asian breakfast chitchat eating out fish salad vegetarian

Excellent things from the last few weeks

I’ve been running a bit ragged recently, so it’s a perfect time to have a pot of tea, take stock, and list a bunch of good things.


1. I recently learned to add a star anise when making a long-cooked beef stew. Transformative!


2. I give thanks for dumplings, and that it is so easy for me to get good ones here. Recent standouts have been the steamed wontons with chili oil at Hutong (tender skins, good filling, perfect chili), xiao long bao at Shanghai Street Dumpling, and everything in general at my beloved Gourmet Dumpling.


3. The midwinter arrival of citrus and avocado season. I made this salad for dinner one night last week. So good and refreshing.

Salad of hot-smoked salmon, avocado, blood orange and watercress

80 g hot-smoked salmon, flaked
a small palmful of pine nuts, toasted
1 large blood orange, supremed
half a smallish avocado, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm pieces
the leaves of a decent bunch of watercress
good olive oil
wholegrain mustard

Combine the salmon, pine nuts, orange, avocado and watercress.

Make a dressing by whisking together the juice that escaped from the orange, a dash of olive oil, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss with the salad.

Serves 1.


4. Having watercress growing in the garden at last after a couple of failed attempts. Such a great winter salad green.


5. The Egyptian eggs (poached, rolled in dukkah, then lightly fried) on a potato and pumpkin rosti, with rocket and chili jam, at Dood328 in Brunswick. So good, and the staff there are lovely too. Also, not having to queue for brunch = a good, good thing.


6. Dainty Sichuan in the city. This place gets a bit of hate but I love it. Went there for dinner last night with the lab and ate 10 fantastic dishes. Fish-fragrant eggplant, chinese leeks with tofu threads, chili chicken wok, ultra-spicy black fungus, many other things I can’t remember.


7. This morning’s breakfast, which was delicious but, even I recognize, slightly crazytown. Man I love savoury breakfasts with greens and asian flavours though.

For the steel-cut oats, I use this recipe and make enough for four days at one time. I also usually make two or three serves of the greens and use them for multiple breakfasts, or add them to lunches.

Steel-cut oats with asian greens and a runny fried egg

dash of olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 small thumb of ginger, finely minced
chili flakes
150 g of mixed greens – I used a mix of what looked good in the garden: sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, purple kale, a couple of broccoli leaves and red mustard leaf

1 serve cooked steel-cut oats

1 egg

sesame oil
sesame seeds

Chop the greens into smallish pieces. For broccoli and kales, I blanch them until they’re becoming tender, then drain. The softer greens I just chop.

Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pan, then add the shallot and cook a few minutes until golden. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili flakes to taste, and cook a further two minutes, then add the greens. Stir well, add a slosh of tamari and another of water if necessary, and cook until everything is tender.

Fry the egg. I do this by heating a pan over low heat, adding a dash of olive oil, cracking in the eggs, and putting a lid on top. Cook until the white is just set and the yolk is still liquid.

Put the oats into the middle of a flat bowl. Spoon the cooked greens around the oats. Slide the egg on top. Over all of this, sprinkle drops of tamari and sesame oil, more chili flakes, and sesame seeds. Eat at once.

Serves 1.

baking chitchat garden recipes

Three weeks in a row makes it a thing

Have a random list of recent food-related doings:

We have hardly cooked this week, through a combination of being busy, lazy and tired. So not too much to report on the home cooking front. I do want to give a shout out to the delicious frittata I made last weekend, with leek, cavolo nero, chard, sorrel, mint, pine nuts, a bit of brown rice, feta and fennelseed. Thank you, frittata, you made several meals very satisfying.


I am keen to try making some crumpets today, since it is grey and drizzly. Thinking of using Elizabeth David’s recipe, as recounted here. (Afternoon edit: we made these, and they were extremely good. A++.)


