Pinterest in the Kitchen – Salads

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The best thing about the weather warming up (well, one of the best anyway) is the start of BBQ season.  A dinner of grilled meat and a salad goes down well with us Good’s.  While most of the tribe would be more than satisfied with a salad of chopped lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with a simple dressing, I feel the need to mix it up a little.  And this year I want to branch out further into the world of salad…. of course I have a whole Pinterest board to inspire me too!

My first new salad of the season was a basic Caprese salad with avocado found here.  This really is a super simple salad.  Due to making this early in the season before I had even thought about planting basil (I really must get on and do that now!!) I used mint instead.  Admittedly this does change the flavour somewhat but, as a mint lover I was happy with that.  I also switched the fresh mozzarella with bocconcini, which are really just small mozzarella anyway and matched the cherry tomatoes I used.  Of course this is an appealing salad for someone who grows rocket like weeds.  Having said that I enjoyed it more than the rest of the family – Mr Good thought there should definitely be cucumber in it and the girls decided it had far too much green stuff.  Oh well, I thought it was great.

Next up I was on the hunt for a Asian coleslaw recipe to showcase my gorgeous red cabbage.  Sadly, I didn’t photograph the end result, but I want to share anyway because it was totally delicious.  I took it to a friends place for a BBQ and got lots of lovely comments on it.  The recipe I chose got the nod because of the very simple dressing found here.  I did my own thing on the salad ingredients, using my red cabbage, carrots, snow peas and cucumber all finely sliced along with lots of fresh mint leaves, left whole.

The final recipe, easy roasted vegetables, isn’t technically a salad, but is still great with grilled meat especially if the weather is a little cooler.   My photo is of the pre-cooked vegetables, just squint and imagine them all a bit darker, a bit wrinkly and beautifully caramelised and you get the final product.

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As you can see this is a complete rainbow of vegetables, chopped, mixed together and added to a roasting dish with some garlic, thyme and balsamic vinegar.  Then roasted!  This was a winning dish for a number of reasons.  Firstly, there are so many veggies in there the kids are sure to take a shine to a least one.  Miss Three adored the mushrooms (should have added lots more) and the broccoli and Miss Five scoffed the capsicum and had a good go at the zucchini.  I couldn’t get enough of the really dark, sticky veg that had cooked around the sides and bottom of the dish, yum!  Secondly, the balsamic vinegar gave everything a sweet caramalised flavour which was especially great on the mushrooms and red onion.  Thirdly, it was a cinch to prepare and the kids loved helping.  And lastly, the left overs turned into a yummy roasted vegetable risotto, but would have been equally good in a pasta sauce or on pizza with some feta and fresh rocket.

I have many more salads to try over the Spring and Summer, but in the meantime tell my your favourites.

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Wednesday Reads – The Promise by Tony Birch

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Tony Birch is a much acclaimed Australian writer, apparently.  I have to say I hadn’t heard of him or his other works.  I think I should feel slightly embarrassed about that because he is clearly a bloody good writer.  I LOVED this book, I think everyone should read it!

The promise, isn’t a novel though, it’s a collection of short stories.  I know short stories are everyone’s cup of tea.  I have always enjoyed them – the well-written ones anyway – but I do really believe that even those generally not into short stories would enjoy these ones.  The general theme, if there is one, is of love, loss and faith.  Well that’s what I’ve read are the generally themes, they seem so broad almost any story could fit into them somewhere.  But forget themes, read these because they a just very good stories.  Each one is completely separate and despite the length of the stories Birch has an uncanny ability to draw out character and location and position the reader right in the middle of it all.  I stood on the edge of that river with those two young boys as they searched for the missing get away car they were sure would be hidden around there.  I was in that dodgy hotel room with the three would-be robbers and the baby.  And I was crouching down intently watching that fateful marble championship.

There is great, sometimes dark, humour in many of the stories.  There is sadness and raw emotion.  And there is also a unique Australian-ness about them all.  I loved, particularly, his ability to capture the adolescent mind – reminiscent of Jasper Jones.  With the end of each story I wanted to read on, to see what happened to those boys by the river, or the only girl in the marble championship, but I was not left without ending as some short stories tend to do.

So if you haven’t worked out it out by now, I would highly recommend this book.  And if you do read, tell me what you thought of it.  Are you into short stories?  What others would you recommend?  Or do you hate them?

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Wednesday Reads – Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks

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First up a confession – I didn’t read this book, I listened to it!  I still count it, others would not.  You make up your own mind.

