I can't help but be amazed at the people I am meeting through this blog. The women. In the last couple of weeks there have been whole days spent with super stylists Kara Rosenlund and Megan Morton - two ladies I have only ever read about. I never thought I would have a cup of coffee with them. Or work alongside them.
I always thought I would attend another workshop with Luisa Brimble and Lean Timms, but I didn't imagine I would be a week or so away from hosting one with them, especially here in the valley where I live.
And then there are new friends who feel like old friends. Women who have become real people in my life, rather than computer-only contacts: Megan, Sabine and and the Slow Living girls. And old friends who are back in my daily life.
The neighbours who are going out of their way to catch yabbies, milk cows and harvest herbs for me to use and take photos of.
When I start thinking about it I get all hashtag-gratitude and teary, but really for a girl who lives miles away from anywhere and was worried about isolation, it is incredible how my world is getting bigger day by day. And I am continually blown away by how generous people can be, from sourcing bed linen to offering to babysit my kids.
It has been more of a floral than a food week, as the photos show, but I still found time (it doesn't need much) to make Barbara Small's recipe for parmesan chicken, served with a simple fennel salad. It is a quick dinner and I adore the chicken as much as the children do. It's something I fall back to again and again, always with very pleasing results.
I asked Barbara to write a few words beyond the recipe, here they are below. And regular contact with this woman is yet another thing I am so grateful for. Take it away Barbara:
The other day I heard a commentator say when the French are eating breakfast they are already planning what they will eat for lunch and dinner. Well that’s a really nice idea and just what I have been doing for most of my life.
As the seasons come and go flavours and images of food seem to whirl about in my head. I am one of those people who drop in to my fruit shop each day. Maybe twice a day. Not quite the same as having a daily open market selling local produce as in France and Italy but that was never the Australian way.
I am lucky enough to have a wonderful fish shop quite close as well as a butcher who will get what I want and cut it that way as well. I am not ashamed of being a little demanding especially when it comes to quality and preparation. A French trait that must have brushed off on me when I lived there when I was a young woman.
As I eye the display of Spring vegetables I know instinctively what I will cook that evening. One vegetable leads to another. And then some fresh herbs and the sight of a bunch of new season garlic stops me in my tracks. Delicious thoughts which take your mind off the cares of the day - for a while at least.
At home there is the pleasure in putting those fresh ingredients together to make an enticing meal. And what could be better for the digestion.
Parmesan Chicken Breast with Fennel Salad
2 large chicken breasts, boned, skinned and beaten out thinly (obviously increase the number and the proportions and the following ingredients depending on how many mouths you have to feed)
Milk, just to cover
About 50g grated parmesan
Anchovy and lemon to serve
Place beaten chicken breasts in a dish and cover with milk. Leave for at least 6 hours. Drain but do not dry and immediately turn in the parmesan to coat them quite thickly. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper.
Preheat oven to 180C. Put the chicken in a well buttered ovenproof dish in one layer and cover with foil. Bake covered for 12 minutes. Remove foil and bake a further 8 minutes. Accompany with an anchovy and a lemon quarter.
1 large fennel bulb
1 red pepper
2 tbs finely chopped parsley
1/2 chilli, finely chopped
About 20 black olives
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Slivers of parmesan cheese
Cut the top off the fennel bulb and remove outside leaves. Cut out the hard core in the base and slice the fennel lengthwise very thinly. Soak fennel in chilled water for about 10 minutes. Drain and dry very well. Skin the red pepper and cut into thin strips.
Mix fennel in a salad bowl with the red pepper, parsley, chilli and olives. Season generously with black pepper.
Dissolve salt with vinegar in a spoon and mix into fennel salad then combine with oil. Correct seasoning and scatter slivers of parmesan over the salad.
Barbara's tips: This was a favourite of a splendid cook in Milan. So easy and delicious it should be a great standby. Soaking the chicken breasts in milk gives a protective coating to this lean meat. The milk gives just the lightest layer of fat to hold the coating of parmesan. The delicate anise flavour of a fennel salad livened up with sweet red pepper and black olives is a perfect foil.