Monday, 30 September 2013

September-October Flavor of the Month, Melbourne and a Short Break

Happy Spring, lovelies!

September-October Loves

Bright Heels

Let's be honest: being wrapped up in monochrome knits head to toe can be a bit… daggy, after a while. Eventually, we've got to reveal our daisy-white legs to the world underneath a skirt (gasp!). And what better things to dress your lower 3 inches in for their spring debut than a pair of bright, eye-catching pumps…


Moon Cake

In other news, the Chinese Moon cake Festival happens around this time, and while I am not Chinese in any way, any celebration where a certain food is at its core is right up my alley. Whilst in Melbourne recently (more on this later), my Mum and I took a trip to Chinatown, where I made it my mission to find one of these unusual baked goods. Some of my friends are Chinese and stirred my curiosity when I asked them about moon cake prior to my Melbourne visit. They told me that moon cake is hard to describe and as I bit into my lotus-paste-with-2-yolk version, I could see what they meant. The outer layer is thin and virtually tasteless, quite short yet soft, almost like a pastry crust. When you open the packet a scent of pure sweetness emerges, conjuring up images of sugar syrup, yet… also with a hint of 'earthliness'- I can't really describe it any other way. The first bite reveals a quite dense center, almost the consistency of firm play dough, and there are clear marks where your teeth made indentations in the cake.

You could say, overall, that this foodstuff is 'sweet', but not necessarily in the way that, perhaps a cake slice you buy in Acland Rd, St Kilda's is: layers of sponge drenched in liqueur, sandwiched between generous amounts of frosting it is not. Instead, the lotus seed flavor comes through first and foremost - which in itself is difficult to imagine, let alone having tasted it before. The most I can say about it is that it tastes 'earthy'- perhaps it is in part due to the pale forest green color of the inner. As you continue to take in the curious flavors and mouthfeel, eventually you will expose the yolk, sitting in a secret burrow, patiently expecting your arrival. It has a salty exterior which is in stark contrast to the (now noticeable) sweetness of the cake, and is very hard, almost crumbly, like a very hard boiled egg. This is what it's all about. The yolk, traditionally that of a duck's egg, is a symbol of the full moon.


On the drive home from school the other day, a hand-painted sign which Mum and I saw on the side of the road which read 'strawberries 3km' ignited an excitement and almost unbearable anticipation in me for a long-ago taste of these delicious jewels. "Can we go, please?!" I gasped. And off we went in the search of strawberries, with me sitting alert on the edge of the seat. 
Upon taking my first bite, I couldn't help but smile. It has been so long, and to me, summer doesn't really begin until you eat your first strawberry. But now, it seems summer is well and truly here.

From Tartelette blog


About a month ago Mum and I went on a short trip to Melbourne (mostly) in the name of finding out about a potential University to study architecture at in two years' time. The thing that struck me most about Melbourne was the eclectic mix of new and old. It's everywhere - heritage buildings neighbor glass-fonted apartment blocks, trams a fitted with state-of-the-art ticketing services or encase you in a 1950's relic of leather-apholstered seats and windows with wooden frames.

The Architecture


St Kilda's


Victoria Park Markets

A short 'so long'…

It's that time of year again: exams. The final, stressful push before months of sunny, lazy freedom. And because I really do want to go to that Melbourne university I visited last month, I really must keep my head down, tail up till early November (the 27th, to be exact!) you shall not be seeing me around these parts for a while. So long, friends, I'll be back with loads more stories to tell before you know it!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Finding Satisfaction in Simplicity (A double recipe post)

Friday night. My mission is simple: I need two batches of baked goods. But Im in a perfectionist, impatient sort of mood. Earlier in the day, I plan to make savory muffins, tasty and brimming full of veggies, but when I get home to realize I have hardly any of the main ingredients, my plan goes south. Now what? I turn to the cookbook cupboard, the overflow stored in a bookshelf in the lounge, the internet. But again and again I close a cookbook disappointed, yearning for that perfect taste that is just out of reach: "I use this book way too much. Don't have the ingredients. Too complicated. Boring. Not crowd-friendly. Won't transport." For a seldom occasion, I felt dejected. Baking didn't seem fun anymore. A chore. But I pressed on, determined not to let my pursuit, my craving for that one particular kind of recipe trump me.

The first recipe was an easy decision, more or less. A banana, bourbon and chocolate chip loaf from Joy the Baker's book would be made into muffins. Easy and delicious, but is taking alcohol-spiked food into an event a a school the most PC? I reasoned that all the alcohol would be evaporated during cooking anyway, and if I called them 'banana chocolate chip', what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. I still had the smallest doubts when they came out of the oven, and then I tried one. It was perfect. All soft and fluffy on the inside and choc-full of chips, with a crisp sugary top. Yes, I was rather happy with that.

