a small cause for celebration

November 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

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Three years ago to this day I started a blog, inspired by living and working as a cook at Friendly Beaches Lodge and, of all things, an article in a Jetstar inflight magazine about blogging. Before I read the article, I didn’t even know what a blog was (yes, mainly becuase I had been living under a rock in Tasmania). Whilst I don’t remember exactly what the article was about, I do remember that something in me stirred and at 25 000 feet above the Bass Strait en route to Melbourne I decided to start a blog. It would be a food blog, with stories and recipes and a focus on sustainable, local, seasonal, unplugged cooking. But, most importantly it would be a place to keep me creative, to force me into the kitchen and taking photos, a place to try to pull words from my thoughts and scrawl them on a blank screen.  And so I wrote, “What better thing to do on a hot spring day than start a food blog…” 3 days later I was unexpectedly on a plane to Sierra Leone and my “food blog” was momentarily hijacked by travel stories.

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Since then I have often enjoyed, occasionally hated, been frustrated, exhilarated, both ashamed and very proud of  this place. I have tried very hard to be honest with myself and have had to learn to be brave, to throw words out to the world and that strangely intimidating public realm. But here I am with 3 years of stories from my wooden spoon and my favourite blue ceramic pot. I am so grateful to each of you who have read this blog. You who have put up with my terrible spelling and my often flippant nature in the kitchen, thank you so much. It humbles me no end to think that I may sometimes write something that someone wants to read and cook something that someone wants to cook.

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A small cause for celebration, here are some of the  recipes from the last three years that I love the most.

Quinoa Pancakes
Strawberries and Basil
Chocolate Coated Dried Plums Marinated in White Wine and Thyme
Oma’s Cabbage
Osso Buco
Zucchini and Bacon Soup

fruit

Persian Love Cake

November 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

A slice of Persian love cake

A few weeks back I went to Melbourne for a friend’s wedding in East Gippsland. There on a small property amongst the green and rolling hills we walked up to the top of a ridge, the sun golden and almost setting, to share with them their love and vows of togetherness and foreverness.  I was so moved by the graciousness of love on that day, not just in the space between them, but also amongst us, all their friends, who each shared in that love for them. What a thing to celebrate! I danced until 4am in the morning and could barely move the next day, but my sore calves were a welcome reminder of the joy we can find between each other.

As you can probably guess there was cake involved… 15 different kinds to be precise. Each guest was asked to bring a plate for dinner, and most of us being most of us, naturally wanted to bring cake.

The cake I have for you today is a Persian Love Cake. With a name like that, could you really resist? In Persia, this cake is cooked by a mother in law for her daughters husband to be. The story goes, that once he eats the cake he will fall madly in love and they will have a happy marriage.

Thanks to Gourmet traveller and  a dear friend for introducing me to this cake. I haven’t looked back!

Recipe for Persian Love Cake

360 gm (3 cups) almond meal
220 gm (1 cup) raw sugar (I used a bit less)
220 gm (1 cup) brown sugar (I used a bit less)
120 gm unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250 gm Greek-style yoghurt, plus extra to serve
1 tbsp freshly grated nutmeg
45 gm (¼ cup) pistachios, coarsely chopped (optional)

Method

Preheat your oven to 180C. Combine almond meal, sugars, butter and 1 tsp salt in a bowl, then rub with fingertips until coarse crumbs form. Spoon half the mixture into a lightly buttered and lined 26cm-diameter springform pan, gently pressing to evenly cover base.

