Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Grampians: Australian bush, flora and fauna

While in the Grampians recently I expected to see kangaroos but was surprised at all the wildflowers.  Thank you Spring!  Here's a little tour of the walks and wildlife.

We walked to the Pinnacle lookout.  The first part of the walk from the Sundial carpark had lots of lovely wildflowers.  The yellow wattle was everywhere.  Then the climb started.  Sylvia and E took in an early view and headed back.

I went on, despaired at the point in the walk where the tiny figures on the lookout seemed so far away.  Lots more uphill, with a little downhill and lots of helpful yellow pointers to keep me on the trail.

I loved the spooky rock formations.  If this had been a sci fi movie they probably would have come to life and I am not sure if they would have been friendly.

Finally the Pinnacle.  Red face.  Views.  Photos.  Mountains.  Farmlands.  A dam.  Townships.  And then for the brave (or foolish) the Nerve Test: a thin ledge of rock with steep falls either side.  I walked on by.

Lots of kangaroos.  Not like the paddock at Zumsteins that we loved when we were young.  We have a picture of my brother aged about 4 patting a kangaroo.  Seems they discourage feeding roos these days.  They still visit.  This one above was in the capacious yard of our holiday home.

Birdseed brought in the birds.  Lots of swooping screeching cockatoos.

A dawn chorus of kookaburras.  Rosellas arguing over the birdseed.  A cockatoo showing his crest.  All on the edge of the deck of the holiday home.  Hours of entertainment.

The Brambuk Cultural Centre had a Fyans Creek Loop walk.  Apparently it was 2.5km.  At one point the signs werer confusing.  I am not sure if we did the whole loop.  We enjoyed the scenery anyway.   Grand gum trees dwarfed by the mountains.  We all found sturdy walking sticks.

We saw kangaroos relaxing in a clearing.  I didn't have my zoom lens.  You can see them in the above photo if you look carefully.

The next day I returned to Brambuk with my zoom lens.  It was sunnier.  Some roos lounged with deer in the shade.  A few watched me.  I also read the displays inside the cultural centre.  A reminder of the shame of Colonisation and the resilience of the Australian Aboriginal people.  I was surprised to read how many rock art sites are in the Grampians.  I wish I'd had time to view some.

We also had a short walk to the MacKenzie Falls viewing platform.  If there has been time I would have loved to walk down to the foot of the waterfall.  Nevertheless the view was impressive.

I also liked the bushland: the towering gum trees, the ferns and these grass trees that I think are the ones we called kangaroo tails.

To read more about our holiday, got to Halls Gap, The Grampians accommodation and eating out.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Potato, corn and pea pot pies

These pot pies were a result of a conversation to make sure these were child-friendly.  I saw an interesting idea for a creamy carrot and bean pot pie on Minimalist Eats.  While it appealed to me me, it seemed a bit sophisticated for kids.  So I had a chat to Sylvia to work out what vegies she would eat in a pot pie.

These are pot pies that reminds me of childhood comfort food.  It is interesting that the vegies she chose were ones that I had quite often as a child: potato, corn and carrots.  The cheese sauce is the one that my mum used to make for our regular cauliflower cheese.  And who doesn't love anything served under a blanket of pastry.

Actually I found that Sylvia wasn't so keen on the pastry on the pot pies.  She liked the filling but had to eat her pastry lid separately.  Yet it was a good meal to serve on the Friday that the school holidays started when Spring was just starting to show her head but the chill was still in the air.

I am sending these pies to Meat Free Mondays and Eat Your Greens

More comforting pies on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Homity pies
Macaroni cheese pies
Spaghetti pie (v)
Vegetable cheese pie
Will's farmhouse (mini) pies

Potato, corn and pea pot pies
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe
Makes 3-4 depending on the size of your ramekins

400g tin corn, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups diced and cooked potato
1 sheet of 25 x 25cm ready rolled puff pastry

Cheese sauce:
1 heaped dessertspoon of butter
2 dessertspoons of wholemeal flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt and pepper mix
1/4 tsp seeded mustard
1 generous cup of grated cheese
small handful each parsley and baby leeks or chives

Preheat oven to 220 C.  (If you haven't cooked the potatoes, do this while you make the cheese sauce.)

