In My Kitchen, April 2017.

What I love most about writing these monthly posts for the series In My Kitchen is the opportunity it provides to photograph the busiest and most dynamic area of the house, the engine room of family life. In the past, I’ve approached IMK with far more discipline, usually with a theme in mind. This time three years ago, Asia inspired my kitchen roundup. My first ever IMK post was inspired by the colour green. Lately, I’ve become more random, letting my camera land on new objects that have drifted into my kitchen: some items linger, while others are just passing through. I also like to show a few daily meals that aren’t over styled or fussy, those needing further refinement or testing for future posts. Beautiful homegrown vegetables and fruit from my vegetable garden and orchard land on the bench or table daily. It’s often hard keeping up with nature’s bounty.

Vietnamese shopping bag

I love this shopping bag. I bought it last year in Ho Chi Minh City for around $4. It is made from a recycled fish food bag, covered in thick plastic, and lined on the inside with a small zipped pocket. It is wipeable inside and out and is much stronger than the ‘green bags’ which seem to multiply in the boot of my car.

I bought these little hand made dishes in the Dong Ba market in Hue, Vietnam. They are used to make Banh Beo.  Another $2 splurge, they came home and have hung around on the mantelpiece ever since. I haven’t even removed the pink plastic ties, which adds to the charm. They may find a use one day. I’m not really concerned about functionality if I like something.

Victorian skink, perfectly petrified.

One dead and perfectly preserved lizard turned up when I was cleaning somewhere or other. It is shiny, with a beautiful silver underbelly. It complements my feather collection on the old Australian kitchen dresser. The kids love it.

Give back the key to my heart.

Odd keys hang near the kitchen. This little collection consists of two small, useful keys which lock the cupboard doors of the colonial dresser. I found the other two large keys in the antique market in Arezzo, Italy, in 2011. They were the only things I could afford and the only things I could fit into my luggage.

You can’t have too many gratin dishes.

I must confess to another collecting obsession: gratin dishes. This lovely set by T. G. Green, unused and unfashionably maroon in colour, turned up at Savers for $6.99 the set. Note that everything I buy at this recycle store always ends in 99 cents. They don’t round-up by one cent and so I won’t either. The set is still in mint condition and I am having trouble christening it, so to speak.

Wild greens.

I like to stick to a meal budget and usually have a fair idea about the cost per dish. I absorbed this approach to meal planning from my mother. Although she never taught me how to cook, I was always conscious of her mental budgeting. As a young wife in the 1950s, she learnt this approach from her much older next door neighbour, Ferga, who instructed Mum that meals per person should not exceed a certain amount. One shilling it may have been at the time. Maybe Ferga learnt her kitchen budgeting skills from Mrs Beeton, whose Book of Household Management makes an interesting read, especially the very particular budgeting records. Most of our main meals at Castella Morgana come in at around $2 per person, unless I buy fish or am ‘entertaining’, something I rarely do these days. What a ridiculous word- entertaining!! Now before you accuse me of cheating, I will admit that this is only possible due to our productive vegetable patch, orchard and eggs from the hens. Our home-grown food is labour intensive, and so in one sense, it isn’t exactly free. And I’m not factoring in the cost of our Australian olive oil.

seppie fritte con rucola selvatica e balsamico

This dish of deep-fried squid, with wild rocket and a dressing of good balsamic, cost around $2.50 to make, with more than enough for two. Southern squid is the cheapest and most sustainable seafood product in Victoria, Australia, so long as you are ready to do your own cleaning and gutting. Fresh squid is soft and tender, unlike the defrosted rubber tubes in the supermarket that taste like condoms. Rocket, rugola selvatica, true to its name, grows wild around my vegetable patch. The batter was a quick mix of rice flour, ground chilli, salt and a beaten egg white. The most costly thing in this dish was the frying oil!

Fig clafoutis in my favourite old gratin dish.

When I make a family dessert, it tends to go down a well-worn path. Clafoutis or Far Breton or some sort of custard pudding with fruit. Fig Clafoutis makes good use of the egg and fig glut. It was tasty, but I’m still refining this dish, at least while more figs linger and slowly ripen on the trees.

 Tegame full of beans, storm clouds build on the horizon.

We do eat a lot of beans, an important protein for non- meat eaters. Last week my terracotta tegame came into the kitchen for a bean festival. I have mentioned this pot before. It slow cooks cannellini beans to perfection.

Pot of white beans and wild greens. I can live on this for tuppence. Just add good oil.

