In My Kitchen, April, 2020

Some time after I drafted this month’s In My Kitchen post, it occurred to me that this monthly world diary of kitchen activities could form a valuable record, documenting how cooking and food availability changes during a pandemic. It will be interesting to see if some items continue to be hard to source, for example flour, and whether the pandemic is followed by higher prices due to manufacturing interruption and a decline in agricultural output. It would be good if those joining in this platform could note their country and region when writing and perhaps comment on some of these factors too. Thanks Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for enabling this connection throughout the world. I urge others to join in and to consider taking up blogging during these difficult times.¬†

Francesca, St Andrews, Victoria, Australia.

So much for April fools day. No one expected the unexpected, a pandemic that may end up rivalling all previous plagues, changing the direction of our lives forever. In the meantime, I imagine that there is far more activity in everyone’s kitchen this month. No doubt you, dear reader, will be in lock-down like me or are semi- quarantined. This pandemic is, for many, a time to embrace older values, kindness, sharing, communicating more than usual but from a safe distance, cooking, baking, making music or going slightly mad. The handy phrase ‘cabin fever’ has never been more applicable. On the plus side, it is a reminder for many how much time we waste shopping: this break from consumerism is not such a bad thing. For those who have lost work and income, I hope that you get through this difficult time and are adequately supported by your government.¬† This will not be the case in many countries.¬†

So many quinces. 10 jars of quince jelly later, and still more quince to process..

My shopping list is now tiny: my granddaughter shops for us once a week. I exchange, at a safe distance, a container of home made soup and the money, left on a metaphorical pile of Celtic stones. I feel like a villager from the famous Eyam village, sometimes referred to as the plague village. I’m fortunate to have a productive vegetable garden which supplies most of our fresh vegetables. But it is a labour of love.

These lettuce are grown from seed all year round.

Apparently there’s a rush on vegetable gardening in Victoria: I’ve heard that seedlings are as rare as toilet paper and flour. Plant seeds. They might only take a few weeks longer. Some vegetables are better grown from seed as they don’t transplant well. These include all root vegetables such as radish, carrot, and turnip, while rocket and all lettuce varieties appear within a few days and can be transplanted easily. You don’t need a special garden bed. Sow seed among your flowers and in your regular gardens. Make a drill with a stick, add some fine white sand or very fine soil, add your seeds, cover them lightly with soil or sand and keep moist. Within one week, and voil√†, you’ll have seedlings. Parsley seeds may take a little longer, as it’s said they go to hell and back before germinating.

Packets of seed. It’s time to sow.

Every time I make risotto, I think of my dear friends in Lombardy. Alberto grows beautiful rice in the countryside near Pavia. His mother and Zia and Zio will, no doubt, be safe in the countryside. To date, 10,000 Italians have died from this virus, with most occurring around Lombardy. Make a risotto and offer a thought for this region- all that lovely Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Arborio is grown in the Po and Ticino river valleys, in the fields near the Lombardian villages that now feature daily in the news. We are all interconnected. 

Risotto con crema di zucchini. Lombardia, sempre nel mio cuore.

My pulses are getting a workout this month. This is not an unusual ingredient in my kitchen, nor has it much to do with the pandemic. I have to admit that while others were hoarding weirdo paper products from supermarkets, I went to BAS foods and bought an ungodly share of lentils, chickpeas and beans. Sono colpevole, I am guilty of hoarding too.

Marcella Hazan’s green pea and potato soup, made from dried split green peas.

The smell of chutney cooking in the kitchen is enormously comforting, reminding me of my matriarchal line and the old Irish-British aromas that would emanate from their kitchens in Autumn. This is a great way to use up less than perfect fruit, all those windfalls and spotted specimens. 

Apple and tomato chutney

The orchard keeps giving throughout the months of Autumn, thanks to some fortuitous planting of heritage varieties nine years ago. The Beurre Bosc pears are the best keepers and star when poached in wine, sugar and saffron. After the pears are cooked,  I remove them and cook down the syrup for a while, producing a pear flavoured sticky wine.

