loving the new camera.
And then, after the busybusy, werkwerk-ing in NYC, we put our feet up on a Mexican beach for 6 nights.
As you do.
You know how Mexican food is kinda hip at the moment? In Mexico, it's not hip, it's just absolutely farking fabulous. Especially with a Margarita in hand. Muchos absolutely farking fabulous.
We stayed in Tulum, about 1 and 1/2 hours from Cancun which, judging by the beautiful young Spaniards whose planes arrived at the same time as ours, is party central.
Tulum is not party central, just so you know.
The Mayan ruins in Tulum may not be the best in the country, but who cares? They were magic enough for me. (Get there early would be my tip.)
On the last night we decided to do nothing, which pretty much summed up what it was we wanted from a proper feet-up holiday. Our hotel's excellent restaurant looked after us beautifully as we listened to the Caribbean lapping only a few metres from our feet, sipping at pina coladas and knocking back a Negro Modelo or two. Maybe three.
Miss the place already.
It was so unexpected, this trip, it's timing caught me off guard. I never really think of myself as a traveller, even though we move house seemingly constantly, which, now I think about it, is probably why I enjoy being in my home so very much. I didn't take many photos and you know what? I actually think that was a good thing. Less is more, and it meant I looked and truly experienced. In the MoMA one afternoon I watched people snapping all these great, affecting, extraordinary works of modern art with their phone cameras, standing back and looking not at the painting but at the screen before quickly moving on. Each time I saw it my heart sank a little more and it made me wonder what's wrong, collectively, with us.
Met some fabulous people this trip. Gorgeous faces put to well-known names, but still managed, in typical form, to avoid taking photographs of humans in one of the busiest cities in the world. What can I say? I count it as a victory.
The first two photographs in this post were taken in the Eldridge Street Museum - a synagogue, actually - in the Lower East Side. It was breathtaking and a source of santuary for the jetlagged. Lower East Side is great, guys, we adored the place, but the 'gogue...Mel's tour of that dark and light-filled place and his gentle, warm voice were in my dreams last night.
Pruned the orchard carefully one freezing winter's weekend last year, not a task I took lightly. I read book after book, practised in my head, on paper, then on an actual tree.
We took especial care of this particular apple, the one with the most delectable red fruit, dappled gold shoulders and crisp white flesh.
By October, things were looking gooood. Really good.
Then it completely stopped raining. It's been a bit of a disaster, this summer.
Well, let's step back a little. It's been difficult, but not altogether a disaster. There's been no fruit for us, as we, once again, left the fruit to thirsty rosellas and grey currawongs. It's been brutally dry and I thought they deserved something.
The vegetable garden's had some incredible successes, though. Hello, tomato-fest! Hell-oo zucchini madness! Perfect conditions for a Mediterranean vegetable garden.
I never have any trouble keeping up with zucchini. Gardeners often moan about the glut, but not me. No way. There's so much to do with them, a recipe for every stage of growth. Even those huge marrow-sized ones that lurk beneath the leaves.
My nemesis, however, remains the elusive borlotti bean. For the past three summers (and a few before that let me tell you) I have patiently pushed seed into pots of sifted compost, nursed seedlings through all sorts of conditions. Yet no matter what I do, no matter from whom I obtain seed, my dreams of freshly podded borlotti beans simmered with home-grown garlic and sage and thyme and lashings of good, green olive oil never quite come off. Until - ta-dah - the smallest but sweetest of victories this year.
They are bush variety - I'd've preferred a climber, but beggers cannot be choosers - that I sowed into jiffy coir pellet-things and there's not a lot of pod action, but at last. Success! Enormously proud of self, and all grown with scant but carefully applied watering. Next year will be the true success I dream about.
