My Potter Picnic Party

Potter Picnic Party at Yarralumla Bay (photo by Pobke Photography)

Potter Picnic Party at Yarralumla Bay (photo by Pobke Photography)

Last month, I had a birthday. It was a fabulously random birthday, it certainly didn’t end in a big zero.

I’ve had a pretty tough couple of years. I have an acquired neurological disease that is chronic and disabling. My partner left me. I am no longer able to work full time. I live on a very meagre income in a pretty expensive city. I have mobility trouble that impairs my ability to get around town and travel is pretty much out of the question. I certainly won’t be able to manage any adventures like my trips around Africa again any time soon.

But I have many blessings too. Being sick has led me on a journey to better understand myself, my needs, my health and the world around me. So doing, I believe I have been able to continue to live an increasingly sustainable lifestyle. For example, foraging, a part of my food life that I now love, is something I came to out of necessity. Within many constraints, I still have a pretty nice life. But it can be hard; very hard. It’s a very precarious life financially, emotionally and health wise. While I’ve come through a lot over the past few years, there are still many challenges ahead; many everyday challenges that often people don’t see, challenges I would not want anyone else to experience.

While it is very difficult for me to go out or gather socially, I am still blessed with some truly wonderful friends who care very deeply for me. Entirely unexpectedly, one of my favourites bought my food dehydrator for me when I wanted to expand my range of products for my Selling Something Wild stalls. Many of them buy their Christmas gifts from the goodies on offer at my stall. Other friends threw a fabulous Latin fiesta for my birthday last year when I was unable to arrange something myself. When a dear friend of mine died recently, one friend came and did my dishes, and others bought me dinner several evenings when I was simply not able to take care of it myself. This matters to me. I care. I appreciate them. I notice these blessings. I am glad I notice these blessings and I am thankful for them. Actions have always spoken louder to me than words. I am deeply grateful for such wonderful actions.

For my birthday this year, I wanted to gather together these lovely people, my nearest and dearest, and count my blessings, acknowledging them with a fabulous party. I am very sensitive to sound, don’t do well with groups of people, fatigue easily, and don’t really do evenings. So I needed to plan something to work within those restrictions, something with not too many people, something outside, something in the day time. Of course, it needed to include fabulous food.

I am absolutely young at heart. I love children’s literature. You may have seen my pages to plate series, bringing the food from the pages of my favourite children’s books to a plate on my dining table. When I first got sick, I wasn’t able to read. It still is an activity I ration, because I get cognitive overload. But after a few months, when I started to manage better, I took great joy in returning to my Harry Potter books. I reread them over and over. In the three or four years since becoming ill, I have probably reread the whole series three times. I am now reading the accompanying texts from the Hogwarts Library: Quidditch Through the Ages; Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them; and The Tails of Beedle the Bard. But oh how I would love J.K. Rowling to sign my original Harry books! As I did when I was younger, I find courage and power in the tales of some of these unlikely heroes, joy in their friendships, and hope in their familial love.

So I planned a Potter Picnic Party to bring together my favourite food scenes from the books, treating my friends and I to a wonderful day of deliciousness and magic in the glorious summer sun. The day was based on three of my favourite food related scenes in the books:

  1. A Hogwarts Feast, so we had golden plates and goblets;
  2. The dinner Mrs Weasley cooks for all her children and Harry and Hermione before the Quidditch World Cup; and
  3. Picnicking by the lake at Hogwarts, we had two willow trees, thankfully they weren’t whomping, and of course, Lake Burley Griffin.

The magic began with the invitations. A friend of mine is an excellent illustrator, with a similar affinity for the Potter books, and children’s literature in general. So Erin-Claire Illustrations produced my invitations, RSVPs and food labels. They were adorned with my patronus, a cauldron and an amphibian that makes me think of Neville’s toad. I sent off the invitations in muggle mail, sealed with my very own wax seal.

 

Invitation Invitation - bottomThe menu was something I’ve been working on for a long time, well, I’ve been working on its constituent parts for a long time. I’ve been creating and refining recipes for some items for a couple of years. Some of them I did just for the party. Some items were drawn from trusted suppliers I’ve known for years.

Mains

On the evening before the Quidditch World Cup, Harry and Hermione are at the Burrow, and all the Weasley children are home for the event. In the kitchen, Mrs Weasley declares “there’s just not enough room for eleven people in here.” Everyone is set to work setting up for dinner outside in the garden. Bill and Charlie set up the tables, Ron and Harry take the cutlery, Hermione and Ginny take the plates.

