Sunday, February 21, 2010

Road Trip

One of my most frequently asked questions (alongside "How do you make any money selling cookbooks?") is "Where do you source your books?". My answer is always vague (one has to preserve some trade secrets as well as some mystery) but includes -road trips. I love a good road trip, taking to the highways and byways and back roads and making serendipitous discoveries along the way: hospital op-shops in a small town, a previously undiscovered second-hand bookshop tucked away in a back street. I took February off and spent a couple of days driving around the goldfields region of Victoria: Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Clunes, Ballarat, Maldon. Sorry I'm not giving away any trade secrets, but wanted to share a couple of the treasures I picked up in my travels. The Savoy Cocktail book is a facsimile, but a very faithful one, which retains the lovely art deco design of the 1930 original; there's also a first edition of Mary Burchett's Through my Kitchen Door which I wrote about in a previous blog; a scarce-as-hen's-teeth Cookery the Australian Way; several copies of the Esk Valley Cookery Book and other early Australian classics. These will all be in my next catalogue - due out just before the Clunes book fair on the first weekend in May.

I've just added to the front page of my blog as well as my website a list and links to some of the best food shops in Melbourne - not your trendy delis, but the authentic and often wholesale suppliers of good ingredients for a variety of cuisines. Please let me know what your favourites are and I'll add them to the list (and go and visit them myself).

Monday, February 15, 2010

The fruits of our foraging part two

A month late here are a couple of pics of the end results of our foraging expedition. I have discovered that a good camera is a neccesity for a food blog, and mine died just after Christmas. I have only just retrieved the plum jelly and plum sauce photos from David's Blackberry. Recipes follow:

Plum Sauce

This recipe comes from a perennial favourite Australian Preserving with Fowler's Vacola. The resulting sauce is rich and mildly spicy. To use as a condiment the sauce should be left to mature for 3-6 months as it is quite vinegary. However it can be used straight away as a marinade and is fabulous on barbecued pork, chicken or tofu.

3kg plums;1kg granulated sugar (I use soft brown sugar for a more mellow result); 5 tsps salt; 2 litres brown vinegar; 3 tsps whole cloves; 3 teaspoons allspice berries; 2 tsps black peppercorns; 2 teaspoons ground ginger; 2 star anise.

Cut plums in half and remove pips (if this is too laborious leave pips in, they will float to the surface by the end of boiling). Combine plums, sugar, salt and vinegar in a large pan. Tie spices up in a cheesecloth square and add to the pan. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and cook gently, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick, dark and rich. This can take as long as 2 1/2 hours according to the depth of the mixture in the pan. Strain the mix through a coarse sieve (make sure you press the mix through with a wooden spoon to get all the goodies and leave only skins and pips behind). Pour into hot, sterilised bottles or jars and cap immediately. You can further preserve these by simmering in a hot water bath (or Fowler's preserver) for 20-30 minutes, but I find that pouring hot sauce into hot jars and sealing immediately creates the vacuum neccesary for the sauce to properly preserved.


When my children were little I used to make a little extra money selling jams and preserves at the Kallista Market. My recipe for jelly was fairly standard for any fruit (except quinces, a recipes for quince jelly is in this post)

Plums; water to cover(about 1.5 litres); 1/4 cup lemon juice; white sugar

Wash plums and cut in half. Place in preserving pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer until plums are soft enough to break down with a wooden spoon. When cold, pour into a large square of cheesecloth in a colander which is resting in a large bowl. Tie ends together to make a bag, remove from colander and leave to drip overnight (I hang mine from the laundry sink tap with the bowl underneath, this prevents the splashes from making a complete mess of the kitchen). The next morning measure the liquid (do not squeeze the bag, this will result in a cloudy jelly), and for each cupful of liquid add a cupful of sugar. Return to clean saucepan with lemon juice. Bring to boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pour into hot, sterilised, dry jars. Seal immediately.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I heart Melbourne

I have a love/hate relationship with my home town. I hate Melbourne's summer weather, I hate that it is so far away from San Francisco, I hate that it is a long way from my family and friends in South Africa. But if you're going to live in one city in Australia, I reckon Melbourne is it.

