Archive for November, 2011


Lazy Sunday: weekend cooking

November 28, 2011

Sunday is my favourite day for cooking, especially as the weather warms up. It helps that the Addison Road grower’s and farmer’s market happens on Sundays, and is within walking distance from our house. My favourite Sunday morning involves a couple of lazy coffees and checking out the recipes in the weekend papers for any inspiration, then tootling off up the road with my big ol green Rolser (we have had this old workhorse for over a decade, and it’s done service as an off-road camping equipment buggy and firewood collecting vehicle, among other things – it’s completely indestructible!) to fill up with market goodies. 

I especially like Sunday cooking if I’ve been away as I have been a bit lately – last week at the fab Varuna, The Writer’s House where I got to hang out with some excellent writers and artists (like this and this and this) and make a start on my new novel (ugh). Then tomorrow I’m off again, this time to Melbourne (would love any of you to pop in to this event and say hi if you’re free?) and then away again elsewhere on the weekend.

What with all the coming and going, a good solid Sunday’s worth of messing about in the kitchen not only means a fridge full of lunch goodies for the week, but more importantly it just makes me feel right. It’s the best way I know to get that home-and-grounded feeling that makes me feel I’m in my right skin again.

Yesterday’s market haul included a couple of kilos of organic tomatoes, some hot smoked salmon, a few eggplants, a little bag of dutch cream spuds, a bunch of beetroot, some zukes, a couple of gorgeous-looking red capsicums I couldn’t resist, a dozen eggs, couple of bunches of kale, onions, six mixed lettuce seedlings and some olive oil soap. At other times I might stock up on nuts and dried fruit, maybe throw in some good bread and a bit of cheese or yoghurt. I like Marrickville market because it’s relatively pretension-free, though it is growing a bit crowded for easy strolling these days …

Anyhoo – once home I bunged on the boil the chickpeas and white beans that I’d had soaking since Saturday, and thought about what to do with everythign. First stop was to chuck the eggplants on the barbecue for some good smoky baba ghanoush, swiftly followed in the food processor by the chickpeas for some hommous (I never made good hommous until I struck gold with the lovely Fouad’s foolproof recipe here, which I use every time).

Then I bunged the beetroots and capsicum in the oven for roasting. The roasted, peeled capsicum I tore into strips and tossed in with a salad of chickpeas, garlic, herbs, lemon & oil, and the beetroot I made into the salad below.

With the kale, I made half a fantastic dish – it was pretty good, but as I failed to include a couple of crucial ingredients I don’t want to post it here until I get it right! Ever have those moments where you’re halfway through a dish and thinking, ‘This would be great if there was just a little crunch … oh, that’s right. In the recipe there is a little crunch…’ So stay tuned for that one, which I’m going to try again tonight I think – with all the ingredients this time!

All this stuff made for a lovely impromptu Sunday night dinner with our friend miss J, my sister and her bloke whose birthday it was last week. Miss J made an incredible beetroot and chocolate cake – fudgy, velvety and gorgeous – in honour of the birthday boy, and I roasted a nice organic chook and served all these veg things on the side.

The hit of the evening was the beetroot, both in the cake and in this walnut, beetroot and feta salad. I have till recently been a bit confused about walnuts – for some reason they, alone among all the nuts, invariably give me a small, unpleasant and instantaneous pain in the upper stomach as soon as I eat them. Don’t really understand this and am loath to investigate too much in case I am banned from eating delicious things – so my preferred tactic has always been to grin and bear it.

Recently, though, someone on Twitter – I can’t remember who, so if it was you, remind me! – suggested caramelising walnuts in balsamic vinegar. This not only makes some deadset delicious crunchy bombs of divinity, but weirdly seems to have eradicated the gutbusting pain on ingestion. Everyone’s a winner!

Roast beetroot, balsamic walnuts & marinated feta

  • 3 beetroots, roasted in foil for about an hour or until tender
  • handful walnuts (on advice from Saint Maggie Beer I keep all nuts in the freezer now to prevent rancidity & pantry moth)
  • olive oil
  • about 2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or two marinated feta (I usually have a jar of this stuff in the fridge but it would be a piece o’piss to make yr own – must investigate!)
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  2. When beetroots are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut into quarters or biggish chunks.
  3. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven until just crisp but not coloured. As mine came straight from the freezer they took about 10 minutes but be careful not to burn them – burnt nuts are hideous and inedible. If your walnuts are whole, break them up a little with a wooden spoon.
  4. In a small frying pan over a medium heat, toss the walnuts in a little olive oil and the vinegar, cooking till the liquid has evaporated. Set nuts aside to cool for a few minutes.
  5. Toss the beetroot with the warm nuts, and season well with salt.

