Wednesday, November 28, 2012


A friend left these on my desk at work a little while back.

I didn't know it but there was a mulberry tree just across the road. I ran outside to get more. There was something totally magical about plucking those ripe berries from the tree, having the vivid, juice run down my arms. I was back in childhood land, to red-stained faces and keeping silkworms.

I've been trying to feel more connected to nature in recent months. There is something about bare feet on grass, touching the leaves on my little rescued crab-apple tree, watering a gifted money plant.

Not many berries on the tree now, they've all fallen off, but the memories remain.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

off to market

The London trip seems a million miles away these days but every now and then I get a little pop of memory and something I ate or saw from our travels leaps into mind.

In particular one day keeps coming back.  It was a Saturday when I went to the Borough Market and then met up with a new friend Gigi at the Bermondsey street fair in South London. It was just an all round brilliant day. The sun was shining, the markets were booming and bustling, tables piled high with loaves of bread and wheels of cheese. Brownies, cakes and turkish delight were in bacchanalian abundance, as well as tables of heirloom tomatoes and other wonderful produce.

I was a little overwhelmed by it all at first until I had an epiphany a few minutes in when I realised I didn't have to eat everything then and there, I could buy food to be enjoyed later. So I bought some brownies and cakes to take to Kristian and his mate Nick, who were working hard at the design fair in Earl's Court, and ate figs and cheese as I wandered round the stalls.

Luckily I didn't indulge too much at the market because Bermondsey Street was a whole other experience of Hog Roasts, country style fare and curiosities. Gigi and I met up with some of her friends, who had two of the cutest kids I've ever seen and proceeded to enjoy the most surreal few hours at the fair. There was a dog show, a kid show, a street performer dressed up in the manner of an extremely pregnant Victorian woman, who would periodically scream as if in labour and then launch at people to "give birth to them" through her dress. If that sounds weird, it's because it was. Luckily by this point Gigi and I had consumed a few beers so it was sort of bearable/ entertaining.

Quite a day indeed. The photos don't do it justice really but then again I think some of it is probably best left to the imagination.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

unexpected fluttering

We're big on notes in our family. Not so much of the 'thank you for the thoughtful gift' variety but more often than not our handwritten notes feature the details of a new favourite restaurant, important bus route numbers or, from when we've holidayed together, instructions as to our whereabouts - 'gone to the shop to get fish, bread, milk etc back soon.' 

I have always been a collector of words (I still have all my childhood and teenage journals, detailing fervent plans to have exciting haircuts and boyfriends and amazing clothes and I've kept just about every birthday card I've ever been given) so I find it hard to throw these notes away. I feel like there's something of the person preserved in the note. Sometimes when pulling a cookbook out from the shelf a note will come unexpectedly fluttering out from between the pages and I'll find myself tearing up at the sight of my Mum or Grandmother's handwriting. 

I came across one of these such recipes the other day, for Armenian Nutmeg Cake, and knew that I wanted to make it as part of this month's cooking club challenge (which incidentally is all about recipes handed down by voice, handwritten notes or memories). The funny thing is I can't remember for the life of me who usually made this cake, whether it was my Mum or my Dad, as they're both pretty good cooks. Dad was normally in charge of dessert when they were having guests over but the nuts and spices in it has all the hallmarks of a Mum-type cake, the kind that as a child I would probably not have been interested in picking at before the guests arrived.  

Regardless of who was the author of this cake, the minute I tasted it I was transported back to Sunday guest lunches in our old house in Pennant Hills. I think it somewhat miraculous that time can be preserved in a recipe like that. In sharing this recipe with you, hopefully you can make it and create your own new timeline.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125g butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon carbonate of soda

Set your oven to moderate (180°C) and grease a 20cm cake tin.

Combine the brown sugar, sifted flour and baking powder; rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Place half of this mixture evenly over the base of your cake tin and press down lightly with a fork to form a base. 

Dissolve the carbonate of soda in the milk; add the beaten egg and nutmeg. Pour this on to the remaining crumb mixture in your bowl and mix well. Pour this onto the tin, sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Bake in a moderate oven for an hour. Check on the cake about halfway through the cooking time and if it's getting quite brown you can cover it with aluminium foil. Once cooked through, allow the cake to stand in the tin for five minutes before turning onto a rack to cool.

