Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dinner @ Sage

Back in April Andrew and I successfully bid on a couple of restaurant vouchers at a silent auction at our local primary school. (Well, strictly speaking, our friends bid on them on our behalf as we were out of town! Thanks, friends.) The vouchers were for Abell's Kopi Tiam (pics here) and Sage.

We went to Sage on Saturday. It was delicious. We opted for the five-course degustation, and although each course seemed small at the time, we were definitely full by the end. Here's what we ate ...

(he had) Kangaroo tartare, with baby gem, buttermilk and tarragon

(she had, eschewing kangaroo) Cured hiramasa kingfish
with mushroom dashi and wasabi root 

(then) Seared scallop with cauliflower, miso pear and caviar

(then) Roasted free range chicken with smoked
mushroom, almond and madeira

(then) Black pepper crusted beef, with bone
marrow, brussels sprouts and sherry vinegar gel

(and for dessert) White chocolate bavarois with apple sorbet

An excellent feast. Sage is at Gorman House in Ainslie, and has its own farm to supply the restaurant.

Friday, June 15, 2018

As the Timor countdown continues ... Portuguese tarts

As the countdown to my trip to Timor-Leste continues I'm ticking things off my list. Snorkelling gear borrowed (tick). Typhoid vaccination received (tick). Portuguese tarts made for tonight's dessert ... tick!

250 grams cream cheese
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons cornflour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 puff pastry sheets, thawed

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease 18 patty tins. Cut pastry into 7 cm rounds. Ease pastry into tins. Beat cream cheese and caster sugar in a bowl until light and creamy. Add eggs. Beat until smooth. Blend in cornflour and lemon juice. Spoon mixture into pastry rounds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Climbed off the hamster wheel. Best day ever!

When my partner and I see a dog out walking, one or both of us often say 'best day ever'! Dogs are nature's optimists. Maybe it's raining, maybe it is dark, maybe they have three legs and a limp. Whatever the misfortune there's inevitably a big, toothy grin on their face. Best day ever.

Four months ago, after trekking to an office most days each week for over 34 years, I took a leap into the (semi) unknown and left my day job. I'd been doing editing on the side, with my employer's permission, for about six years and eventually realised I didn't need to go to the office any more. Best day ever! It's not that I hated my job. My colleagues were lovely, and the work (and workload) veered between fabulous and blah. But it was time for a change.

Since then I have done all sorts of fun things. I've overseen a bathroom renovation:

Before ...

... during ...

... and after! I did the painting myself

I've expanded my editing business, done more volunteering, gardened, caught up with buddies, read books, listened to podcasts, cooked elaborate meals and rediscovered long-abandoned hobbies. Oh, and exercised. I worried that once I wasn't cycling 6 km each way to work each day I'd get less exercise. But I'm actually doing more ;-)

Life is different now. My income is far less than it used to be, but it doesn't matter. I still earn enough to cover my share of the household expenses (I've supported myself since I was 16 and have no intention of stopping) but frugality and minimalism are kicking in even more than before. Self-employment and working at home are so much fun! There are numerous small joys from not having a day job any more, such as not wasting time commuting, being able to hang laundry outside in the morning (and retrieve it before it gets damp again), hire tradespeople without having to grovel for time off work, and being able to step outside to potter in the garden between work tasks. Bliss.

Keynes wrote, almost a century ago, that technological and productivity improvements would lead to a 15 hour work week. I feel like I've finally achieved that! I think of it in terms of opportunity cost. Yes, I could have more money and more stuff (ugh) if I worked longer hours. But the satisfaction and flexibility obtained from working for myself far outweigh any material wants I may have.

