Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lemon time

When the snowflakes are out, I know it's really winter, and gosh haven't we been dealt some wintry weather lately?  It's been very hard to prise myself out of the warm doona in the dark to take the dogs for a run in the mornings (let's just say that it doesn't happen every morning) and I think they prefer to be here anyway...
The farm is looking lovely and green at the moment, although it's hardly wet 'n muddy, which it often is at this time of the year.  We have been carrying what can only be described as the United Nations of the cattle world.....
We had a lovely trip to New Zealand in the holidays, to stay with some friends near Queenstown.  It is impossibly beautiful.....
and enormous fun. 
When we got home I was faced with the urgent need to prune the roses.  It's a big job, but I'm always so glad when it's done:
The Albertine is always the worst
After very busy holidays with the kids home and two lovely English vet students staying with us it is all very quiet on the kitchen front.  Tim is off carbs, dairy and sugar which is somewhat limiting but I must do all I can to support him.  As you can see the lemon tree is fully laden so I have putting them to work and not just in the gin and tonics.
In this jar is the peel of 3-4 lemons and vinegar.  I leave the lemon and vinegar to infuse for 2-3 weeks then dilute it 50/50 with water and use it as a multi purpose spray.
Cheap, effective and environmentally friendly...got to love that.  I also made a lemon syrup yoghurt cake, which has to go into the category of an oldie but a goodie:
LEMON SYRUP YOGHURT CAKE - with a whisper of rosemary:

185g butter, softened
1/2 cup castor sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 teasp bicarb soda
1/2 cup natural yoghurt (I use greek)
2 lemons

2 lemons
1/4 cup castor sugar
1 sprig rosemary

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Grease and line a 20-22cm round cake tin.
Cream butter and sugar for a few minutes until pale then beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides as you go.
Sift flour and bicarb soda and fold in with the almonds.
Gently mix in the yoghurt and the grated juice and rind of two lemons.

Turn into tin and bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven. 
While the cake is in the oven make the syrup so the rosemary can infuse.
Heat the juice and zest of two lemons with sugar and the rosemary in a saucepan stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Set aside.
The cake will be ready when it is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Using the skewer, poke holes all over the cake and pour the syrup over so that it can soak in.  Allow to cool in the tin then using a plate over the top, flip it over then flip onto your serving plate.  You can make some more syrup for when you serve it up if you like.  This is one of my all time favourite cakes, on a par with Nigella Lawson's Damp Lemon and Almond Cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess, which uses rather more butter and eggs.
Another use for the mighty lemon is this herby lemon salt from The Kitchn, I am definitely going to make a jar of that this afternoon.  I also whipped up a lemony salsa verde, which would go so well with lamb, beef or chicken...
Of course it is also time for Seville oranges, so I always make my year's supply of marmalade in the middle of winter:
PS:  If anyone would like some lemons let me know.  I also have lots of purple iris if anyone needs to fill a dry sunny patch in the garden.  This is what they looked like in the spring:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


 These jonquils were bravely showing their faces on the first day of winter.  Today the garden is quiet and wet after a good gentle rain last night.  The farm is looking green and after some warm winter days the feed has grown.
It has been pretty quiet in the kitchen lately as well, we have been away a bit and I'm afraid the vegetable garden is not providing the abundance that it possibly should.  We have been replenishing the beds with compost mix so it is ready to go but not much can be planted at this time of year.  And my  new chooks have been decimating any new seedlings.  Look what they did to the kale:
Tim is delighted...he hates kale and really cannot understand what all the fuss is about.  I use it to make kale chips.  He hates those too.
I was delighted to find the last of the granny smith apples that the birds had left behind...
So I picked them and have been making cakes and good old stewed apple with cinnamon and cloves....it is wonderful on porridge with yoghurt.
There's masses of rhubarb so I made a couple of batches of apple and rhubarb relish, which goes very well with cold meats and cheese.  Based on a recipe from the CWA cookbook.

This relish has a lovely ruby colour.  I also did a batch in the Aga overnight and it became a brown colour but is still delicious, reminiscent of Branston Pickle, and excellent with a sharp cheddar.

750g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and chopped
3 big or 4 small green apples, peeled, cored and chopped
300g onions, chopped
small knob of ginger, grated
2 small red chillies, seeded and chopped
150g sultanas (optional)
1 tblsp brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick
500g sugar
1 3/4 cups white wine vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Simmer uncovered for about 1 1/2 hours until thickened, stirring occasionally.
Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool, dark place.
I have also been making Medlar Jelly:
The other thing I wanted to tell you about, and have been meaning to for ages, is pickled celery.  It's probably more of a summer thing but it is such a good way of using up excess celery I make it all year.  It is also really good with cheese.
I have used Herbie's pickling spice but if you can't get it, don't worry, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry.


Slice the celery to whatever size you like and put it in a jar.

