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Snippets

A few (very random) snippets from the past couple of weeks…

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I made my first attempt at cleaning and cooking baby octopus, following a recipe from the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook that my friend Amanda recommended (I bought a Kindle copy)…

Gutting and dismembering cephalopods isn’t for the squeamish, as they look quite alive before you start (plus it was 5am and I thought I could hear a mouse under the bench, so I was a bit jumpy). But it’s worth learning to do, because the Australian varieties are regarded as a sustainable form of protein.

The octopuses had a long 40 minute braise until tender, then rested in a vinegary wine stock for a couple of days before serving. They were a big hit…

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My friend and neighbour Maude crocheted me another cotton poncho. I loved the purple one she gave me last year so much that I wore it until it was matted and threadbare…

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Last weekend, we had our Autumn dinner with friends Kevin, Carol, Gil and Therese. We get together at the start of each season for a night of (mostly) vegetarian food and wine. At this dinner, we served Sawsan’s hummus, a garden broccoli raab dip, spiced mixed nuts, mascarpone reale and French Ossau Iraty sheeps’ cheese.

Remember my $4 wheels of organic brie from Costco? I defrosted one of these and brushed it with Ian and Diana’s backyard honey, added chopped pecans and garnished the top with garden thyme and rosemary flowers. It was oozy and perfect, and no one could believe that the cheese had been frozen (or cost $3.97!)…

I opened a bottle of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Portuguese port and was very chuffed when the 47 year old cork came out in one piece…

Our plan this time was simple…fill the table with nibblies to go with freshly baked sourdough, followed by vegetarian pizzas…

…then serve three desserts! Tiramisu, little chocolate cakes, and a plate of dark chocolate coins and fruit cake with port. It was a glorious night…

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On Sunday, my niece Hwa and her boyfriend Ian came to visit. They brought me sunflowers!

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I had planned to study clouds this year, but instead I’m reading the teachings of the ancient Roman Stoics. A good friend suggested that it might be helpful in my efforts to manage my anxiety. This was the book he recommended I begin with, but I’ve now moved onto the actual texts (well, translations thereof – I can’t read ancient Greek). It’s been a wonderful, enlightening process that I’m enjoying immensely. I’m learning to think in a different way…

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And while we’re on the topic, you’ll be pleased to know that the Headspace meditation continues. I’ve now clocked up more than two months of daily 15 minute sessions and it’s been joyous. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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The rainy weather has been playing havoc with my walking schedule, but there’s been more time for baking as a result. Of the eight loaves below, five went to the neighbours…

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I cooked abalone recently and kept the shells as tea light holders…

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Finally, a delicious new tipple, taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cookbook. It’s two parts cognac, one part Grand Marnier and one part Amaretto (I substituted Frangelico). If the measures are sized carefully, this can be consumed without falling over…

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Hope you’re all having a wonderful month! ♥

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I went to Southern Cross Supplies in Marrickville today to buy a sack of bread flour.

As I walked past the clearance pallet, I noticed two large bags of Australian sea salt, marked down to $5 each. If you’re ever there, take a peak at the items outside the office door – there are often huge bargains to be had. I’ve picked up everything from foil chocolate cups to torn bags of bread flour, all at heavily discounted prices (cash only).

I use Olsson’s all the time in my cooking and baking, so naturally I came home with one of the bags of salt. It’s a wonder that I didn’t buy both…

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As I was driving home, I tried to figure out how I was going to explain it to Pete. Big Boy brought the bag in for me, and left it next to the stove.

Then my darling husband walked into the kitchen…

Pete: “What the f…?!”

Me: “It was $5!! It was a torn bag..”

Pete: “You shouldn’t have taken it even if it was free. What are we going to do with it?”

Me: “We might need it for trading when the next Bedouin caravan comes through..”

Pete: “Babe, you bought 25 kilos of salt…”

Me: “It’s ok! We’ll be ready for the zombie apocalypse now!”

Pete: “Right…if we’re attacked by zombie snails…”

{Silence}

Me: “Kiss me on the head so that I know you still love me…”

Pete: (sighs) “I still love you, you mad woman…” ♥

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I reckon I could have gotten away with buying both bags…but it’s probably too late now.

