Spinach and Olive Soccattata

Soccattata is a termed coined by vegan blogger Erin Wyso. The recipe below is from her blog and it’s delightful. The word is a combination of the words socca, an unleavened, savory pancake made of chickpea flour, and ttata, from frittata, the Italian dish much like an omelette or quiche.  This meal turned out to be a huge hit.  Veghead and Spinneychick loved it, as did the larger loinfruit, LeStrange.  The smaller loinfruit, KarateKid, said that he wouldn’t run a mile for it, but that he would tolerate it on rare occasions, perhaps once yearly.  Oh well. He’ll just have to have something else when the rest of us are eating such a delicacy.  I bet he’d ask for something like baked beans.  Such heresy.  How anyone could pass up a meal that has spinach, sliced chiffonade, is beyond me.  I have taken a shine to that word and I feel that I may have to use it far more often.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup chickpea flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 tspn salt
2 tabs olive oil
1/2 red onion, cut into thin half-moon slices
1 tab oil cured olives, depitted and roughly chopped
2 tabs sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
2/3 cup spinach, cut chiffonade (a posh word for sliced very thinly) (you can also use Warrigal greens if you like – we did)
olive oil for frying

METHOD
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, water, salt and oil. Cover and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. There’s no need to refrigerate it.

In a small 9-inch cast iron pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the sliced onions and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the onions caramelize for about 30 minutes (don’t stir the onions as they caramelize). Fifteen minutes into your caramelizing time, preheat your oven to 205°C.

After the onions are caramelized and your oven is preheated, increase the heat under your cast iron pan to high. Add in the olives, tomatoes and spinach to the pan with a couple tablespoons of oil. Sauté until the spinach is reduced a bit, then add about two cups of the chickpea/water mixture to the pan. It should sizzle immediately. Place the entire cast iron pan into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until it slightly browns around the edges.

Delish!

 

Poly(1-phenylethane-1,2-diyl) and molluscs

Walking along The North Entrance beach today brought the sight of a dozen or so dolphins cruising through the waves heading North. Attempting to get a photo of them was simply an exercise in demonstrating that dolphins can more rapidly take breaths than phone cameras can take photos. We do have a lovely selection though of shots of what the water looked like a second or so after the pod submerged again.Its always a joy to catch the sight of our snouty aquatic friends, they’re so elusive it feels a privilege to be in the same place at the same time and to happen to be facing the right direction as they pass.

The beach is much eroded at present from recent storms, with the sand cut back right to the dune field. At the narrowest parts of the beach the water had at the last high tide washed up to the foot of a 5 metre tall cliff of sand that is held together by the roots of the dune grasses growing scraggily along the top. The sand cliff is a layering of different sand sedimentation, dark layers half way up indicating periods of organic material deposition.

The recent storms have also left a puffer fish stranded at the high wash mark, their bodies swelling to skin tightening proportions in the heat of the day. Woe betide the first seagull to take a peck at their gas filled corpses. Peck-peck-pop! Ain’t no seaside picnicker gunna welcome that little birdie afterwards.

Along the way some washed up blue mollusc shells caught our eye, their attachment points fringed with bright red filaments. A closer inspection revealed that these molluscs had anchored themselves to a lump of half decayed polystyrene. The ubiquitous plastic takes so long to break down that to all intents and purposes it is in the environment for ever. Floating in the open ocean it seems to be an ideal attachment point for a passing young bivalve mollusc. It’s craggy, it floats, and it doesn’t break down. Perhaps even after this particular set of molluscs have long since died and fallen off this piece of polystyrene, the plastic itself will remain still only to blown or washed back out to sea to become a  home again to another set of bivalves. The really bad thing about these shell creatures making a home upon this toxic substance is that it may make it a more attractive meal to some other creature. If you think trying to eat a puffer fish and ending up with a face full of exploded fish guts is a horrendous idea, try going for a snack of molluscs and ending up with gut full of poly(1-phenylethane-1,2-diyl).

