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Category Archives: Memories

Less Partridges, More Pears – Yet Another Holiday Jam

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We’re moving up the ranks of interesting to the second of my four Christmas jams today (if you didn’t catch my strawberry jam run down you can find it here). What is this mystery slightly-more-interesting jam? Pear and Vanilla of course!

Pear and vanilla is J’s favourite fruit and spice combo as you all know, and it resonates very much with the holiday season for us, since it was the flavour of the cake I made for our first Christmas together. This jam riffs pretty directly off of that recipe and thus as far as interesting goes this is not a super unfamiliar combo, but it’s still a step away from the traditional standard berry combinations you find in jams at the supermarket.

I think it’s pretty important to develop and keep food traditions. When you think about it, so many of our food associations and memories come from repetition: tea when times get tough, chocolate pudding at a gathering, creamy rice on a cold winter’s night, flummery (a.k.a. in my family ‘amamfa’) on a hot summer’s day. I sometimes feel guilty just repeating the same recipes and combinations over and over, like I should be exploring and discovering and broadening and all those other things, but then I remember just how much I like those recipes and combinations. And each time they’re repeated they just get more and more meaning and feeling.

A summer time jam in a summer time garden

In the US they’d call this a jelly rather than a jam, since it’s made using only the juice of the fruit rather than the whole thing. I’ve based this off of a recipe for apple jelly from here, with a few alterations.

So anyway, first thing’s first, assemble your ingredients:


1.75-2kg of pears

5 cups of water

2.5 cups of sugar

1 lemon’s worth of juice

1 vanilla bean

Some pectin (I used some Jamsetta, about 1 tbsp or a little less)

As for your method:


Wash your pears and chop them up into chunks, removing the stalks.

Boil them up with the water for about 45 minutes at least, until they’re quite soft.

Then you need to strain all the juice out of them. I improvised a set up using a bowl, a sieve, a colander, a clean tea towel, a plate, and a bottle of water. Give it at least 3 hours.

I ended up with about 3 cups of juice. Whack that back in your pot with the lemon and vanilla bean (split down the middle) and bring it up to the boil.

Pop a little plate in the freezer about now.

Mix the sugar with your pectin then stir it in nice and quickly, making sure you haven’t got any lumps of pectin.

Cook that until you can put a little bit of it on your frozen plate and it sets to form a loose jam consistency.


Now put that jam in your jars and you’ll want to waterbath process them so you can store them out of the fridge.

Yay for new nostalgia!

A Special Birthday Edition Review of Kitami Japanese Restaurant

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I haven’t posted for a while, it’s true, but I have excuses. Reasonable excuses, fantastic excuses, phantasmagorical excuses! But alas, this blog post is far too full already to go into all that. So instead I’ll leave it at: I turnt 21 and I went out and did stuff. One of the things I did was go to dinner at Kitami with some dear friends (and forget my camera, *facepalm*). And so, as well as a bit of an outline of what I want to do with my blog over the next little while after this brief unexpected hiatus, I present to you a Special, Birthday-Edition Review of my favourite Japanese restaurant in town – Kitami.

Cooking:

Fantastic. I’ve been hankering after some decent Japanese food for quite a while now and this really hit the spot. Three friends, my brother, and I got four entrees and two mains to share between us, plus I had some miso soup.

We had spider rolls, tempura prawn rolls, california rolls, and a plate of mixed sashimi for entrees. The rolls were all great, the meat in the spider rolls and tempura prawn rolls was crispy and good and the pickled ginger was as delicious as pickled ginger always is. The sashimi was fresh and delicate and lovely.

I also nicked one of J’s tako yaki balls which were just as rich and tasty as I remembered.

For mains we had a plate of stir-fried beef and a plate of stir-fried pork. They were both lovely with wonderful thick sticky sauces, though I’ll admit I was lusting after some of the chicken dishes on the table, the kara age in particular – it was remarkable last time I ate there. Sadly they don’t use free-range chicken, or at least they don’t say they do and that’s something you advertise. Eating purposefully takes a bit of work and sacrifice though, and it’s only non-free-range chicken so far that I’ve totally ruled out of my diet, so I can hack it.