My son enjoys making craft beer and is still able to purchase a freshly made wort, though this may change in the coming weeks. It is a noble pastime which takes place on our back verandah and in our shed. We have our isolation environmental protocols well in place since our lockdown, so he wears gloves and doesn’t enter the house.¬† After the brew is ready, it is kept in a refrigerated keg. Yes, dear reader, we have cold craft beer permanently on tap, and though I feel this situation is a little unfair, I’m not complaining.¬†¬†

Plague pale ale

The following is a thought provoking video link from Italy, subtitled in English.¬† Worth a peep. Meanwhile, if you’re short of interesting ways to cook pulses and beans, check my blog over the coming week as I plan to document my vegetarian adventures more frequently.

In My Kitchen, March 2020

It’s impossible to write about my kitchen without reference to my productive vegetable garden and orchard- the two are so closely entwined. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, which is now over 6 years old, you may have noticed that my kitchen and cooking posts tend to focus on fresh produce. This is the essence of what food is about for me, the excitement and challenge of cooking radiating from the daily pick. As this season has been bountiful, my urge to work in the garden has strengthened. While others of my age often consider downsizing, I’m considering expanding the garden beds. Vegetable gardening is not only for food: it’s my yoga and gym, my meditation space and fantasy land.

One of the more exciting plant discoveries this year has been the Turkish snake chilli, a prolific bearer, and a kinky pepper to pick ( an old alliteration riddle comes to mind). A long and thin lime green pepper, it has a tendency to curl back on itself, looking a lot like whirling dervish, or a green man in a turban. One in 10 peppers will be hot, making them an interesting substitute for Pimento de Padron, the Russian roulette of peppers, when cooked in the same way.  Unlike the Padron peppers, which are tricky to germinate and slow to mature in my climate, the Turkish snake peppers grow well here and fruit early in the season.

Turkish Snake peppers, scorched and lightly blistered in hot olive oil, served with salt flakes.

The only unusual product I’ve bought recently, and one that is worth sharing, is this delightful stone ground flour from Tuerong farm, which featured recently on Gardening Australia.¬†The farm is located in the Mornington Peninsula hinterland and is dedicated to growing small crops of heritage French and Australian wheat varieties. You can view the episode here.¬† The flour is available at Tuerong farm, or at Hawke’s farm in Boneo, or online, though it’s not always available. The khorasan makes a beautiful loaf.

I like soup at any time of the year, and each season brings new flavours to the table. When fresh local corn becomes available, I love to make this chowder. We call it ‘cholesterol corn soup’, given its butter, cream and cheese content, perfect for the first seasonal chill. The recipe comes from an old edition of The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, 1972, back in the day when the ‘C ‘word wasn’t such a worry. I’ve never fiddled with the original, so soothing and comforting is this dish.

Corn and cheddar cheese chowder

Another recent chowder occurred when I discovered some big, fat tiger prawns in my freezer- remnants of the festive season. This one was a splurge, requiring a small smoked haddock as well.

Smoky chowder, with smoked haddock, leek, potato and prawn.

This season, I have developed a passion for photography, and tend to photograph the daily pick in the same little spot in my living room, where the light is moody and a little dark. Most of these photos land on my Instagram page, @morgan.francesca each day, and may account for my overall slackness in writing. As I pay a princely sum for this WordPress page, it’s time I got back to writing more frequently, though I can see why many take the easier, often wordless, option of Instagram. Time to return to the word image.

Jonathon apples, the second variety to harvest.

Early pears, not the best keepers.

Breakfast for a queen. Porridge with poached quince.

Let the grape harvest begin.

A monthly link up event, focusing on kitchen happenings, takes place via Sherry’s Pickings. The theme can be interpreted loosely. Through this monthly blogging event, I’ve met some wonderful kindred spirits.

 

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 souffl√©, 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 PecelРwhy 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 ‚ÄĒ a potent greenhouse gas ‚ÄĒ when it rots.’¬Ļ

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.

¬Ļ 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 pur√©e¬†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/