Greek Moussaka

I found this recipe a while ago, and bookmarked it.  I knew that one day soon I would think to myself, hmmm, I feel like cooking something different today.  And today was the day.  I am often happy to cook meals that I have cooked many times before, as they involve little thought, unlike Veghead, who much prefers something new and exciting to come from the kitchen.  The original recipe I found on the blog of Carol J. Adams, who was given the recipe by Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, apparently a vegan who had been around for a very long time.  I changed the recipe around a little bit, due to our preferences, and reduced the amounts significantly as there were only two of us eating it, not ten.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium to large eggplant, stem end cut off and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 3 medium potatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 tab extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small or 1/2 medium chopped onion
  • 1 inch slice of red capsicum, chopped
  • 120g mushrooms, chopped or quartered
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup passata (recipe called for 1 tab tomato paste but we didn’t have any)
  • here the recipe calls for 1 package ground beef style veggie meat (I have no idea how much that is as the recipe is American). I used chickpeas, 1 or 1 1/2 cups, which are yum, unlike the sound of that fake meat.
  • 2 tabs fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tspn cumin powder
  • 1/4 tspn salt
  • 1/4 tspn black pepper
  • 1/8 tspn each cinnamon and nutmeg

Bechamel sauce ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tabs cornstarch
  • a couple of thin slices of onion, finely chopped (the recipe called for powdered onion, but why would you bother)
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/8 tspn pepper

What to do:

Preheat oven to 204.4 repeater degrees celsius (this is the metric conversion of 400 fahrenheit).  205 degrees is probably OK.  Place the eggplant and potato slices on well oiled baking trays and brush them with more oil.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

While the eggplant and potatoes are roasting, sauté onions, capsicum and mushrooms in olive oil over medium high heat for about 5 minutes or so.

Stir in tomatoes and passata until mixed.  Add chickpeas and the herbs and spices.

In an oiled baking dish, add a layer of eggplant slices, then a layer of potato slices.  Add a layer of the chickpea mixture then cover with potato slices, then the rest of the eggplant slices.

To make the Béchamel sauce, blend all the ingredients together and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.  Pour sauce over eggplant.

Bake at 176.667 degrees celsius for about 30 to 35 minutes.  Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Leftovers are good the next day.  This statement is actually written in the recipe but I think that is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said at all.

Shepherd’s pie

When I was a loinfruit, dinners followed a pretty predictable rhythm: Sunday night roast, Monday night reheated or cold slices of Sunday’s dead animal, Tuesday night Shepherd’s Pie, and so on through the week until Sunday’s roast came again. Later, whenever I could drag my teenage mind away from the distractions of girls, girls, girls, and oh…look….a pretty girl, I began to wonder why a dish made from ground up left over roast lamb under a bed of mashed spuds was called Shepherd’s Pie. I mean, isn’t the whole idea of being a shepherd meant to be that you look after the flock and bring them all back home where they can be slaughtered in the comfort of their own barn? Surely, I thought, you’re not meant to be tucking into a cheeky bit of lamb up on the mountaintop pasture. And furthermore, where did the shepherd get a spud masher? And furthermore….oooh look…a pretty girl.

And so it came to pass that many years later I turned my thoughts again to the question of making Shepherd’s Pie. Being much older and wiser now, with the cunning and sense of reason that comes with maturity, I realised that if the Shepherd had had the wisdom to bring along a spud masher, he or she would almost certainly have thought to bring along a few other little useful things too in the rucksack, so as to be able to whip up a lovely pie high on the mountain top pasture. Meanwhile, I resolved the quandary of why a shepherd would scoff into lambsie by deciding that instead, he’d save the lamb and eat kidney beans instead.

For the putting in:

  • 400g cooked kidney beans
  • Medium onion, chopped
  • Few cloves garlic, crushed
  • Large zuchinni, grated
  • Large carrot, grated
  • Medium stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 400g finely chopped tomatoes
  • Tspn powdered cumin
  • Tspn powdered mild paprika
  • Tspn powdered cayenne pepper (or adjust heat to taste)
  • Tbspn dried mixed Italian herbs
  • Tspn chopped fresh rosemary
  • 100ml stock
  • 50ml red wine
  • 50ml passata

Also:

  • 500-750g potatoes

Also:

  • 1/2 cup of soy milk
  • Tbspn of leftover rice that you happened to have some of in the fridge
  • Tbspn of pine nuts

For the doing:

  • In a largish saucepan, lightly sauté the onion in a generous splash of olive oil
  • Once the onions are clear, add the garlic and powdered spices. Continue sautéing briefly
  • Add everything else in the main list of ingredients
  • Simmer, covered, stirring regularly to avoid sticking.
  • Once the liquid is well reduced place this mixture into a large oven proof baking dish (pyrex or similar), one that is wide and shallow rather than small and deep.

