A slice of Sol’ Lifting Pie

Secret’s in the sauce.” – Sipsey (Film: Fried Green Tomatoes)

Eventually there comes a point in a cool-climate gardener’s calendar when one has to face the colder reality and accept that those immature, Solanum Lycopersicum, fruits of your summer labour, just ain’t gonna ripen! Rather than cry in a green-waste deluge over the lost juicey-red harvest, I decided to take a nostalgic walk down my childhood memory lane for some sol’ lifting, green-tomato cooking inspiration instead.

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Summer holidays. Saturday afternoons. 1995. I guess one could they were a Rottentomatoes event! At fourteen hundred hours, as the kelpies helped Dad round up the cattle for the afternoon milking session, my mother and all of us kids would pile into the family sedan for a rapid fire trip to the local video store to select the evenings’ Film Night V.H.S. In the interests of avoiding any clandestine arm twisting or conniving inter-sibling brawls, a strictly enforced roster system was established so as to enable a more “uninhibited”, movie selection process. While the boys would always opt for a new-release, shoot-em-up, Hollywood action blockbuster, my pick-of-the-flicks adopted a slower, more Deep South centered pace: the Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy soulful special, Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). A duel period drama-comedy set about a progressive diner in 1960’s Alabama, the characters take the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as each employee plays their own unique part in an act of vigilante justice: at the Whistle Stop Cafe’, revenge is a dish best served piping hot and with a generous dollop of blood, red sauce.

Last month, as the daylight hours shortened and those bulky woolen legwarmers made their way to the front of the clothing selection line, it was time to take food lore into my own hands and lift from the earth, those stubborn green sols. Armed with pitchfork, gumboots and a whetted set of secateurs, my up-and-coming, savant scientists took to the streets with passionate fervour and used their “applied” home-learning lesson to make light work of the remaining emerald coloured eatables rambling their way through our recently procured Guerrilla Garden.

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From corn bread and curry to pizza topping and that coveted Soil’n’T Green Tomato Chutney – a popular food swap among our fellow community gardeners – for many weeks to follow, that cavernous basket of burgeoning fruit would see our family kitchen running as hot as the hinges on the gates of Hades…to use a southern american expression. The resultant menu? Well I guess one could say that is was fit to please even the most captious of self-isolating family diners.

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Green Tomato Corn Bread with Home Made Butter

And so it is with great pleasure, and a Whistle Stop in my step, that I present to you my pick of our families rather agreenable feasting favourites, the secret recipe for enjoying a sizable slice of…

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Sol’ Lifting Pie (delivers 6 – 8 soul lifting serves)

1 onion, diced
8 – 10 large green tomatoes, sliced
1 – 2 tbs brown sugar
1 – 2 chillis, deseeded and finely diced
½ c Italian herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary etc.)
¼ – ½ c Parmesan, grated
Pastry:
200g wheat flour
100g soy or sourghum flour
pinch salt
240g butter, cut into cubes

To make the pastry, mix together the flours and and salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles that of breadcrumbs. Add 1 tbs cold water then bring the mixture together to form a firm dough. Form the dough into a disk then refrigerate for 30 mins.

In a heavy based fry-pan, fry the onion on a high temperature till translucent. Add the tomatoes. Fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in the sugar and chilli. Turn to low heat and cover with a lid. Cook for around 15 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent the mixture burning. Stir through the herbs and the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper then leave to cool.

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Roll out two-thirds of the dough to about ¼ of an inch thickness. Lay the dough over the base of a pie dish. Fill with the tomato mixture. Roll out the remaining third of the dough. Place over the top of the filling and, using a pastry brush, seal the edges together with milk. Roll down the edges to form a thick crust then coat the pastry with milk. Using a sharp knife, pierce a cross in the middle of the pastry roof to allow excess steam to escape. Bake at 200oC for 35 – 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden in colour.

Serve to your ravenous, undercovid home-school operatives with a side of end-of-season salad and a dash of Squashed Chutney.

Oh…and there’s just one more thing…

…remember…the secrets in the source. Shhh!

Easter Basket Case

Autumn brings with it an air of change. The closet cries out for warmer, shadowy and more demure attention. The currawongs corral their cronies enmasse about the burgeoning supply of late harvest berries. And the garden yearns, desperately, for that hasty sowing of brassicas, peas, broad beans and onions before the cooler air temperatures set in for the winter season. Perhaps the most awaited moment on my families colour changing calendar, however, is the coming of the end of the first school term.

Normally the Easter School Holiday period would see us racing down the highway, car boot packed to the gift-giving gunnels with all manner of home made goodies to lavish upon family members and friends alike, for our annual, countryside catch ups. Opting for a quieter, more home based Easter this year, my two busy bunnikins instead put some of their extra educative hours to altruistic use so as to connect with their greatly missed school buddies and familial chums from an acceptable, social distance apart. In true interdisciplinary style – ticking all manner of pedagogical, 3R’s plus the works, boxes – K1 and K2 set about facing many of the “low supply” odds to create a trio of treats that would put a smile on even the most isolated of Easter Bunny dials: Weed Woven Easter Baskets; Sourdough Hot Cross Buns; and a Busy Bunnies Easter Activity sheet.