With:

A most  delightful crowd. There were about fourteen people in all from very different parts of my life – my little brother to the ladies I’ve known since my first year in Law, right through to a new friend from the Linguistics department at Uni. Plenty more great people sent their apologies, and of course J was there too.

It really made me appreciate how fantastically lucky I am. Life is fragile, but it’s easy to forget that with all of these wonderful, supportive, caring, loving people around me. Without these people, my family, my friends, my partner, would I be sitting here at the kitchen table sipping tea and looking out at the dazzling blue of the Australian sky? Would I have the luxury of this blog, this computer, this safe welcoming home?

And who would cheer me, teach me, support me, reason with me, or make me laugh? Who would talk to me when I feel like I’ll bust if I don’t have a chat to someone but but I have nothing particularly interesting or new or relevant to say? Who would make me feel valuable and good?

 

I like birthdays and anniversaries, days that mark time passed. They remind me of just how cool it is that all that time was mine, to share.

Feeling:

Well back to the serious business. Kitami feels… unfinished. But it’s not so bad. It feels friendly, at ease. Like the restaurant itself is relaxed and happy to see you. There’s a little garden near the entrance that’s very sweet, with sand and rocks and bonsai trees. And the staff are super friendly. They’re really professional, sure, and all our meals came out promptly and deliciously. They even got some lovely plates and a tray set out for my friends who decided, sneaky things they are, to bring a cake and not tell me about it.

But more than anything the staff seem happy. Really genuinely happy to have you there. And that overwhelming feel of welcome means more than any decor.

 

—————

 

So, as I hinted earlier on, I’d also like to lay out what I plan to write to you about over the next few weeks. I’ve been lazy lately, taking huge breaks between posts, but now that I’m on Uni breaks for a few more weeks and most of my Big Stressful Things that needed doing have been done, I’m going to try and step back up to the plate – at least one post a week.

My next post will be one I started writing a week ago but didn’t really get to the posting stage with, then if I can find the pictures I took to go with it I have a post written a very long time ago with a modified carrot cake recipe that I was especially proud of. And after that I have some new musings to share, on choosing not to eat everything and healthy(-er) eating. So I really look forward to getting into that.

 

What are you looking forward to? And what makes you happy to look back at?

Gotta Love A Long Weekend!

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Gotta Love A Long Weekend!

I had a big weekend this weekend just passed. You can tell that because I’m 90% sure the sentence I wrote before this one doesn’t quite make sense. My dear Pop turned 70, I hung out with my family, and I tried really hard to both get something done on my essay and not think about it.

So, instead of writing too many more of these terrible terrible sentences, I present for your enjoyment a selections of links to things I’ve liked recently and pictures of Venice. Click a picture to go someplace!

I've always wanted to learn to code, and with this write-up, I think I'm gonna give it a go!

The first time I ever met a churro was at a Crusty Demons show. The number of guilty pleasures that day is almost incalculable.

Sometimes I like reading good news stories. And it's not too often when politics comes anywhere near stories like that.

Sometimes bad stuff happens. And sometimes people try to do something about it. Sometimes I think they do a good job.

I plan to try a batch of these (under the guise of making them for J) very soon.

Gwyneth Paltrow said stuff I agreed with. Honestly, I haven't read the replies. I just enjoyed the sentiment and cruised on.

A pretty picture and an intriguing idea.

Sad as it is, this is very true.

Something cute to go with something cute.

Would You Like Some Beer Or Chocolates With That Existential Crisis?

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An observant reader may have noticed that this is my first post in quite a while. You may be intrigued to know that during my last few months of radio silence a whole lot of stuff has affected, left or entered my life in one way or another. In case you’re interested, I’ve put together a list of some important developments, and the foods that punctuate them for me.

Pear and Vanilla Muffins and Engagement

If you’ve spent much time travelling in Western Europe you may be familiar with Paul’s. Strategically placed in major train stations and airports, Paul’s serves expensive but decent sandwiches and bakery treats to weary, hungry travellers.

