Sunday Stills: International Food (and Far Too Many Cookbooks )

Do you collect cookbooks? Do you ever refer to them or rush to the internet when the need for a recipe arises? This is the modern dilemma: too much information, not so much inspiration. I must admit, I have a foot in both camps. I have far too many cookbooks, and will probably acquire some more soon, especially if they turn up cheaply in my favourite second-hand store. I also find recipes on the internet and print them, thinking that I will make them soon. ( I rarely do). Most of my cooking is driven by the ingredients on hand, meaning those in my pantry, fridge or garden. My best meals are spontaneous and intuitive and rarely come from the printed word.  So what are all those cookbooks doing on my shelves and why do I find the need to acquire more?

I love books and the texture of them, their smell, and the care taken in producing them.  I like to hold them, turn the pages, and bookmark them, take them to bed. I find them comforting in the world of transitory information –  instagram,  tweeting and other forms of one second grabs of hollow information.

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Here is my question for cookbook collectors.  How do you organise your collection? By cuisine? Height? Colour? Nationality?

This little post is in response to Ed’s theme this week on Sunday Stills: International Foods. 

Rather than choose another foodie shot, I went to my bookshelves,( but wait, there are more ! ), source of international inspiration.

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Travel Theme: Clean

In 2012, two beautiful wwoofers from Chengdu, China came to stay with me for a month. They chose Melbourne as they had read that it is the world’s most livable city. Part of the charm of Melbourne and its hinterland, for the Chinese visitors, is clean air. Australians take clean air for granted, but as our cities and freeways become more clogged, and our government pays little attention to policies addressing global warming and carbon emissions, clean air might become a thing of the past. Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack has chosen clean as the photographic topic of the week, after she read this article in the Guardian about the air in Beijing.

 The following photos were taken in Tasmania, Australia. If you could bottle clean, the island of ‘Tassie’ would make a fortune.

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The spit at Bruny Island, Tasmania. ( below) Don’t forget to try the oysters at ‘Get Shucked’ for a taste of clean. ( above)

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The famous bridge at Richmond.

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Kisir: Peppery Bulgur Salad

In Melbourne, Brunswick is the home of Middle Eastern food, with numerous Lebanese and Turkish restaurants lining the northern end of Sydney Road. Along with Persian sweet shops, the emerging Shisha ( hookah) bars as well as some notorious Middle Eastern bread shops and grocery stores, a visit to Sydney Road, Brunswick is an exciting and inexpensive trip to another world. I can highly recommend a tram ride on Route number 19 to North Coburg, via Lebanon,Turkey and Iran.

I have been cooking food from this region for many years. The salads are vibrant and fresh with herbs used in abundance. The little mezze or starters make wonderful lunches, and the colourful and earthy dips made from fresh vegetables and pulses are so quick to throw together. It is also naturally vegetarian, apart from kebabs, with so much to choose from.

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Today, as part of this month’s  ‘The  Cookbook Guru’s ‘ focus on Claudia Roden’s ‘The New Middle Eastern Cookbook,’ I am heading straight to Turkey. This little side dish, Kisir, is simple to make and would be an exciting foil to many other Mezze. The recipe comes from Claudia’s ‘Arabesque’ as I was unable to obtain the original classic, but I am sure some recipes remain the same.

Kisir ( serves 6)

  • 200 g fine-ground bulgur
  • 125 g boiling water
  • 1 Tbles tomato paste
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • 5 Tbles extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fresh red or green chilli , finely chopped
  • salt
  • 5- 7 spring onions
  • 300 g tomatoes, diced
  • bunch of flat leafed parsley, ( 50g) chopped
  • bunch of mint ( 25 g) chopped
  • To serve – 2 baby Cos or Little Gem Lettuces

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  1. Put the bulgur into a bowl, pour the boiling water over it, stir and leave for 15- 20 minutes until the grain is tender. Don’t be tempted to add more water since the juice from the lemons and tomatoes will soften it further.
  2. Add the tomato paste, juice, and oil, the chilli, salt and mix thoroughly. Trim the green tops of the spring onions, then slice them finely. Add them and the diced tomatoes to the bulgur mix, together with the parsley and mint.
  3. Serve with the small lettuce around the edge of the salad. Another way is to roll the bulgur mixture into balls the size of a small egg and to place one in the hollow of a baby lettuce leaf.

Variation. Add 1- 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses to the dressing.

My Notes.

I had to add more boiling water in step one. Despite Claudia’s warning, I found this to be necessary.

I used the pomegranate molasses and enjoyed this extra dimension.

