Tassievore tips for the International Day of Happiness

blue buildings

I have to say that the weather in Tasmania today makes it pretty easy to be content with your lot in life. The sun is streaming in the window as I type and the sky is as blue as those beautiful stone houses in Rajasthan.

I spent the morning mulling over the things that have kept me happy in my Tassievore challenge over the past few weeks and I have to confess it is mostly those seasonal changes that bring a bit of zing and inspiration back into your cooking. I should explain that I tend to be a bit slap dash in my cookery – I make something fairly basic from the ingredients in the fridge, pantry and fruit bowl using fragments of recipe and cooking knowledge that I have built up over the years. Needless to say it gets the job done but isn’t often worthy of overly enthusiastic praise from the family.

Anyway my Tassievore saviours for the start of autumn have been, in no particular order: Pirates bay octopus tentacles, sweet corn, new season apples and Japanese ginger.

The Pirates bay octopus is a bit of a treat (ie not super cheap…but cheaper than most fish) but I love it because it is easy to cook and can jazz up a tomato pasta sauce or make a great meal in itself if accompanied with some sort of salad and perhaps some chunky baked potato wedges. To prepare it I just rinse off the legs and then put it in a heavy fry pan or griddle with a bit of olive oil at medium/high heat, slap a lid on and leave it for twenty minutes. Then I turn it off and let it rest for another ten minutes before chopping and adding to the dish/meal. The other fun thing about Octopus legs is that they go a bright pinky red colour when cooked, thus elevating your meal another notch or two above the mundane.

Sweet corn seems to be a hit with my little boy and I have to say that I have enjoyed munching and crunching on a cob or two as well. The other great thing about sweet corn is that it gets me thinking of Mexican things and I have discovered that you can do a pretty good sort of Mexican frijoles (bean sauce) using Tasmanian Aduki beans. I have a ginormous sack of aduki beans in my cupboard so anything that gets them cooked and eaten is a good thing.

malus-coxs-orange-pippinNew season apples are on the hit list because they are just so crunchy and tangy and gorgeously fresh. I am particularly excited by the resurgence in old heritage varieties like Cox’s orange pippin – delicious! New season apples certainly help to ease us out of the declining berry season doldrums and it’s far too soon for us to be sick of pome fruits while eating Tassievore style (that will likely come later in the year…). Keep an eye out for apples ripening in parks and public spaces too – such a shame to see fruit rotting on the ground when it could be chopped up and stewed or crunched on while whistling your way home.

My final pick for the Tassievore saviours list is the lesser spotted Japanese Ginger (Myoga). I grabbed some from the lovely couple at the Little Red Hen stall at Farm Gate market in Hobart and, while no match for the feisty punch of traditional ginger, it was great to have something completely new to try. The ginger looks 2013-03-19_19-20-59_257[1]more like a bulb than a rhizome and has only a delicate ginger flavour and a gentle punch of spicy heat. It works best finely shredded over salads or gently fried and sprinkled over stir-frys. Apparently it has a reputation in Japan for making you forgetful or stupid so perhaps i won’t over indulge (I don’t need any help with forgetfulness and stupidity most days!).

Otto enjoying the new Mathers Lane Park in Hobart

My other non-food cause to be happy today was discovering comfy pink bean bags and fun magnetic words in the new park in Mathers lane Hobart. It was lovely to see such a great use of public space and my little boy loved interacting with the metal sculpture by sticking on and taking off the magnetic letter and words. Let’s hope that they are respected by all the park users and stick around (pun only retrospectively intended) for many months to come.

Have a great International Day of Happiness Tassievores!

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Bushfire – a Tassievore’s tale

My start to 2013 included a week long, family holiday in a house near Port Arthur (Tasman Peninsula). It was a much anticipated trip as my brother and his wife and kids were joining us from NSW and some dear friends had leant us a stand-up paddle-board to play with! We certainly didn’t anticipate the way things turned out.

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The paddle board kept the kids highly entertained

After 24 hours enjoying the usual holiday house luxuries such as flushing loos, cold beer and lights at the flick of a switch, the fires burnt out the power lines that supply the Tasman Peninsula and we were suddenly glamping (camping with flywire screens and comfy beds). Along with other visitors and locals we found ourselves having to haul water to flush loos and wash dishes and use torches and candles after dark. Despite the change to our plans we realised how lucky we were to be safe from the fires and comfortable and the kids (mostly) adapted to the loss of their electronic entertainment.

