Christmas Biscotti from Siracusa

I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas this year. During the weeks leading up to that day, I won’t be counting plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins, gutting rooms and borrowing chairs, moving furniture to make more room, ironing table cloths, emptying fridges, making lists and more lists, and anticipating an event for 29 or so guests. On the day, I may be sitting under a shady tree, eating some simply cooked fresh fish, followed by a few light biscotti, enjoying a conversation, good music, and a bottle of wine.

biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia
Biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia

Despite this once in a lifetime opportunity, or escapist retreat, the making of festive delicacies is, for me, very much part of December and still continues. Last year I enjoyed making Cuddureddi, a spicy little Sicilian tart. They were eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas day or were given away to friends. This year, I am looking to Sicily once again for inspiration. What could be more tempting than chocolate, almond and cherry biscotti, usually found in the pasticcerie in Siracusa, Sicily?

Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliege
Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliegia

These little almond, cherry and chocolate bites can be thrown together very quickly and only take around 12 – 15 minutes to cook. They are soft centred, with the texture of a truffle more than a biscotto. They are gluten-free, dairy free and very moreish. Wrap a few in cellophane to give to your child’s favourite teacher, or give little gifts to loved ones during Advent. Dicembre e` un mese bellissimo, mentre il giorno di Natale puo` essere stressante!

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate cherry amaretti biscuits

  • 250 g finely ground almonds
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
  • 60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, ( or three medium )
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 gr icing/confectioners’ sugar

    bisoctti ready for oven
    biscotti ready for oven

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and add to the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. ( Note- if you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.)

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Form balls with the almond mixture then roll them in the icing sugar. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, approximately 12- 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20 balls. Note, my edited pics make the balls look rather large but they only measure around 4 cm.

biscotti di Siracusa
Biscotti di Siracusa. Amaretti con ciliegie e cioccolato

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno, 2016

For my dear friend Diane. Let’s spend next Christmas in Sicilia, cara mia.

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Bistro and Kitchen Garden

People who know about the culinary delights of the Royal Mail Hotel are prepared to travel three hours from Melbourne to dine there. Overseas travellers also make the journey into the Western District of Victoria: the word has spread far. The Royal Mail Hotel has been a two hatted restaurant for some years now and continues to win annual awards. The dining room, and the more affordable bistro, are definitely on the foody itinerary.

Carror risotto, with baby carrots and herbs.
Carrot risotto, with baby carrots and herbs. $26

The Bistro, now called the Parker Street Project, is open every day,  whereas the fine dining restaurant, with 5, 7 and  9 course set menus, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from Thursday to Sunday. We visited on a Monday and were delighted to find well priced and stunningly good food at an affordable price in the Parker St bistro. Under its present incarnation, with new chefs and a revitalised menu, it is even better than the last time I visited in 2009.

Fish and chips with a difference. Port arlington flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and brocollini.
Fish and chips with a difference. Port Fairy flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and broccolini. Smoky Pimenton aioli. $24

The key to the success of the hotel is not simply the dedicated world-class chefs, assistants and trainees who work here, but the vibrancy of fresh, organic produce. The Kitchen Garden, which was established in 2009, is the largest hotel garden in Australia. Run on organic principles, it spreads over more than an acre. Eighty per cent of the vegetables, herbs and fruit used in both the dining room and the bistro, comes from this huge productive garden. Chefs pick twice daily: it’s their larder, green grocer and inspiration.

Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper thin slice of turnip, simply dressed
Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper-thin slice of turnip, simply dressed. $8

The head gardener, Michelle, will tell you which flowers the chefs love best, ( for instance, society garlic, viola, nigella, cornflower, nasturtium ) and what wonderful beer they are now making with the Verbena. Most of the produce grown here are heritage vegetables and rare herbs, which are not generally available to chefs. Michelle uses a number of organic practices ‘such as using ducks to control pests like slugs and snails and using compost derived from vegetable waste, grass clippings, spoilt hay from chicken coops and animal manure from nearby farms to build up soil structure and provide nutrients.’ She also has fabricated wire cages to protect some crops from the ducks and white cabbage moth, has made circular shade cloth surrounds for blueberries, encourages early tomatoes with wind and frost surrounds, does some experimental planting in hot houses, and trains berries onto tall wire strained structures. The whole tour is an inspiration. If you are a keen vegetable gardener,  you must not leave Dunkeld without a visit to this garden. Ask questions and learn. And try to get your tour when Michelle is on duty, if you are a garden fanatic like me. The chefs lead the tours on the other days. Tours cost $15 per person and last around 45 minutes. A staff member will drive you to the site, given its location some distance from the hotel.

