Picnic in the trees

 

On the weekend we celebrated Archie's first birthday with a picnic among the old oak trees at our local botanical gardens. It was a happy affair with a small group of friends and family joining us for simple finger food, chatter, bubble blowing... The big kids explored the beautiful new playground and babies crawled among leaves, twigs and grass. I made a gluten free ginger and yoghurt cake layered with whipped pure cream and a little honey to sweeten. It was a big success and tasted reminiscent of those old-fashioned spiced sponge cake and cream rolls you used to find... 

~ Ginger Yoghurt Cake with Honey Cream ~
(makes a large celebration cake)

for the cake:
250g rapadura or brown sugar (you may also use honey but add an extra 2 tablespoons flour)
5 large eggs
350g plain gluten free flour (I used 50:50 ratio rice flour + arrowroot starch)
4 tsp baking power, aluminium free
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
220g plain unsweetened yoghurt
180g butter, melted

Whisk sugar and eggs until pale. Stir in flour, spices, yoghurt and melted butter. Pour into two 23cm cake tins lined with baking paper and bake for 35-40 mins in a moderate oven 180'c or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely. You can sandwich them together with the cream below or carefully cut them in half using a large knife (to make 4 layers)

for the cream:
600ml pure cream
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Whip cream until soft peaks form - continue to whip as you drizzle in honey and vanilla until firm. Spread out over cool cake to form layers and ice the top. 

 

Harvesting


I say to Alex one of things I love best about living in these climes is the fruit and vegetables that grow so easily and abundantly. Autumn is an especially wonderful time with trees by the roadside laden with apples and plums. What better way to preserve over-ripe (or underripe) fruit then to cook down with spice and honey, puree and air dry - fruit leather being the happy result! It can then be cut up and put in cooking, soaked for muesli, or eaten as is, with a slice of cheese or two... my two favourite combinations are:
plum, apple + vanilla bean

4 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
10 small/medium plums, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla bean
raw honey to taste (I used about 2 tablespoons)

pear, rhubarb + cinnamon

4 large pears, peeled, cored and chopped
4 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon ground
raw honey to taste (I used about 2-3 heaped tablespoons, but you might want more to counter the rhubarb's tartness)

Cook fruit on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Cool and blend into a fine puree. Smooth puree out over baking trays lined with baking paper and dry in a very sun place covered by mesh or glass or in the oven on it's lowest temperature overnight - I tend to put them on a table that gets flooded with morning sun for a few hours, then in a switched-off oven after I've done a big batch of baking so it's still very warm. You'll know it's dried sufficiently when the surface is firm and shiny. Gently pull leather away from baking paper and store in an airtight container. 

Other things are being harvested too - copious handfuls of basil, chives and parsley are picked for batches of pestro - which I spoon into ice-cube trays, freeze, press-out and store in bags for the rest of the year. 

I've also been rendering lard from the fat of two very well fed and cared for free-range pigs (courtesy of our good friends). Lard is so luxurious - fragrant as a belly roast as it melts - snow white and odourless when set - keeps for years in the fridge (and beyond in the freezer) - it can be safely heated to deep frying and roasting temperatures without burning or denaturing like most other fats and oils - a wonderful source of saturated fat - it's hard for me to fathom why this fat became so unpopular, and why it becomes a discarded "waste product" in abattoirs. I plan to use most of this lard for soap-making, as well as experiment with lip balm and hand salve using our own beeswax and dried herbs...

summer sweet

Summer is the most glorious time for fruit in this part of the country - friends backyards are brimming with fruit laden trees; plums of every kind, mulberries, apricots, peaches. I have already made one big batch of tomato and plum sauce to sell at the farmer's markets and am anticipating another batch later in the week. There is nothing so lovely as a properly ripe and juicy stone fruit, and perhaps nothing so disappointing as a floury/tasteless one! We have an excess of egg yolks most of time (because the whites are used in my bread making) and therefore much custard in made and turned into ice-cream. This apricot version was an experiment we loved and will absolutely do again. The plum slice was also a concoction - at the eleventh hour to take for afternoon tea - I think almonds and plums compliment each other perfectly and that faint tartness of plum skin with a sprinkle of sugar on top is beautiful... 

