Monday, November 7, 2011

Springing surprises

Half & half
The winter blues took hold in a big way this year, exacerbated by a very painful frozen shoulder and being home alone for eight weeks in the isolation of a country town in a cool climate. Four months and many days since the last blog or web site contribution, my writing frozen too.

I have always been a creature of the day, ready to sleep when the sun goes down, awake at first light. In winter I hibernate: knit, read, cook and write. I can talk on the phone for hours in winter, in summer I often choose not to answer it. With the lengthening days I find time to fit in time in the garden, walks, picnics and social activities and still have time to go work and keep the house running. By the of January I am often totally worn out, the long hot days  of the new year lending themselves to afternoon naps and sunset dips in the ocean.

Spring this year has bought weather changeable and extreme, alternating between warm/sunny and wet/wintry days and the garden is thriving on it. Splendid shows of poppies, jasmine and honeysuckle are vying for attention with some of the best flowering of bottle brush we have ever seen here. A massive show of "Graham Thomas" was quickly turned into a huge pile of yellow petals after wind and heavy rain. The third crop of weeds are shooting out of the ground and the fruit trees are showing a second flush of blossom - the first has already set fruit. 

This amazing rose appeared, half pink and half yellow. The second bud on the stem opened  exactly the same. 

All this activity has been impossible to ignore and has drawn me out of my cave and into the garden. 

I'm back!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picking pomegranates with a pin

During the summer holidays when I was a child, pomegranates from Israel would appear in our local greengrocers. Until then, grapes were the most exotic fruit I had eaten and they, being expensive, were reserved for hospital visits. I would happily spend a week’s pocket money on one of these delicious red balls and assisted with a safety pin, would extract its glistening jewels of seeds to eat one by one.
I have an ongoing love affair with the pomegranate tree. I love its rich orange flowers, the colour of smoked salmon, its slightly scruffy habit and the fact that it never seems to know whether it is deciduous or not and the fact its seed sparkles like the most expensive jewels. I have a miniature pomegranate in a pot that produces fruit the size of a plum so must rely on friends for my supply.
Here, pomegranates ripen in late autumn/early winter arriving with the apples and mandarins. Six beautiful fruit came my way this week and I was determined not to waste them. The ‘boys’ are meeting for a barbeque tonight so I used this as an excuse to bake a cheesecake and make a pomegranate syrup topping. I made the base gluten free with ground pecans, Arnott’s Rice Biscuits and some added rice crumbs.
Here’s the recipe, it makes about a cupful:

Pomegranate Syrup

3 ripe pomegranates
Juice of one lemon
Honey or sugar

Roll two of the pomegranates on your bench till they are softened.
Cut in half around their ‘equator’ and juice with a citrus juicer.
Place the juice in a small saucepan with one tablespoon of water and the lemon juice.
Drop in a good slurp of honey (I used about 3 tablespoons) or the equivalent of sugar.
Do not use a strong flavoured honey (like I did!) as it will over power the flavour of the pomegranates.
Bring to the boil over a high heat and then simmer until thickened.
While this is happening, trim off the flower end of your last fruit. This is the spiky little cup opposite to the stem.
Cut the fruit into four segments. For perfect seeds, only cut through the skin layer and then peel it back.
With the segments in a bowl, gently rub the red seeds away from the yellow pith.
Make sure all pith is removed as it can be very bitter.
Drain in a sieve until needed.
When the syrup has reduced and become thicker, stir in the seeds, reserving a few for garnish.
Allow the syrup to cool before serving.

Use over cheese cake, ice cream or pancakes.
For more on these amazing fruits see:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's been a while....

Almost two months since my last post.

Life has been a whirlwind that seems to leave little time for the quiet creative spaces.

The glorious sunshine is distracting, drawing me out into the garden where there are fungi and glorious coloured leaves in abundance as autumn refuses to give way to winter.

I am waiting for the rain, those lovely cosy days indoors that make me slow down into creative hibernation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sticky stuff and spooky scenarios.

