Thursday, March 21, 2019

Whiz-bang new toy

I bought an app! This is a rare occurrence. I use my [Android] smartphone for pretty mainstream stuff ... email, news, blogs, fitness tracking, photos and instant messaging. Anyway. A couple of years ago I discovered the joy of listening to podcasts, both those provided by the ABC (Australia's public broadcaster) and from a range of other sources. While the ABC Listen app is pretty competent, up until recently I was listening to non-ABC podcasts via the Feedly app (an RSS feed reader). Not ideal. I'm not complaining about Feedly – it's essentially for reading text rather than listening to sound files – but it seemed to become increasingly flaky when playing podcasts, to the point where it was time to find Plan B. Big thanks to my partner Andrew for finding and recommending the perfect app! For the grand sum of A$4.99 I've now purchased Pocket Casts and it is wonderful. It was easy to find and subscribe to all of my favourite podcasts ... and the app just works. No cutting out, no crashing, no flakiness. I'm bingeing on podcasts. Delicious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hello, pumpkin!

Many years ago, my colleagues and I used to frequent a French cafe for lunch. All the staff there had fabulous French accents. I remember asking the waiter what the soupe du jour was one day and he replied, 'It is pumpkin, Pumpkin!' Pumpkin still reminds me of that day ...

This year's pumpkin crop is currently maturing in our back yard. So exciting! This week I harvested the first one:


You can't see the size from the picture but it weighed about 3 kg so I've put it into several dishes: four portions of pumpkin soup (one we ate for dinner, and the other three went into the freezer), steamed pumpkin chunks to jazz up a boeuf bourguignon, and a large batch of pumpkin scones.

Fun fact about pumpkin scones ... I don't much like making plain scones as I don't like the sensation of rubbing butter into flour, but pumpkin scones use melted rather than rubbed butter, so are much less faffy! Yaaaay.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
3 cups wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir in the butter so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then add the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to defrost for lunch on days when I'm hunkering down with a huge pile of editing work.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Brekkie @ RYE (and some photos of balloons)

This morning Andrew and I climbed out of bed super early (5.30 am) and headed off to the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular, on the lawns of Old Parliament House. It was, as the name suggests, spectacular! Here are a few pics ...






After the balloons were aloft we went in search of breakfast. We decided to go to Braddon, which is absolutely riddled with hip 'n happening cafes, and selected RYE Cafe & Bar because it was open earlier than most ;-) Our brekkie was delicious. After some excellent coffee, he had:


Spiced baked eggs with chickpeas, black beans and capsicum,
served with pangrattato, goat's curd and grilled garlic bread 

and she had:


Golden egg: soft boiled egg, pulled pork, mustard and potato,
served with an apple, snow pea and cucumber salad and aioli

Yum! We're so lucky to live in this gorgeous city.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Chocolate cheesecake, re-engineered

Chocolate cheesecake just got even easier to make! I used to use a recipe with egg whites but never felt entirely comfortable including raw eggs. (I've done a couple of courses in food safety and, although I've never had a problem with it, am aware that raw eggs can be associated with salmonella.) So over the years I've tinkered with the recipe, removing the sugar from the base (it's sweet enough without it), halving the sugar in the topping, deleting the egg whites and increasing the amount of chocolate. It works well.

First, make the base

200 grams plain, sweet biscuits * [I like to use Malt or Digestive biscuits]
100 grams butter

Crush the biscuits. Melt the butter and combine well with the crushed biscuits. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a foil-lined springform pan and chill.

Next, make the cheesy topping

250 grams cream cheese
50 grams raw sugar
150 grams chocolate [milk, dark or white]
300 ml pouring cream

Soften the cream cheese a little and beat well. Beat in the sugar. Melt the chocolate over a bowl of hot water or in a microwave. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, them combine with the cream cheese mixture. Whip the cream. Combine the chocolate and cream mixtures well, and pile on top of the base. Decorate with extra cream, grated chocolate, or fresh fruit. Refrigerate until ready to eat.


So yummy and so easy!

* Terminology clarification: here in Australia, a biscuit is what people in the USA might call a cookie or a cracker. (What someone in the USA would call a biscuit, we would call a scone or a muffin. Confused yet?) Anyway, if you're making this recipe in the USA, graham crackers are probably a good approximation. You may also need a metric to imperial measurement conversion facility.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Canberra eateries we've loved and lost

This week Andrew and I are celebrating 17 years in Canberra. Seventeen years! I was a little apprehensive when we ditched the big smoke (Sydney) for a city I barely knew, but it's been a delight. Canberra has become the centre of my universe. Like a pound puppy, I've found my 'forever home'. Awwwwww.

