Eggs are always in season

Thanks to Mum and her nine lovely ladies in the backyard, we have a fairly continuous supply of beautiful, home-laid eggs.

Every now and then I crack one of these fine eggs and mix the yolk with some milk, vanilla, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan to make a quick custard. I had never made a baked custard in my life. But suddenly the other morning, when the pizza oven was still “hot” (about 100C) from a roast the night before, it occurred to me to try it. I dug out Mum’s ancient recipe books – the kind that have a whole column of the index devoted to Invalid Cookery (Fricassee of Brains; Tripe and Onions, etc.) – and found a recipe for Plain Baked Custard.

And while the rest of my family went on a long bike ride, rescued a fallen cyclist with concussion and returned home feeling cold and tired but virtuous, I whipped up second breakfast and felt, well actually, hungry most of that time. Because as it turns out, 100C in a pizza oven is no substitute for the 400F specified, even if you do leave it in there for TWO FREAKING HOURS! While 10 minutes on Defrost in the microwave turns out to be just sweet perfection after those two hours of waiting and salivating and checking. Honestly, this custard was so light, delicate, perfectly set and utterly soul-nourishing that I had to eat the lot and destroy the evidence before the family came home.

So here it is – my first and hopefully last microwave recipe:

PLAIN BAKED CUSTARD (adapted from ‘Cooking the Electric Way’ 2nd edition, 1950-something by Edith Kinnear, Joyce Johnsen, Beryl H. Young and M. Jane Willington). Do you suppose I’ll live to see a new generation of Ediths, Joyces, Beryls and Janes? Imagine them all with their little backpacks and hats on for their first day at school…

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • dash of vanilla essence (no-one had vanilla beans in the ’50s, did they? Or microwaves for that matter)
  • nutmeg

METHOD

  • Beat eggs and sugar, add essence
  • Warm milk (microwave in a heatproof jug) and pour over eggs, mix well.
  • Pour into a greased pie dish; grate (or just sprinkle) a little nutmeg over the top.
  • Microwave on lowest setting until almost set – give it a few minutes at a time; then allow to cool to just lukewarm if you can possibly wait that long.
  • Serve with a very sharp, old-fashioned silver teaspoon to appreciate its silky smooth set texture.
  • Lovely with good old-fashioned preserved fruit too.

Andrew's 'dome tent' versions of chook dome, c.2005, with annexe.

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Posted in breakfast, chooks, recipes, slow food, wood oven cooking | Tagged | 10 Comments

Life beyond Pizza

Yes, there is! Amazing, eh? Of course, it still includes the pizza oven. Here’s how…

POACHED QUINCES

Apparently quinces have a short season. And hardly anyone grows them any more. So I was impressed when both my Mum (who doesn’t grow them, even though she grows everything) and some people I barely knew turned up bearing quinces on the same day. We had friends over for dinner that night, and had neither time nor energy left over to supervise pots of quinces on the stove for hours to make jelly or paste. What we did have was residual heat in the wood oven after cooking tandoori chicken and Andrew’s bread. Hey presto (or should I say larghissimo) – poached quinces. They were piping hot, sweet and ruby red at breakfast time, all ready to serve with fresh porridge, yogurt and honey – mmm, bring on winter!!

  • INGREDIENTS: Quinces, sugar, water, cloves.
  • Wash quinces, rubbing the brownish down off the skin.
  • Cut into quarters or eighths, depending on size, and cut out cores. Try to get all the grainy core bits out. A heavy cleaver and a sharp little pointy knife helped here – I had never realised how hefty a fruit this is, and my apple corer would not have been up to the task.
  • Boil kettle.
  • Pack quinces into a baking dish. Sprinkle generously with sugar and 2/3 fill dish with boiling water. Drop a few cloves into the water.
  • Cover tightly with foil and leave in low oven overnight.
  • Could be bottled in sterilised jars if organised enough when you wake up. They do look gorgeous. Easier to just eat them though 🙂
  • Skin peels off easily after cooking so no need to bother peeling first.