And there you have it. 

It's sort of halfway between a cake and a slice and is at once both chewy and slightly crunchy, caramelly and spicy. Not the most beautiful of cakes but a damn good afternoon cake or one for when friends drop by. One thing though, if you're prone to colourful dreaming perhaps avoid having it just before bed. I don't think the teaspoon of nutmeg is enough to bring on the screaming jeebies but just to be on the safe side...

For a lot more wonderfully inspired recipes and memories have a look and see what the other cooking club members got up to this month:

Lucent Imagery  (cooking club founder)


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

street moments

Greetings again! It's quite surreal to realise I've been back now for almost a month! Coming back to Earth has been a bit tricky and I'm still wading through a heck lot of photos and trying to get my head into Sydney and this topsy turvy spring weather and work and things. Still, there is something lovely about extending the trip feeling for as long as possible....

I was a bit like Alice in Londonland during our trip. I couldn't see enough. Everything was fascinating and magical: from misspelt, ardent graffiti to abandoned street cakes to little folk, spotted at the vibrant and loud Columbia flower market. I loved hearing the flower sellers there yelling out prices to the passing crowd, or in one vendors case giving good weather advice: 'Don't be a wally, grab a brolly, two pounds a bargain!'

There's something to be said for really looking at a place and retaining that sense of childlike wonder about the little details. Looking up and down brings into view a whole new world. I'm hoping to keep my travel eyes in place a bit longer and re-discover some of the little wonders of Sydney too.

Next up the promised food and markets!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

unexpected and wonderful

Well hello!

It's hard to believe I've been to London and back since my last post. What a trip - surprising, inspiring, vibrant, overwhelming - London was unexpected and wonderful and almost impossible to reduce to any one experience or moment.  Here are a few of my first impressions:

What an amazing city! London greeted us with blue skies and sunshine and so in the early few days we picnicked in parks and walked our legs off. We stayed in an apartment in Bethnal Green, which is near Shoreditch and Brick Lane in East London and was very vibrant and villagey. I loved that you could walk for fifteen minutes in any direction and encounter so many vastly different neighbourhoods, architectural styles, people, food....

One morning we walked for an hour or so from our apartment across town to Clerkenwell to find a shop, which sold nuts and bolts of all things, and accidentally stumbled across the best coffee in London from a tiny, little, Italian cafe in Hackney, and all because I needed to find a loo.

I think that is always my favourite way to explore a new city - no real agenda, no plans, just wander.
And what a city to wander in!

The above pics are from Bethnal Green, Brick Lane, Millenium Bridge, Carnaby Street, Shoreditch, Bloomsbury (British Museum), Hampstead and Bethnal Green again (where I had a 'how much is that doggie in the window?' moment).

Looking back over my photos from the trip I've realised I've got quite a few bakeries, shopfronts and markets to share with you too but for now it's good to be back home and also back here. I've missed this space while I've been away and missed you guys too. Hope all is well where you are.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

if you could time travel

I recently listened to a remarkable interview with the writer Ray Bradbury. When asked which moment of his life he would revisit if he could time travel, he answered: 'Every single moment.' Have a listen to the whole interview here. It's amazing.

With that in mind, here are a few moments above of late that I would be happy to revisit:
~ afternoon tea at a friend's new sun drenched flat (where she made fresh ground coffee, polenta cake and bruschetta);
~ a chat with my elderly Italian neighbour which concluded with her giving me some flowers from her garden;
~ a cheese-plate eaten with friends, as we shared hilarious flirtation and relationship anecdotes.

Not long now till our London trip. I'm really looking forward to it but trying to stretch out the delicious sense of anticipation too. Being in the moment is key.

If you are in London during 19-22 September, come along to 100% Design, Stand L318, in Earl's Court, where you will find Kristian showing his wonderful new range of products - very exciting!

Pub lunches, ciders and steaming mugs of tea ahoy!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

buds and biscuits

Observations from the first weekend of Spring:

~ It was surprisingly cool, as if nature was saying 'don't get too hasty throwing off that Winter garb'.
~ From our back yard I spotted birds flying in arrow formation for what felt like the first time and marvelled at how that was possible.
~ A smiley face appeared in the sky with a word after it - I thought it was going to be decide but it ended up being decorug (whatever that is?).
~ A friend dropped round on Saturday with pear tart, which was surprisingly good.
~ We had lunch at my parent's house for Father's Day and talked lots about our upcoming trip to London - did I mention that we were going to London in two weeks? I don't think I have... 
~ I sat in the garden with Kristian and my mum, soaking up the sun and checking out the new buds and shoots coming up.
~ I made some protein-rich gingerbread biscuits to fatten up my Dad (and ate a few of the misshapen ones myself).  

