Marjoram! where’ve you been all my life?

I’m obsessed! Marjoram has taken over my life… I’m finding ways of getting it into all sorts of dishes these last few weeks and I’m loving it… I can’t have enough of marjoram, and thyme, and oregano and I can’t believe for the first 40 years of my life I only looked for basil and coriander in the herb section of the supermarket… with a bit of bay and a tiny bit of parsley (bleugh) and ignoring mint totally (BLEUGH).

And now I’m growing my own to keep with up with the amounts I need; it’s like a drug. A perfumed, lemony, herbaceous, aromatic and healthy drug, I’m chopping with abandon…!

Uses for marjoram leaves this week: tossed with leaves and a classic lemon vinaigrette for a crunchy almost-spring salad; chopped up with thyme, salt, a little chilli and butter and smeared under the skin of roasting chicken; sprinkled over a freshly cooked tomato, red onion & bocconcini pizza; sauced up with its aromatic herby friends – basil, coriander, thyme and oregano – garlic and butter and tossed through home-made linguine; garnishing a bowl of wintry Jerusalem artichoke soup; and my favourite: finishing off my easy-peasy & cheap one-pot chicken braise… delish. And now to the recipe!

Mel’s easy-peasy & cheap one-pot chicken braise – Serves 4 (with potential leftovers for pasta!)

 8 chicken drumsticks (free-range at least)

Olive oil

2 brown onions

4 cloves garlic

2 tins cherry tomatoes

A cup of chicken stock

Salt & pepper

Fresh herbs: handful marjoram, oregano, thyme

Dried herbs: 2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Brown off the chicken drumsticks with a good glug of olive oil in an oven-proof casserole dish* (with lid & wide enough to fit chicken in one layer if possible). Remove.

Peel then halve onions & finely slice, add to hot pot and stir. Strip thyme leaves from stalks and add to the onions. Peel and crush the garlic, add to the pot and cook, stirring, on medium heat until the onions are soft but not brown.

Add chicken back to the pot, pour in the tomatoes and enough stock to almost cover the chicken, sprinkle a good pinch of salt, grind some pepper and add the bay leaves. Turn heat up and watch until it’s almost boiling, then pop lid on and place in oven for an hour.

With 20 minutes to go, take the lid off to let the liquid reduce a little.

Remove from the oven, pick the leaves from the marjoram and oregano, chop them up and sprinkle over the finished chicken. Serve immediately.

Best eaten with buttery boiled potatoes and garlicky broccoli.

*Best by far is to cook this in cast-iron – I’ve got a big Le Creuset and a small cheapie version from Aldi and they both cook up a storm… worth investing in (or not!).

dear dear marjoram, grow quickly please

Linguine and herbs

serves 6

 500g fresh linguine

1 tablespoon cooking salt

225 g butter

8 small cloves garlic

Small bunch basil to yield 1/3 cup

Bunch coriander to yield 1/3 cup

3 or 4 sprigs thyme to yield 2 tablespoons

3 or 4 sprigs marjoram to yield 2 tablespoons

3 or 4 sprigs oregano to yield 2 tablespoons

Small bunch parsley to yield 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons black olives

Flaked salt & black pepper

 Fill a large stockpot with water and heat on high. Meanwhile wash & carefully dry the herbs, then pick the leaves if needed, discarding the stems. Finely chop herbs. Slice the olives & finely chop the garlic.

Melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Stir in the herbs.

When the water is boiling add the pasta & cooking salt, stir, put lid back on and when boiling again cook for 3 minutes until ‘al dente’. Drain the pasta and transfer to back into the stockpot. Add the butter mixture to the stockpot and toss carefully. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with black olive slices and serve into the serving bowls.

(Adapted from Alice Waters’ ‘The Art of Simple Food)

yum yum pigs bum.

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Spring, shoots, Sydney and blossoms

Now, suddenly it’s as if winter never existed (except of course in the $400 electricity bill of heating and clothes-drying that landed yesterday) as the clocks jumped forward an hour last weekend, and the onset of lush late afternoons of brilliant sunshine, dinners eaten in broad daylight, and little children wondering why they have to go to bed while it’s still playtime…

We gave a mostly rainy welcome to Daylight Savings, but it was a warm, moist and muggy one, followed by some gorgeous sunny, heat prickling days – the perfect recipe for explosions of garden-green, the trees and plants and flowers and bugs all bursting with life and joy (well perhaps not the snails, alas they burst underfoot on my late-night trip out to find Charlie… less life and joy, more death and snot). Everything has exploded into life, so beautiful! Our trusty lemon tree has bloomed – it’s such a pity to be so far away at the back of the garden as the blossoms are so amazingly aromatic and Jasmine-like: exquisitely perfumed, heady and tropical.

Just driving along next to the racecourse yesterday I was hit with such verdant brilliance it felt like I was on some crazy hallucinogenic drugs (which I wasn’t),  the scene of trees, grass and sunshine was so bright and crystal-clear… Centennial Park was jumping with joggers, walkers, horse-riders, dog-walkers, stroller-runners – it really does feel great to be alive when everything around you is teeming with life and pulsating heart-beat, and joy!

When I open the kitchen door in the early-morning haze of sleep, the waking dawn smell of Sydney is one that hits me full in the face and takes me right back to being a kid at my grandparents in Carlingford, … although their house was right on the busiest road in the area, the block was deep and surrounded by mature trees, thriving banana palms and passionfruit vines… the particular smell is of sun warming dew-wet leaves, the sub-tropical Sydney flowers awaking, the hungover humid air… and then it goes, replaced by cut lawns, truck fumes, tradies’ smokes, burning toast.

Yet again this year I’ve neglected to prepare the nectarines from fruit-fly onslaught… The boughs of the tree are now beginning their slow sag, weighed down with the promising fruit. Last year we had hundreds and hundreds of juicy nectarines ripen beautifully: unsuspectingly I went to bit into one freshly picked from the tree, then at the last minute thought better to wash it – and cutting it in half was freaked to find two fresh halves of squirming maggot… luckily we had the chooks to enjoy the fruit & buggie bounty but this year will have to dispose of all the nectarines lest the maggot eggs infest the soil. Bugger!

I miss the chickens – discarding all the uneaten bowls of lovingly prepared children’s meals into the compost just isn’t the same… and as well as the wormy nectarines I think we let them run wild in the crab apples & bitter, mean persimmons too… In reality though, the stress of keeping safe someone else’s livestock is something I can live without, with the landlord’s advice ringing in our ears, “Whatever you do, do NOT leave the chickens unlocked at night, or they will DIE!!!”

So now to throw down some more snail bait, pick the seeding tops from the rocket, and hide the ripening strawberries from impatient fingers… and of course breathe in the juicy morning spring air, stretch arms out wide and look ahead to summer, beachy days & sizzled sausages… aaaah Sydney!

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Goodness it has been windy here the last 24 hours… windy and cold. I thought a part of someone’s roof had fallen into our garden and was harbouring ideas of wandering along the street door-knocking to find out who it belonged to… until I realised it’s from our own house. D’oh!

My poor nectarine tree is in the middle of budburst: little blossoms have started to appear, beautiful pink delicately-scented flowers – after a lovely warm weekend it must have thought we were ready to start thinking about balmy summer evenings and getting our swimmers out (I certainly was!) but alas, the wintry reality has set in and here we are again with heaters at full steam ahead and me wearing my jacket inside as I type this… sniff (really)

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