Pandas of Chengdu. Travel Theme/Endearing

Cute animals and babies immediately come to mind when considering this week’s travel theme topic, Endearing, nominated by Ailsa, of  Where’s My Backpack. How cute and endearing are Pandas!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi) in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China is an enjoyable day out. The pandas have acres of bamboo forest to enjoy, the nursery pandas are kept separately, and there is a birthing section, complete with all the paraphernalia of a maternity hospital.

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The park itself is huge, with large promenades of bamboo forests, a large lake and an excellent restaurant where you, like the pandas, can enjoy a plate of bamboo, pickled and steamed.  Like everything else in China, the park and facilities are spotlessly clean and a pleasure to visit.

The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, No.1375 Xiongmao Avenue, Outside Northern Third Ring Road, Chenghua District, Chengdu 610081, China.

Garden Monthly. August 2014.

It’s winter here in Melbourne and the veggie garden was thriving until last week. A few severe frosty mornings set some vegetables back as the temperatures dropped below zero, and snow was recorded in the nearby hills. The leaves on the lime trees are now burnt but will survive. Old Jack Frost has killed off the remaining chilli plants and the rows of new potatoes. The frosts in the last two years seem to be more severe than I can remember in past years.

frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.
frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.

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One sad looking potato crop
One sad looking potato crop

Nothing can kill a turnip which has led to a flurry of turnip recipe experiments. I feel like Tess of the d’Urbervilles, grovelling about the turnip rows. Where is my hessian gown and curtained hood? They are mostly added to old fashioned vegetable soups or roasted.  I tried some turnip rostis and I cannot recommend this dish, as gorgeous as it looked topped with sour cream and feathery dill. It was just too turnipy!

Turnips anyone?
Turnips anyone?

The cavolo nero ( black kale) has turned into a perennial triffid and needs staking. I don’t mind. I add the leaves to soups and risotto or cook it then add to orecchiette pasta, the latter with garlic, anchovies, EV olive oil, and chilli flakes.

cavolo nero or tuscan kale.
cavolo nero or Tuscan kale.

The lettuces are nice and crisp in winter. The Cos are prolific as are the red and copper leafed varieties which are self-sown.

self seeded lettuce
self seeded lettuce

These broccoli were grown from old seed thrown into a bed in late March.  We are slowly working our way through the heads and looking forward to some side shoots. Some years ago, I kept a broccoli plant going for 18 months, eating lovely side shoots the whole time. The trick to semi perennial broccoli? Never let the plants flower. This works well if you don’t get that nasty little white butterfly in summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFreshly picked broccoli is nothing like its woody retail counterpart. It only needs two minutes in boiling water, drained, then tossed about in additional chosen flavours. A simple Neil Perry Recipe can be found here. I also love them tossed with a little oil, garlic, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In late May, I moved a whole lot of plants into a perennial bed, artichoke and rhubarb for example. They enjoyed a winter dormant spell and are showing signs of recovering for Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The To Do List is always too long.

  • Mulch the garlic before the Spring weeds get a hold.
  • Manure and mulch the perennial bed of rhubarb.
  • Finish off the third compost bin and begin the fourth.
  • Prepare spare beds for Spring planting with ready compost covered with mulch.
  • Espalier the fruit trees in the second chicken run orchard. Urgent Mr T!
  • Gather more cow manure from the front paddocks to add to the compost bins with dried leaves and green matter.

And on a sad note, here is my favourite Dexter cow, Derry, who gave birth last Sunday to a beautiful shiny black calf. Sadly the calf couldn’t stand to suckle due to a crippled leg. The vet instructed us to take the inevitable course of action.  Derry is our lawnmower, pet and keeps us in manure. She has recovered.

Derry the Dexter.
Derry the Dexter.

 

Travel Theme: Simplify

In her introduction to this week’s travel theme, Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack referred to Henry Thoreau’s ‘Walden’.  I was delighted to be reminded of this contemplation on simple living after so many years.  I recall reading this many years ago as a student and remember thinking at the time that it was rather self-indulgent and tedious.  Even though I am much older now and hopefully wiser, and definitely more opinionated, I still think this is the case.

As for the theme, simplify, this is something that we should all reflect upon from time to time. Time spent at Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, Australia gives the visitor time to live simply, walk, enjoy native flora and fauna and beautiful rock formations like the one below.

A Rock in Tidal River, Wilson's Promontory, Australia.
A Rock in Tidal River, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia.

 

In My Kitchen, August 2014

View from the kitchen windows.
View from my kitchen window.

