The connection between compost and the kitchen is an important one. It is up there with the other daily kitchen tasks of recycling all waste that we generate through our consumption-plastic, glass, aluminium and paper- except that food waste has a much simpler solution. In my kitchen, a tall bucket lives inside a pull- out drawer under the sink. Anything that my chooks don’t fancy goes straight into the compost bin. This includes vegetable peelings and food scraps, fish bones, fruit skins, egg shells, newspaper wrapping, cooking oil, paper towels, tea leaves and spent coffee. Other paper products are added such as dockets and plain envelopes, non inked cardboard containers, and other plain paper packaging. It is one of the most important practices in my kitchen and is an ingrained, lifelong habit. I would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t use this important resource: it would be akin to throwing away good food or wasting money. And my beloved vegetable garden wouldn’t thrive. Composting is an aerobic process that reduces or prevents the release of methane during the breakdown of organic matter so long as it’s done correctly. To not compost contributes to global warming, not to mention the costly exercise of councils having to take away waste that is a such a valuable resource to the home gardener.

‘Food waste makes up a big chunk of general household rubbish that finds its way to landfill. Not only does sending food waste to landfill cost the economy an estimated $20 billion a year, it produces methane — a potent greenhouse gas — when it rots.’¹

Worm farms also work well, though after killing my worms one very hot year, I haven’t returned to that practice. My recipe for compost making can be found here.

Part of today’s pick. and always the excitement- what will I make?

The Roma tomatoes are most fruitful this year, and are wonderful in this Retro Tomato soup. I’ve added a couple of grilled prawns on top for a bit of flash frugal: they ceremoniously sank for the photo.

Retro soup with grilled prawns

Sometimes I lay out an array of garden produce and let it talk to me about lunch. Today’s pick included carrots, corn, silverbeet, beans, and zucchini. The lovely Kipfler potatoes come from Hawkes, a farm in the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula. The rest is from my garden. After removing the corn from the cob, the denuded cobs can be boiled with a little salt and fresh bay leaves for a corn flavoured stock. Just like that hilarious book on pig eating, Everything except the Squeal, I feel the same way about my garden produce and try to use every part of the plant. The chooks hang around the orchard fence waiting for lettuces and other greens that have gone woody in my garden. Only then will they lay good eggs, as their grassy run is now sadly lacking in green grass and shoots.

My veggies nicely supplemented by lovely kiplers from Hawkes farm, Boneo in the hinterland of the peninsula ( near Cape Schank)

Today’s soup. Corn, Hawkes kipler potatoes, onion, garlic, carrot, beans, half pureed. A healthy version of a chowder.

Another marvellous find this week at Hawkes farm was a 4 kilo bag of just picked strawberries for $5. These are marketed for jam making and are often too ripe to sell. I usually make a big batch of jam but this week’s lot was in perfect condition- just oddly shaped. After hulling, I froze them in one kilo lots. Hawkes farm uses environmentally friendly packaging: this bag is made from corn and is compostable: no plastics or nasties have been used in the manufacture. The bag is now in our compost bin- it will be interesting to see how long it takes to vanish completely. I’m trusting the label which claims it meets Australian certified compostable standards which are more stringent than those of Europe. A nearby business in the village of Hurstbridge, Going Green Solutions sells Compost- a- Pak products in packs of 50 for AU$20. At 40c a pop, I hope I can re-use the bags a few times, especially for freezing bread as well as the annual crop excess.

Compost-a- Pak

I love kitchen gadgets that work well and this Nutriblender from Aldi is a gem, especially given its powerful 120 watt motor. The motor churns through the fruits and veggies in under 8 seconds. Breakfast covered, and a great way to use our soft fruits that don’t store so well.

Aldi’s Nutriblender. Main appeal is the powerful engine and price.

Vampire breakfast. Watermelon, Mariposa plums, black grapes, frozen Hawke’s strawberries.

The cucumbers are still prolific this year. A few cucumbers, some half peeled, plus yoghurt, salt, spices, and mint, are thrown into the jar of the new blender, buzzed for a few seconds, then voilà, summer cucumber soup. Just chill it.

Cold cucumber soup, mint, chopped pistachio

This year our fruit tree netting has been very effective in keeping out the birds. To date, we’ve harvested early peaches, three varieties of plums, early varieties of pears and apples and now, the table grapes. The sultana grapes are small and sweet, while the fat purple grapes have an interesting history. A little pot with a cutting was given to me by Vittorio, 8 years ago. A Siciliano who migrated here in the 1960s, Vittorio used to sell seedlings and small plants at a nearby market. This grape cutting was originally taken from a vine that had grown in his village. It probably is an ancient clone but we call it Vittorio after that lovely, generous man.

