Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thanksgiving after a storm

We lost a few small branches from some trees.

We lost a few small branches from some trees.


Normally we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in our family but last night whilst preparing dinner I decided that in future I might do so. Earlier that afternoon a friend and I had driven down the range from Toowoomba and across the dry plains and watched two storm cells form off to the south.

Our hopes of out running the front were quickly blown away in as a cloud of dust and building material whirled up into the sky and across the road. My friend slowed down and we drove in the shadow of a semi-trailer hoping that not only would it shield us from any debris blowing around but also that it wouldn’t be pushed over on top of us. Huge gusts were buffeting the car and making us slide across the lanes.

The lightning was so bright that every time it flashed my friend cringed and clutched the steering wheel even tighter than she had been. Lightning flashed ahead of us and we were hit with a blinding downpour forcing some cars off the highway.

 

The Banana trees couldn't withstand the wind.

The Banana trees couldn’t withstand the wind.

When we passed through the storm onto the suburban roads we found an obstacle course of vegetation and debris made more challenging due to the slippery surface of leaf litter and deep puddles. I was so relieved when at home I found how lucky we had been; apart from a few branches off the trees, lots of leaf litter, and a very wet deck our only problem was no power but twelve guests for dinner.

As our planned guests thought it wiser to stay with their children at home where there was power I offered dinner to my parents who also had no power. My husband  barbequed the ham which had been marinated in thai flavours, and using the last of the evening light I concocted a beetroot and carrot salad with coriander and lime plus a simple green salad.  In the peace after the storm, still with no electricity, we dined by candlelight offering a Thanksgiving toast to friends and family who were safe.

The flavours we used for the ham were very different to the traditional ham glaze but it worked very well. We pounded together: a red chilli from the garden, fresh coriander, a teaspoon of 5 spice powder, a cup of dark brown palm sugar, 2 teaspoons of ginger chopped finely, vietnamese mint also from the garden, three soft fresh kaffir lime leaves and lime juice to moisten the paste. We cooked the ham in the now hot BBQ for about 40 minutes.

Kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves

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A Summer squash salad

Our unseasonal hot weather is stretching my imagination for summer salads that tempt the taste buds. Seeking inspiration I rummage through the vegetables in the fridge and came up with what I think is a perfect salad: a marriage of colour and tasty. I served it on the pretty yellow Laburnum Petal plate available at my Maddie & Marie online shop.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

 

I served it on a pretty lemon yellow plate and drizzled a saffron infused vinaigrette over the top. I added a few beans which were also in the fridge but you could use other firm green vegetables such as the stem of asparagus or broccolini. It was delicious.

2 small yellow squash

2 small to medium zucchini

A handful of green beans

A handful of rocket or small English spinach leaves

Slivered almonds, toasted

Fresh parsley

If you have a mandolin this makes slicing easy, otherwise slice the squash and zucchini very finely. Steam the green beans until just cooked. I prefer them to be crunchy. Toss the vegetables together with the rocket or spinach leaves. Sprinkle the toasted slivered almonds over the top with ripped parsley leaves.

 

Easy to make Summer Salad

Easy to make Summer Salad

To make the vinaigrette:

Saffron threads infused in 2 tablespoons hot water

Juice of half a lemon

Light olive oil

1-2 tablespoons tahini

½ teaspoon mustard

Salt and pepper

Blend together the saffron infused water, lemon and olive oil in the combination of ⅓ water and lemon juice and ⅔ oil. Add the mustard and tahini and taste for flavour. Add salt and pepper. The longer you leave this dressing the brighter the yellow colour becomes.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve to gasps of delight.

Chilled Carrot Soup


Summer is here way too early;  30 degree days but at least the evenings are cool. I had invited friends over for a Sunday evening meal and wanted to prepare something ahead of time so I could enjoy talking with them rather than rushing around in the kitchen. I wanted something pretty and summery in colour and flavour.

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Not only was I providing a delicious entrée but I suggested I was giving them youth dew.    Carrots are rich in anti-oxidants including beta-carotene which is thought to play a role in helping our immune system and possibly lower the risk of developing cancer or heart disease. Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A which aids eye health and revitalises the epithelium.

