I am gradually migrating my blog over to our new website. We scraped in before the end of the year, going live this week. We’d love you to jump over and explore some time. Megan x
Our boys like a piece of cake in their lunch box for afternoon tea and, considering how much running around they do and that they have fruit and a wrap packed as well, I figure it’s a little bit of comfort from home. So with lemons in abundance it is time to use them in as many dishes as possible.
I have a real thing for citrus at the moment. It is a nice zingy contrast to some of the heavier slow cooked tomato based stews and roasts we are drawn to in the cooler months. Adding lemon peel to a stew is a good move too.
Here’s a lovely recipe for Lemon Yoghurt Syrup Cake, torn from The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living (October 19, 2010). And it reminds me to plant a lemon and orange tree. What cheer and colour their foliage and fruit bring to winter gardens, and what zing they bring to our cooking.
Lemon yoghurt syrup cake
Ingredients: 125g butter, softened, 250g castor sugar, 2 large eggs, 1 cup Greek yoghurt, 1 tsp pure vanilla essence, zest of 2 lemons, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 400g self-raising flour (I used spelt flour), 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda. Syrup: 1 cup castor sugar, 1 cup water, 4 tbsp lemon juice, 2 lemons, finely sliced.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease and line 23cm cake tin with removable base. Cream butter and sugar in electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and mix until combined. Add yoghurt, vanilla, lemon zest and juice and mix. Add flour and bicarbonate of soda and gently fold through. Put mixture in cake tin and smooth the surface. The mixture will be quite firm. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cake is cooked through. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat to dissolve the sugar. Add lemon slices and simmer for 10 minutes, to soften the lemons. Set aside. When cake is cooked, remove from oven and poke all over with a bamboo skewer, to make lots of small holes.Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the hot cake until it is all absorbed. Place the lemon slices decoratively on top. Allow to cool, them remove from tin.
Let me confess I am a terrible fire lighter. I was a girl guide, but I don’t remember lighting fires being part of that gig. Many a time Duncan has arrived, exasperated by my attempts at fire lighting. So with a wood fire at home and two at the shop ( one in the store and one in the warehouse), I have gathered my winter best friends to help me out.
Numero uno is the cast iron fire blower ($45.95), which I reach for when I have been distracted and let the fire struggle for too long. A blow on the end of the fire blower and it literally breathes life into a dying fire.
I am also a major fan of the Akuna Wood and Kindling Carrier ($54.95), perfect for saving favourite jumpers and jackets from chips of bark and dust. The Akuna Carrier may be used in winter for taking on a walk and filling with the day’s kindling (great for involving children in the work behind heating the house. One thing I have learned in this fire lighting business is that a healthy store of kindling is a good start. The Akuna Carrier can also be repurposed in spring and summer for harvesting fruit and vegetables. Clever.
A recent discovery is our enamel Matches box ($12.95). I usually reach for what ever lighter is lying around. Now I am switching back to matches, the extra long matches. They allow you to set your kindling (and a cheeky fire starter) and light the fire without burning your hand. And I am storing my extra long matches in a smart hinged-lid Matches box so they are easy to spot and the cardboard box is protected.
The other handy winter friends are a steel dust pan and cinder resistant brush. While the steel dust pan and cinder resistant brush are not fire proof, it is a good deal better than a synthetic brush or pan that melt cleaning up fireplace detritus with the slightest residual heat. I can imagine the fumes as I write. We have a Cinderella Special, of a galvanised steel and timber handled dust pan and cinder resistant brush for $17.95 (20 only).
If you really are a Cinderella like me, tidying wood fires here and there you might also like to consider a Romanian enamel five litre enamel bucket ($29.95) for collecting ash and using it on the garden (Hannah Moloney of Goodlife Permaculture has some suggestions for using wood ash here).
