March

by Anna on April 1, 2014

Hooo boy, March has been a real doozy (how on earth do you spell doozy? doozie?). A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I were driving home to Canberra late on a Friday night and about 75 km from home, we hit a wombat. It was like hitting a block of concrete; they’re such solid creatures! It did so much damage that my car has been written off and my nerves definitely took a beating (just call me Mrs Bennett!) – standing on the side of a highway  in the middle of nowhere with cars going past at 110 km/hour in the pitch dark  is no picnic. To top it off, last week a hot water bottle burst on me, giving me a pretty spectacular burn. It’s finally started to heal and I should be heading back to work next week. Hurrah!!

I haven’t been doing a huge amount of cooking lately (or photography!) but I’m going to try and use my last few days off work to bake something deliciously complicated. In the meantime, here are some lovely links and things I’ve been reading/seeing/exploring lately.

This is our current book club read. I devoured it in less than a week and seriously, it has such a gorgeous cover. I’m on the lookout for something new to read now I’ve finished this. Any recommendations?

This chocolate coconut pound cake is just about the only thing I’ve baked in the past month – it’s so good not even a car accident and a few hospital visits could make me forget it.

Hart of Dixie is my guilty pleasure.

This recipe looks beautiful (and so healthy!).

I had a quick lunch at Lemonia with my dad last week and it totally hit the spot. The coffee was perfection!

Loved Winter’s Bone.

Dying to purchase this entire make up range.

Back soon. Fingers crossed. Xo

Lately

by Anna on February 18, 2014

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting back from holidays, it’s that I’m one of those sad souls who need a little “work life balance” in order to stay sane. I’m hardworking and ambitious and I always want to do my best so it came as something of a shock to me to realise that I am not able to function and remain happy and calm if I work 70 hour weeks and have no time to see friends, exercise or sleep. As sad as it sounds, this was kind of how I saw my life playing out post uni – I was ready to be chained to my desk. Yet, when my work life actually reached that point lately, I was utterly miserable.

Often I think that there’s a perception that in order to succeed and perform at a really high level, you must love what you do in a totally consuming way. In other words, you probably won’t make it as a commercial lawyer unless you like reading about corporate governance on the weekends. I don’t feel this way (about corporate governance or anything else legal to be honest) and for a long time I wondered if it wasn’t a sign of weakness. I’ve been thinking about this ideal for ages and recently came to the conclusion that for most of us, it’s totally ridiculous. I don’t need or want my boyfriend to be my boyfriend/friend/work husband/parent/therapist. And nor is it realistic to think that my job could satisfy all of my interests in one go. I need books and Fright Night Lights, live music, holidays, baking, going running and manicures with friends. If that means I won’t make partner by the time I’m 30, so be it. Yesterday I made it home from work early enough to slip down to the beach for a swim before dinner. It’s one of the best afternoons I’ve had all year and that feeling is worth way more than numbers on a pay slip.

Breakfast

Phew, those were some random thoughts for a Tuesday evening.  I’d love to hear your views (also, if you know of any corporate governance books worth reading on the weekend, send them my way :P). In the meantime, here are some of the fluffy things I’ve been filling my days with in an attempt to have some work life balance.

Her is one of the best films I’ve seen in ages. It’s gorgeous – lush visually, the music is beautiful and it’s a really interesting story about the subjectivity of love and human relationships.

These chocolate muffins are perfection. As are these brownies. Clearly it’s all about chocolate at the moment.

Tea Cup Tea is a new blog discovery that I’m loving.

Calling it: my favourite Sydney cafe at the moment.

Yay!

Obsessed with this beautiful home wares store, especially this and these (so much green!).

This collection of short stories looks beautiful.

Happy Tuesday friends, thanks for reading. Xo

Breakfast Stone Fruit Crumble

by Anna on February 5, 2014

It’s kind of crazy that I’ve been blogging for almost two years and haven’t written about crumble. Crumble is my favourite food. I love most things edible and but when it comes to crumble, I’m happy to play favourites. I seek it out on menus and it’s all I want to eat when I’m sick. I’ve tried dozens of recipes over the years but never really found a forever recipe (there are too many I want to try!).

