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.

In My Kitchen, May 2018. One Cup of Nostalgia

I’ve been procrastinating over this month’s In My Kitchen, concerned that my posts are becoming repetitive and barely newsworthy. I buy very few new products or gizmos: my tastes are simple. My pantry is full of staples that complement things from my garden. My freezer stores the fruit bounty from summer. I bake bread and a weekly cake or dessert. My home cooking is the antithesis of restaurant cooking: I no longer aspire to cook that way. It is informed by the simplicity of cucina povera, Italian country cooking of the past, along with that of Roman trattorie and is becoming more frugal as time passes. And as for things, lovely kitchen things, I’m in the process of de-cluttering and reducing, not gathering more.

Today’s salad pick.

But I’m not quite ready to throw in the IMK towel yet. In My Kitchen has been a part of my blog repertoire for more than four years, providing at least one platform of discipline in my untidy life. When I look back at my old posts, I see some recurring themes and plenty of growth. My first IMK, written in December 2013, concerned decor and green kitchen ware. Back then, I had a two-year old to cook with, (not for- Daisy has always participated in the kitchen) and during those earlier years, a tribe of young grandchildren spent hours in my kitchen, licking spoons and making concoctions, cranking fresh pasta, asking for their favourite barley soup or begging for flathead fish. They’ve featured in some of my old posts, especially Daisy, my little cheffa whose sense of taste and smell developed in my kitchen and herb garden. How I miss those years: required school attendance has a lot to answer for!

New sourdough kid in my kitchen.

The fine art of sourdough bread making came along when Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, sent me my first packet of dehydrated starter in June 2014. Most of you are familiar with Celia’s generous spirit: she is responsible for perhaps thousands of sourdough home bakers around the world today. Now she’s leading the way in campaigning against waste and plastic in a gentle, non proselytising way. Teaching not preaching.

Yesterdays pick. May 6, 2018. Radicchio, rugola, curly endive, green cicoria. Parsley, wild fennel, dill, red basil, borlotti beans ( 4 kilos) Roma tomatoes, late Adelaide tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, zucchini. cucumber, snake beans. I love my garden and she loves me.

When I look back on posts featuring my early sourdough loaves, I have to laugh-they looked so odd and yet they tasted OK. These days, with better technique and the understanding of how dough behaves in my kitchen and overnight in my fridge, my loaves look much better and taste really good: it is a passionate pastime that takes commitment. Somewhere along the way, I met Maree, first through this forum on her occasional blog and more recently through her facebook site, Simply Sourdough Trafalgar which includes regular updates of her latest loaves. Maree’s sourdough bread is wonderfully enticing, she is a sourdough artist. Talk about bread porn! Her experimentation with hand- milled grains is inspiring, as is her energy,  running a small bakery and teaching sourdough bread classes. My entry into the sourdough baking community began right here in this very forum, for which I am eternally grateful. These days, I also enjoy passing on this skill to others. I recently spent a week at Peter’s place in Far North Queensland. We spent a few days playing with sourdough, adapting it to his humid climate, and making home-made yoghurt and cheese together. Now he is totally obsessed, baking bread like a banshee and churning out fabulous labneh. His first herby labneh came about from one of his stuffed up yoghurt attempts. It’s the best labneh I’ve ever tasted. Peter, like me, wastes nothing. We are kindred souls in the kitchen. Now he makes all these goodies for his B&B.  How good is that? Thanks Peter and Steve for your amazing hospitality and enthusiasm for life.

Frugal is nice. Cicoria well cooked, with garlic, olive oil, chilli and white polenta. In a Roman trattoria, you might find this green alongside some form of protein. I like bitter leaves straight up, a challenge for some.

And so back to my kitchen this month. What’s happening? Red and pink things are pouring into the kitchen from my garden, begging to be cooked into simple dishes and not wasted. Crunchy and bitter radicchio leaves, my favourite salad ingredient of all time, are picked daily, washed and popped into ziplock bags. ( yes, heavy-duty plastic bags that get washed over and over and seem perfect for maintaining crunchy salad leaves ). Pink scribbled borlotti beans ripened all at once this week, some to cook now, some to store, and some to pop aside for next year’s planting, dark red frilly mizuna leaves, tasting a lot like wasabi, tomatoes galore still in early May, chillis to dry for the year, to crush and make into hot chilli oil, the first new red radishes, and plenty of green things too.