First make the cheese sauce.  Fry the butter and flour over medium heat a few minutes in a frypan or large sauce pan until it smells cooked and might have changed colour slightly.  Turn the heat to low and gradually stir in the milk.  Bring to the boil and mix in the seasoning, mustard, cheese, parsley and chives.  When the cheese melts, turns off the heat.  Gently stir in the corn, peas and potato.

Spoon mixture into ramekins.  Cover with pastry.  I just cut the pastry into quarters and let it hand over the edges of the ramekins for E and me.  Sylvia wanted to cut hers into a circle by tracing it on the ramekin (before the filling went in) and then we used some of the scraps to decorate the pastry.  Use a knife to make a few slits for the air to get out.  Bake about 20-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  These are really hot straight out of the oven so can do with sitting for 10-15 minutes.

NOTES: These could be made vegan by using vegan puff pastry, vegan butter, vegan milk and vegan cheese such as bio cheese.  Alternately you could use your favourite vegan cheese sauce.

On the stereo:
Born Sandy Devotional: The Triffids

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Halls Gap, The Grampians accommodation and eating out

I have fond memories of holidaying in the Grampians as a child.  Strangely it has taken me a long time to return as an adult.  Finally last week we stayed in the above house, charmingly named Swampgum Rise.  It was so lovely to get out of the city and enjoy the sights and sounds of the bush.  I will write about the walks and wildlife in a separate post.  Today I will tell you about our accommodation and food.

Here is the kitchen in its technicolour glory.  It had all the mod-cons - fridge, oven and a surprisingly blue microwave in the corner.  I took the photo before we covered the bench in our food.  We took the usual array of foods like other holidays:  Cereal, milk, tinned peaches, hummus, crackers, swiss cheese, chocolate, gingerbread men, cheese muffins, liquorice, crisps, popcorn, tea, coffee, English muffins, baked beans, naan bread, pasta, pasta sauce, sausages, carrots, cherry tomatoes, spinach etc etc.

This house was probably the best where we've stayed in terms of kitchen goods.  Not only was there a good array of sugars, spices, oil, vinegar, teas and coffee, but there was also cereal, milk, jam, vegemite, butter, We at all of our breakfasts at home.  Sylvia and E loved the little boxes of cereal and I took a fancy to fruit muffins.  We ate some lunches and dinners out and some at home.  Baked beans on muffins were tea one night and on another we had platters of naan bread, hummus, cheese and vegies.

But let me continue the tour of the house.  The living area was a big L-shaped room (I like this term because of Lynne Reid Banks The L Shaped Room novel that I loved so many years ago and inspired me to go on kibbutz but I digress.)  It was good weather most of our days but cool most nights so the wood stove was cranked up almost every night.

Sylvia loved pottering about at the piano.  I wished we had some of E's music books as I can sight read simple tunes but have very few in my memory from my piano playing days.  We mostly played games such as Scrabble or Cluedo in the evenings though we had Wallace and Gromit on for Sylvia's Fun Friday Film night. "Cracking toast Gromit!"

The bathroom was very roomy with an impressive claw footed bath.  Sylvia loved the bath.

The bedrooms were reached by a red metal spiral staircase that was no fun to climb after walking through the bush did my knees in.  This is the view from the master bedroom.  I loved how the curtains didn't cover all the window and I could lie in bed watching the sky darken or lighten.  The second bedroom at the back looked onto a paddock where kangaroos came early in the morning. 

And here is a photo of our backyard.  Really wonderful to watch the birds and occasional kangaroo as we sat out on the deck.  More on them in another post!

On the first day we set out on a walk that was a bit harder than I had expected.  An ice cream from Coolas ice creamery afterwards was really welcome.  This photo was taken at a quiet time but when we went there, the place was packed both inside and outside.  No wonder.  The ice creams were fantastic.  I had rock salt caramel with chunks of caramel.  E had ginger meggs with chunks of glace ginger.  Sylvia had cookies and cream with great big chunks of oreo.

That night we went to The Spirit of Punjab.  Sylvia was pleased it was close enough that she could ride her scooter there.  We were surprised to see all the statues outside the restaurants.  They were wonderfully colourful and intended to illustrate rural life in India.