“By seven o’clock, the two tables were groaning under dishes and dishes of Mrs Weasley’s excellent cooking, and the nine Weasleys, Harry and Hermione were settling themselves down to eat beneath a clear, deep-blue sky. To somebody who had been living on increasingly stale cake all summer, this was paradise, and at first, Harry listened rather than talked as he helped himself to chicken-and-ham-pie, boiled potatoes and salad.”

 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 57

A reading from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (photo by Pobke Photography)

A reading from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (photo by Pobke Photography)

That chicken and ham pie has been on my mind since the very first time I read that passage. I made several attempts at making it myself. But I think I finally succeeded with a version based on a traditional English picnic pie, like a pork pie, served cold. I posted the recipe a few months ago and it was a great success. The pie stood proudly in the middle of my party table, the center of attention, it was carved with some ceremony by an eager friend who dished out handsome slices to all the carnivores present.

Cutting into the chicken and ham pie (photo by Pobke Photography)

Cutting into the chicken and ham pie (photo by Pobke Photography)

Although the books only every talk about salad in a generic way, I made three different salads to accompany our meal. The first was quite British, inspired by the boiled potatoes in that passage, it was a simple dish of home grown potatoes with watercress, dressed with snipped chives, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. It was a great success. The second was a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, and the third was one of my favourite combinations: rocket, char-grilled capsicum and balsamic glaze. All the salads were vegan friendly, otherwise the rocket one would have also contained shaved Parmesan, a fabulous addition to a very flavourful dish.

I could not have a Potter Picnic Party without pumpkin pasties. I’ve been working on this recipe for several years and got it to a place where I’m finally happy to post it here on the blog. I often make them with a little bacon fat in the pastry, it makes for a great flavour, but I was expecting vegetarians at the party, so I made an all butter pastry, and one with copha instead, so my vegan friends could also partake. I was given very high praise for the vegan version, I understand it is quite difficult to get good vegan baked goods. Of course the filling was great, but the pastry can be a trick. The taste buds of both little people, and big, were pleased with my party sized pumpkin pasties.

Molly Weasley made her children corned beef sandwiches for the journey to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron says to Harry,

“She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”

Well, Ron may not like corned beef sandwiches, but I certainly do! I bought my beef from Manda at Gilmore Braes and used her family recipe to cook it. With some good quality, three year aged cheddar from South Coast Cheese, and my Dad’s fabulous tomato relish, there’s not much more one could want in a sandwich. And so we did. Plates and plates of them. I made some without beef, and some without cheese and butter for the vegetarians and vegans respectively. Not a single sandwich was left by the end of the party!

Drinks

Pumpkin Juice (photo by Pobke Photography)

Pumpkin Juice (photo by Pobke Photography)

In the world of witchcraft and wizardry, pumpkin juice seems to fill the same role orange juice does in the muggle world. It is served at breakfast, lunch, a feast or any other occasion. Of course I had to serve it at my picnic party. The party was on a very warm day, much like the day Harry and Ron chased after the Hogwarts Express in Mr Weasley’s flying car. After a while, Harry “stopped noticing the fantastic cloud shapes now and was thinking longingly of the train miles below, where you could buy ice-cold pumpkin juice from a trolley pushed by a plump witch.” My pumpkin juice is crisp and refreshing, perfect for such an occasion. We also served soda water, wee little steins of butterbeer, and Win’s Creek mead which, I’m sure, would rival any served by Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks. in Hogsmeade.

Sweets

Dumbledore: “Would you care for a sherbet lemon?”
McGonagall: “A what?”
Dumbledore: “A sherbet lemon. They’re a kind of Muggle sweet I’m rather fond of.”
McGonagall: “No, thank you.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

We did have a bowl of sherbet lemons on offer, because I love Dumbledore that much. They’re quite a fun British sweet. I think they’re quite like an Australian lemon sherbet bomb, but I can’t be certain.

Of course we also had to have Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I could easily promise my guests they would not get a boogie flavoured bean, or one that tasted of earwax for that matter, by going down the known list of Bertie Botts flavours, buying my beans in bulk and mixing them all up. I must say though, it was kind of fun to see an almost I-just-ate-an earwax-flavoured-bean expression on one guests face when she ate a banana flavoured bean. She does not at all like bananas. Sad though I was for her suffering, it was also kind of fun, and a reminder of how much in life is perspective. We had loads of flavours including lemon, cherry, green apple, toasted marshmellow, buttered popcorn and watermelon.

In Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone, “Mrs. Figg let Harry watch television and gave him a bit of chocolate cake that tasted as though she’d had it for several years.” But then, later in the book, Hagrid baked a large, sticky chocolate cake with “Happy Birthday Harry” written in icing for Harry’s eleventh birthday. My birthday cake could have only been a chocolate cake, and was festooned with a golden snitch, which I caught, in my mouth… and ate. It was delicious. I baked it myself, from a recipe in my favourite chocolate cooking book. It was covered with dark chocolate ganache and topped with golden candles

Treacle tart

Treacle tart

I made my first ever treacle tart for the party and my it was magnificent! I absolutely understand why it is Harry Potter’s favourite dessert. My illustrious pie cutter, was not stinting in his praise. He said, ‘while everything has been delicious… this tart is life changing.’ I will soon post my recipe on the blog, but it was based loosely on Mary Berry‘s recipe. I doubled the filling though, and increased the portion of citrus. It was certainly a thing to behold. To go with all that we had fresh strawberries and cream.

Party favours

A young at heart birthday party would not be complete without party favours. Mine were chocolate frogs, not real chocolate frogs, and not real chocolate enchanted to behave like real frogs, but quite realistic looking frogs with delicious soft centers made from chestnut cream and wild blackberries. The chestnut ones were made with milk chocolate, and the blackberry ones with dark.

chocolate frogs

I had a truly glorious day. I will have the beautiful photographs to help me remember it in the years to come. I was very blessed for my friends to come from near and far to join me. It was wonderful to have them in town for the first time. In the morning, their help putting together some of the food was invaluable, and early in the afternoon, I needed their help walking to my chair. By the end of the afternoon, it was local friends who nearly had to carry me to the car, when my body finally gave up on me. But boy, we certainly had a sumptuous supper by then! Although exhausted, I was on a high for days afterward. My Potter Picnic Party was all that I had wanted it to be.

Potter Picnic Party (photo by Pobke Photography)

Potter Picnic Party (photo by Pobke Photography)

The beautiful photos of the day were taken by Pobke Photography. As I said, the invitations and food labels were penned and illustrated by Erin-Claire Illustration. The golden plates were from House. I hired the golden platters and serving dishes from Prop My Hire in Sydney. I also hired the glass drink container from them. The goblets, cutlery, chairs, tables, napkins and table cloths were hired from Barlens Party Hire in Canberra.

Posted in Summer, Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Pumpkin pasties

I’ve been working on this recipe for a year or so now. It’s part of my pages to plate project, bringing to life the food of my favourite children’s books. Pumpkin pasties are, of course, from Harry Potter. They are sort of like a Cornish pasty, but filled with pumpkin instead of meat and potatoes. Harry Potter tried them for the first time on the Hogwarts Express, at the start of his first year, when he bought some of everything on the trolley. But they make many appearances thereafter, throughout all the books.

As much as I love pumpkin, I couldn’t deal with the idea of a whole pasty full of mashed pumpkin. I think it would just be too naturally sweet. So I’ve added some silverbeet (sometimes known as Swiss chard) to the filling, to cut the sweetness. I roasted the pumpkin with some red onion; the dark parts on the roasted vegetables give the filling a lovely complexity.

The pastry is based on the traditional recipe from the Cornish Pasty Association. If you aren’t making these for a vegetarian, I’d recommend saving up the bacon fat from your breakfast pan and substituting as much butter as you can with the bacon fat. I try to use as much as 50:50. Lard is traditionally used in pasty pastry; it gives the pastry an excellent texture. The bacon fat provides fabulous flavour. You need to use a strong flour, like the flour used for bread, pasta or pizza. This flour is higher in protein than cake flour. You need that protein for the dough to become elastic enough to produce a strong, pliable dough.

I also had great success making a vegan version, in which I substitute all the butter for copha. The copha is firmer at room temperature so it takes a bit of work to work into the flour, and will set quite hard in the fridge while it’s resting. But let the finished pastry come back to room temperature and work it up a little before you roll it out and you’ll be fine.

Pastry

245 grams butter*
500 grams strong (bread) flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
125 millilitres chilled water

* For vegans, substitute copha or another vegetable shortening. For non-vegetarians, substitute up to half of this with bacon fat or lard.

Filling

1 pumpkin
2 whole red onions
olive oil
½ bunch silverbeet*
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg or aquafava, for brushing on the pasties before baking

*also known as Swiss chard

To make the pastry, rub the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the salt, pepper and water. Bring the dough together and knead until it’s soft and elastic. It’s good to do this with a dough hook in your electric mixer, but I have also had great success doing it by hand. Because of the fat content, it will take a little while to come together, be patient; it’s worth it.

Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for at least three hours. This resting time is important for its pliability later. I like to leave mine overnight.

