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Articles on this Page
- 07/22/13--21:34: _Chicory and bacon o...
- 07/22/13--21:45: _Baked egg custard w...
- 07/28/13--21:34: _Blue-eye trevalla h...
- 07/29/13--16:30: _Tasting India with ...
- 07/29/13--18:08: _Pork shoulder brais...
- 07/29/13--18:48: _Espresso parfait
- 07/30/13--17:32: _New Year's Eve Dinner
- 07/30/13--17:39: _Food for the Beach ...
- 07/30/13--17:50: _Christmas pudding w...
- 07/30/13--18:05: _Slow-cooked fillet ...
- 07/30/13--21:51: _ Mediterranean flat...
- 08/04/13--18:44: _Introduction - The ...
- 08/04/13--18:52: _Colour in the garden
- 08/04/13--19:20: _Extract from my diary
- 08/04/13--19:30: _Planting Borders
- 08/06/13--22:14: _Cooking demonstrati...
- 08/06/13--22:18: _Cooking demonstrati...
- 08/21/13--23:39: _Introduction - 101 ...
- 08/22/13--00:39: _Introduction - Napl...
- 08/22/13--20:30: _An evening of Syria...
- 07/22/13--21:34: Chicory and bacon on wet polenta with walnuts
- For wet polenta, combine milk and 300 ml water in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium–high heat. Whisk in polenta, then reduce heat to low and stir using a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth and not gritty, about 1 hour. Stir in parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add bacon and walnuts and sauté over medium heat until bacon is browned and walnuts are toasted. Add vinegar and sugar and stir over heat to dissolve sugar.
- To serve, spoon polenta onto plates, scatter with chicory leaves and spoon over bacon and walnut dressing. Serve immediately, with plenty of grated parmesan.
- 07/22/13--21:45: Baked egg custard with honey pears
- For honey pears, combine honey and 200 ml water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Add pears and bay leaves and reduce heat until barely simmering. Poach until pears are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, remove pears and set aside. Increase heat and simmer until poaching liquid has reduced to a syrup, then return pears to pan and turn to coat in syrup.
- Preheat oven to 150°C. Combine milk and vanilla in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and bring to just below simmering point. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl, then pour over warm milk and stir to combine. Remove vanilla bean and scrape seeds into custard. Pour custard into a 1-litre-capacity ovenproof dish and scatter with nutmeg.
- Cover dish with foil, stretching it taut, then carefully prick foil with a fork. Place dish in a roasting tin and fill tin with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until custard is set but still wobbles in the centre, about 50 minutes.
- Serve custard warm or cold with honey pears and syrup.
- 07/28/13--21:34: Blue-eye trevalla hot pot
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When hot, add the fish fillets, skin-side down, and cook for 3–4 minutes until golden brown.
- Place the remaining ingredients (except the lemon) in a large saucepan, mix well and bring to the boil. Add the fish fillets to the pan, skin-side up, then cover and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Place the fillets in the middle of serving plates and spoon the sauce over the top. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top and serve with rice or couscous.
- 07/29/13--16:30: Tasting India with Christine Manfield
- 07/29/13--18:08: Pork shoulder braised in milk with onions and sage
- Preheat the oven to 130°C.
- Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or flameproof casserole dish. Season the pork with the crushed fennel seeds, salt and pepper and sear for 5–6 minutes until brown all over. Remove the pork from the pan. Add the onions, garlic and sage leaves to the pan and cook until the onions are lightly browned. Pour in the wine. Return the pork to the pan, cover with a tightfitting lid and bake for 2 hours or until the wine has almost evaporated.
- Remove the saucepan from the oven. Pour the milk over the pork, then return to the oven and bake uncovered for a further 30–40 minutes. When ready, the milk will have thickened and curdled. Spoon this over the pork before serving.
- 07/29/13--18:48: Espresso parfait
- 07/30/13--17:32: New Year's Eve Dinner
- 07/30/13--17:39: Food for the Beach House
- 07/30/13--17:50: Christmas pudding with cumquat brandy butter
- Combine the cumquats, currants, raisins, sultanas and brandy in a large non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 24 hours, stirring several times.
- Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, mace and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl, then coarsely grate in the butter. Stir in the breadcrumbs and add the lemon zest, apple, almonds and fruit mixture. Whisk the eggs until light and frothy and stir through the pudding mixture until well combined.
- For one large pudding, dust a 60 cm square of calico with a little extra flour, then spoon the pudding mixture into the middle. Gather up the cloth and tie it securely with kitchen string at the top to enclose the pudding. Steam the pudding in a large double steamer over boiling water or boil in a large saucepan for 6 hours, replenishing the water every 30 minutes or as necessary. (To make two puddings, divide the mixture in half and wrap each in a 40 cm square of dusted calico, then steam or boil as above in separate pans for 4 hours.)
- Suspend the boiled pudding in a cool, airy place to mature before serving. (Christmas puddings certainly mature with standing, but the main issues are having the right balance of flavours in the first place and ensuring a long cooking time. Puddings can become mouldy in humid weather or if several are hung too close together, so if you don’t have time to mature your pudding, or the weather is against you, don’t fret; as long as the flavour balance is fine, it will still be fabulous.)
- Make the cumquat brandy butter on Christmas morning (it can be made the day before, but it needs to be wrapped really well to avoid it becoming tainted in the refrigerator). Cream the icing sugar and butter in an electric mixer until white, thick and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved; this takes some time, so be patient. Slowly beat in the brandy, a teaspoonful at a time, tasting as you go. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate until required.
- To serve, steam the pudding in its cloth in the top of a steamer or double saucepan over simmering water for 1 hour or until heated through, checking and topping up the water if necessary. (Having said all that, you can also warm the pudding in a microwave on defrost setting, as long as it is well covered.) Meanwhile, let the brandy butter stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, then transfer to 2 serving bowls.
- Serve the pudding with the brandy butter.
- 07/30/13--18:05: Slow-cooked fillet of beef
- Trim the sinew from the beef fillet (or ask your butcher to do this for you) and tuck the skinny tail end under the fillet, securing it with kitchen string. Tie the rest of the fillet at 4 cm intervals to form a compact shape; this helps the beef to cook evenly.
- Mix the juniper, rosemary, thyme, orange zest, 1 tablespoon salt and the olive oil in a baking dish. Add the beef fillet, then rub the marinade mixture all over the beef. Top with the bay leaves, slipping them in a row underneath the string. Cover with plastic film and leave to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight, if you can, turning occasionally.
- Remove the beef from the fridge and leave to come to room temperature (about 1 hour).
- Preheat the oven to 75°C fan-forced (95°C conventional).
- Pat the beef dry and place in a roasting pan, then roast for 3–3½ hours or until it feels soft when pressed with a finger and gently springs back to shape, turning halfway through cooking. (The beef fillet should register 60°C on a meat thermometer when it is ready.)
- Rub a little salt and a splash of olive oil all over the fillet. Heat a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat, then add the beef and sear for 6 minutes, turning until evenly browned on all sides. Transfer the beef to a clean baking dish, then pour the vino cotto over and leave to rest for 20–30 minutes; the fillet will be beautifully pink all the way through.
- To make the vinaigrette, mix the resting juices from the beef with the olive oil and vino cotto.
- Cut the beef into thick slices and serve warm or at room temperature with the vinaigrette.
- 07/30/13--21:51: Mediterranean flatbread
- In a small bowl, whisk the yeast into the water to dissolve. Place the yeast mixture, flour and salt in an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed for 4 minutes, then increase the speed to medium and mix for another 4 minutes.
- Sprinkle a little flour over your work surface and finish off the kneading process by hand for a minute or two and shape to a smooth round ball. The dough should be firm and supple. If it seems sticky, knead in a little extra flour; if it appears too dry and crumbly, add a dash of water.
- Place the dough in a bowl covered with a tea towel and allow to prove and rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. The dough should almost double in size.
