Sunday, August 20, 2017

Late winter

Just when I was getting into a regular routine of publishing on Sundays, winter school holidays began and poof went the normal schedule! Here's what's been going on since my last post:


Lots of Canberrans go to the snow during July school holidays, but I find the idea of getting away from the cold much more attractive, and that's what we usually do. This year we went to New Caledonia, a Pacific island which is also a French territory. July is the "cool" season, which means temperatures are in the 20C-23C (70F-75F) range - perfect beach (and tropical flora) weather for us, although we did notice several locals wearing puffer coats.

The sunset view from our balcony - a nightly highlight of our visit.


Miss B is 13! I didn't manage a birthday post this year, but we celebrated twice - once with dinner and cake for family and a few close friends (can you guess this year's obsession?)...

...and again a couple of weeks later with laser tag, pizza, more cake, and friends. (13! How did that happen?)


I recently tweaked my method for cooking homemade pizza after reading something online that I've now lost track of; my takeaway was to put my biggest cast-iron skillet in a very hot oven and heat it thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Then, remove the skillet carefully and throw in a pizza crust. Stick it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, remove again, and flip the crust. Spread it with sauce, top it with cheese, and put back in for another 5 minutes or more, until the cheese is browned and bubbling. This method has produced the best homemade pizza I've made yet, and I tested it on Miss B and two visiting friends who seemed to agree; of course as guests they were very polite - but they also devoured nearly two whole pizzas among three adolescents, which I took as an endorsement.

Speaking of my giant cast-iron skillet, I put it to good use again soon after, making a batch of polpette for the first time in far too long - certainly the first time since we moved here 2 years ago. They were very well received at Miss B's birthday dinner; and even though the recipe makes about 40, I'm going to have make another batch soon because we're already running low!


Holiday in New Caledonia meant daily access to boulangeries and croissants, and going into withdrawal when we got home compelled me to do something I've been contemplating for years - making my own. It's definitely a project for a weekend when you don't have much else on - the recipe I used has you start 36 hours before you want to eat them - but the actual hands-on work was less than 2 hours total. And it was totally worth it, for the eating and the sense of achievement. I'm already planning my next batch.

Today I baked something a little less ambitious: a variation on this cake from Melissa Clark for snacking and lunchboxes this week. It's a simple recipe, but notable because it marks my official initiation as a user (and fan) of the Eat Your Books website - which indexes thousands of cookbooks, magazines, and blogs and allows you to register and search your own collection, and dig into what you have. (Apparently I have 60,000+ recipes on my shelves.)

That's what's been happening here - although before I finish I must note that I feel lucky to have the privilege to focus on these things as a distraction from recent events in the US - and to come from a city from whose response I can take heart and courage. 





Sunday, July 2, 2017

Keeping warm

It's July! Term is over, winter holidays have begun, and overnight temperatures are consistently below freezing. Keeping warm in houses built for summer is a high priority.

I was very excited to find this on my trip to Kinokuniya Sydney a few weeks ago; I'm still working my way through it and haven't picked my first recipe to try yet. But looking forward to having lots of excuses to turn on the oven this month. (Recommendations welcome!)

Speaking of excited, we got two care packages from the US in the last week - full of healthy treats, as you can see. The resulting jumping up and down helped us generate some heat.

Hot chocolate season is in full swing, of course. I've topped up my stash of hot chocolate mix (using this recipe), as well as some suitably giant American marshmallows from Costco.

I can't give up on fruit salad just because it's winter, even if I do have to use canned apricots and peaches. (These make the salad more appealing to Miss B, so whatever works, I guess?)

This week one of our friends had an impromptu winter cookout housewarming, including breaking in her new fire pit. I brought along the ingredients to make s'mores, and since graham crackers are hard to come by in Australia I made my own - the classic version (on the right) following this recipe, and a grain-free version (on the left) using this recipe.

I also brought this along for us to nibble on while dinner was coming together - a hot spinach dip. I've made this several times over the past few weeks, but I haven't been following a precise recipe - it's basically 1 part sauteed baby spinach to 2 parts a combination of cream cheese, Boursin-style fresh herbed cheese, and sour cream - how much of each depending on what's in the fridge. Add seasoning to taste - salt, pepper, lemon juice are what I generally go for. Bake in a 350F/180C oven for 20-25 minutes until hot and bubbling. Serve with crackers. A good way to warm people up on a cold winter's night.

Hope you're keeping warm where you are - or cool, as the case may be.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winter shenanigans

Winter is in full swing, complete with lots of recent gloom and damp in Canberra. A good excuse to try various antidotes, including:

Knit! I started trying to re-teach myself to knit about 2 years ago, and I am delighted to say that this week I taught myself how to cast off, and I finished this scarf. It's a bit rustic-looking, but it's the first knitting project I've ever completed and I'm proud of it - especially the buttons, which I added for design interest and which actually work. Miss B has already requested one of her own.

Sew! I'm continuing to work through my double-sided kitchen cloth project - here's my latest effort. I particularly like these fabrics, both separately and together.

Cook winter food! I had a ridiculous amount of leftover mashed potato in the fridge at the end of the week, and I was too lazy to make gnocchi, which had been my first plan. So instead I made a potato gatto (one of our longstanding Secret Dinners), which is great comfort food on a cold night.

Get out of town! We've had a trip to Sydney booked for this weekend for months, and I was hoping for the usual dramatic difference in temperature and weather between Canberra and...pretty much everywhere else. It was warmer, but not any brighter for the most part. Undaunted, we hit some of our favorite spots and tried out some new stuff as well. A high point (in every sense) was our early-evening walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, complete with stunning views.

Our objective in crossing the harbour was to visit an American-style burger joint, Batch Burgers & Espresso, at the foot of the bridge's north side in Kirribilli. It came highly recommended from fellow expats, and was totally worth the walk - hands down the best burger I've had in Australia.

The walk back was even better, giving us a birds'-eye view of the final weekend of Vivid Sydney, especially the Opera House:

My iPhone camera does not do it justice - if you click on the link above you'll get a much better idea of the effect.

And last but not least, my favorite winter activity and the reason for our Sydney weekend - ice hockey! We got tickets to see the USA-Canada Ice Hockey Classic, the first time in a looooong time (3+ years I think) that I've been able to see professional-level hockey live. It wasn't the NHL playoffs, and I'm pretty sure I haven't infected Miss B with the hockey love, but as far as I was concerned it was worth the trip.

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