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Spin and sing, spin and sing
Half year out, half year in,
Earth at full must spiral in

The longest day, the shortest night, the night of midsummer dreaming.  Happy solstice everyone! Today is the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere and the shortest in the northern hemisphere, and it’s been a traditional festival for a lot longer than 2011 years.  For me, it marks the start of holidays, a few weeks with some time with family, community and friends, some time visiting, some time at the beach, some time for standing back and thinking about the meaning of life.

In these longest days it is good to remember to relax and enjoy life. It is good to connect with all our senses, to feel the sheer physical joy of being. Which is a bit tricky in the southern hemisphere, where the summer solstice is overlaid with the traditional northern hemisphere mid-winter traditions.

Tonight is a community dinner before everyone heads off for Christmas with family.  It’s such a busy time though, the summer solstice dinner needs to be low, low, low stress.  So tonight’s theme is “Bring a pasta sauce and dress in something that sparkles”. Lots of candles to catch the sparkles, a big pot of pasta, a dozen or more sauces to try on it, wonderful friends. I am looking forward to a magical celebration.

The Recipe:

“Whore’s style” (that’s what it means in Italian!) pasta sauce is a perfect way to capture the sensuality of the season! Not so much a recipe as a concept:

Lots of garlic, fresh and new season.
Lots of the first of the summer’s sun-ripe tomatoes, at their best from now on.
Lots of strong salty flavours in anchovies, olives, and/or capers.
And not much else – keep it pure and direct kind of flavours .

For this pan-full I have ready to take tonight, I sauteed an onion in a good swig of good olive oil.  Added five or six cloves of garlic and about 20 of last year’s olives, mixed green and black, roughly chopped. Then a tin of anchovies, oil and all and a couple of dessertspoons of capers.  (You can leave the anchovies out if you are vegetarian – just add more olives). Then a good double handful of very ripe tomatoes.  Cooked it down till the tomatoes started to dissolve and thicken, then added just a little finely chopped basil and another good double handful of halved tomatoes.  Cooked that until the second batch of tomatoes softened but still remained intact.

Simple, fast, and glorious.

Season’s greetings, everyone!



garlic mushrooms

The year is rushing towards the end now. I just realised that there are only five more  Breakfast Cereal Challenges  in this series. Wow, that went fast. And, just as with the Muesli Bar Challenge, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere nearly finished.

I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for garlic season to make this recipe.  It’s my very favourite way to eat both garlic and mushrooms.  Garlic and mushrooms are both superfoods, with a wide range of vitamins and minerals including some that are not that common.  They are both among the highest sources for selenium, an essential mineral that is often low, and they both contain phytonutrients that are anti-carcinogens, anti -inflammatory, and generally good for you.  This recipe uses a lot of both.  I’m working at home today, luckily.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe

The trick with this is that it is a slow braise, not a stir fry – not too slow for breakfast – but it does need a good ten minutes to cook, preferably fifteen for the garlic oils to penetrate right through the mushrooms.

You need a heavy pot or pan with a lid.

  • Put it on a medium heat with a good knob of butter and an equal amount of olive oil.
  • While the butter is melting, chop up lots of garlic (fine) and lots of mushrooms (into slices). I use four cloves per person – a whole corm between the two of us, and half a dozen large field mushrooms each.  The mushrooms will shrink,  so you need a lot more than you think. If you have fresh home-grown garlic, you can use all the tender part of the stem too.
  • As soon as the butter is melted and starting to froth, turn the heat down low. Put the whole lot of the mushrooms and the (raw) garlic in at once and put the lid on. Cook, checking and stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or more.
  • While the mushrooms are cooking, make toast, and chop up a spring onion or two.
  • Towards the end of the mushroom cooking time, take the lid off if necessary to evaporate the juices. Add the spring onion, a dash of soy sauce, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

garlic harvest

I’ve started bringing in the garlic.  It’s a good crop this year, which I’m really pleased about.  I think, like a lot of gardeners, I was extra conscientious about planting this year.  I really really didn’t want to end up buying Chinese garlic.  As well as all the usual concerns about what agricultural chemicals may have been used growing it, and the methyl bromide treatment demanded by Australian quarantine, there was the vague concern about how close China is to Japan, and garlic planting season was right after the tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

So I’m very pleased to have about 60 corms in, and another couple of patches left to harvest – about 100 corms all up, enough for a couple of corms a week for the whole year.

Getting them to last the whole year is the next challenge. With decent curing and storing, you can expect six months or so, but stringing it out for 12 months means being conscientious about this next bit too.

Rule Number 1: Grow Some Varieties that Store Well

Bit late for that now, but I planted some softneck varieties because they tend to store better, along with some hardnecks that grow larger and do better in my less-than-garlic-perfect Northern NSW climate. I’ll use the hardnecks first and hope the softnecks store till next winter.

Rule Number 2: Treat Garlic Like Eggs

I read this somewhere and thought, what a good way to describe how gentle you have to be.  Fresh garlic bruises easily, and the bruising is an injury that will shorten it’s storage life. We’re used to thinking of it as a hard vegetable, but that’s the already cured stuff.

