Sunday, July 03, 2022

NZ yams in Canberra. At last!

It's been an adventure. Ever since moving to Australia from New Zealand, more than thirty years ago, I've missed yams. While yam is often used as a generic word for sweet potatoes, here I mean oca or Oxalis tuberosa. It's a small, pinkish, finger-shaped sweet potato that melts in the mouth when added to a roast dinner. While it's possible to buy many NZ groceries in Australia (at the supermarket or via mail order) I craved, and couldn't find, NZ yams for a long time. 

In 2018, I discovered that an online garden store in Queensland was selling yam plants by mail order so I ordered three (very expensive) plants, which arrived safely but died soon after. Later in 2018 I ordered ten yam tubers from an online garden store in Victoria. They produced foliage but the plants didn't survive the Canberra summer. After a year off to ponder my failures, I bought yet more tubers (nine, this time) from Queensland in 2020. Once again, they sprouted foliage but produced no yams. 

What was I doing wrong?

When, in 2021, I found that Feijoa Addiction in Brisbane was selling 5 kg boxes of yams by mail order, I bought 5 kg. Then another 5 kg! They were delicious. Given all my failures in growing them, I intended to eat rather than plant the whole 10 kg. But a couple of green-thumbed friends suggested we should each plant a few at our respective houses and see if anyone could successfully grow yams in and around Canberra. So I shared little bags of yams with five friends and also put some tubers aside to plant at my place. Here's a rough timeline:

August 2021: purchased yams

October 2021: planted yams in pots
November 2021: foliage appeared

December 2021: planted the yam plants in four different locations
(with different exposure to the elements) around the house

(above and below) June 2022: success! We have yams

The yam plants in shady spots on the southern side of the house produced tubers (1.2 kg in total) whereas the plants in sunnier places on the western and northern sides of the house produced none. My guess is that the reason those plants failed (and previous years' plants failed) was that I planted them in full sun and they cooked in the ground. D'oh. It also seems important to plant them in mounds of soil so there's plenty of room for the wee tubers to develop.

Delighted to finally have some home grown yams. Last night I made a vego roast dinner with pumpkin, onions, yams and broccoli. Yum.

Mincecraft and Aunty Bri

Many, many years ago I studied at Massey University, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Well, when I say I studied there, it was mostly as an 'extramural' or external student, so I didn't spend much time at the actual campus. My degree was spread over seven years of part-time study (and full-time work) and I attended the campus a couple of weeks per year to participate in lectures and schmooze with fellow extramural students.

Anyway! Massey's student newspaper was called Chaff. The Macquarie Dictionary defines chaff as:

the husks of grains and grasses separated from the seed

and I guess the name was derived from Massey's previous identity as an agricultural college. It wasn't unusual to see Massey students wearing gumboots to class. My favourite thing in Chaff was Aunty Bri's advice column. It was hilarious. When I spotted Aunty Bri's Cook Book and Guide to Flatting Life in the university bookshop circa 1990 I couldn't resist buying a copy. It remains a treasure to this day.

Aunty Bri's book is a guide to negotiating life with flatmates but also contains heaps of simple, cheap recipes. Some of the recipes are philosophical rather than edible and many of the (edible) recipes involve mince. When I think of Aunty Bri, I think of mince. I don't cook much meat these days, but if you do, and you're trying to think what to make for dinner tonight, here are some of my mince recipes (no, not stolen from Aunty Bri):

Chinese dumplings
deconstructed samosas
Greek-style meatballs with tomato sauce and olives

If you, like me, are getting less carnivorous in your old age, there's always the plant-based option

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Chocolate gingerbread cake

I revisited this old favourite recipe today and confess I doubled the quantity of chocolate chips! We're taking the cake to our friends' place for dessert tomorrow and I'm sure their kids will approve of the bonus chocolate.

1.5 cups wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon ground allspice
0.5 teaspoon ground nutmeg
125 grams chocolate chips
75 grams butter, softened
0.5 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
0.5 cup dark molasses

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and butter and flour a cake baking tin.

Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and spices in a bowl. Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla in a separate bowl until fluffy, then beat in the egg. Mix the molasses with 0.5 cup warm water. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the molasses mixture. Fold in chocolate chips. Bake about 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.

