I love a good book. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes and I know that many of our guests love nothing more than settling in with a good book. We keep the bookshelves in the villas well stocked. Guest will often leave books behind and I’ll add mine once I’ve finished them.
I get through a lot of books over a 12-month period. Those that followed my blog way back (before I stopped writing it!) will remember I often did book reviews and recommendations.
So with that in mind I’m starting a 2020 Valle Laguna Book Club. I’ll let you know what I’m reading for the coming month and give you a brief overview of books I’ve read.
First thing I’ll say is that it’s not light summer reading!
The book looks at society and how as humans we are programmed to judge, analyze and form perceptions of people based on certain signals. This can be everything from how someone looks, acts or responds to a certain situations, or simply their race and religion. These assumptions are so ingrained in us, but often we get it SO WRONG.
Gladwell uses many example to highlight this including UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s prediction that having met Adolf Hitler a number of times, and having obtained a signed agreement, he was adamant that there would not be another world war. Gladwell then goes on the give examples based around Bernie Madoff, Sandra Bland, Larry Nassar and Amanda Knox. These cases are all American (but made headlines around the world.) but I have to say that the name Lindy Chamberlain came to my mind as I was reading theses cases. All of these people were judged rightly or wrongly by how they acted rather than the hard evidence.
So, would I recommend this book? Yes but only to those with a keen interest in human behavior. I’d give it 3/5 Stars
The February book is something completely different.
Not sure about everyone else, but I’m ready for the warmer weather to start. I’ve just about cooked everything in my winter repertoire and my taste buds are ready for a change! Is it just me or do we all seem to stick with the tried an tested recipes? I think it’s a time/effort scenario. In winter if I can cook it in bulk and freeze leftovers I’m happy, or just throw everything in the pan and let it cook by itself. I’ll sometimes try a new variation-but mostly it’s the same dish just re-worked. Lamb shanks got a re-work this year. Traditionally I’ve gone the Italian route with a tomato base sauce, but this year I was into the Moroccan spices. You can find my recipe in list above or in a previous posthere. The addition of dried apricots, prunes and chickpeas made for a nice change in many of the Moroccan dishes I tried, but the one I really loved was the preserved lemons. The sharp fresh flavour of the lemons was just so good. Sharp & fresh aren’t usually words you associate with winter cooking. Anyway we have an abundance of lemons this year so I thought I’d give it a go and preserve some of our lemons.
This is a recipe based on the one in Stephanie Alexander’s book “The Cooks Companion”
Preserved Lemons & Lemon Curd
250g Coarse Kitchen Salt
10 Lemons, washed and cut into quarters
1 Bay Leaf
extra lemon juice
Place a spoon full of salt into a sterilised jar (approx.1 litre capacity)
In a separate dish mix the lemons and salt. Stephanie suggested massaging the skin…I think this would have been easier before I’d cut the lemons.
Place the lemon quarters into the jar along with the bay leaf and cloves. Press down on the lemons as you go to release as much juice as possible. I found that squeezing each piece as I put it into the jar helped released more juice. Place any leftover salt into the jar along with the extra lemon juice. The idea is that the lemons are covered by the juice. I found that I was a little short on the juice so I topped it up with some boiling water. I also added 2 extra teaspoons of salt so that the brine remained salty enough.
In every recipe that I’ve read they always mention that if the lemons are not covered by the brine they can develop a white mould on them. Apparently its harmless-it just looks yuck!You can probably see from the picture of mine that because the jar wasn’t packed tight with lemons so when I added the extra water they floated to the top. I’m not sure if this is going to effect the end result-we’ll just have to wait and see. I did get a tip from my friend Natalie from at Moore Farm Fresh Produce. She sliced her lemons so they sat flat in the jar. This allowed her to stack them up to the top of the jar. Clever! I think I’ll try this next time.
As I’ve said before, winter is my favourite time in the Hunter Valley. A few days spent relaxing in front of the fire with a good book can do amazing things for the soul. The villa is totally prepared for winter. The wood is stacked up ready for the fire, winter weight doonas and soft blankets are now on the bed’s and we’ve re stocked the book shelf with new books and magazines.
If you feel like a weekend away in the beautiful Hunter Valley drop me an e-mail. Weekends fill up fast, but don’t forget about the mid-week option. Rates are lower and availability is easier.
Heading back from our afternoon walk and we caught the last rays of daylight just before the sun dipped behind the hills.
Another perfect weekend here in the Hunter Valley. For the first weekend in ages we didn’t have any specific plans. It was actually lovely to take life at a much slower pace for a change. I rode my horses, we caught up with friends and took the dogs for a long afternoon walk. Total rest and relaxation! It also meant that I had time to potter in the kitchen. I had Moroccan Lamb Shanks simmering away on the stove for most of Saturday afternoon. So delicious and so easy. I’ve put the recipe below. I also made a batch of Paris Butter. Have you tried it? It’s similar to a herb butter but with a few extra ingredients. Well worth the effort I must say. Once you made it you can keep it in the freezer for a few weeks. A small knob on top of a beautifully cook steak is just out of this world. Also great to add to a bowl of steamed vegetables or boiled potatoes. Plain food is my nemesis…I know adding butter to steamed vegetables is counter productive but you really just need a tiny bit….or so I keep telling myself!
Speaking of food! I’m looking forward to this upcoming weekend. We have the “Taste of Wollombi” food & wine festival happening on Sunday. It will show case all of the wonderful food and wine producers in our little valley. It’s an easy drive from Sydney or Newcastle so it’s a perfect day out. Hopefully this stunning winter weather will continue and it will be a big day for the local community. I’ve added the link below if you need a bit more information. Hope you are all having a great week so far.
** I didn’t have liquid stock so I used stock powder with boiling water and it was perfectly fine.
Here’s how it’s done.
Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole dish (one with a lid) over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and cook for a few minutes. Turn them a few times so they are brown all over. You don’t want to actually “cook” then just brown them. Once they are brown transfer them to a plate.
Add the onion, carrot and garlic to the dish and stir until combined. Add the cumin, turmeric, paprika and cinnamon. Stir together for about 30 seconds. Add a small amount of stock to the pan and stir to release any of the browned lamb that may have caught on the bottom of the dish. Add the remaining stock. Return the lamb shanks to the pan. Put the lid on and cook over a very low heat for about 1 1/2 hours. The pan should be only just simmering. If the liquid is evaporating during this time add some boiling water.
Finally add the sweet potatoes, chick peas and dried apricots. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest for 10 minutes.
Serve the lamb shanks on a bed of couscous with some of the delicious sauce and sprinkled with coriander. Enjoy!
Note: I’ve cooked a few variation of this dish. It’s also great with lentils and prunes. Just depends what I have in the cupboard. I also great served with brown rice.