to the east of your own island: remembering margaret scott

This is a piece I wrote for my old blog Green Ink, about 10 years ago. As today would have been Margaret Scott’s 85th birthday, I thought I’d republish it here.

When I was sixteen years old, my school held a kind of activity day in late October in the lead up to the end of the year and the Christmas holidays, when attention levels were drooping and we were in need of some fun, with the HSC (Oz equivalent of GCSE) exams on the horizon for most of us. The day was filled with workshops in various recreational activities designed around the theme of "Let Your Lives Speak", as per the Quaker ethos.

I signed up for the creative writing workshop which was to be run by Margaret Scott. Margaret was a poet, novelist and well-known intellectual, both throughout the state and on a national scale, and at this time she was a regular on Good News Week. Students and teachers alike were abuzz with excitement about her coming to the school - I, on the other hand, almost exclusively inhabited the world of nineteenth-century literature at that time (oh, how cool I was!) and didn't really know who she was. I was just interested in doing a creative writing workshop!

She gave us a topic to write on and we were given fifteen minutes to write a piece, and then we went around the room where everyone read theirs aloud. I was surrounded by students who I think quite fancied themselves as the top dogs of the arts at the school, and most of them eagerly volunteered to go first, with Margaret offering some brief comments, but nothing along the lines of "oh my goodness, that is amazing for one so young", which I think they were expecting! (I'm sure you all went to school with people like that!)

It came to my turn and I read my piece. When I finished, no one said anything.

Margaret started saying something, but then she trailed off and looked directly at me. Her eyes were so perceptive I felt like she could see right through me.

"Would you read that again?" she asked.

Being an insecure teenager with no confidence in my abilities, my immediate thought was "why? What's wrong with it?!" I felt very stupid! But I seem to recall the rest of the people in the room looking at me with a mixture of awe and envy. So, I read it again. Of the whole group, I was the only one asked to read again. And then the piece was discussed for almost the rest of the session, until one of the teachers supervising remembered that there were a few more people to get through! I can't even remember what it was about, but I seem to recall everyone's comments on the hidden symbolism in my piece making me sound far more in command of the craft than I actually was.

I never told anyone about it at the time because as I say, my first reaction was to be embarrassed, but I look back on that episode now with pride. Sometimes in my low moments I think back to it, and think that if a piece I wrote made a fine writer and scholar such as Margaret Scott have to think twice, then maybe I do have something.

It's a memory I treasure. Thank you, Margaret.

She passed away in 2005. It was only in the last few years of her life that I got to know her through her work, not just this memory. I love her poems, particularly the housework ones (which I'm trying to find a copy of) and I recommend trying to find her novel Family Album - if you're in Australia you should be able to get a copy from most libraries. It's a lovely book.

Do you have a moment like this that you look back on, to spur you forward?

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

CASTAWAY

 

Sometimes a neighbour's look, a post-card, a telephone call

will carry you up the shore of another life

and leave you gaping amazed at sudden jungle

a world away from the dolorous desk

the spruce back-yard, the brick-and-tile in Rosebud.

This glimmering shade's cacophonous with

unfamiliar names of long-dead pets and teachers,

side-streets in distant cities and faithless lovers.

The canopy's alive with flitting shapes unknown

beyond the confines of this island.

Here is the castaway's camp, his palisade,

contrivances he's fashioned year by year,

stores he saved from the wreck of his old ship

before it sank from sight beyond the reef.

Fragments of once-proud sails now patch his roof.

A saw, a pannikin hang by the bed

where every day he wakes alone at dawn

to a view of mountains. Those peaks rise

over the trees in a blue scrawl whose message

you seem to have read from a different angle

on the wall of sky to the east of your own island.

© Margaret Scott

tofu, broccoli, cashew and macadamia stir-fry

tofu-broccoli-stir-fry-philippa-moore

In an effort to demonstrate my diet is much more than soup and baked goods - though my most recent recipe posts on here would suggest otherwise - I’m sharing this amazing stir-fry that has found its way into my repertoire of late.