Note: you could also make this in muffin-sized pans, in which case cooking will take about 30 to 40 minutes.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Brekkie @ My Rainbow-Dreams Vegetarian Café

I've always been puzzled by the unnecessary hyphen. My Rainbow-Dreams has been in Dickson, Canberra, for many years and has some fabulous vego offerings. But why the weird hyphen? I guess we'll never know. 

Anyway … a couple of months ago I referred a large editing job I didn't have time for to another editor friend. Soon after that, she surprised me with a gift voucher for a meal at My Rainbow-Dreams! A lovely gesture. Today, Andrew and I popped on our fluffy hats, braved the winter chill, and headed to Dickson for brekkie.

I had the vegan Rainbow Brekkie, featuring spicy scrambled tofu, mushrooms, vege-based 'bacon', tomato, toast and baked beans:

while Andrew had the vegetarian version of the same, which substituted poached eggs for the tofu and butter for the olive oil.

Oh, and we had coffee too!

Lovely food in a lovely spot and thanks to my friend for nudging us to go there. The café also has some spectacular vego cakes, biscuits and bliss balls … it's a great place to go for a sweet treat.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The umami joys of fungi

It's funny how ironic growing old(er) feels. Like finally being able to afford fashionable clothes, but knowing you don't have the figure to wear them any more. Or having fewer restrictions on the food you can buy, but more restrictions on the calories you can afford to consume. I feel like there's a constant trade-off between the food I want to eat and the wish not to outgrow my clothes. Accordingly, I'm trying to be more conscious of seeking quality ahead of quantity, in what I eat: small, flavoursome dishes rather than generous portions that taste less interesting. I've been a huge fan of mushrooms (and other edible fungi) for as long as I can remember and often choose mushroom dishes for Sunday brekkie or to cook at home.

Do not, repeat, DO NOT eat these. The gorgeous Amanita muscaria is
popping up all over Canberra in this wet autumn but is, sadly, toxic.
Just wanted to share this photo I took while cycling through a park recently 

We tried a new café this morning, DaMingle in Gungahlin,
and the pan-fried mushrooms were delicious

The breakfast bruschetta with mushrooms and pesto
at our local, U&Co in Kaleen, is also excellent

If you're in the mood to cook some fabulous fungi, here are some tried and tested recipes:

Oh, and if truffles are your thing, the annual Canberra Truffle Festival starts in a couple of weeks! We've already booked to attend a truffle hunt and brunch at one of the local farms. It's become a bit of a tradition … there are some photos of past events here and here if you're interested.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Apple pie jaffles and some words about words

One of my favourite purchases during the Great Plague of 2020 till who knows when has been a jaffle maker. Jaffles are toasted sandwiches where the edges are squished together to keep the filling inside.

I bought mine from a camping store (Anaconda) and while I'm sure it'd work well over a campfire, I've always used it on my gas stove. Jaffles are usually made with bread (buttered on the outside) and fillings, but I've discovered you can also make quick and easy pies in a jaffle maker. Intra Café in Campbell has some delicious jaffles on its menu … maybe they're becoming fashionable? My parents had a jaffle maker, very similar to my newish one, more than fifty years ago, but my mum called jaffles 'toasty pies'. Maybe jaffle is an Australianism? Or a brand name?

Anyway, this got me thinking about my family's odd dialect. When I was growing up, my parents used various words that I didn't hear elsewhere. We were a fairly insular family so there wasn't much linguistic cross-pollination with outsiders, and sometimes I'd use a word (say, with school friends) and they'd look perplexed (or horrified). I have no idea where my parents' vocabulary sprang from. Maybe the words and phrases had been handed down from our various Welsh and Irish working-class ancestors. I moved from New Zealand to Australia more than thirty years ago so have tended to adopt local terms to fit in. Some examples …

What I say now (Australianism?)

Mum’s word or phrase

Dad’s word or phrase



dressing gown

face washer

face cloth



toasty pie



wash house



sitting room

living room




swimsuit (or swimmers)

bathing costume


Anyway, to the recipe. An easy way to make stove-top apple pies:

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry (defrosted)
1 apple, chopped
spice/s to taste (I'm a bit obsessed with cardamom, but you could use cinnamon or ginger or whatever)

Cut the pastry sheet into four squares. Arrange half a chopped apple on each of two squares, sprinkle with spice and/or sugar if desired, place the remaining squares on top of the apple-filled ones and pinch around the edges to seal. Place the pies into the jaffle maker and cook over a medium-heat stove element, rotating regularly, until the pies look crispy and brown. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Purple rice pudding and an autumn week in Canberra

It's been a gorgeous autumn week in Canberra. Cool but not cold. I planted about sixty flower bulbs and corms in the garden and am crossing fingers for a colourful display in the spring. We also had a very social week (some friends were sans children for the first time in ~16 years so we met up for two dinners and an AFL game) and walked up a hill (possibly to burn off the excess calories).

