Macaroning and the invention of verbs

A few weekends ago, while all the cool kids in Brisbane were off harvesting, I was at home macaroning and keeping a storm-stressed dog company. This was only my second attempt at macarons, but instead of making these from scratch, these were a sneaky cheat version by Adriano Zumbo. But even though they are made from a packet, they are still a fussy kind of food to work with. Such is my love of all things salted caramel that I am willing to throw myself once more unto the macaron breach.

Salted caramel macarons

They didn’t turn out perfectly, but I’m blaming all the horrid humidity in the air rather than any skill lacking on my part. The taste is the thing anyway, and they were rich with caramel and salt. So that’s a big tick from me.

While I was macaroning I got to thinking about how much I enjoy making up verbs. For instance, one of my favourites is to do a spot of ‘fassbending’ … this means to watch a film which features the wonderful Michael Fassbender.

The main trouble with making up your own verbs is remembering not to use them in conversations beyond your own home, because people will generally have no idea what you’re talking about, or consider you quite mad. That’s Ok though, it’s simply the price happily paid by those who enjoy a little fassbending.

Am I the only one who makes up her own verbs?

Because…

::: I was busy writing, I was overcome by a sudden desparate need to bake a loaf of bread from scratch (a sourdough rye loaf if you’re interested). All that mixing and kneading, getting the hands alternately sticky and flour-covered as I worked the dough, is calm therapy for an overactive mind.

The finished loaf

::: I was hungry and the loaf was still warm from the oven, I couldn’t resist accepting the invitation to partake. So (after eating the end crust) I took a knife to that delicious crunchy exterior and cut two thick slices.

The first few slices

::: I am Australian, and it makes perfect sense, I spread one side of those slices first with butter and then with vegemite. It didn’t take me long to fill my stomach and return that plate to empty.

The perfect serving suggestion

::: I associate this meal with being a child on holidays from primary school, reading a book at the dining room table while waiting patiently for my dad to bring home a fresh loaf of bread (he works for a bakery you see). In thinking of this memory, I felt nourished and comforted in ways that go well beyond the simple act of satisfying a hungry appetite.

Just lately… (the coffee and cake edition)

Being on extended leave means that I’ve been happily spending more time at home. Winter is always a favourite time of year for me, so it’s been extra nice to enjoy the best of the season without also having to deal with daily commutes, office politics and day job blues.

Each day begins (of course) with a steaming hot cup of coffee. While I know purists would say that coffee shouldn’t be served at too high a temperature, to that I say ‘rubbish’. I like my coffee to be hot – REAL hot. Imagine how hot you think would be too hot, take that thought and then double it … you’d then end up pretty close to my temperature preference. I like to linger with my cup for a while, so if the coffee is too cool I have to hurry to drink it. There’s something so disappointing about having to rush through a cup of coffee.

Coffee

While most winter days in Brisbane are really quite mild, our house is particularly cold. So I layer up with warm clothes, enjoy the company of a regular parade of hot drinks, and keep my hunger at bay with a good measure of comforting food. My current treat of choice is a healthy banana bread that I’ve now made a few times. It has very quickly become a favourite – it’s heavy on the banana, has a dense yet soft texture, and is filled with all sorts of good things. I top my version with a blend of crushed walnuts and a heavy-handed sprinkle of cinnamon. Bliss!

Homemade banana bread

I’ve taken to warming thick-cut slices under the grill for a few minutes, and then serving it with a generous dollop of ricotta and a serious drizzle of honey. It’s the kind of food that keeps me going for at least a few hours. While I normally pair it with a huge cup of tea, some days another coffee just feels more appropriate. But then again everything is better with coffee, right?

Mocha Macarons

This was a first for me … I’ve never before played around with the dark art of macaron making. It was a lot of faffing about with different things and precise instructions (not my favourite way of cooking), and while my mocha creations tasted delicious I’m not sure I’d hurry to make them again. But it’s OK macarons of the world, I’ll still love you forever more.

Mixing and Melting IngredientsMaking RoundsMmm ... macarons with chocolate and coffee

Other recent happenings:

Making … Anzac biscuits (thick & chewy), lemon yoghurt cake for a certain special someone’s birthday.

Watching … The Avengers (hello RDJ, hello Chris Hemsworth), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol again (lots of fun – an easy watch), X-Men First Class again (why hello Mr Fassbender). Clearly it’s been a month for blockbusters and handsome men (hello husband!).

