Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oops I did it again - return to the Flute

Today I had to run an errand out to Fyshwick.  As I let the crew know where I was going, an eager head popped around the corner.  "Does that mean you are going to Flute" he asked.

I would be lying if my proximity to the bakery that has stolen my heart hadn't occurred to me, but now there was office expectation.  It was my duty - my duty I tell you - to return with delicious baked goods.

And so I diligently went, found a park, made my way through the crowds and selected this drool-worthy strawberry tart.  Encased in a crisp pastry shell was a layer of berry frangipane, topped with custard and gorgeous strawberries.  Just the scent of those strawberries was enough to make the mouth water.

And yes, it was as delicious as it looks and was devoured by a hungry team in record time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The taste of a memory

In 2009, two girlfriends and I bid farewell to our loved ones, travelled across the Pacific Ocean and set about discovering South America.  Of the amazing myriad of brilliant experiences we had, food remains some of the clearest memories.

Today a colleague returned from his own South American odyssey.  While his trip took him to different regions, I knew there was one thing he was bound to come across that he could bring back and remind me of the brilliant time I spent there - alfajores from Havanna.

Havanna (aside from being the capital of Cuba) is an Argentinian coffee house chain which makes the best alfajores, the national biscuit of Argentina.  Don't you love a country that has a national biscuit?  They are two sweet crumbly biscuits sandwiched together with dulche de leche a type of caramel and coated in dark chocolate, and they are divine!

He was good enough to bring back a box for the office along with mine, so everyone could try the deliciousness without having to get into my stash.  I don't actually have a picture of one because as soon as that foil packet is opened, they tend to disappear!  Now the hard decision arises, who will I share my 16 mini alfajores with?  Or will I just hide the box and eat them all?  Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bacon Tax

Today as I sat at my desk happily eating lunch a colleague emerged from his office. 

Colleague: What are you eating that smells so delicious
Me: Pasta bake
Colleague: It must be full of great stuff
Me: Oh yeah, lots of vegies, plus cheese and bacon.
Colleague: Bacon!  I thought we banned that for smelling too yummy.

This lead to a long discussion which ended in him deciding we should have an office bacon tax.  Basically he thinks if you are going to bring food into the office that smells more delicious that your colleagues' boring sandwiches you should be taxed.  Like a swear jar, the bacon profits could then be plowed into providing those with boring lunches a treat to make them happier.

Of course we couldn't limit it to bacon, it would need to be expanded to include the curries another colleague is famous for and raisin toast.  Oh and hot chips, the list goes on.

What tempting food smells should your colleagues be taxed for?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spring has sprung

There is still officially a week and a half of winter to go, but no one has told the trees and the flowers.  In the last week spring has most definitely sprung in Canberra.

While the mornings are still cool enough to warrant a coat, by the afternoon temperatures have risen to a point where you forget it, leaving it on the office coat stand to be cursed about the next morning.  Recent rain has given the plants something to feed on and this week is warm and sunny enough to enable washing to be line dried.

With this perfect growing weather avenues of blossom trees have broken out, the scent of one stand just up the road from my office is incredibly heady and they are buzzing with bees.  The willows behind the lake have taken on the soft green fuzz of new leaves and bare branches everywhere have taken on the reddish hue that shows the sap is flowing and greenery is about to appear.

In my garden the daffodils are putting on a gorgeous show.  The fancy doubles stand above minis and there is one especially lovely white and yellow one that guards over all the rest.  They catch the sun from morning to afternoon and just glow.  It really is a beautiful time of year.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Green Tea Muffins

This weekend S introduced me to something he had been raving about for ages - green tea muffins.  I have to admit to being slightly skeptical, but he kept on about how brilliant they were, so I gave them a go.  And they were well worth it.  They are extremely light and fluffy.  While they are sweet, the green tea and almond flavours balance it so that they don't have the cloying over sweetness that you get in a lot of muffins.

The recipe is from a colleague of S's so I'm not sure on it provenance, but wherever it came from they are certainly delicious and a unique and unusual flavour that I think would be lovely as part of a larger afternoon tea.

Green Tea Muffins

1/2 cup soy yoghurt (I just used natural yoghurt)
2/3 cup rice milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I would probably halve this in future as it was a little strong)
1and 1/4 cups plain flour - I used self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda - I didn't use this
3 to 4 teaspoons matcha tea powder - ideally you need to get the Japanese one from an Asian grocery, and make sure it's the one without added sugar, however we couldn't get it so we just used green tea powder.
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius and line muffin pan with liners
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, rice milk, vanilla, oil and almond extract, beating well to blend in the yoghurt. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, matcha powder, salt and sugar. If using rice flour it will be a little lumpy. (I just used ordinary white flour). Beat a little longer to break up any large lumps. Fill liners two-thirds full and bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted through the centre of one comes out clean. Cool on racks before topping with glaze.