Breakfast Crumble, Before

 

For a long time I made Stephanie Alexander’s recipe that involves the traditional method of rubbing cold butter into flour. There was a brief moment with this polenta crumble which you make by pouring lots of melted butter over a mixture of flour and egg. This crumble is delicious, with a perfect crispy topping that cracks as you dig in, but one of the best parts of making crumble is eating it cold out of the fridge the next day and I found that the melted butter drips through the fruit and hardens in the fridge. I’m all for a little delusion but even I struggle with a butter soaked breakfast. Thankfully, I found an appropriately austere yet delicious breakfast crumble in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It involves my favourite crumble method so far – Deb has you melt the butter but rather than pouring it over the flour and you then mix it with the dry ingredients to make rough clumps of crumble. It avoids the pools of melted butter without having to get to your handy dirty. This is not as fancy as crumble gets – I probably wouldn’t serve it at a dinner party – but it’s perfect for quiet weekend dinner or eating with yogurt for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

Breakfast Crumble, Baked

Breakfast Stone Fruit Crumble (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman)

The recipe below is a starting off point but I switch it up all the time, depending on what’s in season and what I feel like. I aim for about a kilo of fruit – apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums in the summer, pears in the winter with a couple of handfuls of frozen berries whenever they’re lurking in the freezer. I generally toss the fruit with a couple of tablespoons of flour and a pinch of cinnamon. I don’t usually bother with sugar but toss in a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar if your fruit is on the sour side. Honestly, it would be difficult to mess this up, so ring the changes however you like.

Fruit mixture

750g – 1 kg stone fruit, roughly sliced into pieces of about 1/2 cm) (I peel apples and pears but don’t bother with peaches and nectarines)

2 tbsp plain flour

1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and ground ginger

Crumble topping

55 g butter

50 g (1/4 c) raw sugar

40 g (1/2 c) rolled oats

50 g (scant 1/2 c) wholemeal rye flour

15 g almond meal

1/4 c – 1/3 c chopped nuts (macadamias, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are all delicious)

1. Preheat the oven to 200′C/400′F. Place the fruit into a oven proof dish (I used a 24cm Falcon baking dish) and toss with the flour and spices.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, oats, flour, almond meal and nuts and stir until large clumps form. Sprinkle the mixture over the fruit. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the fruit has softened. Check it at about the 20 minute mark and cover with foil if it’s browning too fast (I find that some nuts, macadamia nuts especially, brown much faster than others).

Travelling Laos

by Anna on January 26, 2014

My boyfriend and I just returned home from a three week holiday to Malaysia, Laos and Thailand. I love reading about other people ‘s trips and I need an incentive to actually edit the hundreds of photos I took so I’m going to write about our travels here. We spent most of our time in Laos (and it was the trickiest to travel in) so I’m going to pop my notes about Malaysia and Thailand in a separate post (to come, soon!).

Wat Sisaket, Vientiane

Laos has been on my travelling wish list for a very long time but it’s difficult to get to. Not many airlines fly there and travelling by road takes a huge amount of time so we’ve bypassed it on previous trips to South East Asia. This time around, the stars aligned! Jason and I were in Kuala Lumpur for NYE and Air Asia flies directly from Kuala Lumpur to Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Huzzah!

We spent only a night in Vientiane, another night in Vang Vieng, four nights in Luang Prabang and two nights in Nong Khiaw. We spent a lot of time mulling over how we would travel Laos. I am an unbelievably nervous flyer and as we were making travel plans a Lao Airlines plane crashed in Pakse, in southern Laos, with no survivors. Lao Airlines is the only carrier flying from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and we’d talked about going that route given that we weren’t particularly keen on the famous backpacker scene in Vang Vieng. After the crash made the headlines I knew that all the valium on earth wouldn’t be enough to get me on a Lao Airlines flight. Instead, we flew into Vientiane with Air Asia and made our way by mini bus to Luang Prabang. It’s only a 230 km trip but it takes about 10 hours and so we broke it up with a night in Vang Vieng. From Luang Prabang we went to Nong Khiaw, a tiny town about 140 km north west. Then it was back to Luang Prabang to get our flight to Bangkok, flying with Bangkok Airlines.

