Inspiration

Buddhist temples are serene places providing meditative space for those who seek solace, inspiration or rest from the troubles of this world.

Buddhist temple, one of many, in the Shwedagon Pagoda,  Yangon, Myanmar.

Buddhist temple, one of many, in the Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar.

For Celia.x

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In My Italian Kitchen, August 2015

Hand crocheted edging by Nonna Gina.

Hand crocheted edging by Nonna Gina.

Inspired by these beautiful hand edged tea towels brought to Australia by Alberto last summer, this month’s kitchen post is dedicated to Nonna Gina who lives in Carmagnola, Piedmonte, Italia. Hemmed, edged and crocheted meticulously, I stashed them away, thinking that they were just too lovely to use. Now they are out and ready for work. Age, washing and softening will give them a faded patina. And naturally, when I use them, I will think of Gina and life in Piedmonte, a region I am keen to visit. Grazie di cuore, Gina ed Alberto.

The star of any Italian kitchen is a good wedge of Parmigiano cheese, either Grana Padano or Reggiano.  Look for a parmesan that is  ‘stagionato‘, or at least 24 months old, the grainier the better. I have noticed that cheap parmesan cheese is being dumped in Australia from who knows where and sells for $13.00 a kilo. I suspect it will lack ‘graininess’ and taste like soap. Beware of cheap imitations.

Good Italian Parmigiana and my favourite tool, the microplane.

Good Italian Parmigiano and my favourite tool, the microplane.

Italian jugs are handy, especially when pouring ‘vino da tavola’, ordinary cheap wine. Whenever I use these jugs, I pretend I am sitting in some quaint little trattoria in Urbino, Lucca or Puglia. My fantasy world is well-developed.

Caraffe per vino da tavola

Caraffe per vino da tavola

My little Pinocchio, and the Pinocchio wine stopper which, fortunately, has never been needed, sit on the kitchen dresser, perusing the family scene below. They are a reminder to finish reading Carlo Collodi’s original Pinocchio which I purchased last year.Pinocchio, and friends

One of my favourite Italian white wines is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It brings back so many memories of the time I spent studying in Siena where I first discovered this wine at the local Upim store. A good one will be crisp and dry with honey notes. Dan Murphy used to stock a range of Vernaccia but now the range is limited to ‘el cheapos’. This one turned up in my favourite Italian supermarket, Gervasi, Sydney road, Brunswick. Cheap and cheerful is the best description for this brand!

The last and only time I went to Costco, I found this big tub of salted capers for a song. I knew there was a reason for trudging around that place for four hours! This big stash is so handy and gives a lift to a salsa verde, pizza or pasta putanesca.

Huge tub of salted capers

Huge tub of salted capers

An Italian themed post wouldn’t be complete without another peak at pasta. Here is my new favourite, egg reginette, delicate and fast cooking. Again, found at Gervasi Supermarket, Brunswick.

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Reginette con bietola e salmone affumicato.

Reginette con bietola e salmone affumicato.

And grazie di cuore also to Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, our busy host of this famous monthly event. Open the link and visit some other worldwide kitchens.

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Garden Monthly. Winter 2015

Winter is a great time to check the vegetable garden’s infrastructure before being overwhelmed by the tasks of Spring. Five years ago when we moved into this property, we installed a tall fence around the perimeter of the garden. The base of the fence was then boarded, allowing mowing and brushcutting up to the edge, but the fencing wire was not buried. We should have known that the rabbits would keep finding weak points and enter by digging under the boards. Task number one is to rectify this problem. Time to call a working bee.

Borage Blue - Spring is around teh corner.

Borage Blue Flowers make a colourful addition to a salad.

Last summer we installed hoops over half the garden beds, enabling us to attach shade cloth over the summer crops during the hot summer months. The hoops are made from ‘found’ reo ( metal reinforcing rods) which are cut into 1½ metre lengths then inserted into flexible poly piping. More hoops are required this season, to cover the remaining beds with stretchy cheap bird netting as a deterrent to the winter vandals, namely the cockatoos. These large birds love a winter raid. The guard cocky sits in the tallest tree, alerting his friends of our imminent arrival, though all our loud shooing and yelling has little effect. Down they swoop in large gangs, bombing any plant that they consider too tall, ugly or in the way. Last week the slow-growing broccoli plants became winter’s first victims. Some were sliced in half, others were pulled out of the ground. Just for fun! The 300 garlic plants are getting some height and look like the next target.

Keeping accurate rainfall records is an ingrained habit: we have records from this area dating back to the 8os. Winter rain tallies are important for many reasons. Melbourne can often be cold and dry in June and July, so watering becomes essential. This July we have received 104 mm, with a cumulative total of 491 mm for the year, comparing favourably with the figures from the July aggregate totals from recent years. (July’14- 340 mm, July ’13-300, July’12- 457, July ’11-537, July’10- 483). Let’s hope that the rain keeps up in Spring.

