Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Aft agley

I continued my asparagus-buying binge through last week, and by Friday I had four bunches sitting in the fridge. We had an invitation for Sunday lunch, and I'd promised to bring some of the food, so I planned to use them for another batch of roasted asparagus. I spoke to our hostess on Friday afternoon, and we sorted out the menu, anticipating an idyllic spring luncheon on her back porch, overlooking the basking garden blooming in the sunshine.

Between Friday and Sunday, a few things happened. First, a weather front moved in that ensured that Sunday, instead of being sunny, breezy, and warm, was grey, raw, and chilly. Second, the number of people coming for lunch doubled. Third, I noticed that four bunches' worth of roasted asparagus doesn't look like it started out as four bunches of asparagus, especially when it's for twice as many people as you thought it would be serving. Fourth, it dawned on me that there wasn't a single thing on the original lunch menu that Miss B was likely to eat.

Happily, doing something about the fourth thing also had a knock-on positive effect on the first three. Yes, pasta even improves bad weather…or at least makes you care about it less.

Antipasto Pasta Salad

Pesto balsamic vinaigrette dressing

1 cube/2 Tbsp pesto

2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Put all ingredients in an empty jar and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside.


1 lb/450 g short pasta (penne, farfalle, gemelli, etc.)

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 batch slow-roasted tomatoes

6 slices prosciutto, chopped

1 oz/30 g pecorino romano, shaved

salt & pepper

Cook pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Dump into a large bowl (or container, if transporting). Drizzle with olive oil and toss; this will keep the pasta from sticking together.

Add tomatoes, prosciutto, and cheese to pasta; toss to mix thoroughly. Shake dressing briefly, then pour half over salad and continue to mix. Taste to see if you think it needs more and add accordingly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 10-12 as part of a lunch buffet, in any kind of weather.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flag waving

OK, I’m about to admit something a little embarrassing: before I moved to Australia, I could never keep straight which was the Australian flag and which was the New Zealand.

Please, please don’t deport me for this. Did you look at those links I provided? They do look a lot alike, don’t they? It’s not just me, right?


So, once I got it straight which was which, I determined the following:

Similarities: both have the British Union Jack in the upper left corner (upper hoist quarter in flag-speak), and the Southern Cross in the right half (fly).

Differences: the stars on the Southern Cross on the Australian flag are white and mostly seven-pointed, but on the NZ flag they are five-pointed in red, outlined in white. Also, the Australian flag has two additional stars: a small five-pointed one, as part of the constellation, and a very large seven-pointed one in the lower left corner (you guessed it, the lower hoist quarter).

Which raised a few more questions (pardon me if these display yet more colossal ignorance on my part):

1. What is the significance of the Southern Cross?

2. What about that big star off by itself?

3. Why do most of the stars have seven points?

I consulted my primary source for all useless-information research, Wikipedia (as if you couldn't already tell that from the links above), and obtained the following:

The Southern Cross
“As a highly distinctive asterism [constellation], Crux [the Southern Cross’ proper name] has great significance in the cultures of the southern hemisphere.” Of primary importance are its two brighest stars, which are used to find polar south in celestial navigation, since the southern sky has no pole star.

Evidence of its significance is demonstrated by its appearance on the flags or coats of arms of a large number of modern countries, states, provinces, territories and other political entities all over the southern hemisphere. Its prominent role in modern heraldry reflects its position throughout the cultural history of the southern hemisphere: it appears in the mythologies of indigenous cultures across the south Pacific, and is depicted in stone at Machu Picchu in Peru.

The big star
The big star is the Commonwealth Star. It symbolizes “the Federation of Australia which came into force on 1 January 1901.

“Six points of the Star represent the six original states of the Commonwealth of Australia, while the seventh point represents the territories and any future states. The original Star had only six points; however, the proclamation in 1905 of the Territory of Papua led to the addition of the seventh point in 1908 to represent it and future territories.”

So almost all my questions have been answered--except I still don’t know if four of the stars in the Southern Cross have seven points for the same reason as the Commonwealth Star does. Any Australian flag experts out there want to satisfy my curiosity?

Also, have I mentioned that I like trivia?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sparrow grass

I started seeing the first signs of spring more than a month ago. In just the past week or so, winter coats have suddenly felt too heavy, the heat has been switched off during the day, and we’re even thinking about taking the wool blankets off the bed. But yesterday, when I saw these in the supermarket—on sale!—I knew for sure that spring had arrived.