Putting in some work now for eating in the future, we’ve been doing a lot in the garden this weekend. Yesterday we made a second, smaller raised bed on the east side of the garden, where I’ll plant out some soft herbs and greens. I also transplanted the rosemary from a pot to the back of the garden, and will move a couple of kinds of thyme, the oregano, and some lavender back there today (in between showers of rain). That part of the garden used to be covered by pointless ‘ground cover’ creeper, but very happily our landlords pulled it out when they came to prune the fig and lemon trees, so I want to get something useful in there before any remaining creeper has a chance to recolonise the space. I also picked up some seedlings of chicory, asian greens, spinach, celery and raddichio when we were at Bulleen Art and Garden buying a second compost bin yesterday, so they should also get planted out this afternoon.


And finally, last night I made some ginger biscuits, riffing slightly off this recipe. They’re very much an Australian nana-style biscuit, very simple, but delicious.


Ginger biscuits

115 g soft brown sugar
115 g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
3 tablespoons golden syrup
demerara sugar to coat

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, ginger and soda. Add the flour mixture and the golden syrup to the butter and sugar, and mix all together. It will form a soft, mouldable paste.

Form small balls of the mixture, 2 or 2.5 cm in diameter, by rolling between your palms. Toss each ball in demarara sugar, then place on a lined baking tray and flatten slightly with your fingers. Leave a few cm between biscuits as they will spread a little.

Bake at 180C for about 10-12 minutes, until the biscuits are going golden around the edges. Remove from the oven, and cool on racks.

Makes about 32 biscuits.

asian breakfast chitchat recipes

This week’s exciting tales from the stomach

I appear to be completely incapable of writing proper blog posts any more, even though I’m still cooking lots of great stuff and keeping the daily eating notes. But I’ve been feeling listalicious recently, so here is another list of good food that has been happening in our household this week.


1. Last weekend I made a big batch of kimchi, using Zoe’s recipe. I love this kimchi – the recipe is foolproof and easy, and produces some of the tastiest kimchi I’ve ever had. Love it. I’ve been snacking on kimchi all week and incorporated it into an ultra-delicious brunch this morning.

Here, have a photo of me doing the last mixing step in the kimchi production process. I used Edwige and Jean’s old (well cleaned!) laundry tub, because I am all class. Also because none of my normal kitchen bowls are big enough to handle the kimchi. Note that grey thing in the bottom left of the photo- it’s the chainmail-esque glove I wear when using the mandoline these days, after slicing off the tip of my finger with it a couple of years ago.


2. We had dinner last night with Danielle at Rumi in Brunswick East, and loved everything we tried. We started with pickled vegetables and then shared oven baked baby baramundi fillet with poached onion in a tahini and almond sauce; spiced lamb shoulder roasted on the bone with sirkanjabin; persian meatballs in tomato and saffron sauce with labne; and an orange and fennel salad. Every mouthful was delicious. The lamb was particularly amazing – slow cooked until it left the bone perfectly clean, and the meat extremely tender without even glancing at sloppiness. Incredible flavour, highlighted brilliantly by the sweet mint sirkanjabin. I found this earlier review of Rumi that says that the spice mix the lamb is coated with is advieh, containing rose petals, dried limes, cumin and coriander (as well as other things, I would guess, given its complexity of flavour).


3. It was the Veg Out markets at St Kilda yesterday and I stocked up big on lots of winter vegetables, astringent persimmons, multiple kilos of chicken and beef bones to make stock, and some other cow bits as well from the Warialda Beef stall. These guys are so great. Super friendly and very happy to give advice, share knowledge, and recommend different cuts and recipes. I ended up carrying away quite a few pieces of beef to cook up this month- short ribs, stewing beef, a pack of tendon and sinew to go in the stock pot with some Flintsones-sized vertebrae and joint bones, and finally a pack of very tender little trimmings from blade steak that I will use for a couple of stir fries this week – I’m thinking one with kimchi (something like this) and another with piles of chinese broccoli and pak choy.


4. And today’s breakfast, which made me exclaim multiple times, with lots of enthusiastic profanities, about how great it was: fried rice and kimchi with fried egg. My god it was so good.

This is really the perfect winter breakfast – spicy and flavoursome, chewy brown rice for that texture hit, and runny egg yolk melding everything together.

