Polly put the kettle on

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Nanna and me
Nanna and me c. 1967

The G.O. is not a devotee of Christmas cake i.e. fruit cake so it’s many years since I made one. Back in the days when I did, the version I made was simply dried fruit mix boiled in a combination of butter & orange juice and when cool flour, eggs and spices were added; very rich more like a pudding. A little went a long way so I baked it as cupcakes and distributed them widely amongst the family.

Last festive season visiting my aunt, she produced Christmas “mini muffins” made, she said, from my Nanna’s recipe. The G.O. uncharacteristically helped himself to extras, so my aunt emailed me the recipe labelled Polly’s Fruit Cake scanned from Nanna’s book. My sister’s middle name is Beulah, named after our Nanna but Nanna was always called Polly.

I hadn’t given thought to making it until the G.O.’s son recently mentioned he had already eaten the Lions charity Christmas cake he’d bought. Upon my suggestion it wouldn’t be difficult to bake one, his suggestion was I do so… for him.

Speaking to Dad I mentioned I was making the recipe and asked if he was interested in sampling the test batch. Paying lip service to his diet, he replied “No… Hmmm… Yes… Hmmm… You may as well drop some in”.

Polly's Fruit CakePolly’s Fruit Cake

250 grams / 1 cup softened organic salted butter (or margarine)

500 grams / 3 cups mixed dried fruit

250 g / 1 cup brown sugar

250 g / 1 3/4 cups organic plain flour

1 tablespoon organic self-raising flour

6 medium eggs, free range

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs then flour and mixed fruit, and combine.

For whole cake bake in slow oven 160 C (325 F) approx. 2 1/2 hours. For muffins bake at 180 C (360 F) approx. 30 minutes. (Fan forced ovens 10-20 C lower)

The margarine ingredient is controversial. My grandparents were dairy farmers. We always had butter. Dad said Nanna wouldn’t have used margarine. I tend to agree. However, my aunt follows the recipe and uses margarine.

The address recorded on the page as well as the recipes give an idea as to its time. The address is for my uncle when he was conscripted into National Service during the Vietnam War.

“Under the National Service Scheme [1964 -1972], twenty-year-old men were required to register with the Department of Labour and National Service (DLNS), they were then subject to a ballot which, if their birth date was drawn, meant the possibility of two years of continuous full-time service in the regular army, followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve.”

It may be that’s the clue to the margarine. My uncle was called up and sent to Townsville, North Queensland for army training. Possibly Nanna sent fruit cake to him in a care package. He was a long way from home -1800 km, bad news as far as the family were concerned but mitigated eventually when he wasn’t sent to Vietnam but met, and later married his wife at nearby Rockhampton in December 1971 only months before Nanna died in February 1972 age only 50 + 2  months.

the cook's breakfast
the cook’s breakfast

I’ve made the Christmas cakes, so… Polly, put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.

Cook’s notes:

As I beat the mixture it turned into a golden batter, and  I knew by appearance and taste I’d been there when Nanna baked this cake.

The cakes come out of the oven browned, looking a little oily but as they cool they crisp.

I ate three for breakfast.




everyday magic

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Sometimes I get so caught up in the workings of day-to-day living I forget things; often which home something is at – we’ve been wondering for a week about the location of an item thinking it was at Taylors Arm but it was right here in the city apartment on a shelf in plain sight.

Similarly, the Belief that is necessary to imbue everyday life with magic wasn’t missing, just overlooked.

The days following the G.O.’s birthday lazy long weekend quickly resumed their everyday feel but with magic restored it seemed like no time at all had passed and I was back at Velvet Garage, this time meeting up with Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and her husband on Saturday morning. After shuffling arrangements we finally managed a catch-up. We exchanged gifts, each sharing a bit of our lives… I offered a few things I’d been accumulating for this purpose, dragon pearls from my friend Nancy-from-Narrabri’s Hip Herbal ‘n Happening Tea, lemon myrtle seasoning from Perry’s and a small bottle of Isabella from Gruber’s Winery at Taylors Arm. I was thrilled to receive lemons from their tree, a jar of Pete’s quince jelly, and package of chorizo. After a pleasant hour breakfasting and chatting we departed to our respective Saturday errands.

