S1, Ep 3: Tears and Toilets
A distraught Gillian writes to Annabelle after her neighbours tell her they are chopping down some trees. Annabelle replies with thoughts on Japanese loos, after a family holiday to Japan.
Gillian's Fig Tart
When figs are at their best from late summer to autumn, have a crack at this simple tart. The pastry just acts as a plate for the baked figs.
You will need:
One or two batches of my sour cream pastry rolled out to approx 3-5mm thick. In the photos you’ll see I just made a rough rectangle tart, but you can line a round baking tin if you wish.
Fresh ripe figs. The size of your figs and the size of the tart you plan to make will determine the number of figs you need. Aim to cover the whole floor of the tart with thinly-sliced coins of figs.
Sour cream pastry
250g of plain (all purpose) flour
200g of cold, unsalted butter
60g of cold sour cream
‘Pulse’ the butter and flour together in your food processor, or mix by hand, until the butter is distributed evenly and you can see it is in pieces roughly the size of a hazelnut. Add half the sour cream and ‘pulse’ until it is evenly distributed before adding the additional cream. ‘Pulse’ a few times again. The mixture should now come together easily into a ball. If it seems too dry, just add a a teaspoon of sour cream and try again. Keep adding small amounts of cream until the mixture forms a ball.
TIP It’s important to work quickly with this pastry as you want the butter to stay cold.
Wrap it tightly in clingfilm or place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Heat your oven to 190°c/375°F
Roll the cold pastry to about 5ml thickness and gently cover the base and sides of a shallow 20cm/8” springform tin. If you have a larger or deeper tin, just double the quantity of ingredients when you make the pastry. You don’t need to grease the tin, which is a bonus.
Blind bake the pastry case for 25 minutes. I like to start my pastry baking on the hot floor of the oven for 15 mins and then raise it to about the middle of the oven for the remainder of the cooking time. We don’t want soggy bottoms!
Gently remove your baking beans and paper and return the pie crust to the oven for 5 minutes to dry out the pastry a little.
Preheat your oven to 190C (about 180C if you are using fan-forced).
Roll out your chilled pastry, trim it to a rectangle and then lay it on a flat baking tray. With a fork, prick the pastry all over.
Lay the sliced figs on the pastry. Lay them so they overlap like shingles on a roof.
When the tart comes out of the oven, sprinkle the figs with a light coating of rose sugar (which is simply sugar blitzed with rose petals) or, of course, any other type of sugar (icing sugar pictured). When it is completely cool, decorate it with fig leaves or rose petals and serve.
A little roasted fig, honey, goats cheese and nasturtium leaf parcel, for with a pre dinner drink
I am of the view that those who don’t like figs have never eaten a good one. So if you are lucky enough to have a fig tree in your garden, or have a good friend or greengrocer who can supply some, I think you should try this as a simple, seasonal aperitif on one of those late summer afternoons. Gillian xx
You will need:
Nasturtium leaves from yours or a friends garden.
Goats cheese. Choose one that is soft, salty and piquant. You will only need a small nugget of cheese, about the size of a dice, for each parcel
Ripe figs, sliced to about 5mm thick (but no need to measure!)
Some lovely local honey
A society garlic flower or chive to decorate each parcel
Place the sliced figs on a baking tray lined with baking parchment under a hot grill or in a hot oven. Keep your eye on them! You want the natural sugars in the figs to begin to bubble and caramelise. The figs will start to collapse. Don’t let them burn and be careful that the paper under the grill doesn’t ignite.
Lay your nasturtium leaves on the platter or board you wish to serve them on. While the figs are still hot, place a slice on each nasturtium leaf, and then a nugget of goats cheese on top of the fig. Drizzle a small amount of honey over the cheese and place the society garlic stem or chive across the cheese. The honey will hold it in place.
Serve on a platter and let your guests help themselves by picking up the nasturtium leaf and wrapping it around the fig and cheese. Simple and delicious!
Annabelle's notes on a ski trip to Nozawa Onsen, Japan
Nozawa Onsen is a charming, traditional Japanese village at the base of Mt. Kenashi-yama in the Nagano region, about a 2.5 hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. It's a hot spring town, full of public and private baths, as well as incredible amounts of powder snow. In the winter the local builders become the ski patrol and the farmers become the lifties. But when the ski melts, and all the thousands of Aussies leave, the village morphs back into a thriving agricultural hub. The local farmers grow rice, fruit and vegetables including the famous Nozawa na, a leafy vegetable that is often pickled.
The ski resort was perfect for skiing with kids (only downside are the whiteouts) and the food was great. In terms of travelling there with children it is very easy. One direct flight (from Australia) into Tokyo, which is more or less on the same timezone as home, thereby avoiding jet lag.
We booked accomodation and ski lessons through an Aussie company called Nozawa Holidays, which I would highly recommend.
For about AUD$70 per person per night (including breakfast and ski passes!) we took over the large, subterranean basement of the Furusato lodge. This suited us very well as we were a group of 21, of which the majority were loud, young children. Loud children do not go down well in Japan, especially in gangs brandishing stolen chopsticks, so it was with much relief we could corral them off into the somewhat isolated and sound proofed basement floor. It was very basic but suited us perfectly. With no shower down in our lair, we bathed in the lodge's onsen - there was one for ladies and one for the men thank goodness. No matter how much I adore my male friends in the group I am not at the stage where I can talk to them about anything while fully naked. In true anglo-style I even found the public nudity in the girls-only onsen a bit uncomfortable at first. But we all got into the swing of it soon enough.
Favourite spots to eat on the slopes:
Kawahiro, a restaurant open for lunch only, at the foot of the the Nagasaka Gondola.
Lovely katsu don, tempura and a warm, welcoming irori.
Next door is the Mt Dock Shop and Gondola Cafe, which serves terrific coffee and treats.
Haus St Anton has a coffee machine at the Hikage base, serving excellent Allpress coffee
And favourite spots in town
Haus St Anton - a delightful cafe in the main street serving Allpress coffee, homemade ice creams (the black sesame was fabulous) and sweet and savoury steamed buns from a little cart outside.
Akari Swiss Bakery - when we could no longer bear the shame of eating out with our wild children in public, the takeaway pizzas from the bakery near our lodge saved the day. They were delicious too.
Billiken - I am not sure how we ate and drank so well for such little money, but we did here at this small restaurant.
Neo Bar - funky bar, sofas, cold beers and a hot-pot of vegetables and fish cooked in broth. What more could you want.