- Meanwhile, prepare your chosen toppings. Preheat your oven to 200°C, and place 2 or 3 baking trays in the oven to heat.
- Divide the dough into 5 or 6 pieces, dust your workbench liberally with flour and roll each piece out to about 5 mm thickness. Working in batches, if necessary, sprinkle the flatbreads with the toppings and place on the preheated baking trays in the hot oven. Bake for 8–12 minutes or until the dough is crisp and golden.
- 08/04/13--18:44: Introduction - The Garden at Stonefields
- 08/04/13--18:52: Colour in the garden
- 08/04/13--19:20: Extract from my diary
- 08/04/13--19:30: Planting Borders
- Most perennials are extremely fast-growing and have a habit of protruding past the front of the border. To avoid this, place the lower tier of plants far enough from the front of the bed to allow for their mature width. I have spent much time either pruning the plants back, which often detracts from their appearance, or moving them further back in the winter.
- Often the difference between a great border and a poor one is the width of the bed. Try to achieve a bed width of 3–4 metres. This allows enough space to weave together many layers of perennials and create depth and interest.
- I prefer to raise the soil level in my beds. This not only helps elevate the taller plants at the back but more importantly improves drainage. Most perennials are incredibly drought-hardy, requiring very little if any supplementary watering, but they do detest waterlogging. A badly drained border will never perform well. In my case, raising the beds also provided a perfect opportunity to add good-quality soil on top of the poorer subsoil.
- Make sure each clump of plants is large enough to create impact. I aim for a minimum clump size of 3–4 square metres.
- 08/06/13--22:14: Cooking demonstration with
- 08/06/13--22:18: Cooking demonstration with
- 08/21/13--23:39: Introduction - 101 Moments of Joy and Inspiration
- 08/22/13--00:39: Introduction - Naples: A Way of Love
- 08/22/13--20:30: An evening of Syrian treats with
Chicory is the cold-weather equivalent of lettuce – something crisp and refreshing to offset a meaty braise. The characteristic bitterness of chicory, which is muted by the winter chill, also serves a higher purpose, helping our bodies to digest the rich foods of winter. In this dish various chicory leaves are teamed with soft polenta. At The Agrarian Kitchen we are lucky to be able to grind our own polenta from home-grown corn, which sends the corn flavour off the scale. Unless you are really pushed for time, I recommend traditional polenta over the instant version, which is pre-cooked and tends to be blander in flavour with less texture. This dish makes a lovely starter or a side dish to go with a beautifully chargrilled medium-rare steak.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 × 300 g piece smoked bacon, cut into 1 cm strips
100 g (1 cup) walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
400 g mixed chicory leaves, such as radicchio, witlof and endive
finely grated parmesan, to serve
300 ml milk
115 g polenta
60 g finely grated parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Baked custard is comfort food. Sure, it can be cooked in individual dishes for an air of sophistication, but I think it is best shared from one large dish. Poached in honey syrup until tender, pears are an elegant fruit for winter desserts; the syrup takes on the pear flavour, which is concentrated further by reducing the syrup before serving.
750 ml (3 cups) milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
3 duck eggs or 4 chicken eggs
6 duck egg yolks or 8 chicken egg yolks
250 g caster sugar
freshly grated nutmeg
120 g (¹⁄³ cup) honey
4 small pears (about 150 g each), peeled and halved lengthways
5 bay leaves
This dish is a favourite of mine from the days when my business partner Peter Sullivan and I owned our first restaurant, the Paddington Inn Bistro. When I cook it at home, I serve it with rice or couscous, and perhaps some braised chickpeas, diced tomatoes with mint and a bowl of plain yoghurt on the side.
20 ml extra virgin olive oil
6 × 200 g blue-eye trevalla fillets
½ bunch fl at-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
½ bunch coriander, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
250 g mango chutney (preferably Sharwood’s)
1 small chilli, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, roasted and ground into a powder
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, roasted and ground into a powder
500 ml chicken stock
75 g roasted pine nuts
pinch saffron threads
salt and pepper
author of Tasting India
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Ask your butcher to bone and skin the pork shoulder and if you ask nicely, he may even roll and tie it for you! This dish has been cooked for centuries in the Veneto region of Italy and is ideally served with risotto or salad leaves.
