In My Kitchen, June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne Then and Now

I have a great fondness for the city of Melbourne. I recall travelling to the city by train frequently as a child, though back then, it was always called ‘town’, a term I still like, akin to the Italian concept of ‘centro‘. ‘Town’ back then meant the centre of Melbourne, particularly the commercial hub from Flinders street through to Bourke street via the arterial network of wonderful dark lanes and arcades. The route, chosen by my mother, usually included various shortcuts underground then along Degraves St, crossing over to the ornately tiled and arched Block Arcade where she spent time as a teenager working in a florist shop. My father spent his working life in the Customs House, a grand old colonial building in Flinders Street, which now houses the Immigration Museum. If he knew beforehand which train we were on, he would wave to us from his second floor window, not that we could see him, but my mother would know. ‘Wave to Dad’, she would say as we passed by. Going to town was part of our upbringing and education: train travel was central to where we lived. It became my escape route from bland suburbia. The grid layout of the city was the key map and we learnt to draw it at an early age, along with learning by rote the names of the stations along the line. The train trip grew in excitement as the view of the industrial docklands appeared to the right, a warning that we were nearly there, followed by the frightening proximity of a dark grey Dickensian looking building to the left, the deeper shadows and grandeur of the city’s architecture, Dad’s Customs House, and the final arrival at Flinders Street station, with subways lined with white and green tiles, spittoons, people in a hurry and men in hats. The highlight of a trip to town would also involve lunch, usually at Coles Cafeteria. Lining up with a tray, and being permitted to choose from an array of pies, cut sandwiches in points and a jellied sweet was the only time we ever ate away from home.

To this day, I’m still very fond of trips to the city, though my train journey is much longer and doesn’t trigger any flashbacks of looming ancient buildings and the scenery of my childhood. As I’m not an avid shopper, I’ve found a new excuse to visit the city more often, or at least I did until the Melbourne lockdowns began. The Melbourne City Library is conveniently located in Flinders Lane, the most vibrant library in Melbourne. By ordering books on line, I had a wonderful excuse to travel along the pulsating lanes of Melbourne, which are memory lanes for me. Of course this library is now closed for browsing, and during lockdown, closes completely. 

I’m not sure why Mr Tranquillo suddenly produced a book from our overflowing and somewhat shabby home library: perhaps I had been reminiscing about these times. He found the book in an op shop some years ago, though I have never laid eyes on it before today, which is a good enough reason not to clean out or prune the library. Edwardian Melbourne in Picture Postcards ¹, includes a wonderful selection of old postcards held at the State Library of Victoria. One page is devoted to each, with details of the location, the printer of each, and a transcript of the letter on the back. I now have another legitimate reason to visit the city, to capture the modern equivalent of each photo, taken from the same location. Standing in the middle of the road, and attempting to photograph above a sea of people may present a few problems.

Below, a selected photo postcard from the collection, taken in 1913 and printed in three colours in Germany, followed by my photo taken in November 2020, when the city of Melbourne, post lockdown, was still very quiet. And the book which inspired this post.

Flinders Lane, Melbourne 1913. This view of the busy intersection of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street was taken a little way up Flinders Lane, looking west. Collotype with three colours. Printed In Germany. Shirley Jones Collection, State Library of Victoria.
Little Collins St, Melbourne. November 2020. View looking north towards Bourke Street. Taken when Melbourne first opened from the second hard lockdown and was still deathly quiet.
Edwardian Melbourne in Picture Postcards, Alexandra Bertram and Angus Trumble. Melbourne University Press, 1995.

Melbourne’s Six Seasons

Put away your trumpet, there’ll be no fanfare for the dawning of Spring. In Melbourne, the month of September is changeable, windy and unpredictable. Sunny days are often preceded by blistering cold. Gale force winds rip through the hills, bringing down branches from bare winter trees while the ‘darling buds’, the blossom on fruit trees, bravely hang on. There’s nothing especially attractive or romantic about Spring: the arrival of Primavera is invariably disappointing. Early Spring is like a moody teenager: all that white and pink confetti blossom helps to create a sense of hope and promise, yet the new season is accompanied by immaturity and mood swings. It’s a season on hormones. I’ve often returned to Melbourne in late September to be disheartened by the cold and windy weather.

