Well A Cook’s Life is now out there and so am I. I have spoken at events in Sydney and in Melbourne and am now off to Brisbane and Perth and Adelaide. It was lovely to spend a relaxing Easter with my closest friends on Phillip Island. We rented a large rambling house built in 1920 as a country retreat for the Bishop of Melbourne. The weather started out warm and sunny and we all settled into the comfy chairs on the wide verandah with our books. Too soon we had rain and blustery winds necessitating a retreat indoors. Not ideal weather for the obligatory penguin viewing but one of our group is American and we all agreed that we had to include this outing on the itinerary. And it was very cold and we waited for an hour and a half on the beach before the little birds marshalled themselves and hurried up the wet sand to their burrows. We then hurried home ourselves to a fire and a shepherd’s pie that I had prepared earlier.
Back home for a quick garden check between departures I notice that the cauliflower and broccoli seeds have germinated in the hothouse. The spinach seedlings are growing well as are the leeks, and my barrel of young cut-and-come again lettuce leaves is full to overflowing. The broad beans have yet to appear.
My gardener Jen invited me to accompany her and visit Lina and Tony Siciliano at their Rose Creek farm situated less than thirty minutes from the centre of Melbourne. The original property was bought thirty years ago and Lina says that thirty years ago the property was bare save for rocks and weeds. I believe her although looking around at this verdant landscape it is difficult to do so. Now there are avenues of olive trees,there are at least four different varieties of fig, avenues of vineyards that son Angelo tends and turns into lovely wines. The vegetable garden is similarly expansive. Lina says that last year she picked her last tomato in mid-July!
I was jealous of her many scarlet capsicums whereas my own have sulked this year and refused to colour. Everything was lush and so healthy. Rows and rows of chicory and broccoli were already in the ground and the first broad beans were ready to pick. I came away with a laden basket of samples, a recipe for peperonata and another for Lina’s favourite way to cure olives, and with boundless admiration and astonishment at the energy of the family and the output of the estate.
I have been growing galangal in a large pot for a couple of years and this month it has flowered for the very first time. Each snow-white bloom smells exquisite. Tony Tan showed me how to dig a chunk of rhizome from the pot, and chop it finely with chili and garlic and keep the paste covered with vegetable oil in the refrigerator. A teaspoon fried along with Asian green leaves or young leeks or young broccoli is a treat indeed. Diluted with a little lime juice it also makes a good dressing for fried bean curd.