Totally Stuck for Words

Most village markets in France are orderly, traditional and predictable. Sensibly dressed women arrive with shopping baskets, older men often sport a beret or cap to ward off the morning chill. There will be stalls selling vegetables, a cheese van, a saucisson stall, a pan- Asian fast food van, to which the French flock – vive la différence – and perhaps a cake stall, featuring this season’s walnuts. And so when the knife sharpening man turned up at the weekly market in Monpazier, dressed in colourful clothes and working under the old covered hall, I was instantly drawn to his stall. I asked him if I could take his photo, although the conditional and polite part of this question, the ‘could I or may I’, suddenly escaped my memory.  He happily obliged despite these omissions and mentioned that if someone takes his photo without asking first, he would not give his permission. As my mind slowly processed this information, I noticed the roughly painted anarchist sign on his leather apron.

And then it happened. I stupidly inquired, in my primitive French, which is always stuck in the present tense, about why he wore this sign. I may have simply asked, ‘Pourqui’, while pointing.

He replied passionately, rapidly and fairly vocally, why he was proud to wear this sign. I could follow bits of his response: there was mention of the new French President Macron and then he concluded, “But you don’t understand, do you. You can’t respond, can you. Can you speak?” I’m standing there paralysed and the words won’t come. “Je… je… je... ” A crowd is gathering behind me and he continues his anarchist rave. “Je… Je.” And I wanted to say, “OuiJe comprende ” or something agreeable, like “d’accord”, just so I could run away and save face but I feel like I’ve just left the frontal lobotomy ward.” Je…Je...”. I want to agree that the handsome Macron bloke has turned out to be a huge disappointment, so much for middle ground, but what can you expect from a former investment banker, and do you mind pouring me a glass of wine even though it’s only 10.30 am, because I really need one now. But nothing comes out of my mouth, nothing, until eventually I mumble je suis désolé and I’m feeling like a total fuckwit. I haven’t even had time to get out Mt T’s favourite opening line and gap filler, “Excusez-moi, mon français est très mal” to which I usually add behind his shoulder, “you mean c’est merde”, c’est tres merde.”

Salut

The knife sharpening man is laughing now, enjoying his wine, probably not the first for the day, and so we exchange drinking salutations, salut,  santé, salute, chin chin, na zdrowie proost, sláinte, cheers ( mate) and so on. It’s an exchange of sorts.

Travellers, like me, who have a smattering of French, tend to stick to simple conversations, which hover around known contexts and commerce such as buying food or goods, and include a working grasp of salutations and courtesies, all limited to the present tense with an occasional flirtation with the simple past tense and with an excellent grasp of nouns but not so many irregular verbs. Is it possible to have a real conversation without a working knowledge of the multi- tiered tenses that we use everyday without thinking, the past perfect and imperfect tenses, the future and historic tenses, all woven together, like a language knitting pattern, with fancy stitches that include the conditional, the imperative, the reflexive and the subjunctive moods used in past tenses, stitched up with  the gerund and embroidered with the nuances of language that involve irony, idiom and cultural understandings? I think not. I stand accused, sir. I would love to sit down with you and have a chat and a wine, but I can’t. Well not in French anyway. Cheers.

 

Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

A visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, never seems complete without attending the famous Sunday Walking Street Market. The market takes over four streets in the centre of the old city, beginning at the Tha Pae Gate at one end and running down the one kilometer length of Ratchadamnoen Road and spilling into nearby side streets. The area is closed to traffic from 4 pm until midnight. The market is popular with locals and tourists and is packed, especially round dinner time.

Fresh fruit shakes ready to be blended. 30 Bhat.

On one side, just after sunset, a lone singer appears dressed in a policeman’s uniform. This year he is a serious looking young man: he sings a mournful ballad in Thai. In previous years, that same spot was occupied by an older policeman with an Elvis slick back hairstyle and dark sunglasses, who only sang Elvis Presley songs. Sometimes his 8-year-old daughter performed alongside him. Bring back the Elvis cop. But are they really policemen? I’ll never know. I’m not sure who to ask in this crowded, stall filled corner.

Sunday walking market, Chiang Mai, ’17

Nearby stands the Thai musical instrument stall. Late at night, a troupe of elderly musicians will sit gracefully on a tiny platform and play traditional Lan Na music that is so haunting, it usually makes me cry. The instruments look and sound foreign to the untrained ear.

Ancient Thai instruments.

Midst this crowd, a troupe of blind singers suddenly appears. They move slowly holding a lamp: the crowds step aside as they make their way courageously through the throng, singing melodic Thai tunes in harmony.

Stalls with paper lanterns, stalls with far too much colour, handmade items are a feature of this market. The kitsch nestles side by side with the tasteful. Soft leather wallets and hand-made shoes, artistic etched calico shopping bags, carved psychedelic soaps and interesting fish patterned ceramics, hand printed t-shirts and indigo dyed clothing, home-made cakes, biscuits and sweets, and an abundance of street food stalls, the latter nestled into the front courtyards of temples, it’s a big night out for Thai families. Junk food abounds: there are deep-fried insects and grilled air- dried squid, Thai sausages and pad thai, mango sticky rice, and kôw soy, sweet tropical fruit drinks and some based on tinned Carnation milk. Dotted throughout are small areas offering massage for foot and leg or shoulder and neck. After walking slowly and hesitantly for two or three kilometers in a crowd, you may need one.