~ Honey + Apricot Ice cream ~

2 cups full-cream milk
1/4 cup cane sugar
5 free-range egg yolks
1 cup pure cream
1/4 cup honey
1 cup ripe apricots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Prepare the custard by heating milk in a saucepan on a low heat until just below boiling. Meanwhile whisk egg yolks and sugar in a jug or bowl. Pour in warm milk and whisk vigorously - then tip back into saucepan. Continue to heat and stir custard until set (when the back of a wooden spoon stays coated with mixture). Cool. Meanwhile in another small saucepan or fry pan, gently cook apricots with spices and honey until soft. Let cool. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Blend custard and apricots together (I prefer to see lumps of fruit so I only blend for a little while). Fold in cream. Pour into a ceramic or glass dish and freeze until set - about 4-5 hours - any longer and it will become too frozen solid, if it does let soften in the fridge for an hour before serving...

~ Plum + Almond Shortbread Slice ~ 

125g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoons ground vanilla bean
2 cups plain flour (I used 1/2 rice 1/2 tapioca flours)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup full cream milk
fresh plums, halved, stones removed
raw sugar and flaked almonds for topping

Cream butter and sugar until pale. Using a beater or blender add almond meal, vanilla, flours, baking powder and milk until well combined. Pour into a 20cm square or round tin lined with baking paper. Press plums inside up all over the cake and sprinkle with raw sugar and flaked almonds. Bake in a moderate oven (180'c) for 20 minutes or until golden and coming away from the edges of the tin. Serve warm or cool with cream. 

the whole beet

 I love beetroots. I will be the to first confess however, that I usually only use the root and dump the rest in the compost - that I even thought the root was the only edible part! Then while thumbing through the vegetable chapter in Nourishing Traditions I read how the "tops" or leaves of a beet are just as edible and nutritionally dense as the root - not only that, but that the process of grating, cooking by heat or lacto-fermenting actually helps the body absorb it's nutrients and eliminate acids that are troublesome for the gut.

In France farmers would sell great baskets of cold beets which had been steamed with skins still on for preparing various traditional salads. I was reminded of their wonderful smell and taste as I wandered through our local farmer's market this weekend - I spied a bunch of colourful heirloom beets from a local organic farm and snapped them up without hesitation. Home they went and minutes later became part of an experiment - my take on Turkish beetroot dip - but this time using the whole beet - leaves, stalks, root and all.

The result is an absolutely delicious, earthy dip - a perfect accompaniment we discovered to the grass-fed beef sausages we also acquired at the market and backyard grown cos lettuce salad! And just as wonderful spooned atop buckwheat crackers and carrot sticks...

. the whole beet dip .

1 large beetroot (leaves, stalks, root), washed thoroughly
1 garlic clove, minced
olive oil
handful flatleaf parsley, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup thick, unsweetened greek style yoghurt or labneh

Peel and grate beetroot, chop finely leaves and stalks. In a small frying pan gently sauté beetroot with a tablespoon of olive oil. Once softened, add crushed garlic and continue to stir until completely cooked (you may need to add a little boiling water if it gets too dry). Set aside to cool in a mixing bowl. Add parsley, lemon juice, spice and sea salt. Using a stick blender - blend beetroot mixture until it resembles a paste. Stir in yoghurt and season with extra salt or lemon juice to taste. Serve in a bowl with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Should keep for up to a week in the fridge in a well sealed container (not that it will last that long)...

walnut and honey breakfast cake

This lovely cake was made on the weekend and it's almost all eaten.  It is special because it used eggs I collected, washed and polished from a local farm, applesauce I made back in April along with local walnuts and honey from the farmer's market. I was inspired by the Greek celebration Finikia cookies which feature orange, honey and ground walnuts. A heavenly combination. This cake is so moist, only mildly sweetened with apples and honey and makes a wonderful gluten free breakfast. It is perfectly accompanied with a generous dollop of tart yoghurt...


. Walnut + Honey Breakfast Cake .

3/4 cup walnuts (plus 1/4 cup extra for garnishing)
3 eggs, separated
1 cup unsweetened apple puree
1/2 cup honey
zest and juice of an orange
pinch of cinnamon
3/4 cup rice flour 
1/4 cup arrowroot flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt

Preheat a moderate oven (180'c). Lightly roast walnuts on a tray in the oven until golden and fragrant, shaking once or twice. Grind walnuts in a food processor or by hand with a mortar and pestle. Combine walnuts in a large bowl with egg yolks, apple puree, honey, orange zest and juice and mix until combined. In a smaller bowl whisk flours, spice and baking powder together. Gently stir flours into wet mixture. In another clean bowl whisk egg whites until frothy. Fold into batter. Pour into a paper lined baking tin and bake for 45 minutes or until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in tin. Garnish with extra chopped walnuts and a drizzle of honey. 

sunshine

A profuse of wattle blooms, the story of a gum tree, sand pit adventures, afternoon light, homegrown lemons, sunshine in a cake... something about those golden hues that enliven the tired-of-wintering (and not-quite-well-feeling) self. 

