Sometimes life goes so fast you completely forget to take photographs. Or you feel too giddy with the experience to stop to write anything down.
Pulling the back off our house two years ago and embarking on our renovation was like this. My husband worked his butt off through winter rebuilding as fast as he could, while our then-1-year-old daughter and I got on as best we could in our draughty half-house with its bathroom in a tin shed in the backyard.
This shed was originally an outdoor toilet and laundry and eventually got taken down to make space for two fruit trees, but in its one last hurrah as our temporary amenities it got sawn in half to make a long, narrow, rather gloomy room. The house’s old bath tub was added next to the laundry trough and toilet, and a marvel of DIY plumbing adorned the wall. A friend lent us a genius little electric instant hot water service that blessed us with hot showers and warmish baths. But it was way too cold to go out into the night to give Greta a bath before bed, so I started giving her a bath in the middle of the day – and they got rather infrequent; sometimes once a week!
For a while we couldn’t use our back door so I carried Greta wrapped in a towel out the front door and down the side path to the shed, where I plonked her in the bath, gave her some toys to play with and pretended that everything was completely normal. Sometimes we could hear tradies outside and I’m sure they thought we were the craziest family ever. Some told Leigh they thought the bathroom was pretty rough and I guess that was saying something. We didn’t have many visitors that year, at least not many that stayed long enough to need to use the toilet!
The kitchen was less rough – it was in one of the bedrooms and even featured the old kitchen cabinets and a little sink, albeit with only cold water, plumbed out the window.
To wash the dishes we boiled a kettle. For cooking we had a little electric cook top and I put it through its paces! There was no bread, pizza, cake or biscuits (or roast dinners, or baked pastas …) in our lives for six months, and it’s amazing how you start lusting over exactly what you can’t have. I was determined to keep up some form of ‘baking’ and satisfied myself with batches of buckwheat crepes for breakfast every weekend. Peanut-butter popcorn became our favourite afternoon snack in lieu of a stash of biscuits. And to keep my sourdough starter alive until we had an oven for baking loaves again, I sometimes made sourdough flatbreads to have with dinner.
I also discovered these stuffed flatbreads, which are not dissimilar to a calzone or even a pastie, but the key difference is they are cooked in a frying pan. A tick for renovators without an oven!
Our new kitchen (in which these photos were taken) has an oven of course, but these stuffed flatbreads still have a firm place.
P.S. The photos in this post are by Leah Holscher, and the illustration is by Katherine Bird (dream team behind The Hungry Girls Cookbooks).
These pan-fried breads are a brilliant winter weekend lunch, or a fantastic dinner when served with a simple soup. I’m giving two alternative fillings – one is silverbeet and feta, a classic combination that I regularly have cravings for; and the other is more unusual and great, too, with grated pumpkin and crushed walnuts. I want you to try them both!!
The simple dough recipe, the pumpkin filling and the yoghurt sauce originate from an Afghani recipe in the cookbook (and television series) My Family Feast by Sean Connolly. The breads are called bulani. I’ve adjusted the quantities and made a few changes.
350 g wholemeal or white plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil for cooking
Silverbeet and feta filling
1 bunch silverbeet (chard), stems and leaves separated and finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
150 g feta
freshly ground black pepper
Pumpkin and walnut filling
600 g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and grated
1 cup walnuts, crushed
½ bunch spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, ground
1 teaspoon salt
Yoghurt sauce (for pumpkin and walnut breads)
250 ml natural yoghurt
1/3 teaspoon chilli powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
a little chopped fresh mint, or dried mint, if available
Decide which filling you want to make. The dough recipe and one of the fillings are enough to make 4 large breads.
To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a bowl and add enough water to form a slightly sticky dough, stirring with your hand. Knead briefly, then set aside while you make the filling.
For the silverbeet and feta filling, heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and add the silverbeet stems and onion. Saute until the onion is golden, then add the silverbeet leaves and cook until wilted. Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so. Crumble on the feta and add generous black pepper. Mix and taste for seasoning – the salty feta may mean you don’t need additional salt.
For the pumpkin and walnut filling, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Also mix the ingredients for the yoghurt sauce in a separate bowl.
Divide the dough into 4 balls. Dust the first ball in flour and roll out to a thin circle 25–30 cm wide. On one side of the circle spread a quarter of the filling, leaving a small border around the edge. Fold the empty side of the circle over the filling and press around the edges to seal.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add a generous splash of oil followed by the stuffed flatbread. If it is too big for the pan with the ends going up the rim, bend the ends back down into the pan forming a crescent-shaped bread. Reduce the heat to low–medium and cook for around 5 minutes on each side, until golden.
While the flatbread is cooking, roll out and make the next bread. When the first bread is cooked, remove it to a tray or plate. Add another splash of oil to the pan for the next bread. Stack the cooked breads on top of each other to keep warm while you cook the other breads.
Cut the warm flatbreads into wedges and serve – with a drizzle of yoghurt sauce if you made the pumpkin and walnut breads.
Makes 4 large breads