In My Kitchen, I have assembled a few representatives of my Australiana collection, as I still call Australia home when not overcome by the need to leave or travel.  Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, generously hosts this monthly kitchen event.  Sit down, grab a coffee and take a look at other kitchens around the globe.

Temproary home for displaced items
Temporary residency for the displaced.

Things lurk in kitchen drawers, on benches or in the pantry and are ridiculously retro in style. Tins house biscuits or serve as decor, bowls provide colour, drawers are laden with linen.

Old Allens tin with Budgies. Much cuter than that other Budgie Smuggler man in speedos.
Budgerigar tin made by Allens, Melbourne.  Much classier than the Budgie Smuggler speedos favored by a certain Prime Minister.

My daughter entered the kitchen brandishing this rolling-pin in a proprietorial manner, teasing me about her wonderful op shop find.  She fully intended to give it to me, but wanted to hear me beg. So mean. Revenge is sweet.  I find things for her collections, claiming ownership for a time, then hand them over. Collectors need scouts in the field.

Porcelain rolling pin. Made in Melbourne in the 60s?
Porcelain rolling pin. Date unkown. Weapons of pastry construction.

The teatowel collection is mighty large. All linen, retro and very colourful, they depict Australian birds, outback scenes, 70s beer labels, flora and fauna, and silly poetry. They are cheery and soft to use and are handy in bread making, or useful as gift wrapping, alla Australian-Japanese kind of wrapping.  An unused retro teatowel is often the same price as a sparkly piece of paper.  Which would you prefer? The retro linen teatowel collection. I must confess to an Italian teatowel collection too!  Some of these Aussie Icons don’t get used;  they are works of art!

This classic Teatowel stays in the linen press.
North Queensland Kitsch.
 In north Queensland, Chinese workers from the goldfields established banana plantations in the 1880s around Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns, Innisfail and Tully.
Italian migrant labour enabled the sugar industry to thrive, after indentured  ‘kanaka’ slave labour ceased in 1901.*
Italian migrants to Tully also furthered the Australian banana industry in the 1920s.*

I make pizza and bread quite often and this Wallaby baker’s flour is just right. The flour is super fresh due to high turnover, it is GMO free, strong, and the wheat is grown in South Australia. The company is still owned by the Laucke family who have been milling flour since 1899.

Lauke Bakers flour from South Australia
The Laucke family migrated from Germany in the 1890s. What a wonderful contribution they have made to this country.

I am making a shift to Australian grown and owned products. Although I love the taste of Italian tomatoes, I am concerned about the labour exploitation involved in its production. The SPC company in Shepparton, Victoria, has struggled to maintain its operation, due to the dumping of cheap foreign goods. The Australian anti- dumping commission found that

‘56% of tomatoes imported from Italy had been dumped on Australia and two of the major exporters, I.M.C.A and Lodato, had been selling them for about 26% below their value.’

The peanut butter shown is made wholly from Queensland’s peanuts and is produced by an Aussie owned company. Whilst not wishing to sound overly patriotic, I do believe in supporting local industries. It’s good for the environment as well as supporting employment opportunities in regional towns. The detailed information on the packaging is often initially confusing  as to country of origin so now I need to take reading glasses shopping with me.

Beans means= SPC.
Beans means SPC.  Shepparton is home to 3000 Iraqis, 1300 Afghans and 1200 Sudanese, along with long standing Greek and Italian communities. Many are employed by SPC Ardmona.

Next in line are these burnt matchstick bread boards featuring Kookaburras, gum leaves, and that bridge in Sydney. As they are collector items, they are rarely used.

Australian Burnt matchstick breadboards.
Australian Burnt matchstick bread boards.

I have previously mentioned my passion for Australian pottery basins and bowls on IMK. Here is the full collection. These were made by either Hoffman or Fowler, between the 1930s and 1960s. The Hoffman pottery, located in Brunswick, Victoria, may still be seen today. Although no longer functioning, its kiln and tower have been incorporated into a modern townhouse development.

Collected Australian bowls by Fowler and Hoffman.
Collected Australian bowls by Fowler and Hoffman.

But wait, there’s more. The Arnotts biscuit tin collection, once Australian owned, covered in a plethora of parrots, Aussie honey, Tasmanian smoked salmon in the fridge, Maffra cheese, Diana ware jugs, Vegemite ( the latter icon being Australian made but now foreign-owned, is disqualified) as is Uncle Tobys ( now a subsidiary of Nestle`).

