autumn + poached quinces

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Last night, Aaron and I returned from five days in the south west countryside; namely Balingup and Margaret River. It was the most beautiful of weeks.

Despite having loose plans to do a bit of drawing, writing and design work, we spent the rest of our days doing… well, very little. We slept in, took Loki for walks, picked fresh herbs from the garden, cooked and drank wine in the dappled shade. Frosty nights were met with hand-knitted blankets, hot bread and long, steaming baths by candlelight (in a claw foot beauty, no less).

Can’t get much better than that.

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Anyway, as I was saying, we’re now back home. Despite booking a five night stay, the almost-week disappeared in a snap.

As I write, I’m back in my familiar position on our lounge room couch, fingers curled around a mug of steaming green tea. Loki reclines beside me, determinedly gnawing at a plastic bone. My computer touchpad clicks incrementally, interspersed by the sound of Aaron in the kitchen. He’s cooking noodles on our gas stovetop as I edit photographs of heaving chestnut trees and frosted windows. Not a bad deal, methinks.

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As I work, I dream. Mostly of fresh figs, plump and fragrant, sap dripping from split stalks onto my eager skin. Bush walks on cold mornings, the crunch of dry gum leaves, red dirt caking the soles of my shoes.

The week that was, and suddenly wasn’t; it’s a memory now. Halcyon days amongst the trees. Luckily, thanks to generous countryfolk, we haven’t returned from our travels empty handed.

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Over the past few days, we’ve come across a glut of fruit trees (pomegranate, quince, fig and the tiniest golden pears) and plenty of rambling woody herbs. As the house we rented had a beautifully equipped country kitchen, I had a field day with the local produce, grilling plenty of figs and cracking my own needle-spiked chestnuts to reveal their shiny brown interiors. I fried potatoes with rosemary, picked a walnut (unfortunately the feathered locals ate the rest) and roasted sweet pears with a drizzle of local honey.

But best of all, I found quince. A reclining, heaving tree of them, golden fruit draped from long, gnarled branches. With permission from our kindly host, I picked six knobbly globes (much to the curiosity of Loki, who sniffed each and every one), piling them into a wicker basket before returning to the kitchen.

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That afternoon, I made a light sugar syrup, heady with sweet citrus and star anise (inspired by the dreamy words of Heidi).

After a dinner of pesto chicken with feta and local pomegranate, Aaron and I snuggled on the couch to watch reruns of Scrubs, enveloped in a warm cloud of poaching quince.

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The following morning, we ate quince for breakfast, glistening atop old fashioned porridge. We covered the ruby gems with a blanket of cold, frothy cream and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts – autumn in a bowl.

Over the next few days, I ate a few more wedges with yoghurt, usually sitting on the timber deck amongst the trees. When it was finally time to pack for home, I tucked the rest of the ruby-hued fruit into the chiller bag against the milk, cheese and salted butter. It’s now sitting comfortably in our refrigerator, ready for warm country breakfasts over the next week.

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Although I tell myself that we’re going to savour the rest of the poached quince quite slowly and thoughtfully, to ‘keep it special’ and all that, I’m kind of kidding myself. In fact, as I finish this post, I’m craving another keen wedge covered in thick Greek yoghurt with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds…

All in all, I’m not ready for my country life to end (anyone else got a quince tree I can raid?).

Happy Autumn, folks x

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Poached Quinces

Adapted from this recipe by Heidi (which was adapted from the wonderful Stephanie Alexander’s book, The Cook’s Companion) and this recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveller

You will need a wide, lidded ovenproof pan (that actually fits into your oven; check it first!) for this recipe. 

  • 6 raw quince (~1.4kg, weighed whole and unpeeled)
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved
  • 1 cinnamon stick (quill)
  • 2 pieces of thinly peeled orange rind

Preheat your oven to 130 degrees C (266 degrees f).

Prepare the syrup: place the water and sugar into a wide ovenproof pan and bring to the boil over high heat. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla bean, orange rind, star anise and cinnamon quill. Set aside.

Prepare the quince: peel the quince. With a sharp knife, cut the peeled fruit into quarters or sixths. Carefully cut out the cores, then gently place the fruit into the prepared sugar syrup. Cover with a cartouche (see image below) then return the pan to the heat. Bring to a simmer and then cover with the lid.

syrupcartoucheTransfer the pan into your preheated oven and cook until the quince are your desired tenderness and colour (long and slow is the game. I’d suggest 5-6 hours for a medium ruby colour, 7-9 hours for soft, fragrant, deep burgundy quince). To achieve the same result as me, cook for 9 hours and then leave the pan in the oven to cool completely overnight.

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For an autumnal breakfast, we served the poached quince with some toasted hazelnuts and cream atop old fashioned porridge. However, the ruby red poached fruit lends itself beautifully to an upside down cake, crumble or tarte tartin, particularly with a dollop of cream, custard or mascarpone.

The easiest way to eat poached quince is simply in a bowl with a big spoonful of Greek yoghurt (like I did this afternoon) accompanied by crushed roasted almonds, hazelnuts or toasted sunflower seeds. So, so good.

basketStorage: this quince will keep in the sugar syrup for up to one week in the refrigerator (stored in a canning jar or airtight container). If you desire to keep your quince for up to one month, I’d suggest going with a more concentrated sugar syrup (2 parts water to one part sugar; that would be 2.3 cups sugar for this recipe). Keep the syrup once all your quince are gone, reduce it down over heat and drizzle over vanilla ice-cream. Absolutely delicious.

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ginger chai hot cross buns

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For most of my life, I’ve observed the Christian holiday of Good Friday, both through prayer and fasting (as a Catholic school girl) and afterwards, by the eating of hot cross buns. Hot from the oven, split in half and slathered in butter, soft and fragrant with a slightly crunchy glazed crust. There was nothing better after Good Friday services (the liturgy) at the conclusion of Holy Week.

