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A few (very random) snippets from the past couple of weeks…

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I made my first attempt at cleaning and cooking baby octopus, following a recipe from the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook that my friend Amanda recommended (I bought a Kindle copy)…

Gutting and dismembering cephalopods isn’t for the squeamish, as they look quite alive before you start (plus it was 5am and I thought I could hear a mouse under the bench, so I was a bit jumpy). But it’s worth learning to do, because the Australian varieties are regarded as a sustainable form of protein.

The octopuses had a long 40 minute braise until tender, then rested in a vinegary wine stock for a couple of days before serving. They were a big hit…

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My friend and neighbour Maude crocheted me another cotton poncho. I loved the purple one she gave me last year so much that I wore it until it was matted and threadbare…

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Last weekend, we had our Autumn dinner with friends Kevin, Carol, Gil and Therese. We get together at the start of each season for a night of (mostly) vegetarian food and wine. At this dinner, we served Sawsan’s hummus, a garden broccoli raab dip, spiced mixed nuts, mascarpone reale and French Ossau Iraty sheeps’ cheese.

Remember my $4 wheels of organic brie from Costco? I defrosted one of these and brushed it with Ian and Diana’s backyard honey, added chopped pecans and garnished the top with garden thyme and rosemary flowers. It was oozy and perfect, and no one could believe that the cheese had been frozen (or cost $3.97!)…

I opened a bottle of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Portuguese port and was very chuffed when the 47 year old cork came out in one piece…

Our plan this time was simple…fill the table with nibblies to go with freshly baked sourdough, followed by vegetarian pizzas…

…then serve three desserts! Tiramisu, little chocolate cakes, and a plate of dark chocolate coins and fruit cake with port. It was a glorious night…

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On Sunday, my niece Hwa and her boyfriend Ian came to visit. They brought me sunflowers!

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I had planned to study clouds this year, but instead I’m reading the teachings of the ancient Roman Stoics. A good friend suggested that it might be helpful in my efforts to manage my anxiety. This was the book he recommended I begin with, but I’ve now moved onto the actual texts (well, translations thereof – I can’t read ancient Greek). It’s been a wonderful, enlightening process that I’m enjoying immensely. I’m learning to think in a different way…

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And while we’re on the topic, you’ll be pleased to know that the Headspace meditation continues. I’ve now clocked up more than two months of daily 15 minute sessions and it’s been joyous. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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The rainy weather has been playing havoc with my walking schedule, but there’s been more time for baking as a result. Of the eight loaves below, five went to the neighbours…

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I cooked abalone recently and kept the shells as tea light holders…

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Finally, a delicious new tipple, taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cookbook. It’s two parts cognac, one part Grand Marnier and one part Amaretto (I substituted Frangelico). If the measures are sized carefully, this can be consumed without falling over…

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Hope you’re all having a wonderful month! ♥

I’m up to day 220 of daily walks and, according to my iPhone, I’ve taken over two million steps since August last year. Thankfully, on most weekday mornings, Big Boy still walks with me.

Here are some recent pics from our early mornings on the Inner West Greenway and the Iron Cove Bay Run. We’re blessed to have such lovely public spaces within minutes of home!

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Our route takes us under several bridges, and I’m always intrigued by the play of light on the water. Last week, the City West Link overpass created amazing stripey reflections. I walk under this bridge almost every day, but I’ve only ever seen this effect once…

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If you look carefully, you can pick the two shades of reflected light – white and gold…

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In the morning, the sun is gentle and shaded, but in the afternoon, it glitters like diamonds on the water…

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It has rained every day in Sydney for weeks, which has made walking tricky (I’ve had to resort to the treadmill on a couple of occasions). But all the extra water has created lush, fairytale trees…

..and glowing green lichens…

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Overcast skies produce mangificent watercolour hues…

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Pete said I needed to disclose that the photo below wasn’t taken in a woodland setting – it’s a gutter in Surry Hills during a rain shower (I cropped out the cigarette butts)…

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Captured on a rare sunny day a few weeks ago, these aluminium boats are known locally as tinnies. To my eyes, they make the photo quintessentially Australian…

The best coffee on our route is made by Sammy at the UTS Rowers Club…

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We’ve become avid cloud watchers, but we’re still rubbish at identifying them…

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I now understand why artists paint the sea in blues and greys, because this is exactly how it looked this morning…

Finally, my wonderful son, reflected in one of the many mirror puddles left by the recent deluge…

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Wishing you all happy days! ♥

At least once a fortnight, I’ll cook pasta soup.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s constantly evolving.

Last night I used nitrate-free bacon offcuts from our friend Johnny, half a packet of leftover pasta, garden beans, onion, carrot, potatoes and a tin each of lentils and chick peas. It was seasoned with a little paprika and topped with garlic croutons made from stale sourdough. The entire pot cost me under $5.

This dish is a house staple – we call it “pasta soup” and occasionally “survival soup”. When we moved into our house more than 25 years ago, we had very little cashflow and pasta soups even sparser than this were what kept us going. We’ve made a variation of this weekly or fortnightly ever since, and Small Man has been known to eat six bowls at one sitting. For all of us, it is quite literally the taste of home. 

You know, we don’t need to eat this frugally anymore.

But I keep making our pasta soup, not just because everyone loves it, not just because I can assemble it in my sleep, and not just because it’s a reasonably healthy vegetable and legume laden meal.