The menu had quite a lot of vegetarian dishes, rices, naan breads and chips.  Sylvia wanted the chips.  I wanted her to taste a curry.  So we ordered Dal Makhani and Janatnuma Kofta with some rice and naan bread on the side.  We asked for mild.  Yet I still took the caution of checking the curries before offering to Sylvia.  Just as well.  The creamy cashew gravy had exceedingly spicy potato dumplings.  So I just gave Sylvia the gravy and she ate some with her rice.  I am not sure I got her to eat the dal makhani.  It was nice but not quite as creamy as I expected.

The next day we had lunch at the Bushfoods Cafe at the Brambuk Cultural Centre.  It is a modern building with wonderful large windows overlooking the mountains that dwarf Halls Gap and surroundings.

I was fascinated by the cafe because it offered a chance to eat wattletree damper.  And it had mini spring rolls that Sylvia could eat instead of chips.  They also had cute little cupcakes with Aboriginal dot painting designs on them.  I didn't photograph the cupcakes but I did take a picture of this array of native herbs and spices.  I really loved the chance to smell native river mint and saltbush.  At the top right of the picture are quandong seeds.

This board made me realise how little I know of native herbs and spices.  I did make amends in the gift shop with purchases of wattleseed (which I love), salt bush (which I've never had) and quandong (which I have only tasted once) in a dessert sauce.

With hindsight I would have ordered my meal and then taken my time perusing the gift shop while the cafe staff grew the plants, dried them out and ground wattleseed for my damper.  I jest but it was very slow service.  Much slower than you would expect for soup, a toasted sandwich and some reheated chips and mini spring rolls.  Sylvia was delighted about having chips in her meal.  I enjoyed my damper and pumpkin and capsicum soup but I was so hungry by the time they arrived I fell on them like a starving woman rather than a discerning blogger!

That night we had fish and chips.  We don't have fish and chips often but love them when we are on holiday.  The Halls Gap Fish and Chips were pretty good.  As usual the vegetarian options were pretty limited and we had chips, corn jacks and potato cakes.  And E enjoyed his flake in batter.

It is not the healthiest meal but I confess to loving the nostalgia involved with fish and chips.  For me the ritual of waiting in the fluorescent light fish and chips shop, the anticipation as we walked home clutching a burning hot paper wrapped bundle to my chest and then the unwrapping of the paper at home to reveal a steaming pile of golden chips is as much a part of the enjoyment of fish and chips as the meal.

On our final day, I was set on going to Harvest Cafe, which boasted its sourcing of local produce for the meals.  I liked the space with its rustic-country-meets-scandanavia wooden interiors.  We sat out the front which was warmer than we expected.  Sylvia had vegemite on sourdough toast.

I really wanted to try the Pumpkin Quesadilla with roasted pumpkin, tomato and bean salsa, and cheese plus some guacamole on the side.  It was nice but a little heavy on the pumpkin for my liking.  As I was not getting much vegies on the holiday, I asked for some coleslaw on the side.  It went well with the quesadilla.

On our final night after one of the healthier dinners of the trip, I was very proud of lighting my first outdoor campfire (with a little help from some firelighters).  I had promised Sylvia that I would do toasted marshmallows on a campfire.  It was her first time and she was so excited.  It is years since I have done this - possibly not since I was a kid.  I let her put lots of marshmallows on the branches in the picture above but insisted she only put one on a stick in the fire at a time.  E also got out his ukulele to sing some songs which was fun.

On our last morning, we woke to this beautiful sunrise and a few kangaroos in the top paddock.  It felt sad to be leaving.  We drove down the gum tree lined driveway for the last time, stopped at the gift shop for a few last presents and headed home. 

Coolas Ice Creamery
Shop 1 Stony Creek Stores
97 Grampians Road
Halls Gap
Tel; 03 5356 4466

The Spirit of Punjab
161-163 Grampians Road
Halls Gap
Tel: 03 5356 4234

Bushfoods Cafe
Brambuk - The National Park and Cultural Centre
277 Grampians Tourist Road
outside Halls Gap
Tel: 03 5361 4000

Halls Gap Fish and Chips
109 Grampians Road
Halls Gap

Harvest Cafe
2 Heath St
Halls Gap
Tel: 03 5356 4782

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Pear muffins

Before heading off on holiday about a week ago, I baked instead of packing.  Having my baking mojo alive and well, I spied some rapidly ripening pears and decided to make muffins when E took Sylvia to the library.  They were so good I wondered why I don't bake with pears more often.  I love Packham pears but don't always eat them all while they are pleasingly crunchy.