Nine Parts of Desire is written by one of my personal favourite authors, Geraldine Brooks (it was also read be her if you’re interested in seeking out the audio book) but to be honest I actually knew very little about her, and had only read her stunning historical fiction novels up until now.  Brooks began her writing career as a journalist and in the 1990s ended up as foreign correspondent working in the Middle East for a major US newspaper.  This was a pretty big deal at the time!  Firstly, she was a women working in the Middle East, imagine the difficulties she faced trying to get important leaders and public figures to talk to her.  I imagine the world of foreign correspondent (as with other ‘heavy’ journalistic roles) would be pretty male centred to begin with, add the location of the Middle East and that just ramps it up another few (hundred) notches.  To make matters even more interesting, her husband made significant sacrifices to his own career to go with and support Brooks in her new role.  That must be a concept so totally foreign (pardon the pun) to many Middle Eastern people – and many Western people as well I could add.  Anyway, there you have the setting for this works by Brooks.

However, this is not a book about being a foreign correspondent, it is about the many and varied lives of women living in Middle Eastern countries for which Brooks had a unique insight into.  No male journalist could have entered this world as Brooks did.  I say many and varied because that is exactly what is highlighted in this work.  There is no one size fits all approach to the lives of Muslim women.  I found it most interesting that she describes women you might expect to be severely oppressed to not be so, and those you would assume to have more freedom to be the ones living under the strictest of male-dominated rule.  There are also the cases we are more familiar with, the women not allowed out without male supervision, the lack of educational opportunities for women and the strict dress-codes requiring varying degrees of body and face coverings.  This matter is explored in some depth and Brooks attempts to find just the right approach for each professional and personal occasion made for interesting commentary about the issue more generally.  I was up to this part of the book as the whole ‘Ban the Burqa’ debate raged here in Australia and Senator Jacqui Lambi had her rather loud say on the matter.  Strange backdrop indeed.

Brooks discovered the lives of women we would never normally hear about, and this made the books so deeply intriguing.  She wrote about women in the military, women in sport and how women circumvented some of the restrictions – like learning to drive – placed on them.  She delved into the battles women forged in trying to improve their position, she told of the triumphs and also of the failures, of how freedoms won were later taken away.

What becomes clear from Nine Parts of Desire is that the Middle East and Islamic culture more generally is incredibly complex (I think we all know this) and that there is no generalizations that can be made to capture the nature of the culture, the politics of that part of the world, or the role women play in either.  The spectrum is wide, very wide, and where any one person, community or country fits on it changes… frequently.

Nine Parts of Desire is not light bedtime reading.  It requires concentration and lots of it.  I did find some parts hard to follow, and I did drift a little at times (a definite problem with audio books), but it was utterly fascinating and given the political climate we now find ourselves, yet again, one that I am immensely glad I ‘read’.

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Pinterest in the Kitchen – Chicken

I am somewhat addicted to pinterest, especially when it comes to collecting recipes.  It’s my little Saturday evening ritual, going through my weekly board suggestions or just randomly searching, adding anything the looks interesting to my ever increasing number of boards.  (I know, that is just how exciting my life is!)  Sometimes, that’s all I do, but lately I’ve been in the mood to try some new recipes and I have been turning to my boards.  I should add this is only a once a week thing (and not every week at that), the rest of the time we stick to firm family favourites and quick dinners.  It’s nice to break it up with something new, add my own adjustments and see how it all works out.  I’ve had some winners with the whole family, I’ve had a couple that I’ve enjoyed more than the rest and I’ve had some that need tweaking, but so far I’m yet to have any complete failures.

Today I thought I’d share a few chicken recipes that have been inspired by Pinterest.

The first one is Slow Cooker Lemon and Garlic Chicken, think pot roast style.  I found the recipe here and I followed the recipe almost exactly, except I used thyme instead of rosemary.  Because you cook the whole chicken in the slow cooker the skin doesn’t go brown and crispy like in the oven, so the skin is removed before eating.  You could finish it in the oven to brown if you wanted to.

Not a great photo, sorry!

Not a great photo, sorry!

It’s not an all day in the slow cooker kind of recipe.  My understanding of cooking whole chicken in the slow cooker is that they need the higher temperature setting (at least for first part of the cooking process) to make sure any bacteria etc have been killed.  This recipe would be good if you were home on the weekend but didn’t want to slave in the kitchen (it’s super easy and quick to prepare) or if you were out just for the afternoon.

