In My Kitchen, December 2017

I’ve been dithering around in my kitchen since returning from our long trip and am feeling totally uninspired. Where’s the menu and those kitchen fairies who clean up? Returning to an overgrown vegetable patch, and the loss of 13 chooks, courtesy of Mr Fox, has robbed me of fresh ingredients, my backyard larder and the inspiration for most of my meals. When I look back on my December posts from the last four years, I can see energy, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garlic braiding, Italian biscuits, summer fruit cakes and short breads. This year, none of those things have happened -yet. 

Making do with what’s available, I made a huge batch of dolmades using leaves from our grape vines. Blanched in boiling water for two minutes then drained, they are ready to rock and roll. Although tedious to stuff 65 little parcels, once made, they become a staple in the fridge for hot summer nights, preserved with oil and lots of lemon juice.

The berry crop is huge this year, especially the boysenberries. They make a sweet addition to home-made yoghurt, something cool and luscious for breakfast. Making the weekly yoghurt is such an easy thing. I’m finding that 1 litre of organic milk creates a firmer and tastier yoghurt than the cheaper milks. Yoghurt is added to tahini and lemon for a quick drizzling sauce for falafel, or as the basis of tzaziki, or whipped through puréed mango for lassis, or served on the side with red lentil dhal and a few stir fried greens.

Another frugal standby is Pasta e Ceci, one of my favourite soups. I ordered it twice while in Italy this year and on both occasions I was disappointed. I put this down to the use of canned chickpeas, which retain a bullet like texture when used whole in these soups, and the lack of depth in the accompanying brodo, which should have hints of rosemary, a touch of chilli and tomato and good olive oil. The old Italo- Australiane, the Italian women migrants who cooked for their families in the 1950s and 60s, brought with them the old contadine ways of  turning cheap ingredients into something deeply satisfying through slow cooking, herbs, and knowledge based on tradition. Modern Italian restaurant cooking has lost much of this old knowledge and has turned to economical shortcuts and speedy cooking. 

I have resumed bread making. Despite our local and wonderful artisan baker in St Andrews, I can turn out two large loaves for $2 and there’s no need to leave home. It’s a way of life now thanks to Celia.

Last week’s loaves. I need a new slashing tools. Everything is blunt.

And in my kitchen are these gorgeous gifts from Alberto’s family in Pavia, Italy. His grandmother edged this tablecloth and napkin set. The work is exquisite. Grazie ad Alberto, Dida, Stefania e Claudio per la vostra meravigliosa ospitalità e amicizia durante il nostro soggiorno a Pavia.

Hand crocheted edging by Alberto’s grandmother.

Two litres of Campari jumped off the duty-free shelves on my way back into the land of Oz. I developed a taste for Spritz in Como, but based on Campari, Prosecco and soda, rather than Aperol which is not so pink and a little too sweet. Summertime drinks by the pool? You bring the Prosecco.

Hand over the pick stuff.

Thanks once again Sherry for making In My Kitchen happen so smoothly each month. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more posts on the kitchen theme: you might even find the C word in some of them.

 

In My Kitchen, November 2017

Although I’m now in Italy and have a handsome little kitchen in my apartment in Pavia, there has been little time to use it, except for a quick breakfast. One of the oddities of the Italian kitchen is the lack of toaster: the typical home breakfast consists of coffee and sweet biscuits. No wonder lunch is so important to the Italians. So this month, I’m stepping back into my last kitchen of two weeks ago in France. Located in Pézenas, in Languedoc- Rousillon in the south, the house was built in the 15th century and was located right inside the doors of the old city. Old buildings are initially very charming and romantic to the Australian eye but after a week or so, the lack of light became noticeable and I imagine this would be quite disheartening in winter. Despite this, I always got a thrill opening the large wooden door on the street and entering the cold stone courtyard to climb this ancient spiral staircase.

Stairway to  apartment in Pezenas, South of France.
Inside the cold courtyard, leading to my French kitchen.

The kitchen, although tiny, was very functional. I wouldn’t mind slipping this antique copper soup ladle into my handbag!

Antique copper soup ladle, Pezenas kitchen.

Pézenas is close to the sea. Every day, the market square oyster sheds opened for business. We managed to consume a few dozen while staying there. Freshly shucked by the man in the shed, served with a squeeze of lemon and some pan complet, – another speedy meal made(!) in my French kitchen.

More oysters, the best from Pézenas. An acquired taste for some.
First floor window onto little medieval lane, and oysters. Pézenas. The bells are ringing all over the town. Lunchtime.

