Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mushrooms on toast

I was chatting away at dance class the other night when a friend asked out of the blue if I like enoki mushrooms.  This is by no means the strangest question I've been asked at a dance class, but it was a little random.  As it turned out, she had bought a big bag of mixed veggies at a super cheap price because they were all near their use-by date.  Included in the bag were two packets of enoki mushrooms which she doesn't eat, so I came home with a little extra produce.

The next question was what to do with them given that they did have to be eaten almost immediately.  While I don't generally do a cooked breakfast on weekdays, mushrooms on toast seemed to be the perfect fit.

I usually just use normal button mushrooms for this, but the enokis worked really well.  I char-grill my bread on a stove top grill pan for a bit of extra fanciness, but you can easily just toast it.  I do love to also rub the bread with a garlic clove but I thought maybe that wasn't so good as a pre-work meal.  There is a little butter and some cheese in the recipe, but on the whole it is a pretty healthy, protein filled way to start the day.

Mushrooms on toast
2 slices of crusty bread
olive oil spray
a large handful of mushrooms - sliced if button type
a handful of baby spinach leaves
a couple of sprigs of parsley chopped
salt and pepper

Spray the bread with a little olive oil and char grill (or toast if you can't be bothered).

Melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan.  Add the mushrooms and cook till the moisture in them has almost evaporated and they are starting to brown.  Add the spinach leaves, parsley, a tablespoon or so of grated parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir everything till the spinach has wilted and the cheese has melted over everything.

Serve on the toast.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Love is in the air

I was extraordinarily rude last night.  You see, on a dance floor, just about the worst thing you can do is walk away from your partner mid-song with no excuse.  It is tantamount to slapping someone across the face for no reason.  And yet I did just that.

In my defence however, two friends had just walked in the door and the girl was holding up her left hand in a way that can only mean one thing – new engagement ring!

My partner did forgive me when he discovered the reason and was promptly informed that he would be being a groomsman, however, in the next 10 minutes he got dumped by another 3 dance partners as they each discovered what the commotion in the corner was all about.

There is something so incredibly wonderful about the news of an engagement.  All the excitement, the love in the air, people just bursting with happiness.  I’m glowing about it, I dare say the couple themselves are practically floating today.

This engagement was particularly romantic.  It is not my story to tell, but needless to say, when we heard it the collective sigh from the girls was loud enough to make the groom-to-be jump, before we congratulated him on setting the bar so high for anyone who wants to follow.

Love in the air, now that is something guaranteed to make me smile!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Oscars

It is the Oscars today, and I love them.

To start with, I just love movies.  I always have, I think it is genetic.  Long ago my grandfather was the European distributor for RKO pictures and my grandmother was a translator of them.  I studied film for a little while at school and I adore the craft of film making as well as the art of story telling that both exist in a good movie.

But I really love the Oscars because they are one of the occasions where movie stars look like I think they should.

Once upon a time movie stars were these constantly glamorous creatures, who always appeared perfectly coiffed and made-up in legendary gowns.  Now we have too many magazines featuring stars without makeup, stars who have gained weight, stars in their tracksuits.  I know that they are meant to make us realise that these are real people, but really, the reason I want to look at these people is because they are glamorous, not because they are real.

And that is why I love the Oscars.  Seeing those women, who have clearly had a team of people working on them for multiple hours (not to mention the days before) to polish them into some kind of unreal perfection, wearing dresses and jewellery worth multiple times my annual salary, well I just love it.

One of these years I will achieve my ambition of watching all the movies nominated for Best Picture (this year I haven't seen a single one) but as with every year, this year I shall spend my time swooning over the images of a collection of truly beautiful women and handsome men.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Early Morning Walks

I'm led to believe that there are people who really enjoy exercise.  Who actually look forward to it, in fact are addicted to it.  I am not one of them.  Dance is my exercise of choice because it is so fun I don't really notice I'm exercising at all.  But at the moment I'm only managing one dance class a week and if I intend to keep up my chocolate intake (which I sincerely intend to do) other exercise is required.