It's true - the last few weeks have passed in a haze... packing eggs, planting trees, learning to build farm fences, sickness, preserving seasonal produce, making new friendships and rekindling old ones, keeping up with a toddler, planning our own business - we fall into bed early, heavy-lidded. 

We three are transitioning to a new life in the countryside - and it is an exhausting, wonderful daunting thing...
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Very lemony yoghurt "sponge" cake
(a satisfying tea cake with just enough tartness - and gluten free of course)

100g softened butter
3/4 cups cane sugar
pinch sea salt
2 large, pastured free range eggs
1 cup unsweetened greek yoghurt
zest and juice of two lemons

1 1/2 cups gluten free flour (I blend rice/tapioca/arrowroot flours)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Using beaters cream butter and eggs until light. Beat in eggs one a time. Beat in yoghurt and lemon juice and zest. In a separate bowl whisk flours and baking powder together - gently fold into wet mixture until just combined (it will look a bit lumpy). Pour into paper lined 20cm square or round tin and bake in a moderate oven (180'c) for 35 minutes or until lightly golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in tin and cut into squares. Eat plain with a warm cup of tea or with a generous dollop of fresh cream...

adventures in bread-making: gluten free sourdough

It feels so good to be adventuring in bread making once again (find past adventures here). After I was diagnosed with coeliac disease last year I have felt so uninspired to bake bread. Bread is bread (and not loaf-shaped rice and potato and corn starch) because of those wonderfully gluten containing grains - wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale and barley. I may have a life-long ban from gluten, but I still appreciate the fine baking characteristics of it - and of course, the memory, the flavour, the smell of it too! There are numerous alternatives of course - but they aren't replacements - they are their own seed/grain/legume and most of the time taste best in their whole, unrefined form. A bowl of steaming rice. A crispy baked potato. Polenta. Buckwheat porridge. If I am completely honest "gluten free bread" (the kinds you can buy) make me want to cry.  They are so full of soy/corn/egg derivatives, emulsifiers, nuts and a number of other highly refined starches, sugar and seeds... and they still taste nothing-y.

Then, I began to wonder... would be possible to produce a truly gluten-free sourdough? Something that tastes of delicious sour-ness and has a somewhat bread-like texture. I looked high and low on the web for recipes to experiment with. My first attempt was with a pure buckwheat starter but it didn't work out. But for the last month I've been fermenting an organic rice flour starter and it's working brilliantly. 

~ Rice flour Sourdough starter ~
1/2 cup organic rice flour (brown or white)
1/2 cup filtered water
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Combine flour and rice in a wide-mouth glass jar. Cover with cheese cloth and a rubber band and leave to rest in a warmish place. Every day for the next 7 days "feed" starter 1/4 cup flour + 1/4 cup filtered water. Be careful to stir starter with a non-metal spoon - I use a wooden chopstick! The starter should produce a vinegary smell (not foul at all) and a greyish-liquid might settle on the top. Its the bubbles that let you know the wild yeast is working. After 7 days begin baking bread with your starter - refreshing with equal parts water and flour every time. Store in the fridge if don't want to use it straight away - but be wary that gluten free starters don't stay preserved in the fridge as long as gluten-ones without regular refreshing. 


~ No Knead Gluten-free Sourdough ~
(Soy free. Corn free. Egg free. Seed free. Nut free)

1 cup rice starter (50% hydration)
1 1/2 cups filtered water at room temp.
1 1/2 cups organic rice flour (brown or white or both) - sometimes I replace 1/2 cup with buckwheat flour.
2 tablespoons arrowroot or tapioca flour
2 tablespoons cold pressed olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt


Mix all of the above in a glass or ceramic bowl until a smooth, thick batter. You may need to add some extra water/flour to get the right consistency. Pour into a bread tin that has been greased with butter or olive oil and dusted with flour. Sit in a warm place covered with a tea towl for  5 - 8 hours or until risen by 1/3. Preheat oven to 190'c. Bake bread for 70 - 75 minutes on a middle rack with a cake tin below with water (the steam makes a pleasingly crunchy crust). Cool completely in tin. Loosen with a knife from the sides and flip out on a rack. When completely cold you can pre-slice it (say for the freezer) and I find this much easier with the bottom sitting up. The texture is crumbly and chewy - the flavour is that unmistakable sour with a note of nuttiness.

