Super Sides Me (Potato Salad)

Once upon a time, salads of all shapes and sides gained deified status on my healthy mealtime accompaniment list. Then I discovered…

…not all salads are created equal.

Scott has always been Mr. Dependable. My super stalwart. Refusing to follow the tardy tradition of many Dphil students past, not only was his thesis bound and viva-ed early, but a steady job was lined up too. As an entree’ to the main, bread-winning course – and in keeping with our quirky and adventurous employment theme – Scott secured himself a salubrious lecturing gig at one of the colleges, whence saw him contracted for the Hilary (Spring) and Trinity (Summer) terms: the layover.

In the minds of the common man or woman, a prestigious position would generally marry with a silver service quality pay cheque. Having become familiar with Oxbridge idiosyncrasies, it should not really have come as a shock that a meager stipend with unlimited dining rights should attract such illustrious attention as a sought after employment opportunity. Sensing trepidation about a girth-full gain around the pre-fatherhood middle, Scott was quick to mollify my concerns with the promise of Salad Only luncheon meals…to precede a regular postprandial stint of cricket on the impeccably maintained college fields.

As the weeks progressed, so to did Scott’s commitment to saving the pennies and storing the pounds. Shortly before the start of his final eight weeks of gainful employment, our dear friend Stephen – from sunny Brisbane – came to stay. As was tradition with our holidaying homeland visitors, Stephen was treated to consecutive days of guest dining rights at high table. On the final eve of his stay, I returned home early from the school house. In anticipation of the imminent arrival of a fatigued and ravenous duo (and to see myself through an afternoon of marking), I had laid out a formidable spread of indulgent local cheeses to accompany a celebratory, top-notch wine. Just as I was about to take the first sip of the rather quaffable red, two rollicking figures burst through the front door in a bout of hysterics just in time for me to catch the final line of the now infamous quotation “…and she has never cottoned onto the old salad gambit…”.

And so saw the last of Scott’s unlimited dining days. Having been caught with his finger in the pie…roast meats…salmon mornay…fillet mignon…beef bourguignon…and other gout inducing delights…he was happy to realise his just desserts in the Quiet Reading Room: a home made salad garnished with the wafting and moreish aroma of adjacent kitchen fare.

To this day, Scott continues to maintain his more food conscious, father-of-two approach to the work time mess menu. Let loose in the larder, however, and his heady Oxford salad days of times past are brought to the table. Eliciting much delight, Dad’s midday meals – with an upsized serve of “yummies” – always go down a treat with an extra large dose of whooping and hollering from K1 and K2.

Dressed to impress, no family or community BBQ would be complete without a retelling of the Merton College consume-mation…and a generous serve of Scott’s Super Size Me Potato Salad.

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Scott’s (rather scant) Super Size Me Potato Salad Recipe

Being well known for his laconic, recipe giving style, I managed to cajole Scott into putting pen to paper as well as provide public audiences with some photographic footage of the salad making process…

Ingredients:

2 kg potatoes

Garlic

Parmesan cheese

Garden herbs (rosemary, oregano, chives, parsley, thyme etc.)

Salt and Pepper

Yoghurt

Mayonnaise

Bacon

Onions

Spring onions

First…send your keen and willing salad recipients into the garden to fetch some fresh-from-the-earth spuds.

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Wash then cut the potatoes into “half-egg” sized chunks.

In a large saucepan, boil for 10-15 minutes or until a knife goes through them easily. Remove from the boil, cool slightly in the water then drain and leave to cool and dry on wire rack. Place in a large ceramic bowl and store in the fridge overnight or until cold.

Chop finely the bacon, onion and garlic. Fry the “yummies” on low heat till yellow. Mix some yoghurt and mayonnaise together in the ratio of 3:1 (Yoghurt:Mayo).

Prepare the dressing by mixing some Parmesan (or vintage cheddar), the finely fried bacon mix and the yoghurt mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with the potatoes.

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Top the salad with some excess “yummies” and finely sliced spring onions. Cover and chill for atleast one hour. Dish out to your high-table-quality dining guests. WINNING!

Eureka! Pot’s of Gold

We’re rich!