Our long hot summer has bought on an abundance of figs. The tree is alive with silver eyes and twenty eights.
Picking figs in my nightie one morning, I caught a glimpse of two red eyes watching...very spooky! I pin pointed where they were and went to get my camera. After bashing my way through the branches, chasing the red eye balls, I I had fig sap in my hair. Okay, soap and hot water will fix it. Well, the goo turned to something that closely resembled varnish, my hair knotted and sticky, worse than when I had started! I had visions of having to cut a great hunk out of my golden locks. I decided I needed some radical treatment.
Heading for the essential oils, thinking sticky, I selected trusty old eucalyptus .I often use it to remove stickers, bitumen marks, gum and stubborn labels from jars. I sloshed some on a paper towel and rubbed at the goo vigorously. After rinsing in cold water, my hair was free of tangled and sap, lovely and soft. Magic!
I was left pondering if it was the hot water that set the sap and what other properties fig sap might have? Mrs Grieves Herbal recommends fig sap for wart removal (but warns it may raise blisters on normal skin as it creates inflammation.) Fig leaves can be used to produce a natural yellow dye when used with alum as a mordant and it turns out that they belong to the same family as the India rubber plant, ficus elastica (isn’t that a great name?)
It turned out that the eyeballs were the work of the silver eyes who had eaten a cave into the sunny side of the fruit with two little pecks facing me. A few interesting photos and a mystery solved. I took my unsticky self and my basket of figs off to breakfast. - another day of amazement in the garden! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet potato what?

I had a present from the big smoke recently. Amita, at the Chinese shop, found these gluten free noodles made from sweet potatoes. They were bright green in the packet and had a vaguely unpleasant earthy smell to them. The way the delightful green faded away reminded me of the way that purple beans turn disappointingly green during cooking and made me suspect it was a natural colour. After I boiled them as I would pasta, the texture was very much like cellophane noodles although not as bland and looking like a fat spaghetti.

 We ate them in a black bean and tofu vegetable stir fry we both enjoyed.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Autumn invasion

We are in the second week of autumn, the mornings have an edge of change and days are appreciatively shorter. No rain though and the garden is looking very sad. Most of the summer veg are over and the beds lie empty under their straw blankets. Comparatively lush compared to the surrounding bush, we have become a magnet for creatures looking for food and water.
A plague of rats and mice, ants and fleas has been followed by grasshoppers of all shapes and sizes and twenty eight spot ladybirds (henosepilachna spp.) One eating the snow peas (optimistically planted under shade), the other shredding the leaves of the eggplants.
A deadly night shade had been acting as my trap plant for the ladybirds. It had got to the stage where it was almost lace.  When I went to pull it out I discovered a bug I had never seen before. Very sinister, looking like a cross between a giant mealy bug and a bright yellow slater. I waded through page after page of nightmares trying to identify it. Creatures that could eat, saw, cut nibble and suck the very life from your garden and only be controlled by toxic chemicals.
After some careful reading, I came across the answer...these little devils were the larval stage of the pesky 28 spot lady birds. Clustered on the base of the stem, they were biding their time to begin to head leaf ward as ladybirds. Another little mystery solved and another little snack for the chickens.

See more about natural pest control here.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Talking to bread

After two weeks, I was heartily sick of eating fluffy gluten free bread. Since my first attempts at sour dough I have been an addict at breakfast time especially. As I was unable to find a recipe for gluten free sour dough anywhere so my first attempt was unaided. I was really pleased with the results so I will share them with you.
You will need to make/borrow/beg a sour dough starter. I used my rye starter which I had removed from the fridge and 'fed' the day before starting.
Bread making is an art rather than a science, so don't worry too much about times or weights and measures. The process of sourdough cannot be hurried. It will however, proceed quite happily without much intervention on your part. It is easiest to start 24 hours before you want to bake. I begin the 'sponge' after dinner, knead the bread after breakfast then bake while cooking dinner the next day.
Don't be put off by the length of this recipe, I have tried to explain the processes for bread beginners. If you have made bread before, you can skip a lot of it.

