Returning to the kitchen with a basket of Autumn bounty presents a challenge: pasta, soup or composed salad- that is the lunchtime question. I’m not a sandwich person: too many school and work lunches, eaten on the run, killed the sandwich option for me forever. The provincial classic, Soupe au Pistou, combining green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, new potatoes, shelled red and white beans, then topped with a spoon of pesto, is an all time favourite. Warm composed salads are the other. With a few pantry and fridge staples, such as couscous and Halloumi cheese, this salad came together magically.
Ingredients for two large serves
100g pearl couscous
1 tablespoon EV olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ red capsicum, finely diced
1 cup vegetable stock
Halloumi cheese, drained or one small packet, cut into serving shapes*
a little EV olive oil for frying and grilling
one small zucchini, chopped thickly into 2 cm chunks on the diagonal
two or more fresh ripe figs
mint leaves, torn
ground sea salt and pepper
vinaigrette or lemon juice to dress (optional)
Make the pearl couscous. In a small heavy based saucepan, add the oil, then add the couscous, capsicum and garlic and quickly toast over medium heat, stirring for 30 seconds on medium heat.
Add the stock. Reduce heat to medium/low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until the stock is absorbed and the couscous is soft.
Meanwhile, heat a stove top grill pan and grill the zucchini chunks. Remove and set aside. Season.
In a regular frying pan, cook the Halloumi pieces in a little oil until brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Halve the figs. Dunk the cut side in a little honey and fry in the on the cut side until brown and caramelised.
Assembling the salad.
Lay the warm couscous on a flat serving plate. Then add the zucchini, followed by the Halloumi, then the figs. Scatter torn mint over the dish, season and dress lightly.
I buy Halloumi in 1 kilo jars for around AU$10. The cheese keeps well in its salty brine and provides enough cooking cheese for around 6 months. Small packets of Halloumi from supermarkets would make this dish more costly.
Kefalograviera cheese fries well and would make a good substitute for Halloumi.
Other pantry staples could be substituted for the pearl couscous, such as orzo pasta. Use what you have.
This is an Almost Italian original recipe, inspired by this year’s stash of fresh figs.
When I first studied Keats’ Ode to Autumn as a 17-year-old student, I was naive, optimistic and ignorant, full of expectation and youthful determination. The possibilities of life stretched out endlessly before me. I was in the Spring of my life: this metaphor, now considered clichéd, was not lost on me at the time, but then again, how could I have fully understood the real depth of this Keatsian analogy, not having travelled very far through the successive seasons of life. My literature teacher laid strong foundations for future and deeper understandings. Good literature requires frequent visitations.
‘To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.’
I’m now in the Autumn of my life and am delighted to be here: I wouldn’t want to be 18, or 38 or 55 still. Those times were good: each season brought blessings and joys, angst and worry. Each season does. I just happen to love Autumn more and cling to whatever this season brings, knowing that my winter is not so far away.
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.’
I visit the vegetable garden now and am rewarded with the products of our particular Summer: volatile and untrustworthy, youthful and full of energy, promises are made and broken. Patience is important when dealing with summer. Autumn is long and slow, with cool beginnings, windless warm days and soft pink, crimson, turning to tangerine sunsets. The ‘conspiracy’ is now over: we are loaded and blessed with fruits and vegetables and I’m not in a hurry to tamper with the season or hurry it along.
Hiding along walkways, slow maturing pumpkins need another two lazy months before they surrender their sweetness and hard flesh for storing. Meanwhile, the zucchini are on display again, more loud and showy than the petite summer offerings: new flowers, bees and prolific fruits appear daily. Large seed filled zeppelins appear far too quickly now.
‘To swell the gourd’
There could be a part two to my Keatsian story: to think that we have only just begun our gentle waltz through Autumn.
My previous Keatsian posts can be viewed here and the full verse can be found here.
Golden poplars march up steep volcanic hills, their Autumn confetti brightening this forbidding desert. The mighty Clutha river roars down below, a deep turquoise and tumultuous presence, as it moves at swift pace carrying its huge load towards the sea 338 kilometers away. Fertile river communities huddle in valleys, surrounded by these dark majestic hills, with apples, pears, quinces and pumpkins for sale, as the orchard leaves turn scarlet. The local wines taste like their place. It is not hard to appreciate how the notion of ‘terra’ can flavour a wine. The white quartz and schist deposited in these ancient glacial valleys give that tingling mineral sensation, so readily discernible on the palate, to the Pinot Gris from Central Otago.