Meanwhile:

  • Boil the potatoes and mash finely with a dash of olive oil, or vegan margarine

Meanwhile:

  • Whizz up the soy milk, rice and pine nuts using a bamix (or similar inferior kitchen tool) until no lumps remain

Cover the layer of sauce in the baking dish with the mashed potatoes, then spoon the soy milk mix over the top and smooth it out evenly. Bake in the oven at 180c for 30 minutes. Serve with steamed veg’ or salad.

Today’s handy kitchen trick:

Getting an even layer of something like mashed potato over a layer of something saucy can be a right pain in the donkey. This helps; get a shallow tray that is almost the same size in area as the dish you have placed the sauce into. Put a sheet of baking paper into your tray, then layer the mashed potato onto it in an even layer. In a swift, graceful manner, invert the spud filled tray onto the sauce. Then peel the baking paper off the top and discard. This should result in a nice, smooth, even layer of mash on top of the saucy stuff. Using a spoon, gently do any minor repair work required.

P.S. Keen eyed readers will note the similarity between this dish and The Templar’s Mexican chilli beans. Three words my friends: Reuse, recycle, reduce.

 

Templar’s mexican chilli beans

We used to cook a very lovely Mexican bean dish that along with the kidney beans had some torn off chunks of tofu, all swimming in a suitably Mexican sauce. Sadly, the loinfruits, both great and small, looked at it with that expression on their faces that said “Oh goodie, dog excrement for dinner.” And so with our hearts chastened we would retreat again North of the Mexican border with our packets of tortillas and cornchips slinking behind us.

And then one day, Templar came to our rescue, riding in an a small, shaggy, dust coloured charger, lance held crazily in her hand with wide wind of duct tape mid-shaft where it had been bent slightly during some prior heroic rescue attempt. Flicking her dishevelled hair back from her hooded eyes she looked down from her humble steed and cried “Hola mis amigos. Estoy aquí con una receta de frijoles mexicanos que sus hijos les encantará. Ahora tráeme un vaso de vino y dame un beso.” Which roughly translates as “Hello my friends. I am here with a Mexican bean recipe that your children will love. Now bring me a glass of wine and kiss me.” And so we did both while she busied herself in the kitchen.

Afterwards we begged her to allow us to share her recipe so as to be able to spread the joy around. After brushing the dust from her horse and promising to bring her fresh flowers at dawn every day for a year she granted us her permission. She is THAT sort of gal,

For the putting in:

  • 400g cooked kidney beans
  • Medium onion, chopped
  • Few cloves garlic, crushed
  • Large zuchinni, grated
  • Large carrot, grated
  • 400g finely chopped tomatoes
  • Tbspn powdered cumin
  • Tspn powdered mild paprika
  • Tspn powdered cayenne pepper (or adjust heat to taste)
  • Tspn dried oregano leaves, crushed
  • 2 Tspn cocoa powder
  • 200ml stock
  • (Optional) Tspn brown sugar

For the doing:

  • In a largish saucepan, lightly sauté the onion in a generous splash of olive oil
  • Once the onions are clear, add the garlic and powdered spices. Continue sautéing briefly
  • Add everything else minus the cocoa powder
  • Simmer, covered, stirring regularly to avoid sticking.
  • Once the liquid is mostly reduced add the cocoa and stir through thoroughly

Serve with rice, a bowl of corn chips, perhaps a bowl each of chopped coriander, chopped avocado, and Spanish olives.

Comer con niños felices y un baño en su amor” my friends.

Of bird calls and shopping trolleys

Outside the bell birds are calling through the forest of Rumbalara to the lorikeets, who in turn are whistling to the crows. There is an occasional restrained croak from a sulphur crested cockatoo, set against a chorus of bird voices as familiar to me as they are unnamed in my vocabulary. I speak not their many languages, but the words are clear nonetheless.
“Dawn. Night’s dangers survived. Breakfast.”

Yesterday afternoon a tawny frogmouth mother sat on a nearby branch with her young, perhaps awakening through gesture and exchanged thought the latent knowledge wired in by instinct of the skills of hunting, flight, mating behaviour and survival. Minds uncluttered by the manufactured distraction we call civilization and thus singularly focused on achieving cooperative survival.