This year I experienced my first Melbourne winter for 10 years and was surprised by the vibrant colour in the garden and the calm weather throughout late July and August. It isn’t surprising to learn that the Wurundjeri – Melbourne’s indigenous people who have lived around what is now Melbourne for thousands of years- have a calendar consisting of 6 seasons. The period from late July to the end of August is a distinct season in the indigenous calendar: it’s the time of nesting and first flowers. This year, this pre-spring season has been remarkably clement, sunny and still, with many joyous picnic kind of days.

One version of a graphic attempting to depict the Wurundjeri calendar. http://www.herringisland.org/seasons1.htm

 ” The division of the year into four seasons comes from Northern Europe, and does not fit Melbourne. We still think of winter as an unfavourable season for plants, when northern European trees drop their leaves and become dormant, but for our native plants, especially the small tuberous herbs, winter is a season of growth. At this time the bush is green, and the temperatures are rarely low enough to stop growth. The unfavourable season is high summer, when water is scarce, and much of the ground flora becomes brown and dies off. “¹

In the last two weeks of winter, I’ve observed new seasonal birds in the garden, attracted by the early pink/mauve flowering Echium. New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spine Bills and Wattle birds have feasted on this large bush while on still days, hundreds of bees have had their turn. Once the honey eaters arrive, a seasonal indicator of sorts, I start sowing seeds, knowing that the sun’s angle will be perfect for germination inside my north facing window.

Native wattle trees have been in flower for weeks, with different species taking turns to paint the distant landscape with bright yellow patches of mini pom poms. The blue green leaves of the eucalypt drape and sway gracefully from tall healthy trees. They are in their prime in late winter. The native purple flowering creeper, hardenbergia violacia spent winter snaking its way along a fence while the mauve flowers on the tips of the silver leafed Teucrum Fruticans hedge have enjoyed this pre-spring season. Some non- native plants have also thrived in late winter, especially the euphorbia, a startling lime green show off, while the jonquils and daffodils, now spent, are a late winter pop up. One lone flag iris emerged under a pear tree. The citrus trees fruit in this little wedge of time between winter and spring- Navel, Washington and Blood orange fruits brightened the season. Now that Spring has arrived, they’ve finished their fruiting cycle, with energy directed to leaf and flower.

The late winter vegetable patch has supplied us with bitter salad leaves, chard, kale, turnips, green onions, leeks, broccoli, fennel and parsley. Spring will push these plants sky high: it’s now a race to eat as many of these liver cleansing greens as we can before they bolt to seed.

This year’s pandemic and subsequent isolation forced me to regard winter with new eyes: I can honestly say, it wasn’t so bad. And now, let’s see what this season throws at us. Life has become as unpredictable as Spring. 

¹ There are many diagrams and charts illustrating aboriginal seasons, each one varying from place to place. The diagram above best illustrates Melbourne’s seasons. Diagram and quotation from http://www.herringisland.org/seasons1.htm

 

Over the Hills and Far Away

Day 26.  Living in the hills on the periphery of Melbourne, it’s always fairly quiet around here. We don’t have neighbours within hearing distance, and the road isn’t close by. There’s one small general store, a primary school, a rural supplies store, a pub, bakery and a pizza place. Most of these are now closed or open on a limited basis. Time has come to a standstill. The nearby flight path is silent, the early morning workers’ cars are few and far between. The kitchen clock tics more loudly, evoking memories of dark, claustrophobic antique shops crammed with heavy wooden furniture, tapestries, Victoriana and mantelpiece clocks. The wooden beams creak overhead, expanding and contracting with the day’s heat; an annoying fly hums about, landing on my arm as I write. This deathly quiet seems like I’ve stepped back in time to another place in another century. On days like this, the black dog hovers too close for comfort.

It’s almost four weeks of self-isolation now and I can count the days of escape on one hand. Simple pleasures- a walk around an oval, a short drive to a nearby township to pick up a special order, or to drop something off from a distance, a long awaited postal delivery- have become the highlights of my month.

