Rising moon, leaping trout

Last weekend was one of those perfect weekends, munificent with its bounty of delights, all laid out against a backdrop of perfect weather. And I say this with a twinge of nostalgia, sitting here amidst the incessant rain and hail that has plagued us for the past few days in Victoria while New South Wales burns to crisps around the edges. Crazy times.

Last weekend we made watermelon, feta, mint and shallot salad for the first time since last summer and brought it to Point Leo Boat Club. This is the definitive hot weather salad. Refreshing and unexpected, every mouthful is packed with a embarrassment of textures and tastes, the tart sherry vinegar marinated shallots, the green freshness of the mint and the succulent sweetness of cool watermelon. Every once in a while you get a splodge of kalamata olive or a crumbly cube of feta, just to spice things up. I am one of those people who hates fruit in anything but dessert, but I carve out a concrete exception for this salad.

We saw the craziest beautiful moonrise. It was brighter than the sunset due to the eclipse which occured the night before.

First the sun faded and sank away.

And then, as we sat on the deck eating charred greek lamb and That Watermelon Salad, we saw an iridescent copper orb float up from the horizon. I thought it was the sun coming back for an encore, and then realised that it was the moon.

It was the freakiest thing, as the sky grew brighter and more radiant, the rose gold moon suffusing the entire surface of the sea with rippling, flashing slivers of eerie salmon pink light.

The next day we went to one of the Peninsula’s best secrets according to our kids, the Ripe and Ready trout and cherry farm in Red Hill, for some trout fishing.

Finn was absolutely delighted as he managed to catch a beautiful golden trout not 2 minutes after he lowered his rod into the dam. There were so many trout the whole surface of the dam exploded like a field of squibs every time we threw bait into the water. We ended up catching about 20 trout and throwing all of them back but four. They charge you by the kilo at the trout farm, a very expensive pursuit if you’re as dedicated a fisherman as Finn! But we thought he deserved this little expedition given that he had been fishing for the last 6 times and caught nothing but one squid at the Mornington Pier.

The farm has about 20 varieties of cherries and the kids picked blossoms and checked the development of the cherries while we cleaned and gutted the fish.

They didn’t last for long and the kids declared they were the most delectable, freshest tasting fish on earth. We stuffed two of them chock full of herbs and limes from the garden and grilled them for dinner. And the other two were smoked over wood chips and had for lunch.

Then it occured to us that this past couple of weeks half of the meals we had eaten were from things we had caught ourselves – our Muscovy drake which became roast duck, duck quesadillas and then fried duck rice, and the trout. The kids are learning a lot about where their food comes from and all of us are treating meal time with a lot more respect and gratitude.

Random list – the winter edition.

There’s this game going around in the blog world where if you’re tagged, you have to complete a list of questions. In that spirit of randomness, this is my list of random winter fragments.

Reading: House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski’s seriously creepy and subversive book which my little brother gave me

Listening to: Amazing new band London Grammar – the lead singer reminds me of Beth Orton, Tracey Thorn with a dash of Lana Del Rey.

Making : My special winter kimchi and fermenting red wine vinegar. And big arrangements of greenery from the garden out of the savagely pruned branches from our orchard.


Cooking : Roasted cauliflower with nam pla, lime juice and chilli, all kinds of dumplings,

Drinking : Lots of liquorice tea, genmaicha, berry smoothies and water

Wanting: Warmer weather! And a boat for summer sojourns to the nearby islands

Looking: For inspiration, always and everywhere.

Missing: An old pearl and sapphire necklace. And one of my best friends in Singapore.

Playing: Just playing with things in general. Messing about in the kitchen, experimenting with new skills. As I get older I learn how to take myself more lightly. And it helps that I have a great bunch of fun and silly friends here on the Peninsula.

Wishing: That the dishes would do themselves…

Enjoying: Fires in our awesome new Cheminees Phillippe cast iron fireplace. I love the satisfaction of lighting a fire, watching the flames, the ambient crackle and snap, the fragrance released when you throw orange peels on them while reading books in the living room.

Having: So many visitors from all over the world recently! Just this month we’ve had 4 groups of guests come to our house. It’s great living in a place where people go on holiday

Preparing for: My next Legacy Retreat in Bhutan. It’s very exciting but also one of the hardest things I’ve ever organised.

Liking: The ages my kids are at. Our youngest is 4 and everyone is out of nappies, old enough to reason with and now we can travel longer distances for car trips and camping without packing the entire house!

Wondering: If we should set up another business. Tempted, but we will need to be careful. I don’t want to overstretch myself and I know that the last year was frenetic and I need a break.

Loving: My husband, we have never been at a better place in our relationship. Coming up to 10 years now and I’m still excited to hear his footsteps when he comes home and grateful to clamber into a warm bed with him at night and talk nonsense.

Marvelling: At Finn’s willpower and quiet conviction. I volunteered to help out at his gym class last week and he had to step on a seesaw to flip a beanbag up and then catch it. He missed the first 43 times but he immediately tried again and again until he finally made a catch. And then he made 8 catches in a row. I have it on video. He’s such a marvellous soul.

