Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Delightful Daylesford

We're still wandering around country Victoria. (We are creatures of habit and take annual road trips around Victoria!) This week we spent two nights in Daylesford, which is a town we'd briefly stopped in before but had never explored in detail. Despite being a bit of a tourist trap it was a lovely place to visit.

We stayed at a boutique hotel called The Manse, which (it seems) is a word for the accommodation provided to a Presbyterian minister. Unsurprisingly the house was next to a church. Anyway ... gorgeous! One of the cutest and quirkiest places we've stayed. The five or so guest rooms were themed. Ours was the zebra room, and sure enough it was full of African-animal-inspired objects:

The room also had a fabulous little kitchen in a cupboard:

The first night we were there we had dinner at the Taj Mahal Restaurant. Seriously yummy. The restaurant is in a house so we had the weird sensation we were eating in someone's lounge room. We ate dal makhani, vegetable korma, garlic naan and saffron rice, and washed it all down with some gulab jamun and pistachio ice cream. Definitely worth a visit.

What else did we do there? Walked around the picturesque lake, climbed up Wombat Hill, enjoyed a delicious brunch at Frangos and Frangos, drank natural mineral water at Hepburn Springs, guzzled coffee and wandered aimlessly. Nice.

Brekkie @ Bay Leaf, Apollo Bay

My partner wanted me to call this post 'Breakfast roulette @ Bay Leaf ...' as we didn't quite end up eating what we expected! That said, it was still a lovely meal. When I arrived at the counter to order the barista had her hands full and took our order without writing it down. I wanted the mushrooms and he wanted the baked beans, but somehow his order morphed into corn fritters. Luckily that would have been his second choice.

He had:

Corn fritters, smoked salmon, avocado and a poached egg

while she had:

Field mushrooms with polenta, feta and tomato relish

Apollo Bay is a funny place. Like many tourist towns on the Victorian coast it is frantic in summer and almost abandoned in winter. That said, even in the winter there are plenty of brekkie options. We counted about six places we could have eaten. We enjoyed our meal at the Bay Leaf and our visit to the Great Ocean Road.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lunch @ Yarram Coffee Palace

We're currently tootling around country Victoria. Charming state, miserable weather! Luckily there are plenty of cosy coffee shops to explore. Yesterday we stopped at a small town called Yarram, in southeast Gippsland, for lunch. Something drew us into a corner cafe called Yarram Coffee Palace, and we weren't disappointed.

He had:

Nachos and a flat white

while she had:

A pasty with salad, and a (soy) flat white

This meal was delicious and satisfying. The cafe was also a nice warm place to escape from the biting wind for half an hour or so.

The Yarram Coffee Palace is licensed to serve alcohol and we suspect it gets more lively after dark!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pumpkin and pea curry

It has been nine weeks since I broke my arm, and almost three weeks since I stopped wearing an immobilising sling. Recovery is a slow process! For the first few weeks I could barely do anything. Andrew (my knight in shining armour) did all the housework, ferried me around, and even dressed me. Bit by bit, and with the help of physiotherapy and massage, my mobility and dexterity are coming back. It's a bit like being a toddler again. Little achievements every day. First I learnt to dress myself, then to do some kitchen and household tasks, then to tie my shoelaces. Today's triumph was chopping pumpkin.

I made a big pot of pumpkin and pea curry ... some to eat tonight and some to freeze for another day. No quantities, sorry, as I just made it up as I cooked ...

pumpkin, diced
onions, diced
olive oil
curry powder (Indian, Malaysian, or whatever you like)
cumin seeds (or ground cumin if you don't have seeds)
curry tree leaves
coconut milk
frozen peas (you could use fresh ones if available)

Sauté the onions in a little oil, then add curry powder, cumin and curry leaves, and fry a little more. Add the pumpkin and stir until well coated in the curry mixture. Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil, and simmer until pumpkin is tender. Add peas and boil for a few minutes more. Serve with basmati rice, naan or roti.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Orange and almond muffins

This week my friend Rachel is having a special birthday. In honour of that, I made some mini birthday cakes ...