Plenty of wine found its way into our kitchen. We developed a taste for rosé wine: so much drier than the Australian rosé and so pleasant for lunch.

Another day, another rosé

Occasionally a nice white was discovered, especially on the day I made a tray of crumbed Coquilles Saint Jacques. Scallops are also plentiful here and are always sold on the shell.

White wine and scallops

I’ve been following the trail of the Camino of Santiago ( St Jacques) as we travelled across France. A pilgrim village is easily recognised by the sign of the scallop shells on the walls of cheap hostels or embedded in brass along the footpaths. When I’m at home, I keep the shells and reuse them as fresh scallop meat is more readily available off the shell. The shells always remind me of Santiago de Compostela.

The sign of the pilgrim.

One of the other quick dishes I’ve made in all my French kitchens is so simple it’s worth noting here. Grab some perfectly ripe figs, put them in an ovenproof dish with a good amount of honey, and bake for 10 minutes or so in a hot oven. While they’re cooking, shell some fresh walnuts and toss in a pan to toast, then add them to the baked figs. Serve with crème fraîche. The success of this instant sweet depends on the quality of the honey. Jean Pierre gave us a pot of his own honey back in Monpazier. It is aromatic and floral, similar to Tasmanian Leatherwood.

Baked figs, honey, walnuts. Voila.

The local market at Pézenas was full of treasure from the South. More Mediterranean goods were on offer than the markets in Dordogne.

Olives and capers, Pezenas market.

Thanks Sherry, once again, for hosting this series. You can find other kitchen posts at Sherry’s Pickings.

In My Kitchen, October 2017. Bretagne

After travelling around Central and Eastern Europe for three weeks, I was really looking forward to our first French rental house. Before unpacking or looking at the other rooms, I checked the kitchen and its equipment, running around like a headless chook, opening cupboards and drawers. The kitchen in Pont Aven, Brittany, did not disappoint. The cupboards were well equipped with decent wine glasses, serving platters, quality frying pans, a set of sharp knives, a pasta pot and some oven proof gratin dishes. This was a cook’s kitchen. These things are often missing from rental houses.

The kitchen, on Rue Le Petite Tourte, Pont Aven, Brittany

Outside the kitchen, beyond the tiny enclosed stone wall yard, a rapidly running stream provided a soothing background symphony to my kitchen activities. The rapids form part of the watery world which makes up this ancient mill town. Pont Aven’s water courses, the River Aven and it’s creeks, once operated around 14 water wheel grain mills. Many old stone houses are built directly above or next to a rapid. As the weather was damp and fairly cool, winter comfort food dominated my cooking style in this stylish stone house.

Produce bought at the local market. Backyard, Pont Aven, Brittany.

The food of Brittany is tempting, with plenty of seafood and fish, apples and cider, the famous creamy butter with fleur de sel, buttery biscuits, tarts and cakes such as Far Breton and Kouign-amann, not to mention the crepes made from Blé Noir, or buckwheat. We occasionally dined out, but in the end, the lure of the kitchen and home cooked meals became too great.

Some basics from the local supermarche.

Who can resist cooking with Crème Fraîche ( entiere s’il vous plaît ) when a small carton costs around 0.66€. My new cheat’s white sauce is a winner. Add one finely chopped garlic to a few tablespoons of crème fraîche, let it sit while you cook some pasta. Drain the pasta well, then return to the same pan, stir the sauce through the hot pasta, add some chunky smoked salmon and lots of herbs. Voilà.

Fasta Pasta

I found these cute pot set yoghurts at the market in the nearby village of Tregunc, straight from the dairy farm. Sold in little glass jars for 0.40€ each. I will never eat commercial yoghurt again.

Breakfast Pont Aven. Pot set yoghurt with peaches and raspberries

Sometimes when driving about for the day, lunch is simple: a smelly cheese from the market and a baguette from the boulangerie.

Car snacks.

I’ve developed a taste for this lovely red wine from the Loire, Chinon.

A light red wine, Chinon, from the Loire region

French cooking is superb but there’s plenty of cheating going on too. Freshly cooked beetroot is available in all the markets. They make a great entrée with some goat cheese.

On market day, the Roti stall is popular, as sensibly dressed older women come to buy their rotisserie chicken, beef or saussison along with a portion of Boulangerie potatoes.

I succumbed to the roast man’s version of Far Breton, a nice little dessert to take back to my kitchen to reheat. I make Far Breton at home, mostly for my D.I.L, who can’t get enough of the stuff. I love the way the prunes are suspended in this version.

