Wednesday, May 30, 2012

homemade marmalade

There's something almost magical about some things that you make yourself. Especially when they're items that you usually buy from the supermarket. This is me and marmalade - I love it, as you can probably tell from here, but I've never made it myself.

So when a lovely blogger friend recently invited me to take part in a cooking club, with this month's challenge being to make something from scratch that you would normally buy in a jar/carton/bottle/packet, I leapt at the chance. The universe was giving me a little nudge to get over my weird fear about preserving and canning and just do it.

There is a wealth of information out there about preserving, canning, bottling, pickling and it can be a little overwhelming to say the least. I think part of the secret of not talking yourself out of doing it is to start small. Remember when I made pickles a while back? - well I made so much of the stuff and was worried that I hadn't properly sterilised the jars so I ended up having to throw some of it out - something I hate doing.  Since then I've found a few good tips, such as here and here on sterilising jars.

So now onto the fun part, making the marmalade.

Orange Marmalade
Adapted from A Year in a Bottle by Sally Wise

Makes 750g, approximately (enough for three jars)

4-5 large oranges
1/2 a lemon
3 1/2 cups water
500g sugar

Start by chopping the oranges finely.  Place them in a large pot, add the water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 25 minutes or until the fruit is soft. 

Now add the sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue to boil on high for 25 minutes. Don't do as I did and try to make an omelette for dinner at the same time and forget to stir your marmalade - burning will ensue.

Allow the marmalade to stand for 10 minutes before pouring into warm sterilised jars.  Seal immediately.

This recipe produced a fairly chunky, thick marmalade, which is exactly how I like it but if you prefer yours more runny, I'd suggest adding more water at the start and reducing the heat a little in your second boil, towards the end of the 25 minutes. 

I opened up one jar this morning to go on my toast, one jar went into the cupboard and the other was gifted to a friend at work. I have a feeling I'm going to be finding ever more inventive ways to feature marmalade in my cooking over the coming months. I'd like to think my marmalade loving Gran would be proud of my efforts.

You can find out what the other wonderful members of the cooking club came up with for the challenge below:

From River’s Edge


Monday, May 28, 2012

a morning walk

On Sunday Kristian and I went to Natty's cafe in Stanmore, which has hands down pretty much the best breakfast trifle I've come across in a long while. It is delicious: crunchy, creamy, fruity, not too big and amazing value. If you haven't been already, clear your calendar for next weekend. Afterwards, we went for a long walk around our neighbourhood and talked about ideas and projects and marvelled at the changing leaves. Not too many days left of Autumn, so I'm soaking up as much colour as I can and pondering this quote in anticipation of the coming Winter months:

Au milieu de l'hiver, j'ai découvert en moi un invincible été.
In the midst of winter I discovered within me an invincible summer.

~Albert Camus


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

small pleasures

Sometimes I feel like I'm a whirlwind of activity, constantly rushing from one thing to the next (or thinking about a million different things all at once - what I am doing, what I should be doing, what I want to be doing). I need to intentionally take the time to s l o w  d o w n .  .  .

Recently I've made the change from coffee to tea, a rather big deal for someone who has been a long time coffee drinker, and I have been finding that it has helped even me out. There is something more restful about tea, more contemplative.

I've also tried to start taking more pleasure in small, simple things. I have a tendency to get the winter blues and whilst it's not winter yet I've been trying to focus on the beautiful things about the changing season to try and keep positive - colourful leaves, getting out my favourite cardigans and scarfs and drinking lots of hot beverages out of fun cups, such as my favourite Austen above. When enjoying a nice cup of tea out of this mug I like to pretend I'm in an old-timey tea house in Bath spotting gallant chaps dashing in from the rain. Mmmm...


Monday, May 21, 2012

breakfast habits

I was inspired by this fantastic series to do some posts on breakfast. There's something about breakfast it seems, more so than perhaps any other meal of the day, that reveals something intrinsic about people - about their habits, likes and personalities. It's as if the way we choose to begin our day, when we're still sleepy, unconsciously speaks something of our true selves - whether we're morning people, active and rushed, or quiet and contemplative, creatures of habit or constantly up for change.

Kristian would say that I'm not much of a morning person (except on occasions of community garage sales) but I love mornings... once they're underway. We've been trying for a while now to get up early, around 6am to go for a run and then still have time to hang out at home and luxuriate in the making and eating of breakfast before we head out the door to work.

Usually we make vegemite toast (or sometimes marmalade) and tea.  But lately, now that the weather is cooler, I've been making porridge again, my autumn and winter friend, sometimes with brown sugar, sometimes with sultanas and honey, occasionally with maple syrup if we've got any in the house. But I'm thinking I need to mix it up, maybe add some coconut and walnuts...
As a kid I think I ate Weetbix with sultanas for breakfast every day for about 10 years straight.

