Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015!

Wishing a very Happy New Year to all! Can't wait to see what's on the other side....

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas wrap-up

We're still enjoying the Christmas afterglow here on the fifth day...packages still arriving (no golden rings yet), tree still twinkling, goodies of various kinds still hanging around....

Here's a picture of quite possibly my least favorite Christmas tradition; it triggers my perfectionist crazy because I know I don't have the ability or the patience to make it look like the picture on the box, but I endeavor to keep my stress and irritability under control because doing it makes Miss B so happy. Also, I'm glad I got a picture of it the day we made it because, after assembling with ease for once, it spontaneously fell apart two days after Christmas. Next year Miss B wants to skip the kit and do it from scratch; I can't decide if that will be better or worse.

More Christmas goodies; I made a large batch each of these cut-out sugar cookies and chocolava cookies, and packaged some up to share with my weekly coffee group's last meeting of the year. I discovered this year, with multiple recipes, that most doughs do not behave as advertised when temperatures creep up to the 30C/90F mark, and consequently spent a lot of time whisking dough-laden cookie sheets in and out of the refrigerator.

More flower arranging! All the red stuff is from the farmers' market (roses and another flower called strawberry something or other?) and all the other stuff is from the back garden - I'm really getting into this....

...and the best part about making your own flower arrangements is that there's usually some overflow for another bouquet!

I got the idea of writing up and posting the holiday meal menu from another blogger; it received favorable comment from this year's Christmas lunch attendees, and will make a nice keepsake and a useful reminder for next year.

And, last but not least - complying with Miss B's request, motivated by general holiday (Christmas and school) giddiness to "put a picture of me and my babies on your blog!". Ta da!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas! It's coming to an end here in Australia, and we're full up on goodies....

We started off with cinnamon rolls for breakfast - rapidly becoming a tradition with their second appearance...

...alongside a much older tradition, my mother's Italian Christmas doughnuts.

The finale to Christmas lunch was my first-ever attempt at a traditional bûche de Noël; I made an all-chocolate version, decorated with meringue mushrooms, sugared cranberries, and rosemary sprigs.

And some sweet things out to finish off the meal and the day: Hershey's Kisses, sugared cranberries, chocolate-almond saltine toffee, and more meringues.

Hope your day is as full of good things as ours has been!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recipe shenanigans

Holiday baking is underway, in preparation for gift-giving, parties, etc. Every year I debate whether I should just stick with what I know, or branch out and try something new. This year I went with a compromise: something new, but from a recipe source I trust implicitly: Bruce and Mark. I've had my eye on these jam roll cookies ever since they were posted this time last year, and yesterday I decided to try them out with homemade cranberry jam and pecans.

The verdict: they tasted great, but they didn't look anything like jam rolls - more like giant jam blobs. I don't know if I let the dough get too warm, or did something else wrong, but visually they were not at all what I was expecting. I will say again, though, that they tasted great.

I still had half the dough in the fridge, having run out of time to make the second roll. Today, on the hunt for something to make for our street's holiday party, I decided to turn the dough into thumbprint cookies, filled with cranberry jam (no nuts - better for the kid portion of the party) or Hershey kisses. These were much easier to assemble, and came out of the oven still looking like thumbprint cookies.

And while those were baking, I decided to mess with another recipe, too: I whipped up a batch of Emergency Scones, swapped in sour cream for some of the heavy cream, threw in big handfuls of chopped bacon and grated gouda, and baked up some savory mini scones. (Also good, although next time I'll add a big pinch of cayenne or mustard powder for a little extra punch.)

What to make next? I'm deliberating between sugar cookies and Russian tea cakes at the moment. Teacher presents up this week....  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

In My Kitchen, 12/14

My blogging pal Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial has been hosting a monthly series called In My Kitchen that I've been enjoying for years - but, despite my best intentions, have never managed to join until now. If you head over to her blog, you can see the full list of this month's participants, and take a peek into kitchens around the world.