For those of you who don’t have a Christian background, the latter may sound a little antiquated. After all, big supermarkets stock hot cross buns for most of the year these days due to ‘high demand’ from the general public. Well, at least that’s what Woolworths says (much to the disdain of small bakeries).

It wasn’t always this way. In 16th-century England, these buns were baked on Good Friday only as a representation of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In fact, during the reign of Elizabeth I (1592) it was considered a transgression to bake these fruited, spiced buns on any other day. The London Clerk of Markets could legally confiscate any baked products that defied this rule, common practice being to give any confiscated buns to the poor and needy.

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I badly want to resurrect this rule, particularly in regards to the supermarket duopoly. These days, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns appear in early January (amidst Australia day flags and Valentine hearts) and stay long after resurrection Sunday. You can buy Belgian chocolate buns, orange and cranberry buns, apple and cinnamon glazed or fruitless buns… pretty much any type you like, nestled cosily next to jam-filled donuts and fudge brownies.

Now, I’m not against flavour variations in the slightest (as you can see, I’ve created a variant myself) but I do oppose the fact that these variations and loose selling times are desensitizing people to the fact that there is meaning behind this ancient tradition (I’m definitely not alone). The flour cross isn’t just there to look pretty and be peeled off after toasting; it’s significant, reminiscent of the meaning behind Easter itself.

Ok, rant over.

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Back to this particular recipe post for hot cross buns. Let me start with an admission: I’m not an expert when it comes to bread. I’ve tried and failed many times over with sourdough starters, no-knead recipes, dried yeast and fermentation processes, all of which left me with rock-hard loaves of disappointment.

However, about two years ago (after eating what seemed like my umpteenth slice of chewy, dense rye) I decided to try my luck with the simplest of Italian focaccia: Italian ‘tipo‘ flour, lots of hydration, extra virgin olive oil, yeast and crunchy sea salt flakes. It turned out beautifully, baked on a pizza stone to a golden crunchy crust with a soft and airy crumb. I was inspired to try again, so I did, with rosemary and caramelised onions. Something started to make sense. It clicked.

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Now, focaccia is a very easy and forgiving bread so in the first instance, I set myself up for a win. However, it was a combination of good quality products from All About Bread in Wanneroo (purchased through Swansea Street Markets in Victoria Park), following recipes (very difficult for an intuitive cook who hardly measures) and the pizza stone that led to continued success.

That and a fair whack of good ol’ fashioned practice. It makes perfect, as they say*.

*I’m taking about yeasted baking, of course, I still have a ton to learn. Next, I’m going to reattempt spelt sourdough with some dehydrated starter from the lovely Sandra aka Lady Redspecs (thanks Sandra! I’m excited and just a little bit afraid). Her notes, alongside those from Emilie and Brydie, will form my Sourdough Bible Version IV (yep, I failed a lot).

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Now, after completely ruining any chance I had of being respected as a baker (uh, just being honest), let me say that these hot cross buns are utterly delicious. They have a soft and tender crumb, a slightly crunchy exterior and gentle heat from the chai spice and ginger.  They’re wonderful warm, slathered with cultured butter and sea salt, particularly if accompanied by a cup of steaming tea. You won’t want to stop at one.

Happy Easter, everyone x

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Ginger Chai Hot Cross Buns

Adapted from Hobbs House Bakery

Makes 16 medium buns

Dough mix:

  • 680g strong white baker’s flour
  • big pinch of sea salt
  • 70g golden caster sugar + pinch of sugar, extra
  • 80g soft butter
  • 1 tbsp (15g) chai spice (I used Herbie’s ground chai spice. Substitute any ground chai spice or traditional mixed spice)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 270ml warm water
  • 15g dried yeast

Fruit mix:

  • finely grated rind from 1 orange
  • finely grated rind from 1 lemon
  • 100g good-quality sultanas
  • 60g chopped preserved ginger (the ‘naked‘ kind, preferably not crystallised or in syrup**)
  • a little plain flour, to dust

Flour paste (for the crosses):

  • 100g strong white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • a good knob of butter
  • 100ml water

Bun wash (optional):

  • 1/4 cup of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of chai spice
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar

For the buns: Firstly, dust your dried fruit with a little flour, working it through with your hands to ensure there are no clumps of ginger or sultanas. Grate over the citrus zest and set aside.

Combine the dry yeast and warm water in a bowl, add in a pinch of sugar and leave to activate (the mixture should become clouded and frothy). Meanwhile, combine the dry dough ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture is ‘sandy’ and no visible clumps of butter remain. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and pour in some of the frothy yeast mixture. Mix from the ‘outside in’ with a wooden spoon or, if you don’t mind getting a little messy, just use your hands.

Once the dough starts to ‘come together’, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Gently work in the fruit mixture, then place your kneaded dough back into the mixing bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm, drought-free spot* for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough ball has risen nicely, tip it back onto a floured surface and punch it down with your fist. Knead it slightly to form a log, then cut into sixteen equal portions.

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In the palm of your hand, firmly shape the pieces into flat-based rounds so that they’ll sit nicely in your baking dish. Assemble the sixteen buns with a finger-width between each.

Cover the tray again with your clean tea towel and leave in a warm, drought-free place* to rise (about 30-50 minutes or until doubled in size).

Preheat your oven to 210 degrees C (410 degrees f).

Make your flour paste: Whisk together the paste ingredients in a small bowl until smooth (the mixture should be runny enough to pipe but viscous enough to not run everywhere; add a little extra water if it’s too thick). Place the mixture into a piping bag with a round, small nozzle or a snap-lock bag (as I did, if using the latter, snip off one corner of the bag to pipe). Lightly score the buns with a cross pattern, then pipe a lattice of the  paste mixture into the scored lines (I find it easiest to do all of the ‘length of the tin’ lines, followed by the ‘width’ lines).