Add egg, yoghurt and nutmeg to remaining crumble mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy. Pour over prepared base, smooth top and scatter pistachios around the edge. The recipe says to bake for 30 -35 minutes. I baked mine for about 45 minutes. And its good to keep in mind that the cake can still be a bit soft in the middle. It will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Enjoy!

a piece of Persion love cake

the story of how I learnt to make yoghurt

May 18, 2013 § 3 Comments

The story of how I learnt to make yoghurt is not a simple one. It spans some 5 years and two continents. It begins just after I finished my undergraduate degree, when I spent a year in India, getting lost and trying to find myself again. As you do when you are 24. During that time, I spent a couple of months volunteering in a Buddhist nunnery teaching English in the Gompa. The nunnery was in the far north of India, in a place called Zanskar, a mountain range that runs on the Tibetan side of the Himalayas. Being in the rain-shadow of the tallest mountain range in the world, Zanskar is something like a desert, it never rains and vegetation on the surrounding slopes is scarce. But in the valleys where there are glacial streams, fluorescent green fields make a stark contrast to the moonscape hills. Here the grass grows with a certain urgency learnt through evolution in a land where warmth and water are ungenerous.

But signs of life are not restricted to the stream soaked valleys. On the hill tops prayer flags beat in the winds, some are very old, worn and tattered with almost all their prayers lifted to the breeze. Fossils scatter the myriad of paths that weave their way out of town along scree slopes and over mountain ridges. These benthic remnants a reminder that this very landscape was once hundreds of meters below the ocean.

fluorescent green fields

My journey to Zanskar begins in Leh, with a 26 hour bus ride covering some 400km to take me to the remote valley. As you can imagine, the road is very rough. Because I booked late, I don’t have a seat and so have to make do with the floor where I wedge my way into a somewhat comfortable space between the luggage that fills the aisle. I am not the only one and soon a man falls asleep on my back and another on my knees. After 10 hours of this and with the knowledge of 16 more to go, I begin to feel agitated, my legs and back cramped. From my place on the floor I glance up at a boy standing at the front of the bus without even room to sit. He is smiling and in his smile my anger subsides. The easy nature of the locals and their open acceptance of each situation is contagious. Like other times when I have traveled to developing countries, I am struck by what lessons we have forgotten in a privileged and wealthy world. Not long after, a girl sitting on the seat next to me offers me her lap to rest my head. Gratefully I fall asleep there for an hour or two. Later I find out she is from Zangla, the small village where I  will be teaching.

When we finally arrive, tired and dirty from the dusty road, it is late, so I spend the night with the girl from the bus in her family home. Their house is like all the rest in the village, made from mud and cow dung, two stories high, with a flat roof loaded with fodder, wood and dried cow dung to burn in the coming winter.

the glacial stream

The next morning I walk through a flowered field woven with a myriad of creeks and streams running to the river. There I wash in water clear as glass before walking the short distance to the Gompa that sits on a small hill on the far side of the village. I am nervous to meet the nuns as they have no way of knowing I am coming, but I am greeted with warm smiles and open laughter.

During my time at the monastery, my relationship with the nuns becomes more like a friend than a teacher and maybe this is why at times it is difficult to get them to come to class. Many of the nuns don’t have much of an interest in learning English, except maybe male and female body parts for which they have abundant enthusiasm. But it makes me question what I am doing. What is the purpose of teaching English? Is it not just another form of cultural imperialism? I still don’t really know the answer to this, but I do know that I am there with others who came before and after me. With a growing number of tourists visiting the region each year and with increasing access to the outside world, western influences are unavoidable. And in general, such change is welcomed by the locals, because with it comes a higher standard of living, the ability to join the rest of the world, to “develop”, to “progress”. I realise I am more sentimental than many of the locals in regard to the loss of traditions and the damage to land and culture that comes with such pursuits. But as I learn from the Buddhists that live there, nothing is permanent, change for good or for bad is inevitable. So perhaps as westerners we should focus on learning from our own mistakes and try to assist those who are following in our footsteps to take on a more sustainable path. Because of this I allow myself some small reassurance that in some tiny way, I am giving the nuns some of the skills they need to communicate with the outside world, so they can speak up and voice their needs and concerns in a shifting landscape. But it is small comfort in light of the stories of rapidly retreating glaciers, water sources drying up, the brain drain as educated children chose to live in far off cities, the introduction of white flour, sugar, packaged food and the plastic litter building up in a place with no formal rubbish disposal system.