While London of course did have Chinatown, one thing I love about being back in Australia is the array of wonderful Asian ingredients you can get just in the local supermarket. Shao xing, for example - or Chinese cooking wine - I was never without it when I lived in Melbourne, and yet it proved elusive while I lived in London (and when I did find it, it was a lot of money!). I got a bottle for something ridiculous like $3 on my last trip to Woolworths. Not to mention the noodles! The sauces! The varieties of tofu and tempeh! Admittedly, Australia has a way to go when it comes to the availability of other vegetarian foods (I so miss Alpro single cream) but when it comes to the proliferation of delicious Asian ingredients, I can’t complain!

I had also forgotten the delight of macadamia nuts. I buy a mix from Woolworths of unsalted cashews and macadamias, which is what I use in this stir-fry. You can use any nuts you like. Always good to have nuts and tofu in a vegetarian stir-fry for extra protein!

My favourite tofu so far has to be Coles own brand Hard Tofu. It’s made in Australia, so bloody cheap and easy to cook with! It’s my tofu of choice for this stir-fry but you can of course use your favourite.

Or, if you’re my parents, use chicken. Amused face.

Tofu, broccoli, cashew and macadamia stir-fry

Makes 3 large serves

4 dried noodle nests
Rice bran oil, for frying
1 x 300g pack hard tofu, cut into cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1 large head broccoli, chopped, including the stalk
3 stalks silverbeet, chopped
1/2 cup cashew and macadamia nuts (or however much you want)
Splash of shao xing (Chinese cooking wine), or cooking sherry, or vegetable stock
Vegetarian oyster sauce (made with mushrooms - although apparently oysters are vegan, that’s a post for another day)
Sesame seeds, to serve (optional)

Boil the kettle. Put your dried noodle nests in a heatproof bowl and when the kettle is ready, cover the noodle nests with boiling water. Set aside while you do the rest.

Place a generous splash of rice bran oil in a large wok or frying pan over high heat. Add the tofu. Cook the tofu for a few minutes, stirring/turning occasionally until it is light brown on both sides. If you want it crispier, cook it until it is golden brown all over.

Then add the onion, garlic, chilli and broccoli/silverbeet stalks (reserve the florets and leaves until last). Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until soft. Add a splash of shao xing to get all the yummy flavours talking to each other. Add the nuts, continuing to stir. You can put a lid on at this point to get the stalks of the vegetables cooked a bit more, I find it speeds things up. Otherwise keep stirring and cooking until the stalks are tender.

Add the broccoli florets, silverbeet leaves, another splash of shao xing (or soy sauce, or vegetable stock if you’d prefer) and the oyster suace (as much as you like). Stir everything to combine. Keep stirring as the broccoli cooks, or alternatively you can put a lid on the pan and leave it to cook on its own (purists will tell me technically this then makes this dish not a stir-fry, but hey!).

At this point, drain the noodles and then add to the pan.

Toss it all together until thoroughly combined. Add some more oyster sauce if you like (or any other asian sauce you might have lying around that you want to use - I have a chilli soybean one that’s very good). Toss again until everything is mixed together and piping hot.

Spoon into giant noodle bowls, sprinkle with sesame seeds, maybe add a bit more chilli if you like it hot (like I do) and then tuck in. I do enjoy the frisson of greedy pleasure that a delicious noodle dish inspires - you just want to keep shovelling it in! (or is that just me?)

I don’t know what it is but the combination of spongy tofu, crunchy nuts, wholesome broccoli, slippery noodles and spicy chilli is an absolute winner. Serves 2 for dinner and leftovers for one lucky person the next day. Be prepared to fight over who gets it!

pumpkin, feta and silverbeet muffins

pumpkin-feta-silverbeet-muffins-philippa-moore

I’m a huge fan of the savoury muffin and while I have provided a receipt for one previously, I made them in a different way to use up some roast pumpkin and feta I had lying around and OH MY WORD they were good.

