Posts Tagged ‘food’

The Four F’s of Christmas

December 14, 2013

Ah, the season of good will, the celebration of the arrival of the Messiah, or a very naughty boy; the time for excess and extravagance. Yes, Christmas is upon us with all its glories and terrors. I’m sure we can recall some shockers from the dark recesses of our past, but let them stay there: lingering to remind us what not to do, what to avoid. This year, my dears, as I appreciate my abundant life I am focusing on four simple things: family, forgiveness, food and fun.

pink treegreen tree

Family, which does include the sub-set of friends for this post, is the centre-piece of Christmas. In a chat in my new (and normal) staffroom it’s clear we’re all spending the bulk of the Christmas holiday (Christmas Eve to Boxing Day) with our families. It’s a time for gathering together, for traveling to a centre point where we spend a few days together, kicking back, relaxing: being a family. We catch up, chat, laugh, eat and drink. We pair off for a while, help in the kitchen, take the dog for a walk. It’s a time to be in the heart of the people you love the most, the ones who love you as you are, just as you love them as they are.

family

The spirit of Christmas is strongest in the heart of your family – as long as you make it happen, as long as you don’t take them or being together for granted. And don’t forget those who are far away – make sure they know you’re thinking of them too. Which of course is so much easier these days with the ubiquitous Face-Book and the lovely Skype.

family2

 

Forgiveness is perhaps more relevant to me this year than in previous Christmases. But a year of tumbling down, of troubles and worries, of struggles and sadness; of people near and far acting aggressively and maliciously I come to Christmas knowing forgiveness is the right choice. Carrying the anger and frustration and pain of injustice from others does me no good. It won’t be doing you any good either. People are thoughtless: those you despise and those you love too. You are as well. So, as in the prayer, forgive others, as you would have them. It lightens your load, it lightens your life. It will stop Christmas exploding into anger and sadness. (Picture is not related to topic, just a nice one of my girls hugging and Terry)

forgiveness

 

Food is my favourite part of Christmas. For many years I have been queen of the kitchen, presiding over my dominion with pretty much absolute and imperial authority. I do take requests and I do consider others, but I am the one who decides, the one who does, the one who presides. Now, it is a bit tiring but I love it. I like the run up, the looking in the supermarket for what’s possible, reading new recipes, making my lists, stocking up and the timing and doing. Not to mention the eating. Oh, yes, dear friends, as my pictures denote, I am a devotee of food. Cook it and very much, eat it.

This year we’ll be enjoying roast pork, turkey leg and breast roll with stuffing, baked spuds and seasonal veggies, carrots, brussell sprouts, Yorkshire puddings (a new arrival, on request this year) apple sauce, gravy; egg and bacon pies, little cheesy biscuits, corn fritters, mars bar cheese-cake and my tropical punch designed to drink all day to make you mellow, not fall over before lunch. Oh, and we’ll have a big eggs and bacon breakfast. Possibly too much, but what the hell, as long as there’s left overs for Boxing Day, all is good.

food

Fun is of course different things to different people. In the golden olden days when my beloved and I were young, it was the afternoon in the pool with glasses of the aforementioned punch the kids and friends before we spent an evening playing a very enthusiastic game of Trivial Pursuit. For many Boxing Days I would watch the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race with my dad and glass of bubbles and a plate of left-overs. Sadly that won’t happen again.

fun

Now we indulge in Charades, which took my daughter’s boyfriend some time to come to terms with; we play Articulate, sometimes Scrabble, but always in teams. We walk the dog, we sit and talk, we tease each other and laugh into the night, and given how bloody cold it is at this time of the year in this silly country we, don’t go outside much at all.

fun2

There are, naturally other F’s of Christmas, but I might leave that to your fertile imaginations. Happy Christmas to you all, be safe and take care of those you love most – you can never be sure how long you’ll have them. (Pictures from Private Collection)

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Smells that do you good

October 26, 2013

A brief discussion of an oft overlooked sensual pleasure that’s actually guilt free and essentially free – it’s the smells, the aromas of life, all around us that make us feel good. You know when you sometimes get that sudden unexpected lift in your day and you look around and realize you’ve just walked by a café or a bakery, or sniffed someone damn fine strolling by. Yes, that sort of thing- smells that do you good.