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hands

So I spend my time practicing the art of just being and trying to help where I can, teaching in the school with the younger nuns, offering small informal English lessons here and there and lending a hand with the cooking.

The kitchen is a good place to be because it is where the nuns meet. Warm and cheeky they laugh and hoot slapping one another on the legs as they sit cross-legged at the low tables lining one wall of the large room. This is where I watch them making yoghurt. Taken fresh, straight from Pashi the Gompa’s resident cow, they heat the milk over a large pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. Just as the milk starts to simmer but before it boils they pull it off the heat allowing it to cool to the temperature of a hot bath before stirring in a tablespoon or so of yoghurt left over from the last batch. The whole pot is then wrapped in a thick woollen blanket and placed in a corner of the kitchen until the next day when it is eaten with ladakhi bread and butter tea for breakfast.

I become very fond of Pashi and her calf Patel. They are a handsome pair, golden blond with strongly defined features. Their stable is next to my room and at night I can hear them moving around. They give me great comfort. In the evenings I bring Pashi back from the fields where she is tethered on a grassy knoll. The pleasure in the simplicity of it all, walking the cow home with the summer breeze on my face and playing in my skirt.

My room is also made of mud and cow dung, a little square that I can just lie down in. It has a small window and a small door I have to double over in to enter. When it is windy the roof sprinkles dirt to the floor.  The scene from my window is vivid.  At dusk small birds with round bellies and orange tails sit outside and I try to be very quiet then, any movement and they will fly away. As night draws, the moon illuminates the land with a pale yellow grey light and the shadows of the clouds play on the mountain tops.

my mouse hole room

Some days I walk to the river, its fast current tempting me, full of the energy of the mountains and sky from which it came. To get there I walk past Mane walls, ancient inscriptions on flat stones piled together. Who placed those first rocks there sending Om Mane Padme Hum to all ends of the earth? The valley big and broad with barely any landmarks, I lose perspective of distance, everything seems closer than it really is. Zhos (a cross between a yak and a cow) graze on the fertile strips where a creek meets the river’s edge. I watch the herders bring them together and drive them home. At the river the current is hypnotising, eddies run in all directions and waves appear to move upstream.

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The valley with the Zanskar river in the background

Other days I follow the small stream up behind the Gompa into a canyon that becomes narrower and narrower drawing nearer to its source. There in the rock pools I swim comfortably naked and alone among the pastel green, maroon, and orange of the boulders. The water as glass, streams crystal clear over the rocks, like cloth falling over the landscape, cool enough to make me gasp but warm enough to linger a while.

glacial stream

One night stands out to me in particular. It is nearing the end of my time in Zanskar when we can’t find Pashi. She is not in the field where we left her and must have broken her tether. One of the nuns and I go looking for her down by the river. The moon is half full in the sky and bright enough to lead the way, the stars half obscured by clouds. The green field in the flat of the river runs with small streams and shines moist. The beauty catches my breath. We spend two hours wandering along the water’s edge, through fields and along stone-walled pastures. Finally, defeated, we walk back to the village through the sweet smell of mustard in flower. Back at the Gompa we find Pashi tethered to her stable. One of the other nuns found her and brought her back whilst we were gone. By now it is late and I climb back into my mouse-hole room only to find I cannot sleep. The freshness of the night still on my skin and in my mind, the stars shining on me.

My last day in Zangla, I wake up from my small window to see the sun’s first rays on the fresh snow-capped mountains turning from grey to orange to yellow and finally to white as the day begins. My sleeping bag is slightly wet from rare rain that fell that night. After breakfast the nuns fill my bag with chapatis’ for my journey to Leh. Way to many for me to eat by myself but they insisted I take them all. We hear the bus coming so running out the door, kataks thick around my neck it finally dawns  that I am leaving and tears prick my cheeks. I climb onto the roof of the bus. From there the nuns look so sweet waving in their maroon robes framed by the Gompa and the Himalayas. The fresh morning and the smiling mountains feel good on my damp cheeks. I am full with the privilege to have lived a little in their world.

then nuns waving me goodbye

How to make Yoghurt

Before going to Zanskar, I had always been put off by the idea of making yoghurt as every recipe I had come across called for either a yoghurt-maker or thermometer, making it all seem far to complicated. But after seeing the nuns do it, I realised all you really needed was a large pot, a warm  place, a blanket and a bit of careful watching.