I always roast pumpkin with the skin on - with this batch of muffins, it was butternut but with other pumpkins such as Kent, with thicker grey skin, you might want to double check that it’s soft and not too tough.

You can use any combination of roast veg, cheese and herbs you have lying around. You can also sub a generous handful of flat-leaf parsley or spinach for the silverbeet leaves.

Be warned, these don’t last long. You will regret only making one batch.

Pumpkin, feta and silverbeet muffins

Makes 6 large or 12 small muffins

350g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh or dried sage leaves, chopped
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, needles chopped
275ml almond milk
135ml Greek yoghurt
115ml olive oil (I used some of the chilli oil from a jar of yoghurt cheese I bought, it worked beautifully)
2 eggs
200g (roughly) chunks of roast pumpkin
150g feta (I used a combination of feta and soft goats cheese)
2-3 large leaves silverbeet, shredded (not the stalks, just the leaves)
Grated parmesan, to sprinkle on top
Hemp seeds, to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C fan-forced). Line a muffin tray with cases.

Combine the flour, bicarb soda, salt, pepper, sage and rosemary in a large mixing bowl.

Combine the wet ingredients in a jug.

Add the roast pumpkin chunks and the feta to the flour, and make a well in the centre. Pour the wet ingredients into the centre, sprinkle the silverbeet leaves over the top. Stir gently to just combine - over-mixing will give you tough muffins, which no-one wants! A few lumps of flour are fine, don’t worry.

Spoon the mixture into your muffin cases, ensuring each one has a good few chunks of pumpkin in. Sprinkle the tops with grated parmesan and hemp seeds - “drugs?!” asked my horrified mother when I told her what was on top of the muffin she was enjoying! - this is optional of course, but I find it adds greatly to the flavour. Hemp is full of protein too.

Bake in the oven until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean - in my temperamental gas oven, I found the large muffins needed about 35 minutes. If you’re making 12 smaller ones, you might only need 18-20 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and go from there!

Allow to cool briefly in the tin then turn out on to a wire rack.

You can eat these warm or cold. They are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup.


tomato and lentil lasagna soup

It’s Frida approved.

It’s Frida approved.

I shared the above photo on Instagram, making the assumption that everyone was probably sick of my soup photos - but it’s all I’ve been eating lately and I’m all about keeping it real on here, as you know - but to my great surprise, there have been many calls for the recipe. I try never to let my public down, so here it is!

Imagine the best bits of minestrone and lasagna but in a soup, with some added spiciness and piquancy from ginger, cumin, coriander, parsley and lemon juice. It’s downright addictive and delicious! I made this up to use up what was in my fridge but I think I’m going to have to buy all the ingredients again to make this soup all winter long.

And please note, when I say “finely chopped”, I mean chopped as finely as you like/can be bothered! If you don’t mind a chunk of ginger or garlic in your soup (and I don’t), then don’t feel obliged to slave over the chopping board for longer than you want to!

Tomato and lentil lasagna soup

Makes at least 6 decent servings

Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 bunch fresh parsley (the bunches you can get in the supermarket), including the stalks, finely chopped
3 large sticks celery, including the leaves and ribby bottom bits (without dirt), finely chopped
3 large stalks silverbeet (chard) or kale, including the stalks, finely chopped
Any other vegetables you want to use up (carrot, zuchinni, capsicum etc), finely chopped
390g lentils - I used a combination of 150g dried red lentils and 1 x 400g can (including liquid) cooked brown lentils which was a great combination, as the cooked brown held their shape nicely
3-4 tablespoons tomato paste (I like it rich and tomatoey)
2-3 tablespoons spicy tomato chutney (optional, I just had this sitting in the fridge)
1 x 420g can whole plum tomatoes
1 heel of manchego/parmesan/vegetarian hard cheese (optional, but it adds a lovely flavour - freeze your cheese heels when you get to the hard end of your piece of cheese so you can use them in things like this!)
2 litres (approximately) stock - I made my stock with Massel Beef Style stock powder, which is vegan, and adds a lovely richness
4-5 fresh lasagna sheets (approx 1/3 of a 375g pack), torn into rough pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
Baby spinach, to stir in at the end
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Drizzle some olive oil in a large, heavy-based stock pot and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften. Add the spices, parsley and vegetables, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes until starting to soften and fragrant. Add a bit of water if it’s starting to stick to the bottom.