So there you have it. But I want to use walnuts more in cooking – I do love their superb crunch and slight bitterness – so if you have any walnut favourites let me at em. And what about your weekend cooking – get up to anything interesting? Do share …….


Big hopes for small spaces

November 23, 2011

As I’m away at Varuna, the Writers’  House this week I thought I’d invite a guest post for this blog, something I’ve not done before. So a warm welcome and my huge thanks to Naomi Parry, aka @drnaomi, one of my lovely Twitter friends, for her review of  The Little Vegie Patch Co: How to Grow Food in Small Spaces.  I’ve had my eye on this one, along with Indira Naidoo’s The Edible Balcony, because I have always sighed at gardening books which promise much but assume everyone has an acre or two in which to work, as opposed to the reality most of us face. If you’re like me, you have a small city courtyard (or balcony) but are still keen to grow food. Our tiny courtyard is presently growing around 40 tomatoes in a pot, and around a dozen baby zucchinis in another, along with lettuces, silverbeet, herbs and eggplants scattered around the garden beds, and another couple of pots with an olive and a small fig tree. It is very possible to grow good food in tiny spots, but there is so little information around – so I for one am very pleased publishers are starting to recognise this gap.

Take it away Miz Naomi…

Guest post: Book review by Naomi Parry

The Little Vegie Patch Co: How to grow food in small spaces

I find this book irresistible. To start with, there are two cute young guys on the cover … but seriously, this is a practical book that shows us how to grow food in urban environments. It’s informed by the passion and experience of the authors, men of Italian descent who were inspired by their grandparents’ productive backyards to make a business creating raised garden beds for horticultural newbies. One of them has a background in advertising and it shows – this book is one snazzy package. But it is built on a sound understanding of the way growing at least a little of our own food connects us to the earth and improves our lives. Capomolla and Pember’s stories of childhood gardens, food and family members would keep anyone reading, from the planting chart in the front to the vegetable pictures in the back, and along the way they slip in a range of thoughtful observations about food production and the way supermarket culture erodes our understanding of the land that would please the most earnest advocate for slow food and urban gardening.

The Little Vegie Patch is generously illustrated and so gorgeously designed that it looks like a luxe cookbook, which only serves to make the serious message it carries all the more palatable. Yet it’s not solemn; there’s more than a touch of Andy Griffiths in the sections on manure and compost, and it’s quite clear that, for these guys, gardens are a place to drink beer and cider. I love its self-deprecating tone. Capomolla and Pember acknowledge silverbeet is easy to grow, yet you may still feel it is crap; they ask why the first people to eat chillies ever decided to eat them again and warn “the carrots you grow will look nothing like the long, fat, waxed things you buy from the supermarket. They will be bent, hooked, curved and stumpy.” And Pember, a naughty uncle, advises that children are most easily engaged in activities that waste water, so teach the kids to shoot pests off plants with water pistols.

Although it looks good and is a compelling read, The Little Vegie Patch is far from lightweight. It has useful and clear information on climate zones, sunshine needs, planting guides and soil structure, with growing guides for a decent – though not comprehensive – range of vegetables (missing are the lovely bitter greens so beloved of Italians, or much about herbs, and I would question why you’d bother growing a big hungry plant like sweetcorn or a sprawling bastard like pumpkin if you only had a tiny yard). But you can find information on veges in a host of other books.

This book comes into its own with its explanations of making raised beds, along with the mechanism for installing irrigation and the best timbers to use. Exact measurements and numbers of tricky things like hose elbows are provided, taking the stress out of trips to the hardware store. If you are interested in the finer points of no dig gardens, composting, worm farms, growing from seed (in ingenious loo roll planters!) and seed saving, Capomolla and Pember offer plenty of information, all with the sensible suggestion to start off growing the things you most want to eat.

There’s only one disappointing element, which is that although the blurb on the back of the book suggests it will help you grow food in pots on the balcony, it turns out that the “small spaces” mentioned in the sub-title are really just raised beds and a few accoutrements for the larger garden, such as potato stacks. I wonder why on earth publishers don’t think it’s important to go for truth in subtitling, but that’s not a reason to dislike this book. If you have enough space in your courtyard or backyard for a raised bed, or an apple crate, you’ll be very happy with this. It will never edge out St Peter Cundall, but I am sure he won’t mind sharing a shelf with these blokes.

Rating: 4.5 stars.

Title: The Little Vegie Patch Co
Author: Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember
Category: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Pan McMillan
ISBN: 9781742610184
Publication Date: 1 September 2011

About the reviewer: Naomi Parry is a historian who specialised in child welfare and Aboriginal history for her PhD thesis. She has reviewed books for a range of journals and works as an academic. She lives in the Blue Mountains with her young son, an old cat and some middle-aged chooks and is a veteran grower of herbs and vegetables in urban and suburban environments. She also blogs about food and gardens (sometimes, as Dr Sister Outlaw) at