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Some like it hot

snake in the sock drawer

Finally, finally it has started to get cool.  Not really cool.  Not cool enough to put to rest my nagging unease that climate change is here, already.

“Mean temperatures were highest on record through central and southeast Queensland down into northeastern New South Wales, locally on the east Tasmanian coast and Bass Strait islands, parts of the Pilbara-Gascoyne and West Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and patches of northern Arnhem Land and the Gulf Country in the Northern Territory. Most of the rest of the country had mean temperatures for April that were above average or very much above average, with just an area in southwest Western Australia and along South Australia’s west coast recording near-average temperatures.”  So says Bureau of Meteorology for April.  I am scared to look what it will say for May.  It has been up to 12° above average here lately, which is ok in May.  But 12° above average in January – my mind skids away from that idea.  It’s an el Nino year this year, and next summer looks like it could be a la Nina one, so that spike might not come for a few years.  But it would have been so so so very much easier to avoid it than it is going to be to prepare for it.

Like me, the carpet snake likes warm weather.  He (or she – we’re not that friendly) has not gone properly into hibernation yet.  She’s just decided to have a little snooze, in the sock drawer.  Lucky it’s bare feet and sandals weather still.

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eggplant dip

The low-light photo doesn’t do it justice.  Usually I don’t post something the first time I make it, but this will be the last time for the season too. I had to pick the last of the season’s red eggplants – the chooks are now in the bed they were in, getting it ready for all the winter leafies – cauliflowers and celeriac and silver beet and cabbage –  to be planted out.  Enough pickles on the shelf, and no tahini in the pantry for baba ganoush, and a batch of chick peas cooked for felafel.

So I tried something different.  And now there are no more eggplants till next year to do it again, and I want to remember this for myself if no-one else.  So you will have to make do with the photo!

The Recipe:

The quantities are a little vague – I didn’t think I was making a recipe to post so I didn’t measure.  But it’s the kind of recipe that you make to taste anyhow.

  • I started with about 3 cups of peeled and diced red eggplant. It would probably work just as well with black eggplant.
  • Massage through a handful of salt, and let sit for an hour or so, then rinse and squeeze the eggplant.
  • You end up with about 2 cups of washed and squeezed eggplant.
  • Fry or bake in a bit of olive oil, until the eggplant is very soft.  I fried this lot and it took about 15 minutes on a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • As it cooked, I added in a chili chopped fine, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic,  and a thumb of turmeric grated.
  • Scrape it all into a bowl and with a fork, mash and whip together with one small red onion, finely diced, juice of a lime (about 80 ml, or ¼ cup) and three big dessertspoons of plain Greek yoghurt.  The lime is the key.  You could probably substitute lemon but the lime juice gives it a really interesting distinctive flavour.  And limes are in season, and I have enough lime pickles on the shelf too!
  • Put in the fridge and allow to mature for a couple of hours if possible.

We ate it with felafel and tabouli and an impromptu dinner guest, and it has knocked baba ganoush off its spot as my favourite eggplant sauce or dip.

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This is a post from this same day, five years ago.  And here I am again, with even the mice reliable as ever.

We went to Brisbane last weekend and I missed the leafy planting day, so this weekend is a garden catch up.

I’m planting in seed trays:

  • silver beet
  • cauliflowers
  • kale
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • parsley
  • spinach
  • celery
  • dill
  • coriander
  • rocket
  • raddichio
  • cabbage
  • yukina
  • broccoli

Just a few seeds of each – there will be at least a couple more rounds of most of them before the season is over, and I don’t want to run out of room.  Most of these are frost hardy, at least for the very light frosts I might get, and some (like kale) will cope with heavy frost.

I’m planting into pots filled with a mix of mature compost, creek sand, and wood ash from our slow combusion stove:

  • the leafies that I germinated last planting break, now at the two leaf stage and easy to transplant.
  • Climbing peas (Telephone)
  • Snow peas (Oregon Dwarf)
  • Broad Beans (Aquadulce)

The mice got about half of the pea seeds I planted last time.  The cold snap has brought them in.  But that’s ok, I potted up about a third more than I wanted to plant out anyhow, so  I’m not too far down.

I’m planting out into the garden:

And that will bring me back up to date!

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Pumpkin and Feta Tartlets

pumpkin feta tarts

Basic shortcrust pastry is so so so easy, I don’t get it why people buy frozen?  Puff pastry, ok, that’s  a bit tricky (but still worth making your own).  Phyllo, yep, right, I buy that most of the time.  But shortcrust – nah,  it takes less to make your own than it does to peel off that blue plastic, and you get to use real butter and no nasty transfats.

