Category Archives: Food

Endless olive trees in Andalusia. Spain. 2009

Just before we left Valencia to head southwest into Andalusia, Engogirl was looking up old train routes that have been converted into bicycle and walking trails known as “via verde”. One review mentioned that the via verde in Andalusia passed through endless olive trees.

 We thought that it would be better to head to Burunchel which is close to a few national parks to do some hiking instead cycling.

 The person who said that there were endless olive tree in Andalusia wasn’t kidding. About an hour before we reached our destination we started to see scenes like the one below.

 There are hills after hills planted with nothing else but olive trees. It’s almost hypnotic passing kilometre after kilometre of evenly spaced trees. As the afternoon rakes through the trees it’s like driving past a stroboscope.

Our hotel in Burunchel has been fantastic with great food and excellent staff. On our first night I asked the waitress (a really lovely person) to suggest a local wine to go with the venison we were having for dinner. Our waitress looked at me with the sort of compassionate countenance that seemed to convey, you poor clueless thing, you don’t have any idea do you? Then she said to me, “we don’t grow grapes around here, only olives”, and then she went on to suggest, what turned out to be, an excellent wine from another region.

Yep they only grow olives around Burunchel, and as a matter of fact when we went up into the nearby mountains in the national parks, it looks like there is nothing but olive trees as far as the eye can see.

The sight of such mass plantings right up to the park boundaries reinforced in my mind the theory that I have, that national parks, just about anywhere, only exist in areas that can’t be farmed.

Even when we drove about 100 kms (about 62 miles) north up to Segura de La Sierra there was nothing being farmed but olive trees. 

Interestingly many of the little villages we passed were on hill tops and nearly all of them have some kind of defensive fortifications, be it a little tower or a full blown castle. This brings to mind how turbulent Spanish history has been.

Back home in Australia towns tend to be built on some economic nexus point, like the availability of fresh water, a resource and a harbour for instance. In Spain the need for security seems have come first and then people have tried to make a living where they could more easily defend themselves, even though to do so would’ve made life very difficult. Just walking up the hills in these little towns unencumbered is bad enough, never mind having to lug produce around and do manual work in such terrain.

A difficult life is way better than death or enslavement.

Back in the early 1980s I spent three months in Morocco and a large part of that time was spent in a small village in the south. Each day I had to go to the well and stand in line with crowds of women and wait my turn to haul some water out of the deep well. It was such hard work and a real drag.

A huge amount of time is used pulling water up from wells and when I looked at all those hill top towns here in Andalusia I was reminded how life would’ve been for the inhabitants back in the old days. A hill top is not a good place to get water and I bet their wells would’ve been so deep.

In our modern lives we take so much for granted.

Spain has been an amazing place so far and Andalusia seems to be the icing on the cake.

By the way, the olives and the olive oil I’ve had over the last couple of days have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The locals are so proud of what they produce and seem genuinely pleased to be sharing something special when I’ve commented on how delicious their olives are. I had some green olives stuffed with anchovies the other night as tapas that were to die for.

The boys bag a boar. Compludo, North Western Castile and León, Spain. 2009

Engogirl and I went to a medieval iron works, Herrería de Compludo, yesterday.  The road was so narrow, that we couldn’t turn the car around to go back to Ponferrada, so we drove on down the dirt road to the tiny village of Compludo. As we entered the village we had to come to a halt because the road was blocked by a large group of men, dogs and 4WDs.

We stopped the car and got out to see what was going on and this is part of what we saw.

A group of hunters had killed a wild boar and were weighing it (94kg2 or 207lbs) while the villagers appeared from all directions to take photos, admire and congratulate.

Slot car tourism. Siena, Italy. 2009

After a testing day driving the very narrow and winding back roads of Tuscany, plunging into Siena during the afternoon peak hour is akin to sticking one’s hand into a blender while it is on.  The locals and tourists are all trying to escape the city at the same time and in a word, it’s chaos. 

I had been warned about driving in Italy, but I came up with a coping mechanism that enabled me to get around like a local.  When driving in Italy and faced with a choice, all one has to do is ask oneself the question, “what would a selfish person do?” and then go ahead and do it as though you had all the right in the world and owned the road.  Any display of driving courtesy or consideration will only throw the locals into confusion and probably cause an accident.  Don’t indicate, don’t give way, don’t stop at pedestrian crossings, just drive like a selfish bastard and you’ll be okay.  This might sound like hyperbole but I’m not kidding,  and it pays to assume that everyone else will drive that way, because it makes things much more predictable and therefore safer.

Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream as I circuited the city a few times looking for parking prepared me for when we finally left the car and started walking into the old part of the city.  It was as though the driving was merely the first gauntlet through which we had to pass.  The second was heading in the opposite direction to the streaming crowds leaving the city before nightfall.  We saw large (probably the size that would fit into a tour bus) flocks of sunbaked and footsore tour groups, either bedecked with matching green scarves or being herded along by their flag-wielding shepherds. 

On we swam upstream until we finally reached the world-famous Campo and I have to admit, I was blown away while feeling an uncontrollable urge to spawn.  It really is beautiful, and no wonder all those people wanted to have a look at it.  Without trying to be disingenuous, I suppose it is the height of chutzpah to expect that I would have such an amazing place just for us two.

The Piazza Del Campo=

The first thing that struck me about the Campo in Siena, was that it wasn’t flat, which might not sound like too great a concern until one realises that the locals race horses around the circumference of the piazza during the Palio.  I have to be honest, the Palio is something I would love to see, even though it would cost a small fortune for decent accommodation at that time and to secure a good vantage point.  Why I’d even brave the insane crowds that would go to such an event!

As with most famous tourist attractions, the Campo in Siena is surrounded by numerous eateries and in Italy this unfortunately means a plethora of pizza parlours.  I am so over pizzas, and like I’m talkin’ 35 years over them.  I spent a summer making them and even though I consider myself a pizza connisseur I wouldn’t care if I never ate another one. 

By the time we arrived at the Campo, both our nerves were quite frazzled and poor old Engogirl was looking a bit down-spirited.  So when I asked her what she wanted to eat and she replied ‘pizza’, there was no way I could deny her such a small thing.  So we sat at the first pizza place we came to and she ordered a Montanga pizza and I ordered a tuna salad.  Sitting at a nearby table was a cool-looking elderly couple drinking some bright orange drinks with ice in large wine glasses.  The ice-cold bright orange drinks seemed to know my name and they called to me, so I gestured to the waiter to come over, and asked him what they were.  He replied “spritzers”.  Now I always thought that a spritzer was just some generic term for a wine cocktail with something fizzy in it, but apparently in northern Italy it is a combination of Aperol (a milder-flavoured version of the very nasty Campari) and Prosecco.  I have to say that considering my mental state at the time, the delivered “spritzers” were the perfect antidote.  

When our meal arrived, the sun had started to go down and the sky turned a beautiful deep blue and the crowds had thinned right out.  No longer were there clumps of locals shooting the breeze as tourists took photographs of each other with the Palazzo Pubblico behind.

Twilight at the Piazza Del Campo=

Much to my surprise, the salad that I ordered was fantastic, and Engogirl’s pizza was divine.  I’ve never been a fan of thin-crust pizzas, as I feel that they are a failure of technique.  Any idiot can make a thin crust pizza by letting ordinary pizza dough dry out during the second rising.  Talk about selling a defect as an advantage…sheesh!  But I digress, the pizza’s flavours were just amazing.  Arugula, wild mushrooms (which are in season at the moment) and proscuitto with a mozzarella that was unlike any that I’d ever tasted before.  It all tasted so rich and buttery.  It was the best pizza I’d ever tasted.

The Americans may have invented the pizza but I think it’s been perfected in Siena.

By the time we had finished dinner the sky had turned black and the piazza was almost deserted except for a few small groups of back-packers sitting around sharing wine. 

The Piazza Del Campo at night=

As I looked at the backpackers I couldn’t help but remember my times in the early eighties when I hitchhiked through Europe.  I was glad that I travelled back then, the way how I did, because just about any kind of travel is better than no travel at all.  But I have to admit, I’m really loving the way how I’ve been travelling lately.

Back when I was younger I travelled with little or no money and I often felt that I was on the outside looking in, like some hungry dog with its nose pressed up against the glass of a butcher’s shop window.  How things have changed, now I’m on the inside and my biggest problem is not to eat and drink too much!