More beans below, this time a Greek gigantes dish, made from Lima beans, tomato, paprika, silver beet and a little fennel which turned into breakfast with an egg poached in the lovely rich sauce. My Greek neighbour often reminds me to put a big branch of wild anise or fennel into the pot when cooking beans. I have saved some of her sporos or seed and now have the stuff growing in my garden. I must watch that it doesn’t take over. I remember it growing wild along the verges of railway tracks as a child and the Italian and Greek women would wander along the edges and harvest it. I always wondered why and now I know. These days, I am enjoying gathering wild greens for our meals too- endive, cicoria, bitter green radicchio, rocket, cima di rape, fennel and other odd things found in the garden, some planted and others wild.

Gigantes with poached egg.

In the comfort of my kitchen, my heart goes out to the people of Queensland whose lives have been affected by the disastrous Cyclone Debbie. A reminder to all that donations do have an enormous positive impact on peoples lives: in Australia, the funds are used well. I can recommend the Salvation Army as one charity offering direct and immediate help to people affected by this disaster. You can donate by SMS text and the amount will appear on your mobile bill. How easy is that?

Hard to resist these colourful bowls.

I would also like to thank Liz, at Good Things, our gracious and efficient host, for continuing the In My Kitchen series over the past year. She is now handing the batten over to Sherry, another regular contributor to this series. Now seven years old, IMK seems to have a life of its own and I do hope it continues.

48 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, April 2017.”

  1. So wonderful to be first cab off the rank – again. Francesca, the more you display the goodies in your house the more I see of what I have also collected from throughout the world on my travels of which I love, cherish and eventually use. You and Mr T gave me a wok in 1997 along with a few other utensils etc. It is possibly the most travelled item in my ownership of stuff. I even took it to China when I lived there – I was just so concerned that it have have gone walkabout had I chosen not to take it. We are celebrating it 20th birthday in June but certainly not putting it out to pasture. I have learnt over the years that it is the most versatile of cookware. It has two sisters, one flat-bottomed one I had given to me in Vietnam and the other BIG sister I bought I Cambodia. The three girls have there own portable gas rings and continue to serve me and fellow foodies well. I tell you this because I treasure your gift and want to thank you so very much, You opened my eyes to Asian cuisine, cooking and shopping for all the great ingredients. You a ten gems.
    Love your wo(r)k!!

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    1. You have brought back so many memories about the good times we had 20 years ago in St Andrews AND wandering around Preston Market together looking to bring Asia home with us. It seems like yesterday. I am so glad that old wok is still getting a workout- must be very well seasoned by now. Like us, well seasoned! I read this comment out to Mr T and he also loved it and was pleased to hear it.
      Thanks Peter for being so supportive of my wee blog. It means a lot to me when my friends like it. I have made lots of new friends through blogging. Not many of my old friends from the past take the time to comment, so I sometimes I feel like I’m putting aspects of my life ‘out there’ and have no idea what they think.

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  2. Dearest Francesca, firstly, thank you for the very kind words both here and over on my blog about IMK and my handover. It’s been great fun and I would LOVE to continue, but simply cannot do so with my travel plans over the rest of the year. Thank you also for your ongoing support of IMK, dear friend.

    I loved seeing the vista in one of your photos above. I also enjoyed seeing the squid. A favourite dish. So many other lovely things in your kitchen, as always. Apologies that I haven’t stopped by to comment as often on each post… I do pop in and read them as I can. I am a fan of your work and grateful to count you as a friend in food. xxx

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    1. Happy travels Liz. It’s a wonderful time of life, being retired and getting away. I am off for five months this year and can’t wait. Thanks for your kind support my friend. xx

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  3. Always great to peek into your kitchen Francesca. There is no equal to fresh southern squid, yum. I love the bits and pieces you’ve collected in your travels and I know that when ever you use them your thoughts are instantly taken back to their place of origin. I found a gecko in a similar state to your skink the other day, I couldn’t get it out the door fast enough…

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  4. A pudding made from your own home-laid eggs and garden-grown figs sounds like magic to me! All your new items look beautiful. I have so much that I rarely allow myself to buy things these days, making “In My Kitchen” all the more challenging. I think I’ll take a hint and some day do a color-themed post.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  5. A lovely glimpse of your vista… funny… my head was in Melbourne this morning. And of your lovely items…errr except the dead lizzie… and delicious food. Your inspiration reaches this far north every day. Our kitchen wouldn’t be the haven it is without its bits & pieces and simple homemade-grown-local food. I’m finally doing my own beans and have noted the additon of fennel leaves… which I now finally have in my garden.

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    1. Your garden is looking great Dale and it sounds like you have made such a fabulous shift in your life. So much do do and enjoy without the ‘dark satanic mills’. Yes, the wild fennel leaves. When an 86 year old Greek woman gives me any advice, I gladly listen. Their experience with beans is legendary and probably goes back in time over thousands of years.

