Putting up with the P****’s – reality TV at it’s best!

My sister and I will often joke about our family being the subject matter for a TV show – there are all the key features – drama, strong opinions (often mine) which can result in volatile arguments, “Chinese whispers” within the family about what is going on with who (why would you bother asking people directly if you can gossip about it ;p), family politics, and, of course, at the end of the day we all make nice because we love each other. TV gold I tell you! Not to mention the family attempts at match-making (you’ve heard that story before) and the cyclonic impact of on-and-off again romances and the changing seasons of friendships (my sister informs me that her life alone should be subject matter for TV). Who needs a soap opera if you’ve got all this?

Family life aside, there are moments in life that seem to mimic on-screen drama. Picture the scene – it’s late, the world is heading if to bed, and the young (let me have this) woman is pulling out the Kitchen Aid and piping bags as she embarks on another macaron-athon after a long and exhausting day at work. She bakes through the night to fulfil her dream of one day owning her own patisserie. [Disclaimer: I was not the one to draw this parallel – the credit has to go to Ms TT.]

Okay, so I do not bake every night, nor is it my goal to own a patisserie, but I do have a tendency to bake late at night – as was the case last week.  I was baking for a friend’s baby shower (that’s why the macarons are all pink).

Rose

Since I’ve blogged about macarons a thousand times before you can get the recipe here. The difference this time is in the Asian themed fillings: wasabi, soy, mayonnaise and red bean. Don’t be put off by the strangeness of these flavours – my friend was giving her young daughter the wasabi ones to eat so that should tell you that it didn’t have much kick to it 🙂 If you love salty-sweet food, then soya sauce macarons (Ms TT’s choice) will be right down your alley, as for the mayonnaise – even I was surprised that this actually worked – Ms “Prettier than Julia Roberts” (PJR) claimed these as her favourite. For the red bean macarons I used my Grandmother’s red bean paste which unfortunately I do not have permission to divulge.

It is always a good idea to make the ganache the day before if you can to give it time to cool and solidify.

Wasabi and white chocolate ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Wasabi to taste (I used 1.5 tsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add wasabi to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

wasabi

Soya sauce and white chocolate ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Soya sauce (get the light coloured one) to taste (I used 2 tbsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add soya sauce to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

soy2

Mayonnaise ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Japanese kuipi mayonnaise to taste (I used 1 tbsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add Japanese Kuipi mayonnaise to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

red bean

Posted in Food, Gluten-free, Sweets, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Parting is such sweet sorrow… Saying thank you with lavender shortbreads

It wasn’t a farewell between two lovers in the likes of Romeo and Juliet, but leaving my job was bittersweet. There is something strange about having spent so much time with the same people and then all of a sudden there is a work colleague shaped hole in your life. Sure, there are a special few that I (hopefully) will manage to keep in contact with but, in my experience, most of these friendships will drift apart… Admittedly, this is likely the result of a combination of hectic-ness and laziness – so if you guys are reading please do not forget me! My radio silence is unintentional :).

The things I miss most… Well, of course the obvious things such as my coffee companions (my new work colleagues do not seem to share my caffeine addiction) and my fabulous lunch buddies with whom I could dissect each and every lived moment. There are the  conversations with my ‘roomie’ – who only rolled his eyes once each time I started with ‘I have a theory…’ (this did happen a lot).  I miss the staff at the coffee shop with whom our daily chats were a bright point in my day…  The weekly Friday morning teas (for the company more than the food ;P)… When you think about your workplace, is there something in particular that you would miss?

To say thank you, I made the Victoria Room’s lavender shortbread (with the addition of lemon because I thought that they would be a match in heaven). Lavender is my new favourite ingredient and you will be seeing a lot more of it… The biscuits were lovely – the texture was perfect – not to buttery but still nice and short! My only suggestion would be to add more lemon next time as you could barely taste it.

lavender shortbread2

Lavender Shortbreads

Adapted from the “High Tea at the Victoria Room” cookbook

260g unsalted cold butter, diced
125g caster sugar
250g plain flour
2 drops lavender oil
2 tsp lemon juice
125g rice flour

Topping
40g caster sugar
2 dried lavender flowers

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line (3-4) trays with baking paper.
  2. To make the shortbread: cream together butter, sugar, lavender oil and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Work in the mixed fours.
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and roll dough in between 2 sheets of baking paper (the recipe suggests 1 cm thick, I wanted them to be thinner so I make them about 0.6 cm thick).  Cut into preferred shaped, prick with a fork and put in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.
  5. While baking, process the sugar and lavender flowers until very fine.
  6. Once the hot biscuits are removed from the oven, sprinkle with the sugar and lavender flower mixture. Allow to cool.

Lavender shortbread1

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On the path to collecting 27 dresses…

This year is going to be a busy one with an impending walk (or two) down the aisle. Now, before your imagination runs away with you, I am still patiently waiting for my knight in shining armour to come knocking on my door, so the bridal march I am talking about is in the role of bridesmaid. These two take my tally up to five times down the aisle, and if we add my flower girl duties to this number the number goes up to seven. Though not quite the 27 in the Katherine Heigl movie, I feel like it is getting up there!

