Doing my homework

 

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I guess it is fairly apparent that I have been notably absent, of late.  Over the four years I have been writing my blog, I have had periods of proliferation and periods of quiet.  This may seem like a quiet time, as I have not written here for so long.  However, I have been writing, just somewhere else.

A little over a month ago, I started an Open University degree course in creative and professional writing.  For the very first time in my life, I am actually doing my homework.  As anyone who knew me in my school and university years will testify (especially my parents), I have never done this before.  My parents would traipse to my faraway school on a drizzly Tuesday night for parents evening only to be met with the usual disappointing feedback from teacher after teacher.  “She’s a bright girl but she needs to apply herself,” was the catchphrase which had been ringing in their ears since I was about eight years old.  My high school threatened to expel me if I didn’t do some homework, so I did some, but just enough to keep me out of trouble.

University went much the same way, in my second year, my favourite lecturer sat me down and explained that if I didn’t start attending some of my mere twenty hours of lectures each week, then I would not be allowed to return for my final year.  I think the thing that I liked most about that particular lecturer was that he signed off his letters and emails with the words, ‘go gently,’ which seemed so wonderfully literary and worldly to my nineteen year old self.  Oh, and I did graduate, in case any of you were wondering.

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So, you can imagine my astonishment when I actually started doing my homework.  Handing in assignments… I don’t want to say this too loudly, for fear you may thing I’m a geek, early!  Recently, I have been tied to my desk or the recliner or the bed, studying away.  My man has a theory that you can’t study in bed, I however, have a theory that he’s wrong.  If I’m reading a seven thousand word article ruminating whether the art of creative writing can be taught, then I think the best place for me is bed.  Then at least, if indeed it cannot be taught, I don’t have to give up and go back to bed, because I’m already there.  Food writing has taken a brief back seat, as I have been writing about cliches, tautology and the like.

What with it having been Christmas, I haven’t entirely taken leave of the kitchen.  There was my first effort at a Christmas cake, which looks very promising but I haven’t tried it yet.  I was rushing to finish it and get it suitably drunk by feeding it a daily liquid diet of brandy when I realised, I am the only person who shall be eating this monster of a cake, therefore decided to get it more drunk and age it a little.  It teases me daily, sitting there in a dark corner of the kitchen counter, looking all moist and inviting, occasionally wafting its brandy soaked scent in my direction.  Little flirt.

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Besides that, I have made the occasional pho like broth.  Boiling bones for hours to garner the heady, meaty broth to eat with noodles and Thai basil.  Tonight, I am making gnocchi.  It will be a labour of love but my tomato plant keeps gifting me with sweet, little orbs and that, alongside my bountiful basil plant is just crying out to be turned into a little red sauce to be eaten with pan-fried gnocchi cooked in lots of butter.  Yum!  Right, this gnocchi isn’t going to make itself.  I shall report back with photos if all goes well.  For now, I shall leave you with a few photo’s I have taken recently.  Happy new year by the way, here’s to staying exactly the same as we are but dreaming of becoming taller, thinner, more intelligent and other such silly things.

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As you can see, the gnocchi turned out to be pretty delicious.  I ate it last night and this morning for breakfast. Yes, gnocchi for breakfast.

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Cook the pain away

Here we go again…  I find myself in an all too familiar place.  A place where my heart hurts all day long and I try to ignore it all day long.  I think I expected that after nine years of being an expat, I would become more used to it over time.  That the conflict between choosing a far away life and being close to my family would ease with the passing years.  However, I have found that this is not the case.  I do not want this to be a sob story; as my mother frequently reminds me, “you chose to live there”.  Yes, I did.  There are so many reasons why I love my life in Australia, too many to list here but that love of being here will never allay my desire to be surrounded by my family and friends.  It is not homesickness that I suffer, for my desire to live in the UK is no longer a factor; it is people sickness.  I have been home for 4 days now and I still cannot think of my niece without a lump forming in my throat and my eyes welling up.