To make the filling, remove the skin and seeds of the pumpkin and cut into approximately 1 centimetre cubes. Peel the onions and cut into wedges, ensuring the base of the onion holds the wedges together. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and roast, in a preheated 200oC oven until dark brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Roughly chop the onion, discarding any tough pieces from near the root of the bulbs.

Meanwhile, remove the stalks of the silverbeet. Discard any brown portions, and finely dice the remaining stalks. Roll the leaves together and finely slice, then chop the strips so you have roughly chopped pieces, about 1 centimetre long. Alternatively, you could blitz the leaves in a food processor till they were coarsely chopped. Mix the silverbeet with the cooked pumpkin and onion.

To assemble the pasties, remove the pastry from the fridge. Divide the pastry into 6-8 equal sized portions. Alternatively, if you want to make mini pasties, like I did for my Potter Picnic Party, weigh out smaller portions of the dough, so you have equal sized pieces. I think my portions were 80 grams each. Roll the dough onto a floured work surface till it’s a circle and about 5 millimetres thick. Scoop the relevant potion of filling into the middle of the pastry. Fold the pastry over and crimp the edges. Place the finished pasties on a lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash or aquafava and bake in a preheated 200oC oven till golden.

Serve the pasties warm or at room temperature.

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Cooking for a year without a cent spent at Coles or Woolworths

I don’t much go into New Year’s resolutions, but this time last year a friend of mine suggested I resolve to not spend a single dollar at Coles or Woolworths for the entire year. Given my view of the practices of these two monolithic stores, and my food ethics, it was a challenge I wanted to accept.

The greenhouse emissions of the transport system that takes fresh food and other grocery items from their country or place of origin, to a wholesale market, to a warehouse, trucked to a grocery store, and sometimes onto a second or third store are huge. Products criss-cross the country, and sometimes the world. If you try buying a locally grown mango in Darwin, and it will have been shipped to the wholesale market in Brisbane, before being trucked all the way back to Darwin for retail sale. Then there’s the food miles of importing foods like garlic (commonly imported from China), lemons (often from the USA) or asparagus (from Peru) into that system for them to be bought to you in the off season. On top of that, there’s the hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs) used in the refrigeration of all that food throughout its journey. Many of these chemicals are potent greenhouse gases. HCFCs also deplete the ozone layer. HCFC-22 is the most common refrigerant in Australia. 

I also have social concerns with both businesses. Farmers have been complaining about unfair prices for produce, and unreasonable contract requirements for years. The $2 milk wars were a very visual example of some of these practices, but similar complaints have been made by vegetable producers including those producing potatoes and onions. Indeed, in 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission undertook an investigation of the major supermarkets. They began with over 160,000 complaints, took a deeper look at over 3,000 of those and commenced about 550 individual investigations. Around 140 of these progressed to in-depth investigations, resulting in more than 30 court proceedings, over 30 court enforceable undertakings, and the payment of numerous infringement notices. Most recently, the watchdog launched major legal action against Woolworths for unconscionable conduct toward suppliers. In November and December last year, it is alleged that Woolworths developed a strategy to demand payments totalling $18.1 million from its suppliers to increase the supermarket’s profit margin.

I have allowed myself to shop at other supermarkets during the year. In Canberra, we are lucky have a third supermarket chain, Supabarn, but the stores are entirely out of my way. So I have purchased very little from them during the year. Perhaps I would visit every 6-8 weeks and stock up on my favourite chocolate or some household items like cleaning products or shampoo. I shop at my local IGA relatively regularly though. I am happy to buy items from them because the service is friendly and personal, and I prefer to support independent and family owned/operated business. IGA stores are always stoked with items that are reflective of the locals and the owners, providing a community feel that I prefer to the nationwide grocery chains. While IGA still has some power of collective purchasing, stores have more flexibility to buy from local suppliers and don’t have the same power to force unreasonable expectations on suppliers.

Before the year began, I already bought the majority of my fresh food from my local farmers market. This resolution meant that I needed to better plan my food needs, so I didn’t need to dash to the shop for just that one thing to make dinner complete. The market is a cash only (pretty much) zone, so I go with my $50 and get my food for the week. I know the name of the person who produced every item in my market bag each week and that’s a great feeling. It is the polar opposite of the Woolworths/Coles shopping experience.

I recognise how lucky I am to have such a good quality farmers market so close, on such a regular basis. I firmly believe that weekly farmers markets are the way to change people’s shopping behaviour, with this regularity there is a viable shopping alternative that can be relatively easily incorporated into a routine. A fortnightly market may be OK, but a monthly market will only lead to specialty and luxury items that people might buy for a treat. A monthly market does not provide a serious alternative for daily food items.

