Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The beginning, the middle and the end ... three wonderful books I've read lately

I always have several books in progress on my Kindle. Usually at least one non-fiction, one general or historical fiction, and maybe one biography or mystery fiction. It means that, whatever mood I'm in, there's always something interesting to read at hand.

Just lately I've finished three non-fiction books that triggered deep introspection and gratitude. Each had relevance to a particular time of life (or at least, to a particular time of my life).

The beginning ...

Alfred Lubrano's Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams discusses the challenges of growing up in a working-class, uneducated family, and moving (via education) into a middle-class, white-collar adulthood. As the blurb says 'torn between the world they were raised in and the life they aspire to, they hover between worlds, not quite accepted in either'. I grew up in a family where education was frowned upon and I made my escape as soon as possible. Although these days I live a white-collar life among middle-class friends and colleagues there are still moments when I feel like a fish out of water. Limbo reminded me be proud of what I've achieved in life. The book moved me so much that I emailed the author to thank him; he sent a very gracious reply!

... the middle ...

Stuffocation: Living More with Less, by James Wallman, is another thought-provoking read. The book discusses materialism and clutter, arguing that by transforming what we value (focusing less on possessions and more on experiences) we will be happier and healthier. Having recently moved house and thus been forced to get up close and personal with all my possessions I've realised that while I'm not a hoarder I do have more than enough stuff and really should use what I have rather than buying anything new.

... and the end

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande, is a book about death. It is an absolutely wonderful read: compassionate, powerful, moving, and beautifully woven. I enjoyed the book so much I didn't want it to end ... and have now sought out other books by Dr Gawande. As one of the reviewers said '[the book is] not just about dying and the limits of medicine but about living to the last with autonomy, dignity, and joy'. Indeed! Don't miss it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brekkie @ the National Arboretum

Last week we popped into the National Arboretum in Canberra in search of coffee ... and noticed that they offered breakfast on weekends. There are a couple of eateries at the Arboretum, the casual Sprout Cafe and the fancier Conservatory Restaurant. I checked online and it said bookings were recommended at the Conservatory; I confess we decided to take a risk this morning and go there without booking! It was, after all, a foggy Sunday morning and 5 degrees C. (!!) They very kindly managed to fit us in, but I'll book in future as the place filled up fairly quickly. The menu had numerous yummy-looking options and I ended up choosing something off the daily specials list:

Crooked Madame: jalapeno cornbread,
gruyere and grilled ham, with fried eggs

Andrew had:

Francis Bacon and the eggs: scrambled eggs, toast,
grilled bacon, chipolata sausage, boudin noir, baked beans,
thyme roasted tomato, grilled mushrooms and hash brown

It was delicious and delightful. We'll have to go back and try more menu items.

No picturesque piccies of trees and rolling hills (the fog was like a thick soup today) but here's a photo of the restaurant and the wider viewing area at the Arboretum:

Don't miss the Arboretum if you find yourself in beautiful Canberra. It is on Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, at Weston Creek.

Conservatory Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 24, 2016

Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto

Brrrrrr, it's cold outside. Many thanks to my fabulous vego friend Liana for this delicious recipe.

1 pumpkin, roughly diced
1 brown onion, chopped
olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 to 2 cups vegetable stock
400 ml coconut milk

Coriander pesto stuff
1 bunch of coriander [cilantro]
1 lemon (rind and juice)
1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon honey
about a tablespoon of olive oil

Heat the oil in a pot. Add the onion and curry paste and stir until onion is brown. Add the vegetable stock and the pumpkin. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft. Blend the mixture with one of those hand-held whizzy things. Stir in the coconut milk.

Pesto stuff
Chuck all ingredients into a blender and whiz until nice and smooth.

Serve the soup with a generous drizzle of the coriander stuff and some nice crusty bread.

You can freeze lunch-sized portions of this to take to work. Yum!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Groovy, baby! A retro recipe revival

Hellooooo 1978!

It's been an interesting few months. Andrew and I started 2016 with a magnificent trip to Japan, then I went through several months of uncertainty about whether I would still have a job (I do for now), then we moved house. Our 'new' place was built in 1978 and I'm feeling nostalgic about the 1970s. The house itself still has a '70s vibe so I've found myself seeking out clothes and foods from the era lately ...

boeuf bourguignon
crème brûlée
tomato fondue
camembert tarts
onion dip
bacon and egg pies
cheesy baked potatoes
pumpkin bread
lemon meringue pie

I'm even thinking of making a few macramé plant hangers for our new place. Whaddya think?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dolly pudding

The British call this type of dessert Spotted Dick. Is it just me, or does that sound a tad obscene?