Soon after moving here we adopted the rather decadent habit of taking ourselves out for breakfast every Sunday. Over the years we've latched onto a few favourite cafes and restaurants ... but they haven't always lasted. These are a few of the venues that have disappeared ...

Where: Carlo's @ Watson
Best dishes: tortillas with warm berries; buckwheat pancakes; chocolate brioche
What replaced it: Lolo and Lola Filipino Eatery (also fabulous)

Where: Satis @ Watson
Best dishes: scrambled tofu with organic feta, chilli oil and house-made hash browns; Taj Mahal (chai-spiced coffee)
What replaced it: The Knox Made in Watson

Where: A. BAKER @ New Acton
Best dishes: everything! Lots of examples here
What replaced it: Morning Glory

Where: Ha Ha Bar @ Belconnen
Best dish: mushroom ragoût with feta and sourdough
What replaced it: still waiting to see

Where: Deli Marco @ Dickson
Best dish: creamy mushrooms on Italian toast
What replaced it: a nail salon!

Where: Ellacure @ Bruce
Best dishes: smoked trout, dill and chive scrambled eggs on toast, with mustard-spiked Hollandaise; French toast with clove-infused maple syrup
What replaced it: Stanley's craft beer pub

Where: Wilbur's @ Hackett
Best dishes: crispy potato cakes with smoked salmon; log-cabin style French toast
What replaced it: still waiting to see

Ah well. At least our current favourites, U&Co, Stand By Me, Farmer's Daughter, Hudson's and Little Oink still exist. (Fingers crossed and hope to keep eating there!)

Cheers, Canberra.

Friday, February 01, 2019

A fruity chocolate cake

Happy February! It was delightful to have a cooler, almost autumnal, day today, after several weeks of hot weather. It inspired me to make a cake ...

It is stone fruit season here in Canberra. The shops (and markets, and roadside stalls) are full of apricots, nectarines and peaches. Yum. My friend Hermine introduced me to this recipe several years ago. She calls it '160 cake' as most of the ingredients come in lots of 160 grams:

160 grams eggs (i.e. 3 to 4 eggs), separated
160 grams sugar
160 grams dark chocolate, melted
160 grams butter
160 grams flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in egg yolks, then melted chocolate. Beat egg whites till stiff. Combine flour and baking powder, then fold all ingredients gently together. Pour into buttered and floured baking pan and (optionally) stud with halved stone fruit. Bake for 50 minutes at 160 degrees C (it may need a little longer  test with skewer).


I made it with apricots this time

Monday, January 28, 2019

Well, hello Bamix! (Oh, and a yummy ice cream recipe.)

Andrew likes to make banana smoothies for breakfast, using a hand-held stick blender. About a year ago our Breville stick blender died of old age. It had done an excellent job ... lasting over ten years and making at least 3000 smoothies! Not to mention helping out with soups, sauces, dips and the like. We started looking into options for a replacement blender and were disappointed to find that, these days, it is REALLY hard to find stick blenders that don't come with a whole bunch of unnecessary plastic clutter. Bowls, jars, scrapers, and all manner of pointless attachments. As someone who has been functioning as an adult for 35 years, I already own all the kitchen clutter I'll ever need. So we set our sights on a Bamix stick blender as it was simply a blender. No jars, no bowls, no crap. The Bamix is more expensive than most brands on the market, but is famously reliable (it comes with a 20-year warranty on the motor) so it meets our criteria for expected longevity better than the cheaper brands would have.

Meanwhile ... we decided to make do for a while, using an ancient bench-top blender we'd bought years ago from a friend who moved overseas. This blender works OK, but is harder to clean and isn't suitable for some foods. So we finally splashed out on the Bamix a couple of weeks ago.


It's purple!

So, anyway, I'd always used a hand mixer:


to make my many flavours of home made ice cream. Today, however, I tried whipping the cream with the Bamix rather than by hand. It worked well. So fast! So little arm-ache! Here's what I made:

Avocado, Lime and Ginger ice cream

Don't be deterred by the idea of avocado ice cream. This is delicious. The avocado gives it a gorgeous colour and texture, while the lime and ginger provide the flavour.

1 avocado (or two if they're small)
juice and pulp of 2 fresh limes
125 g glacé ginger, chopped finely
0.25 cup caster sugar
1 cup cream

Purée avocado with lime juice and pulp. Fold in ginger and sugar. Very lightly whip cream. Fold all together. Put in freezer. Take out 15 minutes before serving.