But still I kept putting it off and it wasn’t until a year ago when I was asked to give a fermentation workshop at CERES that I decided I better give it a go. I couldn’t even pretend to be an expert if I had never made yoghurt before. So I started researching. It turned out I didn’t need to go far.  In my bookshelf  was my much-loved copy of Wild Fermentation and in it a recipe for Yoghurt that doesn’t use a yoghurt maker or a thermometer. This was what I’d been waiting for.

The most important thing you need when making yoghurt is a warm and cosy place to rest it in. I usually pre-heat a small Esky by filling it up with hot water from the tap. I then empty it, dry it out and fill it with towels and if it is winter and really cold, a hot water bottle or some jars filled with warm water as well. But really what you need is a place  that will cool down very slowly. I have also heard of people making yoghurt in a thermos and I’m sure this could work too.

Yoghurt Recipe makes 1 litre

Equipment

1 litre jar
Insulated cooler/esky

Ingredients

1 litre whole organic milk
1 Tbsp fresh yoghurt (check it has live cultures)

Method

Pre – heat your jar and cooler with hot water, so that they won’t drain heat once you pour in your yoghurt.

Slowly heat your milk, paying close attention, until tiny bubbles start to form but before it starts to boil (if you have a thermometer, this is 80°C/180°F). Stir frequently to avoid burning the milk. The heating is not absolutely necessary, but it helps to get thicker yoghurt.

Allow the milk to cool until it still feels hot but is not so hot that you can’t keep a clean finger in it. You can quicken the cooling process by placing your saucepan in a bowl of cold water. But be careful it doesn’t cool too much. The optimum temperature is as mentioned above – about 40°C/110°F).

Mix the starter yoghurt into the milk. Make sure you don’t get tempted to add more yoghurt thinking it will help to make a thicker  end result as it will do the opposite. Poor into your jar, screw on the lid and place in your pre heated “incubator”. If you see fit, add some jars with warm water and/or a hot water bottle (with warm water in it) to help maintain the temperature. Leave in a place where it won’t be disturbed as it doesn’t like being jostled.

After 8 – 12 hours, check on your yoghurt. It should have developed a “tangy flavour and some thickness” .

Store in the fridge and consume within 4 weeks, saving some for your next batch.

Finally, make sure you have a look at how to make Labnah cheese from yoghurt here and some of the things you can do with Labnah here.

hello 2013

January 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

beans close up

I was camping at the Grampians for new years, watching birds and stars, climbing mountains and drinking lots and lots of tea. It was such a peaceful way to start 2013, and I feel like this year is going to be great! It is just a feeling, which is perhaps more important than any materialisation of the thought, but that’s ok too.

This festive time of year always makes me think of my mum and her bean salad. It often ends up on the table on special occasions and Christmas and new years are no exception.

As easy and very simple dishes often are, this has always been one of my favourites.  This year however, I have started making it with some fresh apricots chopped up and thrown in too. There is something lovely about the tartness of the vinegar with the sweet freshness of the apricots and the greenness of the beans and basil. Below, I have put mum’s recipe but feel free to add some apricots if you would like.

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Mum’s Green Bean Salad

2 huge handfuls of green beans
A splash of olive oil
A few splashes of balsamic vinegar
A good sprinkle of sea salt
A very good handful of roughly chopped basil

Top and tail beans, cut in half and steam until fluorescent green and crispy.  Take off the heat and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Whilst the beans are still warm add the olive oil, vinegar and salt and mix in. Once the beans are cool add the basil.

This salad can be served straight away or left to marinate for a couple of hours and served at room temperature.