Another happy discovery about wood oven cooking is the value of charcoal. If the oven is closed up with plenty of coals still burning, we are sometimes left with enough charcoal to cook another meal next time we fire up – not enough to reach the heat required for pizza, but sufficient for tonight’s fish, for example.

I adapted Luke Nguyen’s recipe for Chargrilled lemongrass Telopea fish, using a baby barramundi that Mum gave me today, and substituting lemon verbena and lemon thyme for the lemongrass in the stuffing, since our lemongrass is sulking after I divided it and transplanted it all over the place. It worked pretty well wrapped in alfoil and baked on the oven floor, but I would still like to try it as per the original recipe, wrapped in lemongrass and grilled over the hot coals, for a more crisp, salty, smoky skin.

So, Easter projects ahoy! Time to really, truly finish off once and for all those raised garden beds that have been languishing in the backyard for months. Transplant some as-yet-fruitless feijoas into the sunshine on the verge to see whether they might fruit there (or whether they are the ornamental type) – OK in any case as they can still be useful by helping to shelter the baby avocado tree from the wind. And perhaps we’ll cook a bit of pizza to wash down with the homebrew. It’s a hard life.

Posted in breakfast, fruit, herbs, outdoor living, recipes, seasonal living, slow food, wood oven cooking | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Rise in the Yeast

In recent weeks, I’ve made forays into two yeasty areas in which I dabbled briefly a long time ago, and which I now want to develop much further: beer brewing and bread baking.

Partly it’s a financial thing. I resent being charged over $20 for a six pack of beer stubbies, and a good loaf of bread is nudging $5. That really adds up. Partly it’s a case of having the pizza oven cranking regularly, and wanting to extend oven fired goodies beyond pizza and roasted veggies. And partly it’s to satisfy the desire to make more basic and high quality foods with my own hands.

What are

more basic human needs than bread and beer?

My approach towards both is essentially the same:

      • get quick runs on the board using partially prepared “kits”, and then
        • gradually work backwards towards first principles

        With the beer, I initially brewed a good quality extract beer, based on the Little Creatures Pale Ale. We’re just enjoying the first batch now, and boy, it’s surprisingly good. Even Nadja (who rarely drinks beer, and even then, only “girl friendly” wheat beers) and my mother-in-law (a virtual teetotaler) like this beer. I’m staggered, and I’m already brewing my second beer batch: a Hoegaarden style wheat beer with infusions of orange peel and coriander seed. It’s bubbling away in our laundry now and it smells delicious. My third batch will be a rich stout based on Southwark Old Stout, to see me through the winter months.

        My plan is to work towards “all grain” brewing, whereby I’ll crush malted grains, steep them in hot water to remove the sugars, then boil the liquid (“wort”) with various hops and infusions to achieve the beer styles I’m after, and then doing the usual fermentation. It’s quite technical but I think it promises the possibility of some excellent quality beers. A lifelong journey, I’m sure.

        With bread, my first effort was with a good quality bread mix, which turned out really well last night in the pizza oven. Much better than the bland loaves I did years ago, and certainly a good replacement for commercial bread. I have an excellent bread book with recipes for hundreds of great recipes, and I have some family bread baking heritage to draw upon, (not to mention a great wood fired oven), so again it’s going to be a lifelong journey.

        I just hope that I don’t decide to adopt a low carb diet. And I need to make sure I don’t become a fat bastard.

        Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

        Aw maw Gawd…

        … it’s been a while since I contributed anything here. Not that there hasn’t been any action to report! Here goes…

        FRUIT & VEG GARDEN’S AUTUMN TRANSITION

        Summer tapered off gently in Adelaide. We worked our way through peaches and plums, followed by a long stretch of grapes (the birds did discover them eventually so we’ll have to net them next year), a few more strawberries, and enough tomatoes to try out the passata machine and make a few very jolly good, simple pizza sauces. We ate pizza. And more pizza. Zucchini and eggplant had a workout. The pumpkin vine produced 4 good size Jap pumpkins, of which 3 are put aside for the cooler weather. Then Mum’s apples somehow escaped her resident possums and made it to our place, so we haven’t bought much fruit for a while. Summer veg have mostly been cleared and winter greens and some broad beans for green manure sown in their place.