Best day ever. Every day!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Kiwi-style, Nanaimo-style, Canberra bars

Nanaimo is a city on Vancouver Island in Canada. I haven't actually been there, but I have heard of its iconic dessert, Nanaimo bars ... hasn't everyone? My favourite Canadian sitcom Corner Gas mentions them in one episode but of course calls them Nanaimo-style Saskatchewan bars, as you can't call them Nanaimo bars unless they're from Nanaimo. So, here goes. I found a recipe for Nainoma Bar [sic] in my favourite Kiwi cookbook so had a go at making them yesterday. I halved the amount of sugar in the middle (custard cream) layer and think that was a good decision; they're definitely sweet enough, even with the reduced sugar.

Base layer

125 g butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups crushed malt biscuits (or similar)
1 cup shredded coconut

Melt butter and cocoa together over low heat. Remove from heat. Add beaten egg then other ingredients. Press into a high-sided baking tin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Middle layer

60 g butter
2 tablespoons custard powder
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon warm water

Cream all ingredients together and spread over base. Return to fridge.

Top layer

60 g cooking chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Melt together, mix well and spread over cake. Refrigerate until firm then cut into bars or squares.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Countdown to Timor-Leste

I've been fascinated by Timor-Leste for many years. The tiny country, just north of Australia, has had a fraught history. It was colonised by Portugal for hundreds of years, then occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. It was officially recognised as an independent nation in 2002. My interest was piqued firstly by horrendous news stories about the violence during the Indonesian occupation and transition to independence, then by reading and watching accounts such as the book A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmão and the film Alias Ruby Blade. I support Timorese charities such as the Alola Foundation and Maluk Timor and have also provided microfinance loans to Timorese entrepreneurs through Kiva.

Have I mentioned that I'm going to Timor-Leste in August? Just me (my partner doesn't want to go) and a small tour group. I'm excited about seeing the country and learning more about its history and culture. I booked my flights last week. To get in the mood I am trying to learn a few words of Tetum (the local language) and also experimenting with the cuisine ...

Last night we took an East Timorese lamb and tamarind stew to
our friends' place for dinner. (Pictured here with rice and bok
choy.) It was delicious!

Watch this space. As the countdown continues I'm sure there'll be more culinary experimentation ... apparently Timorese cuisine mingles Southeast Asian and Portuguese influences. Sounds like a wonderful combination.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Let's call it Pittsburgh Mess

Back in 2000 (escaping the Sydney Olympics!) Andrew and I spent three weeks traipsing around the USA. We spent a few days staying with our friend Lisa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which turned out to be a fascinating and friendly city. One night Lisa invited a bunch of friends over to meet the Australians  I'm guessing not too many Antipodeans visit Pittsburgh  and many of them brought food. One person brought a fabulous chocolate trifle and I so enjoyed it I asked her to email me the recipe. When it arrived I was a little taken aback: it was a mélange of processed foods! Store-bought cake, chocolate bars, pudding from a packet, cream from a can. I tend to make things 'from scratch' so never actually got around to replicating the lovely chocolate trifle. I've never forgotten it though, and recently stumbled across some imported Daim bars (which I think was the chocolate bar used) here in Canberra. So here's my (seriously belated) attempt at a chocolate trifle ...

First, I made a batch of my famous chocolate fudge pudding. It's usually eaten piping hot and slathered with whipped cream, but this time I allowed it to cool.

Then, I whipped 150 ml of cream.

Then, I mixed the chopped-up, cooled pudding with the cream and about 100 g of crumbled Daim bars.

Wildly unphotogenic but quite delicious. Oh, and it's a little reminiscent of a chocolatey version of deconstructed pavlova (a.k.a. Eton Mess), hence the name Pittsburgh Mess ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Experiments with coconut milk (successful and not-so-successful)

I really like coconut. Both in sweet dishes, such as wattalapam, black rice pudding and coconut ice cream, and in savoury dishes such as potato and pea curry and vegetable laksa. (There are links to a bunch of my favourite coconutty recipes here.) This week I tried a couple of experiments with coconut milk.

The successful ...

I'd never cooked with agar-agar before (it's like a vegetarian version of gelatine) but found some recently in a health food shop and decided to try making a coconut 'jelly'. Simple and delicious! I boiled 400 ml of (tinned) coconut milk with 5 grams of agar-agar powder, in a saucepan, for five minutes, then poured it into dishes to cool. Yum. I didn't add anything to sweeten the mixture, as I find coconut milk naturally sweet, but you could add some palm sugar or honey if you liked.