May Street, St Peters street art collage
everyday magic on the streets I walk – May Street, St Peters between Velvet Garage and the train station

I headed over to Eveleigh Farmers Market primarily to pick up the beef cheeks I’d ordered. The Linga Longa Farm stall was my first stop, and I waited patiently, as you do at farmers markets, while the 3 people manning the stall discussed the meaty offerings with a customer. Eventually I was noticed, introduced myself and requested “can I pick up the beef cheeks I called the number on the business card and ordered over the phone… leaving a message on Lauren’s mobile”. Response: I’m Lauren – blank look – When did you ring?  Hmmm, I thought… “Wednesday or Thursday”.  [ I checked, it was Wednesday ]. Lauren looked at me as if that explained everything: oh, it was my birthday on Wednesday; your message must have gotten mixed up with the others… Still hopeful, I asked “so do you have any beef cheeks?” Lauren shifted her attention to me once more: no, we’re sold out. A little bemused I waited but that was it, so I stepped to the stall next door and impulse-bought a Thirlmere duck, while the man chatted to me about how much better value a whole duck was as opposed to buying packs of maryland or breast, how to cook it, and rounded the price down from $28-something to $25… once again I was stepping out of my culinary comfort zone.

[Note: Received text on Tuesday from Lauren of Linga Longa Farm offering me beef cheeks this coming Saturday market. Nice gesture but I’m not sure of plans this weekend. However, I’ll call them next time I’m going.]

Wandering home from the markets I found a colourful memo-board free-footpath offering to take up the overload of loose bits & pieces from the fridge door, and spent a couple of dollars at a footpath sale on a decorative cage that I’ll sit a plant in and hang from a hook or in a tree at our Taylors Arm house.

We’re car sharing due to the G.O.’s being in for repairs after a small bingle during the week, so when the G.O. returned from his morning activities, we immediately set out for necessities to driving-distance shops; at which a box of glossy dark plump cherries imported from the U.S. caught my eye. Usually I would think imported-no but I thought duck-yes… and grabbed a handful, and a bunch of orange gladioli that remind me of my Nanna’s garden.

We paused at home again only momentarily, before going off on foot locally to re-visit a couple of items from last week’s birthday browsing-shopping expedition still lingering in our thoughts, to which end yet another old kookaburra and flower picture found a home with us.

everyday magic finds
everyday magic in the objects we find and bring home

Back to normal after the birthday-fest, this weekend was about eating in, therefore cooking. On Saturday afternoon, thinking ahead I quickly chopped and cooked pear & apple compote for Sunday morning porridge; and a bag of tomatoes, onions & basil and put them on to simmer for sauce: later combining a cupful with shallots, prawns, crème fraiche and pasta for a quick Saturday night dinner; and during the week, duck ragu.

Sunday morning was leisurely but chilly so I warmed the apartment with the oven, baking the G.O.’s smoko banana bread; chopped and sautéed kale for weekday breakfast and lunches, chopped cherries and peeled potatoes & carrots for dinner.

I’m new to duck, and had never cooked it whole before, so once the G.O. washed, dried and pricked it I followed my usual slow-roasting practice: into the cast iron pot with halved potatoes, a couple of dried bay leaves, stock and Madeira/Malmsey at 140 C (284 F) for 3 hours, popping in carrots toward the end, then lid off at 180 C (356 F) for an hour.

While the duck & veges were resting on a tray in the still-warm oven, I ladled a scoop of cooking juices with the cherries, 3 slices of fresh orange peel, a dash of Madeira/Malmsey in a saucepan, and set to simmer & reduce. The rest of the cooking juices were saved for the ragu.

everyday magic food
everyday magic in the food we are given, buy, cook and eat: goodies from Celia; roast duck with cherry sauce; farmers market food; duck ragu and penne

I learned a couple of things…

Given the size of the bird, I’d anticipated a couple of roast duck dinners and a couple of duck ragu dinners. The duck was flavoursome, more-so than chicken but there was a lot less of it. So no follow-up roast dinners.

And, as pointed out by the G.O. in response to my gastronomic stage-fright, roast duck was the domain of many home-cooks, including his grandmother and mine, before the elevation of its profile by fancy restaurants and TV cooking shows.

“In fact, people who possess not magic at all can instil their home-cooked meals with love and security and health, transforming ingredients… Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.” Juliet Blackwell

This post is dedicated to Christine of the dadirridreaming blog who I met early on in my wanderings through the WordPress world. Her husband Stuart kindly let her many [blogging] friends know via a touching post of her sudden passing. Many of you would have seen dadirri7’s delightful thoughtful comments on my posts, which I will miss. Christine has been a wonderful inspiration, and very much in touch with the magic of living. I’m sad because I didn’t get to meet Christine in person but I am richer for having known her.

a simply gorgeous birthday

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As far as I’m concerned too many long weekends are never enough, so opportunistically as the G.O.’s birthday fell on a Monday I suggested he take the day off work. Possibly influenced by his daily 160 km commute the G.O. weakened from his it’s just another day  stance and agreed, but when I lobbed the idea of a weekend away into the air he let it bounce out of the court… The weather probably be won’t be any good and we’ve just been away for your sister’s wedding and at Taylors Arm…

I, being a good missus took the G.O.’s birthday off as well to keep him company. So it came to be that we had a self-proclaimed mid-winter long weekend in Sydney. In 9 years we’ve never spent a long weekend in Sydney, and otherwise a rare sequence of days greater than 2 in our apartment only due to illness or injury.

