Wednesday, December 07, 2016

It takes a village to make a garden

It's been almost six months since we moved into our 'new' house, and people have been so generous! The garden had been neglected for years and I declared, to all and sundry, that we planned to weed, weed, weed and to reintroduce fruit trees, vegetable plants, shrubs and flowers. Several people have given us garden tools and gloves. A neighbour connected me with plant breeders selling feijoa trees and gooseberry bushes. One friend showed up with a tray of tomato seedlings, and another brought a cute wee lime tree! Today the lovely Chinese lady I tutor in English asked if I wanted some winter melon plants. I'm not even sure what winter melons are, but said 'sure, why not?'! Thanks everyone.

Winter melon seedlings. Let's Google that ...

Monday, December 05, 2016

Craving Chinese egg tarts

I first encountered yum cha (and Chinese egg tarts) at the iconic Marigold Restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown in the early 1990s. The yum cha lunch, featuring all sorts of intricately crafted dumplings, filled buns, unusual vegetables, spring rolls and spicy delights was a revelation in itself ... but the Chinese egg tarts afterwards were magnificent! So I've been mildly obsessed with egg tarts ever since. They're hard to find in Canberra (more on that shortly) but when in larger cities I make a beeline to Chinatown to satisfy my cravings. Dixon Street in Sydney, Little Bourke Street in Melbourne, and almost anywhere in Singapore are good places to search for them.

As far as I know there's no place in Canberra where you can buy authentic Chinese egg tarts separately; I've only found them as part of yum cha lunch menus. About a year ago Andrew and I went out for yum cha with eight friends. As usual I quietly counted down 'til the end of the meal, in anticipation of egg tarts. To our dismay, the servers only brought three tarts to the table, saying they'd run out! Very disappointing. We made a mental note to try somewhere else next time ... and did so yesterday . Once again, we enjoyed all sorts of delicious morsels (and they were delicious) and eagerly awaited dessert. This time there were only two egg tarts. To be shared among a table of nine people. And when we asked for more they said there were no more available. I'm puzzled. Are egg tarts somehow rationed in this town? The arrangement with yum cha is that the diners pay for each dish ordered, so we were willing and able to pay for more egg tarts. Many, many egg tarts! Another dozen would have been about right. We were at an early lunch sitting, too, so wondered whether everyone who dined after us missed out on the tarts altogether. It's a mystery. If you happen to be reading this, and happen to have any insights (or know where I can buy egg tarts in Canberra without signing up for a full yum cha lunch) please let me know in the comments.

Have I thought about making them myself? Well yes, but by all accounts they're hugely finicky and time consuming ...

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Green tea ice cream (no fancy devices required)

'Tis the season (here in Canberra, at least) to be enjoying ice cream. Happy summer to y'all!

I used to make this recipe using twice as much condensed milk but recent experimentation has shown it's just as good (even better, methinks) using the smaller quantity. Less sweet, more flavoursome.

600 ml cream
0.5 tin (200 g) sweetened condensed milk
1 to 2 tablespoons of matcha green tea powder (find it at Asian grocery stores)

Whip the cream till thick then mix in the condensed milk. Add the green tea powder, combine well and freeze …

Makes about two litres.

No muss, no fuss, no fancy machines required!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Beetroot, spinach and goat's cheese salad

Another winner from the Sydney Markets recipe collection! I confess I simplified it, using just microwaved beetroot chunks, baby spinach, goat's feta, toasted pecan nuts and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Tonight's dinner ... delicious

Friday, December 02, 2016

Apricot fudge slice

Today my office will farewell two visitors, one from Japan and one from Austria, so I've made some goodies to share.

50 grams butter
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk *
1 packet (200 grams) malt biscuits, crushed
1 cup dried apricots, chopped

Melt butter and condensed milk together. Add apricots and biscuit crumbs. Press mixture into greased tin. Set in refrigerator and cut into squares.

* in case you're wondering what happened to the other half of the can of condensed milk ... it's going into a batch of green tea ice cream ;-)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

No stuff please, we're minimalists

Happy December to you! Hasn't the year flown by? Here in Australia December tends to be a whirlwind of parties, shopping and gifts. But not everyone likes or wants tangible gifts. I've been saying 'no, thank you' to cluttery stuff for twenty years or so ... and yes, it can take that long to convince people you're serious! So, if your buddy doesn't want stuff but you still want to give a gift, what are some options?

