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A couple of months ago, my young friend Rory, who takes great pains to keep me up to date with all that is cool and hip in the 21st century (including not using the words “cool” and “hip”), tried to explain to to me what a “homegirl” was.

I’m still not quite sure I understand, but what I am certain of is that if I did have a “homegirl”, it would be Allison. We don’t see each other as often as either of us would like, but when we do, it’s always for a food adventure. And it can’t be expensive, high-end restaurant dining – we’ve tried that and always ended up disappointed. Instead, it has to involve ferreting around for treasure in little suburban stores, finding new and exciting cuisines that we haven’t tried before.

On our most recent day out, we started in Homebush West (formerly Flemington) at the recently opened Hometown Hand Made Noodle Restaurant (97 The Crescent, Homebush West). Their house special –  the Xi’an Cold Noodle dish – was delicious and set us back just $7.80. The noodles were chewy and handcut, and the sauce was spicy and sour. It was an auspicious start to a great day…

The Special Pan Fried Pork Dumplings were a huge serve of 15 pieces for $10.80. Al declared them to be the best dumplings she’d ever eaten…

If you’re in the area and feeling adventurous, pop in and try this place out. They’re closed on Tuesdays…

From there, we wandered around the corner to the Viet Hoa Fish Market. Since discovering this place, I’ve almost completely stopped going to the Sydney Fish Markets in town. Their stock is always fresh (often live) and interesting, and the prices are very reasonable. Cash only though!

On a tip from  my mate Jay, we asked about the live eels they keep at the back of the store. I’d never cooked eel before, so I bought one ($20/kg) which they killed and filleted for me. Packed with a bag of ice, we stashed it in the boot of Al’s car and kept going (be warned, there’s a freaky end to this story coming up…)

From Flemington, I persuaded Al to come with me to Petersham on the promise of Portuguese tarts. First stop was Charlie’s Deli – an old established store on the main strip. I love this shop, because whilst it’s quite sparsely stocked, every single item on offer is unusual and interesting. I’ve bought ceramics there in the past but this time I came home with imported Portuguese chicken seasoning mix.

By the way, the blue slabs in the photo below that look like Play Doh? They’re laundry soap…

The promised Portuguese tarts were scoffed with coffee at the Honeymoon Bakery. We prefer these to the ones sold at the more famous Sweet Belem across the road, and at $2 each, the price is hard to beat. We both bought a box to take home for the kids…

We ended our day with a visit to the intriguing Petersham Liquor Mart. Where else can you find Serbian plum brandy in Sydney?

. . . . .

Al went home with amazing beef ribs from the Portuguese butcher, but I still had my eel to tackle. Lovely Ania suggested I cut the fillet into pieces and then simply flour and fry them in butter. Sounds simple right?

Well, it was, except that no-one warned me that eels have very primitive nervous systems and can continue to spasm even after they’re long dead and dissected. Warning! Warning! Don’t click on the video below if you’re squeamish!!

This video was taken four hours after the eel had been killed. Pete pointed out that it was only happening as it  warmed up, so hopefully it didn’t do this the whole time it was in the boot of Al’s car. The sound is off so you don’t have to listen to me screaming…

It was, without doubt, the best eel I’d ever eaten, but Pete had to fry them for me, as I couldn’t touch them again…

Finally, a free range chicken, roasted in  my Portuguese chicken seasoning. The boys loved it…

Thanks for a fabulous day, Al! Can’t wait for our next food adventure! ♥

 

When I was twenty-one, I worked part-time in a little cross stitch shop called Topiary Lane during uni holidays. While I was there, lovely Rhonda taught me to make these pincushions.

I’d completely forgotten about them until I came home with my pile of Japanese cottons recently. Some of the pieces were too small for furoshiki and as I’m not a quilter, I was keen to find something else to do with them other than juggling balls. These little pincushions are quite easy and quick to assemble, they make a fabulous gift, and if times get tough, you can sell them for $10 each like Rhonda used to!

Start by tracing and cutting two circles of fabric. I used a small side plate as a guide which resulted in a large pincushion, but I was keen to keep as much of the pattern as possible. A small tea cup saucer produces a more standard size…

With right sides together, join the two pieces together, leaving a gap.

Edit: Margo suggested clipping the seam carefully at regular intervals to prevent puckering. It works! There are some great instruction son how to do this here.