I also understand that there are some people who leap out of bed early in the morning full of joie de vivre.  Again I am not one of them.  I eye my alarm with a mixture of horror and loathing as cheery breakfast radio announcers spring to life.  Inevitably I spend at least 5 minutes contemplating excuses as to why I can just have a lie in.  How really I don't need to get up.  My knee/back/neck hurts.  It is probably too cold/dark./scary outside.  But eventually reality wins out, I lever myself out of bed, put on my walking shoes and head out for a solid 20 minutes hard work.

Some people report a feeling of euphoria after they have exercised.  They talk about how great they feel, fighting fit and ready to face the day.  The best I can say is that I feel awake, ready for a shower and later in the day, completely deserving of my post lunch chocolate hit.

However despite my grumble bum attitude to early morning walks, there are a few things that I really do enjoy about being up that early.  I get to see the sun rise, lighting tiny droplets of dew on the grass like a million fairy decorations.  The world has a still quiet, calm, stillness to it.  The air is cool and fresh and delicious.  Sleepy animals, kangaroos, cows, birds, the occasional rabbit, poke their heads up to watch me march by.  The few people I pass say hello, but mostly it is just me and the rhythm of my footsteps.  It is a quiet time, a peaceful time, almost like meditation and despite my initial early morning bad mood, I do finish my walk feeling calmer and more centered.

And then of course there are those blissful mornings when I wake up to rain - no one could possibly expect me to go for a walk in the rain could they?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Putanesca Chicken Filo Parcels

At the risk of my blog actually becoming a food blog, here is another post about yumminess.

I love filo pastry.  Well to be honest, I love pastry in all its forms.  But filo is particularly great in how its extremely thin sheets can so effectively hold delicious fillings, keeping in moisture so that you have the fantastic combination of flaky pastry and hot steaming sauces.

The putanesca sauce in this recipe was inspired by a fish dish my brother-in-law made which reminded me why I love the rich, earthy flavours of a putanesca and how they can take other fairly ordinary ingredients and make them really delicious.  If you are not a fan of anchovies, don't worry you can't taste them.  They add a salty complexity to the sauce that is fantastic, and even S who really doesn't like fish at all had no idea (I'd snuck them in when he wasn't looking just to double check this aspect of the recipe).

When it comes to filo, I always use the stuff you get in the refrigerated section of the supermarket - near the fresh pasta etc.  One trick I've learned is that if you leave it out of the fridge (but still in its packet so it doesn't dry out) for 30-60 minutes, it is much easier to use.  It doesn't stick together or crack and is generally much easier to handle (sometimes it does actually pay to read the packet!).  The filo will dry out when you take it out from the packet, so I suggest having all of your ingredients made and sliced, ready to assemble, that way you can quickly make your parcels before it drys.

I also suggest halving the chicken breast before butterflying it.  That is because I've used normal supermarket chicken breast.  If you use free range chicken the breast size is often much smaller, so you can just butterfly it.  I prefer free range, but we all do have to count the pennies and I'm taking frugal February to heart.

Ideally the filo keeps all the delicious sauce and melted cheese in, but the parcels can spring a leak so be careful when taking from the pan (or when taking the baking paper to the bin as S discovered when he dripped juices all over the kitchen).

Finally I served this with baked potatoes, however I think mash would probably be a better counterpoint.

Putanesca Chicken Filo Parcels
(makes 8)

1 packet filo pastry
olive oil spray
4 chicken breast fillets - halved lengthwise then butterflied out so about half a centimeter thick
1 bunch spinach, leaves picked, stem removed and wilted by pouring hot water over, then refreshed with cold and squeezed out
1 large mozzarella ball sliced into 8 half-centimeter slices
melted butter

Putanesca Sauce
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
3 large (or 5 small) anchovy fillets minced finely
8-10 large tomatoes diced (or a can of tomatoes if good ones aren't about)
2-3 tablespoons capers
50g kalamata olives, pitted and cut in quarters
1/4 bunch parsley chopped

Putanesca Sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a frypan over a medium heat.  Add garlic and anchovies and cook till very fragrant.
Add tomatoes and capers and cook over a medium-high heat until it has reduced down to a thick sauce (not much moisture left).
Remove from the heat and stir through the olives and parsley.
Set aside to cool to room temperature

Filo Parcels
Lay one piece of filo on your bench and spray with the olive oil spray.  Top with another piece of filo, then spray half and fold it in half, so you now have 4 layers.