Driveway, mist over creek. Day 10

One of those outings occurred on Day 10. We left home early as the morning fog still hovered above the creek valley below our place. The drive took us through the hills that form part of our district and followed the steep descent to the township of Yarra Glen, suspended below the road in a pool of blinding light. Travelling along the fertile plains of the Yarra Valley to Coldstream, we passed by vineyards and strawberry farms, fields of dark leafed cabbage and paddocks of sheep and cattle. Our mission was to collect a few day old chickens from a hatchery, a necessary and essential trip, officer, in order to provide future laying hens for my small self- sufficient farm. It is a familiar landscape: I’ve been travelling through these same hills for forty years. Yet on this occasion, the landscape seemed to sing with extraordinary beauty. I discovered new vistas, old railway bridges and distant mountain ranges that I had ignored all these years. Less traffic, the cold, clean air of the morning, the silver sun rising through the glinting frost in the valley, I felt a rare euphoria, a joy that emanated from being immersed in nature.

Cabbages of Yarra Valley, Day 10

I made a resolution on Day 10, that when all this is over, I want to go on more picnics in the nearby hills and valleys. To be a part of this landscape while we still have it. To do what our ancestors did on their days off.  And when I’m more confident about the state of the world, perhaps I’ll take a longer drive to other beautiful landscapes and bush within Victoria, to visit this land with new eyes.

A Break in the Weather

At last there’s a break in the weather, a cool snap with a little rain. Is it time to rejoice or was that last shower just another drizzle of hope? This summer and autumn have been hot and dry, pleasant weather if you’re by the seaside, but not so kind for those who love their gardens and farms. An omen of what’s to come? To date, we have had around 60 ml of rainfall over the last three months. The tanks and dams are low, the fruit trees are dropping their leaves too early: rabbits crawl up and over fences in search of something green to eat, starting with their favourite snack, the ring- barking of fruit trees before looking for small gaps in the well fenced vegetable patch. The figs look like hard little bullets and have given up the battle.

Midst our paddocks of desiccation, there are some welcome surprises. The quinces are fabulous this year, picked just in time before the birds got desperate. Such an old-fashioned and demanding fruit, I love the way they turn from hard golden knobbly lumps into the most exotic concoctions. How do you describe the flavour and colour of poached quince?

With the sound of the rain on the tin roof, my thoughts turn to food and preserves. Quince jelly, quince syrup, perhaps to use as an exotic base for gin, a torta of ricotta and quince cubes, quince ice cream, the syrup swirled through a softened tub of good vanilla ice cream, perhaps some Spanish membrillo.

Long thin eggplants have been fruiting for months. While not as useful as the fat varieties, they grow more abundantly in our micro-climate.

After chopping the eggplant for a Chinese dish, I noticed their resemblance to the cushions.

The Pink Lady apples are the star this year. We grow 13 varieties of apple, and each has its year. The crop has been well protected by netting, though the desperado cockatoos are beginning to notice. Picked and stored in the fridge, they are reasonable keepers.

With the change of season, I hope to return to my usual pattern of posting and cooking. There will be more recipes coming and anecdotes of one kind or another, simple stories about the beauty of life. As the saying goes, ‘I’ll keep you posted’.

 

 

Mujaddara. Lentil Alimental

I am often aghast when my mother tells me about her cure for general lethargy. She cooks up a small rump steak, the ‘point’ of the rump, she insists, along with two eggs for breakfast! Part of my awe is her amazing appetite for meat at this early hour of the day. Even when I used to eat meat, now more than 40 years ago, I doubt I could have stomached this meal first thing in the morning. My mother lived through an era without internet ‘authorities’ proselytizing about food, although she is aware of the modern-day TV cranks, those we love or love to loathe, who promote a high protein, no carb diet to the gullible. Mother has always eaten modestly and sensibly, cooking all her meals from scratch until very recently and included a daily quota of vegetables, fruits and carbs in her diet. But she NEVER cooked lentils.