Royal Mail Kitchen Garden
Royal Mail Kitchen Garden

Take your own tour of this amazing kitchen garden by opening this media slide show of photos separately.

Staying at the Royal Mail Hotel is a treat, with private suites facing the grand view of Mt Sturgeon, a large swimming pool for hot days, and great walking, which start within the hotel grounds. If you don’t wish to splurge, the caravan park has spacious powered sites for $25 a night, which are set on a shady creek, and also has cheap overnight self- contained cabins.  Dining in the restaurant is rather special, but you will also do very well in the bistro. The new Parker Street Project, is managed by Stephen, a friendly, hospitable young man who really loves his job. Enthusiastic staff make a huge difference here.

Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
a customer sits on a shady veranndah at teh Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.
A local sits on a shady verandah at the Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.

More details about the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia can be found here.

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.

In My Indian Kitchen. December 2016

Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.

Spice Kitchen
Spice Kitchen by Rajini Dey. Published 2013, Hardie Grant Books.

Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.

Dark arts drawer.
The Dark Arts drawer.

An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.

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Tibetan Bell reminds me of India and my son Jack

I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.

Prawn pakora or Bhaji.
Prawn pakora/ bhaji.

Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.

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Rajma ( red bean) curry with poached egg and yoghurt.

This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.

Ishka bells, Ishka bells....
Ishka bells, Ishka bells….blah blah all the way. Oh no, those songs are back.

And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
  • pinch of chilli powder
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.

Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.

Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.

Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

My Notes.

I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.

I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.

Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.

I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.

My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.

prawn pakora
prawn pakora with mango chutney.

Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?

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.

Way out West. Postcards from the Wimmera.

It’s Sunday morning and the small town of Jeparit seems deserted. We walk towards the centre and do not see a soul. There’s one car parked outside the Lutheran Church along the way.  Old time religion lost its customers long ago. The only remaining cafe, an annex of the supermarket, is closed as are the other two businesses in town. There are two pubs, the grand looking Hindmarsh, which opens from 4 pm a few days a week and the other, the Hopetoun, recently purchased by enthusiastic new owners, which opens from 11 am daily. Two years ago, neither pub was in operation. Business fluctuates in Jeparit. Welcome to the heart of the the Wimmera District of Western Victoria. Not many tourists bother to make it here. The vast bleached plains seem too flat and monotonous to the untrained eye. After a few visits though, the stark beauty of this rural, dry and at times, inhospitable landscape, leaves a stirring impression. I am called back annually, leaving my own claustrophobic hills and valley behind.

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Corellas in the sunset sky.

Jeparit, with a population of 632, clings to survival. Each year another business fails and more large Edwardian and Federation houses fall into disrepair, crying out for new owners to love them. But while the school, post office and bank remain, there’s some hope for the town. Situated 370 kms north-west of Melbourne, it takes a brave soul to re-settle here. The physical isolation is palpable: cheap real estate, pure air and austere beauty comes at a price.

The Wimmera river flows through the town.
The Wimmera river flows through the town. The river and nearby Lake Hindmarsh often run dry.

I have been visiting a friend here for around twenty years now and with each visit, the beauty of the environment unfolds: I am often overwhelmed by the silence and majesty of the vastness of the land. On one occasion, we were tempted to buy a solid 1920s red brick mansion on a thousand acres. It was a dream house begging to be cared for, with a crumbling earlier house from the 1880s out the back, beautiful handcrafted sheds, wild almond trees growing in the sand dunes, and rusty old harvesters lining the driveway. The property was going very cheaply. We resisted. The property still haunts me, such was the strength of that particular fantasy.

Flowering gum in bloom. Jeparit Camping Ground.
Flowering gum in bloom. Jeparit Camping Ground.

There is a sadness about the town, a melancholy that hovers under the mantle of continuance. This year, the rains have been good: the wheat crop is the best on record. Other crops such as lentils, peas and green manure crops have also been abundant, making the local farmers more optimistic. The newly re-opened pub, the Hopetoun Hotel, managed by smiling Mel along with an enthusiastic young chef and assistants from Sri Lanka and the Punjab in India, offers a cheerful gathering place for the locals. Our new Australians are breathing life into these isolated communities.