It is parent helper afternoon for the Kitchen to Garden to Kitchen Again program at Nundle Public School, established as part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. The Year 1-2 class is divided in half, one group is cooking in the kitchen and the other is gardening. Miss Deaves counts our students as they arrive; seven students. It is a remarkably small group, but not surprising given the entire school numbers 70. We arrive at the outdoor classroom and it is a picture of productivity, wheel barrows of compost, a blackboard of planned activities, and tools hanging at the ready. Miss Deaves has the class hanging on every word as she talks about earth worms and the benefits they have for the soil and plant health.
The children split into smaller groups again to take on their activities for the afternoon. The students select seeds to plant in the vegetable garden and we plant carrot, silverbeet and sweet peas, discussing the varying sizes of the seeds and subsequent recommended planting distance and depth.
Another group rakes leaves from poplars, shedding their golden autumn leaves and shutting down for the winter. The children delight in throwing the leaves from the wheel barrows to the raised beds of compost. Another task generates much comment, diluting the carp fertiliser to water onto the growing seedlings. “Oh, it smells,” is a common response. Back in the outdoor classroom the group talks about what they have learned during the afternoon. They describe the way worms move, by scrunching and stretching, and Miss Deaves asks the children to scrunch and stretch all the way to their afternoon class lines, ready to go home.
It is an unexpected request when Derek and Kirrily Blomfield of The Conscious Farmer Grassfed Beef, at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains, propose I cook and photograph their beef. I am keen to improve my photography and with a couple of courses and an entry level DSLR under my belt, I am up for the challenge. Derek personally delivers our boxes of beef, an eigth of a beast. The cuts are portioned and labelled so it is easy to reach into the freezer and plan the evening meal.
I figure the best place to start is my collection of recipes, torn out of newspapers and magazines over 25 years. I gather a sub-set of beef recipes, some old favourites with splodges of meals past a permanent imprint on the page, and other recipes I am saving to try. Now that I am to photograph our meal before it reaches the table I start cooking earlier so I can photograph food preparation, food cooking and the meal plated up. It is an enjoyable process choosing what beef cut to cook, how to cook it, and deciding what herbs and vegetables to add. I take most of the photographs on an old marble table I bought at The Old Church antiques store at Leichardt, Sydney in the mid 1990’s. I adore this table, especially for kneading and rolling pastry, even though it is cracked in places. Now it is particularly good for photography, placed underneath one of two kitchen windows, the light is beautiful. When the weather is warm I take the meal outside and catch the glorious golden light of the magic hour before sunset.
It is a challenge to choose platters, chopping boards, condiment bowls, serving spoons and knives to add to the photograph. I surprise myself by what we have on hand, whether it is an heirloom piece, or something we’ve stored and haven’t used for years. Stock from the shop is a clear choice so I reach for the goods I most use in our kitchen, a Falcon enamel roaster, baking pan, pie dishes, pie plates and pasta plate. I bring home a slate platter and timber serving platter, which make lovely earthy backgrounds. Other useful ingredients are cracked pepper, Murray River Salt Flakes, fresh parsley, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and basil, newly dug potatoes, and just picked tomatoes, beans and corn from the garden, metres from our kitchen door.
At every meal the taste of the beef is a revelation. Derek and Kirrily are dedicated to producing grassfed beef of exceptional quality, starting with the health of their soil, pasture and cattle. In 2014 they were awarded NSW Farmer of the Year. I am learning how to cook cuts I have never previously cooked, using Kirrily’s information sheet and advice from cook books. I comment to Derek how important it is to educate family cooks how to best cook each meat cut, and bring the best out of lesser quality cuts with slow cooking and added the added flavour of herbs and spices.
We have a few mishaps. I ask Duncan to hold the osso bucco on a tray while I photograph it. He mucks around making a joke about food photography and I watch the cooked osso bucco slide off the serving tray and onto the grass before I shoot a frame. I race against the clock to beat fading light and do my best to make the most of photographing dishes on overcast days. The children prove to be terrible models, looking like they are in pain rather than enjoying their food…and they entrepreneurially ask to be paid for modelling.
It is a privilege to cook and photograph The Concious Farmer Grassfed Beef, and a delight to taste the results.