Carrots also contain Vitamin C another strong anti-oxidant, plus smaller amounts of Vitamin K, E,  B6 and B12. It also contains calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and potassium for your heart and blood pressure. Plus of course all that fibre, with no fat or cholesterol.

So to the Chilled Carrot Soup recipe which is such an easy recipe and so delicious.

Because I had run out of chicken stock I made a vegetable stock first with the ends of some asparagus I had in the fridge plus the leaves from the leek, half a small onion chopped, a bay leaf, sprigs of parsley and thyme,  the peels and ends of the carrots and a few black peppercorns which I simmered for 40 minutes before I used it in the soup.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek finely sliced,
  • 750 g carrots, peeled with the ends cut off and sliced
  • Sprig of thyme, or chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (or light chicken stock)

Add the oil to a large soup pan, and sauté the chopped onion and leek over a gentle heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, stir to combine then add the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender.

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This soup is also lovely served warm.

Flavouring ideas: you can add fresh coriander to the mixture while cooking, or ½ teaspoon ground cumin or 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger to give the soup a Moroccan flavour.

Hints: If you have run out of stock, use unsweetened carrot juice to add flavour rather than just use water.

 

 

The carrot soup

The carrot soup

Serving suggestions:

  • A swirl of sour cream, a scattering of coriander or thyme and a grind of pepper
  • I whipped up some crème fraîche until it was thick, then added finely chopped garlic chives from the garden and some thyme,
  • Lightly steamed carrot balls which are then chilled

Lest We Forget

Polygon Wood Commonwealth War Graves

Polygon Wood Commonwealth War Graves

I am sitting in the hot November sun at the Remembrance Service and I still shiver when I listen to the words of ‘In Flanders Fields’ and the Bugler playing The Last Post and the Rouse

When I was 19 I walked the hills and beach of Gallipoli with my boyfriend but I was young and in love and the deaths that had occurred did not make me sad. I was too busy living. Over three decades later I toured many World War 1 battle sites with my husband and despite his enthusiasm and knowledge, I kept feeling revulsion and horror at the stupidity of the tactics that caused such enormous numbers of our young men to die. I was now a mother with a son in Iraq and Afghanistan and I could not escape the visceral pain that refused to go away until I knew he was away from that theatre of war.

Red tulips beside grave

Red tulips beside grave

It is a good thing to stop for a moment at 11 am on 11 November to remember those known and unknown who died or suffered for Australia in war and armed conflict. Listening to the music, I try to tally up my family’s military connections; husband, sons, fathers, mother, sister, uncles and great-uncles stopping around a dozen and that is only the immediate family. The military has been kind to my family who lost my Great-Uncle Lionel, killed near Fromelles. I read his name on the wall at Villers-Bretoneaux.

Susie below Lionel Young's inscription

Susie below Lionel Young’s inscription

Each year I plant some poppy seeds in my garden and watch with pleasure when they raise their bright blood-red flowers above the leaves. It gives me a feeling of connection and is a reminder, Lest We Forget.

Preserved Lemons

My delicious preserved lemons

My delicious preserved lemons

Preserved lemons: their beautiful colour and flavour enhance every dish they are added to. I use it in meat dishes to give a Middle Eastern and Moroccan flavour particularly to chicken and lamb. I add it to couscous, bulgar and quinoa salads and roasted vegetables.

How could I let myself use all my preserved lemons without preparing another batch? I had been waiting of course to try to get unwaxed lemons from my local market or from my trees but the timing hasn’t been right. It doesn’t take long to make a batch and it is so satisfying every time I open the fridge to see the squat bottle filled to the brim with beautiful jewel coloured lemons pickling in the salted water. I am collecting my recipes that use preserved lemon in anticipation.

Select a wide-mouthed jar to make it easier to push the lemons into. I use a Kilner jar. Sterilise the jar by boiling it in a large saucepan of water for a few minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

To prepare:

Lemons, preferably unwaxed

A bay leaf, preferably fresh

Salt –

Water or lemon juice

 

Wash the lemons in warm water to assist in removing any wax. Cut the lemons into quarters almost to, but not completely to the bottom of the fruit.

