Saturday 27 June 2020

Double chocolate muffins - and the Victorian Covid19 Spike

The last week has been full of ups and downs.  At the start of the week in Victoria we were so pleased to be doing well and looking forward to more easing of restrictions.  Then the Corona Virus numbers started going up each day.  We were told that instead of restrictions easing, they were tightening up again.  We made these chocolate muffins at the start of the week but like our luck, they ran out too quickly!

Here is a photo of the only meal I have had out since lockdown restrictions eased in May.  My work group had a meal at Naughtons Hotel in Carlton in the first blush of excitement at opening up and getting our of our houses.  I had a superb main meal of "Roast vegetable wellington, mushroom duxelle & butternut, kale, pepitas" ($28).  We also shared some "thick cut chips, Gruyere cheese, Romanescu" and mushroom and preserved lemon arancini with pecorino".  The chips with the creamy cheesy sauce were a wonderful accompaniment to the vegies in pastry.  I also had an excellent Seedlip Garden, elderflower and soda to drink.  I have not heard of Seedlip before but now I am curious to know more about this non-alcoholic distillery.

This cat towel was purchased at Northland shopping centre.  I went out there with a friend when the diagnoses were so small that we were feeling safer.  I really went there because I wanted to get a vinyl patching kit for a hole in a vinyl chair.  You can see it below.  On the trip a seatbelt in the car broke so I needed it to get my car serviced and the seatbelt fixed.

My part of Melbourne has been linked to the hotspots but then when they narrowed down to suburbs, my suburb was not named.  It was a relief but instead of opening up more, we are told during the week that restrictions get tougher again.  We are going backwards.  Now Northland is linked to a Corona Virus cluster.  And politicians in other states are telling people to avoid people from Melbourne. 

Check out Sammy J's satirical video to see some gentle fun poked at Victorians by one of our own.  And the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper had a go at us today, saying that security at NSW rugby matches would be checked for Victorian telltale signs "such as ankle pants, fedora hats, fixed-gear bicycles, vinyl record players, political ideals and Victorians’ uninhibited embrace of their own cliches."  Yes the other states are enjoying more easing of lockdown and having a dig at Victoria!  And the sports fans are sad that they are having to wait longer to go to footy matches.  (Rugby!  Who watches that?)

The timing of the outbreak of Corona Virus is unfortunately happening as the school holidays start this weekend.  It is hard to know what we can and can't do now.  It seems back to working around the house, reading and craft projects.  Sylvia was so excited about the last day of school followed by a sleepover that she made these bath bombs  before I got up yesterday (and had even cleared up after herself, which is even more amazing!)  I have been to get more paint made so I can paint over some patches on our walls and finished patching the vinyl today.  I wish I could say I was flying through The Children's Book but am a bit slower than I would like.  But I hold great hopes for my week of annual leave coming up.

Our cat, Shadow, is not only able to amuse us (as you can see in the photo above from today while he played on the carport roof) but also loves to snuggle close by.  He has curled on the sofa next to me while I have been watching a few films lately.  Our local ABC iview has lots of Australian films available for free.  Sylvia and I watched Muriel's Wedding which is a part of our culture ("you're terrible, Muriel").  I watched Goldstone which is an impressive example of what a Western would be like in Australia.  And tonight I watched the Goldfinch (on Netflix), which we were going to watch with my bookgroup but never got around to.  It lacks the richness and depth of the novel but feels every bit as long!

We bought cat food last week (and bought a cute bag) but, more importantly, bought toilet paper recently.  Soon after the was a run on toilet paper in the supermarkets!  Again!  Can you believe that yet again the supermarkets are limiting how much people can buy!  Again!  It beggars belief. 

So you might not be surprised to hear that by midweek I was feeling tired of it all.  Tired of sanitising my hands everywhere I went.  Tired of all the handwashing.  Tired of discussions of masks and tracing apps.  Tired of the paranoia.  Tired of hearing about people's experience of being tested for corona virus with a big stick up the nose.  Tired of forgetting to pick up Sylvia from school (it was only once but I better not do it again).  Tired of being told not to go anywhere if you have a runny nose even though I have had a runny nose most days of my life.  Tired of seeing my colleagues who need to return to work having to battle with bureaucracy.  Tired of wondering what statues will remain standing.  Tired of the racism in our world.  Tired of worrying about what the future holds!

