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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.

A Care Package From Spring

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A Care Package From Spring

I had never realised just how much the seasons and the weather affect me until I went to Europe. I left Australia at the end of our winter last year and arrived in France in time for the last three weeks of their summer’s life, before it slid, inexorably, into winter again. Trooping around over there, at times wearing just about every item of clothing I had to my name at once, I missed spring. I missed it almost as much as I missed J, and it often felt like the constant, freezing drizzle of Late Autumn La Rochelle was just mirroring my feelings, not the other way round.

 

Twas a little chilly

 

I arrived home in Australia just after summer here kicked its last. The week before I got home temperatures were in the high 30s/low 40s, but the day I arrived it was 27 degrees and Sydney was breathing a sigh of relief. And winter continued its march, and the days got colder and gloomier, and the rain came, and here we are, at the end of May, with the huge expanse of winter before us, and I hadn’t seen spring for 18 months.

 

Autumn

 

Until last Friday.

 

A red leaf in Autumn

 

Last Friday I woke up, looked at my stacks of textbooks and notes and felt gloomy. But for the first time in days it wasn’t raining so I dragged myself outside to check on my little garden. Oh what a wonderful surprise was waiting for me!

It seems my garden had noticed the decided lack of cheer in my step and together with with the sun and old Spring herself, it threw me a surprise party!

 

 

The first ripe snowpeas for this year were hanging out on their vines.

 

 

My little chillies were soaking up the sun, working on their tan.

 

 

The sky was even wearing its prettiest blue party dress for the occasion.

 

 

I know I heard somewhere that not getting enough sunlight is one of the things that makes people down in winter and so I was super excited that the sun was warm enough to hang out in the garden in a tank top. The sun on my skin felt amazing, and I loved the feeling of freedom that comes from not being tied up in three layers of fabric.

One of the best bits of all, the springiest little tidbit Spring sent my way, had less to do with cooking and more to do with, well, not-cooking. Munching on those fresh little snowpeas straight off the plant, I could taste new life. It was bright and clean and full of energy and exactly what I needed. Sure, five snowpeas aren’t much in the way of physical nutrition, but I could eat nothing but processed packaged food and get fairly decent physical nutrition (it’d be expensive but you could do it).

 

 

What those snowpeas were was a taste of Spring, a dose of vigour and vim standing in the garden, surrounded by life. And I was a part of it all. The sun was in my hair, the wind on my skin, I ate my snowpeas and I watched rainbow lorikeets in the trees. I even hung out on the warm driveway with the cat for a while.

 

Butters the Cat

 

He’s pretty chill.

Maybe I’m just feeling a little airy-fairy, it is exam period after all, but sometimes you need a visit from Spring. Sometimes you need to take a second and feel connected to the world, you eat and you give back, you know? Sometimes you need to get a bit of something fresh in you.

 

A Whimsy List

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So this is a list – a list of all the things I can think of right now, all the food-related things I can think of right now, that I’d like to do, or to do more often. This is a whimsy list, a list of the things that occur to me on sunny autumn afternoons, or when I really should be thinking about more serious things.

Happy thoughts.

The road goes ever on and on..

I plan to update this list periodically, with any luck adding success stories to flights of fancy, because I think it’s really important to have a whimsical idea or ten to think about when you need a bit of a break from the present.

Here are some of mine:

  • Can my own produce. I’ve had two (very small) forays into the world of home canning so far – a very small batch of apple/black tea jam (I believe the Americans call it ‘jelly’) that was alright enough, and a jar of pickled onions that haven’t yet waited long enough to be taste-tested. But I think the ultimate thing for me would be to can something made from the things I grow myself. It’s a bit of a double desire actually, since it would also involve my little veggie patch getting a whole lot more productive as well. It just feels like such an achievement, to have something that I’ve supervised and guided all the way from seed to plate. Responsibility I think, and adulthood, and skill.
  • Keep recipe cards. Not just any recipe cards either – pretty, detailed, organised, durable ones. I like this idea for so many reasons. I love the idea of having something of myself that might last beyond me, that might stir fond memories of me. I like the idea of being organised, almost all the people I admire are quite organised, and in my (in all likelihood physically impossible) daydream house where everything is just right there is a special place for my beautiful box of perfect recipe cards.
  • Post someone baked goods. I’ve always found the idea of posting someone biscuits to be really romantic. Well, not quite romantic, but I guess neither ‘cute’ nor ‘sweet’ cuts it either. It’s the kind of thing the good girl would do in an Enid Blyton novel. Is there a word for that?
Anyway, there’s my list so far. Do you have any projects that you daydream about?

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

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The devilishly-handsome J had a birthday the other day. And since his new favourite cake flavour is pear and vanilla I thought this was a good enough time as any to give you the recipe I promised quite a while ago now. But the flavour of a prospective cake is only the first question to be answered, because as I’m sure you’ve all experienced, the appearance of a cake can influence the mood and emotions of a day just as much, if not more than the actual taste of said cake.

An artist's rendition of J. Note: not actually a baby

I had narrowed it down to two choices: a simple, elegant round cake dusted with icing sugar that was sure to give the day a feeling of special luxury and romance; or some super fun cupcakes decorated with characters from one of his most common evening pass-times – a rousing game of Super Street Fighter 4 (inspired by a photo I saw here) that would no doubt imbue the day with a sense of playfulness and excitement. But which to choose? I wanted this to be just right.

And then – an epiphany.

Romantic and fun aren’t mutually exclusive, and if you put a standard cake and cupcakes in a room together frosting-related violence is not inevitable.

So it was that I decided to have it both ways.

 Why choose just one??

Now to the cooking!

Ingredients – makes one round cake approx. 10cm radius, and 17-ish cupcakes.

(all quantities are approximate)

5 regular sized eggs (each around 50g)

250g butter + a little extra for greasing

250g caster sugar + a little extra for greasing (trust me)

250g plain flour

1 ½ t baking powder (alternatively, use self-raising flour)

icing/decoration

Method

When you’re making something that has poached pears in it, often the first step is to poach the pears. When I originally made this recipe I poached my pears in a little water with a vanilla bean, but this time I decided to try out this paste I found (one vanilla bean costs like a bajillion dollars).

So you peel and chop your pears and pop them in a little simmaring water with a vanilla bean split down the middle or a teaspoon of this paste. The let them simmer away until they’re tender.

Scoop them out with a slotten spoon, chop them into chunks and set them aside to cool.

Now don’t get rid of your poaching liquid. There’s a lot of wonderful flavour in there. Instead, add about a tablespoon of sugar and keep it simmering away (remove the vanilla bean if you used one, but save it, we’ll use it again). As it reduces, this liquid will become a glorious golden pear and vanilla flavoured syrup.

Next, preheat your oven to 180oC if you haven’t already. I’m truly awful at remembering to preheat my oven – unless I’m reading a recipe which explicitly states “preheat your oven”, I’m liable to completely forget. So preheat your oven, everyone!

Then we’ll make what is essentially a basic vanilla pound cake. Cream the butter and sugar, then add in the eggs and either everything you can scrape out of the inside of your vanilla bean, or another teaspoon of paste (or, I suppose, a teaspoon and a half of vanilla essence). Mix it all up, then in goes the flour and baking powder, and there’s your batter!

Now gently fold in your cool pear bits. It doesn’t matter if they’re still a little warm, your batter will change texture a little but it won’t affect the finished cake.

All we have left is to grease the tins, cook, and ice. Grease everything with butter as you would normally, but then may I suggest a little something special for your cake tin? Take that bit of extra caster sugar and swish it around the tin until the buttered sides are completely covered. It’ll make a little bit of a crisp sweet crust around the outside.

Now plop the mix in the tins and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn everything out to cool, then ice as you see fit.