No, I am not a bridesmaid for hire, and all five brides are very dear friends – but I must say that I find myself in a very interesting situation… Though there is no Mr Right on the horizon, being involved in numerous wedding related events means that weddings are on the brain and have me contemplating (and discussing with others) things like: If I were to get married who would I ask? When you have been asked numerous times it is not a matter of  asking ‘whoever has asked you’ (though in the movie ’27 Dresses’  Katherine Heigl’s character did just that – which is an interesting idea but somewhat impractical). Of course, asking those who have asked you does not even take into account cultural expectations. For instance, I once had an aunt talk to me about how her daughter was of course going to be my bridesmaid by virtue of being my cousin. So, five plus three (cousins) takes me to eight. Then there is my sister (nine) and my BFF (ten)… as you can see it is clearly getting out of hand… I also wouldn’t want to offend anyone… My dear readers, what do you think? Luckily, it’s not something I need to worry about right now 🙂

Let’s get back to the role of bridesmaid for a moment. At my third offer, my mother did (lovingly) suggest I turn down the role, quoting ‘three times a bridesmaid, never a bride’.  But I put to you, how many people would say no? Would you?  At the end of the day, it is truly an honour to be asked, and I am very appreciative of having so many wonderful friends who place such great value our friendship. [As an aside, it does make me think of Samantha Brick‘s controversial article that includes the comment ‘most poignantly of all, not one girlfriend has ever asked me to be her bridesmaid’  to be an indicator that women hate her because she is beautiful… hmm what does that say about me if I am continually being asked to be one?] Anyhow, though I am not particularly superstitious I am now hoping this 3-times rule works in multiples (i.e. I need to avoid six, nine, twelve etc.).

Agreeing to be a bridesmaid comes with many obligations and it’s has been quite interesting to straddle the cultural differences in wedding traditions. My mother’s side of the family is very close, and most of the weddings I went to/ was involved in as a child were organised in line with Asian traditions where as my friends either align with Australian traditions or make their own. One main point of difference that affects me is the bridesmaid attire. In the Asian culture (well at least in my family), the bride pays for the dresses whereas in the Australian culture it is common for the bridesmaids to pay for their own clothes.  Paying for your own attire is full of potential issues.  A recent exploration into this area indicates that one might pay up to $700 for a dress, so if you are paying for your own clothes how much say should you have is what it looks like?  Sure, if the bride pays for the ‘costume’ I figure you just wear what you are told, on the other hand, if you are forking out around $1000 for the entire ensemble (including shoes etc), surely you have voting rights? My friends have been fairly reasonable about this, as I’m sure most brides are, but let’s not kid ourselves, you probably will not ‘wear the dress again’ so the dress you are buying is only for one event. I certainly have not worn any of my previous bridesmaid dresses a second time – I will, however, admit that they are still hanging in my closet many, many years after the event. Though lovely dresses, my theory is that these dresses have been chosen, like a uniform, to suit the lowest common denominator and so are not what I would necessarily have picked for myself. I guess the bottom line is that it is wise to embark on the bridesmaid process knowing that it will be costly and the choices may not be yours. I hope I’m not sounding super-negative here, that is certainly not my intent, and I know that this is part-and-parcel of acceptance of the role.

Bridesmaid dresses

Ok, so I’m not Katherine Heigl and really can’t pull off a hessian sack but this is my collection so far – it’s interesting to look back at these old photos and to see how they have captured my ‘weight loss journey’… Oh, and the picture of the thongs (flip flops) relate to my hints and tips below.

In the two weddings of 2013 Ms TT is the other bridesmaid! So as you can imagine, with both of us investing a lot of time and having many a discussion we have formed A LOT of opinions about what weddings should (or not) have – regardless of tradition! More on that later. Today though, I will leave you with a few bridesmaid specific hints and tips:

  1. Be prepared for everything to cost more than you think and take more time than you would expect.
  2. Weddings can be a big deal for the bride – so your role is to be supportive and validating not opinionated and disagreeable.
  3. Bridesmaids, have a ‘care kit’ on hand for the big day – tissues (for tears or sweat), tailors chalk (to cover any marks that may appear on the dress), sewing kit, safety pins, band aids, aspirin, fashion tape…
  4. Have a spare pair of shoes with a different heel height (it makes a difference!) – for one wedding we (the bridesmaids) had matching Havaianas (flip flops) to change into when our feet hurt.
  5. Learn to let go (for both bridesmaids and brides alike)- seriously, at the end of the day enjoy the experience do not let it drive you up the wall.

