Saturday, February 13, 2016

January round-up

A bit later than of these days I'll go less than a month between posts and not have every one be a photo-filled epic. Until then, here are the latest happenings:

Two days after DP returned from his trip, and the very day of my last post, we headed off on our annual family vacation to the coast - not to Jervis Bay this year, but further down the New South Wales coast to Tuross Head, which we loved so much we may have to switch our allegiance permanently.

Then, less than 24 hours after we returned to Canberra, it was my turn to flit off - on my annual January work trip to England - all London this time, with no chance of jaunts to Oxford or elsewhere (woe) - and Germany.

For the second year running, I celebrated my birthday in England - this year with a fancy birthday tea at Fortnum & Mason and a swanky dinner as well.

After a jam-packed week of meetings, dinners, team-building activies, and more meetings, I flew to Germany to spend a weekend and a few days in the office with my friends and colleagues in Freiburg. There was snow for sledding...

...cheese for raclette...

...and this vegetable, which we thought was a parsnip - the German name for it is "parsley root", and it appears to be topped with...parsley. C and I were so struck by this - the possibility that parsley grows parsnips, and vice versa - that we went home and looked it up. Apparently parsley root is a different root vegetable, which looks like and is closely related to parsnip, but is much more widely available in central and eastern Europe than elsewhere (probably why I'd never encountered it before).

The other notable food milestone was my first time baking a cake in Germany: a lemon cake, made by special request (basically this recipe, with  a lemon apiece - zest and juice - in batter and frosting).

I really enjoyed my trip, but I was also very glad to get back to my regular routine in Canberra - including my first Saturday-morning farmers' market run (complete with coffee and planning) since before Christmas.

More cake! For my belated birthday celebration with DP and Miss B - vanilla cake (as above) and chocolate buttercream (but with double the chocolate shown there).

So, to sum up: travel, cake, travel, cake, travel, cake. And now it's February, and Miss B has started Year 6 (Year 6! Holy hell!). We're heading down the path of another year, and the first day of autumn is just around the corner.

I hope there is plenty of adventure (or not, as you prefer) and cake where you are. More to come soon, I hope.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Christmas 2015

I'm going to go on record here and say that Christmas 2015 is not going to make my lifetime Top 10 list of Christmases. What with the sinus infection beforehand, DP leaving on the 27th for a 10-day work trip that got rescheduled at the last minute, and the emergency dental work, it wasn't quite the relaxing family interlude I had been planning on all year. I rounded off the holiday week with having the one book I found in the library confiscated at the desk because someone else had reserved it, and ruining a batch of strawberry jam. So there was some fairly epic self-pity going least until I had a conversation at the end of it that reminded me forcefully of how truly fortunate I am. And that there was some good stuff mixed in there too:

As usual, I made up goody bags for friends, neighbors, teachers, and DP's team. These ones include strawberry jam and chocolava cookies - Miss B requests these first every year when Christmas baking starts.

I finally broke out my mini-loaf pan to make some cranberry bread (like this but without the walnuts and with a dollop of maple syrup in place of some of the brown sugar).

Sugar cookies - for ease of preparation I made the dough in the food processor, formed into logs, rolled in colored sugar, and chilled overnight. Slice and bake in the morning and then all you have to do is assemble the bags. (As a side note, I finally found some cellophane goodie bags and I felt like they changed everything in terms of providing simple but elegant packaging. Highly recommended.)

Calabrian Christmas doughnuts - make the dough the night of the 23rd (a basic yeast dough, almost 1:1 flour and water with a teaspoon of yeast and a half-teaspoon of salt for every pound/half kilo); on the morning of Christmas Eve, fry in olive oil (the tradition is to try to make rings, but I usually just give up and fry blobs) and serve up hot with honey. I gave DP a box of these hot out of the frying pan to share with his Calabrian barbers - always nice to spread Christmas cheer to people you know will appreciate it!

Only the second year and it's already a tradition - the bûche de Noël. I didn't love the way the cake came out this year (I was rushing and I think I used the wrong recipe) but no one else seemed to care. Extremely decadent but in my opinion not as difficult as it looks - you can cover up your mistakes with chocolate buttercream icing or powdered sugar and it just looks more rustic and festive.

I didn't make this, but I have to share it because I thought it was so flawlessly beautiful and minimalist. It's a traditional Christmas fruitcake, made by one of DP's admin team. Since none of us are big Christmas cake fans (and neither were our two Christmas lunch guests), I left it pristine and brought it to my friend L's Boxing Day lunch to share, where it was devoured and raved over by a crowd - the proper fate for a lovingly made Christmas cake, I feel.