20 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 kg pork shoulder, skin and bone removed, rolled and tied
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
salt and pepper
500 g pickling onions, peeled
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch sage, leaves picked
300 ml white wine
300 ml milk
This stylish dessert looks great on the plate and tastes even better! Essentially, it is an ice-cream terrine served with crunchy seed wafers.
To prepare the espresso parfait, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and coffee extract until light and pale. Gently fold in the cream, then spoon the mixture into a piping bag. Pipe the mixture into eight 6 cm round moulds until the moulds are half-full, then place in the freezer.
To prepare the crème parfait, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, Baileys Irish Cream and vanilla bean scrapings until light and pale. Gently fold in the cream, then spoon the mixture into a piping bag. Pipe the mixture over the frozen espresso parfaits and return the moulds to the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
To make the sesame and poppy seed wafers, combine the butter, sugar, glucose and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in the poppy and sesame seeds, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour the mixture onto the baking tray (as thinly as possible) and bake for 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool. Using a 6 cm circular cutter, cut out 16 rounds.
For each serve, place a sesame and poppy-seed wafer on a plate. Place the parfait on top and press gently to remove the mould. Finish with a second wafer and serve immediately.
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons castor sugar
2 teaspoons coffee extract or strong espresso
225 g cream, lightly whipped
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons castor sugar
3 teaspoons Baileys Irish Cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
225 g cream, lightly whipped
SESAME AND POPPY SEED WAFERS
60 g butter
60 g castor sugar
20 ml liquid glucose
20 ml milk
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
6 tablespoons sesame seeds
Luckily by New Year’s Eve we’ve had a few days of ‘normal’ eating after Christmas, and all the leftovers have been finished, so we are ready to start on the next round of holiday food. My thinking is that you either belong to the New Year’s Eve party or dinner group camp, or you see the first day of the New Year as the time to celebrate, perhaps more sedately with a luncheon for family or friends to ring in the New Year. I honestly don’t think I could do both. I’ve constructed this menu with ease of cooking in mind, then included a special luncheon menu for New Year’s Day on pages 279–299 of the next chapter. Each of these meals could easily be worked the other way around if you like – and both have, I hope, an elegant simplicity.
Anyone can have pate at any time, but it’s the accompaniments I’ve used here that take it to another dimension. Besides, I’m a control freak about how you should serve my pate to enjoy it at its best, and the photograph on page 249 illustrates this clearly. Gazpacho is an ideal choice as it tastes even better when made the day before, minimising your stress on the day. I’ve also given my tips on page 256 for making the ballotine in advance and freezing it, so the rest of this meal won’t tax you at all. I was fortunate to find a wonderful jar of honeycomb, which I used over the whole of this festive season, including serving it alongside the walnut bread on pages 272–3. This fantastic product is from Maya Sunny Honey in Ilford, NSW. The bees actually produce the honeycomb inside the 2.5 kg jar – it makes a wonderful statement when added to your table.
For our part, rather than hosting or attending a big New Year’s Eve party, we have a tradition of sharing dinner with a group of 16–20 friends, hosted by Tia Schubert and her artist husband Rod. Their home is such a great party house that we often congregate there. Tia assigns each of us an element of the meal to bring, which is a great way to manage having a larger than usual number of people for dinner. Even so, I know Tia still bears the brunt of it all and I haven’t yet put my hand up to have the dinner at our place. Of the 40 years we’ve lived in the Valley, the past 35 New Year’s Eves have been spent with this group of friends. Even when we’ve managed to escape to the beach house for a few days after Christmas, we always return home to the Barossa to see the old year out and welcome the new one in with these friends.
As I’m on the sentimental side, and eternally optimistic, I always have New Year’s resolutions. Not that I share them with anyone, or am even successful in carrying them through! However, the intent is always there and somehow it just feels right to start the new year at home.
