Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy 2014

Even though it didn't involve an international move (for a change), 2013 managed to be quite a roller-coaster year all the same. We finished it off with dinner at home with friends, and what is rapidly becoming a family NYE dessert tradition. (Miss B says my cake decorating skills are improving, so there's one 2013 milestone!)

Happy New Year to all of you, and here's to being ready to meet 2014 with fortitude and good cheer!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kickass fries

Deep-fried anything is one of my most entrenched cooking fears. Well, not a fear, exactly, but I avoid it. Hot oil is dangerous, it’s smelly; you have to put food into it very carefully, and then watch it like a hawk until it’s time to fish it out even more carefully. Thus frying anything involves placing yourself at length in close proximity to both the danger and the smell, while in your concentration neglecting any small children who may be underfoot. Then, when you’re finally done, you have to figure out a way to dispose of gallons of greasy, smelly cooking oil. And that’s without even getting onto the health question.

So, I deep-fry things a few times a year; most consistently (and not coincidentally), things I watched my mother and grandmother deep-fry, like meatcakes and Christmas doughnuts, which don’t taste right made any other way and which I feel reasonably confident about managing. I have never, ever tried to fry French fries, the typical recipe for which sounds like everything I fear and loathe about deep-frying, except that you have to do it twice. When I make fries, we have oven fries.

Some time ago, however, I came across a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Cold Oil French Fries. Instead of the traditional method, which involves plunging the fries into (and extracting them from) hot oil twice in quick succession, this recipe has you put the fries into the pan with the cold oil, and then heat them all up together (translation: zero, rather than two, times plunging in hot oil!). Then you cook them over medium heat in the boiling oil until they are brown and crispy. Then you remove them, drain them on brown paper, salt them, and eat them.

Not only is this a much simpler method than the traditional one, it has only one nerve-wracking step, as opposed to four. And the fries are, as I discovered when I made them last night for the first time (and as the title above implies), kickass.

Cold Oil French Fries
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
The Cook’s Illustrated recipe, as they are wont to do, has various precise specifications about types of potato and oil, peeling and cutting, temperature and so forth, all of which I ignored. The fries may have been more kickass had I paid attention, but their level of kickassedness was perfectly sufficient to make my day.
The salient points that I fixed on to ensure the success of the recipe are as follows:

1. Use a heavy, Dutch-oven-type cooking pot to keep the oil sufficiently hot. (I used my Le Creuset knockoff. Bonus cleanup points if you can use one that’s deep enough to minimize oil splattering everywhere.)
2. Make sure that your fries are completely submerged in the oil before starting.

6 small to medium potatoes (I don’t know what kind these are, as I bought them in a brown bag from the guy who grew them, and I forgot to ask. I generally prepare 2 potatoes per person I’m serving, unless they’re gigantic. (The potato, not the person.))
canola oil (or other neutrally-flavored oil, such as peanut; I emptied a 750-ml bottle (~3 cups) over the fries, and added a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat for flavor and good measure)

Scrub the potatoes, remove any sprouts, eyes, or other unsightly bits, and cut into batons about ½-inch (1 cm) thick. (Note that I did not peel my potatoes, but whether or not you do is up to you.)

Line a baking sheet with brown paper and set aside.

Place potatoes in cooking vessel of choice and cover with oil.

Put the pan over low-medium heat and cover pan with a splatter screen if you have one. Keep an eye on the pan as the oil heats, stirring the fries occasionally to make sure they’re not sticking.

When the oil starts to boil, stir the fries again and check the heat setting to make sure the boil is maintained consistently without a) dying off or b) overflowing and starting a fire. Continue stirring fries every few minutes as they cook; once they start boiling, they should take 15-20 minutes to fry. Once they are consistently a light-golden brown, they are done.

Turn off the heat. Once the oil settles down, use a slotted spoon or similar to scoop cooked fries out of the oil and onto the paper-lined baking tray.

Sprinkle with salt. Eat as soon as fries are cool enough to permit injury-free consumption.

