Saturday, April 27, 2013

No raisins

I don’t really like raisins. I never have. On my cereal in the morning, in my lunch every Wednesday (see: food schedule), in my mother’s apple cake. No thanks.


As a result, I spent a good part of my life avoiding oatmeal-raisin cookies. I wanted to like them, because I like oats and oaty things, but I couldn’t, because raisins.

Then one day (when? sometime in the 90s, I think) I discovered craisins – sweetened, dried cranberries. And as much as I dislike raisins is how much I like craisins. And thus was a whole new cookie vista opened up to me.

Oatmeal-craisin cookies
Adapted slightly from the recipe inside the lid of the Quaker Oats tub

I am pretty sure I have my longtime friend (and college defense partner, and fellow cooking junkie) N. to thank for the inspired idea of substituting dried cranberries for raisins in oatmeal cookies. But even if that idea wasn’t hers, she’s the one who first introduced me to this classic recipe, so I will forever associate it with her anyway.

1 cup/4 oz/120 g dried cranberries
½ cup/4 oz/120 ml juice
1½ cup/6 oz/180 g all-purpose/plain flour
1 tsp/5 g baking soda
1 tsp/2 g cinnamon
½ tsp/2 g salt
1 cup/2 sticks/250 g butter, softened
1 cup/5 oz/150 g firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup/3 oz/90 g granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp/5 ml vanilla
3 cups/9 oz/270 g rolled oats

Heat cranberries and juice to simmering point in a small saucepan. Cover and set aside.*

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium-to-large bowl, beat butter and sugars together until creamy, 2-3 minutes.

Add eggs and vanilla; beat again until uniformly combined.

Add combined dry ingredients and mix in thoroughly.

Add oats to batter, then drain cranberries and add. Fold in until evenly distributed.

Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 in/2.5 cm between cookies.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are golden brown, rotating sheets halfway through cooking time for even baking.

Cool 1 minute on baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen.

* I find steeping the cranberries in juice makes them even better and helps keep them from drying out in the heat of the oven.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


This post originally appeared on April 27, 2009 and is re-posted here with slight modifications. 

Today, April 25, is ANZAC Day. It is sort of an Australian version of Memorial Day. But only sort of.

April 25 is significant because it marks the date, in 1915, when Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZAC = Australia New Zealand Army Corps) began their prolonged and costly assault on the beaches of Gallipoli alongside their Allied counterparts. The campaign in this part of the world was an attempt to break the stalemate that was already occurring in the entrenched lines of the Western Front, or at least to divert attention from it with an Allied victory. The initial ANZAC assault was marred by poor planning, which in turn led to flawed execution, at huge cost of life. The casualty rates are gruesomely familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of First World War history: nearly 45,000 Allied troops, of whom 8,700 were Australian.

Gallipoli has assumed iconographic status in the historical memory of Australians. The death tolls of those days in 1915, horrendous as they were, would be surpassed in later years in pivotal battles at the Somme and Amiens, but Gallipoli was the first: Australia’s coming of age in war. And every year, at the same dawn hour when the ANZAC troops began their amphibious attack, Australians gather, in small towns and big cities all over the country, to honor not only their service and sacrifice, but also the contributions of all Australian veterans.

Since I’ve been in Australia, I’ve visited the national Australian War Memorial here in Canberra, and also the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, both of which were originally constructed to honor the dead of the First World War. After having lived in England, I was familiar with the awesome and lasting impact of this war on generation after generation, but it was only in coming here that I have fully grasped the importance of such physical memorials: how Australians in particular, far removed geographically from where their loved ones had died, and with little prospect either of having a body to bury or of traveling to a distant grave, poured the energy of their grief into communal memorials, as a tangible reminder and commemoration of those they had lost.

I don’t think most Americans even know that Memorial Day originally existed to remember the dead of the American Civil War, and any communal celebrations that still take place are more likely to be of the parade variety. For most people, the only thing Memorial Day commemorates now is the first barbecue or weekend away of the summer season. And there’s plenty of that here, too, for ANZAC Day. But I admire a country that, more than 90 years after the fact, makes the time to reflect quietly upon patriotism, soldiering, and sacrifice: for those who were at Gallipoli, all those who have served since, and for every individual, military and civilian alike.

