12 Dec 2014

happy christmas to you all

Where does snow globe liquid disappear to every year?

Another year almost over! Another working year almost over; time very soon(not soon enough) for a few weeks away from sitting indoors at a computer all day. Time now to eat a leisurely breakfast at a reasonable hour, outside, in my garden; to spend hours pottering amongst the pea vines and corn stalks and the cool green leaves of my birch trees, watching bumblebees vibrate in the tubes of penstamon flowers and listening to the chattering and warbling of blackbirds and european goldfinches and new holland honey eaters who also enjoy my garden. Time to flick thru a magazine, actually read a proper book, or have a nanna nap, just because I can. Time to relax and recharge the batteries.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season too, no matter what you celebrate, and how and where you do it – whether it’s vibrant sunny days (keep your fingers crossed for us here in Tassie!) or snowy short ones.

I hope you enjoy all the things that I look forward to in my holidays: favourable weather, good food, unrushed time with family and friends; in fact, just unrushed time. Time to do nothing. Doing nothing is sadly under-rated in these modern online-hyper-linked-charged-zapped days, but I shall be practising it with sloth-like precision over my holidays. I hope visiting my parents and helping pick their berries and cherries and stone fruit is about as physically challenging as it gets for me come early January.

Thank you for all your friendship and support over 2014. I have enjoyed writing for you and talking to you, reading your comments and having conversations with you here at Dig In, and on your own (fantastic, envy-inducing) blogs. I say it every year, but I am constantly amazed at how words and (dodgy) pics about burnt cakes and baby zucchinis can bring us together from so many different parts of the world. As a new blogger, I used to get caught up in statistics and traffic sources; now, I simply enjoy hearing from new visitors; knowing there may be others who read but don’t comment; and saying hello to those of you who have been coming here every week. Change and constancy — as in life.

So happy Christmas to you and your family, from me and mine. Stay safe and healthy and happy and well-fed. See you in a month or so.

e XX

7 Dec 2014

snickerdoodles



Snickerdoodles! But not just any old snickerdoodles (can we just say that word again? Snickerdoodles!): chai-spiced-vegan-snickerdoodles!

Every now and then I like to bake some biscuits or slice or something for my yoga classmates. I should do it more often, because they pounce on these post-class treats, and then shower me with lovely compliments. What cook can resist that?

But the last time I took biscuits to class, I realised the lovely C would miss out, because she is vegan and my biscuits (the ginger biscuits, I think) were made with butter. I apologised for not being more thoughtful, but C brushed that aside and beamed — she said it made her happy to see I’d brought biscuits for everyone else! If that’s not a blissful attitude, I don’t know what is.

But C’s happiness threw down a challenge. How hard could it be to find some delicious biscuits that were egg and dairy free? I didn’t want anything with weirdy ingredients; I’ve seen vegan recipes with stuff that looks more suited to a pharmacy lab than a kitchen. With a lot of people giving up dairy and eggs these days, for all sorts of reasons, I didn’t think it would be too difficult a task.

And it wasn’t. I found a book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz in the library, with pages of delicious and colourful looking foods. Including the recipe for chai-spiced-vegan-snickerdoodles — what a mouthful; let’s just call them snickerdoodles (snickerdoodles!).

And you know what? Nothing weirdy about these. Actually, the most unusual ingredient was cardamom, because it’s not a spice I use often. I may put a pinch in with stewing apples occasionally; it’s an intriguing taste that reminds me of dried eucalyptus leaves! So because it’s unfamiliar to me, cardamom is the flavour I detected most; but after yoga, P asked ‘mmm, have these got ginger in them?’ and I thought someone else said ‘oooh, cinnamon!’. Mostly though, to my relief, I heard lots of ‘delicious, thank you!’ and I saw C beam her gorgeous smile as she went back for a second biscuit.