Serves 2 adults and 1 child with what appear to be leftovers, until everyone goes back for seconds.

PS: Please report back on how much time elapses before you get a request to make these again. (I got asked at breakfast this morning.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday baking

Happy Boxing Day! I don't think I have quite managed Eight Days of Christmas Baking this year (although there is still scope for more to come during the 12 Days of Christmas), but there has been a fair amount of homemade food production around here of late:

This year's goodie bags, which went out to coworkers (DP's), teachers (Miss B's), friends (everyone's), and neighbors (ditto), were filled with jars of jam from the stash, bags of sweet and spicy mixed nuts, and something sweet. Since I produced a few of these per day over the course of a week, the baked item changed from day to day, depending upon time, inclination, and ingredients. Some selected items:

These chocolate-chip meringues were an inspiration motivated by desperation, after I used up the last block of butter I had in the house in a batch of caramel which I proceeded to burn. I made them following a standard meringue recipe (2 egg whites' worth), then stirred in a cup or so of bittersweet chocolate chips, dropping blobs on a baking sheet, and baking in the oven.

Once I got hold of some more butter, I made a couple of batches of these chocolava cookies, some for the goodie bags and a plateful to share at Miss B's end-of-year class party.

And finally, to finish off the goodie bags (and to share with my stitch group's pre-Christmas meeting), I baked up a batch of essential cookies, drizzled with chocolate ganache.

That takes us up to the morning of Christmas Eve, when I engaged in the traditional frying of Italian Christmas doughnuts. The dough is essentially a very basic, very wet bread dough - flour, yeast, and a sprinkle of salt, along with warm water at an almost 1:1 ratio with the flour. I made it up at bedtime on the 23rd and left it to rise overnight, then fried it up in olive oil until puffy and golden brown. Served warm with a puddle of honey alongside to dip into with each bite, this is the taste of Christmas for me. And my family - I made a relatively small batch of about 2 dozen doughnuts, and they're nearly gone already!

Christmas Eve dinner is as important as Christmas Day dinner in my Italian family's tradition, so I wanted to prepare a special dessert to round off the meal. Knowing that no other dessert makes my own family as happy as cupcakes, I baked a panful, and even managed to eke out a festive decoration - of sorts.

And finally - having not yet definitively answered the question, "What should our Christmas breakfast tradition be?", I decided this year to try out a popular favorite: cinnamon rolls. It was my first time ever making them, from a Nigella Lawson recipe. I generally followed the recipe, although I used only a fraction of the 3 packets of yeast called for, so that I could make them on Christmas Eve, then leave them to rise slowly in the fridge overnight and bake them on Christmas morning. They came out pretty well, although I have the following modifications in mind for my next attempt:

- need to add quite a bit more flour to make the dough roll out
- spread cinnamon filling over the base as well as on the rolled-up part (might need to make extra)
- make an icing glaze for the top

I haven't baked anything for more than 24 hours now, so I should start to feel the itch again at any moment. What to bake next?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Just popping in during a break in the festivities to wish a joyous and peaceful Christmas to all who celebrate - and a joyful and peaceful Wednesday to all those who don't!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In memoriam

I was saddened to hear this morning of the death of Peter O'Toole, one of my favorite actors of all time, ever since DP and went to see a revival of Lawrence of Arabia on the biggest movie screen then still in existence in Boston (autumn 1988 at the Charles, for you locals). Here's a clip of the scene I remember best:

And another one, because even though he is best remembered for great dramatic roles such as Lawrence, one of the reasons I liked him so much was because of how funny he was, as was evident in the first film in which I encountered him - My Favorite Year. I feel this (completely random) clip captures his humorous essence perfectly:

And my favorite of his movies, which has a little bit of both:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Summer Sundays

When we lived in England, we got into the habit of inviting people over for Sunday lunch. It’s a time-honored and universal tradition there, and is my first choice for hosting. There’s much more time for cooking on Sunday morning than there is on the average weeknight, and there’s much more time on Sunday afternoon for lingering over dessert and a cup of tea. If everything falls into place, you might even get some uninterrupted adult conversation while the assembled children a) wreak havoc or b) watch a video in another part of the house.