Smelling: Our limes and lemons everywhere in the house. And unfortunately, also smelling Bruno our greyhound’s farts. He’s on probiotics now to see if it makes a difference to his general flatulence!

Hoping: That my business Legacy Retreat settles into a happy self-sustaining rhythm next year.

Wearing: My favourite cashmere sweaters in neon pink, yellow and crazy patterns to cheer me up in this winter weather. And my Hunter wellies for mucking around with the greyhounds and in the chicken coop.

Following: Self sufficiency expert Rohan Anderson @WholeLarderLove on instagram. I just went for a weekend workshop with Rohan and learned to dispatch, pluck and butcher chickens and skin rabbits. More on that later.

Noticing: The magnolias blooming more luxuriantly every day.

Knowing: That I am blessed and lucky. Just like that 10,000 Maniac’s song These Are Days.

I’m tagging @thebrewerswife next!


World Cooking Adventures – Finn’s Favourite Dumplings

I’m not usually daunted by cooking projects but cooking for a class full of ravenous and unabashedly frank little 6 year old gourmets was slightly intimidating at first. “What if they don’t like Asian food?! What if they get raw meat wedged under their fingernails and bacteria grows and…” I fretted to the Irishman. “You’ll be fine! You’re really anal! Everyone will love it!,” snorted the Irishman helpfully, bemused that my greatest culinary challenge to date was prep school critics.

I’ve decided that every week I will explore a different style of cuisine, starting with Chinese dumplings this week. Australian dumplings are a personal bugbear of mine. You see, in Australia, the delicate little bite-sized morsels of “dim sum” as we know them in the Chinese speaking world have mutated to monstrous proportions. Called “Dim Sims” or “Dimmies”, each one is the size of a B cup breast implant and tastes not quite dissimilar, I would imagine.

Look at these horrors below. These are labelled as “Famous Sxxxx Mxxxxxxx Market Dim Sims”. $10.80 for a 3 boob jobs!

Ok enough ranting. Anyway I chose to make wontons for the kids today, because I have never met a kid who didn’t love wontons. Won Ton or Yun Tun means “swallowing clouds”, because the dough gets so light and crispy when fried that they may float away, and the crunch from these little suckers is pretty much deafening.

This photo below is from http://appetiteforchina.com/recipes/sichuan-wontons-chinese-new-year-recipe-ideas/. It shows some of the different styles of folding wontons. I demonstrated the triangle, the party hat/ nurse’s cap, the rectangle, the boat and many others.

First I got the kids to use a huge steel meat mallet and bash a clove of garlic into pulpy submission. They loved that. And then we mixed the garlic into the minced meat with spring onions and I let them grind pepper, salt, and add soy, rice wine, mirin and sesame oil to the meat.

We made a little cornstarch paste (or you can just use water too), and poured those into individual little tins for the kids to use as dumpling glue.

They took their jobs very seriously and were completely engrossed in folding the wontons. They even invented some more shapes like the “cigar” and the “doggy poo”. Yum.

I told them that they had to squish out all the air from the dumpling or the dumpling would swell up and burst like a little bomb. Of course this meant experimenting with a big air bubble dumpling which swelled up to gargantuan / dim sim proportions to the merriment of everyone. These are some of the completely kid rolled dumplings. I was really impressed by their work!

And here is the final result, beautiful golden brown devastatingly crunchy pillows of yum. Tip – to get kids to eat minced pork, I called it Bacon Bits. Whatever works!

While I was frying the won tons, I got the kids to make their own individual small bowls of dipping sauce using soy, vinegar, sesame oil, furikake seaweed, sesame seeds and ketchup.

Word got out that I was making dumplings and teachers from other classes and even the school principal came over to sample the offerings.
They were a bit hit with the kids!

One of the girls said “I wish I had you in my kitchen forever so that you could make my dinner everyday.” Best slightly creepy compliment ever! Just kidding, the kids were all so utterly sweet. One boy didn’t want to try the won tons and they all ganged up on him telling him “They don’t look nice but they are SUPER YUMMO!!!”

That was a relief! I have a whole lot of cooking adventures planned – next week we’re going to be doing lovely bubbly fondue in a hot pot, 2 kinds – cheese and chocolate! Stay tuned…

Ingredients: Directions:
1 pound (450 g) ground meat (chicken, beef, pork)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 stalk green onion, chopped
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine2 tbsp sesame oil
2 cups finely chopped kale/ other vegs
1/2 cup water
50 wonton wrappers, defrosted
cooking oil for frying
1.)    In a large bowl, add the meat, ginger, garlic, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine and kale and mix well to combine.

2.)    In a small bowl, add 2 tbsp of cornflour and some water to make a paste. Or just use water!

3.)    Put a small teaspoon of the meat mixture on a wonton wrapper. Dip a finger in the cornflour paste, and paint all 4 edges with the wash. Fold the wonton in half, corner to opposite corner to make a triangle. Seal tightly all around. Make sure there are no air pockets or holes in the wonton. Refer to the pictures for inspiration on how to fold wontons.