Tuk Tuk, Vientiane

loved travelling in Laos. It’s one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, Luang Prabang is a very special place and the people we met were delightful. Having said that, I have to confess that parts of our time there put me on edge. It’s isolated, really isolated. Flights are few and far between, medical care is sketchy at best and the roads are terrible. The road from Vang Vieng involves a crawl through gorgeous mountain scenery on a very windy and steep road that’s speckled with pot holes. Tales of buses disappearing over the edge are common.

Clearly, I am not a thrill seeker and I think like a lot of lawyers do – always looking at the flaws in a situation, assessing the worst possible outcomes. (For one tiny moment Jason and I considered renting scooters to zoom around on. We realised that our travel insurance didn’t cover motorcycle accidents and dismissed the idea immediately. Then we looked at each other and laughed about being overly cautious lawyers). Does this make me sound insane? I’m doing a horrible job of selling Laos, which is a remarkable place, but for the sake of my nerves (just call me Mrs Bennett) if I was to plan this trip again, I would fly directly in and out of Luang Prabang and make the trip to Nong Khiaw, skipping Vientiane and Vang Vieng. I enjoyed seeing both but our experiences in Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw totally surpassed them, in food, accommodation, beauty and all the rest. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts about travelling in Laos (or travelling generally!). Does remoteness weigh on you? Anyway, on to happier topics – what we actually did while we were there!

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

We landed at Vientiane at about 9 am and waited in line for visas. Whether you actually need to have a passport sized photo with you to get a visa is something of a mystery – we were fine without but the signs throughout the airport say that it’s required. After passing through immigration and customs we jumped into a cab and headed for the Mandala Boutique Hotel. I could have used some more hot water (showers should be scorching, people) but we had no complaints – lovely staff, clean, beautiful rooms (with mosquito nets) and a simple but very nice breakfast.

Having been up since 4.30 am and nursing colds, we put no pressure on ourselves to see all the sights of Vientiane in a day. We didn’t see Patouxi (think Arc De Triomphe) or That Luang, an important religious building and the national symbol of Laos. Instead, we picked up some mango shakes at JoMa Bakery, wandered fairly lazily through Wat Sisaket, the morning markets, past the presidential palace and to the Lao National Museum. Housed in a beautiful but dilapidated colonial mansion, the museum is one of the most interesting I’ve been to, and not because of the quality of the exhibits. Instead, it’s an education in Laos’ political climate and history – there are American imperialists, French colonialists and the victorious proletariat, not to mention stories of grandmothers shooting down fighter jets with handguns. It’s ridiculous, fascinating, hilarious and a bit scary all at the same time.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a really nice park stretching a fair way along the edge of the city between Fa Ngum Road and the Mekong River. We spent ages there people watching in the late afternoon (there’s a night market too) before heading to the Spirit House for drinks while we watched the sunset over the river. Then it was on to dinner at Makphet, a restaurant which provides training for street children and young people. It was one of the best meals we had in Laos. There was sticky rice (obligatory), tofu laab, a dish of fried fish and garlic called ‘ancient fish’ and a very spicy steamed eggplant dish.

We left Vientiane at 9 am the following day and travelled about 4 hours to Vang Vieng on a mini bus. Vang Vieng is a famous backpacker party town and though it’s reported that things have calmed down considerably in the past year, it’s still overrun with young people tubing and buying cocktails by the bucket. While that isn’t my scene, it’s a great spot to break up the drive between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There’s no denying that it’s spectacularly beautiful and we enjoyed our afternoon there cycling and visiting caves. The food options aren’t great but we had a good lunch (including awesome fruit shakes) at The Kitchen, Vang Vieng and a decent dinner at AMB Restaurant. We had an early night the Hotel Villa Vang Vieng Riverside and jumped onto another minibus to Luang Prabang at 8.30 the next morning.

The road to Luang Prabang takes you through some of the most picturesque scenery you’re ever likely to see but the trip was hair raising and I was pretty relieved to finally be in Luang Prabang. We settled into the Apsara for three very chilled  days (and the best breakfasts of our stay in Laos). There are more wats than I could count in Luang Prabang and we spent time in a lot of them. We opted not to see the famous alms procession that takes place at sunrise each morning but we enjoyed wondering through the various wats, especially just before sunset when the monks are at prayer.  It’s peaceful and quiet (mostly because every other tourist in Luang Prabang is watching the sunset from Mount Phousi) and without the moral questions that accompany the alms procession.