Actually I can tell you one thing I find difficult with pear recipes.  Most recipes don't say whether they mean for pears to be quite firm or quite soft or in between.  It always confuses me as to whether my pears are the right ripeness.  Especially as I like to eat them quite crunchy.  However I have decided that people usually bake with pears once they are getting soft and need to be used up so that must be what recipes require.  Any advice on this is welcome.

Back to my idea to make pear muffins.  At first I was determined to make Karen's savoury pear walnut and goats cheese muffins at Lavender and Lovage.  Then I found I didn't have enough walnuts.  Back to the drawing board!  I found a simple sweet pear muffin recipe instead. 

The muffins were just lovely.   When they were warm out of the oven I took a plate of them out to E and Sylvia.  E said he could only eat half one but he ate a whole and praised them.  Sylvia who had got home in time to sprinkle the almond meal and sugar on top, pulled out all the chunks of pear.  (Grrr.  I think she needed Veganopoulous's muffins with pear puree.)  I also gave a muffin to our neighbour who was looking after the cat while we were away.

We didn't end up taking many muffins away as we had plenty of food with us.  So they were neglected and I can report they don't last many days.  However a few muffins went into the freezer and I am looking forward to one for morning tea tomorrow to cheer me up about being back to work after our holiday.

More pear recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Avocado, pear and pecan salad (gf)
Cheese stuffed pears (gf)
Pear and spice cake 
Pear and walnut chutney (gf, v)
Rhubarb and pear crumble

Pear muffins
Adapted from Super Food Ideas via taste.com
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup wholemeal flour, sifted
1/2 cup self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 cup almond meal
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 pears, peeled, diced
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg or 1 flax egg
2 tbsp brown sugar, extra
2 tbsp almond meal

Great a 12 hole muffin tin at preheat oven to 200 C.  If using flax egg mix 1 tbsp flax meal (linseed meal) and 3 tbsp water in a small bowl and set aside.  Mix flours, almond meal, sugar, cinnamon and pears in a medium to large mixing bowl.  Stir in milk, olive oil and egg (or flax egg).  Spoon into muffin tin.  Mix extra almond meal and brown sugar in small bowl.  Sprinkle over batter in muffin tin.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Best eaten within a day or two.

NOTES: I used a flax egg and soy milk so these were vegan.  This and the low sugar content might be why they didn't last long but they were excellent fresh and good the next day.

On the Stereo: 
The Best of the Radio Songs: The Church

Monday, 2 October 2017

In My Kitchen: October 2017

The start of October finds me in the middle of the school holidays, enjoying some fine spring warm and looking forward to heading off on holidays tomorrow.  Much happier than this time last month but still tired, albeit from a day of baking in preparation for our trip.  (Isn't baking great procrastination when the house needs cleaning and the suitcases need packing!)  We are still a little disoriented from daylight savings starting yesterday but at least it not the day before school term starts.

Regular readers will have noticed my recent overnight baked sourdough doughnuts on the blog.  Sylvia is a tad obsessed with these holey fritters.  We took the above yeasted doughnuts down to my parents for Father's Day.  Sylvia and her cousins decorated them when we arrived.  Both E and my dad love doughnuts so they went down well.

Here's a few of E's father's day presents.  The King Dad packaging on the Toblerone amused us.  So did the Numpty figurine from the Dumb Ways to Die railway safety campaign.  The dinosaur dad that most amused us on the card Sylvia chose was the snoozasaurus!

Interesting things that have come into my kitchen are some Tana French novels loaned from my mum.  Once I have finished The Ministry of Utmost Happiness they are next.  I really loved these floral bowls from an op shop.  And I bought these lasagna sheets for a recent lasagna just because they were "corrugated".  They did look really cool in the lasagna and I think the corrugation means more pasta.

As well as doughnuts there have been quite a few bread rolls in the kitchen.  I've been experimenting with making rolls of my regular overnight sourdough bread dough.  It works really well.  So recently I had a go at making bear faced rolls.  They tickled my fancy!  I think I ate more for work lunches than Sylvia because these were made at the start of the holidays.  But she has been enjoying sourdough rolls for her school lunches.