Winter herbs- dill and coriander.

Winter herbs- dill and coriander. Dill and walnut pesto is a new winter favourite.

Our vegetable garden relies on dam water. The house is supplied by rainwater collected in tanks and is reserved for home use, topping up the swimming pool and emergencies, such as bushfire. We extended the dam, making it deeper and wider, soon after we arrived in our new abode. It filled quickly during a Spring downpour: we watched in awe as it went from empty to full in one afternoon, like a giant cappuccino in the making. During the dry months, water is pumped from the dam up to a 5000 litre holding tank on the ridge. The water is then gravity fed down to the garden, via underground pipes, as the vegetable garden is sited well below the tanks. Sometimes the lines get blocked or are slowed down and need the filters changed. This is another winter task.

Our beautiful Dexter cows, Delilah (the bitch) Sad Aunty Derry, Skinny Duffy and the boys, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy (the rogue), give us a bountiful supply of manure as do the chooks. The manure is layered into large bins, along with dry leaves (carbon), and green matter (kitchen waste and green clippings): the resulting ‘lasagne’ puffs away for three months until ready for use with each new season. We have around five bins in various stages of maturation. Well made compost is the answer to successful organic growing, along with adequate water, mulching, and siting the garden away from shade or large rooted trees. East and north sun are key factors, along with protection from the South West, the main source of our destructive winds.

Dear Auntie Derry.

Dear Auntie Derry knows more than you think. She recognises Andrew from the road. ‘Here he comes, let’s chase his car up the driveway”.

Winter lettuces come in all colours and flavours. They are picked every few days, washed then spun and bagged. Unlike the supermarket packets of uniform ‘baby’ leaves, gassed and given a mandatory wash in bleach, home-grown lettuces are delightfully irregular, and often come with stems attached. The current mix includes Cos, butterhead, red oakleaf, red butterhead, rocket and baby radicchio.

Winter salad bowl

Winter salad bowl

Radicchio grows everywhere, even along the brick paths.

Self sown radicchio grows everywhere, even along the brick paths.

Perrenial Cacolo Nero ( kale) = good winter standby.

Perennial Cavolo Nero ( kale), good winter standby.

Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out this month’s vegetable garden posts on Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective from Monday, August 3.

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Pane Integrale con Miele. Wholemeal Bread

Now that we are six, four adults and two children, bread making has become an imperative. My extended family continue to buy white packet bread for school lunches, a bread that I am unable to eat. The other breads used in the household- bread to go with soup, bread after school with vegemite, toasting bread, bread for bruschetta or crostini, come from my oven. This is not just about economy, domestic goddessing or matriarchy, although some of those factors do kick in from time to time. Melbourne’s winters are unpleasant, to put it kindly, and when I’m not running away from the cold, I’m baking, a great excuse to stay indoors and keep warm.

This month, I am revisiting yeasted breads thanks to Leah of the ‘Cookbook Guru‘, who is featuring Carol Field’s The Italian Baker this month. I love this book; it is a great read even if you never bake from it. Her discussion of flour, although comparing Italian flour with American, is enlightening. To date, I have only tried five of her recipes: focaccia, (her method is unusual and produces a great result), pizza, ciabatta, a nut cake and pane integrale. My plan is to stay with Carol Field, twice a week, for a month and to post the results.

Wholemeal Bread with Honey – Pane Integrale con Miele.

Recipe makes one round loaf.

STARTER

  • ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 160 g or 2/3 cup warm water
  • 200 g unbleached white flour

Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl: let stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour with 70- 100 strokes of a wooden spoon. Let rise, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. Measure 50 g for the recipe and discard (or stash) the rest.

DOUGH

  • 1¾ teaspoons or 5 g dry active yeast
  • 35 g honey
  • 360 g or 1½ cups warm water
  • 500 g wholemeal flour ( organic and stoneground if available)
  • 7.5 g or 1½ teaspoons salt.

METHOD.

In most of her recipes, Carol Field offers instructions for making bread by hand, by stand mixer ( such as a Kitchen Aid ) and by processor. I use a standard sized Kitchen Aid in all my bread recipes.

BY MIXER

Stir the yeast into the honey and water in a mixing bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the starter and stir with the paddle until the starter is shredded or disappears. Add the flour and salt and mix with the paddle until the flour comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead for at least 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough should be fairly smooth and have lost most of its stickiness. Finish kneading briefly by hand.

First rise. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. ( or do an overnight slower rise in the fridge)

Shaping and Second Rise. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and shape into a round loaf without punching down. Place the loaf on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornflour. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled ( around 1 hour).