Far Breton- for Leanne.
Trying to stay away from the Patisserie.

The Traou Mad galettes of Pont Aven are irresistible. This tin has been refilled twice!

Also trying to stay away from the real estate office! House for sale in a little village near Pont Aven. Fantasies abound in every village. Dangereux!!!

For Rod.

I’m linking up with Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, once again, who hosts In My Kitchen, a monthly series where bloggers share their kitchen inspirations. If you’re new to blogging and love food, this is a great way to join up with other like-minded folk. There are no rules and no obligations. Write about your kitchen and get the post linked by the 10th of each month.

In My Scottish Kitchen, September 2017

One of the most common complaints of the traveller is the dearth of vegetables served along the way in any type of eatery, cafe, restaurant or pub. Despite veggies being in vogue, we don’t see many on the plate, other than a token salad or a potato, the latter usually in the form of the dreaded chip. After 6 weeks on the road, we were longing for our own apartment or little house, just to be able to cook a pile of vegetables, a soup or vegetable bake, as well as catch up on some washing. It’s rather ironic really, that these simple domestic tasks become so overwhelmingly desirable when you no longer have them.

View from our York Kitchen. Had to pick some wild weeds along the way- purple buddlea is the local weed, growing out of walls and concrete paths. Adding a homely touch to the plastic ikea plants and slate tiled York roof tops.

Our first pot of soup, a leek and potato soup, seemed fitting for our little kitchen in Aberystwyth, Wales. Our York apartment, a spacious Ikea fitted out place in a converted office building, provided the means to cook, but as we were also visiting friends that week, we had little chance to use it. My dear friend JA made some wonderful salads and dishes loaded with veggies from her Lottie ( affectionate English name for an allotment garden), the most memorable dish being her Summer Pudding, filled with plump, ripe blackberries picked from verges, along with raspberries and blueberries cured inside a mold of organic white bread. Ecstasy. There’s an art to making these carmine concoctions that taste like berry velvet.

View from JA’s apartment, overlooking the Minster, York. JA’s Australian roots have given her a passion for freshly grown vegetables.

Now that we’re in Skye, our little stone cottage by the sea has enabled some real cooking to take place. But first, before driving across to the island, we did a big veggie shop in Inverness. Vegetables are much cheaper in Britain than Australia, so long as you stick to seasonal ingredients that are locally grown. My big bag of vegetables, including a cute Wonky cabbage, cost very little, necessitating a few little add ons, such as box of raspberries, some odd looking flat peaches, French butter, lovely cheeses, some Scottish and others a bit too French, and of course, a bottle of single malt whisky. All in the name of keeping up with the locals, of course. Or as the late Angus Grant, fiddle player from Shooglenifty would say, in the only words I have ever heard him sing, ‘Suck that mother down,’ during his live solo on the tune ‘Whisky Kiss.’

On special for 16 Quid. Going down nicely. In memory of Ian Channing.

Wonky vegetables are NQR shaped produce, an idea that has also taking off in Australia. We don’t need perfectly shaped vegetables thankyou, and we definitely don’t need them wrapped in plastic. Most of my bargain veggies came pre -wrapped or bagged in acres of plastic. I’m wondering if the ‘War on Waste’ campaign is happening in Britain and Scotland. The other aspect I found unusual about the local supermarkets was the volume of pre-prepared foods. You name it, it’s available, pre-cooked and ready to ding. Fish cakes, fish pie ingredients, including the sauce, pre-cooked mussels, all sorts of meals, mash, even mashed swede. I’m not sure that Jamie Oliver has made much impression on the English diet.

Wonky Cabbage, 45 p

I was hoping to find a farmer’s market on Skye to supplement these goods. It turns out that farmers markets are quite rare, but then given the climate, I can understand why. We found one at Glendale in the north-west of Skye, a longish drive. We arrived early to find 7 stalls huddled together against the wind: one lady had a pile of fresh organic chicken carcasses for stock, another chap had one small bag of rainbow chard and black kale, nearby was the cucumber specialist, with two kinds on offer, on another table were a few carrots and apples and further down a lady with some sticky buns. And in the midst of all this I found the lady from Tinctoria, a specialist hand spinner and dyer from these parts. She has been hand dyeing since the 1980s and grows her own herbs to make the most extraordinary colours. Needless to say, I wanted them all.