Anyway, as promised – Igglepiggle cake pops below. For instructions for basic cake pops go to https://faodt.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/reindeer-cakepop/

In terms of decorating supplies you will need:
Candy melts or white chocolate with blue colouring powder – I have been warned NOT to use liquid colouring as it can make the chocolate seize
Flavourless oil to dilute if necessary
Popsticks
White confetti candy (for eyes)
Edible black pen
Black and red fondant

Igglepiggle

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Days long past and old recipes… Persian strawberry, ginger and mint sekanjabin (syrup)

Every now and then I wonder what it would have been like to have been born in a different time. As much as I relish the freedoms we have here in present day Australia – I’m not certain that I wouldn’t have preferred living in the 50’s or at the turn of the century… I mean the idea of wearing gorgeous gowns made of yards of sumptuous fabric, working on dainty needlepoint or painting, nibbling on sweet cakes and pastries sounds like fun! Or having rock’n roll dance offs, wearing pink jackets and enjoying that summer lovin’ (you may have picked that I recently watched Grease). Obviously there are some issues that I am completely ignoring – the first is to dismiss is my mixed-heritage (I would certainly have been ostracised) and the second (to only name two) you will note that there is absolutely no mention of my being a bar wench or factory worker – because the day dream is so much more fun if you are nobility (who wants to face the reality of that time anyway??)…

If you could pick a period to live, what would that be?

This pondering has been inspired by my viewing of the BBC TV series “The Supersizers Go…” and “The Supersizers Eat…” – documentary-esque look at the history of food. It is hilarious! I recommend you get onto youtube and start watching (right after you finish reading this post of course)! If you only watch one, and you have enjoyed a Jane Austen novel or two, you cannot afford to miss “The Supersizers Go… Regency”… Sometimes, I think that our lives aren’t that changed from days past – some of the issues that Austen’s women faced (and their behaviours) are not all that different from that of the 21st century woman… Make special note of Sue’s behaviour in the pub… Have you ever seen something similar? I certainly have (perhaps only slightly more subtle…)… and no it was NOT me!

The brown bread ice-cream they talk about in this episode (and reference Heston Blumenthal) was something I tried when I was in London a few years ago while dining at Dinner  by Heston (the menu there is designed around old recipes). I am not posting about brown bread ice-cream (to be honest I did much like it),  but I am posting about a recipe from the past…

drink

Strawberry, Ginger and Mint Sekanjabin

Recipe has been adapted (as I didn’t have the right ingredients) from: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/strawberry-ginger-and-mint-sekanjabin/
“This syrup is based on an ancient Persian recipe…” and is refreezing and very delicious!

2.75 cups caster sugar
1.5 cups water
1 punnet strawberries, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3  cup sliced fresh ginger
4.5 tablespoons lemon juice (the original recipe uses 1.5 lemons and you use the peel)
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (the original recipe says to use white balsamic but I didn’t have any – using white balsamic will probably yield a lighter ‘cordial’)

Bring the sugar and water to a boil over high heat. Boil until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the strawberries, mint, ginger, and lemon juice. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Allow the syrup to stand overnight at room temperature, then strain out the fruits with a fine sieve. Store at room temperature in a sterile container.

To use, stir 1 part syrup into 4 to 6 parts water (or in the picture below with sparkling mineral water), serve cold.
drink2

P.S. I know I said I would post the Igglepiggle cake pops this time… sorry, I’ll do it next time…

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The first birthday…In the Night Garden with Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle

I have noticed that a child’s first birthday is a huge deal for mothers. The parties are big and so is the pressure. The second birthday doesn’t seem to have the same hoopla around it and I’m not sure that the second child gets quite the same investment in the first birthday party. Birthday parties were always a pretty big deal when I was growing up – there was a little bit of a competition going on with the party bags… a simple plastic bag with a handful of lollies did not cut it! We had sewn bags, some sort of toy or costume jewellery (depending if you were male or female) and the quality of the sweets was also important. We would set up assembly lines to put them together – it was a huge part of the birthday experience.

Another very important aspect of the party was the cake! One of my fondest memories was being able to pull out Mum’s Woman’s Weekly cake book – the one with the train on the front that many Australian children of the 80’s might recall – and pouring over the pages to choose the cake Mum would make… Things haven’t really changed that much, with my very indulgent mother still pandering to my cake whims (check out my 30th birthday cake here). It was an excellent way to build anticipation for the upcoming birthday party and I remember feeling very invested in the whole process, as I eagerly watched the cake evolve into a masterpiece. So when the daughter of a friend was fast approaching the momentous first birthday she asked me for some assistance with the cake.

Some people might think this was a big ask, I have to be honest and say that I had been dying for someone to ask me to make their child’s birthday cake. I’ve even got a handful children’s cake books on my shelf even though I have no children of my own. In the way of tradition, I asked the Vivacious Czech what sort of cake she wanted for her adorable daughter and was told that the theme of the party was ‘In the Night Garden’.

‘Huh?’

Suffice to say I am not well versed in children’s entertainment. Apparently, ‘In the Night Garden’ is a television show that is a huge hit with young children such that every parent knows who Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle are… As for me, I needed to turn to trusty Google. With a picture of the wild haired Upsy Daisy and blue Gumby-esque Igglepiggle on my computer screen the cogs of my imagination began to turn. First off, I wanted to use butter icing on the cake rather than plastic icing because as a child I disliked hard icing and as I wanted the children to have the opportunity to lick the icing off their fingers. I wanted to create a garden on the cake and have Upsy Daisy in that garden. The Vivacious Czech mentioned daisy’s being a key part of the garden, so they would also need to make an appearance. The funny thing is that what I imagined  seemed so easy but the cake actually required a lot of work – all up I think it took me about 12 hours… That said, it was worth it!

cake1

I apologise for the lack of photos detailing the process – I tend to get very caught up in it and forget to be snap happy.