What to do? Well, nothing in a hurry – one of the benefits of having an in-house coffee machine. Eventually Saturday started out as usual with a walk through Sydney Park, on via the local Triumph motorcycle showroom as we were sort of heading in that direction to lunch at Velvet Garage then a detour to browse along King Street, stopping at a second-hand shop to pick up the kookaburras the G.O. had been thinking about, and a spur-of-the-moment frog.

pre-birthday shopping
pre-birthday shopping

Sunday morning didn’t look like we were going anywhere at all, as our lunch plans had fallen through, until the G.O. remembered he wanted to go to the movies. We couldn’t rouse ourselves further than the local Dendy Newtown, but The Rover (“featuring Guy Pearce – an Australian dystopian crime drama film… a futuristic western that takes place in the Australia outback, ten years after a global economic collapse”) was on at 2 convenient times so we got a wriggle-on and aimed for the earlier. Slightly confronting, we agreed however it had merit if not enjoyable in the usual sense of the word.

Monday even though it wasn’t my birthday was worth celebrating just because the alarm didn’t go off at 5 am. After the G.O.’s morning still-trying-to-give-up-cigarette (and being interrogated by the apartment building’s formidable lady-caretaker putting out the bins while he -apparently a stranger- appeared to be loitering out the front rolling it… “can I help you?”), coffee, porridge with stewed apples-pears & walnuts, gift unwrapping, and birthday phone calls, the G.O. decided to proceed with his only plan for the day, a short drive to Victory Motorcycles so he could inflict another round of exquisite should-I-shouldn’t-I torture on himself.

The G.O.’s lunch suggestions were boring so we went with my brain-wave to go back in time and across the city to our old stomping ground at the West Ryde Hotel aka Mary’s. Shock horror, the same-same exterior hid a surprise; the interior had been revamped… it appeared recent but given neither of us had set foot there for quite some time it could have been done well over a decade ago.

Lunch was excellent, the G.O.’s meaty as is his preference, and we dined in the less-changed grapevine covered beer garden. With time to kill we stopped in off in Balmain-Rozelle for a stroll and something sweet to take home before setting off to our post-4 pm collection point to pick up the Baron Star Bar handlebar for his motorcycle, which the G.O. used his previous birthday IOU to order from the U.S. just a week earlier. (Note to DHL couriers, not happy you couldn’t manage to press our buzzer to deliver it in person – we were at home).

four wheels good two wheels better
four wheels good two wheels better

Neither of us felt like much dinner, so it was birthday banana bread*, very appropriate for a Coffs Harbour raised boy.

* I’m not a particularly assured cook, and assumed café offerings such as madeleines, friands and banana bread weren’t the domain of ordinary cooks. I’ve now attempted all successfully, dispelling the mystique, but none more so than this simple banana bread I resorted to a couple of weeks ago because I had bananas in the freezer, and (unusually) milk in the fridge but no eggs.

Combine 3 mashed bananas, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 2 1/2 cups self-raising flour, and 1 cup milk, bake in loaf tin in 180 C (356 F) oven for 40 minutes.

gorgeous birthday food
gorgeous birthday food

better than

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Marianne via her East of Malaga’s CBBH Photo Challenge: Food asks “Is there a food typical of your country or area where you live?

the master barbequer
the master barbequer

While we were enjoying the recent Queens Birthday long weekend at Taylors Arm, the G.O. made the bold statement

we eat better when we’re here than we do in Sydney.

When I asked

why is that, because you are the master barbequer?

the G.O. pondered, and modestly replied

no, because we have time. We eat what we want and when we want.

Preceding the drive out to our house we do a fresh food shop to supplement existing pantry ingredients, which are somewhat heterogeneous having been sourced at various places and times often on impulse and then forgotten for months in our absence.

