The Seafood Coast of Eastern Victoria

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy paternal grandparents lived by and from the sea. My grandfather crafted fishing boats, and my grandmother knitted thick Aran sweaters to sell to the fishermen of Bass Strait. They ate fish daily, had one cow for milk in the early days of their married life, and grew a few vegetables in their back yard. They raised seven children in their tiny wooden house facing the sea: they were poor but their life was simple and healthy.  My uncles and great uncles were fishermen in these waters, or spent lonely months operating the lighthouses on the windswept islands of Bass Strait. It is no wonder then, that I am drawn to this coast. I need to smell the sea air, hear the winds and the waves crash, and eat fish straight from the source. The pull is a strong one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our annual east coast road trip often begins at Lake Tyers, a beautiful village conveniently located near Lakes Entrance, home of the largest commercial fishing fleet in Victoria.  I’m pretty fussy when it comes to seafood. The only way I like it is fresh: I would rather go without, than eat the frozen product. The best source comes from the fleets of fishermen who work upon the deep, clean waters off Bass Strait. But then I am biased!

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Each month brings a new species to the Seafood Co- Op or the trawlers along the wharf. I have been fortunate in the past to score freshly caught calamari, Moreton Bay Bugs and prawns fresh from these trawlers. It all comes down to the month, the weather at night, and the sequence of the moon. No point expecting fresh trawler prawns before December, the ladies at the  fishing Co-Op will tell you. I was more than compensated this week by finding fresh scallops being shucked in one of the trawlers along the wharf.  Most of these briny babies are heading up to the Sydney Seafood Market. I’m eating mine today, fresh from the shell. I purchased a kilo for $30.00 and then filled a bag of discarded shells too.

This simple scallop recipe can be found in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. I’m not travelling with this tome, so my proportions are based on instinct and also on my abundant supply of large scallops. If you have a copy, find the recipe in the Scallop chapter.

Scallops Au Gratin

  • 1/2 kilo fresh scallops, cleaned, row retained.
  • 2 cups of 1 day old bread, such as sourdough, crumbed or grated.
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 2 or more garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • around 20 large scallop shells.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heat oven to 180 c. Lay cleaned scallop shells on flat baking trays.

Clean the scallops by removing the digestive tract or lumpy bit from the side of the scallop. Don’t remove the roe: it has no distinct flavour and is part of the scallop treat. If the scallops are large, halve or quarter them.

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Heat a small frying pan and add a generous slurp of good olive oil. Fry the onions very slowly until they soften and colour slightly, then add the garlic for another minute.

Remove the onion mixture from the heat and add the scallops, half of the bread crumbs and the parsley. Season well, then toss mixture together, Add a little more oil to moisten.

Place a heaped tablespoon or so in each shell. Add more crumbs to the top and another drizzle of oil. Bake until lightly browned, around 10 minutes, or use the griller function. Serve with lemon wedges.1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resized

Scallops are my favourite treats from the sea,

The Black Cat of Spello

The climb to the highest point in the Umbrian hill town of Spello, Italy, is steep but the view is stunning.  At sunset, the heat haze gives a pink glow to the olive groves and colline, the foothills sweeping up to stony Assisi in the distance. A welcome park bench awaits with an older gentleman keen to chat about the Roman ruins to be found a few steps away.

Assissi from Spello
Assisi from Spello

A black cat glides by and carefully balances on the drinking fountain, eager to quench its thirst.

ll gatto nero di Spello.
ll gatto nero di Spello.

The teenage girl can’t resist: she carefully pats the cat and follows it along the cobblestone path, yearning for a pet after her long months of travel.

Mischa ed il gatto nero
Mischa ed il gatto nero.
“Vieni con me, piccolo micio.”

Birdie Num Nums

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m supposed to be packing for a short road trip, making some biscuits and treats for the journey and generally getting organised. But there are a few distracting characters at my back door and kitchen window dropping in for a chat. How did these Birdie Num Nums become my new best friends? They stand on the outside ledge of the kitchen window and watch me wash up, then follow me around the house. Mr T walks to the garden: they fly by his shoulder and sing good morning in his ear. They sit in the nearest Melia tree, like sparkling red and green Christmas baubles, singing or chatting to each other or to us. Sometimes they ask for a handout of sunflower seeds: mostly they are just looking, thankyou.

Fiinally the exercise bike gets a work out.
Finally the exercise bike gets a work out.

Strictly speaking, the title of Num Nums is reserved for the visiting gregarious King Parrots. We have many other visitors to our veranda. The loud, raucous hoodlums of the bush, the Sulphur- Crested Cockatoos are welcome if they behave themselves. I noticed a couple of Cockies grooming each other the other day and as I got closer, I became convinced that one was applying special Cocky gel to the other one’s yellow crest.

This well-behaved lone Cocky, looking like some lovely white garden prop, was an early morning visitor.

Cockie garden decor
Cocky garden decor

There are other less frequent visitors: Crimson Rosellas, Corellas, Galahs, Kookaburras, wild Wood ducks, Wattle birds with their scratchy, ex- smokers chatter, the mysterious lone Sacred Heron ( always too shy for a photo) and the smaller hovering honey eating birds, the Eastern Spinebill and the New Holland Honey eater, always in a flutter.

Australian icon, thee Kookaburra
Australian icon, the Kookaburra

These characters come to remind me about the country life I love, as I toy with the idea of a move to the city. Thank you Birdie Num Nums and Friends.

I include the link below to a wonderful fragment of an old Peter Sellers film, The Party, which may help to explain the title of this post to those who haven’t had the joy of seeing this film before.

Behind the Fantasy

Dear Reader,

As my blog turned two last week, I thought it might be time to make a confession. These thoughts came to me yesterday as I was writing about Du Fu, the Tang Dynasty poet. As I spent hours indulging in the treasure trove of ancient Chinese poetry now available on the web, I came to the conclusion that I am an escapist. I spend too much time in the land of fantasy. I use blogging to time travel to past centuries or places or to recall some tasty meal I have made and was organised enough to photograph, or better still, that someone else made for me in some other country. And I do so to escape from this….

An overdue renovation. Any one fforr plaster reemoval?
An overdue renovation. Any one for plaster removal?

And the day before that, I was considering making a Lent dish to be eaten in Spring, as it would be, if I only I lived in the northern hemisphere where I think I belong. I was simultaneously researching the background of one of my favourite cookbook writers, Joanne Weir, hoping to weld together a story about the history of pre-Christian Lent diets- Lent meaning spring after all – with one of her fine recipes. I made these Greek lentil and bulgur koftas. I was keen to introduce you to the recipe, but then they tasted so bland. Mr T said the Greek potato dish that accompanied them made all the difference. Code for crap koftas. The story about Lent in Spring now remains idle. Perhaps it will re-surface one day.

Lentil Fritters with yoghurt and dill. Bland!
Lentil koftas with yoghurt and dill. Too bland!

And the day before that, I made another sourdough loaf, but the kids came around for a swim, someone opened a bottle of white wine and time just evaporated. The loaf over proved, I shoved it in the fridge overnight, then baked it the next morning and it came out like this, tasting like a worn out shoe.

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Even the chooks might reject this loaf.

For every published post, there are 10 more sitting in the draft pile, left behind because something went wrong, or the photos weren’t up to scratch, or the recipe was a flop or they became too long. Some posts take weeks to write and research, others write themselves and come together quickly. Some are more popular than others and I’ll never know why.

The post below has had 1200 views since it first appeared. Maybe I should just stick to cake recipes? I recommend it to you as the apricot season draws near. It is a reminder of my more pragmatic self.

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https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/

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Thank you dear Reader for following, reading and commenting. Sometimes you’ll get a gem, and at other times, an ordinary little nugget.

The Dead Poets of Chengdu: Family Letters are Worth Ten Thousand Pieces

1-du

Imagine three large museum halls set in a 24 acre manicured park dedicated to a poet from more than 1200 years ago. The Chinese love their Tang Dynasty poets, especially Du Fu. Du Fu’s thatched cottage, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, is located in the Du Fu Cao Tang Park along with other museum halls displaying panels of his most famous poems, exhibitions of ancient stylised calligraphy, and a sculpture hall for the other major poets of that era.1-dufDu Fu enthusiasts from around the world come to pay their respects, the locals to enjoy reading the famous poems they learnt as youngsters at school, or to appreciate and try to translate these ancient stylised characters and letters. A visit, including the magnificent gardens and lake, takes at least half a day.

Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.
Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.

The Tang dynasty  (7th and 8th centuries) is generally regarded as the Golden Age of Chinese Culture, and might be compared to the Renaissance cultural awakening in Europe.

Self Portrait with calligraphy.
Self portrait with calligraphy.

The art of writing characters and letters is given prominence in schools in China, despite the presence of the ubiquitous iPad or tablet. Calligraphy tables are set up with paper, ink and brushes in the hotels in Chengdu, for all to have a go.

Concentrating on Writng letters. A friends child, 6, practices calligraphy.
Concentrating on writing. A friend’s child from Chengdu, 6, practices her calligraphy.
My grandson, at school n China, leaning calligraphy.
My grandson, 11, at school this week in Nanjing China, learning calligraphy.
Spring View
Du Fu 春望
The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

http://www.chinese-poems.com/d15.html

Leshan Giant Buddha, 乐山大佛, Sichuan, China

The Leshan Giant Buddha, a 71-metre tall stone statue, was built during the Tang Dynasty, and was completed in 800 AD. It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in Sichuan province, China, near the city of Leshan. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is the tallest pre- modern statue in the world.1-bbbbb A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains to reduce weathering.1-bbbbbbb
The Mount Emei Shan Scenic Area, including the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area, was listed as a Unesco Heritage Site in 1996.

1-big buddha leshan
His shoulders are 28 metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person.

1-b leshan

An extraordinary place only accessed by boat from the city of Leshan.

Simply Radish, Simply French

Radishes are the hidden gems of the too green Spring garden, crunchy crimson jewels waiting to be devoured, usually on the spot. Those that make it inside become a French treat, as an appetiser or a Spring breakfast.

aly moning radish harvest
Early morning radish feast.

Radishes, French Butter and Salt Flakes

  • Harvest a bunch of radishes, trim the roots and wash well in cold water. Arrange on a platter.
  • Serve with softened French butter, cultured butter or the best butter you can get you hands on.
  • Also add a small bowl of fleur de sel, Murray Pink salt flakes, or Maldon salt flakes.
  • Select a handsome radish, cut a cross in the top, squash in a bit of butter, then dip the buttered end into the salt.
  • Devour and repeat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feel the earthy, crunchy, salty, sharp, creamy, fresh explosion in your mouth. The success of this simple dish relies on the freshness of the radishes.

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My favourite breakfast

Radishes mature quickly and require fortnightly reseeding. They don’t need much room, just friable, well-drained soil. Kids love growing them too. Cherry Belles are my favourite variety but the longer crimson and white French Breakfast is a stunning, milder cultivar, more suited to stuffing with white butter.

Early moning radish havst

The Picture Thief

Mr Tranquillo, my partner in life, my travel agent, gentleman and scholar, has taken up blogging.  Now I have to guard my photos like a hawk. I used to dip into his pictures willy nillly, with a ‘what’s yours is mine’ approach, like a free digital bank. Now I must ask politely. In his last blog, he stole some of my photos from Chile to complete a story about graffiti. In doing so, he unearthed an old file of mine and took me back to Valparaiso.

Valparaiso, Chile, 2008
Valparaiso, Chile, 2008.

He had worked on this post for some time and had wandered the streets of Brunswick to get some urban grunge into the mix. We now both loiter with intent and camera. He has always been my patient editor, questioning some of my more rash approaches: now I am his, encouraging him to loosen up.

Valparaiso, Chile, 2008
Valparaiso, Chile, 2008

Although the subjects of our posts sometimes cross paths, our writing styles are distinct. Both our professional lives were based on writing, but for distinctly different purposes. We both devour books, but rarely do we read the same things. During our last trip to Thailand, my holiday reading took me to the obsessive world of Elena Ferrante, and after four volumes of her Neapolitan series, I am pleased to have escaped. While stuck in Ferrante’s world, Mr T found a hard backed tome, left behind on the book shelf in our guest house in Nong Khai, Thailand. Entitled, ‘The Malaria Project’ by Karen M Masterson, it exposed

America’s secret mission to combat malaria during World War II—a campaign modeled after a German project which tested experimental drugs on men gone mad from syphilis.

