Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pickled nasturtium "capers"

I've always wanted to make these but thought it would be difficult. I was confused about what part of the nasturtium to use. So I took the plunge and can share some tips to assure you its easy. They have to cure in the jar for three months so I can't give any report on taste, not until late September, but you might like to check back in when I open them.

So, first of all, you need to collect the seeds of the nasturtiums. When the flowers die back the vine produces shiny seeds on the end of curly stalks. The seeds are actually a cluster of three or four.

I suggest you crouch down low to find them as they hide really well under the leaves.  Its easy to tell them apart from the flower buds, although I suspected that would not be the case. The buds are single and dull.

This close up shows the seeds in the bottom of the frame and a bud near the top to the right of the full flower.

So, once you have picked enough seeds for a small jar follow these simple steps from Sarah O'Neill's The Good Life: four glorious seasons in my country garden.

Add to a saucepan, enough white vinegar to fill the jar, two peppercorns per 200ml of vinegar, 5ml of salt and herbs to your taste for example bay leaf and thyme. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove stems from the seeds and break apart the clusters. Add to the jar. Pour in vinegar and seal. Set aside to cool and for the button to pop down on the jar.

Label and date. Store in the fridge for three months before opening and enjoying.

I hope this makes it easy for you. Lets chat again in 3 months when I break the seal.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Home from hospital and adjusting to my latest experience of life

fresh hues | color + inspiration

I'm home and recuperating from my experience of hospital. I am very fortunate that I was able to come home the same day and did not have to stay over.  I am sore and terribly tired but grateful to be home and well. I have the luxury of time to sleep as I am on sick leave from work, not that I would be of much use to them.  My powers of concentration escape me still.

Last week I wrote of my terrible fear of the ordeal ahead of me. I almost ran away when the orderly came for me, only the sense of manners instilled in me by my mother prevented me. Actually my manners were tested a few times, by nurses who didn't explain what was happening, by an anesthetist who asked questions but didn't listen to my answer, by the complete disregard for dignity that the whole process demonstrated.

It would be easy to criticise myself for my fear, dismiss myself as paranoid but I am glad I accepted my feelings and proactively prepared for the experience.  I am healing slowly but solidly and feel comfortable with myself and my emotions. I would highly recommend if you are faced with something that frightens you, as this did me, that you prepare slowly and diligently so that you may face it as best you can. It will help you on the other side.

I chose the above quote to say that I have embraced the experience as an opportunity to show others greater empathy through understanding.  Not that its an experience I want to repeat ...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Going into hospital tomorrow and feeling anxious

Its a big day for me tomorrow. I'm going into hospital for the first time since I was born. I'm trying and failing to see it as one of life's experiences that contribute to my wholeness as a person.

I have gone through a range of emotions since I found out I had to have surgery: fear and anxiety topped the list. Convinced I could not possibly survive I have sorted bills, super, lodged my tax return, sorted cupboards and generally kept very very busy making sure I would not leave a mess. I just couldn't contemplate going into hospital without my affairs in order.

Now on the eve of surgery I feel sad and quietly resigned.  I don't know whether my sorting has contributed to lowering my fatalistic anxiety or if is just the result of time. Time to consider, time to get more used to the idea.

This journey started months ago. Feeling quite unwell I went to the Doctor for tests, was given a referral to a surgeon whom I saw just for an estimate. He was ready for me and regaled me with a litany of horror scenarios, finishing with a story about people who cancel their admission appointments at the last minute. It was one of those, "you wouldn't be so stupid, would you" moments.

My appointment letter arrived, I notified work, family, friends and set about the business of coming to grips with the idea. In hindsight I wished they had whipped me in to surgery when I was feeling crook 'cos right now I feel well. I don't want to get cut into for no reason. Now it is more about preventing future sickness than dealing with a current problem. That is hard to deal with.

My surgery is really considered minor. Keyhole, although that is rather dismissive of the reality of four holes. People have been very kind and encouraging, although at least some must think me paranoid. No one has said so.

Well tomorrow is the big day.  I will hold my chin up high and try to be dignified about the whole thing. Wish me luck.  When its over I'll be forced to chalk it up to experience.

Monday, July 14, 2014

At last peace in our times, cats and dogs can be friends

Lily (cat) and Harvey (dog) called a truce at long last in order to warm up in front of the fire. Its taken 3 and a half months! Winter always sorts cross species relations: its too cold to keep at war. Is there a lesson for world peace here?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creamy, cheesy potato bake with a lower cheese, higher protein twist

All afternoon I had a hankering for potato bake. At work, on the way home. I love the soft potato, the creamy sauce and the crispy cheese on top. Ah yum. I never make it though as I can't bear to cook with that much cream and cheese. I like to eat it but if I bake it I skimp and end up disappointed.