The only thing I’ve ever missed living in the Barossa is being by the sea. Much of my young life in the western suburbs of Sydney was spent taking public transport to the beach with my brothers on weekends. That magical combination of surf and sun has been embedded in my psyche ever since. And, even though it has taken almost a lifetime to come off, Colin and I now have our very own place by the sea to run away to.
Going to the beach for me is all about relaxing the moment I walk in the door. It’s about having time to go for a walk every morning, reading lots of books, listening to music, swimming, of course, and lovely, simple meals accompanied by beautiful wine. Holidays at the beach should be just that – holidays. However, this doesn’t mean that the food should be anything but wonderful; it should just be easy to manage. So Colin and I just put a polystyrene box full of fresh food in the car, along with a basket of vegetables and herbs from the garden. I want to cook and eat simply, so I always hope that the luck of our catch out on our tinny, or the generosity of neighbours, will make up the remainder of our holiday table.
Even though building the beach house has given me the chance to set up my kitchen and pantry from scratch – an absolute dream of mine – after decades of renting, I’ve had lots of experience putting together the pantry items I couldn’t stay at the beach without. The basics must be easy to transport. This wasn’t so important when our family beach holidays were only a two or so hour drive away from home and I wanted to fit my favourite cooking paraphernalia in the car boot as well, which I always managed to do. My much-loved frying pans, toastie iron and grill-plate always topped the list. However, after the girls left home we often took our beach holidays further afield, flying interstate to warmer climates during the dead of the Barossa winter to remind ourselves that summer would be back. In either case, first on my list is always a bottle of good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Whilst I know you can buy olive oil just about anywhere these days, it is not all that often it’s an Australian olive oil from the current harvest. Other must-haves in my luggage include: sea salt; good peppercorns in my own pepper grinder; small tins of good-quality anchovies; a small bottle of verjuice and vino cotto; an oyster knife; and a chef’s knife. And before great coffee was a given, (as long as you search for it), I’d have taken a stovetop coffee maker too.
Whether you pack kitchen items to take with you if driving, or plan to buy locally if flying, there are a few basic ingredients that help so much. For me these include a variety of dried pasta, parmesan, haloumi, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, currants, panko crumbs and frozen homemade pizza dough. These are especially welcome when it’s a family holiday and you’ve spent hours out in the sun on the beach with your children or grandchildren, and are so tired that dinner time becomes a matter of feeding children quickly. Armed with these in your pantry, along with lemons and fresh herbs, you’ll be able to make the most of your wild catch. Even if you can’t catch fish yourself, hopefully you’ll be able to buy fresh fish from the local shops, so homemade fish and chips definitely come under the umbrella of beach holiday food.
Our family never manages to eat the Christmas pudding on Christmas Day. What tends to happen is that it’s covered well and put back into the fridge. In the evenings that follow, it is taken out a slice at a time and warmed a little, to enjoy with a cup of tea after dinner. Traditionally, Christmas pudding is made in advance to allow time for it to mature – I make ours in October. The pudding will keep for a long time, as will the brandy butter – that is, if you don’t eat it by the spoonful when you pass the fridge like I do, butter fiend that I am. It would be much better for me if I didn’t make the brandy butter at all, but then it wouldn’t be Christmas!
365 g dehydrated cumquats (available from tolleysnurseries.com.au), or any mixed peel if not available
225 g currants
225 g seedless raisins
225 g sultanas
1 cup (250 ml) cumquat brandy or regular brandy
115 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
good pinch of ground cinnamon
good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch of ground ginger
good pinch of ground mace
225 g chilled unsalted butter
225 g fresh breadcrumbs
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 granny smith apples, peeled and grated
75 g flaked almonds
3 free-range eggs
CUMQUAT BRANDY BUTTER
175 g icing sugar
175 g unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (125 ml) cumquat brandy or regular brandy
One of the things I love so much about cooking is that you never stop learning. You learn from so many sources that it’s hard at times to pinpoint where that exact piece of knowledge came from. However, I distinctly recall that the idea for roasting beef fillet slowly at a low temperature comes from a small birthday dinner party I attended for a special friend. Kylie Kwong flashed into the apartment, raw beef fillet in hand, then threw it into the preheated oven and left, no doubt back to the stoves at her restaurant, Billy Kwong. Upon Kylie’s return four or five hours later, we were treated to the most perfectly cooked piece of beef; rare and pink from one side to the other, it melted like butter in the mouth. How great is a dish that cooks so slowly, needs so little attention and tastes so wonderful?