Here is a recipe for one of my favourite beef dishes. It was given to me by my father-in-law Terry Trousdale. He has made this dish for us several times, making special trips to Camden’s Tildsley’s Butcher in search of beef cheeks. I don’t always use beef cheeks and happily use any cut suited to slow cooking, such as rump or blade.
Pot roasted beef cheeks with celeriac puree (by Wayne Rowe, Bambini Trust Cafe, saved from a Fairfax supplement). Serves 6.
Ingredients: 6 beef cheeks (or 1kg of blade or rump, sliced), 1/2 tsp juniper berries, 1/2 tsp peppercorns,1/2 tsp chopped thyme, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp star anise, 2 fresh bay leaves, 250ml red wine, 2 cloves garlic finely sliced, 1 litre veal stock.
For the celeriac puree: 1 white onion chopped, oil for onion, 3 celeriac trimmed and chopped, 50g butter, white pepper, sea salt, 100ml white wine, 500ml milk.
Place all ingredients except veal stock into a bowl, stand overnight then drain well, saving marinade. Sear beef cheeks well and place in a large braising pan. Reduce marinade by half then add to beef cheeks and cover with veal stock.Place lid on and cook in a 180 degrees Celcius oven for two hours or until tender.
Place the cheeks on a tray to keep warm, reduce braising juices by half, return cheeks to braising liquid to keep warm until ready to serve.
For the puree: Sweat onion in oil until soft, add celeriac, butter and salt and pepper. Cook five minutes on low heat, add wine and reduce by half then add milk. Simmer until soft then puree until smooth.
To serve: Place celeriac puree into large bowls, place beef cheek on top, adding a ladle of braising juice, serve with sauteed cavalo nero (or Baby English spinach) and broad beans. [Or substitute vegetables on hand].
Sarah Ryan of Quandialla Candle Company has the best business card. In a quaint, old world fashion it states “Sarah Ryan, Candlestick Maker”, and on the reverse side, “Superior Soy Candles From the Middle of Nowhere”.
We started stocking Quandialla Candle Co. candles in April, attracted by the traditional packaging, inspired by the art nouveau design of a 1940s yeast tin Sarah found, and graphic design of the labels, created by her friend Dan Phelan of Safety Pin Design, Newcastle.
Sarah makes candles out of her kitchen pantry in the family’s 1920s homestead in central west NSW where she lives with husband Trevor, and children Rueben, 8, Monty, 6, and Clemmie, 2 on Richmond Merinos stud. Inspiration came when Sarah was pregnant with Clemmie and she recognised a gap in market for alternative candle packaging.
“I found an old yeast tin from the 1940s in the house and asked Dan to create a label for Quandialla Candle Co. He did the most amazing job,” says Sarah.
Her artistic flair is apparent in every part of the Quandialla Candle Co. branding and packaging and it is no surprise to discover Sarah is a College of Fine Arts (COFA) graduate.
“I grew up at Quandialla and went away to art school. I was a typical art school student with green hair, hanging out in inner Sydney. I came home to teach and hooked up with Trevor, who I’d known as a kid.”
Sarah’s candles look right at home on our 120-year-old packing case shelves.
“Natural, pure beeswax is so beautiful to work with and the bees feed on Quandialla blossom.”
If you are a boy scout at heart and like to be prepared for the next black out, or simply love ambient lighting, you should add a Quandialla Candle Co. candles to your stash.
It is such a blessing that oranges are in season during winter. When there is little colour in the garden the pop of orange against dark, glossy, green foliage is an absolute joy.
The first time I made a similar recipe using whole oranges, I was dubious about the method. Boiling whole oranges until they are soft, chopping them roughly and then pulping them to mix with other ingredients? Really? But if you haven’t discovered similar recipes already I encourage you to give it a try. The intense citrus flavour is delicious. And combined with almond meal, the texture is wonderfully moist and dense. You can’t go wrong (even if you leave them in the oven a little too long like I did with our second batch, the recipe is very forgiving).
I experimented with using Demeter Spelt Flour and Kurrajong Ridge Sorghum Flour. Both flours are milled locally at Gunnedah, and Quirindi in northern inland New South Wales. I can’t say I have a preference, but I definitely prefer the flavour and texture of spelt or sorghum flours to wheat. And they are great alternatives for people looking to reduce or eliminate gluten in their food.