You will need:
2 C room temperature water
1 C of 'refreshed' sour dough starter 
75g ground linseed
½ C sunflower seed
1 ½ tsp salt

0 hour: Making the sponge (nothing to do with cake)
Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl.
Add 3C of flour and all other ingredients except the salt in a large mixing bowl.
Mix to a thick batter.
Place in a plastic bag and cover with a cloth. Do not seal the bag, you need to let the dough breathe but you don't want a crust forming. Sit in a draught free place.
8-12 hours: Kneading and shaping.
The batter will have risen slightly in the centre and have a sponge like appearance when the surface is disturbed. This means that the natural yeasts and bacteria in the sourdough have been activated and are producing bubbles of carbon dioxide.
Oil a loaf tin.
Stir the salt into the sponge. This is important to stop the work of the bacteria that inhibit the natural yeasts that aerate the dough.
Sprinkle some of the remaining 2 C of flour onto your bench and scrape the sponge onto it.
Flour your hands and begin to work the extra flour into the dough by pulling a little dough from the edge that sits at 12 on the clock with your fingers and pushing it back into the centre firmly with the heel of your hand.
Swivel the dough ¼ turn and repeat, adding extra flour to the bench as you need to until it it possible to form it into a loaf shape. Continue until the flour is used up. You can add a little more if you need to as all flours vary in moisture content.

The dough will remain heavy and sticky but should be dry enough that your hand doesn't stick to it. The texture is not crucial, gluten free dough's are always 'wetter' than those made with high gluten flour
At this stage, bread dough's are tested by pushing a finger into the dough to form an indent. If it springs back, the gluten has been activated and you can stop kneading. I tried this with the gluten free loaf and after a lot of kneading it did spring back slightly.

Shape into a rough loaf, place in the oiled tin and press dough down to an even thickness.
Return the tin to your plastic bag and cover again. Leave to rise (or proof.)
12-24  hours: Baking
Preheat you oven to 200˚.
Your loaf should have now doubled in size. If it hasn't, leave it a little longer.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it.
Cool on a rack, covered by a cloth.
Sourdough keeps really well without refrigeration. It is better toasted if you keep it in the refrigerator or freezer. If you want to eat it fresh, keep it in a cool place.

If you have made bread before you will find this dough is very different from bread with gluten. The results were very pleasing - even bubbles, a firm texture, not soggy and slicing well with a lovely sour dough aroma and it is still looking good after 6 days! Don't be discouraged if your first result is not perfect. Remember that the dough is a living being. It needs food, water, warmth, moisture and care, to rest undisturbed and responds to being talked to.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

A good boy

We said goodbye to Toto, our gentle little poodle, this week. An ancient little chap he was, possibly as old as twenty.

Christmas 2009
He was already thirteen and had been waiting a while for a new home when a kindly courier paid two weeks extra board for him at the vets.  I caught sight of his cheeky little face in a basket when I popped to buy some cream and took him home for ‘the weekend.’ 

A faithful and feisty little dog, he guarded us from ghosts and visitors, terrorised the dog clipping man and won hearts all over town. Greg, the courier called in to see him often.
In these last few weeks his blindness and deafness had left him vulnerable to accidents and injury. His brave spirit began to falter and he began to spend more time in his bed.
After much soul searching, we made the decision to let him end his life with grace and dignity in the arms of someone who loved him. 
That is a wonderful gift that we can give our animals. To the end of their lives they continue to trust in our care and love us unconditionally. Letting them go can be the ultimate expression of our love for them.