Roasted asparagus
Asparagus is one of the things that I really do not buy unless it’s in season. I find what’s available out of season so expensive and so inferior in taste that it would probably be more satisfying to just eat the money instead. I admit I’m biased: I was spoiled by living in Oxford, where during the asparagus season you could go to the Covered Market and get bundles that had been grown a mile or two down the road, and picked the same morning. It’s hard to get excited about stuff flown halfway around the world after that.

2 bunches asparagus
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
juice and zest of ½ lemon

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Drizzle a shallow roasting pan with olive oil, and put in oven to heat.

Wash the asparagus and, using your hands, snap into bite-sized pieces. (If you work your way up gently from the bottom of the stalk, it should naturally snap where the woody part at the bottom ends. Discard this and continue snapping.)

Shake off any excess water, and carefully add to the now hot pan. (There may be some sizzling and spitting as any water hits the hot oil.) Toss to coat with oil and return pan to oven.

Roast asparagus for 20-30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so and tossing to make sure nothing is burning. The asparagus is done when it has nice brown bits and is tender.

Remove from the oven. Season in the pan with salt, pepper, and lemon and toss. Serve immediately.

Serves 2. Recipe can be multiplied.

Friday, September 18, 2009

One year

I didn’t get to have a September 18 last year. I lost it somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, crossing the International Date Line. I left Los Angeles late at night on Wednesday, September 17, and touched down in Melbourne early in the morning on Friday, September 19.

That’s about what it takes to get to Australia: a day out of your life. At least. One way or another, you’ve got to make some effort to get here from just about anywhere.

I started this blog from a hotel room at LAX a few hours before I got on the plane, in preparation for beginning the great adventure of life in a faraway country. I’ve designated today, the day I sacrificed to the time zone gods to get here, as the official birthday of Roving Lemon’s Big Adventure.

In the past year, I’ve found answers to all four of the questions I asked in my first post, and I’ve learned a lot of other things besides: about Australia, about writing and photography, about blogging, about food, and about people, myself most of all. If you’ve been along for any part of the journey, thanks for your interest, your company, and your comments. If you’re new, welcome! Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. I expect interesting developments for the coming year, so stay tuned. But before we move ahead, to commemorate this momentous occasion, I offer:

The Top 15 Things I Didn’t Know About Australia Last September 18

15. Imported cheese—when you can find it—is really, really expensive here. So is bread. Any kind of bread.
14. Macadamia nuts, on the other hand, are not. Good to know when you’re famished from the lack of bread and cheese.
13. There is a serious lack of good pizza in Canberra. And bagels.
12. On the other hand, mangoes are widely available. (But I’m still not sure I like them.)
11. So are quinces. (I’m absolutely certain I love them.)
10. Gas grills are apparently indispensable to daily life.
9. If you’re in the market for a secondhand grill—or just a good deal—you should head to your local op shop.
8. Australians are happy to take any excuse for a good cup of coffee. They’re even happier if you offer them a baked good alongside it.
7. When people tell you Australian summers are hot, they’re not kidding. Trust me.
6. But don’t believe them when they say it’s summer all the time here. You just have to know where to look for the other seasons.
5. As my niece said when she was here, “The wildlife here is AWESOME!”
4. But some of the critters are more horrifying up close than I ever imagined.
3. Australian processed foods don’t use high fructose corn syrup.
2. You can get WD-40 here!

And the number one best thing I have discovered about living in Australia?

1. You can find rhubarb in the supermarket all year round.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Team dyamics

My ice hockey team has made the women’s league playoffs, much to my surprise. I’ve just been informed that I’m not eligible to play, because I joined the team too late in the season to play enough games to qualify. I have mixed emotions about that, after spending the last three weekends playing road games in, around, and beyond greater Sydney, including a trek all the way up to Newcastle (260 mi/460 km from Canberra). (Driving ten hours to play two hours of ice hockey is all part of the scene in women’s hockey—and probably plenty of other sports as well—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get old.)

It'll be interesting to see how my team does, because the ranks have been a bit thin since I’ve been around—we haven’t managed two full lines for any of the games I’ve played, which, if you’re at all familiar with ice hockey, means a lot of ice time for the six to nine skaters who do show up. (I had mixed emotions about that too.)

I’ve stuck pretty well with my plan of not paying too much attention to any simmering factionalism or drama I might notice along the way—although with so few players showing up, most of the locker-room griping has been directed at the many players who have been MIA during the second half of the season. So mostly I just show up, keep quiet, act pleasant, and skate my shifts.