I notice that Ottolenghi also has this recipe in ‘Plenty’. Claudia’s version of this classic is so delightfully simple.

Below- Sydney Road, Melbourne 3056. Catch a tram or walk, it’s always stimulating.

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Just Like Parsley

The Italian language is full of colourful idiomatic expressions and over the last 20 years, I have collected many that relate to cooking and food. Essere come prezzemolo, to be like parsley, is a very visual example of this, which roughly signifies ‘ to be everywhere, to be present in different places and situations, or in many institutions, such as parsley, which is widely used in many different recipes. It also means to put oneself in the middle, to interrupt things, to meddle’.

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I am a great fan of parsley and I also enjoy a good simile. What I no longer like, nor even tolerate, is the misuse of the word ‘like‘ in the written context. Just like parsley, the misuse of this word interrupts and gets in the way, is common and overused.

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You will probably hear this ubiquitous language filler, stutter, speech impediment, spilling out of the mouths of teenagers. Travelling on trams or trains in teen hour, I become aurally fixated ( not much choice in a crowded tram) with the dreaded ‘like‘ word. It seems that young people today cannot utter a sentence or phrase without copious sprinklings of  ‘like‘ between each and every other word.  No, these ‘likes‘ are not used as similes, nor are they expressions of enjoyment or desire. They are not used to compare anything in particular. They have become a speech disorder a little akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I sometimes find myself counting the number of ‘likes‘ that appear in one sentence. The record stands at 19. I  also wonder whether these young people will be able to succeed in interviews, and whether they can turn off the ‘like ‘ button when under stress.

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We tolerate this in the young. Perhaps it’s a bonding word, a generational code, despite the stammering effect on expressive language. At what age should one grow out of the ‘like‘ phenomena? I ponder this question when I hear the occasional adult hampered by its overuse.

Seeing the word used, deliberately chosen, in writing, such as in popular blogs, makes my ‘like‘ meter go right off the radar.Image

Please make the word go away and save our language from annihilation. Just like parsley, it’s everywhere.

By the way, that parsley salad, straight from Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a real winner, and what would a lovely salsa verde be without parsley?

Feel free to comment, I won’t bite! grrrrr

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Sunday Stills. Yellow

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School holiday time and my house and kitchen have been turned upside down by the invading tribe of wild things. The ten year old wants to work outside all day as he is saving for a motorbike,( but its raining), the seven year old goes through ten costume changes a day and the five year old tries to keep up with her, the three year old likes to play outside in the rain. My table is covered with art materials, there are balls and blankets in the lounge room, chaos has descended.

Here is my escape into the world of yellow as part of the Sunday Stills challenge: Yellow

Marigolds above and sunflowers below in the gardens of Chenonceau, France.Image

A yellow painted vegetable stall in West Java, IndonesiaImage

A doorway in Bagan, Myanmar

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A fruit platter on board a houseboat in the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala, India

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Travel Theme: Misty

This week’s travel theme, chosen by Ailsa at Where’s My Backback, is Misty.

When I think of mist, my mind wanders back to Britain, Ireland and Scotland, recalling the mists hovering about the standing stones of Cumbria, or rising over the ancient dry stone walls of Inisheer and Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland, or seeping through the cold walls of  Dunvegan Castle on Skye, or chilling the seas near Tarbert, Outer Hebrides. Robbie Burns songs, softly spoken celts, peat and strong whisky, many scenes follow.  Alas, these images only survive in my mind.

My misty offerings today come from far warmer climes. The high altitude areas of India are often shrouded in mist. The tea gardens of Munnar, Kerala, India offer stunning views, the mists and waterfalls rise over the Westminster carpet of green tea plantations.ImageImage

Another hot and misty region, Mae Salong in Northern Thailand, also specialises in tea. Still the home to ex Kuomintang escapees from China, the food is superb and Yunnanese in style. Naturally, tea shops abound.Image

Everyone rushes around like a loony when Mt Rinjani on Lombok peeps through the mist over Lombok Straight. Out come the cameras.  Rinjani is the sacred twin of Mt Agung in Bali.ImageImage

The mists in my own front yard, early winter time, Victoria, Australia. There is a kangaroo highlighted on the ridge.