Sunset, Luang Prabang

We did a lot of eating in Luang Prabang and most of it was pretty good. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • The Apsara for the best Campari and orange I’ve ever had and baguettes with tuna or crispy pork belly.
  • Rosella Fusion – probably our favourite cafe in Luang Prabang (we ate there more than once) – we tried stir fries, tofu noodles, fish and eggplant soup, black sticky rice with coconut and mango and lots of their shakes and juices.
  • Tamarind – this is one of the most popular places in town (you generally need to book for dinner) and we enjoyed our meals there (pork sausage with coriander pickle, pork wrapped in lemongrass with tamarind sauce, spicy noodles, young zucchini salad, papaya salad and lots of sticky rice) though we preferred the more relaxed vibe of Rosella Fusion. I felt like every tourist in Laos was having dinner with me at Tamarind.
  •  Le Banetton was the best cafe we went to in Luang Prabang. The pastries, salads and sandwiches were great (though I’d skip the smoothies and go for the coffee).
  • Speaking of smoothies, if you’re after a great fruit shake, head to the cafe at the Xieng Thong Palace. It’s a fancy hotel near Wat Xieng Thong and though the meals are expensive, it’s a really nice place to sit and chill out for a while and the smoothies were delicious.
  • The 3 Nagas – cocktails, lao lao (had to try it as least once!), fish steamed in banana leaf and awesome spring rolls.
  • For coffee, we found the best place was a little cafe opposite the Swiss Bakery. You can’t miss it – there’s a counter out the front full of coffee related implements, siphons etc. The iced coffee with sweet (condensed milk) was great.

Banks of the Nam Ou River, Luang Prabang

From Luang Prabang we caught a mini bus (for a measly 80,000 kip – about $11) three hours north east to the tiny town of Nong Khiaw (sometimes called Nong Kiau). Luang Prabang is what everyone goes to Laos to see but having made the effort to get to this land locked country, we thought it would be a shame not to explore a bit more. I searched for options close to Luang Prabang and when I found a few posts describing Nong Khiaw as a great place to lose yourself for a couple of days, it was a done deal. It seems all tourists are dropped at a bus station on the fringes of Nong Khiaw where there are taxis and mini buses waiting to drop you off at your accommodation (for a fee, of course!).

See those tiny bungalows burrowed into the hillside in that photo just below? That’s Nong Khiaw Riverside, where we stayed for two days in a cute bungalow with spectacular views of the Nam Ou River. It’s the most expensive place in town (and still won’t cost more than about $55 a night!) and, according to Trip Advisor the best, but I wouldn’t call it luxury by any stretch. The rooms are large and clean and the staff helpful but breakfast was not great and our room had a sign warning us not to use smart phones or tablets in the dark as the screens are visible from the river, making theft a risk. While I appreciate the warning, I can’t say I felt particularly safe climbing into bed into a flimsy wooden bungalow without a proper lock and a theft warning stuck to the wall.

Our first afternoon we walked to a peak overlooking this tiny town. It took about 3 hours return and cost 20,000 kip to get on to the trail, which was steep, slippery and narrow. It was well worth it though – the view from the top was extraordinary, especially in the late afternoon sun. To get on to the path, head over the bridge, passing Nong Khiaw Riverside on your left. Walk for 5-10 minutes, until you see a sign on your left announcing ‘Mountain View’. From there, the path is pretty well marked.

The following day we did a tour with Green Discovery Tours. Early in the morning we got a slow boat an hour up the Nam Ou River to the tiny village of Muong Ngoi, only accesible by boat (it’s so small it only received electricity a year ago). We wandered for a while before getting back on the boat and heading to an even smaller village from where we walked to a series of waterfalls and had a lazy lunch. We finished off the day by kayaking back to Nong Khiaw. The tour was US$42 and was well worth it. It was well organised, we met some really cool people and got to see far more than we would have if we were exploring alone.

Afternoon, Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is spectacular and relatively few tourists visit, making for a totally different experience to Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng. Having said that, people do not visit for the food. Options are numbered. You can grab a decent breakfast and cakes at Delilah’s Place. We also had a very satisfying Indian meal (such a welcome change after a week of sticky rice and papaya salad) at Deen’s Indian Food on our first night and on our second we went to Alex’s, on a local’s recommendation. Although it gets lots of love online, we were underwhelmed. The food was mediocre and service sweet but slow.