I wish I had more of these muffins.  Sylvia found me a recipe when I said I wanted to make chocolate muffins.  But I had an egg white in the fridge so used that instead of the second egg.  Then I added chia seeds and then I was out of wholemeal flour and there was none in the supermarket so I added some wheatgerm.  So they ended up slightly healthier.  I am a great fan of wheatgerm and chia in bakes.  I don't know why I don't do it more often.  They were great comfort food but also a little bit more satisfying.  Sylvia thought they needed to be warmed but I was happy to eat them at room temperature.

I was going to write this post when I was feeling a bit low but I am feeling better now.  I wish I could get out more but chocolate muffins and good films have helped.  One thing that has helped is to know that as soon as our diagnoses start to rise, that our politicians are looking after us and fighting the virus.  When I look around the world, I am glad that when our daily diagnoses hit the thirties, that it is taken seriously.  And that gives me hope!

More chocolate muffins and cupcakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Double chocolate muffins with wheatgerm
Makes 10-12 muffins

Dry ingredients:
1 cups flour
1/2 cup wheatgerm
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milo
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 egg white
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 cup canola oil or butter, melted

Add ins:
100g dark chocolate chopped (or 1/2 cup chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 180 C and line a 12 cup muffin tin witht 12 muffin paper cases. Mix dry ingredients in a medium large mixing bowl and the wet ingredients in a small mixing bowl.  Pour wet into dry and mix until combined.  Mix in chocolate chunks.  Spoon into muffin cases.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean and the muffins smell cooked.  Cool on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:
Just enough education to perform: Stereophonics

Saturday 20 June 2020

Black Forest Brownies

As soon as I saw the recipe for Black Forest Brownies in the local supermarket magazine, I had to make them.  They were so fancy I was going to make them for Easter and then Mothers Day but had too much other rich food about on these days.  So we ended up making them one evening after an optometry appointment when Sylvia reluctantly chose new frames for new glasses, after finding her favourite glow in the dark frames were not an option.  Change is hard but brownies can make it better!

I really loved the sound of these brownies because they had a big cherry hit without needing fresh cherries which have such a short season.  The recipe used morello cherries, which were a great revelation to Sylvia, and cherry ripe chocolate bars that might not be easy to source outside Australia.  The best way I can think to describe them is like bounty but with a pink interior that is cherry flavoured coconut with the occasional glace cherry piece.  I have suggested Bounty Bars in the recipe as an alternative but it would mean missing the lovely pink chunks even though you would get some of the squidgy coconutty chunks.

My biggest challenge with the black forest brownies recipe was that in the supermarket magazine it called for boxed brownie mix.  I generally steer clear of cake mixes, which are overpriced, full of additives and don't make it that much easier to bake a cake.  So firstly I found a boxed brownie recipe which seemed all I needed.  However when trying to work out the amount of boxed brownie to add to my recipe I found that the supermarket recipe called for a 660g brownie packet mix but that on their website the largest brownie mix I could find was 500g.  This confused me further.  So then I went offroad and just found a good basic brownie recipe that I could fold in morella cherries and cherry ripe chunks.

Then I just had to work out the baking time.  The Black Forest Brownie recipe called for 45-50 minutes and the basic brownie called for 20-25 minutes.  Both were for a 20cm square tin and baking at 180 C.  It seemed a big difference.  As brownies are better slightly undercooked than overcooked, I erred on the side of less rather than more time.  I did 15 minutes at 180 and 15 minutes at 160 which seemed to work well.  No one wants dried out brownies!  So I am glad I didn't follow the supermarket recipe.

We really enjoyed these brownies.  They were great comfort food in lockdown.  I didn't have the patience to boil down morello cherry juice with sugar and vanilla and I forgot to sprinkle with icing sugar.  But we did eat them with cream and extra morello cherries.  I am not a big fan of cream but loved the morello cherries with them.  Sylvia enjoyed the brownies but I think she would have been happy enough to eat the jar of morella cherries by itself.  They are very nice that they are slight more sour than fresh cherries.  And maybe when we are a bit more social again I might make these to share with family and friends.

More brownie recipes with unusual ingredients on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Black Forest Brownies
Adapted from and coles magazine
Makes 24

1 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
50g dark chocolate melted
1/2 x 680g jar pitted morello cherries, drained
150-160g Cherry Ripe chocolate bars, chopped*
Cream, extra morella cherries and icing sugar, to serve

Preheat oven to 180 C.  Mix butter and sugar together and then mix in the eggs.  Fold in plain flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then fold in dark chocolate, then morello cherries and chopped Cherry Ripe.  Scrape into a lined 20cm square cake tin.  Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 160 C and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Brownies are best slightly underbaked than overbaked so do a skewer test but a slight amount of mixture is ok.  Also use your nose and check if the top looks dried and does not feel very soft.  Cool in the tin.  Serve with whipped cream, remaining morello cherries and a dusting of icing sugar.

