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.


 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Brisket experimentation

It's officially winter in Canberra! There was frost on the grass on Friday morning - can you see it?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for actual snow this year. (It's only snowed twice the entire time I've lived here, and it's never stuck, but I live in hope.)

Cold weather turns my thoughts to cold-weather food, and I recently discovered that my favorite beef sellers at the farmers' market sell brisket. I bought one a couple of weeks ago and followed a typical recipe, but it didn't produce quite the results I was hoping for. This time around I decided to take a slightly different approach:

1. When I got home from the farmers' market Saturday morning, I opened the plastic wrapping, liberally seasoned the brisket with salt and pepper, re-wrapped it, and stuck it in the fridge.

2. Saturday evening, while preparing dinner, I sauteed some red onions and chopped mushrooms in olive oil and pork fat.

3. After dinner, I turned the slow cooker on to low, dumped in the onions and mushrooms, and added a couple of anchovy fillets, and took the brisket out of the fridge. After letting all that warm up for a bit while I did other stuff, I added half a bottle of red wine, half a can of ginger ale (both of which needed to be used up), and a packet of tomato paste (about 2 Tbsp/60g), and let that heat up as well.

4. The last thing I did before bed was sliding the brisket into the hot liquid. I left it to cook on low overnight.

5. This morning when I got up, I turned off the slow cooker and let everything cool off for a bit. At this point the brisket had been cooking on low for about 9 hours.

6. After everything had cooled for a bit, I took out the brisket. Then I strained the cooking liquid into a jug and put it in the fridge, adding the solids in with the brisket and putting that in the fridge separately.

7. (The point of cooling the liquid is to separate out the fat - brisket produces a lot of fat, and one of the things I didn't like last time was how greasy it made the sauce. (This is also why I cooked it ahead of time - so there was time to do this.))

8. About an hour before serving, I put the brisket back in the slow cooker on low; scraped the now-congealed fat off the top of the sauce in the jug; and put the sauce on the stove to reheat. I got it thoroughly hot, then whisked in a few big spoonfuls of sour cream and mustard. When it was fully heated, I poured it back into the slow cooker and left it all to finish heating through.

9. Just before lunch, I removed the brisket to a cutting board and sliced it (very tender); put the sauce in a jug; and served it for Sunday lunch with potato gratin (with blue cheese), braised peas, and bread:

I'm definitely going to use this method going forward. Any other tips from brisket experts are welcome!

And finally, this week's flower selection - enjoy!


    

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weekend cooking

Over the years I have regularly read food writing and blog posts that make offhand remarks about how it's so easy to do prep or batch cooking on the weekend, and how it makes your life so much easier during the week. Sound familiar? Roast some veggies! Cook up a big pot of grains! Make a stew! Etc.

I have the same response to this oft-repeated sentiment that I do to people saying, "Oh, and just make a salad!", like that's no big thing. I don't know about you, but even on weekends when I have no formal plans, I usually have a lot of things I want to accomplish and if I want to carve out 3 hours (or even 1 hour) for non-meal cooking I'm going to have to do some planning, and something else that I wanted to do is going to fall by the wayside. As much as I love cooking, I don't want it to take over my regular weekend routine to that extent.

So instead I've started trying to develop cooking routines that fit in with our typical weekend schedule, at least on the weekends when we're just hanging around and have some time. On Saturday afternoon, I'll start dinner prep a bit early - say around 4:30 - to allow time to start a batch of bread dough, get potatoes in the oven to bake (Saturday night dinner at our house is invariably steak, Italian potatoes, and a vegetable or two, unless and sometimes even if we have guests), and make something sweet for that night's dessert and lunchboxes for the coming week. This week it was a batch of cupcakes:

One of which I had for breakfast dessert this morning - breakfast dessert is one of the perks of being an adult.

Sunday breakfast in our house alternates between pancakes and waffles, both of which involve a fair amount of down time during prep. I've got the routine down now to where I get them going, and while each batch is cooking I do things like empty the dishwasher, make a big batch of fruit salad (I started this in January as you can see here), and start a batch of homemade cereal in the slow cooker if I'm out (first mentioned here - my version uses 720g oats, 240ml canola/olive oil mixed, 180ml maple syrup, and lasts me about 2 weeks).

Today I made a start at adding another regular to the routine: I made a big kale salad for lunch. Having Miss B's Food Tech salad in the fridge reminded me how great it is to have something tasty and healthy waiting when you're hungry and too impatient to chop salad (see first point).