So dear reader, what was (or is) the favourite part of your birthday?

 

In the Night Garden with Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle cake

For the decorations, you will need modelling paste/ fondant (you can buy packets of this from cake decorating shops) coloured with colouring gels (such as Wilton’s) in green, red, yellow, ivory, blue, brown, black. If you are trying this at home, be sure to start making all the figurines and flowers days in advance to allow the icing to dry.

For the cake we made a double batch (4 layers) of Martha Stewart’s chocolate cake (using normal cocoa and grape seed oil instead of safflower) and butter icing (coloured with Wilton’s ‘Verde’ for the vibrant green colour).

Making the Daisies (big and small) and the blossoms:
You will need:
Yellow, white,orange (tangerine), and magenta fondant
Daisy and blossom cutters (small and large of both)
Silver cachous (small and large)
Floral wire

daisy

1. Using tweezers roll a small loop at the top of the wire. Roll a little of the yellow fondant into a ball.
2. Dip the loop of the wire in water and push into the ball. Roll around the wire until the ball closes.
3. Roll out some white fondant (1~2mm thick). Using a small daisy cutter (as pictured) but out the petals out of white fondant.
4. Wet, with a brush, the middle of the daisy, push the wired centre through the middle of the petal cutout until the petal sits on the centre.
5. Allow to dry upside-down.

flowers

1. For the large daisies: Roll out some white fondant (1~2mm thick). Using a large daisy cutter cut out daisies and allow to dry on greaseproof/ baking paper.
2. Using yellow fondant, roll a small ball (slightly smaller than the size you want for the centre of the daisy). Press flat with your fingers. Wet the bottom of the flattened ball with a brush and press into the white petals. Allow to dry.
3. For the small blossoms: Roll out some yellow/ orange/ pink fondant (1~2mm thick).  Using two different sized blossom cutters cut out flowers, place them in your palm and using the head of a rounded pin (or other small rounded instrument) push into the centre of the blossom to create a curved concave shape.
4. Dab the centre with a wet brush, and place silver cachous in the blossoms.

butterflyButterflies:
You will need:
Pink and purple fondant.
Rose petal cutters, 2 sizes
Stamens (for the antennae)

1. Roll the body of the butterfly with fondant (you choose your colour, I did one of each). Cut stamens to the right length, dip the end in water and push into the fondant. [Ideally, make the wings first and allow to dry completely before making the body]
2. Roll out one colour of fondant (in this picture the pink). Using the petal cutters, cut 4 petals, two of each size. With the other colour (purple) roll 4 balls, flatten with fingers, place onto the rounded end of each petal and using a rolling pin, roll over the petal to flatten. Roll a cachous into the centre of the purple dot on the smaller petals. Using water ‘glue’ the points of a small and large petal together.
3. Push the wings into the body, with some water to ‘glue’ together. Prop wings up with cotton balls, until dry.

Cobble stones: Roll dark brown fondant pieces into balls (no bigger than a 5 cent piece), and press flat using fingers. You want them to be irregular in shape, so feel free to be creative!

pebbles

Tree:
You will need:
Green, brown and pink fondant
Bamboo skewers
Blossoms (instructions above)
Leaf cutters (two sizes)
Flower (edible) glue
tree

1. Roll out a thick layer (~5 mm) of green fondant, using a sharp knife, cut out a ‘tree’ shape.
2. Using brown fondant, shape a trunk around a bamboo skewer. Be sure to indent a groove in front of the skewer to ‘sit’ the ‘tree’ on later. Allow to dry. [In retrospect I would use 2 bamboo skewers to create a V-shape to lean the top of the tree against].
3. Roll out the green fondant (~2mm thick), cut out leaves.
4. Roll out the pink fondant and cut out a ‘1’. Using fondant glue, stick this on the tree. Also, paste flowers and leaves onto the ‘tree’. Allow to dry.
5. Once the two parts are dry, using flower glue, stick/prop the ‘tree’ on the trunk against the bamboo skewers. Using some fondant around the bamboo skewers on the back of the ‘tree’ to ‘stick’ the skewers to the ‘tree’. Prop up on anything until dry.

