The Moonlight Cinema in the Royal Botanic Gardens (Gate D, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra) has become a Melbourne institution. During the summer months, Melbournians can stroll along to the gardens after work laden with hampers and eskies, claim a piece of lawn with their rugs and beanbags, and enjoy a picnic followed by a movie under the stars. We were there last week, enjoying the atmosphere.
If you like to look in other people’s shopping trolleys at the supermarket and check out what the next table is eating in a restaurant, this is the place for you. I love preparing a yummy picnic and watching what others around us are eating. Many do the chip, crudités and dips. Finger food that doesn’t need cutlery and plates is ideal. Others bring takeaway stirfries, sushi, salads, corn on the cob. The pop of a champagne cork is heard and glasses clink somewhere. Pizza, ice-creams and coffee can be purchased from a van. Fizzy drinks or chocolate are given away free. It is hard to escape the feasting frenzy. We enjoyed a lovely spread of Muhammara, Hummus, crudités, dry biscuits, cheese, filo cigars, grubs, apricot slice, grapes.
Then as dusk falls, the trees are silhouetted against the city skyline. The skyscrapers and icons of the city are lit up in the distance – Government House, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the MCG. Dark bats swoop through the sky and cackle in the nearby trees. A screen unfurls and the film begins.
We saw Hunting and Gathering. An enjoyable film with many interesting foods featured - laughing cow cheese soup, buttery crepes and a hog’s head. It was in the film that I saw the most elegant picnic basket of the evening – a wicker hamper complete with Philibert’s family crest on the plates. That is what I call classy!
Now to the recipes. I made the Muhammara dip the night before. I had been dying to try it since I saw Cindy and Clotilde make it. The pomegranate molasses gave it depth of flavour. It was garlicky but a little sweet and I thought it could do with a bit more lemon juice (or seasoning?). E was impressed. It went well with cheesy biscuits or on roast vegetables.
The night before I bought some falafels for dinner in a local café, and as I waited I was attracted to a recipe for Apricot Slice as I browsed the magazines. My falafels cooked a bit too quickly. I only had the chance to memorise the ingredients but didn’t read on through the method before being interrupted by the falafels being ready. But it seemed interesting and portable so I decided to give it a try.
The Apricot Slice was good but not perfect. It had too much butter, unnecessary sugar and not enough apricots. But it was easy to make – no baking involved – and it was very morish. It seemed like a superior version of the ubiquitous lemon slice for someone like me who doesn’t like lemon or icing much and adores dried apricots. I hope sometime I will make this again and tweak the ingredients more but for now, it is a good slice that will last for at least a week and fill the spot!
Finally, I thought it might be useful to write a checklist because there is always something I forget. For us, the must-haves are rug, insect repellent, knife, tea towel for spills, plastic bag for rubbish, serviettes, plastic plates and cups, water, food, dessert, fruit. Did I forget anything? My mum would take a thermos, and if showers are forecast an umbrella might come in handy (yes, we have watched movies above a sea of umbrellas). We hired the beanbags for the first time which was a good decision. And the crudités definitely taste better out of a dalek lunchbox.
(adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)
Makes 2 cups
- 1 kg red capsicums, about 4 medium-large ones
- 100g (1⅓ cups) walnuts, toasted
- 30g pecans, toasted
- 130g (1 cup) unsalted cashews, toasted
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp chilli powder or chilli paste (or more to taste)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp walnut or olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar)
Cut red pepper into quarters removing core and seeds. Roast or grill til skins blistered and blackening. Place in plastic bag to sweat for 10-15 minutes and when cool enough peel skins off with your hands. Or roast and peel in your favourite way.
Toast the nuts in a dry frypan – this is optional – I didn’t do it but might try and remember next time. Clotilde suggests putting all ingredients in food processor to blend til smooth. I blended the nuts and red pepper in batches and mixed it all up in a mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings and refridgerate.
Muhammara is best made a day ahead. If you are not going to use all of it, it can be frozen in a container til needed.
Apricot Condensed Milk Slice
(from The Australian Women’s Weekly)
250 (1½ cups) dried apricots
2 x 250g marie biscuits (or 1 pkt biscuits and 2 cups coconut)
250g butter, melted
¾ cup brown sugar (I didn’t use)
395ml tin of sweetened condensed milk
coconut for sprinkling
Place apricots in food processor to finely chop. Place Marie Biscuits in the food processor to mill to fine crumbs. Mix all ingredients together. Press into swiss roll tray (I lined mine with baking paper). Sprinkle with coconut. When cooled, cut into squares and store in the fridge.
On the stereo:
least complicated: indigo girls