But I did bake for my teammates last weekend. It was our last weekend of regular-season play, and we had a long drive. I figured it was a good excuse to bring treats. And these have oats in them, so you can pretend they’re healthy. People who do sports like that in a treat.

Oat-Fruit Bars
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks!
A big part of the adaptation is experimenting with different fillings, since the original calls for apricot jam, something I am unlikely ever to have on hand. I’ve made them twice in the past four days—one batch for the team and one batch divided between home and DP’s office. I may be making them again this weekend. They’re that good.

1½ cups/210 g all-purpose/plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1½ cups/120 g old-fashioned/porridge oats
1 cup/200 g packed brown sugar
1¾ sticks/200 g butter, cut into pieces*
1 10-12 oz/~300 g jar good-quality jam or equivalent**

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 in/20 cm square baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except jam. Spread one-half of the mixture into baking pan, pressing firmly into corners and into an even layer. Spoon the jam over the mixture in the pan, then smooth with the back of the spoon to cover the mixture as completely as possible. Cover with the rest of the mixture; press this lightly to form an even layer.

Bake for 30-40 minutes***, rotating halfway through, or until light brown. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.

Makes 16 2 in/5 cm bars.

* The blog entry for these says only that it’s better if the butter isn’t ice-cold, but I found the mixture pretty dry and crumbly made with cold-ish butter. The second time I made these, I used soft butter, and I liked the consistency better.
** I used a fancy French raspberry fruit spread (sweetened with fruit juice) for the first batch, and homemade apple butter for the second batch. Both worked great.
*** My oven, which runs slow, took 40 minutes and more both times, and I still wasn’t convinced they were done, so you might need to experiment.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Repurposing architecture

The other day we went for a wander around our bit of Canberra. On the way home, we passed this church. I’ve gone past it dozens of times in the past months, but I’d never really looked at it properly, so we stopped to have a nose around. We couldn’t go inside, but it had one of those helpful local historical society signs outside, which enabled me to learn all about the building’s bizarre history.

You may not be able to tell very well from the picture, but the church has somewhat odd proportions—note the giant front door, for instance. This is because the building started its life as a railway station. But its resemblance to a church is not accidental; it was not an ordinary railway station, but a Mortuary Station, built specially to service trains to Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.

(Rookwood is itself notable: it is the largest cemetery, or, as it is officially known, “necropolis” in the Southern Hemisphere, and has been operating since the mid-nineteenth century, when it was built to relieve pressure on older cemeteries in Sydney that were reaching capacity.)

Because of Rookwood’s distance from Sydney’s center, a spur line of the railway, and the Mortuary Stations, were built to service funeral parties. There were three stations in different parts of the cemetery (serving different denominations), plus one at the main entrance and another one at the start of the line in Sydney, adjacent to the central railway station; they were deliberately designed to create an appropriately solemn atmosphere for funeral processions. The stations (and the line) were in use until 1948, when they were rendered obsolete by increased use of cars and roads. All Saints Church was formerly Mortuary Station No. 1; it was purchased by an Anglican minister for £100 and relocated to Canberra in 1957.

Many of the building’s other architectural features also started life somewhere else: one of the stained-glass windows came from a church in England that was bombed during World War II; the church bell came from a train; and the tower was originally located on the other side of the building.

If you look carefully at the tower, you can see two dates on it: at the top, “1868,” when the building was originally dedicated; and underneath it, “1958,” when it was re-dedicated as a church. Quite an amazing story, really, of historical preservation and thrift.

Canberra may be nearly brand-new, as cities go (it’s not even 100 yet!), but it still manages to present interesting bits of history here and there--often when I least expect it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Brain block

I’ve been a little slow about posting lately. (Sorry about that. I’ve got a lot on the brain.)