All of that leaves me feeling pretty well set up for the week, while still having had a weekend - after all, here I am updating my blog for the second week in a row! And I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon getting to know my sewing machine - I read the manual, figured out how to thread it, and started practicing straight seams on fabric I bought for a project about 3? (4?) years ago.

Inspired by this tutorial - which I forgot to look at before my first attempt, so not perfect. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to making this part of my weekend routine too!

Hope you got to spend the weekend doing whatever you like best.






Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday digest

Hey, it's only been 3 weeks! Here's the latest news from around here:

Work/school We are deep into Term 2 and everyone is working hard. DP has started teaching his intensive master's program; I'm trying to help launch a major organizational initiative which is taking a little longer than planned; and Miss B is into her second round of Year 7 electives - which involves cooking!

Last weekend I helped her with her first Food Tech assignment - designing a recipe for and making a salad. I managed to capture a few action shots; here's Miss B chopping celery:


And here's the final result:


Miss B's personal tweaks to the standard salad recipe included chopped salami and pickles - surprisingly delicious, since guess who ended up eating this salad for lunch all week?

Recreation Hanging around our local places playing cards and board games; streaming lots of movies now that we've finally figured out how to work our cable system (it only took 18 months); and indulging Miss B's renewed interest (not to say fangirling) in Doctor Who.

Food Two sets of dinner guests in the space of a couple of days this week meant thinking of ways to be efficient in the kitchen. For the first round, I made my favorite slow cooker chicken recipe, served with potatoes and peas; then, for today's guests, I used the leftover chicken, sauce, and peas as the base of a chicken pot pie:



I rounded out the filling with sauteed bacon, red onion, carrots, and celery, plus a few porcini mushrooms, then stuck it in the oven to heat through and combine. I made a variation on my Emergency Scone recipe for the topping (swapped out sugar for rosemary salt, and some of the cream for olive oil to make it more savory), cooked it separately (I don't like a soggy bottom on my pot pie topping), and slipped it on just before serving. It made a great and frugal late-autumn Sunday lunch (with bread and salad and brownies for dessert) for four adults and three children.

Weather As I may have already mentioned, it's late autumn here: fall foliage, warm days and cold nights, flannel sheets and hot water bottles. And my latest discovery about this season in Australia - native flora are back in season:


 Hope you're having a lovely weekend wherever you are.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Autumn shenanigans

One day I will post an update that is not a round-up of pictures since the last time I posted; but today is not that day. So here's what's been happening around here lately:

Travel

To Melbourne for a friend's 60th birthday party, where we helped make drinks and lunch for 40, then sat on the lawn (till it started raining) to drink Pimm's and champagne and east roast beef and salads...

...to Hobart with my best friend from Boston, who came to Australia for the first time to attend a conference, then stayed on for a week to goof off with me. We wandered Salamanca Market, visited the Cascades Brewery, did lots of walking and talking and had lots of good food and drink (including these tiny pancakes doused with raspberry sauce from a market stall) - a fabulous weekend.

And an impromptu weekend to my always-favorite destination - the beach - to kick off the April school holiday.

A headline from our travels - no comment.

Crafting

I finished a craft project! One that's been on my list for a loooong time - I made a doona cover (that's 'duvet' in Australian) for Miss B's bed, using some inherited bed linen and handstitched seams with yarn from my embroidery stash.

Inspired by my success, I have also finally identified and organized a place for my sewing machine, after 3+ years of it languishing in a box.

Easter

The usual four-day extravaganza of cooking and eating, plus this year's experiment, at Miss B's request - hot cross buns, modified to her specifications (chocolate chips instead of fruit, buttercream icing crosses on top).

And here's the obligatory photo of the brunch spread - on our new kitchen table, which DP and I assembled together without filing for divorce afterwards!


Also I thought you'd like to see the mixed-message Easter spread on display at my gym to kick off the holiday weekend.


 Autumn

The leaves are changing color in Canberra - I love that I get to have my favorite season here, even if I'm forever disoriented by having it happen in April.



So I even did a little flower arranging to bring the autumn colors indoors.

Back outdoors - Miss B and I took part in our local March for Science last weekend....

...and this weekend a friend gave me a bag full of limes from her overloaded trees. What to do with them? Lime curd? Lime meringue pie? A giant pitcher of margaritas? Ideas welcome!

