We’ve been growing pots of strawberries for about five years now, and while they are always smaller than their commercial cousins, the flavour has more than made up for their size. Now, there is actual, real research that explains why home grown tastes better:
The culprit? Fungicide. Apparently fungicides not only kill fungus, they can also have a detrimental effect on the strawberry’s ability to produce sugars and other nutrients. Ergo, the commercial products don’t taste as sweet as home grown. 😀
As home gardeners, we’ve also noticed that our tomatoes are incredibly sweet. Much sweeter than the ones I used to buy from the supermarket. If anyone knows why, I’d love to know.
Oh, and it goes without saying that NOTHING in our garden is sprayed with herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. We are as organic as a home garden can be without being officially certified. I’m proud of that. 🙂
It’s been a fraught lead up to Christmas this year. Since my ‘I hate December’ post, both Golli and Mogi have had to go to the vet and Mogi is still not well. But Christmas must go on, so here are some pics of the Chocolate Mousse cake ‘in progress.’
The chocolate mousse. The two holes were for quality control…honest. 😉
Two homemade chocolate sponge cakes, cut in half. Each layer will be placed in the baking tin and covered with room temperature chocolate mousse. Like this:
When all the layers are done, including for the top and sides, dark chocolate is shaved over the top:
After popping the cake back in the fridge for a couple of hours, this is what the layers look like:
I’ve been trying to stay away from sweets leading up to Christmas but…you know how it is? Sometimes you just have to go to the pantry and see what’s there. Or not there.
In my case, there was no chocolate, no biscuits, no sweets of any kind except for some dried dates. Yeah, me too.
The trip to the pantry wasn’t a complete waste of time though because I did find some shredded coconut, and that gave me an idea. Diving into my trusty photo album-recipe book(1), I flicked through a stack of recipes I’d found online, or in magazines [back when we still bought them], until I found a recipe for Arabian Macaroons. And wonder of wonders, I had all the ingredients!
1 1/3 cup coconut [I used dessicated, shredded coconut],
1/2 cup finely chopped dates [hah! I used dried, pitted dates],
1/2 cup chopped walnuts [I used hazelnuts because I didn’t have walnuts],
1/2 cup sugar [I used caster sugar but next time I’ll reduce the quantity to 1/4 of a cup],
1/8 teaspoon salt [I used a very small ‘pinch’],
1 egg, well beaten,
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Original instructions that came with the recipe:
Combine coconut, dates, walnuts, sugar and salt; mix well. Blend in egg and vailla extract. Let stand 5 minutes.
Drop from teaspoon onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove at once from baking sheet.
Pre-heat oven to 350f or 170c [fan bake(2)],
Line a large baking sheet with baking paper [parchment paper]. No need to grease.
Finely chop the dates and hazelnuts [separately!] until they look like large ‘crumbs’,
Beat 1 whole egg with the sugar, vanilla extract, and a tiny bit of salt until the mixture forms ‘the ribbon’. In other words, the egg mixture becomes thick enough to hold its shape for a few seconds when dribbled on top of the mix.
Fold all the dried ingredients into the egg mixture and allow to stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Use two spoons to take small quantities of the ‘dough’ and scrape it onto the baking paper. The mix is quite sticky and won’t just ‘drop’. It needs to be scraped out of the spoon.
Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven, and set the timer for about 12 minutes. If your oven is old and temperamental like mine, you will need to check the macaroons at that 12 minute mark to make sure they bake evenly and don’t burn. If you oven is fine, leave for 15 minutes.
When golden brown, take the macaroons out of the oven and gently lift them onto a cooling rack. At this point they are still a little soft but they will firm up as they cool.
Store in an air-tight container…if you can wait that long. 😉
The finished macaroons will be crunchy on the outside and a little bit chewy on the inside. Honestly, they really are delicious.
Bon appetit! Meeks
(1) I use those old fashioned photo albums with clear plastic sheets covering each page. I pull the sheet back, stick the recipe on the page and cover with the clear sheet again. Keeps the recipes relatively clean. 😉
(2) Fan bake or fan forced is always a little hotter than the standard oven temperature so if you use those setting, you should drop the temperature a little to compensate.