Gingerbread Biscuits
Adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, by Rose Carrarini

125g unsalted butter, softened
90g brown sugar
3 Tbsps molasses (or golden syrup works just as well)
1 egg, beaten
370g plain flour, sifted (I substituted 100g of flour for quinoa flakes, to up the protein)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice

Beat the butter, sugar and molasses/ golden syrup until pale and well combined. 
Add in the egg, then fold through the flour and other dry ingredients until the mixture forms a good dough. You might need to add a little extra flour or another egg if your dough is too wet or dry. 
Roll the dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F. Butter a baking tray.
Roll out your dough until it is about 5mm thick. I heartily recommend well flouring the rolling pin and surface you are rolling on, lest you have to shout expletives at the dough when it won't lift off your chopping board. 
Cut the dough into the shapes you want and put them on the baking tray.
Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes, or until firm and browned on top. 
Cool them on a rack and try not to eat too many before lunch.

I hope you had a wonderful Spring weekend! Here's to more clear skies and warmer weather ahead.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

magnolia jam

As you may have picked up from my recent posts, I've become rather enamoured of magnolias lately. I feel like I'm seeing them everywhere at the moment but especially in a few key locations where I often need a beautiful pick me up (on the way to work; on the way to the hospital). I feel like they're such a hopeful flower - blooming as they do at the end of Winter and early Spring on naked branches, gradually making way for green sprouting leaves.

If only I could cook up and bottle magnolias as jam, to savour them on toast in the morning, to literally consume the hopefulness they hold for me. Instead I thought perhaps homemade strawberry jam might be a fair substitute, especially as the strawberries seem to be exploding with brightness and flavour at the moment. There is something about the idea of ingesting bold colours that is appealing to me, something intrinsically nourishing and life affirming. And besides, I've never made strawberry jam before. In fact I never even used to like it. I don't know why, perhaps it was because growing up we were more of an apricot jam household. But the strawberries are demanding my attention at the moment and so to strawberry fields of jam we go.

Sally Wise, as usual, was my go to for this one and she makes it pretty simple and straightforward, which is always a nice way to go.

Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Sally Wise

500g strawberries, hulled
3/4 tsp tartaric acid
1/4 cup of water
500g sugar

Chop the strawberries roughly and place in a medium saucepan with the tartaric acid and water.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Bring the jam to the boil and boil over medium heat for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it though. If you have a raging hot gas burner like I do, you may want to lower down the heat or take it off the stove a bit earlier. My jam ended up quite caramelised, which was good but might not be what you're going for.

Pour into sterilised bottles and seal immediately. Then enjoy on toast or stirred through yogurt or with fresh strawberries, gingerbread biscuits and mascarpone (as we did with my Mum on Tuesday night) or however you like it.

Just before we go, here a few interesting facts about magnolia which I discovered during my travels and which further reinforce my enjoyment of this rather amazing plant:
- Magnolia evolved before bees appeared
- the aromatic bark contains magnolol and honokiol, two polyphenolic compounds that may have demonstrated anti-anxiety properties
- in parts of Japan, the leaves of magnolia obovata are used for wrapping food and as cooking dishes.

So there you go: beautiful, hopeful and useful - qualities I think can safely apply to jam as well.

I wasn't the only one to make jam this month.
To see what all the lovely cooking club members made, do stop by their places below.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

made, read, heard, saw

Happy Friday!

Firstly, I wanted to say thank you for all your very thoughtful responses to my other side post.  Knowing that you are out there is a constant source of delight and inspiration! 

On the subject of things enjoyable and inspiring, the week in review:

1. Made these zucchini quesadillas and can highly recommend you do the same. I think my technique may have been a little bit suspect - I basically cooked up the filling in one pot and then lay the tortilla on a warm pan, put cheese on top then filling, then tortilla and then thought 'How the hell do I get these this out of the pan without making a colossal mess?' I ended up cutting the circle down the middle with a knife/ spatula then gently flipped the half circles on top of themselves to form quarters. It worked, sort of. Tasty though.

