Monday, September 07, 2020

Spring delights

Happy spring! Or happy autumn [fall] if you're reading this in the northern hemisphere. I had my three busiest months of editing ever in June, July and August, and am currently enjoying a more relaxed September. This has conveniently coincided with plenty of things to do in the garden, many great books to read, and heaps of fabulous podcasts to listen to. Self-employment is GREAT.

I recently finished reading The Erratics, a memoir by Vicki Laveau-Harvie. It was brilliant. While the reviews for the book make it sound quite grim (the author's parents were bizarre), it's so beautifully written, and even humorous, that it was a joy to read. While we're on the topic of dysfunctional families ... I collected Mary Trump's book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man from my local library today. I 'attended' a live-streamed interview with Dr Trump as part of the Canberra Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago and found it intriguing so am eager to learn more.

Another activity I have more time for, when between jobs, is listening to podcasts. There are just sooooo many great podcasts available now! Some stand-outs include Trace and Patient Zero on ABC Radio National, No Filter with Mia Freedman, Think Like an Economist, Dax Shepard's interview with Atul Gawande, Democracy Sausage, and Mamamia True Crime Conversations.

Anyway, while listening to all the wonderful podcasts I'm often pottering in the garden. It's looking fabulous. The arborist came to trim our large, old eucalypts so falling branches don't kill us in our sleep, and our fruit trees (plum, apricot, lemon ...) are blossoming. In what is, perhaps, the triumph of optimism over experience, I'm attempting to grow NZ yams. (Again.) Yams are a root vegetable I really enjoyed while growing up in New Zealand, but which I've never seen for sale here in Australia. I bought some yam plants via mail order in 2018; they appeared alive when they arrived in Canberra but soon keeled over. Perhaps because I inadvertently over-watered them. In 2019, I bought some yam tubers, also by mail order, and planted them in the garden, to no avail. The foliage developed but there were no new yams underneath. Determined to do better this time, I purchased nine yam tubers this year, and have planted them in pots so I can better protect them from cold weather while the foliage forms. Let's see how that goes ...

All fingers and toes crossed that I manage to grow some yams. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bake a loaf of pumpkin bread.

Monday, August 10, 2020

2020 ... a weirdly wordy year

Well, it's been a strange year so far. January and February featured bush fires in south-eastern Australia and almost as soon as the air cleared there was a new threat: a global pandemic. Andrew and I are fortunate to be in good health and still employed (or in my case, self-employed), but the various crises have altered our day to day life. We're really glad to have bought a house with a garden four years ago as (at least when the air is breathable ...) pottering in the garden is always an option.

In the absence of some other regular activities (e.g. cinemas in Canberra were closed for about four months, and cafes for almost as long) I've been reading lots of books. Even more than usual. Here are some of my favourites lately:

The Inspector Ikmen mysteries by Barbara Nadel. Set in Turkey, these stories are gritty, intricate and fascinating. So far there are twenty books in the series and I'm about half way through ... I space them out to make the series (and my enjoyment) last longer.

All That Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black. An intriguing glimpse into Professor Black's career as a forensic anthropologist. As well as finding the subject matter engrossing, I liked the author's Scottish 'accent', which led me to ...

... the fictional murder mysteries of Val McDermid. I've only read one so far (The Distant Echo) but it was excellent. Skilfully crafted and very hard to put down. Book two in the series awaits.

Kevin Kwan! I've raved about his fabulous Crazy Rich Asians trilogy before and was delighted to buy his latest novel Sex and Vanity the moment it came out. Another absolute triumph. It's hilariously entertaining. The characters, the fashion, the food, the locations, the laugh out loud footnotes. I really, really hope he keeps writing novels as I want to keep reading them!

On a more serious (yet sometimes funny) note The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols has also been a worthwhile read. Professor Nichols explores how technology, narcissism and populism have 'created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement'. A book we all need to read and digest in these Trump-ridden times.