Shopping for food in Ljubljana is a pleasure. Slovenia. 2009

Engogirl and I have been taking a bit of a break from our travels by staying with some Slovene friends, Robert and Marjeta in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Marjeta told us that now is right in the middle of mushroom season and that porcini mushrooms were available. In Australia, it’s impossible to get fresh porcinis so the idea of getting my hands on some fresh porcinis got me all excited to do some cooking.

Robert had shown us on our first night in Ljubljana where the fresh vegetable and mushroom market was and in the morning Engogirl and I went and did some food shopping. I have to say that I was really impressed with the quality and variety of the produce.

I bought a celeriac to make some soup; the ingredients to make a porcini risotto and arugula, baby spinach, pear, walnut and parmesan salad.

The selection of mushrooms was also much wider than we get at home and there were plenty of mushrooms I’d never seen before.

Everything I bought tasted better than at home and it was really nice to be able to cook something up for our hosts.

I could get used to living in Ljubljana as it’s so lovely. The people are great and the city is so beautiful with such a lively vibe. I find it surprising that I’ve heard so little about Slovenia, considering it’s such a nice place. I guess I should be thankful that I’m here before it is “discovered”.

A silk purse can’t be made from of a pig’s ear, but flammkuchen makes everything seem better. Lösnich & Wolf, Germany. 2009

For our trip to Europe, my wife and I bought two cheap folding bicycles so we could get some exercise and extend our range without using a car all the time.

Before we left, my friend Paul, who knows a fair bit about folding bikes, suggested that we get better tires for our bikes, so I bought some Schwalbe “Marathons”. The Marathons are puncture resistant and can be pumped up harder than the tires that came with our bikes. Hard tires mean less resistance and friction, which in turn means less energy is used whilst cycling.

Being the slack guy that I am, I left off putting the new tires on our bikes until the day before we left for Europe. The new tires were so tight; I couldn’t get them on my wheels so I took them to a local bicycle sales and repair store to have them fitted. 

As it seems to be usual (in Sydney at least), the bike mechanic was a young guy who exuded more confidence in his skills than he could demonstrate. After wrestling with my tires and rims for about an hour he handed them back to me and said, “this is the best I can do with them”.

I looked at the wheels and they didn’t look as they were seated correctly and I said so. The mechanic said not to worry as I should let the tires down for my upcoming flight anyway and that the tires would re-seat themselves when I pumped them up again.

When we got to Bruges in Belgium we pumped up tires up but they didn’t seat properly on the rims but we rode our bikes anyway. By the time we got to the Mosel in Germany we’d already spent a fair bit of time on our bikes and were putting up with the lumpy ride our badly seated tires were giving.

One of the parts of our trip we were both looking forward to the most, was cycling down the Mosel River. We started off on a Suday near the town of Kues and not long after we left, an irritating squeak started to emanate from my wife’s bike.

Eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh.

We tried everything we could think of. We adjusted her brakes, gears and mudguards but nothing seemed to work. We came to the conclusion that the badly seated tire on the rear wheel was causing the problem by making the spokes rub against each other but we kept cycling.

The constant, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh was driving us nuts and totally ruining the whole cycling experience.

After about 10kms we came to the lovely quite town of Erden and I made enquiries as to where the nearest bicycle repair place was. I was told there was a very good one only about 1.5kms away in Lösnich, but because it was Sunday and since the Germans are a civilised bunch who take their day of rest seriously, they were closed.

Both Engogirl and I knew we didn’t want to cycle anymore that day because it was so unaesthetic, so we stayed in Erden overnight.

First thing on Monday morning we rode to Lösnich and had our bikes looked at by Harald Warscheid at his shop and service centre. Harald is a very helpful and nice guy who took us into his immaculate workshop to work on our bikes. I’d never been into such a nice bicycle repair place before. The radio was playing some soft rock and various locals would drop by and shoot the breeze for short periods while Harald worked on seating our tires correctly and adjusting all the various other things that needed to be done.

All very calm, clean, convivial and civilised.

As I watched Harald work, I couldn’t help but think that I was watching a guy who had figured out how to make a living in a very pleasant way.

A bodhisattva of bicycles if you will.

As we chatted with Harald, it became obvious that he wasn’t impressed with the construction of our bikes (we already knew they were cheaply made) and he explained to us that the wheels had been assembled by a machine and machines over tighten the spokes. Our badly seated tires and over tightened spokes had caused our wheels to warp. Engogirl’s squeaky wheel had warped the most. Harald sorted out the tire seating problems and realigned the rims as best as he could, but the damage had already gone too far on the squeaky wheel and it couldn’t be fixed.