On the first day of an Australian heatwave, you shut and darken all the doors and windows of your home. Underneath the corrugated iron roof lies a layer of insulating seaweed. The hours pass in a dim and listless obscurity, until eight o'clock - or perhaps nine - when it has become cool enough outside to open up the windows. After dark, all the houses are empty, and from every garden comes the sound of quiet voices, relaxing into sociabilty.
Perhaps at midnight you carry your mattress on to the lawn, where a mass of pinky-white oleander flowers, sweeping to the ground beside you, reflect such brilliance from the moon that you must needs turn the other way...Sand and grit are everywhere, and flies of course, and no water for the garden. And all the talk is of the bushfires to the north.
When the change comes, which may be in five days, or in fifteen, the wind swings around quite suddenly, and a great freshness blows up from the sea. Doors bang and the trees bend the other way and the temperature may drop 20 ° in half an hour. Everyone collapses.
Stella Bowen, in the opening chapter of Drawn from Life.
Today's heatwave, with its bushfire-scented winds swooping through doors and windows flung open when they should have been closed early on, brought to mind this (edited) passage from Bowen's carefully crafted autobiography, read during another heatwave at the end of last year. As we sat on the verandah, worried by a severe lack of rain, drained by days of incessant heat, these words soothed, for, though written as remembrance for her 1890's Adelaide childhood, there is an odd sort of comfort in knowing they too had searing, drying summers way back then. Drought is no new condition in this country. All managed without airconditioning (as, very un-21st century, do we) and dressed in corsets and neck-high layers of fabric, no doubt. Thankfully, 110 years later, women can dress in diaphanous, loose linen.
Heat, and particularly bushfire season heat, can make for stunning sunsets. Incredible sunrises. Still, Autumn, you cannot arrive fast enough for this little black duck. We've not yet resorted to carting water in, though our neighbours have.
For some time now I’ve wanted to veer away from writing, in this space, always about food. In part it's because I now make a small, happy living from cooking, something that when the blog began 7 years ago seemed impossible, but I'm also beginning to feel an instinctive and yes, insistent pull to shift this creative focus a little, to lose some weight both physically and mentally, to calm the parts of my mind that automatically, creatively, think Food.
On Monday, during meditation, Eileen asked us to think about what we want - really, really want - way down inside. She has asked us to ask this of ourselves before in the quietness, and I often find a muddied sort of answer comes to the surface, but this week? Ka-pow. There it was in bright, glittering colours before my closed eyelids, the two things I've been actively avoiding. A wee bit spooky - although in an exceedingly good way. It was always there, that Knowing, but I'd accidentally knocked the volume button. Sheesh.
Volume back up now, thank goodness. If it doesn't work out, does it matter? Surely not, for the pleasure and learning are in the doing, not the dreaming.
We're off on a holiday to far off places over the next few weeks, and it's my sincere intention to make all of this make sense while away. Thanks, guys, for reading. Seven years next month! Thanks a bunch. What a gift you've all turned out to be. x
Maybe it was seeing the richly-iced cake at the top of my last post each time I logged on to the 'puter, or perhaps it was the huge bag of couverture chocolate staring out wantonly each time the pantry door is opened. Maybe, even, it was the typically sage advice a friend of Kathryn's shared with her, then subsequently with me, from Michael Pollan's Food Rules - that you may eat any kind of junk food you like, so long as you make it yourself.
Maybe. But over the weekend an odd, serendipitous, and most exciting thing happened. On Friday morning I opened an old, old Donna Hay book, one I've not so much as glanced at in years, and cooked her "chocolate cake for a glass of milk" - an iced, layered, and dairy-heavy affair - simply because Quentin Bacon's polaroid transfers are so damned dreamy. It's a work of Art, that book, and I'm rather glad - given it's current (ouch) price point - that I kept my copy. A few hours later, cake cooling on the sink, awaiting its ganache topping, Peter walked in the door and handed me a paper bag with a POLAROID CAMERA and two packs of Impossible film inside.
Forget the cake - it was nice, yes, of course it was - it's the camera that really made my weekend shine.