The Offspring and I are omnivores through and through, but there are some vegan recipes that are so good, even committed meat-eaters like us fall in love with them. Spinach Pasta with Dipping Sauce is one such recipe. The Offspring discovered it on Youtube, and it’s become a family favourite. No pics, sorry.
As with many of my recipes, there’s an official version, and then there’s my version. You’ll find both below. Enjoy. 🙂
Prepare one large bunch of English Spinach by washing thoroughly to make sure there are no grains of sand or grit hidden amongst the leaves.
In a large soup pot, bring just enough water to the boil to cover the bottom 1/2 inch of the pot.
When the water is boiling, drop the spinach leaves into the pot and quickly toss them in the boiling water. This should not take more than a minute as the spinach wilts very quickly.
Take the spinach out of the water but reserve the liquid.
Allow the spinach to cool before chopping.
Once chopped, add 3 cups of all purpose flour [plain flour for Aussies] and 2gm of salt to the spinach and mix together by hand until it forms a dough. If it’s too dry, add some of the reserved cooking water.
Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic.
Cover with plastic wrap and rest in the fridge until ready to roll out.
Fill a large soup pot with cold water and bring to the boil.
While the water is coming to the boil, divide the dough into 4 -6 lumps and roll each lump out individually on a lightly floured board.
Cut the rolled dough into strips.
Lay the strips on baking/parchment paper until they’re all cut out.
Once the water is boiling, drop the pasta into the water and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.
Remove the strips from the boiling water and rinse in icy water.
Set aside until all of the strips are cooked.
Thaw a packet of frozen spinach… [During the pandemic we grew our own spinach, but once it went to seed I wasn’t happy about substituting supermarket spinach because it didn’t look great after ‘decontaminating’ for 3 days. Enter the frozen spinach. It made everything easier. 😀 ]
Place the thawed spinach in the blender with just enough cold water to blend until smooth. At this point, the spinach looks like a beautiful green soup.
Pour the blended spinach into a large bowl and add all purpose [plain] flour – a BIT AT A TIME – mixing as you go until the dough starts to hold together.
Continue mixing and kneading lightly until the dough is soft but no longer super sticky.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes. [From here on the process is the same as for the official version.]
Fill a large soup pot with cold water and bring to the boil.
While the water is coming to the boil, divide the dough into 4 -6 lumps and roll each lump out individually on a lightly floured board. The thinner you can get the dough the better.
Cut the rolled dough into strips – we make them quite wide, say 2 inches or so.
Lay the strips on baking/parchment paper until they’re all cut out.
Once the water is boiling, drop the pasta into the water and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. I let them float to the surface and then give them an extra 30 seconds.
Remove the strips from the boiling water and rinse in icy water. set aside until all of the strips are cooked.
NOTE: if you make too much of the dough to cook for one meal, put the uncooked portion in a freezer bag and freeze until you want to use it again. To thaw, simply take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge overnight. It should be ready to use by the time you are ready to roll it into strips. This is the only pic in the entire post:
Dipping Sauce [quite spicy]
3 – 4 spring onions [they’re the long, skinny ones that look like leafy cigarettes]
5 cloves of garlic
1/3 of a teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 a teaspoon salt
1/2 a teaspoon sugar
30 mls of peanut oil
60 mls of Chinese dark vinegar
30 mls of soy sauce
3 mls of sesame oil
125 mls of water
Clean the spring onions and cut the whites and greens separately
Peel and crush the garlic
Gently cook the white part of the spring onions in the peanut oil [to infuse the flavour].
Strain the infused oil and discard the whites.
Pour the hot, infused oil over the dry ingredients [and garlic] and mix.
Finally, add the vinegar, soy saunce, sesame oil and water.
Mix and set aside until ready to serve. Can store in the fridge for 2 – 3 days.