I am a mechanic not a magician

A new wheel was needed.

Now I know at this stage, many people might think that a mechanic would say that so they can sell you a new wheel, but Harald didn’t have anything to gain because he didn’t carry such small wheels.

Luckily Germany is the sort place that has bicycle stores in every other town and all the towns are only a few kilometres apart. So we rode up the Mosel a few more kilometres to the town of “Wolf”.

It was about five minutes to noon when we walked into the bicycle store in Wolf to buy a new wheel. We were told it would take an hour and a half to fit the tire onto the rim.

“Why so long”, I asked?

“Vee closs vor vun hour vor luntch” was the answer.

“Gee, I guess that means that we have to find some nice place and have some lunch ourselves?” I thought.

“Fine with me!” was my next thought.

So down the road we walked to a row of lovely little eateries near the river that cater to people cycling down the Mosel and had a delightful lunch of the local seasonal specialty of flammkuchen, washed down with some white wine from the Mosel region.

Thank goodness we needed a new wheel or we might’ve missed having such a nice meal.

Flammkuchen is like a thin crust pizza, topped with onion, crème fraîche and small pieces of bacon. It’s surprisingly tasty and with the cold white wine it was simply divine.

Engogirl in heaven

So simple, yet so perfect!

After lunch we picked up our bikes and set off to Zell.

The short time that we spent on cycling down the Mosel made me really envious of the German people for living in such a nice country.

I could really get used to such a way of living.

THIS, is a lemon! Roast lemon chicken with Sicilian olivies recipe.

When we first moved into our house, my wife Engogirl, declared that we MUST get a lemon tree. I said I didn’t want one because I thought it would take up too much room and I wouldn’t have that much use for the fruit. Engogirl insisted, so her mother bought us a Meyer lemon tree. Since my mother in law isn’t someone you want to get on the wrong side of and it pleases me to see my wife happy, I did as I was told and planted the tree.

It took about 3 years before we got any lemons but when we finally did, I was stunned at how good they were. The lemons are almost sweet enough to eat without any sugar added and the skins are fairly thin and a deep yellow.

This is a lemon

Our little tree (it’s only about 180cm or about 6ft) now produces about 60 to 80 lemons a year, all year round. The great thing about lemons is that you can leave them on the tree for about three months after they are ready to eat and you just pick them as you need them. That way they are always fresh and I don’t have to worry about them going off. Any lemons that I can’t use, I juice and make ice cubes with to cook with later. I usually cook something with lemon at least once a week.

There ain’t going to be any scurvy on my watch!

Here’s one of my favourite recipes (I’ve made this so many times) that I cooked for some friends last Friday night. The recipe originally comes from “Delicious” magazine (this magazine is fantastic has totally changed, for the better,  the way I cook) and it’s by Belinda Jeffery.

Roast lemon chicken with Sicilian olives.
Serves 4

Ingredients

Olive oil
4 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves
1 heaped tablespoon of thyme leaves and 8 sprigs
8 skinless chicken thigh cutlets (I use fillets)
Plain flour to dust
2 lemons, scrubbed, seeds removed and thinly sliced
1 and a half cups (375ml) of chicken stock
1 table spoon of chopped preserved lemon rind (you can get this from food stores catering to Arabs)
24 Sicilian olives or any other large green olive.

 Method

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F).

Fry the sliced onion, garlic and thyme in the olive oil over medium-low heat until the onion is a light golden colour (about 20 minutes). In the meantime dust the chicken in flour. When the onion is cooked turn up the heat to medium high and fry the chicken on both sides in the same pan for about four minutes a side until it’s golden.

Lay the cooked onion in a casserole dish and arrange the chicken on top. Then overlap the sliced lemon over top of the chicken. Heat up the chicken stock and chopped preserved lemon rind until it boils and then pour it into the pan the chicken was cooked in to deglaze the pan. Pour the contents of the deglazed pan around the chicken and place the dish in the oven for 50 minutes uncovered. Baste with the stock a few times while it’s cooking. After cooking for 50 minutes spread the olives over the lemon and cook for another 30 minutes (don’t think you can toss the olives in earlier to take a short cut, because they will burn and go black).

