On these chilly mornings I am reminded of the superlative breakfasts I enjoyed at Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland. The porridge was one of the highlights. It was made from stone ground oats, alongside was a jug of cream and unrefined brown sugar that melted almost instantly into toffee-like trails. Steel-cut oats, or pinhead oats, are different from the rolled oats that are more commonly used. Rolled oats are first steamed, then pressed between rollers and dried. They absorb liquid more quickly and thus the porridge cooks faster but with a loss of flavour. For steel-cut oats, each oat ‘groat’ is split into several nubby pieces. Usually simmered with water (sometimes pre-soaked) the porridge retains much of the shape of the groat, resulting in a chewy and nutty-tasting porridge.
Being made with water you can add cream to this bowl of porridge without any twinge of guilt. As a child my favourite was hot milk, brown sugar and a lump of butter. I enjoyed watching the butter melt into a golden pool on the surface of the bowl before I stirred it in and ate it. I have never been a fan of slicing raw fruit such as bananas into my oatmeal. And I would prefer to have a separate bowl of stewed fruit rather than combining them.
And now for the holiday edition. If you do not want to hear about my adventures in Jordan and Egypt, do not read on!
Many of our closest friends privately wondered whether my two friends and I would cope, but we did – through rough and bumpy tracks, over Roman paved roads, up and down staircases, down sloping boardwalks inside 3000+ year-old tombs. Mostly in plus 25 degree heat, including two days of over 35 degree heat and one of 42 degrees (I sat that one out!).
Just two weeks now before I head off for a touring holiday in Jordan and Egypt, accompanied by my two best friends – I was going to say my two oldest friends, and whilst that might actually be correct, it doesn’t sound right.
I have an expanding walking pole for the rough terrain we are promised, a pair of hideous and very cheap plastic sandals for the Dead Sea (apparently it has a rocky bottom), a super-light day pack, and a cashmere shawl for cold desert nights when we camp in a tent, and a light scarf to throw over my head whenever it is needed. We are all a bit apprehensive about all those narrow steps down inside the tombs. I have been practising and have managed over 130 steps most days. I think it is the dark rather than the number that will prove the challenge. We have said to each other we will do what we can!
Refreshed and relaxed after my holiday I have returned to a riot of colour in my garden. The pink of the agastache and the dusty-salmon eupatorium are magnificent and thrusting 1.5 metres high, spiked here and there with deep-blue salvia, and the silvery tasselled tops of the grasses. I will have to hurry to make a final batch of pesto as the basil is starting to go to seed. Already there is a sense of the season changing. On my walk this morning the air was cool and there was a strong scent of damp eucalyptus.
Since returning home I have welcomed the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, to eat some memorable dishes, even some I have cooked myself, and to attend events. Most recently I made two visits to the National Gallery of Victoria to admire the very varied special works that are part of the NGV Triennial. I urge any art lover to visit the NGV International to enjoy some amazing art. The Triennial continues until mid-April so there is time to plan for it.
Just before I settle into 2018 I must recount a late highlight of 2017.
Is there anything better than joining dear friends and heading to a comfortable retreat, to really talk? To discuss weighty or frivolous topics as well as cook and eat and drink together. I did this just before Christmas and we ate at Annie Smithers’ du fermier in Trentham. The best rump steak with béarnaise and pommes lyonnaises I have ever eaten. A big claim, but true.
After lunch we were invited to view Annie and her partner’s newly-acquired property. It was jaw-droppingly amazing.
Its natural spring is already being used for kayaking and swimming. It is to be stocked with trout. The property has old sheds with massive hundred-year-old timbers, permitting secure storage of stuff and the garaging of a huge ride-on mower. It has several outbuildings that offer a multitude of possibilities, from classes to celebrations. The vegetable gardens are planted with the widest range of edibles, all growing well in the magnificent deep soil the colour of crumbled chocolate cake. The geese are pets, and are not for sale or consumption and have names. And there is a comfortable house and an ambitious landscaped garden plan for the future.