Place a chicken breast in the middle.  Top with a couple of tablespoons of sauce (basically an 8th of what you have made), a few pieces of wilted spinach and a slice of mozzarella.

Spray around the edge with the olive oil spray and wrap the filo over lengthwise then wrap the ends up, like you were wrapping a parcel.  Everywhere you want to stick, spray with the olive oil.

Turn it over, set aside and make the next parcel.

When you have made all 8, brush the tops with melted butter.

Bake in the oven on a tray lined with baking paper at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown.

These also freeze really well.  To freeze, after brushing with melted butter (but before baking) individually wrap the parcels in glad wrap (actually I find it is easier to put them on the glad wrap, then brush with the butter) and freeze.  To maintain a nice parcel shape, freeze them on a tray, then when they are hard you can just put them in a drawer etc.

Thaw in a fridge overnight, then bake as usual.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday AKA Pancake Day.  I grew up with the tradition of pancakes on the Tuesday before Lent, I think mainly because Mum liked making them for dinner (well making crepes because Dad doesn't much like pancakes) because we are not in anyway religious, but in case if it is not a tradition you are familiar with, Wikipedia describes this Shrove Tuesday tradition as:

In most traditions the day is known for the eating of pancakes before the start of Lent. Pancakes are eaten as they are made out of the main foods available, sugar, fat, flour and eggs, whose consumption was traditionally restricted during the ritual fasting associated with Lent.

As it happens we are not going to eat pancakes today but I thought it was still a good day to reflect on the deliciousness that can be found in pancake form.

I learned my base recipe from Jamie Oliver, but I'm sure it is pretty standard.  For a generous serve (3 good sized pancakes) for 2 people I use:

1 cup self-raising flour
1 egg
1 cup of milk

To this I add flavourings that reflect my mood, the season and usually, whatever I have in the fridge.  A handful of frozen berries, cinnamon and maple syrup make for a very delicious breakfast.  A grated apple or pear, some sultanas, more cinnamon, golden syrup and vanilla served topped with icecream is a delicious winter dessert.  The mix also makes excellent pikelets which served topped with jam and cream is a very satisfying afternoon tea.

And then of course there are my amazing sour cream and orange pancakes with blackberry sauce which is particularly appropriate at the moment given the abundance of fresh blackberries available (although I did make this recipe from frozen blackberries).

However they are served, pancakes are one of my favourite brunch items and I will happily make room for them in any day.

If you are enjoying pancakes this Shrove Tuesday how will you be serving them?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Blackberry Shortbread Cake

Another weekend, another blackberry adventure.  This one ended with quite a small haul and wet socks as all the rain (including some massive storms on Friday) has left many of the berries quite literally burst from all the water and the brambles themselves surrounded by deep puddles.  As a result, while the bushes are still laden, the pickings were slimmer.  Still we gathered enough to make a delicious blackberry shortbread cake.

Traditionally I make this cake with an apple filling - just a tin of pie apples mixed with a handful of sultanas and caster sugar and cinnamon to taste, but as S and I started discussion pie type options for the blackberries, I had a vision (can you say vision, should it be tastion?) of how good they would be with the shortbread pastry.  And I was right, it was absolutely delicious!

The pastry for this is very short - i.e. very crumbly.  It will break when you put it in the tin, just pinch bits back together, particularly when doing the sides of the tin.  It is far too crumbly to weave a proper lattice, so I just lay the strips alternately (i.e. one in one direction, next in the other, next in the first direction etc).  It isn't a proper lattice but it looks good and people will be eating it too quickly to really examine the lattice!