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  6. You’ve almost inspired me to gut a squid Francesca! Helped by the fact that it almost the only seafood my son will eat…
    I haven’t posted an In My Kitchen for ages, but I did find it was great to remind me what I was doing at the time, what was being harvested from the garden, dishes I experimented with that didn’t make it to a full post, a somewhat haphazard kitchen diary of sorts…
    By the way I love your skink…reminds me of crawling around following them as kids, sometimes we even found their eggs, and on one memorable occasion, saw one hatching….

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    1. Hi Beck, get those squid when fresh from the seafood market then gut and skin when you get home, then bag it up and freeze immediately. They cost around $7 a kilo so I usually end up getting quite a few and freeze them, cut up, for later. Your son will love you. ( the fishmongers usually won’t clean anything this cheap ).
      skink eggs – wow, never have never seen them. And hatching…. You can claim to have a PHD in skinks.
      Come back to IMK.

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  7. Random kitchen posts are the best! I adore those hand made dishes from Vietnam with their pink ties. I have been searching for some bumpy, shallow little dishes just like them. Just because! I bought a very similar shopping bag (in Australia) a few years ago. It is made from fish food bags also but it certainly wasn’t $4.00! All of your cooking looks real and delicious but you had me at the fig clafoutis. I can only imagine how good that tasted. x

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    1. The fig clafoutis was good but I wasn;t happy with the way the custard set – I followed a simple Maggie Beer recipe but it was too rubbery. Back to a lighter hand and whipping the whites I think. We like the same things Jane, bits of Vietnamese clutter and old enamel.

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  8. Francesca, what an exquisite glimpse into life in your kitchen… as much fun to “look at” as to read! Your cannellini bean cooker is a treasure… so are your clafoutis baker, key collection, lil’ bowls, and “lizard”. I have several “green bags” in the back of my car, but yours is a work of art. Yay for home-grown and cooking from scratch to bring budgetary costs down. Better for you and better tasting, too!

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  9. You are so right that beans and Greeks are a match made in heaven! Now that the weather has that autumn chill my thoughts are turning to beans. Such a lovely post, Francesca, thank you for sharing. BTW, how do you stop the possums from eating all the figs? Netting?

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    1. We are fortunate not to have possums, but the birds are getting interested. they get a few here and there. I haven’t netted the figs this year as I wasn’t expecting such a bounteous crop. The other orchard trees are netted annually.
      Thanks Anne.

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  10. I so hope these IMK posts keep going. I love the views into other people’s ‘hearts’. Kitchens say so much about the families that inhabit them and the food that nourishes them, and the treasured items with their attached memories that sit on the shelves in the heart of that home. Vogue-type kitchens always seem so sterile – and sterile is good for nobody’s gut. I love your fat bean pot – it promises hearty generosity. I’m still wondering about deep fried condoms though 🙂 That set my mind into hooting overdrive!

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    1. Thanks Jan. The series is having a rocky ride lately. I hope the next host will manage to keep the thing going. I can’t handle vogue type kitchens, or any other vogue rooms for that matter. But I guess it’s about priorities. I like a homely, lived in sort of place, but then I also like to travel a fair bit, so any spare cash goes on my gypsy tendencies and not on the house or kitchen.
      I’m glad you had a chuckle over deep friend condom rings.

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  11. My boys play with lizards and skinks all the time. They keep asking to have them as pets inside and I refuse. I’ll let them stay outside, along with the dead bodies the boys find too! It’s always fun to remember past travels when you see things in your kitchen purchased on holiday. You’ve got some lovely items. I love the keys and they are indeed to perfect size to fit in luggage.

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  12. i love those keys. there is something special about imagining what they open. the red gratin dishes are so pretty. not a big fan of clafoutis. it always tastes rubbery to me:) i have a recipe for a cherry dish which is essentially a clafoutis but i have tried it half a dozen different ways and it never works. just bum recipe i guess. i kind of wonder if the recipe writer actually messed it up on purpose as it was an old family recipe. i have never understood why people want to keep recipes secret..

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    1. Sherry I just want you to know that I do read your blog and do try to comment but the comments never appear. ‘WordPress” and “anonymous” don’t work. Any hints?

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      1. I had the same problem trying to comment on Sherry’s blog. Last time I got through the maze. First, sign out of google. Then sign in with wordpress, write the comment and hold your breath and post. Then, if you use google and gmail, you will need to sign back in again.

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        1. Geez they make it hard. Most times I don’t even try because the times I do the comments never appear. I don’t have a google or gmail account. Is this the problem?

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  13. Hello Francesca, very inspirational writing and I enjoyed your IMK stories as it brought memories from travel to day to day meals documentation. It inviting me to visualize how the kitchen looks surrounded by the home grown orchard and vege gardens….bliss! Minus the skink, the terracotta tegame looks solid for cooking. Thank you also for bringing on the cost per meal and meal budgeting as it crucial in this fast paced world of food ordering and food delivery that we forgot DIY fresh food at home is economical and healthy. x

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