Chocolate-themed high tea at the Hotel Kurrajong

Delicious Malaysian dinner at Abell's Kopi Tiam

The view from atop Mount Taylor


Purple rice pudding … the home made version

Anyway, to the recipe! Andrew ordered Bubor Pulut Hitam (black wild rice pudding with coconut milk and palm sugar) when we ate at Abell's Kopi Tiam, which reminded me that I used to make this dish often, so I made some today for dessert tonight and to put in the freezer. While the rice is called 'black' when you buy it, it turns a lovely purple colour when cooked.

1 cup glutinous black rice
800 ml water
piece of pandan leaf
1 tbsp palm sugar
coconut milk
small pinch of salt

Wash the rice and place in a saucepan. Add the water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently with the pandan leaf, covered, for 40 to 60 minutes. Stir occasionally, and more frequently as the mixture thickens. After about 30 minutes, start testing for softness. Add extra water if necessary. When the rice is pleasantly soft (it will still be a little chewy) add the sugar and continue cooking for about five minutes. Remove the pandan leaf, pour into small bowls and leave to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with lightly salted coconut milk, or ice cream. Slivers of fresh coconut add flavour and texture.

Notes: glutinous black rice, pandan leaves and palm sugar are available from many Southeast Asian grocers. This freezes well. Despite the name, glutinous rice does not contain gluten.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Crunching the numbers, 2021/22 edition

I've been using a weekly menu for many years and recording meals I've cooked in an Excel spreadsheet since 2009. (Nerds! I know.) Every year, on the arbitrarily chosen 20 April, I crunch the numbers and analyse what we ate. Admittedly, the menu has featured a lot of comfort food over the past three years. Partly due to the pandemic and partly because since I've had a garden to potter in, cooking has fallen down in my list of priorities and interests. Ah, well. Here's what we ate most over the past year:

vege burger wraps (18 times)
pasta and sauce (18 times)
oven-fried fish with veges (15 times)
roast pork and veges (14 times)
creamy tuna pasta (12 times)
pulled pork and coleslaw burgers (11 times)
macaroni cheese (9 times)
Greek meatballs and Greek salad (8 times)
leek, potato, bacon, bean and cream soup (8 times)
vegetable samosas (8 times)

I did try a few new recipes over the year, for example:

potato latkes
Keralan fried cauliflower
French goat cheese salad

and have managed to produce a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs in the garden.

Not making any rash promises about diversifying ... but we have been eating more vegetarian (or vegan) meals than non-veg ones for a while now, and I'm keen to continue that trend.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Brekkie @ Intra Specialty Coffee

The Lanterne Rooms is my favourite restaurant so, when a profile of its owner appeared in a local blog a while back, I took note of his recommendations! Josiah Li said that his favourite breakfast place in the ACT was Intra café in Campbell so I added it to my wish list. We finally went there today. It was magnificent. Campbell has been redeveloped in recent years and the café is in a cute strip of shops beneath an apartment building. It was small dog central. We lost track of the number of cute poodles, terriers and cavoodles that visited while we were there. Anyway, the menu is short but flavoursome. Even though there are relatively few items on offer, I struggled to choose as everything sounded good. After much indecision, I had:

Mapo tofu and Szechuan pork jaffle

while Andrew had:

Chashu bacon and egg roll, Swiss, Kewpie and shallots

Our coffees were excellent too. Cute cups and delicious contents.

We sat outside (our preference due to the ongoing pandemic) and I regretted not taking a fluffy hat and warmer clothes. Canberra's winter weather arrived rather suddenly this week! It was a fabulous breakfast and we'll have to go back to try other items on the menu. Everything looked intriguing.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Brekkie @ Gang Gang Café and Bar

This morning we went to Gang Gang Café and Bar, in Downer, for breakfast. Weirdly, both Andrew and I had the same dish … spelt and cardamom granola with coconut yoghurt and fresh berries. Yum.

The coffee was also excellent.