The cornflour in the berries as well as the breadcrumbs on the base will help to contain the blackberry juice.  It will look quite liquid when you take it out of the oven but as it cools it sets to a gorgeous texture, almost like a super thick blackberry jam.

Fingers are crossed for a week of sunny weather to dry the brambles out and ripen some of the berries still waiting.  It is going to be funny when our weekends don't revolve around scratched hands and buckets of delicious berries.

(P.S. When I was at the market I saw 200g punnets of blackberries for $6 - by that calculation I reckon we have picked at least $200 worth of berries.)

Blackberry Shortbread Cake

300g flour
180g butter
80-100g sugar
2 egg yolks
grated lemon rind (I use about half a lemon's worth)

4 cups blackberries (about 700g)
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons corn flour (or tapioca flour)

tablespoon sugar extra
extra egg yolk mixed with a little water

With fingers combine butter and flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Add sugar, egg yolks and lemon rind and kneed until smooth (you need to taste it to make sure there is enough sugar – should be slightly sweet).  If it doesn't quite come together you can add a little water.  It should come together but still be quite a crumbly pastry.

Cover in glad wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes then cut into 2 pieces, one about 2/3rds the other about 1 third.  Roll the larger one out between 2 sheets of glad bake until about 3-5mm thick.  Grease a 24cm cake tin and line the bottom with glad bake.  Place the pastry in the bottom and make it come about 4cm up the side, trimming the top so it is an even height.  It will break a bit so just push the broken edges back together.  Prick the base all over with a fork and bake weighted down at 180°C for about 10 minutes (I always put a layer of glad bake between my weights and the pastry), then remove the weights, brush the base with the egg yolk glaze and bake uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the base with a thin layer of breadcrumbs, topped with the extra tablespoon of sugar.  Mix together the blackberries, caster sugar and cornflour, then fill the cake.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into strips about 1cm side.  Lay over the top in a lattice pattern.  The pastry is too crumbly to weave properly, so just lay them alternately over to look a bit latticy.  Brush the top with the egg yolk mixture and bake at 180°C until golden brown on top, usually about 30-40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool before removing from the tin.  Serve warm or cold (I prefer warm) with a big dollop of whipped cream.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blackberry streusel cake

With a bountiful supply of blackberries, the question becomes what to do with them?  Many have become a very delicious sorbet.  More are soaking in vodka to be part of future cocktails and bags full have been frozen to provide blackberry goodness throughout the year.  But mother nature has been generous and so we have had plenty of berries to make into all sorts of tasty treats, including blackberry streusel kuchen.

My mother makes the best streusel , however she just makes it up as she goes along which isn't very helpful for passing on the recipe, so I made my streusel kuchen based on the recipe below from the Women's Weekly cookbooks.  I've posted the recipe as it is listed, my changes were that instead of the cooked apple filling I put a thick layer of fresh blackberries and I didn't freeze the streusel , I made it by hand (instead of in a food processor) rubbing the butter through till it made quite chunky bits and refrigerated it before scattering on.  I added more cinnamon because more cinnamon is always a good idea and a little ground ginger.  I also found I needed to bake it for longer than the recipe stated to get the top nice and golden.

The cake part is quite fluffy and light, which is a lovely contrast with the rich berries and crumble top.  My parents, S and I managed to eat half of the cake in one sitting!

This weekend the plan is for a blackberry pie (please send me recipes if you have a good one) but who knows what else will be made while the blackberry gods smile.

Do you have a favourite berry recipe?

Apple Streusel Cake
(from the Australian Women's Weekly Old-fashioned Favourites cookbook)

200g butter, softened
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/3 cup (80ml) milk
5 medium apples (750g)
25g butter extra
1/3 cup (75g) firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/4 cup (35g) self-raising flour
1/3 cup (75g) firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
80g butter chopped finely

Preheat oven to 180oC/160oc fan-forced.  Grease deep 23cm-round cake pan, line with baking paper.