This week I've been doing an intensive industry overview for a writing and editing course I have started. So every day I've been catching the train into the city to the class room in Flinders Lane on the corner of Degraves St, at the heart of everything that I love about Melbourne. After a couple of stinking hot days, this morning as I came in on the train, the tops of the skyscrapers were lost in the mist and a gentle drizzle was falling (LOVE a cool change). A couple of baristas had set up in a hole-in-the-wall kiosk in the historic Campbell Arcade subway (LOVE Campbell Arcade, Melbourne's laneways and good coffee). As I walked the 100 metres to the CAE I passed two lots of buskers - including a couple of funky young things on uke and guitar, in obligatory Melbourne black and vintage fedoras (LOVE that there are pepole brave enough to do this and good enough to listen to).

Yesterday at lunch-time I happened upon a small restaurant tucked away on a mezzanine of the historic building which houses the City Library - concrete floors, basic furniture, a long bar and kitchen stools running beneath windows overlooking Flinders Lane. The restaurant is called Journal Canteen, but better known as Rosa's Kitchen and the owner/chef is Rosa Mitchell, whose cookbook My Cousin Rosa has been very well-reviewed (and was on sale at the front desk).The food was simple Sicilian. I had the small antipasto platter with some salami, lovely ricotta fritters, a small mound of bread salad brightened by the addition of fresh mint, and several other small samplings. An unexpectedly civilised lunch, with a nice glass of Sicilian wine and a bit of people-watching over the lane. (Really LOVE that Melbourne is the kind of place you can make such serendipitous food discoveries and a place where small restaurants like these can not only survive but thrive!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chook madness

I wrote on New Year's Day about the arrival of the new members of our family - 4 beautiful point-of-lay Isa Brown chooks. When we planned for the chooks, it was all about sustainability, recycling scraps, producing eggs as well as compost for the garden. I am happy to report that all of these aims have been fulfilled - in fact on the egg side we have been receiving 4 eggs every day since their second week. We were keeping a record but gave up when we hit 90 eggs after the first month. And the eggs are superb - bright yellow yolks, firm whites that cling to the yolk (making the best poached eggs I've ever tasted, and the prettiest). We've been eating lots of frittatas and quiches.

What I hadn't counted on was the absolute pleasure our 4 ladies have given us (as well as not a few hassles). A friend has declared me chook-obsessed and she's right, I am quite infatuated. The girls (who, after some discussion, have been named after 4 of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice) are full of personality. They can spend all day with their fluffy feathery bums in the air under the magnolia tree, scratching for who knows what. When you call them they come running (in fact even if you just happen to walk past them foraging in the garden they come running) and it is the funniest thing you've ever seen. I want you to picture a corpulent elderly Victorian matron in petticoats, bustle and full skirts (and possibly a little red bonnet!). Now imagine that lady has to run for her life - she hoiks up her skirts and, holding them high off the ground, waddles at high speed towards you, her large frame rocking from side to side - that's what the girls look like as they charge over to us for scraps or just to say 'HI!'.

I will admit to not giving much thought to the free-range vs battery hen dilemma up until a year or so ago. But now I've seen how happy my girls are; spending each day roaming the undergrowth, scratching in the leaf litter, occasionally settling down for a nap in the shade, or finding a bare patch of dirt and giving themselves a dust bath, I could never go back to eating supermarket eggs (free-range or otherwise). Oh the girls certainly aren't cheap - food, housing, etc do mount up. And as I alluded to above, there have been a few hassles. Lydia (named for the flighty youngest Bennett of course) keeps escaping, despite our (reluctantly) clipping her wings. She is a fussy eater and then last week, after several days of laying eggs without shells, became egg-bound. Then on one of the first days they were free-ranging they all decided to visit the neighbours and then couldn't find their way back up the drive and Pippa spent a couple of HOURS retrieving them from the building site. But on the whole I can heartily recommend the exercise of backyard chook-keeping, the expense and occasional hassle are rewarded many times over in eggs and pure enjoyment!