Here's a sample of some recent happenings in my kitchen:

My favorite concoction from this year's Thanksgiving leftovers - a sort of rustic pot pie, with leftover chopped turkey and vegetables underneath, in a sauce mixed up from leftover gravy and stock, topped with a leftover bread stuffing crust. Definitely a keeper for next year.

After years of paying attention to little besides the food in the kitchen, my Thanksgiving decoration efforts have given me a newfound interest in flower arranging - especially when it provides some scope for creativity and frugality. I bought two bunches of gerbera daisies at the farmers' market this weekend for $10, and made them into an arrangement using cuttings from my garden - including from my giant mint and rosemary bushes (back to the food again).
 Also from this weekend's farmers' market haul: the first stone fruits of the season. I'm already looking forward to my first batch of nectarine-lime jam (a variation on this peach-lime jam).
We haven't started Christmas decorating in earnest yet, but one thing always comes out on December 1 - Miss B's advent calendar, handmade by her grandmother to replace the one DP and his siblings grew up with. One of our favorite family traditions.

And even without the decorations, it's beginning to look a lot like that time of year, as preparations and supplies for Christmas baking and giving start to pile up.
For cooking inspiration, there's the mother of all Christmas cookbooks within easy reach....

...and, to balance out my northern inclinations toward wintery Christmas food, the December issue of delicious., to provide some ideas that will likely be more suitable to the temperature of Christmas Day in Canberra!

What's in your kitchen this month?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Music Monday

A little something to spruce up your (and my) Monday:

"Jackie Wilson Said", Van Morrison

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November round-up

NaBloPoMo, Day 30!! Finishing up with a few more items of note:

I stumbled across this bon appétit non-recipe recently (for a quick Thai-ish dish inspired by pork larb) and decided to try to wing it from the description. A keeper - I especially liked the contrast of the cold, crisp, uncooked vegetables with the cooked rice and pork mince. A good, quick summer dinner for the next couple of months....

I found this bookcase on the curb in my neighborhood and brought it home for DP, who was in dire need of more book storage. It looks somewhat fragile in the picture, but it's made out of good-quality wood and was actually quite heavy - luckily, I had my bargain hunter/home organizer adrenaline to sustain me. (Also, luckily it was in front of the house directly behind ours, so I didn't have far to go.)

Another weekend of solo parenting, another attempt at crumpet-making - still not satisfied with my results, though. Anyone have a tried-and-true crumpet recipe they'd be willing to share?

Part of yesterday's farmers' market haul macerating before being turned into a batch of mixed-berry jam....

McClure's - makers of the famous gold-plated pickles - turns up in Canberra! At my local shops, no less! (No pickles in sight, which might be for the best - I shudder to think how much they'd cost down here!)

And the last, but probably the most important event of November 2014 at casa RL: Miss B masters riding a two-wheeler. Not only that, but it happened in 3 weeks, with no drama and no training wheels, thanks to some expert support and instruction from a local "learn to ride a bike" program. It's especially amazing and wonderful when I think about how anxious we both were about the process going into it, and how well it's turned out - and especially when I see the confidence boost acquiring such a major life skill brings.

Thus we come to the end of NaBloPoMo 4.0; I missed 2 days of posting this year, but I don't think the internet docks points for that or anything. Thanks to everyone who's followed along!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Regular Saturdays

That's what today was - just a regular Saturday. Farmers' market in the morning to do a regular weekly shop, with no major meal planning in the offing and no guests expected for the next week. After last week, when I bought nothing but ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner and did no extra cooking of any kind, it was nice to buy herbs again - coriander for my weekly batch of salsa (which I haven't made for 2 weeks to help keep the fridge pared down), basil (maybe for some pesto?), and lavender, just because it smells nice. My biggest accomplishment of the day was stripping the Thanksgiving turkey carcass: about 1 kg/2 lbs of leftover meat, plus a batch of turkey stock simmering in the slow cooker. Miss B and I spent the afternoon at an impromptu play date which eventually extended through dinner and past bedtime. Just the ticket for the post-Thanksgiving recuperation.

NaBloPoMo, Day 29.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving recap

NaBloPoMo, Day 28.