As we’d flown up for a 3 day mini-break and travelled light, not having much to unpack on the Saturday afternoon I made a quick cake (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence, milk and flour) with swirls of just past its use-by-date home-made guava jelly I’d impetously purchased at the local markets the summer before last; and the G.O.’s favourite potato bake.

simple country fare
simple country fare

We dined on that, the G.O.’s master barbequer delights, veges, fruit, eggs, toast, cheese and leftovers for the duration. For our last night I’d marinated pork belly strips with the remainder of the guava jelly, soy sauce and white condiment (vinegar). The G.O. despite my contrary advice couldn’t resist swiping them with a little extra marinade on the BBQ so they were fashionably ‘blackened’. Notwithstanding their deliciousness we couldn’t eat them all, or take them on the plane home, so leftovers were dropped off to the M.I.L. whose affection for potato bake rivals the G.O.’s.

My own theory why we perceivably eat better at Taylors Arm is that barbeque and potato bake are native to our TA diet, i.e. not something we partake of at our Sydney apartment. We gave up trying to barbeque on our noisy, grimy city apartment balcony – it’s just not pleasant or worth the effort. The G.O. never requests potato bake in Sydney (although he notes when we bring leftovers back) and I deliberately don’t make it, to maintain the holiday mystique.

Simple potato bake
Slice a few potatoes and onions thinly. Layer potato then onions in a buttered casserole dish drizzling pure cream and grinding salt & white pepper over each layer to taste. Cover with lid/foil and bake in a 200 C (392 F) oven for about an hour until soft then sprinkle with grated cheese of choice and bake without lid/foil until cheese is golden. Wonderful the next day as a base for frittata – warm leftovers in a non-stick frypan with, if you choose, anything interesting you have to hand, top with beaten eggs and put under the grill or in the oven to brown.

To join in the CBBH Photo Challenge all you have to do is post your entry by the end of the month, tag your entry ‘CBBH Photo Challenge’, link back to the East of Malaga blog and, most importantly, don’t forget to add links to any two blogs that you’ve commented on during the past month, so that we can all HOP OVER and have a look.

My Featured Blog Links for this month are two busy creative bloggers who warmly welcome virtual visits:

talltalesfromchiconia – “living in tropical Mackay QLD; gardener and vegie grower; quilt maker; enjoyer of expensive book and fabric stash habits; gluten free cook”.

Veronica Roth – “takes photos every day, takes herself out on art dates, takes sugar with her tea, loves papers and pencils and oils and brushes and quills and inks and poetry and sushi, loves her cars and computers and canons”.

Better Than, John Butler Trio

It’s evolution, baby

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just food
just food

It took a month or so but I kicked many of my supermarket shopping habits and assumptions, and the accomplishment felt and tasted good.

It’s the nature of evolution to reach out and hold hands with change as it marches along. Getting ourselves in step, the G.O. and I encountered other assumptions and habits we needed to re-think.

It tasted good way back when… The G.O. had errands to run at the shopping centre. Even though we’d had coffee and sourdough toast with farmers market cheese and sliced pear for Sunday breakfast the waft of food court aroma re-booted our appetites. The G.O. has a historical fondness for Big Macs and Filet o Fish burgers. He indulged, setting him back about $12. Sceptical, I went with the tried and true trio of fresh rice paper rolls – tofu, prawn and pork with Asian salad and dressing for $7.90; my regular lunch saviour in that place. It was fortunate we sat outside on a bench near a bin to dine in style: the G.O.’s investment hit the ground in disgust, then the bin.

I don’t have time… it’s a sorry state of affairs when we don’t have time to feed ourselves. I know we’re all busy but I’m going home to cook dinner should be a perfectly good reason to leave work on time.

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habits and assumptions

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Eveleigh Farmers Market
Eveleigh Farmers Market

Mid-August, I wrote we shop as much as possible from farmers markets. A couple of weeks later I had cause to question that bold statement. Did we? As much as possible? Really?

You see, I’ve been following Celi from thekitchensgarden’s September Home Grown Challenge, and considering my own practices. It led me to realise, yes, I shop from farmers markets, and I’d assumed I shopped there as much as possible, when in reality I shopped there as much as was convenient.

There is a difference, and it was tied up in habits and other assumptions.

  • I cleaned our apartment on Saturday mornings while the G.O. was at work.
  • I did my morning exercise via a walk around Sydney Park, Monday to Saturday.
  • I drove my habitually stationary car every Saturday or so, to the supermarket to keep the battery charge topped up if it hadn’t been on a trip, which given our current work-life imbalance isn’t likely.
  • I assumed these habits were necessary to domestic order.

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bella figura

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In the midst of all the important things happening in my life, don’t blink or you’ll miss them, one is in neon lights. That would be Christmas lunch. Not to be confused with when the G.O. a few years back, in competition with our over the road neighbour draped the front verandah in neon chaser lights in an attempt to be Christmas Lights King of Taylors Arm but succeeded only in creating a display resembling a truck stop.

