Friday, 7 January 2022

Christmas In My Kitchen


Happy New Year!  January is traditionally the month for starting anew.  But it seems that this year will bring more of the same.  A lot more if we look at Covid cases in Australia.  The country has gone from 1,710 on 4 December to 47,813 on 4 January and today has more more cases per capita than the USA.  How did it come to this after 2 years of controlling Covid in Fortress Australia!  Testing is out of control, restrictions are being reintroduced and everyone is anxious.  Thank goodness for stone fruit and chocolate.

And in retrospect, perhaps we were lucky to enjoy Christmas as much as we were able.  Here are a few memories of some good food over the festive season.  Above is a picture of our Christmas breakfast at home.  I baked cranberry and walnut rolls on the previous day to have with swiss cheese, cranberry relish and orange juice (with pink lemonade for Sylvia)!


We visited my parents in the week before Christmas.  My brother was visiting from interstate.  It was good to go to the beach with him.  Then he made a wonderful tofu larb made with onions, vegan fish sauce, lime juice and, the secret ingredient, roasted and ground rice.  Delicious with flatbread and lettuce.

On another night my mum and Sylvia and I had amazing wood fired pizza from Pizza Bar.  The base was wonderful light and charred around the edges.  The margherita in the photo was really good.

These baked triple cream brie and quince paste crisps from Coles were rather tasty and a little fancy.



We had to try this Cobani flip with santa's milk and cookies.  It was a cute packet but the cho chip cookie crumbs were not enough chocolate for me.



Christmas lunch in Geelong with my parents and siblings was a lovely feast as usual.  I made my favourite Christmas nut loaf, my mum made crispy roast potatoes and a miso ginger pumpkin, my aunt brought a vegan roast and my sister made her signature cauliflower cheese.  Another sister and her daughter made bon-bons from a kit she found in Spotlight.  We also drank punch and ate pudding and toblerone cheesecake.

I went home that night with lots of leftovers.  The next night I had everything but roast potatoes so I cooked up some gnocchi with garlic olive oil and parmesan.  It worked really well.


And there were presents.  This Mary Lou Pittard bread and butter plate, small salad bowl and dip bowl with poppies are so lovely.

And there was chocolate and a novel.  I am really enjoying reading the book about a very infectious virus that affects only men.

Here are some of Sylvia's presents.  I love the notepad with the jotting "socially unacceptable ideas and impure thoughts" with such an innocent little girl on the cover.

On New Year's Eve we had a quiet night.  It was 38 C and so hot that rice paper rolls seemed the best thing to eat.  I made some tofu bacon to stuff in them with vermicelli and salad.

New Year's Eve was not without some indulgence.  We had a supermarket gingerbread pudding with butterscotch sauce.

The pudding did not come out of its tub properly but the gold was really sparkly.  It was really delicious with the butterscotch sauce and ice cream.

It has been nice to have a break over the last few weeks.  I have had more time for Sylvia, visited my family in Geelong, been swimming at Torquay beach, met some friends for lunch and watched a lot of Chicago Med on Netflix.  I am back to work next week.  The government is strongly recommending we work from home if possible. 

NOTE: Sherry of Sherry's Pickings is taking a well-earned break in January fro, her monthly In My Kitchen round up but is back in February.

Friday, 31 December 2021

Reflections 2021

It is odd to have had recent conversations about how we miss 2020 because at least we had optimism then.  This year has been more stressful with continual cycles of hope and despair.  At the end of last year, we had a handful of covid cases in Melbourne and were looking ahead to better times.  As the end of 2021 is upon us, 2022 does not hold any such promises.  We know we can fit in good times here and there, as we did this year, but that the challenges with covid keep coming.  Swimming in the outdoor pool bookended the start and end of the year.  Here are some more things that happened this year:


New bike shelter.  Old car broke down on the freeway.  Knitting.  Purchased new car.  Face masks.  Sourdough baking.  Cinema.  Hand Sanitiser.  New shower screen.  Ocean swimming. QR codes.  Postponing events.  Jigsaw.  Lockdowns.  Streaming TV series.  Vaccine strollout.  Spotify.  Sylvia started high school.  Farmers Markets.  PCR tests.  Missed birthdays.  Ash Barty winning Wimbledon.  Walks with friends.  Our cat, Shadow, seriously ill with kidney damage.  Earthquake.  Pub lunches.  Remote Schooling.  Quarantine.  Twitter.  PPE.  Chatting with neighbours.  Vaccine certificate.  Reading.

Notable deaths included Christopher Plummer, Desmond Tutu, Andrew Peacock, Joan Didion, Prince Phillip, Eric Carle, Lorrae Desmond, Stephen Sondheim, Bert Newton.

