Thursday, July 27, 2017

Winter gardening

Lordy me these sub zero mornings are chilly, aren't they. I'm trying to get out a few early mornings a week to walk our poor neglected puppy and shake the creases from my couch-bound, breastfeeding body, but it takes serious willpower.

Daytime is another story. Have you ever seen winter days so glorious. Bright sunshine and temps in the high teens (or higher). There's a distinct icy breeze that comes and goes but from a sheltered location I can almost feel the end of winter. (I know, I know, we still have to get through August and August is HORRIBLE.) Before we lose the sun to nasty August I have been exploring our new garden and giving 6-month-old Audrey a bit of vitamin D.
There's so much history in this garden, which was established by my in-laws, like these snowbells (below) which came from my mother-in-law's grandmother. And there's much promise of the future for Sam and I. But with three under three it definitely feels like it'll be a while before we can really get dirt under our fingernails.
In the meantime we can observe and get to know the seasons. Where does the sun fall at this time of the day in July? What spots are too hot in January? Which plants are struggling in our climate and which plants are we loving? These old variety hellebores (below), with their downward facing flowers and green tinged petals, are definitely in the latter.
What's flowering in your garden at the moment?
Are you shaking out winter creases, too?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Homegrown mandarins

We are loving mandarin season here at the moment. In years past we've jumped for joy when imperials appear on our supermarket shelves and expressed disappointment when the honey murcotts take over. But this year is different.

This year we're all about the home grown! Not from our own garden, but from the gardens of our neighbour and our aunt, who have generously gone overseas during peak citrus season and encouraged us to enjoy the spoils of their labour.

Last year mandarins were still a little tart for our twins, who are now two-and-a-half, but this year any sharpness is overlooked for the excitement of peeling the things. "My do it" is the common phrase from the pair. This is fortunate, because anyone familiar with homegrown citrus knows that sharpness can vary. A lot.

I'm not sure how much is getting eaten. Sometimes it's more about the challenge of the peel and the joy of spitting the seeds out, a skill they've only just learnt. I'm just happy there's some enthusiasm for something healthy. Particularly from Tommy, who would otherwise survive on nothing but weetbix, eggs and custard.

I've always thought mandarins a little tricky to cook with. So much more fragile than other citrus fruit. How do you grate the rind or juice the interior without rendering the whole thing to mush?

I can't provide the answer to this (can you?) but I can provide links to three mandarin recipes that have caught my eye from my own cook book collection and online. Our newly purchased house backs onto bushland and there is a "wild" mandarin tree down the gully. Next year I might give it some love (ie water and fertiliser) and see what we get. I'm optimistically thinking we might need these recipes to get through a glut... 

Goats cheese platter with mandarin preserve from delicious magazine... if you're anti-goats cheese stop turning up your nose and simply substitute a good smelly washed rind. I love how minimal prep is required for this preserve. 

Mandarin salad with cherry tomatoes and nuts, because someone out there might be a little healthier than me. 

Dark gingerbread cake with mandarin compote from Gourmet Traveller because I can't resist cake and again with the easy-prep. Mandarin is surely the lazy gals' citrus?

NONE of these recipes have been tested by me. I have three kids under three, and two of them are devouring most of the bounty. If YOU cook one of the recipes, I'd love to hear what you think. Keeper or not?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to cook truffle

A good friend called me the other day and said she had some truffle. I jumped to conclusions and thought I was about to get a dinner invitation. Yippee. 

But no, this mum of three including a young baby, was discharging truffle responsibility to me, another mum of three including a young baby. I can't say I blame her, I'm not leaping to host dinner parties either.

She'd been gifted the truffle, enjoyed some of it herself and thought that I was the most worthy recipient of the remainder. I should have felt honoured. And I did. But I also felt a bit of a fake. I wasn't even sure I liked truffle.

I'm in a lucky minority who has tried the black fungus before, but each time left me a little bewildered. 

The first, shaved onto raw egg yolk at Melbourne's Movida, was never going to end well given a) I'm not an egg fan and b) I became accidentally inebriated during the dinner. Rich, rich, rich food and a woozy head. 

The second was three years ago at said friend's house.She did a wonderful job, finely grating the truffle over risotto, but I was pregnant at the time, so the over-rich, woozy connotations gained more traction. Finally, I'm not even sure the third time counts. Truffle mayonnaise served with butterflied chicken? Rich food during a hot Tamworth summer.