Angela Savage spoke at an editing conference I attended last year and I made a note, at the time, to track down her novel Mother of Pearl. It was well written, interesting and thought provoking. The story is set in Australia, Thailand and Cambodia and explores commercial surrogacy. (Turns out Angela Savage has also written a series of mystery novels set in Southeast Asia ... I'm planning to start reading one of them shortly!)

Last but not least, I really liked Lori Gottlieb's memoir Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I was familiar with Gottlieb's advice column 'Dear Therapist' in The Atlantic, and her book weaves together cases from her counselling practice and stories from her life and career. Another compelling read.

Happily, as well as reading for fun I also get to edit for a living, and 2020 has been super busy. I'm wondering if it's because people in lockdown and/or working from home have more time to write, thus more need for editing? To date, I've copyedited eighteen theses this year. One of the great joys of being an academic editor is getting to learn about many different topics, and topics lately have included:

  • the history of a Sydney psychiatric hospital
  • agriculture and rural development in Viet Nam
  • building teacher capacity through coaching
  • migration and 'brain drain'
  • French architecture and cinema
  • disease transmission in Australian native parrots
  • tourism in Botswana
  • atrocity crimes and the International Criminal Court
  • playgrounds in regional Australia
  • autocratisation in Turkey
  • hepatitis screening in prisons ... and more!

Sending warm fuzzy thoughts to all the lovely people who've entrusted their writing to me for polishing.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Our (annual) truffling adventure

Back in 2008 we turned our house over to a mycologist for eight weeks. A ... what? Mycology is the branch of biology that deals with fungi and, on that occasion, Andrew and I went overseas and an eminent mycology professor from Oregon kindly offered to house-sit and feed our goldfish while we gallivanted. He had been visiting Canberra regularly for many years, researching native truffles (which, incidentally, are delicious to marsupials but inedible for humans).

Anyway ... we've been intrigued by truffles ever since, and try to participate in at least one activity each year as part of the Canberra Truffle Festival. Yesterday we attended a truffle hunt and brunch at The Truffle Farm in Canberra. It was fun, educational and delicious! Here are some scenes from the morning:

We've also attended truffle hunts and brunches at Turalla Truffles (near Bungendore) in 2018 and 2019, and and a trufflicious dinner in 2013. Nom nom. I bought 20 grams of truffle to take home yesterday, so our meals over the coming weeks will also be infused with truffles. We're so lucky to live in this fabulous city.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Yes, do try this new twist on chocolate mousse

Well, that was magnificent! Recently the Her Canberra website featured a recipe for avocado-based chocolate mousse. Um, what? A gluten-free, vegan-friendly* dessert that actually helps us meet the recommended daily servings of fruit and veges? Why not, I say! I tried making the mousse today and it didn't disappoint. Nom nom.

* use maple syrup instead of honey for a vegan version.

A few years ago there was a bit of a craze for sneakily putting fruit and vegetables into dishes so fussy kids would eat them without knowing. While I'm not a huge fan of hoodwinking kids (and happily, don't have any kids to hoodwink) I DO like finding recipes that include healthy ingredients yet still taste fabulous. If this is you too, you may like to try some of these ...

avocado, lime and ginger ice cream
chocolate zucchini cake
pumpkin loaf
banana muffins
beetroot chocolate cake

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

It's called precrastination!

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about my (bizarre, abnormal, weird) tendency to tackle chores before allowing myself to have fun. Sort of the opposite of procrastination. I find it much more satisfying to get unpleasant tasks and commitments out of the way before doing things I'll enjoy ... the enjoyment feels more 'earned'. Anyway, Tim Harford (a.k.a. the undercover economist) just wrote an article about those of us who don't procrastinate, and it seems obvious now. We are precrastinators. My favourite new word ;-)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Banana bread and cute critters

Greetings from semi-isolation. It's been interesting to see what people have been Googling during the COVID-19 pandemic. It sounds like many of us have been rediscovering the joys of baking. I certainly have. Here's a nice (not too sweet, not too greasy) recipe for banana bread.

1.25 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
0.5 cup milk
3 small (or 2 large) bananas, mashed
walnuts or pecans (optional)

Mix all together thoroughly (it will still be a bit lumpy), pour into a loaf tin and bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 180 degrees C.