Chai-spiced-vegan-snickerdoodles
Adapted from ‘Isa does it: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week’.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a couple of baking trays.
  • Mix together the sugary topping in a small cereal plate: 1/4 cup vanilla sugar with at least ¼ tspn each of ground cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, and a pinch of mixed spice. You may like a bit more spice (I may have accidently put in ½ tspn of cinnamon; I was momentarily confused by measuring spoons on the kitchen bench). Set aside.
  • Now, take a cup measure and put in 1 tbspn light brown sugar, then top it up with white sugar. Pop this in a mixing bowl, add ½ cup light olive oil, ¼ cup golden syrup, 3 tbspns soy milk, and 1 tspn vanilla. Whisk together until, as Isa says, it looks like applesauce (it does!).
  • Sift and fold into this 2 cups plain flour, 1 tspn baking soda, half a ¼ tspn salt, and ½ tspn cinnamon.
  • Take walnut-sized spoonfuls, roll into balls, flatten slightly in your hands, and pat one side of the biscuit into the spicy sugar. Place sugar-side up on baking trays, flatten a little more with a fork.
  • Bake biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on trays for a few minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.

30 Nov 2014

garden share collective: last for 2014

Time for the Garden Share Collective round-up, and after skipping a month because I felt there was very little movement in my garden, I am back. There is… little movement. Some things are taking their sweet time in growing, and I blame the inconsistent spring weather (snow, sunshine, wind, rain, heat — all in one day). We get a couple of sunny warm days, but then any growth is halted as we plunge back to winter conditions and temperatures.

Let’s start with the fantastic news. Look! A tomato, and a baby zucchini!  

 


The baby zuke is about the size of my pinky finger. I was so thrilled when I found it that I ran inside and phoned my parents. Dad found the tomato — and a couple of teeny weeny mates —when he came up on the weekend (on his way to the cricket) and went to work on thinning and sorting the plants out.
Let me say, tomatoes are a mystery. I get the laterals thingy, I can work that one out; but the breaking off of perfectly good branches to leave a get a stronger structure — I cannot get why one is better than the other. I watch and listen to dad but it’s like looking under the bonnet of a car. A complete mystery.

Let me also say, mum and dad were a little bit envious at how well my tomatoes are growing. As in, faster than theirs. That made me feel very chuffed, as you might imagine. Hey, I might not know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it!
Mum surveyed the beds of corn and zukes and tomatoes, the rows of peas and beans, and declared I could almost start a market garden. That’s when I stood back and went, yeah, I have got a lot going on! With the new beds I’m accommodating so much more than I’ve been able to previously. And everything looks so neat, and with the borders of carrot and beetroot, and corner clumps of companions plants such as marigolds, pyrethrum (the white daisy at the very bottom of this post), johnny-jump-ups and lobelia, my garden is now exactly as I had dreamed it would look like.

Let’s come crashing back to earth a bit. It’s not all hunky dory. The silverbeet is fast bolting to seed; I’m kinda okay letting it go, having eaten such a glut of it recently. I’m happy to have a break and enjoy some sweet crunchy sugarloaf cabbages from dad’s garden. Still getting my chlorophyll fix but in a new and exciting form!
Behind the silverbeet are two failed passionfruits. I’ve accepted that these struggled to flourish and indeed at some point rapidly went backwards. I’ll pull them out, and have another go later.
Also, my broad beans and other beans have decided to be dwarf varieties, and they’ve started curling their leaves up. Dad and I suspect it’s because of the soil. You may recall we brought loads in to fill the new beds, and even though I dug in mushroom compost and manures, and I have been burying kitchen scraps and silverbeet leaves to boost the organic levels of the soil, I do accept that this takes time — years. Dad’s quick fix was to throw some blood and bone around, so let’s hope that sorts them out (it certainly stinks the place out). But I accept that good soil is a work in progress.

A quick overview for you. Normal red beetroot and a new row of golden beetroot; I have in my mind a pretty roasted veg salad combining those two. Peas: sugar snap (ready to harvest a small handful!) and greenfeast, and new purple podded. Some decorated with tinsel to ward off the sparrows who have been snipping the tender tops off. Beans: borlotti (just in), yellow wax and another green bean; I have another row of lazy housewives I am yet to sow. Oh, and normal and scarlet broad beans. Carrots (perfect round baby ones). Corn and zucchini. Garlic in the grow bags — I reckon I will pull one soon to test it out. Oh, and some lettuce in a long pot (leftovers from mum), some lemon basil, and some marjoram and sage seeds freshly sown in pots, to bolster my herb garden.
It’s watering, feeding, weeding — enjoying being in my vegie garden. This will be my last official Garden Share Collective post for 2014. It's been a pleasure talking vegies and fruit with you, learning some new tricks but mostly being inspired by everyone (and just a teensy bit envious of those gardening in warmer climes). Be sure to check out other green thumbs in the Garden Share by clicking on the logo at right, and til next year, happy gardening, and let's hope we all get enough rain thru the summer months.