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Invigorated by a good dose of long awaited rainfall, many an urban weed and hedging plant can be seen brimming with last-ditch-effort, pre-winter growth: simply perfect timing for some basket hamper construction. Inspired by a recent segment on Gardening Australia about basketry, K1 and K2 put their pent-up paws to weaving work by first shaping some Potato Vine and Chinese Elm shoots into a ring.

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With great patience and at times, steely concentration, some fading Diannella Longifolia was then weaved between cross-hatched cuttings of Cotoneaster to create a very simple, tension-tray esque carrier.

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Eschewing the barren and yeastless supermarket shelves, over a series of microbe brewing days, my budding young scientists set about making their own sourdough culture, with the ultimate aim of upholding the family tradition of baking a wholesome and deliciously fresh batch of Hot Cross Buns – plus a few side projects such as sourdough crumpets and sourdough self saucing pudding, to avoid wasting any of that coveted rye flour ferment – for Easter.

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After five days of waiting, watching and whiffing, the golden-egg-quality micro-organism melange was ready for use. Cobbling together what dried fruit was left at our local whole foods store (currants, dried peach and pear…to name a few) and a motley mix of flours, my rabid crew then put their burrowed-up energy to good, bread-making use, with plenty of…

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…kneading…

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…rolling…

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and patient waiting…until the much anticipated feast could begin…with plenty set aside for those Easter basket deliveries.

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In keeping with the theme, and as a finishing touch to the gift giving sentiment, my two little kits pulled out their craft making kits to put together a series of fun holiday activities to be mailed to those countryside companions…who at over 300km away…fall a little outside our hot-cross-bunny delivery range.

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As for Easter Sunday itself, powered by a once-a-year, Poached Eggs Florentine breakfast, the day was filled with plenty of cryptic-decoding, chocolate hunt challenges and a bevy of banter about the card playing table.

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So in a sane and well balanced nut shell, we had an eggcellent weekend!!

Watch Out! Don’t Get Squashed

Aim high. Reach for the stars. Dream big. The sky’s the limit…

Just some of the many encouraging phrases bestowed on me by my parents during those formative years on the farm. Keen to live up to my mother and father’s expectations, I took it upon myself to ensure that I mastered the art of being a consistent “high” achiever. And so began my diverse and rather unorthodox take on the concept of altitude training. From wheat silos and haphazard hay-bale stacks to peppercorn trees and ten foot high shade clothed fences, if there was a vertical challenge to be had then you could bet your last high ropes carabiner I’d be at the climbing ready to take it on!

Early spring was always the most exciting time of year on the farm. Unfazed by the cool air and ice capped fences, my three brothers and I couldn’t throw the bedclothes off fast enough to compete for first place in the great race that was getting to the calving shed in time for the morning serve of colostrum rations for the newly born poddy calves.

One morning, following a particularly large dumping of September rain, Jimmy and Tommy – my two younger brothers – and I arrived at the feeding troughs to the sight of a sodden and desperately mewing piebald kitten hanging precariously by the tips of it’s outstretched claws from the corner, eave purlin, of the shed roof. Realising this was the perfect opportunity to show off my now well honed vertical scaling skills, I seized the moment and skillfully swung myself up and over the steel hinged, shed gate and rapidly began my ascent along the red-brick wall toward the frightened feline.

Blocking out the piercing wails hailing from above, I heedfully navigated the desultory brickwork, using gaps in the mortar and some spare, stacked fence palings to advance myself upward. Over the years, Tommy, Jimmy and I had become quite accustomed to rescuing stray animals that had taken refuge in various sheds and abandoned machinery about the farm. So as I neared my petrified friend, I was well prepared for the bared teeth and angry hissing that ensued. Ignoring the defensive, claw ridden strikes at my hands, I quickly covered the fist sized fur-ball with the cuff of my jumper and slowly made my way back toward my awestruck, brotherly audience.

Of course the blame for what happened next will always be leveled at the rain soaked, slippery clay soil and not at all because my over-inflated, high rise confidence had hijacked my sense of risk and caution. One moment I was comfortably balanced atop a stack of sturdy, wall-hugging fence posts, the next, I was pinned under a corporate fat-cat sized weight of Ironbark, competing desperately for breathing space through the only remaining gap between the now frantically mewing kitten and an incoming deluge of red-dirt mud.

I’m not sure what was worse, the incessant fang and claw induced maiming penetrating my now saturated Nanna-made jumper or the ultimate dressing down and week long parlour duties I received from Dad when, after what seemed like an interminable paws in time, he lifted me from my cat-tastrophe.

This summer I just couldn’t help myself. Dejected and clinging onto life with all but a tinge of chlorophyll left in the wilted green leaves, I threw the neglected punnet of Cucurbita Pepo into my basket and marched toward the checkout of our local nursery. Three months and a lot of love, weed and worm tea fertiliser later, and I was right back in that calf shed: totally squashed!

squash

Lucky. That was the name our much loved cat who, after much pleading and chore bargaining, was adopted into the family as yet another addition to our motley menagerie of rescued pets. Lucky is how I would also describe our abundance of fleshy, yellow marrow. From curries and pasta bakes to humble soups and sandwich-able preserves, we certainly feel golden to have so many adaptable family recipes that prevent us from finding ourselves in a profuse pickle. For those also flush with yellow funds this summer, I present to you my recipe for sharing the button squash love to all those who have a penchant for pickles…

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Squashed Chutney (makes plenty of tip shop rescued jar fulls!)