Grapes galore

Finally, returning to the dilemma of recycling, which is central to all our lives, especially in our kitchens, where we now sort and store our daily refuse, our local Council has just advised that our recycling will go to landfill this week, or we can ‘hold it back’ until a solution to the recycling crisis is found. Other shires around Victoria have openly announced that all recycling will now go to landfill. Will this be the tipping point that brings about change in our consumer patterns?

Thanks once again Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for linking our kitchen posts in the monthly series In My Kitchen.

¹ https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-02-24/food-scrap-and-composting-solutions-for-apartments/10817702

In My Kitchen, February, 2019. Ten Years Ago.

There’s a lot on my mind this week as we approach the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday, the monstrous bushfire of February 7, 2009, that redefined my life and that of more than 2000 other Victorians. I’ve started to look through my old photos today, the first day of February, to renew my acquaintance with my old house and kitchen from 10 years ago. I’m still coming to terms with why things changed so much. In the end, it’s not really about the possessions, the things. Something else happened on that day, an indefinable sense of loss. Was it the house itself or the setting, the way it incorporated the rising moon through the kitchen window?

Front door near kitchen and hand built pizza oven, 2008

We began work on the building of our old house in January 1980, and moved in around August that year, just before my youngest son, Jack, was born. No electricity or running water back then but we didn’t care. The initial house, constructed in mudbrick, consisted of one huge central room with a soaring ceiling, a hand crafted fireplace, old Victorian four panelled doors, leadlight windows, and a staircase leading to our mezzanine bedroom which was neatly tucked into the ceiling at one end. It was, in many ways, an impractical design, hard to heat in winter and rather hot upstairs in summer but we loved it. We were idealistic, young and ready to embrace our new life. The house came to symbolise everything we were choosing ( and rejecting) at the time. This was not a suburban house: its design and quirkiness grew out of the mudbrick movement that was prevalent in the Shire of Eltham, a romantic building style that began with Montsalvat and was developed further by Alistair Knox. This local style was adapted throughout the 70s by other mud brick builders. The house reflected our new life in the bush which centred around the ‘back to the earth’ ideology which incorporated self-sufficiency in food production, small-scale farming, wood gathering for heating, and a building culture based on a preference for natural and recycled materials, mud, straw, large old bridge timbers, Victorian doors and windows, second-hand red bricks, and any other ‘found’ materials that could be recycled. The more modern notions of ‘tree change’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘repurposing’ had not yet enjoyed linguistic currency. The materials used made each house in the area quite unique. Many of these houses were destroyed on Black Saturday and current building regulations now make them too expensive to replicate.

Hopes and Dreams. A new vineyard planting of Albarino grapes struggled with the drought of 2008.

As the children grew, so did the house. The first addition was a small two roomed mud brick cottage out the back of the house. Each weekend friends arrived to help on the construction: they soon mastered mudbrick wall building and rendering along the way. I pumped out the pizzas and other goodies from the kitchen in the main house. Then in 2004, we added a new modern kitchen and dining room to the main house, an expensive project that took more than a year to complete. That huge farmhouse style room became the focus of my life as a cook and a grandmother for the following four years. It was the place to bath a baby, celebrate a birthday, enjoy a wine, stroll out to the BBQ and terrace, make a mess, play guitars or listen to music. It was a kitchen dedicated to my family. I’ve never really found that life again: the disruption after the fire was too great. Of course I see the family in my current home, but that old ‘hearth and home’ feeling has been lost. The moon rises in the wrong place. I know my children feel this too though they say little.

Most of the internal shots below were taken in my old kitchen. It’s a media file so you can scroll through these by clicking on the first pic in the collage.

These few photos of my old kitchen and pre-fire life have been acquired thanks to friends over the last ten years. Of course our PCs died in the fire on that day, and so did the history of our life in that house, but there were a few pics on an old laptop, and others have been sent to us. 

Today’s post is the beginning of a little series I have been working on to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday. Words and stories have been swimming around in my brain at night for months, keeping me awake. I hope these see the light of day and finally get transferred to the digital page. I know more thanks must be given, more pictures aired, some myths dispelled, and some anger vented too. And after this year, I might let it all go.

Funky old house.

Thanks Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. I know there’s not much kitchen stuff going on in this post, but at least I’ve made a start on my memorialisation and for this I thank you.

The header photo shows apples baked by bushfire. See also my In My Kitchen post on this topic from 6 years ago.