*NOTES: If you cannot get Cherry Ripe bars, the best substitute would be Bounty Bars.

On the stereo:
Mahler's 5th Symphony - BBC Proms 2010

Sunday 14 June 2020

Covid19 lockdown reflections and signs

There is so much unknown about Covid19, both about the disease and about the effects of the social distancing it has unleashed.  The word we have heard so much lately about this moment in history is "unprecedented".  Our world has become unfamiliar.  I have taken some photos when I have got out and about of the signs and sights over the last few months.  So, though we are easing lockdown restrictions, here are a few reflections.

So many places were shut: cinema, zoos, museums, galleries, hairdressers, pubs, bars, parks, beaches, churches, tattoo parlours, universities, schools, pools, gyms, libraries, playgrounds.  The sign above from the Cinema Nova made me feel quite sad as the "Coming Soon" poster.  Slowly these places are opening again but it still feels weird to go out and about (or even to visit friends and family).

My doctor is lucky to have a brand new desk and waiting room so there is much more room that there used to be.  Plenty of room to space chairs to sit on and use a few extra chairs to keep everyone at a safe distance from the staff.  Note the EFTPOS machines for payment on the black chairs.

I rode my bike to the city on one Sunday afternoon and it was eerily quiet.  Here is a photo of an Arcade in Melbourne Central Shopping Centre that would usually have tables and chairs filled with people stopping for a drink or meal after shopping.

We visited Lord of the Fries at Brunswick's Barkly Square a couple of times.  It was so odd to see the tables and chairs stacked in a corner and blue crosses on the floor to help people social distance in queues.  There are lots of crosses and dots on shop floors to keep people away from each other.

I have shared this photo of empty toilet paper shelves before but it still staggers me that we had this happening in my lifetime. The limits on purchases have all been lifted now (though I am not sure about hand sanitiser).

Lots of shops that were still open had these signs like in Sussans with directions about Covid19 and all the symptoms that would prevent anyone going in the store even with a bottle of hand sanitiser at the front.

The Farmers Markets have put limits on people going inside, gone cash free, no more gold coin donation in a bucket at the entrance, no touching food unnecessarily, no sitting around socialising with food from the stalls, and even the stalls are not as close to each other as they used to be. 

It has been an odd experience going out.  We are so used to buying takeaway food and stopping at a park bench to eat it or even just stopping to chat to people we know.  But the signs might as well say "no loitering".  The above sign is on a park bench at Barkly Square to stop people sitting there.

Closing the playgrounds makes me think of the Wee Frees in Scotland who used to chain the play equipment on Sundays (not sure if they still do in Northern Scotland). 

It was certainly odd to see playgrounds so quiet with swings wound high or some cut off altogether.  Bikes became popular as there were very few sports people could still do.  Our AFL football is starting up again but with cardboard cut outs for spectators and canned applause. Gradually people are starting to gather in larger numbers and pools and sports clubs are opening up.

In my house I have been working from home since March and am still waiting to hear when we will go back.  Sylvia was back at school last Tuesday.  My desk is in my bedroom but I now reserve it for work so I try to stay away from it when not working.  It has been odd to see so many people's private homes and pets.  Our cat Shadow does not sit on my lap but can often be seen over my shoulder in Zoom meetings and I am happy that he does not often sit on my keyboard.

I have not even touched on other issues that have arisen lately such as racism riots, protests, removal of statues and the economy.  It has been a time of such enormous change and these photos give a small window into the lockdown moment in history that is already starting to fade,

Friday 12 June 2020

Pasta e Ceci

Lockdown is slowly easing and already it seems odd how worried we were shopping just a few months ago as though we were headed into home for years without any food but what we could stuff in our pantry.  I went to a local Middle Eastern shop and bought bags of dried fruit, dried legumes and grains.  The great part of this is that it made me cook outside my comfort zone.  In today's post, this means I finally made pasta e cec (ie pasta and chickpeas)i!

I am usually too disorganised to soak chickpeas and so tinned chickpeas are far more common in their kitchen.  But somewhere I had grown to want to make pasta e ceci.  I suspect I got the name wrong.  (I made a colleague laugh today when I said 'asafoetida' instead of 'Antifa'.  Oh no, that sounds like something that Trump would do.  If he had ever heard of asafoetida!)  I think I had a pasta e fagioli (ie pasta and beans) at Ti Amo in Lygon Street many months ago when we could crowd a work group around the table.  But, having dried chickpeas, I thought I was seeking pasta e ceci.  And followed through!

