Category Archives: house and home

… a little bit of summer

flowers against a blue sky

flowers against a clear, blue, February sky…

February in this part of the world can either be the height of summer, with soaring temperatures and long, dry days, or a time when autumn winds make an early appearance, bringing drizzly weather.

early signs of autumn...

… and early signs of autumn’s approach

The year Will was born, February was a sizzler… I remember it well, because, Will being Will, he was late.  You really feel the heat when you are 9+ months pregnant.

This summer, not so.

It’s definitely been summer, with plenty of summery storms, but the temperatures have been mild.  The most you can really say is that it has been February…

…Will’s birthday month.

 

 

February birthdays can be a bit awkward. Being only just back at school makes it hard to provide friends with an adequate time frame for party invitations, and lots of families are too busy trying to get back into the swing of things to want to make the effort of a lengthy drive out to the bush.

This year felt like a bit of an anti climax for Will, too, as he had a very expensive Christmas gift that was also supposed to be for his birthday, as well, and many of the relatives that we usually rely on to be part of a family celebration were away on various holidays (one on the other side of the country).

I’ve promised that once the start of year madness has settled down we’ll organise a day at the go kart track or try our hand at some archery again, but for the time being it was just him and us. Our plan for fish and chips at the lake (take-away food is a rare event in our household) was cancelled due to an impending storm, but, since Will has recently discovered calamari rings, Matt decided to ‘do’ some calamari at home for something a bit different.

This might seem straightforward until you realise that prepared calamari is all highly gluten-y and way off my diet. Hey, you say, but weren’t you about to eat fish and chips down at the lake? No, not I.  I would have been bringing my own home-made salmon salad to eat while the boys had the fish and chips.

And… only ‘controllable’ gluten products usually make it into our kitchen (into a separate cupboard where only the brave dare go), so this calamari was going to be a Seventy Seven Acre special.

Matt went into the kitchen innocent of any major plan and, after some time turned out a dish that, to be honest, I had to be suspicious of… isn’t it a well known fact that squid has to be cooked incredibly quickly? Well, this took hours!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It. Was. Delicious. Tender. And. Juicy.

And I could eat it. Yay.

So here it is: Seventy Seven Acre ‘Calamari’ a la Matt

You will need…

  • squid (one tube was sufficient for the three of us)
  • lemon
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper
  • chilli powder (or fresh chilli if you prefer, we didn’t have any on hand)
  • garlic
  • a decent sized mango (!)
  • small red and small green capsicum (peppers)
  • olive oil
  • white wine (enough to splash)

And so it begins…

  • get some squid rings (or a tube to slice up yourself) from a fishmonger who sells it (relatively) fresh – we live about 140 km away from the sea as the crow flies, and about 240 km via a windy road – so we had to take that the squid was fresh on trust – I’ve learned to be wary of frozen products which often have flour around them so they don’t stick together)
  • 4 hours (yep, that’s a 4) before you plan to serve it, marinade in lemon juice (about half a lemon freshly squeezed), freshly ground coriander and black pepper, chilli powder and garlic (to taste)
  • slice up the mango and add about a third of it to the marinade
  • let it all sit for 2 and a half hours (or so, while you head off to do something vitally important)

Later…

  • roughly dice the capsicum (peppers)
  • heat a minimal amount of olive oil in a pan suitable for sauteing (stainless steel is best)
  • saute capsicum, add the rest of the mango
  • add white wine to make a very wet sauce
  • bring to simmer
  • add the (by now well-marinated) squid
  • bring slowly back to a simmer and cook long and slow to reduce the sauce (this is the bit that made me suspicious, I was expecting a ‘throw it in and swish it around a few times’)

Much later…

  • Serve with salad of choice.
  • And / or rice if you wish.

PS Gran was good enough to make Will a superb birthday cake – my attempts having failed due to a lack of conventional oven and the little convection oven we’ve been using until we can afford to replace the now dead oven in our kitchen apparently being completely unsuitable for baking nut flour based cakes. Sadly. And expensively.

 

PPS the quote “…a little bit of summer” that I used for the title is actually about winter:

“One must maintain a little bit of summer,
even in the middle of winter.”

~Henry David Thoreau

but it seemed quite appropriate to our summer this year, which has seemed to be only a little bit of summer (although, I have loved our milder, rainier weather this year… really).