I serve this dish on a bed of cous cous that I mix lightly steamed asparagus into. For wine to go with this meal I recommend a lightly chilled soave.

By the way I didn’t adjust this shot to make the lemon look more saturated (as you can tell by my pasty winter complexion).  

The truth is in the sausage.

I’m one of those people who thinks that a good sausage is better than a good steak. If I’m at a restaurant and there is an interesting sounding sausage on offer, I’ll order it in preference to just about anything else. About a  month ago I went with my wife and her parents to a Greek restaurant call Il Greco and had a great meal.

The name Il Greco means “The Greek” in Italian.

What! And why?

At first I thought it was a reference to El Greco the painter and we’d be eating Spanish food, but then I realised that “il” was Italian for “the”, and if it was a Greek restaurant it should’ve been named something like “O Hellene” (Ο Έλληνας). It turns out that restaurant is owned by a Greek guy with an Italian wife and he told us that she would’ve killed him if he hadn’t put something Italian in the name. To me, it’s further proof of how much more there is in everything that is written; if we take the time to think about it. Luckily for me, my wife and her parents are the kind of people who are engaged by trying to make sense of the world around them and the sign provided us with some entertainment as we tried to figure out the story behind the choice of words and language.

Here in Australia there once lived a famous old bush walker called Paddy Pallin and he once wrote something along the lines of, “that if you know the name of a few trees, the bush is no longer just bush”. I’ve always taken that to mean, that the more one knows about the world, the more one gets out of it.

Enough of that thinking stuff and back to the more important matter of sausages!

As part of my meal at Il Greco I had an entree of some fabulous Greek sausages called, “loukaniko”. The loukaniko we had were Cyprian and were made with beef, pork, leeks and chilli. They were so delicious that I asked the owner of the restaurant if he made them himself . His answer was that he buys them from a Greek butcher and he even told me where to get them. Usually when one asks about where a business gets their supplies, one is usually told politely to, “go forth and multiply with oneself”.

Last Friday night, I invited a bunch of friends over for a bit of a “sausage fest”.

Most Australians of Anglo-Saxon decent will willingly to admit that the traditional Aussie “snag” (sausage) is crime against nature. The Aussie snag is based on the English sausage that isn’t that much better.

I once heard a story (probably apocryphal) that the continental Europeans in their in the drive to standardize the terminology used for food in the E.U. Common Market, didn’t think that the English sausage had enough meat in it to be legally called a sausage, and allegedly the French had suggested that the English should be forced to call their sausages “offal-tubes”. Apparently a compromise was reached and the English were allowed to call their “offal tubes”, “English sausages”.

So in preparation for the Friday night sausage fest, I spent four and a half hours driving around Sydney (it’s a big city of nearly 4 million people) buying different sausages. Sydney sees itself as a city that has a good food culture and there are some providores that really rape the consumer looking for “gourmet” foods. Unfortunately many peasant foods that have been noticed by the foodies (food-wankers), such as sausages, have been promoted up into the category of gourmet food.

It was an interesting experience going to the different kinds of sausage suppliers.

The first place I went to was a German delicatessen I found out about on the web, that some German guy raved on about. It was a very clean and upmarket establishment and the guy who made the sausages was out the back and a there was an amazingly “hochnäsiges Weibchen”, serving at a counter where the sausages were beautifully arranged like each one was almost like an event in it’s own right.

They sure looked good

Our interaction went something like this:

Me: Hi! what’s in the Thuringer style seasoning?

Her: Can’t tell you, it’s a secret.

Me: O.K. So what does it taste like?

Her: How do you expect me to answer a question like that? How can anyone describe a taste?

Me: By telling me what the main spices or flavourings are in the sausage.

Her: Marjoram.

Nearly every question I asked was met with the same irritation and hostility and to add insult to injury the sausages were quite expensive at just under $20 a kilo (7.35 Euros a kg or US$7.20 a lb). The woman at the counter, seemed to me at least, to think that the public were so far beneath her and the product she sold was far too good for hoi poli such as myself. I bought half a kilo (just over a pound) each of Thuringer Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Bratwurst. I also bought a small slice of Leberkäse (a Bavarian meatloaf). I would’ve bought more but I didn’t feel like giving my money to a person with their head so far up their own arse.

I ate the Leberkäse in the car for lunch and it was lousy.

Not a good omen.

