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.

Silent Sunday

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

"Listen Up," Oasis

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Five/one

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.

And:

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.

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.

Friday, November 22, 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!

Thursday, November 21, 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.

Wednesday, November 20, 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.

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?

Monday, November 11, 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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

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:

Omelets/frittatas
Pizzas/puffs/pot pies
Sandwiches/toasties/quesadillas
Soups
Stuffed peppers

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Small world



Last week, we had one of those encounters which make you say, ‘Wow, it really is a small world, isn’t it?’ And it reminded me of my ultimate small-world story, which I will now document here for posterity.

We moved to England in 1998 for DP to start work on his doctorate. Our first flat was a pretty run-down one-bedroom in a building owned by DP’s college. We arrived just before the start of the academic year; a few weeks later, an Australian guy rang our bell to pick up some mail. He told DP that he’d been living there with his wife, but had changed colleges recently and had gotten access to nicer housing as a bonus. We discussed whether we should pursue a similar course of action, but never did, opting to stay in our grungy flat until we got offered (and accepted) exponentially better housing from the university two years later.

Fast forward 10+ years: by this time we were living in Canberra, and the parents of Miss B, who was in her first term of preschool. We were getting to know the other kids and families in her small class, and soon discovered that one of the other mothers, also a recent transplant to Canberra, shared Miss B’s not-very-common name. Then we worked out that she and her family had not long since moved into a rental house just a few doors down from our sublet apartment. Okay, that's a bit of a small-world thing right there, right?

Then one day, mother B and I got talking and sharing backstories, as you do. And discovered that both of our partners had attended Oxford, at more or less the same time – hers had started a year or so before DP. Then we worked out that her partner had started out at DP’s college, but had transferred after a year or so. Then we worked out that they had lived in the same married-student housing block that we had, moving out just a short time before we moved in.

Then I went home and told DP this story and he said, “Wait, was he that Australian guy who came by to pick up mail right after we moved in?”

And he was. After a brief encounter in an otherwise parallel existence in Oxford, we ended up living three doors away from each other in Canberra and sending our kids to the same preschool.

You know the rest.

Monday, November 4, 2013

School fete

As I mentioned in my barely-qualifies-as-a-post yesterday, among our activities this weekend was Miss B's primary school fete. School fetes are a big deal in Australia, or at least in the ACT; at this time of year, when you drive around Canberra, you will see signs for them every weekend from the start of November until school ends for summer holidays in the third week of December. The fete is usually the school's principal fundraising event every year, and our school community puts a huge amount of effort into it. This year's fete had more than two dozen stalls and attractions, including turning the entire school hall over to secondhand stalls selling children's clothing, books, and other stuff. Pictured above is a small sample of what my stitch group had for sale at their stall; I can't take any credit for any of this as I have not produced one single saleable item this year. I did volunteer a morning to help with fete food prep, and baked a cake at home to bring for one of the cake stalls; and I spent 2 hours on fete day selling people lunch at the Mexican food stall. (Oh, and I also procured the authentic fiesta decorations for the Mexican stall during my recent visit to Dallas.) So, though I remain a terrible knitter, I try to do my bit in other ways.

Miss B came with me to explore the fete while I was working, and between bouts of helping out at the Mexican stall and the stitch stall (being run by her beloved Year 3 teacher), she practiced being independent by heading into the throng to visit the cotton candy lady, the face painting booth (where she got a bracelet painted on her wrist), and the people giving out free balloons. So a good time was had by all, and word went round the school today that this year's fete raised somewhere in the neighborhood of AU$25,000. How's that for the power of volunteerism?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday snafus

The technology is conspiring against me! First my laptop crashed, and now my iPad keeps booting me out of Safari! So I'll try again tomorrow with updates on the school fete, cooking escapades, and what a small world it really is. Enjoy what's left of your weekend!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sour cherries


This morning I did my usual Saturday farmers’ market run. I was a bit more pressed for time than usual, so I had to prioritize what I really needed, so I could whip in and whip out again.

Having found everything I needed very quickly, I decided I could reward myself by heading out via the middle aisle – a part of the market I frequently forget to visit, because none of my regular vendors are there and what is there seems to change a lot.

I’m going to have to file this away as a reason to deviate from my normal routine more, not less, often. Because the last time I went down there, I found spelt flour for the first time in Canberra. And today, I hit the jackpot again: I found a cherry stand that had, alongside piles and piles of sweet cherries, just a few boxes of sour cherries.

I’ve been in love with sour cherries ever since I first discovered them at a farmers’ market in western Mass. more than five years ago, but even at farmers’ markets they’re a rare commodity. It’s probably been three years since I’ve been able to get my hands on any; my supplier in Kansas had her sour cherry harvest flooded out by the Missouri River in 2011. Last year I asked every cherry seller I came across in Canberra if they had sour cherries; every single one told me no. I was convinced they weren’t even grown in Australia. And now here I am with 1.5 kg (3 lbs) on my hands!

Now the question is: what to do with them? I love the combination of sour cherries and peaches in baked goods, but peaches aren’t really in season yet. Maybe a plain cherry pie? I’ve never made one of those before. Jam? Or maybe I should plan ahead to Thanksgiving, and use them as a stand-in for the equally elusive (around here anyway) fresh cranberry?

Cherry experts - please share your wisdom!

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaBloPoMo 3.0

It's that time of year again - and while the thought of blogging every day in November fills me with trepidation (especially given my recent track record), the thought of not making the attempt makes me too sad to contemplate. So - it's on. If you've got any suggestions for things you're interested in hearing about, speak up! I'll take all the topic ideas I can get.
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