Place buns into the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they have golden tops and bottoms (tap the surface of the bun, it should sound ‘hollow’. Whilst the buns are baking, prepare the bun wash (below).

Make the bun wash: Whisk the sugar and chai spice with hot water until the sugar is dissolved (there should be no granules at the bottom of the bowl). Using a pastry brush, generously glaze each bun as soon as it comes out of the oven.

These buns are delicious eaten warm, slathered with salted butter and (if you’re a sweet tooth) a bit of jam or honey. You can also keep them for 1-2 days in an air-tight container to enjoy at room temperature, or (my favourite) split, toasted and buttered with a cup of tea.

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Notes:

  • *if you can’t find any warm, drought-free places in your house, just switch on your oven to pre-heat, switch it straight off and then place your dough inside to rise (covered with a clean, damp tea towel). I’ve fallen into a habit of doing this at all times of the year, as it guarantees a rise each time. Tricky, I know, but it’ll all be worth it when you see your little bread children puffing up with pride.
  • **if you can’t find ‘naked’ ginger, you can use either glacé (candied in sugar syrup) ginger or crystallised ginger (candied, dried then coated in sugar crystals) in this recipe. Just make sure that you wash any extra sugar off, dry the ginger in paper towel and then dust it in flour as per the recipe. If your ginger pieces seem particularly hard or chewy, I’d probably also soak them in hot water for half an hour to rehydrate before chopping them up for the recipe.
  • Though I’ve called for chai spice in this recipe, you can easily substitute traditional mixed spice if you’ve got some in the cupboard. The main difference is the kick of black pepper, aamchur (citrusy dried mango powder) and cardamom that chai provides alongside traditional ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

australia day lamington pie

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It’s hard to believe it’s already the fourth day of February, 2016. The official last month of Summer and its long halcyon days. I’ve taken it upon myself to milk the very last drops from this season’s dwindling balmy nights, mostly by sitting near the back door as grassy breezes waft by. I’m drinking chilled Summer white, grilling fresh romaine and eating ripe stone fruit with juice dripping down my chin.

As I type, it’s nearing midday. I’m sitting on the couch in a t-shirt, barefoot, my skin tinged pink from yesterday’s sun-drenched day in the park. Yes, I know sunburn is bad. It definitely wasn’t intentional; to the contrary, I’m one who wears multiple layers of sunscreen and gravitates to every patch of impervious shade. I just have extremely low sun resistance, assumedly due to my English heritage and a distinct lack of adaptation during the 25+ years that I’ve lived in this hot climate (thank goodness that natural selection is rather antiquated amongst humans these days).

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Enough about me and my feeble freckled complexion (slip, slop, slap, you young ‘uns out there). Back to the end of Summer and its lingering sweetness. It’s actually nice to meet February, it already feels like a positive month full of fortunate (some might say serendipitous) events. It’ll be Valentines Day in a week (any of you harping on about commercialism, I don’t wanna hear it. #helplessromantic), Aaron‘s birthday right after and a celebration party for my mama bear the following weekend (she’s five years clear of breast cancer this year, yussss).

Matt and I are also finally meeting Graz next week after many months (actually, years by now, argh) of waxing lyrical about burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food. At a joint that serves burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food (of course). I can’t wait. It’s the next best thing to actually realising the glory of the hallowed ‘burger off’ challenge that we’ve been planning for a few years now (read one of Graz’s posts about it here). Next time, when I actually own a backyard, we’ll be doing it Graz and Matt. Start trembling.

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Anyway, the main crux of this post isn’t upcoming February wonderment. I want to take you back to the last week of January, during which roughly 23 million Australians celebrated something called Australia Day (I do realise and pay respect to the fact that there are mixed feelings attached to the celebration of our ‘national day’. Whilst I am not choosing to address political sentiment here, this message explains the current political standpoint).

For the majority of the population, ‘Aussie Day’ is characterised by time in the water (whether that be beach, bucket or pool), some sort of barbecue, beer, poorly executed face paint and the Hottest 100. Some also push the boat out with… well, a boat (usually in the shape of an inflatable thong).

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We were definitely no different: we ate snags, we drank beers, we sang songs and soaked in the pool ’til our skin was soft and wrinkly. Some of us visited the Skyworks, as per Perth tradition.

But our barbecue was followed by Lamington Pie.

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For those who don’t know, a lamington is a classic Australian dessert characterised by sponge cake (usually a square or rectangle) dipped in chocolate icing. The dipped cake is then rolled in dessicated coconut, occasionally sliced and sandwiched with jam and cream.

My idea to make a ‘pie’ version of a lamington this year was largely spontaneous, driven by a few types of coconut in the cupboard. In hindsight, I would’ve topped this pie with vanilla whipped cream rather than Italian meringue if I had some on hand (both for ease of construction and to channel a more ‘traditional lamington’ flavour). However, the meringue was equally delicious and stable for transportation in the January heat.

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If you’d like to replicate this pie, I’ve provided the ingredients and method for both Italian meringue and whipped cream below. As aforementioned, both versions have their advantages, though tasters of the meringue version (aka my friends at the Aussie Day party) stated that it was a little more like a ‘Bounty Pie’ than the traditional lamington cakes we scoffed as children.

If you try either version, please let me know your thoughts – particularly if you were a bake-sale lamington eater during your school days. I found that the soft chocolate layer reminded me of sticky lamington icing, particularly good against homemade strawberry jam, buttery pastry and a spoonful of cream.

To all my Aussie readers and friends, happy belated Australia day. May the last month of Summer be especially sweet.