Let me tell you, there were no regrets at pursuing pasta e ceci.  I loved it.  I looked up a few recipes and mainly followed The Guardian and The Tasting Table.  I recommend reading the introductions to both recipes about this dish being a traditional Italian dish.  Like all great traditional dishes, there are many versions.  It seems to be a humble stew with a flavoursome broth. 

Despite knowing I could put my own spin on it, I was a bit worried about when to add salt to chickpeas and how much rosemary to add.  I am still not sure of the answer to these questions but was pretty happy with what I did.  I liked that I cooked most vegies with the chickpeas from the start and also adding kale at the end.  Overall I cooked the chickpeas for about 1 1/2 hours but I think I could have cooked them longer to make sure they were really meltingly soft.

And I made oodles of this dish.  It made a lot of dinners and lunches over a couple of weeks.  I can confirm that it froze well.  But the pasta does have a way of soaking up liquid so I just added a bit of liquid and a pinch of salt when I reheated it.  It was not rich and beany thick as in my vision but it was satisfying comfort food with lots of vegies and pasta.

I will write more about the easing of the lockdown another time but for now I will just mention that I have watched a lot more news lately.  It seems such a significant time in history as well as a time where change happens so quickly.  When I made this soup I watched current affairs show, Insiders, on catch up in the evening.  It had originally shown on the same day at 9am.  By the time evening came around the show seemed out of date.  Our federal education minister, Dan Tehan, had expressed frustration at the slowness of our state to reopen schools.  By the time that I watched, there had been an announcement of an outbreak at a school and an apology from Dan Tehan. 

That was about 5 weeks ago and look at how much has changed since then with easing lockdown here and the global wave against racism since George Floyd's brutal death at the hands of police.  A friend and I were talking about how it is only June and there is still a lot of the year to go.  Who would be brave enough to guess what it will bring.  I would like to predict I might try pasta e faglioli but as it has taken so long to try pasta e ceci, I am guessing it might not be too soon.

More pasta and chickpea recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Pasta e Ceci
Serves 10-12

500g dried chickpeas
2 onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped4 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
400g tin of crushed tomatoes
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tsp salt
1 bunch cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), sliced
500g short pasta such as tubetti, ditalini, broken tagaliatelle

Soak chickpeas overnight (or at least 12 hours) and drain.  Place in a stockpot with onion, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves and about 2 litres of water (I just had mine 1 inch about the chickpeas because I used my smaller stockpot and really should have used my large one.)  Discard the rosemary and bay leaf (but don't worry if little rosemary leaves are floating in the broth).  Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes and salt.  Simmer another 1/2 to 1 hour. or until chickpeas quite soft.  Stir in kale and pasta.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  Check and adjust seasoning.  My stew had very little liquid left the next morning so each time I served some I added some water and a pinch of salt.  The stew freezes well.

On the stereo:
Little Earthquakes: Tori Amos

Wednesday 3 June 2020

In My Kitchen - June 2020

It is easy to talk about food and how June brings winter and leads us into cosy stews and baking.  It is hard to do it in the context of so much upsetting global news.  The protests, the pain, the sorrow, the injustice in the United States is so disturbing and upsetting to see.  It is Reconciliation Week in Australia where we talk about bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.  The American situation has shone a light here on how badly our Indigenous people are treated, which is critical to creating empathy.  And of course we still have this COVID19 pandemic that has made us need to deal with more uncertainty, grief and distance than we could have thought possible.

Even race politics aside, May has been another odd month. Aren't they all this year!  We have only been in lockdown for 2 months but easing out of lockdown feels like starting life all over again.  We have had the first visit to my parents, Sylvia's first playdate.  My first dinner with a colleague.  Then my first walk in a park in a group of 10 colleagues.  In the next week I have a family afternoon tea and Sylvia returning to school.  Who would have believed a few months ago that all this would feel amazing to be able to do.  Lots of other changes are happening here with easing of lockdown but for now I continue to work from home.

Cafes were able to open in the state of Victoria yesterday with a maximum of 20 patrons and rising to 50 patrons 3 weeks later.  It is amazing to be able to visit a cafe.  We are still eating at home.  The above meringues were made by Sylvia as a school project.  She is pretty amazing that she can make these by herself.  