The annual Chiang Mai T-shirt purchase. One with a guitar please.

Feeling exhausted and slightly deranged, we wander back to our hotel near Wat Phra Singh and down a large bottle of Chang beer. The market’s sensory overload takes its toll but I wouldn’t miss it for Bhat.

A Market Walk and Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant

It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuğu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.

Shoe repairs, a skill worth preserving.

Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.

Vendiamo Capretti. Baby goats for sale in Italian, Greek and English.

Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.

The Brunswick Market. Every kind of bean.

Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, or red lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?

Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.

Red Lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Ingredients

  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 625 g red lentils
  • 2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
  • 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.

Method

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.

To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.

Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.

Turkish red lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.

Chatuchak Market, Bangkok. A Good Match.

A trip to the weekend Chatuchuk market is one of the highlights of a Bangkok visit. The 35-acre market site is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. The market seems overwhelming at first and it’s easy to get lost. Make a plan before you go and stick to the areas that are appealing rather than wasting time in the general furniture, hardware or pet sections. Below are a few scenes from the market, included in this week’s wordpress photographic challenge, A Good Match. I have chosen these photos mostly due to colour matching or the juxtaposition of coordinated elements in the displays.

Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics.
Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics. Boring alone, great when massed together.
more antique matching cermanics
More antique matching porcelain.

You can get to the market by taking the sky train. Hop on at BTS and get off at Mo Chit station, then take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows of canvas stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section). You can also get there by taxi. It’s a great day out, with plenty of interesting options for resting when you get tired. Little cafes are sprinkled among the stalls and good restaurants can be found around the perimeter of the market, as well as fast food within it.

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Stalls dedicated to home dyed indigo scarves and clothing. I love Indigo.
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Matching Indigo dyed cloth, hand-woven and expensive.
some well matched deep fried items ready to go.
Some well- matched deep fried items ready to go.Not so appealing to eat, but visually well balanced.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market. Nicely matched decor.

In My Kitchen, March 2016

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.

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Bread and Butter Pickled cucumber, an old-fashioned favourite

This is today’s cucumber pick, explaining the surge in pickle production.

Cucumbers galore
Cucumbers galore

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.

Zeppelin Zucchini
Zeppelin Zucchini Alert

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.

first apples
Early apples variety, Rome Beauty.

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.

chh
Morning egg gathering

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.

Northern gifts
Tasty gifts from Mackville, New South Wales

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.

A mudbrick home within a mudbrick 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.

letters
” He threw back his cloak and he cried with pleasure, One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

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.

Rainforest Markets of the Deep North

Along the coastal road through Far North Queensland, markets and roadside farm stalls provide a bounty of produce. It’s always a risk leaving a big town, with its safe supermarket and air-conditioned aisles of familiarity, to head off into the wilds in the hope of finding fresher, less uniform produce along the way. It is a risk worth taking.

Papaya for a song
Papaya for a song

Heading north from Cairns, the main source of fresh tropical bounty is the Saturday Mossman market. North of Mossman, the supplies are minimal so time your visit well. The Mossman market is an eclectic mix of old Australian of the Devonshire tea variety, new Thai farmers, old hippy and earnest organic growers. I purchased freshly crushed pineapple juice, bags of cherry tomatoes, Thai herbs and spices such as fresh stem ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and chilli as well as tropical fruits, papaya, mandarins, and large hands of lady finger bananas, the latter courteously ripening two at a time as we travel along in our camper van.  Some children had a tiny stall with limes and sweet basil, and a late arrival brought along a table of freshly pulled purple shallots.

Never too old to Busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.
Never too old to busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Heading south from Cairns, roadside stalls begin to appear after Innisfail, with a few farm stalls along the way to Mission Beach and mandarin stalls in the misty hills near the Tully River. In the winter months, look for long green Thai eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and chilli, as well as passionfruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple, limes, mandarin, and  bags of small avocados. The fruits end up in our daily Sunshine Pine Salad, named after our dear friend Sunshine Pine from Taraxville, a girl who loves orange!

Sunshine Pine Salad
Sunshine Pine Salad

The Sunday Market at Mission beach is another excellent source of freshly grown produce. I was delighted to find a fragrant bouquet of fresh curry leaves, carambola (star fruit) and a bag of baby sweet potato.

Carambola and Passionfruit
Carambola and Passionfruit

Fresh seafood is available at Cardwell.  Moreton Bay bugs taste as sweet as crayfish, and the local Spangled Emperor fish has firm, white flesh, perfect for a lunchtime BBQ. This fish is caught only in the Coral Sea and is worth a trip up north just to taste it.