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Lamington Pie

Heavily adapted from Emma Knowles’ Chocolate Coconut Meringue PieGourmet Traveller magazine.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:

  • 250g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 60g pure icing sugar
  • 160g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • splash of ice water
  • lightly beaten egg, extra (for egg wash)

Chocolate layer:

  • 120g desiccated coconut
  • 200g good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut nectar, to taste
  • 300 ml pouring cream (I actually used half and half sour cream and regular cream)
  • egg yolks
  • good pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam

 Italian meringue (or substitute whipped cream option, below *):

  • 220g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) water
  • egg whites
  • splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To serve: 

  • shaved coconut, toasted (optional) 

Sweet pastry: Sift the icing sugar, flour and a pinch of salt into a medium sized bowl. Add in the cubed, cold butter and rub in until the mixture reaches a ‘sandy’ consistency. Add in the egg yolk and a splash of cold water, then mix (with your hand or a spoon) until the dough starts to ‘come together’. Turn out onto a floured work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand and knead until smooth. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to rest.

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After your pastry is rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to 2mm thickness. Carefully transfer into a  4cm-deep, 24cm-diameter tart tin, pressing to fit. Trim off any stray edges and refrigerate for 1 hour (in the meantime, prepare your chocolate filling).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and remove your tart case from the refrigerator. Line with baking paper and weights (baking weights or some dried rice or beans). Bake for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove the weights and paper, prick gently with a fork. Bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until the base is light golden and starting to dry. Gently brush the half-cooked case with egg wash, then bake again for 4-5 minutes or until dark golden. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate layer: Whilst blind baking your pastry case, toast the desiccated coconut on a lined oven tray until light golden (5-6 minutes). Set aside. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside. Bring cream to the boil in a medium saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate starts to melt, then mix through. Sift over the cacao and mix again.

Whisk eggs and 1 tbsp warm water in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water until pale and thick (if you can’t control the heat of your gas or electric hob well, I’d recommend turning it off once the water starts simmering – there should be enough residual heat to thicken the eggs). Gradually pour the mixture into your chocolate and cream mix, whisking until thick and well combined. Taste, then add in coconut nectar and sea salt to your preference (bear in mind that you’ll be folding through toasted coconut). Finally, fold through the toasted coconut. Set aside until your tart case is baked and cooled.

When your tart case is cold, spread the raspberry or strawberry jam across the base. Pour over the chocolate mixture, smooth the top with a spoon and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours). Top with either Italian meringue or whipped cream (both options below).

Italian meringue: Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove sugar crystals, until syrup reaches 115 degrees C (240 degrees f) on a sugar thermometer (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Whisk the egg white, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt together with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue cooking syrup for another 3 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reads 121 degrees C (250 degrees f), then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg white, whisking consistently until thick and glossy. Cool to room temperature, if necessary, then spoon over the refrigerated tart.  Toast the meringue with a blowtorch if desired, and/or top with toasted shaved coconut. Refrigerate until serving.

*Whipped cream option:

  • 2 cups cold thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Add the cold thickened cream to the bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or seeds), then whisk until stiff peaks form (about 4 to 5 minutes). Top the chocolate layer with the whipped cream and toasted coconut, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

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A few shots from Australia Day Skyworks, City of Perth CBD:

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shaved carrot salad with orange, pomegranate and mint

plateThere’s something about the end of another year that makes one strangely contemplative. Whilst I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, I generally follow the loose aim to try to ‘be better’ as the clock ticks over to January 1.

A better wife; strong, gentle and wise. An efficient worker and homemaker. A better daughter (this one has spanned decades), generous and loyal. A better friend and sister, regardless of time and frustration. A clear representative of my faith. Just generally better than the year before.

Better. 

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Despite realising the folly of setting broad, inchoate goals (less added value, inexorable failure) the ‘reset’ has been somewhat subconscious. I mean, I don’t spend each December 31 meditating upon my failures (okay, well maybe I do to a certain degree), selecting ‘states of betterment’ whilst sitting in the lotus position.

It just happens, like a subtle alarm, the benefit of which is urgency for positive change.
ribbonsSo, on January 1 2016 at 12:59, I’m sitting under the air conditioner with a cup of steaming herbal tea (current temperature is currently 35 degrees C / 95 degrees F but I’m English and tea solves everything). I’m contemplating effective change, clearer goals and less self-depreciation, as adherence to old patterns would cast me as either a fool or a lemming.

Short term goals seem like a good idea. Achievable, smart and time limited. Michael Hyatt seems to think it’s a good idea to write them down, so I’m factoring in some blogosphere accountability (a strange concept indeed) and capping the number at three.

Goal one for this year is to secure a job (preferably) before the end of January. Being unemployed is liberating but also disconcerting in the worst of ways; I’m continually counting pennies with mounting portions of nervous energy. Please don’t be concerned regarding my self esteem or resilience. My contract ended due to economic circumstances within my organisation, not due to individual performance (golly gosh, I think I’d avoid sharing that on the internet. Please know I’m ok!). However, I’ve explained in previous blog posts that I’m a terrible overthinker and free time leads to unconstrained pondering at all times of the day (or night).

I need purpose for my cognition, posthaste.

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That leads me to goal two, interim creative projects. I’m going to use my free time (and aforementioned cognition) productively whilst waiting for the right employment door to open. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff, I’m going to exercise a little grace and appreciate each moment as it comes. It’s not exactly an epiphany, but I’m gradually realising that each juncture should be appreciated and utilised, whether it be for breathing space, rest or creativity. However long I’m waiting for a passing train.

Last but not least, goal three: finding a way to reconnect with Church. This is a rather personal goal that may only make sense to those of you who follow a congregational faith. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably familiar with dialogues surrounding Church (and organised religion in general).

I struggle with Church. I find it hard to attend one. But I know that I need to.

pombetterAnyway, as the photographs suggest, I’m posting a recipe today. Something fresh, light and healthy, perfect for hot days and balmy Summer nights. It’s a new favourite on our seasonal menu, mostly due to the innate adaptability of the recipe. Extra hungry? Add protein. Feeling exotic? How about adding some coriander and chopped red chilli?