Green ball, dyed from Brazilwood then over dyed with Indigo, the pink is Brazilwood and the blue is from Woad. Not quite kitchen goods but probably made in a kitchen. Dyewoods are woods providing  dyes for textiles. Some of the more important include: Brazilwood or Brazil from Brazil, producing a red dye. Catechu or cutch from Acacia wood, producing a dark brown dye. Old Fustic from India and Africa produces a yellow dye.

My vegetable stash is lasting well. In my Skye kitchen I’ve made lentil and vegetable soups, swede, onion and Orkney cheddar bake, pan scorched green beans with garlic and lemon, ( loving the very skinny beans here), caramelised whole shallots in olive oil, butter and beetroot glaze, Cullen Skink full of undyed smoked haddock, pasta with veggies, mushroom risotto, cauliflower cheese and loads of salads. My cooking has taken on a distinctive Scottish style- the view outside my kitchen window, the rain and the ever-changing Skye light having a profound effect on my cooking and pastimes. It’s odd, given my gypsy tendencies, how homely and settled I feel here.

Simple foods, just vegetables, some butter and cheese. The swede bake layered with onion and Orkney cheddar was a winner.
A bag of shallots become caramelised in olive oil, with some fleur de sel butter, and a reduction of balsamic and beetroot dressing.
Cullen Skink, with smoked haddock, potato, leek, and parsley. Crofter’s bread and French butter.

Fat Raspberries, sweet and seasonal, lead to the obvious choice of dessert- Cranachan- except that I was rather heavy-handed with the single malt and the toasted oats. It ended up more like an alcoholic breakfast. Mr T has promised to pick some neglected black berries along the verges, down near Maelrubha’s well; before we leave this special place, I’ll try to make a more restrained blackberry version.

A heavy-handed Cranachan. Too many oats and way too much single malt.
Crafting and Crofting. My travelling project, a bramble berry scarf, in memory of Skye.

I could go on and on about the wonders of Skye and how inspired I feel here, but I’ll save it for another time, another ramble into the mist. The media file below depicts views from our cottage. It’s hard to stay sane around such ever shifting beauty.

Thanks once again to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly series.

Tidal cottage on Breakish. I could stay here for a few months or more. Celtic dreaming.

In My Kitchen, August 2017

I’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, the start of a long journey, and can happily say that I don’t miss my kitchen at all. Yesterday Mr T commented on the length of his fingernails, believing that they grow faster in the tropics. Mine are also long and white, but I suspect they’re flourishing due to the absence of work: my fingers and hands no longer plant, prune, dig, sow, pick, cut, peel, chop, grate, gather, sort, cook, stir, pour, knead, shape, or roll. My cooking and gardening hands are on holiday. Some one else is in the kitchen. This month’s post takes a look inside some Balinese kitchens and the food we have enjoyed along the way.

The staff at Tirta Sari, Pemuteran, are multi skilled. One minute a waitress, next a basket maker. These little banana leaf baskets are used for sauce containers and rice.

One of my favourite kitchens is Tirta Sari Bungalows, in Pemuteran, situated in the far north-west of Bali. I’ve stayed here before and I’m bound to return, just to relax and eat well. The food is traditional, Balinese, well priced and some of the best I’ve eaten in this tropical paradise. Each dish is beautifully presented on wooden plates, covered with banana leaves cut to size. The freshly made sauces, such as Sambal Matah, are served in small hand-made banana leaf baskets. The plates are embellished with flowers and dried ceremonial palm leaves and basket lids. These artistic flourishes connect the traveller to the role played by flowers in Balinese ritual and ceremony. Dining here comes with heightened sense of anticipation: guests are made to feel special.

Staff peeling Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih ( shallots and garlic) for the evening’s fresh sambals. Do you know the legend of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih?
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Preparing freshly caught Marlin for the grill. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran.

You can tell a good Balinese restaurant by the authenticity of its sauces. Pungent and spicy traditional sauces and sambals are served in more modest warungs, while western styled restaurants serve industrial ketchup, believing that the Western palate cannot handle spiciness.

Preparing the little banana leaf baskets for rice and sauce. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran. Bali

Balinese classic favourites include Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado, Urab, Pepes Ikan, and Sate. The best Gado Gado I tasted this year came from the kitchens of Lila Pantai. It disappeared before I snapped a photo. The Balinese version of this dish tends to be deconstructed and is often served with a little jug of peanut sauce on the side. A reliable source of Balinese recipes can be found in Janet DeNeefe’s Bali. The Food of My Island Home, a book that I refer to often when back in my own kitchen.