Earlier in the year, I send a little Aussie gift pack to Shaheen of A2K with both some of my favourite products and a few unknowns.  One of the unknowns was some Outback Spirit Tasmanian Pepper Salt mix.  She raved about this salt so much that I had to buy it and agree it is a really nice seasoning mix.  Now I have bought some for my mum too.  When looking at Aussie products I also came across mio muesli which we have been eating regularly for a while.  What goes around comes around!

Just before the holidays we went to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition at ACMI and enjoyed looking through the giftshop.  I purchased this Harry Potter mug.  It is the third Harry Potter mug in the house.  One was E's dad's and got chipped in transit.  One is a Marauders Map one where the map appears when you put boiling water in.  I am reading the fifth Harry Potter book to Sylvia.  Harry is such a moody teenage boy in this that it does not seem so appropriate for an 8 year old but once you start, you can't stop!

A random easy meal we had one night after Sylvia's swimming lesson when more of my energies had gone into grocery shopping than cooking dinner.  It was ravioli with bottled pasta sauce, with rocket and red pepper and some garlic bread.  We rarely have garlic bread but I had a sudden yen in the supermarket (or rather was swayed but clever product placement)!  A rather pleasing quick meal.

Some snacks Sylvia bought at the supermarket with E.  I can't remember the names of the biscuits but she only bought them because they looked like doughnuts.  It strikes me as odd that the under the sea shapes biscuits are flavoured cheddar rather than seafood but perhaps this reflects kids' tastes.

I saw an idea online for no sew doughnuts made from socks, felt and fabric paint.  Sylvia has enjoyed making these with me and they look colourful in her "doughnut den".  I might share more about these if I can find some time but meanwhile, here is a plateful for you.

I took this photo of a few random groceries in order to express my outrage at Heinz new larger tins of baked beans.  The tin of lentils beside it is there to show what size they usually are.  I would not mind if these was a new option but in our supermarket you can no longer buy the 400g tin an now I think the tin is 550g which just does not fit in my cupboard as well and seems part of our supersizing culture. 

I did enjoy the Chickpea Corn Chips with Spicy Tomato Salsa (65% cornmeal and 5% chickpea flour so mostly corn chips).  And I have been eating lots of canned peaches because summer fruit is still on the way thought berries and pears have been great to eat too.

I am also most displeased with my electric kitchen scales malfunctioning.  They are just over 2 years old which does not seem that old.  Suddenly they have gone into ounces and refuse to go back to metric.  I do not do imperial measures.  My sourdough is suffering as I am not sure how much to feed it and my overnight sourdough bread dough seems either too sticky or too dry because my conversions never seem quite right.  Time for new scales unless I have the energy to contact the manufacturer.  (Yeah right!)

I was pleased that we ate sausage rolls, doughnuts and lemonade while watching the AFL Grand Final and all were home made.  Though we had some packaged bbq shapes because I didn't finish the sausage rolls until 3pm.  I got caught up watching the pre-match entertainment with Sylvia and my neighbour.  (Can anyone tell me why the banners don't rip to tatters these days?  And why were only a handful of people on the oval watching the Killers why everyone else stayed in the stands?)  We had lots of sausage rolls leftover to take down to my parents' house the next day to hear about their trip to India.

Sylvia has been spoilt with a few gifts lately.  The fish purse and chopsticks are from a school friend who went to Japan last term.  I partly think the gorgeous chopsticks are a reason to teach Sylvia to use them and partly think they are too good for her and I should just use them!  The Tangled cookie is from her cousin Stella's birthday party.  And the bejewelled bangles were bought for her by my parents in India.

As I mentioned at the start of the post, I am off on holidays tomorrow.  We are staying the Grampians for the rest of the week.  This is a part of Victoria I loved as a kid and am looking forward to seeing again.  Here is some of the baking I did today - cheese muffins, gingerbread biscuits (with doughnut icing) and some pear muffins that I will share soon.  The blog will be quiet while I am away but I will be back with holiday photos and more doughnuts and lots of fun stuff soon after we return.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 10th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to peek into more kitchens.