7 Sep 2014

my pantry

And when she got there, the cupboard was …

Perfectly neat and organised.

What can I say – I’m an editor, you know; I like order and logic in my pantry (and cutlery drawer and linen press) just as I do at work in the structure of an annual report or new website hierarchy.

It’s an affliction that at times (like 9.30 at night when I should be in bed but I’m struck by the urge to sort out the laundry supplies) I know is a bit silly, but mostly it creates calm and control for me. As in: I may not have any say in the cost of petrol or mortgage rates, but I can make sure my tea towels are all folded and facing the same way.

I like to regularly take stock of the pantry (and cutlery drawer and linen press), usually after I’ve done a big grocery shop or purchased something new, and I have to find a space for it. I don’t have a large pantry — beyond what you see here, there’s only a drawer of tinned beans, cooking chocolate, breakfast stuff like oats, and onions and potatoes (in my next life, I am having one of those separate pantry rooms. My goodness – imagine the scope for organising a whole pantry room!). So it makes sense to only keep what I’m currently into right in front of me, and banish anything else to the upper cupboards that I need a step ladder to reach.

For example, you’ll see a lone vase of spaghetti on the carbs shelf (yes, that’s called the carb shelf). Right now, I’m only having pasta once a week, so I don’t need multiple containers of rigatoni and orecchiette and caserecce and risoni taking up valuable real estate. If I want them, I know where they are.

Instead, there is wholemeal couscous, quinoa, brown rice and what prompted the latest deck-chair re-shuffle, packets of brown rice ready-combined with quinoa or lentils (an aside: I am fully aware I could combine the brown rice, quinoa and lentil I already have in my pantry instead of shelling out four times the price for the convenience, but … it was a moment of supermarket weakness. I’ll do it myself next time, mum).

I serve brown rice with everything lately – I’m borderline-obsessed with its nutty, chewy healthiness - and am also keen to expand my repertoire of grains and legumes (all that superfoody goodness). So what you don’t see here are the bags of adzuki beans and black eyed beans I bought recently (and for the first time) from the local health food shop. As pretty as they are, I handed them straight to mum for her to cook in her pressure-cooker and divvy them up into 1-cup portions for me. Thanks mum! They’ll go into the freezer, the organisation of which is a complete other post.

Notice all the matching spice jars? I am also a marketer’s dream, buying those neat glass jars for the serenity their uniformity promised. I’ve been decanting the loose-bagged stuff into them ever since.

And finally, take a look at the baking shelf. No expensive brand names for me, dear reader — I store my flours, sugars and other dry goods in recycled coffee jars from mum, and tall oats containers from a neighbour of hers.

Really, I need a couple of baking shelves (don’t we all?), but what I’ve done is put everything onto baking sheets, so I can slide them in and out to reach the less-used ingredients (cornflour, custard powder) jammed darkly at the back. But even though they are out of sight, they are still uniformly contained like the front-of-house stuff. Just because.

Recently I did an early spring-clean through my kitchen, seriously assessing how often I used certain gadgets and containers and cookware and bowls. I didn’t toss anything out – I gave it back to mum, who had given the lion’s share of it to me in the first place (does anyone else pass stuff back and forth between their mother?). It’s a bit of a safe ‘out’, doing that: I can’t stand chucking anything good and useful – even if I’m not actually using it – so I pass that burden onto someone else. Which is probably how and why mum gave it to me in the first place.

And since then, I feel a lot calmer and lighter when I’m in the kitchen. I only need one set of tongs, not three; I don’t need cheap plastic containers (usually missing a lid) falling on my head whenever I open the upper cupboards; I want to get to the couscous without having to scrabble past the basmati. As much as I am driven by consumerist desires as the next woman (see spice jars, ready-combined brown rice and quinoa), I also find it peaceful to have Just What I Need.

So next time a bag of sugar falls on you as you open your pantry doors, think of me. Better still, call me up and invite me over! What fun I’d have sorting it out. I’m an editor, you know. It’s not just a job; it’s a way of life.

31 Aug 2014

garden share collective: september

I was beginning to think I’d have to skip this month’s Garden Share Collective because there was nothing to report.

But there’s been real action in the garden just recently, with Dad starting to box up my vegie beds.