For my simple sophisticated cake I just dusted it with icing sugar, and provided some of the poaching liquid syrup for drizzling.

And as for the cupcakes, since J doesn’t like the taste of fondant (crazy, I know), I topped them with smooth white frosting then essentially painted on designs with food colourings.

SSF4 cupcakes

And the lesson learnt? As an adult, J can handle a complicated message and a few different emotions at once, as can I. In fact, invoking a few complimentary feelings with your food can make an experience all the deeper. So I must remember not to be afraid of complicated things, and situations where more than one thing is happening at once.

Moving in

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So I’ve kept this little blog over at Orble, fed it, tended it, since April last year. They were good times. I learnt a lot about a lot.

But I’ve gotten a little tired of Orble. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been getting a little bit jealous of all the pretty, shiny blogs out there outside that network.

And so I’m moving on, and moving in.

Over the next little while I plan to scooch all my posts on over from there, and when I’m done I suppose I’ll have to think up some new things to say.

I look forward to meeting you all, my Future Friends (and of course, Old Friends are always welcome).

The beginning of big things

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.

Inspiring Ethical Food (and Writers)

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I’ve been getting inspired lately. I’ve spent a lot of time reading food blogs, eating food, and thinking about things. And so I thought I’d share a few of the changes and ideas that have struck me lately. Thing’s I’d like to incorporate into my life and my food.

Eating locally


A gorgeous fresh mango, as big as my hand!

This one’s come from a variety of places. Part of it is seeing mangos for sale here in France while it’s snowing outside. On one hand it’s a miracle of globalisation and amazing. But on the other hand, the hand that’s holding a lot of weight in my mind at the moment, is the thought of all the energy it took to get that mango here, plus considering just how good quality a mango like that could be, especially compared to the lovely fresh ones I’m used to in mango season at home in Australia. If I had to attribute this idea to someone, it would be the Tigress. I don’t think I will ever eat entirely locally, I just love cinnamon and vanilla too much, but I hope to get my percentage local to start heading on its way up.

Eating (and living) cruelty-free


I'd like to think the hens that lay the eggs I eat are as happy as old George here.

This one is something I’ve been trying to edge towards for a while now, but haven’t made any real commitment to. And this isn’t a promise either. I know that for now my lifestyle isn’t anywhere near cruelty-free, but I also know the best way to sabotage any lifestyle change is to make it extreme and sudden. And this is not something I want to be just a fad. So I’m taking it slow. But eventually it will hopefully mean knowing where all of my food comes from, and being happy with what goes on there. I attribute the inspiration for this one to my family. It’s my upbringing, thinking about the consequences of my actions, and compassionate thinking, which make me want my impact on the world to be a cruelty-free one.

Eating with more balance


This one comes directly from a lady named Gena. While I don’t think her lifestyle (vegan, high-raw) is ideal for me, and I don’t agree that cruelty-free = animal product-free, this is a lady that puts a whole lot of thought, and love, into her food choices. And the overwhelming message I take away is balance. It’s about feeling good, ethically and physically. And I know that when I spend a day and put a little bit of thought into balancing out nutrients and getting all the components my body needs, I feel a whole lot better than a day where I eat only chocolate-based items.

Feeding people more often


I feed people fairly often when I’m home. I’ll have a little party for this or that. But I’d love to ramp that up a bit. I want to have people over for afternoon tea on the weekends. I want to take someone a cake as a surprise, just because I like them. It’s not easy when you don’t have that much money coming in, but sharing food and making people happy with food is a feeling I love, and reading about it in so so many blogs out there, I want that feeling more.

So those are some of my thoughts at the moment. I think it’s nice to have goals for yourself. Because you can never be perfect, and that’s a gift, because it means you always have something you can improve, and get that little boost of satisfaction that you’ve made yourself a better person. And I think being more ethical is one of those goals that just keep on giving. So what do you think, feeling inspired?