Our road trip down the east coast of Queensland, from Cape Tribulation to Coolangatta, is a research journey as well as a holiday. While pubs and restaurants supply reasonably priced meals, most of these are deep-fried, standardised and bland.  Sadly, that’s country food. With a bit of forward planning and local knowledge, it’s possible to eat extremely well along the way. Pull up in your car, grab a picnic table, and eat with a view in the warm open air. Food never tasted so good.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.
View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.

 

In My Kitchen in Far North Queensland

Internet and phone service is patchy in Far North Queensland and non-existent in the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. Hooray. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m not sure: a break from constant contact is like a breath of fresh air. More conversational time spent in communal kitchens with world travellers, and more time to indulge in lazy afternoon reading.

Local fruit for breakfast
Local fruit for breakfast

This month’s In My Kitchen post comes directly from Cape Tribulation and then Cowley beach, south of Cairns. I hope it provides a touch of tropical warmth to Celia’s Fig Jam and Lime Cordial monthly round up.

campervan  kicthen
campervan kitchen
Chilli stall at Mossman market.
Chilli stall at Mossman market.
Camp Kitchen Cape Tribulation, Far North Queensland
Camp Kitchen Cape Tribulation, Far North Queensland

The internet service is so erratic that most of my story has been lost. Pictures will speak where words have failed. Imagine the text!

Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, Mildura and Italianità

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You don’t have to look far to find Italianità in Mildura and the surrounding district, Sunraysia. Many of you may know of the famous restaurateur from Mildura, Stefano de Piero, not only noted for his fine cuisine at the Grand Hotel some years ago, but also through his series, ‘A Gondola on the Murray’ and various cookbooks. Not so many know about the thousands of  Italo -Australiani who contribute to the farming community around the district.  Although first generation Italians now make up less that 2% of the population, second and third generation Italo- Australiani make up a significant proportion of the population and have contributed much to the town, its culture, agriculture and the arts.

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A quick tour around the Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, held every first and third Saturday of the month, will provide you with some irresistible provisions for touring the district. An important consideration, when buying fruit and vegetables, is to take into account any State border crossings. As Mildura sits in Victoria, close to South Australia and New South Wales, quarantine laws demand that one must forfeit most fruit and vegetables on entering another State.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is enforced by officials upon entering South Australia and through signage and the voluntary depositing of goods on entering Victoria and New South Wales. The borders can be confusing upon entering/leaving the Sunraysia district which seems to have some extraordinary quarantine lines within Victoria itself. It’s all about protecting South Australia and the Sunraysia district from fruit-fly.

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Some demographics from a past census will show that 353,000 Italian migrants arrived in Australia in the post war period, from 1948 through to 1970. Most of the Italian born are now aged over 60. They have kept alive many of the farming traditions learnt from pre-war times and this is particularly evident in preserving techniques and salame making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wine industry in the Sunraysia district makes up 80% of all Victorian wine grape production. The highways linking Mildura with Swan Hill are lined with farms selling wine, olive oil, citrus fruits, avocados and vegetables. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the farmers’ market, there are plenty of roadside stalls with honesty boxes selling all kinds of fresh produce, on both sides of the Murray river in each state.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Who Wants to be a Baccala`? Easter Cod Stories.

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As Easter approaches, my mind turns to Cod! It is a family tradition to eat this odd fish every Good Friday, and over the years I have experimented with different types of cod fish. We have Cod lovers and Cod haters in the family: some of the Cod lovers are recent converts and now place their orders every Easter.

Cod is widely available in the smoked form ( usually bright orange, chemically smoked Hake). It is also sold as Stoccafissa or Baccala`, the dried  and salted fish seen hanging in Continental delicatessens. In Italian, essere un baccala` is to be a stupid person while restare come un baccala` is to stand agape, speechless, immobilized. (picture the hard motionless salted fish ). To call someone a Baccala` is a handy insult when they have behaved stupidly.

Many eons ago, as a way of impressing my dear friend Olga  D’Albero Giuliani, I made a Venetian dish for Good Friday, using Baccala`and  green olives. It took me forty eight hours to soak the fish, with many changes of water. The resultant dish was still bony and well, fairly ordinary. Olga was not impressed and asked me why I didn’t simply use smoked cod,  a tastier fish  and easier to prepare. I felt like a real Baccala`!!

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Soon after, I discovered real smoked cod from the Shetland Islands. It arrives in Melbourne on the Wednesday before Easter and is sold by the same fishmonger at the Preston market every year. It is Scottish cod, smoked without the use of chemical dyes and tastes just like peat. ( akin to eating a fishy single malt Laphroaig whisky). This explains the new converts.

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It requires nothing more than gentle poaching, topping it with a simple bechamel parsley sauce, alongside mash or new potatoes, allowing the smoky peat taste to star! In the case of Cod, the Scottish /Irish version wins hands down. Unless you want to be a Baccala` too.

The fishy photos above were taken at the Preston Market, near Melbourne, Australia. It is a lively multicultural market with at least five fishmongers.