Harvesters busy at work on a Sunday.
Harvesters busy at work on a Sunday.

The first thing you will notice in the Wimmera is the sky. It seems overwhelming, surrounding you in blue clean air above and right down to the ground: even during winter when the mornings are crisp, the skies seem to be perennially blue. The landscape is entrancing and after a while, you begin to see slight rises in the flat, bleached plains, where old sand dunes rise and may contain ancient water springs, as old knowledge about water sources was passed down long ago to the farmers by the traditional owners, the Gromiluk aborigines.

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Old abandoned railway station, Hopetoun. The train lines still function for goods trains throughout the wheat-growing belt.

Another appealing hallmark of this wheat-growing district are the silos dotted along the horizon at each small town. At sunset, white silos turn pink against an azure sky. The silos at Brim have become a tourist attraction thanks to the amazing artwork by Brisbane artist, Guido van Helten. They are now a tourist landmark and have put the tiny town of Brim ( population 100) on the map. Nearby small towns are gearing up to get their silos painted also.

Famous painted silos, Brim, the Wimmera, Victoria, Australia
Famous painted silos, Brim, the Wimmera, Victoria, Australia
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Silos at Brim, painted by Guido van Helten

Other buildings, many falling into disrepair, dot the main streets in Brim, Beulah, Hopetoun, and Rainbow. It’s worth a drive around the circuit in this lonely land, to visit the real country, the heart of north western Victoria.

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Old Anglican church, Brim.
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Attractive rural shed opposite the Brim pub.
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Old shed, Rainbow.
Towers of straw bails follow the wheat harvest.
Towers of straw bales follow the wheat harvest.

National Parks of Australia. The Grampians

It’s not this time of the year without a trip to a National Park. This time we have chosen The Grampians National Park, Gariwerd, in the west of Victoria, 260 kms from Melbourne.

koook
Kook Kook Kook Kook, laugh your merry laughter.

Cicadas crescendo in the thick of the bush. Clouds of white corellas screech and rise above. I was hoping to see Bunjil, the mighty wedgetail eagle that is at the heart of the indigenous legend of this beautiful park. Instead I met this cheeky Kookaburra who happily posed for me for an hour.

Close up of Kooka feathers.
Close up of Kooka’s feathers.

The Magic of Varkala, Kerala

Varkala is a magic spot. The small holiday beach town is perched vicariously on the edge of an eroding cliff, overlooking the Arabian sea. You can get to Varkala by car from Fort Cochin, a long and very slow trip which winds through an ocean of traffic, pedestrians and cows, or you could fly into Thiruvananthapuram, then take a car north. The state of Kerala is known by the locals ‘Gods Own Country and I am inclined to agree. It is tropical and lush, productive and the locals are very welcoming.

Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.
Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.

There is not a great deal to do in Varkala and there lies its appeal. Pastimes include sitting under a shady verandah, replenishing your cup from a large pot of ginger and honey tea in the early hours of the day or drinking a chilled Kingfisher beer at sometime later. These two sipping pastimes converge in restaurants that lack liquor licences: you may be served beer in a large teapot.

A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.
A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.
Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.
Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.

The locals love to chat, which makes walking far more interesting and certainly adds a few hours to the journey.  There are yoga classes, Ayurvedic treatments and cooking schools to attend. If you stay for  a long time, you might be inclined to write that great novel or learn the art of total relaxation. Internet services are fast and free, the food is very good and the accommodation is cheap.

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Local transport. The Guardian Angel is aptly named. The other small 3 wheeled motorbike taxi was named Jesus. You need to invoke a bit of help from the gods as you negotiate the crumbling and disappearing footpath along the cliff.
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Watching the locals play as the sun comes down in Varkala.
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Local girls by the sea.
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Cooking school for two. We attempted to eat all this food, and really needed to share it with 5 others!

 

White Polenta, Fave Beans and Salmon

After my broad bean shelling festival last week, some readers inquired about my culinary intentions for the little shelled gems. A few Spring broadbean treats have emerged from my kitchen of late, though some of the photos leave a lot to be desired. Today’s recipe is based on a dish I had in a restaurant in Oamaru, New Zealand, where they served creamy white polenta with a buttery sauce of local clams and crunchy fried capers. Ever since, I have been very partial to white polenta. I’m not a purist when it comes to polenta instantanea versus 20-40 minutes of aching arm action. Sometimes you have to cheat. Instant polenta is convenient and a versatile neutral tasting base on which to layer intense flavours. This recipe is meant to be flexible: you can use any fish or seafood that comes your way, or, leave it out entirely. Once the beans are shelled, and slipped out of their rubbery casings, the hard work is done.

bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer.
Bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer. The hard work is done.