Central Otago drama
Wild poplars, Central Otago
Before the Snow
Rolling plains near Gibbston
Wandering through small colonial towns, the old gold mining villages of Clyde, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, enables you to step back into the 1860s. The preserved and partly reconstructed Chinese huts in Arrowtown attract many Chinese visitors from Guangdong province as Chinese tourists begin to take more interest in the history of the Chinese diaspora during the gold rush era. Old Cromwell Town is a quaint precinct within the larger modern, sprawling town of Cromwell, with ‘saved’ buildings after the construction of a dam and Lake Dunstan in the 1990s.
These small places are well-developed tourist haunts but also make good bases for day touring around the district. We stayed in Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, all quite striking in different ways.
Lake Dunstan, Cromwell
central otago in autumn
Long white cloud moves across Autumn hills
Lakes of Central Otago
Keep your eyes on the road..
‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hand upon the wheel’. The views are so stunning in Central Otago, it’s like driving through a dream.
The best time to travel around New Zealand in a hired camper van/RV/motor home is in May, given that the weather is still pleasant, the Autumn colours, particularly in the South Island, are spectacular, and the rental price on a large motorhome plummets to around AU$29 a day.
Camping in a 7.6 metre long motorhome is not exactly roughing it. The back seats convert to a comfortable queen sized bed, a TV/DVD player is situated close by, the internal lighting is bright, there is a built-in toilet and bathroom, a fridge, gas stove top, microwave and heater. Basic pots and pans, cutlery and linen are also supplied. I enjoy the independence this form of travel provides, being able to pull up in front of any view for morning tea or lunch or a quick snooze. The other main bonus is getting away from commercial restaurant and pub food, which jades the palate after the novelty wears off. Stocking the fridge with all sorts of wonderful New Zealand farm products and wines to enjoy en route is one of the joys of travelling in this fertile land.
Each hire company uses its own detailed contract. While there is no standard form, most share common features that often parallel car rental contracts. When a booking is made in advance, the hire company supplies a summary of contract to be signed on collection of the vehicle. I treat this document as an important and lucrative (or loss-making) issue. The one finally presented usually adds some additional onerous terms.
The hire contract will contain many restrictions. For example, most campervan contracts prohibit the hirer from driving on unsealed roads (or off-road), unless it’s a short defined distance on a well maintained road to a recognised camping ground. I hire a 4wd camper if I want to explore on dirt roads or go off road.
2. When to hire
Prices are highest at peak holiday times, particularly around Christmas, Easter, school holidays, and at seasonal times when demand is likely to be high. In Australia, winter holiday-makers flock north (to northern New South Wales and Queensland, northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory) to escape the cold or cooler weather further south. The reverse migration pattern applies in summer.
Camper hire companies cut hire rates drastically out of season. For example:
(a) In New Zealand and Tasmania, May to September rates are relatively cheap.
Factor in the weather if choosing to hire within these dates. My own experience is that the North Island in NZ is fine to visit in May (as is Tasmania) with sunny days, little or no wind, days that are around the high teens to low 20s (celsius) in temperature, and cool nights. Nice for camping. Higher altitudes will be colder, of course. A larger campervan should have a gas or diesel heater for warmth if required. (Check the contract).
Hire companies regularly offer specials. For example, Britz in November 2015 offered a 25% discount on hire charges for Tasmania over March and April.
(b) Relocating a camper can be very cheap, sometimes for nil to $1 a day.
A relocation may also include reimbursement of fuel costs, and if relevant, a sea crossing (in New Zealand between the North and South Islands, and in Australia, the Bass Straight crossing between Melbourne and Tasmania).
There could be major savings involved. I recently read a quote of AU$750 for a return crossing of Bass Strait – Melbourne to Tasmania – for a 7 metre long motorhome. As a reference, a Mercedes Sprinter motorhome is about 7.6 metres long.
However, watch the insurance issue as noted below. It also applies to a relocation.
The main negative of a relocation is that the hirer is only given a limited time to complete the journey.
3. Liability and Insurance
Essentially, the hire contract provides that the hirer (renter) is responsible for any damage to the vehicle or its fittings (usually including tyres and windscreen) or for damage to another vehicle or other property. The liability is regardless of fault.