Writing … lots and lots.

Reading … Frankie, Casual Days (makes me miss Singapore), Super Natural Every Day (lots of delicious meals).

Enjoying … the cool and rainy weather (autumn is so lovely).

After finishing my couch-to-5k running program a while ago, I’ve since embarked on a half-marathon training program just for the hell of it. I’m only in week two, but I’m falling more and more in love with my treadmill, so it’s been going really well so far. Before I go, I must also say thank you for your very sweet comments on my previous post … you guys are the best! :)

PS. Don’t forget to pop over to lucent imagery to see what macaron loveliness she came up with for this month’s foodie challenge.

Munching on some grindage (an adventure in homemade granola)

Do you like to start the day with a big breakfast? Personally, unless it’s combined with going out and socialising, I’m not really one for a proper sit-down breakfast. It tends to be an ‘active’ meal for me, so whatever I eat has to work around everything else I’m trying to do at the same time. So that means it has to be easy to prepare and not take too long to eat. The only essential which each and every one of my mornings MUST contain is a cup of strong, hot coffee.

So after telling you all that, you may be wondering why I would then decide to make granola? Well my lovely friend ‘lucent imagery‘ set us both a challenge to make our own version of granola before the end of the month … and so here we are.

The inspiration for my granola recipe

I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about granola, two things quickly come to mind. The first is an image of a rustic cabin deep in a forest – it’s early morning, the wood pile has been neatly stacked with freshly chopped timber, there is smoke happily tumbling out from the cabin’s chimney, and two bowls of toasted muesli sit waiting on an old wooden table. I guess in my mind, people that live a self-sufficient life in the woods would need a substantial breakfast.

The second thing I think of is a line from the (pretty awful) Pauly Shore ‘Son in Law’ movie, where his character says something like ‘I’m gonna munch on some grindage’. With its chewy texture and healthy reputation, I’ve always thought that granola equals ‘grindage’.

Post-mixed, pre-baked granola

Anyway, in case you’d like to join in with my homemade granola adventure, here is my sugar-free recipe (modified from the ‘Breakfast, Lunch, Tea’ Rose Bakery cook book):
* 150g mixed muesli bits (whatever you like – I hate dried fruit so included a mix of rolled oats, sesame seeds, almonds, barley flakes, pepitas, rice flakes and sunflower seeds)
* 50g shredded / flaked coconut
* 60ml cloudy apple juice
* 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C.
  2. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, spread out on a baking tray and pop into the oven.
  3. Stir every 7 minutes or so to help everything toast evenly.
  4. Bake for approximately 30 minutes (depending on how toasty you like things to get).

The end result ... crunchy and delicious!!

I served mine with a few spoons of vanilla bean ‘five:am’ yoghurt and some sliced green apple … delicious! I know I’ll be back to my quick breakfasts again next week, but every once in a while it’s nice to slow down and imagine yourself sitting at an old wooden table in a rustic old cabin. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

PS. Be sure to pop over to lucent imagery and see her granola magnificence too. Oh, and if you’re interested in joining in with our next monthly food-related challenge, let me know and I can email you the details.

 

The Comfort of Cookbooks

It’s funny don’t you think, how we move from one obsession to another? One minute it’s all about a certain colour (mustard yellow for me), then it’s a desperate need to visit a certain place (Europe would be nice), and before you know it you find yourself on a cookbook-buying bender … or perhaps that’s just me?

First I ordered myself a copy of ‘martha goes green‘ (a book I’ve been meaning to buy for ages), then a beautiful book dedicated to all things wickedly sweet (it had me at lemon curd tart), and finally a book filled with healthier (more sensible) main meal recipes. So far only the first book has arrived, and it has already proved itself to be a welcome addition.

Martha Goes Green ... my latest cookbook purchase

There’s much to love about ‘martha goes green‘. The recipes are wonderful and homely, with a good mix of vegan and vegetarian options (although I was sold on this book when I saw it contained a recipe for chocolate mousse – it’s been too long since I’ve enjoyed a vegetarian-friendly version). The other bonus of this book is that it comes with its own drawstring pouch, so it can hang around instead of taking up precious shelf space.

Martha Goes Green ... hanging in the kitchen

Of course it’s always nice to add to your cookbook collection, but my recent purchases had me wondering whether cookbooks hold more than just the promise of good food or a new favourite recipe. It took me a while, but I finally realised that beautiful cookbooks not only provide the opportunity to try new recipes and experiment with different ingredients – those pages offer a most satisfying blend of comfort.