I did not go on holiday anywhere in 2020 so I really appreciated that we had time out of lockdown this year when I was able to travel.  In January, Sylvia and I had a lovely holiday staying in a farm cottage just outside Yarram.  It was exciting to be on a plane again in April when I flew to Sydney for a two day meeting.  And in December after 2 postponements, I stayed down at a quiet area of the Mornington Peninsula at Shoreham with work colleagues. 

 

We learnt to make the most of being out of lockdown, helped by a highly vaccinated population towards the end of the year.  It felt amazing that I could eat out at cafes, go to the beach, visit art exhibitions and go to the cinema.  Even driving to places outside Melbourne felt like an amazing taste of freedom.

We had been working from home since March 2020 so it was really exciting to be back in the office in January 2021.  Team work is so much easier when you are in the same room.  We still had days working from home but it was great to spend more time chatting over a pub lunch than on a zoom call. 


However we had four lockdowns, the longest in the second half of the year.  Melbourne had the dubious honour of being the city that had spent the longest time in covid lockdowns.  Sylvia enjoyed being in year 7 in the classroom but struggled with remote schooling.  Then she was in quarantine twice as a close contact.  Everyone was over video link ups.  Everyone was over lockdowns (not just those out protesting).  I've never known a time before this when I knew so many people with so many mental health problems, including children.  Everyone has their own story of their struggles.

Our great hope was vaccinations.  This was seen as our path to freedom but it also was a cause of much contention.  Though our Prime Minister said it was not a race, it was.  We were comparing ourselves, state to state, nation to nation, rich to poor, healthy to immuno-compromised, old to young.  The anti vax and anti pandemic legislation protest marches in Melbourne, as well as corrupt and lying politicians was a lowlight of the year (as well as the desperation of people in the evacuation of Kabul airport in Afghanistan).  The bravery of women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins gave us hope that there might be something done about systematic sexism.


The delays to the vaccination roll out in Australia meant longer lockdowns in Melbourne, less time to recover before Omricon hit and less trust in the federal government.  It was not surprising that wealthy nations focused on their own vaccinations and failed to give enough attention to supporting developing countries' programs.  More surprising is that politicians thought that vaccination made it ok to put the economic concerns before public health.  While vaccinations have made it easier to live with covid, we have still had challenges of vaccines waning and the constantly emerging variants (hello Delta and Omricon).

One thing I learnt during our long lockdown in 2020, was that we needed to pivot to keep in touch with friends.  I've missed having people over for a cuppa or a meal but I have enjoyed all the walking I have done with friends around suburban streets and parks.  I've also moved from long emails to short texts to keep in touch as my energy waned.  While I didn't bake much, I it was nice to do some baking that I could share when I met up with friends. 

But I missed some people who were outside our Melbourne metropolitan area, especially family.  When I saw some of my siblings on Christmas day it was the first time I had seen them in the flesh since June this year.  I still don't know when I will see my sister who lives in Ireland and I am aware of many people around me who are separated from family and friends who lives far away.

 
 
Favourites of 2021:

A pandemic makes me appreciate the good times I was able to have in 2021.  So I feel fortunate to share some of my favourite things that happened to me this year.  Much of it was inside the home due to lockdowns but there was a bit of fun out and about.   The first meal I mention is one that I didn't photograph or blog but it was great fun, because I have never had a meal where we each have a hotplate in front of us to heat the broth to cook my meal.  It was like restaurant theatre.  I also enjoyed it hugely because of the kindness of my colleagues with whom I shared the meal in looking out for me both as someone who does not speak Chinese and also as a vegetarian.

Meal out - No 1 Delicious Hot Pot and BBQ, 551 Swanston Street (03 9349 1358)

Restaurant dish - Vegan cheese, figs and greens at Transformer

Cafe - Boot Factory

Fiction book - Future girl by Asphyxia

Non-fiction book - Eggshell skull by Bri Lee

Newly released film - The father

Aussie tv series -  The newsreader

International tv series - Only murders in the building

Aussie current affairs - Insiders 

International current affairs program - The Last Leg

Spotify song - I'll take lonely tonight by Tim Minchin


Favourites in 2021 cooking and baking:

My blogging energy was pretty low this year but it feels good to have a blog in this time of so many scial media platforms.  Of the 54 posts this year, only 21 were recipes.  A lot of posts were photos relating to covid and street art.  Sadly I had more opportunity to take photos on bike rides than to share special food with friends and family.  My cooking energy was also down so it was great to have blogging to help me continue to learn and be inspired, as well as the extensive archive that I consult from time to time.