We — or more accurately, he — is not finished yet, for a couple of reasons. First, finding all the timber we needed took much longer than he expected. Many of the timber yards were very low on stock; apparently all our Tassie timber is being shipped to NSW for the housing industry.
Second, my dad is super-accurate and a complete perfectionist. ‘That’s close enough’ is not in his vocabulary (before retiring, Dad was in earthmoving; he did jobs such as the Eastern Creek raceway and Sydney Airport’s third runway, where levels had to be millimetre precise). So even though these are ‘just’ vegie garden beds, Dad was uber-obsessed with getting everything perfectly flush and properly aligned. The fact that none of my perimeter fences or existing, inherited paths and borders are square presented frustrations and logistics to be overcome. But he’s getting there.

I am immensely grateful for the hard physical (and emotional!) work Dad has done for me. Because it’s allowed me to dream of crops and produce never before possible. In fact, I really have to improve my gardening game now to live up to the brilliant standard of these structures.
The new bed (dug by my friend J; on the left in the pic below) is already destined for ten tomato plants. Corn is another crop that will now be possible because of the extra space.
All of the beds, once they are topped up with some extra ‘vegie mix’ soil, will be considerably deeper than they were (the framing is 30cm deep). So I’m now planning borders of root vegies — beetroot! carrots! parsnip! — that couldn’t be grown before because the beds were shallow or full of the pebbly fill that we found beneath the lawn. I am imagining leafy borders of these root veg plus some low-level companion plants such as marigolds and poached egg plants.

So there’s still nothing new to report to you on the growing front (garlic, kale and silverbeet is going along nicely), but I’m filled with real excitement about the possibilities to come as the frames are completed — and the days grow lighter and the soil warms up — much more so than in previous years.
After reading Garden Deli’s glorious English summer ode to sunflowers, I’ve decided to try some in my revamped space, both for their happiness and their bee-attracting qualities. And in the plot where the bay tree was (at the end of the path in that pic above), not a new lemon as previously pondered, but a patch of annual companion plants that hopefully won’t be too bothered by the mucky bay roots I haven’t been able to completely remove. Pretty for bees and for me.

The weather in Hobart has been unseasonably warm of late, and spring bulbs and blossoms and other beauties are lifting our spirits after a gloomy winter. One of my favourites is pussy willow. These branches were a gift from mum; we both love the metamorphosis from soft grey kittens to the explosion of yellowy fireworks (see another pic here).
It’s a beautiful time to be outside right now, though many of us are being realistic — September and October can be colder, frostier and snowier than winter proper. But right now we are enjoying these glorious days. I hope you are too.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs. 

24 Aug 2014

lemon delicious pudding

Ladies, start your squeezers! And grab your go-to recipe for lemon delicious pudding. Here’s mine.

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this with you before now. That I haven’t made this in the two years of Dig In. Two years — maybe more — without a lemon delicious!

What a sin. When it is so simple to make (slop it all together in a bowl), so fun to make (then plop and stir stiff egg whites into that citrusy soup) and yes, it has to be said, so delicious to eat: pale but sharp, with a tang to cut thru the winter blues and greys and cold and wet. A sponge as light as any proper sponge cake, with a seductive, addictive layer of creaminess lurking beneath.

It is decadently delicious while freshly cooked, warm from the oven — the sponge seems to crackle it is so light; but fridge-cold, snow-on-the-mountain-cold, it’s rich and smooth and surprisingly, just like a lemony cheesecake. In truth, and judging by how often I slink back to the fridge for another little spoonful, I prefer it like this.

There are lots of new recipes to get thru, but I hope it’s not two years before I make this favourite pudding again.

Lemon delicious pudding
Most likely from my mum.
  • Preheat oven to 160, boil the kettle for some water.
  • Grease a 6-cup baking dish and sit it in a baking tray; you’ll be setting up a steam bath for the pudding.
  • Separate three eggs, and whisk the whites to stiff peaks.
  • In a bowl, combine ½ cup SR flour, ¾ cup sugar, the zest of one lemon (at least!), 80 to 100 mls of lemon juice, 80 gms of butter that’s been melted, 3 egg yolks and 1 ½ cups milk.
  • Fold the stiff egg whites in the lemony mix.
  • Pour the pudding mix into the baking dish, and sit the baking dish into the baking tray. Now pop that in the oven, and then pour the boiled water into the tray (I find it easier to do it ‘in the oven’ than carry a tray of boiled water across the kitchen). The water should come at least half way up side of the pudding dish.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes or until just set; cover with foil if necessary to prevent too much colour.
  • Enjoy warm or cold.