But no more! Tonight I gave into my craving and cooked the best potato bake ever. I skimped again of course but this time it worked. I had to share because this recipe is divine.  I credit the success of this recipe to the strength of my desire. Not to mention my homegrown spuds adding something special, but I'm sure store bought will be just fine.

Of course I made a huge dish so there is potato bake for lunch tomorrow and the day after.

Here's the recipe:

Wash, peel and slice potatoes. Steam them over boiling water until just soft. Be careful not to turn them to mush.

Preheat the oven to 180-200C and lightly oil a baking dish.

Meanwhile prepare the sauce.  Heat 40g butter in a saucepan. When melted, whisk in half a cup of plain flour.  Add 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Add half a packet of silken tofu and whisk like mad over reduced heat to keep the sauce smooth. Add more milk to keep the consistency of cheese sauce. Note there is no cheese needed at this stage.

Layer potatoes in the baking dish, top with shallots or herbs, then a third of the sauce, then more potatoes and herbs. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top and spread evenly.  Top with grated parmesan. Bake until golden and crispy.

I know I've said it again and I'll say it again, if you use tofu like this no one will ever know let alone object. The tofu adds soy protein and thickens the sauce. The mustard gives a cheesy flavour.  But I saved the cheese just as a topping which means I used a lot less.

If you like potato bake I hope you give this version a try. I'm completely thrilled and will continue to make it this way from now on.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hunting award winning black truffles in Robertson with Yelverton Truffles and FoodPath Culinary Tours

Its freezing today in Robertson. We are only at 740m above sea level but the wind is coming straight off the Australian Alps about 4 hours drive away.  The snow feels closer. The day is an illusion, from inside it looks stunning out, sunny and bright but far from warm. When us Southern Highlanders feel its cold be sure to wear your warmest clothes.

Out we trekked though this morning for an outdoorsy tour with a difference.  Howard didn't actually know where we were going as I arranged it as a surprise. The lovely Jill from FoodPath Culinary Tours with a Difference had arranged a great treat for us, other Highlanders, a few people from Canberra and a small crowd from Sydney. This region is well known for wine, lovely cool climate wines and Jill is working hard to put the area on the foodie map as well. A couple of months ago you might remember I went on a fascinating mushroom tunnel tour with Jill.

If you've been watching the foodie media in the past week you may have read about Australia's largest truffle being unearthed near Robertson.  Ted and Barbara Smith from Yelverton Truffles and their truffle dog, Jet the Wonder dog, dug up the huge 1.172 kilo Perigord black truffle and unleashed a week long media storm, which you can read about online. This tour of their Truffiere was booked in long before this special find so they had an unexpectedly busy week before we arrived but were still the most gracious hosts.
Following a talk about what truffles are and the history of truffle growing in Australia we headed out in the fields.

The trees are a mix of Quercus Ilex and Quercus Robur inoculated as seedlings with truffle spores.

We had to wear booties over our shoes to protect the biosecuirty of the farm and prevent foreign spores or bacteria being walked in.

Robertson naturally had many of the necessary features for truffle growing: friable soil, warm summers and cold winters with frosts.  The one feature that was contrary was our volcanic soil is highly acidic rather than alkaline so 50 tons per hectare of lime was added.

"We don't care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles" Mark Twain 
Hard to believe this black splat is a prized truffle selling for more than $2000 per kilo! Round here there are plenty of wombat poos that look much the same.

Watch Jet the wonder dog go through his truffle hunting paces by clicking on the photo below:

After a good look around the Truffiere we were treated to shaved truffle slices on hors d'oeuvres of bread and egg or bread and camembert. Then a lovely bowl of potato soup with truffle infused butter. Warming and tasty.

As this is not my first foodie tour of late you might be wondering why I go along. A couple of reasons, meeting lovely people, seeing new places and learning about food, history and taste in a way you can''t in a supermarket.  We spent a very enjoyable morning on this tour.

And the verdict? Are truffles worth the cost and challenge of growing them? No, not to me. I must either be a philistine or have no palate because I could not taste a thing and in truth neither could anyone else I asked. I still have fun and am very glad to have expanded my knowledge. I recommend you go and find out for yourself. 


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