In praise of plums

Our plums on the tree

One of the very special things about an old house is the garden that comes with it.  Our farmhouse is graced with wonderful fruit trees—some of them more than fifty years old, our neighbors tell us. The star is a gnarled old plum tree that each year bears an abundance of superb plums—more than enough for us and for the flocks of birds that also appreciate its fruit. The windfalls are enjoyed by our chickens, horses and little bulls.

Never happier than when picking his birthday plums

A cool, gray wet summer this year meant we didn’t get much bounty from the other fruit trees or the vegetable garden. But the plum tree more than made up for that by giving us hundreds of perfect fruits. My husband has a particular love for the plum tree, it bears fruit around about his birthday in January and he sees the crop as a gift just for him. He’s very possessive of them!

Happy harvest!

Over the last few years, I’ve learned how to save the plums as jams and preserved in jars (though nothing like the perfect preserves I admire made by the experts). I freeze them too, but our electricity supply can be erratic when storms rage through our valley so I don’t like to risk too many in the freezer!

Stewed with vanilla and cinnamon

The family favorite is plums stewed with sugar, a vanilla pod and a cinnamon quill. “Make enough for the whole year, please,” demands my daughter who likes to eat them with muesli and yogurt for breakfast.

Stacked ready to freeze

I did my best to fill her order, with hubby helping to wash and stone and cut (and snack!).  But in spite of our best efforts, work and writing and everything else got in the way and I didn’t quite manage a year’s supply this time. Preserving fruit is hot, hard, time-consuming work! However there is a still a satisfying number of containers stored away in pantry and freezer. And, yes, I confess, I’m guilty of holding open the cupboard doors and gloating over them!

Plum upside down cake - yum!

We have no idea what variety our plums are—we just enjoy them and hope we’ll be enjoying them for years to come…

Go gadgets!

Some people go crazy for shoes. I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets. Each year, I treat myself to a new one—something quite different to the ones I already have. I allow myself plenty of time to traipse around a kitchenware store, browsing and marveling at all the gadgets I never knew I needed until I chanced upon them.

It juliennes vegetables

My latest acquisition is this gadget for julienning vegetables. Just slide down the carrot and you have fine, even slices.

Aren't those carrots beautiful?

Here is my julienner in action. I’m entranced with it! My husband not so much. He thought it was a vegetable peeler and scraped his fingers trying to peel potatoes with it. Maybe I should have told him about it. Maybe I didn’t want to hear him asking me did I really need it!

This year I did something I usually never do—made a repeat purchase. This nifty quiche tin was last year’s impulse purchase and I used it so often I began to fear what I would do without it.

The perforated base is the secret

The holes in the base make for wonderfully well-cooked pastry in savory or sweet tarts. When I saw one sitting on a 30 percent off table, I pounced on it. Now that I have two residing in my kitchen, I rest easier.

My favorite cheese and caramelized onion tart with thyme from the garden

Okay, so I might have left this particular cheese and caramelized onion tart in the oven a tad too long and the pastry shrank—but my lunch guests (some writer friends) did not complain. We enjoyed talking about our latest works-in-progress—and of course I showed off my tin with the holes in the base and graciously accepted all compliments.

I bought these Mickey Mouse baking measures at Disney World in Orlando some years back at the Romance Writers of America annual convention—the one that got relocated to Florida when Nashville was flooded.

Childish? Heck no!


They’re almost too cute to use! But use them I do, as they are American-sized measures, very useful for when I want to cook from American recipes. (The Australian standard measures are slightly different.)

The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, as look what my darling teenage daughter brought home for me last week. For no reason. She just saw them and knew I’d love them. Of course I love them even more because of her thoughtfulness!

A gift from my sweetheart of a daughter

My love for kitchen gadgets is a fickle one. Sometimes the love affair is over all too soon. The favored ones live in the top drawer. Below is a drawer full of discarded toys that didn’t fulfill their potential in one disappointing way or another. Sorry, gadgets, but it’s not you, it’s me!

Oh, and by the way, I go crazy for shoes too…

Thai cooking (and eating!) class

Kim, our delightful instructor

Last week, I went on a “scent journey” on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in Thailand. I was wearing my magazine editor’s hat as a guest of Procter & Gamble and Ambi Pur air care. Part of that journey was a four-hour cooking class at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts.

Ingredients for red curry paste

And what a “scent journey” that was! Fresh lemongrass, coriander, turmeric, basil, fresh peppercorns and other fresh, authentic Thai ingredients made for an exhilarating olfactory experience! Then when our carefully blended ingredients hit a hot wok—wow!

Ingredients for the sublime soup

As both a keen cook and an author who writes characters who cook, this lesson was illuminating in many ways. Not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Woks lined up and waiting for us

We learned to make Homemade Red Hot Curry Paste (Kruanh Gaeng Phad Phet); Stir-Fried Red Curry with Pork (Phad Phet Moo); Stir-Fried Mixed Seafood with Holy Basil & Garlic (Phad Khi Maou Talee); and Coconut Milk Soup with Fish & Turmeric (Tom Kati Kamin Pla). As I am not a fan of seafood, I replaced it with chicken in the recipes; tofu would have worked well too.

Forget clogs or covered boots, we cooked in bare feet!

A group of ten of us lined up around a long table with our recipes, chopping block, knife and array of ingredients in front of us. We were guided step-by-step by our delightful instructor, Kim. First we made the red curry paste, then prepared ingredients for the three recipes. Kim told us all about the use and health benefits of each of the key items. Then we trooped into the kitchen with a row of gas burners and woks to cook each dish. As Kim pointed out, the preparation is where we spent the time, the actual cooking took mere minutes. (Oh, and did I mention we did all this in our bare feet?)

The feast we cooked ourselves

And then there was the eating…

The best soup I've ever tasted!

Our three dishes were the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten! It was impossible to vote for a favorite dish—for me it was a tie between the red curry and the soup.

Fresh produce for Thai cooking

Fortunately for me, Thai food is incredibly popular where I live and the fresh ingredients to make these superb meals are readily available in both supermarkets and Asian markets.

Guess what my guests will be served at my next dinner party?

If you ever visit Koh Samui, I highly recommend a visit to this cooking school.