You say “tomato” and I say “Imma make passata every week for the next month”

I think that being an even mostly self sufficient household in the suburbs is a pretty mean feat to pull off. Some friends of ours two streets away are about 70% self sufficient in fruit and veg on their ordinary-sized domestic Canberra block, but goddamit, it’s a lot of work. Although it’s true that all veg you grow yourself is going to be a lot better than something you can find in the stupormarket, some things massively over-reward you for the effort you put in. That’s what we try to focus on in our own gardening – things that aren’t easy and cheap to get fresh, and that are particularly delicious when grown organically and harvested when perfectly ripe, like globe artichokes, asparagus, berries, etc.

Clockwise from 12 o’clock – Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese Basil, a flower and common mint.

We grow at least 20 varieties of culinary herbs, and at this time of year we eat something from the garden every day. The asparagus has finished long ago, but the eggplants are just flowering, and there’s rhubarb, sorrel, celery, beetroot, Malabar spinach, gherkins to preserve and chillies. Our Jerusalem artichokes have gone completely beserk and are more than 3 metres tall, twice the maximum height given in my new gardening book.

I planted three heritage varieties of summer squash this year to defeat the “omg I fucking hate zucchini” thing that happens when you are insufficiently vigilant.

But the classic big pay-off Summer crop is of course, tomatoes.

I eat a few cherry tomatoes occasionally out of season, and I eat preserved tomatoes year round, but there is a real tomato gorging going on around here at the moment. The kitchen garden crew made bruschetta for the parent information night at my son’s school last week, and I worked out afterwards there were nine varieties of tomato in the mix (on home-made bread, with a little very good olive oil and salt). People went nuts for it, as you can imagine.

Clockwise from top left: Black Russian, golden grape, tommy toe, green zebra, tigerella, an amazing yellow oxheart variety I don’t know the name of and black krim.

This year I’ve been experimenting with different ways to support growing tomato plants, in a quest to find the One True Method of Tomato Supporting. I made one metre round towers of 100 mm square wire 120cm high, but despite my high hopes they turned out to be pissweak and unable to cope with the weight of the ripening fruit. While picking was easy from the middle of the tube up, the bottom had way too much foliage and there was fruit on the ground which meant slaters and fruit flies and the deep sadness that is homegrown heritage breed tomatoes in the chook food.

I’ve also been experimenting with tomato preserving this year, and so far I have a frozen pureed roasted tomato sauce (with beetroot, carrot, bay, butter, red wine and vinegar), one precious cup-sized jar of tomato paste cooked down from a couple of kilos of San Marzano tomatoes I grew from Digger’s seedlings and most excitingly, several jars of passata.

Last year a lovely friend gave me a manual Italian tomato press, and I am in love with it. If you have to look after an end of Summer school holidays glut from a school garden, the “passatutto” considerably speeds things up. Even things like this:

If I were telling someone how to stock their kitchen, I would tell them to get a tomato press and a potato ricer and not to get a food mill. It is so simple a child can use it.

So if anyone who lives in Canberra would like my food mill, leave a comment.

Things got on a roll, as they do, and last Saturday morning my sister’s lovely elderly Italian neighbours invited us around to see how they did their tomatoes and to do some of our own. I’d read a squillion accounts of “passata days” but was still unsure how exactly to go about it. I knew that seeing it done by experts would be really helpful, and Angelo and Jenny were happy for us to join in.

They are completely delightful people, and the mental passata pieces fell into shape as I worked out what to do with the puree to ensure it was safe and would last the family a year. Put the puree into clean (not sterile) dark glass bottles, leaving a substantial air gap and cap them with crown seals (almost all home brewers will have ths equipment, and if you don’t know a brewer it’s all easy and pretty cheap to track down and use). Pack a large stock pot, Vacola boiler or 44 gallon drum with bottles laid sideways (aha! she says! sideways! that was the missing bit of information ! HOW VERY CUNNING!) with towels tucked here and there so the bottles don’t smash or make irritating jiggly-scrape-y noies. Bring it all slowly to the boil, boil for an hour and don’t remove the bottles until everything is completely cool – that might be the next afternooon.

During this period, lucky people will be taken for a burn in a 94 year old Ceirano, one of two of that model remaining in the world, and the only one in working order.

Some more pictures from the day follow, and even more for the very keen here.