But you know what? For the last 33 years, my life has been filled with conversations like this every single day. Full of laughter and teasing and deep affection, even at the hardest of times. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

And opening the sack to discover that the locally produced “kiln dried flossy salt” was perfect for baking? Well, that was just icing on the cake!

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I wrote this before today’s walk and it felt timely to put it up right after yesterday’s post, as they’re related. Together, they’re a pretty complete wrap of where I’m currently at. Please don’t worry, it’s all good. ♥

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I’m in my fifties now, and I have to say, it’s a weird time of life.

It’s a bit like going through puberty again – only in reverse, I guess – my body shape is changing (not in a good way), I’m emotional (wept through a Disney movie recently) and my sleep is unsettled.

Somewhat ironically, in August last year, I noticed a significant spike in my anxiety levels. It was ironic because, as those of you who’ve been reading along for a while will know, 2016 was actually the easiest year we’ve had in a long time.

To try to combat the niggliness, I started walking (as mentioned in the previous post). It’s been glorious – I spend an hour outdoors each day, more often than not with Big Boy.

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At the start of this year, I noticed that the walks weren’t quite enough to take the edge off the creeping, hormone-driven anxiety. I decided to add daily meditation to my schedule as well.

Let me begin by saying that I’m pretty content with my life. For years, I’ve worked hard to be mindful – to really enjoy the moment, to be present, and to be grateful for how truly wondrous life is, both in general and in my particular circumstances. To that end, I’ve always viewed meditation as curative rather than preventative medicine. I’ve attempted it on an ad hoc basis during times of stress, and found it emotionally soothing.

Then I watched this TED talk by Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, and realised that I was going about it the wrong way. Andy sees meditation as daily exercise for the brain – one designed to bring order and strength to it in the same way that physical exercise does for the body…

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My Pete has been saying this for years, but I guess I wasn’t ready to take it in any earlier. He’s been meditating daily since he was 17 years old. And he has the most disciplined brain of anyone I know – it has quite literally protected him (and in countless ways, our whole family) through the many trials he’s faced over the years. So I have a lifetime of hard evidence that the process truly works.

I downloaded the Headspace App three weeks ago, and started the daily ten minute meditations…

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I’d love to tell you that I experienced a sudden and immediate sense of Kung Fu Panda inner peace…but I didn’t.

What I did notice though, was that after the first few days, I seemed to get some of my short-term memory back.

I stopped going back to the car to check if it was locked, because I could clearly remember locking it. I remembered that I’d put washing in the machine that needed to be hung up, rather than leaving it there for days. I remembered what I’d walked into the pantry to get instead of staring blankly at the shelves.

It turns out I don’t have OCD after all, but rather that my anxious brain had simply been laying down poor memories. I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing at the time, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to – I just couldn’t do it. My mind was always racing ahead – planning, imagining scenarios, and often catastrophising. The author Mark Twain once said “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

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After the second week of daily ten minute sessions, I noticed that I seemed to have more time. Life stopped feeling as rushed. Last Saturday, I started at 6am and was still going at 10pm, having walked for two hours, baked six loaves of sourdough and a batch of brioche rolls, shopped for an hour, washed and dried a week’s worth of laundry, and gone out for dinner with Kevin and Carol. As we ended the evening with a game of 500, it occurred to me that I’d had a rich and fulfilling day, but at no point had it felt hectic. It was as if I had more energy.

My old friend Kevin understood exactly what I was talking about – he practises his own form of meditation by running mindfully for 20km at a time (no headphones, he tells me, because he needs to concentrate on every step).

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I’m now up to day 22 on the Headspace Foundation Series. I’ve paid for an annual subscription (there’s a January promo here if anyone is interested) and have worked up to 20 minutes of daily practice. I still have spikes of anxiety, but they seem to be fewer and easier to manage. I’ll write again about this a bit further down the track and let you know how I’m going.

If you’re interested in trying it out, download the Headspace app and give it a go for ten days. The initial sessions are free and you never have to pay if you don’t want to – you can just keep using those guided meditations. Having said that, I’m finding the paid content very useful!

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Daily Walks

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As you might recall, I started walking in the second half of last year.

My goal is to get at least 8,000 steps a day – as I mentioned in an earlier post, the recommended number is 10,000, but I’ve given myself 1,000 steps off for every five years over forty.

