18 Jun 2016

mid-winter hiatus

Life is topsy-turvy at the moment. My brain is fizzed; I have no creative energy nor time to travel around to everyone else's wonderful blogs. So Dig In is having a small hibernation; hopefully only 3 or 4 weeks. Please don't forget me, please check back soon; and please keep warm and dry over winter - or enjoy a lovely northern summer.

12 Jun 2016

garden ramble: frost and rain

As I write this, it is raining gently, it is damp and muggy, and everything is a bit soggy. The weather has been wild everywhere, and while my patch of the world is getting off lightly … can it stop now?

This week has been warm (for Hobart, for this time of year) with days of rain and cloudy skies and low light (and no light). Rain tanks and gauges are full. The last autumn leaves lay abandoned in puddles, and my candy-floss-pink camellia is now a sad, sodden mess.

But all this came after a week of dry, severe frosts and desperately low temperatures. Each day, I would email mum and dad a report: ‘frost bigger than yesterday!’. I love the stark silence of a big frost, just as I love snow-on-the-mountain — as long as I’m not out in it.

So measures were needed for those of us who were outside. Every morning I broke through the ice on my bird baths: sometimes a thin crystalline layer; once, thick and nearly solid. And every day after work, sometimes in bone-chilling dark, I draped my still-tender passionfruit vines in old paint sheets; each morning, I unpegged the sheets that once or twice were stiff and crunchy. Ah, the things we do for our fruit and veg.

But in other parts of the garden, there are promises of warmer, brighter days: the spring bulbs are sending up their green shoots. I even have one small tantalising clump of jonquil buds:

Mum already has snowdrops (or snowflakes?) on show, and a neighbour of hers has fully bloomed jonquils! Poor confused bulbs — but what a joyous sight they must be on these bleak, damp days.

I hope you and your plants are safe, no matter what that crazy, contrary woman Mother Nature is throwing at you.
A delicate winter blossom

5 Jun 2016

On tweaking

No recipes this week; how could I when everything I make lately seems to depart, by accident or design, from the original printed word?

I am, as mum herself has said, my mother’s daughter — I’ve inherited the ability to look at a recipe and assess if something doesn’t quite read right, or could do with a little improvement, before I’ve even picked up a knife or turned on the oven. Or — as I’m sure most of us do — juggle and wiggle with quantities or ingredients or cooking times as we go along, to suit what we have on hand or what we’d like to taste or what just feels right.

So I told you last time that I added extra veg to Annabel’s lentilaise; and did some quick thinking during the cooking to get the texture just right. I enjoyed the final tasty dish so much I’ll make it again this winter, probably with further refinements and additions each time.

Above is a tuna pasta bake that, while tasty and filling, was utterly ordinary and not really worth repeating or indeed mentioning here, except for the fact that I used the recipe merely as a very rough guide for flavours and process — but abandoned the quantities entirely. Otherwise I would have been knee-deep in tuna pasta, for weeks to come; the volumes seemed so generous, so vast — for only four servings! (Who are these people with monstrous appetites?). Strangely though, I needed to ramp up the chilli and lemon zest, even in my much reduced pot.

Finally, the mother of all recent tweaks, this oaty cakey thing that was so loosely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that even she would not recognise it.

Mum and I agree that Martha recipes are never straightforward. We’ve both made her recipes essentially unaltered, and instead of the 72 biscuits Martha predicts, we end up with … 12. Or the cake is supposed to fill a large tray, yet in our kitchens, barely stretches to a modest slice tin.

But mostly with Martha recipes, it’s the sweetness. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and tend to under-measure sugar in most of my recipes, but I would defy even the most ardent sugar-sweetie lover to put 2 ½ teaspoons of vanilla into a normal-sized cake. Yes — 2 ½! Are your teeth on edge just thinking about that? That’s on top of the 2 cups of brown sugar! Naturally, I downsized this to the more standard 1 teaspoon.

Maybe even Martha had second thoughts, because the recipe then called for 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. What?! Does that not fizz your brain too? And I wonder (as I do every time, just before I vow never to make another Martha recipe): are these Martha-isms? Does she like extreme flavours? Or is it a cultural thing (I tend to find American recipes on the sweet side)? Or is a me thing?

After these and other adjustments, the resulting cake was surprisingly good (I was prepared for a dud on my hands, despite my confidence in my juggling skills). I was most surprised when my work colleagues whom I fed this too raved about it — one even said it was better than the nutella cake!

But all this tweaking on my feet has left me exhausted. I’m yearning for a cake I don’t have to second guess, a casserole I don’t have to rescue, biscuits that will work. So I’ve returned to some winter faves: my orange ricotta cupcakes, and soon, my syrupy orange upside cake.

Happy tweaking to you all!