Sunday, May 22, 2016


Fully blown Just of my favourites
I am pleased to announce that we have finally had some rain.  Nearly two inches and as far as I'm concerned it can just keep coming.  I dug a hole today to plant a tree and there is still very little sub soil moisture...the whole region just needs a good soaking.  But the lawns are now green and because it hasn't been too cold plants are still growing before they shut down for winter.  The only drawback is that the dormant weeds are running rampant, so I have been busy weeding and mulching the beds.
Tim has been on a program to lose some more weight (he lost 20kgs last year) so I decided to go out in sympathy and join him.  For the last three weeks have been aiming to have 500 calories a day (in conjunction with a supplement called HCG).  500 a's not much and I did on several occasions exceed my quota but have managed to shed 4 kilos or thereabouts, kilos which were frankly just hanging around after the excesses of summer and in no hurry to move.  I can confess that I was often bloody starving but have become better at distracting myself and am rather proud that I haven't had any bread the whole time (toast is a weakness).  I failed on the wine front and had a few glasses and gosh the weekends are hard....
especially when a very special Christening wine is bought out of the cellar
It's very simple.  We were allowed to have 200g protein a day, not at the same time, lots of veg and a bit of fruit.  Egg for breakfast, soup for lunch, that kind of thing.  I have become very enamoured with Vietnamese pho (no noodles).  For dinner, meat and a cup or so of veg which can be a bit bland and boring but  I got better at making it more interesting.  I was not supposed to use oil (challenging) but a splash here and there did sneak into a few dishes.  You are supposed to cook onion or leeks in water, but really, that is just a bridge too far for me.


The chicken:
2 chicken thigh fillets (about 100g each)
1 tblsp worcestershire sauce
1 teasp dijon mustard
a few chilli flakes
thyme leaves
1/2 leek (or the white end of a couple of spring onions)
splash of olive oil
splash (about 2 tblsp) verjuice or white wine

The veg:
1 spring onion, chopped
chopped red chilli to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 red capsicum, sliced
1/2 - 1 zucchini, spiralized (I bought one for $10...not fancy but does the job)
chopped parsley, squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Mix the worcestershire, dijon, chilli and thyme leaves in a bowl and add the chicken to marinate.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and add the sliced leek.  Cook gently until soft then put on a baking tray.  Cook the chicken in the frying pan until nicely browned and place it on top of the leeks.  (You know how I love to cook chicken and leeks).
Turn up the heat and add the verjuice or wine and sizzle for a minute or two then tip that over the chicken and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until it's cooked through.

For the vegetables, cook the spring onion in the frying pan with a splash of oil or water and add the chilli, garlic and capsicum and cook gently until the capsicum is soft.  Add the zucchini and stir fry until it is cooked through.

Arrange the veg on the plates and put the chicken on top.  Sprinkle with parsley and squeeze over some lemon juice (sorry for lack of styling)..
Irritatingly the weight falls off Tim much faster than it does for me and while there is often little joy, there is much satisfaction.  And some improved lifestyle habits that I hope to be ongoing definitely make it all worthwhile.  

Some observations:

We all eat too much
I really need olive oil.  And butter.
Life is too short to live without wine
I really missed proper cooking
I will not die if I have to have two days of 500 calories a week
You really need protein to stop you being hungry
I'm obsessed with roasted cauliflower
You can make pesto out of cashew nuts or pumpkin kernels if you don't want to use parmesan or nuts (more on that at a later date)
Spiralized zucchini makes an adequate substitute for pasta or noodles (after all, asking a pre-menstrual woman to give up pasta or noodles is like asking her to cut off her right arm).

So in the next little while I will give you some of the recipes I used in quest for a more slender version of ourselves.

Some reading for you:  I loved this article by Jonathon Franzen about his trip to Antarctica.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Autumn Activities

Well the last few weeks have been a whirl of activity, with a weirdly early Easter, followed by school holidays and it has taken me a while to get back into the groove.  Autumn has given us some beautiful days and a few drops of rain but not enough to constitute a proper break.
It has been a bit of an Indian summer.  I am still watering the garden (seven months now with no decent rain) and my patience is waning.   I saw a snake over near the shed a few days ago and there was a severe fire warning for the south east of SA yesterday.  
Still, its's not all doom and gloom, it's good living weather as they say, and at least my tomatoes will all ripen this year.  And there have been sundowners to be had
yabbies to be caught
puppies to be cuddled
mountains to be climbed
long walks to be taken
and candles to be blown out.
There is always an abundance of riches in autumn and this year is no exception.  The garden has been giving and giving...tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum, eggplants, potatoes, basil, quinces, apples. I was lucky to have been given some beautiful figs from a friend's garden.  They were perfect as they were
and heaven with cheese
but I couldn't resist taking them a bit further.  First thing I tried was this:
Irrewarra fruit toast, homemade ricotta, Mary's figs, a drizzle of my own honey and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.  Utterly delicious and perfect for brunch (or lunch.  Or dinner.  Afternoon smoko. Anytime really).  It was an idea I poached from a friend, who did it with ricotta, bacon and figs.