Eat warm. Alternatively, when it is cold, slice thickly and toast lightly, then serve with (optional) butter ... yummo!

Something else that's been happening lately is the 'bear hunt', where people place teddy bears or other soft toys in windows for passing kids (big and little) to spot while walking around the neighbourhood. We've enjoyed seeing all the critters in windows – and in trees! – near our house. Here are a few we've seen:

These two are at our place. 
Their names are Gus (left) and Jim (right)!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quarantine lime pie

My friend Lisa lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but spent several years living in Charleston, South Carolina. She recently recommended this pie recipe to me! I've had to adjust a few things (ingredients, weights, temperature) to bake it here in Australia. I also halved the recipe, the first time I made it, as it's all too tempting to overeat at the moment.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

For the crust

90 grams Arnott's Salada crackers, crushed
50 grams salted butter, melted *
20 grams brown sugar

Combine well. Press into the bottom of a lined pie pan **. Chill for 15 minutes then bake for 15 minutes.

For the filling

0.5 can (~200 grams) sweetened condensed milk
2 egg yolks
0.25 cup lime juice

Combine well. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 15 minutes or until filling has set.

At the end

150 ml fresh cream, whipped ***
sea salt

To serve, wait till the pie has cooled completely then pile on the whipped cream and sprinkle with sea salt. Enjoy!

Afterthoughts ...

* the original recipe said to rub the butter into the other two ingredients and I melted it instead (call it laziness). My version worked fine but the base was a bit crumbly and may have been less crumbly if I'd been less lazy ;-)
** I used a silicone cake mould for my first attempt at this pie, but will use a springform pan next time as it was difficult to remove the cooked pie, even though I'd lined the cake mould with non-stick baking paper at the start.
*** alternatively, you could use the egg whites left over from making the filling to make a meringue topping. Nom nom. Info on how to do that can be found in my recipe for lemon meringue pie.

The original recipe specified Saltine crackers but
Arnott's Salada was an excellent local alternative

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Iftar feast (takeaway) from Lahorigate

Lahorigate (also written as Lahori Gate) Restaurant is a Pakistani eatery in Weetangera, Canberra. We've been there a couple of times for their scrumptious weekend buffet brunch, and had been meaning to try their dinner offerings sometime too. This year the month of Ramadan coincides with the COVID-19 lockdown, meaning sit-down meals are not allowed and restaurants and cafes are only able to offer takeaway food. This is, no doubt, interfering with the iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset) banquets which usually form part of Ramadan.

Andrew and I have been trying to support our favourite restaurants and cafes by buying takeaways while they're not able to offer in-house dining. Lahorigate have been advertising takeaway iftar meals during Ramadan, so that's what we ordered for dinner on Friday! The food was plentiful and delicious. We ordered two $20 packs, and received curry (I think it was lamb keema) and rice, samosas, pakoras, aloo pakoras, roti, spring rolls and dessert (rice pudding).

Ramadan lasts for almost another three weeks so give it a go! Order before 2 pm to collect your meal after sundown. Enjoy ;-)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The festival of comfort food continues ... cheese scones

So, I was just comparing notes with a friend in London on how we've both been baking our socks off to distract ourselves from the plague coronavirus. One of my favourite lunches, on these work-from-home days, is cheese scones. Simple and utterly scrumptious. Here goes ...

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius.

2 cups self-raising flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese
pepper and salt, to taste
chopped capsicum and/or spring onions (optional)

Rub the butter into the flour. Mix in the cheese, pepper and salt, then add the milk (plus optional vegetables if you like) and mix to make a stiff dough. Roll or press out to be about 2 cm thick. Cut into chunks, space out on a baking tray, and bake for about 10 minutes. Slather with (optional) extra butter and eat warm! Nom nom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Taking pity on the orphaned avocados

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to some strange panic buying (how many toilet rolls do people really need?) but also to some unexpected gluts. Apparently there's an oversupply of avocados here in Australia as many cafes and restaurants are closed or operating in takeaway-only mode. While avocados are cheap and plentiful, I've been buying them! My absolute FAVOURITE ice cream recipe is avocado, lime and ginger ice cream (and you don't need any fancy devices to make it).