Maybe part of the reason Sunday lunch feels like such a natural option for me is that I grew up with it – except we called it Sunday dinner. Whatever the name, most Sunday middays found us gathered around the table, digging in to a traditional roast dinner; an unvarying rotation of roast beef, roast pork, roast chicken, or baked ham; all served with potatoes and peas, and followed by a homemade dessert.

The only time we didn’t follow this pattern was during summer vacation when, every Sunday after church, we would pack up the car with towels, buckets, sandwiches, the scotch cooler, and the eight of us, and head to the beach. My enduring memories of Sunday lunch in the summer are of ham sandwiches and carrot sticks in the car; peaches, chilly from the cooler, on the beach; and ice cream on the way home.

Maybe that’s why I still feel a bit flummoxed when I think about cooking a Sunday lunch in warm weather. My default Sunday lunch option is the typical roast dinner – large hunk of meat, roasted potatoes, starchy, filling dessert – that warms you up on a winter afternoon and leaves you ready to do little besides doze off on the couch. Unless you’re the hearty type that likes to go out for a brisk, chilly walk and work it off. (Full disclosure: I am not that type, despite DP’s best efforts these many years.)

As we enter our second summer in Australia with outdoor eating facilities at our disposal, I think I’ve hit upon a formula that works. I still base the menu around a large hunk of meat, because it’s easy and doesn’t have to be served piping hot. I replace the roast potatoes and vegetables with salads. And the dessert, instead of a crumble or a rich, heavy pudding, is something lighter and more seasonal – preferably a pavlova.

It still has that Sunday-lunch feel, and still provides opportunities to linger and chat – preferably outside, in the shade, on an afternoon that’s not so warm it’s uncomfortable, but warm enough that no one feels inclined to suggest a brisk walk.

Baked potato salad
I first got the idea of baking potatoes for salad from the fount of useful information and great ideas that is dinner with Julie; I find the texture and taste of salads made this way vastly preferable to the traditional boiled-potato method.

12 small to medium baking potatoes
~3 scallions/spring onions/shallots
2-3 Tbsp Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2-3 tsp Dijon mustard
healthy sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Prepare the potatoes as you normally would for baking (ie wash, remove eyes, poke with a fork), then put in a hot oven (~200C/400F or thereabouts) until baked. (Time will vary, depending on size and oven, from 30 minutes to 2 hours; I judge that my potatoes are ready when the skin feels papery and the potato feels soft when I squeeze it.)

Chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces while hot, and place in a large bowl. Finely chop the scallions into the bowl, then add the yogurt, mayonnaise, and mustard. Gently mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Season with salt and cayenne and mix again, tasting to check seasoning.

Serves 4 adults and 4 children, with a moderate amount of leftovers.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Slacking off

Apologies for the disappearing act the moment NaBloPoMo ended; here's a brief recap of how I've been (mis)spending my time for the last week or so:

And you?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

30 November

Today is 30 November, which means, in Australian terms, that tomorrow is the first day of summer. The holiday party season has already kicked off, with one today and another tomorrow. I spent the late afternoon/early evening drinking champagne and sitting in the sunshine which, in addition to sounding idyllic, has also rendered me incoherent and incapable of intelligent thought. All of which seems like a perfect way to round off #NaBloPoMo. Hope your Saturday is tilting towards the idyllic end of the scale.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Celebration afterglow

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! (I refuse to acknowledge that other name for it, since I will not besmirch one of my favorite days of the year with either such a foreboding name or the activity that provoked it.)

Having been transported by Thanksgiving euphoria into my own private USA, I proceeded to forget that I was, in fact, still in Australia, where today is not a holiday. I let Miss B stay up far too late, and then we both slept very late this morning. And then, to seal my nomination for mother of the year, I caved to our mutual exhaustion and kept her home from school. (I also ate apple pie for breakfast and didn't go running, to complete my trifecta of immature behavior.)