One side of the fire situation that interested me was the issue of food (surprise, surprise). On a personal level, we had brought plenty of fresh supplies to suit the varied dietary requirements of the family (vegan/coeliac/FODMAP intolerant) but clearly, without access to ice/refrigeration, there was a need to use up as much as possible before it became inedible. The last thing we wanted was 10 people dashing to bucket-flushed toilets due to food poisoning.

We swiftly cooked up the frozen veges, left by the shack owners, into a soup that we figured could be left out for a day or two in the manner of our pre-electricity forebears and spread our sole bag of ice into three eskis with salt water to lengthen the shelf life of our milk/yoghurt/cheese and fresh veg.

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my little one helping to cart water for washing up (we carried up a big bucket but at least he felt useful)

The 40 degree temps rapidly sucked away the residual cold from the fridge and it was ceremonially renamed:  ‘the frantry’.

We were fortunate to have arrived with cars stacked with non-perishable foods, and the holiday house cooktop ran on gas, so we only had to buy extra snacks (muesli bars, tinned fruit, UHT custard), UHT/powdered milk and matches to make ourselves pretty comfortable.

After a couple of days the evacuation centres at Nubeena and Port Arthur were heaving with generously donated food and water, and locals with fuel to spare were turning up on our doorstep with mini UHT milks, bread and fruit for the kids.

Some houses were hooked up to generators, which I suspect were safe-guarding their frozen goods and fridge supplies, but many must have had to throw out a large quantity of spoilt food. In addition the growers on the peninsula who rely on pumps to water their crops would have had to make some difficult decisions as to which varieties to focus their attention on (hand carting water or limited watering with generator support).

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Carnarvon Bay community meeting – information was hard to come by without power and only sporadic mobile reception

The main realisation for me from my experiences during the fire is how vulnerable we are to power/fuel loss in our modern day communities. Without power our perishable foods would only last a day or two and most people, especially in isolated areas without good public transport and shops, rely on fuel to gain access to these foods in the first place. In our Tasman Peninsula scenario people with vegie patches, off-grid solar, gas bottles and water tanks with hand pump back up and header tanks would have been relatively comfortable, as would those who preserve their own food.

At least I am heartened by the knowledge that our Tassievore community is doing it’s best to support our communities to reduce the reliance of our current food supply on carbon by: encouraging home-grown fruit and veg; reducing food miles by linking Tasmanians with Tasmanian grown produce, and providing re-skilling workshops to teach us all how to use and preserve the great foods we have available.

I am also inspired by the amazing work that volunteers and emergency service personnel do everyday and especially when times are tough.

Street eats

Prickly pear – perfect if you like a touch of danger in your food harvesting

In the lead up to the Tassievore Eat Local Challenge I have been gradually building my portfolio of streeteats – i.e. things available to munch on my home turf. It is amazing how much you can find in your local area – especially if you have a good vegetable garden.

My favourite local food supply of late is the small boy who started up Wentworth Street Farm Inc and goes door to door selling eggs when his chooks produce too many for his family’s consumption.

He even requests that you return the egg box, which ticks my minimal waste box too.

a sign made by an enterprising young neighbour to sell his excess produce

A husband who gardens – how delightful!

Our vege garden is still a bit of a baby (in a large part due to combating our other street eaters: a large tribe of rabbits) but we have calendula and nasturtium growing happily (good for salads I am informed) and there are plenty of rosemary bushes within a couple of hundred metres (great for flavouring soups and breads). The prickly pear (pictured at top) lives in a neighbours yard and , while I am far from sold on the fruit, I am assured that the pads of the plant are a delicious addition to Mexican food. Mind you the fact that you have to cut off the spines and wash off the slime, will perhaps prevent it from featuring regularly on my family menu.

I am also keeping an eye on the trees that are flower or starting to burst into fruit – surely there will be some sweet Tassievore treats in the offing.

It has crossed my mind that in the past the street-eaters (rabbits) eating our vegie seedlings  were considered very munchable…but I can’t quite make that step yet.

Spot our fellow street eaters (or should they be on the menu??)