I’m reminded of a quote from Nigella Lawson, ‘When I can’t sleep I start ordering cookbooks. And I comfort myself twice over by telling myself how useful they are, how they really help my work‘. Well I can’t claim that ordering cookbooks helps my work in any way, but they do provide lovely respite from the troubles and stresses of modern life.

Sure, there is always happiness within a rich chocolate dessert or a tasty savoury dish, but it’s rather wonderful that food-related comfort can be found without entering the kitchen or taking a single bite. By simply turning the page from one recipe to the next, the world becomes a little calmer, a little kinder, and a whole lot more wonderful. Do your cookbooks comfort you too?

PS. On a related, yet slightly different note … am I the only one who never starts a cookbook at the first recipe?

The ‘flat bread’ theory

We’ve all heard about the flat earth theory, but have you come across the ‘flat bread’ theory before? Of course you may be excused if you’re not familiar with this particular hypothesis, mainly because it’s just some mad notion I came up with myself. But I am sure there is some sense to it.

The Mr and I have this flatbread recipe that we probably make with dinner at least twice a week. It’s super easy (using only four ingredients), it’s pretty quick (you just need your muscles to roll the individual breads out), and it works really well with a lot of our favourite mid-week meals (like smokey lentil soup, and spiced chickpeas).

We’ve been making it now for a few months, and it only recently occurred to me that there is something pretty special about this recipe (and it’s not just because it makes amazing bread). I realised that while the recipe has always been successful, it’s only in the last few weeks that the batches have become incredible. Now I know that the more you make something the more familiar you get with the recipe and the techniques involved, but I think there’s actually more to it than that.

The most delicious flatbread

As with any successful partnership, I think it takes time for you and a recipe to get to know each other, and it’s a relationship that goes beyond merely making sure the ingredients are measured correctly, or ensuring that everything is blended together in the right way. It’s like the recipe needs to know that you’re really serious about perfecting it.

Rather than it being a recipe that you make once and move on from, a truly great recipe is one which works with you time and time again, until one day the end result goes from being something great to something amazing. Cooking therefore becomes a form of creative collaboration between maker and recipe, with the partnership only revealing its full potential after a certain passage of time.

Of course, this ‘flat bread’ theory could be extended and applied to any recipe, and perhaps more broadly to many interactions between ourselves and another. Perhaps this theory could underpin a new life philosophy, gathering followers near and far? Or maybe we should just take this analysis as a sign that we should all start eating more of this delicious flat bread?

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Before I leave you to wonder about the various joys of flatbread or to speculate on whether I’ve gone completely mad, I have a few other bits and pieces to share with you:

:: My latest submission to Sparkapolooza can be found here. The brief this fortnight was ‘all wrapped up’, and I decided to write about bogans! You can find all the wonderful submissions here.

:: I’ll be joining Jo, Laura and lots of other lovely bloggers in a challenge throughout March. It’s the ‘Do Something Different Everyday’ challenge and should be lots of fun. You can find all the details over here, so hopefully you’ll decide to take part too.

:: My lovely friend Sofia is having an incredible clearance sale in her store, with everything currently 70% off! I’ve already done some shopping, but don’t worry … I left plenty for you!

And so the end of February is almost here … are you going to do something special with the extra day this year? I’m working on a few ideas myself. I do believe February 29th deserves some attention given that we don’t see it all that often.

Honey coloured memories

Surely there’s no better way to start a week then by reflecting on all that was wonderful about the weekend just left behind? I have to tell you that apart from lazily enjoying my two days off work, I discovered a most delightful homemade breakfast treat. I use the term ‘homemade’ quite loosely, as it really required very little effort on my part. Nevertheless, such home-based treats remind me that not all great breakfasts happen outside the home.

I think there are a few fundamental prerequisites in the creation of a delicious breakfast. (1) A toasted item of some description should be included – whether that be bread, coconut or muesli it matters not. The focus here is something made warm, slightly golden brown, and crunchy. (2) Fresh ingredients should be used – after all, everything tastes better when it’s fresh. (3) Contrasting textures – sure it may sound a little weird, but there’s real pleasure to be found in a layering of flavours and ingredients, so that the differences can be more readily observed and savoured.

A most delightful weekend breakfast

All three of my prerequisites were included within my weekend breakfast of choice – A lightly toasted english muffin, topped with butter, honey and slices of banana (drizzled with extra honey). Mmm, mmm … it was so good on Saturday that I made an encore meal of it on Sunday morning. If only every day could start this way.