I urge market organisers, and communities considering the beginning of a farmers market to plan for a weekly market, containing as much locally produced food as shoppers would reasonably consume within the seasons. I would highly recommend upcoming markets look for inspiration from the Capital Region Farmers Market. They take great effort to get good variety of produce so that it is possible for shoppers to buy all their food there each week. This does not mean that everything on offer at the supermarket is available at the farmers market, but with due consideration of seasonality and what actually grows in the region, you can easily buy food for a balanced, healthy diet.

Protein

I buy my eggs, milk, poultry, pork, beef and fish at the Capital Region Farmers Market. There is also a lady there who sells amazing tofu that she makes in Belconnen. Occasionally I buy some tofu puffs, silken or firm tofu from her. It is by far the best tofu available in town. If a craving for tempeh comes to me, I buy it from the local food co-op in town, this has been my only exception to buying protein at the market.

I buy milk and cheese from the lovely folks from Tilba, who bottle their own delicious Jersey milk and make a very fine aged cheddar. Sometimes I buy goat cheese from Leaning Oak, and other specialty cheeses from Small Cow Farm. I buy my eggs from Sam at Holbrook Paddock Eggs. It’s a family business producing free range eggs of the highest possible quality. Indeed, the eggs have won gold medals at both the Melbourne and Sydney Fine Food Awards the past two years.

I buy free range chicken, occasionally duck, and at Christmas a turkey or goose, from Thirlmere Poultry whose farm is outside Canberra. I buy beef from a very small farm based just outside Batlow. Gilmore Braes raise heritage beef cattle that have excellent flavour, in happy conditions. Once a beast is slaughtered it is sold nose to tail. I buy all my pork products from Boxgum Grazing, who now make excellent bacon. Their fresh meat is of the highest quality, and comes from happy pigs who I have visited on their free range farm.

I buy my fresh seafood from Hayley at Narooma Seafood. Her family owns the boat, catches the fish and brings it to market for me to buy. It’s great fish, caught locally, just off the coast. I also sometimes buy smoked or cured fish from Ann, at Cypress Valley. Her smoked trout is to die for, and I do love her gravlax. Sometimes I’ll buy some of her other smoked goods, I’m particularly fond of her smoked baby octopus.

Fruit, vegetables and other greens

I buy most of my fruit, veg and other greens from the farmers market. I buy all my staples at the farmers market: garlic (when it’s in season), onions and potatoes. I buy brassicas, root vegetables and other green things as they come into season in autumn, winter and spring respectively. These vegetables come an average of 200 kilometres to Canberra, but many are grown right here around town. I buy some salad greens at market too, but come spring and summer I do a lot of foraging, picking wild greens and edible weeds to add to salads and stir fries.

There’s not much better than walking downstairs to the nature strip to pick some purslane, wild brassica or sheep sorrel to go in your salad or omelette. It’s far tastier than shop bought greens, packed with nutrition, and doesn’t cost a cent. It’s also a wonderful excuse to get into nature and relax outside. It’s certainly a superior experience than a peak hour visit to the supermarket.

Outside of summer, I don’t eat much fruit, but buy a couple of bananas when the north coast stall is at market once a fortnight. In summer, I buy locally grown berries and cherries from various market stalls too. I also do a fair amount of urban foraging for fruit to eat and preserve. Canberra is blessed to have streets deliberately planted with fruit producing trees. There are also all sorts of sites with fruiting trees on disused land. Soon enough, community initiatives like the Lyneham Commons will also be bearing fruit.

Dry goods

I mostly buy my flour, nuts and dried beans from the Food Co-Op Shop in Acton. The prices are very reasonable, the range is quite extensive and there are a lot of organic options. The co-op is on my bike ride from home to my office. I take the clear cubes and reusable tins into the store and weigh the containers before filling them up. If you volunteer your time once a month, you get a reasonable discount on your shopping items. They have a good supply of other local fresh produce including fruit and veg, vegan cheeses, tofu and fermented foods.

My pantry

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Sauces and condiments

The only tomato sauce I eat is homemade and I get it from my Dad. He also makes my tomato relish. I make other sauces from foraged fruit in the summertime. My two favourites are Canberra Plum and Ginger Sauce and Haw-Sin Sauce both of which I use in stir fries or to blend for dipping sauces. I buy things like soy from the local Asian grocer. Mustards I either buy from IGA or direct from a small scale producer. Ross O’Maera makes many of my favourites on Bruny Island. I buy my Murray River salt flakes from IGA, peppercorns from the food co-op and dried herbs and spices from Gewurzhaus.