23 Nov 2014

practising for christmas

 
In a serious break with tradition, I’ve put my Christmas decorations up already, before December. I go simple – lots of silver tinsel festooned about my living room’s large windows, hanging with silver tinsel stars; every door handle in the house has a silver tinsel star and silver bauble combo handing off the handle. I like silver tinsel — it catches the sunlight and looks so happy — and the monochrome scheme keeps it classy. Well, as classy as silver tinsel can be. I was having a tiring week, and just thought, why not have some sparkle?

I’ve also started practising for Christmas dinner, as this year we’ll be at my place. I’m lucky it’s just me, mum and dad, but that is two more people than I usually cook for, so I want to be prepared.

A lot of it will be seasonal: warm and fresh salads and sides made with produce from my garden and dad’s. Green beans and peas are probably on the menu, and maybe potatoes and pumpkin. Hopefully beetroot, to roast. I won’t know specific combos for these bowls and platters until much closer.

I have a couple of dressings and vinaigrettes to try over the coming weeks. I’m incredible boring and lazy; a dribble of olive or walnut oil and a squeeze of lemon juice is usually sufficient for me. But I’ll expand my repertoire for the Christmas meal — and hopefully for future ones too.

So that just left the main event. I decided on a meat-free menu; it's not really a big deal for any of us, but Dad did make a joke about eating brown rice and chickpeas, so I had to come up with something impressive enough to re-assure him — festive, not frugal, dad! Then I read Garden Deli’s recent post and thought a-ha! Pastry! Everything’s better with pastry; fancier, posher, more celebratory!
 
My mind raced to a luscious Martha Stewart tomato tart I’ve made before, which is so simple; that simplicity showcases the incredible flavours of homegrown tomatoes. A beautifully short pastry, daubed with a herby-garlicky oil, then topped with thick slices of juicy tomatoes which roast until they reach height of tomatoey perfection. My mouth is watering just remembering this.

However, there’s one flaw in this plan: neither dad nor I will have tomatoes ready for Christmas. And I refuse to buy pale, hard, cardboard-y ones from the shops. Dang!

I was inspired by a recipe from Valli Little in one of the delicious books, who herself was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi (what lineage!). Yes, I was mashing up two recipes and adding my own twists, so this is why a practice run was essential. I came up with rich roasted sweet potato slices, atop a bed of creamy ricotta flavoured with fresh chives and lemon thyme, and meltingly-soft wine-sauteed leeks, all resting on a flaky pastry base.

In my practice run I have deduced that I can roast the sweet potato and sauté the leeks the day before; I could even mix up the ricotta too. That saves a lot kitchen stress and time on Christmas day, right? It’s then simply assemble-and-bake.

I have yet to get the quantities for the ricotta right; I had a little leftover. I may also swap out the almond flakes (not in the original recipes) for pine nuts; they may be a better match for the sweet potato. These are the issues I wanted to discover in my practice run, but I essentially know that I’m on a winner with these.

Coming out of the oven, the pastries looked and smelt special. The golden edges were beautifully puffed and the different layers looked like I’d gone to lots of effort, when they were actually so easy to create. They tasted lovely, and were not too heavy, either, so we’ll avoid that typical stuffed-silly feeling.

Then again, I have roped mum into bringing the Aussie classic, pavlova, for dessert. What a treat that will be! Hopefully with fresh berries from dad’s orchards — I already plan on having seconds of that.

The tinsel maybe up, the menu planned and practised; is it too early to wish you all merry Christmas?

16 Nov 2014

on garlic

Does this look evil to you?


Maybe if you’re a vampire (in which case … wow), but to most people, this is a lovely fat head of garlic. Pretty purple stripes, even.