Making Upsy Daisy:
You will need:
flower wire
fondant (colours: light pink, dark pink, yellow, dark orange, purple, red, white, brown/ tan, and black)
upsy daisy

1. I started with three pieces. The head is a ball of brown/ tan fondant. The bodice was a triangular prism-like yellow fondant and the base a hemisphere of white fondant. Wire was pushed through the base and bodice to attach the arms and legs. The head was attached with a wire also. The pieces were ‘glued’ together with water.
2. Making the legs: Make two sausage like appendages (for the legs) out of light pink fondant. Roll out the yellow fondant (as thin as you can and still manipulate it), and cut into strips. ‘Glue’ with water to the ‘sausages’. Push these legs onto the wires connected to the base of the body. Using the dark pink fondant make the feet, ‘glue’ to the legs with water.
Making the skirt: Roll out a red rectangle (~2mm thin and long enough to wrap around the body, allowing for extra for ripples), trim so that edges are straight. Roll out a rectangle of white fondant, cut into petal shapes (to make the white part on the skirt)  – the height of the ‘petals’ should be shorter than the length of the skirt. Place the ‘petals’ onto the red skirt, and lightly roll over with a rolling pin to flatten into one piece. Wrap the skirt around the body, use water to glue in place. Roll out a belt (i.e. long think rectangle) from yellow fondant and cover the top of the skirt.
Making the arms: Make two sausage-like appendages (for the arms) from the dark orange fondant. Roll out the light pink fondant (as thin as you can and still manipulate it), and cut into strips. ‘Glue’ with water to the ‘sausages’. Push these arms onto the wires connected to the bodice – wires should stick out the end
Flowers for the bodice: Cut out a hole in the centre of 3 small orange coloured blossoms (see above for details for cutting out the blossoms) and push flowers onto the bodice.
Shape the head: using tweezers shape a nose onto the head.
3. Trim the wire so that she are shorter than the hands (i.e. mittens shaped from the brown/ tan fondant). Push the hands onto the wire and glue with water.
4. The face: Cut a smile out of black fondant and ‘glue’. Cut 2 circles out of white fondant, cut off a portion of each to represent the eyelids. Roll two very small black balls, flatten with fingers and ‘glue’ to the centre of the eyes to be the irises. ‘Glue’ eye to the face. Out of orange fondant, cut thin eyebrows and ‘glue’ to the face.
The headband: Using pink fondant, roll out a flat, cut a long, thin rectangle. ‘Glue’ around the head.
The hair: Cut florist wire into short lengths, loop the top of each. From the range, yellow and pink fondant, shape into carrot-like shapes for the hair. Push onto the wire that has been dipped in water. Gently curve. [Ideally do this the night before you make the body etc so that the hair can harden before you attach to the head]. Push the hair into the head,
5. Using purple fondant, make a ring and attach it to a short column, which in turn is attached to the yellow belt.
Allow to dry.

Assemblage:
cake2

Assemble the cake by sandwiching the pieces together with green icing. Ice the whole cake, receiving some icing to pipe the ‘grass’. Smooth out the icing. WIth the reserved icing, place in a piping bag, trim a small nozzle and pipe squiggly bits over the top of the cake. Make the path from the pebbles. Place the tree on the cake, then Upsy Daisy. Add the daisies, both the wired on the top to make the field of flowers and on the side. Using tweezers, place the blossoms on the cake. Place the butterflies. And we are done!

P1010675

Next time I’ll post about Igglepiggle cake pops – which resulted from the bits of the cake that I trimmed off to make the cake above flat.

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Can you teach an old dog new tricks? The Press Club and lemon curd in the microwave

Firstly, a massive apology for my absence – my excuse is that I (in some state of madness) decided to enrol in a couple of university courses which put everything else on the back burner for a while.  It wasn’t meant to be that way. I had thought the whole studying process would be fairly straight forward and would slot in easily with the rest of my life… in fact I may have actually stated: “How hard can first year be? I’ve done it before and I know so much more now!”

In my defence, I have done a lot of study in my time and so I would like to think that I was not being entirely arrogant in making such a claim. However, I had notably underestimated what studying at my age would actually entail. I certainly envisaged only having to spend a couple of hours a week studying – the reality was that ‘free time’ was no longer a phrase in my vocabulary… I think that it was my age (or perhaps maturity would be a better description?) that made the difference. The work itself is not hard per se, but the approach I have to study now is very different to the first time I went to university. I don’t recall doing much work the first time around, and I actually used lectures as a time to catch up on my reading of novels.  I argued that I was learning by osmosis – being in the lecture theatre with the lecturer would result in a natural transfer of information from high concentration (i.e. lecturer) to low concentration (me). This combined with the mantra: “P’s make degrees” probably contributed to my attitude towards study at that time.

The thing is, as a ‘grown up’ I am no longer content simply passing my subjects – I want to aim high! Furthermore, since I feel like there is no time available, I want to make sure every micro-second is being maximised. In combination, these mean that I will speak up and even argue with the lecturer (or anyone else) should the situation arise. This new-found approach to study resulted in EVERYTHING being put on hold – I cancelled social engagements, stopped cooking, stopped posting on this blog, etc  – in essence I gave up everything I enjoyed doing, partly because I knew that I would feel guilty the entire time I was not studying (and ‘should’ be) and would not really enjoy it (it is a perverse cycle).  I am dedicating far more time to this course than I probably did for my entire undergraduate degree. So much for cruising though it!