To serve, simply place some of the spinach pasta in individual bowls and spoon over as much of the dipping sauce as you like. Chopsticks can be used but I find the pasta is a bit slippery so stabbing it with a fork is easier. 😉
However, I did not feel fine during a recent, early morning visit to the emergency department of our local hospital – a huge vote of thanks to the wonderful staff at Maroondah hospital!
I woke at about 5am that morning feeling nauseous and horribly dizzy…in bed.
That’s the BPPV part. BPPV stands for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo:
‘BPPV causes brief episodes of mild to intense dizziness. It is usually triggered by specific changes in your head’s position. This might occur when you tip your head up or down, when you lie down, or when you turn over or sit up in bed.’
Almost an hour later, the triage nurse at the hospital took my blood pressure, and it was 180. I’ll get to the peanuts in a moment.
For me, the BPP vertigo happened when I rolled over in bed. The doctor at the hospital made the diagnosis after a slew of other tests came back negative – no heart attack, no stroke, no tumour etc. That diagnosis was confirmed when the phsyiotherapist came down and fixed the problem. Apparently, little crystals get dislodged from their correct position in the inner ear and move around, eventually causing the BPPV. This is the positional exercise she made me do:
I admit I was a little sceptical at first, but the physio did a test that made me feel as if someone had hit me with an anti-gravity machine. I literally had to clutch the sides of the bed I was so dizzy. After the exercise, though, it was all better. Weird but true, and I haven’t had an episode since – knock on wood.
When I asked about the blood pressure, however, the doctor kind of shrugged and said that blood pressure tended to increase with age.
I am getting older, but I’m not sure that diagnosis is 100% accurate. Yes, BP may increase with age, but I’m almost positive that the gradual increase in my blood pressure coincides with…ta dah…salted peanuts. Don’t laugh! Seriously. 😀
When it comes to food, I’ve always preferred savoury/salty over sweet, so when I decided it was time to cut down on all the gum I was chewing [ex-smoker, don’t ask], I opted for salted peanuts instead. It would have been a reasonable decision if I hadn’t started binge eating the damn things. It took my local GP to point out that too much sodium – i.e. salt – could raise your blood pressure.
Long story short, I stopped eating the peanuts and started chewing raw almonds instead. That was over a month ago now, and I do feel better generally. I’m still not sure what sent my blood pressure sky high the day I went to the hospital, but I get the shivers whenever I think about how high it might have been if I’d still been guzzling all that salt.
“But how can you be sure it was the peanuts?” I hear someone ask.
The answer to that is simple: we eat very little processed food, and I always under-salt when I cook. I prefer to add a little salt directly to the plate rather than hide it inside the food. I guess that’s one reason it never occurred to me that I could be ingesting too much salt. I’m still clueless about why I had such an awful episode of BPPV, but I’m almost certain that the higher-than-normal blood pressure was caused by too much salt.
I still miss my salted peanuts, but I don’t trust myself not to binge again so the almonds are here to stay. Not only are they no-salt and little fat, they also contain magnesium, which is also supposed to be good for you. -sigh-
The apple you see on that plate is the apple I just picked from my tree. I picked it, buffed it against my shirt and bit into it. Crisp but not ‘rock hard’, juicy and…so sweet the flavour was like an explosion in my mouth!
The apple in question is a Fuji, and Fuji are one of the sweetest of the commercial apples, but my home-grown beauty was a factor of ten sweeter because I didn’t pick it until it was fully ripe. Commercial apples are picked earlier and stored in a cool room to increase their ‘shelf life’ in the supermarket. Convenience and greater profits for the supermarket, a loss for the consumer.
How much of a loss?
I can only guess at the nutritional loss, but I can tell you that my apples taste amazing. And! The land on which they grew has not been sprayed for the 16 years of my stewardship. That’s how long we’ve lived here in Warrandyte. As the block was originally a horse paddock, it’s probably been herbicide and pesticide free for much longer than that. For me though, the bottom line is flavour.
