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Ottolenghi Simple

Yotam Ottolenghi is visiting Australia at the moment, so it seems a good time to put up this post which has been sitting in my drafts for a few days.

I bought his book SIMPLE at the end of last year in iPad format. So yes, it has an exit plan – at any time I can just delete it from my library. But I can’t see myself doing that any time soon, because it’s brilliant.

I have several of Ottolenghi’s other books and they’re very inspiring but the recipes are complicated and often too much work for a family dinner. This one however, as the title proclaims, is simple. Last weekend, having come home excitedly with discount berries from Harris Farm, I made two of the desserts from it.

The first was the Blackberry and Plum Friand Cake (here’s a link to the recipe)…

It used five of our backyard eggs – whites only, so I turned the yolks into microwave custard to accompany it (recipe is here). I used all five yolks in the custard, even though my recipe only specifies four, and it was completely fine…

We had friends over for dinner and the entire cake was demolished for dessert…

The following day, I tried the Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake. If you’d like to give it a go, the recipe can be found here. Our lemon tree is on holidays at the moment, so I used one of the many limes I have in the fridge…

The cake was moist and very moreish. Big Boy and Small Man had three slices each…

I can’t recommend SIMPLE highly enough! The e-book is  well formatted, with lots of hyperlinks for easy navigation, and about half the price of the hardcover version. You will need a tablet or a computer though – I don’t think it will work very well on the original black and white Kindle. Enjoy!

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When I posted about my adventures at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, Claire left me a comment (thanks Claire!) to tell me about the Plants with Bite exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Pete and I popped in for an explore last week and it’s great!

Entry is free and even though it’s not a huge space, there are oodles of carnivorous plants on display. Including lots of very robust Venus Fly Traps (anyone who has ever tried to grow these at home will tell you how easily they die off)…

Tiny, sticky sundews, with sparkly globules that catch bugs like superglue…

Butterworts and bladderworts, although I didn’t take any photos of the latter…

And the most wonderful array of pitcher plants, both the North American ones that grow on the ground…

…and my all time favourites, these Nepenthes or tropical pitcher plants. Known colloquially as “monkey cups” (as monkeys have been seen drinking rainwater out of them)  the pitchers form from the end of specialised leaves.

Apparently there are 170 different varieties currently known…

The exit is guarded by Audrey II, straight from the theatrical production of Little Shop of Horrors…

I always try to buy something in support when I attend a free exhibition, so I came home with a Gardens magazine and stick-on tattoos, because I’m a child…

I was told the display will be open for at least the first half of this year. It’s based in the Calyx at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and well worth a visit if you get a chance. Make sure you have a good look at the green wall while you’re there – it’s the largest in Australia!

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I was messing about with my denim stash yesterday and ended up making this little bag from the leg of an old pair of jeans. It was the perfect size for our neighbourhood bread deliveries.

It worked so well and was so quick to make that I started experimenting with other fabrics. Three hours and ten bags later, and I’m happy to share the instructions!

Start with two rectangles of fabric – approximately 15″ x 11″ (38cm x 28cm). Also, cut a strap 2½” (6½cm) wide by whatever length you prefer.  My handles all ended up different lengths, determined by whatever scrap I was using…

Place the rectangles right sides together. Cut 2″ (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners…

Sew the bottom and side seams, then overlock around the top. I overlocked all the seams just because it’s easier, but you could straight stitch and finish them if you prefer…

Now open up the fabric in the corners and match the side and bottom seams…

Stitch to form a boxed base…

Turn the top edge over and hem. At the same time, hem the long sides of the strap. At this point, down tools and go and iron everything as it will be harder to do so later…

Centre the strap over the side seams and attach it in place with two rows of stitching. That’s it, all done! Easy, right?

These bags are proving to be very useful! They’re the perfect size for one of my loaves…

…and for BYOing two bottles of wine to dinner…

I’ve made them in quilting scrap, denim, tea towels – just about any sturdy non-stretch fabric will work…

If you’re a bit more experienced and want to try making the bag from old jeans, you’ll need to make sure the leg circumference is wide enough (most skinny jeans won’t work). Make sure you have a sturdy sewing machine and walk the needle over the thick seams or risk breaking it (I learnt that the hard way).

Here’s how I cut the bag out of a jean’s leg…

I love how they turn out, but mitering the corners is a bit trickier. You could, of course, just leave that step out…

I love quick and easy sewing projects like this! The dimensions can be easily adapted as needed, so in theory the basic pattern could be used for everything from lolly bags to shopping totes (although the straps might need changing for the latter to provide more support).

I’ll be making them as bread and wine carriers, but I suspect we’ll find a multitude of different things to do with them.  I hope you’ll give them a go! ♥

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Our Urban Village

I came home recently to find teenagers on our back deck, using our wifi.

Don’t worry, they had permission. The internet had gone down at their house, so they’d hot-footed it across the road to use ours. The fact that we weren’t home didn’t make any difference.

And for the umpteenth time since we moved here nearly 30 years ago, I gave thanks for this wonderful urban village that we live in.