I recently watched a great little video about how much change you can bring to the world by changing your own behaviour. It makes such a difference. Not only are you reducing your negative impact on the world, by choosing a better food system, buying into better, more ethical and sustainable systems, you are making a constructive difference. You are modelling that positive behaviour to your friends and community, and supporting others who are working and living in similarly positive systems. I love that I support the producers who are working in agriculture the way I want our food systems to operate.

Will you give it a go this coming new year? Can you do a year without Coles and Woolworths? I would not be surprised if you find it as enjoyable as I did.

If you’d like to read more about how I dealt with other household items, you can pop over to my other site: ishoblog.

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Honey spiced pumpkin seeds

Honey spiced pumpkin seeds

Honey spiced pumpkin seeds

This is a waste not, want not recipe. I cut open three pumpkins in the last two days. I’m holding a Harry Potter themed party, and needed pumpkin for a big batch of pumpkin pasties as well as loads of pumpkin juice. The seeds in my pumpkins were quite good looking, and I couldn’t bear to waste such a quantity of them. This recipe is what I came up with to make use of them. It was totally worth it. These are a delicious little snack, great for a party nibble. What do you do to reduce your food waste?

Makes 1-2 cups

1-2 cups freshly scooped pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

First you have to clean the seeds from the pulp found in the middle of the pumpkin. Scoop the pumpkin seeds straight from the pumpkin, into a bowl of water. If you leave them in a good volume of water for a while, it will be easier to get them clean. Then just use your hands to wipe off any pulp from the seeds and leave them to drain in a strainer. Leave them to dry completely.

Tip the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, mix to coat and spread the seeds out evenly. Roast them in a 180oC oven till they start to go golden, and taste nutty. You want them to start to be crisp. This may take anywhere from 5-20 minutes depending on several factors including how dry your seeds were to begin with and how large they are.

Now pour the honey over the seeds, allowing their heat to melt the honey. Mix them around so they are evenly coated. Then sprinkle over the salt, cinnamon and cumin, stirring to combine well. Return the seeds to the oven for 5 minutes to dry out the honey and toast the spices. Remove from the oven.

As the seeds cool, mic them around, making sure they separate as the honey hardens on the outside of the seeds. Serve warm or store in an airtight container.

Posted in Morning or afternoon tea, Side dish, Snack | Tagged | Leave a comment

Weed omelette

Today I led a weed walk for the Canberra Environment Centre.  It was a great morning down by the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. We picked loads of wild greens. We found wood sorrel, sheep sorrel, dock, wild fennel, dandelion, salsify, plantain and blackberries. It was a lovely group of people and reminded me how much I love being a part of learning, and showing people the power that we have to change the world for the better. Picking edible weeds to add to your dinner is a fabulously sustainable way to increase the nutritional content of your diet. But one of the things I really like about it is the power of the thing. There is something really powerful about gathering the food that nourishes you, straight from the earth. Academically, we talk about food security, but that my friends, is food sovereignty. I like it a lot.

Anyway, I was telling the group about all the delicious things I make with foraged foods and realised it was about time I posted a few recipes. This is the recipe for a weed omelette that I made a few weekends ago, while I was in Woodend, in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, for a friends’ wedding. All the weeds are readily available in South Eastern Australia (and elsewhere). There are loads of different ways to make omelette. My mother used to make hers fluffy by separating the whites from the yolks and beating them to soft peaks before folding through the yolks. This omelette is flat like a crepe, all the better for rolling around a delicious weedy filling. But you can make it your way if you like.

Weed omelette

Weed omelette

Serves 1

butter or oil
1 small onion
5-6 large dock leaves
½ cup common plantain leaves
grams fresh goat cheese*
2 free range eggs
1 handful wood sorrel
sheep sorrel

*marinaded goat feta like Meredith Dairy

Finely dice your onion. Melt a generous amount of butter in a small pan. Cook the onion over a low heat till it is sweet and fragrant. Transfer the cooked onion to a small mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, cut the plantain across the ribs and place in a pot of boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes and test for bitterness. If it is still too bitter for your palette, continue boiling until it meets your taste. Drain and add to the bowl with the onion. Repeat this process for the dock, which will require less cooking. Add the goat cheese to this bowl and mix to combine.

Beat the eggs. Melt the remaining butter in a hot frying pan. Add the egg and tip the pan to spread it out. You want it to cook quickly so it colours on the bottom and is only just set on top. Remove the omelette from the pan. Spread the filling across the middle, and add the wood sorrel and sheep sorrel.

Serve immediately.