3 oranges
170 g sugar
6 eggs
250 g ground almonds

Cover the (whole) oranges with water and boil for one hour. When cooked, cut up the oranges and remove any seeds and excess pith. Purée oranges. Beat the sugar and eggs together. Add the oranges and almonds to the egg mixture and fold together. Pour into muffin moulds and bake for about forty minutes in a 180 degree C oven.

Happy Birthday Rachel

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Brekkie @ Stand By Me

Do you ever wish your town had more spicy breakfast options? I do. Having visited various Asian countries I've developed a healthy craving for curry for brekkie. (Here are pictures of some of the breakfast delights we enjoyed in Kuala Lumpur a couple of years ago.) While Canberra has lots of fabulous Asian restaurants their proprietors are, it seems, sensible enough to stay tucked up in bed on cold winter mornings rather than opening their doors to serve breakfast to oddballs like me. Fair enough.

So, this morning's jaunt to Stand By Me in Lyons was a treat! Along with some pretty yummy sounding stuff on the usual breakfast menu they had a couple of fabulous items on the specials board:

He had:

French toast with poached pears, pear purée,  almond 
praline and almond cream, and a long black

He says ' It wouldn't have been out of place if served as a dessert!'

She had:

The breakfast thali of saag [spinach], dal, eggplant
kasundi, poached eggs and flatbread, and a flat white

She says 'YUM! Not overly hot, but spicy enough to satisfy my craving. Delicious.'

Stand By Me has been open less than a year and has been getting rave reviews in various social media. The staff are cheery and the décor is cute. We recommend arriving early; we got there soon after it opened at 8 am, and by the time we'd finished our meals (8.40 am-ish) crowds were pouring through the doors.

We'll be back ...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ooh, ooh, umami

One of the psych courses I did at uni (I think it was called Biological Bases of Behaviour) discussed taste. We learnt that the sensation of taste could be categorised into four basic tastes, sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness, and at that time (in the 1990s) there was also discussion about whether there was a fifth category: umami. Umami is a word borrowed from Japanese, meaning 'pleasant savoury taste'. I was reminded about the concept of umami today when making a big pot of soup. Without the tomatoes and tomato paste, this soup is tasty but maybe a tad bland. With the addition of tomatoes the umami factor increases and it becomes positively delicious!

Umami? Yummy!

Big, satisfying soups are a winter staple in our house. I tend to make large quantities of soups, casseroles, and curries on weekends when I have plenty of time, and freeze meal-sized potions for quick lunches and dinners. Here's what went into today's batch of soup:

1 cup of soup mix (dried peas, barley and lentils)
3 carrots
2 parsnips
half a pumpkin
1 leek
3 tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
frozen peas

Firstly, cover the soup mix with water and bring to the boil. Then add all the other vegetables (chopped) and stir in the tomato paste. Boil all together until thick – maybe about an hour in an ordinary saucepan, or about 20 minutes if you have a pressure cooker. Cool for a few minutes, then ladle into freezable containers and refrigerate until cool enough to freeze. (The combination of ingredients shown above produced six servings. Our freezer is now full.)

Of course, the ingredients are very flexible. I based today's choices on whatever looked fresh and appealing at my local organic shop, but you can add or subtract things according to taste and availability. If you're feeling carnivorous, you can toss in (say) a smoked ham hock for an extra dose of umami.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Date loaf just got even better!

Today I decided to make my favourite date loaf and noticed I had pistachios and ground almonds in the fridge. So with a little bit of ingredient substitution, date loaf became even more delicious! Here's the recipe.

1 cup chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup boiling water
0.75 cups wholemeal flour
0.75 cups ground almonds
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 teaspoon baking powder

Put dates, butter and soda into a bowl. Pour boiling water over and mash slightly. Mix in the flour, ground almonds, pistachios and baking powder, pour into a loaf tin and bake about 50 minutes at 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Slice and serve with butter.

