I’ve just come inside from sitting out on the grass, listening to currawongs and whip birds while looking out to the full moon and down to the forever valley below. Today is my birthday. And up until now, I’ve been feeling pretty rough. We woke up sick, Jakob and I. I did a quick tally. The first Australian birthday, the first winter birthday I’ve had in four years. I guess it’s fitting to make this birthday feel extra winter like. Surrounded by tissues and turtlenecks and pots of ginger tea.
We had a lovely day planned. Jakob kindly scheduled the day off work and had made a lunch booking at Cupitt's winery. We would meander down south, possibly stop into the bay’s beaches along the way, enjoy a walk in the winter sun and then sip wine, linger over a long lunch and soak in the perfect start to my 29th year… we would. But sadly, we didn’t.
Outside, Jakob is working. His head under the bonnet of our only car, a broken down dismantled ute. Inside I am working, trawling through everything I love but everything I didn’t expect to be doing today. Pressure is in the air. Tomorrow, Jakob is flying to Cairns. The next day, I am driving to Brisbane. In the ute.
It actually feels like I am upside down. Or maybe I am the right way up and the world around me is upside down. Either way, today I have been a little confused. You see, I’m complaining and indulging and it sounds like things are bad. But really, among the hiccups, things have been going really well. I have just come back from an incredible work trip photographing the Barossa and Clare Valley’s, with a quick stop along the way to the Mornington Peninsular (if you know Australia, you know that the latter is quite a ways away from the former, but a quick stop was made). We’ve just had news of Jakob landing his next dream job to begin early next year, which will see us move again, this time back to Canberra. And I’m about to make a trip up north to see dear family and friends – some of whom I haven’t seen in over two years. So why then, did today feel so rough?
Our surrounds hum with greatness, give us so much daily and tell us that the days ahead will be easier, slower, warmer. However, and everything hurts to admit this, it’s the unwelcomed, unexpected and the slights and snubs that drive the rough. They send us sad and disappointed. They make us snuggle deeper into corners that exhale craved comfort. They make us fixate on the imperfections, the passing time, and make us desperate for all that we saw before all of this - the perfections. They make us want to take a birthday rain check.
We did get out today. Not quite to Cupitt's, and not without snotty noses and sore throats in tow, but a quick trip was made in between the thick of bonnets and desktops, down to Berry to have lunch at the Sourdough Bakery. And it was lovely.
Later on in the early evening, I sat outside. I heard the birds. I saw the view. I smelt the smoke from the fire inside. I remembered ALL of the good things. And I realized why I felt confused and upside down. I'd gotten carried away in the rough of it. I'd forgotten to just enjoy the day.
So then my birthday got better. Really, it wasn’t even bad to begin with. There was no need for a rain check. Just a bit of a check into myself.
And the best part? We haven’t even had dinner yet. I've decided that tonight it’s all about comfort and relaxing into a wintry Australian birthday. We might as well make the most of feeling under the weather and cozy right up. Ute and work aside, we will be sitting by the fire and eating left over comfort food. The best kind there is. Potatoes. Turned into a yummy two potato tart.
Two Potato Tart
It’s quite special to see a potato dug up in front of you, pulled from the rust coloured dirt, smothered in a farmers witty yarns and shaken to reveal its rugged, blemished skin. Sometimes cream, sometimes red. Sometimes flesh bright purple. It’s even better to know that soon enough, the dirt will be washed and there, there will be comfort. Food that makes you want to snuggle and sleep.
The potatoes used here were dug fresh by Norman, straight from his Highland Gourmet Potato farm in Wildes Meadow, NSW. These beauties could be sides. Or they could be the main event. And each and every variety has its own ideal way of being cooked. Some prefer baking, some prefer boiling and some are just perfect for making tarts. A delicious, creamy, provincial inspired tart. This tart uses Dutch Creme and Cranberry Red varieties. Two perfectly paired potatoes that keep their colour through cooking and compliment each other with their golden and purple hues. A main event indeed. And the most fitting comfort food for this birthday, to go with the tissues and turtlenecks and pots of ginger tea.
prep time: 1 hr 30 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
total time: 2 hrs 15 minutes
yields: 6-8 servings
For the pastry
245g all purpose flour
125g chilled unsalted butter
1 free range egg
75ml cold water
pinch of flaked sea salt
For the Filling
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely sliced
2tbs olive oil
3 medium sized Dutch Creme potatoes, washed, unpeeled and thinly sliced
3 medium sized Cranberry Red potatoes, washed, unpeeled and thinly sliced
250g firm, medium flavoured cheese (I used a local cheddar, but Gruyere could also work really well here)
150ml thickened cream
½tbs chopped rosemary
½tbs thyme leaves
1 free range egg
flaked sea salt
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, rubbing and working it in with your fingertips until the mixture feels like breadcrumbs (alternatively pulse in a food processor). Lightly whisk the egg and water together and add to the flour mixture. Still using your fingers, mix all of the ingredients together until it forms a ball. Wrap in cling-wrap and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is approx. 30 cm in diameter and 3-5mm thick. Place over a 24cm tart pan and gently press into the base of the pan and into the sides. Trim the edges and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C /350°F.
Heat 2tbs of olive oil, the garlic and shallots in a small fry pan. Cook on medium-high heat until fragrant and slightly golden.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg, milk and cream. Add the garlic and shallot mixture, grated cheese, chopped herbs and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the pastry from the freezer and pour about a third of the egg, garlic and cheese mixture to just cover the base of the shell. Layer the potatoes in an alternate pattern to fill the pastry shell. Pour the rest of the mixture over the top of the potatoes making sure to evenly spread the cheese.
Bake the tart for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and potato feels tender when pierced with a fork.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
all photographs taken at the cottage kangaroo valley