Every muscle in my body aches today, and I could have crawled back into bed at any point in the day and probably slept through until tomorrow. I'm writing up a menu recap, but I'm too tired to post it - it will come over the weekend, I promise. Regardless, I've been happily reviewing yesterday all day long. I'm so glad that I did it; that I took the leap to make Thanksgiving for the first time in Australia; and that we have so many good friends who joined in to help us make a celebration. I mentioned to someone last night that, as of yesterday, I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner on three continents. I feel very fortunate that not only have I had that opportunity, but that I've also been able to share it with so many great people. (I'll have to remember that for next year's Gratitude List!)

Hope you're having a day of post-Thanksgiving relaxing and euphoria - or at least a very nice Friday.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Australian Thanksgiving

Still cleaning up the carnage from an immensely enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner with 16 of Canberra's best guests, but wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating, wherever you are. And to revisit, once again, my Thanksgiving Gratitude List from my first blogging Thanksgiving. I am grateful to have DP with us this year, but otherwise the list remains unchanged. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving prep

 Thanksgiving prep is in full swing at casa RL! Bread drying for stuffing...
 ...rosemary being chopped for various things...
 ...nuts being roasted for pre-dinner snacking...
...and assembly line production of hand turkey place cards well underway! Stay tuned for action shots from the big day tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Melbourne highlights

I wouldn't want you to get the impression, based upon yesterday's post, that I didn't have a smashing time on my Melbourne trip, because I did - even with tech struggles and unseasonably cold and wet weather and  occasional homesickness. Amongst all that, there were work sessions in cafes fueled by delicious coffee and cake:

A visit to the Yarra Valley, the wine region outside Melbourne, featured a trip to Healesville Sanctuary and an amazing show displaying some impressive Australian birds, including this gorgeous parrot:

And of course, the obligatory sleepy koala, which never gets old, no matter how many I get to admire (hint: not enough):
I also got to eat this indescribably delicious breakfast at another local cafe, which I had heard about from a friend pretty much the day I arrived, and finally procured on Sunday morning - a multigrain bagel topped with smashed avocado, crisp bacon, poached eggs, and chili oil. Totally transcendental:
I was also fortunate enough to be staying a block away from a cooking store I've been wanting to visit for years, after hearing about it from a friend and fellow cook on my way out of Australia back in 2009. (And it turns out there's one in Canberra too, o joy and impending bankruptcy!)
The Melbourne store is conveniently situated on the edge of Prahran Market, Melbourne's oldest food market and bursting with fresh food of all kinds. We had a long stroll around on Sunday morning, and I only wished that I could have come earlier and stayed longer - and had a stocked kitchen handy to do justice to the lovely meats, fish, cheeses, fruit, and veg I could only admire longingly.
To say nothing of the delicious sushi, felafel, homemade pasta, and Thai noodles I sampled at other meals - all within a block or two of my hotel  - and Melbourne hospitality that we experienced at every turn. You should all go and visit immediately, while I get on with Thanksgiving prep. (More on that tomorrow.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Back home

And so happy to be here. Honestly, I don't remember the last time I was so thrilled to get back from a trip. Turns out it's a lot harder to be just a short hop down the road than it is to be halfway across the world when it comes to coping with homesickness. And when you add in non-functional technology, it all goes to hell in a bucket. Anyway, I'm off now to flop on the couch with DP and watch some cheesy TV, but I'll be back tomorrow with some snapshots from Melbourne.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Silent Sunday

Today's tech problem: no embedding, linking only. Hope you enjoy anyway!

"Listen Up," Oasis

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Inspired by Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate, here are Five Things That Make Me Happy and One Thing That's Pissing Me Off:

1. Having my prep and grocery lists ready to swing into action for Thanksgiving as soon as I get back to Canberra.
2. Having sushi for dinner tonight.
3. Planning to visit one of the best cooking stores in Australia (and right down the street from my hotel too!) tomorrow.
4. Finding the text of a favorite book freely available online and using some unexpected free time to dive in.
5. Having run a somewhat challenging approach to a work project past a colleague/friend and received an enthusiastic response.