Other fun things to do with avocados include:

avocado salsa wraps
avocado macaroni cheese
rocket salad with pears, blue cheese and pecans

or you could serve it alongside nachos or just as good old-fashioned smashed avo on toast. That's what we ate for lunch in lockdown today.

Enjoy ;-)

Monday, April 20, 2020

The annual number crunch (2020 edition)

This is the eleventh year in a row that I've kept an Excel spreadsheet recording evening meals eaten in our household, and analysed the spreadsheet each year to find out what we ate most often. I've been using a weekly menu for much longer than eleven years, and the spreadsheet is a way of capturing the data from all the handwritten menus and looking for patterns (and ways to diversify our diet).

Not sure this level of discipline actually DOES lead to more diverse eating ... we still have our favourite dishes, and things that appear again and again! While the spreadsheet currently has over 260 rows of data – where each row is a menu item – I do tend to rotate between a few dozen dishes. Ah well. If anything, the tendency has become even stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic. It's comforting to fall back on flavourful favourite meals.

So, here's what we ate most between April 2019 and April 2020:

vegetable gyoza (a new entrant to the list! bought frozen and heated at home)
pasta and sauce (classic comfort food)
hearty vegetable and barley soup
tofu curry
BLTs (sandwiches or wraps)
pumpkin and pea curry
potato, leek, bacon and bean soup

Most years I vaguely resolve to do better in the coming year, but 2020 is looking so strange that I don't want to make any promises I won't keep. Provided we stay alive and well fed (even if comfort food wins out) let's count that as success this time.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Brunch @ Eighty Twenty (back when we were still allowed to sit down)

My friend Elizabeth and I have a long tradition of taking each other out for a meal on our respective birthdays. Elizabeth's birthday was only a month ago, but it feels like a lot longer! Back then we were able to order food at cafes and restaurants and eat it there, off fancy plates. So much has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic means that, for the foreseeable future, 'eating in' is banned and restaurants/cafes have either closed altogether, or are operating takeaway-only menus. I'm grateful that we can still buy food at all, and am trying to support our favourite local cafes and restaurants in the hope they'll manage to stay in business.

Anyway, here's a throwback from when we were allowed to eat in public, off plates! Elizabeth has coeliac disease so can't eat gluten. She suggested Eighty Twenty as the venue for last month's birthday brunch as they have heaps of gluten-free options. It was delicious!

Elizabeth ate:

Vegan buckwheat waffle with peanut butter
coconut whip, date caramel sauce, banana,
macadamia, quinoa, and black sesame crunch

while I had:

Chermoula lamb, with pumpkin, quinoa,
kale, parsley, cherry tomatoes, spinach, cauliflower
hummus, pine nuts and currants

Oh my goodness! So yummy. And very generous portions.

Eighty Twenty Wholefood Cafe is in Lonsdale Street, Braddon. They're offering online ordering, and pickup or delivery, during the pandemic.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

A weird new world

While the Australian government has been annoyingly vague about the COVID-19 situation – often providing contradictory or downright spurious information – I would estimate that this is about the third week of our (mostly) self-isolation. Being self-employed, I always work at home, while Andrew normally goes to an office so has switched to working at home. He's commandeered half of our dining room table as his new office. To draw a clear line between 'home' and 'work', he's been covering his monitors with a towel when he's not working, and also walking around the block (in lieu of a commute) at the start and end of each work day.

What else has changed? I've been surprised at how quickly all my usual activities have become virtual: a regular Thursday evening cheese and wine gathering now conducted via Zoom, virtual coffee dates with Andrew's workmates and my (former) workmates, and Sunday night dinners with friends moved online. Isolation is strangely social.

Also, my boot camp instructor Rex has started offering online boot camp. Four times a week he emails a list of sets of exercises, complete with videos to follow along. It's great fun and I'm finding I work out just as hard as I would if it was in person. Weird. Hope my enthusiasm keeps up ...

