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.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Long weekend

It's a long weekend in Australia! (Have I mentioned before that I find it endlessly entertaining that the Queen's birthday is a public holiday here, but not in the UK? Because I do. Also I have to make the most of it because this is our last Monday public holiday until, I think, October. Yikes!)

Here's the latest news from around here:

DP's birthday was this past week - can you work out how old he is from the candles? Appropriately given his profession and interests (and name), his birthday falls on a major event in military history, and this year his seminar students found out and celebrated by giving him a running real-time recap of happenings throughout that fateful day 73 years ago. I took the easy route by making his favorite dinner (steak au poivre and mashed potatoes) and baking his favorite cake.

Also this past week - family friends of ours are dealing with some medical stuff and, like us, are far from their family support networks. So, on the day when one parent was in the hospital overnight and the other parent was wrangling everything else (including three kids), I volunteered to bring over dinner. Pasta bake to the rescue!

I didn't really use a recipe for this - just made a batch of Disruptive Bolognese in the slow cooker ahead of time, then boiled up 3 boxes (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg) of rigatoni. I mixed it all up together with lots of grated cheese and some baby spinach (vegetables makes it a nutritionally complete main course!), scooped it into a disposable baking tin, and wrapped it up. (I also made up a smaller pan for us to have for dinner that night, killing two birds with one stone.) With a loaf of bread and a batch of blondies, it made a complete meal and was a pretty low-stress way to lend a helping hand.

And a good reminder to be grateful for little things - like Sunday breakfast with my own family.

And flowers to cheer us - even on the gloomiest winter days.

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