My only problem was with using the liquid as a sauce at the end, my liquid was very, VERY lemony.  I should have diluted it with some chicken stock or water first I think, or just left it off.  The meat was so moist it didn’t really need a sauce.  The flesh on it’s own had a lovely lemony/garlicky flavour.  I made the left overs into a sandwich mix by finely dicing the chicken, some celery, spring onions and pistachios (I used the food processor which did it in seconds) then mixing with whole egg mayonnaise and ricotta (or sour cream).  This was a delicious way to use up left overs and made about 8 sandwiches.

The second recipe was a complete and utter winner with my whole family.  It has the magic combination of pasta and mushrooms (for Miss Three), meat (for Miss Five and Mr Good) and adult-ish flavours (for me) but that aren’t too much for the younger members of the tribe.  It’s Dijon Chicken Linguini with mushrooms and toasted almonds.  I think we were all somewhat unprepared for just how good this dish was going to be, I didn’t even remember to snap a picture (so the one below is from the website the recipe came from).  I found it here and I am so sure I’m going to be making this one again I have copied the recipe into my note book.

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The final recipe I tested out on Mum and Dad when they came for a visit last weekend.  It was an Italian baked chicken with potatoes and cherry tomatoes.  Another easy to prepare meal with great flavours – the dressing of red wine vinegar, garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil is delicious.  And finishing the dish off with some mozzarella was perfect.  Served with some simple steamed greens this was a lovely dinner.  My only issue was with the amount of liquid in the bottom of the baking dish.  I’m thinking you could reduce the liquid in the dressing, or just do as we did and drain it off as you serve it, no big deal.  Mum, in particular, thought this was a great dish and I will certainly adding it to my list.  Again I forgot to photograph it so here’s the shot from the website.

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Respect for my winter garden

Hi there, I’ve been a bit slack on the posting lately so thought a greeting was a good place to start today.  Hope you’re all enjoying this time of year, isn’t spring great!  My weekly schedule is starting to open up quite considerably and I’m very excited about that.  My studies for the year are coming to an end, activities with the kids are winding down and summer holidays are just around the corner.  For me this represents more time in the garden, lots of reading time, relaxed morning schedules, fun and spontaneity with the girls, washing getting dry in a day and lots of easy dinners of BBQ and salads.  Of course by the end of the break we’re all ready to fill our days with more structure and separateness, but for now it seems like a little piece of paradise just about here.

But before I head into those gloriously free summer days I thought it high time I payed tribute to my warrior-like winter garden.  You see at some point in autumn, when the bulk of the summer crops had been torn unceremoniously from the soil and tossed onto my pathetic excuse of a compost heap,  I had run out of all energy and inspiration for the patch.  It was getting cold and I was getting busy.  I threw some seeds at the ground haphazardly and I allowed some plants to self seed at will.  There was very little planning (actually there was no planning whatsoever).  Then for months I left them to it.  I did not water (thankfully rain was consistent), I did not train or prune or tidy.  I let weeds run riot.  And yet, and yet! that winter garden has come into it’s own this spring.

We’ve had a steady supply of snow peas (more than I have ever managed to grow before), broccoli, rocket, silverbeet and parlsey.  Potatoes that were missed when I dug them up last year grew in a conveniently bare area of the garden, kale miraculously survived being completely over-run by wild, rampaging rocket and peas grew is masses from the pea straw I put down where I couldn’t be bothered planting anything.  And broadbeans, well they have produced so prolifically I can barely contain them.  This ever so neglected garden has provided all of this and much more for my family, and I am ever so grateful. (Somehow the kale, rocket and silverbeet always misses out on being photographed, why is that?)

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We’ve even starting picking and eating strawberries!!

So before I start on how wonderful summer veggies are or complaining about the watering, weeding, and general maintenance the summer garden requires, I wanted to say a quiet thank you to the garden for just doing it’s thing without demands, without attention, all on its own.  It’s a wonderful thing.

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Tomato Seedlings

I won’t start by yet again whingeing about how infrequently I’ve been making it out into the garden – you’ve all heard that before – today’s post is about what I HAVE managed to do recently.  And this is for you Glenn, you wanted more garden news and what can I say, I aim to please!

Some weeks ago I scavenged half an hour out of my day to do something about my spring/summer garden knowing if I didn’t get my act into gear I wouldn’t be harvesting much of anything.  I also had a bunch of new seeds to have a play with as well as some that I had saved from last year.  I had also been gathering some much needed advice about growing from seed in seed trays after a pretty dismal history in this department.  This advice needed trying out.