I’m sure this rant is bringing up images of the mature-aged students you may have encountered in your studies. Yup… I am one of THOSE students. Gone is the naive, wide-eyed 18 year-old – she has been replaced by the cantankerously stubborn 32 year-old who vehemently disagrees with the lecturers and refuses to adhere to the instructions for the assignments (because quite frankly they are wrong!). One key issue is assumed knowledge.  As someone who has established a career in a related field, I have a specialised understanding about certain things which a first-year student is unlikely to have (and in some cases even the lecturer will have limited knowledge about).  This causes two problems:

  1. When in a situation where I know that what we are being told is not the most up-to-date or what is globally recommended, I feel that I should say something. In fact, it makes me quite angry that we are being taught the ‘wrong’ thing. And no, I do not appreciate being told that I must do things a certain way particularly if I know that is not the best way to do it.
  2. I also make assumptions about what is considered basic knowledge – which is likely to result in markers comments such as “you need to explain what recall bias is”. Argh!!!

Perhaps that adage is true: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Okay, rant over. On a side note, Ms TT has dared me to start raise my hand in a lecture and begin my question with: “In my PhD dissertation…” It might be worth doing for the laughs – what do you think?

Anyway, speaking of old dogs and new tricks, I visited the Press Club (72 Flinders Street, Melbourne) for dinner recently. Apparently, the whole place is about to have a massive shake up, with a new restaurant where the Press Club currently sits, the Press Club moving next door to were the bar (Little Press Club) is currently located and a new small dining room will be created for special meals where certain guests are invited to try out new food ideas (which may or may not include plate smashing according to our enthusiastic waiter)…

In commemoration of the impending close down, the menu was a ‘tribute to the past’ type of affair where all the old favourites were back. Ms TT and I  opted for the 7-course degustation – a erroneous decision as we were bursting-full at the 4th course. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely got to the end (we ain’t no quitters) but the 5-course option would probably have been far better for our waistlines. The decor is not very funky – though perhaps it’s not meant to be. The staff are to be commended – they are absolutely delightful and obviously love food (which I will leave for you to use the pictures to pass judgement).

Press Club

My favourite dish of the night was the palate cleanser, followed closely by the lamb. The cod roe butter is also worth a mention.

Though the food  all tasted delicious, I guess I expected more – I expected at least one dish that would have me raving (perhaps because of my very high expectations). Overall, It was an enjoyable night out, the food was nice and service excellent… but none of this really matters as it’s getting a revamp so we will see what George Columbaris comes up with next!

This is an extra long post (driven by my guilt about my long absence) with both a review and a recipe. Today’s we have a new trick to make an old favourite – making lemon curd in the microwave – absolutely amazing!!!

Microwave lemon curd

Adapted from Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

5 large lemons – zest and juice (300ml)
100g butter
300g sugar
2 eggs
6 yolks

  1. Place the juice, zest, butter, sugar in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Take it out and give it a good stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved and butter melted. Allow to cool just slightly.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolk. Whisk well (you don’t want stringy bits). Pour the eggs into the butter mixture, whisking as you go. Once it’s all combined, pop the bowl back into microwave.
  3. Microwave for 30 seconds on high, then stir. Another 30 seconds on high, stir again. Then 1 minute on high, take it out, and give it a really good whisking until it becomes smooth and lemon curd like. Repeat the 1 minute process twice more. If the mixture is not curd like, repeat the process again in 30 second lots. Pour it into sterilised jars or a prepared pie crust and pop it in the fridge to set for a few hours.
Posted in Food, Gluten-free, Review, Sweets, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Would you ask a singleton for couples advice?

A friend is getting married very soon, and as part of the pre-wedding festivities I was asked to proffer a piece of bridal advice/ marital bliss secret. The difficulty is that not having ever been married I didn’t really have any material… How can I possibly give advice for something I have yet to be shown to be successful at? My only option was to use my skills as a researcher and look up some information given by others – consider this to be evidence-based advice.  Before I launch into my suggestions for ‘martial bliss’ I should mention that this friend is a fellow researcher so the structure will (hopefully) make sense to her…

Bridal Advice from Dr Michelle:

Introduction: As an unwed person, I did not feel that I had the expertise to impart advice on how to have a successful marriage. However, I could do what I do best – research the topic…

Method: A (not so extensive) review of the literature published in the last 20 years  (search term: “successful marriage”; databases: PSYCINFO, MEDLINE, COCHRANE; limits: “humans”, “English”) was conducted. The search identified a huge number of peer-reviewed papers. Titles were screened for relevance and abstracts reviewed. Articles were excluded if they were not related to factors contributing to a successful marriage or abstracts were not easily accessible (my theory: if you can’t get it online it’s not worth having…).  A final sample of nine qualitative papers were included in this review.

Results: The literature indicates that in the factors contributing to the longevity of a happy marriage are numerous and unique. The most commonly mentioned factors for include friendship, love, and similar backgrounds or interests (Bachand et al, 2001). These can be formulated in the following ways (Daneshpour et al, 2011):
a) we trust each other and are committed,
b) we consult with each other,
c) we think our relationship is intimate,
d) we solve our own problems,
e) we cooperate with each other in children’s upbringing
f) we share common beliefs, and
g) we express our love to each other.

