A Weekend Away

I love living in Melbourne, but every now and then I start to feel cemented in. To cure my nature craving, I went to Mt Baw Baw national park for the weekend with my fellow Tasmanian Penny and dutiful driver boyfriend John.

We were off bright and early (ok, not until 10) in the morning to do the Mushroom Rocks walk, one section of the epic 650km Australian Alpine Track where you can walk along mountain ranges all the way to Canberra. It was beautifully cool amongst the rows of tall straight trees that dissolved into the mist and so quiet. As the mist began to lift and a bird would occasionally call out – we even spotted a sneaky lyrebird scooting across the path behind us, trailing its long tail feathers.

Along the path, groves of wattles had dropped their seed pods, making an amazing red carpet against the rich greens of the moss and lush ferns. Little purple fruit and pink wild flowers were other spots of colour against the verdant growth until the landscape began to get dryer as we climbed up amongst the rocks.

We’d only been going about an hour, so we decided to keep walking to reach the top of Mt Erica. I had of course forgotten that I am not particularly fit and that walking up a mountain means really steep paths. I ended up letting John and Penny steam ahead while I took a slower pace to enjoy the scenery (and to try keep my lungs inside my body).

The slower pace did leave more time to look around. The bush changed so much as we went up; from the huge stone monoliths to lush grass under slim trees, to scrubby bushes in sandy soil then gracefully leaning gums with gently striped bark.

I spotted a skink sunning itself on a rock and by using sneaky ninja skills managed to take a decent photo without scaring it off. More exciting but less pretty was an evil looking thing hiding under the fringed greenery along the path, which I’m guessing from the appearance and smell (it was gross) was some kind of fly trap fungi.

I finally puffed to the top of Mt Erica where it was sunny, lunchtime and all our food was back down the bottom of the mountain.

Falling off the Bland Wagon*

I’m back on a super strict diet after being under the weather for a while. To make my 4 weeks of monk food easier, I’ve made my boyfriend John hop on the bland wagon with me. After having a little bicker about it, I thought I’d ease the sacrifice by cooking him dessert. These were the ingredients I ended up using for 2 serves:

2 medium yellow flesh peaches
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon corn flour
ground cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons almond  meal: I love almond meal – it makes great crumble over stewed fruit when rubbed with butter (if I’m being really healthy, an egg instead of butter works too)

We’d bought some peaches to relieve the sugar cravings, but who wants raw peach when you can have custard filled oven baked peach?

Driven by a fierce commitment to make a dessert that tasted like a proper unhealthy sweet treat, I patiently carved a small circle of flesh from the peach top to expose the stone then loosened the stone with a teaspoon and scooped it out.

Next, I put the milk on the stove top to scald. Next came the excitement of splitting the egg, then beating the damn stubborn yolk (it had tried to bleed into the white – it must have had separation issues… ha!) in a separate bowl with the cornflour and spices. Once the milk was good and hot, I poured it slowly in with the yolk mix, beating continuously for about a minute.

I put my peaches in small ramikins to keep them upright and used a much neglected funnel to fill the peach cavity with the runny custard with minimum mess. I stuck them in the oven at 180°C for 30 minutes, pulled them out to pile the almond meal over the custard and drop the butter in the bottom of each ramikin then put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

When they came out, the honey smell of the peaches was gorgeous. The eggy custard, which set firmly, with the slight salt of the butter and the nutty meal set off the tender peach flesh perfectly. Even John conceded it was dessert worthy.

*Yes, I love the pun. Pity I’m a woman or else I’d make great Dad jokes.

Plastic Fantastic

I’ve been doing a resin jewellery course for the last 5 weeks and the most pressing impresison I’ve come out with is that I won’t be able to do this stuff myself until I have a shed.

My workshop space is sadly limited in the apartment I rent with my boyfriend. As I insist on keeping my ‘own’ room (it’s so I can have my ‘own’ mess) I only have one end of my room to dedicate to making things. I love still having my own space, I just don’t like the idea of sharing my retreat with noxious fumes of setting plastics.

Anyway, until I can afford and/or find a shed or studio space, I can still dream… The photo is a very raw beginning from class.

Although this bangle needs some work on the edges (they’re still sharp enough to make my jewellery a truly painful experience), I like the idea of using resin as solid water. I love the sea and I’ve seen some interesting and quirky uses of resin to create beachy pieces, like this ring by Etsy seller Auka.

At the moment, if I wear it I look like I’m accessorising with a roll of packing tape, but the idea’s there.

Food, laborious food…

I had the pleasure of being struck down by glandular fever after a frenetic year of two part time jobs, full time uni and a junk food addiction. To aid the passing of my illness induced torpor, my doctor advised cutting out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten and dairy. Well, what’s there left to eat?

Within a couple of weeks of superhuman craving control (well, weaning is a better approach than cold turkey… Right?) I settled into cooking and eating without the big 5. After a month or so, I had enough energy to resume life as a normal person complete with regular housework (hoorah) and all.

I’m not so strict now, but most of the food I cook still shuffles around the gaps of sugar and company (though there a some… ok many exceptions – I’ll get to the Drunken Devils Cake another time), with a nod to a few vaguley remembered low GI and good fats precepts.

My favourite ingredient is harissa – something that makes cooking ‘without’ so much easier. It’s a chilli condiment – somewhere between a spicy chutney and a chilli paste.

I make it** with 50g red birds eye chillis, 200g red chillis, peeled cloves from a medium head of garlic, a handfull of fresh coriander, a small hand of mint or a tablespoon of dried mint, then a tablespoon each of any or all of the following ground seeds: coriander, caraway or cumin. I usually oil up my hands when I chop the chillis to protect against the chilli oils – but I make sure I use a knife with a good grippy handle. I just chop the chillis into large chunks, throw all the ingredients into a blender then add enough olive oil to get the ingredients moving through the blades. We go through it so fast that I’m not sure how long it lasts, but it should keep for at least 2 months in the fridge.

The blend of flavours gives an instant depth of flavour you can’t match with just chillis and garlic. I love it in salad dressings – my favourite is just 2 parts lemon to one part cold pressed oil like olive or flaxeed then dry roasted crushed coriander seeds and harissa to taste.

Ingredients like harissa add interest to dishes without effort, which makes it so much easier to think of meals that are (that dreaded word) healthy without making me feel like I’m on the proverbial bread and water.

** My recipe is a variation on Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from the weighty tome “The Cook’s Companion” – my favourite cookbook. No pictures, but it does have pretty much everything else.**