Make streusel.  Process flours, sugar and cinnamon until combined.  Add butter; process until ingredients just come together.  Wrap in plastic wrap, freeze about 1 hour or until firm.

Beat butter, rind and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Transfer to large bowl, stir in sifted flowers and milk in two batches.  Spread mixture into pan, bake 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, core and quarter apples, slice thinly.  Melt extra butter in large frying pan, cook apple, stirring about 5 minutes or until browned lightly.  Add brown sugar, cook, stirring about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.  Set aside.

Remove cake form oven.  Working quickly top cake with apple mixture, coarsely grate streusel over apple.  Return to oven, bake 25 minutes.  Stand cake 10 minutes, then turn out, top-side up onto wire rack to cool.  Serve cake warm or cold.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!  I hope you are having a gorgeous, love filled day.

Even in my many, many years of being single on Valentine's Day, I've always loved it.  You see even when I didn't have a boyfriend in my life, I've always been lucky enough to be surrounded by the love of an amazing family and brilliant friends.  While most of us focus on romantic love on the 14th of February, I think it is a great day to celebrate love in all its forms.

My morning began, as it always does on this day, with a Valentine's message from my parents - or as they put it, the first people who loved me.  Valentine's Day when I was at school was great, Mum would always slip a chocolate treat into our lunch boxes.  It makes me a little sad that not everyone grows up with this truly secure, unconditional love, but it makes me oh so happy and grateful that I got to.

The love sharing continued as I logged into Facebook and found a gorgeous array of happy messages as my friends shared the love.  And I do love that crazy, gorgeous bunch of people who add so much to my life.

And of course, I'm super lucky to have the wonderful S in my life.  Whose smile alone is enough to fill my day with sunshine.

So whatever you are doing today, I hope you are doing it filled with love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Multicultural Festival

"How are you enjoying Canberra's best weekend?" I hear a woman behind me say to her friend.  "I mean the rest of the country thinks it is all about Australia Day, but all the locals know that the best weekend in Canberra is the Multicultural Festival."

It is a big call, Canberra's best weekend.  I don't know about that, but I do know it is always amazing.  Walking through the city transformed into a land of sensory overload is fabulous.  Where the smell of delicious food tantalises, the bright colours of traditional costumes amaze and then there are all the fantastic performances.  I'm hoping my word pictures are enough because I was so busy looking at everything I forgot to take any photos!

Having been in the dance community for quite some time now I saw a lot of familiar faces around the Latin stage, but I also saw amazing African dancing, there were brightly coloured Bollywood dancers, feathered Pacific Islanders.  It was fantastic.  And of course S was performing and he was great.

In between watching all the entertainment I ate!  There was my first experience of a hopper from Sri Lanka - I'm keen to seek out a Sri Lankan restaurant now.  Potato pancakes from somewhere in Europe, a spicy lamb croquette type thing also from Sri Lanka, a Vietnamese satay stick, a delicious watermelon, pineapple and coconut drink from the Pacific Islands.   There was so much more I wanted to try, but alas my stomach is only so big.

This year the festival was a little more spread out which was great as the crowds just seem to grow and grow..  I wore my Mum's dirndl (traditional German/Austrian dress) which is somewhat of a mini on me - the skirt is meant to come below the knee - because how many opportunities are there?  We wandered, danced, ate and of course being Canberra met up with heaps of people.  It was fantastic, I'm already planning my approach for next year (go earlier, wear pants with a stretchy waist band).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Blackberry Vodka

There are many delicious things that I make with our harvest of wild blackberries, but one of our favourites is blackberry vodka.  Simple and oh, so delicious, here is how to do it.

Get a large clean glass bottle with a wide mouth and a good lid.  I use 1.5l bottles that used to have cranberry juice in them (annoyingly Ocean Spray has switched to plastic now, but V8 juice comes in similar bottles).  Layer your blackberries in with castor sugar.  You want enough castor sugar that all the berries get a light coating.  You will have to shake the bottle around to achieve this, but don't worry about mushing up the berries, that actually helps in the process.  Now leave them a day or two.  The sugar draws the juice out and helps the berries to start breaking down - basically getting them ready to impart their berry deliciousness into the vodka.

