A Table for Festivities

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

It seems an odd occurrence that we should think one day of our year is more meaningful than all the others. I wonder sometimes if we went wrong along the way, pinning so much esteem to one holiday. Is it worrisome that we should require the annual reminder to take a hold of one another in thanks - I can’t decide. Perhaps rather than rue humanities journey here though we should just forget that the world exists outside of our home and revel in what we are afforded at our table. Whether it be fancy, modest, shared with company or savoured in solitude. Hold onto your moments. They liberate you from everyday routine and that’s the magic isn’t it.

I’d love to write more on the beautiful idiosyncrasies of this time of year; something poignant, something you could smile at and relate to but I’m weary. Each word feels unyielding as I write, blurry on the page and cumbersome against it’s neighbour. It’s time to surrender. I’m stepping aside in favour of my favourite prose. You might have heard it before; maybe you haven’t. It was introduced to me as a child - in my grandparents restroom of all places. It was hung upon the doors back so that with each visit the words would settle into your soul. I can almost recite it word for word and in an odd way it feels as if it were passed down; as though its presence by my grandfathers hand meant that the words belonged to our family - like folklore. It’s wound up with who I am and with all the dearness of life - fitting I think for gratitude and reflection. To end your year.

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” - Max Ehrmann

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

Don’t worry I hear your thoughts. To the feast now! This assembly is a compilation of some favourite festive plates. Take one - take them all, it’s up to you. We’ll be travelling interstate in coming days so my own kitchen will be far from reach and if I’m honest I doubt I’ll sit down to such wholesomeness either but that’s neither here nor there. The sanctuary of love and laughter found in time with family is our first order of thought so regardless of your own feasting in coming days these dishes can be tucked away for delight at any time of year. 

In the seat of honour are sweet and spicy cabbage parcels. Whose festive indigo leaves encase a rabble of toothsome grains, sweet tender fruits, lashings of spice and an assortment of nuts. I adore the idea that you can unpack a hidden feast upon your plate; it adds a sense of theatricality to the affair don’t you think. In accompaniment is a bright, fresh beetroot salad made sweet with apple slices and delicate herbs; a tender salad of kale leaves, red onion, pistachio and the jewels that are pomegranate arils; then perhaps the best of all; maple and cinnamon roasted sweet potato; devilishly moorish on its own though even more so when slathered with cashew cream aioli. Without further ado then!

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

Sweet and Spicy Cabbage Parcels / Makes 8 parcels

1 head of red cabbage

1/2 a cup of pearl barley

1/2 a cup of puy lentils

1 cup of nuts, roughly chopped (I used a combination of cashews, almonds and pistachios)

1 cup of dried fruit, roughly chopped (I used a combination of apricots, dates and currants)

1 tbsp of coriander seeds

1 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds

1 1/2 tbsp of smoked paprika

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tbsp of maple syrup

400g tin of whole tomatoes

A bunch of basil

Coconut oil

Salt and pepper

To prepare the stuffing; begin by bringing two saucepans of water to boil over high heat. Add the lentils to one and the barley to the other and cook for 15 and 30 minutes respectively. Once they’re both tender with slight bite drain each pot, rinse the grains and set them aside covered while you prepare the remaining ingredients. In a skillet over medium heat toast the coriander and cumin seeds until brown and aromatic; transfer them to a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind. Return your skillet to the stovetop with a tablespoon of coconut oil and onion and sauté until the onion turns golden and translucent. Add the nuts, dried fruit, ground coriander and cumin seeds, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne pepper Dry roast the mixture for 4 minutes before adding in the lentils and barley. Gently fold everything together and then add the lemon, maple syrup and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. The mixture can be prepared in advance and stored overnight in the refrigerator or otherwise move on to assembling the parcels. 