        SUBTROPICAL TREES

        Then 2 nights ago we had rain – good, soaking rain – and more wind than I realised. The next morning I found our poor little mango tree flat on the ground. It had dropped one mango (perfectly ripe and unharmed!) and was hanging onto its last green one for dear life. Naturally I relieved it of that. Amazingly, the tree was intact, just bent right over, while its hardwood stake had snapped right off. This is the mango we had in this morning’s breakfast fruit salad – a perfectly formed if slightly small R2E2, all flesh with hardly any stone, no stringiness, all gorgeous dense flavour right to the skin!! Who says you can’t grow mangoes in Adelaide?

        Meanwhile, a little ‘Bacon’ avocado tree is waiting patiently in its plastic bag to be planted on the verge come spring. They don’t like cold winds, I’m told. So it’s sheltering in the lee of a dense hibiscus tree at present, while on the other side of the fence…

        NATIVES

        …I’m planting a shelter belt of dwarf tea-trees. I hope these will just slow down the chilly southerlies while the avocado is getting established. Of course that depends on them growing to 10 times their current height by spring. Sounds like a job for… worm castings!

        The other main bit of native action has been Trees for Life. 420 seedlings including 4 varieties of eucalypts, some sticky hopbush, myrtle wattles and tea-trees made it to Sue’s at Williamstown last weekend, where they will now have to learn to outrun the hares and kangaroos. Tomorrow the final 60 seedlings (drooping sheoaks) will travel with Ben and me to Onkaparinga Hills to help revegetate another property, where they will have sheep to contend with. And then my seedling trolley will be clear for nursing baby winter veg… Asian greens, broccoli, spinach, beetroot…

        STOP PRESS!!

        A couple of months ago we put our heads together with staff from our local community childcare centre and came up with a proposal for a learning garden at the centre, incorporating a Coles Junior Landcare grant application. Well, we’ve won the grant! YAY! Stay tuned for updates as the little tackers’ garden takes shape.

        OK, HERE COMES THE RECIPE

        The highlight of the last month, for me, has been visiting our friends Tom (from Adelaide) and Vanh (from Laos), to see how they are transforming a dusty rented backyard into a cross-climate, cross-cultural oasis complete with banana palms, pawpaw trees and a multitude of Asian herbs. Lunch featured mouth-watering Chicken Laap and Green Papaya Salad – YUM!!! Ever since, I have been eyeing my herb garden in a whole new way. Yesterday I made a slow-cooked pork roast in the wood oven (another story, but suffice to say it was a huge hit, thank you Jamie http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pork-recipes/bone-in-shoulder-roast) and the leftovers lent themselves nicely to a bit of Laos-style spicy action tonight…

        LAOS-INSPIRED PORKY NOODLE SALAD

        SALAD

        • 1 cup finely chopped roast pork
        • 2 ‘nests’ vermicelli noodles
        • 1 1/2 cups shredded wombok
        • 3 grated carrots
        • 1/2 cup mint leaves
        • 1/4 cup coriander leaves
        • 1/2 cup basil leaves (I used sweet and purple types)
        • 2 spring onions
        • 1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

        DRESSING

        • 4 Tbsp ketjap manis
        • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
        • juice of 1 lime
        • 2 tsp sesame oil
        • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
        • 1 stalk lemongrass (white part only), finely sliced
        • 2 medium chillies, finely sliced

