food without apology

mint slice cookies

My parents were pretty relaxed and liberal in their approach to how they raised us; my siblings and I ate dirt and snails from the garden as toddlers, took the public bus to school before we’d turned ten, and any questions we raised were answered and discussed openly and honestly. There were two areas however in which my parents were outstandingly strict – what we ate and how we entertained ourselves.
To this day, when my peers – now in their mid twenties – reminisce about the television shows and video games of ‘our’ youth, I am as lost as I was then. Any video console game was outright vetoed and TV in my house was a privilege; it wasn’t until my teens that we were released from an arrangement whereby my two siblings and I had to agree upon one half-hour show to watch each afternoon, and choose only from those aired on ABC – Australia’s public broadcaster.

Food was a similar affair, but one for which I am still grateful. My parent’s philosophy was pretty simple and sensible (though after some of the tantrums it caused, I’m still reluctant to concede them that point!) …kids ate what the parents ate and we weren’t to leave the table until we’d finished our meal, but most importantly what we were given was always fresh, healthy and homemade.
My mother was a great cook, the kind who thought nothing of coming home from a full days work and still preparing an elaborate meal every single night. She schlepped to and from Melbourne’s biggest fresh food market twice a week – a forty minute tram ride with three kids under eight in tow – so we could afford to eat so well. Meals out were few and far between, but when they happened it was fresh, fragrant Vietnamese or a couple of pizzas shared between us with a homemade salad.

Funnily none of this meant we went without treats. Although I suffered some serious lunchbox envy most days at school, in hindsight I’m pretty sure none of the kids with rollups and chocolate covered ‘muesli’ bars during the day went home to snack on platters of carefully cut fruit, occasional homemade cookies and some form of dessert on the table most nights.
I like to think I’ve inherited this philosophy and I’m sure that some day I’ll endure my own kids’ whines of “but everyone else gets to mum!” with the knowledge that some day they’ll appreciate it like I do. That said, there are some mass produced, preservative filled, supermarket best sellers that come to be in your pantry because they are just that good! I can’t really think of mine right now but Tim loves a Mint Slice and I must say I’m also partial. So in the spirit of all that is written above I set out to make my own. The verdict? Really, really good… and definitely all the better for knowing what’s in them!

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whole lemon tart

A year ago we moved into our first home of our own. With its sun-drenched kitchen, north facing balcony, spare room (read: extra wardrobe) and only the boy I adore to share it with, I love being at here. We are lucky enough to live in an area that affords us the lifestyle we love; a brief tram ride to town, wonderful and varied restaurants, bars and cafes at our doorstep and little time wasted travelling to and from work. The one thing we did sacrifice for this lifestyle was a garden.

To curb my craving for lush green I determined that we should plant in pots on the balcony. Having never really been a green thumb myself, I’m a little ashamed to say that Tim did most of the initial hard work and has tended the garden ever since. My favourite purchase was a small but sturdy meyer lemon tree, bought in an attempt to be self sufficient in my love of the hard to find fruit. Tim has tended this plant in particular with great love and care.
Our move timed perfectly with the start of spring and our first year growing went better than any previous attempt. Lemon thyme and Vietnamese mint grew like weeds, I never ran short of parsley and our eggplant rewarded us with four plump, shiny, hollow-sounding fruit. Our successes were countered by an equal number disappointments; heads of lettuce sprouted but were quickly devoured by the greedy critters I had hoped a first floor balcony would deter, Melbourne’s temperamental weather sent us cold snaps that defeated all efforts to grow basil and I was too impatient for the bay tree, picking each earthy leaf as it sprouted eventually leaving only a sad little stick that never did recover.

Tim has had to fight me at every stage to properly care for my precious lemon tree. To me, any trimming or pruning was a tragedy, in particular the removal of flowers which had last year produced the most delightful lemon babies – barely bigger than a pin head. As I write this however, I can see the fruits (excuse the pun) of his labour.  Though I know the tree will bear none of its surprisingly sweet and thin-skinned fruit this year, it now stands proudly with new life sprouting from each carefully trimmed limb, ready to do so – I hope – in another twelve months time.
In the meantime I have six plump fruit purchased from two sweet girls at a country farmers market on the weekend. Both girls looked equally confused by my delight when I spotted the distinctive orange tinged skins at just three for a dollar!

This tart is a beautiful take on a much loved classic. My preference is nearly always for a tarter dessert, but I would encourage the use of a meyer lemon for this recipe due to its inclusion of the whole fruit. I find this tart a more decadent alternative to the creamier custard style versions that I think better compliment the use of a regular lemon; it’s buttery and dense with the consistency of a thick gel. Serve it with a good dollop of unsweetened and softly whipped cream for a perfectly rounded dessert.

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