Gifts that give twice ...

I love receiving Oxfam goats

Kiva microfinance vouchers (you can check out my loan recipients here)

Edible or drinkable gifts (say, some homemade shortbread or lemon butter, or a nice bottle of wine)

E-book vouchers

Movie vouchers

Restaurant vouchers

Your time ... over a coffee, helping out in the garden, or repairing something around their house

Vouchers for experiences like a foot massage, an opera or ballet, a balloon ride or a cooking class

Here's hoping for a clutter-free December and a happy 2017 ;-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Scenes from a disobedient garden

It's been over five months since we moved to our new house and wondrous things keep happening in the garden. Everything that looked anaemic or dead in the winter has sprung back to life. My friend Lisa (who hails from delightful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) asked to see photos. It's taken a while (sorry, Lisa) but here are a few piccies from our garden in spring.

 Oh, and the reference to disobedient gardens is not a complaint. I'm currently reading a fabulous book called Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott. Most inspiring!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Costumes from 'The Dressmaker'

Last week I attended a conference in Adelaide. It was pretty intense and there weren't many free moments, but it finished at about 1 pm on Friday so I was able to explore the city for a couple of hours before returning to Canberra. A friend who hails from Adelaide suggested checking out the exhibition of costumes from the fabulous Australian film The Dressmaker, and I'm so glad I did! They were gorgeous.

The exhibition is on until 11 December 2016 at Ayers House Museum (a National Trust property). Well worth a look if you find yourself in the vicinity.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Raspberry summers (and a pavlova recipe)

In the early 1980s I spent two summers picking raspberries. There was a large berry farm on the outskirts of the town where I lived in New Zealand. Each morning I'd jump on my bike, ride the ~10 km to the farm, and pick (and eat) raspberries all day. We were paid by weight and I ate a LOT of berries, so it wasn't the most lucrative of occupations! Everyone said I'd hate raspberries by the end but I don't. They're still one of my favourite fruits and I'm hoping to grow some once we clear away enough weeds from our new back fence.

Raspberries are delicious all on their own, or you could serve them with pavlova:

6 egg whites
3 teaspoons vinegar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 cup caster sugar
1.5 tablespoons water

Beat egg whites until stiff. Add half the sugar, and beat well. Add the rest of the sugar and the vinegar, cornflour and water. Beat until well combined. Pile the mixture onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius, then turn oven down to 110 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 1.5 hours.

When cold, serve with fresh cream and seasonal fruits.

There were no leftovers. Let's declare this pavlova a success!

To brûlée or not to brûlée?

Yeah, yeah, I know my French grammar is dodgy! Anyway ...

Yesterday I cooked a pavlova, which we'll take to our friends' place for dessert tonight. The recipe used six egg whites so I had six yolks left over. What to do with a bunch of spare egg yolks ...? Well, I used three of them in some French toast for lunch and the other three in a batch (four small ramekins) of green tea flavoured baked custard. The much vaunted and surprisingly easy dessert crème brûlée is simply baked custard with sugar sprinkled on top, which is then burnt to form a toffee-like crust. We ate two of the little custards for dessert last night, un-brûléed:

and I made the other two into crème brûlée by sprinkling a dessertspoonful of caster sugar on each:

then cooking under a hot grill for about eight minutes:

Can you see the toffee topping? It made a lovely crunching sound when hit with a spoon!

Mmmmmm. That's the stuff!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Vegetable laksa

A spicy delight! There are three parts to this dish: noodles, fresh vegetables, and a curry soup. I usually make a large quantity of the soup, then freeze most of it so I can whip up an easy and quick week night meal another time, just by adding noodles and veges.

1 onion or 6 shallots, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
2 cups coconut milk
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons red curry paste
squares of fried bean curd puffs, halved
fresh egg noodles (Hokkien)
dried rice (or bean thread) vermicelli
bean shoots
partly-cooked vegetables, e.g. broccoli, carrots

Heat wok and add some oil. Fry onions until fragrant, about five minutes. Reduce heat, add curry powder, curry paste and lemongrass, and fry for two minutes on a low heat.