The next butchers I went to were the Rodriguez Brothers (485 Hume Highway, Yagoona, NSW) who are Spanish butchers and they are famous for their chorizos. I only bought 1kg (2.2lbs) of chorizos because everyone knows what they are like (pork with garlic and pimenton) and 2kg of parrillero (South American style pork and beef) at $9kg (US $3.25lb or  5.10 Euros a kilo) I knew I’d be writing about the sausages for this blog so I asked to take a photo of the Latin guy serving me. He was shy so I only took one shot of him because I knew it was making him uncomfortable,

I wish I had've taken some more shots

but funnily enough, there was an Aussie butcher out the back who called out to me in a humorous voice:

“I better hide, you don’t want to get an Aussie butcher in your shot!” 

Me: “That’s right, because every one knows what you guys put in your sausages, and I don’t want to bring down the reputation of this place”

He laughed, and shouted out, “yeah, noses and arseholes!”

I laughed and then I told him about my grandfather who was a butcher and how when he was an apprentice in England, the butcher who was training him was prosecuted for selling sausages with hardly any meat in them. The butcher then said to me, “you won’t surprise an old time butcher like me, with stories of what went into sausages back in the bad old days”. He then went on to tell me about a butcher he knew years ago, who won the “best sausage in show” at the Royal Easter Show (a huge annual agriculture fair here in Sydney) with a chicken sausage that didn’t have any meat in it at all, and was flavoured with chicken and veal stock. As we talked, the conversation was full of laughter and it served as a reminder to me of how confident, relaxed and open a lot of Aussies are. Most Australians are fairly friendly and laid back in a very natural sort of way. Such a contrast to the first place I went to.

The final butchers I went to was the “Illawarra Road Meat Market” in Marrickville. This butcher, is the Greek butcher, that the guy at Il Greco put me onto for the loukaniko and they offer two kinds, dry and fresh.

This guy knows he makes a great product

The dry loukaniko comes in lengths about a metre long (about 3′) and is flavoured with leeks and chilli whilst the fresh loukaniko is the size of a normal sausage and is without the leeks and chilli. I bought 2kg of dried and 1kg of fresh at $12kg (US$4.30lb or 6.80Euros a kilo).

So for the diner I cooked the sausages in a Webber kettle barbeque, over charcoal and served them with a French tomato salad (tomatoes, Spanish onion, capers, mustard, olive oil and wine vinegar) and mashed potatoes.

The verdict. 

Everyone liked the expensive German sausages the least, which was surprising and a pity because the Germans usually make such good sausages. I guess it was just a reflection of that particular butcher rather, than German sausages in general. 

The Rodriguez Brothers chorizos were so tempting that I made huevos rancheros with chorizo for breakfast on Friday morning for my wife and I. I make an excellent huevos rancheros (even if I do say so myself) and the chorizos were so divine that I didn’t cook them up for the sausage fest but kept them for later on in the weekend.  Everyone at the dinner enjoyed the parrilleros.

The sausage that was judged the best were the dried loukaniko. The fresh loukaniko were good, but the dried ones were spectacular.

So the lesson learnt here, in my statistically insignificant sample group, is that the expensive place that had removed itself so far away from the peasant origins of it’s product, made the least enjoyable product. The butchers who remained true to their origins made the best product at a very reasonable price. 

Spongati cake recipe from 1820

This is an updated version of a spongati cake recipe by Ivan Day. Day got the recipe from William Jarrin’s “The Italian Confectioner” which was first printed in 1820. The cake is sort of like an English mince tart but in my opinion, much better.

Ingredients

For the pastry

225gr (8oz) plain flour
50gr (2oz) caster sugar (I use pure icing sugar)
100gr (4oz) unsalted butter (the Danish brand, Lurpak is excellent)
3 egg yolks

For the filling

115gr (4oz) white bread crumbs
115gr (4oz) walnuts
20gr (2/3oz) currants
20gr (2/3oz) pine nuts
450gr (1lb) honey (I use macadamia honey)
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Icing sugar to dust the finished cake

Method

Preheat the oven to 150C (300F)

Sift the flour and sugar. Chop up the butter into small cubes and mix with
the flour, sugar and egg yolks until you get a breadcrumb like, consistency
(I did this all in a food processor). Roll the mixture into a ball and chill
for about an hour or so. I always rush this step and it makes the pastry
more difficult to control (it splits and cracks) when it’s rolled out, and
on a side note, in Jarrin’s original recipe he says to let it sit in a cool
place over night.