Last week saw gold fever hit the family homestead. In preparation for Scott’s annual Birthday BBQ Bash, K1 and K2 took to the soil with their prospecting bag of tools in search of those starch-rich nuggets of gold.

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Typical of many Aussie farming households of the 80’s and 90’s, our evening meal comprised the classic meat and three veg combo…with a mountain of creamy mash on the side. Whilst I devoured my evening Everest-esque mound like it was growing out of drought ridden fashion, I always did so with a slight air of reverence. Being the only female in the house, and therefore (quite ironically) the natural choice for all things domesticity, peeling potatoes formed part of my afternoon job list… and so that seemingly ordinary pile of starchy white mess gained a cerebrally acknowledged elevation in dinner-plate-status before disappearing down the meal-time gullet.

Roasted at Sunday Fried Brekkies, boiled for salads or mashed up and rolled into pillows of pasta, the humble solanum tuberosome continues it’s tradition as a treasured and sought after family staple. It has also proved it’s awerum worth as a garden staple, helping to satiate our lust for this highly prized tuber, as well as rejuvinate barren patches of land destined for the speculating market.

For those interested in seducing your chitting sprouts with promises of future returns on hard labour efforts, then you have a permit to read on:

  1. Go prospecting: space. It’s needed if you want to grow spuds. Not only do potatoes often inhibit the growth of other food plants, but hilling (and therefore excess soil) is required to obtain good yields. Alternatively there are many success stories of people growing them in sacks and poly tubes…but you’ll have to go all exploratory on the net for those instructions.
  2. Make the investment:…into some good quality, egg sized seed potatoes. I tend to purchase a variety of cultivars, often heirloom in origin, about 3 weeks before planting. Leave them in a dry, well lit (out of direct sunlight) location until they show a green tinge and are sprouting. This process is known as chitting.
  3. Open cut your mine: before you begin, you’re going to have to invest some hard labour efforts into carving out some space in your (most likely) sub-soiled back yard. Start by digging deep furrows (I like to go atleast 15 – 30 cm deep…sometimes deeper) and 50 cm apart. Place the seed potatoes in the base of the furrow (shoots facing upwards), about 20 – 30 cm apart. Cover the furrows with soil and water well. Ensure that the soil remains moist throughout the growing period to avoid poor growth or dryness. If you are looking for good yields (and not just rejuvenating soil) then apply a weed or seaweed tea every month or so and hill up the soil around the plant as it grows upwards, ensuring that you leave atleast some green leaves for photosynthesis and therefore growth. As I mostly grow potatoes as a perennial for soil rejuvenation purposes, I don’t tend to bother hilling. Instead I grow a cover/green manure crop or a trailing plant (like pumpkin) over the top and harvest the spuds for special occasions. (Picture below: seed potatoes in furrows and potato plant with a young pumpkin to grow over the top)

  4. Invest in some good detection technology: namely…your patient observation and interaction skills. After flowering, the plant will start to dye off. Making note of where they are planted can be useful as, in the case of my garden where I use potatoes mostly to improve soil (and hence they are not hilled), the wizened stems tend to blend in with the straw mulch.

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    Wizened stem with chitting potatoes hidden under mulch.
  5. Fossick: the richly rewarding…and very exciting part of the job. It’s time to start digging. The big ones are for the tummy…the green ones and small ones are for replanting.

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    Recovered seed potatoes.
  6. Trade for a profit: it’s time to don the apron and unleash your glimmering, largess of spoils upon your salivating guests. Spudacious!

Eureka! After a profitable afternoon’s labour of culinary love – troweling and hoeing into the summer hardened soil – a bounty of golden, Dutch Cream spuds were lifted from their well concealed crevices and deposited into the kitchen larder bank in anticipation of a sizable dividend (to come in future posts): Scott’s Super Size Me Potato Salad and a divine batch of Gnocchi on Heavens Door.

Growth Spurt

“Boot’s don’t shrink…feet grow.”

– excerpt from Big Sarah’s Little Boots – Paulette Boureois and Brenda Clark

The story itself was not particularly spectacular. In a gum-nut shell: Sarah had a favourite pair of little yellow boots that she loved to splash in puddles with when it rained. One day she grew out of the boots. Sarah was sad and perplexed. Her mother consoled her, then bought Sarah a new and equally adored pair of shiny red boots. Sarah was happy. The end.