“How can you make a cake without eggs and butter?” I can’t remember how many times I’ve been asked this question. The answer, of course, is “Easy!” – Lisa Fabry
Not a question I ask often, but from time to time, one does wonder. As you do. I have eaten amazing vegan cakes when out and about, just not ever had the need to make one myself. Cake without butter is easy - Claudia Roden’s Sephardic Orange cake is a no-brainer – but a cake without eggs has me stumped. The thing is this: baking with eggs and butter is a bit of a faff, truth be told, and baking a vegan cake should, in theory, be a far simpler task. What Lisa Fabry’s new book pleasantly surprised me with was that vegan baking also just happens to require much less equipment - a lot can be done with little more than a whisk and a roomy bowl or two. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Where to begin? I chose the Chocolate Torte because chocolate anything is pretty much guaranteed to win the blokes over around here, and from the photograph it looked suitably rich. Simple to make, made simpler still by using a whisk and bowl to make the topping instead of the recommended food processor, resulting in very little washing up. Their verdict? Great soon after icing, quite nice that night, but “dry and a bit tasteless” the following, though they loved the mousse-like topping. Serve it up and demolish as soon as possible would be my suggestion. We made the Cashew Cream over the holidays and it was gorgeous with a non-vegan cake, yet I can't say we've made it since, mostly because we're not cake-and-cream people. Cake and tea, yes, but not cake and cream.
All of which does beg the question I've been um-ing and ah-ing over typing for a good 15 minutes now: if one has chosen to eschew all animal products, why try to replicate things so obviously associated with them? (I do know the answer – comfort , familiarity - so it’s rhetorical...please, no hate mail) Some of the naturally vegan desserts in here – summer pudding, vanilla poached-pears, jellies made with agar, sorbet –are beautiful desserts, divine creations, just as they are. One of those things that nags at my thoughts occasionally...
Chapters cover any- and every- thing you can imagine from cakes to cheesecakes, “Proper Puddings”, brownies (cleverly made squidgy with sweet potato puree) and soy-based custards and ice creams. Fabry’s case for an ethical, vegan diet at the beginning is convincing but it’s the detailed information on substituting ingredients that hooked me. Those with dietary intolerances are well-covered and there’s even a range of Raw recipes including a pretty damned amazing looking Black Forest Gateaux that is complicated but no doubt worth every second of its making.
I find myself a bit, well, torn. If you are a vegan this book will have you in raptures and if not - and for the foreseeable future, that’s me – the book gives excellent, truly inventive options for our friends and families who are. Fabry - a local - has a blog, by the way, so look her up and say hi: www.divinevegan.com
Available in your local bookshop, or you can head over to Wakefield Press and buy direct.
A word of caution, one I hope won’t distract, but a few recipes marked as gluten-free are, potentially, not. There is a small note made in the introduction about cornflour (cornstarch) being sometimes milled from wheat but the advice is not, I’m sorry to say, repeated. In my experience almost all cornflour is the wheaten kind and I think a note to the un-affected baker cooking for friends at the beginning of each recipe would help enormously.
These basil-wrapped hardboiled Green Eggs are perfect hot-weather picnic food, a simple little recipe inspired by Viana La Place in her latest book My Italian Garden. The recipe was bookmarked at the same time as the order for Lettuce Leaf Basil went in, and though historically a hopeless grower of basil, I live as ever in hope that, come autumn, I can try the recipe out with the correct, large-leafed variety. Know, though, that ordinary basil behaves just fine. La Place genuinely champions basic but beautiful food, and the spine of this illustrated little book sits proudly next to that of her earlier Kitchen Unplugged on the Good Shelf, the one reserved for the books a bored hand like mine reaches for almost automatically when inspiration evaporates. No matter how I try of late, bold but simple flavours are what ends up on the table in a heat-hazed summer. Fun to make, these are, I think, best made in the cool of the early morning summer kitchen.
basil-wrapped green eggs
You'll need: good quality eggs, as many as you like; salt; pepper; a nice, rich olive oil; and 5-6 big basil leaves per egg
Hard-boil eggs. (Slip eggs into a saucepan of cold water, slowly bring up to a boil. Squash a lid on tight, turn the heat off and walk away for 10 minutes.) Cool, then peel - Jules has some excellent thoughts on this process, so I'll send you over to her. Dry peeled eggs on a clean tea towel.