Posted in Brunch, Lunch, Spring | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pumpkin Juice

In the world of witchcraft and wizardry, pumpkin juice seems to fill the same role orange juice does in the muggle world. It is served at breakfast, lunch, a feast or any other occasion. In the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry was hot and thirsty, tired of riding in the flying car, he had

“stopped noticing the fantastic cloud shapes now and was thinking longingly of the train miles below, where you could buy ice-cold pumpkin juice from a trolley pushed by a plump witch.”

I borrowed a juicer from a friend just to figure out how I’d make this classic Harry Potter drink. It’s been high on my project list for ‘pages to plate’ for quite some time. It was worth it. It’s a great treat to take your mind into the wizarding world one weekend, or when you feel like reading one of J.K. Rowling’s classic books. Many American recipes call for cooked pumpkin, but I wanted something more refreshing. Having put my fresh pumpkin through the juicer, I realised the flavour of the plain juice was a little peculiar for my palette. I thought a little lemon juice would lift the flavour, and some apple would give it a little familiarity. I am very glad with the balance I have struck. It has the freshness of the raw juice we are accustomed to in Australia (the equivalent of what American’s might call cider) and retains the unmistakable characteristics of pumpkins.

Harry Potter and a glass of fresh, icy pumpkin juice

Harry Potter and a glass of fresh, icy pumpkin juice

 

Knowing pumpkins aren’t particularly juicy, I picked the juiciest looking one I could find at the farmer’s market. A quarter of a pumpkin yielded about two cups of juice for me. I reserved the seeds and pulp. The pulp I used to fill ravioli. The seeds, I hulled and dry roasted as a garnish for that dish.

Serves 2

2 cup fresh pumpkin juice
2/3 cup apple juice
2 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the juices in a glass, serve immediately, chilled.

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From wild apples to cider and apple jack

A while back I posted my recipe for wild apple jelly with mint and rosemary. Well that trip was quite an outing, and really epitomises why I love foraging. I had in fact been out picking wild apples because I’d wanted to make wild apple cider. Inspired by all the apple trees I saw growing on the roadside in when I first started foraging in Tasmania, all that fruit seemed like such a waste. And I do love to drink a good cider. So I went picking wild apples in Canberra.

I cut away the cores and turned them into apple jelly and juiced the fruit that remained. I simply added a pack of CY17 yeast to my fresh juice and let it go. The yeast is designed for fruit wine, it’s one I’d picked up at my local brew supply, wanting to use it for elderflower wine. A lot of cider recipes online call for you to add sugar, but I wanted mine straight up. Because I picked the apples very late in the season, I’m sure they had a naturally high sugar content, but I wanted my cider to just taste like apple, and no need for the extra alcohol that would be created by adding cane sugar.

Well it worked a treat and after a few months I racked off the cider into some swing top bottles. Finding I had more cider than swing top bottles, I wondered if I should try my hand at making the apple jack I’d learned about while I was in Washington D.C. The capitol is in old apple country. Back in the day, people would ferment the apple juice into what they call ‘hard cider’ then, in the winter, they’d leave it outside in the snow. Scooping off the ice, they’d be left with a highly concentrated liquor in both flavour and alcohol. Because alcohol and sugar have low freezing points, the low alcohol liquid would freeze first. The remaining liquid is called apple jack.

Wild apple cider

Wild apple cider

I just poured my cider into a plastic container and put it in my freezer. I scooped off the ice (and saved it for drinking, because it’s still tasty and slightly alcoholic) and topped up the container until a night in the freezer wouldn’t give me many ice crystals. I bottled the concentrated liquor in a pretty glass bottle, and left the rest as cider.

The cider is lovely and refreshing, dry, just the way I like it. But I tell you what, that apple jack is amazing! I like to drink it at the end of the day, where one might have a whisky. I’m told both the cider and the apple jack are best left to age, so I’ll do my best to leave them for a year. But I tell you what, I’ll certainly be doing this again!

Apple Jack

Apple Jack

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Spring vegetable tempura with sencha salt

Spring vegetable tempura with sencha salt

Spring vegetable tempura with sencha salt

I was very excited when the postie knocked on my door to deliver a parcel of goodies from the Australian Asparagus Council. New Australian asparagus can only mean one thing, the beginning of spring!!! I do so love asparagus, and wanted a new way to show off its glory to you this year. It got me thinking about Japanese vegetable tempura; what a great way to show off seasonal vegetables! In had a think about what else is exciting and interesting in spring. I did a little exploring of fiddlehead ferns, but landed myself on the leaves of green garlic at the market this time of year. The young spring garlic can be used just like spring onion, but rather than tasting like onions, it tastes, well, like garlic. I love to use the green leaves in all sorts of ways, and thought they’d be great in tempura.