Add coconut milk and stock, and bring to the boil, stirring for five minutes. Remove from heat.

Cook both lots of noodles. Distribute noodles, bean shoots, bean curd puffs and vegetables between warm, deep soup bowls. Add very hot soup and serve immediately.

An added benefit of making and eating this dish is that
the red curry paste will make your house smell divine

We ate this for dinner tonight (I made a double batch and stowed half in the freezer for another night) and followed up with avocado, lime and ginger ice cream for dessert. Yummo.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Carrot and coriander soup

I've been reading an interesting book, The Secret Life of Pronouns, by James W. Pennebaker. It's not just about pronouns, but about how people communicate with each other in different situations and locations. I was aware that some people call the herb coriander 'cilantro', but learned from Professor Pennebaker's book that it may also be known as Mexican parsley or Chinese parsley, depending where you live. Coriander seems to invoke strong reactions. You either like it or you hate it. I like it, so this is one of my favourite soups ...

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 leek, chopped roughly
1 kg carrots, chopped roughly
3 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch coriander, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and leek and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots and stock, and simmer till carrots are soft. Remove from heat, and purée until almost smooth. Reheat till almost boiling, then add coriander, pepper and salt.

Enjoy! Serves four. This recipe freezes well too.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

... and the winner is ... peas

Now that we have more room for a garden I'm experimenting with growing a wider range of vegetables. At our old place we could really only grow things in pots so (after some failures with lettuces, pumpkins and capsicums) I mainly grew chillies, tomatoes and herbs each year. Canberra's temperatures can fluctuate quite a lot in spring so I'm trying to germinate a whole bunch of seeds indoors before planting the seedlings outside in November or thereabouts. A couple of weeks ago I sowed parsley, carrot, chilli, chive and pea seeds, and ...

... the pea seeds were first to sprout

followed by the chives. Today I sowed some basil, corn and tomato seeds. Really looking forward to honing my gardening skills over the next few years.

I feel a bit ... conflicted about trying to grow peas. Fresh peas remind me of a weird pea-related incident almost forty years ago. My parents, sister and I were visiting my maternal grandparents. You know how grandparents are supposed to be doting? Well, ours didn't get that memo. Not only did they not seem to like any of their six (!) children, they had packed up and moved to the other side of the country as soon as their children started producing offspring. Children were to be seen and not heard, etc. etc. On this day, my sister and I were told we could play in the back yard but were not to touch any of our grandfather's pea plants, as he planned to dry the seeds to grow the following year. We DIDN'T touch the peas, in fact we didn't go near the garden at all. On our next visit our grandfather took our father aside and (he later reported) said 'Your kids ate my peas!'

We told our parents that we hadn't. To this day I don't know whether they believed us but ... we didn't take the peas! It was around the same time that my home economics teacher accused me of theft, and I wasn't guilty that time either.

How rude.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A surfeit of eggs!

The word surfeit can be used to mean an abundance of something or too much of something. (King Henry I is said to have died from a surfeit of lampreys.) Here I'm using the former rather than the latter meaning ... and with a touch of irony as two to three eggs a day is not exactly something to panic about! Anyway, we have a long-standing arrangement to feed our friends' chickens and fish when they go away, and in return they feed our fish. The bonus of feeding chickens is that you get to nick their eggs, so we've been having a very eggy couple of weeks! Thank you, chickies.

The sudden influx of eggs means I've been brainstorming ways to use them. Fortunately, there are many!

Brekkie ideas
Eggs benedict
Bombay toast

Lunch ideas
Cheese soufflé
Corn muffins
Pumpkin scones
Lemon butter
Hard boiled eggs

Dinner ideas
Zucchini, basil and feta fritters
Bacon and egg pie
Spanish omelette

Dessert ideas
Lemon meringue pie
Chocolate cheesecake
Crème brûlée
Orange and almond muffins
Portuguese tarts
Caramel pavlova

... and of course
Wattalapam (this blog's most popular recipe of all time)

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Spring has sprung

I think this is my FAVOURITE salad ...

Rocket [arugula], cherry tomatoes, pears, blue cheese and pecans

Happy spring!