And there ends our time in Laos! Well, almost. A word of warning. We needed to get a morning minibus to Luang Prabang from Nong Khiaw to catch an afternoon flight to Bangkok. We had originally been told that there were mini buses leaving Nong Khiaw at 8.30 and 10 am each day but when we arrived we were told that there was only one bus a day, leaving at 1 pm. We ended up having to get a local bus, which left at about 9.30 am (exact time seems to change – it should be sometime between 8 and 10 am!). We made it back to Luang Prabang with plenty of time to spare but I’d recommend taking the mini bus if you can. The local bus can be a bus or a truck depending on the day and though we were lucky to be in a bus, it was the oldest bus I’ve ever seen and there were more passengers than seats which made for a really fun journey.

Phew, that was epic (writing it out perhaps more so than the actual travelling). I’ll get to writing about Malaysia and Thailand soon but in the meantime there will be something edible (it’s about time, I know!). Happy long weekend friends! Xo

Holiday Season

by Anna on January 3, 2014

First off, happy new year my friends! Thanks for sticking around through my total lack of posts in the last six months. I hope that 2014 brings with it a lot more time for blogging. Speaking of which,  I have something different for Sweet Peas today – a post from Laos! I had hoped to post a recipe before leaving Australia but as seems to be the case in all areas of my life lately, time totally escaped me. The last few weeks of work were a frenzy and then I ducked back to Canberra for a measly 48 hours to celebrate Christmas with my family before jumping on a flight to Kuala Lumpur last Friday.

image

My boyfriend and I spent a week in Malaysia with his family, doing an insane amount of eating, shopping and going to the spa. It was wonderful! Yesterday we caught a ridiculously early flight to Vientiane and we’ll spend the next week in Laos and then a further week in Thailand. We’re in a lovely bungalow in Vang Vieng right this minute and we’re off to Luang Prabang tomorrow. I’m very excited to be exploring a new country, especially one I’ve been longing to visit for the past few years, but right now we’re fighting off colds and I’m seriously contemplating going to bed before 10pm on a Friday night. Someone please reassure me that this is how holidays are meant to be spent! I want to post some of the photos I’ve taken on my SLR when I get home and write in more detail about our trip (the closest I’ll ever come to a travel diary!) but until then, here are some snaps taken on my iPhone (and edited with either Afterlight or vscocam). Oh, and if you have any travel trips for Luang Prabang, Bangkok or Chiang Mai, I would love to hear them!

image

Sweetheart Chocolate Tart

by Anna on December 10, 2013

Blink and you miss it seems to be how I feel about 2013 right now. The last time I wrote here it was October. That feels like it was about five minutes ago but since then I’ve spent a weekend down at Jarvis Bay (one of my happy places, it’s so beautiful), worked a lot, a lot, of hours and been admitted as a solicitor (!!?$%^!!). Mostly though, it was work keeping me away. In fact this chocolate tart was intended for a Sunday afternoon book club picnic but I was stuck at work and so I sent it off to the park with my sister and went back to my desk.

That was not what I would call a good day but it was an exciting opportunity and like all things in life, the stress passed eventually. Today when I slipped out the office at 5 for a swim those 14 hour days seemed like a distant memory. At the time though, it was rough. No matter how much you enjoy your job, working long hours means a lack of sleep, not enough vegetables and too much time sitting in front of a computer screen. I try not to rely on caffeine and sugar when I’m working all hours but in all honesty, this chocolate tart goes a long way when it comes to getting through a long day in the office. Nutrients be damned.

Tart, All That's Left

I’m not sure why we started calling this sweetheart chocolate tart. It carries the name Chocolate Truffle Tart over where I discovered it and really, that’s probably a more fitting name. The custard bakes into a quivery chocolate cream that looks deceptively rich – like one big truffle. And while it is rich, when you put it on your tongue it will surprise you with the way it quickly melts away, a sign that it would be perfectly acceptable to eat a few slices at a time.

In any case, no matter what you call it, this recipe is one of my keepers. I’ve been making it for years. It’s so easy, extremely satisfying and perfect for weekend lunches and fancy dinners. Also, I defy you not to smile when someone offers you sweetheart chocolate tart for dessert.