The electric machine is very sexy and cool, but they they cost exponentially more than the $40, entirely satisfactory, manual one. The manual one really comes into its own when you’re processing a couple of kilos of tomatoes each week as they become ripe rather than having a crazed tomato frenzy.

What I really noticed, apart from the smell of properly ripe tomatoes and the extreme comfiness of the backseat of a WW1 era touring car, is that there is a kind of learning that no amount of book-learnin’ will get you. You have to watch, and talk, and muck in and ask questions and then you’ll start to work out what’s going on.

Christmas Food Open Thread – Hits and Misses at table

Eating at this time of year is often spoken of as if it’s some kind of naughty thing – in a world where high fructose corn syrup invades every aisle of the supermarket, some are eager to pile shame on centuries old traditions of festive indulgence.

Well, they’re idiots. Give me the life where a family celebrates each other’s company with day after day of endless deliciousness or where a group of vegan friends build their own traditions, blowing each other’s minds with tables laden with goodness, year after year.

In this spirit, contributor Anthony has suggested an open thread on Christmas food failures and successes – he’s going to tell us about curing his own ham, which I’m pretty excited to hear about as it’s something I’d love to do.

As for me, this year’s failure was the Coffin Bay Oysters, which were not fresh enough. Boo! My sister in law had bought them (opened) the day before, they’d been in the fridge the whole time (wrapped) but they smelt odd and had a weird black slick on the shells. That’s why the flesh is still there under the piles of crayfish, served with butter melted with a touch of their mustard – sublime, and all the sweeter for the oyster disaster.

Despite being a bit crook (nothing serious, don’t worry) I still managed to glaze the ham, but instead of leaving it to marinate for hours and hours I whipped up something in five minutes. Fortunately I reaped the benefits of years of consistent kitchen-pottering and pantry-filling, basing the glaze on a tart apricot sauce made from our own apricots. Sadly, the aged tree has since had to be cut down and the sauce will never be the same – your own apricots always make the best sauce.

This year’s real triumph however was a masterpiece of Christmas leftovers, the ham and prawn bahn xeo:

All the virtues of using up the leftovers, with lots and lots of crunchy fresh things and a zingy sour-and-hot sauce. Perfect Boxing Day fare. Rather than include chillies in the sauce, they were on the side and the kids loved them too. Based on this Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty.

Open thread, so at it – what did you get right and wrong this Christmas?

Goings on around here

Although this blog has been horribly neglected since I started working more in July, my garden has been getting some attention. It’s a bit wild at the moment, need to pull out a few things and start planting more. The asparagus has gone to fern, but it’s giving us a big basket of greens each day and artichokes, broad beans, fennel and a very, very large variety of herbs.

I used Summer savoury and majoram in this terrine of ox tongue and pork that I made for my meat guy’s family. There was lots of brandy and mace, and sauteed garlic stems picked about 1 minute before they hit the chopping board. The pistachios I had wanted to put in were old and tasteless (not from the Co-op) so I used biodynamic almonds (from the Co-op). I think the skins left a little bitterness, but other than that I would say that this is pretty much one of the most delicious things I have ever made.

Here’s Jethro at the gate to one of the main veggie beds. Behind him to the left is my gardening bench, a clawfoot bath and a barbecue. There’s another big bed on the other side of the yard.

This one has lots of rainbow chard and some celery,

raspberries that are starting to fruit,

mizuna, lots of lettuces and some garlic hardening of before we pick it.

There’s also rhubarb, beetroot, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, peas and sunflowers.

Owy’s hops are doing well this year. The old fridge behind them has some Black Russian and Green Zebra tomatoes with chives and basil.

In the other bed a pear tree shades the herbs, so they stay really soft and delicious. Lots of varieties of Sage, as it’s my eldest son’s name and he demands we buy every variety we see. Pineapple sage has the best flowers, but not yet.

And there are a lot of artichokes, all from one original heirloom plant from Diggers, divided and divided and divided:

We have so much mint it’s a little bit frightening, and horseradish carried home from Tammi’s house in March after the Eat.Drink.Blog conference. In the gap next to the fence I’ve started growing Jerusalem artichokes to choke out the nasty wandering ornamental thing coming through from the neighbour’s garden. We’ll build up the J-chokes there and gradually take them out of the main part of the garden. It doesn’t matter if it takes a long time.

Dr Sister Outlaw’s baking career goes bung …

Having written extensively on the magic of flour-butter combos (which includes fabulous pastry for scallop pies), the seductive powers of fine desserts like Lemon Delicious Pudding and the charms of Christmas pudding, I think I have established I have quite a thing for working with flour.

