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

Rod’s House. Decorating in Colour

I feel very connected to Rod’s house. I was there when he decided to buy it, though at the time, I preferred the white-painted, more feminine, pressed metal house around the corner. In hindsight, I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.

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We set out on that long road trip to the Wimmera District in 1997, travelling in an old mustard green 1976 Datsun, affectionately known as a Datto in Australia, a car not known for its style or class, then or now. When we first entered the house, I found the darkness oppressive: the house felt sinister, haunted even. Built in 1897, with walls made of thick, unadorned concrete, it was stark and foreboding. The house consisted of two rooms at the front and two at the rear, with a central entrance hall just inside the front door. Off one end of the back verandah, there was a semi functional bathroom (that hasn’t changed much) and at the other end, a derelict room. The only ornamentation back then were the fine wooden fireplace surrounds featuring swastika fretwork. Rod has more than compensated for those austere times with his strong colour treatments and decor.

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Corner of the living room. Swastika fretwork on wooden fireplace. The modern TV blends in easily with the myriad of paintings and the 1950s glass cabinet.

Rod’s decorating style could be called courageous, or outrageous. ¬†He doesn’t follow trends although he has set many in his time. Rod’s previous house in a Melbourne seaside suburb contained wall to wall original framed Tretchikoff prints, Danish mid-century furniture, Sputnik record turntables and assorted retro gems. These were all sold off, once they became desirable and collectible. When Rod moved to this country house in 2004, he started again from scratch, seeking a new rural, eclectic and personal style.

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Entrance hall, looking towards living room.

I kept records of the metamorphosis of this house along the way, though some of my treasured files were lost to bushfire, or random deaths of hard drives. At each point along the way, the decor has been quite different. I walk in and wonder what happened to the huge blue and white Chinese urns, or the hand-made miniature bird cages, or the vintage toy car collection. Things are always changing, rotating, or are tucked away.

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The kitchen. Tiny 1940s kitchen benches and sink, modern stainless steel stove, black painted walls, cheap canvas French prints from the reject shop, other framed originals, pink man knife holder, a recent op shop purchase.

When Rod first moved in, he began painting the walls. For years they changed colour but lately, he seems satisfied with the chosen colour scheme, especially since the walls are no longer visible thanks to the wonderful art collection on the walls. The kitchen walls can still be discerned, with black, deep orange and pink featuring loudly. Not much sun enters the house, thanks to the deep shady verandahs, so important in semi- desert country. The colours seem right: they breathe life into this old house.

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Old 1950s kitchen cabinet gets the colour treatment.

Rod is quite partial to old chandeliers: this one features in the front passage way. There are other chandeliers in the sitting room and bedroom but these have disappeared under veils and bling. New lighting is coming, and once the electrician deals with the antique wiring, the veils are coming down.

entrance foyer chandelier
Entrance foyer chandelier

Like re-entering your mothers womb room.
‘Re-entering your mothers womb’ room.

Art and Bling. Living room.
Art and Bling. Living room.

The main bedroom has been given a gentler treatment. The bed now has white linen, the only white used in the house. The bedroom is entered through a black cloud of butterflies.The darkness and softer decor beckons. Excuse me while I take a short nap.

Through a veil of butterflies, sleep calls at any time of the day.
Through a veil of butterflies, sleep calls at any time of the day.

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A beautiful window treatment.

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Is that a TV? Corner of living room.

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Colourful cotton reels and a touch of bling.

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Mr Tranquillo ( left) and Mr Rod enjoy an afternoon Pinot Grigio.

As you can imagine, there are thousands more photos. I hope you enjoyed the house tour Maxine, Susan from Our French Oasis¬†, Loisajay¬†, Peter at Tropical Bliss BNB,¬†(who had a cactus juice dream about Rod’s house ) and you also, dear friend and reader. Please comment as I am sure Rod would appreciate any feedback. If I do a post on Rod’s house next year, I anticipate that many things will have changed.

Under a shady verandah.
Under a shady verandah.

Some of Rod’s pre-loved treasure is available at a stall at the Daylesford branch of the Mill Market. His stall, shared with an old friend Leah, is called Rocket and Belle.¬†Drop in and say hello if you are in Daylesford. Cheap treasure abounds.