Sweetheart Chocolate Tart

I’ve changed this recipe a lot since I first made it. You can see over at The Traveler’s Lunchbox that Melissa makes it with a biscuit base. I like eating a biscuit base very much but I’m not mad for making them – I never have chocolate biscuits hanging around and squishing them into the pan makes more mess than I can take. I love the crisp, buttery bite of short crust and so that’s what I use now. The recipe I’ve linked to below is genius. It is delicate and so I wouldn’t advise using it for a hearty apple pie but for this, it’s perfect.

1 x 25 cm tart shell, blind baked and cooled (I love this recipe for French Tart Dough but use whatever you prefer)

For the chocolate filling

200 g dark chocolate

90 g unsalted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

80 ml (1/3 c) thickened cream

50 g (1/4 c) caster sugar

pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 175′C.

2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, salt and vanilla. Pour this mixture into the chocolate and butter mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon. Pour this mixture into the tart shell.

3. Bake for 20-30 minutes. The filling will puff but it should be just about set at the edges and still wobbly in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan. When it’s cool, remove the tart from the pan. Serve with as little or as much fuss as you like (berries, whipped cream, ice cream etc).

Notes

  • If you want to go all out with chocolate, I imagine you could replace a couple of tablespoons of flour in the pastry with some cocoa powder.
  • I use a 25cm tart pan with a removable bottom to make this tart. I butter it roughly before patting the pastry in but it’s got so much butter in it, it’s probably unnecessary. If you have something smaller, go ahead and use it. It’ll be fine. The tart may take longer to cook though as the filling will be deeper.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Anna on October 29, 2013

Ooof. I should have known. In my last post I wrote that things were looking pleasingly quiet. Ha! I ended up working all hours for a couple of weeks before falling into a heap last Friday. I attempted to relax over the weekend but wasn’t particularly successful and on Sunday afternoon I fell into a public transport induced fug. It was a straw that broke the camel’s back type situation, quickly remedied with a cab, many cup of tea and lots of cookies. Thank goodness for the cookies.  (As a side note, Sydney Buses please get your act together. You test my patience like nothing else).

Cookies, piles of them

 

I was craving simple, unfussy homemade chocolate cookies for most of last week. Last Friday night, after a big bowl of my housemate’s stellar gnocchi and a couple of episodes of Heart of Dixie (!), I put  this dough together and stashed it in the fridge to rest overnight. I baked them on Saturday morning, hoping that they’d live up to my very high expectations. I’m grateful that they did. It was actually surprisingly difficult to find a recipe that hadn’t been turned fancy with peanut butter or chocolate ganache or that didn’t require vast quantities of butter but these cookies totally fit the brief. They’re re simple and fast to put together, moorish (they’re more chocolate than cookie) and you get more than enough cookies  to go around without having to resort to having them for breakfast. I took half along to a barbecue, gave my boyfriend some for his lunchbox and still had enough leftover. (Well, enough to get me through Monday. I’ll be making them again soon for sure).

Cookies, up close

Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 30-34 small cookies)

Recipe adapted from a recipe from Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard printed in the New York Times

Note that this recipe involves resting the dough so begin it the day before you’d like to bake the cookies.

185 grams plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
115 g butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
100 g caster sugar
80 g light brown sugar
pinch salt
1 egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

1.  Sift together flour and baking soda and set aside.

2. Cream the butter in a stand mixer until pale yellow, approximately 2 minutes. Add the sugars and salt and continue beating the mixture until it is smooth and pale. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

3. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until they are fully incorporated into the mixture. Do not over-beat (and don’t worry if the mixture looks a little curdled. It will come together when you add the flour).

4. On low speed, add the sifted flour. Beat slowly until all of it is incorporated into the butter mixture. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add chocolate pieces and mix in. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave it to chill in the fridge for at least an hour (and preferably over night).

5. When you are ready to bake the cookies, remove the cookies from the fridge and leave on the bench for about 10 minutes to soften slightly (less if it’s hot!). Preheat the oven to 180′C (160′C fan forced)/350′F and place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.