When I’m feeling run down and tired, my body growls for lentils. These humble little pulses cure me instantly, especially when combined with rice or grain. Food associated with poverty to some, or hippy era food to others, lentils come into their own when treated well and cooked in interesting ways. Red and yellow lentils in Indian dhal, or whole black lentils combined with red kidney beans in a soothing Dhal Makhani, red lentils and a scoop of bulgur wheat in Turkish bride soup, brown lentils for burgers, puy lentils in shepherds’ pie, lentil and vegetable soups finished with a dash of lemon juice, lentil and zucchini fritters, Indian Kitchari and the addictive Lebanese dish, Mujaddara, the list goes on and on.

Last week’s version of Mujaddara, with dukkah eggs

In the last two months, I’ve made Mujaddara three times, trying to streamline the method. The SBS version, hosted by Maeve O’Meara, is quite good, the Diane Henry version tends to stick to the pot, whereas the more straight forward version I like comes from Abla Amad of Abla’s Lebanese Restaurant, Carlton, Melbourne. I love the way Mujadarra goes well with easily prepared side dishes: labne, radishes, any pickled vegetable, salads of tomato, cucumber and mint, and perhaps some Lebanese pita bread. Leftover Mujaddara can be combined with grated zucchini and a little binding egg for fritters, or stuffed into silverbeet (chard) leaves for dolmades. Or, simply microwaved for breakfast, and served with a big dollop of yoghurt. My kind of pick me up.

Double pick me up. Lentil and rice, with eggs, and sides.

The following recipe is from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen. I have slightly modified a couple of small details along the way.

Lentils and Rice ( Mjadra’at addis)

  • 300 grams ( 1 ½ cups) brown lentils, washed and drained. ( I used Australian grown Puy lentils)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 150 ml EV olive oil
  • 2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
  • 200 g ( 1 cup) long grain rice, washed, soaked then drained

Method

Place the lentils in a saucepan and 750 ml ( 3 cups) of water. Cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Add another 250 ml ( 1 cup) of cold water ( this prevents the lentils from splitting) and boil for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook the onion for 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring often to prevent the onions from going too dark. Set aside one quarter of the onion, and add the remainder, together with its oil, to the brown lentils. Stir in the rice, then add another small cup of water ( about 150ml if using puy lentils) and cook, covered, over low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. I recommend using a simmer mat for this final step.

Spoon the mixture into a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with reserved onion. Add any left over onion cooking oil. Serve with yoghurt, Lebanese salad, and other found fridge meze.

Breakfast or lunch pick me up

Leftover Mujaddara, grated zucchini fritters on a bed of peperonata

What, dear reader, is your favourite ‘pick me up’ food? Can you down a steak for breakfast? Do lentils hold any odd connotations for you?

 

Melbourne for Kids. The Old Melbourne Gaol.

This story was written six months ago, and for some reason, sat idly in my draft folder. Although these activities took place last winter, the same or similar code breaking scavenger hunts take place every school holiday period in The Old Melbourne Gaol. The current summer holiday activity for kids, A Word from Ned , is similar to the  activity described in the winter programme below.

 It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, bitterly cold outside and the gang of three has arrived for a week. Keeping three youngsters aged 8, 9 and 11 busy AND away from their glowing devices is a challenge. I was warned by their parents that I would probably fail in my attempt to limit their iPad time to 30 minutes per day. ‘Good luck with that’, they laughed. An activity programme was called for, one written in consultation with Oliver, who wrote the timetable and costed the events. We decided to check out the Old Melbourne Gaol, a great spot for some morbid entertainment. During the school holidays, all young visitors receive an activity booklet, Escape the Gaol, which keeps them busy, frantically looking for clues on each floor of the gaol, in order to receive an official stamp and finally ‘escape’. Younger children may need a hand with some of the trickier questions and riddles: the constant walking up and down narrow metal staircases provides some physical exercise for the accompanying adults.

Inside the corridors of Old Melbourne Gaol.

After a mad search for clues on the floors and walls of cells, the children learnt to co-operate with each other and share their answers, a fine learning goal and one I encouraged. The activity took over an hour to complete. Many gruesome spectacles can then be enjoyed on each floor, especially the hanging rope area and trap door drop, the copies of death masks on display throughout many cells, and the Ned Kelly paraphernalia and other stories of woe. ‘Such is Life‘ to quote Ned’s last words.