It never seemed to bother my mother that from the day I turned four, night after night, my book request was always the same. Acutely aware of my innate interest in the physical sciences – aerial mapping and observations from birds eye view positions atop silos, roofs and trees being the popular subject of study at the time – mum always presumed that my fascination with the rather tiresome text was due to those aspects pertaining to biological growth and repair…and therefore “length (or rather height)” expansion.

During the early 90’s rain was not a regularly occurring phenomenon at the farmstead and so the idea of needing shoes let alone shiny yellow boots to splash in puddles with was somewhat of a bamboozling concept. Furthermore – putting aside the frequent, scream inducing encounters with drop-tail lizards and Huntsman spiders taking refuge in the insulated cotton lining of my mothers dairy-boots – foot coverings only proved cumbersome when playing my game-winning “get out of trouble by tree climbing” card.

This year, when the flip-flop and sandal wearing summer holidays came to their natural conclusion, it was time to rummage through the depths of the back-of-the-shelf school wear section of the kids closet to retrieve those compulsory, covered-at-the-toes shoes. It was on this day that I was hit with the full force of a Big Sarah’s Little Boot’s, raging thunder-storm-esque tantrum.

Despite my rather adept attempts of the previous 6 months to hold together K2’s highly exalted – pre-loved by a favourite neighbour – glow-in-the-dark shoes, my hand-stitching and Tarzan Grip gluing was no match for the biological forces of a summer holiday sized growth spurt. Finally, when the kicks, howls and screams of protestation subsided, the overwhelming sense of loss was quickly replaced with with a succulent idea to see us out of this rather prickly situation…

All in an adventurous morning’s work: a brand new pair of runners to start the educative year and an ornamental garden addition set to spike the memory bank of those well trodden, pre school days.

For those keen to avoid a future growth-spurt booting: Succulent Shoes (or boots).

Resources:

Old shoes

Succulent plants

Cacti and Succulent Potting Mix

Trowel

Drill and Drill bits

Drilling board

Water can

Take the old pair of shoes and let your little sprout give them one last departing wear or hug…then start drilling!

To create the drainage holes, take a large diameter drill bit (atleast 6 mm), pull the tongue of the shoe back as far as it will go (remove the innersole if need be) and, on an old board, drill holes approximately 1 cm apart. Succulents do not like their roots to get wet so the more holes the better.

Fill the shoes with good quality potting mix ensuring you leave enough room for the plants. Make a small hole in the center of the shoe. Ease the plant out of the pot and gently place it into the shoe such that the top of the plant is level with the top of the shoe. Add extra potting mix if required.

Place the shoes in a sunny position in the garden. Water the shoes whenever the potting mix looks dry. Stand back and reminisce…on all the boot-scooting times past!

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Jams and the Giant Peach

Once upon a time period, long long ago, there was a bustling town gurt by fruit-laden orchards, fescue fields lush with fodder, and dairy farms aplenty. All the townsfolk were proud of their productive industries and parochial in their purchasing prowess: locally made…all the way to the kitchen larder. Whilst all fruit-growing-farms realised a Spiker of workers during the summer harvest period, one orchard in particular proved to be a Sponge for industriously minded locals keen to keep off the silly season pounds or put their somewhat lethargic, holidaying teenagers to work.

The morning of the particular day in question started just like any other. Rising with the sun, we picking workers lackadaisically assembled at the meeting point. A barren patch of earth located between a stand of flaccid looking oak trees and the weather-beaten living quarters for overseas itinerants. Covered from head to toe in light cotton garb, we were then separated into diversified teams of dab-hands and newbies before being loaded like pioneering convicts into the back of a dilapidated flat-tray wagon. Several kilometers of bumpy and suspensionless miles later and the 1950’s model Red Massey Furguson tractor came to a holt.

Colour picking was the job description for the day. A fact which only served to provoke the already irritable temperament of those keen to spend a long, afternoon session at the pub. Since no-one dared challenge the ganger’s authority on the call, we begrudgingly set to work resigning ourselves to the fact that many more climbs of the 6 ft long wooden ladder would be required to achieve the same “bin-volume” payment for ripe fruit.