We miss him dreadfully; I hope his dreams are of juicy bones and having the teeth with which to chew them.
Travel well little man.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gluten free quest

I love bread... homemade dark rye sourdough with grains and seeds is my weakness...and something I can no longer eat.....
Most commercially available gluten free breads are raised with baking powder and have a very cake like texture. If they include wholemeal flour or grains, they have to be boosted with other raising agents to give extra rising power in heavier dough.
I had picked up a packet of what I thought was Laucke gluten free flour in anticipation of experimenting and it turned out to be a bread mix that only took an hour to make. As I had to have the oven on to bake for the markets and the kitchen was already hot, it made sense to fill the oven. This mix contains bicarbonate of soda (E500), glucono delta lactone (E575), which is either synthetic, or produced by bacteria from sugar. Guar gum (E412) and Xanthan gum (E415) are both natural thickeners and E464 – hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, is a semi synthetic thickening agent derived from wood and may cause digestive problems in sensitive people.
The mix was easy to prepare, I mixed 500gm and water in Thermomix on soft for 30 seconds, then #3 for two minutes. Interestingly, the batter is then left to rise for 20 minutes. It almost doubles in size, I can’t quite figure out why – there must be some reaction between the two rising agents. The 500g bag, which is half the amount in the box, made a large loaf in my 2 litre capacity tin. It browned a little unevenly and sank a little after cooking but this was probably because I had the oven set 5 degrees higher than recommended and didn’t notice so it cooked too fast. The only problem I had was removing it from the tin. I had oiled it really well, as recommended but it stuck in places. I will always line the tins for these batter type mixes in future.
The results were okay, a nice soft loaf that sliced well after cooling. The results were still a bit ‘white’ for my taste, but preferable to the frozen and defrosted GF bread available for sale here and as it costs half as much, is worth considering. The same mix can be used for rolls, pizzas, tortillas, cakes and pancakes, all the recipes are on the packet.
I froze half the loaf, defrosted, it was 'fresh' enough for sandwiches and toasted very nicely.
No luck so far in the hunt for gluten free sourdough recipes but have come across a huge list of GF grains I can play with and some recipes for making your own GF flour blends.

PS. Balingup Bronze Cafe is holding gluten free cooking classes here soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Go rice!

My list of health questions finally reached the bottom of the page so I booked a long appointment and went off to visit my doctor. Over the years we have developed a relationship whereby she tells me what she thinks is wrong then asks me what I am going to do about it. She is not always happy with what I decide but over the years a truce has developed and she no longer asks me which witch doctor have you been to? I like to think that we learn from each other.
Her suggestion this week was for me to adopt a gluten free diet for the next two months in an attempt at diagnosing stomach problems. I have been catering for people with special diets over the years, so I feel quite familiar with the sort of food I need to eat. There is now a huge range of GF products available. Now I need to eat gluten free at every meal, I am scrutinising them more closely. All of these products are expensive, usually in smaller sized packets than other foods and many are loaded with salt, sugar and flavourings in an attempt to make them ‘normal.’ This is junk food. The recipe books are not much better...most simply substitute the use of gluten free flour mixes in ordinary recipes which again is expensive and doesn’t help educate gluten intolerant people in how to feed themselves and their families without having to cook two different meals, although it is convenient.
There is an easier way, without having to balance the properties of various grains. By looking towards Asia’s rice based food culture we can source whole menus of gluten free food. You will still need to be aware that many Asian takeaways in Australia will use some wheat products and that Asian cook books written by westerners may contain gluten products, but they are easy to spot.
I am an addicted maker of sourdough rye bread. I made my first gluten free corn loaf from Val Allen’s book, ‘Very Wellness’ this week. She also has lots of great gluten free cake recipes.
I am currently researching gluten free sourdough...I’ll let you know how it goes!
Rather than focussing on missing foods, I am looking forward to the many things I can eat. This week I have eaten Indian, Thai and an Aussie barbeque and tonight friends are cooking Vietnamese.

Can’t wait!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ten out of ten toys

Don’t you just love little kitchen gadgets? They lurk in the most unlikely places - their shiny steel and lurid colours beckoning to me to take them home. I have at least four gadgets for grating ginger and three that will cut fancy shapes, batons and even spirals. I have an antique cheese slicer and butter curler and handmade vegetable slicers that need oiling to keep them from rusting. Some I use all the time, some languish in the back of drawers in between garage sales.

Some of my favourites are from Asia. I have graters made from recycled cans and a zester made from laminated strips of bamboo and a beautiful hand carved wooden mould for making steamed sweets. The most bizarre came from California - a fold up vase made from plastic – perfect to take backpacking!