Hanging platform, Old Melbourne Gaol

Hanging Scaffold

I had a particular interest in visiting the older part of the gaol, originally called the Eastern Gaol. My great- great- grandmother, Catherine, was locked up in this dungeonesque place for a brief time in 1857. She had been found wandering the streets of Melbourne and locked up for vagrancy and madness. I am still trying to piece together her story. As her seven children were eventually admitted to the Melbourne poor house for orphans, the Eastern gaol became her last refuge and place of demise. After a short stay, she managed to find the store containing a bottle of poisonous cleaning fluid and drank the contents. Her consequent death guaranteed an instant escape from gaol, and what must have been a tragic life.

Almost steam punk.

The Old Melbourne Gaol was erected in stages between 1851 and 1864 by the Public Works Department of the Colony of Victoria, the design is attributed to Henry Ginn, Chief Architect of the Department. The oldest remaining section ,the Second Cell Block (1851-1853), consists of a long block with three tiers of cells terminating in the central hall (1860), the site of the hanging scaffold. This is the site you will visit. Included in the total tour cost is a visit to the City Watch house, a more modern building next door, where actors dressed as police yell and intimidate you before you land in a darkened cell with your other fellow inmates. This building, although not as evocative as the older building, is well worth a visit for the 1960s lock up experience. The graffiti on the walls speak of sadness, racism, and poverty.

Graffiti etched walls of City Watch House

The Watch House has been left perfectly intact since it was vacated.

This is a great day out for kids over 8: they eagerly donned replicas of Ned’s armour and after the tour, we chatted about the Ned Kelly Legend, came home on the train and sang this song.

Daisy in Ned Kelly helmet.

Other free activities nearby include a visit to the State Library, an historical landmark and a grand building from the Melbourne Boom era. Kids are keen to climb the stairs to the top level and to see a busy library, full of readers and others playing board games. At present there’s a display of wonderful old manuscripts and books on Level 3.

View from above. Melbourne State Library.

The shot tower inside Melbourne Central is opposite the State library, which rounded out our short historical tour of colonial Melbourne.

Shot tower, Melbourne Central.

We travelled by tram and train to the city. Many kids who live in the outer suburbs spend most of their time being driven about in cars: public transport is a novelty in itself. The cost of $70 for a family of 5 for the tour of the gaol was quite reasonable. I can highly recommend this tour to Melbourne residents as well as tourists looking for something a little different in the centre of the city.

Trams are a novelty for many suburban kids.

Melbourne city views

Melbourne, always changing.

Melbourne central

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, November 2018

It’s around 5 pm and my mind reluctantly begins to address the question of dinner. Lacking inspiration, I pour myself a drink, an encouraging white wine and immediately think of risotto, a dish that asks if it may share some of the bottle. There are tons of broadbeans ( fava beans) and leeks in the garden and plenty of herbs: a risotto primaverile could be the answer. At other times, I do the common thing and google a few ingredients in the subject line, hoping for an instant answer, fully conscious of the fact that random internet recipes are unreliable and are simply another form of procrastination. I often ask Mr T what he would like for dinner. In our household the answer always comes back as a one word statement indicating a particular ethnic cuisine. “What about some Indian?” (or Thai, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese)? he responds. Vietnamese is off my cooking list- I save that cuisine for at least one economical dining option when out and about. When Melburnians eat, they choose from a huge array of influences and are familiar enough with many cuisines to cook them confidently in their own kitchens.

Risotto Primaverile. Inspired by spring vegetables and white wine and of course, Italy.

It’s one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much. Sitting in the A1 Bakery yesterday, a cheap and cheerful Lebanese restaurant in a vibrant inner suburb, we were surrounded by Australian people of the world, dressed in all manner of clothing styles, from Hijab to Hipster. The decor is eclectic and a little quirky. Above the counter stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in all her blue and white Catholic glory, an outfit not dissimilar to that worn by some of the customers, while displayed in front of her is a long row of 1 metre high golden hookahs. An odd assortment of pictures decorate the far walls:- a primitive painting of Ned Kelly, the Irish- Australian bushranger legendary hero, an oil painting of Saint Sharbel, a Lebanese Maronite saint dressed in brown monastic garb, a large velvet rug featuring some knife wielding Ottoman Cossacks, and a childlike painting of a cockatoo. The place is always noisy and very busy. On a nearby table, a large group of girls are enjoying a shared lunch together: they have just finished their final year school exams and are celebrating at one of Melbourne’s most affordable eateries. They are Middle Eastern, Turkish, African and Asian Australians. A couple wear glamourously draped head-dress over their teenage uniform of jeans and t-shirts. They speak Melburnian – time to recognise that Australian English has many distinct dialects – and their youthful laughter is infectious.