1 × 1.8 kg beef fillet, trimmed (I used a Coorong Angus beef fillet, 1.4 kg after trimming and 40 cm long × 6 cm wide)
1 tablespoon juniper berries, lightly crushed
4 × 20 cm stems rosemary, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
4 tablespoons roughly chopped thyme
2 tablespoons orange zest, removed in long, thin strips
½ cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for rubbing
8 fresh bay leaves
¼ cup (60 ml) vino cotto
reserved beef resting juices
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vino cotto
The traditional pissaladière, which originates from the south of France, is a ‘white’ pizza (with no tomatoes or cheese) that is generally baked with caramelised onions, olives and anchovy. By all means, have a play with these or any of the suggested toppings given below – just keep in mind that less is more when it comes to toppings.
Fresh yeast is great, but is more difficult to get than dried; you can often buy small quantities at your local artisan bakery (if you ask nicely), but as a fallback most supermarkets sell instant dried yeast, which makes a fine alternative.
For this recipe it is an advantage to have an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment to start the kneading process. You can of course do it all by hand but it can get tiresome, as you will need to hand-knead it for a good 12–15 minutes.
1 heaped teaspoon instant dried yeast or 15 g fresh yeast
180 ml lukewarm water
2 cups (300 g) plain flour, plus extra for kneading and dusting
½ teaspoon fine salt
Some suggested toppings
goat's cheese or feta
shaved prosciutto or pancetta
finely sliced potato or sweet potato
Chinese BBQ pork
By chance, one day in 2004 I looked in the window of a small real estate agency in Trentham, west of Woodend. The small, badly photographed advertisements all boasted a variation on the same theme: 40 acres of rolling green meadows with abundant water and rural views. It was enough to lure me inside, where a friendly agent ran me through the list of what was available. None of the properties really sounded special enough to seduce me away from St Ambrose Farm, but just as I was about to leave the agent called me back and asked if I’d be interested in a property at Denver, to the north, that was coming on the market the following weekend. I admit that the name Denver intrigued me, as did the details of the property – it had 40 acres, natural springs, two large dams and backed onto Kangaroo Creek. After all the challenges of establishing the garden at Woodend during the long drought, here was a property with abundant pure spring water. About a year before, one of my clients had bought a 60 acre chestnut farm at nearby Spring Hill. When I first visited at the height of summer in the midst of the drought, I was shocked to discover that water was literally pouring out of the ground and filling his lakes. Remembering this, I agreed to visit the Denver property.
The closer I got, the more the landscape felt right. The last part of the journey was along a meandering dirt road through an old red gum forest then lush green fields with grazing cattle – no cars, no concrete gutters and no double-fronted brick-veneer villas. The road was deep red, a clear sign that the surrounding soil was fertile. When this road ended, a rather quirky lane started, one that looked more like a private driveway than a public road. The odd house I passed was quite well hidden but nonetheless still visible, which was a negative for me.
But as soon as I started down the remnants of the old driveway, I fell in love with the place. It was exactly what I was looking for: in the top paddock towered majestic old red gums and mature pine trees, but the majority of the land was open pasture. In my mind’s eye I saw a park with grazing black-and-white cattle or even black-faced Suffolk sheep. A dam was spilling over with completely clear water, an indication that it was spring-fed and that the water was of good quality.