Winter came to Canberra this week. Brrrrr! So here's a fabulously easy and yummy pudding for anyone who needs a cosy winter warmer ...

1 cup flour
1 cup dried fruit (such as sultanas or currants)
0.5 cup sugar
0.5 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 cup boiling water

Melt the baking soda and butter in the water. Mix in all other ingredients. Wrap dough in a cloth, tie top with room to swell. Place the bundle in a saucepan of boiling water (you may want to put a small plate in the bottom of the saucepan to prevent sticking) and boil for one hour, topping up the water in the saucepan as it evaporates. Serve with whipped cream.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Brunch @ The Emporium Parramatta (and some cute costumes)

Recently we made a weekend trip to our old stomping ground of Parramatta to catch up with friends and see the Miss Fisher costume exhibition. A friend suggested we meet for brunch at The Emporium Parramatta ... she hadn't tried it but had heard good reviews. Sure enough, the feast was delicious and the setting perfect for a gossipy catch-up! The menu featured:

Cured King Salmon with broccolini, poached egg,
dill yoghurt, watercress and sourdough

Brioche French toast, Nutella, caramelised
banana, maple syrup and hazelnuts

Sautéed mushrooms, hummus, kale, poached
eggs and cashew dukkah

It was fabulous to catch up with my two friends (we all worked together about 25 years ago). Looking forward to next time already ...

After brunch we headed off to Old Government House for the costume exhibition. It didn't disappoint. A few pics:

We're never sorry we moved away from Sydney it's too crowded and too expensive there to lead a quiet life but it was lovely to spend a couple of days as visitors.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday night treat ... spicy potatoes and snow peas

A delicious way to draw a line under the working week.

potatoes, cut into wedges
snow peas
fresh ginger, garlic, chillies and spring onions
vegetable oil

Make a paste of the ginger, garlic, chillies and spring onions. (I used a mortar and pestle, though a blender may have been easier!) Fry the potato wedges in the oil until starting to become tender, then add the spice paste and continue cooking. When all are nicely combined, add the snow peas and stir fry a little longer.

Enjoy ;-)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Ginger Crunch

One of my favourite New Zealand recipes! Not one but two of my NZ friends mentioned they were making ginger crunch this weekend and so a craving was born. I won't post the recipe here as I use the one in the Edmonds Cookery Book and it is (presumably) copyright, but it seems a sugar company has reproduced the recipe on its website. The only alteration I make is to double the amount of ground ginger in both the base and the icing ... mmmmmm.

Sunday afternoon tea

My 1983 edition of the Edmonds Cookery Book. A New Zealand icon!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Pomegranate season!

Saturday afternoons have become a cook-fest in my household. Well, I cook up a storm while Andrew climbs local hills. Today I celebrated the arrival of domestic pomegranates by making a pumpkin, eggplant, pecan and pomegranate stew (see below) and some baked apples with cinnamon, maple syrup and sultanas for dessert.

This dish is a local version of the Persian favourite fesenjān (or fesenjoon). I cobbled this recipe together from several available on the web. The main alteration 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 or seven portions. Freeze leftovers for another day.

Today I made enough for tonight's dinner
plus three other week night feasts

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Dissolution ≠ disillusion

I'm disillusioned about politics in Australia. I mean, who isn't? But I wish radio hosts would stop calling the approaching double dissolution election a 'double disillusion'.

Oh well.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dinner @ Grazing, Gundaroo

For several years now Andrew and I have regularly dined at Grazing in Gundaroo. It's where fine dining meets country pub ... spectacular food, friendly service, and a roaring fire if you go there in winter. In short, nice! Grazing is a great choice for special occasions and our latest visit was a couple of weeks ago to celebrate a birthday. The menu showcases food and wine from the Canberra district.

This time I enjoyed:

The vego entrée: machengo custard with shaved
raw asparagus, almonds, broccolini and peas

Slow-cooked pork belly for main course

Frozen caramel and salted hazelnut custard with
chocolate parfait for dessert (the waitstaff heard someone
in our party was having a birthday and decorated his plate)


Grazing is in the Royal Hotel Building on the corner of Cork and Harp Streets in Gundaroo, about a half hour drive from Canberra.