You’d think after 46 Christmases: good, bad and indifferent, I’d be less avid. If I’m honest, I approach Christmas with the best of intentions but mixed emotions. I prefer Christmas to be just so. In reality, it rarely gets close.

I enjoy Christmas. So long as it’s not competitive and will never qualify as an Olympic Christmas event. Underpinning the emotions is the knowledge that whatever I do, it’s for me, for my own amusement. I have to keep returning to that.

Am I a Christmas turkey?

Like so many families, mine now have diverse commitments on Christmas day. Since my grandparents died when I was little, the entire family has spent one Christmas day together, at my house way back in the 80’s. Many of them travelled from away and stayed for a few days so it had the coming together feel of the old days. It was lovely. It was particularly lovely because even though I’d spent a month cleaning, my aunts just cleaned and cleaned… We went to our family church [tempting to joke about nips of scotch beforehand and cracks in foundations…], and afterwards had an all hands on deck Christmas lunch which by virtue of air conditioning was the last hot Christmas lunch I’ve prepared or eaten.

My Dad is not a good gauge, being at the lower end of jolly season barometer of family Christmas sentiments, having once opined “it’s just another feed”. We care but being a cool, calm, considerate and expanding family we ease the burden of Christmas commitments by getting together at other times to do other things, and touch base on Christmas day by phone.

Currently the G.O. and I are Taylors Arm centric at Christmas. It heralds the start of our annual summer holiday, and by virtue of her vintage the M.I.L who lives nearby in town gets first consideration. Formerly we’ve hosted a simple festive lunch affair, attendees comprised of the M.I.L, her husband, the G.O. and me.

Three years ago my S.I.L. and her husband moved back to share the house in town, and two years of government bonus payments meant they felt they could afford to host Christmas lunches. Fair enough. We made our contribution, and reaped the payoff in having to do little in the way of prep and cleaning up.

This year we broached the subject and were bluntly informed “it’s your turn” and “if you’re putting it on, we’re coming”. Okay.

And here lies my dilemma. The one I mentioned. I prefer Christmas to be just so. Whatever I do, it’s for my own amusement. Last year we went to the local Taylors Arm church as it had recently resumed services. It’s a big old white timber building that commands the top of the hill one house up from us. Despite its Catholic denomination all are welcome, and Father Michael, a fun, relaxed surfie priest comperes an inspiring observance. This year we’re attending again, so our guests unless they change their minds and come along will have to amuse themselves until we arrive home.

Before we walk up the hill we’ll do what we always done: set the table with a good white bed sheet in lieu of a tablecloth, beaded silver placemats, my much loved mismatched floral crockery plates, a table wreath I’ve had for 20 years, jars with flowers from the garden, festive Christmas crackers, all covered with the silver edged throw-over.

When we return, out will come the Christmas CDs who’s airing the G.O. can only abide on 24th & 25th December. I’ll open a bottle of sparkling wine to accompany the assembly of components for the festive repast: a selection of fresh cold food I sourced or prepared in forgoing days, and accommodate the guests’ desire for an early lunch.

Prawn cocktails. This is new. The M.I.L. hates peeling prawns, so this year we’ll save everyone the effort and peel a few extra on Christmas Eve after we’ve had our seafood supper.

Small roasted chickens with bread stuffing. The chickens’ true purpose is to function as a carrier for the stuffing plus a leg for those so inclined to gnaw on, and leftovers. We did cook a turkey once, on a 40 degree Celsius plus day in a too-small barbeque. The result resembled an oversized Portuguese BBQ chicken but tasted good.

Sliced leg ham.

Ordinary potato salad made with mayo, cream, boiled eggs, peas and shallots, and maybe capers if I’m feeling adventurous.

Potato bake at the request of the guests.

Tossed salad of whatever good greens I can find and home gown tomatoes, I hope.

Baked beetroot.

Mango salsa.

Lychees and cherries.

Bread rolls and butter.

Deconstructed trifle. This also is new. The G.O. is not a fan of traditional trifle. I’m not a fan of carton custard and tinned pudding usually proffered and preferred by our guests, or of over-soaked trifle. While the oven is warm from the chooks, I’ll bake custard and dozen or so Madeleines, make room in the fridge for jelly, and poach a punnet of raspberries in vodka and sugar.

As soon as the main meal has been consumed the guests will be anticipating dessert. Once the plates are cleared, I’ll make a round of coffee and tea, and assemble the elements with a drop of good cream, and crossed fingers.