 

 

 

 

In My Kitchen, January 2019

Happy New Year, dear friends and readers. We toasted the New Year with Bellini made from fresh peach juice and Prosecco. This cocktail tasted so healthy I could happily drink it for breakfast. Salute.

Peaches and three plums.

January is a busy month in my kitchen as the summer crops pour in through the back door. After 9 years in our current abode, most of our fruit trees are now in their prime. To date, I have picked 10 kilo of white peaches. Another few kilo remain while the Mariposa plums are beginning to flush. The zucchini are in full swing- I never tire of a good zucchini soup. Last night’s pizza included a topping of grilled zucchini ribbons and other assorted treasure.

Uncooked pizza. Grilled zucchini, red onion, a handful of shrimp, olive, anchovy, herbs

Same pizza, out of oven. Netflix and pizza night again?

Yesterday’s lunch, La Mouclade, is my favourite way to eat mussels. Melbourne has several mussel farms- one on Port Arlington and the other in Mt Martha. Mt Martha mussels grow in deep clean water and are an organic and sustainable seafood.

La Mouclade

Before Christmas I made heaps of cakes, breads and simple bowl meals. I intended to write brief posts on each of these but didn’t have time. The problem is, I love taking photos of food but rarely note down precise ingredients.

Rhubarb and almond cake.

Greek medley bowl

Paccheri with wild mushroom sauce

Favourite Chinese fish meal. Does it have a name? I lost the book.

Paccheri Napolitana

Paccheri close-up

Was meant to be included in my pasta della settimana series.

Some new Weck jars, found in Aldi, are perfect for making levain for sourdough. I baked like a banshee during December. A new favourite  is the cranberry and walnut bread, especially when toasted for breakfast. Fortunately I froze about 8 loaves of different varieties, giving me a little bread making breathing space this month.

This is the month when things move outside. Daisy liked this Pizza Bianca and was impressed with the taste of capers.

Lunch in the garden with Daisy. Pizza Bianca ( potato, mozza, capers, olives)

Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this series. Once again, may I say that it’s a great way to focus on all that happens in the kitchen, the engine room of the home. May the domestic gods and goddesses shine on you all this month.

In My Kitchen, December 2018

The monthly series, In My Kitchen, has become my record of seasonality. As November’s green crops and broad beans slowly disappear from the garden, making way for December’s zucchini and early tomatoes, so our meals begin to reflect the change in season and the kitchen sings with new excess. The annual garlic crop has been harvested and is hanging out to dry for a month, though a few young specimens have made their way into the kitchen. Organic Australian garlic tastes superb: it takes six months to mature in the garden: it is then gently cleaned, tied and hung for a few weeks to harden, then stripped of its outer casing. Some get plaited but most are stored in a dark spot for the season. This year’s harvest, over 300 bulbs, has been a labour of love, enough to keep the vampires away.

Christmas baking odours permeate my kitchen as dried fruits soak in brandy for a day or a week, followed by the slow baking of fruit cakes, evoking memories of an another time. It’s ironic to be dedicated to the Christmas traditions of the Northern hemisphere when our hot summer season brings such luscious and bountiful fresh fruits to the table. Our loganberries are in full flush, picking a kilo a day is enough at a time. The peaches are about to ripen while the netting of apples, nectarines and pears has come early this year. Meanwhile, the markets are full of mangoes, apricots and cherries. Lighter summer festive desserts based on summer fruits include Pavlova topped with mangoes and tropical fruit, alcohol laced trifles layered with berries and fresh peaches, or berry purée drizzled on anything at all, like yoghurt for breakfast, or vanilla ice cream for supper.

I’ve been expanding my sourdough recipe files lately, churning out new breads each week. Celia’s light rye was a favourite, followed by a heavier and darker rye from Breadtopia. I’ve worked on two fruit breads, a fig and fennel sourdough based on a recipe by Maurizio at the Perfect Loaf, and the other, a more economical raisin and fennel loaf. In between, I make my everyday sourdough loaves, using 20% wholemeal, also based on a recipe by Celia. I love the way my loaves take on individual characteristics when baking. Perfectly imperfect but always so tasty. One day, when my bread making routine didn’t coincide with our needs, I made a yeasted olive and rosemary loaf, based on a recipe by Maggie Beer, a quick 3 hour bread, unlike my slow 24 hour fermented breads. It’s a good standby.

Churning out the loaves. Some with happy smiles and crispy ears, others with a snarl.