Some shots of how the day went:

The first thing I did yesterday morning, because I knew otherwise it would just get forgotten in the food prep melee. Seriously proud of myself for remembering to not only buy but also arrange flowers. Not only that, I even organized activities (and munchies) for the kids' table!
Serving the main course: three turkeys (1 made by me, 2 by my co-hostess) + a huge variety of sides.

Dessert table in the process of decimation. (Note my mug in the foreground, which contains hot buttered rum made by the best guest sous chef ever.)
The calm after the storm. (Photo taken by one of our lovely guests, a fellow American expat and colleague of DP's, who thoughtfully snapped a few shots for me while I was inside, trying to unload leftovers.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Ours is all over - hope yours is as much fun! More details tomorrow....

NaBloPoMo, Day 27.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mise en place

The calm before the storm:

Flowers ready for arranging

Drinks, tableware, and non-perishables ready for serving

More drinks + turkey (chilling before roasting in esky/cooler)
In other news, I feel compelled to confess to you all that today I bought whipped cream in a can. It's real cream - not whipped topping - but I have never done such a thing before. I dithered for about five minutes in front of the (freezing!) before I decided that making homemade whipped cream, intended as an optional frill on some of the desserts, just might be what drove me around the twist sometime tomorrow afternoon. I hope it's a compromise we can all live with - unlike, say, plastic wine glasses, which I couldn't bring myself to buy.

NaBloPoMo, Day 26.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dessert prep

NaBloPoMo, Day 25.

Thanksgiving desserts now more or less ready to go: 3 apple pies and 2 chocolate espresso pecan pies. (Not pictured: the special kids' dessert pie, wrapped up and ready to bake, and the tiny raspberry pie I made just for Miss B, still in the oven.) I'd say more, but between these, work, and dinner guests, I'm kind of done for today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Monday

Contemplating the beauty of nature while practicing deep breathing
NaBloPoMo, Day 24.

Today has definitely been a Monday - schedule for the week getting chopped and changed, leaving me scrambling; Miss B home sick with a cold that I have a horrible suspicion she has generously passed along to me; crucial emails getting bounced, frozen, or otherwise mishandled; we even had muggy weather most of the day (my least favorite kind, and almost unheard of in Canberra). However! On the up side, I have managed to: complete major shopping trips to the supermarket and Costco (and consequently have enough beverages stacked up in the guest annex to float a small ship); complete my work priorities for the day; witness Miss B making significant progress on acquiring a major life skill, even with a cold (more on that later); and get at least three more Thanksgiving prep tasks underway, which I will complete after I post this and before I go to bed. So, a good day after all, I think. Hope the same is true for you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

T-4 prep

NaBloPoMo, Day 23.

I didn't get a huge amount of Thanksgiving food prep done today (having guests for Sunday breakfast and lunch used up most of my cooking time and energy), but I did manage to go over all the recipes, finalize quantities and ingredients needed, and make up my final shopping and food prep lists (the latter pictured above). The idea behind this is that I'm going to hang it up to keep me on track over the next few days. Then, on the big day, when all the people who've offered to help turn up in the kitchen, instead of flailing as I usually do, I can just point them to this. They can pick one of the remaining tasks from the list, and get on with it. I'm making up a similar one for non-food related tasks (set tables, etc.). I also managed to clear out one whole drawer in my freezer for temporary storage, as well as the whole of the overflow fridge in the guest annex.

In other news, the high temperature in Canberra today was 95F/35C. A little early for that kind of thing, but I'm not going to complain given the weather some other people have been having.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

T-5 prep

NaBloPoMo, Day 22.

So, how are you spending the weekend? Given my post yesterday, I'm betting you can guess how I'm spending a good chunk of mine:
(Note divided prep list - because of course I forgot to look at the whole calendar, and invited people for Sunday lunch tomorrow! A glutton for punishment, that's me.)

Cutting up bread to dry out for stuffing...was absolutely thrilled to find some really good local bread on sale at half-price, which means I don't have to bake my own stuffing bread.

One appetizer taken care of - a big batch of sweet and spicy roasted nuts cooling after coming out of the slow cooker.