By 10 am, the sun had begun to bear down on us with the full force of a 42oC day. Cursing and cussing at the exhausting and yeildless tree-clambers, I was ready to turn in the calico picking bag and head home to the cool retreat of the farm’s irrigation channel. “Hallelujah…would you come and look at this!”. Intrigued, we hastily emptied our part filled bags and headed to the base of an Empire State Building sized prunus persica tree. It didn’t take long for us to spy what Maria was directing her sharply pointed finger toward. There, hanging just above the top of the final rung of the precariously placed ladder was the the largest peach I had ever seen.

Awestruck, we stared longingly at the perfectly round, fifteen centimeter in diameter specimen still glistening with morning dew. For a fleeting moment my mind was lost in salubrious thoughts of the fructose-rich, orange flesh meandering its way toward my rumbling, smoko-break belly. “Oi ya slackers…what the devil you’ll gawkin’ at?”. Frozen in guilt ridden fear, we looked to each other for the courageous delivery of a placating explanation. Silence.

“Well since you’ll seem to have swallowed your tongues, I guess I’ll just have to ‘ave it all to myself”. And with a chain smoking chortle, our ganger adeptly retrieved the peach. Following several swift actions of the pen knife, he then presented each member of his relieved team with a lusciously fortifying segment. A meal that will always be remembered as one to feel all communally fuzzy about.

Thirteen years later, and a kernel of nostalgia is released from it’s robustly sealed pit..

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After a particularly energetic session of swings and roundabouts at one of our local parks, K1 stumbled across a rather drecrepid looking excuse for a tree. Unperturbed by the menacing looking branches, he seized the potentially fruitful challenge and retrieved our first bounty of well-pecked, cydia molesta (oriental fruit moth) infected peaches. As it turns out, looks can be deceiving. Whilst stoney by nature, this wonderful addition to our neighbourhood nature strip has seen many a jar of jam or chutney gratefully received as a birthday present or in return for that much needed bag of hand-me-down autumn apparel.

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Our families recipes for Peachy Keen Date Chutney and Gingerly Stoned Jam…for your nectarous delight!

Peachy Keen Chutney

12 peaches (or nectarines), diced into small cubes

1 ½ tsp grnd cardamom

1 c pitted dated, chopped into small cubes

1 c raisins

4 onions, diced

3 c brown sugar

2 tbs mustard seeds

4 tbs ginger root, finely diced

4 tsp salt

2 ½ c apple cider vinegar

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Place all ingredients in a heavy duty pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar. On a medium heat, bring the mixture to boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 45 – 60 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Spoon the mixture into sterilised jars (see below).

Gingerly Stoned Jam

1 – 2 kg Peaches (or nectarines)

sugar

1 – 1 ½ inch piece ginger, finely diced

Place a side dish into the freezer (used to test the setting point of the jam). Peel the ginger and peel and pit the fruit. Place the peels and pits into a muslin bag and tie tightly with a string. Chop up the flesh of the fruit, discarding any blemished or bird pecked pieces. Weigh the fruit. In the middle of a large, heavy based pot place the muslin bag. Pile the fruit around the bag. Add ½ cup water. Place the lid on the pot and on low heat, bring the contents to boil. Simmer for 10 – 20 mins or until the fruit is tender. Take off the heat and leave to cool for atleast 2 hours.

Remove the muslin bag and squeeze any liquid from the bag into the pot. This will add extra pectin (chemical that assists in setting the jam) to the mix. For every 500g of fruit (as measured previously) add 400 g sugar. Stir in the sugar and slowly bring the jam to a rolling boil. Boil for 10 mins and then test, using the frozen side dish, whether the jam is set (it should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger). Spoon into sterilised jars (see below) if ready, otherwise repeat the above step after another 3 minutes of boiling.

Sterilising jars: I have been making preserves for years now and after trying many cumbersome methods of jar sterilisation, I have settled on the following (that…to the best of my knowledge…has not botulised any recipient yet): wash jars and lids in hot soapy water ensuring that a bottle brush is used to clean the inside. Dip jars and lids into a sink of hot water (to wash off soap suds) and then drain upside down on a tea towel. Place jars and lids (open side facing up) onto trays and leave to dry completely in an oven set at 100 – 120 degrees celcius.