This is a quick, easy snack to whip up when you realise you have guests arriving in an hour or so. It can be served warm or cold, and also freezes well for later lunches.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Single-handed (adjective) but not single-handedly (adverb)

It's been a weird few weeks. In mid-April, after having my bike serviced one rainy Friday, I was riding home and slipped in some unseen wet autumn leaves, falling on the kerb and fracturing my humerus. Alas, there's nothing humorous about a busted humerus! It is very painful. It's also very constricting, as the treatment involves at least six weeks in an immobilising sling.

Andrew, my partner of twenty-plus years, has been absolutely wonderful. He's driven me to medical appointments, taken over all of the household tasks with aplomb, and even dressed and undressed me each day. (I'm not allowed to move my left arm in certain directions so dressing is a big challenge.) I'm usually a ferociously independent person so learning to ask people  Andrew, friends, colleagues and strangers  to do things for me has been quite a stretch. Whether it is getting from A to B, opening doors, chopping ingredients or cleaning the house, I'm feeling pretty useless. Luckily my habit of keeping a weekly menu and freezing plenty of leftovers for weekday meals has paid off; we've raided the freezer and enjoyed things like pasta with homemade sauce, nachos, and all manner of legume-y soups lately.

What have I learnt from all this? That Andrew is my hero (well, I knew that already, but know it even more now), that it is OK to ask people for help, and that I really shouldn't ride my bike on rainy autumnal evenings.

When the sling is visible I almost need to hang an FAQ sign around my neck:
  1. I fell off my bike.
  2. Yes, it hurts.
  3. About six weeks.
After a while the questions became a bit repetitive, so I splashed out on a disguise.

Now you see it ... 

... now you don't!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Crunch time

For many years now I've kept a household menu, to save time and money in planning meals, ensure variety and avoid waste. Since 2010 I've been tallying up what we eat each year (nerdy, I know) and posting the results on this blog on 20 April. That date seems to roll around faster each year!

This year our most eaten home-cooked meals were:

creamy tuna pasta
potato salad
pasta bolognese

I've also discovered a few new favourites that are likely to feature in future lists ...

and just lately have been experimenting with reducing carbohydrates in recipes by substituting piles of fresh vegetables for (say) pasta or bread. (My pancreas has opinions and I'm trying to listen to them.)


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pumpkin, pecan and pomegranate stew (Fesenjān)

This dish is a local version of the Persian favourite fesenjān (or fesenjoon). I first tried it at the Saffron Room a couple of years ago, and have cobbled this recipe together from several available on the web. The main alteration I made (because I prefer to use local rather than imported ingredients where possible) was to use pecans instead of the traditional walnuts.

1 large onion, chopped
olive oil
0.5 teaspoon turmeric
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon
half a pumpkin, cubed
one large eggplant, cubed
2 cups vegetable stock
0.5 cup pomegranate molasses (try Middle Eastern grocery shops or delis)
1 cup pecan nuts, roasted and roughly chopped
seeds from a fresh pomegranate (currently in season here in Australia!)
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook until translucent, then add the spices and cook a little longer. Add the pumpkin and eggplant chunks and stir till they're coated in the spices. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and add the pomegranate molasses and pecans. Simmer for about twenty minutes. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley to serve. This recipe makes about six to seven portions. I suggest freezing the leftovers for another day.

Big thanks to Andrew for doing all the chopping tonight. I usually do most of the cooking at home, but since falling off my bike and fracturing my arm last week I'm currently rather lop-sided. So he's taking on all sorts of unusual tasks ... and doing a magnificent job!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happy Eggs Benedict Day!

According to that fountain of all knowledge, the intertubes, April 16 is National Eggs Benedict Day. (Wait, what?) It also happens to be my partner's birthday, so Happy Birthday Andrew! Although Andrew prefers French toast to eggs benedict, there's an easy and delicious recipe for Hollandaise sauce here if you'd like to give eggs benedict a go. I've never actually posted a recipe for French toast, but here's a recipe for a spicy version called Bombay toast ...