Deconstructed Gado- Gado. The new shop right on the sea near the Banjar at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari.Sanur, Ubud.
Classic Nasi Goreng with grilled tempe sate sticks on side. Tasty version from Savannah Moon, Jalan Kajeng, Ubud.

I am often amazed by the simplicity of Balinese kitchens. Many a meal is served from a mobile kitchen on the back of a motorbike, or from little yellow and green painted stalls, such as the popular Bakso stands, now seen only in the countryside.

Classic sate with sides for a son-in-law.

Many working Balinese grab some nasi campur for breakfast. Nasi campur is a serve of rice, often in the shape of a cone, surrounded by little portions of other dishes, perhaps some chicken, or tofu, some soupy, bland vegetable curry, a boiled egg or perhaps a corn fritter, all topped with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and a serve of home-made sambal. Heavenly food. I love the vegetarian version of this dish. In the pasar, or fresh market, this meal is packed up for a traveller for around $1 or so, depending on how many sides you add.

Stall holder makes Nasi Campur. Pasar Sindhu, near Jalan  Pantai Sindhu, Sanur, Bali
Nasi Goreng Seafood.

Every now and then, a traveller needs to lash out and eat Western food. In the past, eating Western cuisine in a Western looking place translated to high prices, bland food, poor quality and slow service. Things have improved, though it’s still much safer to eat in Balinese warungs and restaurants. Modern western cooking relies more on refrigeration, freezing and the pre-preparation of soups, sauces and various components. These ideas are quite foreign to Balinese chefs who prefer to make everything to order. The fish will be freshly caught, or purchased that morning from the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran: the vegetables will not be pre-chopped, the stocks will be made on the spot. Unless a Western restaurant has an impeccable reputation for cooking and serving foreign food, they are best avoided. The Three Monkeys restaurant in Ubud is one place that gets it right. Mr T ordered a remarkable Italian/Balinese/Melbourne fusion dish- Saffron Tagliatelle with prawns, lemon, chilli and sambal matah. I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two. The tagliatelle was house made, the service was prompt, the level of spice just right. I had snapper and prawn spring rolls which were also sensational.

Heavenly fusion food at Three Monkeys, Ubud.
A new take on Spring rolls. Prawn and Snapper. The Three Monkeys, Ubud. 59K IDR

Another very reliable western style restaurant in Sanur is Massimo’s Ristorante. This year, guests may watch the girls making fresh pasta down the back of the shop. Massimo has also introduced fresh buffalo mozzarella and burrata to the menu, which is now made on the island.

Making green pasta, Massimo’s, Sanur, Bali
Vanilla Stick Lady in The Pasar Sindhu Market.

Many thanks to Sherry for hosting this monthly series. My kitchen posts will be on tour for four months and one of these days, I might get my hands dirty again.

A collection of well used Ulegs outside Janet de Neefe’s cooking school, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.

Next post. Return to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In My Kitchen, July 2017

In my kitchen, there are signs of packing frenzy. The kitchen table has become a convenient sorting ground for the paraphernalia one now requires for a long overseas trip: regional power plugs, battery chargers for cameras, phones, computers, Kindle and tablet, mini speaker, extra SD cards for cameras, car chargers for phones, different lenses for cameras, plastic sleeved folders for itineraries and bookings, medical supplies. Have I forgotten something? On and on it goes with this weird tangle of stuff, the clothes and shoes almost an afterthought. As you may gather, I’m getting organised for 4½ months of global roaming: the kitchen is the best place to sort, iron, and edit, repack, write more lists and dream.

Laguiole set, lucky find.  Reconstructed chopping boards from one large flexi poly board.

One kitchen-esque packing item that I am enjoying putting together is the picnic set, although picnic friendly verges and green public spaces are not so easy to come by in France and Italy. I found a Laguiole set of 8 at my favourite second-hand shop. They are new, probably a discarded gift. Those little bees are now heading back to France. I’ve cut down a flexible poly chopping mat into 3 pieces to fit the picnic box. Of course there’s a Swiss army knife and a bottle opener, two wine glasses, two large table napkins which double as tea towels, a little cheese box, a few lengths of wax paper for wrapping cheese, some rubber bands and a few zip lock plastic bags. The box now weighs 1.167 kilo. Anal packarama. I am being restrained: what I really want is a picnic set like Marlena de Blasi’s. ( See extract at the end of this post).

Picnic box packed. Laguiole set of cutlery, found at my favourite second-hand shop . A corkscrew, a Swiss army knife, two napkins and two wine glasses, some re-constructed chopping boards and other odds and ends complete the set.