All ripe at once, the borlotti of May
Where’s Daisy when I need her to shell?

For those of you who love Radicchio and have a vegetable garden, may I just mention that once radicchio acclimatises to your environment, you will have it for life. Let the bee attracting blue flowers go to seed after summer. The hard bullet like seeds will fly about and become little radicchio at just the right time. Mine pop up everywhere and some of the best ones grow between cracks in the paths. Look underneath the large green leaves for pups. Elongated Treviso leaves like to hide in the dark, producing delicate white and pink crunchy leaves. Pull out a small cluster and another one will appear in its place. So colourful, bitter and bounteous, they make me want to sing like Michael Hutchence. They only need a grind of salt, a drizzle of new oil and a drop or two of balsamic.

Routines and rituals are precious in my morning kitchen. While the bread bakes, I roughly chop up a pile of vegetables and herbs to add to the bottom rack of the oven. It’s a shame to waste all that stored heat. My stock mix includes carrots, onions, garlic, small tomatoes, dark fleshed mushrooms that need using up, mushroom stems, torn bay leaves, a sage leaf and a branch of thyme. These are all glossed with a little EV olive oil and baked for 20 minutes or so. Once caramelised, they come out of the oven and into a stove top pot, along with a little chopped celery, parsley stalks, and two litres of water. After cooking steadily for 25 minutes or so, the stock is strained off and popped into a jar for later use. This is a super rich stock with a deep colour, the smell permeating the kitchen.

Stock ingredients baked before simmering.

If we don’t have soup for lunch, we’re bound to have pasta. This one, Maccheroni Rigati, is coated with a rich tasting creamy red capsicum pesto. Recipe here. The sauce is also wonderful spooned under a nice wedge of grilled fish.

Maccheroni rigati con pesto di peperoni rossi.

Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for inviting participation in this series. If you wish to join in, follow the link and add your own kitchen story.

 

In My Kitchen, April 2018.

Autumn in Melbourne, most would agree, is the best season of the year. Days are warm and still while evenings are crisp. A few small logs burning in the wood stove symbolise a seasonal turning point in the calendar: the first cosy fire is the most evocative of all. Other Autumnal markers are the slow ripening of the quinces, with a few falling each day, the late season heritage apples, the Rome Beauty and Akane varieties now ready, and the fat green olives beginning to blush purple-black. Keeping a productive vegetable patch and orchard may seem demanding to some- an abundant harvest can be a hard task master. This extra time in the kitchen is offset by time spent away from supermarkets. In my kitchen, the garden is featuring more each month and will continue to do so. Out of My Garden and into the Kitchen perhaps?

Last of the sweet Akane apples

If you grow your own chillies, you will probably end up with way too many but really, count this as a blessing. There are little saucers of chillies lying about in my kitchen and on sunny ledges, slowly drying out for the year’s supply. Once ready, they will be whizzed in an electric spice grinder then stored stored for the year in jars. Some dried chilli flakes also go into the making of chilli oil, an essential condiment on a southern Italian table. Soup bowls proliferate in my kitchen. Because I love soup so much, I have preferred bowls for certain soups. Fine purees tend to go into old-fashioned 1940s small bowls, onion soup into rustic terracotta bowls, Italian bean and pasta soups lounge around in shallow but very wide bowls and so on. It’s obsessive I know, and my soup bowl collection is being reviewed as I address the issue of downsizing. A few new irregular shaped bowls recently snuck into my kitchen.

A new soup bowl, with zucchini soup and pesto.

And when it comes to soup, the garden produce usually dictates the recipe. I always start with a soffritto, a very finely chopped selection of onion, celery, herbs and garlic sauted in olive oil, and then the soup is built on this base. It is artistic expression for me- not just a bowl of soup.

Late March garden pickings for soup, with our garlic from December.

The soup that followed the picking.

Zuppa dell’orto con quadretti.

