2020 Valle Laguna Book Club-January Reads

Book 1 for 2020

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.

So first up for January 2020 is “Talking to Strangers” by Malcom Gladwell. 

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. 

I’ll be reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Ownens

February 2020 Valle Laguna Book Club

Has anyone else read either of these books? Let me know if you have or if you want to join me in reading  “Where The Crawdads Sing” in February, I’d love to compare notes.

Lemon Rush

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 post here. 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
Preserved Lemons
250g Coarse Kitchen Salt
10 Lemons, washed and cut into quarters
1 Bay Leaf
2-3 Cloves
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.

Winter Update for the Villa

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.

 
 
 

Winter Weekend

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.

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 Lamb shanks
1 large leek, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1L Chicken stock** 
600g  sweet potato (kumera) peeled, coarsely chopped
1 x 400g can chick peas, rinsed, drained
12 dried apricots roughly chopped
Fresh coriander to serve.
** 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.

 
 

 

 

 

Whats in a name?


Valle Laguna (Pronounced Var +Lay Laguna)

What’s in a name? A great deal apparently.  When we first purchased our farm we tried to re-name it. We tossed around many ideas but none really felt right. We tried combining our first names, our surnames, even our initials. We then moved onto other things like local flora or fauna, and indigenous words that had historical significance. Nothing seemed to fit. We where also mindful that there would be a business element to our farm, so we didn’t want anything too cliché like Kangaroo Crossing or Wombat Hollow. Great names, but they didn’t quite fit the vision we had for the far. Friends that stayed with us tried to be helpful, but I have to say the quality of their suggestions decreased as the wine consumption increased!
Anyway, over time we got busy with building and what to name the farm seemed to lose it’s importance. We have always just referred to it as “the farm” but at the back of our minds we knew it would eventually need an “official” name. Turns out it already had one and it was brought to our attention quite by accident. We were filling out some paperwork (neither of us can remember exactly what is for) and the property was referred to as Valle Laguna. We did some checking and sure enough it was a “registered” name allocated to our property.
The original owners had Italian heritage so they incorporated the Italian word for valley, Valle. Given that we are located in a valley, in the township of Laguna…in the Hunter Valley …. it’s not hard to see where they got their inspiration……..
Darn it! It seems so simple. Why couldn’t we come up with a name? As I sit here now, a few years down the track I don’t think we where ever meant to re-name it. Perhaps it’s like the superstition
that sailors have about re-naming boats. It brings bad luck.
I’ve settled into the name. The only real issue I have with it now is the pronunciation. It’s not easy for people. Whenever people call about accommodation there is always that awkward moment when they cant quiet get their mouth around the first word. I always jump in and say the name for them, much to their relief.
So for the record the Italian pronunciation of Valle Laguna is Var +Lay Laguna.
I’ve also been informed that the Spanish word for valley is also Valle. The Spanish pronunciation is Va+Yay  Laguna.

VarLay, VarYay, whatever….. If you’d like to come and stay with us just call and we’ll work it out!!
Hope you have a great day. Cheers Kylie

Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup


So the weather forecast was not entirely correct. Go figure!!
Saturday was ok, so I managed to ride both of my horses, weed around the fruit trees and give them a little fertiliser. (aka horse poo that I’d picked up.) I then tackled a few of the more mundane household task that I had been putting off. Funny how they don’t magically disappear even when you ignore them….
Sunday was cold and raining. Most people would find this depressing but I found it just perfect for relaxing by the fire reading my book, drinking cups of tea and eating cake. Almond cake with lemon syrup to be precise. With lemons from our very own tree! Recipe below. Hope you enjoy.

Cake

4 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g melted butter
1 cup almonds- (1 cup almonds blitzed in the food processor)

Lemon Syrup

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract or essence
2 Lemons thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 160C and grease either a large loaf tin or a square cake tin.
Note for young players- a loaf tin works best. The cake takes longer to cook in the square tin and you risk the outer edges drying out.

Lemon syrup; combine the sugar, water and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon slices and simmer for 15 minutes or until they are completely soft. Arrange the slices on the base of your cake tin and then pour in the syrup.
For the cake batter; combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is pale and tripled in volume. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Then gently fold in the butter and almonds.
Spoon batter into the cake tin, smooth over the top and bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Let rest for about 5 minutes then turn out onto a platter making sure to collect all of the syrup. Serve as it is or with vanilla ice cream!! 

Another Job for Winter

There is nothing I love more in winter than sitting in front of the fire and gazing into the flames. The  warmth seems to reach into every corner of the room. What I dont love is the extra work that it creates. Aside from the work involved in collecting and stacking the fire wood, there is the monotonous task of cleaning it out each day and re-setting it.
I’m not sure if it’s the type of wood that is being burnt or the effect of a slow smouldering fire that causes the glass to turn black. Whatever it is, it’s a nightmare to clean. Over the years I’ve tried many different methods of cleaning it off. Hot soapy water, Gumption, vinegar & bi carb soda. None really worked that well and they all made a huge mess. Then out of the blue my Mum gave me the secret recipe. In my world this is what’s known as a “Game Changer”.

Take a few pieces of newspaper, scrunch them up then dampen them slightly with plain old water. Dip it into the cold ash at the bottom of the fire. Using a circular motion wipe the inside of the glass. Hey Presto! The ash makes a fine abrasive paste that takes off the burnt on black soot.

 It might take a few pieces of paper to get it totally clean, but I just throw them into the fire and they dry out by the time you need to re light the fire. If you do this at the first sign of discoloration then it’s a 2 second job.