I have also made Brownies using Kurrajong Ridge Sorghum Flour and the flavour and texture was so impressive that a friend asked about what ingredients I used. I credit the Kurrajong Ridge Sorghum Flour, using Demerara Sugar and quality cocoa (Woolworths homebrand is surprisingly good). Hello Kate Berry Lunch Lady has another great (and deliciously gooey) brownie recipe, which I’ve made using sorghum flour.
Whole Orange Muffins
(Adapted from a recipe for Whole Orange Cake, Donna Hay, winter Issue 16 – yes, I have a problem throwing out magazines)
Ingredients: 2 oranges, 175g butter (room temperature and chopped), 1 ½ cups caster sugar, 3 eggs, ¾ cup almond meal, 1 ½ cups plain all purpose flour (substitute same quantity of Spelt or Sorghum Flour for gluten free option), 2 teaspoons baking powder (I use Demeter Baking Powder by Wholegrain Milling, worth tracking down).
Method: Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Wash the oranges and place in a saucepan of water over medium heat. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the oranges for 30 minutes or until soft. Remove the oranges, cool slightly, and then chop roughly.
Process the oranges in a food processor until finely chopped. I use a tall jug and stick blender. If necessary, transfer pulped orange to the bowl of an electric mixer, and add the butter, sugar, eggs, almond meal, flour and baking powder and process until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into self-supporting patty pans, until about ¾ filled, on an oven tray, lined with baking paper or greased with cooking spray. This recipe makes about 24 small muffins or 18 large muffins. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool in the patty pans on a wire rack. If you would like to serve as a desert, make a syrup of orange peel, removed from one orange with a zester to make fine strips, 1 cups of water and one cup of sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Spoon zest on top of muffins on individual dessert plates and gently pour syrup over muffin to moisten subtly.
We collaborated with artist Michelle Kludas, from Murrurundi in the Upper Hunter of New South Wales, to design a tea cosy for the 1.5 litre Falcon enamel tea pots that we sell at Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores.
I met Michelle about four years ago and I am a big fan of everything she does, from crochet to painting, and her work as Manager at Michael Reid Gallery.
Michelle learnt to crochet when she was just five-years-old, a simple chain stitch taught by her grandmother, and even took a crochet hook and wool to school to crochet at recess.
Clearly, there is serious creative DNA at work. Michelle recalls a photograph of her and her sister, aged seven and eight, wearing crocheted bikinis made by their grandmother, standing either side of their creator.
“When I was about 12 my grandmother taught me how to read a pattern and from about the age of 15 or 17 I was making fine lace doilies,” Michelle says.
By the time Michelle started her blog, The Royal Sisters, in 2008 crochet was enjoying a renaissance and she picked up the hook and yarn again, inspired by the new flood of patterns and kindred spirits online.
She sells 19 crochet patterns on Etsy, for funky cushions, slippers, Christmas stockings, and tea cosies in the shape of a koala, owl and babushka – all “Full of Granny Goodness My Dears”. Michelle also sells some of her creations at Michael Reid Gallery.
When I approached Michelle about designing a tea cosy for Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores she suggested popcorn stitch in Nundle Woollen Mill’s 20-ply Oatmeal to best show off the chunky yarn and textured finish. The 20-ply comes in 200g hanks for $19.50 and each hank will make two tea cosies.
“There’s a shift towards simpler designs in thinker yarns,” Michelle says. “The popcorn stitch is very popular at the moment.”
We are so thrilled with the result, just in time for winter when your tea pot needs a little help to keep the tea hot.
If you’d like a copy of Michelle’s pattern, ‘Pop into Nundle Tea Cosy’, please contact us and we will send you a PDF file. We will also have the tea cosy for sale in store and online.
My father-in-law Terry is visiting and we head to Murrurundi for the day. Whenever we are heading north through the Upper Hunter Valley on the New England Highway I always feel like I am almost home when we reach Murrurundi. The setting in the Page’s River Valley of the Liverpool Range is evocative of Nundle, although with a population of about 1300, it is more than four times the size of our town.