Once the berries have started leaching out all their yummy juices, top up the bottle with vodka.  My jars were really packed with berries so it only took a bit over half a litre to fill up the 1.5l bottle.  This isn't a job for a top shelf vodka - leave your Grey Goose in the cupboard - but you don't want to use paint stripper either - save that for your tulips.  A reasonably priced standard vodka will be amazing after this journey.

Now comes the hard part - put the bottle in the fridge and wait for a couple of months.  You will see the berries become a lighter colour over time as their flavour and colour goes into the vodka, and really you do need to leave them at least a couple of months for this process to work.  When you can stand waiting no longer, strain the berries off and you will have some delicious, delicious blackberry vodka.

My favourite serving method is over ice with a squeeze of lemon and topped with soda water.  But it also makes one hell of a martini.  Really the options are endless.

Oh and as for those berries that you strained off?  Try mixing them through softened vanilla icecream for a boozy berry icecream dessert.  So much yumminess.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reverse Bucket List

I read an awesome article on the Mamamia website today about a Reverse Bucket List.  The article is fantastic so I encourage you to head over and read it, but in a nutshell instead of having a list of things you want to do, the reverse bucket list is having a list of all the fantastic experiences you have had.

I love the idea particularly because some of the best experiences in life are not the planned ones.  Seeing U2 would have been on my bucket list (and it makes the reverse list) but a Midnight Oil concert wouldn't have - and it still rates as the best concert I've ever been to.

So here, in no particular order and probably missing all sorts of things out, is my Reverse Bucket List.  A celebration of many of the wonderful experiences I have had and a list that I hope will continue to grow in shape and size because I'm sure life has a whole heap of fantastic experiences still to come.

Seeing Midnight Oil play one of their last concerts during a massive thunderstorm.

Seeing U2 (twice!)

Learning to dance

Turning around from looking at an Art Nouveau Metro sign to find myself in front of Notre Dame Cathedral

Eating at Tetsyuas

Buying my house

All the summers I spent as a child running wild in the bush, making cubby houses in gardens and living in such a wonderful bubble of security and safety

Visiting Machu Picchu - and managing the hike through the Andes with asthma, plus despite my fear of heights climbing Huayna Picchu (the mountain directly behind me in the photo).


Getting my first watch when I was 7.  It made me feel like such a grown up.

Graduating from university - and knowing that my formal education was finally over!

My 30th birthday party - an amazing night of pure fun with my awesome friends and that is still talked about years later (and that I couldn't find a single dignified photo from to post here).

Winning my first argument with my Dad (by argument I mean conversation of ideas, we don't fight) when I was about 19.

Being a bridesmaid for my sister and my best friend

Having my nose "done"

Seeing the sun rise over Ankor Watt (and the sun set - this photo)

Eating - frog, snail, rat, piranha, guinea pig, lama, alpaca, sea urchin, lobster, pho, and so many other unusual and delicious things.

Buying my first "little black dress" and having an ah-ha moment of this is how I want to look and dress.

I'm sure there are so many more - this list will continue to grow and change, but it does make me realise what an amazing life I've managed to have at just 32.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Every February in Canberra, the wild blackberries start to ripen.  Every year in the months leading up to February, I anxiously scan my favourite blackberry patches hoping that this won't be the year that the government finally decides to poison them.  We lost a few good patches this year and yes do I know they are a noxious pest, but they are also such a delicious one.

Last weekend was our first blackberrying trip for 2012 and it appears that this year will be one that we will talk about for years to come.  There are not only an extraordinary number of berries (with plenty still red or green, so there will be picking for weeks to come) but the berries that have ripened are particularly large and juicy.

They are of course wild berries, so they are not the size of ones you would buy in the shops, but they are full of flavour and of course are free!  I estimate S and I picked in the vicinity of 5kg, with only some fairly mangled hands as payment.