Here, major savings can be made.
(a) Use an appropriate credit card to pay for your campervan hire, one that includes travel insurance cover, specifically covering your hire vehicle accident liability. Read your credit card contract carefully, as the terms differ from issuer to issuer. Examples of some differences and issues:
Some cards only cover passenger vehicles.
All have limits on the maximum accident liability cover. The ones I’ve checked have an upper limit of $5,000. Some hire companies impose a higher sum for liability, for example, $7,500 for a Britz motorhome and some of Apollo’s larger motorhomes.
Some cards, like my ANZ Visa Platinum Frequent Flyer card, apply to passenger vehicles only in Australia, but also apply to passenger vehicles and campervans overseas.
If you rely on your credit card for cover, ensure that you have activated the cover. For example, the credit card contract may require a minimum amount to be spent on travel costs using the card before the cover applies.
If you do rely on your credit card for cover, hire companies generally require a payment of the full amount of your accident liability under the hire contract. With my last hire, I was required to pay $5,000 (the accident liability amount) to the hire company (Apollo) – only by credit card – for the amount to be refunded within 28 working days of the completion of the hire. Plus their 2% surcharge. In fact, the refund was made after about 3 weeks.
This practice seems to be designed to strongly discourage people from opting out of the hire company’s insurance scheme. If you have a lazy $5,000 of credit with your card, you will incur fees – cash advance interest – before receiving a refund.
If it’s an international transaction, an overseas visitor hiring a vehicle in New Zealand for example, then the credit card payment to the hire company attracts currency conversion fees from the hirer’s bank, and the hire company’s bank initially, then the same again when the refund is made.
(b) Take out your own insurance cover. If you have travel insurance, it may cover you. On my recent 28 day campervan hire, I paid $125.80 for my own insurance cover that simply covered hire vehicle excess liability instead of paying $1,232 to the hire company.
I used RACV, one of Australia’s motorists’ organisations. See:
Apollo is representative of hire companies in only accepting payment by credit card. It charges a non-refundable fee of 2% on Visa and Mastercard and 4.5% for American Express or Diners Club.
This means that you cannot take advantage of saving by paying by direct deposit or in cash.
4. Other extras and issues to watch out for
It’s convenient to hire various extras along with the vehicle to make your holiday more comfortable. On the other hand, some can be easily obtained elsewhere at better prices.
GPS – Hire companies charge around $10 per day (usually with a maximum of $100). Bring your own if possible. Most smart phones now have a GPS, although you may need an app or map if visiting a foreign country. Paper maps still work.
Outdoor table and chairs. Rather than pay the hire fee of $17 per chair and $24 for the table (total $58), I buy them from a shop like KMart or Bunnings for around $7 per chair and $19 per table (total $33). Donate them to a charity (Opp Shop) or give them away at the end of the holiday.
Don’t assume that the daily hire rate is cheaper the longer the hire period. This is true up to a point, but with my most recent hire the daily rate increased after 28 days.
5. Cooking for yourself
Buying meals constantly can be both expensive and unattractive, depending on your food preferences. Travelling provides opportunities to buy fresh produce at markets and farmers’ outlets, and seafood along the coast.
I prefer a picnic or meal in the open air with fresh local ingredients, together with a cheeky local wine, rather than a deep fried generic meal in a pub or cafe that offers nothing notable about its taste, location or origin.
Of course, eating out is important when it’s notable for the food, view, ambiance, or cultural experience, laziness….
As one whose culinary skills are most advanced in the fields of kitchen hand and washing up, I am acutely aware of the importance of observing the views of the chief cook on the issue of eating in or out.
6. Check the state of the vehicle at the time of hire, and at the end
Make sure that the vehicle report you sign when collecting the vehicle accurately states any pre-exisiting damage. I’ve found Britz and Apollo good on this issue of vehicle condition, but have experienced the opposite elsewhere. Take similar care on the vehicle’s return.
7. Where to camp – expensive, cheap or free?
Camping fees can be a major part of holiday costs.
In Australia, the nightly fee for a campervan with on-site power at a commercial camping ground/caravan park/holiday park will generally be about $35 to $45 for 2 persons. Extra fees are charged for additional guests.
As an illustration, my daughter recently paid $66 nightly for a powered beach front camping site at Tathra on NSW’s south coast for 2 adults and 2 children.