Of all my kitchen skills I am most grateful for my skills as a baker and pastry chef. Over three decades I have gained a keen sense of how to emulsify flour and liquids into elastic doughs, or puff flour and fat into gorgeous cakes and desserts. I have celebrated these skills most when I have someone to impress; at a “bring a plate” do or, as has not often been the case, when there is an appreciative man around. I’m a baking nerd with a real thing for gluten – I know how to use it and how to play with it. And of course I love to eat it, as I confessed in my post about my food crimes as a single woman.

But now find myself in a quite a sad situation. Those who follow me on twitter will realise that I have, of late, developed a strong and quite dizzy making crush. This of course is not sad at all, for it seems the crush is reciprocated. No, what’s sad is all my mad baking skills are wasted upon him. He cannot eat gluten. Worst of all, I have not spent that much time cooking for people who are gluten intolerant so I do not know how to bake or make much at all without it.

The only answer to this problem, of course, is to develop some skills and knowhow in the area of gluten-free baking and cooking, which is why I have turned to you, denizens of the lazy web. I know you wise and learned Progressive Dinner Party readers will have heaps of good advice about how to develop mad skills in gluten-free baking. So, this is an open thread on pitfalls and dangers, tips and advice and, hopefully, a really good recipe for gluten-free bread.

Dame Mint Pattie endures a long time between drinks

a2z banner

Forgive the above title, it’s colloquial and catchy but aside from that complete bullshit. Our self-assigned mission to visit all the cellar doors in the Canberra region has meant that casa notional has been awash with local vino for more than 12 months.

What it has been a long time between, is fresh posts – something I’m aiming to rectify very soon. In the meantime, I’ve noticed Bryan Martin, winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, is now blogging a selection of his Canberra Times food columns and it’s well worth a look. Finally, if you’re after thoughtful wine reviews and reports* then Chris Shanahan’s site is the one to bookmark.

Meanwhile, if you’re browsing some of the cellar door lists for Canberra, you might come across England’s Creek and Four Winds Vineyard. Both grow grapes and Four Winds does produce wine under its Alinga label, but neither are open to the public.

England’s Creek grows contract grapes for the local wine market so chances are you’ve already gargled some of their produce.

Four Winds has deal with the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive but I haven’t been tempted by their screenings lately, so I haven’t had a chance to try any (although Our MIC tells me he’s spotted them on sale at the Kingston IGA). You can order their wines online and you can also follow them on twitter.

*On the other hand, if you enjoy too many footnotes and weak jokes, then head straight to our notional archives.

Cross-posted from Our Notional Capital, where Dame Mint Pattie blogs with Our Man in Canberra; the rest of the series is here.

Emica gets new digs

ProgDins contributor Emica and her partner have left London, and are coming home the long way. The REALLY long way – via Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgrade, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel and finally back to their home in WA via NZ and the east coast.

Yeah, the list makes me cranky too, but in very happy news, she’s set up a blog to chronicle her culinary adventures as she travels. It’s called A Shared Table, and you should bookmark it.

She’s in Spain now, and has perfected gazpacho with help from a Sevillian friendship which began on the plane on the way there. Imma gonna make me some as soon as it gets over about ten degrees in Canberra!

Bon voyage Emica, to you and A Shared Table.

Late Winter Vineyard lunching action

My dear friend Katie recently had the decency to move from Dangar Island to the same suburb I live in. We loved visiting them on Dangar, which is in the Hawkesbury river near Sydney and very beautiful, but it really is much more convenient to live around the corner and see each other several times a week.

It was her birthday recently, and she wanted a nice lunch out. Well, actually she wanted dinner but what with her and partner Aneal’s three year old, our children, two sets of babysitting arrangements and a desire to drink wine we ended up at lunch at Shaw vineyard’s Flint in the Vines in Murrumbateman, about a half hour drive out of Canberra. It’s being run by Grant Kells, one of the guys behind the swanky but by some reports over-promising and under-delivering Flint Dining Room and Bar in Canberra, and front of house is run by former Longrain sommelier Jai Dawson.

And don’t worry, I am not missing the irony of my first post in forever being a restaurant review, which I never do.

Aneal eats fish occasionally, but not meat or gluten, and Flint’s menu seemed pretty flexible. There’s a very decent kid’s menu and there were well behaved and charming children of all ages enjoying lunch in big family groups.