Baking. Preheat oven to 220ºC, fan forced. If you are using a baking stone, preheat it, then sprinkle with cornmeal and slide the loaf onto it. Otherwise, use the baking sheet. Bake at 220ºC for 10 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water. Reduce heat to 200º C and bake for 25 minutes longer. Cool completely on rack.

This recipe results in a dense, slightly sweet bread. At 100% wholemeal, you feel healthy just thinking about it.

wholemeal convert

In the good the old days, Italian fornai still produced a dark wholemeal bread. I recall hard, nutty little wholemeal loaves and focaccie made in the forni around Assisi during the 1980s. I couldn’t find any decent wholemeal bread during my last trip there in 2011. Carol Field mentions that whole wheat flour, containing the husk and wheat germ, has almost disappeared from Italy. Often breads passing as Pane Integrale are made from refined white flour with a quantity of bran thrown in!

It turns out that I have posted on this bread before- it must be good!

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/italian-wholemeal-and-honey-bread-pane-integrale/

And other posts from the Italian Baker:

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/my-italian-baking-bible/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/flattery-will-get-you-a-pizza/

 

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Who Listens to the Radio?

Morning peak hour, and we’re heading down through busy freeway traffic from Bribie Island to Coolangatta. The ABC radio channel crackles and croaks: morning radio and the Melbournian sounds of Jon Faine seem like a long way from here, both physically and culturally. Scanning through the options, we find an Indian channel that keeps us amused, with a pleasant mix of Bollywood and Indian classics interspersed with Hindi chatter, which lasts the duration or the journey. At one point, the commentator broke into English and simply said,

              Make the most of the day you have been given

This little phrase interrupted my thoughts. I stopped playing with the phone and began to reflect, as the hypnotic sounds of a Hindi melody transported me to another place, like meditation and a morning Raga.

Now a week later and I am back home, that little phrase still hangs in the air. I have found an online Indian radio station, Radio Garam Masala, to be a wonderful antidote to all the bad news, political posturing or mindless guffawing on the radio. Not knowing the language helps!

              Make the most of the day you have been given

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Sea grasses, Great Barrier Reef

Under the sea, grass sways like a hula skirt around a giant clam. The underwater gardens of the Mackay Reef, off Cape Tribulation, in Far North Queensland, Australia are a natural wonderland. Global warming, the crown of thorns star fish invasion and coal mining, with its associated dredging and dumping off the coast, are the main threats to their survival.

Photo. Tranquillo Morgan.

Photo by Tranquillo Morgan.

The Great Barrier Reef risks being downgraded to a ‘World Heritage Site in danger’, thanks to the short sightedness of the current Australian Government. Despite warnings from UNESCO, a mega port development has been approved for dredging to create three shipping terminals as part of the construction of a coal port. The process will create around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed that will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.¹

¹ Extracted from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_threats_to_the_Great_Barrier_Reef

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My Twister

I don’t see my younger sister very often, despite the fact that we both live on the outskirts of Melbourne, or around an hour’s drive apart. Sometimes six months will pass before we catch up. The best times are when she comes to stay at my place in the country or when I get to land on her for a few days in her winter apartment in Coolangatta, Queensland. After spending the first 24 hours giving the drinks a serious nudge, we begin to relax into a comfortable routine of walking, cooking, shopping and sister trickery.

While wandering aimlessly around one of the finer shoe shops in Coolangatta, discussing the various pros and cons of brands, colours and comfort factors, the shop assistant rushed up eagerly with a wild look in her eye and announced,” you are twins or sisters, no twisters”. We keep forgetting that we have grown to resemble each other over the last twenty years and each time it happens, we are amused, amazed and delighted. And then the game is repeated over and over again for the duration of the holiday as strangers feel compelled to comment on our sibling resemblance.

We recall with hilarity the many times in the past twenty years when we were greeted in this way. One night, a young chap wandered, or staggered up to us, raucously announcing, ” I think I’m seeing double, maybe I’ve had too much to drink, or are there really two of you?”

Our shoes, not the same colour!

Our shoes, not the same colour, just the same brand, size and style!

We are often mutually surprised, after an absence of many months, to find that we have arrived for an event or restaurant lunch wearing the same coloured clothes and accessories. We both wear a lot of black, being true Melbournians, and break this up with colourful extras. This, and our skin colouring and hair length, only adds to the confusion and fun.

Hats, scarves, reading glasses, jewellery, shoes. Totally weird!!

Hats, scarves, reading glasses, jewellery, shoes. Totally weird!!

We gathered some bits and pieces from our bedrooms for a little photo shoot and were amazed at what we had, quite separately, chosen to bring along for the winter holiday!