I had to try this Darrel Lea Malted Milk Bar.  The name is brilliant in evoking nostalgia with allusions to Milk Bars and Malted Milks which were both part of my childhood.  The chocolate with oreos and milk bottle lollies was pretty good but a bit too moreish to buy often.

I cashed in on one of my Mothers Day vouchers.  Sylvia made me breakfast in bed and it was a lovely relaxing morning reading my book while she made pancakes - purple and green - and freshly squeezed orange juice.

We went to the farmers market last weekend.  It was a beautiful day but the farmers market has a limit on how many people could go in.  So we stood in the queue in the sunshine until enough people had left that they would let us in.  I am glad some of favourites like Gorgeous George and the Berries Direct people were there but I have missed the wonderful apples from Three Bridges.

The Village Bakery was at the farmers market but with a much reduced selection.  So we went to the Village Bakery shop.  We queued too for a wonderful salted caramel cronut for me and a lemon curd doughnut for Sylvia.  Social distancing queues are weird.  You don't need too many people for them to stretch out forever!

It is citrus time of year.  We have lots of limes from our tree, lemons from a friend's tree, mandarins from the farmers market and oranges from the supermarket.  Plenty for Sylvia to play with for a school project.  She made a stop motion movie for art.  Meanwhile I had food in the fridge eyeballing me every time I opened the fridge.  I am looking forward to some peaceful working from home when Sylvia goes back to school but I will miss being so involved in the fun of her schooling.

Another example of school being fun is this project on floods.  Luckily Sylvia had not thrown out the leaves and flowers she had collected to make animals out of leaves for art the previous day.  The flood was a good apocalyptic topic.  And I got to pour water over it while Sylvia filmed it.

Not all fun in the kitchen is for school.  Sylvia had a dream of painting pet rocks.  We have had one painting afternoon and need to find another time to finish the project.

And this is not a school activity but it is what it would look like if you could go shopping for a cat.  Shadowy loves being by the front door in hope of being let out at night - if you look closely behind, you can see where he has gnawed the edge of the door!  And if there is a shopping bag there, he will hop in the bag and look like the cutest cat!

I finally made crumpets!  It is something I have wanted to try for ages.  Then I saw Karen on Lavender and Lovage post a recipe for easy three ingredient sourdough crumpets made with sourdough starter and no need for any rising.  They were quick and tasted lovely.  I was surprised they weren't quite as brown as the ones from the supermarket and I only got 5 crumpets.  The crumpet rings (9.5cm diameter) I bought specially for the recipe were bigger than the 7.5cm diameter) egg rings Karen used. It is a great way to use up sourdough starter and have crumpets ready in about 30 minutes!

Sylvia decided to try a new gingerbread recipe one afternoon.  She used too much flour and didn't use an oven timer for the first batch.  Not her finest moment!  So we rolled out some of the remaining pastry and used our Scrabble cookie cutters which are great but are missing a K.  I made some for my work friend Eliza who came around for pizza.  It was the first time I had a friend around for ages and was so lovely to sit and chat.  And did I mention that Sylvia has started cooking an egg on her pizza between the tomato sauce and cheese! 

Another quick recipe that we have discovered recently is the Kitchn's Brownie in a Mug.  I haven't been baking heaps so occasionally when we want some sweet dessert we make this quick recipe.  I love it because there are no eggs and no fuss and minimal dishes.  Please it tastes amazing.  It is quite rich and we have shared it on occasion.  I only recommend it to people with great self control.  It would be just too easy to make this every night.

I have kept my sourdough starter in the same plastic jug ever since I created it in 2014.  Recently the handle broke when it fell on the floor.  So I went searching for a new jug that would not take up too much space in the fridge.  I found a new one but then I have found because it is even narrower and taller than my old jug that it is hard to stir with a spoon.  However I have found that a long butter knife can be used to stir it.  But it may take a bit more experimentation to find the best way to use it.

Meanwhile I have transferred the starter from my favourite old jug.  I did suggest a farewell ceremony to Sylvia but she looked at me rather oddly as she continues to practice being a teenager!  Hopefully the new jug will produce as much bread as my old one.

And I finally sharing this photo of a sunset taken on an evening walk with Sylvia recently.  It signifies both the nights drawing in early as we speed towards the winter solstice and also the appreciation of small things thanks to the lockdown.  I hope you are doing well wherever you are in these crazy times.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  I am grateful to Sherry for soldiering on despite all the upheaval as In My Kitchen is always a fun event. If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog and visit more kitchens.