I have cut three ½ metre sheets from this roll of waxed paper, ready to wrap some lovely cheeses that we will find en route. I purchased this paper online a year ago and it goes a long way. It keeps cheese very well.

All natural waxed paper.

I am now counting the sleeps and imagining the farmers’ markets in small villages and the new kitchens that will inspire, or perhaps frustrate, my kitchen creativity along the way. Initially, the escape from daily cooking will be very welcome, but after a while I know that restaurant food will begin to jade the palate. And so we are renting small apartments and houses over the next four months, little places with kitchens, a small garden or a terrace, a place to call home for a few weeks at a time and to enjoy some home cooking. I’m also looking forward to the French and Italian bakeries for our daily bread. I recently purchased this strong fabric bag at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Van Gogh exhibition. Note the long length. Perfect for a baguette or two in France.

Carry bag from Van Gogh’s seasons, NGV, Melbourne.

My future posts for the rest of 2017 will be written en route, assuming that WiFi is free and fast, something that I take for granted anywhere in Asia but not necessarily in Europe. I hope to attend a cooking school in Chiang Mai, visit some Hong Kong kitchens, write from an old stone bothy house in Skye, and cook in the houses we have rented in France and Italy. My posts will include a walk around some French and Italian markets. I couldn’t imagine travelling to these countries without purchasing some lovely local produce to take ‘home’ and cook. I’m dreaming of some freshly shucked belon oysters in Brittany, miniature fresh and aged goat’s cheeses hand shaped by a grand-mère in the Dordogne, perhaps washed down with a Bergerac red. And some autumnal produce from the stalls of a medieval bastide market town in Languedoc. The anticipation is enormous. I hope you will join me, at least vicariously, in my travels.

Today’s bread. Celia’s High Hydration, with ears.

In the meantime, I have made our final loaves to see us through the last week, as well as dehydrating some sourdough starter to tuck away for our return.

Batards of the Finnish seeded loaf.

I am also enjoying this little corner of the kitchen since the new plaster board was installed last week, covering the dated 80s pine boards. I attached the monkey face calligraphy to the end of the dresser, a gift from Brian.

Colonial kitchen dresser with new wall.
Another little calligraphy corner , gift from Brian, on the end of my dresser.

Thanks to Sherry for hosting of this ongoing series. You can check out other kitchen posts on Sherry’s Pickings.

Marlene de Blasi’s picnic basket.

‘Always ready in the boot is a basket fitted with wine glasses, two of our most beautiful ones, plus two tiny bohemian cut-crystal glasses, napkins made from the unstained parts of a favourite tablecloth, a box full of odd silver, a wine screw, a good bottle of red wine- always replaced immediately after consumption- a flask of grappa, a Spanish bone handled folding knife, a pouch of sea salt, a small blue and white ceramic pepper grinder, plates of various size… ‘ Tuscan Secrets, A bittersweet adventure.

 

 

In My Kitchen, June 2017

In my kitchen and its surrounding leisure zone, we are keeping warm as today’s temperature hovers between 2°C to 14°C. It will get colder. Spending more time indoors, mostly hanging around the old Huon pine table, means efficient heating becomes imperative. One early improvement we made to the kitchen and dining area was the installation of double glazing. This, more than any other home improvement, has been worth the cost. In this much lived in area, the windows face north with narrow overhanging eaves. The house, designed in the 1980s, incorporates some aspects of passive solar principles, whereby the low angle of the winter sun warms the room, with the reverse occurring in the height of summer.

Nectre bakers oven. Australian made, efficient, radiant heat.

Our new wood heater adds another layer of warmth and an appealing glow. Nectre heaters are Australian made and have a great reputation. This bakers oven heats a 10 square space very efficiently. Cooking stock on the top of the heater saves on gas. I look forward to mastering the use of the little oven.

Chilli earrings?

In this warm space, little vignettes of domesticity capture my attention, especially when a few strong shafts of light stream in. I find myself grabbing the camera more often, trying to capture that heavenly baroque light. That, or curling up on a sun bathed couch with a good book. Note that the new interloper, the clothes airer, has been edited out, along with the oversized kitchen table, now cluttered with a deluge of pastimes, paperwork and pencils.

Drying out mandarin and orange peels on or near the wood stove fills the kitchen area with citrus fragrance. The dried peels make great firelighters.