Breakfast rice, kimchi and fried egg

1 large handful cooked brown rice
2 scallions, green parts chopped
kimchi, a bit more than the volume of rice, roughly chopped
fresh coriander leaves
1 or 2 eggs
toasted sesame oil

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil, and sautee the rice until it is hot. Add the scallions and kimchi, and cook a further 5-10 minutes, until everything is warm and the mixture is catching a little on the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, fry the eggs. I like to do this in a little non-stick pan – a dash of oil, crack the eggs in, cook over low heat with a lid on the pan until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still very runny.

Put the rice and kimchi in a bowl, slide the just-cooked eggs on top, and sprinkle with coriander and a few drops of sesame oil and tamari. Eat at once.

breakfast chitchat recipes

Awesome things I have eaten recently

1. This quince, almond and rum cake, from a recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini. I used a little more quince than called for, macadamia oil in place of the vegetable oil, and a really good rum. It was delicious, aromatic, and all gone within three days.

2. Ruth Bruten’s very good, very quick and very easy haloumi, spinach and nigella seed gozleme. We ate this with roasted sweet potato on the side.

3. Chicken with swede, cider and creme fraiche, with a salad of mixed leaves and apple. We only used a big spoonful of creme fraiche rather than the 150 g called for, and I think more would have made it a bit sickly. For the cider, we used Aspell dry Suffolk. Perfect dinner for a cold and wet winter evening.

4. Ox cheek braised with Pedro Ximinez at Livingroom. Always like it here.

5. Fantastic hotpot at Hot Pot Paradise in Clayton, for lab Friday dinner. $25 each for two soup bases (pork bone white soup and hot chili red soup), and approximately a million things to cook in them, including fresh and frozen tofu, mushrooms, tofu skins, rice cake, fish fillets and balls, pork blood jelly, taro balls, shrimp balls, pork and beef slices, bok choy, and numerous other things I have forgotten. Their 100% approval rating on Urbanspoon is not unwarranted.

6. And this morning’s breakfast, which made me laugh at how clearly my tastes and Ted’s have diverged over the years. Lucky we love each other so much. We were sitting reading on the couches this morning before breakfast, when Ted said, “I’ve been thinking about getting some breakfast… we have some bacon left in the fridge!”. I’d been thinking about breakfast myself, but my thought process had been slightly different: I’d been getting excited about the fact that we still had some Brussels sprouts left over. So Ted made himself eggs and bacon, and I made myself the delicious dish that follows:

6 decent size Brussels sprouts
2 scallions
2 eggs
soy sauce
sesame oil
chili flakes

Trim, halve, and slice the Brussels sprouts. Chop the scallions into 1 cm pieces. Heat a little oil (or bacon fat, if your husband has been cooking right before you) in a pan, add the sprouts and scallions, and saute over moderate heat until they are wilted and starting to catch and go golden in places. Whisk together the eggs, a dash each of soy sauce and sesame oil and a big pinch of chili flakes. Pour into the pan, stir the egg through the vegetables, and as soon as it is just cooked, take off the heat and serve. I ate it with a toasted slice of darkish seedy bread.

This would be even better with shiitake or enoki mushrooms, and some fresh coriander. (Crap! I just remembered that I now have coriander growing in the garden. Next time, Gadget, next time.)

chitchat recipes

How we ate (very nearly all) our WLL veggie box

I’m 38, and I don’t know how to drive a car. I started riding a bike to get myself places when I was about 32, and since then that has generally been both lovely and sufficient for getting places public transport doesn’t go. Almost the only time I wish I could drive is on weekends, when I contemplate the task of getting to a farmers market and schlepping home a week’s worth of vegetables, fruit, meat and cheese via some combination of train, tram and laden walking. I’ve been getting lazier about doing that, which has led to a few weeks of fairly uninspired eating of Coles vegetables, and other weeks of living mostly on tomatoes and greens from the garden (delicious, but not really enough to survive on).

But recently I’ve been trying out an option that involves much shorter schlepping distances, while also supporting a local organic farmer: Whole Larder Love seasonal veg boxes, organised by Rohan Anderson and Kate Berry. If I decide I want a box this week, I order one on the online shop by midnight Wednesday, and then on Saturday morning I head over to St Kilda to pick it up from Rohan or Kate between 9 and 9.30. They also have three other Saturday drop-off points, at Merri Creek, Footscray and Ballarat. For $48 I get a huge box of excellent and ultra-fresh vegetables and fruit grown by an organic farmer between Ballarat and Daylesford and picked the previous day. And I really do mean huge – it’s a reused styrofoam produce box packed to the brim with food. I can get it home on the tram, but get some impressed/bemused looks while doing so.