To me, this represents the culmination of a months-long, supreme struggle of the conscience.

Because this is imported garlic.

Because my own is not ready yet. Because there is no local or Australian grown fresh garlic in the shops that I can find. Because even the minced bottled processed stuff is largely made of imported garlic.

Because one of my kitchen resolutions is to buy local or Australian produce wherever possible.

But there is only so long one can go without real garlic. I’ve been using garlic-infused olive oil (made in Australia) and I did find a small bottle of processed stuff using Australian garlic — but it tasted ghastly, not garlicky, and was thrown in the bin.

So in the end, after weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, do-I-don’t-I, resisting, longing, prevaricating, I capitulated to my tastebuds and bought this head of garlic from the local fruit and veg shop.

It’s Mexican — I’m not entirely sure where this sits on the spectrum of imported produce; sometimes the garlic is from China, sometimes it is from Spain, and I must admit I don’t mind supporting Spanish growers as my friend F is Spanish and hey, the Spanish economy needs help too. But I’d rather buy Australian garlic.

And why can’t I? If one can buy all sorts of other fruit and veg out of season, grown in the warmer far reaches of Australia or in the artificial climes of industrial poly-tunnels, why isn’t garlic grown all year round?

Probably more importantly, why do I get caught up in these self-imposed ethical dilemmas? Do other people stand in the supermarket aisle and silently wail 'why can't I find Australian tinned cannellini beans?!' before sighing and reaching reluctantly for the only ones available, Italian ones? Do other people get so caught up in their food rules — and heck, we are not even talking about nutrition or diet choices yet — that they sometimes go without?

I haven’t used the garlic yet. I wonder if I’ll feel guilty eating Mexican garlic. Hopefully I’ll just think, mmmm, real garlic again.

9 Nov 2014

eating more greens

With apologies to Kermit, but, it's not always easy being green. Eating green, that is; leafy green stuff. Last week I declared my kitchen a leafy-green-free-zone, and (almost) happily ignored the forest of silverbeet and kale threatening to take over my garden, kitchen and insides. I ate cauliflower, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot, normal spuds, red and yellow capsicum. I returned to the rainbow of eating.

Because all it seemed I had been eating up until that tipping point of 'enough!' was silverbeet and kale. With the plants in my garden taking advantage of the (fleeting) warm spring weather (dear reader, we have been up and down lately, with quite a lot of snow-on-the-mountain plunging us back into our winter woolllens), I was suddenly dealing with an awful lot of leafy greens. 
 
Sometimes I go thru these blinkered, perverse phases where I eat only what I grow, which is pretty silly when right now the only things I can harvest are silverbeet and kale. But it's like a kind of obsession: 'It's here, I grew it, I have to eat it! I can't waste it by buying other vegetables!'. My garden is a monoculture, my kitchen is a monoculture. My digestive system ... let's leave it at that.

It's not always been boring, and one can get inventive if forced too. I've been eating the greens with pasta sauce, with nutty chickpeas and plenty of onions, with toasted almonds and other garnishes to disguide their greenness. I've made the ubiquitous vegie slice. I've discovered a dressing of lemon juice and walnut oil pairs beautiful with the earthiness of silverbeet.
 
I have an Ottolenghi recipe (right now, who doesn't?) that I want to try where the silverbeet (or chard as it called in the northern hemisphere) is sauteed in wine; it's the one technique I haven't yet tried, and let's face it, just about anything tastes better when cooked in a little booze.
 
I even dabbled in 'cucina povera' - peasant food; in Italian, it sounds so much fancier - where I dressed some lightly steamed, limey green stalks with walnut oil and black sesame seeds. I thought it looked rather elegant.
 
 
The silverbeet is now going to seed very quickly (I'm sure because I cannot pick it fast enough), and unfortunately some of the kale is getting thick with those ugly grey aphids. The seeding towers of silverbeet will soon be delivered to mum's chooks (though the small baby leaves that pop out the stalks are still tender and delicious). But more seriously, I have decided that a dozen or so plants or silverbeet and the same of kale may look lush, but are not practical for a single person to consume. It is all growing faster than I can eat it (especially now I am eating other vegetables), and I really hate to grow food and then waste it. So when these plants are finished, next time I shall stick to a more managable two or three plants each.
 