Studies indicate that no couples avoid experiencing difficulties however this can be overcome by creating personal models of interaction (Maatta & Uusiautti, 2012). These models of interaction are often developed and change during the first two years of marriage (Noller et al, 1998; Behrens & Sanders, 1994; Hawley & Olson, 1995) thus an important task for newlyweds is to learn how to communicate successfully and find ways to resolve conflict in a constructive fashion (Markman et al, 1984).  These recommendations are supported by the predictors of rate of dissolution of relations: including compassion level for alternatives, amount of time spent together, support from partner’s social network, and duration of the relationship (Felmlee et al, 1990). Data also suggests that empathic responses are essential to successful relationships, which are further enhanced when the views held about partners are consistent with self-perceptions (Fields, 1983)

Limitations: There are way too many limitations to list them all, and lets be honest, this will not withstand any form of peer review…

Conclusions: Relationships are hard work – and both parties need to be willing to put the effort in. Always be considerate and appreciative of the other person and say “thank you”, even for the small things.  Be honest and worthy of trust. Communicate! DO NOT leave issues unresolved (good rule of thumb is to never go to sleep on an argument). Above all, remember that things are not always going to be rosy, and a marriage is about enjoying the highs and pushing through the lows. Always love each other.

Yes, I will admit that this is very daggy – but I had no choice – anything else was going to sound naff!  What advice would you give?

We were also asked to provide a recipe for the couple (this is certainly one of the things do for hen’s parties that I organise) and I submitted the Armenian Nutmeg Cake – since I have already blogged about that I thought I might pull out a recipe from a previous hen’s-related do.

This is an easy recipe that is bound to impress and suit most tastes (as long as you like chocolate). The important trick is to not over cook – when the instructions say 12-15 minutes it really means no more than 15 mins – I once had them in for 16 minutes and the cakes were cooked through. Although still delicious, they were lacking the ‘wow’ factor you get when you cut them open and the insides ooze out (oh – that sounds a little gross… trust me though it is fabulous).  I don’t have a photo so you will have to trust me 🙂

Molten Chocolate Puddings

Serves 4

185g dark chocolate chunks
100g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar (if you are doubling the recipe, do not double the sugar, use 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp plain flour
Icing sugar to dust and something to serve with (e.g. ice cream, cream, strawberries etc)

1. Thoroughly butter 4 large ramekins or muffing tins and refrigerate (you want them to be cold). Melt chocolate and butter in a small heat proof bowl (leave uncovered and microwave in bursts of 1 minute, then 30 seconds thereafter until melted and smooth).

2. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together with a hand held which. Sift in the flour. Use a large metal spoon to lightly and quickly stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Pour the mixture into the chilled ramekins/ tins and refrigerate for a LEAST 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Once hot, put the puddings in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until well risen (but still wobbly). Turn out of ramekins with the help of a small spatula or butter knife. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with something creamy (ice cream or thick cream).

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It is said than an elephant never forgets…

It is said that an elephant never forgets – unfortunately my memory is more akin to that of a goldfish… That said, there are some moments in life that stick with you forever, for me these include:

1) 9/11

2) Submitting my thesis (I hyperventilated as I was certain I had failed) and the day I received my results (when it hit me that I would ever have to open that document ever again!)

3) Eating a Rose and Raspberry St Honore at Laduree in Paris – one of only two moments in my life where I have been rendered speechless.

4) Finding out about Princess Diana’s accident… I’m showing my age now (at least I didn’t say JFK, Martin Luther King, or John Lennon)

5) … the day I ate at “Milk Bar by Cafe Ish”… (speechless moment #2).

I will admit that this list is in no way exhaustive, but I think you get the point… My original plan was to blog about some local restaurants all in one post but my recent experience deserves a post of its own.

When driving past on Regent Street, the “Milk Bar by Cafe Ish” is a blink and you might miss it sort of place and the decor is very simple, with an arcade game against one wall and a few tables inside – but let’s be honest – I’m here for the food. The backstory is given with the menu:

On the menu are a range of brunch items: bacon and eggs, salads, sandwiches and burgers – which judging by what people all around me were eating all looked pretty good. The cakes behind the counter look amazing (especially the Malteser Tart)…

And there is a very impressive milkshake menu – I plan to return to try more of the flavours…

We started with the PBJ milkshake – which was a delicious combination of salty-sweet (very sweet) and also of textures with the use of crunchy peanut butter. As a huge fan of peanut butter I guess this probably was always going to go down well :).

For food Ms TT and I decided to share the crab omelette and chilled rice pudding. Our out-of-town guest Ms Egyptian Queen (EQ) – thus named as we met in Egypt – ordered the avocado toast. Here’s where we come to that memorable moment – my first bite into the crab omelette. Speechless (and trust me when I tell you how rare that is). No words can fully describe the amazing fusion of crab, avocado, garlic, shallot, chilli, ginger and soy flavours!  The perfect combination of both tastes and textures.

The rice pudding was also delicious – the crumble topping definitely lifted the rice pudding to a whole other level. The chocolate fruit (that really doesn’t taste at all like chocolate) lended a certain creaminess and the strawberries a freshness – all I can say (again) is it was a delightful combination of both tastes and textures.