Pour a spoonful of salt into the lemons and squash it into the jar, keeping upright to retain as much salt as possible in the fruit. Continue to do this packing in the lemons as tightly as possible into the jar. If you can keep the lemons whole they look better, but you can also add halves and quarters to fill the spaces in the jar. Don’t worry if the salt spills out into the jar. Once the jar is full of lemons, fill the spaces with either water or if you have lemon juice left over from another recipe, add that as well. Try to remove all the air pockets. I add a bay leaf to the top of the jar for colour and flavour. You can also add coriander seeds for additional flavour.

Close the jar tightly and leave undisturbed for at least a month.

 

To use: Remove the lemon from the jar, scoop out the flesh and discard. Rinse the rind and then slice or chop it according to the recipe that you are making. Bon appetite!

 

Immersion class with Alliance Française, Rouen

I have notched up another thing I have wanted to do for a time but never organised: I did an immersion week at Alliance Française in Rouen and stayed with a host family. I chose Rouen because I would be travelling in Normandy and it is easy to get to by train from Paris into which I would be flying. It was well worth it and I would love to do it again.

A fellow student

A fellow student

I registered and requested my accommodation choice online through Alliance Française, Rouen; the confirmation was emailed and I paid the deposit through their portal. Once booked, rather than wait to do a comprehension test on the first morning, I took the test online and the staff then suggested a level commensurate with my result in the test. As a visiting student, I entered a class that was already operating. I was curious how this would work but I slipped seamlessly into the program which included grammar, language and pronunciation. The classes usually have 6 – 12 students of all ages and professions. We had a 16-year old Australian boy visiting with family for a month, an American nurse to me who I am sure was the eldest. We were a polyglot group from everywhere, including Australia, America, Bulgaria, China, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia.

Wine and cheese tasting in French.

Wine and cheese tasting in French.

I also participated in two workshops each day to get additional speaking and listening practice. The curriculum revolved around cultural, economic and geographical topics and included interviews, debates and games with activities such as an interview with a professional, a wine and cheese tasting (delicious) and Zumba dancing. It was low pressure and fun throughout the week and of course the more I participated the more I gained although I am not sure my movements in Zumba were strictly what our tutor was suggesting in French. Additional outings to cultural and tourist destinations including Giverny and Monet’s garden, Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Paris and Versailles are organised throughout the term.

Alliance Française was also one of the few places in France where I saw a take-away coffee machine which was heavily frequented as it offered over a dozen options for coffee including espresso, long and short black, cappuccino, mocha and tea with or without sucre & lait. Alongside was an enormous machine offering a variety of snacks, chips, chocolates, biscuits etc to feed the perpetually hungry hoards of young students. I would also take advantage of the free WiFi to touch base with the family every day during the lunch break.

Alliance Française was at the back of this gracious building.

Alliance Française was at the back of this gracious building.

The entire week was spoken in French with both the staff and the host family that made it quite exhausting but by the end of that period my ear was starting to tune in. The administration staff were so patient and encouraging during our conversations that I didn’t feel embarrassed by my inadequacies. The classes are held in a traditional French building just around the corner from the Rouen Rive Droit (train station) and it is only a 5-minute walk into the old centre that has museums and parks in which to wander and spend the lunch break.

My host's cat always gave me a warm welcome.

My host’s cat always gave me a warm welcome.

I had requested the ‘La demi-pension en famille’ accommodation option which includes breakfast and dinner. Once arranged, the Alliance Française emailed me the contact details of my host family suggesting that I touch base with details of my arrival and any dietary needs. The family who lived 800 m from the school were charming and welcoming. Madame took great pride in providing a four course traditional French meal each evening that would always include an entrée or soup, a main dish, a salad, cheese and desert plus of course French wine. She and her husband went out of their way to ensure we were comfortable and happy in their home. I had a fabulous week and wished that I could have stayed for longer.