 
But finally, a pretty non-green corner of my kitchen ... drat, some kale got in there, too!.
 

2 Nov 2014

wholemeal cocoa biscuits, ginger biscuits


I have been baking biscuits a lot lately. One of my kitchen resolutions a year (or two?) ago was to overcome my fear of baking biscuits, and I think I have leaped over that hurdle nicely.

In fact, I’ve realised that because biscuits are so fast to make — whiz up all the ingredients in a food processor, or melt-and-mix them in a saucepan with a wooden spoon, before popping them in the oven for mere minutes — they’re well suited to mid-week after-work baking, done because the cupboard is bare and you can’t wait til the weekend to replenish it. Or because you know your weekend will be full of good weather and gardening work, and you won’t want to be inside in the kitchen at all. Or, just because.

The baking part of biscuits was my stumbling block in the past. With a cake, it’s easy to tell when it’s done, or when it needs an extra five or ten minutes safely. With a biscuit, there’s a big difference between ‘12-15 minutes’ (have you noticed that can be a standard biscuit baking time? or is it just my recipes?). Twelve can mean soft and cakey, 15 – heck, 13 – can mean short and crisp, or hard and crunchy.

Which are all desirable outcomes on the spectrum of biscuitness* but, well, sometimes the close proximity of those times flummoxes me. Especially when a biscuit may be soft and pillowy to the touch when straight from the oven, but once cool, sets hard and crisp. Trusting that transformation is something I am still getting used to. Sometimes I want a jaw-breaking ginger biscuit, but a matter of a minute less in the oven means I get a chewier version. As I said, that’s not always a bad outcome; I just need to adjust my expectations slightly.

I’ve made these two recipes a few times lately, and each time they’ve come out differently. And it’s not just due to the baking time, I’ve realised, but whether the eggs from mum’s chooks are small or large (I may use two super-small bantam eggs for one normal egg), how many walnuts I feel like, how much glace ginger I have left in the pantry, and whether I think ‘one teaspoon of golden syrup? Bah! That’s not worth having!’. Yep, maybe all these variations have a lot to do with it as well … I feel like each time batch is a mystery batch, but I am learning not to mind. All variations go well with a cup of tea, and that, I think, is all that matters.



*Ask people how they like their Anzac biscuits, and they’ll fall into two camps: chewy versus rock-hard. It’s an ongoing debate in Australia.

Wholemeal cocoa biscuits
Adapted from a great book of mum’s, ‘Australian Quick n Easy Muffins, cakes, biscuits, slices, loaves, scones’. I’ve made these cakey as well as short and dry, like a good shortbread.
  • Prep a couple of baking trays and preheat oven to 190. Or 180, which is what I do sometimes.
  • Gently melt 125 gms butter with 1/2 cup light brown sugar in a saucepan. Remove from heat when done and allow to cool a little.
  • Using a wooden spoon, beat in 1 egg. Then sift and stir in ¾ cup plain flour, ¾ cup plain wholemeal flour, 1 ½ tbspns cocoa and 1 ½ tspns baking powder.
  • Now the next measurement is imprecise, but the quantity of walnut pieces I have used has varied each time according to what’s in the pantry, what looks right on the day, and just what I feel like. So stir thru anywhere between ½ to 1 cup of walnut pieces. Sorry.
  • Take walnut-sized spoonfuls, roll into balls and place on baking trays, flattening slightly. Bake biscuits for about 15 minutes. Cool on trays for a few minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.
Ginger biscuits
Adapted from the Women’s Weekly ‘Best Ever Collection’. These can turn out cakey or hard, though I have noticed they seem to get harder after a few days (no, not stale!).
  • Prep a couple of baking trays.
  • In a food processor, whiz up 2 cups plain flour, ½ tspn bicarb soda, 1 tspn ground cinnamon, 2 tspns ground ginger, 1 cup sugar and 125 gms cold butter.
  • Add 1 egg, ½ tbspn golden syrup, and 1-2 tbspns chopped glace ginger, depending on your ginger preferences (and pantry supply!). Whiz til combined.
  • Now turn out into a bowl and use your hands and give a couple of squeezes to bring the dough together.
  • Take walnut-sized spoonfuls, roll into balls and place on baking trays, flattening slightly (fork indentations, as seen in the photo above, are purely decorative in that old-fashioned way). Fridge these for around 20 minutes or so while you do the washing up and tidy away the kitchen, and start preheating your oven to 180.
  • Once the biscuits have chilled a bit and your oven is preheated, bake biscuits for about 20 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Cool on trays for a few minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.