By late June 2008 the garden was mature enough for me to realise that the colour grey in all its shades, although a great foil for my general colour scheme, merging as it does so seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, does have one drawback – it can become slightly depressing in the winter as it reflects too well the constant grey of the winter sky.
This was not helped by my herbaceous planting scheme, which meant the garden was full of plants that needed to be cut back in winter. I usually love this sense of putting the garden to sleep, but here the grey paving, walls and house, combined with the lack of green or any other colour, made for a rather boring winterscape. To remedy this I decided to add pots of flowering plants to the terraces, rotating them as they finished flowering and replacing them with newly flowering ones. The other simple solution was to repaint all the timber trims in the garden – the gates and benches – a dry, powdery shade of mid-blue. This went extremely well with the grey paving and immediately brought the winter garden to life.
This experience brought into sharp focus the importance of colour in the garden, and in particular how colour can so easily create a mood. Colour can be such a powerful tool for garden designers, and I believe that very few of them use it properly, instead falling haphazardly into a particular colour scheme.
For a long time I have been trying to understand why I am obsessed with the colour green, for example. A while ago I read a book on Islamic gardens – I guess as the drought worsened here I became drawn to gardens from similar climatic conditions. I had not realised that green is the predominant colour of Islam and is used over and over again in Islamic gardens. They talk about long journeys taken through deserts where the only colour is sandy brown. This reminded me of any journey taken in Victoria, during the drought, when I could travel for days and see the same landscape over and over again. This can wear away your patience so that when you come to trees and running water and a walled space full of green plants you are entirely relieved. Water and shade are the two vital ingredients of Islamic gardens and these are exactly what I craved at Stonefields. I know it is our destiny to embrace the colours of the Australian landscape, but for some reason I can never quite manage this.
It is amazing how things can turn around so quickly. From a very bleak outlook six months ago, when I seriously doubted I could make money in this country let alone create a garden here, today we were simply drenched in rain. It has not stopped raining for the past four to five months, and the result is a healthy, thriving garden and one very well-adjusted gardener fortified with enthusiasm.
Yesterday I spent possibly the happiest day of my time here at Stonefields. As I sat at my desk writing, I was able to glance out to the garden and observe the most amazing variation in light patterns. The day was always changing, and reminded me of a typical spring day of my childhood, when I can distinctly remember the phrase ‘sun showers’ was often used. The weather vacillated from overcast and drenching rain to sunshine and then back to grey and overcast. With every new period of sunshine I could almost see the plants and grass growing, and as the light changed from a drab grey to bright green, the garden appeared to glow. From my study window I can see the lawn and the pool and over to the valley below. For this brief period of the year, the green of the lawn and the valley floor merge in a verdant haze, amplifying the effect of the lawn floating in space. My Bangay buttons of box flanking the pool are no longer regimented and precise but now shaggy and unruly, and bursting with the health of new growth. As the sun burst forth from each break in the clouds, the minute amounts of gold in the green tiles of the pool made it appear incredibly vibrant in colour and texture.
Life is indeed good this spring, and I feel so privileged to be able to enjoy it here in my own patch of paradise.
Achieving perfect borders is either a God-given talent or a process of much trial and error. I seem to belong to the latter school – here are some tips I have picked up along the way:
More Garden Tips
Karen Martini, author of Feasting
Come watch Karen at the Better Homes & Garden expo, as she cooks up a storm on stage. Karen will be teaching you how to make a classic bacon and egg ricotta filo tart. One of Australia's best cooks, Karen has been taught to cook with love as an ingredient and this demonstration will prove just that. Tickets $20 (general admission to all stage shows)
Karen Martini, author of The Karen Martini Collection
Come watch one of Australia's much-loved cooks, Karen Martini, make a rhubarb and apple pie on stage with Johanna Griggs. Part of the Better Homes & Garden expo, Karen will also demonstrate how to make hot harissa from scratch. Tickets $20 (general admission to all stage shows)
This little book comes to you with much love and warmest wishes – filled with words of inspiration and joy, and brimming with wise and gentle moments to enrich and brighten your days.