I am totally convinced that the perfect accompaniment to these spring green vegetable tempura is green tea salt. You want the highest possible quality of green tea for this. I was blessed to have some incredible cold sencha tea in my pantry, a friend bought it back for me from Japan. I’d been saving it for an ice-cream making date that we keep not making. The tea is incredibly fragrant and flavourful. It provides an almost indescribable flavour to accompany the tempura, it has a natural sweetness, and umami character. The tannins and bitterness of tea is extracted with hot water, so these characteristics don’t come out when the tea is used this way.

Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

Sencha sea salt

1 teaspoon very good quality sencha tea
1 teaspoon sea salt

Vegetable tempura

1-2 bunches fresh asparagus
1 bunch green garlic leaves
flour, for dusting
3/4 cup plain flour
¼ cup corn flour
1 pinch bi carbonate soda
1 free range egg
1 cup ice-cold soda water
oil, for frying

To prepare the sencha salt, place the tea in a mortar and pestle and grind it to a course powder. Add the salt, and grind a little longer. Transfer to a serving dish and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables for the tempura. Bend the asparagus spears till they naturally break. Discard the woody base, and keep the top. Cut the garlic leaves into pieces about the same length as the asparagus. Dust the vegetables in flour.

Sift the plain flour, corn flour and bi-carb in a bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Crack in the egg, add the ice cold soda water and mix with chopsticks till barely combined. You still want the batter to be lumpy.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a deep frying pan. You want it to sizzle as soon as you let a drop of water fall in.

Working in batches, dip the vegetables in batter and fry till golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain.

Serve immediately with sencha sea salt.

 

 

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Jack Maple

I’ve been having some success with my home brewing of late. You remember my blackberry wine. This year I made cider from wild apples. From that, I made some apple jack, which was surprisingly delicious.

After my visit to a maple house in the US, I’ve been wondering why people don’t make booze from maple sap. I looked around for ages without much luck, but I’ve found that some people make what is called sap wine. They reduce the sap down to 25% sugar, then add yeast and let it ferment. I reckon it’d be pretty tasty.  But it had me thinking, I wonder if you could concentrate that wine, with the same methods as apple jack. Surely you could freeze the sap wine, removing the ice until you had a liquid that was concentrated in both flavour and alcohol content.

I thought it would be fun to call such liquor Jack Maple. Jack Maple was a Deputy Commissioner in the New York City Police Department. He was quite infamous, and inspired the television series The District. His character is described as honest, stern and brazen. I’d love to make a liquor that could be described in that way.

I have a vision of tapping the sap at the beginning of spring, reducing it, then slowly fermenting it. I could rack it over the summer, then freeze it outside the following winter. And age the finished product in casks. I could use New York maple sap and produce an iconic drink. What do you think, do you think that sounds like a good idea? I do. Perhaps I’ll fall in love with a New Yorker and move upstate to a maple grove.

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Blood orange cordial

It was such a wonderful surprise to find a large box of Redbelly Citrus blood oranges on my doorstep last week. I do love blood oranges. I find them richer in flavour than other oranges, and what’s not to love about that colour! Last year I made a beautiful soft pavlova roll with blood orange curd. It was very good, but part of me had wished I’d made blood orange cordial. So that is the first thing I made with them this year. Please make sure you buy Australian grown citrus. Most citrus fruit are in season in winter, which is great because they can provide a wonderful zing to warming winter dishes and they are great way to boost your vitamin C intake during the cold and flu season.

Blood orange cordial

Blood orange cordial

If you pour the hot cordial into sterilised bottles and process them in a water bath, as I’ve done here, the cordial should last for a year in the pantry. If you’re not interested in this process, or you don’t plan on having the cordial around that long, store it in the fridge.

Makes about 2 litres

2 kilograms blood oranges
1.5 kilograms white sugar
1.5 litres water

Peel the zest off the blood oranges. Place it in a large saucepan with the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Leave the mixture simmering.

Meanwhile, juice the oranges. You want about a litre of juice. Strain the juice and discard the seeds and pulp.

Scoop the orange zest from the simmering syrup. Pour in the strained juice and bring the cordial back to the boil. Skim the surface of the cordial to remove any impurities.

Pour the hot cordial into sterilised glass bottles and loosely screw on the lids. Place the hot bottles in a large saucepan and fill the pot with enough water for it to come nearly to the top of the bottles. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bottles from the pot, immediately tightening the lids. Leave the bottles to cool completely.

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