A large express postal bag arrived last week. Peter, who lives in Far North Queensland, sent me an assortment of tropical fruit he picked that morning. The slightly squashed papaya, the rambutan and mangosteen brought the heady perfumes of tropical rainforest to my kitchen. Peter also sent a swag of ginger, galangal and turmeric which grow in plague proportions in his yard. I’ve frozen most of these gems to make an authentic Indonesian curry in the future.

Aromatics from Far North Queensland.

Today I picked all the remaining borlotti beans from the garden. The first frosts of the year will arrive this week: all the green tomatoes need to be gathered and the lemongrass divided and potted up for winter. The borlotti beans prefer Autumn weather. They were sown in late February and matured slowly. I am very pleased with this year’s haul.

Five kilo of Borlotti Beans
Shelling borlotti beans, ruby jewels and scribbled gems, golden husks drying in the morning sun.

There’s a stack of recently acquired cookbooks in my kitchen. To be truthful, there are little stacks of books everywhere in my house. Not mess, I’ll have you know. Decor and Inspiration! Some of these books were found at my favourite second-hand shop: My China by Kylie Kwong cost less than a copy of a weekend newspaper, as did Beverley Sutherland Smith’s The Seasonal Kitchen. Made in Italy by Silvia Colocca was a birthday gift from my sister. I bought Bourke Street Bakery online and am not finding it so useful, and Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey and The Baker also turned up somewhere very cheaply. Now I have to address the lack of bookshelf space.

Some baby Roma tomatoes, the last of the season, ripen on the northern windowsill.

A couple of second-hand items, a matching spotted jug and sugar bowl, found in that same second-hand store now hang out with the white stuff, shells, feathers and dead lizard on my kitchen dresser. As my friend Di would say, ‘Well spotted’.

Blue polka dot jug and sugar bowl. Went for a song.

Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly series. Your new system is working smoothly.

In My Kitchen, May 2017

A cavalcade of cakes marched through my kitchen recently. Three of the children had their birthdays within days of each other. This called for three distinct cakes, each created with the child in mind. The test, when they arrived for the belated birthday party, was to see if each child would recognise their own cake. Fortunately, each one did. Noah immediately announced that the bundt cake with Malteasers on top was his. I guess it looked a bit more blokey than the other two. Charlotte avowed that the chocolate double- decker cake with raspberry M&Ms was hers, and Daisy sat right in front of the carrot cake dressed with buttercream icing and edible butterflies. Plain cakes hid underneath all the trimming as none of the kids enjoy rich cakes. The festive toppings provided cheap drama, with a few selected sweets and a packet of Dr Oetker’s edible paper butterflies, which taste just like communion hosts, prompting me to stick out my tongue to receive my magic butterfly, a gesture totally lost on the happily gathered.

A scramble for candles. Start singing happy birthday before I sing ” The roof is on fire”.

Before dinner, each child lined up to have their height marked on the kitchen wall. This narrow wooden panel was commenced eight years ago. I would like to remove or cover the dated pine boards in my kitchen but it would necessitate the removal and relocation of this historic family document. Knowing me, nothing will happen. I’m grateful to have a big kitchen. First of all, the shoes come off, then the old wooden ruler is removed from a kitchen drawer. Serious concentration follows as the assembled witnesses cajole the child to stop cheating. Adults enjoy this activity too. Jake sets the benchmark at 195.58 cm, knocking off Adam at around 190.5 cm until Nick snuck onto the wall recently at around 193.04 cm. Daughters threaten to pass their mothers, cousins compete too often with their incremental markings, grandparents are teased about shrinking. No one can get anywhere near the fridge or kitchen while this important ritual is taking place.

The lower and busier end of the height measuring panel.

One of the birthday cakes was made in this heavy metal Bundt ring tin made by Kaiser. I fancy old heavy cookware designed to last forever. This one turned up in a second-hand store for $2.99. Love at first sight.

Vintage Kaiser Bundt Tin

The great outdoors continues to provide an array of produce for my kitchen. Olives are having a very good year in Victoria this year. My own trees have finally come good after five or so years. When I drive around the suburbs of Melbourne, I often see olive trees laden with olives and hope that someone will pick and preserve them.

One of our olive trees, planted by Alberto. Still young but doing well.
One kilo of black olives ready to brine. There are still a few kilo of green olives remaining. To pick or not to pick….green olives, that is the question.

A walk down the long driveway to the old pine trees revealed a small flush of Saffron Milk Caps, commonly called pine tree mushrooms, which will inspire tonight’s forager’s feast. Now to take a walk to the back of our property to find more hidden treasure. They are often found submerged in a mulch of pine straw: their saffron coloured heads push through as they grow larger. Tread carefully in mushroom season.