Honey is rather delightful in its own way, don’t you think? I tend to use it in different ways to its sweet cousin, Golden Syrup (which I also love). When I think of honey I am transported to other times and places … I remember having honey sandwiches as a child, made on the freshest of white breads that my dad would bring home from the bakery. I am also reminded of honey smeared across big flat bread rolls following a weekend swim at the home of a dear childhood friend … Ahh, happy times indeed.

Thanks for the memories, honey. xx

(New Recipe) Hunting and Gathering

What sort of cook are you? Perhaps you don’t cook at all? … I like to experiment in the kitchen – trying out new recipes, ingredients and techniques whenever I can. The only trouble is that experimentation often takes a little longer than the ‘tried and tested’. With life feeling busier than ever, it can be really hard to find the motivation for either myself or the Mr to cook up something new and exciting for dinner. Do you ever get a bit that way too?

The other complication is that by the time we get home from work we’re often super hungry, so falling back on one of our usual meal ideas is often the quickest and safest option. I say ‘safest’ because when I’m hungry I can tend to get cranky, so the sooner I’m fed, the better!

New recipe books!

Anyway, in an effort to break ourselves of old and lazy meal habits, I recently invested in a couple of new cook books – ‘Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights’ and ‘Breakfast Lunch Tea (Rose Bakery)’.

As a vegetarian I have a love-hate relationship with purely vegetarian cookbooks. Sometimes they can be, well … how shall I put this? … a little too vegetarian. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, perhaps it’s something fellow vegetarians can understand? Sometimes pure vegetarian / vegan cookbooks use too-hard-to-get ingredients, are overly complicated, and (I know it may be a little shallow to say) they aren’t always pleasing to the eye – I like (and need) lots of photos. Don’t get me wrong, there’s an equal and opposite love-hate relationship with ordinary cookbooks too … when reading those you’ll often find me bemoaning the lack of vegetarian or easy-to-convert-to-vegetarian recipes … Gosh, I’m hard to please aren’t I?

While we’re yet to try out any recipes from the Rose Bakery book (I’ve mostly been drooling over the delicious pastry recipes), we’ve had lots of success with some of Sophie Dahl’s delicious recipes … here’s hoping these new recipe experiments will become part of our regular routine. Do you have any cookbooks or recipes you swear by for those challenging, time-pressured weekday meals?

Living dangerously in the kitchen …

… (and I’m not talking about the knives). Do you play it safe in the kitchen? Are you a must-follow-the-rules kind of person? I always thought I was pretty much like that, but I’ve come to realise that I’m actually a bit of a risk-taker when it comes to cooking and baking. Shhh, don’t tell anyone …

Butter cake ... the high risk version

At high school and later at Uni I studied science – physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, geology … I’m probably missing a few, but the point is that I studied a whole range. Out of all of them it was probably chemistry which taught me the importance of precision in both following instructions and the measurement of liquid chemicals. A lot of that knowledge found its way into my cooking habits … well, to a certain extent anyway.

I still measure liquid ingredients properly and even invested in some scales a few years back so I could weigh the solid stuff! But apart from that I seem to apply a much more relaxed attitude towards my cooking … Here’s a little taste of what I get up to:

  • Once I’ve made something by carefully following the recipe, every time after that I tend to just ‘play it by ear’.
  • I don’t always sift flour.
  • Near enough is sometimes often good enough for me. For example, if something has a teaspoon of salt, I probably won’t measure it and just guess at the amount.
  • When a recipe calls for melted butter I never use a stove-top saucepan, instead I melt my butter in a glass bowl which I place in a sink filled with boiling water (it involves less cleaning and requires less effort).
  • I always replace dairy milk with soy milk (there’s no cow milk in my house).

Goodness, my high school ‘Home Economics’ teacher would be so proud (not). I never really liked her much, but I’m sure she’d be happy to know that I still follow two of her kitchen rules of thumb – ‘always gradually add liquid to dry’, and ‘be mean with the dry and kind with the liquid ingredients’ … what a strange subject that now seems to have ‘studied’ at school.

Perhaps my dangerous approach to cooking can mostly be put down to laziness or convenience, but I like to think that some of it’s due to the rush of adrenaline that comes from not playing by the rules and still achieving a great end result. Care to join me in a little culinary risk-taking?? (I’ll even let you share in the finished product).