To begin assembly, preheat your oven to 200º celsius and then carefully remove eight leaves from the head of cabbage - you want to do so with as little damage as possible so I find it easiest to do so under running water. Cut one leaf free from the stem at a time and slowly tease the folds apart – run water under the leaf you’re trying to separate and it should help it to gently loosen. Once you have your leaves free, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat and then simmer each leaf for no more than a minute. You’re looking to make them more malleable and easier to fold not to cook them. Run the leaves under cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Take one leaf and lay it flat with the spine running down the bench toward you. Add a generous helping of the grain mixture and then carefully fold the bottom and top of the leaf over the stuffing followed by each side. Turn the parcel over so that the folds are facing down and press firmly on the top to make it more secure. Repeat with the other eight leaves. To prepare the sauce, combine the whole tomatoes and basil in a blender and pulse until well combined. Transfer the mixture to a parchment lined baking tray and then carefully sit the eight parcels on top. Bake them for 20 minutes and serve immediately.

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

Raw Beetroot and Herb Salad

2 beetroot bulbs, peeled

2 medium size carrots, peeled

1 apple

2 handfuls of basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 handful of parsley, roughly chopped

1 handful of tarragon, roughly chopped

2 tbsp of dill, finely chopped

1/2 a lemon, juice

1/2 a cup of flaked almonds, toasted

Preparing this salad is as much a choice of aesthetics as it is anything else. For simplicity sake you can coarsely grated the beetroot, carrot and apple and then combine them with the other ingredients; or as I do coarsely grated the beetroot, make ribbons of the carrot and thinly slice the apple before combine them with the other ingredients. Grating them together does make for a nice mouthful and more moisture in the salad though I adore the the stained ribbons and slices for an impressive plate. Perhaps you could do half and half.

 

Sautéed Kale with Red Onion, Pistachio and Pomegranate

1 head of kale, stems discarded, leaves washed and coarsely chopped

1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 cup of desiccated coconut

1 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds

1 lime, juice

1/2 a cup of pistachios, roughly chopped

1 pomegranate, skin and flesh discarded

Coconut oil

Salt and pepper

In a skillet over medium heat gently toast the desiccated coconut and cumin seeds until brown and aromatic and then set them aside. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil and the onion and sauté until the onion turns golden and translucent. Return the coconut and cumin to the skillet along with the kale leaves. Fold the mixture together and gently wilt the leaves for a few minutes before removing it from the heat. Add the lime, pistachios and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Serve immediately with the pomegranate arils scattered on top.

 

Maple and Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato

1kg of sweet potato, washed

3 tbsp maple syrup

3 tbsp of olive oil

1 tbsp of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 200º celsius. Cut the sweet potato into large wedges and lay them out on a parchment lined baking tray. Whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, cinnamon and nutmeg and drizzle it over the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and bake for 40 - 50 minutes or until they’re dark and caramelised. Serve immediately. 

 

Cashew Cream Aioli

1 cup of raw cashews

1/2 a cup of filtered water

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 1/2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp of dijon mustard

1/2 a lemon, juice

A pinch of cinnamon

Salt

Soak the cashews overnight or for at least 3 hours in preparation, drain and rinse them before adding to a high speed blender with the water, garlic, vinegar, mustard, lemon, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Blend the mixture for a minute or two until it turns smooth and creamy. You’re looking for a silky texture with as little grit and possible. Add more water if the mixture is too dry. The mixture is best refrigerated overnight as it will thicken and it can be stored there for up to a week.

Festive Table⎜The Botanical Kitchen

Seasonal guide / temperate climate

Cabbage; spring through autumn; beetroot, year round; carrots, year round; apples, mid summer through early autumn; kale, year round though sweeter from late winter to mid spring; pomegranates, late spring through early autumn; sweet potato, year round though peaking mid autumn through winter.

 

Produce companion

I always find something magical about pottery under hand. Even simply the fact that each piece has been crafted thoughtfully for use at my table. It invites story to the meal and meaning to your choice of setting. These beautiful vessels are the creation of two different artists. The plates are born of local potter Jo Norton. Each of her pieces is significant and rugged underhand; there is soft detail in the glaze and a steep edge to stay any wayward meal. The bowls are works by Tasmanian potter Sallee Warner. They're pieces of elegance and refine with a smooth touch and natural complexion; they sit perfectly against the hand and herald delicate traces of creation in their rings. 

 

complementary additions

Goat's cheese, caramelised onion, fresh parsley, basil or chives, natural yoghurt and fresh strawberries or cherries.