In a saucepan put:
1/2 cup water
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp salt
2 teasp pickling spice 
OR if you don't have the pickling spice:
2 teasp mustard seeds
1 teasp black peppercorns
1 teasp fennel seeds
1 teasp cloves 
1/4 teasp chilli flakes
1 bay leaf

Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Take off the heat and cool slightly,  have a taste and adjust if necessary.  Pour over celery and allow to cool. 
  Keep in the fridge.  It lasts for ages and is particularly delicious in egg sandwiches.
While I'm on the topic of eggs and because it seems to be so long between drinks for this blog I have to tell you about my latest thing:  steamed eggs.  I often make one for lunch to put on top of a salad that is looking a bit boring.  You steam the egg for exactly six minutes then run it under a cold tap before peeling.  So good sprinkled with za'atar.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


We are in the midst of autumn, which is lovely, but as always we are waiting patiently for some more rain.  There's been a few sprinkles and the green shoots are appearing in the paddocks, but what we would really like is a big rainfall before it gets too cold.  And oh aren't we all sick of feeding.

Some friends very generously gave me a beehive for my birthday and it arrived on Good Friday:
I was a bit hesitant about having to deal with the bees and how to extract the honey but I have been assured by the bee man that I don't have to do anything with it until September, which gives me plenty of time to read up on beekeeping in general.  It was a lovely idea, as my friend Sal knows how I love to grow and produce my own food.   I was reminded of Sylvia Plath's poem,  The Arrival of the Bee Box:  
"It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands,
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering...."
Promise not to suffer the same fate as our old friend Sylvia.....
Speaking of producing our own food, there has been lots of activity in the kitchen lately.  The end of summer always brings so much produce that I invariably run out of jars.  I have made crab apple and quince jelly, pesto, tomato sauce and this year I tried a new recipe for tomato quetta.  Quetta is an old fashioned relish which is a bit like a chutney, is very easy and very delicious.  I found a recipe in the CWA cookbook (thank you Glad Brown of Portarlington) and adjusted it slightly:


2.5kg tomatoes
30g garlic, crushed (use a microplane)
30g fresh ginger (ditto)
60g capsicum (or chilli if you'd like it hotter), diced
90g sultanas
450g sugar
45g salt
1 large cup white vinegar
2 tblsp cornflour mixed to a paste with a little extra vinegar

Peel and cut up tomatoes and put in a big pot.  Add garlic, ginger, capsicum, sultanas, sugar, salt and vinegar and boil until quite thick, stirring occasionally.  When it has thickened slightly, add the cornflour mixed with vinegar and stir well.  Give it another five minutes, it will be a lovely bright red colour.  Pour into sterilised jars.
The other thing I've been loving this autumn is eggplant.  My little plant only managed two, but I have been buying them and making all sorts of things.
One of the dishes I loved in Italy was eggplant parmigiana so that has made several appearances.  It is also a great way to use up all that zucchini from the garden, which seems to never end.  I always cook the eggplant or zucchini in the Aga (top shelf of roasting oven) until it is nicely browned, then layer it in a dish with a tomato passata (often quickly made with tinned tomatoes), grate over some parmesan and cook at 180c for about half an hour.  I have also discovered the Turkish dish, Imam Bayildi, which roughly translated means the Imam fainted:  he supposedly fainted with delight after having tasted the dish. It is basically eggplant stuffed with eggplant cubes and tomato sauce and is well worth the effort.  This is based on an Ottolenghi recipe.
IMAM BAYILDI Serves 4 as a side

2 eggplants
olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 red onions, sliced
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 teasp paprika
1 teasp sumac (optional)
1 teasp brown sugar
1 tblsp lemon juice
salt & pepper
chopped mint or parsley

Cut eggplants in half with the stalk attached.  Score the flesh, sprinkle with a little salt and leave for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile heat the oven to 180c.
Rinse the shells and pat dry with kitchen paper.  Score the flesh then scoop out and set aside.  Place the shells on a tray and cook for 15 minutes until softened.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan and gently cook the garlic and onions for five minutes until soft.  Add the eggplant flesh and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar, lemon juice, sumac and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes.
Fill the eggplant shells with the tomato mix and pour over any extra sauce.
Drizzle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  You can eat this hot or cold and you can do it a day or so in advance.  Sprinkle with herbs before serving.
So enjoy the autumn with all it provides, its gentle stillness, vibrant colours and smoke from burning stubbles pervading the air.  It is a beautiful time of the year.
Note:  I'm sorry the posts are few and far between.  Our internet connection is appalling at the moment and constantly drops out so it takes forever for the photos to load and often I have to start again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A holiday

We have just had the extreme good fortune of enjoying a two week holiday of skiing in America.   It was a bit of a last minute thing, we only booked at Christmas because we were really not sure if we could get away.  But getting away for a proper break is what everyone really must do.  There is never a good time to leave the farm, especially for us in the heat of February, but  sometimes you've just got to see the gap and bite the bullet.
We had a week in Telluride and a week in Vail with some friends and just had a ball.  We had sun, we had snow, we skied and we ate,  and there was even time for a few spoiling massages.      
They start skiing early in the States and most of the lifts start to close at 3.30pm so there is a lovely little lull in the afternoon when there is time for a nap or some shopping, or a spa and a sauna before it is time for drinks and dinner.  A proper holiday.
So here's some observations:  
What America is good at:
  • Water.  A glass of iced water is placed on the table before the menus are handed over and are filled up constantly.  This is a good thing because you need it if you are going to tackle the...
  • Cocktails.  It's a real American thing, they love their cocktails and we sampled a variety, some could seriously blow your head off.  Which leads on to..
  • Bloody Marys.  One of our travelling companions is a bit of a BM aficionado.  A couple we tried were not up to standard, but the best one was in the United domestic terminal at the LA airport.  Who would have thought?
  • Politeness.  They are unfailingly polite, especially in lift queues, where orderly alternating is a unimpeachable code.  Although I do have to remind myself that tips are earned by providing good service and I'm fairly sure they don't necessarily care if you "have a nice day".
  • Purpose-built ski resorts.  They are well planned and organised and pretty in a kind of faux Austrian way and include..
  • Heated streets and footpaths.   No stomping through snow drifts over there.  And they often have a charming ice skating rink
  • And a ski valet,..what's not to love about that?
  • Service:  it's generally excellent.  One freezing day there was a lovely man handing out tissues as we walked into a restaurant.
  • Food, sometimes.  We had some very delicious food. mostly at higher end restaurants. 
  • Truffle salted french fries.  They were everywhere and are pretty bloody good.
  • Sunday papers.  Loved the book section of the New York Times.
Charming ice skating rink

What America is not good at:
  • Coffee.  If you have a serious coffee addiction go there.  You will be cured in a matter of days.  We were unable to find decent coffee anywhere.  
  • Cheese...why is it that weird yellow colour? And for that matter,
  • Butter...why is it so white?
  • Bread. 
  • Portion control:  the servings are ginormous
  • Hot chocolate, which is an essential part of the skiing experience:   it's watery and they squirt cream from a can into it.  Yuk.
  • Healthy eating.  It is perfectly acceptable to order a hamburger for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I saw a child having the following breakfast:  fruit loops, waffle and maple syrup and a hot chocolate (topped with plastic cream).
  • Paying their staff properly.   Tipping is just a minefield and Australians hate it.
  • Television.  I was a bit off colour one day and watched a bit of telly.  Every ad, and there were many, was for junk food....all the big names, blatantly targeting children in a much less subtle way than here.  It made me feel even sicker.
  • Coffee.  Did I mention the coffee?
It's lovely to be home though, and it was a relief to find that we'd had an inch of rain while we were away.  The garden was not dead as I had been dreading and autumn seems to be beginning, which is my favourite time of year.  Happiest of all to see this though:
Sorry no recipe today, there hasn't been much time for cooking but with autumn underway, there will be plenty of activity in the coming weeks:

Thursday, February 12, 2015


We are in the midst of what can only be described as a very odd summer.  January was cool and very windy, which makes for good farming and working weather....not so good for beaching and holidays.  Now that the kids are back at school it hot and still and beautiful, which is typical.  I really miss them, but I do like being able to choose my own radio station in the car....
There has been lots of fun and frivolity over the holidays and I did have a not insignificant birthday in the midst of it all.  It was duly celebrated in many locations thanks to wonderful friends who, it has to be said, do love a party.   Needless to say, there is now a pressing need for some Alcohol Free Days so some quiet home time is very welcome.  

The garden is looking so dry at the moment, even though we had 40mls of rain in the middle of January.  It greened up for a while but now it seems we are back to where we started.

 I harvested my garlic and now it is drying out:
There are apples and pears ripening:
There are berries on the hawthorns, always a sign that autumn is around the corner..
Over the holidays we have had three backpackers here to work on the farm.  They are staying with us rather than in the cottage because one of them is the son of an old friend.  Fortunately they are hard working and very helpful around the house, but eat!  They go through an alarming amount of food so I have been cooking and cooking and making great inroads on all the meat in the deep freeze.  Also fortunately it has been relatively cool, so I can get away with casseroles and lasagne, spag bol and roasts.  I pulled out yet another bag of forequarter chops and thought that I really needed to do something a bit different.   I spotted a recipe for "Tasmanian Apple Casserole" in a Weekly Times cookbook and here is my version.


1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp flour
4 forequarter lamb chops , trimmed.  
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 green apple, diced
1 1/2 cups unsweetened apple juice (stay with me)
1 tblsp worcestershire sauce
1 sprig rosemary

Preheat the oven to 150c.
Dust the chops with flour and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the chops over a medium heat.  Remove and set aside.
Put a slosh more olive oil in the pan and add the onion and cook gently for five minutes.  Add the celery, garlic and apple.  Cook for a further five minutes until softened.
Put the lamb back in the pan and pour over the apple juice, add the worcester sauce and the rosemary, cover and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until the lamb is very tender.  Taste and season accordingly, and sprinkle with parsley.
Delicious with mashed potatoes and the first of the beans....