The recipe quantities and temperatures and times are a bit vague, because it really doesn’t matter too much.  The more butter (and the less water) in your pastry, the more melt-in-the-mouth it is, but also the harder to handle (and the more calories).  If you use lots of butter, you need to get it quite cool, or the butter melts as you are trying to roll it out and it gets sticky.  But it’s very delicious and you can make the pastry quite thick and the star of the dish.  If you are in a hurry, or the pastry is not the star of the dish, you can go light on the butter and roll it out thin for a more cracker-like pastry that is easy to handle.

That’s it really.  All the rest is elaboration on the theme.

You can use cream or sour cream or oil in place of butter, but it works like melted butter and the pastry is harder to handle and might need to be rolled between sheets of greaseproof paper.  If you have an egg white elsewhere in a recipe, you can substitute an egg yolk for part of the butter and it makes it slightly less “short” but still delicious and easier to handle than all butter.  Any saturated fat (that sets solid at room temperature) can be substituted for the butter and you are just thinking about the taste rather than the texture. If you are using a low fat pastry and a low fat filling, a bit of “blind baking” first stops the filling soaking into the pastry and making it soggy.  Blind baking just means covering your pastry with greaseproof paper and filling with uncooked beans, or rice, or chickpeas or something similar, and cooking for 10 minutes or so before filling.  The beans are dry already so it doesn’t hurt them.  If the pastry, or the filling, has a lot of butter, oil, cheese or eggs it, the pastry won’t go soggy and there’s usually no need.

The flour needs to be flour – it is the little grains of starch in it exploding that makes pastry. It can be wholemeal or unbleached, but other flours like besan behave differently.  You can make pastry from them but it is a different story.  Self-raising flour is a different story too.

The recipe makes 12 tartlets. They are perfect for lunch boxes, or party finger food – which is where these went. These are really quick and simple, and they were a party hit.

The Pastry:

You can do this in a food processor, or just cut the butter into tiny cubes and rub it into the flour with your fingertips, till it resembles breadcrumbs. (My nanna used to say that the best pastry makers have cool hands, because the object of the exercise is to have tiny flecks of un-melted butter mixed through the flour.)

  • 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour (wholemeal or unbleached)
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons of cold butter
  • pinch salt

Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time.  Put your dough in the fridge to cool down while you start the pumpkin off.

The Filling:

Peel, dice, and roast a cup and a half of pumpkin and one larg-ish red onion.  Dice the pumpkin into 1 to 1.5 cm dice.  You can sprinkle with a bit of fresh thyme if you have some.  It will cook really quickly – you’ll just have time to roll out the  pastry.

Blend together:

  • 2 eggs
  • a big dessertspoon of plain yoghurt (or cream, or sour cream)
  • 100 grams Danish or Greek feta (the smooth kind, preferably)
  • A little grating of parmesan

I use my food processor for the pastry, then without needing to wash it, for the filling.  But you could also just beat them together with an egg beater.

Assembling and baking:

Grease 12 muffin tins or tart cases.

On a floured benchtop, roll the dough out, cut out 12 circles and line the tart cases.  My regular sized muffin tray is perfect for this, and the lid from one of my large storage jars is perfect for cutting the pastry out.

Spoon the pumpkin and onion evenly into the tart cases. Spoon the egg and feta mix evenly over them.

Bake in a medium-hot oven for around 20 to 30 minutes, till the tart cases are crisp and colouring and the egg mix is set.

They are best is you let them cool before eating. No Teo, they aren’t cool yet.

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pumpkin sourdough scrolls

The macadamias are just getting cured enough to start using now, and the pumpkin stack on the verandah shows no signs of going down. This recipe makes 10.  That many is easy to make and they are at their best fresh.  And they are a bit too good.  If you make more everyone will just eat them, and unless you have a big household you really can’t call 20 in a day Witches Kitchen healthy.  Can you now.

The Recipe:

The pumpkin brioche:

It starts with a cup of fed, frothy sourdough starter, so I start the night before by feeding the sourdough culture with a cup of 50/50 by volume bakers flour and water. Then I leave a cup of the fed starter in a mixing bowl with a clean cloth over the top on the kitchen bench overnight.

To the frothy starter, blend together and add:

  • ¾ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • a dessertspoon of soft butter
  • a dessertspoon of brown sugar
  • a scant teaspoon salt

(I like roast pumpkin better for puree because it is a little bit drier and more intense, but it isn’t worth putting the oven on for just that.  I put a tray in with the dinner the night before, but you could also use steamed pumpkin).