We love our house, but it’s just bricks and mortar at the end of the day – what makes it special is the neighbourhood it’s located in. I recently came across a post I wrote six years ago, and it occurred to me that while some of the faces have changed, the essence of our community hasn’t. It’s still a street where folks say hello, share food and conversation, and look out for one other. And it made me wonder – what makes a neighbourhood a village? Why is our little corner of the inner west so magical?

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to live in a village. Perhaps it’s what every new immigrant wants – when my parents arrived in the late 1960s, barely speaking English and the only Chinese family in the area, they left behind all their loved ones. I was only four, but old enough to remember the noise and laughter and camaraderie that filled our house back in Malaysia. We went back for (very) occasional visits as I was growing up, and I have vivid memories of family and friends, gathered around kitchen tables, eating and talking loudly. It seemed to be a wonderful way to live.

So I feel incredibly lucky to have found this neighbourhood.

I love that we’re able to share our food, time and resources in a relaxed, easy way. Mark mows our front lawn, Jane brings me cocktails, and last week, Graeme dropped over sashimi plates and smoked meats. PeteV bought us a fancy bluetooth thermometer for Rosie the Smoker, so that we could sleep through the night rather than getting up three times to check the thermostat. Maude spends early mornings crocheting and drinking tea with me, Margaret made us a jar of her secret family chutney, and on a really good day, June will drop over a plate of her amazing Hungarian cabbage rolls.

In return, we hand out loaves of bread, share our old vintage ports and force feed everyone experimental chocolate. Last weekend, we pulled out an entire bed of perennial leeks from the garden and left them on the back deck so that the neighbours could come and help themselves.

I say “in return”, but in truth, it’s never been a case of quid pro quo. None of us keep track of what we’re giving or receiving, because what’s actually happening is that we’re building a community. Every neighbourly exchange gives us an opportunity to interact, nourish and build relationships, while always respecting each other’s personal space.

It also makes our village a safer place to live – when Pete and I go away, the boys have a dozen numbers to call of folks who will drop everything and run over if they need help (not that it’s such an issue now that they’re both adults). We keep an eye on each other’s houses, chase runaway pets down the road, and text when we think something might be amiss.

Let me give you an example of how well it all works. Darling Norma passed away a couple of months ago at the grand old age of 92. She’d had several strokes and couldn’t remember our names anymore, but she’d been able to keep living at home, on her own, largely because of her neighbours on both sides. They would drive her to doctors’ appointments, take out her rubbish, ring to tell her there was someone at the door (she was quite deaf), and so much more. Norma was born on our street, but it was Jane and Jacinta’s love and care that made it possible for her to spend her final days here.

Over the years, we’ve watched our sons and the other neighbourhood babies grow up and head off into the world, going to university, travelling overseas, starting careers and getting married. I hope that one day, they too will all find villages of their own. ♥

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Chocolatey Things

It’s been a sweet month!

When I picked up my chocolate order from Chefs’ Warehouse recently, Ezra offered me a taste of the new Callebaut Ruby. It’s brand new – Callebaut are calling it the fourth type of chocolate. Made from the Ruby cacao bean, it has a distinct, tangy flavour and the pink colour is completely natural.

Here’s some info about it from the manufacturer’s website…

 

 

Naturally, I had to bring a bag home to play with! My first attempt at tempering it was a bit dodgy, but the second batch was perfect. I found it sets well at 88°F (31.1C), with a similar texture to white chocolate (possibly because of the added milk powders). Isn’t it pretty!

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Halloween has come and gone for 2018 and as usual, we were left with a mountain of uneaten trick or treat candy. I cut up 350g of Snickers, Mars Bars, Milky Ways and M&Ms and added them to a batch of sourdough (1kg flour) – a riff on Emilie’s chocolate bread from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. The Halloween loaves are always too sweet for me, but Michi and Jemima love them, so I baked them each a loaf…

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It’s HSC time again in Sydney (final end of school exams) and this year’s care packages were filled with chocolate cane toads. Big Boy and Monkey Girl were roped in to help with the wrapping…

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On the weekend, I revisited an old favourite – our Guinness chocolate cake recipe. I couldn’t find any Irish stout in the pantry, so I raided Big Boy’s beer stash for a couple of bottles of Monteith’s Black Beer. The result was a very dark, not overly sweet and slightly bitter chocolate cake that the kids and neighbours smashed. It has a texture similar to a devil’s food cake and baked perfectly in my 12 cup bundt pan…

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Christmas is coming and the chocolate experimenting has begun! This year’s gifts will include these chocolate thins, made with a 50/50 blend of Callebaut 811 (54% dark) and 823 (milk), mixed with feuilletine flakes and spread out thinly on textured acetate sheets. My mother adored these, and as she isn’t usually a fan of chocolate, I think that’s a good indicator of their universal appeal…

This year we’ll be wrapping them in our rescued food safe paper from Reverse Garbage instead of cellophane bags…

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Finally…and this isn’t a chocolatey thing at all…my lovely friend Margot surprised me with this painted wooden spoon last week. She commissioned clever Australian artist Emma Palmer to create it for me from a photo. This pic was taken by Emma

It’s now hanging on our dining room wall and Small Man is somewhat perturbed by the fact that the eyes seem to follow him around the room (it’s because of the concave shape of the spoon, he tells me).

I absolutely LOVE it…what do you think? Does it look like me?

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Wishing you all a very happy, chocolate-filled week! ♥

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