        METHOD

        • Place dry noodles in heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water until tender (about 5 minutes). Drain and snip into manageable lengths.
        • Mix with finely chopped pork, shredded wombok and grated carrot.
        • Finely chop all the herbs. Mix herbs and peanuts through the salad. (Reserve 1 tbsp peanuts)
        • Place reserved peanuts, ginger, lemongrass and chillies in mortar and pound/grind until a rough paste is formed. Mix this paste in a small bowl with ketjap manis, fish sauce, lime juice and sesame oil.
        • Pour dressing over salad and mix through, serve in bowls and wolf it down.
        • OR, if you want it to look pretty (not that it will stand a chance as soon as anyone smells it), prepare more noodles, spread them on a platter, pile dressed salad on noodles, top with more pork, peanuts, wedges of lime and coriander leaves.
        Posted in community, fruit, gardening with kids, native plants, recipes, seasonal living, trees, vegetables | Tagged | Leave a comment

        Car Diet – Update

        We are now proud owners of a Yuba Mundo cargo bike!

        Image

        Things happened rather quickly after we test rode Ryan & Daniela’s Yuba (the only other one in Adelaide). We both liked the way it handled, even better than we had expected, so we decided to go ahead and get one. 

        Yubas are only available in three colours: black, light blue and orange. Black was out (not visible enough on the road), blue was also out (“too male”), so orange it had to be. The Australian dealer was out of stock of new orange Yubas, and it would be another 4 weeks before new stock arrived. 

        But he did have one orange ex-demo Yuba, fitted with an electric assist kit. We had planned to perhaps get an electric assist kit at some stage in the future, and were leaning towards a Stokemonkey type of kit, but the Stokemonkey is currently unavailable. The simplicity, cost and relative light weight of the Solarbike kit made sense to us, so we took a gamble and ordered it. 

        The electric assist kit consists of a 200W hub motor in the front wheel, a 9Ah LiFePO4 battery, a controller and a thumb throttle. Very simple. It’s not as sophisticated as the BionX kit on Nadja’s bike, but I think that the simplicity will be its virtue. It does seem to provide a decent amount of power, it’s easy to use and recharge, and it should have a range of 30-40km, which is ample for most of our cargo bike riding. 

        We’re now two months into our car diet, and we’ve spent $117.40 on fuel. If you’ll recall, we want to cap our fuel cost to $500 for the year, so we’re currently a little over budget (we’d spend $700 at current rates). So we need to tighten our belts a bit.

        Luckily we have another string in our cycling bow, which should help us to avoid a decent chunk of driving.

        Posted in transport | Tagged | 5 Comments

        Going on a car diet

        We’ve always been keen bike riders, and we aspire to ride more and to drive less. But now I’m mulling the possibility of something much more radical: going entirely car free.

        This article rocked my world.

        Prius, Hummer, and Hypercar are pot, kettle, and Schroedinger’s cat in the dark box, and they’re all pretty black when your perspective of their relative harm isn’t distorted by being a regular driver, an addict among addicts, whose parents, doctors, ministers, teachers, colleagues, employers and employees, neighbors and friends all shoot up with barely a moan every time the needle slouches toward “E.” The moment your idea of a reasonable response to the threat of extinction lets go of common household car dependence is the moment it lets go of wishing, and passes the clean and sober sniff test.

        The only kinds of analyses that attempt to sketch out a sustainable future for car culture are the ones that start with cars as must-have and sustainability as nice to have. Pull your head out of the last century and make a real choice.

        Several years ago, I was a climate change presenter as part of Al Gore and the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Climate Project. I gave over 60 presentations and learned a lot about climate change, peak oil and about sustainability in general. But something gnawed away at me. The presentation was fabulous at highlighting the problems, but was very short on providing solutions.

        What I have since learned is that issues as complex as climate change and peak oil don’t really have solutions. There’s nothing which will ‘fix’ the problems and make them go away. Instead, there are only responses which will help reduce our exposure to the problems, and will help us adapt to a new reality.

        As Nadja and I work so hard to reduce our home energy & water use, and to grow some of our food, there’s an elephant in our driveway. Our car.