I get nervous if the dried bean and pulse supplies fall too low. Sourced from Bas Foods, most of these are Australian grown and are packed fresh in the warehouse next door. There’s nothing worse than woody old dried beans: no soaking and long cooking will revive them. Another essential soup ingredient is Farro, and it’s great to see the Australian variety on the market made by Mt Zero olives.

Dried beans and pulses

Autumn fruits, and a few stored plums from late summer, make fine fruit crumbles. My favourite mixture is apple, plum, orange, lemon peel, sugar, cloves and marsala. This batch is ready to be topped with crumble.

As we have been running between two kitchens for the last two months, we have discovered some interesting fresh supplies near our campsite on the Mornington Peninsula. These mussels are grown in the bay off Mt Martha where the water is deep and pristine. They are not available commercially in Melbourne as Point Lonsdale black mussels tend to dominate the markets. They can be bought at Safety Beach and also in Dromana. They are really the best mussels I have ever tasted.

Fresh Mt Martha Mussels.

I made a quick smoky chowder last night and a few of these briny molluscs went into the soup. Today’s Pizza lunch demanded a few more- and I still have half a bag left for some Pasta con Cozze tonight. Not bad for $7.50 a kilo.

Pizza Amore. ( cozze, pomodori piccoli, basilico, olive)

For the monthly series, In My Kitchen, organised and collated by Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings. Strangely enough, this series keeps me on track and up to date with my garden life too.

Apologies to Eha, Debi and others for my earlier draft which suddenly appeared without my knowledge. Gremlins!

In My Kitchen, March 2018

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘In My Kitchen Garden’ as this season’s harvest dominates the show and tell. March sees the tables and benches laden with baskets full of apples, pears, quince, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, lettuce, basil, Thai herbs, and an occasional potato. The garden is wild and I can no longer tame all that rampant life without ending up on the table of the osteopath. The time for clearing and seeding will soon announce itself. I can already sense a crispness in the air. Today, the second morning of Autumn, the overnight temperature dropped to a chilly 10ºc: I pull on some warm socks before the day’s heat sets in. A morning cup of tea, followed by a rummage through the seed box is an auspicious start to the new season.

Sleeping Buddha and tomatoes

The sleeping Buddha was installed in my kitchen window after I was stung by a European wasp last week. These lovely Roma tomatoes enjoy an extra lazy day in the glazed northern sun. From now on, Buddha will remind me to search for smuggled insect terrorists. Did that wasp stare through the windows and gaze longingly at my produce laden table, then sneak in when the wire door was ajar?

Odd tomato varieties

This year we inadvertently grew some rather odd tomato varieties. Some are large and flavoursome but aren’t so prolific. They are grown for show. I bought the seedlings from an Italian man who labelled them simply as ‘red’. It’s rather nice though to completely cover a slice of bread with one large disc of tomato, the jewelled translucent seed and ridged pattern simply blessed with a grind of salt. It must be the perfect breakfast. The Russian tomatoes are lacking in flavour and I won’t bother with these again. They are too big and tend to rot on the vine before ripening. Next year I’ll stick to my favourites, the varieties that are well suited to my micro-climate;  Rouge de Marmande, the best of tomato flavours, Roma, or similar egg-shaped tomatoes which are good keepers, Green Zebra and the large acid free yellows which continue fruiting well into late Autumn, a literal pomodoro, along with a few self-sown large cherry varieties.

Over the last few years, I’ve gathered many old baskets which tend to clutter the verandahs during the colder months. They come to life during February and March when they are filled repeatedly. The long kitchen table is covered with baskets full of colour as they await sorting, freezing, cooking, preserving or giving away.

Jonathon apples- our earliest variety. More varieties to come. Lace produce bag in foreground made by Celia: thank you lovely friend.
Marcella Hazan’s apple and rum cake. One kilo of Jonathon apples dispatched.

It’s always a challenge to find more uses for zucchini. One way of eating a kilo without noticing is to make Indian Zucchini Bhaji. Grate them, mix with onion slices, then add to a thick and gently spiced Besan and rice flour batter, then deep fry them like fritters. Serve with chutney and yoghurt.

Zucchini Bhaji and mild mango chutney.
Fettuccine with grilled zucchini and pesto.