High knees

Work-wise, I'm still getting plenty of editing. I'm very grateful for this. Most of my clients, whether new or recurring, have been working on their research projects for months, years or even decades, so the pandemic doesn't seem to be hampering their output (so far). Still, the current restrictions on movement mean I have more spare time than before, and I've been seeking out activities that give comfort, whether gardening, reading, cooking, listening to podcasts or curling up in front of the TV.

What I'm reading ...

... or rereading, as the case may be. In between some new and mind-expanding books (How Many Friends Does One Person Need? by Robin Dunbar; Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow; All That Remains by Sue Black, and many more), I've been dipping into old favourites (The Millstone by Margaret Drabble; Destination Saigon by Walter Mason; A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans; The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and many more!) Unfortunately our local library (where I'm an avid member) has closed for the duration of the virus crisis; I'm glad I have a backlog (and back catalogue) of Kindle books to read.

What I'm cooking and eating

Yep. Comfort food. It's late autumn here (indeed, there's a touch of winter in the air this weekend) and in half anticipation of shopping restrictions becoming even more stringent I've been filling up the freezer with hearty, flavoursome dishes and cooking old favourites. Things like ...

potato and pea curry
teriyaki tofu and veges
vegetable soup
cheese soufflé
chocolate mud cake

Andrew and I usually avoid buying takeaway food and drinks to avoid packaging waste; we prefer to eat at cafes and restaurants. Now that sitting down in public is banned we've had to bend our usual rules! We want to support our favourite cafes to help them stay in business, so have been buying coffee each day and also having a couple of takeaway meals each week.

We're standing by you, Stand By Me

What I'm listening to

Podcasts! So many podcasts. Coronacast on the ABC (of course), plus more escapist goodies such as No Filter with Mia Freedman, 9 Days in July, Armchair Expert, Friday Night Comedy, Modern Love and Andrew Leigh's The Good Life.

The garden is a joy. A place where we can zone out and forget the world is in uproar. Right now we have ...

... lots of ripening chillies ...

... and some cute baby pumpkins

Soon I'll need to harvest the chillies to make room to plant garlic.

One final thought. While all overseas travel is cancelled for the foreseeable future, the current need to wash our hands dozens of times per day has seen us delve into our bathroom drawers ... and be reminded of past overseas holidays. While other people buy knick-knacks while travelling, apparently I buy soap. Handy, in the circumstances! Here's what I found:

Clockwise from top left: Fiji (visited in 2019),
Thailand (visited in 2011!), Malaysia (last visited
in 2013), New Zealand (last visited in 2020)

Timor-Leste (visited in 2018)

Left: Canada (last visited in 2017),
right: Japan (visited in 2016)

It's lucky soap doesn't go out of date!

Good luck, everyone.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Keep calm and make blue cheese soufflé

For several years, Andrew and I have regularly met up with a bunch of colleagues and former colleagues for wine, cheese, crackers and wide-ranging conversation on Thursday evenings. They're a fun bunch. Sadly, we've had to shelve these catch-ups lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a nod to our usual cheesy Thursdays, I'm making a blue cheese soufflé for dinner tonight. There may be some red wine to go with it ...

3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 cup cheese, grated or crumbled
freshly ground pepper
sprig of parsley

Separate egg yolks from whites and leave at room temperature. Make a cheese sauce by melting butter, mixing in the flour and cooking till it bubbles, then adding the milk and cooking till it thickens, then stirring the cheese in. Mix well and allow to cool. Beat egg yolks with pepper and fold into cheese sauce. Beat egg whites until stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the egg whites with the cheese sauce. Pour into an ungreased baking dish and bake in a pan of hot water at 180 degrees C for 45 to 60 minutes, or until mixture is firm. Garnish with parsley.

All sorts of variants to the soufflé are possible ... for example, you could replace the cheese with a couple of tablespoons of pesto, making it a pretty green colour; or make mini soufflés in muffin tins (cutting the cooking time by half); or you could spice it up with some curry powder or aromatic herbs. Enjoy.