Beans

the way I like it

December 12, 2012 § 5 Comments

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I have always taken on a rather flippant character in the kitchen and I have always been very hopeless at following recipes. It’s a bit like an uncontrollable desire to not do as I am told. But I think this also comes from being an impatient kind of person – I can never be bothered to measure things properly, I can’t stand all those different sized measuring spoons, and never seem to be able to find the measuring cup in our chaotic and unruly cupboards.  I’m also impatient enough to forget that it is this very nature that is the reason for unruly cupboards in the first place. Things get thrown on shelves with doors slammed and a quick prayer that nothing will come tumbling out when displaced by the new object that has descended upon its turf.

I admire those people, who don’t seem to notice the things that slow them down, those that can measure flour down to the milligram, who level a cup with the scrape of a knife, who follow a recipe methodically.

The recipe below for beef rendang is one I first ate at my friend and colleague Noel’s house. Noel and his wife Jenny are amazing cooks. The recipe came out of an old and battered book, with pages yellowing and crinkled at the sides. They picked it up when they were in Indonesia, perhaps more than 30 years ago, and they have been cooking out of it ever since. It is very much my kind of recipe – humorously vague with a few Indonesian words for ingredients thrown in here and there. It leaves much to the imagination. But it is also an absolutely beautiful recipe. The meat becomes lovely and tender with hours spent cooking and the flavours are rich and creamy.

Below I have written the recipe directly from the book, but with some added notes in honour of people who like things more precise, and in an attempt to be more like that myself.  I hope you enjoy.

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Rendang Padang

1 lb steak (I used 600g)
2 – 4 tsp chilli
1 scant tsp laos (galangal powder – I used fresh)
1 medium onion grated
1 small clove garlic crushed (I used 2)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
3 cups thick santan (coconut cream)
1 knob ginger (I used about 1 inch)
½ tsp turmeric
1- 2 stalk/piece lemon grass pounded (and chopped)
Asam (juice of half a lemon)
(I also added 2 small potatoes and a small sweet potato)

Cut the meat into serving size pieces and place in a wide saucepan (with hot oil – brown the meat).
Crush Ginger and add, with onion and garlic and other spices (stir until fragrant).
Add Santan (coconut cream).
(Add potatoes and sweet potato)
Bring quickly to the boil, stirring frequently to prevent catching until the oil comes out.
Continue the slow cooking until the oil is re-absorbed. This can take 2-3 hours told, even up to 8 hours (I cooked for about 2 hours, being impatient offcourse).
The dish should be completely dry when served (I think they mean thick here).
(Serve with rice)
Note: New potatoes, red beans (previously soaked over night), or pieces of young jackfruit, can be added to this dish when the santan has come to the boil.
Instead of beef – can use chicken, prawn, duck, liver, egg, goat, or kangaroo meat.

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there’s time

October 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

Hello…

Well, I made it. I am on the other side of something quite big, something that has kept me rather distracted from myself and all the other things I have wanted to do for the past two years. I have finished my masters! And there is a very peaceful knowledge that time is now on my side. It belongs to me again. This is nice. Well very nice actually. Overwhelmingly fantastic!

So here I am with some space, to do something for myself, slowly and how ever I want to. Thats a lovely feeling.

The garden is caught between winter and summer and remains positively neglected and wild. But, this is not so bad, because I know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Its wonderful to know I can now spend more time taming broad beans, if thats what I want to do. But perhaps more importantly, more time nourishing my wicked taste for very fine delicious things.

Thanks to a very delicious breakfast eaten here and to Jamie Oliver for the idea for this recipe.

Smashed Broad Beans and Peas

2 cups fresh podded broad beans
1 cup fresh podded peas
a decent handful of fresh mint
a decent couple of splashes of olive oil
juice of one lemon
about 1/4 of a garlic clove crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas and beans in boiling water for no more than two minutes, drain and rinse in cold water immediately. Pull the outer skin of each podded broad bean – and puree all ingredients together.

Its that easy

Serve on toast with a poached egg and a smattering of finely grated pecorino.