17 Aug 2014

boozy brownies

B has told me that some of my posts make her laugh out loud, which often surprises me. I may occasionally aim for witty, but I never think of myself as a funny writer. Not intentionally anyway.

To me, the writing below (excuse the pun) takes the cake; it cracks me up every time I follow this recipe. It's an advertisement by an American sugar company. First I was seduced by the picture of the brownies, but then by the hilarious copy (read it in your best Southern 'girlfriend' voice). I really have to share it with you verbatim - this will make you laugh out loud!

Cocoa brownies to heal a heart broken by a man who promises it wasn't you, it was him, and by him he means a girl named Stacey Lee

Come on - you have to make these now, right?

Count the years you dated. If it exceeds 5, double the recipe. Oven, 350. 8 inch pan, greased. In a bowl: 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted. Not margerine, butter. Diet starts tomorrow. 1 cup all natural Sugar in the Raw. You can sub 1/2 cup zero calorie Stevia Extract in the Raw with 1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw but a time like this calls for the good ol' stuff. Mix, then add 1/2 cup flour. It's ok, today calls for carbs. 1 tspn of baking powder. Wonder what it does? Don't. Just add it. 3 eggs, yolks and all, 1 tspn of vanilla extract, 1/3 cup dutch cocoa powder, 1 cup chopped walnuts. Now stir it up, throw it in the oven for 20, and cry till you hear the timer. Let them cool for 10, then devour that pan of chocolatey goodness, girlfriend. Uh, we mean friend.

Now that makes me laugh.

Boozy brownies
Adapted (translated) from a Stevia ad.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a brownie tin.
  • In a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt 125 gms butter with 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • If you wish to, stir thru a good 1/4 cup of Tia Maria or Frangelico; I'm going to try Stone's Ginger Wine next. I find the alcoholic versions end up fudgier, and go down a treat with your workmates at morning tea.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 3 eggs, then 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I use normal Cadbury's Bourneville, not dutch), and 1 cup walnut pieces.
  • Transfer to brownie tin and bake 20-25 minutes until the edges start to come away and feels just firm; as with any brownie, you want it to be still moist.
  • Enjoy, broken heart or not.

9 Aug 2014

almond crisp biscuits

I have started and scratched out and started again and faltered and wondered what exactly I should focus on when telling you about these biscuits. So many possibilities! So I’m going to tell you everything.
  • They are easy to make. One bowl, four main ingredients, and only ten minutes in the oven: simplicity itself. I’m usually dubious about those minimalist-ingredient recipes, but if you also hold those prejudices, cast them aside and get out your mixing bowl.
  • They look like perfect, mass-produced store-bought biscuits, with their flawlessly round shape and little crinkles and cracks. And I am ashamed to admit this thrills me! Even mum said in a delighted tone, ‘they look like ones out of a packet!’.
  • They are short and crisp (as the name promises), as light as air and leaving that weirdly enjoyable puckery feeling in your mouth (which begs for a cup of tea). They are also nicely plain in their flavour — neither sweet nor almondy, just plain — which means it’s all about that terrifically short texture (and perfectly round shape).
I would also like to declare that these are a fitting showcase for my new-found loyalty to good quality foil-wrapped butter. Until recently, home-brand paper-wrapped butter was fine by me (I know; I can see you shuddering and shaking your head. Please do not judge me). But reading my new ‘Bake Eat Love’ book, I decided to switch to foil-wrapped butter, because Annekka advised the opaque foil kept butter better, safe from fridge odours (Anneka also advises against using the microwave to soften butter, but I disagree. She obviously doesn’t cook in my kitchen during the winter time, where some days I think it’s colder outside the fridge than in!)

Anyway, I digress. I don’t think my butter is plagued by the problem of fridge smells (I don’t think my fridge is either), but I thought I’d give her advice a go.

Standing at the supermarket chiller section, this meant choosing a non-home-brand butter (therefore a twice-the-price butter). Which one to buy was made easier once I spotted a Tasmanian brand; I’m trying to buy local where I can, though local in this case means the north of the state and almost 300 kilometres away.

But I digress, again. I was astounded by the superior creamy quality of this butter. Whether that’s because it was foil-wrapped or Tassie-made I can’t say, but I now realise that not all butter is created equal, and I have been using this for all my baking ever since. Including these old-school almond crisps.

No matter what I have said so far about these biscuits (and butter), maybe it should just be: try them yourself!