I stopped buying commercial apricots the year my apricot tree had its first crop. The flavour of that warm, sun-ripened fruit took me back to my childhood when my Dad grew a few fruit trees in the back yard. The one I remember even now is the nectarine tree. It was big enough for an eight year old to climb without getting stuck, and I’d sit in its branches, eating nectarines.
In fact, there have been home-grown fruit trees in my life for all but a few years in my twenties when I was renting. There have been fruit trees in the Offspring’s life too, and I remember the look of wonder on a young nephew’s face when he picked a ripe apricot from my tree and tasted it for the first time. These are the moments that can trigger life-long food choices, and those food choices can influence life-long health.
Many schools in Australia have created veggie patches for the kids to tend and taste, which is great, but what about the home garden? How many kids get to go home after school and pick a sun-ripened apple for a snack instead of something that comes in a packet? And what better reason for a kid to go outside into the fresh air than to forage in the garden?
“Oh, we’re too busy to grow fruit!”
“The garden is too small.”
“I don’t have time to look after fruit trees. Just mowing the damn grass is enough.”
“Don’t you have to spray them to stop the bugs and stuff? I don’t want the kids to eat stuff that’s been sprayed.”
The excuses are legion, but I believe the root excuse, the one that no one acknowledges is that modern parents grew up eating only commercial fruit and vegetables so they literally have no idea what ‘real’ fruit tastes like. As a result, they can’t see the value of growing fruit trees.
To those parents I say – “Just give one fruit tree a try.”
My apple tree is small, and it has three different apples grafted onto it. For a while I thought the alpacas had ‘pruned’ one of the grafted branches to death, but it came back, and this year it is covered with so much fruit I’ve had to hold the branches up with ropes! Sadly I can’t remember what variety this rejuvenated graft belongs to.
Anyway, my point is that I did not take care of my apple tree for a long time, but it survived and when I gave it some protection [from the alpacas], and a bit of compost and mulch, it roared back with a truly bumper crop. Just in time for autumn/winter.
Feijoas are easy to grow too. They’re the small, dark green fruit in front of the apples:
C’mon, parents. You don’t need a lot of space to grow one, single fruit tree, and the benefits will astound you. More importantly, you will see that same look of wonder on your kids’ faces the first time they taste fruit that actually has a flavour. Find a sunny spot and plant a fruit tree. Your kids will be the beneficiaries.
I’m writing this recipe for myself as much as anyone because this is the first time I’ve managed to make a really great tasting, purely vegetarian red sauce. And I want to remember how I did it! lol
So, just had the sauce with pasta for dinner, and it was rich and delicious. Please note though, I called this a ‘vegetarian’ red sauce. Not vegan. The ingredients include a bit of butter and some cream cheese. That said, you could leave out those two ingredients and I think it would still taste as good, just perhaps not as ‘rich’.
1/2 a brown onion, chopped fine
1/3 of a red onion [leftover] chopped fine [the red onion adds a bit of sweetness but if you don’t have, simply add a bit more brown onion]
1 medium tomato with seeds removed and chopped fine
1/2 a sweet red capsicum [bell pepper?] chopped fine
2 large cloves of garlic – minced [I do it with a knife rather than the squeezy gadget as you lose too much garlic otherwise]
1 sachet of Leggo’s tomato paste [2 tablespoons]
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika powder [the Hungarian one if you can manage it]
a pinch of chilli flakes [for just a little bit of ‘heat’. Substitute a small pinch of cayenne if you don’t have the flakes]
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon of butter
2 tablespoons of peanut oil [or olive if you prefer]
cream cheese [2 of the Philadelphia Snack tubs, 34gms each] or 2 tablespoons of either cream or sour cream
Place the oil in the frying pan with the butter [if using] and very gently cook the two kinds of onions and garlic until the onions are almost translucent. I used a heavy cast iron frying pan which gives a very even heat. If you don’t have one, turn the heat down as low as possible so the onions ‘sweat’ very gently. You do NOT want them to brown.
Add the capsicum, chopped tomato, salt, black pepper and chilli flakes and keep cooking until the two vegetables have softened a little.
Add the tomato paste and stir in.
Add the paprika powder and stir in.