6. Continued tech fail means no photos uploaded, no reliable downloads of videos, spotty access to email, etc. makes getting anything useful done for work very frustrating - I can't wait to get back to my own giant laptop.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Unhealthy behaviors

Today my workmate M and I were discussing how ironic it is that there's nothing like attending a healthcare conference to undermine any healthy behaviors one might normally display. This was when we were on our way to lunch at 2pm, after a morning meeting that just wouldn't end. I did, however, follow this conversation up with a very healthy lunch: two poached eggs on sourdough toast, with a layer of sautéed asparagus, kale, and string beans in between. Then we ate some celebratory cakes (celebrating that we could eat all the cakes ourselves, rather than sharing with our respective daughters) - possibly nullifying the benefit of the healthy food. But possibly of great mental health benefit after all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tech thwarted

Well, I've just spent 20 minutes trying to upload a photo, which clearly Blogger doesn't want me to do. Tech thwarting has been something of a theme at this meeting: the free wifi was unavailable for long stretches; my notebook computer would be going backwards if it was loading any slower, and I left one of the slides in my workshop blank, with only the title showing. But, my 2-day symposium (and more importantly my three presentations) have gone smoothly and are finished. And I better go to bed, before I begin blogging complete gibberish. Mañana!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

"Pompeii", Bastille

I am officially in pre-presentation meltdown mode - so here, have some music, now that I've tracked down the artist behind this catchy tune.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hello Melbourne

It's been a looooong time since I had such a short trip to a work meeting. So long that I keep forgetting that DP and Miss B are still in the same time zone, and that no mental arithmetic is needed to figure out what they might be up to. It's very nice to be back in Melbourne (it's been nearly four years) and to feel that big-city vibe that Canberra, as nice as it is, just doesn't have. Traffic! Trains! More than one place to buy falafel! And I've already discovered a food destination in my own (temporary) backyard...more on that later in the week. In the meantime, if you've got any Melbourne recommendations, please send them along!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend recap

1. I made a batch of sour cherry jam, following my usual method. It tastes good, but it came out really chunky - the cherries didn't break down very much - and it looks more like pie filling than jam. So I might use it for that instead; stay tuned.

2. In preparation for a Friday after-school playdate and our Saturday Tidbinbilla trip, I baked a batch of banana-chocolate chip muffins and used the last of a log of essential cookie dough to make a batch of sandwich cookies, half filled with chocolate ganache and half with strawberry jam.

3. DP got home late last night, so today he took Miss B out for the afternoon and I had a clear field to do stuff around the house and prep for my upcoming work trip: I'm going to Melbourne this week for my organization's regional symposium. I worked on various notes and slide decks, and organized my packing, using this brilliant capsule wardrobe concept to keep my overpacking tendencies in check. I even polished my shoes!

4. I used my food processor three times today - once to process a batch of sweet crumbs, again to make a batch of salsa, and finally to chop the soffrito for the risotto I made for dinner. Quite possibly my favorite kitchen tool, running neck and neck with my slow cooker.

5. I confirmed today that I've invited 14 people for Thanksgiving dinner, and that they're all coming. Keep your fingers crossed that I can track down a turkey.

Hope your weekend has been equally enjoyable.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Local wildlife

Today Miss B and I joined forces with another temporarily single-parent family, and took a trip out to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 40 minutes south of Canberra. The big news around town is that Tidbinbilla recently brought in a new batch of koalas (four mother-and-baby pairs), so we went to take a look. We were only able to spot one pair, snuggled in a tree and sleeping soundly (not even awakened by the squeals of three enchanted children), but we had an enjoyable bush walk and saw lots of other Australian critters, including a couple of emus, lots of cockatoos, several mobs of kangaroos, and a few southern brush-tailed rock wallabies:

Even after nearly three years of living in Australia, I still feel almost as excited as the kids every time I see Australian wildlife. Going about daily business in Canberra, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that we're having kind of an amazing experience just having the chance to live here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Freebie Friday