Higher fees are usually charged for peak periods, popular locations, and where there are more facilities (swimming pools, water slides, entertainment centres and so on). My experience of New Zealand is that the fees are at least as high.
Cheaper paid camping is available, although not necessarily in the most popular or well known destinations. National parks, and campgrounds in less frequented locations generally offer lower fees or none, usually for fewer facilities, or none.
Most hire campervans and motorhomes have a dual battery system that allows camping using 12 volt power from the auxiliary battery for lighting, while the cook top and refrigerator use gas. Therefore, it’s feasible to camp away from mains elecricity for a few days.
One potentially relevant issue is whether your campervan has an onboard toilet, as many municipalities require free camper vehicles to be self-contained in terms of toilet and waste water facilities. On the other hand, experienced Australian campers know that in the bush, a short walk with a shovel can solve those issues.
New Zealand is generally more accommodating than Australia towards free camping, and doing so at beautiful coastal locations is much easier than on Australia’s east coast. On the other hand, Australia has great free camping opportunities away from the coast. One of my favourites is to camp on the Murray River, our longest river, where there are numerous free camp sites stretching over hundreds of kilometres where you can enjoy Australia’s unique timelessness, most often without anyone else around.
Linked to Ailsa’s travel theme this week, Camping.
Summer is a harsh season in Melbourne and I am pleased when it’s finally over and the softly lit, warm and more mellow Keatsian season commences. This year there have been a few false starts, with cold snaps followed by intense heat waves. I recognise Autumn’s arrival when I begin to feel intensely melancholic and given to reflection. Still days, long shadows, and subdued bird call give rise to a gentler pace. Time to take stock, to shake off the overbearing intensity of summer’s hold, of its stifling grip on nature.
Garden crops mature more slowly, with tomato survivors providing a discreet bowl full each day, even if the ostentatious zucchini refuse to bow to the season. The beans continue their climb towards The Giant above, with a few ripening here and there, the coco rouge and the coco blanc. Late planted leeks now soften with the season: pumpkins peep from under sheltering leaves, as their vines drift through the garden beds, on a course of their own making.
Only a few apples survive the blasting heat as hungry birds find their way through the nets.
A dear friend arrives with a large bag of Beurre Bosc pears, which she carefully protected from the birds. I watch them slowly ripen and dream of French desserts, pears slowly cooked in wine and saffron, a pear clafouti or gallette.
Although today marks the start of Autumn, Melbourne is experiencing a late heatwave with temperatures hovering around 33º to 35º ( 91-96 F) for the week ahead, with little chance of rain. The garden, although dry, continues to pump out vegetables at an unseemly rate which sees me trekking off to the supermarkets for pickling vinegar and sugar, as well as opportunity shops for more clean jars. It’s pickling season, a task that always seems to coincide with hot days. Each week I make two batches of bread and butter cucumber pickles. These are popular with all members of the extended family and friends: most are given away.
This is today’s cucumber pick, explaining the surge in pickle production.
After a three-day weekend at the beach, we often return to some rude surprises in the garden. This fella ( yes, I know it’s really a sheila) will not become an ingredient in my kitchen! The seed will be dried out for next year. It weighs 4.76 kilo.
After we settled in our new home, we began planting an orchard. Wendy, a local food farmer, was running permaculture courses in grafting at the time. Most of our heritage apples were supplied by this group at a nominal cost of $1 per pot. We planted around 15 different heritage apple varieties. The cuttings for the grafts were collected from old farms and apple specialists around Victoria and taste nothing like the commercial varieties which are marketed today. Now, 5 years later, the apples are beginning to bear well. The ripening of each variety is staggered throughout the season. Mr Tranquillo, the fruit bat, eats most of them before they get a chance to feature in any cooked dish.
The chooks never let us down, with enough eggs for us as well as the troupes at the beach, where most are eaten on the weekend.
Last month I met some special visitors from the bloglandia: first, the lovely Julie from Frog Pond Farm visited from New Zealand. A week later, EllaDee, from the Nambucca region of New South Wales, visited for morning tea, accompanied by her husband Wayne. They are travelling around Victoria in her ‘Nanavan”. On meeting for the first time, we continued the conversation we have been having for a year or more: time passed quickly and pleasantly. EllaDee brought tasty gifts from Macksville: macadamia nuts from Nambucca Macnuts and honey and wine from Gruber’s winery. I am working on a special dish using these treasures.