My lovely sisters always send care packages of goodies from the US - here's this year's haul from one of them. Note the Moscow mule mugs - specially designed just for my new favorite cocktail.

And of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without cookbooks - although when this arrived, I did wonder if it was some kind of cosmic sign that it was time to stop (despite the fact that I picked it out). Either that or living in the Midwest made more of an impression than I realized.

And that pretty much wraps up 2015 and kicks off 2016 - planning for which is under way, fuelled by coffee. Hope it is good to us all.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Another round-up

So I've gone AWOL again and come back again....Here's what I've been up to in the interim:

Went overseas for my organization's annual meeting - 10 jam-packed days in Vienna...

...mostly work, but friend M and I managed to sneak out to a cafe one afternoon and sample two famous Viennese specialities - Sacher torte and apple strudel.

We finished off the conference with a gala dinner in the spectacular Vienna Rathaus...

...and then the next day it was off to Amsterdam to another conference, this one the annual meeting of one of our partners. I had about 3 days there, and one free afternoon which featured a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, a World Cup rugby match in an Irish pub, and a wander through the streets and canals in between.

Then it was off again, for a flying visit to Boston en route to spend a week in western Mass. with my sister-in-law R and brand-new niece Miss D. I fuelled up for my drive with an Australian-style coffee from the cafe in my old neighborhood.

I was gone for nearly 3 weeks - by far my longest solo trip since Miss B arrived more than a decade ago. I got back to Canberra with spring well underway in late October, and snapped this to send back to R and lighten her sleep deprivation with a laugh.

Ten days after I got home, it was DP's turn for a road trip and my turn to keep the house running. Crumpets are a tradition now when DP goes away, and this was the best batch yet - not least because for the first time I made the dough the night before, cutting down on the yeast and stashing it in the fridge to rise slowly over night. In the morning there was no waiting, and the extra time for the dough to develop improved the flavor.

More signs of spring - some talented gardeners in our new neighborhood!

DP came back in late November, and I was off again - but this time just a 2-day hop down the road to Melbourne for our regional symposium. I managed to fit in a morning run around Carlton Gardens and captured some typically changeable Melbourne weather...

...and then it was back home to plunge into prep for Thanksgiving! We pushed our celebration back to Saturday this year to accommodate my trip, so I took Friday off to get my planning and prep organized.

And get my contributions to the desserts sorted: 3 apple pies, one small raspberry pie for Miss B, and this year's experimental pie - smitten kitchen's nutmeg-maple cream (a hit!).

As usual, I didn't manage to take any good pictures during the event itself - we had 35 people for dinner, including the 3 of us, and by all accounts a good time and a major feast was had by all, including yours truly. And I thoroughly enjoyed the post-celebration rituals as well - sleeping in, pie for breakfast, and lounging on the deck enjoying the flowers and swapping stories from the night before.

Aside from Thanksgiving, I've managed to do some regular cooking as well:

This pork larb that I mentioned about a year ago is back in heavy rotation. I don't know if you can read my scribbles, but that's basically the entire recipe - heat some oil and saute some garlic and chili, then tip in about 450g/1lb pork mince and cook. While that's cooking, mix together a sauce of soy, fish sauce, and brown sugar (I use 1 part fish sauce and brown sugar to 2 parts soy). When pork is just about cooked, chuck in a few big handfuls of spinach to wilt in the heat, then mix in the sauce. Serve over rice with a squeeze of lime juice and some chopped spring onion and herbs. (I get the rice going first and the rest of it comes together by the time the rice is cooked.)

Strawberry season is in full swing, and I've been alternating between making strawberry jam and roasted strawberry compote, shown here - basically tossing strawberries with sugar and a splash of balsamic in a baking dish, then putting into a 180C/350F oven for 45-60 minutes. I stir into yogurt, pour over pancakes, and occasionally eat straight out of the jar.

I also tried an experiment with making Russian tea cakes as a slice-and-bake cookie - delicious, but no structural integrity. They basically fell apart as soon as you picked them up. So I'll be sticking with the original shape for upcoming Christmas baking.

And finally, I'm experimenting with cold-brewed coffee - perfect for summer iced coffees and might save a bit of money too on my daily coffee shop habit!

Phew! That's all the news for now from here; hope all is well where you are too?
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