It's Friday night and I'm up late, working on a presentation and taking part in a Twitter chat with some of my overseas colleagues - but at least I've got some apple crumble and my favorite Harry Potter movie is on:

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

MacGyver pilaf

When DP goes away, I cook differently. I do a lot of MacGyvering, and focus on using up leftovers. I can concoct a meal for two of us out of a bit of this and a bit of that, that wouldn't really stretch to feed three of us comfortably. And I can make one-dish meals, which Miss B and I will eat quite happily, but which often provoke a "Where's the rest of dinner?" expression on DP's face. (Unlike Miss B and me, DP is one of those people who 'forgets' to eat lunch, so he generally arrives home like a ravening something or other, and enjoys a bit of variety in his ravening.)

Because of this, one-dish meals are often a page-turner for me, as when I came across a recipe for a pilaf recently. But it got me thinking about pilaf as a concept, and how, like fried rice or risotto, it is really an adaptable vehicle for using rice to build a few key ingredients into a complete meal.

So, with that in mind, here's how I made my first MacGyver pilaf earlier this week:

1. Put the kettle on. (If I'd had any stock, I would have heated that instead.)
2. Put a medium saucepan on the stove over low heat, poured in a couple Tbsp (~30 ml/1 oz) of olive oil.
3. Chopped half a red onion and two cloves of garlic, added to the saucepan, let cook gently.
4. Added half a cup (~120 g/4 oz) long-grain white rice to the saucepan, stirred it to coat completely in the warmed oil.
5. Poured in 1 cup (240 ml/8 oz) hot water, added a healthy sprinkle of salt. Stirred thoroughly, clamped on the lid, and left to cook for 12-15 minutes or until all nearly the water was absorbed.
6 While the rice was cooking, I extracted from the refrigerator several containers: one containing about 2 servings of leftover grilled zucchini, one containing about 2 servings of leftover lemon-mustard chicken, and one containing quite a lot of leftover basil-cashew-parmesan dip. I chopped the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
7. When the rice was nearly done, I stirred the zucchini, the chicken chunks, and a heaping spoonful of the dip into the hot rice.
8. I dished it up into two bowls, and dinner was served! With some bread to mop up, and some carrot sticks I had chopped for us to nibble on while dinner was cooking, we were both satisfied and there was just enough left for a thermos lunch for Miss B next day.

Notes: I chose these particular leftovers to go together because they all had a fairly similar Mediterranean flavor profile (lemons/garlic/herbs/olive oil etc) which I thought would harmonize with each other, and with the dish. They did - it really worked, even better than I had hoped; plus it came together really quickly (and with much less stirring than either fried rice or risotto!). I'm now contemplating a variation for dinner this weekend involving brown rice, leftover steak with red wine sauce, and leftover green beans. The permutations are endless once you start thinking about it. The only question is: does it really qualify as a pilaf? Or is there some other catchall term that's better? Wikipedia has a whole list of 'mixed rice dishes' in the pilaf entry; the term is clunky, but the list opens up even more possibilities....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wayback Wednesday

"Heartland", U2

I recently rediscovered U2's Rattle and Hum album, which I had not listened to in so long that the most high-tech version of it I own is...wait for it...a cassette. (Luckily I also still have a working cassette player.) As a result, I've had this song, which I had pretty much completely forgotten even existed, on heavy rotation for a week or more.

Enjoy some vintage U2 (with apologies for the crummy video with misspelled lyrics, which is the best I could find. Apparently everyone else forgot about this song too, including the band).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Small victories

Sometimes, daily life can feel like a little bit of a slog. Halfway through the last term of school and summer vacation still seems a long way off. Three weeks back from epic overseas trip, still clearing up email backlogs and other nagging work stuff. In the midst of a week of solo parenting. 64 mm of rain (that's 2.5 inches) in the last 48 hours. Nothing earth-shattering in this recital of first-world problems; just noting how the daily grind can get you down.