I can’t comment on the avocado toast save to say that it looked pretty good.

You must go try! Actually, don’t go – I don’t want to have to compete for a seat when I next go to try another of the milkshakes with the omelette…

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish
105 Regent St
Redfern NSW 2016

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Straight from the farm: Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart

One of the problems living in an apartment is that my ‘garden’ consists of small pot plants (mainly herbs) – so growing large plants is out of the question. Every now and then the Out-of-towners hand me a bag of something grown from their garden – which is great as it gives me an opportunity to be spontaneously creative. My current master plan involves convincing Mr Out-of-towner that he really wants to become my personal ‘straight from the farm’ source of vegetables and fruit  (if you guys are reading this please ignore the comparison of your place to a farm).

I have a list of interesting things to grow, just a few to start with (hint, hint):
1) Kale – great as chips or in soups (I am completely obsessed)
2) Finger lime – an Australian native lime which is sometimes referred to as citrus caviar – I can only begin to imagine what I can do with this…
3) Rose apple – an apple/ guava-type fruit that apparently tastes like roses – it can only be good right!
4) Purple sweet potato – because it is purple (why else) and reminds me of my childhood – I am envisaging a sweet potato pie…
5) Strawberry guavas – tastes like strawberries (apparently) – I’m intrigued.

Do you dear reader have any strange and wonderful plants growing in your garden?

Anyway, while I work at getting my farm, ahem, I mean while I appeal to the kindness of the Out-of-towners to grow these plants that I couldn’t possibly live without (cue the dramatic music)… I got working with the latest gift bag containing rhubarb. Even if I do say so myself, this was delicious (and I normally don’t like rhubarb).  A particular mention should be made about the pie crust – this is a keeper, crunchy and very short – I’ve decided that this is my ‘go to’ pie crust recipe.

Enjoy!

Rhubarb and Strawberry tart

Pastry
180g  gluten-free flour (or plain flour)
50g almond meal
150g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
1 large egg

Work butter into flour using fingers until bread crumb consistency, add sugar and work through add eggs. Work into a ball. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Filling
400g rhubarb, chopped into 2-3cm pieces
100g strawberries, chopped into 2-3 cm pieces
1/4 cup heaped brown sugar
½ tbsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a loose bottom pie/ flan tin (you can see from the photos I used a rectangular one).  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, put aside.
Roll out pastry to fill the pie tin replace in fridge for 20 mins.
Pour the filling into the pastry lined tin and bake in the oven for 45 min – 1 hour (until pastry is golden brown).

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No ordinary apple pie – this one comes up roses!

So, about this ‘Gangnam Style’ dance craze that seems to be sweeping the globe (or at the very least the Australian media)… Upon my first viewing of the youtube clip (which has had almost 500,000,000 hits), I will admit to not getting it. I didn’t really find it all that funny or impressive, but acknowledged that perhaps I just was missing the point… and left it at that.

Last night Psy was on television dancing Gangnam Style and Ms TT commented that the more you watched the dance the more it appealed, in fact, it actually looked like it might require some skill to do what Psy himself describes as ‘riding a horse’. Since this craze taking the world by storm, I decided to ‘get with it’ and look up figure out what all the hype is about – thanks to good old trusty  wikipedia the pieces started to fall into place. It is a parody… things make far more sense and I guess the clip is kind of funny and relevant (at least in Korea) 😉  and you gotta respect the guy. Before you ask, I haven’t gone so far as to try it out… yet…

This ramble very little to do with this week’s recipe – unless you are willing to make the stretch that Gangnam is a horse-riding dance, horses eat apples, and here we have apple pie! (I did say it was a stretch and there is absolutely no explanation for the way my brain works).  This recipe was inspired by the much more beautiful dessert by Delicious with Jolien – my hints are:

  • don’t use a deep pie dish (I needed a lot of apples to make this one since my pie dish is very deep…)
  • use a peeler or mandolin to slice the apples – by using knife I think my pieces were a little too thick and short to make good petals
  • also, I think Delicious with Jolien‘s idea of sitting the rosettes on a custard is also a good one… I was just being lazy, plus I had a lot of apples to use up.

Rosy Apple Pie

Juice of one orange
10 red apples (5 peeled, 5 unpeeled), thinly sliced.
25g unsalted butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 sheets shortcrust pastry (or you could make your own :))

In a medium-large saucepan place the unpeeled apples. Just cover the apples with hot water and bring to the boil. Cook until softened.

In a medium-large saucepan add orange juice and peeled apples. Pour the liquid from the cooked apples above into this pot. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. Bring to the boil and cook until softened. Remove apples. With the liquid remaining in the saucepan, add butter and keep boiling until it is reduced into a thick sauce.

Oil and line a pie dish with the shortcrust pastry. Place the cooked (strained) peeled apples in the bottom of the dish. Using the unpeeled apples form rosettes (see here for instructions) and sit these atop the peeled apples.

Pour the sauce over the rosettes.

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 50-60 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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