A long term lover of coffee, I've recently switched to tea in the morning, with the occasionally coffee later in the day. For a while there I was having two macchiatos before I got to work and it was unsustainable madness. Now I'm having up to 5 cups of tea but with much less crazy.

My favourite breakfast ever was when I travelled in Italy as a teenager and would go to Cafe Tonnollo in Venice every morning to have a cappuccino and a brioche con marmellata (croissant with jam).

A recent discovery, whilst breakfasting with a lovely new friend, was granola with yogurt at Cafe Biaggio in Pyrmont.  Crunchy and nutty and thoroughly delicious.

How about you folks, do you have any favourite breakfast routines, rituals or preferences?
I'd love to know.

P.S. Yes, that is a big hunk of cheddar cheese. I inherited from my grandmother a predilection for teaming it with marmalade toast - not everyone's cup of tea, but certainly a favourite of mine.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

reel food night

The other night we headed down to Rozelle to the first of the Reel Food Nights, organised by the Youth Food Movement, younger sibling to the Slow Food Movement. I must admit I was lured in by the promise of veggie food trucks but what was really interesting was hearing more about sustainable food practices and learning about young farmers exploring small urban farming and agricultural projects in a documentary screened on the night - The Greenhorns. We enjoyed several glasses of organic red wine and some rather splendid moroccan spiced popcorn during the film but alas the food truck ran out of veggie burgers so we just had some cheese on toast when we got home.

Saturday morning, fuelled on by the spirit of the evening, Kristian and I went to the Organic Farmers Markets in Lilyfield, spotted lots of cute dogs and stocked up on some veggies for the week. The stall-holder I bought our veggies from threw in a banana for nothing and an extra tomato, which has essentially guaranteed him a customer for life. The banana was squat and a bit brown but thoroughly delicious. I feel like I have more respect for these vegetables having bought them from the people who grew them and I want to do right by them and make something special. Sunday dinner here we come.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

potatoes, pies and pink

Our weekend was all about a very excited little girl (Kristian's niece) turning three and some equally excited adults getting to play with Mr and Mrs Potato Head and eat party pies and toothache-inducing amounts of cake and pink icing.

After a big week, it was so nice to stop for a minute and breathe in the weekend, to listen to the gutteral laugh of the birthday girl after having fizzy drink for the first time (care of me, oops!) and to see three generations of K's family together - to notice, in amongst the eating, playing and conversation, those occasional funny, familial moments of similarity that make me smile.


a childhood favourite

So long Maurice Sendak.

I remember fondly his books from when I was little and loved rediscovering them again as an adult. His philosophies on living and writing are humbling and enduring. A true master-storyteller and human.

"I've convinced myself — I hope I'm right — that children despair of you if you don't tell them the truth."

These interviews with him are a wonderful way of preserving his ideas. Have a listen and be reminded how precious this thing called life is.

[The picture was taken on our 2010 trip to Japan, where we saw Where the Wild Things Are]


Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I think I must be craving vitamins because I've been on a major broccoli (and green) kick of late. It seems like most of my meals in the last week have been crafted around broccoli in some way. I pull out that delightful head of green from the fridge and then I open the pantry and see what comes to mind. It's also one of those veggies I was always a bit fussy about as a kid, so there's certain element of back patting going on now that I've made friends with it.

And it's not only tasty and versatile as all get out but it's a great source of calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C, fibre, anticarcinogens and antioxidants. And in light of recent familial health matters, I'm trying to be more mindful of eating my greens.

Inspired by this healthy lady, on Tuesday I made steamed greens with polenta, a grain I haven't had in ages. If you're after something quick and nourishing, half a cup mixed in with two cups of stock in a saucepan stirred for a few minutes and you're done.

But for these cooler nights can I recommend a broccoli bake? Pop the word 'bake' onto the end of just about anything and I'm in like flynn. I might need to apply this principle to other vegetables like brussell sprouts in the near future. I'll keep you posted. But for now let's talk flower heads.

Broccoli, Cauliflower and Spinach Bake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

for the greenery
2 1/2 cups cauliflower florets 
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets 
2 cups baby spinach leaves 

for the bechamel 
60 grams butter chopped
1/3 cup all purpose flour 
1 cup milk 
1/2 cup grated cheddar or Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and grease a baking dish.

Cook the cauliflower and broccoli in large pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are on the slightly hard side of tender. Drain and cool and then chop into smallish chunks. 
Rinse the spinach, then wilt in a saucepan over medium heat. Drain and cool. Squeeze the spinach dry and chop finely. Alternately you can use frozen spinach portions, cooked in a similar fashion.

For the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth then slowly whisk in the milk until the sauce thickens and boils, about 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cheese.

In a large bowl combine all the vegetables and stir through the bechamel sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and top with cheese. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes and then serve steaming hot with some more greens on the side.