Looking a lot like Tam O’Shanters, the most delicious bread ever, the fig and fennel festive sourdough

This lovely bunch of roses arrived to dress my kitchen table a few weeks ago, courtesy of my dear friend Diane, a rose aficionado and dedicated gardener. Pierre de Ronsard is a joy to behold. Your immediate inclination is to sniff a rose, but Pierre De Ronsard is not known for its sweet perfume. Its romance lies in the shape and delicate colour. Each bloom is said to hold 400 petals. I am determined to grow this lovely climber next year. It is named after Pierre de Ronsard, a poet in the court of Mary Queen of Scots and a keen gardener. I love fresh flowers throughout the house: there’s always something to pick and enjoy, even though it may not be as dramatic or gorgeous as Di’s roses. A singular stem of a leek in flower, a bunch of flowering chives or mauve blossomed sage, herbs and weeds also look lovely.

Pierre de Ronsard

Thanks once again to Sherry for hosting this series. You can read her funny Christmas post at Sherry’s Pickings, read other bloggers entries, or join in yourself.

And finally, I must mention a food related link this month- a thought-provoking article from The Angry Chef.

https://angry-chef.com/blog/the-modern-chef-s-guide-to-being-angry

And a few links to my December IMK posts from past years. Same same but different?

https://almostitalian.blog/2017/12/06/in-my-kitchen-december-2017/

https://almostitalian.blog/2016/12/02/in-my-indian-kitchen-december-2016/

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/12/01/in-my-kitchen-december-2015/

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, June 2018

Winter announced itself rather dramatically last week with a fine frost, the first of the season on the first of June. The last of summer’s basil wilted in disgust while the bright yellow zucchini flowers on the remaining happy plant closed their petals tightly in protest. New hungry birds are now visiting our back door, competing with our gregarious King Parrots. Can I detect a different kind of plea in the warble of the magpies lately? One has taken up the morning watch, staring at me through the kitchen window, singing for his breakfast.

Late winter tomatoes, mostly yellow, ripening in the window

On the second day of winter, Mr T picked most of the remaining tomatoes which now happily sunbake in our north facing windows. As the sun streams in during winter, thanks to the passive solar design of the house, I am enjoying the taste of these winter jewels. The small yellow pear tomatoes seem to ripen very quickly this way.

Gentile pasta from Gragnano, Napoli. Delizioso.

I’ve been experimenting with different pasta varieties, then the recipes are posted in my Pasta della Settimana series. This pasta brand, Gentile, from Napoli proved to be quite tasty and different in texture. More about this soon.

Orecchiette Napolitane, un tipo diverso dall’ orecchiette Pugliesi.

I’ve been de-cluttering madly but when this old plate turned up at the local second hand emporium for $5.99, I felt compelled to nab it. Nicely crazed with age and a little faded, the stamp on the back reads ‘Jabez Blackhurst’ and the design is Rhine. The dish was made in 1867 in Tunstall, England. I have given it a quick clean but I enjoy a serving dish with a bit of patina and history.

Made by Jabez Blackhurst. 1867

There was an over supply of jam in my kitchen pantry after I made this season’s fig and quince jams. Time for those old fashioned jam and coconut slices, a treat after working outside in the garden or renovating. They went in a flash and the oats suggest at least one healthy element. This lot was made with spiced plum jam through the middle layer, and tasted a lot like Christmas.

Jam and Coconut slice

Left over pizza dough always means foccaccia a day or so later.

Foccacia, salvia e olive

We recently gathered the pumpkins from the vegetable garden. I let them stay attached to the vine until late Autumn so they continue to ripen and harden. As they are self sown, I never know which varieties will turn up. This year, we had more Queensland Blues.

Pumpkins live on the outside table under shelter.

Limes are funny things. When you want them in summer for drinks and Thai food, they’re scarce. In winter they thrive in our garden. Other than lime delicious pudding and the occasional lime syrup cake, I tend to use them instead of lemons. I’m resisting making lime marmalade due to the aforementioned jam build up but might consider an Indian lime chutney. Good lime recipes are invited, dear readers.

Lottsa limes in winter.

And now for some Happy Birthday snaps and an insiders look into my kitchen when my kids and grandchildren are around. We are now 14 in total, and so it’s often a busy event for me when they come here for dinner. Three of the grandchildren celebrate their birthdays a few days apart. I still like to make three cakes and each year, the cakes are getting stranger. The children love it.

Three crazy cakes for Noah, Charlotte and Daisy.

Tanti auguri a te.

Thanks Sherry once again for keeping the IN MY KITCHEN series going, despite the difficulties involved ensuring that all the participants are now GDPR ready. Rest assured Sherry, that mine is now displaying the appropriate privacy warnings for our European readers.