I am still being challenged by the cucumber plague and now give most of them away. Come and help yourselves.

Cucumbers, Hazlenuts, Buerre Bosc Pears.

Everyone and his dog has been waiting for the arrival of my figs. That day came yesterday. I have a few hundred slowly ripening and pick a small basketful when perfectly ripe. Green on the outside, but soft and purple within, they are the garden’s gender antonym to the zucchini. At some point I’ll make some fig jam when the harvest becomes overwhelming. Unusual fig recipes are welcomed, dear reader.

My most successful eggplant this year is this magenta striped variety, Melanzana Siciliana or Graffiti eggplant. I have some wild self sown eggplants still to show their true colours.

Too nice to cook.
Buerre Bosc pears are great keepers.

Thanks once again to Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting In My Kitchen, a monthly event which encourages many to step back from their regular writing or photographic posting and to take a closer look at the engine room of the house, the kitchen.

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, January 2018. Summertime

Boxing day, December 26th, is the most casual and relaxed day of the year: grazing on Christmas leftovers then lolling about on couches or deck chairs under a shady tree, what could be more pleasing? Summer is still benign. The following five days of sloth are Boxing Day extensions before pushy New Year budges in with its commitments, resolutions and calendar reminders. Those fireworks at midnight look and sound like a whole lot of fun to the uninitiated but what they really signify is the end of lazy days. Time to get cracking again folks, says that last fizzer. As it turns out, although I’m technically ‘retired’, January is my busiest month, as the summer vegetable and fruit crops mature and the kitchen turns into a preserving factory. In this small window of opportunity before this onslaught, I’m enjoying pottering about. Sometimes things happen in my kitchen and sometimes they don’t. Can someone kindly pass me a peach and a glass of Prosecco?

While all the peaches came and went, barefoot servants too.

The peach season came and went. There is nothing in the world like the taste of a perfectly ripe peach, plucked from the tree, slightly soft and sun-kissed, whispering I’m ready. Miss Daisy tested the peaches in the days leading up to Christmas, her hand gently pressing the furry blushed spheres, as she reached up high inside the bird netting. She has learnt that when a peach is ready, it will drop into your cupped hand without any tugging. Many were eaten somewhere between the tree and our back door but a few made it into the kitchen. Daisy sat by the pool one day, eating her splendid peach, reminding me that some moments in time are unblemished and glorious. A few peachy shots followed.

Girl with Peach.

Daisy is my cooking muse and I am hers. She has appeared occasionally in my posts over the last four years, mainly because she is almost a kitchen fixture when she visits. We feed off each other. She inspires me with her love of food, perfect sense of smell and curiosity and I inspire her with my creations. She knows the contents of my pantry like the back of her own hand. We make huge messes together which Mr Tranquillo cleans up.

Licking the spoon, licking the bowl, kids in the kitchen, good for your soul.

Chickpeas are making their presence felt in my kitchen since I mastered the use of my pressure cooker. I bought a combination slow/pressure cooker around four years ago but all my attempts at using the pressure cooker function ended in disaster. As it turns out, it had a faulty rubber gasket: I discovered this only when Breville contacted all the owners of this defective product three years after its purchase. It had been sitting in the larder, swanky word for converted laundry space, gathering dust: it couldn’t even be recycled given its dodgy performance and was probably destined for the hard rubbish. Once Breville sent out the new rubber seal, the big black pot has spent more time chugging away on the kitchen bench and all is forgiven. I can now cook a pile of chickpeas, ready to use, within 45 minutes without pre-soaking. Chick peas end up in Middle Eastern Buddha bowls, Indian curries with tamarind and fresh coriander, Italian pasta and ceci soup and of course, hummus.

Cooked in the pressure cooker- from woe to go, 45 minutes.

Just before Christmas, friends gave us a big bag full of perfect mangoes, part of the annual charity mango drive run by the local pre-school. A few left over mangoes went into this mango chutney. It’s tropical, spicy and jammy, but perhaps needs a bit more fresh chilli.

Mango Chutney for Indian days. Grazie Helen e Chris.