Savoury bakes - Baked curried sausages (vegetarian)

Savoury stovetop - Vegan pad thai with besan omelette

Salad - Sweet potato buckwheat and greens salad

Pastry dish - Cheese and potato quiche

Sweet no bake - Licorice allsort slice

Sweet baking - Sourdough cinnamon scrolls


So 2021 has been a tough and tiring year.  But I am grateful for all the support I have had this year, all the kind words, the meals shared, the company and help in many ways.  Blogging has changed so much in the 14 years since I started.  It is good to see that there are still some brilliant blogs out there for when I find the time to visit other blogs.  And I hope to be sharing more good food in 2022 on this blog. I wish you all the best for 2022.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Shoreham: Work retreat, eating, beach, Red Hill Market


My workplace has a yearly retreat in the country to relax together away from work.  This year was a challenge with lockdowns causing two postponements but in early December, I joined colleagues in a weekend in Shoreham on the West coast of Western Port Bay.  It was lovely to get out of town to enjoy some fine food, beaches and the Red Hill Market. 

We rented a large holiday lodge (part of Iluka Retreat, 20 Shoreham Rd) which I was told was the sort of place where they hold girl guide camps.  It was about 2 hours drive, plus more with all the road works and heavy traffic.  After a busy day I arrived as everyone was walking to dinner.  I was so tired I had to drive there.

Dinner was at the Flying Calamari Brothers cafe at Ashcombe Maze (15 Shoreham Rd).  Before dinner we went to explore the maze and gardens.  (Usually it costs $18.50 but we did not have to pay, maybe because we were eating there.)  The maze was a labyrinth of hedges.  I enjoyed wandering through the different garden areas, and was impressed by the circular rose garden.

The menu was an extended fish and chips menu.  I was pleased there were some salads and vegetarian options.  I ordered gado gado and had a side of chips.  I was glad to have some comforting hot chips but with a decent serve of colourful vegies.  But I was so tired that I left early with one of my colleagues for an evening walk along the beach.  The ocean is good for tired souls.

The next morning most of the group went to a Bushrangers Bay hike but I opted to have a quieter morning at the market and beach.  First stop was the Red Hill Market.  It is one of the older community craft markets in the state which is held on the first Saturday of each month.  The December market was full of fun Christmas items.

I was surprised I had to pay $5 for parking in the country but it was a busy place.  The market was big and took a while to walk through.  Above is one of the areas with lots of coffee carts, food trucks and queues.  Most of the market was outside around a sports oval but there were a few indoor areas in sheds too (where face masks had to be worn).  I enjoyed walking about but still cringe a little at crowds since the lockdown.

I had wished I felt more organised about Christmas presents because there were lots of great gifts.  I was fascinated to see these Bluey bags.  My daughter is too old to have been a fan of Bluey but I am quite interested in it and we had been having some bingewatching of Bluey over the holidays.  It is delightful, though it seems very strange they keep vegemite in the fridge!

I think all the Christmas craft would appeal to anyone who - unlike us - does not have bags of Christmas stuff that had to be stored all year between festive seasons.  There were also lots of candles, toys, garden decorations, wind chimes, clothes, jewellery, crockery, body creams and food.

The food on offer was not regular groceries.  It was mostly either something to eat on site or fancy gifts, with just a little fruit and vegetables.  Some was just a joy to view (these plum puddings arranged in Christmas tree formation), others were so tempting (chocolate slices), alarmingly expensive (a punnet of organic cherries for $35), or intriguing (banana jam).  You can see a few of my purchases in my December In My Kitchen post.  I also bought a fantastic pain au chocolate for brunch because the queue for profitjes was far too long.


After the market, I drove over to Point Leo, where I had been reassured by those who knew the area that there was a fine beach.  No one mentioned the $4 to drive in, which surprised me.  I parked near the boat ramp and walked around to where the beach was quieter and had less rocks on the sand.

It was a cool early summer day.  This did not stop me walking through the waves but it did mean that my feet were rather cold and took a while to warm up.  There were so few people at the part of the beach where I was that I was loathe to go too far out on a beach that I didn't know.  I like to see others out further than me but there were none.  I talked to colleagues later and said I didn't like to go out too far in case of sharks and was told there is a local shark who just swims about but is harmless.  I still would not like to face it alone!

I returned to our accommodation and had a nice hot shower after my "swim". I then headed out with a group to the Red Hill Brewery (88 Shoreham Road) for a late lunch.  I ordered nachos with cheese & salsa, topped with guacamole, black beans, sour cream & jalapeno.  It was a tasty but rather large serving and I left some for colleagues to finish off.

A few of my colleagues had tasting paddles of the different beers, including some Christmas specials.  I regret not remembering which ones they had but I know they enjoyed them.  Although a whole paddle was much better shared than just for one person.

One odd experience at the brewery was checking in with QR codes and vaccine passports when we arrived.  WiFi in the area was patchy and a group of us were waving our phones about to try and get enough of a signal to check in.