When I picked up the veg box this Saturday, I had a little chat with Kate, and she mentioned that some people weren’t sure that they could eat the whole box between a household of two people. The obvious answer is to share the box with a friend or neighbour! But I also reckon it isn’t that hard to eat it between two people if you’re making lunches and dinners for a week, and I thought I’d write up what we did with our last one to demonstrate. Admittedly, we’ve had Janine staying with us while she looked for a new place to live. But last week she was only there for half the meals we ate, and she did a bit of vegetable shopping on the side, so I reckon it works out about even.

Here’s a photo of the contents of last week’s box:

There were potatoes, carrots, silverbeet, kale, a bunch of beetroot, parsnips, turnips, a cauliflower, a red cabbage, a lettuce, five cobs of corn, a leek, a cucumber, a couple of tomatoes, basil, lots of apples, and two nashi. We made it through (almost) all of this in eight days, while also eating piles of tomatoes, greens, herbs and figs from our garden, and going out to eat a couple of times. If we’d eaten at home every meal we would easily have finished it all off in seven days.


Here’s our week in food. Items from the veg box are bolded; most other ingredients came from the garden.


Saturday 9th: Ted drove us over to St Kilda to pick up the veggie box at 9. On the way home, we picked up a loaf of sourdough and a cheese danish at Baker in the Rye and had coffee at Las Chicas. I unpacked the box, laid all the veggies out on the table and photographed them, and wondered whether we could eat it all in a week. We started small for lunch: a salad of lettuce, cucumber, fresh corn, tomatoes, mint, basil, parsley and rocket, with sourdough and the Bruny Island cheese I brought back from Tasmania last week. A nashi and a small apple finished off the meal.

It was about 36 C, so we fled to the cinema to watch Cloud Atlas and enjoy the air conditioning in the afternoon, and came home and ate Frosty Fruits for dinner. Percent of the veggie box eaten so far: probably about 2%. Not looking good.


Sunday 10th: I got up early, while it was still a reasonable temperature, and roasted the two large beetroot in the oven, to eat later in the week. I’ll keep the two smaller beetroots for eating raw in salads. An hour of gardening, and then it was too swelteringly hot to object too strongly to Ted’s plan for lunch at a cafe. (He ate eggs benedict, a.k.a. eggs with egg sauce; unthinkable in the middle of summer! I had vietnamese-style squid salad.)

However, we pulled ourselves into shape for dinner and made two indian dishes: gobi mutter masala (using up cauliflower and tomato) and hariyali dal (silverbeet). I was planning to also add a chicken and potato curry, but after making these two my whole body was already running with perspiration and I was ready for my third cool shower of the day. Screw you, heatwave.


Monday 11th: Janine and I took some of the left-over curries to work for lunch, and then she made a third curry to add to them for dinner – fish and potato, excellent.


Tuesday 12th: All three of us did our curry-eating duty and had the last of the left-overs for lunch. Nichola and Rene came over for dinner, to celebrate Janine getting the apartment in Caulfield she’d applied for (hooray!), so we made a vegetably feast:

– An incredibly delicious beetroot and greens frittata. This was one of the best things I ate all week. I peeled and chopped the two large beetroot I’d roasted on Sunday. Chopped the white part of a leek and sauteed until soft. Blanched some chopped greens: a dozen beet leaves and about 8 large chard leaves. I wilted a small bunch of chopped sorrel leaves with the leek, then mixed together the leek, the drained greens, the beetroot, a large bunch of chopped mint, 90 g of feta, and four eggs. This got cooked slowly in a small frypan over low heat until almost set, then finished under the grill. It made a fat, vegetable-dense frittata about 4 or 5 cm deep and a bit over 15 cm across.

– The remaining cobs of corn, which we soaked in water for 30 minutes, then barbequed in their husks, and ate with butter, lime juice and smoked paprika.