6. Roll the dough into balls about the size of an unshelled walnut. Place on the baking tray a couple of centimeters apart (I get about 12 to a tray). Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they are lightly gold at the edges and still soft in the middle (start checking at the 10 minute mark). Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes before moving to a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Lately (hello again!)

by Anna on October 6, 2013

Ooof, how is it possible that a whole month has passed since my last post. September flew by. There was dinner at Bloodwood (it’s the trifle, people – go for the trifle), a crazy fun Foals concert, the last push to get College of Law finished up (huzzah!), a couple of lazy evenings at Arcadia Liquors, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen (truly, I’ve no idea what it was actually about), a trip to Canberra and lots of work.

In amongst all that, I didn’t get to cooking much. I have been making this Nigel Slater recipe often. It feels healthier than pasta, even though it involves a slab of butter, and it’s perfect for a quick dinner. I’ve been playing around with an almond cake recipe that my sister gave me too. We made it for a casual lunchtime dessert when we were back it Canberra but it hasn’t turned out quite right the last couple of times I made it by myself. I think I’ve finally cracked it though so I’m planning to post it soon. The next couple of weeks are looking pleasingly quiet, so I hope to be around a little more often. Until then, here are some fun links and lots of music.

I am dying to make this cake.

My book club is reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (or J K Rowling). I’m enjoying it far more than I ever expected to. It’s a total delight. I’ve been sucked in completely. It’s the kind of book you happily give up a weekend for (which is ah, what I’m currently doing).

My favourite Foals song:

Here is a rather depressing but very strong opinion piece written by Chvrches’ lead singer Lauren Mayberry about dealing with misogyny online.

Oatmeal Pancakes

by Anna on August 31, 2013

Spring doesn’t officially arrive until 1 September but you’ve been able to feel it in the air for a couple of weeks now. It’s been so warm that yesterday I went swimming for the first time of the summer and tomorrow my sister and I are going to walk from Watson’s Bay to Vaucluse. It is ridiculous how happy all this makes me. I loathe winter, even the lightweight version we have in Sydney. As soon as the days lengthen just a little and temperatures warm, I feel like a new person – happy, optimistic, so excited for the coming months. Each year, I’m shocked by how much I love the arrival of spring. So let this serve as a reminder – next year when I write another version of this post, I hope someone points me here.

This recipe for oatmeal pancakes (porridge pancakes! How cool is that!) has absolutely nothing to be with spring, apart from the fact that they make me almost as happy as spring. I started making them years ago. I forgot about them for a while, but we’ve recently been reacquainted and I intend to eat them until summer sets in for good and it’s too hot to contemplate anything other peaches and yogurt.

Pancakes, So Golden

These aren’t the kind of pillowy pancakes that are meant to be piled high with mascarpone and berries and maple syrup. While I love those too, I always feel guilty for having indulged so early in the day, not to mention a little ill. No, these are the kind of pancakes you can eat on a perfectly average Wednesday. They make a very nice change to the normal toast and muesli routine (I don’t eat eggs - shudder) but they don’t make you feel like you should be eating salad for the rest of the day. Is austere the right word for pancakes? Probably not, but these are. They’re faintly sweet, light but with some heft from the oats and their edges go so crispy frying in butter. I like them best with a thin slick of jam but they’re very nice with maple syrup or honey too.

Oatmeal Pancakes (recipe adapted from Remedial Eating)

Makes about 10 small pancakes

Note that you need to start this recipe the night before you want to eat these.

1 c quick oats (see notes below)

1 c buttermilk or milk (I’ve used full fat and low fat successfully)

1 egg

30 g butter (plus more for the pan)

1-2 tbsp honey, maple syrup or golden syrup

1/2 c plain flour (I often use a mix of wholemeal and plain flour or just wholemeal – my current favourite is wholemeal rye flour)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

1. The night before you want to eat the pancakes combine the oats and buttermilk in a small mixing bowl. Cover with cling wrap and store in the fridge overnight.

2. The next day, when you’re ready to eat the pancakes take the oat mixture out of the fridge.

3. Melt the butter (I do this in the microwave). Add it to the oat mixture with the egg and honey. Stir until the mixture is well combined and smooth. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the oat mixture. Stir to combine. The batter should be thick and little elastic-y.

4. Heat a generous tablespoon of butter (or a mixture of butter and sunflower oil) in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat (there should be enough butter to just coat the bottom of the whole pan).