Below, my home-made falafel, this time with more Egyptian influence and lots of herbs

 

My next door neighbour in the city has just returned from her annual holiday in Greece. For the last 22 years she has tried to teach me basic Greek. We chat in a mixture of broken English and, in my case, almost non-existent Greek – a case of trying to recognise as many Greek roots and suffixes or Italian sounding words, over a some warm Tiropsomo, a fetta cheese bread snack. Like a little bit of Ouzo, says Anna at any time of the day. Oooh, my favourite Greek word: yes please. She pours herself a thimble full while I receive a good little glass, enough to change the flavour of the day. Cheers, Stin ygiasou . She is now 86 and I want to spend more time in her kitchen. Greek influence in my kitchen extends to old favourites such as Spanakopita, that famous greens and fetta pie, Gigantes, the best of bean dishes, home-made taramsalada and dolmades. I’m keen to learn a few more Greek tricks.

Crostini with smashed broad beans and Greek Fetta. Italy meets Greece via Sicily often in Melbourne. Pick one kilo of broadbeans ( fava), shell them, boil for one minute then remove tough outer casings, mix and smash, season well. Top grilled sourdough with mixture, then add some crumbled sheep fetta, olive oil and mint leaves.

The annual Spring BBQ at Barnardi’s place took place recently: this is one of the culinary highlights of my year. When I arrive at most parties, I usually reach for a glass of wine before perusing the food offerings. At Barnadi’s, I head straight to the buffet table- the anticipation of his traditional Indonesian food is so overwhelming, I become outrageously greedy. Barnadi is a chef who once ran a famous Indonesian restaurant, Djakarta. Lately, he has returned to his roots and is cooking more traditional Indonesian recipes. The Australians attending this event all share a diverse background- Indonesian, Thai, British, Greek, Italian and Swedish, a healthy Melburnian blend. The dessert table included a tray of sticky rice green and pink Indonesian cakes, some Javanese Gembong, a rich Spanish flan, a chocolate cheesecake and a Hummingbird cake for Adam’s birthday.

Barnadi’s sweet creations, photo courtesy of Adam. The long dish second from the left contains Gembong, my favourite Javanese sweet, sold in streets of Cipanas, West Java.

 

My mother recently moved into an elderly care facility, commonly known as ‘the place’. The first thing we checked out was the menu. The food is fabulous and varied: the chef, who once had his own restaurant and is of Indian Fijian background, has a great approach to the menu. He hopes to eat this well when he is elderly and so he cooks as if he were a guest at the table. Yes, it’s Karma, we both agree. Visitors can eat with the residents with notice, and there’s always a spare dessert available when visiting during meal times. They are sensational. Each member of staff, from manager to cleaner, is genuinely caring and friendly: they smile, dance and chat to all. These Aussies have Chinese, Malaysian, and Filipino backgrounds and I am so thankful for their loving care of my mother.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite Australian comedy clips, each with a multi cultural theme.  Laugh or cringe. Thanks Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this monthly series.

Liquid Sunsets

Down by the shore of Port Philip Bay, Melbourne, there’s so much going on during the sunset hour. Seagulls frolic and chase phantoms, paddle boarders glide by, silhouetted in liquid gold, a passing puppet show on water, cargo vessels float weightlessly upon the shipping lane, black swans gently pose, and aluminium dinghies turn bronze. Mesmerizing and always new.

Aluminium turns to bronze

Sunset gulls and paddle boarders, Port Philip Bay, Melbourne

Swans,  silhouette and ships. Port Philip Bay, Melbourne

Paddle on by. Gentle and noiseless water sports by the bay.