Potatoes, washed, boiled until almost cooked, roughly smashed in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted until crisped around the edges.

– Blanched green beans tossed with pesto (made with basil from the veg box).

– Ripe tomatoes from the garden, sliced and dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, parsley and chives.

Despite all this we still had room for the apple cake Nichola had brought for dessert.


Wednesday 13th: We took frittata, bean and potato left-overs for lunch. For dinner, after pilates, I made a quick dish of pasta with the remaining pesto, and eggplant.


Thursday 14th: We had lunches of salad made with lettuce, cucumber, grated raw beetroot, tomatoes, rocket, young chard leaves, sorrel, parsley, mint, feta and chopped hazelnuts.

The heatwave finally broke this morning, and although the temperature is still in the mid twenties, it feels blissfully cool. I made chicken and vegetable stew for dinner: five browned drumsticks; onion and fennelseed; two potatoes, two parsnips, six carrots, all peeled and chopped; half a bottle of white wine, two cups of water (chicken stock would have been better), fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, salt, pepper. Covered, in the oven at 160 C for an hour, then added a bunch of blue kale, chopped, and cooked a further 30 minutes, partly uncovered. We ate this with toasted italian bread and a scatter of lemon zest.


Friday 15th: left-over chicken stew for lunches. For dinner, it was a fight between the urge to cook more vegetables, and the almost unbroken tradition of going out for dumplings with the lab. Tradition won.


 Saturday 16th: I trammed over to pick up this week’s veg box, and met Helen there. We checked out the Little Veggie Patch shop on Chapel St, had coffee and breakfast (leek and corn fritters with herbed yoghurt) at Garage Espresso, and then she dropped me home and accepted a few items from the box as fair exchange.

Even though there is a new box of vegetables in the house, I wanted to clean up as much of last week’s box as possible today, and made a pretty good effort. I stewed the remaining apples to make compote for breakfasts next week. Ted and I split a salad for lunch that I adored and he ate graciously because he loves me and has good manners. It was fantastic: a small beetroot, coarsley grated; 6 tender small beet leaves, stemmed and finely sliced; a cheek of a red cabbage, finely sliced; one scallion, and quite a bit of mint, parsley and chives, all finely chopped; 100 g hot-smoked salmon fillet, flaked. Toss all this together, with a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, seed mustard and a pinch of salt. Visually delightful, and a perfect combination of flavours.

And then for dinner we made gnocchi from scratch. I’ve never made them before; I’d been scared off by too many stories of them being a hassle to make, and the risk of putting in the effort and ending up with bullet-like dumplings rather than light little clouds. I consulted Artusi and Marcella Hazan and gave it a go, figuring that I could always just cook some dried pasta if they turned out badly. But no! They were great, and very very simple and quick to make. I boiled three potatoes (a bit over 400 g) in their skins until just cooked, then drained them. While they were still hot, I peeled them and put them through a potato ricer, then mixed in about 80 g of plain flour. The recipes called for a little more flour than that – about 25% as much flour as potatoes by weight, typically – but the dough was coming together nicely and not too sticky, so I stopped. We formed them into gnocchi, following the illustration in Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, cooked them in gently boiling water for a minute or so until they bobbed to the surface, and were kind of flabbergasted when we tried one and it turned out to be perfectly light and fluffy. We ate them with a slow-cooked tomato sauce and a grating of parmesan.


What’s left over? Two turnips and three-quarters of a red cabbage. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the turnips, but I’m thinking of roasting the cabbage with za’atar as part of a mezze plate, or turning it into more salads, like this or this.

The week’s best dishes? Surprisingly to me, they were both made with beetroot, a vegetable I’m perfectly happy to eat but don’t usually go crazy for: Tuesday’s beetroot and greens frittata, and Saturday’s beetroot, red cabbage and smoked salmon salad. I was also really stoked about making great gnocchi.

Will I still go to farmers markets? Yes – sometimes I want to get to chose the vegetables I’ll eat for the week, and if I need to buy meat or cheese I’ll often go to the farmers market for that, and will just pick up vegetables while I’m there. But I’ll also keep getting the veg boxes, even if not every single week, because I like the idea, I’m impressed with the produce, I like the people involved, it’s super convenient, and it presents me with vegetables I wouldn’t often think to buy (beetroot, potatoes, cabbage) and encourages me to explore new recipes.