ANZAC Biscuits
These cookies are an Australian icon in their own right. The recipe was devised to create a biscuit that would survive the long journey to Australian troops stationed overseas, arrive intact, and still taste good when the homesick recipient opened his package. You can find commercially produced versions of them in every shop, and the biggest producer, as standard practice, donates a portion of the profits to veterans’ charities. They’re good out of a package—they do indeed keep forever—but, as (nearly) always, they’re better homemade. I haven't made my own (yet!), so I direct you to an online authority instead. For my first attempt, I definitely want the real thing that someone's gran was baking back when.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comfort food

This past week has not been one I will look back on fondly - as a native Bostonian, as an American, or, frankly, as a human being. By the time Friday night dinnertime rolled around, the hunt for the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was entering its seventh hour. Updates were coming in by the minute (and sometimes by the second) in real time on Twitter, and I was following along from the other side of the world. The temperature in Canberra was dropping steadily. I was ready for something hot and comforting for dinner, grateful that all my loved ones in Boston were safe and well, and thinking of all those – in Boston and beyond – who are not so fortunate.

Tomato-rice soup

Growing up, we always called this “rice and potatoes”, and we ate it like clockwork every other Friday night (alternating with pasta e fagioli) during the colder months, accompanied by crackers and cheese and grilled cheese toast. I’ve never found anything exactly like it, so I don’t know if my grandmother invented it or if it’s just never made its way into a cookbook. It’s full of starch, topped with cheese, and very comforting. I’ve tinkered with the recipe a little bit (mainly the soffrito at the beginning) to give it a little more flavor complexity, without diverging from its cucina povera origins.

2 Tbsp/30 ml olive oil
half a medium red onion
half a medium carrot
half a medium celery stick
1 clove garlic
2 slices spicy salami
1 bottle (700g) tomato passata or equivalent fresh or canned tomatoes
1 medium-sized white potato
1 cup long-grain white rice
grated pecorino romano cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil over low heat in a medium soup pot. Chop the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and salami finely into a soffrito (I use my mini chopper for this), and add to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

Pour passata into pot; fill container ¾ full with water. Swirl around to get all traces of tomato, then add to pot. Stir thoroughly and leave to heat to a simmer.

While soup is heating, wash and peel potato, then cut into dice. (Size is up to you; the smaller they are, the faster they cook.) Add potato dice to soup, stir again, and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes, until beginning to be tender.

When potatoes are on their way to being cooked but not quite there, stir in rice and leave to cook again, 10-15 minutes, until rice is cooked but still somewhat firm.

When rice is cooked, stir soup and check consistency; thin with water if necessary. Add salt to taste and serve hot, topped with grated cheese.

Serves 6 as a main course accompanied by bread/crackers and cheese, with probably some left over.

Note: the rice continues to absorb the liquid, so as this cools it looks less and less like soup and more like risotto. If you have enough to reheat later, add some water to the mixture to get it back to souplike consistency.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday digest

Long time no update! I think we need a quick round-up of recent events to bring things up to date here.

Work/school DP is working a lot of 12-hour days, but at least hasn't had to do any traveling lately. Miss B has just finished Term 1, so the next two weeks are holiday for her, juggling for me. I'm pretty well over trip lag and back into my regular work routine, and we're all already deep into discussions and preparations for our next in-person meeting - in September, which seems alarmingly close when I look at my To Do list.

Recreation We finally got a car! Which I think I forgot to mention - it happened just before I went on my overseas trip. We've never had a car in Canberra before, just rentals, so we're still adjusting and figuring out places to go in it. I'm looking forward to having it for a few school-holiday jaunts during the next two weeks. In other news, Miss B has joined the Chess Club at school and has really gotten into playing; we even had a game over breakfast a few days ago.

Food Between Easter brunch and dinner guests a few days later (I made the short ribs again), I feel as though all I've been doing for the last two weeks is trying to figure out how to use up leftovers creatively. I did clean out all the leftover vegetables in one go with a yummy Friday-night vegetable soup made using my soup spec; and I made DP the biggest batch of egg salad ever. And today (having finally finished all the tarrale earlier this week), I made a batch of browned butter chocolate-chip cookies.

Weather Autumn in Canberra is well underway; the trees are changing color, and nighttime temperatures are down in the 40sF (single digits C). We turned the clocks back last weekend, so no more dinners outside. But daytime temperatures are still t-shirt-and-sandal-worthy.

That's about all the news from here; what's happening in your neck of the woods?
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