Add about 1 tablespoon of water and stir in [just to stop the paprika from burning].
Cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes.
Check the sauce and add about 1/4 cup of water. Cover and cook while you boil the pasta.
After the pasta has cooked [approx. 15 minutes], check the sauce. It should now be fairly thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
Take the sauce off the heat and swirl in the cream cheese [or cream or sour cream].
Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl and pour over the sauce. Toss and voila! Dinner is served.
I never seem to put enough salt into anything I cook so you will probably have to sprinkle some over the pasta after serving. From a health point of view, this is probably not such a bad thing as too much salt isn’t good for. 😉
And finally, you may have noticed… that there is no picture of the dish. That’s because we ate it all before I remembered that I needed one. Sorry.
The tea is ‘Blood Orange’ by Red Seal – appropriate, right? And the cake is my VERY EASY homemade, gluten free orange cake:
This pandemic has highlighted the need to ‘make do’ and not waste anything, so when I found myself with more navel oranges than we could eat [I made the mistake of buying a 3kg bag], the Offspring said, “Why don’t you make an orange cake. We haven’t had one of those in years.”
Seemed like a good idea until I dug out the recipe and stared at the bit that said ‘take nine eggs….’ Nine eggs? If I’d been smart, I would have made a half quantity, but you know how it is.
Anyway, apart from needing a lots of eggs and almond meal, the recipe is so ridiculously easy I decided to share. Enjoy. 🙂
Home Made Orange Cake
Ingredients for cake
350gm of caster sugar
350gm of almond meal
Ingredients for Orange Syrup
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 orange – zested, peeled and segmented
How to make the cake:
Preheat the oven to fan forced 180 C
Grease and line a 20 cm square cake pan with grease proof [parchment] paper. As I don’t have a pan of the right size I used a fairly large rectangular baking dish instead. The cake won’t rise a lot but it will rise a little so just make sure there’s a bit of room at the top.
Place 3 oranges in a saucepan, cover with water, cover with a lid and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the oranges are soft.
Discard the water and allow the oranges to cool.
If you have a food processor, blend the oranges [skins and all!] until they form a coarse ‘paste’. It’s actually more like a thick porridge. Set aside.
Cream the eggs and sugar until light an fluffy. I have an electric beater so I’m not sure if it’s possible to beat the egg mixture using a hand one. Good luck?
Add the almond meal and the orange paste and stir until well mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan [see 2 above] and place in the middle of the pre-heated oven [see 1 above] for approximately 45 minutes.
How to make the orange syrup
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Mine was more like about 10 minutes but it didn’t seem to matter. Just make sure you don’t end up with toffee instead of sugar syrup!
Take the syrup off the heat and set aside.
Pour a little boiling water over the orange zest [the zest is the orange part – make sure it doesn’t have any of the white pith as this can be bitter]. Let it sit for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water. The recipe says to repeat this step but I didn’t and the syrup was fine. Your choice.
Place the zest and orange segments into the syrup and allow to cool. Ahem, I forgot about the segments so I only put the zest into the syrup. Seemed fine. 🙂
The recipe says to serve the cake with a drizzle of the syrup and some orange segments. Silly me, I left the cake in the pan and just poured the syrup over the whole cake. Worked fine except the cake now sticks to the parchment paper. -sigh-
Next time I’ll take the cake out of the pan, remove the paper, put the cake back into the pan and then pour the syrup over. Live and learn. 🙂
And for those who don’t know how to segment an orange so there’s none of the white pitch, here’s my method:
Cut a thin-ish slice off the top and bottom of the orange so you have a flat surface to work with:
2. Hold the knife at an angle [as shown above] and slice off a section of the peel, making sure to take off the white pith as well.
3. Once you’ve cut all around the top half of the orange, flip it over and do the same with the bottom half:
4. Once all the peel is off, do NOT cut the orange in half. You’re likely to get some of the pith in the middle, and you don’t want that. Instead, slice off one of the ‘cheeks’ of the orange by cutting about 1/3 of an inch off centre:
Now you can cut the cheek into segments. Repeat for the other side and the two narrow portions on each side. Ta dah, you have a segmented orange!