We went back to the accommodation to relax and prepare for dinner.  It was nice to chat and even go for a walk around the lake.  One colleague and I were out exploring this area when we came across a snake curled up.  We slowly backed away.  My colleague thought it was a red bellied black snake but it was pretty relaxed so we didn't feel threatened by it.  (Having said that, when I spoke to a friend after the retreat she said her partner had been bitten by a snake twice in the past 6 months, both times noticing the fang marks and blood after the snake had gone but the hospital had confirmed they were dry not venomous bites.)   We also enjoyed watching the kookaburras.

 

My colleagues come from a variety of countries and make some impressive dishes.  I am always grateful that they look out for me as a vegetarian.  One group was at the BBQ, another was making dumplings from scratch, a group made salads and one made Tachin.  A special vegetarian version made without chicken.  This Iranian dish was made by parboiling the rice, then mixing it with egg, yoghurt and saffron and frying until crispy.  Served with barberries, it was a real treat.  In fact, the whole meal was pretty special.

We had a round of dish washing after the mains.  We also packaged up the leftovers and a gentle tut tutting for our catering volunteer who failed in his main task to make sure we didn't have heaps of leftovers!  It was good to have a break before digging into the red velvet cake, cherries and ginger fudge (I made the last one by mixing chocolate, condensed milk, butter and gingery coconut flakes).  While we ate it in front of a roaring fire, my director led us in a trivia quiz and some fun awards.

The next morning everyone was tidying up the food and getting ready to go home.  WiFi was so bad that I drove to Shoreham beach for a quick walk and to check into my GPS.  Shoreham seems a great place to get away from the rat race because crowds are discouraged by patchy WiFi and lots of seaweed on the beach.

I wished I had eaten more for breakfast so I stopped at the Merricks General Wine Store (3460 Frankston-Flinders Road) for a pain de chocolate and orange juice to fuel me for the journey.  I liked the look of the dining room but needed to make a move.

The area seems to have lots of wineries, as well as beaches and scenic walks.  I am familiar with the Port Phillip Bay side of the Mornington Peninsula but not the Westernport Bay side where Shoreham is located.  It is less busy and feels more rural.


One last sight on the way home was this speed sign with political stickers.  It is hard to escape politics even when in a quiet corner of the country.  But it was nice to get away and have some relaxing times with colleagues after a year where many of us have been stuck at home for so long in lockdown.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Christmas in Melbourne and Geelong 2021

Last Christmas seemed odd enough but this one in 2021 is even further from normal.  Not only are we still feeling the effects of lockdown but, unlike last year, the covid cases are increasing at an alarming rate and we are all on edge about the Omricon variant.  Despite the challenges, there are moments of joy and hope, Christmas celebrations at work, time with family, baking and Christmas lights.  Here are a few photos of good times.

An impressive cheese platter at our work Christmas party at a bowling club.  My director is incredible the way he wins year after year.  It was great to meet people in our Centre that I had emailed but not yet met.


I had a fantastic lunch with my work team at University Cafe in Lygon Street.  It is quite some time since I had a three course meal.  We started with antipasto and focaccia, then I had canneloni, and then a wonderful warm chocolate mud cake with fudgy chocolate sauce.


I also had a great brunch at Florian in Rathdowne Street with my friend Eliza.  She had rhubarb and golden oats.  I had toast with macadamia cream, peas, asparagus, zucchini flowers and shisho leaves.  It was so satisfying.  I haven't had much time and energy to catch up with friends lately but hope to do this more after Christmas.


I was amused by some gift wrapping decorating the entrance to the Kathleen Syme Library in Carlton.

As I have driven and ridden around the suburbs, I have enjoyed the purple bloom of Jacaranda trees.  Flowers bring hope so I took a photo of this impressive tree in the Princess Hill area of North Carlton.

We decorated a Christmas tree at home.  After last year's tree couldn't stay upright, I am very happy to have invested in a new tree stand.


Sylvia helped me make these gingerbread men and decorated them herself.


I started a few weeks leave on Monday so we had a couple of days in Geelong with my parents.  While there, my dad drove us around to see some of the houses with impressive Christmas lights.



This house was impressive with lots of Australian animals, in the manger scene, outlined in lights on the fence and in blow up characters in the garden.


 
And on the side fence of this house were some kangaroos pulling santa in an old ute.  The creativity was impressive.


Perhaps one of my favourite Christmas house decorations was Santa on a shark in this house in Torquay, where I had a swim with my brother.

I had hoped to write more posts before the end of the year but there has been too much else to attend to.  However, as always, I have hope I might have more time over my holidays to write up a few posts.  Meanwhile I hope you enjoy Christmas and/or holidays.  It has been such a tough year that we all need a break.  And stay safe while covid is yet again racing through our populations.

More Christmas in Melbourne posts: