I admire the minstrels in our lives. Sometimes we sing along: mostly we just listen or talk and drink. These minstrels don’t mind- they keep playing their repertoire as the sun goes down.
Rachael’s collection includes numbers by Concrete Blonde, The Cranberries, or Patsy Cline. She hands over the guitar to her father, Mr T, and the music changes. He prefers to play the blues, the classics of Otis Redding and Otis Rush or a few soulful songs by Sam Cooke or Aaron Neville followed by a few country tunes by Delbert McClinton or Merle Haggard.
I also admire their discipline- they practice and keep in form. Shame we can’t drag a piano down to the beach.
Weekly photo challenge from the Daily Press this week is admiration.
The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters, a ‘network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.
Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.
Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons channa dal
3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
1 teaspoon minced ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.
Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.
Notes. The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.
Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011
I’m not particularly nationalistic and neither was he. Dad marched every year on Anzac day, mainly to catch up with his old mates from his WW2 army battalion, followed by a few beers together afterwards at a pub in the city, a once a year activity for him as he was not a pub person. As the years passed, the veterans’ numbers thinned, and then he passed too. I wonder if any men still remain from his unit.
My shrine in the living room shows Dad as a young digger in his army uniform. He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, of slight build and height, with a ready toothy smile. He also had graceful elongated hands. He wore that uniform for five years, the time he spent in New Guinea, but I don’t recall seeing it as a child. He did keep the hat. Dad wrote to my mother every day throughout the war. She would often receive 5 letters at once. He spent his evenings hand drawing and colouring little cartoons of everyday army life onto envelopes. He also drew extras to sell cheaply to other chaps who were keen to impress their loved one back home. Dad was so artistic. Mum stored all these wartime envelopes in an album and I loved looking at them as a kid. He also kept his old coloured pencils in his gentleman’s robe along with the medals and a few other small mementos from the war. I can still smell his wardrobe today, the faint whiff of tobacco, a slight musty aroma, and see the gleam of his war medals hanging from short lengths of colourful striped cloth.
My mother recently had replicas made of my father’s WW2 medals – five sets in all – which were distributed to his five male grandchildren. The rest of us, his three daughters and three granddaughters, missed out! So I grabbed this little photo of Dad in his uniform and made my own shrine and surrounded him with some of the things that he loved- smalls rocks and gemstones and his ‘long life’ pendant, the one he wore every day for 29 years from the age of 60, the one I gave him for his birthday. I don’t know if Dad would like all the other paraphernalia close by, broken bits of a fire damaged Buddha and old Chinese wooden panels, probably not, but he would love those gemstones. I must add another little crystal to his shrine today. Sometimes I scatter the petals of a flower on the mantelpiece or light a scented candle. There aren’t many solemn or mindful moments in my life but this is one of them.
It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic épicerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured apé trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.
The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.
The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.
Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.
Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)
EV Olive oil
2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and diced.
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,
fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
2 small zucchini, diced
chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.
Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.
Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.
The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.
For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.
We were travelling by car around Sichuan province with some friends from Chengdu, China. Shú song (树松), a dedicated foodie, and Tia, her anglicised name, found the best places to eat at dinnertime.
They both took a week off work to accompany us on the road trip of a lifetime, visiting the more remote regions of Sichuan, and travelling through wild and overgrown passes in Éméi shān (Mt Emei). Towards the end of the journey we stayed in the ancient city of Langzhong, where we shared the most remarkable meals.
Shú song would have private chats with the chef at our Tang Dynasty Hotel, or go hunting around the town in search of good river fish, and bring them back to the chef to cook.
Dinner time was always a special occasion in Sichuan with these two friends. It was a little more difficult sourcing a wine to go with the meal. Beer and spirits are readily available throughout China. But things are slowly changing as the Chinese become more interested in wine production.
Witness any form of artisanal kitchen production and watch magic happen. Observe the alchemy as flour, salt and water combine to make a nutritious sourdough loaf of bread, or the curdling and contraction of milk as it transforms into yoghurt, or the brining and pickling of vegetables as they take on another life in a jar, or the magic of egg white adding lightness and air to transform a cake, the stretching of handmade pasta into semi transparent golden sheets, the witch like brewing of a soulful soup or stock. Cooking is an enormously satisfying and creative activity, effectively chasing away heavy heartedness or mind numbing introspection. Yes, baking is the best form of therapy. Trite but true. Out damn spot, there’s knocking at the gate, to bread, to bread!
Today’s wonderful Finnish Sourdough bread is based on a recipe I received two years ago from Craig, a gifted baker who used to bake the beautiful loaves in St Andrews Bakery before moving up north to Newcastle. He learnt his craft in San Francisco, and was taught this particular loaf by a German baker. I call this loaf The Finnish Craig, after Craig, who taught it to me. It takes on a deep colour from the molasses, remains fresh and moist for days and I am able to digest this bread more easily than its plainer cousins, probably due to the high moisture content. Flax seeds are also high in Omega 3 fatty acids and must be soaked, as should all seeds, before adding to bread. Craig’s original recipe calls for a proportion of rye flour in the mix. Recently I ran out of rye flour and substituted the equivalent quantity of Bakers white flour. I am now happy with this combination at half white and half wholemeal. If you wish to stick to the original recipe, the flour proportions are 144 g Rye flour and 144 g white bakers flour, to 288 g wholemeal flour.
Warning- it is a very wet mix, requiring flouring well when hand shaping for the final rise. The bread is mixed in a stand mixer on low.
The Finnish Craig
288 g white bakers flour*
288 g wholemeal flour
365 g water
173 g starter (at 100% hydration)
60 g molasses
18 g salt
140 g flaxseed
154 g water to soak flaxseed
Combine the flaxseed and water ( last quantity mentioned) to soak the flax for 30- 60 minutes before commencing the bread.
Add water to starter and molasses. Add the flours then mix on low-speed for 3-4 minutes. Rest for 15 minutes.
Add salt and mix for 1 minute. Then add the flaxseed and soaking liquid and mix for 3-4 minutes.
Turn out and leave to prove, well covered, for 4-6 hours depending on the weather. ( I usually prove all my dough overnight in the fridge for 8 or more hours. If you do a long fridge prove, make sure that the room is warm when you bring it out. One way to hasten it back to room temperature is to transfer the cold dough into a clean, less frigid bowl.)
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape into batards or other shapes. Prove, well covered, for around 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 230º C. Place the loaves on a baking stone or onto trays lined with baking paper, slash well and spray with a water mist as they enter the oven. Bake in a pre heated oven at 230º C for 20 minutes, then reduce to 175º C for a further 20 minutes. Cool on racks.
* Bakers flour or bread flour has more protein content than all purpose or plain flour which helps with gluten development. Baker’s flour has around 13% protein. I use Manildra Bakers Flour which comes in 12.5 kilo packets at around $15.00 from Bas Foods in Brunswick, Victoria.
Andrea’s First Loaf
Before Christmas, and encouraged by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, my bread making mentor, I sent out some packets of dehydrated sourdough starter. A few weeks ago I received a photo from Andrea, who had stashed her starter in the fridge until March, when she began making sourdough. Here is her first loaf. Congratulations Andrea.
Cleaning out the fridge would have to be THE most objectionable of kitchen tasks- a duty better palmed off onto someone else, with generous bribes of unbridledness, or 25,000 frequent flyer points or both. But more often than not, the painful job lands on me. Amongst the buried treasure, wilting vegetables, jars of Chinese sauces past their use by date, half used tubs of mouldy mascarpone and… you know the score…. I found a bag of blood plums, just a little too ripe, but still consumable. Plums are my favourite fruit and I am a little sad when the season comes to an end. This bonanza was my reward. And so was the this lovely Italian inspired cake which soon followed the find.
Torta Rustica con Prugne. Rustic Italian Plum Cake
400 g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
300 g caster sugar, plus extra for the top.
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
150 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
8-10 plums ( blood plums are the best here) halved and stoned
Line the bottom and sides of a 26 cm round springform cake tin with baking paper and butter the paper well.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Combine 300 g caster sugar and the eggs in a bowl and whisk until the mixture is pale and thick ( use a stand mixer for ease or preparation). Fold in the flour mixture and lemon zest in three batches, alternating with the melted butter, beginning and ending with flour.
Spoon half the batter into the prepared tin, and top with the half the plums, cut side up. Smooth the remaining batter on to top and make a topping with the remaining plums, cut side up. Sprinkle with the extra sugar and bake at 180 C/160 C fan oven for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove and slide the cake from the bottom, and let cool on the rack completely. Serve in wedges with cream or ice cream. Serves 8 to 10.
It pays to read a recipe well before commencing. Here I have inadvertently shoved all the plums into the centre, rather than layering them. This made for a wonderful red gooey middle. And now that the plum season is over in Australia, I cannot attempt the layered version until this time next year.
From Splendido, The Best of Italian Cooking. Loukie Werle, 2001
Every time I travel to Europe with someone considerably younger than me, I spend hours waiting for them at the base of a monument as they nimbly scramble up and around parapets, belfries, turrets and vaults. I suffer from extreme vertigo but when it comes to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this dread goes into overdrive.
I have chosen some unusual shots of this most ridiculously unbalanced building as my contribution to Ailsa’s travel them this week,Balance, at Where’s My Backpack.
More about this trip to Il Torre Pendente di Pisa can be found here.