Some people may have noticed that I haven’t included any pretty porcelain with this post. I did think about it, but didn’t feel like washing up by hand so…dishwasher proof dishes only today. 😀
As always, apologies in advance for the poor quality of the photos.
I made the peanut shortbread in celebration of the Offspring getting the first jab of Pfizer! [Recipe at the end of the post].
The cup, saucer, and side plate I chose this time share colour tonings but are not ‘a set’. Very few of my pretties match because I collected them one by one, over about thirty years. So, first the side plate. There are no marks of any sort on the back, so either it’s quite old, or…it wasn’t considered worth marking? No idea, sorry.
The cup and saucer do have a mark. It says ‘Foreign’, which leads me to wonder whether the design was made in Japan for the Western market :
What I can say is that the cup and saucer are what’s called ‘Lustreware’. The pieces I have are all made from a porcelain so fine, you can see through it when you hold it up to the light. They also have a kind of translucent irridescence that I love. You can get a sense of that in the pic of the cup below:
And now for that recipe! I can’t take much credit for it as it’s basically the same one you can find on the back of the packet of McKenzie’s rice flour, but here goes:
1 pinch of salt [as I was going to use salted peanuts, I did NOT add the salt]
225 grams of butter, at room temperature [I forgot to take the unsalted butter out so had to use it cold]
1/3 cup of salted peanuts
Preheat oven to 150C [302 F]. If using the fan forced or fan bake setting, make it a few degrees cooler.
The next bit says you should grease a baking tray and line it with baking paper. I didn’t. I cut a piece of baking paper to size and simply lay it inside the baking tray.
From here on in I’ll just tell you what I did. So, I put the plain flour, rice flour and sugar in a bowl and stirred with a fork.
Next, I cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients and kept cutting it into smaller pieces until they were small enough to rub between my fingers. Rubbing involves pressing the butter/flour mix between the tips of your fingers as if you were trying to wash just your fingertips. Keep ‘rubbing’ until the mixture becomes granular. Sometimes you’ll hear people say ‘until it’s like breadcrumbs’. You really don’t have to be too precious about it, just mix the ingredients together.
Add the peanuts and mix in to the rest of the ingredients.
This next part is easy. Squeeze the mixture into a ball and bung it down onto the middle of the baking tray. Spread it with your hands, trying to avoid having a big clump of peanuts in any one place. I patted the shortbread dough into a rough circle because it was quick, and I was lazy. The thickness of the circle was about the size of a peanut lying flat – i.e. I wanted the peanuts to be covered by shortbread without the whole thing being too ‘fat’.
Press the tip of a fork all over the dough to allow the mixture to expand sideways.
Place the shortbread in the middle of the oven and allow it to bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until it’s a pale, golden brown. If you have any doubts about the temperature of your oven, check after 30 minutes.
Take the shortbread out of the oven and immediately ‘cut’ it with a knife. The shortbread will still be quite soft. Once it cools you won’t be able to cut it.
Leave the cut shortbread on the baking tray until cool. Eat with coffee, tea or cold milk. 🙂
As the Offspring and I are totally paranoid about decontaminating everything that comes to the house, fresh vegetables, especially the ones eaten raw, have been an issue. So, like a lot of our neighbours, we sowed some seeds and waited for our own produce to appear. And here it is!
Snow peas! You have no idea how much pleasure it gave us to harvest these beautiful, fresh peas. I think this was the moment that the Offspring really got the gardening bug. 🙂
But there was better to come. This is what the Offspring turned those lovely fresh peas into:
I have to tell you, the Offspring’s stir fry was delicious. It included the snow peas [of course], fresh red capsicum, fresh wombok cabbage, fresh spring onions, frozen broccoli and ‘shelf fresh’ singapore noodles.
The best things in life really do boil down to just a few simple things: good food, good music and good people. 🙂 To all the good people in the US – you did. You did it. Nothing can stop the march of progress now. 🙂