Finding the second recipe was a little tougher. I was nearly at the end of my patience when I pulled down Bill Granger's 'Bill's Open Kitchen' and with little hope flipped through its 'Afternoon Tea' section. My family used to love Bills recipes for their simplicity and fresh flavors, but for one reason or another moved away from his books in recent years. I now regard Bill with a renewed enthusiasm as I am reminded of this easy-going fresh-is-best food philosophy, which is so effortlessly reflected in this recipe: apricot slice. It is so simple to make, but the finished product offers a satisfying contrast between sweet spongy cake and the zingy apricot. Mine wasn't the prettiest, but it certainly tasted fantastic!

Chocolate Bourbon-spiked Banana Bread

Makes one 8x4 inch or 9x5 inch loaf or about 18 muffins

2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ cups ripe mashed bananas (about 3)
1 tsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp bourbon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and flour a 8x4 inch or a 9x5 inch loaf pan, or line two muffin trays with patty cases. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, three to five minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add bananas, lemon juice and bourbon. Beat until well incorporated.
Turn the mixer on to low and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat until almost incorporated. Stop the mixer and remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the walnuts (if using) and the chocolate chips and incorporate the rest of the ingredients with a spatula.
Spoon mixture into loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. If making into muffins, divide mixture between patty cases and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow loaf to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely. Muffins in patty cases can be removed from trays when cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes, before cooling on a wire rack. Serve with milky coffee and enjoy.
Banana bread will keep for up to five days, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Apricot Slice

Makes 14 slices. I cut my slice into smaller pieces, which results in 30 slices.

185g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
75g (¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp baking powder 
pinch of salt
3 eggs
60 ml (¼ cup) milk
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
180g (6½ ounces) butter, softened
14 apricots, pitted and halved (this may vary depending on the size of the apricots)
2 Tbsp caster (superfine) sugar, extra

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F/Gas 2-3) Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Place the eggs, milk and vanilla in another bowl and mix to combine. pour the egg mixture and butter into the well in the dry ingredients and beat for two minutes until smooth.Spread the mixture evenly into a greased or non-stick 20x30 cm (8x12 inch) lamington tin.
Push the apricot halves, cut side up, evenly into the cake mixture in four rows of seven. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, sprinkle over extra sugar and cook for another 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cut into fingers with two apricot halves per slice.
NOTE: If fresh apricots are out of season, you can use bottled or canned ones. Drain preserved fruit well of juice or syrup.

Monday, 9 September 2013

60's Design and Tacos

This past week has been full-on, and I've only spent four of these days at school, thanks to a mid-term break on Monday. Sunday was a city day: Made a classic banana cake in the morning before heading to the art gallery with Mum to see California Design - an exhibition about how California influenced architecture, product design, fashion and a way of life from 1930 to 1965. It was inspiring to be surrounded by so may objects that carried with them curiosity, discovery, and opinion. The exhibition also encouraged my personal interest with architecture and furniture design, particularly when I learnt about Charles and Ray Eames' meticulous ergonomic research and testing for their project simply named Chair.

The 'Z' chair / A cool lamp
Early afternoon we met Dad at the City Works Depot, which is home to several new and exciting places to dine and treat yourself. We had lunch at the Food Truck Garage, a recently new installment serving up fresh and re-vamped twists on classic takeaways such as burgers with a beef & beetroot patty, lettuce, tomato, gherkins and a mysterious "awesome sauce" (which earns its name). There are also hot dogs, tacos, home-made drinks and a weekly-changing specials, not to mention an effortlessly-cool, laid-back vibe.

I've been back to the grindstone stone since Tuesday, and working hard at that. The prospect of being House and/or School Prefects next year is weighing on my mind a lot lately and on those of my friends. It's odd and uncomfortable when you realize your competition is those people who you talk to everyday; being torn between wanting the best for yourself and the best for others. But as they say: que sera, sera. As the end of my school year is fast approaching - I effectively don't have a 'tern four' - study for external exams has continued off the back of mock exams just a few weeks ago. Oh, so intense!

Thank you thank you thank you, therefore, for long weekends, when you can spend the whole afternoon in the kitchen and not feel (too) guilty, taking time to make a dinner as completely from scratch as possible. Since my craving for home-cooked mexican, I hadn't found anything satisfying but simple enough to fulfill my hankering until now. Early in the afternoon I made the tortillas, stacked them, wrapped them up in tinfoil and left them on the bench. I put the chicken on to marinate in the fridge. Before dinner time, I barbecued the chicken, put the tortillas in the oven to warm up, made the salad, sliced the chicken, sliced up half an avocado and plated up. BUT I kept each component separate, so we could each make our tacos just the way we liked them.