Just use the basic dressing and carrot ribbons, then follow the core principles below:

  1. freshness – soft herbs like parsley, mint and coriander and/or fresh leaves e.g. some torn baby spinach, rocket, beet leaves or chard
  2. fruit – switch up the pomegranate for some raisins or dried cranberries soaked in the orange juice, add in some grated or slivered apple (perhaps with some chopped celery and walnuts, such a good combination), substitute mandarin for the orange
  3. crunch – substitute the almonds for some toasted, crumbled walnuts or pecans, even some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  4. optional added protein (for the extra hungry) – if you’d like to fill out the salad for a healthy light meal, I’ve added a few of my favourite protein-packed ‘extras’ below (under ‘optional add ins’).

As always, thanks to all of you for being not only readers, but friends across the seas. Wishing you a beautiful, blessed and memorable start to 2016!

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Shaved Carrot Salad with Orange, Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a light meal

  • 2 large carrots, washed and peeled
  • 2 spring onions (green shallots), topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • a good handful of washed mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 navel orange, segmented (squeeze the juice from the leftover pulp into the dressing – 1 got about 50mL)
  • a good plug of extra virgin olive oil, about 50mL
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) good quality white wine vinegar
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • a squeeze of honey, to taste (use maple syrup for a vegan alternative)
  • optional, protein-packed add ins: good quality crumbled feta (about 100g will do), Italian canned tuna, rinsed cooked brown lentils, 1 cup cooked quinoa

Using a vegetable peeler, shave long thin strips off each carrot in a lengthwise rotation. Discard the hard centre and stem. Place shaved carrot into a medium bowl with the pomegranate arils, sliced spring onions, orange segments and mint (reserve some pomegranate arils and mint leaves to garnish later. Add in any optional tuna, quinoa, beans, lentils or feta (reserve some crumbled feta for garnish).

In a jug or bowl, whisk together the orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and a little honey or maple syrup. Taste, season and adjust sweetness as required.

Pour the dressing over the salad. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes for the flavours to develop. Remove from the refrigerator and gently mix through half of the toasted almonds, reserving the rest for garnish. Use tongs to transfer the salad to a serving platter, allowing excess dressing to drain back into the bowl.

Garnish with reserved pomegranate, mint, toasted almonds, feta (if using) and a grind of black pepper.

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old fashioned porridge in the country

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It’s been a long time since I last put metaphorical pen to paper in this food diary of sorts. Too long. I’d offer excuses, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t click on this post to read about my annus horribilis (if you did, well… I’ve written previously about my elevated work stress and injuries, blah blah. Ironically, I’ve also found myself unemployed this week – one week shy of Christmas. Life, huh? It keeps on giving).

On a more pleasant note, I began writing this post two weeks ago from the confines of Green Cottage, an original shearer’s cabin in country Western Australia. Located on an 80 acre farm property, it was rough logged and tin-clad, full of cracks, dust and rusted fixings.

It was perfect, in an imperfect kind of way. The kind of place you visit to escape from cell phones and schedules. We booked the farmstay as a creative family retreat: for Aaron to draw, me to write and for Loki to… well, connect with nature as only a city dog can. It was beautiful to watch him embrace paddocks, sheep and dry horse manure with bright eyes and tousled fur. He’s tucked in beside me as I write, his little body heavy with sleep and wild forest dreams.

lokipathhaus apples

One of the main reasons why Aaron and I booked this particular cabin was the presence of an old cast-iron stove. A ‘Homesteader’, I think they’re called, with compartments for hot coals and kindling.

After booking our accommodation, I began planning meals of hot smoked potatoes, herbed damper and roasted vegetables with saffron aioli (in fact, I packed ingredients for most of these things into our vehicle, excitedly unpacking them into a mini-fridge upon our arrival). On night two, I was determined to make it work.

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Fast forward to night four: I had set off the smoke detector three times, blackening my fingers and a depleting pile of kindling. Despite multiple attempts, the only by-product of my efforts were ash and disappointment.

I eventually abandoned the ‘Homesteader project’ for the hooded gas barbecue on the front porch, occasionally relieved by an ageing microwave. Both were effective in feeding us over the course of five nights, with reduced chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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By the end of the week, we created barbecued homemade pizzas with goats cheese, artichokes and pesto, various smoked barbecued root vegetables and a barbecued garlic ciabatta loaf. I also steamed beets and potatoes in the microwave, serving both with herbs and butter.

There were no further kitchen incidents, unless you count the unauthorised consumption of two pears, one banana and Aaron’s jam donut in the dead of night. We assume the culprit was a wily rodent, though any beady eyes escaped investigation (some sad evidence towards the end of this post).

My favourite cooking experience by far was also the simplest of our five nights in the south west. We collected kindling from the surrounding karri forest, stoked a fire in the front garden and drank wine whilst the larger logs caught aflame. As the sun descended in the sky, we prepared the most beautiful, basic dinner of barbecued local Italian sausages, rosemary fried onions and warmed, buttered Manjimup bread with mandatory condiments. Oh, and a little crumbled Cheddar because, cheese.

After eating our fill, we snuggled in plaid blankets with Loki at our feet. We sat, talked and laughed until our candle died and embers flickered in quiet, inky blackness. The best kind of country evening.

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Whilst the original intention of this post was to laud the greatness of a cast-iron stove, I now admit that I’m rather inept at keeping the home fires burning… or even lighting them to start with. Despite retaining my fascination for ‘old-school cookery’, I’m more comfortable with modern heat sources which can nevertheless yield some rather old school results. I’ve produced many smoky dishes, slow cooked meals and charred crusts with the aid of a ceramic stone, gas oven, modern cooktop and good quality cookware, so rather than focusing on Homesteader cookery in this blog post, I’m praising something very old-school that can be made in any modern home: traditional porridge.