Their opening hours are somewhat confusing: online sources say they open at 7.30 am each day, but when we arrived at 7.45 they said the kitchen didn't open till 8. So we started with coffee and segued into brekkie. Anyway, lovely food in a lovely spot! The dog park across the road also provides fun entertainment. Dogs are nature's optimists and we need some optimism right now.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Happy New Year! (Let's hope so, anyway ...)

Almost forty years ago I spent two summers working at a berry farm about 10 km from my parents' place. I would wake up around 6 am, jump on my bike, pedal furiously till I reached the farm, and spend all day standing in the hot sun picking (and, ahem, eating) raspberries. We were paid piece rates – around 24 cents per pound (why wasn't it kilos?) if I remember correctly – and in my best week EVER I took home $45. I did eat an awful lot of the berries I picked. People said I'd grow to hate berries but I didn't. Now that I'm fifty-something and lucky enough to have a backyard, berries feature heavily.

Currently eating: raspberries, boysenberries,
blackberries and gooseberries

Happy new year. Let's hope 2022 is kind to us all.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Scenes from a garden

Summertime in Kaleen! Five years ago our friend Jen helped us plan our garden. When we bought the house it was weed-infested chaos; happily, we've made lots of progress since then.

Berry bushes

Pomegranate tree

Baby plums

Lime tree

Daisies and herbs alongside the house

Shrubs along the driveway

Front garden, featuring flowers, fruit and herbs

Feijoa flowers

Yam foliage

 ... and the critter that lives under the watering can!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Brekkie @ Plumb on Tennant

Fyshwick is one of Canberra's industrial suburbs and many of the businesses there are only open on weekdays. It's the type of place you go if you need a new mattress, or some carpet tiles, or a sink.

So we were surprised to hear of a café there, open both weekdays and weekends, and tried it for breakfast this morning. Plumb on Tennant is airy and spacious, and we enjoyed our brekkie!

Mmmmm, coffeeeeeee

He had banoffee waffles (!)

She had opor tahu (a mild Indonesian curry with
tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, potato, and brown rice)

It was delicious. There were plenty of other appealing things on the menu, too, so we'll have to return someday ...

Friday, December 03, 2021

'Tis the season to eat ice cream! (At least if you're in the southern hemisphere.)

Summer has arrived in Canberra with a thump. November was unseasonably cold and very, very wet. So we weren't quite prepared when a wave of hot, humid weather hit us this week! When I was at  our lovely local organic shop this morning they offered me a deal on some ageing bananas ($1/kg) so I bought a bunch and invented a new ice cream flavour: banana and cacao.

several over-ripe bananas
300 ml pouring cream
50 grams cacao nibs

Whip the cream till thick. Whiz the bananas in a blender. Combine bananas, cream and cacao and pour into a freezable container. Freeze. Yum.

Here are some other easy home made ice cream options, if you're feeling inspired or overheated ...

avocado, lime and ginger
Bailey's and macadamia [or other nuts]
basil, lime and honey
brandied fruit and nuts
chilli chocolate

Monday, November 08, 2021

Three-minute gooseberry jam

We have a magnificent collection of berry bushes at the moment. 2021 has been an unusually wet year in Canberra and EVERYTHING in the garden is looking cheerful.

Gooseberries, blueberries and blackberries

Raspberries, blackberries, and mystery
berries (I've forgotten what they're called)

Gooseberry bush up close

Anyway, this is the first year I've had a decent crop of gooseberries. Last year there were none and the previous year I think I had two berries. This year there are heaps, though they're hidden among some pretty ferocious spikes.

So, today I made some really easy jam:

I picked and washed about two dozen gooseberries, then microwaved them on full power for three minutes, stirring every minute.

The resulting jam (about two tablespoons)

That's it! I spread it on hot buttered toast and ate it for lunch. The jam was unsweetened (so wouldn't be suitable for bottling) but was quick and delicious. You could probably add some sugar or honey if you wanted it to be sweeter.

Spring High Tea @ Hotel Kurrajong

The Hotel Kurrajong is a Canberra institution. It's perhaps best known as Prime Minister Ben Chifley's home away from home during his parliamentary career. Yesterday Andrew and I had a delicious Spring High Tea at the Hotel Kurrajong! Yes, I know it's been spring for two months, but for most of that time Canberra was in COVID lockdown. So it was fun to dress up and go out for a (socially distanced) feast.

Nom nom! There was also espresso coffee to finish the meal.