Hence my challenge. I dared not waste this precious piece of black gold, regardless of prior experience. So I set out online to find a recipe. Risottos and pastas were common, but as a mum of three I have limited capacity to prepare a meal that must be eaten immediately.

Instead I found Roast Chicken with Warm Truffle and Cauliflower Salad, from French chef Guillaume Brahimi. Guillaume recommends slipping shaved truffle under the chicken skin. I didn't have enough so I reserved it for the warm salad. And can I say it was amazing? Or is that a bit egocentric given I cooked it myself? Best truffle experience by far!

Coincidentally Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food included an article on truffles the following week. My take-homes from the article were:
  • Don't heat the truffle above 80 degrees.
  • Store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container in the fridge and change the paper towel daily. 
  • Allow 3-8g of truffle per person per course.
Finally, don't over think it. You don't' need anything elaborate to carry the flavour. Simple dishes are best, such as pasta, risotto, roast chicken and scrambled eggs. We hold the truffle up to some lofty aspirations in the form of French Brasseries and silver service, but try to think more of the marvel's humble, earthy origins when looking for inspiration.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Holidaying with kids... or not

I feel like everyone I love to follow online has been on holidays.

Instagram is packed full of trips to warm sunny beaches, my favourite fashion bloggers write about their respective trips to Bali and Croatia, and the final kick comes when I see my Aunt's photos from Turkey. I didn't think they were going until July. Then I realised it is July.

This is Lisa in Turkey.

And this is me feeding Audrey, our six month old. 

This is Lisa seeing the sun rise.

And this is me seeing the sun rise.

I'm actually not that jealous of the exotic locations (ok, maybe a little bit jealous of the warm locations), I'd simply settle for a staycation, but I'm pretty sure my husband would love a week away. Which begs the question:

Where do you take three children under three when the weather is cold? 

Truth be told, sometimes a holiday with kids just feels like parenting in another place, with a stressful pack up at start and finish and none of the conveniences of home. Remove the toddler-sleep-inducing excitement of a beach and I'm just not sure it's really for me.

Having twins has meant travel has always been a little more challenging. Two sets of stuff and two little babies to manage. Car trips were production enough, we barely considered plane trips.

However, at least two couples I know well have both recently taken their baby overseas and found the experience reasonably refreshing. Yes there were plane trips, lots of packing and some logistical challenges, but once they arrived they found they were forced to slow down.  

These seasoned international travellers realised it's quite relaxing to have a nap in the middle of the day and the sights were still there the next day.

Children teach us to slow down sometimes and if we can embrace it, wherever we are, we can truly enjoy living in the moment. Personally, I think I'll be trying to live in the moment at home for now.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Words to inspire

Apparently I am a cook and a writer. But these days I do very little of either, caught up instead in the time-poor business of motherhood, with three under three and a 6 month long house move thrown into the mix.

When I was studying to hone my craft nearly ten years ago, we all wondered when we would officially be writers. Our teacher at the time simply told us to get writing and hey presto, you're a writer!

So if all you have to do to be a writer is start writing, does that mean you can no longer claim the title if you stop?

Thanks to motherhood I devote a lot of mental energy to the concept of identity. Sometimes it's fair, other times I get a little caught up and just need to get on with it.

With that in mind I thought I'd share some quotes that have struck a chord with me in the last week. Writers who've so articulately captured the realities of their subjects and made me both jealous of their skill and inspired to get going again. One day.

Beth, from BabyMac, on toddlerhood:
She does everything so completely, much in the way two year olds do everything. They are ALL happy. They are ALL sad. They are ALL mad or ALL excited or ALL tired or ALL awake. There’s no in between. It’s quite refreshing really, except when she is ALL losing her shit. That’s never fun. 

Anna, from Mamma Bears Kitchen, on grief (via Instagram):
It's hard to describe the pain in your heart that never leaves. It is forever with you. At times it finds a resting place deep down inside you, barely a whisper.... At other times it rages through you like a beast and consumes you with agony. Just like labour, you have to just let it be what it is. Eventually each tempest will pass and you can go on living again, a new normal. 

ABC journalist Sara James on democracy:

Jefferson believed passionately in freedom of thought and expression. He believed in the messy, fractious work we call democracy.