29 May 2016


At the supermarket I saw a harried looking woman rudely shoving great handfuls of snow peas into a plastic bag. I was stunned by the force that she handled the peas with — especially considering they were $16 a kilo. At that price, I’d be picking them out more tenderly (at that price, I left them on the shelf).
Then I turned to the broccoli, were I saw another woman brutally snap off the stalks and throw them back in the bins before thundering off. I wanted to say something about the stalks being just as delicious, and discarding them was wasteful, but she looked like she might be just as brutal to me.
I was shocked at the disrespect, anger and thoughtlessness of those shoppers! Now that I’m buying most of my veg, I make sure I’m choosing the best quality for my money — I don’t want bruised or tattered greens — but I also think of the farmers who grew the produce, and respect their hard work to give me food.

So moving into winter means buying veg, and it means making heartier dishes like this one. The weather has been strangely, wonderfully mild (punctuated by the odd frigid day), but this week the temperatures plummeted properly, and something more substantial than a roast vegie salad was called for (though that is not to be sneezed at).
I finally made some ‘lentilaise’, the legume version of bolognaise. If you’re counting your five a day, this does it, plus some: a base of onions and garlic and carrots and celery and capsicum; chunks of parsnip and wedges of mushrooms; and finally the lentils and some tinned tomatoes and lots of parsley and marjoram (or oregano? I can’t tell the difference).
I thought it should have been tomato-ier, but it’s been a long time since I made bolognaise to remember exactly what it should be like; maybe too I was confusing this with a richer pasta sauce. And next time I would use less carrot (carrotaise?); it was a bit too sweet and orange, and I needed to add more of those woody herbs and a tad more tomato paste to balance that.
But overall, this bubbling big pot of goodness was winter comfort food. I served it with some fluffy brown rice … and green peas (normal ones) and broccoli (stalks and all).
Adapted from Annabel Crabb’s ‘Special delivery’. I added capsicum and parsnip to the list of vegies. Next time I would blitz the onion, carrot and celery in the food processor first, as my 'finely diced' was still rather chunky; I did an awkward thing of fishing out the parsnip and mushroom chunks then ladling the sauce into my food processor to refine it, then ladling it back into the pot…
  • In a large heavy casserole pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil and add these vege that you have finely chopped or food-processed: one onion, 2 stalks of celery, 1-2 carrots and half a yellow capsicum. Also add some small chunks of parsnip. Put the lid on and cook away till the finer veg is soft (the parsnip will take longer).
  • Once that base veg is soft, add at least 2 tbspns tomato paste, 3 fat cloves of garlic that you’ve chopped or sliced, 150-175 gms mushrooms that you’ve chopped, and a good slosh of wine (I used white). Give it a good stir and pop the lid on to cook for a few more minutes.
  • Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes; then half-fill the tin with water and swish that in too. Add a good pinch of salt and generous amounts of flavoursome herbs like marjoram/oregano and parsley. I used fresh herbs because I still have them growing in the garden, but Annabel specified 1 tspn of dried Italian herbs.
  • Let this simmer away until your parsnip, the hardier of the ingredients, is tender. Then add a drained 400 gm tin of lentils and heat thru, plus more chopped parsley. Serve with love and respect.

15 May 2016

garden ramble: rain and plantings

Looks cold...
Rain. Rain, rain and more rain. Yes finally — it’s raining! And proper big wet stuff, stuff that’s last longer than the usually fleeting moment, where you think ‘oh, it’s raini—’ and it stops before you even finish the thought. No, for the past week, we have had bucket loads, rain gauges full of the stuff. I even found myself thinking quite a blasphemous thought one night, as I brushed my teeth and listened to the pounding on the roof: oooh it could stop a bit now; I don’t want my garlic to rot.

Because the garlic is, like the rain, seemingly unstoppable. I’d barely poked the cloves in the ground and they were poking back up again! There are 33 of the 35 leafy garlic shoots standing proud and upright (except for the one I trod on last weekend). Such a strong crop, so I have high hopes of a good bounty later in the year. As long as they don’t rot with all this strange rain.

I’ve also put in six sprouting broccoli plants. I love broccoli, and a couple of years ago I grew the purple sprouting variety, which was so pretty. This is normal green stuff, but will be just as delicious. Grow little seedlings!

The passionfruit vine is also very vigorous, and is still producing flowers and fruit, which I have pegged so they’re easier to spot amongst the lush greenery. All I need to do now is watch for frost warnings, so I can go out and swaddle my tender baby. I’m not sure at what age I stop wrapping the vines up, but I’m not taking any risks. Hopefully frost is a little while off, though after a very warm autumn, we hit the cold — or it hit us — with a bang; we’ve already had two big dumpings of snow on the mountain. Tassie weather is so changeable, and always a source of speculation and conversation.
Autumn colour for Jem in Brisbane

Moving out of the vegie garden and into the ornamental side of things, dad planted my four new grevillea plants. I hope these will grow into trees and bushes that provide colour for me, and nectar and spiky habitat for birds.
The varieties are copper rocket, which promises hot pink flowers (one of my favourite colours) throughout the year; and flora mason and semperflorens, with softer coloured pink and apricot flowers, again with a long flowering season. It’s easy to have flowers for birds and bees in the spring and summer, but having some food to attract and nourish them in the cooler months can be a challenge. Though this big blue salvia is proving me very wrong:

Finally I leave you with some winter colour, and an example of Mother Nature doing her best to prove that concrete driveways are no match for a determined lion’s plant. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.


8 May 2016

nutella cake

Happy birthday to us!
Let’s celebrate with a big fluffy chocolatey cake smothered with the fudgiest icing ever! Hip hip hooray!

Nutella cake
Adapted from a Women’s Weekly recipe. The recipe specified a deep 22cm round tin; I don’t have one of those, so I used a deep 20 cm and made four little muffins. My friend M, who first made this cake, topped hers with tart red raspberries; I went for spangly silver cachous. Best shared with people singing and oohing and ahhing.

  • Prep your tin (see above) and preheat oven to 180.
  • In a small jug, combine ½ cup cocoa, ½ cup boiling water and a pinch of salt, and stir until it’s a beautiful chocolate slurry.
  • In a large bowl (and if you have a freestanding mixer, use that), beat 185 gms soft butter with ¾ cup white sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • Beat in 3 eggs, then the chocolate slurry (enjoy the swirly patterns!), ½ cup nutella, and 180 mls buttermilk (enjoy the mousse-like texture!). At this point, it is entirely reasonable to have a sneaky taste test. Or two.
  • Now use a wooden spoon to fold thru 1 ½ cups SR flour and ½ cup plain flour. Remember to lick the beaters once you’re finished with your mixer. After all, it’s your birthday.
  • Pour this beautiful batter into your tin and bake for 1 ¼ hours until done. You may need to cover the cake partway through to prevent the top from burning.
  • Once baked, cool on a wire rack in the tin.
  • Meanwhile, gently melt 200gms of dark cooking chocolate, then stir in 1 cup nutella (I actually had slightly less than these quantities, but it turned out very well). Allow to cool a little, then turn out your cake, and pour over the icing. Decorate as you wish — and enjoy!