In true rescuing spirit, I plunged into that crate full of throw away, reduced price goodies at my local farmers market store to ensure that those over-sized yellowy-green marrows had plenty of motley friends to keep them company in those bottled up jars of summertime love.

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700g button squash, diced
2 green capsicums, deseeded and diced
1 corn cob, dekernaled
2 onions, diced
1 ½ c white vinegar
1 c white sugar
4 tsp ground turmeric
4tsp mustard seeds (brown or black)
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp curry powder
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients into a large pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to boiling point and allow it to simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, sterilise those tip shop rescued glass jars. To sterilise the jars and lids, wash the them thoroughly in hot soapy water (use a bottlebrush if you need). Rinse in hot water then leave upside down to drain on a tea towel. Place the jars and lids on a tray in an upright position then place them in the oven at 100oC for 15-20 minutes.

Bottle the chutney into the hot, sterilised jars and seal. Leave for atleast three days before consuming.

Chutney

For those in need of an extra squashy meal deal or a wholesome, lunch box treat for the kids, load up the that homemade bread with a spoonful of the chutney, top with some cheddar and throw it in the toastie maker (…also rescued from the tip!). Viola!

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Oh…and as for those large seeds hidden in the centre of the squash, don’t forget to dry and store them for next summer. It’s the golden gift that keeps on giving!

ZomB’ Day Apocalypse

As the sun, scarlet red and looming eerily over the horizon, peeked it’s way in and out of the blackened clouds, a horde of lilliputian afterlife worshipers and their parents descended upon a local community hall for three hours of Zombie themed birthday party fun!

Enamored by the cemetery themed energy emanating from our housing complex gathering last Halloween, K1 decided to bundle up and preserve, for few months, some party ideas for a morbid motif rebirth. Three weeks before the day of the great re-enlivening, and my excited little greening machine set to work on all manner of dark and gruesome, mostly up-cycled, paraphernalia to entertain his fellow birthday bash pals. From entrails entrees to a mean ‘n’ obscene pinata, no activity or food menu item escaped the clutches of K1’s insatiable appetite for brainiacal ideas:

A-wake: nothing says a welcoming Zombie themed gathering like a good ol’ clap of thunder and some omnipresent grey and smoky gloom. Throw in some adequately alarming “Welcome” posters and a cache of classic 1990’s spooky dance numbers and our local community hall centered birthday bash was off to an eeriesistable start!

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Engorge the innards: stuff the kids full of deathly delectable food and, what do ya know, you have a room (and outdoor play space…phew!!) full of boundless afterlife energy. In keeping with the engorgeous theme, K1 renamed some of our family favourite recipes with suitably gutsy epithets including Head Salad (Scott’s Supersize Me Salad); Eyeball Bath (Tabouleh with pearl barley as an eye catching alternative) and Blood ‘n’ Bone Mix (Freekah and Beetroot Salad).

food

As for the main course, well that’s a rather decaying matter. Those popular Bishop Bread rolls, usually packed full of veggies for a wholesome school sustenance, were transformed in both shape and name to resemble none other than…Corpses in Coffins (Sausages in Bread).

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Entrancing games: when it comes to kids party games, I’ve always been a bit of a fan of stitching together some of the old and flagging traditional games with an element of leitmotif to keep the punters entranced. Inspired by the much loved family card game, Zombie Run, K1 and his artistically enthusiastic friend set to work designing plenty of weird and wonderful masterpieces for the more personalised “Pin the Brain on the Zombie”. On the day itself, the kids took to the the brains with colourful fervor and were keen to come back for plenty more brain munching action.

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Following a competitive stint of Zombie Musical Chairs, the captivated kiddycrowd then huddled about the homemade pinata waiting patiently for their chance to belt some lollies out of the Zany Green Zombie head. When the quadruple layered paper mache’ oval was finally breached, mass hysteria ensued as each sugar crazed child expedited a snatch and grab maneuver to secure their personal loot.

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sCoffin Cake: no good birthday celebration is ever really complete until the voice box has been given a good, Sunday service quality workout, with a cake-by-candle-light vigil to finish. Using a childhood favourite recipe (my mothers chocolate slice) for the ground and a traditional, Woman’s Weekly butter cake for the tomb, the party goers were quick to get sCoffin their sucrose laden share of the grave inheritance…with some bold enough to ask for more.

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Final goodbyes: all good things must come to their natural end. Laced with plenty of earthy-green, spirulina goodness, my mothers choc-chip cookies were the perfect send off for what was dubbed by all family members helping to organise the order of service, as a good innings.

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While Scott and I farewelled the last of the guests, the Aunt’s, Uncles and Grandparents bundled two very contentedly enervated youngsters into the car for a slow drive back home. After a long afternoon of party frivolities…let’s just say…my nutty duo did indeed Rest In Peace.