Turn right side out, stuff firmly (but not to rock hard), then turn in the open edges and whipstitch closed…

Thread a large needle with embroidery cotton in a matching colour…

Start in the centre of the base with a few backstitches to lock the thread in place…

Push the needle through the middle of the pincushion to the front and through a small button…

Repeat at the base – it’s a bit tricky to line up the buttons, so watch your fingers. The aim is to pull the centre of the pincushion in slightly. Sew through both buttons a couple of times to secure, then tie off the thread by wrapping it a few times around the bottom button…

Cut a long piece of embroidery thread (from memory, Rhonda used thin ribbon but I didn’t have any on hand) and tie it around the bottom button. Wrap a couple of times to secure, then bring the thread to the front and wrap it around the top button. Pull gently to form “petals”…

Continue wrapping the thread from front to back, going around the middle button each time, until you’ve divided the pincushion into six sections…

I went around twice, resulting in a double thickness of embroidery cotton at each divider. Finish by tying the thread off around the bottom button, wrapping the loose thread a few times more, then trimming carefully…

These are great fun to make and a good way to use up the big bag of polyfill leftover from my sock toys. The only tricky part is getting the needle through the middle buttons, but once you’ve managed that, the winding bit is easy. I’m going to make smaller ones next for Christmas presents! ♥

PS. Here’s the one I made this morning, using a smaller template and following Margo’s suggestion in the comments below to clip the seams every 2cm or so. It worked a treat! I’ve used a scrap of Japanese woven indigo and sashiko cotton this time, and made eight sections instead of six. ‘Tis a cute wee thing!

pincushion

I’ve never been much of a book borrower, that’s about to change, because Ashfield Library has entered the 21st century!

I walked into the main branch and sheepishly asked Cathy and Gina, the smiling librarians, for a new card, much as a six year old might (“Please ma’am, may I have a library card?”). With it, I was able to download the Overdrive app on my iPad and immediately borrow a book on furoshiki. I was so excited that I had to try the watermelon wrap straight away, only I didn’t have a watermelon, so I used a pot instead…

The books automatically disappear at the end of the selected loan period (7, 14 or 21 days) and the interface works in a similar way to the Kindle app, minus a few bells and whistles.

Then I discovered that the library also offers Zinio for Libraries, which lets me download and read e-magazines like the National Geographic. Remember when we all had piles of old copies on our shelves? What a joy to be able to borrow, read and delete, without the paper waste and space! I’ll never pay for a magazine subscription again…

Finally, there are a squillion free comics available for loan via the Comics Plus service that our local library now has available. I’m catching up on old Peanuts and Doonsburys, not to mention the enormous Archie catalogue…

peanuts2

Heaps of public libraries all over the world now offer these services, so if it’s been a while since you joined one and you’re an e-book lover like I am, then I highly recommend you check them out again (no pun intended). You’ll be able to access a world of reading without paying a cent or ever leaving your house again!

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One thing that has me particularly excited is the wide selection of e-cookbooks that our library has on offer. I was delighted to find Greg Malouf’s The New Feast on the list…

His granola recipe is easy to make, uses just a tiny bit of added oil, and was very popular with Big Boy, the toasted muesli eater in our house. I’d advise sizing up, as the quantity we made lasted less than a week!

Base:

  • 250g rolled oats
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 60g sesame seeds
  • 150g almond slivers (original uses blanched almonds)
  • 60g brown sugar (we used dark muscovado)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 100g apple purée (we used homemade apple sauce but it was a tad too sweet, so next time I’m going to try tinned apple baby food)
  • 50g honey
  • 40ml pomegranate molasses (we buy ours from Harkola)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Add-ons:

Malouf recommends pistachios, sour cherries and currants, but we used 100g of roasted blanched hazelnuts and 100g of cranberries.

. . . . .

Step 1: Preheat oven to 150C. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, sunflower and sesame seeds, almonds, sugar, salt and spices.

Step 2: In a small jug, whisk the apple with honey, molasses and oil, then add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix well with your hands.

Step 3: Tip the mixture into a large baking tray and spread out evenly. Bake until deep golden brown (45 – 60 minutes) stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent burning.

Remove from the oven and stir in the hazelnuts (or whatever nuts you’re using – add them in the last ten minutes of cooking time if they need toasting), then allow to cool before adding dried fruits. Store in an airtight container, although it’s so delicious that it probably won’t have time to go stale.

. . . . .

This tangy and spicy granola makes a nice change from regular toasted mueslis. What a treat to be able to borrow such a gorgeous cookbook, full of photos and hyperlinks, and not have to worry about returning it on time, as it disappears automatically at the end of the loan period.

Hooray for 21st century public libraries! Are you a library user as well?

Old Bob, our 90cm freestanding Smeg cooker, has been replaced.

After sixteen years of faithful service, working above and beyond the temperatures and hours he was rated for, Bob finally wore out. One of the back fan elements stopped working a month or so ago and it wasn’t going to be a simple fix.

Now, as you know, I don’t like replacing appliances, but Pete the electrical engineer pointed out that we’d run Bob so hard that we’d started to melt the insulation off the electrical wiring. Once something becomes a fire risk, it’s time to upgrade…

. . . . .

The problem was…I didn’t want an upgrade.