Our guests, after a post lunch stroll around the garden and verandah, a wander through the house, and possibly a brief respite on the futon or sun lounge, will depart to their own domicile for a traditional post Christmas nap. By the time they arrive back in town, the G.O. and I will have washed up and retired as well… a fitting end to a Christmas just so.

The reality is, no matter for their turns at hosting, the M.I.L. and S.I.L. went to hoards of trouble… Your Honour, I bring into evidence Exhibit I: $80 lobster of which we each had one bite because the M.I.L. couldn’t be persuaded it was a complete and utter rip off, Exhibit II: $50 white tablecloth, and Exhibit III: matching table decorations bought on Christmas Eve, never used again… Despite which they continually exhort me “you’ve gone to too much trouble” to the point I dream of  serving tinned ham with supermarket bread on Homebrand paper plates and saying “I hope you don’t mind. I haven’t gone to any trouble…”

What do I do?

* Bella figura loosely translated: presenting yourself to world in the best way you can.

red gold

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It seems my greater world has 2 concerns. In regard to one they are at the mercy of the elements but for the second there is tangible rallying to take control…

Last week, we took an extended Labour Day public holiday long weekend and went to check out what’s happening at Taylors Arm. There were 2 main topics of conversation. “We need rain”… in a tank water reliant village if it hasn’t rained in the past week, we need rain. In this case, it was a fair comment though as there’s been little precipitation, barely a frost or even dew since our visit in early August. With a hot, dry summer forecast with only tropical thunderstorms indicated in the way of water falling from the sky, the situation could become ‘interesting’.

We had an early indication of the second subject of concern-conversation. Our neighbours who were absent, upon finding out via the bush telegraph our arrival was imminent, telephoned us enroute “can you water the tomatoes, we’ve put in enough to get us all through Christmas”…

We called into the M.I.L.’s to be regaled with pending Christmas tomato price woes, and plans for planting despite previous years concerns over unsuitable varieties and messiness, as opposed to roses and pansies which are far preferable. Desperate times are allowing for the desperate measure of a flower bed given over to salad…

We ventured to the local Woolies to do a quick grocery shop, and with no growers markets happening grabbed our vege needs also. To be fair (& controversial) the arrival of that Woolies has lifted the local supermarket game. Its fresh produce has been a breath of fresh air in the captive environment of a local co-op catering to mostly OAP’s who shop by habit, and minimally.

Tomato prices were much as I’ve become accustomed to (other than the 3 tiny heirloom beauties I picked up a few weeks ago from Eveleigh Markets at $16.90 a kilo for a special occasion salad). Checking my Woolies till receipt revealed red capsicum prices of $12.98 per kg which I’d failed to see at the time of throwing a large one in the trolley. The G.O noted it cost more than his t-bone.

A phone call from my aunt who also lives locally confirmed the great tomato dilemma, necessitating 8 plants plus assorted greens to get them through the hard times. With their huge mango tree and avocado also, visiting with them will definitely be on our agenda.

Arriving at TA, the G.O. wandered over to the neighbour’s yard to find 4 lovely tomato plants which he dutifully watered. Of greater significance to me was the arrival of another neighbour with a shopping bag of freshly picked garlic for drying.

Yesterday, being Domestic Goddess Saturday because the G.O. unhelpfully was at work, I ventured forth to do a quick shop at our local city Woolies from which I generally buy only grocery items not fresh produce, but feeling unmotivated I grabbed a few fruit & vege items. Again to be fair (& controversial) my purchases were equal & better quality to my usual non-supermarket sources.

The rest of this post loosely links back to an interesting post by Marianne at East of Málaga about Comparing the Cost of Living. My fresh food costs seem higher. In addition to corned beef at an outrageous $12.99 kg from the butcher, fresh local Snapper fillets @ $32.99 kg which were delicious enough to validate the cost, from the fishmonger, I purchased…

Roma tomatoes @ $8.98 kg… deep breath… at a dollar less than the fancy in my opinion overrated Truss, are delicious cooked and fresh.

Green beans @ $5.48 kg were crunchy and delicious, slightly overpriced I think despite being marked as a special.

Yet another exorbitantly priced red capsicum @ $12.98 kg which I used some for salsa and cooked the remainder up with leftover eggplant, red onion and over-ripe tomatoes for the freezer.

Bananas @ $1.98 kg. In August last year they were $15 per kg. My sister put photos on Facebook during her U.S. trip of her eating bananas (never a good idea) she paid US$0.25 cents each for. Yesterday the banana rack was emptying quicker than they could fill it. Mind you if you wanted organic bananas – $4.98 kg thank you.