4.)    Place folded wonton on a clean, dry plate and cover with plastic wrap to avoid them drying out. Prepared wontons can be frozen for later use

5.)    You can boil or fry the wontons. To fry wontons, add 1 1/2 inches of cooking oil to a wok or pot. Heat the oil until it reaches 375F. Add a few wontons to the oil to fry, turning occasionally until they are golden brown. Drain and serve!

Chinese New Year at Foo King Daves

Dong Dong Chiang! That’s what Chinese kids say when they’re pretending to do a lion dance. And thats me and the Irishman wearing our Dragon and Lion heads to usher in the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake!

This year our friends Karen and Dave, of the inimitable Red Hill Brewery fame, kindly offered to host Chinese New Year at their house as we had just moved back to the Peninsula and the thought of cooking my usual 8 course menu for 20 people was leaving me feeling lower than a snake’s belly.

Dave, also known as Foo King Dave in these parts of the Peninsula (*and some say his reputation extends as far as Springvale Shopping Centre), lived in China for some time and learnt how to cook Sichuan food complete with mouth-watering arse-numbing spices, so I knew we were in for a treat!

I spent the morning making fried wontons, homemade pork ingot shaped dumplings and prepping the yu sheng auspicious salad and then slipped (or should I say slithered) into a salmon pink silk cheongsam from Hong Kong.
Kaz and Dave’s kids were resplendent in their very pretty silk cheongsams and cute little chopstick buns. They made me a gorgeous knitted purple wool necklace for the occasion too. I wore the necklace to Melbourne this week and had all these hipster types asking me if it was Marni. Ha!

David, Rick, Karen, Anne and myself, the first to arrive at the party.

Now this, below, is the lucky Yu Sheng salad which is a Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese tradition. Each ingredient in the salad represents a particular blessing for the new year e.g. the chopped peanuts symbolise a household of gold and silver, and the fish sashimi symbolise abundance and excess.

That’s me and my little helpers who are helping me put each set of ingredients into the giant silver salad bowl as I recite the appropriate blessing in Chinese

They really got into the spirit of it! That’s them tossing the cinnamon powder, pepper and sesame seeds all over the salad to symbolise money, valuables and a flourishing business. Chinese values hey!

Finally, we got to toss the salad, which went as high as the roof. I think only 60% of it made it back to the table and the remaining 40% is still orbiting Earth somewhere. These Aussies take the salad tossing very seriously indeed!

Karen then asks me whether this is a decorative salad or do we have to eat it. I’m like “Decorative my backside! I’ve spent all morning chopping bloody fish and radish, you guys pick it out of your hair and eat it if you want your businesses to prosper! OR ELSE!”. Well you asked!

And then Dave rolled out two massive hot pots filled with Sichuan ma la broth and we all had the most delicious steamboat (that’s what we Chinese call hot pots) dinner outdoors under the stars.

Thanks guys for an amazing evening, and Gong Xi Fa Cai to all!

Just a little something that I whipped together…. ahem

No kidding, how insane is this cake! My friend Meizee is in town, ensconced in my Southbank apartment, visiting for 3 weeks while she does a cake course in Melbourne. She made this beautiful 30kg beast over 3 days, and brought it down to our place in the countryside for a dinner party yesterday and we had it for dessert.

Yes, this beauty literally took the cake and everyone’s breath away. I’m so glad that my friends here can finally get off my case now that I’ve found a even better prime specimen for overachieving – my dear friend Meizee, who is not only gorgeous and still gets carded at discos, but is also mother to three children and single-handedly runs a successful cupcake & dessert catering business. And of course the real reason I adore MZ is because, like me, she is a nocturnal animal who stays up till 3-4 a.m. and is seldom to be seen out of bed much before noon.

Every single petal is handmade and edible.

Meizee assures me that the flowers and painting is the easy part, the hardest part apparently is cutting the fondant bands around the cake evenly and making the joins blemish-free.

This is MZ telling everyone the doors are locked and no one can go home till dessert is finished!

You can see more of her work at her website http://letthemeatcakemz.com/ We still have 15 kilos of it in the fridge – any takers?

My salad days…

100 salads from the New York Times

(Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times)

The New York Times has an excellent article with 100 inspirational salad recipes to try out, so there’s no excuse for boring greens. Check it out here


I love salads and I’ve been meaning to try a retro carrot & peanut salad with vinegar dressing that Nigella recommends in “Forever Summer” because Finn adores peanuts and will eat anything with them in it. His word for peanut is “ka chang” which is Bahasa Indonesian, because that’s what Aunty Noor & Suma call them.

Finn hasn’t got a favourite salad yet, but here are ours:

Mark’s favourite summer salad is tarragon with rocket, grapes, feta cheese and sliced shallots with a sherry vinegar dressing.

Sean’s is watermelon with onion, mint and feta cheese.

Mine is Thai rare beef salad with toasted rice powder, shallots, watercress, mint, and a lime-fish sauce dressing.

What’s yours?