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Indonesian Curry Pastes and Sambals: the Uleg in Action

I recently introduced my Indonesian Uleg as part of my April’s IMK post. The Uleg had a great workout over summer and before the season changes and gets too autumnal, requiring more Cucina Italiana, I thought I might show off some of the impressive curry pastes made in this wonderful mortar and pestle. When B and I bought our Ulegs in the market in Cipanas, Java, I was surprised to hear the elderly vendor use the old Hindu word ‘Lingum” for the pestle, especially in a largely Islamic Indonesian region.Image

A lingum is

“Sanskrit for “shaft of light” and is the term for the Hindu god Shiva as represented by a phallus (erect male organ). Usually found in conjunction with the Yoni (‘vulva”) which represents the goddess Shakti – the source of Creative Energy. They co-join to form Bhrama – the Universe. This is the Hindu Trilogy; the representation of the twins of Creation and Destruction as the highest manifestations or aspects of the One (Bhrama).” 1.Image

I must admit that the Indonesian pestle is more phallic than my others and certainly does a very good job.

A very hot sambal makes the perfect side dish for spring rolls and nasi goreng.

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The photos above and below are some of the wonderful curry pastes and sambals Barnadi introduced me to this January. As you can see, all sorts of wonderful things get ground in the Uleg, not just spices. After some practice, the combinations become intuitive. Once ground to a paste, magic cooking follows.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

 

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In My Kitchen, April 2014

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Asian themes are the inspiration for ‘In My Kitchen’ this month. It forms part of the monthly round-up of inspiring kitchens from around the world, hosted by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

Indonesia is our nearest Northern Neighbour and is only a short flight away from Australia. Last January, we found this Uleg in a little market in Cipanas, West Java.  Barnadi and I obtained one each: not the easiest hand luggage to cart back. It resides permanently on my bench and has had a serious workout in my kitchen since then, and has turned a little yellow from the fresh tumeric root I have been using.  The Uleg below.

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It has some other friends, the big Thai mortar and pestle, good for pesto and curry pastes, and the little one, great for smashing together a few garlic cloves and ginger for curries, or a herbal butters. I rarely use my food processor these days. Mortar and Pestles are therapeutic and fast.

ImageChopsticks in a teapot. My young visitors like to learn to use them. And on occasion I do a good impersonation of Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid ( the original one of course!) and pretend to catch flies!!ImageThis season, dragon fruit have been appearing in the markets. I fell in love with dragon fruit smoothies in Indonesia and have attempted to replicate them.  Along with the magenta coloured dragon fruit, I mix in shaved ice, banana, and any other fruits that need whizzing up.

ImageThese yellow eggplants are an Asian variety. I purchased the seedlings from Vittorio, thinking that they were the long purple variety. I am not sure that I like these ones much, but they are very decorative.ImageIn a corner of one kitchen cupboard reside an assortment of Asian Crockery. All purchased from Savers  ( one huge recycling store) very cheaply. I should mention that most things in my home come from Savers!

ImageSome calligraphy done by my friend Brian; I am not sure what it says but it brings good luck to my kitchen.ImageAnd last but not least is a jar of Jimmy’s Sate sauce, purchased recently after Celia wrote about this last year. I am about to try her recipe which you can find here.Image

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Travel Theme: Statues

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I am always drawn to Buddhist temples when travelling in Asia.The busy temples along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, or the quiet Lanna style temples in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The colourful temples, with attached monastery schools for young boys, in Luang Prabang, Laos and the small Buddhist temples dotted throughout the Islamic towns of Java. I attempt to visit them all .

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These Statues of Buddha are a few from my Buddha files. They were all taken in Myanmar ( Burma), where the Buddhist Pagodas outdo all others in scale and opulence.

Ailsa’s ‘Where’s My Backpack‘ hosts a weekly travel themed blog every Friday. Check out some of the others.

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Around My Edible Garden, March.

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I have been recording my vegetable garden activities in a hard covered journal for the last four years. It documents the sequence of planting in our 14 garden beds, as well as recording garden fantasies, drawings of fabulous arches, borrowed designs from garden visits. But there are no photos of each month’s results. Let’s face it, written journals are portable, flexible in style and very ‘Victorian’ when it comes to gardening but blog journals allow one to creep on all fours amongst the plants with camera on Macro, capturing the flowering, fruits, beetles, and worms.

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Yesterday the perfect weather, with the promise of rain in the next few days, took me back to the garden to plant seed for the next round of crops. My poor veggie patch has been neglected for months, mainly due to the heat and drought conditions in and around Melbourne, Victoria for the last three months. I plant seed only when

  • the soil is the right temperature ( not too hot/cold)
  • there is no wind ( which dries out the beds)
  • when there is a possible rain event, or even better, an electrical storm
  • when the day time temperature isn’t too hot/cold. If it heats up too much, I throw on my ‘dog beds’ for protection. ImageImage

These perfect conditions usually occur in Autumn and Spring, the busiest time in my garden.