Our haul is being put to good use.  The best berries have been frozen for the months to come.  Almost a kilo has been made into sorbet.  We have two large glass bottles full, shortly to become blackberry vodka and there is another large container in the fridge yet to be be assigned to a delicious treat.

If you are new to blackberrying, here are a few tips:
  • Only pick from healthy looking plants.  If it seems to be dying, it has probably been poisoned.  The ACT Government has a list on the TAMS website of places that are being sprayed, check your local government site or better still find a friend with a farm!
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves of clothes that you don't mind being pulled by thorns and stained with blackberry. juice.
  • Wear good sturdy shoes - you are tramping in the bush in summer, there are plenty of spiders, you are stepping on blackberry canes and there is always the possibility of snakes.
  • Be prepared for scratches - my hands look appalling right now
  • If you are freezing them, freeze them in a single layer on a tray, then transfer them to a bag.  That way you end up with a bag of individual berries rather than a giant clump frozen together.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Coping with intolerance

I'm sorry to say this, but I have some intolerant friends.  The kind of intolerance where they go for complete avoidance.  As a highly tolerant person I sometimes find this tricky, but as a good friend I'm happy to make allowances.

What may you ask are they so intolerant of?  The answer is gluten.  Gluten and I are great friends who enjoy each others company immensely but I understand that not everyone shares this close and loving relationship.  So a couple of years ago I sought out some recipes that I could make when entertaining my sadly intolerant friends.

One of those recipes was for Chocolate and Pecan Brownies.  What a find!  These are now my default brownies of choice - even when I'm cooking for people with no gluten issues - because they are absolutely delicious.  If you omit the white chocolate and carefully select your dark chocolate these can also be diary free - ticking off two intolerances in one delicious brownie!

My tips - the baking time in the recipe is waaaay to short, you will eat them with a spoon if you bake for that time.  I bake them for nearly twice the stated time and they are still very moist.  They get better with age, so try to leave them a day before eating.  And finally, don't add the white chocolate when the recipe says or it will melt to nothing.  Add it right at the end, just before baking.

It can be hard to find really delicious gluten free baked goods, but I can guarantee that if you don't tell people these are gluten free, they will have no idea.

If you are looking for any recipes I've posted, I now have a page right at the top of the blog which contains links to them all.  Putting it together has made me realise I'm quite heavily biased towards sweet recipes on this blog, which is odd because in reality I cook more savoury stuff.  I will try to rectify this!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Growing Your Own

It has been a strange summer.  A few hot weeks in November promised record heat, but in reality my airconditioning has spent far more time off than on this season.  Every now and then we have had a couple of days of proper summer but in between the weather has been remarkably cool, even cold.  Just a few weeks ago we had an overnight temperature of 1.4 degrees C and a day where if you took into account the wind chill factor it was 4 degrees - in January!

As a result my poor garden is confused.  The maple trees have twice started to turn their leaves red, only to decide to green them up again.  And my tomatoes which took off like crazy in November went on hiatus for the longest time.  But now, despite the weather, they are producing like crazy and I'm loving it.  There is nothing quite like a burstingly red tomato straight off the vine and my vines have produced enough that I've been able to supply my parents with more than one bag full of them.

My garden is quite tiny, but it is productive.  As well as the tomatoes, I've got cucumbers, lemons, spinach, rocket and lettuce plus a heap of herbs - lemongrass, bay, basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage and mint.  It is so incredibly satisfying to wander out the back and pick a few leaves of this, a sprig of that, a lemon, a bunch of tomatoes.  At the moment the salad I have for lunch each days includes quite a bit of home grown produce and I'm sure it tastes better for it.

There is quite a movement encouraging people to grow their own food.  In Australia we live on some of the most productive land.  Everything you grow means that much less has to be grown with industrial fertaliser, transported, handled multiple times etc.  We will always need our farmers, but we sure can help feed ourselves.

I dream of one day having a giant veggie garden and I'm sure it will happen, but in the meantime just the small amount I produce makes me very happy in deed.