I’m happy to report that since the 14th August, I haven’t missed a single day! There were a few occasions when my count was a bit short, but overall I’m very happy with the results. To date, I’ve walked 905km and taken over 1.5 million steps. I track them using the Stepz app on my iPhone…

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Happily, Big Boy still comes with me most weekday mornings, but I’ve also discovered that I love walking on my own. We’ve now expanded our route from the Inner West Greenway to include the eastern side of the Iron Cove Bay Run. The latter is much more crowded, but the water views are stunning. Let me share a few photos with you…

These colourful dinghies are all locked in place and numbered…

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There is a lovely shady area called Giovanazzo Grove, where I found ten minutes to sit and meditate recently…

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When I opened my eyes, the rowers were gliding through the water…

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One cloudy morning, we discovered a secret beach…

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…and watched a white-faced heron being buffeted by the wind…

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Trying to beat the heat on a 40°C day, Big Boy and I headed out before dawn and were rewarded with this beautiful sunrise…

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Sometimes, we just sit on the headland and reflect on how incredibly fortunate we are to have all this beauty, for free, so close to home…

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The Bicycle Tree artwork sits near Blackmore Oval…

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As we walked past it, I noticed this rainbow lorikeet who was so busy feeding that he completely ignored my camera…

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The birds on the Greenway and Bay Run have been a joy to watch. This month, the cormorants have taken up residence, and we’ve seen Little Black, Pied and Little Pied  (photo below) species…

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Warwick the pelican attracted a lot of attention when he paddled along the canal recently. I love his reflection in the still waters…

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Finally, I couldn’t resist a photo of this perfectly formed web, glistening in the morning sun…

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Wishing you all happy days! ♥

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Cheese

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A foodie tip: buy soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert or Fromage D’Affinois whenever they’re on special (the riper the better), wrap them carefully, and stash in the freezer.

They will defrost overnight in the fridge to perfect, non-soggy ooziness for your next dinner party cheese platter. They’re also brilliant on pizzas – D’Affinois makes a particularly decadent topping.

I bought this 1kg wheel of Mon Père from Costco for just $20, cut it into eight wedges and (very carefully) vacuum sealed each piece to prevent freezer burn. I’ve also had great success with just wrapping the cheese tightly in cling film.

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Here it is after having been frozen for a week, then defrosted overnight in the fridge…

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While I was at Costco, I also spotted pots of Jean Perrin Fromage des Clarines on special for $4.97. These are normally $20 each (and often more for the ones in ceramic bowls) but a friend told me that the importer had brought in too many for Christmas. With an expiry date of 13th January, they were massively marked down for a quick sale…

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Knowing that I could freeze them, I bought four tubs! I stashed three in the freezer and baked one, following Tania’s recipe here

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It was ridiculously moreish…

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And while we’re on the topic…a cheese plate is an integral part of our dinner parties.  If you need help assembling one, have a look at Sally’s comprehensive guide on putting one together.

Without fail though, I’m always left with a box of cheesy bits and pieces the following day. I turned leftovers into a cheese pâté recently and it was such a hit that I thought I’d best document it here so that I can find the recipe again next time. It’s basically a riff on the Fromage Fort recipe I posted years ago…

  • 300g assorted leftover cheeses – I had a wedge of Cranberry Wensleydale, some 18-month Comte and a small piece of White Pearl Brie (which incidentally had been in the freezer for months, but had defrosted perfectly). It’s worth tasting the cheeses together first to make sure they don’t clash too much.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • glug of good white wine
  • splash of Kirsch
  • black pepper
  • walnuts, coarsely chopped

Set up the food processor with the grater blade and grate the hard cheeses into the bowl. Now switch to the chopping blade and add the soft cheeses, peeled and smashed garlic, pepper, wine and Kirsch. Blitz to form a smooth(ish) paste.

Scrape into a bowl and smooth out the top. Cover the surface with chopped walnuts, pressing in gently to stick them on (not shown in photo below, because I got the idea after it was taken).

Serve with crackers or sourdough focaccia.

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As I mentioned above, the nuts were a last minute addition, but they made a huge difference to both taste and appearance, and are well worth the extra effort. The addition of the booze seems to help preserve the cheese. I’ve made versions of this with everything from blue to soft, but it might not work with fresh cheeses such as ricotta or mozzarella (because they go off quite quickly).

The pâté should improve with a couple of days’ rest, but I took this to dinner at Kevin and Carol’s place and it was demolished before the night was out!

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