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...