Despite being consumed for hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years by varying methodology, porridge (or oatmeal, if you’re American) can be easily recreated on a gas or electric cooktop, or even in the modern microwave. I’ve been eating it since I was tiny and despite experimenting with various commercial evolutions (such as packaged quick oats and flavoured concoctions) my traditional childhood bowl reigns supreme over all imitations: full cream, slow cooked, simply topped with honey (my mother) or blackberry jam (yep, that’s dad).

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We prepared porridge frequently during our few days in Green Cottage. Despite being summer, the weather was unpredictably cold and wet which provided perfect opportunities for warm breakfasts, scalding cups of Builder’s tea and evenings by the traditional pot belly wood burner.

The first porridge morning was Aaron’s idea, after he discovered a jar of oats in the cottage pantry. I was already crumbling some Weet-bix biscuits into my cereal bowl, so I left him to his own devices until waterlogged oats overflowed from the boiling pan. Being Aaron, he ate the oats anyway with a glug of milk and some banana. I spent a few minutes scrubbing dried oats off the cottage cooktop. The next morning dawned with a cool breeze and a request for some tips on perfect porridge. He’s been using these ever since.

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Despite being more of a ‘guideline’ than a recipe, I’ve included my default method for porridge below with suggested quantities. I’ve also listed a few porridge toppings that rock in our household, my favourite being nut butter (pure peanut or tahini) and sliced banana.

I’m quite aware that my method contradicts that of Scottish purists (who advocate for only salt, oats and water whilst cooking). Despite my Scottish surname, I’m going to come straight out and say that I use milk for the entirety of the cooking process which creates extra creamy, delicious oats. Do as you will, I say.

horses apple2Wishing you and yours a beautiful, peaceful Christmas and a blessed start to 2016. May there be plenty of porridge.

– Aaron, Loki and Laura x

My kind of Porridge

Serves 2

  • 1 cup wholegrain rolled or steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups full fat milk (either dairy or plant based, I like coconut or almond milk but Aaron prefers creamy cows milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a pinch of sea salt

to serve: dairy/plant milk or cream, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup to drizzle, ground cinnamon, fruit (sliced banana, blueberries, grated apple, sultanas, sliced figs, mango and toasted coconut), toasted nuts or seeds (I like toasted, crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds), nut butter (peanut butter with sliced banana is divine), cacao nibs, chia jam or French conserve

If you’re organised, add your oats to the milk and soak overnight in the refrigerator (in a covered bowl or airtight container). Transfer to a small, heavy based saucepan in the morning with a splash of water to loosen. If you’re pressed for time, place the oats directly in the saucepan and soak for 20-30 minutes to produce creamier porridge.

Crank your burner to medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, add a little more water to loosen and stir regularly, watching your porridge thicken and ensuring that no oats stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep adding water until the oats are soft, smooth and creamy (around 20 minutes).

Spoon your porridge into two bowls, top with a splash of plant or dairy milk and any other toppings you desire. For more inspiration, I’d suggest that you head over to my dreamy, super-mum friend Heidi’s porridge archive on Apples Under my Bed (second to my parents, she is my porridge heroine).

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sheeps

boozy cucumber, lime and chilli paletas

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Well, it’s Friday. The first Friday in June, to be exact. By now you’d be aware that my confessed intention to post on a weekly basis has gone less-than-swimmingly over the past three weeks. My last post has taunted me proudly as my free time has dissolved into a mess of work overtime, fatigue and a frightening ocular migraine that consumed most of last Monday.

Yes, an ocular migraine. On a public holiday, when my regular General Practitioner was probably enjoying a WA Day barbecue. Who knew that migraines could be painless and cause temporary loss of vision? I thought I was having a stroke… most probably a TIA, or at the very least my retina was detaching (yes, I have a touch of hypochondria which appears to be familial; thanks Dad).

But a few hours and $135 later, I found out that I was mostly fine; just tired and moderately stressed. Sorry, body. I should take better care of you.

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Anyway, enough about the negatives of the past two weeks. There have been some gloriously shiny positives, from productive side-project coffee date meetings with Aaron (SO EXCITED) to healthy gym days and a giant Mexican feast held with this blogging crew from last year.

Oh, the feast we had. It’s probably fortuitous that it takes us between twelve and eighteen months to organise each catch-up, as we definitely don’t skimp on courses or calories (chocolate-mousse-avocado -ream-lime-curd-crumbled-brownie-candied-lime-and-chilli-chocolate-soil-layered dessert, anyone?). We did scale down slightly from our elaborate Spanish feast, but I’m still bringing takeaway boxes to the next one (which might be an Indian night; anyone have a spare tandoori oven?).

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As per our previous posts, we’ve got a deliciously photo-heavy series of joint posts in the pipeline, full of recipe links and styling details. But for now? Here’s a tequila-soaked taster for you Northern Hemisphere people who are heading into summer’s warm embrace.

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Boozy Cucumber, Lime and Chilli Paletas

Makes 8

You will need: 8 x 3oz ice pop molds, 8 wooden popsicle sticks

  • 4 medium cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2.5 tbsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp Tequila
  • chilli flakes, optional

cukesprepared

Place the chopped cucumbers into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 2 minutes or until the mixture resembles a fine pulp.

Strain the pulp through a fine sieve to extract all of the liquid (push down on the cucumber flesh with the back of your hand to ensure you get all of the juice).

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Add the caster sugar and cayenne, then stir until all of the sugar is dissolved (you should no longer hear sugar granules scraping at the bottom of the bowl). Add the Tequila and stir thoroughly.

juice mix

Distribute the mixture between 8 clean paleta (popsicle) molds. Sprinkle in a few whole chilli flakes for decoration (optional). Carefully transfer into the freezer, ensuring the molds remain upright. Freeze for at least 1 hour before placing a wooden popsicle stick into the centre of each paleta (if you have an ice pop maker with a lid that holds the sticks in place, feel free to place the sticks in straight away).