Slow cooker doing double duty - now working on a large batch of caramelized onions, which will get used in stuffing, gravy, and possibly another appetizer.

Enough pie crust for at least four pies ready and waiting (and probably more, since there's at least one single-crust pie on the list).

No close-up of the stock, but you can see the pot on the stove; I roasted up a bunch of chicken wings, then threw them in with to simmer with some chopped carrots, celery, and onion. This will be used mainly for gravy and stuffing. (I would've liked to have made turkey stock, but turkey parts are hard to come by around here and us expat beggars can't be choosers.)

All of which contributed to a kitchen that looked like a complete disaster area by 5pm. (We got takeout for dinner, so it's clean again...for now.)

Luckily, this is actually one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. Hope you're getting to do the same today.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving prep


NaBloPoMo, Day 21.

So, it looks as though somewhere between 35 and 40 people are coming to my house for Thanksgiving next Thursday. In between bouts of hyperventilating, I'm making lists and perusing the following:

Rick Rodgers' (aka "Mr. Thanksgiving") Thanksgiving 101, Kindle edition (a bargain at $1.99, crammed full of useful info)

A 10-Day Thanksgiving Timeline from the kitchn (pretty sure I'm already behind schedule)

How to Make Stuffing without a Recipe from Food52 (no Pepperidge Farm in Australia!)

Food & Beverage Quantities for Catering

Any and all other suggestions welcome, including meditation techniques and recommended local chair rental suppliers....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday

NaBloPoMo, Day 20.

Speaking of rhubarb, as I did yesterday, reminds me of how blase I've become about having year-round unlimited access to it. It's apparently always in season in Australia - which I didn't know when I first got here six years ago and was rhapsodizing about my unexpected second season of 2008. I don't eat it nearly as much as I used to when I thought it would disappear at any moment. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bluebarb jam

NaBloPoMo, Day 19.

So here's that jam I promised you the other day; I'm pretty sure the flavor combination isn't original, but it popped into my head when I came across a stand selling blueberries at the farmers' market the other day. I grabbed a bunch of rhubarb as well, and prepped it all on Saturday afternoon. I got about a kilo of fruit, roughly 50/50, added in half the weight of sugar, zested and squeezed in a lime, stirred, and left it to macerate over Saturday night. I cooked and canned it following the usual procedure on Sunday morning, getting 7 jars of jam out of it -  4 of the 4 oz/120 g size and 3 of the 8 oz/240 g size.

(The upside-down one in the picture is the only one I didn't hot-water bath can, as it wasn't quite as full as the others; I decided to try an old-fashioned method, and turned it upside-down to see if it would seal just from the heat of the jam - it did. Not only that, but the jam is now stuck that way, with the gap at the bottom, even when right-side-up. Not bad for a jam with  no added pectin!)

So the holiday prep continues apace. Which reminds me that Thanksgiving is looming on the horizon - more on that tomorrow....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Secret dinners

NaBloPoMo, Day 18.

Do you have these? This is what I call the standby family dinners that I make regularly when it's just the three of us and would never, ever dream of serving to company. I made this one last night - it's my version of what my English friends call "egg and chips", which in my case is a frittata and a giant hash brown patty. I use the frittata to clean some leftovers out of the fridge, use the hash browns to entice my ketchup-loving family, add in a green or orange vegetable of some kind, and get a satisfying dinner on the table relatively quickly, no recipes or fuss required. Other options in this category include quesadillas, bread&cheese&salad (a Friday night standby in hot weather), and potato gatto (which is something like this, if you're not familiar, although mine never look that good). What are yours?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday

Another one from the archives to brighten up your Monday: DP dug Zooropa out of the CD rack over the weekend (yes, we still have CDs - we're old) and I rediscovered this beloved tune:

The video, with footage from Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, is pretty awesome too.

NaBloPoMo, Day 17.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Scenic Sundays

 The blowhole, Kiama, October 2014

Blue Mountains National Park, October 2014

Broulee Beach, November 2014

NaBloPoMo, Day 16. Finishing up a weekend at home sorting through some photos of recent trips. Hope your weekend is everything you hoped it would be.
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