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I Love My Sunburnt Country

From as far back as I can remember, no summer has rung more true to the words of Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic poem, My Country, than the one that we have just endured. From the rugged, flame engulfed mountains, to the drought and ice-bullet infested flooding rains, this Australia Day gave our family cause to reflect on how lucky we truly were to only be defending our lungs against the smoke rather than our home or our livelihoods against the formidable natural elements.

As heat waves across the country relentlessly thrashed thirsty paddocks and homesteads with whip-like talons of fury, community spirit saturated the media channels and internet streams with heroic tales of firemen, allied health professionals, charity organisations and humble neighbours bestowing wilful and lavish volunteer hours and aid upon those gravely affected by the fires. Closer to home, and many of our townsfolk were offered all but a moments reprieve from the sunny monotony as the joyous news of incoming rain was quickly replaced with feelings of loss and frustration about expensive repair jobs and interminable waits for insurance claims: the drumming of an army being less of the steady soaking rains and more like cricket ball sized hail stones!

Through it all – the smoke, hail and encircling fires – our family sat in the extremely privileged position of being almost completely unaffected: Scott cycled to work the day the midday hail storm wiped out most of the cars in the office carpark; my gardens, both at home and at “The Farm” (our offsite allotment), received a generous dumping of rain (without the icey fusillade); and we all had sufficient lung capacities to challenge, albeit with gas masks, even the most menacing of smog counts.

On the morning of the 26th January, as I heedfully balanced my burgeoning basket of allotment picked produce on the handle bars of my bike whilst also herding my speedracing kidditroop home, I was suddenly struck with a Green n’ Gold epiphany. Inspired by the acts of the many thousands of opal-hearted volunteers who assisted in the fire and flood relief efforts, I brought my love of ordered woods and gardens to our series of long weekend guests by rounding out each meal with a selection of no-waste, giant cucumber infused indulgences.

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To all who share my sentiment about our great countrymen and women, or for anyone keen for an adventurous take on the green and gold theme, then please feel free to take a walk down my green and rather shady lane. I present to you my recipes for…

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My Country Cake (Cucumber and Lemon Cake) and Cool as a Cucumber Cordial

Who’d have thought that those flailing seedlings I picked up on the throw out table at our local nursery would prove to be so productive! In true Darwinian style I chose the strongest of the punnet to take prime position in my summer, cucurbitaceae family bed. The runts I planted about the edge as a means of keeping down the couch and protecting the soil from the blistering hot sun. Two months later and my family recipe book is brimming with new favourites that make good use of the glut of tough skinned monsters that have now run rampant about our patch. My Country Cake and Cool as a Cucumber Cordial are true Green n’ Gold winners for all-comers to enjoy on those scorching summer afternoons.

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My Country Cake ingredients:
1 giant cucumber
zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g butter
¾ c brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp cardamom
1 ¾ c plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ – ½ c milk
Icing:
125g butter, softened
1 ½ c icing sugar
1 tbs milk
½ tsp turmeric
½ c flaked coconut, finely diced

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Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise. Carefully remove the seeds with a sharp knife by slicing out the gelatinous flesh. To save the seeds for next season, push the seeds out from the flesh and rinse the seeds under cold water. Strain in a colander then place the seeds in the center of some muslin cloth. Tie up the cloth with some kitchen twine. Label (I use old egg cartons) and hang till completely dry (in the height of the summer, this usually only takes a few days). Cut the rest of the cucumber into large chunks and puree together with the deseeded flesh. Strain through some muslin cloth for atleast 30 minutes. You should have close to 1 cup of green cucumber liquid which can be frozen and used to make Cool as a Cucumber cordial at a later date. The remaining pureed cucumber in the muslin cloth is used to make My Country Cake.

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Cream together the butter and the sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla. Stir through the pureed cucumber. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cardamom and baking powder. Stir one third of the flour mix through the butter mixture then one third of the milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk is used up and the batter is a thick and dollopable consistency. Pour the batter into a greased and baking paper lined 18-20cm cake tin. Bake at 170oC for 40-50 minutes. Cool to room temperature before icing.

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To make the icing, whisk the butter until almost white in colour. Whisk in ½ cup of the sifted icing sugar and a dash of the milk. Repeat until all the milk and the icing sugar is used up. Whisk in the turmeric. Spread all over the cake to approximately 5 mm thick. Sprinkle over the coconut.

Cool as a Cucumber Cordial ingredients:
700ml cucumber juice (see method above)
a handful of mint, bergamot, lemon balm or lemon verbena
650 g sugar

Finely dice the herbs. Place the herbs, cucumber juice and sugar into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes then leave overnight to infuse.

To sterilise the cordial bottles and lids, wash the bottles and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water (use a bottlebrush if you need). Rinse in hot water then leave upside down to drain on a tea towel. Place the bottles and lids on a tray in an upright position then place them in the oven at 100oC for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the cucumber liquid to remove the herbs. Reheat the liquid to simmering point then bottle into sterilised bottles and leave to cool. Refrigerate till cold. To serve, pour 1 tablespoon into the bottom of a glass. Top with 1 cup cold water (or carbonated water), ice and fresh mint.

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Serve your cucumber delights to your patriotic guests with scoop of homemade ice-cream and a generous toast: “To those who know what brown country their homing thoughts do fly”. Enjoy!