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Dingo Beach, Far Away in Time

There’s a little quiet beach some distance away from the commercial hub of Airlie Beach in North Queensland that makes you want to sing. The foreshore fringes the beach with deep shady old trees for a kilometre or so. Randomly placed wooden picnic tables hide in the dark, looking almost organic. Although the public facilities are generous, the area isn’t overly manicured or regimented. Cars park randomly,most still attached to a boat trailer. A few stainless steel BBQs hide under cover, inviting the traveller to cook up a few prawns or slabs of coral reef fish.

Dingo Beach, far away in time

The town consists of two or three streets of local holiday houses, a friendly country pub whose front area blends with the treed foreshore, and a small breakfast shop attached to the rear of the pub.

Diver returns from the  reef.

We visited Dingo Beach on a few occasions, parking our Hobbit van in the shade, our only company a cheeky parrot who came to inspect the salad and then leaving in disgust.

Tiger Prawns fresh from the trawler at Bowen.

What is missing is a camping ground, a blessing in disguise. Accommodation is limited to three apartments next to the pub and a few rental beach houses. Consequently the town isn’t dominated by the ‘grey nomad’ traveller, retaining a wonderful local ambience and diversity. And the song that came to mind? 

Dingo Beach
Far away in time
Dingo Beach
Far away in time

Lyrics adapted from Echo Beach, Martha and the Muffins, 1983. Another song plant, to be considered by Mr Tranquillo and his guitar playing mate, Chris.

A traveller kicks a soccer ball at low tide on Dingo Beach

Low tide at Dingo Beach, North Queensland, Australia

A fish and a tune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Butterfly, Symbol of the Deaf

Butterflies have come to symbolise deafness in Australia, as butterflies can’t hear, are silent, but feel through vibrations. The Deafness Foundation and other organisations associated with the Deaf adopt a butterfly badge as their logo.

Rainforest butterfly, Magnetic Island, Queensland.

Rainforest butterfly, Magnetic Island, Queensland.

There are 385 species of butterfly in Australia, with 70% living in the rainforests of the wet tropics. The largest threat to the butterflies is loss of habitat.

Magnetic Island Butterfly

Magnetic Island Butterfly

Narrow bush tracks meander through the dense rainforest on Magnetic Island, North Queensland, Australia. Colourful butterflies flock to patches of light, blue and iridescent green wings lighting the way.

For Jack and Leanne.

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Rainforest Markets of the Deep North

Along the coastal road through Far North Queensland, markets and roadside farm stalls provide a bounty of produce. It’s always a risk leaving a big town, with its safe supermarket and air-conditioned aisles of familiarity, to head off into the wilds in the hope of finding fresher, less uniform produce along the way. It is a risk worth taking.

Papaya for a song

Papaya for a song

Heading north from Cairns, the main source of fresh tropical bounty is the Saturday Mossman market. North of Mossman, the supplies are minimal so time your visit well. The Mossman market is an eclectic mix of old Australian of the Devonshire tea variety, new Thai farmers, old hippy and earnest organic growers. I purchased freshly crushed pineapple juice, bags of cherry tomatoes, Thai herbs and spices such as fresh stem ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and chilli as well as tropical fruits, papaya, mandarins, and large hands of lady finger bananas, the latter courteously ripening two at a time as we travel along in our camper van.  Some children had a tiny stall with limes and sweet basil, and a late arrival brought along a table of freshly pulled purple shallots.

Never too old to Busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Never too old to busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Heading south from Cairns, roadside stalls begin to appear after Innisfail, with a few farm stalls along the way to Mission Beach and mandarin stalls in the misty hills near the Tully River. In the winter months, look for long green Thai eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and chilli, as well as passionfruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple, limes, mandarin, and  bags of small avocados. The fruits end up in our daily Sunshine Pine Salad, named after our dear friend Sunshine Pine from Taraxville, a girl who loves orange!

Sunshine Pine Salad

Sunshine Pine Salad

The Sunday Market at Mission beach is another excellent source of freshly grown produce. I was delighted to find a fragrant bouquet of fresh curry leaves, carambola (star fruit) and a bag of baby sweet potato.

Carambola and Passionfruit

Carambola and Passionfruit

Fresh seafood is available at Cardwell.  Moreton Bay bugs taste as sweet as crayfish, and the local Spangled Emperor fish has firm, white flesh, perfect for a lunchtime BBQ. This fish is caught only in the Coral Sea and is worth a trip up north just to taste it.

Our road trip down the east coast of Queensland, from Cape Tribulation to Coolangatta, is a research journey as well as a holiday. While pubs and restaurants supply reasonably priced meals, most of these are deep-fried, standardised and bland.  Sadly, that’s country food. With a bit of forward planning and local knowledge, it’s possible to eat extremely well along the way. Pull up in your car, grab a picnic table, and eat with a view in the warm open air. Food never tasted so good.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.

 

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