Osso Bucco

June 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

Here is a simple recipe for a hearty stew, perfect for winter evenings. The carrots we have been getting lately, have been so sweet which I think is important to make this stew work. So try and use organic ones if you can.

Marinade

4 pieces of osso bucco (try and get smaller pieces if you can)
1 ½ tsp paprika
1 ½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander seeds ground
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp sea salt
Juice and lime of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp oil

Stir spices, lemon and oil into a smooth paste and coat over the meat. Allow to sit for half an hour before searing on both sides in a hot oiled pan.

For the Stew

1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
a few good sprigs fresh thyme
4 carrots sliced
4 – 5 celery sticks
1 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 can tomato or one cup tomato puree
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Pre heat oven to 190 °C/374 ºF. Saute onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Turn down the heat and add the thyme, rosemary, carrots and celery. Pop on the lid and allow to sweat for 5 – 10 minutes stirring every now and again as needed. Add all other ingredients minus the meat and bring to the boil. Add the meat and bring to the boil again. Transfer to an oven proof pot with a lid and place in preheated oven for 1 hour. Alternatively you can continue cooking on the stove top for an hour.

Serve with brown rice and enjoy.

Oma’s cabbage

May 18, 2012 § 6 Comments

I grew up with this recipe but never learnt to like it until recently.  Passed down from my flemish heritage its great on premature winter days like this one. Served by my Oma and mother the traditional way with sausages and potatoes makes a warming dinner. A more recent discovery of mine is having the leftovers on toast with a poached egg and chutney.

Recipe for Red Cabbage with Apples

1/4 cup water
1/2 red cabbage sliced
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
Salt to taste
A handful of pitted prunes
2 apples sliced and cored
A good few splashes of apple cider vinegar (about 1/6 cup)

Place the water, cabbage, sugar and salt in heavy-based (and if you have it oven proof) saucepan. Cook very gently using a simmer mat for about 1 hour. Add the prunes, apple and vinegar. Either place in a pre-heated oven or continue on the stove top until the apples are soft but not completely mush.

Stay warm

I have always loved cardamom biscuits the most

April 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

I don’t think I have ever made these biscuits the same way twice. They seem to evolve from feeling and what is in the cupboard at the time. Here is a version that is close to what I always start out wanting to make  but am usually too stingy or don’t have all the ingredients at hand to pull it off. You can choose to add less almond meal and more flour if you like – the nuttiness makes them very rich.

Recipe for cardamom biscuits
100g butter
3/4 cup rapadura or brown sugar if you want
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
zest of ½ orange
1 egg lightly beaten
1 cup almond meal
¾ cup wholemeal spelt flour sifted

Pre heat oven to 180°C. Cream together butter, rapadura and spices. Add and combine the egg and vanilla. Then stir in the flour, almond meal and baking powder until just combined. You don’t want to over stir once the flour  has been added because it will stimulate the gluten and make your biscuits tough

Place spoonfuls on a greased baking tray making sure you allow room for them to spread. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

strawberries and basil

March 7, 2012 § 6 Comments

This recipe is really very special, so much so that I was almost tempted not to share it. I used to make it when I worked at Friendly Beaches Lodge – indeed I even served it to the Prime Minister of Australia, but thats another story.

Recipe for strawberries and grapes with macerated basil sauce (serves around 6)

500g fresh strawberries
300 – 500g green grapes
3 tsp raw sugar
I cup fresh basil leaves loosely packed
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves loosely packed
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup raw sugar

Cut strawberries into quarters and grapes into halves. Place in a bowl and sprinkle 3 teaspoons sugar over the top (for an extra tangy end result drizzle 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar over the fruit as well). Cover with a plate and leave to marinate for a couple of hours.

In the meantime combine the basil, mint and additional sugar in a mortar and pestle. Grind and pumice into a paste. Alternatively, use a food processor or coffee grinder.

Add the lemon juice to make a moist smooth mixture. Allow to sit until sugar dissolves.

Divide the marinated fruit into serving bowls and top with basil mixture.

Serve with pouring cream and be glad I shared it. xx

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