Potatoes at $2.98 per kg for a prepacked 2kg and offered at $3.48 per kg loose…

Mangoes for salsa to go with the snapper. I managed to resist the Kensingtons at $4.98 each and bought 2 x Nam Doc Mai Vietnamese mangoes @ $5.98 kg. I have popped one of the seeds into a jar with water & Seasol to see if I can get it to sprout.

Season-wise, we are in south eastern Australia mid-spring. However the north of Australia is slightly ahead of us in terms of growing season, hence the cheapness of bananas and availability of mangoes. To me, fresh produce prices seem go up and down with the seasons and availability. I’m not overly concerned about tomato prices at Christmas as the season is expected to be good, and in the past the prices have been ok unless there’s been an issue with the weather causing a shortage.

Like Marianne, I’m interested to know your thoughts and what’s happening at my virtual neighbours’ supermarkets globally.

quick mango salsa recipe
toss together & leave for half an hour before serving
2 x Nam Doc Mai mangoes (or 1 x Kensington) depending on preference for slightly tart or sweet, roughly diced. Variations are sweet corn, tomatoes or white peaches
big handful each of finely diced red capsicum, Lebanese cucumber and green shallots
dash of sesame oil (any type of good oil will do but I wanted an Asian style salsa)
sprinkle of raw sugar (optional, to taste)
grind of sea salt
big squeeze of lemon juice (or lime juice/vinegar/dressing)

la lingua italiana

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Australian-English is my first language. My only language. However, I did believe my grasp of the international-food patois would enable me to dine around the world. I can pronounce chah-bah-tah (ciabatta), broo-sket-uh (bruschetta). I can order in many languages… Laksa, Spatzle, Biryani, Pho, Pad See Ew, etc… See, takeaway menus are educational. I even know, but I’m not sure how, gamberetti are prawns/shrimp. Possibly because I have read every, and own most of Marlena de Blasi books, and whole swag of other pick-up-your-life-move-to-Europe, grow stuff and eat-drink it novels.

What eventuated after our His n’ Hers Saturday grocery shopping suggests I still have a ways to go… On Saturday, at Lamonica IGA, I chose a nice little lamb roast, enough for dinner Sunday night and Monday night roast leftovers, or so I thought.

Midway through Sunday afternoon, I checked the weight of the roast with a view to timing the slow bake process. “Capretto”, I remarked to the G.O., “do you think it’s the cut?” But, even as I was saying the words, the dots were joining. “It’s quite small, isn’t it, even for a lamb roast?” as my fingers automatically clicked up Google search and entered the term.

Oh dear. Capretto. Kid. Baby goat. Oooh. Not what I’d intended. Funny how these things work, only days before, instigated by I can’t remember what, the G.O. and I had a ‘goat as food’ conversation – I’d eaten it more than 20 years ago in Fiji as a curry, and liked it well enough, but not in my food culture so never bothered with it. The G.O. had eaten it while working in the outback, on a catch & eat basis, baked over a fire, similarly 20+ years before.

So no taboo for us, just no idea how to cook it or with what. Google again. Look through the pantry cupboard and fridge. Confer with the G.O.  Cobble together a cooking plan based on ingredients to hand and several on-line recipes.

Inspired by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s In My Kitchen post recently I had cast my mind over my own kitchen, and came up with… boring. Plus, I don’t usually do foodie posts but given my unintentional purchase, I offer up:


His n’ Hers Baked Capretto


1.150 kg Capretto leg

Approx. 1 cup of pitted green olives.
I used half Sicilian green olives, and half fresh deli green olives stuffed with fetta, plus the remaining dressing.

A few shakes of onion flakes

Big pinch of white pepper

Big pinch of mixed herbs

Big pinch of chilli flakes

1 tablespoon raw sugar

1 cup chicken stock

Big splash of olive oil

½ cup white wine

¼ large lemon squeezed

3 garlic cloves (in this instance they came in the deli olives)

½ kg baby potatoes not peeled, thinly sliced


In a plastic container that seals well, add all the ingredients (including the ¼ lemon rind), except the potatoes. Marinate for as long as you can, tossing from time to time. We marinated ours for 1 hour in the fridge and ½ an hour on the bench just prior to cooking.

When ready to cook, place the sliced potatoes evenly around the base of an oiled heavy casserole dish which has a lid.

Place the Capretto leg on top of the potatoes, and pack the cuts with the olives and drizzle the marinade over it and the potatoes (omitting the ¼ lemon rind).