According to Pete, Bob’s longevity was due to his old school construction. Unlike newer ovens, he operated solely on fuses and mechanical switches – there were no electronic components or circuit boards to break down. And because he was a commercial model, his parts were easily replaceable – over the sixteen years that we had him, we’d changed both rear elements at least three times, the fan motors twice, the door seal once, and the lights half a dozen times. He was going to be a hard act to follow.

It took a bit of research, but we finally found our replacement cooker. The problem was that the model we wanted (Smeg SA9010X) was now a “commercial only” product, which meant we weren’t allowed to buy one new.

Thankfully, we were able to find a seconds model (dented but otherwise new) at Home Clearance in Auburn. Hooray! The online advertised price was $2,200 (full commercial price is close to $3,000) but when I rang, their end of financial year sale was on and we were able to get Bobby II for just $1,700. He came with a one year manufacturer’s warranty, the company was happy to take our credit card over the phone, and delivery was free. We were thrilled.

Best of all, Bobby II is virtually identical to Old Bob, which means he fits perfectly into the space in our kitchen. We’ll be able to strip out the old cooker and keep the racks, trays, elements, fans, burners and trivets as spares. It’s as environmentally-friendly an upgrade as we can manage…

Big Boy and I have a grand plan to turn the stainless steel shell of Old Bob into a hot smoker – I’ll let you know if we’re successful. In the meantime, the kitchen is open again and the bread is baking! ♥

At the start of each season, we host a vegetarian dinner party for close friends. It’s a night we all look forward to with great excitement, and often the only times in the year when the six of us get together.

A couple of days before the most recent dinner, our dishwasher died. It’s only five months old and under warranty, and Andy, our fabulous Miele repairman has now fixed it for us. But that didn’t change the fact that we had two big dinners planned that week, and no dishwasher.

The next day, the fan elements in the oven failed. Thankfully, our large Smeg has top and bottom elements we could use as well, but we decided it was time for a new oven. Old Bob has worked hard for sixteen years, and Pete noticed that we’d started to fry the coating off the electrical wiring. More on that soon.

So…we were a bit scattered that week.

We’d decided to focus on Middle Eastern flavours for the dinner and thankfully, the Moro Cookbook came to our rescue. It was a 50th birthday gift from my wonderful friend Tanya of Chica Andaluza

. . . . .

Then lovely Carol offered to host the dinner at her house, where the dishwasher was working perfectly. So Pete and I cooked all day, then wrapped everything up in furoshiki to transport it. Ha! That almost made up for the dishwasher and oven being broken…

. . . . .

This was one of the most enjoyable vegetarian dinners we’ve ever prepared and with a few minor changes, it could easily have been vegan-friendly. The Moro Cookbook has clear instructions and wonderful flavour combinations. We made fatayer (recipe to follow), chick pea salad, turlu turlu (roast veg ratatouille), walnut sauce and harissa, and accompanied it with Sawsan’s hummus and Barbara’s moghrabieh

Fatayer are stuffed flatbreads from Lebanon and Syria, traditionally filled with spinach and cheese. The Moro version has pumpkin, fetta and pinenuts, but they would work just as well with other flavour combinations. As I’ve had some experience with bread baking, I abbreviated the dough making process a bit, and was very happy with the result.

Make the dough by whisking together 220g white bread flour, ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt and ½ teaspoon dried yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add 100ml room temperature water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Squelch everything together, then give the dough a short knead in the bowl. Cover and allow to rest.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 230C and toss 800g of peeled and deseeded pumpkin cubes (about 5cm each) in a tablespoon of oil and a clove of garlic, crushed to a paste with a little salt. Season with salt and pepper, then bake for 25 minutes or until soft. Remove, allow to cool, then puree and adjust seasoning.

Divide the dough into four and roll each into a ball. On a well floured bench and using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a flat circle about 17cm in diameter. Put a dollop of the pumpkin puree in the centre, then top with a little fetta, oregano and toasted pinenuts.

Now here is the only tricky bit – moisten the outside of the circle with water, then fold the edges in to form a triangle. Press the edges tightly together…

Trim off any excess dough carefully, then pinch the edges together again to make sure the parcel is well sealed…

Bake in the hot oven on a parchment lined tray for 10 – 15 minutes until the fatayer starts browns, but doesn’t go hard and crusty. These were great fun to make, and a nice alternative to pastry wrapped pies and pasties.

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To finish off, we served Portuguese tarts from the Honeymoon Bakery in Petersham – absolutely delicious and ridiculously good value at just $2 each. I’d bought them the day before and Carol crisped them up to perfection in her airfryer on the night. Mind you, Big Boy got to them before the dinner, so there was only enough left for one each!

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If you don’t already have it, I’d highly recommend the Moro Cookbook. And you’ll be pleased to know that I have a fully working kitchen again. I can’t wait to tell you about our new stove!

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