Then add enough baker’s flour to make a sticky dough – around 2 cups but it will vary depending on the pumpkin and the size of your egg and how generous you are with the butter.  Let that sit for half an hour or so, then scrape it out onto a floured benchtop, sprinkle flour on top, and knead briefly.  You will find that half an hour makes a big difference – the dough will still be soft but more springy than sticky and you should be able to knead it into a smooth ball.

Oil a large bowl with melted butter or a nice, mild flavoured oil like macadamia oil.  Swirl the dough ball around in it to coat, cover the bowl with a clean cloth, and leave out on the benchtop to prove. If the day is warm this should take around 6 hours but sourdough has its own temperament.

The macadamia filling:

Blend together

  • ½ cup macadamias
  • 1 egg
  • 1 dessertspoon butter
  • 1 desserspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

My stick blender will handle macadamias, but you could also just use a mortar and pestle.  You want it the texture of crunchy peanut butter.

Assembling:

On a well floured benchtop, knead the pumpkin dough briefly then roll it out into a rectangle 1 cm thick , 40 cm long and about 25 cm wide.

Spread thinly with the filling leaving 2 cm at the end for sealing the scrolls.

Starting from the short side, roll up the 40 cm to form a log. Wet the end and press to stick.

Cut into 2.5 cm thick slices, and arrange the slices in an oiled baking tin so they are just touching.

Leave to prove for another couple of hours till the scrolls are about double in height.

Bake in a moderate oven for around half an hour till they are just browning and sound a bit hollow when tapped.

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Gratitude

halloween lantern

My Halloween lantern for tonight.  A particularly daggy one, but Happy Halloween everyone anyway everyone!  I am remembering to be grateful for what I have inherited from the ancestors, generation through generation.  Music, stories, art, science, inventions, roads, trainlines, medicine, tools.  I am remembering to be grateful, and in gratitude, pay it forward.

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Bringing in the Pumpkins

pumpkins verandah stack

I heard a mad story last October about a Northern Territory farmer growing out of season pumpkins for Halloween carving. It isn’t easy growing pumpkins out of season.  No wonder they cost a fortune.

And here, at the moment, the verandah stack grows.  The wheelbarrow in the garden is full.  The ones that the bush turkeys have (wastefully) had a peck at get chucked into the front dam to feed the red claw, or into the garden the chooks are foraging at the moment for wonderful yellow high carotene eggs. And still they come.

Food waste is an odd concept.  I mean, I get it.  Vast quantities of resources are used growing, transporting, packaging, selling, refrigerating food that ends up in landfill so tangled up with plastic tubs and tetra packs that it’s not worth anyone’s while to untangle so the only solution is to put some dirt on top and walk away.  I get it.

It’s just that for every other creature on the planet “food waste” is an oxymoron. If it’s food, something will eat it.   Eventually. Perhaps an earthworm that likes it best when it’s got to the stage of slimy.  Many fruits go in that boom bust cycle.  The plant fruits prolifically all at once, the animals feast, the seeds get distributed, the waste goes back to the earth, life goes on.

It is southern hemisphere Halloween in a week.  It is oh so easy to see where the tradition of carving pumpkin lanterns for Halloween originated.  As the daylength starts to level out into the short days and long nights of winter, as the harvest season ends and the season of storytelling round the fire starts, as we come to terms with the fact that everything living dies, Halloween pumpkins are a celebration of the excess of autumn harvest season, of pumpkins in such abundance that even after the people and the chooks and the wildlife have eaten all they can, there are still pumpkins, not for wasting but for fanciful, ephemeral art.

pumpkins

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A Busy Person’s Sourdough


oat bread

We’ve been away for a week visiting our daughter and grandson. Such fun being a grandma!

And I took my sourdough culture with me, and fed it and experimented a bit with Ethiopian flatbread (ingera) (more on that in another post), but for the first time in many years now, we bought bread.

And it struck me that, for several years now through busy times and camping holidays and all the inevitable ordinary routine-breakers of life, baking our own bread has made the cut – something worth doing even when time is the most precious commodity going and a zillion other things are barking for attention. Which is a bit intriguing. Bread baking has the image of being something only hardcore homesteaders do routinely. Yet, while the housework is undone and the pile of washing grows, while my poor garden is sometimes sadly neglected and any resolution to do daily yoga has no hope, the bread gets baked.

Maybe I’m lucky to have a really reliable and resilient sourdough culture, but for me it’s a happy nexus of two things: baking sourdough is a whole heap cheaper and easier than any other option, and baking sourdough gives me bread that is  so much tastier and feels so much healthier than any other option.