Bread making took a festive turn when I made a batch of Celia’s sourdough fruit bread. I used walnuts, sultanas, apricots and dates, and upped the spice a bit. I’m keen to use up the excess dried fruit I bought before Christmas. More of these fruit and nut studded loaves will be made during the early morning hours of January.

Fruit and spice sourdough, randomly slashed! Summer breakfast covered.

Before leaving Pavia in Lombardy last November, Alberto gave me a sack of his own freshly harvested rice, nicely packaged in festive fabric. Grown in the classic rice-growing zone of the Po Valley, the rice was milled in October in Novara, Lombardia. I can’t wait to try it and team it with something from the summer garden.

Il riso d’ Alberto, San Martino Siccomario, Pavia. Ottobre 2017. Grazie Albe`.

When I’m trying to escape the siren song of the kitchen, a fish and chip night is called for. As it’s a 12 kilometer return trip for a take- away, we don’t consider this option often. He drives, I cut up the lemons. On a lucky night, I might even throw a green salad together. Thanks Sherry for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for an inside view of other world kitchens.

                                                          Buon Anno a Tutti

Flounder and chips, c/o Hurstbridge Fish and Chip shop.  Bring it on.

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, November 2017

Although I’m now in Italy and have a handsome little kitchen in my apartment in Pavia, there has been little time to use it, except for a quick breakfast. One of the oddities of the Italian kitchen is the lack of toaster: the typical home breakfast consists of coffee and sweet biscuits. No wonder lunch is so important to the Italians. So this month, I’m stepping back into my last kitchen of two weeks ago in France. Located in Pézenas, in Languedoc- Rousillon in the south, the house was built in the 15th century and was located right inside the doors of the old city. Old buildings are initially very charming and romantic to the Australian eye but after a week or so, the lack of light became noticeable and I imagine this would be quite disheartening in winter. Despite this, I always got a thrill opening the large wooden door on the street and entering the cold stone courtyard to climb this ancient spiral staircase.

Stairway to  apartment in Pezenas, South of France.
Inside the cold courtyard, leading to my French kitchen.

The kitchen, although tiny, was very functional. I wouldn’t mind slipping this antique copper soup ladle into my handbag!

Antique copper soup ladle, Pezenas kitchen.

Pézenas is close to the sea. Every day, the market square oyster sheds opened for business. We managed to consume a few dozen while staying there. Freshly shucked by the man in the shed, served with a squeeze of lemon and some pan complet, – another speedy meal made(!) in my French kitchen.

More oysters, the best from Pézenas. An acquired taste for some.
First floor window onto little medieval lane, and oysters. Pézenas. The bells are ringing all over the town. Lunchtime.

Plenty of wine found its way into our kitchen. We developed a taste for rosé wine: so much drier than the Australian rosé and so pleasant for lunch.

Another day, another rosé

Occasionally a nice white was discovered, especially on the day I made a tray of crumbed Coquilles Saint Jacques. Scallops are also plentiful here and are always sold on the shell.

White wine and scallops

I’ve been following the trail of the Camino of Santiago ( St Jacques) as we travelled across France. A pilgrim village is easily recognised by the sign of the scallop shells on the walls of cheap hostels or embedded in brass along the footpaths. When I’m at home, I keep the shells and reuse them as fresh scallop meat is more readily available off the shell. The shells always remind me of Santiago de Compostela.

The sign of the pilgrim.

One of the other quick dishes I’ve made in all my French kitchens is so simple it’s worth noting here. Grab some perfectly ripe figs, put them in an ovenproof dish with a good amount of honey, and bake for 10 minutes or so in a hot oven. While they’re cooking, shell some fresh walnuts and toss in a pan to toast, then add them to the baked figs. Serve with crème fraîche. The success of this instant sweet depends on the quality of the honey. Jean Pierre gave us a pot of his own honey back in Monpazier. It is aromatic and floral, similar to Tasmanian Leatherwood.

Baked figs, honey, walnuts. Voila.

The local market at Pézenas was full of treasure from the South. More Mediterranean goods were on offer than the markets in Dordogne.

Olives and capers, Pezenas market.

Thanks Sherry, once again, for hosting this series. You can find other kitchen posts at Sherry’s Pickings.