Monday, January 20, 2014

super quick summer bean pasta

The beans are going, um, bananas, down in the communal bed at the moment. A great double sided frame of them, practically spitting beans like a crazy, jack-potting pokie machine. Amazing. We've been using them at our house to make iterations and variations of super easy-peasy quick, summer, bean pasta. Here it is, in all its simple but delicious glory.


a bunch of beans,
a coupla shallots/an onion,
4 cloves of garlic,
olive oil,
one small chilli (totally optional)
a glug of white wine or vermouth 
plenty of parmesan

All you do is....

Wash, top/tail and chop the beans into thirds. Put the pasta on to boil. Finely chop the onion or shallots and garlic. Pop it into a frypan with generous oil and the sliced chilli. Saute at low heat until soft and slightly golden. Splash in the booze and allow it to sizzle off. Just before the pasta is ready, add the beans to the onion pan and (lightly!) saute (you want them to soak up some flavour but stay crunchy). Drain the pasta. Combine with beans. Add lots of parmesan. That's it!

My Parents' Garden

I went back to my folk's place in Brisbane at Christmas time and their garden was looking fabulous. I couldn't help but take a bucket-load of photos which I've shared here. Sadly, none of them do it justice. It's such a lovely space.

 Both of my parents are active gardeners, each in their own fashion. My dad is a weeder, always has been (good Catholic work ethic, no small measure of martyrdom). The quantity of nut grass he has pulled out in his lifetime would fill several backyard swimming pools. He takes particular charge of the veggie beds along the fence out the back, where the chilies grow, and it's probably not a coincidence that this is the area most prone to weed invasion and most thoroughly exposed to the baking Brisbane sun. 

He also loves to get stuck into overgrown spots around the garden and has got himself into very hot water with my mum a few times for attacking swathes of unruly orange and yellow nasturtiums, pulling them out in their bright flowering prime.

My mum (also a Catholic) is not shy of hard work (or martyrdom) but she also tends to take charge of garden design. When I was a kid, the garden was mostly showy natives, as was the fashion at the time. There are still lots of natives but the style of the garden has changed completely. Not that my parents are at all followers of garden fads. But as the years have passed, my mother has begun to yearn for the old-fashioned Queensland gardens of her childhood. I think you could call her current gardening style, daggy subtropical nostalgia.

We watched "The Sapphires" the other night. It's set in the late 60s and the family house at Cummeragunja Mission is pretty much my mum's dream garden. The verandah is stuffed to overflowing with strange things in assorted pots, urns and old bathtubs while the beds around the house bristle with geraniums and other old-fashioned toughies, no doubt surviving (within the story) on discarded washing up and bath water. I tried to find a picture but you'll just have to look out for it next time you're watching the film. 

My mother now seeks out strange succulents and cruxifix orchids at church fetes and garage sales. She takes cuttings of neon-coloured geraniums, fills pots with bright flowering annuals and she pays through the nose for lovely, heavy, textured old concrete pots (if the peeling paint on the pots isn't to her taste she colours them in with my niece's crayons). The paling fence and the trees drip with orchids and air plants, cacti cluster under the kitchen window (some of them in repurposed olive oil tins) and the patio is lined with tiered pot stands of varying heights and styles. 

Lovely little concrete statuettes, mostly birds, are scattered strategically around the place. My favourite is a swan who sits elegantly atop the concrete drain outside the toilet. Daggy, Subtropical, Nostalgic, Perfection.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Day at the Water Gardens

Thanks to a tip off from an article in the Gardening Australia magazine, our family took a day trip to Melbourne's east to visit the magical Blue Lotus Farm, a property devoted to the cultivation (and breeding?) of lotus and waterlilies. It really is a wonderland - lake after lake, linked by little wooden bridges, the water surface barely visible under a carpet of leaves and scattered everywhere with flowers. There are the tall, nodding bowl shaped blooms of the lotus, their strange, perforated centers foreshadowing the distinctive, woody pepper-pot seedpods they will become. And, amidst the shiny green lilypads, resting on the surface like floating crowns, the sweet, sherbet-coloured blooms of the waterlilies.  

Inspired by the charmingly ubiquitous water gardens of Bali, I've been dying set up my own bowl gardens at home. And so, after wandering through acres of gorgeous lotus and lilies, snapping heaps of photos, scoffing a delicious picnic and testing to see if saliva rolls magically off lotus leaves the way water does (it does indeed), I bought, from the adjoining nursery, a sweet little pink lotus and a teeny tiny, yellow flowering waterlily, both suitable for growing in smallish bowls.

But it's not just the Balinese water gardens that inspired me. I have to admit that I have a thing for waterlilies. I have had since a year 12 biology trip to Stradbroke Island. As a massive nature nerd, this camp was one of the highlights of my year - tramping around with my friends, staying in cabins and cooking our own food, showing off my knowledge of flora and fauna (I was unbearable), swimming in tea-coloured freshwater lakes, swimming at the beach, collecting data, collecting plants, spotlighting for possums and, so romantic I can hardly believe it happened, walking at night along the beach with the curly-haired, surfer boy of my teenage dreams while phosphorescent waves broke magically on to the shore. On the last day of the camp, the teachers drove us to a swamp that was covered in brilliant blue waterlilies, their mysterious perfume filling the air with an strange, sweet scent. I don't recall what the educational point of the trip was but I do know it involved wading into the swamp, taking some kind of measurements and getting very wet and very muddy. 

Once we'd finished collecting the data, we picked bunches of the lovely blue-purple lilies before emerging from the swamp to discover our legs were covered with blood-engorged leeches. Someone took a wonderful photo of my friend Ruth and I, up to our waists in the swamp, grinning at the camera, our hands full of waterlilies while another friend behind us shrieks her way into a leech-induced panic attack. On the bus and barge home to Brisbane, I sat next to the curly-haired surfer boy, the lilies cradled carefully in my lap and for the next week they sat in the kitchen in a glass of water, opening every morning like glowing purple stars and filling the house with their incredible scent.

testing spit on lotus leaves
A spot of internet research suggests that these magical lilies were probably Nymphaea cerulea, the Egyptian Blue Waterlily, not native to Australia but naturalised along much of the east coast. However, Australia does have native waterlily species (Nymphaea spp.) as well as lots of other wonderful aquatic plants. Click here the link for an excellent summary of native water plants by Nick Romanowski, who's an expert on the subject. Turns out, the lovely sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) which features so prominently in the art and mythology of Asia, is native to Australia as well.  I suspect both waterlilies and lotuses were eaten by Indigenous groups in Northern Australia but a quick Google search failed to reveal any reliable information on this.

Sadly I won't be growing native waterlilies, or the gorgeous, scented blue Egyptian variety. My new lily purchase has tiny, butter yellow flowers that don't really smell. And while my lotus is the same species at those growing in monsoonal lakes up North, it's a specially bred miniature variety without the fabulously weird pockmarked center. However, my enthusiasm remains un-dampened. I wish I could say the same for my shoes.

my little lotus

teeny tiny water lilies