Streusel All the Way

Dashing through the farm,

in a wagon packed with kids,

books tucked under arm,

berry coated lips.

Plants and flowers glistening,

banter fills the air,

what fun it is to laugh and bring,

some gardening tips and fare.

When it comes to the silly season and the jolly madness that is back to back festivities, family gatherings and kids causing a hoarding calamity about the food table…well…I have to confess…

…I’m a totally devoted and enthusiastic lover of the whole, Jingle Bells, shebang.

This years’ sleigh load of party going events was whip started into action by a newcomer to our family’s list: The Community Garden Christmas Gathering. Organised by Carmelita, the naturally glamorous green-thumbed mother of three, our family clan was greeted at “The Farm” by tables elegantly adorned with water jars – suffused with an array of native plants and flowers – and replete with all manner of home made and grown food items.

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While the adults quaffed and dined, the kids took to the red wagon – borrowed from our local Toy Library – like elves to Santa’s production line, taking turns to daringly cart each other about the acre of growing land. Even the goats, penned in the adjacent school agricultural plot, took to the festive atmosphere with gay abandon, ensuring they had their fill of hand picked couch and comfrey.

Of course, no festive party would ever be complete without a touch of gift giving. As the children sat, ensconced about the present sack, tearing at the paper covering the newest edition to their reading libraries, the rest of the attendees got busy trading gardening tips and exchanging recipes until the setting sun signaled the Dashering and Dancering call to set the family members on a course for home.

Presents
Charged with the task of using any produce that still remained in the plot of our gallant and vivacious Community Garden Coordinator – who has taken a temporary break from physical duties to wrestle it out with a particularly obstinate form of breast cancer – my contribution to the gastronomic events of the evenings frivolities included a unique take on a traditional, country cooking style, slice. I present to you, my recipe for…

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Santa’s Streusal Slice (Beet and Rhubarb Streusal Slice; Makes a sack load).

Streusel:
½ c plain flour
¼ c rolled oats
1/3 c coconut sugar
½ tsp cinnamon, ground
80 g butter
Filling:
3 – 4 coarsely chopped stems rhubarb
1 medium sized beetroot, peeled and coarsley chopped
1 tbs honey
Slice base:
100g butter
½ c caster sugar
1 egg
1 c self raising flour
1 tbs coconut flour

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Make the streusel by mixing together the oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Rub the butter into the oat mix and bring together to form a dough. Place in an airtight container and freeze for 2-3 hours or until very firm. To make the filling, place the beetroot and rhubarb in a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Bring to simmering point with the lid on. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Cool. Stir through the honey then puree’ the fruit. Place the fruit mixture in the fridge till cold.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the self raising and coconut flours. Add the flours to the creamed ingredients and mix thoroughly to create a crumbly dough. Press the dough into the bottom of a 19cm square cake tin. Bake at 180oC for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

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Spread the fruit evenly over the slice base. Grate the streusel over the top. Bake at 180oC for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool then place in the fridge overnight. Using a bread knife, cut the slice into 3 cm squares then serve to your merry band of Santa’s Slice loving friends.

Ho, ho, ho…struesel all the way!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

…who is the fairest of them all?

Anyone knowledgeable in the art of weed foraging will be all too familiar with the up to three metre tall Evil Queen of the of Apiaceae family, Wild and (sometimes Bronze) Fennel (pictured below). Drawn towards its beguiling countenance, this aniseedy fragrant and rampant perennial herb has made many a striking appearance in my home: the leaves make an interesting addition to my children’s nature table and; when dried, the long, wand like seed fronds take pride of place on our palatial standard, hard wood bureau. As for being a suitor to the culinary crown, well naturally, that place is reserved for the fairer, more voluptuously bulbous cultivar, Foeniculum Vulgare.

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Earlier this year, when our landlords decided it was time to give our spartan, red brick rental property a twenty first century style makeover, Scott and I made the big decision to take a dive into the mortgage market. Since compromising on our lavish lifestyle of spending our hard earned cash on good food and great company would have morphed us into a cottage full of Grumpy’s, we opted to go small: we are now the proud owners of an inner-city town house. When our courtyard gardens could no longer house the dozens of refugee plants – rescued from the evil clutches of an overzealous skid steer loader at our previous abode – my adventurous kids and I went in search of greener pastures for all our vegetable growing needs.

Following a surprisingly brief passage through forests of medium density housing and abandoned, tree-root lifted car parks, we arrived at what can only be described as a food growing oasis. Home to a merry band of lovingly eclectic green thumbs, my kids and I were affectionately adopted into the growing residence of industrious community gardeners and allocated our bit of earth: twenty five square meters of thickly covered, couch ridden, clay soil. Heigh ho. Heigh ho. It’s off to work we go!

When it comes to physical work, I am anything but Bashful. Six weeks later, proceeding plenty of hours spent rolling up the sleeves, turning and sieving through the earth…three times over…to a foot deep, and my pallid, snow-white arms finally realised a clear site. Imbued with a sense of late winter gardening solidarity and bouyed by the regular injection of encouragement, helping hands and time-saving tips, my vacant block of previously disused earth was quickly transformed into an thriving, hot-bed of summer seedling growth…with plenty of space for Hairy Lumpy Scary Pumpy (the Hallo-inbet-Ween Scarecrow) and our much loved mud-pie kitchen.