Rule Number 3: Pick it at the Right Time

Hard not to get too impatient.  Garlic is in the ground so long, I keep wanting to pull the last of it.  Patience.  When a third of the leaves have yellowed. Not before.

Rule Number 4:  Pick it in the Right Weather

It is much easier to clean and dry it without damaging it if it is already dry and in dry soil.  Pick a nice dry day after a few days without rain or watering.

Rule Number 5: Don’t Leave it Sit in the Sun

If you have a lot to pick, do it in batches and get it in out of the sun before it gets sunburned and stews.

Rule Number 6: Leave the leaves and Roots On

There’s a temptation to neaten it all up, but it will cure best with the leaves and the roots on. Just brush off any clumpy dirt.

Rule Number 7: Hang in a Warm, Dry, Airy Place to Cure

Under my north side verandah roof is ideal – it gets a nice breeze and it’s warm without getting hot enough to cook the garlic. Dark isn’t important, and the fridge is a bad idea.  You want air to be able to circulate right around every clove, so the traditional braids are practical as well as beautiful.

Rule Number 8: Don’t forget to Choose and Reserve the Best For Next Year’s Planting

I’ll buy some garlic to plant, and I’ll plant some just because it has sprouted early.  But, like all plants, there is genetic variation. If I remember to choose the ones that have done really well in my climate and soil type I’ll get a better yield than just buying new seed bred somewhere else every time.

If I follow all the rules, it should keep it should keep me in garlic right through the summer and autumn. But by the end of autumn next year, some are likely to start sprouting whatever I do. I’ll plant the sprouting ones and use the garlic shoots and leaves instead.  That will reduce the yield of cloves, but keep me going with fresh garlic through winter and spring till the next harvest.



My partner’s favourite lunch is microwaved tofu and vegetables with chili (he’s a chili fiend).  I’m not a huge fan of either tofu or microwaves, but hey, I’m not purist. It’s mostly garden vegetables, and I am a huge fan of them!

I’m not a huge fan of tofu because soy beans contain a number of compounds that can cause health problems,  it takes a fair amount of processing to get tofu from soy beans, and they are one of the most genetically modified and unsustainably farmed crops on the planet.   Nutrisoy and Soyco are a couple of brands that don’t use genetically modified soy beans.

I’m not much of a fan of microwaves either, mostly because they have such limited uses for so much consumer electronic junk.  But Lewie has a microwave at his work and it is an easy, no mess way to cook lunch, especially if you have an inactive office job.

The Recipe:

Part 1: The Dressing/Marinade

I make a jar of this because we use it for all sorts of dishes.

In a jar, shake together:

  • 1 part olive oil
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part sweet chili sauce or chili jam
  • a clove or two of garlic crushed
  • a similar amount of ginger crushed
  • a little sesame oil or tahini

This dressing or marinade will keep in the fridge for weeks.  Use a few dessertspoons over the vegetables in the lunchbox.  They will toss themselves on the way.

Part 2: Tofu

Fry some cubes of tofu in a little oil till browned.

Part 3: The Vegetables

This is just simply chopped garden vegetables in season.

  • Chinese cabbage
  • Silver Beet
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Snow Peas
  • Red Onion

(I have a zucchini plant surviving in my garden, but really it shouldn’t be in season.)

Assembling and Cooking:

Vegies and cooked tofu in a microwavable lunch box with a lid, with a couple of spoonfuls of dressing.

At work at lunch time shake the lunchbox to cover everything in dressing and put the whole thing in the microwave for 4 to 5 minutes (more or less, depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables.)

Feel so glad you brought lunch rather than succumbed to a burger.



We hosted a meeting over dinner at our place, which meant 10 people for a casual dinner on a weeknight.  I wanted to use kangaroo – kangaroo is my red meat of choice, for a whole heap of reasons – ethical, ecological, nutritional, and not least economic. Kangaroo mince is less than $7 a kilo, beef mince is nearly double that, and heart smart lean beef mince even more. Cooking for 10 it makes a difference!

But not everyone was used to kangaroo, so to be safe I decided to go middle-eastern. Many middle-eastern recipes use goat meat, or lamb that is from breeds much less fatty than Australian lamb, and the spice profile is designed for stronger flavoured game meat.  It means they often work well for kangaroo.

If you make your own hummus and bread and salads out of the garden, a Morroccan style feast like this can feed 10 people very well for less than $10, or a family for a few dollars.  Hah, Curtis!

The Recipe

Dice an onion and saute in a little olive oil in a heavy pan over a high heat.

As soon as the onion starts to soften, add 500 grams of kangaroo mince.  Cook over a high heat, breaking the mince up with a wooden spoon, until the mince starts to brown.

Sprinkle over 3 cloves of garlic chopped fine, and  3 good teaspoons of Moroccan spice mix.  I like to make my own spice mix because I can grow most of the ingredients and fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili are all super healthy.