While the frogmouths taught the next generation I wandered the aisles of the local supermarket, accompanying Naomi in our own weekly hunt for food. It is rare that I have the time, and am granted the permission to share in the experience of these foraging trips, but to do so is to me an opportunity to immerse myself in an experience that I know is as burdensome to her as it is regular. I am no stranger to supermarkets of course, but the “weekly shop” is far more intense consumer activity than I am used to, made even more so at this time of year by the uptick in foot traffic down the aisles and in between the stores brought about by the looming approach of Christmas. The relative novelty of my visit to the supermarket and my role as “Chief Trolley Pusher” affords me the opportunity to observe the environment of the supermarket in a way that I do not on those occasions when I duck in and out on solo I-need-a-loaf-and-two-avocados missions.

As I leant on the handle of the trolley, parked in close to the shelves so as not to be in anyone’s way I people watched. Young mothers trailing loinfruits and trying to navigate their way passed the brightly coloured temptations deliberately set at toddler height. The widowers, hesitant and a little overwhelmed by the unfamiliar task of providing for themselves. The retired couples, invariably of a similar behavioural set – she who shopped, and he who pushed the trolley and wore an expression that said “I was an important executive once, and now I am reduced to pushing a shopping trolley, following my wife around, and meekly accepting her condescending explanation whenever I venture that perhaps those baked beans might be a better buy than our usual.”

Meanwhile I looked around me and saw a grand proof of the inevitable downfall of mankind. An entire aisle devoted to cleaning products, half of which do nothing more than a bottle of white vinegar would do, and the other half being of an advanced chemical formula guaranteed to eliminate all life from the planet. A multitude of packaged poison poured into the oceans, over the soils and into the air we breathe and the bloodstreams of us all via our drains and lungs. Another entire aisle dedicated to feeding dogs and cats. It is indeed a miracle that our four legged companions have any stomach room left to fit in a single native bird given the endless variety of organic, fairtrade, gourmet, balanced diet treats all promising shiny coats and fresh doggy breath. Another aisle filled with stuff the purpose of which I cannot truly fathom a useful purpose for. I cannot help but wonder just how much energy and raw resource goes into building stuff, versus that which goes into building and growing that which we really need. I contemplated that we would have a far smaller footprint on the world, and have much more to go around if we only built that which we need to survive rather than all this glossly packaged kitty nibbles and nuclear powered fat-free kitchen bench scrub.

In the forest the birds are digesting their morning meals, preening feathers and planning their flight plans. Its time for me to do the same.

Beach pools

At the Southern end of Ocean Beach about a hundred metres out along the rock platform lies the ruined remains of an ocean swimming pool. Its walls are long collapsed and the breaking waves are slowly filling it with sand and shells, like a walled midden. These ocean pools are a great asset and it is shame to see them left to decay – no doubt a victim of council budget cutting and the rising cost of liability insurance.

Beyond the skeletal remains of the pool, the rock platform continues around the headland, far below the S-bending road that winds its way from the Northern beaches of the headland around to Pearl Beach and Patonga. At the tip of the headland, the rock platform becomes unpassable and to continue onward to Pearl Beach it becomes necessary to clamber up a short way to a wide track that runs along the cliff face, some ten metres above the water. Half way along, Naomi had an attack of the munchies and fell hungrily to her knees to graze on a patch of Warrigal Greens that is growing from under a rock. “Hhmmm…a bit saltier than the one’s we’re growing in the garden”….which I am thinking will save us having the find a salt lick for her later on. Warrigal Greens, orTetragonia tetragonioides, to be precise, are also known as sea spinach – hence their tolerance of salty areas like a cliff face overlooking the ocean. They are also known as “Botany Bay spinach”, due to the fact that Captain James Cook used the greens to prevent scurvy among his men. The bright green, matte, diamond-shaped leaves look like a bit like normal baby  spinach, but come with a distinct flavour of their own

Sadly, upon reaching Pearl Beach we found the water brown and churned up as the waves dumped hard immediately on the edge of the sand. All thoughts of a mid-walk ocean swim disappeared from our minds as the incoming waves layered murky looking foam onto the wet sand.

Fortunately however, Pearl Beach is home to one of the few remaining ocean pools, at the beach’s Southern tip. A small sign proudly proclaims that this pool was erected in 1928, and remains an item of local cultural and historic importance. And long may it remain so. Celebrating the fact that this particular pool had remained unscathed through the night of the long budgetary knives called for some laps – twenty no less. Which is half a kilometre if the pool is 25m in length, and not quite so much if it less than that. In her haste to get out the door this morning Naomi had thoughtlessly neglected to pack the measuring tape and so we will forever remain unsure – but lets assume shall we that the pool is of the more impressive length so as to make my feat of swimming all the more spectacular.