You can make the spicy/fruit version by stirring in 2 tsps of mixed spice and 1/2 cup of dried fruit like sultanas, apricots and dates.

p.s. for a wonderful alternative to paper and plastic I've been seaming up linen bread bags - you can find them for sale in the shop for $18 each.

budding


As we walk through the neighbourhood I spy trees in various stages of nakedness, and some like this magnolia is already begining to bud. I am overwhelmed with the promise of spring and the unfolding and renewal it brings...

I'm reading a book by one of favourite wordsmiths Luci Shaw - her prose washes over me like a fine mist  - cleansing my eyes and mind. She writes about ageing, ascending gracefully - and I'm left with a desire to embrace growing older, sagging slowness and all (and not apologise for it)...

With Reuben on my lap we read the same pages I thumbed with my mama as a child, of a little dutch boy hiding a thimble and crashing into an Amsterdam marketplace...

Then, we spill all the peas and lentils in a great cupboard clean-out -
for the trains to steam through and standing above
I marvel at the tracks my son makes,
curly, consuming me.

I heat milk on the stove and stir in a little sugar with cinnamon and vanilla beans. I cut more passionfruits than I can count and scoop out that pulpy flesh filled with tiny black eyes. Later in the evening, with my sister at my side, we laugh and exhale and cook dinner. We savour those panna cottas with teaspoons and feel full. The best kind of full...


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Passionfruit Panna cotta
(serves 6)

2 cups pure cream
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
seeds of 1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp of vanilla paste)
1 tablespoon grass fed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup cold water
juice of 6 passion fruits
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4 passionfruits
1 orange, juiced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grass fed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup water

For the panna cotta heat milk and cream in saucepan on a low heat. Stir in cinnamon, sugar and vanilla. Remove from heat once sugar is dissolved. Stir in strained juice from 6 of the passionfruits - reserving the seeds for the jelly. Let gelatine "flower" for a few minutes in 1/2 cup of cold water. Whisk gelatine water into cream mixture until dissolved. Pour into ceramic or glass ramekins (I was able to fill about 7 but it will depend on the size) and refrigerate for 4 hours. 

Now for the jelly - Scoop out pulp + juice of 4 more passionfruits and put in a small saucepan along with the seeds reserved from making the panna cotta. Add strained orange juice and a tablespoon of sugar. Let 2 teaspoons of gelatine flower in 1/2 cup of cold water for a few minutes then add to the saucepan and stir until dissolved. Cool. Pour gently over the top of all the pannacottas which will be semi-set. Return the pannacottas to the fridge for a further 2 (or more) hours before serving. 

time for tea series - part one

this is a new series on celebrating, cherishing, making time for - afternoon tea. Usually between the hours of three and four, I now make a concerted effort to stop everything and enjoy a light meal and a pot of steaming hot tea with my toddler (he doesn't yet partake in the tea part of course). There is something completely unique to tea that causes the drinker to feel both alert and calm - I have truly found this to be the case... Our afternoon tea some days is simple - slices of cheese and apple, an orange peeled at the park - and other days we bake something especially (I bake, he licks the bowl). It need not stretch on for hours, it can be 15 minutes or 5 or 30  - when we decide to stop doing chores or work or rushing about and just sit for a moment or two to savour a whole warm cup of tea. Something I will say about motherfolk (and artists, and perhaps anyone) is the ability to make numerous cups of warm beverages in the day and proceed to let them become half-drunk and lukewarm....

I like my black tea with milk... how about you - what is your favourite tea? do you stop for afternoon tea?

eaten: spiced buckwheat cake + honey cream
drunk: pu'er aged black tea + full cream cows milk
read: life is a miracle by wendell berry
listened: toddler splashing, palm trees wavering, cars passing

- spiced buckwheat tea cake with honey cream -
this makes a mildly sweet tea cake - an everyday sort of cake you could have toasted for breakfast with butter or with a generous clump of freshly whipped cream in the afternoon. It is sweetened with honey and apples - a perfect treat for little ones. 

1/2 cup runny honey 
1/2 cup un-sweeteneed applesauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves, nutmeg each
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/4 cups cups buckwheat
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
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1 cup pure cream
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 180'c. In a blender or mixer combine all cake ingredients. Blend till smooth. Pour into a paper linen baking tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool and un-mould. Meanwhile whip pure cream until soft peaks form - fold in a tablespoon of runny honey. Spoon onto cold cake and dust with ground cinnamon.