To make your own, using a mortar and pestle, crush together:

    • a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger,
    • a fresh chilli
    • a sprig of fresh coriander or culantro,
    • a teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon,
    • a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Continue cooking, stirring, over a high heat for a minute, then add 3 dessertspoons of  chopped macadamia nuts, and 3 dessertspoons of sultanas.

Keep cooking and stirring for a few minutes more until the nuts start to brown.

The perfect way to eat is to slather hummus or babaganoush (or both) on a slab of Turkish bread or Pita bread, cover with spiced mince, tabouli, tomato salad, and cucumber-yoghurt salad and eat either as an open sandwich or a roll.



kangaroo stuffed summer squash

The kangaroo stuffed peppers were so successful that I decided to try the same stuffing with squash, which is also at the peak of its season. I hadn’t intended to blog them, but they were so good.

The Recipe:

The stuffing is the same one I made for the stuffed peppers.  There were only the two of us for dinner this time, so I just scaled it down. Adjust the quantity depending on the size and number of your squash. These ones were about 10 cm across and took a bit over an hour to cook.  Smaller, younger squash will be faster.

While the stuffing is simmering, cut the top off the squash and use a dessertspoon to scoop out the middle.

Fill with stuffing, put the lid back on, and arrange in a baking dish with a good fitting lid.

Pour half a cup of water in around the squash and add a diced tomato for every couple of squash.  Salt and pepper.

Bake, covered, for around 1¼ hours until the squash is tender.



After just a few days ago posting about how my garlic seems to like being planted much earlier than conventional wisdom,  today I found an errant garlic that escaped harvesting last year, and has decided all of its own accord that it is garlic planting time.  Nice to have a vegetable agreeing with me!



Today, along with the usual round of mixed carrots and spring onions, and half a dozen beetroot seedlings, I’m planting garlic. Lots of garlic.

It’s very early for garlic.  Conventional wisdom is Anzac Day at the earliest, more traditionally midwinter solstice.  But I’ve been planting earlier and earlier, and last year’s early planted garlic did well, albeit that was mid, rather than early Autumn.  I don’t know if it is a change in variety or a change in climate, but early seems to be working.

I am planting into pots in my shadehouse, each clove in its own pot, pointy end up,  just below the surface in the mix of compost and creek sand in the picture. This is partly because I want to be sure they do all come up planted this early, and partly because the garden is pretty full at the moment and I shall get at least a month’s head start this way. I shall probably plant another round next month as well, as insurance, and because I really don’t want to be buying any Chinese imported garlic this year.

I am also planting potato onions the same way.  This is a first for them.  Seed catalogues always get me in!



Bream is not one of my favourite fish, but it’s one of the easier ones to catch, and Lewie likes fishing. Bream are a good source of omega 3 and listed as sustainable, so it’s very unfortunate that they’re a bit bland and soft for my taste.  I could never get appropriately excited about the catch until I discovered just how easy Thai Fish Cakes are to make – easy enough to knock up after a day at the beach and good enough for me to properly praise the fisherman!

The Recipe:

It’s a good idea to make the dipping sauce first, because like many Asian dishes, this comes together really fast.

Cucumber Dipping Sauce

In a small pan, dry roast 2 dessertspoons of chopped macadamias or (more traditionally) peanuts.

In a small saucepan bring to the boil:

  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 3 dessertspoons sugar
  • chili, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • the 2 dessertspoons of roasted chopped macadamias.

Cook for a few minutes, then take the pot off and put it in the sink with some water to cool down.

Deseed and finely dice about 3 dessertspoons of cucumber. When the vinegar is cool, stir in the cucumber.

While it is cooling, you can be making the fish cakes

Fish Cakes

This can all be done in a food processor.  Mine will do it all in one go, but you may like to do it in two batches the first time just to test your  food processor. It makes about 20 cakes.

First batch:

  • 350 grams of fish fillets with no bones (Use the skeleton for stock for Lao Style Fragrant Fish Soup, and you won’t resent wasteful filleting)
  • 1 chili minus seeds
  • 3 dessertspoons fish sauce
  • 3 dessertspoons lime cordial (or 3 teaspoons lime juice and 3 teaspoons brown sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • small knob of ginger and/or galangal

You can also add the white part of a stem of lemon grass or a couple of kaffir lime leaves if you have them and you like a strong citrus flavour (but go easy – it can be overpowering).

Blend this lot into a smooth paste.

Second batch:

I can just change the blade in my food processor for a grater and carry on into the same bowl.  But you may want to empty the fish paste into a bowl to check the texture your food processor delivers the first time you do this. You want this second batch to be very finely chopped or grated rather than a paste.

  • 2 small or 1 large spring onion
  • half a dozen snake beans
  • 1/3 cup packed coriander and/or Thai basil

Mix the two batches together.

Thai fish cakes are small – take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and drop it on a plate of flour. Sprinkle flour on top and you will be able to pat the cake into a small, flat patty.

Heat a little oil in a pan – I use olive oil although it is not very traditional, just because I use it for almost all cooking. Fry the cakes in hot oil for just two minutes or so on each side until golden and puffed up.

Serve hot straight out of the pan with the dipping sauce.