Monday, July 18, 2011

Keeping busy

The morning started rather dreary, but the sun eventually overcame the misty cloud and we had a beautiful day. Miss Dog and I started with a bit of exercise. I need to strengthen my legs so that mounting up on a very large horse is less of an effort, and so that I have lots more stamina when doing rising trot. We visited the nature reserve and Miss Dog hovered around while I did step-ups (grunting and straining) onto the picnic bench seat, and threw in some sort of press up things and squats. Then we jogged around in the lake area (currently dry). My happy companion was delighted to weave and prance along beside me. No one was there to see us enjoying the morning, thankfully, as I'm a bit self-conscious about my efforts to get fitter.

Don't you hate it when you are keen to get outside into the garden, but some part of the house needs urgent attention! The kitchen needed a good going over, which I did with a high degree of impatience. Then I headed outside to do some gardening.

I planted some mixed blue polyanthus plants in the pair of pots by the front door. We've had these pots for years and years and I still love them. Before placing the pots back in their rightful place I decided that the front door needed a good clean because it was covered in liquifaction dust. When the big earthquakes struck silt was forced upwards out of the earth by the tonne into the worst damaged areas of Christchurch. It was over a metre deep in some areas, completely surrounding people's houses. As it has dried it has formed a fine dust that has spread around in strong winds. Massive amounts have been dumped in piles and I'm sure that is still becoming airborne. Anyway, it gets everywhere. I could even see it on the leaves of plants in the garden.

We are right in the middle of winter here. We really do have lovely mild winters compared to many parts of the world. The garden keeps providing me with entertainment. I'm looking forward to seeing this seedling hellebore flower for the first time.
They are so dainty and elegant.
Strangely there are a few brave roses appearing from time to time. This is Grace which I would highly recommend as it is always flowering.
White daphnes are much easier to come by now. My one flowers before the pink one. It has the same divine fragrance.
Oooh look- another brave rose, Pat Austin. Such a disappointing, floppy bush which I can't seem to shape into a vigorous specimen, but a beautiful colour. The winter version is not the rich apricot shade of the summer flowers.
Yesterday when we had lunch at Celine's house, her lovely mummy was chatting to me about French food. She finds it so disappointing that we seem to export the best of New Zealand produce. I would agree with that. She also says that it seems that we don't make the most of simple, wonderful ingredients, making too much use of foods with additives and preservatives. We certainly have moved away from simple cooking from scratch as life has become busier. I believe that we do have wonderful ingredients here, and we just need to take the time to make the most of them. Madame Falletta told me how she makes her super simple potato gratin, and her eyes sparkled as she talked about how delicious it is. I decided to give it a go.

Rub a cut garlic clove around the base of your dish to begin with. This imparts a very subtle garlic flavour. Layer thinly sliced potatoes, adding a fine sprinkle of salt and pepper between the layers. Pour over fresh cream. I used a small bottle and it bubbled up vigorously (actually right over the top causing billows of smoke from burning cream in the bottom of the oven - so make sure that your dish is deeper than my flan dish).
After about 30 mins I saw the top was browning so I turned the heat down from 180 degrees C to 160 (fanbake) and popped some foil over the dish. I put the dish onto the baking tray to stop any more puffs of smoke coming from the oven.
It looked like this after about 45 mins. The potatoes were soft.
Then I sprinkled some parmesan on the top (freshly grated- don't use that powdery stuff) and cooked it for about 10 minutes more with the foil off.

Oh so good! Super simple and absolutely delicious. The potatoes go all melty and soft with the cream baked right into them. Now my eyes are sparkling when I write about it. Admittedly not an every day dish, but compare what you are eating to premade potato bake sauces and powdered bases. Give it a try.

I was chatting to the Crafty Neighbour about my knitting. She thinks I should keep on going even though it looks big because when she made hats for her daughter they ended up too small. I shall keep on going shortly.


Anonymous said...

Yum that potato gratin looks sensational.
Your garden sounds lovely...our pink daphenes are out before the white...weird!
Glad you are enjoying the holidays...I wish I was on holiday too!!
Love you, Meg xx

Anonymous said...

Hi dear, its funny, I made a potato gratin to go with what I thought was going to be rather sparse left over roast beef tonight. My version was made with a chopped onion in in, salt and pepper and green top milk with a blob of butter. No Parmesan either, but it was very delicious all the same. Funny that you were making it too! Have been doing daffodil work today so even thought it was a lovely day I was stuck inside. Hi Meg! Love to all, Mum. xxxxxxxx