Almond crisp biscuits
Adapted from the Australia Women’s Weekly 'Food We Love'. Makes about 15.
  • Preheat oven to 200 and prep a couple of baking trays.
  • Cream 125 gms soft (foil-wrapped, Tassie-made) butter with ¼ cup vanilla sugar for a good few minutes until it’s light in colour and very creamy.
  • Fold thru 1 cup SR flour and ¼ cup almond meal.
  • Roll small tablespoons into balls, flatten slightly and place on baking trays. Sprinkle each with a few almond slivers or flakes and press in gently.
  • Bake for ten minutes, remove from oven and stand on trays for a few minutes before transferring to racks to cool.

3 Aug 2014

garden share collective: august

Can I just say: August? Already?!

Saturday morning phone call from my father, a few weekends ago; something like this:

Out of bed yet? What are you up to today? Well, go for a run over to Bunnings — they’re holding a plum tree for you; I said you’d pick it up this weekend.

That’s how we got Plum, a promising damson variety. She is now sturdily in place, where the apple tree once was — removed, you may recall, by dad, after I decided the coddling moths, wasps and birds that attacked the apples were all too frustrating. Dad and I determined that plums were largely insect-free; and I had visions of those blue-ish fruit in upside-down cakes and jammy puddings and stewed rich dollops on my breakfast oats.

Plum is the first tree I have ever planted myself. Oh, I have planted shrubs and annuals and bulbs and cuttings — but a tree, a whole tree? Nope.

Dad may have located and secured Plum for me but I realised, during the Saturdayafternoon phone call with him, followign Plum's purchase, that he was not making his usual ‘I’ll be up in a couple of days’ noises. No, he was telling me how wide and deep to dig the hole, not to use fertiliser or I’d burn the roots, and to level the tree in the ground about ten centimetres below the graft. It dawned on me that he was telling me how to do it myself.

It was a bit of a shock; I consider dad the tree expert in the family. But also because it made me realise how much I rely on my dad’s knowledge and experience and I will admit it, his strength. It shames me that I am pretty hopeless at digging and, as much as gardening is an enjoyable physical contrast to my desk-bound day-job, I am pretty weak when it comes to the hard-core stuff. I shan’t betray my father’s age – nor my own, for that matter – but my father, a few decades older than me, is far stronger than me. Therefore digging the hole for Plum was the part I feared the most. Everything else (graft, fertiliser, roots) was spelt out on the swing tag for me to double and triple check. The digging – I was on my own.

Or not, as it turned out. When dad had removed the apple tree, he’d dug over and loosened the soil, so all I really had to do was shovel it out and pile up to one side so I could position Plum. Which was just as well, because it was a rainy day, and Plum and I both needed to get this done quickly before we were saturated. Backfill, a little seasol for transplant shock, and later, some plastic guards when I saw the blackbirds scratching about, threatening to expose her roots (my god, the blackbirds are ferocious in their campaign to dig over every single one of my garden beds).

But it was with quiet pleasure that I downed tools, stood back, and thought: I planted you. There you are, the first tree I have planted all by myself. Now grow!


Plum has been the only gardening chore of significance done in the past month. Low-key maintenance like watering and weeding the kale and silverbeet and passionfruit — which is surviving the frosts; one week, the neighbourhood copped about four or five biggish white-outs; that’s a lot all in a row. Until this week, we'd been getting one good heavy day of rain once every week or fortnight; but this past week has seen dangerous winds and heavy, soaking rains most days and nights. Ten, 12, 14 mls. Great, but - dare I say it - it could actually stop now. The tanks are full, the ground is saturated, and I'm going crazy not being able to get outside and do some exercise! Ah, we're never happy, are we.

So mostly, I am thoroughly enjoying the extra time for reading a mountain of library books — everything from Hillary’s memoirs, spy thrillers (I love a good spook story), English flower books (though I’m really just looking at the pictures and making mental notes to buy ageratum for my flowers beds) and lots of English homes magazines, full of colourful pictures of summer gardens. I’m getting plenty of ideas for refurbishing my newly re-built outdoor area; my mind is awash with wicker chairs and ikat cushions and long benches and pots of glorious colour and warmer, sunnier weather.