 

Food related smells – freshly brewed coffee, fresh bread, toast (you cannot over-rate the pleasure that toast wafting on the breeze, or air-con brings, a comfort and simple reassurance that the world is okay), a ripe tomato, blue cheese, roast meats, eggs and bacon, frying onions (a favourite in my house), garlic and ginger, a good home made curry, warm soup and a Bundy and Coke – the only way to drink rum.

 

Outdoors, the nature bits – newly mown grass (that’s usually one to take you back to some of your happier childhood days); roses and other fragrant flowers; being surrounded by trees in an old growth forest if you’re in Oz – the world smells both fresh and old all at the same time; the beach, especially the smell of salt on the spray from the sea; newly baled hay in fields and barns.

forest

 

Tropics – a specific topic because the smells there are so specific and over-whelming – tropical gardens with frangipani and ginger; a Dry morning where you can smell the crispness and coolness in the air; a Build Up day where the smell of oppression and heat smothers you; the rain smells different here, strong rain, rain bouncing off the asphalt, rain cleaning and cooling everything so you can breath again and smell the freshness and wonder of the tropics.

darwin heliconias

 

Other smells – this is where your own chemistry and preferences come into play- things like your baby, especially their head when they’re new, your partner – it was their smell that rang your chemical bells and made them so madly attractive (does it still?). Perfumes – for me it’s Estee Lauder Youth Dew, Channel No 4, Opium (showing my age!). Clean shampooed hair, aromatic candles, sandalwood incense, clean sheets, the smell of the Laundromat and finally for me, my dog – his doggy aroma pervades the house and my senses and makes me feel the world is a good place, be he dry or wet, or bit extra fragrant his is the smell that does me most good.

 

So, over to you – what smells herein do you accord with and what are your own specials sensations that tickle your schnozz and make you feel better?  (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

6 Reasons Why Chocolate is Always the Right Thing

January 19, 2013

Do we really need reminding why chocolate is one of the best things in the world? Really, you do? Alright then, six reasons to be going on with…

1.It’s good for you – yes it is, something in it is good for the brain, the darker the better when you suffer from darkness (depression) yourself

choc heart waterfall

2.It’s convenient – to buy as its sold in all its variations absolutely everywhere

dairy milk

3.It’s convenient  – to eat, on the train, in the car, in bed, after dinner, even (although I do baulk at this myself) for breakfast

loose chox

4.It can be shared – break off a piece of dairy milk, a chunk of Toblerone, pass your birthday box of chocs around – everyone will love you even more

truffles

5.You can have as much or as little as you like and these days of 5:2 dieting it can count as diet food as well (why not??)

chox & roses

6.It makes you happy – just the smell, the crinkle of the wrapper; the knowledge that there’s a bit of chocolate in your drawer at work, in a secret place at home – not to mention the taste, the joy of that smooth silky stuff on your tongue.

i love you chox

Yes, chocolate is joy in one of its simplest forms, so indulge – life is too short to live a moment longer in a chocolate free zone. (Images courtesy Google Images)

6 Joys of Christmas

December 22, 2012

It is only right to reflect on Christmas as it is but days away. What does it mean to you? What do you enjoy most about the festive season? Or do you dread it; another dreary day devoid of love, companionship, nary a wisp of joy?

Well, I really do quite like Christmas; it is a time for family and friends, for gathering together, for chilling, eating, drinking and playing silly games. It is a time to be with the ones you love, some of them, all of them. It’s a time to remember how fortunate you are. And, my friends, despite some of our struggles and woes, we are fortunate.

There was a time when Christmas was a day to be avoided, a day of duty and best behaviour, a day when alcohol brought out the worst in my family, because the pains of the past were only papered over so too much enforced togetherness and cheerfulness meant one of us (at least) was bound to lose the plot and blood was invariably spilt. But those days are long gone.

For years now it’s been us and our friends, doing what we want in our own way, making our own traditions. Once it was tropical hot Christmases, with the play-pen guarding the presents; punch that lasted all day; roast pork, corn fritters and salad, roast potatoes and egg and bacon pies; an afternoon in the pool, the evening playing Trivial Pursuit. Deliciously drunk, happily shouting out the answers, while the kids veged in front of The Land Before Time or The Last Unicorn for the seventh time.

wrapping mess

 

We’re a little pared back these days, less extravagance in the present department; less drinking, less friends around. But the joys of Christmas remain. Let me count the ways for you:

1. Buying presents for others is delicious – of course it’s different now with the plethora of on-line opportunities and bargains; you can window shop all hours of the day. But going to the shops is still fun, finding something unexpected and sparkly and just right for…

presents

2. Wrapping presents is good fun – despite it being the epitome of an ephemeral task – wrapping a present carefully with prettily decorated paper that lasts a ‘moment’ only to be ripped off and thrown away in a second. But my properly grown up daughter (22) still loves to poke and prod and crush presents as much as she did when held at bay by the aforementioned play-pen. It’s a simple thing that you enjoy doing and then watching others poke and finally unwrap the treasure within.

opening presents

3. Writing Christmas cards is good for you  – a little token of your esteem with a personal message wishing people well or thanking them for their efforts, or just for being in your life. Selecting a card that suits your friends, writing a message just for them makes you feel good. As with presents, it matters not that you receive in return; it is the giving that matters. You feel better for making the effort and they appreciate your effort. It does bring smiles to people’s faces. The thought does matter.

cards

4. Decorating the tree must be a moment of joy – does it go in the same place every year? Does the tinsel go first, when the lights? Who puts the star or angel on the top? These things matter, these are the things of tradition and good times. Our tree has always gone up on the last day of the term. It used to signal the end of a long school year, successfully navigated, the long summer holiday ahead. Now it’s the end of the long winter term and small breath before we return to the fray. The tree in the corner of the room with presents gathering at its feet is always a fine sign. And yes, I have a pink tree this year!!!

my pink tree

5. I love baking and preparing for the big day. My family now expects… So mid afternoon after a breakfast of eggs and bacon we have little egg and bacon pies, roast pork and apple sauce, some turkey, a small ham, roast veggies and, most importantly, corn fritters (see recipes blog). I will make a lemon-jelly cheesecake (see recipes blog) and there will be little cheesy-parmesan biccies too. In the kitchen I am queen, even if it isn’t my uber-fab kitchen on the other side of the world. Oh, yes, and the food does taste good, especially with champagne and Cointreau punch.

corn fritters

6. I just love being with my family, even though my kids are grown and the thrill of Santa has gone. There was the famous incident in the passage of the Darwin house, when the Dragon met me in the night and was aghast that he had disturbed Santa and me worried that he had seen me put the presents under the tree and knew I was Santa, well before that illusion should have been dashed. Only years later did we reveal who we really were in the night!

 

Christmas is many things to many people and once it was about Jesus and miracle births and singing in church but now it’s about the miracle of being alive and being grateful for my life, for shutting away the shadows and being in the light and warmth of my family this particular day of the year.

my family

Enjoy your festive season: be good to yourself and the ones you love this Christmas and every day of the year. And if you can manage it, forgive those who have sinned against you this year, because they will not have the joy in their lives that you have. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Camembert Chicken for Cheats

July 21, 2012

This is based on an old recipe from a Women’s Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook. They use whole chickens and do complicated things with re-cooking and skin. This is the pared back version. Simple, easy and very delicious. Use as the main for a special meal or as a centre-piece for a larger spread.

 

Ingredients

600-800 grams of skinless chicken breasts

250 grams of Camembert

1-2 cloves of garlic

150-250 grams of slivered almonds (depends on desired level of crunchiness)

Soft white bread to make into crumbs – I use soft rolls – fresh is best

60 grams Butter  – approx, use more if needed

Prepare

Tear rolls into crumbs, make sure almonds are crushed down to crumbs too. Add butter to pan and toss bread and almonds until nicely toasted. You may need more butter to ensure even toasting and no burning of the bread

Cut garlic into tiny slivers or use garlic press

Cut chicken into strips – not too thin or they will cook too quickly and be tough

Cut Camembert into cubes or slices, as you prefer

 

Assemble

Using a glass or ceramic baking dish arrange the chicken across the dish, making sure there are no gaps between pieces

Sprinkle garlic across chicken – you may want to press it firmly into the chicken

Arrange Camembert across the top of chicken and garlic

Cover Camembert with toasted almond and bread crumb mixture – press down lightly

 

Cook

In pre-heated moderate over (200c) for 35-40 minutes. Keep your eye on the baking as you don’t want the crumb mixture to burn – ruins the taste of the whole thing! Note: the garlic taste can be very strong.