The recipe above made two dainty cups of coconut jelly

... and the less successful

Coconut yoghurt. Hmmmm. I usually make Easiyo yoghurt for breakfasts at home, as it is quick and easy, plus cheaper and less plastic-waste-producing than buying ready-made pots of yoghurt from the supermarket. On a recent holiday (separated from my Easiyo incubator) I bought a pot of coconut yoghurt ... that is, yoghurt made with coconut milk rather than cow's milk. I liked it and wondered how I could make it at home. A YouTube video suggested that you could make coconut yoghurt with just two ingredients: (tinned) coconut milk and probiotic (acidophilus and bifidus) capsules. I tried and failed. When I checked the 'yoghurt' after two days of incubation and one of refrigeration it was clearly dodgy. Grey and frothy and foul-smelling. A little reminiscent of a bad batch of camembert from my cheese-making days.

What went wrong? (As my partner Andrew would say ... 'are we not scientists?')

The video said to use two probiotic capsules with 600 ml of coconut milk, and to incubate the mixture for about two days then refrigerate for four. My tins of coconut milk were 400 ml each so I used 800 ml of coconut milk and 3 probiotic capsules. So maybe the quantities were wrong. Other possible sources of the failure include:

  • bacterial contamination  I had washed, but not boiled, the jar used to incubate the mixture
  • timing  it takes between 8 and 24 hours to incubate a litre of Easiyo yoghurt in the Easiyo maker, so perhaps 48 hours was too long
  • incorrect probiotics  we don't usually buy supplements, whether vitamins or probiotics. So maybe the capsules I bought (which boasted prebiotics as well as probiotics) were inappropriate for the purpose?

Ah well. Failures happen! We don't have a compost bin and I doubt the inhabitants of our worm farm would want to eat spoiled yoghurt. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to dig a hole in the garden to bury the stinking, bubbly mess ...!

Friday, May 11, 2018

A day fit for a gooey pudding

It's going to reach 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit) in Canberra today. Brrrrrr! And's it's only early autumn. Sometimes a cold day calls for comfort food. My mum called this 'Dolly Pudding'. I don't know why. All I know is that it's simple and delicious!

1 cup flour
1 cup dried fruit (such as sultanas or currants)
0.5 cup sugar
0.5 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 cup boiling water

Melt the baking soda and butter in the water. Mix in all other ingredients. Wrap dough in a cloth, tie top with room to swell. Place the bundle in a saucepan of boiling water (you may want to put a small plate in the bottom of the saucepan to prevent sticking) and boil for one hour, topping up the water in the saucepan as it evaporates. Serve with lashings of whipped cream.

Just before cooking ...

After cooking it'll be squishy on the outside and
cake-like on the inside. And yummy ;-)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dinner @ Abell's Kopi Tiam, Manuka

Each year Andrew and I try to visit our local primary school's fundraising fete. We don't have kids ourselves but like to support the community, eat multicultural food, and participate in the silent auctions! What is a silent auction? Businesses donate goods or services, and people make written bids for them, with the highest bidder 'winning' the item. It's a fun way to try new restaurants or (in the case of this year's vouchers) revisit old favourites. This week we had dinner at Abell's Kopi Tiam, a Malaysian restaurant in Manuka, using a voucher we'd obtained through one of the silent auctions at this year's fete. Nice.

We shared:

Beef rendang, char kueh teow, spring onion roti, and rice

and for dessert enjoyed:

Black rice pudding


Coconut panna cotta

Delicious! Spicy food is perfect for a chilly Canberra evening.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Brekkie @ Farmers Daughter, Yarralumla

We stumbled across this cafe a couple of weeks ago when we were trying to satisfy a caffeine craving before going on a guided heritage walk around Yarralumla. We didn't have time for brekkie that day but a quick glance at the diverse menu convinced us we needed to go back!