Allow to freeze for at least 12 hours, or preferably overnight (the alcohol in these paletas significantly slows the freezing process. Don’t be tempted to unmold these paletas before they’ve had a good amount of freezing time, or you’ll be left with a cucumber and lime slushy).

To serve, run the paleta molds briefly under hot water. Firmly pull each paleta out by the wooden stick (yeah, I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but anyway…).

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last days of summer + pet-friendly holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe – Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

crewpizza

Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

beers chips

Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

azlokibeach

picnics and caramelised onion foccacia

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I’m a big fan of picnics. Particularly during the summer months when the warmth of the sun lingers long after her brightness has faded.

On the balmiest of nights, we can often be found on the shores of City Beach with a basket, Esky (the Australian word for cooler or ice box), swimmers and (on the odd occasion) a battered volleyball. Quite Australian indeed.

sunset picnic

In fact, amongst our friends (and many others) this tradition also occurs on most Australia Day holidays, usually accompanied by barbecued meat and the Triple J Hottest 100. We’ll possibly do the same this Monday (for overseas readers, Australia Day falls on the 26 January each year) or alternately, dunk ourselves in a swimming pool whilst sipping a cold beer. I can’t wait.

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For those of you planning an Australia Day feast, I’ve included a few recipe links below that are perfect for warm weather snacking, feasting and transporting. There’s also a quick recipe for what I’ve found to be a fail-proof olive oil focaccia.

We eat on its own (the herby, garlicky caramelised onion topping is delicious), with dips (hummus, olive oil, babaghanouj) and sliced lengthways for incredible grilled sandwiches. It’s so, so good.

Salads:

Dips:

Snacks/Antipasto:

Dessert/Sweets:

Drinks:

focaccia

Olive Oil Focaccia with Caramelised Onion Topping

Adapted from this recipe by Kerrie Sun

Makes one loaf

For the dough:

  • 450g (3 cups) strong bread flour
  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) warm water
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp extra for kneading + greasing pan
  • 2 tsp flaked sea salt

Topping:

  • 1 small red (Spanish) onion, finely sliced
  • small bunch rosemary and thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil + extra 1 tbsp to brush
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place the flour and half of the sea salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture alongside 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix the wet yeast mixture into the flour using a fork or wooden spoon, then use your hands to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth, soft and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl (I used the same mixing bowl, wiped clean) and transfer the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, then leave to prove in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size*.

Whilst your dough is rising, prepare your caramelised onion topping: in a medium pan, gently heat a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add in the sliced onion, garlic and picked herbs, stirring gently over low heat until the onion is translucent (do NOT allow the garlic to brown or burn or the mixture will become bitter). Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Brush a 20 x 30 pan with remaining oil, then set aside.

Punch down the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly greased surface and knead for another two minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to original size. Press out into a rough rectangle and transfer into your prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough has finished proving, uncover and use your fingers to press dimples into the surface. Distribute the caramelised onion topping over the surface, pressing some of the herb sprigs into the dough. Sprinkle with a little flaked sea salt.

Transfer into your preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden (the foccacia should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Brush with a little more olive oil to soften the crust, then leave to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Dough can be refrigerated overnight at this point in the process, covered in plastic wrap. You may need to complete second proving in the oven to ensure a good rise (I turned the oven on, preheated it to 100 degrees then turned it off. Leave to cool slightly then transfer your pan of dough onto the centre rack), covered in a moist tea towel. Prove until the dough has doubled in size. 

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To all the Australian readers, happy Australia Day weekend. For my overseas friends, stay warm – I hope this post brings you a sliver of sunshine.

and so this is (almost) christmas

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It’s just clocked past midnight on Tuesday, December 23, 2014. I’ve spent this evening buying groceries, wrapping presents, detangling my dog from a length of red-and-white string and… well, mostly just wondering where this year has gone.

It’s exactly two days until Christmas; nine until the dawn of two thousand and fifteen. Rather strange, considering that it’s now half-of-my-life-past-the-millennium. Man, I’m old (and my school uniform is still in one of mum’s cupboards. Oh dear. But I digress).

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CHRISTMAS. Ah, Christmas. As per many other blogging friends, I’ve spent most of the month intending to write more holiday-specific posts and accomplishing very little. I blame work, accumulated stress and residual lethargy from a persistent cold.

But mostly? It’s procrastination. Long summer nights lead to a very laid back attitude, sticky skin and consequential reluctance to turn on the hot gas oven.

“Maybe tomorrow night,” she says, whilst sipping water from an ice-filled glass. Tomorrow is inevitably hot. The pattern continues.

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Anyway, as you may be aware, this month hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve baked a beautiful glazed ham as well as some mince pies from a few years back (recipe here, please excuse the non-DSLR photos).

I’ve also eaten many homemade pizzas (and some AMAZING cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers made by my friend Erin) and sipped beer by the glow of a hot barrel fire.

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I also spent part of sunday watching Jamie Oliver season his free-range turkey (the original Jamie’s Christmas is from 2005, what!) whilst eating seasonal fruit and drinking herbal G&T’s.

Oh summer, you are grand.

fruit

But back to Christmas (dis)organization.

I’m sorry to admit that we still have no Christmas tree. I failed dismally on the ‘international Christmas card’ front, too (sorry everyone, I do love you) and my box of stamps is losing stickiness by the month. Good thing I can cook or I might have been scratched off some Christmas lists by now.

Buuuut… summer barbecues need salads and I’m kinda good at them (whoever said that you don’t make friends with salad was wrong. Just saying).

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loki

Anyway, this post wasn’t intended as a page-long whinge about my poor Christmas planning skills (or Christmas itself; I do love this time of year and the ability to appreciate our families and the immeasurable gift of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world).