Computers, Catastrophes, and Comfort Food…

I think I’ve recovered, now, but a few weeks ago I had one of those horrible moments when my old computer (read: very old) had been decommissioned and the new machine decided it was going to throw a tantrum.

My new computer, lurking beside my desk....

My new computer, lurking beside my desk….

Matt had been very careful building the new ‘box’ and had moved all my vast amounts of work across before the old computer had been gently put out to rest, but things weren’t going smoothly… so he decided to rebuild.

Fine so far.

He did a big back-up of all my data, and backed out of the first build, tweaked some of the open source installations and brought the newby back up.

Except it didn’t.

When he came to bed after the late nighter, he had mumbled something indistinct about something I didn’t quite understand, and promised me it would all be okay, but, when I rose early to do some writing, what I got was an unintelligible message basically telling me that, well, everything had gone away and the computer didn’t want to speak to me about it.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it would be okay. I knew that I had copies of my work on a USB stick and an external hard drive, it was just this restore that had gone awry, and, even if it couldn’t be fixed, it was really only the last couple of weeks of work that had been lost forever.

It is hard, however, to be rational when your brand new computer is behaving like a dead fish and your computer support person is snoring peacefully away at the other end of the house.

I did the only thing I could.

I went for a walk.

And then I made some apple crumble.

And ate it. For breakfast. With vanilla yoghurt. Which all went a long way towards making me feel a lot better and wasted enough time for Matt to wake up and revive my computer, complete with all the data, intact, and (vaguely) happy to speak to me again. Not right away, you understand, but eventually.

I love computers. I’ve been hooked since the day I told my (then) still fairly recently acquired husband that I needed a new typewriter and I rather fancied those clever ones with a little screen that let you type a couple of sentences and make sure there were no typos before it tapped it out onto the paper.

He said, that no I didn’t, and I begged to differ, but he came home with a PC with word processing software, and I quickly learned that this was the answer to all my typo infested dreams.

And then came the internet, and email, and after that, well, me and my computer were inseparable.

Of course, it has been a rocky relationship, with ups and downs and moments of intense frustration, fraught with catastrophes of varying intensity, and times when I could gladly pick it up and throw it out the window… but, on those occasions, a little comfort food goes a long way…

Individual Apple Crumble Comfort

Ingredients:

...apple crumble comfort straight from the oven...mmm...

…apple crumble comfort straight from the oven…mmm…

large apple, peeled, cored and sliced

handful of sultanas

tablespoon of honey

dash of water or apple juice

ground cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg to taste

cup of almond and coconut flour combined

generous splurge of macadamia oil

tablespoon of honey

Method:

Combine the apple, sultanas, honey, water and spices in a pan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the apple has ‘fallen’ (a word my mother uses to indicate that something like apples or potatoes have basically gone all mushy – I don’t know if it is genuine technical term….)

– make sure it doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan because this only adds to the sense of catastrophe.

(If you are in need of extra comfort and like that sort of thing, you could add a dash of whisky close to the end of the cooking time.)

Meanwhile combine the flour, oil, and the other amount of honey in a bowl and rub them gently through your fingers until you have a sticky breadcrumb consistency. I also add a smidgen of extra spice, but it is a fairly rich topping, so it is up to you.

Pop the cooked apple into a mini-casserole dish and sprinkle the flour mixture over the top.

Bake in a slow to moderate oven just long enough for the topping to develop a nice golden colour – about 15-20 minutes – keep an eye in it, though, because nut flours burn easily.

While it is baking, measure out a portion of plain yoghurt and mix with a little honey and vanilla to dollop over the top when you serve it up, piping hot from the oven.

I ate half for my breakfast and half later on in the day, but you can save it in the fridge for a day or two if you want, and, of course, you can increase the ingredients to make enough to share. I made enough for Matt and Will, too.

If nuts are not part of your diet, you can use any plain flour that works for you, and substitute a different sweet oil or even butter for the macadamia oil. You could also use sugar instead of honey.

My ingredients are SCD legal to meet my peculiar dietary requirements. Unless you can’t eat nuts, it wouldn’t hurt to try it and you will find the richness of the almond and coconut flour adds to the decadence of the treat – all part of the comfort food experience!

Oh, and for the record, me and my computer are back on cordial terms and I am getting used to the new set of quirks that makes this computer an individual in its own right.

Long time friends and lazy lunches

It was just going to be the most fabulous day… the sun was shining, the breeze was gentle, the house was tidy… and some very special guests were coming for lunch.