Yes, trains. The one thing everyone sees in Europe.

And so it was, on a bench outside Paul’s in Montparnasse train station, that I said a tearful yes (under the watchful eyes of an elderly French couple who looked like they’d been together for millennia), grabbed a pear and vanilla muffin and settled into my seat on a TGV train speeding away from Paris. My brand new fiancé was within snuggling distance for the first time in months.

The flavour combination in that muffin holds an amazing number of good memories for me now. I even played around with it a little, making a Poached Pear and Vanilla Bean Butter Cake (recipe coming soon) that I am ludicrously proud of.

Mulled Wine and My First Romantic Christmas

This one is cheating a little bit. I mean, if cinnamon, cloves, star anise, vanilla and nutmeg don’t already remind you of the holidays, I have to wonder where you go in December every year.

Mulled wine spices simmering in syrup

These spices have been enjoyed for so long, you can find them in all sorts of cultures and cuisines. That special festive touch is not exclusive to the west!

But anyway, to go along with a magnificent Christmas feast for J and I, I made a pot of mulled wine (I used Jaime Oliver’s recipe from here). It was the first Christmas we had ever spent together, just the two of us. It was also my first ever cold weather Christmas. And this mulled wine was just one more special , decadent, holiday card style touch.

My First Romantic Christmas Dinner

Mulled wine is a nice for a traditional (or not so traditional) Christmas dinner.

Purple Noses and Existential Angst

In Belgium, as well as their delicious delicious chocolates, they also make other tasty confectionary like purple noses (also called cuberdon, apparently).

This image is from http://www.belgium-gourmet.com/ where you can apparently buy them. I had difficulty working out how, but I also got up at 6 this morning.

They’re a raspberry type flavour (though I believe you can get other flavours), kind of solid but flexible on the outside and liquidy on the inside, and utterly delicious. Unexpectedly so.

J and I had just begun our month and a bit of travel around Europe and I was encountering what became a theme of my musings throughout our travels – who am I anyway? What defines me as a person, and at this moment, where I could really become anything, what person do I want to be?

The kind of person who faces into the wind?

On the last day of the Brussels Christmas markets we picked up a 600 gram bag of super high quality Belgian chocolates on special for ten euro. And mixed in there were a nice helping of purple noses. And so I spent a night or two lying awake with some embarrassingly intense existential angst going on, sucking the liquidy goodness out of some purple noses.

Chiko Rolls and Home

If there was one food I craved being away from the country of my birth, more than real milk, more than a nice kangaroo steak, it was a chiko roll. That luxurious tube of deep fried, gooey-centred goodness.

This image is from http://www.chiko.com.au

I have eaten approximately fifteen thousand chiko rolls since my return to the country, and there’s still not much else that makes me feel so comfy and at home inside. Being away from everything I knew and the culture that’s always surrounded me really made it clear to me how much I love living in Australia, despite all of its flaws. This is my home, and probably always will be.

An ‘Auberge Espagnole’ – The Lowdown

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“What is an auberge espagnole?” is a question you may ask. “What do Spanish hostels have to do with food?” is a question you may ask if you’re handy with Google translate. Well never fear, I’m here to answer at least one of those questions for you!

Let me tell you

A quick look on a search engine will get you to a 2002 film called ‘L’auberge espagnole’ where, to quote IMDb, “A strait-laced French student moves into an apartment in Barcelona with a cast of six other characters from all over Europe.” I’m not sure if this movie came before or after the way I’ve seen the term used here in France, but it seems to fit fairly closely with the concept as I know it.

Essentially, when you see one of these advertised, what you’re really seeing is a chance to eat your own weight in food. It’s on the occasion of a gathering where people from a variety of countries are expected. Each person is asked to bring a dish from their own country. The food is all spread out buffet-style, and everyone digs in!

Preparation

You have to be quick, or you’ll miss out!

Empty dishes

In my opinion, this style of party is super effective. Everyone has fun putting together their dish…

Making dumplings

…everyone gets the excitement of trying something knew, all the while with the safety net there of knowing that there’s at least one dish they like…

Mini pizzas with potatoes as the base! Yum!