This post was brought to you by Op Shops ( thrift shops/charity stores), home of the ‘well- spotted’, and recycling.

Blokies on the kitchen bench.
Blokies sit along the kitchen bench.
  1. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:210147/p9780646519197_2_165.pdf
  2. http://www.australianbananas.com.au/banana-facts/world-history

The Secret Life of Celia, my Sourdough Starter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACelia is the name of my sourdough starter. She is the daughter of Priscilla, the sourdough starter sent to me by Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.  Some readers may already know the real Celia, baker extraordinaire and all round generous and inspiring woman. Her online tutorials are easy to follow, thorough and are well supported with photos at every stage of the process. In fact there are around 367 bread making related posts on her site, as well as further information on bread making supplies and equipment. This, I believe, is a far better guide than any bread making book and a wonderful thing.

The following post is a test case diary of my first sourdough loaf.  If you wish to make sourdough bread too, just head straight to Celia’s instructive post here .

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Celia , my starter, behaved as expected, just as her mother would have predicted. I began rehydrating her at 7.00 AM and, as instructed, added doses of flour and water at various times throughout the first day and evening.  On the second morning, she was alive, thick
and bubbly.  Hooray. After incorporating the remaining bread ingredients and a pause of half an hour, the dough was very easy to knead. Then off she went to happily sit in a winter sunny spot on my ‘proving’ high chair.

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Hand made Australian high chair becomes a proving station.
Hand made Australian high chair becomes a proving station.

The dough proved for around four hours (winter in a warm room) and then looked ready to rock and roll. The second proving was a little harder to judge.

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The loaf was slashed, spritzed and baked as instructed. It came out looking great and once cool,  we hoovered a few slices with plain butter. It smelt and tasted very good.

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I may have erred somewhere as it sounded quite drum like when first removed, but the base sounded a little softer on cooling, yet it didn’t really affect the flavour or texture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACost per loaf, around $ 1.20 (500 g flour = 50cents/ salt and olive oil/ 20cents/ oven running cost of fan forced 90 cm wide oven at full heat, then reduced,  per hour- around 50 cents)

Cost for a quality sourdough loaf retail – around $7.00. The cost would reduce to 95 cents per loaf, if two were made at once, as well as saving power. Next time I will make two and freeze the spare.

Thanks to Celia, the mentor who inspired this post. Just click on Bread at the top of her home page to find out more.

http://figjamandlimecordial.com/

Easy Lime Syrup Cake

Limes seem to be everywhere this season. Strangely, they have become more prolific and cheaper than lemons. My garden lime trees are thriving, with fruit and further flowers in abundance. This glut calls for a lime syrup cake.

Microplane or Zester?
Microplane or Zester?

Although a Neil Perry recipe, chef extraordinaire, this cake is delightfully easy to make. No fancy procedure, you can mix it in a bowl by hand or with a stand mixer. All you need is an abundant lime supply and a few other pantry staples.

organic eggs and limes.
organic eggs and limes.

This cake was made for the ‘export market’ and so it was ‘tarted up’ on the board with a few winter flowers and a liberal dusting of icing sugar. It is dense, moist cake with a sweet/sour/tropical flavour.

Ingredients.

  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 300 g self- raising flour
  • 90 g desiccated coconut
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 250 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk.

For the syrup

  • 225 g castor sugar
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of 5 limes.

Method

Preheat oven to 180c. Lightly grease a 19 cm square cake tin. Line the base and sides with baking paper that extends 2 cm above the sides. Sift together the sugar and flour and mix with the coconut and lime zest in a bowl. Stir in the butter. Combine the eggs and milk and add to the bowl. Mix until smooth. ( by hand or briefly in the mixer)Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on a tray for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out completely dry. If the top of the cake starts to brown before it is baked through, cover with some foil and continue cooking.

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Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the sugar and 185 ml of water in a heavy based saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the lime zest and juice, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 8 minutes. Strain.

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Remove the cake from the oven and use a skewer to poke a few holes evenly over the cake.  Slowly pour the hot syrup over the cake. Let it stand for about 20 minutes or until the syrup has soaked into the cake, then turn it onto a wire rack lined with baking paper and allow to cool.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To serve, simply slice or serve with cream or fresh fruit salad.

The cake photographed in odd winter light.
The cake photographed in odd winter light.

Leah from The Cookbook Guru is taking a look at Neil Perry’s cookbook, ‘The Food I love‘ this month. This recipe may be found on p 404 of that book.

Di's house.
Di’s house.

 

Santiago di Compostella. Sunday Stills/Faces

An amazed local.
An amazed local.