My other garden laws are as follows:

  • Crop rotation ( hence the need for a written journal, with numbered beds). Crops such as silverbeet (chard), lettuce and parsley drop seeds in the same bed year after year, depleting the soil of essential minerals. I now move them along as they pop up. I attempt to rotate tomatoes throughout the beds, never planting them in the same spot for two years.  I have also removed potatoes from the beds completely, growing them in containers as they tend to leave small potato seed behind, which have a detrimental effect on other crops, especially tomatoes.
  • Leaving beds fallow for a season is also advisable. Like us, they need a rest too.
  • Companion planting is great for bug reduction. Certain plants like each other, for example, tomato and basil, but this includes growing nasturtiums and french marigold.
  • I let curly endive and radicchio go to flower each spring: their blue colour attracts bees and assists in fertilising the summer crops. The best specimen of any plant is left to go to seed for collecting. I rarely buy seeds. I have one lettuce variety that has been collected from my gardens for 25 years.
  • Mulching is essential to keep the plant roots moist in summer and warm in winter. I use pea straw. I used to use Lucerne, which is dynamic  but it tends to drop too much weed seed.
  • Composting in layers- one part green, one part brown, one part manure- helps to keep the pile active and sweet, whether in a closed or open bin. Newspaper is collected and shredded by hand- the ink dyes are vegetable based. Leaves are collected too. Manure comes from our three cows and assorted chooks (hens). The kitchen provides the rest. In spring grass clippings are added, as well as an occasional sprinkling of ash from the open fires. There is always plenty of material about.
  • Rain records are kept

Documenting the crop each season is also important. This March ( 2014)  is the year of the eggplant. Last year, capsicums ( peppers), the year before, tomatoes. We do plant all these crops, but each season, one crop ‘stars’ due to the weather conditions. Of course zucchini will always do their thing! This season’s garlic bulbs were huge in size due to abundant Spring rain: last year’s lot were much smaller due to a dry Spring.

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Do you have a vegetable garden? How big is it and what system works for you? Do you rotate crops or grow herbs in pots? Are our summers getting hotter? Do you grow your veggies in separate beds or in amongst the flowers?  What are the main pests or problems? Do you share the abundance or make preserves? Do you have an orchard and what is your best crop? Please leave a comment and if you like, add a link to your vegetable garden round-up for March in the comments below, with stories or pictures or both.  Also refer to my blog in your garden story so that it can be included.  This will become a monthly event for me, and I hope you can join too, to document our success and failures in the garden.

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This is such a great response from Davide, I am moving it from comments to this spot.

                                              Stealing Kisses

I have 3 beds that I have been using now going into my second winter. I dedicate this space to my “ major” veggies, so eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli and beans. My “minor” veggies get relegated to other parts of my garden. For example, rocket and leafy greens. My main problem is the location of the beds, which receive filtered sun during summer and typical issues like aphids ect. Trying to be “organic” and avoiding spraying with nasties is a time consuming process. Having the TIME to dedicate to my veggie patch since the birth of my son is a “ problem “ too  :(
I often feel like I have to steal “ kisses” from my veggie patch  :(
Despite all this, we have surprisingly great crops and, especially in my first summer, was able to hand out to relatives and friends. (I think the best part of growing your own veggies)
We preserved our basil and made homemade pesto, which was incredible! And pickled loads of veggies “ Italian style” …mum helped me out with that and we are still eating to this day. I forget the Italian name for that.
This summer eggplants, cucumbers and capsicum were my big winners. They are still in the ground. The cherry tomatoes grown over an arch did well, but not as well as last summer. I grew 2 on our fence and they did very well. My son loves eating them straight off the vine  :) I tried being more sophisticated with my tomatoes plants by pinching out the new growth and having just a main vine, however they struggled again. Lack of mulch, inconsistent watering and no fertilizing cost me I think. (due to a lack of time)
I will give them one more go, before I pack it in and only grow the cherry tomatoes.

I will be purchasing a couple apple creates in the next couple of weeks to build on what I already have, so would like to use them for my leafy greens! I love your idea with the dog beds to protect the seeds. I have loads of problems with falling leaves ect with my seeds.

I love your blog. Thanks Davide

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Also check out this delightful edible garden from Deborah ( My Kitchen Witch)  in Sheffield, UK.  Romantic stone walls, Morello cherries, herbs and bay trees, gooseberries look so romantically English and historic.

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Posted in Around My Edible Garden, reflections | Tagged , , | 22 Comments