As an afterthought, I’m also adding this post to Ailsa’s Cheerful, her travel theme on Where’s My Backpack this week.

Rod’s Place. Gardening with a Magician.

Each time I visit Rod’s place, located in the heart of the dry Wimmera district, I do so with a heightened sense of anticipation. I always take my camera along and even the offered glass of chilled Pinot Grigio does not distract me from my snap happy tour. His house and garden is a feast for the eyes. Although he claims that nothing much has changed since my previous visit, I can usually spot major revamping. Lets’ take a walk together through his garden.

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Gardening on the verge and the last of the gravel country lane.

One of the major developments is the spill over of Rod’s garden onto the road verge. This began some years ago with a few tough succulents and a rosemary bush or two which thrived in the granulated sand. Since then, he has added some red flowering bottle brush, Callistemon,¬†and a sprawling silver and purple flowering Dusty Miller, some¬†irises and red flowering geranium. Along his fence line are vertical walls of creeping geranium, orange lantana, large agave, and ornate old wire fencing intertwined with rusty bedsteads. Passers by stop in their tracks and gaze in awe. It’s a work of art and enormously inviting in a wild kind of way.

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Part of the front fence

At his end of town, the paths are still rustic, consisting of hard compacted gravel, country paving that suits this rural village. All the town paths used to be so. But sadly ‘progress’ is now just a block away: the local Council is rolling out regimental width white concrete paving. This is happening despite the advice from R.M.I.T’s architectural department, where the students identified that the traditional gravel paving enhanced the visual and historic feel to the town and should be retained. Ugly concrete paving will be another blow to the town. Government grant money, which must be spent, often ignores aesthetics.

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The front entrance.

The narrow walkway to the front door takes you through a dark forest of succulents mixed with three metre high shrubbery. Rod initially planted out his front garden with rescued agave plants, found growing in abandoned ruins in the countryside or at the tip. To attain height, he has added large pots, urns, and statuary: these are usually placed on top of some found tin object to obtain further¬†height. Other plants, such as geraniums, grow a few metres high in their chase to reach light. There are very few purchased plants in Rod’s garden.

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An icon within an icon.

Statues of Buddha feature throughout the garden, but their placements are meant to surprise and amuse. This golden Buddha sits inside a painted corrugated iron tank which is raised onto an old wooden tank platform. The Buddha faces the house, the blue painted tank faces the street. Others can be found about the garden, often in seemingly random positions, on top of fence posts, or inside cages, or lying about, waiting to be painted.

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Dense shrubbery and Buddha head

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Amid the dense planting in the front yard, Rod recently broke through to create a tiny red brick path leading to another small painted niche and shrine.

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New shrine in the front garden

The back yard is now a forest. When Rod arrived here years ago, there was an old apricot tree, a sad-looking 100-year-old grape-vine and an old shed. Now the garden is a wonderland. The ancient vine is a monster, twisting its way around the garden and into the front yard. Other statues peep out from the shrubs. One colourful wooden Torii gate is topped with a terracotta chook sitting on a barbed wire nest. Rows of Chinese warriors, bought years ago from the Reject shop, line up in a tall painted wire cage. A classical statue sits on top of an old truck. Frizzle chooks and roosters run amok in the understory. I nearly stepped on a day old lost chicken.

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Statues, statues but not all in a row.

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Statues with creeping geranium

A Chinese emperor
A Chinese emperor midst the shrubbery out the back.

a cage full of Chinese warriors.
A cage full of Chinese warriors.

old truck with xx
Old painted truck with statue and urns

A head floating in thick creepers
A spooky head floating in thick creepers

chook, barbed wire nest and Torii gate
Chook, barbed wire nest on Japanese Torii gate.

Rod is an artist who is always on the look out for something quirky to add to the mix. He fertilises his garden with sheep manure collected from his brother’s farm and adds thick mulch in summer. He is on town water, but uses this sparingly. The garden thrives due to the microclimate he has created. The garden provides deep shade in summer and protection from frost and wind at other times.

the back yard.
The back yard walk.

I have thousands of photos of Rod’s garden and have chosen these few(!) to demonstrate what can be achieved with found junk, some good quality statues and urns and plant cuttings from the tip.

Coming soon: Rod’s house.