        We love our car, a nifty little Honda Jazz, which Ben has endearingly named ‘Topsy’. It’s our urban ute, with ‘magic seats‘ that enable us to carry all sorts of things: large, long and tall. A towball and a friend’s trailer enable us to haul all manner of compost, dirt, gravel, sand, pizza oven kits … It’s all good.

        But it’s not. We do a lot of local trips in our car which could easily be done by bike or by public transport. The convenience of our nifty little car is too convenient, and we remain firmly grafted to car culture and unsustainability. So we ride our bikes a fair bit, mostly commuting to work, but there are a lot of times when we default to the convenience of the car.

        Two keys to weaning off car dependence are good life design and appropriate infrastructure.

          • Good life design is carefully choosing where we live and work, with respect to where our families, friends and interests are located, all with respect to public transport routes and cycling infrastructure. It takes time to shift all the pieces – years. We’re having some success at this now though, 4 years in.
          • Appropriate infrastructure is the stuff which makes it easier to take the bike by default. It means having bikes for different purposes: running quick local errands, hauling cargo and kids and riding longer distances. In our case, I ride my recumbent bike, Nadja has an old bike with a BionX electric assist (and she will soon have a newer lighter bike), Ben has a bike trailer (which we can both tow), and we are planning to buy a cargo bike. I have built a dedicated bike shed near the gate, so it’s convenient and easy to get our bikes ready to ride, andI’m planning to build another bike shed to house yet more bikes and trailers. Appropriate infrastructure also means having excellent bike lights and cycling gear to enable riding day or night and in most weather.

        I’m realising that cargo bikes are a critical piece of the puzzle. They can haul a lot of stuff: shopping, kids, big hardware, you name it. They are very popular in Europe, they’re gaining a following in the US, and frankly I think we need them on the streets more in Australia. I think they’re the key to getting us off car dependence. Here’s the one I am contemplating.

        So in the meantime, we’re going on a car diet. We’ve set ourselves a goal of spending a maximum of $500 for petrol this year. If petrol prices go up, that just means that we can drive less. And we’re mapping the scenarios where we would initially struggle without a car (eg bad weather, holidays), so we can devise ways of overcoming them.

        Like all big changes, it takes time. It’ll require us to change habits as well as changing technology. We’ll initially take a middle path option of going on a car diet, whilst working towards the goal of going car free entirely.

        Ride on!

        Posted in energy efficiency, transport | Tagged | Leave a comment

        Pizza oven leftovers

        Not another recipe! Yep.  This one marks the christening of The Casserole Pot, a wonderful new op-shop gift from friends to celebrate the commissioning of the pizza oven.

        This afternoon we had a lot of vegies left over after a long pizza lunch, so the Pot came into its own…

        PIZZA LEFTOVER CASSEROLE

        • 2 cups chopped pumpkin
        • 1 cup chopped sweet potato
        • 1 cup thickly sliced yellow and green zucchini
        • 1/2 tin anchovies
        • 1/2 cup olives (I used Kalamata and green)
        • 1/2 jar pasta sauce
        • 3-4 fresh tomatoes, chopped
        • 1 roasted and skinned capsicum, chopped roughly
        • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
        • 1/2 onion, chopped
        • splash of olive oil
        • Tin of chick peas, rinsed and drained

        Preheat casserole pot with lid on in moderately hot pizza oven. When hot, splash in olive oil and add onion and garlic (keeping pot in the mouth of the oven). Add vegies and tomatoes, stir through, and slide back into the oven for a few minutes. Slice half the olives. Chop the other half very finely with the anchovies. Add olives, anchovies, pasta sauce, chick peas and 1/2 cup water to the pot. Stir through, replace lid and close oven. Check and stir after 5 minutes in case too hot (vegies burning on sides of pot). If all is well, continue cooking, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so until vegies are tender. Chances are that after a pizza lunch you won’t eat it till the next day, so just don’t forget to take it out, cool it and stick it in the fridge!

        Posted in outdoor living, recipes, vegetables | Tagged | Leave a comment