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In addition to sage advice, affable miens and labor-loving energy, my fellow community gardeners have giant sized hearts. Each returned visit from our, now dubbed, “Little Farm” would yield a new family dish infused with the latest donation of produce. From Asparagus and Spinach Tart to Rhubarb and Beet Struesel Slice, having not yet grown a thing, Scott somewhat jokingly remarked that “it had been my most productive garden yet”!

One morning, after a particularly enduring session of drilling lumber and pitchforking compost through my weed-free, clay-rich soil, the very Happy Jay – a food growing doyen- bequeathed me a brace of her finest fennel bulbs. Now I have to confess, when it comes to cooking with this delicate, root vegetable, I am a little Dopey. Determined, however, to put my gift to good use, I delved into our collection of CWA (Country Women’s Association) and country cooking books to Doctor a few of our tried and tested favourites.

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From the family kiln of our new, inner-city bungalow, I present to you my recipes for A’seedy Tabouleh Salad and Evil Queen Potato Bake.

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A’seedy Tabouleh Salad (serves a small, mattock wielding, army)

Although the classic version of this delectable salad is nothing to be Sneezy’ed at, a bit of aniseed thrown into the mix will see even the most Sleepy of garden worker friends refueled and at the pitchfork digging ready.

1 cup barley
200g of cherry tomatoes (or 3 – 4 tomatoes, deseeded and diced), sliced
2 – 3 cucumbers, diced
1 handful of rocket, roughly chopped
2 handfuls parsley, finely diced
2 handfuls mint, finely diced
Dressing:
¼ c lemon juice
¼ c olive oil

Place the barley into a small saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Heat on very low until all the water is absorbed. Cool then refrigerate till cold. Mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, rocket, parsley and mint. Add enough barley until a desired ratio of grain to vegetables is achieved (freeze any remaining barley and use at a later date). Shake the dressing ingredients and pour over the top. Mix. Serve with that illustrious Evil Queen Potato Bake.

Evil Queen Potato Bake (makes…enough to feed a ravenous, regal court)

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Whilst some might say that implanting fennel into the classic le pomme de terre (apple of the earth) bake recipe is just poisoning a good meal, Scott and the kids took to this quirky twist on the humble potato dish like The Prince to a glass coffin.

2 onions, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
2 rashers of bacon (or some salami), diced
2 handfuls tarragon, dill or fennel leaves
4 – 8 potatoes, thinly sliced
60 g butter
2 – 4 tbs flour
milk (atleast one cup)
cheddar cheese, grated

To make the cheesy, white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add enough of the flour to form a thick paste. While whisking, gradually add one cup milk. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens. Add a little more milk until a dollopable consistency is achieved. Throw in a handful of grated cheddar cheese and whisk till smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave to cool.

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On a medium heat, warm some oil in a fry pan. Add the onion and fry till translucent. Add the bacon and fennel. Cook for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Stir through the herbs.

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In a medium sized casserole dish, place a thin layer of the potatoes. Top with one third of the onion mix. Pour over one quarter of the cheesy, white sauce. Repeat this three times. Add one more layer of potatoes and top with the white sauce and a generous spread of cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven at 160oC for atleast 1 ½ hours or until the cheese on top is a golden brown colour.

Serve to all your family and friends with a side of A’Seedy Tabouleh Salad…

…Now…take a bite!

Luv en der Bouquet

Perhaps it’s my tendency to take walks down nostalgic, English memory-lanes. Or maybe it’s my fondness for all things green and flowering in the height of our dry and scorching summer. Whatever the reason happens to be, not too many plants could out-compete my love for the humble lavender bush.

Ten years ago, Scott and I traversed the red-carpet lined aisle of a 12th century built chapel to recite our wedding vowels before an audience of our dearest friends and relatives. Set against the backdrop of an immaculately maintained, Oxford College garden, we then transitioned into an afternoon of champagne sipping, croquet playing and high society wining and dining. With such botanical perfection to act as a substitute for the usual bevy of expensive flower arrangements, it seemed only natural to also take a more rustic approach to the acquisition of my wedding bouquet.

Until the day before I tied the knot, when my gaggle of girly-friends and relatives descended upon my cottage residence for an evening of hens night frivolities, I had always believed that my rather unorthodox life choices were due to some kind of genetic mutation in the “straight-laced citizen” gene. After all, for every one of my eighteen years of family-home life living, the bills were always paid on time, speed limits were obeyed and never, ever, ever were my school dresses allowed to be higher than my knees. Ever.

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After having our fill of Pimms beverages in the courtyard garden, me, mum and my covey of conspirators salleyed forth, through fields replete with cattle and sheep grazing on the early summer pastures, towards The Sun Inn. Feeling somewhat nervous about disclosing the evenings’ plan to my rule abiding, genteel mother, I surreptitiously hid my swindling equipment in the bottom of my capacious carrier bag and lingered, discreetly, at the back of the group. When the opportunity arose, out of the bag with great rapidity, came my scissors and roll of dampened kitchen roll. Into it went a prized specimen of only the finest English garden or wild flowers. By the time we had arrived at our destination, my booty bag was brimming with all the colours of the purloined, English countryside.