As the welcome swallows move out from their ‘bespoke’ little nests, their discards often fall to the ground intact and find their way into my home.
These old tin numbers were found at a ‘trash and treasure’ market down by the Bay and snuck onto my overcrowded kitchen dresser. The other numbers in the set, 9, 6 and 0, were acquired by my daughter in law, Maxine. With these numbers, we can send each other photo scores out of ten, despite the limited range. The area around Rosebud (‘Guns and Rosebud’) specialises in weekend markets. Some sell craft, local vegetables and locally produced foods, others just sell trash.
In My Kitchen is a monthly event. I quite enjoy the rhythm it gives to my writing life, with now 26 posts on this theme. I like to look back over the first post of past months and am reminded of similarities and differences in past seasons, as my activity in the kitchen is often defined by seasonal produce. Thanks to Maureen of The Orgasmic Chef, who now hosts this monthly international gathering. Maureen has taken up the reins from Celia, enabling this wonderful meeting of kitchenalia to continue.
My orto needs some serious attention. Some remaining Autumn crops are happy to linger longer and fatten up. Other beds need digging over, re- seeding and mulching. The rabbits got in and munched all my lettuce, parsley, radicchio, rocket and coriander! Some one left the gates open while I was at the beach. This invasive pest (the rabbit, not the gate person) also finds a way through our Fort Knox fencing during Autumn, especially when it’s really dry and the green pickings are slim in the paddocks and bush. The kangaroos are also desperate, jumping the fences to dig up the remaining vestiges of green grass around the veggie patch. They have also taken a fancy to apple trees. This is unusual behaviour as only wallabies tend to be so destructive. Too many jobs, not much will or time.
Now for the happy news. The eggplant are ripening and so long as the frost stays away, they should continue for a while.
We also have belated borlotti beans. I tried to plant these in December but they couldn’t cope with the blasting heat. I re-seeded some in late February and the mild weather seems to suit them. Again, stay away Jack Frost.
We have had zucchini crop continuously for five months now. I am happy not to buy any after their demise. We harvest a few each week.
Some self-sown lettuce popped up with the latest rain. I usually relocate them when they are a little older and not deplete the soil of the same nutrients.
It has been a wonderful year for pumpkin and other cucurbits. They liked the milder weather and scrambled all over the garden. They need a few more weeks to ripen and harden in the remaining sun.
It’s also time to make a few basil things for the freezer- basil butter and frozen pesto ‘bombs’ which will bring a touch of summer to a winter soup.
To do list this week:
Remove remaining bird nets from strawberries and raspberries
make basil butter and basil oil
investigate products in Australia for frost protection of limes and lemon grass.
make a small mix of concrete to plug rabbit holes in fence
collect more cow manure and spread about
sow turnips – such an easy crop
cut back herbs
bake remaining apples and the lone quince!
Are you a keen food gardener? Do you grow herbs, vegetables or fruit? Do you need assistance or advice to get you started? Go and check out the other posts this month at Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective.
This summer was so cool that most of the tomatoes died off last week and the eggplants won’t have time to mature. Now Autumn feels like winter. Here we are midst the best month of the year and today the temperature plummeted to 12 c. What happened to my Keatsian season of mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun? Time to light a lovely wood fire and renew my acquaintance with baking, butter and wonderful winter treats.
Like many others around the world who received a gift of sourdough starter from Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, I have religiously fed mine, (who is also named Celia ) since last July and have often been forced to throw out the excess, especially during summer when bread making wasn’t on the agenda.
The March equinox occurred in Melbourne at 8.45 am this morning, just as I crawled out of the dark canvas cave of my camper trailer. Magpies and Wattle birds sing, celebrating the gentle day ahead.
In harmony with the date, the temperature will reach 21 degrees celsius, ( 69.8 F) – too cool to swim, yet perfect weather to walk along wild beaches. Autumn in Victoria, Australia, is my favourite season. The days are fresh but warm, the nights a little chilly. Birds sing and hunt, plants enjoy the overnight moisture and flower anew.
Kookaburras have become rather friendly this Autumn.
The wild back beach of Gunnamatta forms part of the Mornington Peninsula National Park. It is hard to believe that this wilderness is only 75 minutes drive from Melbourne. We are the only visitors.