 

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My reflex, when faced with sadness or boredom or disillusionment is to cook.  Being active is soothing to me, not quite as soothing as it is for my darling sister whose capacity to sit down and do nothing is somewhat lacking, but soothing nonetheless.  So my last few days have been a whirlwind of gardening and exercise and cooking.  But mostly cooking.  If I am upright and in charge of hot things, then it is much less easy for me to give in to jet lag and take a little snooze.  Which, in our first few days back, meant me having a little nap, only to wake up 7 hours later at midnight, cursing myself for giving in.

 

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As I so often find, cooking is the tonic for my soul.  The last 2 days have seen me make a myriad of things.  First, there was the Brazilian cheese bread I made for my lovely Brazilian friend.  It was my 3rd attempt at perfecting the recipe.  When I handed her one to try, on what was a hot Sunday morning, she devoured it, whilst smiling constantly and proclaiming it to be the perfect breakfast.  This was followed the next day by Korean pajeon, which is a spring onion pancake.  The chewy texture took a bit of getting used to but the dipping sauce which accompanied it, was delicious.  The pancakes served as entrée, before I made a whole steamed fish with ginger, chilli and spring onion.  Suffice to say, I’ve been cooking the pain away.

 

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I think it must be time to make something sweet.  I was greeted this morning by an overcast sky so I feel that cake and endless cups of tea is the only appropriate way to deal with the inclement weather.  And so, I shall keep cooking and running and gardening until the pain eases a little and daily life takes precedence over missing people.

 

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We are all very lucky to have people to love and who love us in return.  This is quite the most sentimental post I have written, possibly ever.  In an effort to counteract the cloying sentimentality, you can listen to this Peaches song which has slightly different ideas about how to alleviate pain… Parental advisory😉

 

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The photos scattered throughout this post are a collection of things I either ate or made on my travels.

 

 

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Standing up and eating

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For years, I have been reading the incredibly good food blog Orangette.  I check it regularly and get a little disappointed if there hasn’t been a post for a while.  Molly Wizenberg writes with such honesty and uncontrived enthusiasm that I often find myself reading through her back catalogues and reemerge from her blog several hours later.  Molly is more than a little obsessed with granola; toasted muesli to the non Americans amongst us.

Having finally found a good source of gluten free oats in Australia, I decided to give one of her recipes a try.  It is quite the simplest thing to make, you combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and then toast it in the oven.  The most complex part of this recipe is having the self discipline to stir the granola every ten minutes or so during cooking.  Do not do what I did at the weekend and wander off and temporarily forget about it as you will return to find burnt edges and this may induce tears.  When you’re using pricey ingredients like maple syrup and olive oil, waste is the last thing you need.  Stir my friends, stir, like you’ve never stirred before.

As I made this for the first time, I remember being a bit nonchalant, thinking things along the lines of…how good can this be?  It’s only granola.  Well, what a fool I am!  It is delicious.  This small collection of crunchy things has a strange power over me now.  It has somehow morphed into a life force all of its own.  After I let the first batch cool for about an eighth of a second, I dipped my hand into the tray and sort of threw it at my face.  Granola is really quite unruly when eaten on its own, without the discipline of milk to keep it in line.  The crispy mouthful was savoury, rich and luscious.  It kind of feels like staying in a posh hotel, you feel instantly at home but luxury pervades.

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Now, I don’t know about you but I want my mouth to feel like it is waking up in a luxury hotel every morning.  And therefore, I now make this all the time.  Every time I make a batch, as soon as it is out of the oven,  I stand and lean on the kitchen counter whilst throwing it mostly at my mouth and a little at the floor.  It is not just for breakfast, it is an all day event for me.  I have to limit myself or it would all be gone in a day.

So, you should probably make this.  I guarantee you’ll be standing in the kitchen, throwing it at your own face if you do.

Recipe by Molly Wizenberg, featured on Orangette

600 grams old-fashioned rolled oats
100 to 150 grams unsweetened coconut chips
400 grams nuts , chopped if you like
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup (240 ml) maple syrup
2/3 cup (160 ml) olive oil

  • Preheat your oven to 150 degrees
  • Line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper
  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl
  • Whisk the maple syrup and oil together until combined
  • Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir to combine
  • Divide between the two trays and spread out
  • Put in preheated oven and stir every ten minutes
  • I find it takes about 35 minutes, keep a close eye and use your judgement, you’re looking for the colour in the photos.