Now to settle down to working through this week’s veg box. Anyone got suggestions for green cabbage, and those turnips?


baking chitchat recipes


It was the spring equinox last weekend, and I can feel the change of season in the warmth of the air, and in the five (!!!) sunny days we’ve had out of the last ten. I can see it in the garden, where the daffodils are withering, the fruit trees are densely covered with white flowers, and every branch of the fig tree is tipped with soft green leaves.



But the one thing that’s really made me feel like we’ve turned the corner out of winter into spring is the fact that when we washed our sheets last weekend, we hung them outside on the line to dry, rather than draping them over chairs in the dining room and turning up the central heating. Looking out of our back windows and seeing the white sheets billowing in the sunshine finally made me really believe that spring was here. I never thought I’d get such a thrill out of laundry.

   ***   ***   ***

Some fantastico links:

Two excellent blogs I’ve started following recently: Suburban Tomato and Whole Larder Love. They’re both about producing more of your own food, and the pleasures to be had therein, though in very different modes.

Thinking about food gardening, here’s a post from blue milk debating the feminist case against homesteading.

I made an omelette this morning (with chives and chervil from the garden), following this Delia Smith recipe. Who needs a recipe for an omelette? I do. I’ve never made one before and was very happy with how this one turned out.

The best thing I ate last week may have been the chard panade Ted made on Wednesday night while I was at pilates. It was comfort food of the highest order – the bread soaked in stock became almost custardy, in lovely contrast to the crisp pieces on top. Chard, home-made chicken stock, sourdough, gruyere, slow-cooked onions – there is nothing there not to like, and it was perfect for a cool rainy evening. Leftovers for lunch the following day were also still good.

I bought Seville oranges at the markets last weekend, and today I finally got around to turning six of them into marmalade, using David Lebovitz’s recipe. I initially thought that there was far too much water in the recipe, but after simmering away for quite a long time (I wasn’t checking the clock, but it felt like well over and hour) it cooked down and set nicely. I put not only the pips but also all the membranes into the cheesecloth bag, and left it in until about ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, more out of forgetfulness than deliberation.

I still have a couple of Seville oranges left over, and intend to use at least one of them to make requesón.

   ***   ***   ***

This evening I made a cake, based on this recipe, which was itself based on Dorrie Greenspan’s recipe for French yoghurt cake. The version I made had so many of my cake fetishes in it that I feel the urge to name it to reflect them all:

Yoghurt, olive oil and almond cake with orange, lemon and thyme.

It has the almost crumbless texture of a cake that’s not based on creamed butter and sugar, but it’s simple to make and the flavour hits all my buttons.


1 cup plain flour
0.5 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
sprigs of thyme, leaves picked, finely minced to yield two level teaspoons
0.5 cup plain yoghurt
3 large eggs
small dash of vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a 21 x 12 cm loaf pan with non-stick baking paper.

In a smallish bowl, mix together the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar in a larger bowl, then zest the lemon and orange over the sugar. Add the thyme, then rub the sugar and flavourings together until the zest and thyme are infused throughout the sugar. Add the yoghurt, eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix through. Finally, add the olive oil and use a rubber spatula to fold it in. The mixture will be smooth and moderately thick, but quite pourable.

Pour the mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45-55 minutes. The cake should be golden brown and coming slightly away from the edges of the pan. A skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool completely on a rack.

breakfast chitchat garden recipes vegetarian

Baked eggs with backyard tomatoes

This summer was the first time we’ve ever had a garden we could grow things in. We’d previously attempted (and eventually killed) many pots of herbs in many apartments, but nothing more. Despite this not very stellar record, I was smitten with horticultural lust when we moved into a house with a sunny back wall and a fallow garden bed. I went a bit overboard ordering heirloom vegetable seeds from Diggers, then carried through a major operation starting seeds of seven different kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of peas, many different herbs, Italian broccoli varieties, and so on. And then, after preparing the soil (and filling quite a few pots as well) I planted them all out, pruned, staked, weeded, picked caterpillars and treated for whiteflies. It was a joy. It made me happy every morning when I went outside and checked how much things had grown, what varieties were flowering, which was the first to set fruit, which the first to ripen.