I have a nice little routine going. Two or three nights a week I take the sourdough culture out of the fridge and feed it. It takes just a minute or so to mix one and a half cups of baker’s flour with one and a half cups of water, mix in the sourdough culture, put half back in the fridge for next time and leave half in a bowl on the kitchen bench, covered with a clean tea towel, for the night.

I use unbleached white baker’s flour for this, because my experience has been that if I feed the sourdough bugs a nice high gluten flour at this point, I can add almost anything else I like and it works. In the morning I have a frothy bowl full of active starter, and I can get creative.

Sometimes I add a porridge of cooked grains – barley, millet, quinoa, oat groats. Sometimes I add dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes I add raw rolled oats, bran and ground linseeds (flax seeds). Sometimes I add rye flour, caraway seeds and a bit of cocoa powder. Sometimes I add grated pumpkin and pepitas. Sometimes I add olives and thyme. Sometimes I add a beaten egg and some yoghurt.

Always a good teaspoon of salt and enough more baker’s flour to make a kneadable dough. Sometimes it turns out memorably wonderful and becomes a favourite. Sometimes not so much. But always it seems to turn out edible.

There’s a feel to kneading bread, and it’s hard to describe. I knead only for a couple of minutes, never the ten minutes in some of the old recipes. Just until the dough is smooth and elastic and has lost its stickiness. I have learned to regard the kneading as my regular “Nana arms” avoidance exercise. If I don’t even have time to do that, I’ve learned I can get away with a very sticky dough and a single rise to make a ciabatta type bread.

Normally though, I leave the dough on the kitchen bench in an oiled bowl covered with the tea towel again, and rush off into my day. By the time I arrive home the dough has always doubled in size. This is the only weak spot in the routine. I need to pick the days when I will be home before about 6 pm, because the bread needs to be “punched down”, or very briefly kneaded again, then put into it’s baking tin with it’s top slashed to allow rising, and left to rise again for an hour or so before baking. And I turn into a pumpkin around 8 pm.

But if I get the dough doing it’s second rise by 6 pm, and I can keep it a bit warm, by 7 pm it is ready to bake. Sometimes I bake flatbreads, rolling it out rather than putting it in a tin after the punching down. Sometimes I put a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create a bit of steam. Sometimes I bake in the mellow oven of the slow combustion stove. Sometimes I put the loaf in a cold George Foreman electric oven. If it has sweetener or dried fruit in it I need to take care to keep the temperature low enough not to burn it. Usually it takes around 40 minutes for a smallish loaf to bake until the crust is golden and it sounds hollow.  If I know I won’t be home in time, I just put a fairly wet dough in a rough loaf shape on a tray in the morning and bake a ciabatta style loaf in the evening after a single rise. And none of the bread we ate while away came close to even that last resort option.

We got home last night, and first thing was to feed the starter.

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planting fruit trees

A trip to Daley’s fruit tree nursery is always dangerous.  The mission was one tangelo tree.  Ha, sure.

So we have spent today planting fruit trees, a little late for the perennial planting days this month but there you go.  And this time of year is a good time for tree planting in our part of the world – the end of the wet season, with a couple of months for them to establish before winter, and a good six months to spread out roots before they encounter our hot dry windy spring.

For years and years, this was how we planted trees, bagged to protect from wallabies and mulched with grass clippings to protect the soil.  It never was highly successful.  The wallabies reach in over the top and push bags down, stakes get wobbly, bags rip, turkeys scratch away the mulch.1-DSCF7589

Lewie invented the new way.  One of the advantages of bush regeneration is that wild birds plant native pioneers through the orchard –  Bleeding Hearts and Macarangas and  Native Mulberry.  Plus there are nitrogen fixing pioneers we have planted – leucaena and pigeon pea and wattles, and trees that need pruning – a seedling peach tree, a carob tree, the bay tree, and giant bamboo that is the windbreak.  Between all these, there is plenty of material available for “rough mulch”  – chainsaw pruned branches piled roughly, quite high and wide, around the newly planted tree.

It has some of the advantages of hugelkultur – long lasting slow release fertiliser, moisture retention in spongy wood, soil shading, a great environment for soil building creatures.  It also protects the trees from wallaby damage for a long time, usually long enough for them to get up above wallaby height with one refresh.  The cut branches drop their leaves into a tangle of twigs and the turkeys can’t scratch it away.

Each tree gets a couple of buckets of diluted seaweed brew at planting and they’ll get watered again in about a week if there is no rain.  Pomegranate, tangelo, orange, macadamia, lime, burdekin plum, feijoa.  A good day.

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