Hope all is well in your worlds, and that I'll have another, shorter update soon!
 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Making lemonade

So my long (long looooooong) spell of waiting is over, and not in the way I had hoped - though a number of people in a position to understand it all better than I have just about convinced me that this outcome will be the best one in the long run. I think. In any case, that's really all I'm going to say about it, with apologies for being mysterious. Overall I'm relieved to have the waiting be over, but I've got feelings to process and next steps to ponder. As I do so, I'm continuing to work on practicing meticulous mindfulness - it, along with regular strenous gym workouts, has become a key mechanism for dealing with the 'anger' phase of the process around this drawn-out decision (to say nothing of  my feelings about current events in the wider world).

As I refocus on life here in Canberra, autumn is getting underway. The first of the new season apples are showing up at the markets, so to celebrate earlier in the week I made a personal-sized version of Dinner with Julie's Apple Pie Scones - I still used a whole apple, but it was small, and I halved the scone dough.
 

I got 3 good-sized scones out of it, and it significantly improved my week.

Since baked goods can improve most people's week, I also asked Miss B what baked good she was in the mood for, and she requested Dark Side cookies - "like the kind they would have to lure you to the Dark Side?" So I dug up this recipe from Nigella Express, and these super-chocolate bombs were just what the doctor ordered - or rather the frazzled new high schooler.


Yes - did I mention that Miss B is now in high school?! To be fair, it starts in Year 7 in Canberra, but still.

In other cooking experiments, I had a sudden hankering for san choy bow the other night, so I decided to whip some up. I didn't bother looking up a recipe, I just winged it (wung it?) with what I had on hand.

My version consists of chopped onions and mushrooms (and a little smoked salmon too) sauteed with oil/ginger/garlic/chili, with a sauce of 2 parts soy to 1 part fish sauce/sugar/lemon juice/sesame oil/sriracha, topped with chopped scallion/spring onion and slivered almonds. Wrap in lettuce leaves and have some rice alongside if you're a carb fiend like me. Proper san choy bow recipe here (turns out I wasn't that far off!).

And last but not least, here's some actual (as opposed to metaphorical) lemonade:

After my weekly farmers' market run this morning, I did some prep cooking - restocking my personal pantry for the week. On the right you see my coldbrew coffed brewing. On the left, my copy of Genius Recipes open to the One-Ingredient Whole Grain Crackers, which I made with a rice-quinoa blend I'm trying to use up. And in the middle, my re-gifted T2 tea infuser* brewing up a concoction of citrus zest and juice and mint and maple syrup to add a twist to my daily Green Tea Fizz.

*Sidebar story: the friend who re-gifted this to me handed it over with the declaration that she couldn't be bothered to use it, but that she was sure I'd figure out something interesting to do with it. I decided to take that as a compliment and a challenge; it took me a few months, but - voila!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

2017 so far

Not long after I published my last post, we headed out for New Year's Eve and possibly the most Canberra activity there is - climbing the Parliament House lawn (while we still can!) to watch the fireworks:

Canberra has two sets; we watched the 9:00 ones and were all home and in bed well before midnight.

A few days later we were off for our annual beach holiday - a week of sun, sand, and as much floating in the ocean as I can fit in.

Then, as usual, the day after we got back from the coast I set off for my annual trip to London for work meetings - an intensive week, followed by a relaxing weekend in my old stomping grounds in Oxford, including cooking a Saturday night spread for my hostess and our other visiting friends.


I also got to peruse the cookbook section of my favorite Oxford bookstore, and flirted once again with the idea of getting involved in a relationship with sourdough starter. But I can't commit....

...and always end up reverting to my tried-and-true bread recipe. These days, it's my go-to gift for other people's houses; when they tell me not to bring anything, this is what I bring.

Also as has been usual for the last few years, I was overseas on my birthday, so when I got home I made my own cake - which looks rather small and overpowered by candles here.

It was nice to come back to summer weather and summer fruit after a week in frosty England...

...get back to the regular kitchen routine, and try some new things. I've been working on making my own flour tortillas lately, working off this basic recipe...

...I also made homemade gnocchi for the first time, using leftover mashed potatoes and this recipe from River Cottage Love Your Leftovers. They were a rousing success...

...this chocolate fudge bundt cake, not so much. Tastes great, but half the cake stuck in the pan despite copious greasing. I think in future I'll stick with this one.

And this week's flower selection - hydrangeas from the farmers' market (with special guest provided by Miss B).

Before I finish, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that all of the above are examples of my continuing to try to focus on positive aspects of daily life and practice meticulous mindfulness. It's all part of my ongoing attempt to grapple with, among other things, the uncertainty and anxiety engendered by the current state of affairs in my home country, and the knock-on effects and similar trends abroad. This article has confirmed my fears, but also bolstered my courage, and I share it for anyone who may be in similar need:

A Clarifying Moment in American History








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