I’ve been slow on the uptake in other areas, too, if that helps. An explanation, by way of a digression: one of the by-products of having a child in preschool is that they meet other kids. Those other kids have parents. If you’re lucky, your child will hit it off with some other children, and you will hit it off with some other parents. If you’re very lucky, some of those children and parents will be related to each other.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Challenge outtakes

Just in case you’re thinking it’s all sunshine and flowers and effortless production and consumption of deliciousness 24/7 here at Casa Roving Lemon, I thought I’d share a couple of less-than-stellar moments during this past month’s Cookbook Challenge:

1. Zeppoli I was gunning to make it to five recipes this month for once, and the fifth one I had bookmarked was zeppoli—an Italian sweet treat made with fried dough. I read through the recipe, and thought, “Oh, that’s just bread dough. I’ll just use the bread dough I have in the refrigerator.” Completely ignoring that a) the recipe had a much higher ratio of yeast to flour than standard bread dough; and b) I’m always trying to achieve more of a country-bread, slow-rise, chewy tang with my bread dough. This second fact, in particular, gives you pretty much the opposite of what you’re looking for in zeppoli, as I discovered when I bit into one. They tasted pretty much like tiny, fried sourdough rolls. With powdered sugar on them. Not my finest effort. (Not that that stopped me from eating them all.)

2. Broccoli Note to self: if you are fortunate enough to have a child that happily eats her own body weight in broccoli when you produce it in the normal way (or, rather, the way that’s normal for you), don’t change things. Don’t suddenly roast the broccoli and present it to her like that. She will say things like, “Mummy! It has brown stuff on it!” and “Mummy! I don’t like this brown stuff!”. She will try to claw off the brown stuff. With her fingers. She will make faces and gag theatrically and try to scrape her tongue clean. No matter how much you like the broccoli (and I’m sure you will), believe me, this will interfere with your enjoyment of dinner.

3. Dining post hoc(kily) I’ve eaten cold cereal for dinner at least four times in the past month, usually after hockey. By the time I’ve finished training, schlepped all my kit home on the bus, and taken a shower (since the rink does not offer such sissy amenities as hot water), I’ve got no energy left to turn on the stove, even to heat up leftovers.

But, as you can see from the photo at the top (crappy as it is), we still make the effort. Those may be Deep-Fried Sugar-Frosted Mini Dinner Rolls, but, who cares, we’re still gonna decorate ‘em. With cachous! (That’s Australian for what we in the US call “those little silver balls you stick on cakes”.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The source Eat This…It’ll Make You Feel Better!

The recipe Homemade sausage Having previously waxed lyrical about my love of sausage, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try making my own for the first time ever when I found this recipe. Having said that, I’m sure what I did with it would be a violation of the rules of the Cookbook Challenge, if there were any. But since I made it up, there aren’t, so it isn’t. Because basically my version of homemade sausage bears no resemblance to the one in the cookbook, except that they both use ground pork. And fennel. Oh, and grated cheese. (Um, but other than that they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT.)

(Actually, this is a great demonstration of how elastic the whole concept of sausage really is. I started from the premise that I didn’t actually need six pounds of homemade sausage, and that frankly I’m not that keen on parsley…and then I just kind of blazed my own trail from there.)

The ingredients – Dom’s mother’s
6 lbs ground lean pork
2 Tbsp fennel
1 Tbsp pepper
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 cup grated cheese (optional)
4 yards sausage casing
1 sausage funnel

(Makes 30-35)

The ingredients – RL’s
1 lb ground lean pork
2 tsp fennel
10-12 grinds fresh black pepper
4-6 large pinches salt
2-3 large pinches chili pepper flakes
½ tsp oregano
1 ice cube’s worth of pesto (thawed)
2-3 Tbsp grated pecorino romano cheese

(Makes 12 2-inch patties)

The method For either: pretty simple: put everything in a bowl and moosh it all together with your hands until it's all thoroughly mixed. Then you have two options:

1. If you want to make sausages with casing, put the casing on the funnel and make a knot in the end. Push meat through funnel until casing is filled, then twist into links. Repeat as necessary.

2. If, however, you are like me and can’t be bothered with all that rigamarole, form into patties. Either cook as desired immediately, or freeze for later use.

The verdict I would never have guessed making my own sausage was so straightforward. The whole process took about 30 minutes. I froze most of it for later, but I cooked two patties for dinner tonight: broke them apart and browned the meat in a frying pan, and deglazed the pan with some white wine towards the end. Mixed it into some tagliatelle with more pesto and this roasted broccoli. Wondering how soon I can get away with making it again.

Cookbook Challenge #3 verdict Keep or donate? I was fully expecting to clear some shelf space after this month, but I’m going to keep this book. There is definitely some dated stuff in here, but I found at least another five recipes that I’d like to try out. So Dom’s place in the RL cookbook lineup is secure for a while longer.

Cookbook Challenge #3 wrapup Don’t forget: if you’ve got any cookbook antics that you want to share—let me know!
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