I also make it because it’s good to practise frugality and because it’s good to remember when times were a bit harder. It’s good to teach our sons that food made with love and eaten together as a family is grand, regardless of how “humble” it might be. It’s good to cook large, generous dishes that can be shared with anyone who walks in the door at the last minute.

Pasta soup night, at least for me, is always a time for reflection and gratitude. I remember when our elderly neighbour brought over that first covered bowl of peas, spring onions and broken spaghetti. I watch with joy as Big Boy and Small Man eat their bowls of soup with the same excitement as they would an aged steak. And I feel incredibly grateful that not only have we always had enough to eat, but that it’s always been delicious and nourishing. Even when it’s a simple pasta soup. ♥

Sometimes, the best recipes come about purely by chance.

Last week, I put some sweet potatoes into the oven to roast. Rummaging through the fridge to find something to top them with, I combined the dregs of a jar of sundried tomatoes with the leftovers from a tin of chipotle chillis in adobo, then spread the resulting paste over the soft, roasted kumera. It was delicious…

Inspired, I tried again the following day.

We buy our sundried tomatoes from Costco – they’re julienne cut and come in a one kilo jar. The chipotle chillis are widely available (I source mine from Fireworks Foods online). Both items are pantry staples at our house…

This easiest of recipes is made by simply blitzing together:

  • 1 cup  (200g) sundried tomatoes (drained, but it’s ok to leave a little of the residual oil)
  • ¼ cup (60g) of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Pulse together in the small bowl of a food processor, scraping down the sides as needed. If your tomatoes are very dry, you might need to add a little oil, but I didn’t. Process until the paste is as coarse or fine as you prefer…

This was the perfect addition to a vegetarian plate for our garden elves, Emma and Millie, accompanied by Sawsan’s hummus, sourdough bread and dark chocolate rocky road…

That night, I spread a little of the paste under the tomato base of a focaccia pizza, then topped it with the leftover roasted sweet potatoes, cheese, onion and anchovies…

This very simple but highly versatile paste now has its own permanent tub in our fridge. The sweetness of the tomatoes enhances the smoky heat of the chipotles, and we’ve already stirred it into pasta soups, spread it on crackers and mixed it into dips. Definitely a keeper!

In my kitchen…

…was a selection of baked treats from Patisserie Cocotte – the latest venture by our friends from the local French bistro. We popped in to visit their new store in Top Ryde shortly after it opened three weeks ago.  Everything was delicious and light…

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In my kitchen…

…are two salts. One is the fancy Fleur de Sel de Carmargue, which I bought on special in the US for $8 a box ($64/kg). The other is Olsson’s Australian flossy sea salt, which cost me 20c a kilo. They look nearly identical in terms of colour and grain, and both are naturally evaporated sea salts. Can you guess which is which? Big Boy couldn’t and they taste the same to me. I won’t be buying fancy salts again!  (PS. It’s flossy on the left and fleur on the right)…

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In my kitchen…

…was our first yee sang, prepared for the 15th night dinner (to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year). My neighbour Maude and I prepared it together and then, as is traditional, we all tossed it in the air with our chopsticks for good luck!

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As well as the yee sang, we also had roast duck and various side dishes. The leftover duck went into a red Thai curry the following day…

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…and the leftover curry became a noodle soup for lunch the day after that…

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In my kitchen…

…is maple water. According to Google, this isn’t just water dripping from a tree (as the photo implies) but rather the sap of the maple tree before it’s concentrated into syrup…

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It wasn’t overly expensive (about $1.50 a litre) but it wasn’t overly impressive either. It tasted like water with a quarter teaspoon of maple syrup dissolved in it. Which I guess is effectively what it was…

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In my kitchen…

…is a gift of magnificent purple garlic from my friend Alison…

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We kept a few bulbs for eating and broke the remainder up into cloves, vac sealed them, and then stashed them in the freezer to see us through the rest of the year. If you’re interested in freezing garlic, here’s a post I wrote about it a few years ago…

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In my kitchen…

…was dark chocolate rocky road, a birthday gift for my friend Kevin. It was filled with white marshmallows, roasted hazelnuts, cranberries and Buderim naked ginger. We ate the trimmings on the plate for dessert that night…

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In my kitchen…

…is a gift from Pete’s sister Katey, who recently returned from Patagonia. Dulce de Leche from Argentina tastes just like caramel fudge!

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In my kitchen…

…there is always sourdough bread. When I’m tired and the thought of making dough feels like a chore, I remind myself that it’s (quite literally) ten minutes of work and so much easier and cheaper than driving to the shops. These loaves were made following our high hydration overnight tutorial

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In my kitchen…

…is an exciting gift of sea buckthorn powder, sent all the way from Finland by lovely Laila. I adored the hand drawn ammonite fossil card her son made for me…

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In my kitchen…

…were deep-fried school prawns. We ate them whole – heads, tails and shells on!

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Finally, in my kitchen…

…were rainy day dumplings, made with free range pork mince, grated ginger, spring onions and baby broccoli raab from the garden…

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They were simply boiled and served with black vinegar and homemade chilli oil…

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Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen?

If you’d like to write an In My Kitchen post, please do so by the 10th March and send your link to Liz of Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things. Thanks for hosting Liz! x

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