Then I delved into an Ottolenghi book and the remaining figs became this:

ROASTED FIGS Serves 4  (From Plenty More)

about 8 ripe figs ( I had more but they were small)
3 tblsp pomegranate molasses
1 tblsp lemon juice 
2 tblsp dark brown sugar
3 cardamom pods crushed and seeds removed
4 spigs thyme (2 whole and 2 with leaves picked)
1 orange, half the zest peeled, half finely grated and juiced

Put pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, 1 tblsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 2 thyme sprigs, 1/4 cup water, orange rind strips, orange juice and a pinch of salt in a bowl.  Cut the figs in half and add to the bowl.  Set aside to marinate (half an hour will do).

Heat the oven to 200c, or alternately you can use your griller if you have one.
Remove figs (keep the marinade) and arrange them cut side up in a shallow ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle with remaining sugar and place in oven or under grill.  Cook for 15 minutes (or grill for 10).

Put the marinade in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer 2-4 minutes until reduced by half.

Serve the figs on a platter with the syrup drizzled over and top with the thyme leaves.
I was also fortunate last week to be given some fresh tuna and albacore, caught out on  the continental shelf off Port Fairy.  Such a treat, but such a dilemma because Tim was away and I didn't want to freeze it, which seemed such a waste for such beautiful fresh fish.
So I took the fresh tuna to some friends and it was devoured in seconds, needing nothing more than being thinly sliced and served with wasabi and soy sauce...really there is no better way:
I cooked a bit of albacore to try it and decided that it might be better to preserve it.  After some earnest googling I came up with this, which was a combination of several different methods and a bit of guess work.

Put some bay leaves on the bottom of a heavy ovenproof pot.
Cut the fish into chunks and put it on the bay leaves
Now you need to cover it with salty water.  Some recipes recommend 80-120 grams of salt per litre of water which just seemed way too much, another said 35g, which didn't seem like enough.  So I compromised and added 65g salt per litre.  Pour this over the fish
I put some more bay leaves on for good measure.
Bring to the boil and cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.  I did this in the simmer oven of the Aga for three hours, which is a very gentle heat.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.
When it's cool enough to handle flake off chunks of the fish and put into sterilized jars along with a bay leaf and some black peppercorns (and chilli if you like).  I did a bit of an experiment and filled one jar with straight olive oil, one with a mixture of olive and safflower oil and one with water.
The jars then need to be sterilized again so they will be preserved.
Put the jars in a saucepan and fill with boiling water to just below the lids.  Boil for 30 minutes and let them cool in the water.  Make sure the jars cool completely and keep them in the fridge and wonder why you would ever buy tinned tuna again..
Now if you will excuse me I need to get back to Natasha and Andrei  (BBC adaptation of War and loving).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Use your onions

The haemanthus are popping up in the garden
There's nothing like a 36 degree day followed by some rain (not much but it's a start) to bring me inside to get on with some cooking.  Last week I made my annual batch of tomato sauce and tomato relish, a honey and apple cake and ratatouille made exclusively from vegetables out the garden.  I know...... so satisfying.  Ratatouille is so simple and is a perfect early autumn dish, which can be eaten hot or cold.

There really are no rules.  All you do is layer sliced eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, basil and garlic in a dish, seasoning and drizzling with olive oil as you go.
I usually peel a few tomatoes and chop them, then add a bit of sliced onion and spread that over the top to finish.  Put it in a moderate oven for 20 minutes then turn it down to about 120c cover with a bit of baking paper and cook gently until the vegetables are soft.  This can be done in the simmer oven of the Aga.
Thinking of ratatouille reminded me of the movie of the same name. ....
It's hard not to love little Remy the rat but at this time of year that the rodents start to think that it's a bit nippy outside and would like to take up residence inside our house.  Bastards.  I hate them, and the way they poo every two steps and really stink when they die.

Life in the country involves many encounters with wildlife, some welcome, some not so.   Last week Tim and I went up to his mother's house for dinner and as I was driving home, in the dark, I noticed and extremely large spider on the right side of the windscreen.  Spiders don't normally worry me but I was keeping a close eye on it as it seemed to be on the move.  Conversation:

"There's a massive spider on the windscreen.  Have you got a rolled up newspaper or something to kill it?'
Looks up from phone.  "Where?  Na, it'll be  right."
(Thanks so much for your gallantry).  
I carried on, one eye on the spider, wishing I had worn skinny jeans and not linen pants and imagining it crawling up my leg.  

So focussed was I on the internal wildlife that I failed to observe the external wildlife and very narrowly avoided cleaning up two huge kangaroos that bounced over the road in front of us.  We then got onto an very slippy, slidey dirt road which requires undivided concentration in the dark and the spider disconcertingly disappeared from view.   Gallant husband again looks up from phone:

"Shit there's the spider".  It had wandered over to the passenger side window and with that he picked up my rather nice suede handbag and wedged it onto the spider squashing it into the folds of suede.  "I think I got it."  Nice.  Thank you.