It's times like that when it's important to celebrate the small victories - the little things that lighten the load. Here are a few of mine this week:

1. Figuring out how to complete an online fund transfer from my UK to my US bank account. (Now I won't have to make a special trip to England just to go to the bank, which I was seriously contemplating, such was my frustration.)

2. Getting a prime parking spot at school drop-off, due solely to the fact that I (unlike most of Canberra, apparently) know how to parallel park.

3. Discovering a new circumstance under which Miss B will share Deep Thoughts (as opposed to random chat and investigative inquisition, staple conversational fodder 90% of the time): being half asleep (me, that is).

4. Identifying a way to slot a nagging household task into the daily routine and starting to see results after months of being stalled on making any progress.

5. Finding another vehicle for MacGyver meals and employing it to use up leftover lemon mustard chicken, grilled zucchini, and basil-cashew-parmesan dip in a one-dish concoction that both Miss B and I loved. (More on this shortly.)

All worthy of a sense of accomplishment and a silent cheer. How about you - got any small victories you want to share?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Remembrance Day

This post originally appeared on November 11, 2009. 

Armistice Day. Poppy Day. Veterans' Day. Whatever you call it, please spare a moment on November 11 to remember and honor those who have given their skills, their bodies and brains, and their lives in armed service—including those who serve today.

Even if you vehemently oppose the conflicts, past or present, in which they took part; even if you consider their capabilities and lives wasted as a result of bad political decisions, blundering generalship, or misguided ideals; even if you disagree in every particular with the use of force to settle political disputes: please, pause for a moment to honor the individuals: their courage, which was maybe just fear overcome; their fortitude and endurance; and the things that they lost, and that we have, and have the luxury to take for granted, every day.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

- from "Anthem for Doomed Youth", Wilfred Owen, 1917

Silent Sunday

Spring in bloom in Canberra (anyone know what this flower is?)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cheese chronicles

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will have come across me lamenting the cheese landscape in Australia. In fact, the very first blog post I wrote about food, some five years ago, was on this topic. The situation can be summed up as follows: imported cheese is pretty difficult to find, and when you do find it, it's eye-wateringly expensive.

Things haven't changed much, as I was reminded today. My local grocery store has undergone an extensive remodel, and now a has a much larger and swankier deli section, including an expanded selection of imported cheeses. I took a few minutes to browse through it and see what's available, and felt a momentary thrill when I saw comté cheese on the bottom shelf. I don't remember ever having seen comté cheese anywhere in Australia before, and I've been craving it ever since I had lunch in Paris last March. For a brief, shining moment, culinary visions danced in my head.

Then I remembered to look at the price tag. In case you can't read the fine print in the crummy phone-camera photo above, that's AUD$67 per kilo - that's about EUR$47 or GBP$39 per kilo, or USD$32 per pound, for those of you following along overseas. Or, in simpler terms, a short walk back to mass-produced Australian cheddar.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday pie

With full credit to Justine, from whom I have shamelessly stolen the pie idea!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

MacGyver meals

I think it’s well documented by now on this blog how much I love leftovers: they have their own tag over there on the right, which is the ultimate proof as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes I purposely cook more than I need of some foods to lay the groundwork for a leftovers meal; more often, though, I just cook a lot of food, and then I have to figure out a way to use it up.

Reheating some for lunch is always an option, of course. But I’ve tried to get into the habit, when doing my weekly menu plan, of leaving one night unscheduled. This is a challenge to myself, to find a creative way of using up whatever leftovers might be lurking in the fridge. I call these MacGyver meals, in homage to the 80s US television series in which the title character frequently extracts himself from perilous situations using things like paper clips and gum wrappers. Repurposing leftover proteins, starches, and vegetables into something tasty and dinner-worthy might not be a life-or-death dilemma, but achieving it does make me feel a little bit like Superwoman.

Here are some of my favorite vehicles for MacGyver meals:

Pizzas/puffs/pot pies
Stuffed peppers

Are there others I've missed? Fill me in!
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