The wine list is very, very reasonable, particularly if you stick to the Shaw wines. We had some shampoo to start, the Shaw sparkling semillon for $26. I was enjoying the slightly sweet lemon-y and biscuit-y flavours until Owen said “lemon cheesecake!” We had the Isabella Riesling, $33, with mains and it had the same lemon myrtle kind of flavours – must be the house style, hunh?

It’s a comfortable but unponcy joint, a dining room with an open fire adjoining the vineyard’s cellar door tasting area.
We were planning to take our time, so all had entrees and mains and shared a couple of desserts.

Katie had “Pork Belly and Toasted Hazelnut Terrine, Red onion jam, toasted brioche”

The terrine was just past nicely crumbly and heading towards dry, but as you see it was tasty.

Aneal had Seared Yellow Fin Tuna Green asparagus, baby herb mix, white truffle dressing

I Do Not Approve of white truffle dressing in Canberra in August. For quite a few reasons. Or asparagus, really, but the tuna separated softly to the tooth and was quite delicious.

I had a special, tempura prawns with a something sauce and nori

I don’t know what’s happened to me, but I’m losing my tolerance for sweetness. I can remember thinking as I tasted it that I should have known from the menu description it would be too sweet; cloying. Lovely bouncy prawns, though.

The final entree was Owy’s Quick Fried Spiced Calamari, Blue cheese aioli, lemon.

This is one of those “Masterchef Aaron YumYuk” things. Horrible and wonderful at the same time, although I’m not sure it’s on purpose.

For mains, Katie and Owy had the Wood Fired Weekend Roast

It’s pretty cheap at $26, but even for that you don’t want the beef cooked beyond medium. The yorkshire puddings, on the other hand, were perfect.

Aneal had beautiful Wild Barramundi Meuniere , brown lemon butter, steamed Kipfler potatoes

and I had “Master Stock Braised Pork Belly, Sautéed king scallops, Ginger soy mirin glazed wild mushrooms

again, too sweet, and again, beautifully cooked lovely fresh seafood.

I’m over sweets, but I was really looking forward to some cheese – but they were out. Sniff. The desserts we shared aren’t on the current menu, so I’m struggling to remember how they were described. We had a pannacotta with a chocolate and hazlenut gelato

The other, much less successful, dish was a trio of chocolate desserts:

On the left was a chilli-chocolate mousse, which was fine. In the middle was a chocolate and banana brulee. There is no reason, however, to put banana in a chocolate brulee. Or any other kind of brulee. If I’m going to have a hot banana, I want it flaming in rum, goddamit. The final element was a large, crumbly dry cakey type arrangement that seemed liked it should have been served up by someone wearing a nosering and birkenstocks.

The service was brisk enough, and the waiter responded very well when I replied to his question about how our mains were by holding up a long, curly blonde hair. We’d all thought it was unfortunate but no big deal, but as expected the cost of the dish was removed from the bill. If I was the owner, I would ask that in future he not carry it suspended from his hand, face aghast, all the way back to the passe and shout out “Chef! A hair!” quite so loudly. The other staff were an endearing mix of country girls with painstakingly dishevilled updos.

For a long enjoyable lunch and plenty of wine, the bill came to under $100 a head. If you’re going, I’d stick to the seafood and pick up a bottle of the sticky on the way home. It was a very nice lunch, and we all had a lovely time.

Photoessay: Dunedin Farmers Market

I’m having a break from editioning the first print of my Otakou Press residency in Dunedin and thought I’d share with you foodies the lovely market here. I heard about it from another blogger before I left Australia and made a vow to have breakfast there every Saturday morning to escape from college food. It’s a vow I’ll stick to faithfully! I also wish that I had the facility to cook the occasional meal for myself, because the produce is just so nice. My family are coming over at the end of my residency, so before we start travelling, we’ll stock up on cheeses, fruit and salami, etc to make our own lunches as we tour.

They also have a mobile classroom that teaches a new dish every week. A good idea for the Canberra market!

This was my first course: a fresh hot and enormous dumpling stuffed with roast pork, cabbage and vermicelli noodles.

And this was dessert: a fresh crepe filled with home-made pear and rhubarb jam. Mmmmm…

After that, I was  completely visually and physically satiated, so I went for a big walk and caught this view just before the skies opened and gushed down for the rest of the day.


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