Nice holiday reading indeed!  He tends to choose more non fiction than I do. And although we spend most of our time together and can read each other’s thoughts, we are quite different, we really are.

Take a look at Mr Tanquillo’s blog- he writes beautifully.

https://nomadicpaths.wordpress.com

Spooked by the Weather and a Spring Pasta.

Two weeks ago I was whingeing about the cold, lack lustre Spring weather here in Melbourne. Today, as the mid afternoon temperature hits 35°C/95 °F, with a wind speed of over 50kph, I take this all back.

It’s October 6 and the seasonal warnings are ominous. The morning radio warned of a Godzilla El Nino year, and the CFA (Country Fire Authority) has seen plenty of action today. Small grass fires are appearing around the State, some escalating into emergencies. The air smells of smoke: the sky is a strange colour: it is not yet mid Spring.

Below is a screen capture of the radar of the smoke pattern from the fires today.

Displaying Screenshot_2015-10-06-15-29-58.png

3pm and the sky is pink and ashen
Early afternoon sky, pink and ashen.

A few hot days in a row also sees the Spring herbal abundance bolt to the sky. The seeds of these bolters don’t set until summer and then it’s a little too late and too hot for them to germinate. I’m working my way through the tasty greens and will need to sow parsley, dill and silverbeet on the next wet day, greens that are our summer mainstays.

Today’s pasta recipe, before I became totally spooked by the weather.

orecchiette, dill psto and
orecchiette, dill pesto and ricotta

Orecchiette con Aneta e Ricotta/ Orecchiette with dill and ricotta.

For 4 as a light lunch.

First make the sauce in a food processor

  • one large bunch freshly picked dill, woody stems removed
  • two garlic cloves
  • one handful pine nuts
  • 1/2 teas sea salt flakes
  • extra virgin olive oil to mix
  • 100 gr ricotta.

Add all the dill, garlic, nuts and salt to a food processor and process well, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the oil slowly to the dill mixture and process until the mixture resembles pesto. Then mix in the ricotta, process to barely mix. Taste for salt.

Then

  • Cook 300-400 gr orecchiette pasta according to packet instructions.
  •  Drain. In a warm mixing bowl, mix the pasta and enough of the herbal sauce to coat well.
  •  Plate. As this is a mild tasting dish, you may wish to add parmigiana cheese at the table.

Note. By omitting the ricotta, the dill ‘pesto’ makes a lovely sauce for grilled fish or chicken, or could stirred through a pile of cooked white cannelloni or borlotti beans (fagioli scritti).

Intense

The power pole that burnt for five days. St Andrews 2009
The power pole that burnt for five days. St Andrews 2009

There are many things I could say about intensity, having lived through the largest and most intense firestorm ever experienced in Australia’s post-European history. The intense raw emotion and feelings of loss, of home, environment, and neighbours, the intense sensitivity expressed as an overwhelming paranoia and anger to protect ‘our’ burnt bush from invaders with cameras, the intense love for this land, this lovely bush that has not yet recovered.

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I have unearthed these photos of the bush, taken shortly after the Black Saturday bushfires here of 2009, in St Andrews, Victoria.  The photos were taken around our paddocks and in the neighbouring National Park.

This time my pictorial story looks at the Australian bush after a fire where the ground burned for days, where old fern covered creek beds and tracks from the gold diggings of the 1850s became exposed and denuded, and where a false Autumn was staged by burnt umber gum leaves, highlighting the predominant colour, black.

St Andrews, February 2009
St Andrews, February 2009
Burning ground, St Andrews, 2009
Burning ground, St Andrews, 20o9
Black Calf Creek,, St Andrews 2009
Black Calf Creek,, bordering our property, St Andrews 2009
St Andrews, February 2009
St Andrews, February 2009
St Andrews , bordering the Kinglake National Park, February 2009
St Andrews , bordering the Kinglake National Park, February 2009

More of my bushfire stories can be found here.