Returning from a trip to SFMOMA, friends bought me a few goodies. My favourite would have to be the clip from the No mess range from Trudeau Corp, a Canadian company. Made of silicone and steel, it is a spoon holder that lets the spoon drip back into the pot instead of onto a plate or your counter top. If you have ever had a jam spoon glue itself to your work surface, or had tomato/curry/plum stains on your white Formica you will appreciate how handy this gadget is.(if you are crazy enough to have a white counter top in the first place you deserve all you get!)                                                                                                             

Making piccalilli in an attempt to use copious quantities of zuc’s and cuc’s and turmeric was its first test. It held the wooden spoon easily. A few days later, it was doing service on a batch of hand cream. One of the biggest hazards with making emulsions is keeping my thermometers from falling in. I usually hook a piece of copper wire over the side of the pot but it tends to slide sideways and I have to fish it out of the hot oil or water. No Mess held onto the wire, no worries and even held my thin spatula, staying there through the whole process! It has the added advantage that you don’t forget where you left the spoon! Ten out of ten!

PS Check out the links...I even found the fold up vase there!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Zoup time

One here...
The cool weather after the cyclone we didn’t get has been great in that it has coincided with the summer harvest. It was easy to spend time in the kitchen on a gloomy overcast day. Along with the Satsuma’s, the zucchinis and cucumbers are going nuts. I can never understand why the nursery sells seedlings of these plants in punnets of six or eight. To consume that many you would need an extended tribal family or a dozen children. Hating to waste anything and the neighbours having already planted their own, I planted  most of the zucchinis in the most unlikely places where they had little hope of survival and of course they are all thriving! 

I had a zucchini that had ‘got away’ and now weighed about a kilo. Usually, I would stuff one this large or sneakily chop it up for chicken food. Thanks to the unseasonal rain, its skin was still tender and its seeds barely formed so I thought it worth playing around with.

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp oil
2 t curry powder
1 large zucchini, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp Maissel stock powder
2 Tbsp coconut milk powder

Gently fry the onion and the curry powder for one minute.
Add the zucchini and cook a minute more.

Cover with water, adding stock powder and coconut milk.
Simmer for ten minutes.
Blend and check for seasoning, add salt and pepper if you like.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and some chopped mint or coriander leaf.

and here!

Very quick, very easy and with so little cooking, very fresh tasting. It is also gluten free. I actually made mine in my Thermomix™ (alias ‘Thermo man,’ my favourite kitchen helper ever) which meant I didn’t even have to chop the vegies.

I expect that by tomorrow it will be back to temperatures in the thirties. I have just ‘done a Nigella’ and eaten a few mouthfuls of the left overs in the fridge and the soup tastes just as good cold. If you are weight watching, omit the coconut powder and stir in some yoghurt towards the end of the cooking time.

Maybe I should try that recipe for zucchini cake next...

Happy eating!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wot wheat, where?

Last weekend we catered for a yoga retreat, a lovely group of people enjoying themselves in the bush. We had been asked to cater for vegetarians, meat lovers, a couple of dairy free and a coeliac sufferer. I always think it is important to offer everyone the same food in these circumstances. The challenge is to make it all seem ‘ordinary’ so as not to frighten the more conservative eaters and to introduce them to healthier ways of eating without compromising on flavour or variety. The menu for the weekend was based on rice based cultures: Moroccan, Indonesian and Indian, served buffet style.
I was lucky enough to meet Nicky Smith there. A kindred spirit, she runs a gluten free blog, sharing recipes and easy ideas for gluten free meals that the whole family will enjoy.
I was shocked after one afternoon tea to see a baking tray of my gluten free lemon cake had been all but finished. Nicky has asked me to share the recipe with you - she took a doggy bag of it home!
This is a domestic sized amount and will make a 30cm spring form or a 20cm square baking dish.
I usually cook my lemons in the pressure cooker in a small amount of water, doubling the amount and freezing the rest for later. If you use a saucepan, you will need to cover them with water before simmering.