19 Oct 2014

more spring


I know we have just had a Garden Share Collective post, but I really couldn't help sharing my beautiful garden with you again. Because it really is at its peak right now, bursting with colour and textures and ruffles and perfumes. Every window in the house frames a joyous view; every time I drive home and up the driveway, the cares of the day, of the world, melt away.


It seems that only a few weeks ago, I would look out my large front windows (below) and wonder what was wrong with my garden. So dormant, so stunted, so silent. Nothing but twiggy bare things, stubby little shrubs almost belligerent in their refusal to grow.


Then, as I said in the Garden Share post, things began happening, and right now, every day brings a new glory. Over the weekend I found fat bearded iris buds, swollen with promise; a day or two later they are beginning to unfurl their mauvey-blue prettiness. I like clumps of colour together, so I have a red/orange area, a pink corner, a white one, green one, and blue/purple one. I like to explore the different tones and textures within the one colour; plus it makes purchasing decisions easier: 'I need something to fill that corner in the white garden!'.

Which brings us to purchasing. I have been going slightly mad lately, and it wasn't helped when the one of the major hardware chains held its annual 'carpark sale' of everything for the garden. Dad and I deduced later that things weren't necessarily cheaper, but it was a good marketing ploy, and boy it worked for me.

In the past couple of weekends, I have bought and planted french blue cinerarias (smack-bang in the middle of the above picture), punnets of soft-blue ageratum, royal purple petunias (both absent from my garden for a few years now), some autumnal mimulus, hot pink and tropical orange 'million bells' for two new hanging baskets, and a white native hibiscus (one of the few natives in my garden; I also have a very reliable purple one).


I bought four zucchini plants, which are already doing well beneath my heavenly curtain of yellow banksia rose. As a rule (yes, a rule) I do not like yellow flowers (besides daffies) because yellow is the colour of common weeds (piddle-the-beds!), but there is no mistaking this fluffy climbing rose for a weed. Magnificent, and very good at blocking views of neighbours' yards.


I also finally got some strawberry plants for my beautiful retro pots that mum had given me months ago. Four different varieties of strawberries in the top; when mum and dad came up recently, mum bought along along some little pretties from her garden and filled the other pockets. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about the design of these pots that I have always loved, and I am very pleased to now have two of them.


And here is what you have all been waiting for. Okay, well, it's definitely what I have been waiting for. Tomatoes are IN! Ten plants, nine varieties, all grown from seed by dad. Dad demonstrated how they were to be planted, then while he conveniently nicked off to (another) hardware sale, mum and I got to it. Well done us; it wasn't that difficult actually. The hard part is to come - as I was checking them last night (still all upright and healthy), I realised I have to start remembering what to do with laterals. That's very stressful.


Finally, finally, I give you my renovated outdoor area. Over the winter months, I had the flakey, rotty, wonky wooden frame and brittle, discoloured, just-plain-ugly laserlite roofing of my outdoor area completely pulled down - and rebuilt in lovely new-new-new materials (not by me, or by dad; by professionals). I treated myself to new-new-new outdoor furniture (not hand-me-down or wonky tip-shop finds) and have been busily 'decorating' the space, re-arranging the furniture layout many times, moving pots and these very stylish cone-shaped hanging baskets around (here? or here?). Mum and I made new slip covers for the grey cushions from an old but lushly tropical-print doona cover. I love sitting here with a cup of tea and a magazine, looking out over my garden and watching the blackbirds scruff for worms for babies somewhere, and listening to them warble. I think too they are enjoying this time of year, and my colourful, bursting garden.