A hundred and one times over, as I sought to bring these words to life with drawings, I was given a new chance to focus on the way our thoughts shape our worlds, and to cultivate the power of joy in my daily life. I hope that these life-affirming pages will be as much a pleasure to explore as they have been for me to create.
I have found in the process of creating this book that my life has become immensely more joyful, harmonious and fulfilling in every way. Stepping out of the fast lane and taking time to truly enjoy the magic and beauty that life has to offer, in a spirit of gratefulness and joy, is true inspiration for the soul.
An inspired life is a life lived to the full. I hope that these words encourage you to reach out and take hold of the life you dream of – remembering that we only live once and that life is made to be experienced in all its beauty, complexity, simplicity and splendour.
There is nothing more wonderful than loving the life you live, and letting life love you right back.
I thank my family and friends for enriching my world with their support and tenderness. I thank you too, reader, for taking the time to invite these moments into your life, and wish you every joy in watching your life flourish and transform.
Naples is a city where it’s never too late. In this raw, authentic southern Italian town you may have to pop twenty cents into a slot to get an elevator to work. You might see a Fiat 500 chained by its bumper bar to a pole with do-it-yourself security ingenuity. Or a baker kneading dough with his hands rather than an industrial mixer. You will see women on their knees praying to the skulls of the unknown and buckets lowered from balconies to save delivery trips up steep flights of stairs.
There is no artifice in Naples; no fake, one-dimensional picture-postcard representation of age-old traditions specially crafted for tourists on the hunt for the real Italy. Naples is the real Italy. From the peeling façades of its dilapidated medieval, Renaissance and baroque architecture to the practised customs of long-gone generations to hand-me-down recipes and old-fashioned family values, Naples is not a tourist trap. Here you can still catch the genuine heart and soul of Italy. In this city, you’re still on time.
Naples is the capital of the region of Campania and lies between two volcanic areas: Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, in the Gulf of Naples on the west coast of Italy. It is home to about one million people and was founded as Parthenope in around the ninth century BC as a Greek colony. Later, its name was changed to Neapolis, which means New City in Greek. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, a world heritage site, and lays claim to having the largest historical centre of any city in Europe. It is close to the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and fronted by an archipelago of three gorgeous islands: Ischia, Capri and Procida.
But still, foreigners and Italians alike avoid it. Despite the city’s enormous cultural and historical significance, Italy and the world have always been prejudiced against Naples. The media has focused on murders, organised crime, garbage and corruption, so we’ve been taught to fear and avoid Naples.
But it’s time to look past the preconceptions, to look deeper, into the hearts of the people. Because in truth, that’s what Naples is really about – the Neapolitans.
‘Not many people understand us. Not only foreigners but also Italians. We make people nervous. People think we’re unruly and loud. They’re right, we are, but we’re not all treacherous,’ said one young woman. ‘Travellers look at Naples on their holiday itinerary and think hmm, we better not go there. They’re missing out on so much if they miss out on Naples.’ These sentiments, expressed with a shrug and an upturned palm, were repeated over and over.
Despite their trials, including millennia of occupation by the Byzantines, the Normans, the Angevins, the Aragonese and finally the Spanish military (for two hundred years) and their ongoing battles against corruption within their own community, the Neapolitans exemplify generosity and warm hospitality. They are incredibly outgoing and, above all, cheerful. ‘With all the criminality that we are famous for, all the bad publicity we’ve received, you’d think we’d be rather hard and bitter. But we’re not. We’re happy people and always have been . . . and hopefully always will be,’ said one woman.
Sharon Salloum, author of Almond Bar
Brought up in a tradtional Syrian household, Sharon learnt to cook from a young age. Her traditions and warmth have been brought to her Darlinghurst restaurant, Almond Bar which she opened with her sister Carol. So come enjoy some tasty Syrian morsels when Sharon discusses her new book and her heritage with SMH Good Food editor Ardyn Bernoth. Cost $8.50 (credited to any purchases on the evening).
Contact Berkelouw Paddington
P (02) 9360 3200