2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon matcha tea powder
1 to 2 tablespoons rice milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (I would probably omit this in future, although S loved it)
Drop of vanilla extract

1. With a fork, beat margarine to fluff, then mix in icing sugar and matcha to form a crumbly mixture. Slowly beat in 1 tablespoon rice milk, almond extract and vanilla. If icing is too thick to spread pour in additional rice milk a teaspoon at a time an mix till desired consistency is reached.

Dollop on the cupcakes then smooth over.  We didn't decorate them, however when S had them the first time they were decorated with little silver balls and icing flower.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Listography - Guilty Pleasures

Kate Takes 5's listography this week is all about guilty pleasures.  You know, the things you love but are slightly embarrassed to admit.  Ok, deep breath, here is my list:

1. Melting chocolate in the microwave and eating it with a spoon
Yeah, I really do sometimes do this.  My sister and I used to do it when we were kids, I still do, I bet she does too.  Add a cup of tea or a glass of red wine - bliss.

2. And on the topic, anything containing melted cheese
I adore cheese, but it is so much better melted.  For parties I make this thing where I basically cook a brie in the oven so it is melted on the inside.  I recently saw an episode of "Cheese Slices" (it is a travel show about cheese - I kid you not) where they cut a massive wheel of cheese in half, then had a special gadget that melted the cut side which they scrapped it off onto bread to eat, then they put it back under the element, remelted it, etc.  S and I turned to each other and unanimously agreed we needed that device.

3. Pop Music
If I'm asked what kind of music I like I will talk about jazz, 60's rock, opera, etc.  But you know, I really love a bit of pop every now and then.  It is even better if it is from the 80's.  Kylie, George Michael, the Bangles, boy bands, god help me, I will even sing along to the Spice Girls.

4. Shoes
I refuse to count my shoes for fear that it will incriminate me.  Lets just put it this way, I have to do a seasonal rotation as they won't all fit in the cupboard and the special going out shoes are in a whole other storage space.  And now I've decided I want to wear flats more, so I guess I will have to buy a whole lot of new ones!

5. Long Hot Showers
I don't feel quite so guilty about this one as we are having reasonable rainfall at the moment, but particularly when the drought was bad I felt guilty about using so much water.  But I love a long shower, not only does it wake me up, it relaxes me and definitely improves my mood - just ask the colleagues who had to put up with me the other day when the temperature hit -8 overnight and my hot water pipe froze so I couldn't have my wake up shower.

So what are your guilty pleasures?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mini Break

Last weekend I had a lovely mini-break as S showed me around his hometown of Adelaide.  Here are a few of the fun and quirky sights from the trip.

One of the gorgeous bridges over the Torrens.  There is loads of lovely architecture in Adelaide, particularly in the centre and I spent all weekend spotting beautiful buildings.

A fun sculpture in the middle of Rundle Mall.  That is an actual rubbish bin.  There are several pigs in the area, each one with a name, this is Oliver.

Some excellent graffiti art.

A beautiful glass bowl at the Jam Factory.  The Jam Factory is a collection of studios, galleries and a shop.  They produce glass, metal, wood, pottery, and jewellery works.

The Jam Factory was open for a special family day.  There were demonstrations, kimchi pancakes and the choir in a box.  You popped one of those cardboard coins into the slot and a great choir would sing.  It was brilliant.  S and I are still theorising on just how many people were in that box.

The South Australian Art Gallery.  A gorgeous space with fantastic art on display.

Chips with mayo at the Belgium Beer Cafe.  I just loved the paper cone the chips came in and the fact that they had little wooden stands just perfect for holding the cone and a decent serve of deliciously garlicky mayo.  Neither of us had a beer, that is cider in the background.

An empty mike just waiting for a comic.  A great night was had at the Comix Comedy Club.  I've never been to a comedy club before, we had a fantastic time, even if our proximity to the stage made us targets for comedians looking for young lovers to pick on.

The lighthouse at Port Adelaide.  It was a beautiful day, just perfect for strolling around the port.

Ancient stenciling.  We just don't have buildings this old in Canberra.  But also check out the name of the solicitor above.  Is that not a perfect name for a lawyer?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood

When I was a child I had a book about a little girl looking out her window on a grey, rainy day.  Everything she can see is shades of grey, except in an abandoned lot across the street there is a bright flower.  She puts on her raincoat, goes out and picks the flower.  She brings it home and they set the table with all sorts of brightly coloured things with the flower in the middle and have a lovely warm dinner.