Driving south, down Nowland’s Gap we exclaim at the blanket of cloud resting over Murrurundi. When we park the car for a walk the temperature is a bracing 13 degrees Celsius. A timber and iron suspension pedestrian bridge over the Page’s River captures the boys’ imaginations and Terry can’t help himself, rocking the bridge to give the boys an extra thrill.
A new upholstery and home wares store, Jute and Honey, attracts our attention. It is owner Jen Hemming’ fourth weekend of trading. She has a wonderfully creative eye and we admire her collection of new and old wares, coming away with a vintage sign for Manning’s Poultry Spice that spruiks “Cockadoodle doo! Brings your chickens to life!”
It isn’t long before the boys complain of hunger and it doesn’t take much to twist the adults’ arms for morning tea at Café Telegraph. The smell of the wood fire is comforting as we step inside, but we choose to sit in the sun under the bare trellis in winter mode.
Wandering through neighbouring Plants on Pages, we stop to admire a wall of weathered garden tools on a rendered wall.
Our hero destination for the day is Michael Reid Gallery, Murrurundi. This is one of my favourite places. The sandstone gallery set in sweeps of oyster plants, hellebores, and emerging bulbs is so peaceful. Terry and I enjoy the joint exhibition of work by Christina Thwaites, Tracy Chaplin, Catherine Stewart and more. Catherine Stewart’s painting ‘Bee Boxes’ reminds me of my dad, Don, who has kept bees for more than 30 years, and a photograph I took of Scott Middlebrook’s multi-coloured bee boxes loaded onto a truck outside his parents’ house at Nundle. Gryf and Cormac make friends with the loping brown Labrador, Stoker, playing tug-of-war with a slobber soaked squeaky toy and throwing it across the lawn.
We recently returned from a week away at the beach to delightful drizzling rain. We were so happy that rain had been the opening and closing curtain to our holiday, because last year we had torrential rain the whole week we were away.
The rain seems to have heralded a change in the season. Ever since we arrived home it has started to cool down. Such a relief from the ghastly 40 degree days we experienced in January. It has brought with it an enjoyment of the garden again and a desire to turn on the oven and cook.
As the weather cooled I reached for one of my favourite books, ‘A Story of Seven Summers’ by Hilary Burden, to cook Isis’s beetroot chocolate cake. But first I had to track down which member of our book club had borrowed my copy. On sending my first SMS I found it. My neighbour Nicola had it and it was soon back on my book shelf.
I first read an excerpt from Hilary’s book in Country Style magazine and later tracked down the full book, and later recommended it for our book club. Hilary and I both write for Country Style as freelancers. We exchange notes from time to time. I recognised Hilary’s name when she ordered some bits and pieces from our store and enjoyed picturing them in her Nun’s House.
Gryf and I made Isis’s beetroot chocolate cake for the boys to take to school for morning tea. I enjoy cooking the beetroot in boiling water for about 10 minutes and after the beetroot has cooled slightly, effortlessly sliding the skins away. If your hands are stained, try rubbing them in lemon juice to remove the beetroot.
Isis’s beetroot chocolate cake (from ‘A Story of Seven Summers’ by Hilary Burden)
Ingredients: 75 g cocoa powder, 180 g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 250 g caster sugar, 250 g cooked beetroot, 3 large eggs, 200 ml vegetable oil, 1 tsp vanilla extract, icing sugar to dust.
Method: Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius and lightly butter a 20 cm round cake tin. Sift the cocoa, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Mix in the sugar. Blend the cooked beetroot in a food processor. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the oil and vanilla. Process until smooth. make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the wet mixture and lightly mix. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cover loosely with foil if the cake starts to brown at 30 minutes (Hilary says, “Expect the top to crack”.) Leave for 15 minutes before removing from the tin, then place on a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar to serve. I also like a dollop of our local Peel Valley Milk double cream and a few seasonal berries (strawberries, blackberries or blueberries).