Place in a cold oven, set for 160 degrees Celsius fan forced oven and cook for 2.75 hours, turning after 1.5 hours.

Remove Capretto leg and place on warm plate on cook-top to rest.

Drain pan juices into stainless steel jug or small saucepan.

Return potatoes to warm but turned off oven to finish for approx 20 mins while the meat is resting.

Add small amount of flour to pan juices and whisk. Reheat to warm and thicken slightly before serving.

Our side dish was fresh green beans & shallots, sliced and briefly sautéed in butter & white wine, lightly seasoned with white pepper.

We had a bit of everything left over, enough for Monday night dinner supplemented with an ad hoc bread salad.


Bread Salad


Good sized ripe tomato roughly chopped (with juices)

2 slices white Italian loaf, slightly toasted, cubed

Handful of cubed Provolone Dolce

Left over green beans with shallots, slightly warmed


Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Sea salt, raw sugar to taste


Toss ingredients together in bowl 10 mins before serving.

Bread salad, some of it anyway

Recommended Wine:

The rest of the N.Z. Monkey Bay Pinot Gris I used in the marinade was a perfect accompaniment.

bon appétit

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not-so-fine dining

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Big news in Sydney this week is Restaurants in recession: Sydney kitchens face harsh winter. The comments are worth a read even if the article is a run-of-the mill SMH offering.

Also from SMH there’s Appetite for Sydney: our campaign to support restaurants offering deals “including minute steak with French fries, salad and a glass of wine or beer for $25, or two courses and two bottles of premium wine (minimum four people) for $75 a person”, pre-empting similar usually on offer in October via the Good/Sydney Food Festival or whatever name it’s going by in 2012.

When I’m over something I’m over it. Not even this is enough to tempt me. I can’t imagine why.

Despite their best efforts SMH doesn’t have great cred with readers. Mostly when SMH provides a list of best foodie anything there’s a flurry of comments citing the real world beyond the CBD/eastern suburbs/inner west… and fair enough. I guess the reviewers don’t get a big taxi allowance from Fairfax but neither do diners further afield.

I’m thinking even SMH’s endeavours aren’t going to save the gastronomic sinking ships. At best they’ll shift where people who were already dining out for lunch or post-work dinners are spending their dollars but won’t significantly attract an influx of dollars diners.

All this led me to reminisce…

It’s been quite a while since I was a regular restaurant patron. Once it was a habitual part of hectic & heady work days. I benefited from dining at fabulous and/or well known restaurants: occupational wining & dining. Since I wasn’t paying I wasn’t too fussy, enjoyed the artificial sense of entitlement, and a few too many glasses of wine.

Nowadays I mostly make our dinner at home, and when I want a restaurant experience I occasionally:

in the snootiest voice I can muster, decline the G.O.’s request for a reservation for 2 at 8pm.

cook, throw the food on a plate or serve it with a shitty attitude. Then hover and ask “is everything all right?”

for variety, forgo the shitty attitude and make a nice meal out of ingredients I select, cook how & when I like but not put the meal on the table when we’re hungry… maybe an hour or more later when the bottle of wine is empty and we have barely strength & wit to use a knife & fork.

omit or substitute ingredients randomly with no explanation.

serve the salad or veges slightly later than the main in a side bowl as if it’s a separate dish, sometimes only after enquiry from the G.O. as to its whereabouts, and pretend they are an exorbitant extra rather than include them as part of the meal. If we’re fine dining I’ll do this for the potato side as well.

reply, “it’s a vegetable” when the G.O. queries the identity of an item on his plate. Can’t have him being better informed than me.

prepare the G.O.’s steak the way I want rather than as he prefers and execute a contemptuous shrug should he have the audacity to mention it.

serve what we call “leftovers”. They’re cheap but if you tart them up quite acceptable. We enjoy them frequently and are honest about it. Not quite as restaurant though as recycled chips or other nasties from the probably-not-so-urban myths of the commercial kitchen.

avoid making eye contact or being in the vicinity of the G.O. for at least 30 minutes after asking him what he’d like for dinner.

omit putting a tablet in the dishwasher so the wine glasses entertain via a visual history. Ruby Woo or Russian Red?

find the G.O.’s wallet after dinner and extract most of the notes, and look at him accusingly if there’s not enough for a tip.

Also, I have mastered the illusion of eye-bulgingly priced restaurant tipples: tap water, wine from Dan Murphy’s & coffee from the machine taste just like those on offer at a restaurant.

… all for the cost of ingredients and electricity to cook & run the dishwasher.

Bon appétit.

Dinner a la Gorgeous One