Sunday, July 7, 2019


Highlights from the past month of travel and everyday goings-on:


I went to Cleveland for the first time for a conference. I didn't get to see much - it rained so hard most of the time I was there that I could barely see Lake Erie, the shore of which is about a quarter-mile from the conference center. I managed one outing - to the neighboring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for an enjoyable couple of hours. I had mostly unremarkable conference food, but this Italian restaurant near my hotel was a much-needed oasis - and so good I ate there twice in three nights.

From Cleveland I traveled onwards to Ireland, where I met up with DP and Miss B and some of my in-laws for a few days of jaunting around County Galway and environs. Lots of striking scenery, visits with the Irish cousins, and many, many cups of tea. The food high point was dinner our last night at this stupendous seafood restaurant.

And for the long holiday weekend just finished, we went up to Boston to hang out with our people there - lots of beach and pool time, hitting all our favorite local spots, and of course plenty of ice cream.


Speaking of ice cream, I'm pretty pleased to have found a local ice cream shop to supply my summertime needs. On our last visit, I snapped this view from the terrace of the weather changing over downtown Fairfax, just after a massive summer storm had passed through.

DP has been traveling even more than I have - so much so that he spent his birthday back in Canberra. But we still managed to fit in a birthday party for him between trips - I made his traditional birthday dinner of classic steak au poivre, and tried out some new buttercream techniques on the cake (doubling the recipe here).

Last but not least: I don't think I can find a food link for this picture, unless you'll indulge me in agreeing that she is a cutie pie. But I had to include her, because I have way more pictures of her than of food on my phone over the last month.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Global update

home sweet home

Well, it's been a while since I've been around here. I've been updating plenty on Instagram, so if you want a more detailed recap of the last eight (shriek) months, head over there to rovinglemon. A few high points here:

Miss B is thriving and days away from finishing her extra-long stint in eighth grade. Her first-day assessment of her (no longer) new school has been sustained, and she's already looking forward to ninth grade - after an appropriately slothful summer vacation, of course.

DP is also flourishing; busy as always with work, juggling multiple commitments and getting another new program up and running - just the way he likes it.

My work is also pretty full-on. Last year was one of professional as well as personal transition for me: after 19 years with the same global organization I decided it was time for a change, and am now working (still from home) with a much smaller non-profit startup in the same research area. I love the challenges of working in a startup, even on the days when I feel like it's swallowed my life whole and left me no time to think about anything else.

Home is great: moving to metro DC was dictated by DP's job, but we're really enjoying it - feeling settled in the house, getting to know the area, and in a great location for work trips, family visits, and weekends away. Our plan is to give Miss B a good long stretch of staying put, and it's a huge mental relief not only to be able to think about the future with that in mind, but also to look forward to the prospect.

Food is of course what this blog always comes back to, so here are my top five recipes from my blog hiatus:

1. Shortbread This isn't about a specific recipe so much as it is a technique that I finally realized this Christmas: after multiple disappointments with making shortbread, I finally decided to try a throwaway suggestion from an Australian friend: chilling the shortbread dough before cutting and baking it. And I mean really chilling it - at least two hours, and preferably overnight. This did the trick of improving both the shape and the texture of the finished product, and I will now do this with any shortbread recipe I make from now on, whether the recipe mentions or not. (Here's a good one.)

2. Dutch baby I've written about this before, so I won't rehash the recipe; this is really just a reminder to us all of this as a delicious, easy, scalable, and impressive recipe that can be adapted to almost any situation.

3. Hand pies / turnovers / DIY toaster pastries Whatever you call these, they're delicious, and if you make them square, there's almost no dough wastage. Use this Genius Recipe for pie crust, fill with fruit, jam, ganache, Nutella, whatever. For the next batch, I'm going to cut the dough into rectangles and freeze ready for use, so that I can make these to order. Having a batch of six sitting around ready to eat is too dangerous.

4. Whole wheat sliced bread After multiple failed attempts over the years, I've finally got a recipe for whole wheat bread that I really like. The recipe is a mashup of several others, with a few tweaks of my own, plus one key step from here that makes a major difference to rising and texture.

Slow rise whole wheat bread for slicing

250 g/8 oz whole wheat flour
250 g/8 oz bread flour/strong flour
2 g/.5 tsp kosher salt
3 g active dried yeast
300 ml/1.25 cups liquid, comprising roughly equal parts Greek yogurt, milk, and water
15 ml/1 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
15 ml/1 Tbsp maple syrup

1. Measure flours, salt, and yeast into large bowl.

2. Measure Greek yogurt, milk, and water into microwave-safe measuring jug and heat until just hot enough that you can stick your finger in and keep it there for 10 seconds. (You can also do this on the stove if you don't have a microwave.)

3. Add liquid, oil, and maple syrup to dry ingredients and stir together briefly. Let this stand for about 20 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.

4. After 20 minutes, continue mixing the dough until fully combined and consistent, then knead by hand until the dough is smooth and springy. You can continue to add flour as you knead, but it should be a little sticky rather than dry.

5. Put dough back in bowl to rise and cover with a cloth. Leave to rise until doubled in bulk; with the smaller amount of yeast used here, this should take a couple of hours. I prefer this because it gives me more schedule flexibility, and develops the flavor of the bread.

6. When the dough has had its first rise, grease and flour a loaf pan. Shape dough into a loaf (there's a good tutorial here on how to do this) and place in the pan. (The cook who provided the standing technique also says: "It's important that the surface of the loaves be stretched taut; this helps them rise and prevents an overly-dense interior.")

7. Let the dough rise a second time until it starts to rise over the edge of the pan; this should take 40-50 minutes. Heat the oven to 425F/220C.

8. Before putting bread in the oven, make a slash down the middle. Bake at 425F/220C for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 375F/190C and bake for another 30 minutes before testing the bread for doneness.

9. The traditional way of testing bread is color (golden-brown) and sound (hollow), but these days I like to use an inserted thermometer to confirm that the bread's internal temperature is the recommended 190F/88C.

10. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely before slicing.

5. Zoodle carbonara Given the above list, you may not be surprised to read that I've also decided to make a concerted effort to be more mindful about my carb consumption. I've been doing what I call a "Keto-ish" diet for the last couple of months, and this is my go-to low-carb meal these days.

1. Chop up and fry 2 pieces of bacon.

2. While the bacon is frying, turn 1 medium-sized zucchini into noodles. Add these to the pan with the frying bacon.

3. In a small bowl, mix together 1 egg, 2 tablespoons grated pecorino romano, and 8-10 grinds of black pepper.

4. Pour egg mixture in pan and toss to coat everything.

5. Top with more pepper and cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 1. Can be scaled up.

cookbook collection in its new home

That's about all for now; the only other thing to share is the newest member of the household:

And to hope that you're having as peaceful and enjoyable of a weekend as she is.

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