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Canadian recipe to celebrate Corner Gas Day

Did you ever see the delightful Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, set in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan? No? It was a tad obscure! Anyway, it was great fun. The series wrapped up six years ago today, and the premier of Saskatchewan declared 13 April 'Corner Gas Day'.

When we were in Canada in late 2008 (oh, Canada!) we discovered a couple of local 'delicacies'. One was poutine (a heart attack on a plate – French fries, cheese curd and gravy  no recipe required, surely!) and another was the hot breakfast sandwich at Tim Hortons. Here in Australia a biscuit is a cookie, but in Canada it seems it is a type of scone/muffin featuring cornmeal. Having become a bit addicted to them while there, I searched for a recipe when we returned ...

Corn Biscuits

1 cup of wholemeal flour
0.5 cup of cornmeal (also known as polenta)
pinch of salt
pepper, to taste
0.5 teaspoon of baking soda
1.5 teaspoon of baking powder
0.75 cups of milk
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the egg well beaten. Mix thoroughly and stir in the milk and butter. Put into greased muffin pans and bake at 180 degrees C for about fifteen minutes.

To make a breakfast sandwich a bit like the ones we enjoyed in Canada, sandwich together corn biscuits (as above), sausage patties or bacon strips, and a fried egg. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka captured my heart when I was just seven. A bored and lonely kid growing up in a grim series of small towns in New Zealand, I was delighted to find a nine-year-old penpal, Arusha, in Colombo. Sri Lanka seemed so bright and colourful, so exotic, so … spicy! We fell out of contact after a couple of years, as you do when you’re a peripatetic little kid, but I never forgot that glimpse into another world. Over the ensuing forty years my passion for eating, for cooking, for things colourful and spicy and exotic grew and grew. 

To this day I’m fascinated by that teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean. Its literature, its food, its politics and its curly-wurly scripts. I visited Colombo briefly for work three years ago and was utterly charmed by the warm and earnest people, not to mention the glorious food. Arusha managed to survive the long civil war in Sri Lanka and I managed to escape small-town New Zealand. Both of us ended up in Australia. 

Two years ago we found each other again and met up over a delicious home-cooked Sri Lankan lunch. It was fabulous to renew our friendship in person, even if we did have to explain the concept of a ‘penpal’ to her bemused teenage daughter!

Here are a couple of my favourite Sri Lankan recipes:

Parapou (or parippu) – a spicy lentil dal
Wattalapam – a coconut custard


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Are bikes disposable now too?

I'm a big fan of the blog Not Always Right, where members of the public send in tales of dumb things customers say. I had a vague sense I was in a Not Always Right situation myself recently ...

Me: (on phone to bike shop) I'd like to book my bike in for its six monthly service please.
Bike Shop Dude: You mean three monthly service ...
Me: Oh? Sorry. I thought it was six months. You'll just have to do more to it if necessary ...
Bike Shop Dude: (rather snippily) Oh, will I?
Bike Shop Dude: I can't find your name in the bike sales database.
Me: I didn't buy it from you.
Bike Shop Dude: (splutters)
Me: The bike's not new. I've had it for years. I just want to book it in to have the gears and brakes serviced ...
Bike Shop Dude: Oooohhh, OK!

The bike shop, on its website, recommends six monthly servicing. So what I took away from this interaction was a sad little feeling that maybe no-one else gets their bikes serviced beyond the (free) three month check-up. Maybe bikes are considered disposable these days and people (with more money than sense) toss them out when the gears slip and the brake pads wear out. Certainly, the bike shop I called seemed surprised I wanted to get my bike tuned up.


It's getting harder and harder to get things repaired. I've written before about being frugal, preferring to make do and mend rather than waste resources and create landfill. I'd rather own one good item, and get it fixed over and over again, than buy multiple crappy things that break or fall apart.

My bike will be celebrating its seventh birthday this year and is my main means of transport. Here's hoping I can squeeze a few more years of use out of it!