He had: Toasted cinnamon waffles with bananas,
bacon and maple syrup

She had: Eggs Benedict with pulled ham hock, apple and
potato hash, apple cider hollandaise and crackling dust

The coffee was good too

Cute use of old sewing tables!

The full menu is here. So many of the breakfast options sound fabulous that I'm sure we'll return ...

Update: Sunday 27 May 2018

We went back again today! There were so many delicious-sounding things on the menu we wanted to try a couple more. This time, he had:

Smashed avocado with dukkah, salsa verde,
harissa, poached eggs and a side of bacon

while she had:

Ruben sandwich (pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, gruyere
cheese and pickles) and (ahem) a side of fries with aioli!

Yep. Still good ;-)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Our own personal pumpkin festival

So excited! I grew two pumpkins this year. That may not sound like much, but I'd never successfully grown pumpkins before so it feels like a big deal. They're quite large (from the perspective of a two-person household, at least) and as my friend Rachel points out, once you cut a pumpkin you need to use the whole thing. So the pumpkins are still drying out on our back deck while I plan how to use them. Plenty of ideas are coming to mind ...

Pumpkin scones
Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto
Pumpkin bread
Fesenjān (pumpkin, pecan and pomegranate stew)
Pumpkin and pea curry
Pumpkin, feta and pine nut salad
Hearty vegetable soup
Japanese chestnut pumpkin simmered in sake

Aren't they cute?

Oh, and if you fancy going to an ACTUAL pumpkin festival, there's one at Collector, New South Wales next Sunday (6 May) ... just a short distance from Canberra!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Another year has flown by!

Ever since our Japanese cooking class in Kyoto two years
ago, teriyaki tofu has been a weeknight favourite

Oh my goodness. I've been keeping a spreadsheet recording our household's meals for nine years this week. It's always a fun exercise to analyse what we ate, though each year it reminds me that I should probably try to be more experimental and creative ...

What did we eat most between April 2017 and April 2018?

Potato, leek, bacon and bean soup (19 times)
BLTs (sandwiches or wraps) (11 times)
Deconstructed samosas (9 times)
Potato salad (7 times)
Teriyaki tofu (6 times)
Chinese dumplings (6 times)
... and all sorts of other stuff, just not so frequently.

My new food year resolution is to try some new Middle Eastern and Asian recipes ;-)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wellington (Welly to its friends)

We're spending a few days in Wellington before heading back to Canberra. The constant earthquake risk notwithstanding, it's a great city! Here are a few pics from our visit.

Brekkie at Caffe Mode: mushrooms, haloumi and basil
on sourdough. YUM

Our first ever visit to a cat cafe! Making new friends

Malaysian street food at the Wellington Night Market

Lovely exhibition on the Topp Twins at the National Library of NZ

They offer four levels of spiciness at Curry Heaven: mild,
medium, Kiwi hot and Indian hot. We're glad we chose Kiwi hot!

Wellington is a very walkable city ;-)

I know, I know. Most of our holiday pics are of food. In my defence, this is a food blog. My obsession with food is well documented! See you next time, wonderful Welly.

Friday, April 13, 2018

North Island wanderings

For the past two weeks Andrew and I have been holidaying in New Zealand. Although I've lived in Australia for over 28 years I grew up in NZ so we come back to catch up with family every couple of years. This time we have travelled around the lower half of the North Island, visiting several towns to combine visits to friends and family with tourism activities. A smattering of our adventures ...

A tour, on modified golf carts, down the Forgotten World Highway
near Taumarunui

A Malaysian feast at Madam Woo in Hamilton

The Classics Museum, also in Hamilton

A night at the elegant Chateau Tongariro

Snow! Near Waiouru

Feijoas, kindly collected by my intrepid niece Sophie

... and a return visit to a favourite B&B, the Old Manse in Martinborough

We're spending our final three days in New Zealand in Wellington. More photos may be forthcoming ...