Awaking late following a solid evening of top quality pub food and anecdotal banter, I lackadaisically lumbered my way down the antique staircase in search of that invigorating morning cuppa. As I made my way through through the lilliputian, wooden kitchen door of our cosy, nineteenth century railway cottage, I was greeted with an opalescent display of floral handy work, adeptly gathered at the base with a silky, white satin ribbon. “The rose didn’t quite stand out enough…so I added some of my own hand picked work” said my mother with a smile. “I’m sure your neighbour will be thrilled to know her lovely lavender now takes pride of place in my daughters wedding bouquet”.

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As a reprieve from the hectic schedule of work, school, extracurricular activities and general day to day living, last Saturday evening saw Scott and I donning the fancy dinner garb to enjoy yet another of our treasured Dine-In-Date-Nights. Comprising only the finest garden sourced ingredients, my take on the humble, iced cream dessert forced us to, literally, take some time out to stop and smell the luv en der bouquet!

Lavender Ice Cream (makes approximately 1.5 L)

For me, making ice-cream is a forty-eight hour, labour of love. Having a moreish predilection for the french take on this humble dessert, means that I use a lot of eggs, cream and sugar: the sweetest things in life! The three step process sees me first making the custard. Cooling for twenty-four hours. Churning and then freezing for another twenty-four hours. Whilst a long time in the making, the effort is well worth the wait and is always received with happy smiles from all those who dare to take on my, often wacky, combinations of lingua experiments. Depending on how many flower heads one chooses to pick or pilfer, the intensity of lavendula flavour can be modified to suit all ice-cream comers.

600 ml single or pouring cream
400 ml milk
1 cup sugar
atleast 20 lavender flower heads
5 egg yolks (reserve the egg-whites for a spring take on the traditional, crisp almond bread: see below)

Atleast two days before you wish to make the ice-cream, place the ice-cream bowl (from and ice-cream machine), into the freezer. In a heavy based saucepan over a low heat, bring the milk and cream to simmering point. Cool for alteast 20 minutes.

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Meanwhile, break up the heads of the lavender flowers and rub them into the sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks till light and creamy (this may seem a little lumpy at first). Slowly pour in the heated milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking vigorously till all combined. Return to the saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens. Do not let the mixture to boil.

Pour, through a sieve, the custard mixture into a mixing bowl. Cover and cool to room temperature. Cool overnight in the fridge. Two hours before you wish to churn the custard mixture, place the bowl into the freezer. Churn for 15-20 minutes in the ice-cream machine. Place the churned ice-cream into a tub and store in the freezer for 24 hours before serving. Serve in a bowl or cone together with a slice of Strawberry Almond Bread.

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Strawberries are dime-a-harvest-bounty-dozen at my house in November. Acting as a thick ground cover in our courtyard garden, K1 and K2 can often be found taking a forage break in order to retrieve these ruby-esque spring time fruits. In addition to mini-pots of jam, leftovers from the afternoon guzzle fests make a berry alluring twist to the standard almond bread recipe.

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5 egg whites
¼ cup coconut sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cup buckwheat flour
¾ cup wheat flour (plus a little extra)
½ – ¾ cup almonds
½ – ¾ cup strawberries, sliced

Whisk the egg-whites till stiff. Whisk in the sugar. Mix together the flours. Gently fold through the flour, strawberries and almonds. The mixture should be dollop-able. Add a little more wheat flour if it is too runny. Pour into a small, 1 litre loaf tin. Cook at 160oC for atleast 40 mins or until firm to touch. Cool in the tin. Refrigerate for atleast 8 hours or overnight.

Turn the loaf out onto a board. Slice into 3 mm thin pieces and place on a baking tray. Cook again in the oven for atleast 20 mins at 120oC (this temperature is very forgiving). Flip each piece and return to the oven for another 15-20 mins. Cool.

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To serve as an accompaniment to the Lavender Ice-cream, slice each piece in half on the diagonal. Place one half (or both) into the top of your ice-cream serve.

Spread the lavendula to all your lovers and loved ones!

In the name of the Father

…the sons and a wholistic toast!

When it comes to making those really big decisions in life, I’m pretty good at realising a burning pitchfork in the backside. I can say however, without fear of being crucified, that I totally nailed it in the selecting-a-y-chromosome-to-pass-on-to-my-progeny department: I couldn’t ask for a better father to my two children than Scott. So when the first Sunday of spring parked itself on the family pew, we assembled en-mass to bestow a God like worship to the patriarch of the house for Fathers Day.

This year K1 and K2 ascended to the kitchen altar and exercised their digits to provide a procession of offerings set to impress even the most ordained of clergymen:

Retrieved from the depths of the family’s cook-book tabernacle, the Egg and Bacon Roll cook-up has proven to be a ongoing fatherhood favourite…

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Be’lated Date Balls (Beet, Chocolate and Date Balls) – made from a some left over birthday cake, chocolate and those late harvest, garden beets – to round out the feast…

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And some organ inspired piano numbers:

Abounded in mind, body and spirit, we left the table in peace: to love and serve the day.

For those keen on giving some daily bread to that special man of house at the next Father’s Day worship, then look no further: Wholistic Toast. Packed full of plenty of go, glow and grow foods, the whole family will be singing from the rafters by the end of that big brekky feast!