I also made a damn lot of crumbles. Apple crumble, strawberry crumble with chocolate, breakfast crumble (essentially leftover crumble from the night before with milk added). 

2. Read Haruki Marukami's interview in the Paris Review and was immediately inspired to finish my top drawer half-finished novel and simultaneously start on another, also to start up running again.  I think I need to re-read What I talk about when I talk about running. There is something very reassuring and inspiring about Murakami's routines and quiet persistence.

3. Listened to Carl Sagan's message to the Mars explorers and got a bit teary.

4. Watched Maira Kalman reading her work on identity, happiness and existence and nodded vigorously in agreement with many of her wonderful words and ideas. If you haven't come across her yet, check her out, you'll be glad you did.

And that is all for now, have a wonderful weekend!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

full of possibility

New favourite thing: get up early on a week day, grab someone special and head to a café for breakfast before work. It has a magical way of making the day feel longer and more full of possibility.

Last Friday Kristian and I braced the early morning cold and headed over to Gather on the Green in Camperdown, which has pretty much the best muffins I've ever had. It's also in the street where I used to live so it has good memories for me. We got there so early that the muffins weren't yet out of the oven so we had a coffee and first breakfast while we waited and then had a roadie blueberry and chocolate muffin as we walked to work.

Here are a few other nice places where I have enjoyed morning breakfast catch ups recently:
- Deus ex Machina in Camperdown
- Palomino Espresso on York Street in the City (also has great muffins)
- Biaggio Café in Pyrmont (they do a breakfast granola that will do you for the whole day).


Sunday, August 12, 2012

the other side

Learning to live with a little chaos is a skill I struggle with a fair bit of the time. I'm often caught up in looking down the road in an attempt to try to prepare myself for what (I think) is coming. But life has a way of reminding you that no matter how hard you try you can't control everything - sometimes it helps just seeing things in a different way.

I came across a wonderful story recently that captured this idea:

There is a young Buddhist man who whilst journeying home comes to the banks of a very wide river. He stares hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him and ponders for hours how to cross such a wide barrier. Just when he is about to give up and continue on his journey away from the river, he sees a great teacher on the other side of the river. He yells out to the teacher, 'Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?"

The teacher thinks for a moment, looks up and down the river and yells back, "My son, you are on the other side."

Life can surprise you by showing you something beautiful or unexpected and changing your perspective on things even when you least expect it.

On the weekend, in the midst of some truly chaotic weather outside and swirling emotions inside, we went for a walk down to a dog park nearby and simply sat and watched a bunch of dogs frollicking around in the grass. It was joyous to watch and I felt rejuvenated by seeing those dogs scampering around enjoying their day. It made me realise that finding beauty and joy in the world is always possible, even when it seems unlikely, and that it can be a choice to see it. That in itself is a reassuring realisation I think and one that can be grasped during difficult times.  A good coffee, a call from a friend, blooming magnolias, apple crumble for dinner - these can all help light the way.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

best of british

How was your weekend?

It was amazingly warm here in Sydney so, after washing just about everything in the house, we got out and about for a few good walks around the neighbourhood, where I spotted gorgeous magnolias and fun murals.

And it seems I've become rather affected by the London Olympics, if my weekend baking is any indication. On Saturday I met up with a friend for coffee and cake at a cute little place on Norton Street and once the topic of cornish pasties came up there was no turning back.  They were going to be on the dinner menu one way or another.  My distant British heritage kicked into gear and, after a brief discussion on preferred ingredients including Alissa's recommendation to opt for pastry of the short-crust kind over the puff variety, it was on. I'll admit that I didn't use a recipe because sometimes on a Saturday night after a few glasses of shiraz that's how I roll but there are plenty of good ones out there, like here or here (Delia's pie version).  If you own a copy of Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion you just know there's going to be one in there.

We ate our pasties with lashings of tomato sauce whilst watching the basketball and gymnastics and adding our own enthusiastic commentary to the proceedings. Then on Sunday, needing only the merest slight nudge of a suggestion from Kristian, I went and whipped up a batch of scones and then we ate a few of them somewhat guiltily in front of the marathon.

I have a feeling I'll be doing a lot of walking to work this week to compensate...