Once cooled, store in an airtight container and try not to eat it all at once.  Use any nuts you like, I like using almonds, I sometimes add a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Also, feel free to add various toasted seeds or dried fruit after it has cooled.

 

 

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A cut above

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White cut chicken might just be my favourite thing in the universe, actually my niece is my favourite thing in the universe, but she’s less of a thing and more of a scrumptious little human who has cheeks like perfect peaches and masses of blonde hair.  Anyway, I digress.  White cut chicken is a pretty solid second.

After having a super special version of this dish at Supernormal, Andrew McConnell’s hot new Melbourne restaurant; I have become a little obsessed.  The Supernormal incarnation is smothered in a black sesame sauce and spring onion oil and I truly could have eaten plate after plate.  I was feeling rather rotund after masticating my way through half the menu but yet I could not stop eating it.  Well, until Andrew McConnell took my plate away that is; I wish I could say that he took it without asking but he gently asked if we were finished and my goddamn Britishness swept in and I found myself answering ‘yes’ because, of course it would be rude to ask to keep the food which I was paying for and really, really enjoying eating.  We British sure are polite/stupid.

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So, once I had mourned the loss of those last two slices of chicken, I realised the only way to move forward was to go back and eat more of the stuff.  And so, I did just that.

However, still not satisfied, when faced with a man who was whimpering and moping about the house with flu (for flu read a cold), the only sensible option was of course, to make white cut chicken.  I had made it once before, many moons ago before I trained to be a chef and my hair turned white overnight.  So, yesterday I found myself lowering a rather curvaceous chicken into a huge pot of spiced stock, the smell of star anise and spring onions instantly making me feel much better about the world.  Once I had plunged the chicken into an ice bath, I reduced the stock to make a healing broth, which I served rather untraditionally with rice noodles and broccoli and an improvised spring onion oil on the side.  The mess of tissues, blankets and gross bodily fluids of which my boyfriend is currently comprised was temporarily satisfied.  I was also abundantly happy at the prospect of what I was going to make with all the leftovers.

Those leftovers tonight, became possibly an even better dish than yesterdays.  Once I had picked all the meat off the bones, I roasted them until they were deep brown in colour and then reintroduced them to my lovely stock.  After adding some more aromats, I reduced it by about a third and served a lovely fatty chicken broth alongside a rather virtuous Asian brown rice salad with masses of kale, broccoli, chilli and ginger.  I should add that the prerequisite white cut chicken was languishing in the bottom of our steaming bowls of soup.

Food like this soothes my soul, it makes me heave contented sighs and feel grateful for all the lovely things in my life… Who knew that white cut chicken could make one so pensive?  Powerful stuff this white cut chicken.  Powerful stuff.

 

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Nearly rice pudding…

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I was going to bring you a blog about the lemon and rosemary cake I made the other day but then I ate most of it before I took a photo and the two slices which remained looked a bit too forlorn to have their moment in front of the flashbulb.  Really my insatiable morning hunger is to blame, if I hadn’t have shoved that slice in my mouth first thing this morning whilst I was daydreaming and waiting for the kettle to boil, it might nearly have been photo worthy.

And then I was going to bring you a blog about rice pudding, which is in my top ten favourite dishes and I have been attempting to post a blog about for well over two years now.  However, I was struck down in my prime by a geek induced injury.  I was merrily sipping on my tea this morning, laying in bed, satiated by two slices of lemon cake, reading the news and surrounded by cookbooks when… I leant over to retrieve my favourite new science baking book (which weighs about the same as my torso) and something threw a tantrum in my shoulder.

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The upshot of my stroppy shoulder is that I have been relatively debilitated all day; buying 2 litres of milk at the corner shop was a rookie mistake which I suffered for all the way home.  So, I have spent the day quietly berating myself for having a thirst for knowledge, I’m pretty sure reaching for a remote would not have incurred such an injury and trying to get emergency physio appointments.  I was supposed to spend the day making rice pudding, taking photos of said rice pudding and doing my laundry, not that you need to know that.