Rather, I wanted to wish you (my amazing followers, collaborators, family, friends and readers – most of you are combinations of these!) a wonderful festive season and a peaceful start to the new year.

Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and downs of travel, homesickness, sporadic recipe posting and commenting for another year. Your friendship, critique, humour and encouragement means more than you’ll ever know.

I’m praying for blessings, peace, creative inspiration and strength as one year ends and another begins.

MERRY CHRISTMAS + a HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Laura, Aaron and Loki x

cranberry and orange glazed ham

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Despite his many (many, many) redeeming qualities, Aaron’s not really the textbook romantic. Flowers, moonlight walks, date nights and the like… well, they’re not his thing.

I get that – I’m just building a picture here, not complaining about absent romanticism. Not everyone finds authenticity in bunches of long-stemmed roses or shiny pieces of jewellery; there are other ways to demonstrate love. But with that in mind, you can understand how excited I get on the odd occasion when he does make an effort to appease his soppy wife. Like a picnic he planned in the second year of our marriage.

A Valentine’s Day picnic nonetheless.

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It was a balmy February afternoon. I had just returned home from work, quietly exhausted with little expectation of intrigue. I was greeted with a mischievous smile and the smell of fresh-baked bread from a wicker picnic basket. We drove to the beach, lay on the grass and ate cured meats, strawberries and cultured butter. As the night grew cold, we wrapped ourselves in fuzzy wool and sipped red wine with icy fingers.

I remember every detail from that night, from pebbles under my feet to the music playing in our car on the way home (Bon Iver, if you’re wondering). I also remember the scent of the skip bin as I climbed in to retrieve our best cutlery (accidentally thrown out as Aaron cleaned up. Ah, bless him).

Now, I’m not just spinning sweet allegory on a Sunday morning whilst teasing you with baked ham. Aaron bought most items for our Valentine’s Day picnic from The Boatshed market in Cottesloe (I’m obsessed with that place). Beneath a happy tumble of sourdough, French butter and Gorgonzola (he knows me well) was a jar of vibrant green pesto. The best jarred pesto I’ve ever tasted, in fact. In the moonlight I took very little notice of the label itself but after returning home (and climbing out of the skip bin) I made a mental note that has since remained.

Roza’s 100% natural, gluten-free Traditional Pesto, fresh-made in Brisbane. I’ve been buying it ever since.

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My infatuation with the traditional pesto led to staunch enthusiasm when I was approached to try a few other items from the Roza’s Gourmet Sauces range this week. In particular, a seasonal Cranberry & Orange Sauce with brandy-marinated orange rind.

After popping the lid, I can honestly vouch that this stuff is good. I’d eat it straight from the jar, smeared onto dark rye with a chunk of double brie. But as it’s one week shy of Christmas, I thought it’d be an opportune time to experiment with a seasonal favourite – glazed ham.

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So, yesterday morning. I woke with fragrant dreams of sticky cured pork, sizzling scored fat with a caramelised cranberry glaze. After eating some breakfast, I removed the pork rind, ran a knife through the fat and pricked each diamond with a scented clove.

Now for the good part: I smothered the scored fat with a thick layer of cranberry, orange and balsamic glaze. The end result was better than I could have ever imagined; deliciously moist, sweet meat with crunchy bits of caramelised cranberry, dark vinegar and bitter orange. I was stealing bits straight from the roasting tray.

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This recipe will definitely be a keeper in our family for years to come, but if you’re pressed for ingredients? I’d be happy for you to just douse your ham with the jar of Cranberry & Orange Sauce (obviously, you still need to prepare the meat before hand – sorry folks – and add half of the sauce before putting the meat in the oven and the rest half-way through the cooking time). The brandy-marinated orange rind and sweet, whole cranberries are already beautifully balanced.

A perfect addition to your Christmas table (and mine).

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

Serves 8 – 10

You will need a large baking tray with a rack for this recipe.

  • 6kg cooked leg ham
  • 1 x 240g jar Roza’s Cranberry & Orange Sauce
  • 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 tbsp)
  • large handful of cloves

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan forced, 350 degrees f). Place the ham on a sturdy cutting board. Use a small, sharp knife to carefully cut through the ham rind about 8cm from the shank.

Run your thumb under the rind to separate it from the thick layer of fat. Carefully peel it back, making small cuts with the knife if the rind sticks too tightly. Peel back and remove the rind, then discard.

Score the fat in a shallow diamond pattern (don’t cut all the way down to the meat or the fat will melt and spread out during cooking). Press one clove into the centre of each diamond.

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Cover the shank end of the ham with foil to prevent burning.

Combine the Roza’s Cranberry & Orange sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange rind in a medium microwave safe bowl. Heat for 20-30 seconds, stirring regularly, or until thinned (squash any large whole cranberries with the back of a spoon).

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mipbetter glaze2

Place the ham over the wire rack, then spoon half the cranberry sauce mixture over the ham, using a pastry or basting brush to ensure even distribution.

Bake for 30 minutes, then use a spoon and pastry brush to baste the meat with the remaining cranberry sauce mixture (make sure you get the glaze into any cracks that have opened in the scored fat). Cook for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the fat is sizzling and the glaze looks caramelised.

cutfave jar

Serve warm or cold, thickly sliced with salad and buttered bread. Or, as I’ll be doing this year – as a beautiful part of a Christmas banquet.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a sample of Roza’s Gourmet Sauces Cranberry & Orange Sauce for the purpose of recipe testing. However, I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

table

With The Grains

Whole Grains, Words and Wanderings by Quelcy

Cashew Kitchen

vibrant food. quiet soul. wild at heart.

Brooklyn Homemaker

modern classic recipes, story telling, and a little bit of history. Oh yeah, and schnauzers.

better than a bought one

as homemade should be

Chompchomp

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