Like I say, it was blissfully satisfying. And I will do it all again next summer. But with one difference: I will start about three months earlier. I knew I was getting everything started late. We’d just moved to Melbourne, I was trying to catch up with things in the lab, we worked some weekends, I delayed putting in the seed order because was I really sure that I was going to do this, given my previously black thumb? By the time I committed and put in the order, it was the start of November. The first seedlings came up in late November, and I transplanted them outside in late December. This might have been ok in Brisbane, but Melbourne was not quite so forgiving. Our garden has been a lush, gorgeous, endlessly enjoyable paradise in which I have spent scores of happy hours working or sitting, but our first tomatoes only ripened a couple of weeks ago. About the same time, in fact, that I was writing an entry about how the autumnal weather was making me long for osso buco.

Since then, despite the recent rain and cold nights, a handful of tomatoes have slowly ripened, turning yellow or orange or red one by one, like lights coming on at night. Their texture wasn’t the best, but the flavour was excellent – sweet and sharp, each variety distinct. This morning we harvested all that were ripe, to roast for breakfast. We got one jaune flamme, several brown berries and lemon drops, a couple of black cherries, and about twenty incredibly tiny wild sweeties. The plants are becoming decrepit now, dropping brown leaves and looking exhausted. I’ll leave them in for another week or so to see whether any more fruit ripens, and if not then pull them out for compost. But even if this morning’s small dish of tomatoes is all we eat from this crop, it’s still been absolutely worth it. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve shown myself that my thumb is not entirely black, and I’ve gained hours of relaxation and pleasure. I’m without regret, though I have put a reminder in my diary to start the tomato seeds in August this year.


Baked eggs and tomatoes with sourdough and chevre

This wasn’t the prettiest dish, but it was delicious. I took our bowl of mixed tomatoes (probably the equivalent of about 25 cherry tomatoes), halved all but the smallest, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in a smallish baking dish in a moderate oven (about 160C) until they were softened, about 15-20 minutes. I pushed the tomatoes aside to make a couple of indentations, into which I cracked eggs. Back in the oven for 5 minutes or so, checking frequently towards the end, until the whites were cooked but the yolks were still runny. Meanwhile, I’d toasted a slice of sourdough, and spread with some young chevre. I spooned the egg-and-tomato mixture out of the baking dish over the toast, and ate immediately.

chitchat dessert recipes

Earmuffs, lemon possets, etc

Tedster and I are moving to Melbourne in 13 days. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!

… Let me take a short pause here to hyperventilate …

Fortunately, a couple of weekends ago we went to Christmas in July at the Chaddo, and Santa gave Ted a pair of furry earmuffs. We decided tonight that these were the Stress Earmuffs. You would put them on if you were stressed, and they would make everything better. Or perhaps they would just be the outward sign of your stress, so other people would see and treat you nicely. Either way, we have spent the last few hours donning the ‘muffs to express our angst. I have some of the best photographs I’ve ever taken, of Ted wearing the earmuffs and facially demonstrating his stress, but I will not put them on the internet because I love Ted like no other husband and every man deserves his dignity. And also because there are quite a few photos of me looking deranged too.

We’re clearing out our apartment, writing lists of the dozens of things that need to be done each day between now and when we leave, putting earmuffs on, making appointments with an accountant to get several years’ worth of tax returns done, arranging for the utilities to be disconnected, taking photos with earmuffs on, sorting out a couple of cupboards, deciding that this morning’s resolution not to drink any wine today was stupid and should be broken forthwith, and so on. It feels like we’ve been preparing to move forever, but no matter that I thought I was decently organised up until now, crunch time has made me realise how very, very wrong I was. Oh god, excuse me while I go and put something warm and fluffy on my ears.

Part of the moving process is seeing many of our friends for goodbye-for-now meals. There have been many occasions recently, at one or other of these meals, when I’ve looked around the table at the faces of my so, so dear friends and wondered what the hell we are doing leaving. (The answer is job-related.) The eating notes have chronicled many of these meals. The most recent of these was last Friday, when Ian, Lisa, Charly, Rich, Sal and Jim came over to our place. It was an awesome evening.