The next step is to mix the filling ingredients together.

Take 2/3 of the pastry dough and roll it out into a 22cm (8 1/2″) circle and place
the filling in the middle leaving a 4cm (1 1/2″) clear border which you turn upwards
to make a rim. I actually do all this in a 22cm (8 1/2″) springform baking dish lined
with baking paper which makes it all easier to control. Roll out the rest of
the pastry to cover the filling and base, then press the edges together.

Put  several holes in the top to let out the steam and cook for about 40 to
45 minutes.

When the cake has cooled down, lightly dust it with some icing sugar.

This cake goes well with ice-cream, frozen yoghurt (my choice), custard or coffee.

By the way, for my regular visitors, sorry for not posting for a while and
my only excuse it that I’ve been making arrangements for my up coming
trip……. plus I’m just slack!

Bounty from our top paddock

A little while back, I replaced all the balustrades around our home. During this renovation I made a mistake and cut the plank that was to be used as the fascia of the upstairs balcony, too short. It was treated pine suitable for outdoor use and it about 4500mm (approx. 15ft) long by 300mm (12″) wide and 50mm (2″) thick. It wasn’t a cheap piece of wood and to add insult to injury, I’d already painted it with about 4 coats of paint.

It really bugged me that it would be wasted.

Every time I saw the wasted plank it annoyed me. Another thing that was bugging me was my upstairs balcony. In short, it was a useless waste of space. The view from the balcony just looked into other people’s back yards and it was completely open to the elements which meant it was too hot in the summer and too cold and wet in the winter.

Our backyard is very small and the little vegetable garden beds that we have, needed to have their crops rotated so we didn’t build up too many pests. Trouble was that we only have two garden beds and I wanted to give the beds more than a year’s rest from any specific crop. This dilemma led to me using the wasted plank to make a planter box for the upstairs balcony.

From the plank I was able to make a planter that measured approximately 800mm (about 2’6″) x 1500mm (5′).  I mounted the planter on 9 castors to make it easy to move.  The castors came from a series of cheap office chairs that I’d been stupid enough to buy over the years.

Engogirl had been reading about a new theory (to me at least) of mixed crowded planting. Basically the book she was reading suggested that in nature plants take up whatever ground is available and natural growth is quite dense and varied in species.  Apparently this crowded mixed planting helps to control pests that love monoculture crops. We decided to plant chillies, cherry tomatoes, basil (a good companion crop for tomatoes) and chives.

The upstairs balcony gets much more sun than the rest of the garden and it wasn’t very long before our efforts were paid of with lovely organic vegetables.

Engogirl with delicious home grown cherry tomatoes and chilles

 The planter has been so productive that we’ve jokingly named it, “the top paddock”. You’ll notice that we cover our tomatoes in brown paper bags to protect them from pests so we don’t have to use insecticides.

The tomato seeds we planted were called “Tommy Toes” and they are a heritage seed which means that they are an older strain of tomatoes from the 1800s. We chose heritage tomatoes because they are “indeterminate” which means they bear fruit over a period of four to six months instead of the fruit becoming ripe all at once (determinate) like many modern tomatoes that are bred for industrialised agriculture that needs a crop to ripen all at the same time so as to be more efficient and economical to pick.

As I mentioned before, one of the main reasons why we grow our own tomatoes is because of how low quality the tomatoes that are offered by the supermarket chains are. I’ve never had a good tomato from a supermarket yet! The supermarkets basically dictate to the growers that they want a tomato that looks good for longer and travels well, rather than tomatoes that taste good.

A pox on all their houses!

To try and ensure that we will have plenty of tomatoes, we gave a few packets of some other heritage tomato seeds to my wife’s parents to plant on the property of their holiday home out at Tallong. This has already paid off because a few days ago my father in law dropped by with a shopping bag full of tomatoes. Of course we couldn’t use them all straight away so I semi-dried them

Drying organically grown roma tomatoes

 and put them in mixture of olive oil, herbs, garlic and capers.

These are sooo delicious

Once you’ve eaten your own home grown tomatoes, you’ll never go back to those hard and tasteless excuses for tomatoes that the supermarkets sell.

A pox on all their houses!