During rest of the journey I saw about ten rabbits and two foxes and just as we drove in a rat ran from the house verandah across the drive and into the garden shed.  Hate to think where it had been.   Possums are also hated by country folk, they cause unspeakable damage in the garden.  The dogs love to chase them but ours so rarely catch one.....
Hashtag country living.  Say what you like it's nothing if not eventful out here. 
I have grown another crop of enormous onions:
Your'e not meant to harvest them until the tops die down and go brown, so I leave them in but by golly they get big.  They do keep well in a cool dark spot but I have been thinking of ways to use them.  Naturally they went into the sauce, relish and ratatouille but I was very happy to find a recipe for Grain salad with onion confit on Food 52.  The onions are slowly cooked in olive oil and the onions go in the salad and the utterly delicious remaining oil is used on the salad.  Here is the confit after it has been in the Aga for a couple of hours:
ONION CONFIT (from Food 52)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large onions, sliced (I only had to use one of my monsters)
salt and pepper

Warm the oil in a sturdy pot, add onions and season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Leave on a gentle simmer for 45 minutes on the stovetop or move to a 120c oven (simmer oven in the Aga).  It will take up to 2 hours in the oven.

Strain the onions from the oil.   Add the onions to the salad and use some of the oil to dress the salad.  The oil has a lovely sweet earthiness and any left over can be used  for frying, marinades, dressings, drizzle over cooked meat, whatever you like.
And here is the resulting salad:
I used farro and quinoa (cook in boiling water until tender then strain, put into a bowl and cover with a tea towel while it cools.  This helps to absorb moisture and stops the grain from becoming gluggy). I also roasted any veg I had floating around...cauliflower, pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchini and mixed those in with lots of fresh herbs, fetta, chopped red chilli, the confit onions, onion oil, lemon juice, lots of salt and pepper and topped it with toasted almonds.
Tomato Relish
A little bonus for you.  Read this amusing article on Shirts in history from the Guardian.

Ripper sunrise this morning...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Stone fruit

I'm back already.  So much to share and I'm on a roll.  Plus it's about 38 degrees outside, far too hot to be shovelling cow manure onto the garden, which was my original plan for the day.
We have had a hot and dry spring and summer this year but that seems to have suited the stone fruit:  there were lots of apricots...
and a good haul of nectarines..
After making enough apricot jam to last until next year I still had lots of apricots to use up so instead of stewing them I decided to make caramel apricots, which can be eaten as a pudding,
or put in a tart.

About a kilo of apricots, stoned and halved
250ml water
125g castor sugar
50g butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split

Put the sugar and water in a frying pan and cook to a light golden caramel.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then try not to stir it while it is bubbling away.  Don't walk away because it will burn in a matter of seconds.  As soon as it starts to colour nicely, take it off the heat and let it sit for a minute, giving the pan a bit of a swirl so the colour is even.  Stir in the butter  and vanilla bean then add the apricots and return to a gentle heat for 6-8 minutes until the apricots soften.
These are bloody delicious just with ice cream and some toasted nuts but you could also use the crumble topping  I mentioned last time.  This also works with nectarines....equally delicious.

While we are on the topic and because I had a couple of requests, here is the recipe for the Nectarine Cake I put on Insta the other day.  You could do this with apricots or plums, I'm sure.  


About 1 kg of nectarines (it doesn't matter if you don't quite have a kilo)
200g butter, room temperature
1 cup castor sugar
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1 teasp vanilla extract
3 eggs
250g SR flour 
1 teasp baking powder
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 180C and butter and line a 22cm springform pan.
Peel the nectarines by dropping them into a pan of boiling water for about a minute.  Remove and let them cool slightly before peeling and halving, removing the stones and cutting into quarters.

Cream butter, sugar, lemon rind and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.  Sift flour and baking powder and add with the buttermilk and fold gently until well incorporated.  Pour into prepared pan then arrange the nectarines on the top.  Bake for approx 45-60 minutes until cooked when tested with a skewer.

While it is cooking gently melt the honey and when the cake is cooked brush with honey to glaze (you could also use apricot jam).  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing the side of the pan.
So make the most of the last of the stone fruit, which I noticed is still in the markets.
I also wanted to share a couple of podcasts that I have been listening to...both are totally addictive and I can't wait to go on a long drive of do the ironing so I can listen.  And I hate ironing.  I am a bit slow of the mark with the first one, Serial, which came out a little while ago, but I started listening to it late last year and have been trying to catch up ever since.  Two fascinating stories analysing possible miscarriages of justice; I won't go into too much detail because it will sound more boring than it is but see what you think...only proviso is that you must start at the start.

The other one is Chat 10 Looks 3, a chatty discourse between Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales in which these two engaging super women "talk about books, television, radio, movies, food, politics and whatever else they feel like".   I have been onto this one for quite a while.  It is hilarious and haphazard: taped at their houses, or in a car, or a random ABC office and is always fascinating.  Both of them have demanding, deadline-driven jobs in journalism, write books, produce television shows,  keep abreast of politics and have young families so how on earth they manage to even read a book or watch television is beyond me.  How I would love the intellectual dexterity to actually remember the book I have just read, let alone chat wittily and intelligently about it....and I no longer have small children (which usually causes a degree of brain rupture) as an excuse.

It may only serve to confirm any feelings of inadequacy that you might harbour but it definitely worth a listen.