Serve with salad and new potatoes, or beans, carrots and baked potatoes. Tis a lovely meal no matter what time of the year. (Images from Private Collection)

Don’t Eat the Bees – eat chocolate instead

June 22, 2012

I am home alone for the first time in many a long year. It will be thrilling and daunting – so many years living with others, I’m not sure how well I’ll function as a solo unit. I have made my plans – some cleaning, some socialising, more reading – for the ever present PhD and some writing – because I am, I write.

I have also allowed for some indulgences. I will allow myself a little wine again, a small bubbly treat, perhaps once a week.

 

I will consider chocolate. I must consider chocolate because, unlike  Manny left alone by Bernard, locked in the shop with only a bottle of Absinthe, I will not eat the bees.

 

Let us consider chocolate as the solo girl’s friend, as comfort and support in her lonely evenings.

I could have one Ferrero Rocher a day.

 

I could have a strawberry Freddo Frog on the home-going train

 

I could have strawberries dipped in chocolate on Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I could eat a whole Toblerone in a weekend

 

I could eat a box of Guylian Shells on a Friday night with my Moet.

 

But, dear reader, I will not. In the absence of my beloved I will not fall off the diet wagon and indulge my chocoholic fantasies. I will consider the bees. But most likely ignore them too. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Corn Fritters – for any and all celebration meals – Jubilee on

June 2, 2012

If there is one recipe that my family adores it’s this one. Absolutely de rigueur for any celebration or event at our house, corn fritters rule our waves. So in respect of the weekend celebrations for the old Queen (for any queen really) try this – easy, relatively quick and sure to please.

 

Ingredients

1 cup plain flour

2-3 eggs

½ cup of cream

½ cup milk

1 large tin of sweet corn kernels – drained

½ cup chopped spring onions – 2/3 bunch – more or less depending on your taste

½ cup grated cheddar cheese – vary the amount and the strength to suit taste – be wary of too much cheese, it can overwhelm the mix and stick during cooking

oil for cooking – I use sunflower

 

Process

1. Sift flour into large bowl

In separate container (measuring jug is good here) mix together milk, cream and eggs so mix is runny and combined

Add mix to flour – beat in until smooth – consistency for pancakes, removing all flour lumps

Mix in spring onions, corn and cheese

Mix should be smooth and fluid, but not too runny otherwise it won’t form easy fritters in the pan – add a touch more flour if too runny, but only a bit at a time or mixture will end up too rubbery

 

2. Heat omelette pan, skillet, or similar, add 1-2 desert spoons of oil

Add mixture to pan – dropping desert spoon size dollops for each fritter

When uncooked side is bubbling slightly turn over, press slightly and cook until golden brown

You may need to re-sprinkle some oil during cooking – make sure pan heat remains constant or mix will burn

3. Drain on kitchen paper

Eat soon after cooking for maximum taste and enjoyment

Makes 30-40 depending on size of fritter

 

4. Serve as part of main meal or as pre-dinner appetiser

Honestly, your family will love these! (Images from private collection)

The Joy of Making

May 29, 2012

I write a lot about joy and finding ways of being happy in this world. One of the best ways is through making things, of using your hands to create. Ringo Starr was mocked this week due to his un rock star like utterance about the joy of growing vegetables, but it is germane to my point this blog.

Doing things with your hands is wonderful, making things with your hands makes you feel good: it brings you joy.

I came upon the idea of food being made with love when I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (well before it was made into a movie). I was taken by that idea that love goes into food preparation. Feeding others should be an act of love, of caring for others – whether it’s dinner for the family or entertaining friends. Something cooked by you is infinitely better than bought made from the shops. In fact why have people over if you’re not going to cook it yourself?

Making things for others is an act of joy, wether it is cooking or sewing or making a card or birthday cake. Growing vegetables or fruit in your garden and sharing them with family and friends is an act of making that brings joy to others.

Making for the sake of making or making for yourself is simply a wonderful thing to do. Making is using your hands to create. Using your hands is a primal thing to do – like reaching into the earth to prepare the way for seedlings for flowers or food. Using your hands to knead bread, chop garlic, beat eggs, shape hamburger patties, shape and carve wood connects you to a more essential way of being. Using your hands connects you to truthful things in life.

We can’t all be artists but many of us can be fine craftsmen – we can make a dress, knit a jumper, make a candle, paint a picture, create a garden bench. Many of us indulge in these pastimes as hobbies, enjoying being creative, enjoying making something for ourselves.

