I love birthdays. I love surprises and presents and being spoiled and Facebook messages and all the other good things that come with celebrating the passing of another year.
It was my birthday on Monday. I successfully turned it into an Amelia festival starting on Friday night, continuing through to work on Monday. Four cakes were involved. I regret nothing.
The first birthday cake I remember was made by my mum from a Woman’s Weekly kid’s birthday cake recipe book. I pored over the well-worn pages of that book, weighing up my options, taking the selection of my cake very seriously. There were trains and swimming pools and a lion, but I chose a cake that was a garish shade of pink and somehow incorporated hot pink tulle as part of the decoration. I thought that cake was the most beautiful in the world, and my mum the greatest mum ever for making it.
When the clouds hang heavy in the sky, the rivers run fast and the earth is downright soggy, I crave English pub grub. I want to duck under a medieval doorway and feel the bumps and grooves of a worn slab of wood as I lean over the bar to order a pint. A fire would be crackling in the corner as I pull up a chair under a window pane to watch the drizzle, waiting for a generous serving of bangers and mash to complete the scene.
There are no wonderfully pokey, old pubs in Kyneton, but the weather is suitably English. So when I found a packet of beautiful pork and fennel sausages from a local farm in the fridge, I knew what was coming.
Sausages are an all-season food. They’re equally happy on the BBQ destined for a slice of thin white bread and a squirt of tomato sauce, as they are in a thick stew or pasta sauce. When paired with creamy mashed potato, winter is upon us and you can have no plans other than snuggling in to the couch after a plateful. This is not energising food, it’s lazy winter afternoon food. Continue Reading
I often breezily suggest I’ll bring “nibbles” when I offer to bring a plate to a group gathering. Promptly, any notion I formerly had of what makes a good plate of appetisers leaves my mind and I am left in a mild panic, not able to think of anything remotely nibbly.
Appetisers can be a very fussy course. Regular food is shrunk into tiny portions, often featuring small bits of toast begging to be topped with dainty dollops of tasty morsels, or one food gently wrapped in another and prodded with a toothpick. I haven’t got the patience for fussy food, so finding an appetiser that I can prepare simply that tastes great and looks impressive is what my blank mind attempts to remember when the party is the next day.
Labneh is a fresh cheese popular in the Middle East. It is made by straining yoghurt to remove the whey, leaving behind a versatile ingredient with the consistency of cream cheese and the tang of yoghurt. It can be bought in good grocery stores, but it is also super easy to make at home. And, it makes a fantastic, fancy looking dip, perfect for a group of friends in need of something little to whet their appetite for lunch. Continue Reading
I worked at an ice-cream shop when I was at university. One of the perks of the job was taking home a couple of generous scoops of Chocolate Ecstasy and Chocolate Mud, topped with hot fudge, at the end of every shift. My sweet tooth became extremely well developed, and got used to a constant supply of rich, creamy chocolate.
My university years provided enough sugar to fill my lifetime quota. I don’t eat many sweet things these days, but when I do, I go for quality over quantity, and opt for something a little more subtle than a triple choc sundae.
We had friends over for lunch on Sunday and I needed something sweet to round out a simple meal of cauliflower soup served with ham, cheese and pear toasties. The market had offered up crisp, fragrant red apples as well as plump mandarins and I grabbed more of those walnuts I found last week. I had the beginnings of a winter fruit platter but it needed something extra.
A simple pasta is what Nigella Lawson would call a perfect kitchen supper. It’s the type of eating that begins by sneaking a bit of each ingredient into your mouth while preparing. You’ll dip your finger into a simmering sauce more than necessary just because it tastes so good. And you’ll finish with a big bowl eaten at the kitchen counter, with the cooking pot in arms reach, ready for second helpings.
This kitchen supper was inspired by a fortuitous rain shower at the farmers’ market that sent me into the nearest marquee for shelter. The stall I sought refuge in presented fresh, creamy, meaty walnuts that bore little resemblance to the ones sold in the supermarket. They were so tasty, they formed the basis of a simple pasta.
It’s the depths of winter in Kyneton and I’m struggling. Winter seems awfully long this year, which is perhaps a result of me having two summers in a row preceding it, or that I’ve moved to a part of the world that inherits its weather from a small, cold, cloud-loving mountain. My Instagram and Pinterest feeds are full of North American summer cocktails, fruit, lake houses and sandals, making me long for warmer climes. Which is how I ended up making one of my favourite summer night dishes in July: soba noodles with smoked salmon, avocado and mirin dressing.
On most Saturdays, a fresh, crusty loaf of sourdough bread appears in my kitchen. With it comes the promise of thick slices of toast slathered in jam, crusty bases for a golden array of scrambled eggs or a platform for melting cheese. It seems impossible, given these options, that I don’t devour it entirely in a day. But sometimes, the weekend comes and goes and leaves behind a hard heel of bread, recoiling in a crumpled paper bag at the end of the bench. This is when I’m most excited, because it means I have a key ingredient that cannot be purchased in a store: stale bread.
A frugal kitchen finds a use for all odds and ends, with ends turning into beginnings of new meals. Stale bread makes excellent croutons for soups or salads and breadcrumbs that can be stored in an air-tight container for up to a month. But on these mid-winter days that are only briefly acquainted with sunlight, and are quickly enveloped in dense fog or frost, I like to turn my stale bread into soup.
White food. It’s all I’ve been eating for the last seven or eight weeks, thanks to a robust dose of morning sickness! I had the type that feels like the worst hangover you’ve ever had, lasts all day and can only be cured by second and third breakfasts, a constant supply of carbs, and TV marathons.
Writing about my kitchen activity over the last couple of months would have resulted in rather short posts. They would have focussed on four main food groups; meat wrapped in pastry, chips, bread and potatoes. Let’s not quibble that chips and potatoes are technically the same thing. Any variation, no matter how small, was important considering vegemite was my main source of vitamins.
The first trimester is now behind me and green food has made a welcome comeback to my plate. My latest challenge is feeding the voracious hunger this kid seems to be fuelling. I regularly find myself in front of an open fridge, willing interesting yet healthy snacks to appear. This week, with a second-trimester kick of energy, I’ve stocked up with high-protein snacks to keep this baby growing.
A universal truth related to new parents is that if you turn up on their doorstep bearing food, you will be welcomed. They will usher you in to their home in a wave of gratitude and relief, allowing you to swap said food for baby cuddles. Sure, the food is a trojan horse for cradling a newborn and smelling their baby smell, but you will successfully trick the tired parents into thinking you’ve been ever so thoughtful.
A food box is a great gift. It has the obvious benefits of feeding frazzled parents, relieving them of meal planning and shopping for at least one meal. But it is also a gift full of care and nurturing, one that will be remembered long after the baby has tossed aside another teddy bear. Continue Reading
Breakfast isn’t often sophisticated. It can be satisfying, sure. Or hearty. Maybe even a treat. But sophisticated isn’t a word that gets used for breakfast regularly. It is, however, the correct term to describe this dish when presenting it to your mum this Sunday for Mother’s Day.
It’s a very simple recipe, but don’t let that fool you. This plate is full of texture and dances a fine line between savoury and sweet. With persian flavours and several surprising elements, it is both interesting and delicious to eat as well as beautiful to look at. Continue Reading