Rest in peace, Breville blender ;-(

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Brekkie @ Morning Glory

Andrew and I used to enjoy eating at A. Baker so were disappointed to hear, about a year ago, that it was closing down. A few months ago, after much hype, Morning Glory opened in the same spot. Their menu looked exciting ... I really like Asian brekkie options and there are plenty of 'em at Morning Glory. Today, on our first visit, we started with coffee:


then she had:


Cauliflower upma with paratha and fried egg

while he had:


Black sesame waffle with raspberries and white chocolate

Delicious. And the place was near-deserted at 8 am today. Don't know whether that's because all the other Canberrans have scarpered to the coast, or because other potential diners slept in. Whatever. I enjoyed my breakfast and am not at all averse to trying a few more things on the menu! Conveniently, it's right across the road from the Palace Electric Cinema in case you fancy a coffee or something more substantial before or after a movie ...

Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell to a wonderfully bookish year

The past year has been exciting. My transition from employment to self-employment was definitely a highlight, as was my trip to Timor-Leste in August. My new work situation also meant I had more time for gardening than in the past ...


The day I dug out a huge weed, I sent a picture to
my partner. His response? 'Worst salad ever!' Ha ha

Anyway, something else I had more time for in 2018 was reading. (Reading for pleasure, in addition to all the reading I do in my role as an editor.) Here are some of the best books I've read lately.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Not a new book, by any stretch ... it was first published in 1933 and two film versions have been produced. It is a beautifully crafted tale of life in a mysterious Himalayan utopia. The sort of book you read slowly because you don't want it to end.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. An intricate story of a family unravelling. Hard to put down.

Multiple books by, and about, Madeleine St John! First I read the charming novel The Women in Black, set in Sydney in the 1950s, then saw the new movie version Ladies in Black. That led to curiosity about the writer so I read the fascinating biography Madeleine by Helen Trinca. That led to me reading The Essence of the Thing, Madeleine St John's Booker-shortlisted novel. All good.

The Dry and Force of Nature, both by Jane Harper. Gritty Australian crime/mystery novels. Jane Harper has recently written a third novel but she's clearly very popular ... I'm currently in 182nd place in my local library's queue to borrow it.

Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin. In addition to the excitement I felt this year (self-employment, gardening, travel) I also felt back pain. Quite a lot of it. I'm still not sure how it came about, but buckets of anti-inflammatory pills and many hours of physiotherapy exercises have helped. Crooked helped me to identify the different treatments on offer (evidence-based versus smoke-and-mirrors) and has allowed me to take a more active and focused role in the recovery process.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. An amazing account of the transformative power of education.

Two excellent books on fast fashion and why we shouldn't buy it: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline, and Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion by Tansy E. Hoskins. Not that I needed convincing – I've been a fashion minimalist for a long time – but well-argued reminders of the harms created by cheap, 'disposable' apparel.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Funny and thought-provoking.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. A fascinating story of an interesting life and an unusual career.

Oh, and two books that 'bookended' my Timor adventure: A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmão and Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea by Kim McGrath. I read Kirsty's book soon after it came out, more than ten years ago, and it kicked off my fascination with Timor-Leste and its history. I reread it (along with several other books on Timor-Leste) prior to travelling there. While in Dili, our tour group received a briefing on the maritime boundary negotiations between Australia and Timor-Leste, and Kim McGrath's book provides a detailed exposé of Australia's inappropriate behaviour toward its poorer neighbour.

My hopes for 2019 include yet more reading and more gardening! Happy New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2018

'Tis the season to make ice cream

Yesterday I took myself to the movies in the middle of the day. (The film? It was called Can You Ever Forgive Me? I liked it!) I rode my bike and after cycling about 5 km (3 miles) in 33 degree Celsius (91 degree Fahrenheit) heat I splurged on an ice cream at the cinema. The Palace Electric doesn't just have ice creams, it has hand-made choc-tops ... yum! The flavour I chose was called cafe grande and it was delicious. Coffee-flavoured ice cream studded with chocolate-coated coffee beans and encased in chocolate. Oh. My. Goodness.

Anyway ...! Today I made a batch of ice cream. Not having any chocolate-coated coffee beans to hand, I included shredded coconut and cacao nibs instead. These combine well to provide a chocolatey, coconutty flavour and a chewy yet crunchy texture.

600 ml fresh cream
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 cup shredded coconut
100 g cacao nibs

Whip the cream, add the condensed milk and whip some more, then stir the coconut and cacao nibs through. Combine well and spoon into freezer container/s. Freeze and enjoy. Makes about two litres.