Bushpepper and Parmesan crackers and Mushroom pate

ImageSpring has sprung the grass is riz I’m wonderin’ where the party is… perhaps the answer is anywhere that these treats are being served!

We had a great Tassievore cook off for our photo-shoot last weekend, and these were my humble offerings. I have since trotted them out for two other house guests and am at risk of making my family and friends highly bored of them before the summer is here. But at least they are still new and exciting in Tassievore land.

I tried to channel our lovely photographer Jasmine Pettersen when taking the shot (her tip is to take food pics from above) but, clearly,  I still have a huge amount to learn. Perhaps not taking the photo on the dodgy old fold out table will be my first note to self. Anyway hopefully the snap is enough for you to get the idea and party inspiration.

While I think of it, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the result of our photo shoot with Jasmine – the pictures will appear in the next few weeks. They are set to be gorgeous as Jasmine only uses film, which gives the photos a unique look in these digital days, plus she has a gift for the art of photography.

On to the recipes!

Bush Pepper and Parmesan crackers

  • 150g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tsp finely grated Ashgrove or Elgaar parmesan/grana
  • Pinch or two or ground Tasmanian bush pepper
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) lukewarm water

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line 2 large baking trays with non-stick baking paper (if you want to be safe, but the crackers are quite floury and don’t generally stick if you work quickly).

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Stir in the parmesan and bush pepper.

Use a round-bladed knife to gradually mix the water into the flour mixture, using a cutting motion, until the mixture just comes together. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Use your hands to roll each portion into a ball. Roll each ball out on a lightly floured surface as flat as you can – should get to around 8cm-diameter disc. Cut each round into quarters, sixths or eighths depending on your preferred style – a pizza roller cutter is handy for this bit.

Place the flattened dough on trays. Bake in preheated oven for around 8 minutes or until golden patches appear. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mushroom pate

  • 40g butter (i used Ashgrove unsalted)
  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves (picked mine fresh thanks to a thoughtful housewarming gift)
  • 1/4 cup red wine (pinot from friends at winemaking tasmania worked well)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (but i used yoghurt and it worked fine!)
  • Extra thyme leaves, to garnish

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until tender. Add mushrooms. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until mushrooms are soft.

Sprinkle flour and thyme over mushrooms, stirring until well combined.

Whisk together wine and yoghurt. Pour over mushroom mixture, stirring. Cook for 3 minutes or until sauce comes to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.

Process mushroom mixture in a food processor until smooth. Spoon into a bowl. Top with thyme.

Serve with bush pepper and parmesan crackers and enjoy your spring celebrations!

Who says Tassie lacks culture? The yoghurt saga

I have recently been buying a big bucket of fresh organic milk from the wonderful Elgaar farm and as part of my preparation for the Tassievore challenge decided to have another go at yoghurt making.
In the past yoghurt making was something of a mystery to me – it seemed like the harder I tried the less likely it was to work. But I am happy to report that since I started using powdered culture my success rate has improved immensely. Gone are the days of two good yoghurts followed by many duds – my hit rate is currently 100%! Continue reading

Tassievore Fruit Cake

At the risk of sounding like someone with a food related anxiety disorder (a human Tassievore fruitcake) I now must admit that the idea of replacing sugar with honey for the duration of the challenge (at least when at home) made me a little nervous. I do actually like honey, but it does assert its influence somewhat over other flavours and ingredients, and I figured that it being runny rather than dry would make my baking efforts even more likely to fail.
Anyway, for those of you smart enough to notice the past tense in the paragraph above, the recipe detailed below has helped to reduce my fear of honey in baked goods, probably because it doesn’t use much, and made me excited about other Tassievore discoveries to come.
The cake in the photo is filled with winter pears but there is no reason why summer fruits wouldn’t work (cherries, berries, peaches! Yum!).

Continue reading

Muesligo

Definition: n, a condition in which an individual is afraid of a sudden and vertiginous drop off in muesli supply.

I have a confession: I am a muesli fanatic. It is my sole breakfast-foodie joy for much of the year, with the exception of porridge on those crispy winter mornings. When I travel I get unfashionably excited about muesli varieties that are available in other countries. Britain and Scandinavia are the top destinations for anyone who is interested (there must be others out there like me surely??). Continue reading