I could barely wait. It was years since I had seen any of them, and so much had happened in all our lives.

Who were they?

Only a small group of the most precious people in my life outside my own family. My school friends.

No, really. We had always been so close, but when school was over we all went in our separate directions.

Growing up in a beautiful rural coastal town was a great way to spend our teenage years, with long days on the beach, picnics in the bush, fish and chips down at the harbour, and hanging out at the ice-cream parlour on the main street – oh, yes, and, um, going to school – but life after school meant going away to uni if we were to grow any further.

...having fun and letting our hair down after the HSC exams

…having fun and letting our hair down after the HSC exams

We kept in touch, writing lots of letters in the early days (long distance phone calls were way too expensive for our student budgets, especially since one of our number actually went overseas!) and, of course, making the journey to attend each others’ weddings as we each shifted from studying to career and family life.

Then slowly it sort of became birthday greetings and Christmas cards, each writing ‘the letter’ (filled with the year’s news and, recently, carefully chosen photos), and actually getting together became an increasingly rare event…

…but we are still so, so close.

So, Em was in the country, and visiting our part of the world… could we arrange a meeting? Serendipitously, and most unexpectedly, Effie emailed about something, and Row doesn’t live too far away… so it was time for me to get my organising shoes on (a rare event) and invite everyone out to Seventy Seven Acres. A date was quickly chosen to match Em’s days in Canberra, and Effie was happy to drive for four and a half hours, while Row would pick up Em on the way through.

All that was needed now was a pretty table and a simple lunch, and old times would do the rest.

...a very simple start to a centrepiece for the table

…a very simple start to a centrepiece for the table

I settled on a frittata that I could whip up the night before and serve cold with a freshly made garden salad. I also made a simple dressing of lemon, lime and pepper in cold pressed olive oil, and used my new juicer to make a cordial of green apples and grapes with ginger and lime. The girls were bringing dessert, but I had a fruit plate with rockmelon (cantaloupe), grapes, and kiwi fruit, + some nice cheese and crackers, if needed.

 

... a simple meal ready to be served

… a simple meal ready to be served

Simple zucchini and bacon frittata with cheese

ingredients

2 or 3 rashers of bacon (trimmed and cut into tiny pieces) – I use a delicious biodynamic bacon, cured by my favourite butcher

1 small zucchini (courgette), sliced super thin

about a cup of your favourite cheddar cheese, freshly grated (so much better than the store bought pre-grated variety that is thick with anti-caking agents, and it only takes a moment to do) – more if you really love cheese (+ you can get creative and try different varieties if you feel adventurous)

6 large eggs (it goes without saying that I choose free range)

herbs to taste (basil & oregano work well – fresh or dried)

cracked black pepper (also to taste)

olive oil

method

1. coat a medium sized casserole dish (I like stoneware) with a fine layer of olive oil, preheat the oven to about 170-180o C, and make sure that you have chopped, sliced and grated any ingredients as necessary.

  1. start by frying up your tiny bacon pieces until they are just starting to turn golden, then put them out onto a piece of absorbent kitchen paper to drain off the excess fat and cool.
  2. Beat the eggs until all bubbly and frothy, adding in your herbs and pepper as you go.
  3. Put a layer of zucchini into the bottom of your dish, sprinkle with a layer of cheese, followed by a layer of bacon.
  4. Repeat, saving a little cheese to sprinkle over the top.
  5. Carefully pour in beaten egg/herb mixture and sprinkle the last of the cheese on top.
  6. Pop into the oven and try to be patient because this will take about 40 – 45 minutes – some recipes suggest that you can cook fritatta at 200o C for about 20 minutes, but in my experience this seems to lead to a runny middle while the outside looks quite ‘done’. Try it. It might work for you.

Serve up hot with veg of your choice, or chill for a cool accompaniment to a big, fresh, crunchy salad. It will comfortably serve 4 very chatty girl-friends, with some left-overs, but you might have to upsize for a family of hungry, rugby playing boys.

...simple zucchini and bacon fritatta, topped of with a garnish of freshly picked opal basil

…simple zucchini and bacon frittata, topped off with a garnish of freshly picked opal basil

And, yes, it was an absolutely fabulous day, and we reluctantly parted company at about 8pm, having laughed, cried, hugged and talked our socks off, pledging that it wouldn’t take that many years before we get together again.

They’re always welcome at Seventy Seven Acres… but, then again, there’s always a cruise up the Rhine to consider…