Ahhh…Men.

Wholistic Toast (Gluten Free Man Food Rolls; makes 8)

Thanks to our family’s voracious appetite for homemade pasta and ice-cream, we accumulate a lot of egg whites. When combined with a selection of gluten free flours, psyllium and a generous swill of kombucha, one can have themselves a scrumptious addition to the breakfast feast.

300 g almond meal (although I have also been known to use a mix of gluten free flours including buckwheat, soy, rice, quinoa and banana)
55 g psyllium
1 tbs coconut flour
¾ tbs bicarb soda (baking soda)
½ tsp salt
4 tbs kombucha (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tsp honey (or rice malt syrup)
1 ½ c boiling water
6 egg whites
sesame and poppy seeds (optional)

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In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients (with the exception of the sesame and poppy seeds). In a separate bowl, whisk the egg-whites until they are white, fluffy and soft peaks can be formed. Stir the egg whites through the dry mixture until a bread crumb consistency is achieved. In a separate bowl again, mix together the kombucha, honey and boiling water. Add the wet ingredients into the flour/egg white mixture. Using a wooden spoon or strong spatula, stir vigorously until the fizzing has subsided and the mixture begins to form a firm but sticky dough.

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Pour the poppy/sesame seeds into a shallow bowl. Divide the Wholistic Toast dough mixture into eight, approximately equal, portions. Roll each portion into a firm ball, dip into the seeds and then place onto an oiled tray. Repeat for the remaining seven portions. Bake the rolls in the oven at 180oC for 20 – 25 minutes. Leave to cool.

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When ready to serve that deified Dad in your life his man food breakfast, slice the roll in half and load it with all manner of “grow food (protein packed)” goodies. Hallelujah!!

Souper Getaway: in the Sunshine State with ‘Kin

“Into each day put: one teaspoon of good spirits, a dash of fun, pinch of folly and a spoonful of laughter” – anonymous. 

Surviving the subzero, July temperatures in our cool climate town is a monumental challenge at the best of times. Throw in a rental house with an EER of 0.5 and two active little sprouts addicted to the outdoors, and all of a sudden making it through the winter weeks can seem a little like pushing a wheelbarrow load of hefty pumpkins uphill with a flat tyre!

Fortunately for us, when the freezing weather tightens its icy tendrils about our abode, we apply a two-pronged, garden-fork bushwhack to see us through the mid year hump. Namely, some hearty, pumpkin themed, winter warming dishes and…

…a three week getaway with friends and family in Queensland.

After germination, our heirloom variety, second-hand family sedan hit the highway for a meandering journey north towards the radiant centre of our great nation. By the end of the three weeks, we had bartered some ‘Kin favourites, a case of wine and a posse of local cheeses in return for a bumper crop of home style cooking and fruitful banter. Such highlights included: Garden Bake and Games Night in Gosford; Souper dining in the bush at Mt. Crosby; the Geebung Pizza Oven Supreme; roast lunch with a view in Nambour; poolside scones with jam and cream in Bridgeman Downs and; familial crockpot catering in Mt. Clear. Of course no wining and dining trip to the sunshine state would ever truly be complete without that regal standard high tea at Mrs. O’s…

…and a fabaceous forage in her Castledine Garden.

After a captivating journey home through the vast expanse of inland NSW farmland, we alighted at a refurbished, rustic pub in Narrabri. Stealing time to reflect on our invigorating holiday while our humble and portable supper soup sat heating in the communal kitchen, my eyes fixed upon a fading poster tacked above the kitchen sink:

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A felicitous description of our solfull venture!

For anyone else hooked on the fleshy, orange love of ‘kin, I present to you my recipe for Dahl ‘n’ ‘Kin Soup: a home grown, eatable companion for the long haul, road trip to happiness. Enjoy!

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Dahl ‘n’ Kin Soup (Moong [or Mung] Dahl and Roast Pumpkin Soup)

When the mercury drops, our usual travelling meal of salad and tart is substituted for the the warming fare that is a hearty winter soup with home baked bread. As most hotels are decked out with a microwave, soup makes for a quick and frugal alternative to the truck stop or road side restaurant alternatives. I have even been known to throw in my metho-fueled Trangia stove…just in case!

½ medium sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 cup Moong (Mung) Dahl

2 onions, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely diced

2 carrots, cubed

500 ml stock

2 tbs fresh thyme

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Place the pumpkin pieces on a tray. Roast them in the oven at 180oC for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse the dahl and place it into a saucepan with atleast 1 L water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes on medium heat. Drain through a fine colander.

In a large, heavy based saucepan, fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the carrot. Cook for another couple of minutes. With the exception of the thyme, stir in the remaining ingredients. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and leave the soup to simmer on low heat for 30 – 40 minutes. Check regularly to ensure the soup is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Puree’ the soup and stir through the fresh thyme.

For travelling purposes, place the soup into an appropriately sized casserole dish (or microwave safe plastic container). Upon arrival at your hotel, throw the soup into the microwave for 10 – 15 minutes then serve, with some crusty home baked bread, to your weary travelling companions: Souper ‘Kin for your dahling kin.