My first step was to line my seed trays with some cardboard.  This would stop the seeds being washed down through the gaps when I watered them (which happened last year I think) and also absorb some of the moisture to release back into the soil later – well that’s my thinking anyway.  The tomato seeds I had saved (wild sweeting, a dark cherry variety and a nameless cherry variety – I thought I had saved the lemon drops seeds as well, but if so they have since disappeared) had been squeezed on to paper towel, spread out a little and then left to dry before being stored (still on the paper towel).  All I did was lay the sheets of paper towel in the half filled seed trays and cover them with more seed-raising mix.  A couple of weeks in the green house and I had this – a very crowded mass of gorgeous little seedlings, YAY!

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Today I pricked out three of each and repotted them into larger pots on their own.  I have popped them back in the green house to get a bit biggger (advice being to give them plenty of seaweed solution or worm wee to get them going) and then they’ll go in the ground.  It will be a little later than the Cup Day tomato planting instruction, but hopefully not too long.

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I week or so after I planted the first lot of seeds I tried some new tomato seeds varieties, some in a seed tray as per the above with the cardboard at the bottom, and some in smaller seedling punnets.  I put the bigger tray into the outside greenhouse and the rest into a make shift green house in the laundry – a nice sunny room..  Of these ones, I only have 1 grosse lisse seed that had germinated – BOO!  I don’t know what has happened to the others.  I tell you, there is a lot riding on that one grosse lisse!!!

Grow lisse, grow!!

Grow lisse, grow!!

Now more advice needed – should I give those seeds a bit longer?  Should I replant into seed trays/seedling pots?  Or should I throw some straight in the ground and see what happens?

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Wednesday Reads – Railsea by China Meiville

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Prepare for the bizarre!  Railsea is not the kind of book I would otherwise pick up if it wasn’t for book club.  It is just about as far as you can get out of my reading comfort zone…. but I’m really glad I read it.  For those unfamiliar with Mieville he has quite the cult following and writes for both young adults and adults in a style that has been described as “fantastic fiction” or even “weird fiction” (a term he uses about his own writing).  And weird it is.  This is the kind of book that leaves you baffled as to what goes on in the heads of others.

Railsea, it seems crosses the young adult/adult divide and is aimed at ‘everybody’.  It’s not a difficult read as some of his adult fiction novels are known to be, but it was, for me, a stretch to get my head around the concept and form a visual perception of the world he was creating.  To understand Railsea you need to imagine a sort of post-apocalyptic world where instead of oceans you have endless (or perhaps not) and entwining railway lines.  I know, just try and get your head around that one first!  Next picture all sorts of trains, war trains, supply trains, salvage trains (think scrap collection) and mole trains, in same way we have war ships, cargo ships, fishing boats etc.  Now I hear you saying “what the heck is a mole train?” and that brings me to the next weird concept the books is based on.  Underneath this sea of rails is the ground but it is toxic for humans to, what does inhabit this noxious earth are all sorts of weird, often giant, tunneling moles which are hunted by the operators of the mole train.  Have you got all that?  Good, let’s move on.

The central character is a young doctor’s apprentice by the name of Sham Yes ap Soorap (see, even the names are weird) who is new to the Medes, a mole train.  Sham’s talents as a doctor in training are limited, very limited, but he becomes entwined in the railsea journey and can’t help but think there is more to life than the never-ending tracks.  He sets out on a unexpected quest to discover what else is out there with the help of an even weirder pair of siblings with their own goal in mind and the crew of the Medes.  It is a fascinating depiction of a strange yet compelling world, influenced heavily by Moby Dick (a book I have no intention of picking up).

This is where I get honest though.  I expected to hate this books and at first I really did.  Like I said to get your head around the whole idea is a challenge.  Then throw in countless wacky names and the author’s obsession with using the ampersand (&) instead of ‘and’, and you get a book that really takes its toll on the grey matter.  I did get over most of that – the ampersand thing drove me to distraction throughout and I found it unnecessarily broke the flow of the writing – to enjoy it enough to give it a 3 stars.  However, in the spirit of honesty, I’m probably never going to pick up another Meiville book, but I definitely will recommend him to those who like a bit of sci-fi or fantasy or distopia fiction, especially young adults.

So what’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read?  Do you follow a particular author in a cult-like fashion?

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