Saffron Milk Caps.
A well camouflaged saffron milk cap or pine mushroom.

While picking the mushrooms, my inquisitive friends, the Dexters, had a few words to say. Auntie Derry is my favourite. A little bit bossy, too Irish and short, just like me. I don’t want my pets to end up in somebody else’s kitchen, but sadly some might. To be truthful, we are overstocked.

Auntie Derry and the boys.

The Basil Genovese hangs on, but will keel over with the first frost. An old-fashioned pesto, made with a mortar and pestle, dressed a few dishes this week. It tastes so vibrant.

Pesto. Simply made, no fake additions.
Linguine with prawn, pesto and late season cherry tomatoes.

When it comes to food, my IMK posts tend to focus on garden produce. My vegetable garden inspires my cooking, its produce is central to the kitchen. As the years go by, I find that I am buying less and less, thanks to consistent composting, manure from my Dexters and the establishment of a unique micro climate in my veggie patch. At last I am home again. It has taken a while.

French radish. See my last post here for roasted radishes and greens.

This month, Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings is taking over the hosting of this monthly series. Good luck Sherry. This is a great little series, with very few ‘rules’ as such. Basically you write a kitchen focused post each month and link it to the host’s page. It is a very pleasant writing and photographic exercise and I recommend it to all bloggers old and new. For me, it’s a way of journaling life in my kitchen.

 

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.

In My Kitchen, March 2017

In my kitchen, I am surrounded by summer’s bounty, despite the seasonal peculiarities. The tomato crop has been ordinary: most people who live in, or near, Melbourne are complaining. There will be no passata making day for us in 2017. The zucchini and cucumbers have also been slow, but are now getting a new life with a dry, warm autumn. I am quite happy with the trade-off, with abundant plum, blackberry and fig crops this year, the seasonal surprises in my kitchen.

First bowl of blackberries. They are flushing every week.
First bowl of blackberries. A flush every week.
Today's garden pick
Today’s garden pick . Some will go on top of a pizza.
Pizza 5 Tesori
Pizza Cinque Tesori

Today’s ‘Five Treasure Pizza’ includes yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grilled baby zucchini, finely sliced red onion, and a handful of shrimp, scattered with tiny Greek basil leaves. This week’s dough was based on a mix of doppio zero white flour ( tipo ’00’) and a small proportion ( 50 g) of wholemeal spelt to give the dough a little more body. I like yeasted pizza more than sourdough, with long rises in the fridge, ( up to three days) making it even better.

bread-lot

I am trying to vary my bread flavours and methods, and have been inspired by Maree’s new facebook group, dedicated to Sourdough making. The sourdough loaves above were loosely based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, and includes 60% wholemeal spelt. I like these nutty loaves, especially with soft blue cheese or zucchini pickle. The loaves below are my “Stand By Your Fam” high hydration loaves courtesy of Celia. I can now make these everyday loaves on autopilot, made in the evening, put to sleep for 8 hours or more, then shaped into loaves in the morning. These are favoured by the man and the extended family, with 75% baker’s white and 25% wholemeal.

Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.
Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.

A quick summer dish, spaghetti al nero di seppia, (squid ink spaghetti), is topped with a good commercial mix of seafood marinara, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and torn basil. The black pasta by Molisana is surprisingly good. Thanks Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert for reminding me about this pasta last month.

A quick Spagetti marinara
A quick Spaghetti marinara

I made these preserved lemons back in December. They have provided a lemon boost to many a dish this summer, especially given that lemons have been scarce, in contrast to limes which are now common place.

Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.
Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.

Oh no, there’s a chook in my kitchen, again! Mischa has been carting a red chook into my kitchen since she was 5 years old. At the old house, she used to sit on a garden swing with Hermione and put the chook to sleep. The red chook is always called Hermione, even though we don’t usually name our hens, and there have been at least six generations of ‘Hermiones’ since that first one. The conversation usually goes like this.

“Please take that chook out of the kitchen, Mischa.”

“But it’s Hermione”, said in a child- like voice, even though Mischa is now almost 20!

That’s what I like about my kitchen, the mad stuff. The other rooms of the house are dull and lifeless, sedentary rooms dedicated to kitchen recovery.

Mischa and Hermione.
Mischa and Hermione no. 7

Thanks Liz at Good Things, for hosting this monthly roundup. If you have ever thought about blogging, the monthly IMK is a good place to start. Most of my bread inspiration and support has come from friends found in this forum.