If you want to try other super-simple ice cream flavours (no fancy devices required) you may also like my:

Coconut ice cream
Rocky road ice cream
Green tea ice cream
Baileys and macadamia ice cream
Avocado, lime and ginger ice cream
Brandied fruit and nut ice cream
Strawberry ice cream

Happy summer solstice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Singapore!

It's been over 17 years since we first visited Singapore. At the time, neither Andrew nor I had been anywhere in Asia and it seemed like just the right balance between exotic (multicultural, tropical, famous for its food) and safe (a developed country where English was spoken). Since then we've ventured to far more challenging places ... yet we still crave Singapore between visits.

While most people see Singapore as merely a stopover between flights, we like to visit for several days at a time to soak up the ambience and hoover up the food. We were there again a couple of weeks ago. The adventures included ...


Intriguing signs


Apostrophes embedded in the pavement


Colourful buildings


A fabulous tour of three hawker [street food] centres
led by the lovely folks from Singapore Foodsters



Kaya toast and kopi C


Richard Feynman's bongo drums, in an
exhibition at the ArtScience Museum


Cooking class (our second!) at Food Playground






Discovering Azmi Muslim Restaurant in
Little India ... so fabulous we ate there twice


The cat cafe. Who can resist a cat in a cravat?


Singapore is always a joy to visit. Although it's changed a lot over the years, we still find quirky things to do ... and delicious things to eat.

Friday, November 23, 2018

A tale of two pumpkins

We've lived at our 'new' house for almost 2.5 years now. The garden was a massive pile of weeds when we moved in (the house had been rented out for many years and the garden neglected) so the first year was mostly spent removing weeds, large and small. In year two I experimented with a few fruit and vegetable plants, and this year we've built a small but thriving collection of berry bushes and fruit trees. One very exciting achievement, in year two, was growing my first two pumpkins ever! I germinated some seeds last October, planted the seedlings in the garden, and harvested the two pumpkins around April this year. One we ate pretty quickly (scones, soups, stews ...) and the other hung in a macrame hanger until this week.


I finally decided the time had come, this week, to eat it. Half of the pumpkin went into a large batch of pumpkin, sweet potato, lentil and coriander soup (enough for five dinners; four portions went into the freezer) and the other half found itself in a pumpkin loaf this morning:

0.25 cup olive oil
2 eggs
0.5 teaspoon vanilla essence
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
0.5 cup chopped nuts or pepitas (optional)
2 cups pumpkin, chopped and microwaved (or steamed) until soft

Beat oil, eggs and vanilla together. Add to sifted dry ingredients, nuts and mashed pumpkin. Bake in a greased loaf tin for 1 to 1.5 hours in a moderate oven (about 180 degrees Celsius).

Slather on some butter for a delicious yet nutritious weekday lunch.


Behold ... pumpkin loaf! Yummy

Once again, I ate some for lunch and packaged the rest up into lunch-sized portions in the freezer. Fingers crossed this year's pumpkin plants also bear fruit.

Oh, and if you're interested in the berry bushes ... they've just started fruiting! Here are some gooseberries and red currants ...



... and if we're lucky there will be boysenberries and blueberries too in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Brekkie @ Stand By Me

Andrew and I have been to Stand By Me for breakfast many times. It's about 20 km from our place (not exactly walking distance) so we tend to go every couple of months. It's a warm, fuzzy place and the staff always greet us like old friends! Stand By Me is famous for its French toast (a new and magnificent creation each week) and I also like that it has Asian-themed savoury brekkie options.

We went again on Sunday and he had:


French toast with poached pear, citrus semolina
custard, walnut and almond butter

while she had:


Thai-style eggs with silken tofu, mint, coriander, Spanish
onion, chilli, sticky rice and pulled pork

Sooooo good. More pics of some of their past French toast offerings here if you're interested ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

One night in a spaceship

Last weekend I attended a one-day seminar (related to my editing work) in Sydney. I was travelling alone and didn't want to spend too much money, so looked for accommodation at the cheap 'n cheerful end of the scale. When I discovered Sydney has a Japanese-style 'capsule' hotel, I decided to give it a go! Space Q is called that, I guess, because it's like sleeping in a spaceship, rather than because it is spacious ;-)

The setup is sort of like bunk beds, but with walls and card-controlled doors.


I climbed up three stairs to get to my bed


My sleeping space (view from foot of bed)


There was an electronic panel allowing the occupant to
control lights and fan speed, and charge devices

The place was clean, comfortable, central, and about one third of the cost of a hotel room. It was also well-appointed, with shared laundry and kitchen facilities. My only quibble was that while I could alter the fan speed I couldn't control the temperature, and my pod was rather hot. Still ... it was an adventure!