And of course reading about other gardeners in the garden share collective, who are not dormant over the wintertime. So join me by clicking on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

27 Jul 2014

honey oat biscuits

Fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

Sorry, can’t stop, can’t talk now; I’ve got to finish a library book before it’s overdue, Hillary Clinton’s new memoir ‘Hard Choices’. I’ve had three weeks to plough thru — gasp! — 600 pages of small print. I can’t recall the last time I read such a hefty tome. Did I mention it’s small print?

Before starting her book, I had no real idea about Hillary Clinton’s politics, but the fact that as Secretary of State she became such a powerful woman — and perhaps in 2016, will be even more so — fascinates me. Plus it’s been a real crash course in world politics (though Israel and Palestine still confuse me), even knowing it is through the filter of Clinton’s perspective and potential presidential ambitions.

So if I am to avoid an overdue library fine, I need quick recipes. Like these honey oat biscuits, a sweeter variation on Anzacs, from a book by another woman writing about power. The power, that is, of homemade biscuits, cakes and muffins. Perhaps not in the same league as Hillary’s diplomacy moves on the world stage, but in ‘Bake Eat Love’, Anneka Manning believes that anything is possible — in the kitchen — if you have the right ingredients, utensils, skills, knowledge and confidence.

‘Bake Eat Love’ (which I won from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things; thank you Liz!) is an engaging book for someone like me who is (mostly) a competent cake baker, but loves learning why foil-wrapped butter is better, which array of cake tins is essential, and what variety of sugars a well-stocked kitchen should have (and then comparing the list to my own inventory). All those front-of-book sections about pantry essentials and kitchen equipment fascinate me, so ‘Bake Eat Love’ is fabulous.

But if you had little experience or confidence in the kitchen, Anneka is the perfect guide for you. Her book graduates thru lessons in techniques for you to practice and master. I’m sure I’ll improve my cooking techniques by the end of the book.

So let’s start with her honey oat biscuits, with some macadamia nuts thrown in for good measure. Quick to mix together and get in the oven, and not long in there, either. Just long enough to make a cup of tea (peppermint works well with the sweet honey flavours here) and get back to those 600 pages.
Honey oat biscuits
Adapted from Anneka Manning's 'Bake Eat Love'.
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prep a couple of baking trays.
  • In a large bowl, combine 1 cup plain flour, 1/1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup shredded coconut, 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (I also used slivered almonds as I was a little short), and 3/4 cups sugar.
  • In a small saucepan, gently melt 150 gms butter with 1/3 cup honey and 1 tbspn water.
  • Once combined, remove from heat and stir in 1 tspn bicarb soda. It will foam up a little.
  • Add this to the dry ingredients, stir till combined.
  • Then roll walnut size balls and place on tray, flattening slightly and leaving a little space around to spread. 
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until nicely golden.
  • Enjoy with a good book.

18 Jul 2014

On grey winter days

Dark when I go to work
Dark when I go home

Relentlessly grey skies
bleak; no sight of the sun
it’s like this til December

Electric blankets, hot water bottle
laundry draped all around the house
I’m dreading the electricity bill

To find the silver lining in the seemingly permanent grey clouds that are dominating these winter skies (sunny days can be counted on one hand), I’m composing haiku to myself. Not proper haiku, I’m sure — I only remember it has three lines — but it’s something to pass the time as I drive home through the mist that hasn’t even got the guts to be Proper Rain. Proper Rain I could handle — ‘it’s good for the garden, we need the rain!’ we would all cheer — but this is just damp grey stuff that gets on your glasses and brings out the snails. Nuisance stuff, miserable stuff.

Everyone — everyone — here says ‘we don’t mind the cold, as long as it’s sunny. It’s when there’s no sun…’. That statement, so commonly offered up, is probably Hobart’s first law of winter. Or a truth universally acknowledged. Hobart’s second law of winter? If it is sunny, it’s probably Monday, when you’re back at work, stuck inside (third law: it cruelly disappears the minute you step outside at lunchtime).

Have you heard of seasonal affective disorder? SAD? We have it in Hobart, by the bucketload. The skies are dreary; you are dreary. It’s hard to muster the enthusiasm for any more demanding than a hot chocolate (that someone else makes for you). The clever/rich people escape to Bali or Queensland to escape it. But chances are, take your tropical trip in August or September, and you’ll come home to a snowy October.

I like extremes in winter weather — an expansive white frost, silent and pretty; noisy, heavy downpours that fill the tanks; snowy icing sugar dusted all over the Mountain. But these grey days, they are no winter wonderland. They are an endurance test. They are a misery.