2 lemons, well washed and simmered whole, in water until soft then cooled
2 cups of ground whole almonds (why use blanched – these are cheaper!)
1 cup of sugar ( you can use honey or apple concentrate but sugar and lemon together are a match made in heaven)
2 tsp of baking powder
6 eggs, beaten

Heat the oven to 180C.
Grease and line your tin with baking paper.
Drain the lemons, reserving the liquid and process until smooth in a blender.
Mix the almonds, sugar and the baking powder in a bowl.
Stir in the lemon pulp. You should have a fairly thick cake batter. If it is stiff and difficult to stir, use a little of the lemon cooking water to thin it down.
Pour into the pan and bake about 40 minutes until the centre is slightly springy when touched and is lightly browned.
Turn off the oven and leave in there to cool.
Serve with fresh fruit cooli, lemon syrup, or cheats fruit sauce, yoghurt, cream, ice cream or all!

Lemon Syrup
The reserved lemon water can be used to make a syrup for serving with by adding half its weight in sugar, stirring over a low heat until it boils and simmering until the desired thickness is reached. Pour over cake while still warm in its tin or serve as a pouring sauce separately.

Cheats Healthy Fruit Sauce
A simple and rather luxurious sauce can be made by heating a jar of sugar free fruit conserve in a saucepan until it is runny.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The dogs a glutton

The last few apricots are sitting on the shelf in the kitchen. Just when you think you can’t bear the sight of any more, they are finished. I have had to put these up a shelf. Lady, our dacshund, has taken to helping herself and has been leaving kernels and under ripe or bruised fruit all over the house. Of course she will only eat (and chase) the perfectly ripe ones. Now we are down to the final couple of kilos, they suddenly become precious – soft furry concentrated sunshine, picked warm from the tree, with juices dripping - so sensual .
We have had a bumper crop of stone fruit thanks to a cold snap and the lack of hail during spring. I have tried to be sensible about managing the apricot tree this year. It was radically pruned last year but a diet of soy whey, its position is next to the compost heap and above the septic tank has  will ensured this tree will tower over the shed roof again!
The accessible parts of the apricot were thinned after fruit set and one large lower branch netted so the fruit could sun ripen for eating. The ring necked parrots helped thin the upper branches, preventing any limb damage.
I picked most of the crop just as they began to change colour then laid them in single layers on trays and in baskets to ripen further. (That’s why Lady could reach them – the kitchen looked like a fruit shop for a couple of weeks.) Each day I checked them for marks and processed a few kilos.
I have frozen most of them, lightly stewing them first. I am not fond of dried apricots and have become realistic (finally!) about how much apricot jam the family can eat. I did make one batch and can always make more from the frozen fruit later if I choose.
Lady was quite annoyed all day yesterday without her fruit snacks. Today she was smug. On the rug we found a partially chewed under ripe Satsuma plum. Another plum lay in a purple pool under the table. They are obviously not ripe yet!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

And the sky cried

If I could make a wish for this year, it would be to travel through it with some measure of grace, calm and good humour.

Seeing out 2010

It has been a year and a day since my best friend Nerys died. There have been three hundred and sixty six turnings around the sun. Time enough in my life for a new grandchild, a family wedding, a new job, fifty one blog posts, the website launch and in the way of things, another death of a friend. I have missed her love, guidance and support, the stern lectures and the shared laughter. Thanks to both families and my friends I have found a path through the sadness and a measure of confidence to move forward
The pace of 2010 was frantic in all ways. In these first few weeks of the new year we have seen extreme weather conditions around the world causing death and destruction. The news arrives almost instantaneously through the electronic media, reminding us that we are not in control – that life has its own plan for us. In the face of every challenge, be it emotional, financial or physical, we tend to live our lives in the moment and begin to reassess priorities for the immediate future.
This weekend thousands of people have put aside their weekend to help others. Fifty five million dollars has been donated to a flood relief fund, and everywhere there are stories that show people at their generous best. Nerys would have liked that. 

Nerys and Marc with Brodie and Pip