Polenta Bianca con Fave e Salmone. White Polenta with fresh Broadbeans and Salmon. Ingredients listed for two people.

  • 1 cup instant white polenta
  • stock or water to cook the polenta as per packet directions
  • butter and grated parmigiano to enrich the polenta, to taste
  • 200 gr Atlantic salmon
  • I cup of double shelled broadbeans. ( if you are buying fresh broadbeans, you will need around 1 kilo)
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  • butter
  • black pepper
  • fresh marjoram leaves, a few stalks.

    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
  1. Cut the skinless salmon fillets into chunks of around 6 cm. Season and lightly oil the pieces and heat a solid frying pan.
  2. Make the polenta according to packet instructions. This will come together within two or so minutes. Stir vigorously, then add butter and parmesan cheese. Stir until very smooth, then keep warm on a heat diffuser.
  3. Cook the salmon chunks to your liking. I like mine well coloured on the outside and just cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan and add some butter. Add the garlic, stir for a few seconds, then add the shelled broadbeans. Stir till hot, then add the marjoram leaves and black pepper.
  5. Assemble the dishes in wide low bowls. First lay a bed of the hot polenta, then add the salmon chunks,  then the broadbeans. Add a lemon wedge and a drizzle of your best oil.
    Poelnta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.
    Polenta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.

    This is a gluten-free meal that is easy to prepare, though does involve three simultaneous maneuvers. To make the dish vegetarian, leave out the fish, add more butter to the broadbean sauce, and add some shaved parmesan at the end. To veganise the dish, leave out the fish and butter and use very good olive oil and more herbs for flavour.

Older posts on broadbeans can be found in these links below. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/tagliatelle-with-broad-beans-and-smoked-salmon/  and  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/italian-product-trial-farro-rice-and-barley-pilaf/

A Saturday Perspective. Fave Beans and Protest.

I’m sitting at a small table in the dappled sunlight, shelling hundreds of broadbeans. Gentle music plays from behind the wire screen door, soft enough to barely enter my consciousness. There is a hint of movement on the verandah, a slight zephyr stirs the heads of the tall-growing lavender out along the fence line. This continual podding, the gentle gouging out with index finger, is a meditative business. Tiny beans fall from their white fur-lined capsules: the pile of discarded pods growing larger as little grey-green gems fall into another basket. Is this the good life? Sitting quietly in the sun, performing an ancient, repetitive task that brings a few vibrant green meals to the table? Or is it the calm before the storm?

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A basket of broadbeans and some time to reflect.

Repetitive tasks enable the overloaded brain to sort out the events, conversations and news of the week. To put things into perspective. To discard the useless husks from the good, life giving nuggets. As America, the land that once was great, or so we were led to believe by the myth makers, accepts the shocking reality of Trump’s election, the crude facts of this result spread throughout the globe. American voters have willingly and consciously elected a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a LGBT hater, a narcissistic billionaire braggart with extremely dangerous views of the world and of America’s place in it.  All this cheap talk about getting on with business as usual, and being positive seems a bit vacuous to me.

A nice task on a sunny morning
A nice task on a sunny morning. Two kilo of broadbeans, podded, steamed open and shelled, makes 350 grams. More beans wait for me in the garden below.

I’ve read enough and I’ve heard enough. I don’t believe we should sit back, wait and see, be nice to one another and be thankful that we don’t live in that country. I don’t believe that a navel gazing approach, a quiet meditation on the real things in life, the metaphorical shelling of fave beans, will get us very far. Time to join the revolution. Time, if you are a worker, to join a union and fight for the things you hold dear, time to pay subscription fees for our independent press so that the Murdochs and Trumps of this world won’t stamp out our ability to reason or to see events clearly. Time to join protest groups in the streets, to speak up loudly against racism and sexism when they occur closer to home, time to take action to reduce our own personal energy consumption while simultaneously pressuring our government to take climate change more seriously, especially here in Australia. Maintain your rage, speak out against injustice, inequality and hatred. And we can meditate and be nice to one another too.

All views are derivative and many of mine are too. These two articles inspired me this morning.