Add the lentils and stir to get everything mixed together nicely. Add the tomato paste, chutney (if using), can of tomatoes, stock and cheese heel. Stir to combine, add more stock if you think it needs it, and then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

Tear the fresh lasagna sheets into pieces - the more rustic the better! - and place in the simmering soup. You may need to add a little bit more stock. Make sure the pieces of pasta are submerged sufficiently. Cook for a further 4 minutes until the pasta is soft.

Finally, add the lemon juice, spinach leaves, salt and pepper to taste (you probably won’t need much salt if you’ve used the cheese heel) and stir well to combine and wilt the spinach. Remove the cheese heel (or cut it up and put it back in the soup - I like that, but not everyone does!), ladle into deep bowls and serve.

This is like a warm hug in a bowl! The fresh lasagna sheets make it particularly phenomenal. If you want a stick-to-your-ribs winter soup that will warm you from the inside out and make your tastebuds zing, this is the one. I hope you enjoy it.

hearty sweet potato and brown rice soup

hearty-sweet-potato-and-brown-rice-soup-philippa-moore

I’m writing this with my thickest sweater on, wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing fingerless gloves to type. Am I in London? No, I’m in Hobart, as the last days of autumn have begun to blur into winter.

Tom and I have just moved to a house on the fringe of the city - a house built between the wars, so roughly 100 years old, with lots of original features but not the most modern heating. It will be trial and error to see how we go keeping warm in this place over the winter! The one thing UK winters have going for them is the pretty standard central heating of homes and offices. I had forgotten how airy houses in Australia are - because they have to be, otherwise you would suffocate in the warmer weather! So the upside is that, in theory, this house will be a haven of coolness in the summer.

Back to soup. It’s all I want to eat at the moment, something warm and nourishing. I saw an ad for Australian sweet potatoes on Instagram with an interesting sounding soup, and as I had one in the fridge to use up, I glanced at my pantry shelves and recreated what I saw in the image. Thick and hearty, and full of goodness, it was just what we wanted on a four degree evening, alongside some toasted sourdough from Imago, my new favourite local bakery.

Hearty sweet potato and brown rice soup

1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1 medium piece of fresh ginger, crushed or chopped finely
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 large stalks silverbeet (chard), chopped
3 stalks celery (including leaves), chopped
1 tablespoon of your favourite curry powder (more if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chilli flakes
1 cup red lentils
1 cup brown rice
2 litres vegetable stock (you may need more as the soup cooks and thickens)
1 can coconut milk
Spinach and parsley, as much as you want, to stir in at the end
Lemon juice, to taste, to stir in at the end
Coriander pesto, to serve (optional)

Drizzle a little olive or coconut oil in a large stockpot and place on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes until softened and fragrant. Add the vegetables, curry powder and cayenne pepper and stir to get everything coated and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add some water if it starts catching or browning too quickly.

Add the lentils and brown rice, stirring so they are distributed evenly. Then add the stock and coconut milk, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Make sure everything is fully covered with liquid to spare, add more stock if you need to (or just rinse out the coconut milk can with water, I usually do). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, place the lid on top and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and lentils are cooked. You might need to add some more stock at this stage if you prefer your soup “soupier”!

Once you’re happy the rice and lentils are cooked (and the sweet potato of course, but if the grains are cooked then the vegetables will be too!), add some spinach and parsley to finish, and some fresh lemon juice. Stir well to wilt the greens and distribute the fresh flavour of the lemon. Taste and add salt and pepper if liked.

Ladle into bowls and serve either as is or with a dollop of delicious coriander pesto (I buy mine from Hill Street Grocer - it’s one of my many food obsessions) and some toasted sourdough or pitta bread alongside.

Just the thing to get you through the wintry nights!