Being admired for our skills is a bonus. The making – creating of things is where the joy is. Go on, do something with your hands. Build a boat, grow roses, paint your own walls, knit a scarf, cook a cake from scratch following an ancient recipe.

I promise, you’ll feel so good, so full of joy you’ll wonder why you left it so long to discover such a simple pleasure. So, this coming break make something from nothing, from raw materials: make something with your own hands. (Images from Private collection – from Top – raw silk lined coat, lemon jelly cheesecake, quiche lorraine, over-sized man’s jumper, Pal’s craft – wax candle, paper penguin, clay Garfield, star waistcoat, scarf in progress)

Recipe Time – Thai Chicken Curry

May 19, 2012

This recipe comes from my sister-in-law, as prepared and cooked by delightful daughters – eldest one when she was at home, now the baton resides with beloved baby girl. This is our Saturday night treat. A light style aromatic curry – good for those who thrive on flavour not heat.

All up it takes about an hour from start to finish.

Check out the power point for pictures of the process (PP done for GCSE Speaking & Listening presentation – you might find the facts slide interesting!)

Girl meets Curry

Ingredients

4 pieces of chicken breast (skinless)

100g Fine green beans

3-4 Boiled potatoes

2 Garlic cloves

Knob of ginger (small)

1 Onion

200ml Coconut milk / cream

½ Chicken stock cube

1 tsp of the following: Cayenne Pepper; Ground Coriander; Cumin; Paprika; Turmeric – mixed in 100 mls of warm water

 

Process

1. Peel and chop potatoes – cook until tender but not falling apart

2. Top and tail beans – cook until tender

3. Mix spices and stock cube together in water, leave til later

4. Chop ginger, garlic and onion – fry till golden brown

5. Chop chicken – add to cooked ginger-garlic-onion mix. Saute until chicken is lightly browned all over – not too long as you want the chicken to be tender

6. Add mixed spices to pan, stir in, leave simmering slightly for 2 minutes

7. Add cooked and drained potatoes and beans to mix – stir through

8. Add coconut milk – possibly a smidgen bit more water to help the consistency of the mixture. Stir through thoroughly, leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally

9. Cook rice in your normal way, while curry is doing its simmering thing

Serve curry over rice. Serves 4 adults.

Enjoy

Indulgences – Mars Bar Cheesecake

April 6, 2012

The first in an occasional series of much loved and reliable recipes from my international kitchen (meaning both international recipes and things that have been cooked across the world, little old internationalist moi).

Mars-bar Cheesecake

It’s best to make this the day before you intend to serve it. It takes about 45 minutes to prepare everything up to the refrigeration stage. It is rich and indulgent, a bit fussy to make but well worth the effort.

Ingredients

250g plain chocolate biscuits, although choc chips & nicer choc bix add to the mix;

150 g butter, melted + 20g butter, extra;

2 tablespoons brown sugar

300 ml thickened cream – essential, otherwise you’ll be beating forever

50g milk chocolate, chopped finely

5 teaspoons gelatine

60ml (½ cup) water

2x250g packs of cream cheese, softened

½ cup (110g) caster sugar

3x 60g Mars bars, chopped finely

1. Blend or process biscuits until like fine breadcrumbs. Add butter and process until just combined – more butter is better than less, as is more mixture. Press mixture evenly over base and side of 20cm spring-form tin. Refrigerate for at least 30 mins

2. Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, extra butter and 2 tablespoons of cream in a small saucepan, stir over low heat until sugar dissolves – to make butterscotch sauce

3. Combine the chocolate and 2 more tablespoons of cream in another small saucepan and stir over low heat until chocolate has melted – chocolate sauce

4. Sprinkle gelatine over the water in a small heat-proof jug; stand jug in small saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the gelatine dissolves – cool for 5 minutes

5. Beat cheese and caster sugar in a medium bowl with electric mixer until smooth. Beat the remaining cream in a small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form.

6. Bring it all together by stirring the slightly warm gelatine mix into the cheese mix, add chopped Mars bars, fold in the beaten cream

7. Pour half of the cheese, cream and Mars bar mixture into the chilled crumb case.

8. Drizzle half of the butterscotch and chocolate sauces over the mix and using a skewer or sharp knife swirl the mixtures through to create a marble effect.

Repeat the process with the remaining cheese mix and sauces. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until set. Preferably overnight.

Serve chilled. Do not make portions too big as this is a very rich dessert. It’s a great way to complete a fine meal for a special occasion. Enjoy!