Grazing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

All aboard the Indian Pacific

Late last year I saw an advertisement for early purchase discounts on the Indian Pacific train and thought ... why not?! We've actually travelled on the Indian Pacific before, from Sydney to Adelaide about ten years ago and from Perth to Adelaide about four years ago. This time we wanted to travel from Adelaide to Sydney ... so that's what we did earlier this week! The journey from Adelaide to Sydney (or vice versa) is only about 25 hours and includes a wander around Broken Hill.

Just thought I'd share a few pics from the journey. Mostly food, of course ...

OK, so I'm a train nerd. There's more about other train journeys we've enjoyed here if you're interested ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Edible gifts: Nutty maple granola

A café we frequented in Sydney (alas, long gone) used to serve an addictively yummy granola. It was crunchy, nutty, and not excessively sweet, and I wondered if I could make something similar. Well ... can't claim it is the same, but this recipe (adapted from one received from a friend) is well worth a try:

6 tablespoons (real) maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups rustic rolled oats (not the quick-cooking variety)
2/3 cups nuts of your choice (almonds, hazel nuts and pecans work well)
1/3 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Melt the maple syrup and butter together in a saucepan but don't let it boil. Mix the oats, nuts and coconut together in a bowl. Combine all ingredients, then spread out on a non-stick baking tray. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

This is far too decadent (read: sugary and buttery) for everyday use, but makes a wonderful weekend breakfast treat or edible gift. Store in an airtight container once completely cooled.

Today I used cashews, pecans and pistachios

Reflecting on recipes followed and food eaten

This is the seventh year in a row I've used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of meals cooked and eaten at home. It's pretty easy. I keep a weekly menu to save time, prevent waste and maintain variety and just transfer my hand-written scribbles into the spreadsheet every few weeks. It's a useful exercise as not only does it provide an interesting glimpse into our evolving lives and diets, the spreadsheet itself reminds me of dishes I'd forgotten and should rediscover!

Andrew's talented sister Fiona made a series
of t-shirts featuring their Dad's aphorisms.
Once in a while I DO try a new recipe that's
just too awful to record. Not very often though ...

So, what have we eaten this year? I traipse off to an office four days per week so week night food tends to be either quick and easy to make, or defrosted from a previous weekend's cooking spree. The dishes we ate most often between April 2015 and April 2016 were (drum roll please):

Potato, leek, bacon and bean soup
Hearty vegetable and barley soup
Pasta with sauce
BLTs (sandwiches or wraps)
Chinese dumplings
Spanish omelette
Potato salad
Dal makhani
Pumpkin and pomegranate stew
Rocket, pear, pecan and blue cheese salad
Teriyaki tofu

Well, I certainly manage to cover a range of cuisines. My goal for the coming year? Cook yet more spicy delights! Cheers.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato soup

In November last year I posted a link to a lovely lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato curry/soup recipe on someone else's blog. I had good intentions of making the soup again today but the blog had disappeared! Eeeek. There was a big pile of ingredients on my bench and no recipe. My partner very kindly trawled the web and found a cached version, but I'm gonna summarise the main points here in case I want to make it again:

sweet potatoes
vegetable stock
red lentils
fresh ginger
black mustard seeds
garam masala

Throw all the ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer until veges are soft. Mash or blend to taste. Garnish with fresh coriander [cilantro] if liked. This soup freezes well for later lunches or week night meals. Enjoy!

Happy Eggs Benedict Day!

Numerous websites declare 16 April to be Eggs Benedict Day. No idea why, but as a big fan of Eggs Benedict (especially the smoked salmon version) I say ... why not! Here's an easy recipe for Hollandaise sauce if you fancy making your own Eggs Benedict.

2 large egg yolks
2/3 tablespoon of lemon juice
80 grams of butter
1 tablespoon of cold water
salt and pepper to taste

Place everything but the butter into a blender, and blend for about 30 seconds till light and creamy. Melt the butter in a microwave and while the blender is running, gradually add the hot butter. Continue blending for about 30 seconds after you add the last of the butter. Keep sauce warm until ready to use in a bowl over simmering water, or if making for later, store covered in the fridge. Sauce can be reheated by microwaving on high for 20 to 30 seconds and then whisking vigorously. If it separates, add a dash of boiling water and whisk until it recombines.