… no one person has the responsibility of providing all of the food…

Relaaaaaaaaaaaax

…and everyone gets to bond and be brought together in that warm glow that you get from a full tummy!

All together now!

So if you get the chance to go to an auberge espagnole style party next time you’re in France (or anywhere else for that matter), I advise you to totally go for it. All you need to make is one dish and in exchange you get a fantastic night with happy people and a very full belly.

Cooking: Kid-Style

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I like cooking with kids. Love it in fact. Not only do I get the chance to hang out with some kids, but they are a great excuse to really have fun with it. Cooking that is.

She knows what she's doing

Now before people go ahead and tell me how much my tune will change when I have kids of my own and find out ‘what they’re really like’, I’ve gotta tell ya that you’re just not getting into the spirit of things. I know what children are like. I’ve got enough cousins to have a comprehensive idea just what it’s all about. I’ve changed nappies. I’ve bathed babies. I’ve had little girls tell me that I’m on their ‘mean list’ because they can’t have what they want. I still like kids. I think they’re fantastic. These little creatures are on their way to being real people and they’re just amazing to see.

Feeding my baby cousin

And to make cupcakes with. Why?

They don’t care if they’re not all symmetrical and ‘perfect’. Sometimes it’s easy to feel a little inadequate if something comes out of the oven looking like a sad dugong, but kids know the truth – that IS perfect. (And there is of course always the “that’s the one SHE did” routine)

The more sprinkles the better.

You have to taste it. At every stage of cooking. It’s the rules.


So what if a bit of batter ends up on the counter. Or your shirt. Or your hair. Or the baby. There’s always plenty of time to clean up later, when the important work is done. No one can say anything – you’re busy looking after the kids.

It is always necessary to show everyone your cupcakes. And tell them how great they are. And believe it too.

And most of all, cooking is fun. It’s amazing how when you add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients of chocolate batter it suddenly gets so much darker. And how cool is it that cake puffs up in the oven! And it’s so much fun to stir things as hard as you possibly can, just to see how hard that is. Cooking is practically magic – and don’t even get me started on sprinkles.

So go cook with some kids! I dare you!

Lettuce Change

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Change is a funny thing. You can see it in every part of your life, right down to the foods you eat. Long gone are the days when the list of foods I don’t like included cream, butter, zucchinis and anything less than well-done meat. And many of my staple meals now can be traced back to a particular time where something changed. And I think I’ve come across a new little change for my diet in the form of mâche.

Apparently known in English speaking countries as Lamb’s Lettuce, Corn Salad, Field Salad or plenty of other things, this is a green that I was entirely unaware of before seeing it here at the markets. Since I had a bit of a craving for greens and the silverbeet that was available looked pretty sorry for itself, I bought some of this “mâche”, and I was impressed. Crisp and flavourful, but not too bitter (I’ve got quite a low tolerance for bitterness in my greens, which is why I tend to steer clear of your fancy lettuces), I had a big old bowlful with nothing more than a little bit of rhubarb jam and a few little chunks of camembert and enjoyed every mouthful.

I’m a huge fan of little changes. To my mind they’re the best changes of all. When they add up they can do amazing things, like turn two little kids into a uni student/blogger/traveller and a young man who can pick up said student/blogger/traveller up and move her out of the way on his way to work.

I’m also a fan of little changes because it’s so easy for big changes to be too big, too much, too soon. You can’t push change. There’s only a certain amount you can cope with, and after that you get homesick, or diarrhoea, or both. Despite the fact that there seems to be plenty around, I don’t intend to go trying raw milk while I’m here. It’s important to know one’s limits, and I’m pretty sure my tummy would draw a line at that one.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you have to let change come. It doesn’t do to hide from change, because then you miss out on yummy new salad greens. But you can’t try and change everything at once. You’ve got to be able to look at yourself and see the good bits, and know that for now at least, it’s cool to keep them where they are, and keep tasty foods on the menu even if they have been around for a while.

And of course, some things never change.