Slice eggs in half, top to bottom. Season each half generously with salt and pepper, then dribble over a little olive oil. Press the halves back together as best you can.
Bring a little pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the basil leaves for 1-2 seconds only. Fish out and carefully arrange them on another clean tea towel. The should be slightly - only slightly - moist.
Tear off a piece of plastic wrap. Gently wrap each egg in enough basil leaves to completely (as possible) cover. Bring the sides of the plastic up and twist at the top, an action that presses the leaves into place as you go. Repeat until done. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving with black olives.
This morning on 3RRR Bhakthi and I talked about Ian McEwan's Saturday, a book to read for the economy and grace of his language as much as anything else (and yes, there is much else). The promise of a recipe is guaranteed to keep me going in any novel; McEwan's Henry Perowne describes the process of making a bouillabaisse across 4-pages really, really sexy from a cook's point of view. I love it when a fiction writer approaches a recipe, find the freedom of not being tied to conventional home economics can be hugely enjoyable as both a reader and unconventional cook, and McEwan's own - thankfully for cooking purposes - shortened recipe you'll find right here. To make it vegetarian dump the fish and simply quarter waxy potatoes (leave that skin on) and par-boil for 5 minutes. (Oh, and use a good quality veg stock cube or powder in place of all that bone-wrangling). I would, if I had some, add in a couple of trimmed, cored and thickly sliced bulbs of fennel which I'd add just after the onions and garlic have melted. Add the potatoes as you add the wine and simmer until done.
PLUS, a bowl of every good Provencal stew needs a spoonful of rouille stirred into it - a garlicky, cayenne-peppery mayonnaise. 2 cloves-worth crushed to a paste and a teaspoon of the firey stuff should see you right if stirred into 3/4 cup of good quality bought mayo, but go on. Make it yourself from scratch.
Elizabeth David's anchovy gratin from Summer Cooking - a book I carry in my handbag all summer long - made with fresh butterflied sardine fillets in their (elusive) place is what I would eat for the rest of this summer if I could get my hands on them more easily. A simple, impressive dish to swoon over with its heatwave-friendly preparation time. It's fishy, but not over-poweringly so, coaxing out the best in an oily, tricky little fish that divides like few others. As with all Elizabeth David recipes attention to detail matters: the recipes are, generally, brief, but every word - every single comma - is chosen for its impact. The key is to prep the breadcrumbs early. The recipe below is hers, word for word, with my additions and thoughts added where appropriate. A stunner of a dish.
Elizabeth David's sardine gratin
"Several hours before they are to be cooked prepare a cupful of [fresh] breadcrumbs mixed with a cupful of chopped parsley, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and enough olive oil to moisten."
(With a garage full of garlic I upped it considerably and I'd recommend this heavy-handed approach. I also added a teaspoon of fennel seeds, some pine nuts, currants, and sliced green olives then doused the crumbs with white wine and lemon juice as well as oil, just to lighten the whole. The fennel seeds are, I think, essential but all else can be left by the wayside.)
"Arrange the boned [and butterflied] anchovies [sardines] in a shallow oiled fireproof dish. Put the breadcrumb mixture on the top, add more oil, and then cook them [for 30 mins] in a fairly hot oven."
(We criss-crossed anchovies over the sardines before scattering the crumbs and, served with freshly dug then boiled teeny tiny potatoes on the side, it was superb. Superb.)