This week, Ed has nominated ‘Faces’ as the theme for Sunday Stills. I have chosen a few characters who hang around Santiago di Compostella. I am sure they won’t mind too much having their face plastered all over the internet. They stand and gaze at the pilgrims in wonder and have been doing so for a long time.

Santiago ( St James) himself in very nice hat.
Santiago ( St James/St Jaques) himself in a very nice hat, complete with Coquilles St Jaques.
don't be so modest.
Don’t be so modest.
Who me?
Who me?

Piazza del Campo. Travel Theme: Meeting Places.

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A Piazza is the quintessential meeting place. It is interesting to reflect upon the role of the Piazza in Italian history;  meeting place, site of political unrest, market place, home to festivals and sagre as well as musical and theatrical events, the piazza plays a central role in the communal life of all Italians today. It is a stage, a living theatre.

IMG_1446Piazza del Campo in Siena is my favorite meeting place. Watch as old be-suited gentlemen meet for a coffee, a smoke or to pick up the La Repubblica newspaper at 7 am.  See the noisy teenagers gather after school at around 1.30 pm; at 5pm, another wave of older college students descend on ‘Il Campo’. They lie about in the setting sun or chat in huddled groups.  Locals converge after dinner for passeggiata on the way home. In winter, they stroll in long fur edged coats and fine shoes, appearing to glide across the uneven bricks, reminding me of the wealthy citizens depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, famous painter of Sienese life in the 14th century.

The best time to visit Siena is out of season when Piazza del Campo becomes moody and mysterious under the winter sky.  Avoid the  summer months, especially during the Palio, as well as Easter, unless you fancy hordes of people.

See Ailsa’s Where’s My Backpack for other meeting places around the world.

Chicken Marengo and Toulouse – Lautrec

An original meny drawing by Toulouse Lautrec, from 'The Art of Cuisine'.
An original menu drawing by Toulouse Lautrec, from ‘The Art of Cuisine’.

Every now and then, I cook a few meat dishes for the ‘export market’, reverting to retro classics, given that they freeze well and make for simple and nourishing meals that can be reheated easily.  I am more than happy to cook meat for others, especially if the recipient is ill or otherwise disinclined to cook.

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Searching the shelves, (and not the internet) for something French, a Chicken Chasseur perhaps, I noticed a big black French culinary hole in my cookbook collection: probably because the cuisine of France tends to be very meat focussed. On the top shelf I keep some much treasured ‘collector’ cookbooks, purchased from second hand shops and read for amusement.  ‘The Art of Cuisine’ by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant is one of these. And very French it is!

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There is a story behind this book.  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant had been friends since childhood. Joyant was the executor of Lautrec’s will and created the Musée Toulouse- Lautrec at Albi. The two friends had a mutual love of food which was the true daily link between these men.

‘In the last years of his own life, Joyant collected the recipes invented in Lautrec’s company and combined them with the recipes that he and Lautrec had garnered throughout their years of companionship. He embellished the text with Lautrec drawings …….The book was published in a limited edition, and was conceived by Joyant as a work of art and as a tribute.’

My copy is a new – 1966- copy of the original work, ( which was most likely published in the 1920s) translated by Margery Weiner.  The only modifications are a few culinary notes, added in bold at the end of the recipes. The book includes fabulous coloured plates of Lautrec’s art, including many sketches he designed for menus.

from the Art of Cuisine, by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.
from the Art of Cuisine, by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

Toulouse Lautrec’s ‘Chicken Marengo’

Put in a saucepan some olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic; heat and brown pieces of chicken. When these pieces are a good golden colour, take them out and make a roux with a spoon of flour.

When the roux is well browned, moisten with good bouillon, put back the pieces of chicken, salt and pepper, and let simmer on a low flame.

Half an hour before serving, add some sautéed mushrooms, a few spoons of tomato puree, and pitted olives. Just as you serve, sprinkle with croutons of bread fried in butter.

1966 culinary notes by Barbara Kafka

2 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs flour, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 lb mushroom sliced and heated in 2 Tbls butter, 2 Tbs tomato puree and 1/4 cup black olives.

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My notes, 2014.

1 kilo free range chicken thigh fillets, cut into thirds, 2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/4 cup white wine, a slurp of brandy, 3 cloves of garlic, smashed, plain flour to dredge the chicken pieces, 1 cup of stock, salt and pepper, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 300 grs mushrooms, quartered.  No olives and no croutons.

Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, fry till golden in oil and butter in a heavy based pan, making sure you don’t crowd the pan.  Remove pieces when done, then add the garlic to the pan and cook briefly, then  the cognac and wine. On high heat scrape the stuck bits on the base, reduce a little, then add the stock and tomato paste. Put the chicken pieces back into the pan, add salt and pepper to taste,and cook on very low flame.  Add the mushrooms towards the end of cooking.  Add more stock as needed.  Total cooking time, around 30 minutes.

Art and Cusine really do go together.
Art and Cusine really do go together.

My version uses chicken thigh pieces as it is much faster to cook and easier to box up for the ‘export market’. The boxes will contain a side of fettucine.

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from 'The Art of Cuuisine'  by Toulouse -Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.
from ‘The Art of Cuuisine’ by Toulouse -Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

And as for the word Marengo? Check here for a little Napoleonic history.

For my granddaughter, Mischa Belle, who is a French speaker but not yet a cook, and also for Deb of My Kitchen Witch, who would love this book I am sure.

The Art of Cuisine

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant

Introduction by M.G. Dortu and Ph. Huisman

Translated by Margery Weiner

Culinary notes by Barbara Kafka

Publisher, Michael Joseph, Ltd, London. 1966.

Kitchen Reality, Broccoli and Neil Perry.

The sad part about returning home after a long journey is the absence of decent ‘hired help’. Where’s the menu? Who will make my bed? Reality is slowly setting in as the mess, the half unpacked suitcase, and the washing pile begin to annoy me. The weeds in the garden can wait. It’s 3 degrees celsius outside and the blanketing fog looks like it has set in for the day.

On the other hand, there’s the tempting stash of DVDs from Bali, bundles of TV series to lure me to the couch, as well as a big stack of new books, some purchased, others from the library, winter’s little helpers and further reason to remain in holiday mode by the fire. Some of my friends are still loitering in Ubud, Bali and all I can say is, life is tough!

Winter Garden Produce
Winter Garden Produce

I am attempting to revitalise my interest in cooking by borrowing some cookbooks from the library. One of these is Neil Perry’s ‘The Food I Love‘ which is featured on Leah’s The Cookbook Guru this month. I was hoping to be coaxed away from my indolence. Instead it has turned out to be another great read, in bed and on the couch.  Most of the food is simple and non chefy, Mod Oz Mediterranean, and homely. For example, the breakfast section looks at Bircher Meusli,  fruit smoothies and various classic egg dishes. The pasta pages list the usual suspects. The fish chapter along with the”Sauces and More” chapter are both excellent and I wish someone would deliver some nice flathead. Better still,  just deliver Neil Perry.

all home grown
all home grown

What makes the book a good read is that Perry, a renowned Australian chef, considers quality ingredients as his major inspiration for cooking as well as sound technique.  In the opening chapter, Neil mentions his commitment to “sourcing the finest ingredients”, the importance of “mise en place” ( as discussed by Leah earlier) and seasoning.

“By seasoning I mean salting……… When seasoning, think about this: salting heightens the natural flavours of food. If I salt a dish at the beginning of cooking, the food end up tasting of its natural self rather than if I add it at the end, when it tastes like salt on the food”

Neil also has a preference for white peppercorn and discusses the difference in flavour and drying techniques. It is more intense in flavour. Most Asian cuisines use white pepper and I have the same preference since cooking with Banardi in Java last January.  When buying spices, Neil advises,

“buy only a small quantity at a time and use it quickly. Spices taste the strongest when they are fresh. Also buy from a spice merchant, you won’t believe the difference in quality”

All very sensible and a reason not to buy that monster bag of turmeric or garam masala on special in the Asian groceries for $2.00.

As we have an abundance of broccoli in the garden, I am listing this simple little recipe to mark my re- entry into the world of cooking.  Neil has used Broccolini, although Cima di Rapa would work very well too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Broccolini ( or Broccoli) with Garlic and Chilli.

Ingredients

  • two small, very fresh broccoli heads, cut into narrow trees. ( see pic above)
  • sea salt
  • EV olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • minced garlic

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add enough sea salt to make it taste like the sea, and cook the broccoli at a rapid boil for two minutes. Drain and add to a saute pan with the oil, sea salt, chilli flakes and toss about for 1 minute, then add the garlic and toss for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This makes a bright and robust contorno or side dish to go with fish.  Today I am serving it with my favourite smoked fish cakes for lunch. Leftovers might be tossed about with some orecchiette this evening ( along with added anchovies) or enclosed in a simple omelette.

Now, back to those books by the fire.

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