In summation, today is not the day in which I will woo you all and convert you to the endless delights of rice pudding but it is the day I will vent inanely about shoulder injuries and cake scoffing.  Oh, and I’ll throw in a couple of photos because I’m feeling generous, there is a wee glimpse of the lemon cake in one of the pictures.  Currently, I have a large glass of wine in my working hand and ice on my shoulder, the rice pudding will have to wait.

 

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Cauliflower…my sweet inflorescence

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If you don’t like cauliflower, look away now.  If, for you it is more akin to smelly socks than culinary delights then we simply have nothing in common and you should probably stop reading my blog.

My love affair is reaching dizzying heights.  Remember that stage we all go through in relationships when you can’t stop talking about the other person or…cauliflower?  That is where I am now, only I have actually been at this stage for quite a while.  Now I come to think of it, the force has been strong for at least 17 years, if not longer.

When I sat down to think about the humble cauliflower (as I often do), I realised how many lovely caulifluous memories I have.  For instance, I still remember my 21st birthday celebrations with my university buddies; parts of it anyway.  We all saved up to go to the solitary good restaurant in the slightly lugubrious setting of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the one thing I remember clearly about that night was the cauliflower cheese; homely, comforting and just a whisper of nutmeg.  It was sublime.

More recently it was the cauliflower pakoras I made last week.  How can you not like a pakora?  Deep fried, spiced and just laden with joy.  I fried my cauliflower before adding it to my pakora batter, I like my cauliflower deeply caramelised .  The very helpful man at the shop where I got my spice blend from was even giving me tips on how to check when my batter was ready.  My man was a happy beast when he got home late from work and I whipped up a batch of hot, salty pakoras.

Last night I used up the last of my cauliflower by making a little cauliflower risotto with kale.  I made a basic risotto and then at the end folded through a cauliflower puree which I had made whilst cathartically stirring the rice and topped it all off with roasted cauliflower.  It was a cauliflower orgy, cauliflower in all its guises.  I only took one lonely little photo because it was late and I was hungry.

I am not going to give you a proper recipe today but I am going to give you a gift.  The gift of knowledge.  Are you ready for me to impart my pearl of wisdom?  I only have one pearl.

Roasted cauliflower is gosh darn sexy.  Do yourselves a favour, go and chop up a cauliflower, cut it in cross sections so you have more surface area to caramelise, put it on a baking tray, whack a wee dram of oil on it, salt and pepper it up and pop it in the oven.  My oven is pretty mediocre so I crank it to about 220 degrees and it takes about 20-25 mins to get deeply caramelised.  Now sit back and enjoy.  Have it with your next roast, or make a warm salad with some blue cheese, hazelnuts, slices of pear.  Just take my word for it.  Go and roast a cauliflower.

 

 

 

 

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Mamak Melbourne – Reviewed

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As I was eating tonight, I was chatting to my friend about whether I would blog about the meal.  I found myself saying that these days I generally only blog about things that really move me.  For things to be blog-worthy, I feel like I have to have a really strong reaction to them, either positive or negative.  But this leads to a false impression, by omitting the average, I am giving a rather skew-whiff view of the culinary world.  And the world in general…

So here goes.  Tonight, I had a pleasant meal.  Mamak is a Malaysian restaurant, lauded for its roti, which I unfortunately cannot eat.  Instead I satisfied myself with a vegetable curry and rice.  The curry was full of large chunky vegetables.  I thought, in amongst the richly spiced gravy I had discovered a new vegetable but what I had discovered was a really hard piece of aubergine.  In my life, I have only ever eaten wonderfully silky, squishy aubergine and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.  Is it wrong for it to be hard and spongy?  It felt wrong in my mouth.  Aggressive, angular aubergine is simply not for me.

Aside from that, the curry was tasty enough.  Nicely spiced, nothing dominated the palate.  A cheeky sprinkle of nigella seeds is always a winner for me.  It reminds me of eating naan bread hot from the tandoor oven back in rainy England, oh the heady gluten filled days of yesteryear…  In summation, it was an average meal which I definitely could have made easily at home, which in fact, most of you could have made at home, even my friend who joined me for dinner could have cooked it and he proclaims to be incapable of cooking.

There’s one not so super dooper phone picture from tonight’s excursion , it was of my friends dinner, which I am pretty sure was a lot more exciting than mine.

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