5. When the pan is hot, add 1/4 cup of batter to the pan. I generally get 3 pancakes to a batch. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the pancake is turning golden brown and bubbles are just starting to appear on the top of the pancake. If you’re worried the pancake is browning too quickly, turn the heat down a little. Flip the pancake over and cook for a further two minutes, or until the second side is golden and the pancakes are cooked through and slightly puffed.

6. Eat! Or if you’re cooking up the whole batch of mixture you can keep the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven until you’re ready to eat.

Notes

  • It irritates me no end when recipes instruct you to use only the very best ingredients for a particular dish, totally ignoring the fact that buying half a kilo of single origin chocolate will make the brownies I’m about to make more expensive than going out for a three course meal. Nevertheless, I’m about to do just that. I’ve made these pancakes with the $1/kilo homebrand quick oats and the results were so heavy – leaden even. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until I went back to my usual organic oats and the results were positively etherial in comparison.
  • Any unused batter keps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

The Printed Word (Lately)

by Anna on August 27, 2013

I think I’m going to be the last person on earth to embrace the e-reader. Few things give me as much pleasure as seeing all my books exploding out of my shelves. Thankfully my love of overflowing bookshelves comes along with a love of reading. It’s  been one of the joys of finishing uni and starting full-time work that I have time to read books that don’t include the words “evidence”, “intellectual property” or “contract” in the title (though there’s still a lot of that too).

Writing lengthy book reviews isn’t something I’m very good at but I do love receiving book recommendations from friends so I thought I’d share just a few of the books I’ve enjoyed recently and ask for recommendations in return (please do share!).

Books

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent

This was the very first book my new book club decided to read. It’s a fictional story based on the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. She was executed for her part in the death of two men, including a farmer called Natan, her lover and employer. There are aspects of this novel that are imperfectly formed (for example, the relationships between Agnes and some of the members of the family with which she lives while she is waiting to be executed) but we all enjoyed the book and I would definitely recommend it. For me, it highlighted how terrible it would have been to be a poor women during this period. Without financial resources, marriage wasn’t even an option, let alone education, so you lived totally at the whim of whatever man was prepared to hire you as a maid. Does that excuse murder? I’m not sure, but I suppose it’s that question that makes the book so interesting. In any case, the way in which Kent draws out the oppressive yet spectacular Icelandic landscape alone makes it worth it.

The Reverend still does not come. But winter has. Autumn has been pushed aside by a wind driving flurries of snow up against the croft, and the air as thin as paper. Each breath hangs in front of me like a ghost, and mists drop down from the mountains to swarm on the frozen ground. The dark comes; it has settled down in these parts like a bruise in the flesh of the earth; but the Reverend does not.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

This is one of my favourite books of all time. I recommend it so often I think my friends are sick of hearing about it. The plot twists and turns across decades and continents (Europe, New York and so on) so I won’t try and describe it in detail. It’s enough so say that this book is elegant and intelligent and will make your heart hurt the characters are so flawed/stubborn/loveable (Once upon a time there was a boy who lived across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was Queen and he was King. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls. When the sky grew dark they parted with leaves in their hair).

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

As I made my way through the first few pages of this book, I doubted that I’d make it though the violence that seemed to fill every page. It’s about a North Korean orphan who is dumped into the army during the horrifying famines of the nineties and gradually makes his way through a serious of assignments, only to end up on a spy mission to Texas. Despite the violence (maybe I’m too chicken for this kind of stuff), I really enjoyed this. It’s an incredible insight into North Korea (large parts of it seem to pretty realistic depictions) and despite the fact that the hero, Jun Do, has done some unbelievably violent things, I surprised myself by how much I was rooting for him.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

The only Nora Ephron movie I’ve seen is Julie and Julia so I’m not sure why I even thought this looked appealing but it did. So I read it. Devoured really, over just a couple days. It’s a very funny, sad but touching story about a woman who finds out that her husband is having an affair when she is seven months pregnant. The main character, Rachel, is a food writer so there’s lots of food talk and recipes thrown in for good measure.

I have friends who begin with pasta, and friends who begin with rice, but whenever I fall in love, I begin with potatoes. Sometimes meat and potatoes and sometimes fish and potatoes, but always potatoes. I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.