We started with olives and some saucisson that Lisa brought. Then onion, mustard and fennelseed tart, with a mixed-leaf salad. Then, a little while later, seven hour leg of lamb (more or less like this, just larger in size and cooked for the full seven hours at 120 C) , with mashed potatoes and green beans. And finally, while reclining on the couches afterwards, lemon possets for dessert. The possets are great: fairly small, rich but refreshing, and very easy to make. They also need to be made well ahead of time, which means that your effort upon serving is limited to getting up and getting them out of the fridge. Bonus.


Lemon possets

800 ml cream (see note below)
200 g sugar
finely grated zest of three lemons
180 ml lemon juice (from approx three lemons)

Combine the cream, sugar and zest in a saucepan. Bring to a moderate simmer, and cook for four minutes, stirring a few times a minute. Keep an eye on it!

Remove from the heat, let it settle down for a minute, then stir in the lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes.

Strain through a sieve into a jug, to get rid of the zest. Pour the strained liquid into eight ramekins. Refrigerate them for at least 4 hours, and preferably closer to 8 (or overnight). This tastes much better and has a more enjoyable texture after it has been really thoroughly chilled.

Serves 8.


Note: I used Barambah cream, which looks thick and slightly yellow like double cream, though it is only single cream (36% fat). Most posset recipes call for double cream.


Very briefly:

An excellent morning at the Powerhouse markets! Purchased: cauliflower, cavolo nero, parsley, goat cheese, saucisson, sourdough, mushrooms, duck eggs, apples, green beans and cherry tomatoes. The last seem not very seasonal, but they’re from a local farm, and after all this is the subtropics…
Plans for the week:

cauliflower soup with mustard and gruyere croutons

mushroom, rosemary and duck egg frittata

a replay of the grilled aubergines with tahini and yoghurt sauce from last week, this time with quinoa, chickpeas, and roast tomatoes, for Sunday dinner with Danielle

a minestrone with the cavolo nero, perhaps? or maybe braised cavolo nero with onions and garlic, on sourdough toast, with a super-soft-boiled duck egg broken over the top?

something – anything – with the spring onion kimchi in the fridge. Yum yum!
Fervent recommendation of the week:

Ponycat, a cafe around the corner from us on Brunswick St. This is one of the places in Brisbane I will really miss when we go. The coffee is usually spectacularly good, sometimes perfect, rarely average, never bad. And the staff are so, so lovely. I can’t convey just how warm they are. Going there makes my day better.

chitchat hippie-food vegetarian

Tahini: I finally understand

I had a Damascene conversion regarding tahini tonight. I had never quite seen the point of it before. Whitish paste, sticks your lips to your teeth, slightly bitter, sits untouched in the fridge for years till it goes rancid and is guiltily thrown away…

But no longer! I was in Mrs Flannery’s (a local organic and wholefood shop) a couple of weeks ago, in the mood for randomly trying things, and ended up buying a little take-away container with fairly fresh tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds. It’s quite a dark brown, and it tastes like the sesame-ish equivalent of nut butter. Delicious. It still sticks my lips to my teeth, but that’s ok when there’s a wonderful taste going on at the same time.

I used it tonight to make these grilled aubergines with yoghurt-tahini sauce and herbs, from Food Stories. They were great. Cooking the aubergine slices under the grill means they don’t get to absorb a litre of oil, they end up tender on the inside and golden (but not oily) on the outside, and the cooking is hands-off. We ate the aubergines and sauce over some white quinoa; a good combination as the quinoa adds a bit of body to the dish and soaks up any extra sauce nicely. What would be really spectacular though, I think, would be to add a layer of slow-roasted, garlicky, almost-cooked-to-sauce cherry tomatoes. I’d serve it on a big dish with a base layer of quinoa, topped with the tomatoes, then the aubergine slices, and the yoghurt/tahini sauce spooned over the top. The sweetness and intensity of the tomatoes would kick the whole thing up a final notch.

Anyway: go the unhulled hippy-shop tahini! It is the business.