On grey wet days I often think of that story and how from a very early age it taught me to find the happy, bright things in what can be a sad grey world.

Today is a grey, wet day with showers and cold wind, but as I looked out the window I spied not a bright flower but Little Red Riding Hood.  In reality Little Red Riding Hood was probably about 80 but her jaunty bright red coat and hood against the grey day was so cheerful it made me smile instantly.

I hope you have found a bright moment in your day today!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Keeping the faith in dark times

I (like I assume pretty much everyone else) have been glued to the news over the past day watching with sickening horror the riots in London and now other parts of the UK.  The images of rioters is not something new, however they usually have a cause.  They are protesting for political change or against multinational corporations or something.  The thing which I have found so scary about the sight unfolding in the UK is the seeming lack of reason beyond a fearless defiance of authority, the opportunity for theft and enjoyment in destruction.

At times like this, thoughts immediately turn to those we know and love who live in the vicinity.  I'm pleased to say that no one I know has been directly affected, although a friend of a friend had their flat burned down and everyone seems on edge as they wait for the next night to fall.

But as always, it seems when times are dark and troubled, ordinary people emerge and do wonderful things.  I'm sure the coming days will reveal many heroic stories along the lines of the kitchen staff from the Ledbury restaurant defending their patrons with rolling pins and deep fryer baskets, but the story that really made me smile this morning was that of the Wombles.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people have turned up all over London armed not with the weapons of the night before, but with brooms to help clear the mess.  Nicknamed the Wombles, they are showing those whose businesses and homes have been damaged and destroyed that the community is behind them and ready to support them.  I think it really goes to show, that despite the terror that a relatively small group of people can inflict, what it does is inspire a community to rally together.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sour Cream and Orange Pancakes with Blackberry Sauce

It was a grey, damp, cold Sunday morning so I decided to make a brunch filled with sunshiny flavours.

Sour cream and orange pancakes with blackberry sauce filled the house with warmth and the scents of summer, and wouldn't you know it, by the time we sat down to eat them the sun was out.  S says these are the best ever pancakes.

I am somewhat of a free form cook, so all measurements are guesstimates based on what I think I chucked in the bowl, just taste along the way to make sure the flavour balance works.

Sour Cream and Orange Pancakes
150g sour cream
3 tablespoons golden syrup
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more if you like it)
finely grated rind of half an orange
3/4 cup self raising flour

Whisk together the sour cream, golden syrup, egg, vanilla and orange zest.

Mix in flour.  The mix will now be very thick.  Add about a tablespoon at a time add the milk till it is a thick but spoonable mixture.

Melt butter in a non-stick pan over a medium heat, make sure the pan is properly heated.  Fry large spoonfuls until golden brown.  You know they are ready to flip when bubbles start appearing on the top.  This mix should make about 6 15-20cm pancakes.

Blackberry Sauce
150g frozen blackberries
tablespoon butter
juice of half an orange
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Put everything in a small pot, bring to a boil then gently simmer until the pancakes are ready.

The combination of orange and blackberry is so great you will want indecent amounts of sauce!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Snapshots of the week

Many things have been making me smile this week, here are a few snapshots:

Blackforest Log from the Flute Bakery - chocolate cake topped with morello cherries, cherry mousse and white chocolate mouse.  Accompanied by choc mint and raspberry macroons.
Washing that was dried in the sun and unseasonably (but delightfully) warm temperatures.  And yes, I do iron my pillowcases and doona cover.
Going home while the sun is up!  The days are finally long enough that I get to admire the sunset over the lake while I drive home.
The first signs of spring

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wet Paint

The building that my office is in is being painted.  Finally the hideous shades of yellow with a green trim which has always clashed with the pink and grey tiles will be gone - apparently to be replaced with shades of charcoal.  I'm hoping it is an improvement, but given that they just seem to be painting right over the old stuff without stripping it back, I think the opportunity for the green to come through again is high.

All of which means that once I step out of the office door I step into a world of wet paint.  I don't know what it is about a wet paint sign but as soon as I see it, I just want to touch the paint.  It is like when someone puts a dish on the table and says "be careful it is hot" honestly you just know half of the people at the table are going to want to poke it.

I feel a bit like a naughty child, tempted to do what is banned.  I wonder if I'm alone in this, or does everyone want to touch what they are told not to?

Monday, August 1, 2011


In the midst of the coldest days of winter, when the fog hangs low, the frost lies thick and the night is heavy on both ends of the day, the wattle flowers.  Those luminous yellow balls of sunshine light up the cold winter landscape and you know that summer is on its way.  The sight of it glowing from the dull countryside lightens my heart as soon as I see it.