Saturday, 14 December 2013

'Tis the Season... part 1

Christmas is supposed to be the season of joyfulness, giving, family, festivities, all round good cheer.

And yet, when I was told that the theme for our December duologues would be 'Christmas', an entirely different feeling was evoked.

For several years now Christmas has brought with it an overarching sense of dread.
It's not that the extended family are horrid and the thought of spending another minute with them is just too much to bear. It's not even the hypocrisy of Christmas that greets you when you enter a shopping centre any day after September 1.
I suppose it's the culmination of

  • writing dozens of christmas cards to people you haven't seen in so long or have seen so recently that there is really nothing to say
  • cleaning the house and garden if we're the ones fortunate enough to host Christmas this year. 
  • making the christmas cake and trying not to eat all of the glace cherries before the cake is made
  • buying meaningful presents that people actually want for every member of the family. 
  • deciding upon something a little different to cook for the Christmas day lunch. 
  • deciding where to go for the Christmas eve picnic. 
  • deciding what nibbles to take for Christmas eve
  • making the innumerable desserts that Christmas wouldn't be complete without. 
  • doing some of Granddad's shopping for him

Have I forgotten anything? 

For the past decade my sister and I have tried to take the weight of some of these preparations off the shoulders of our mother as we had time off after school, after uni, after exams ended to write the necessary cards, start the ridiculous amounts of baking.
Unfortunately all this means is that the dread of Christmas has simply spread. Now it falls on my shoulders in addition to my mother's and is unlikely to shift any time soon.

The two years I lived in London were some of the more enjoyable Festive seasons I can remember; family free, hassle free. Just food, alcohol and the ability to do exactly what you want, when you want (provided you were happy not to go anywhere but enjoy what you had around you)

Writing a 10 minute duologue, this is the direction in which I was inextricably pulled; the unutterable delight in the possibility of a Christmas at home but with no family and none of the usual prelude.

Perhaps it is a wild dream...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Illuminate - Perth Christmas Markets

I'm sure I attended Christmas markets in my youth, but the first I distinctly remember was from the summer the family spent in Genova. Dad was involved in some work at the university there so Mum, my sister and I joined him, spending a month living in the Genovese suburb of Nervi whilst enjoying the strange sights, the sounds and the tastes on offer to us.

In the lead up to Christmas we visited the city's expansive market, getting a taste for the magical atmosphere. Against the biting evening air, long avenues of brightly lit booths stretched out into the winter night, selling an array of glacĂ© fruits, deep fried doughnuts and the most beautifully crafted marzipan fruits. At the time it was sweet-tooth's delight with an unusualness that set it as a benchmark against which to compare all other markets.

Living in London, my love of the winter Christmas markets was reinforced by the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park where cutesy Alpine huts served as stalls selling trinkets and ornaments against a backdrop of German gluhwein, sausages and rides, and the avenue of stalls on the Southbank. On these occasions is the bright lights and cheer at a time of year when the sun sets as early as 10 minutes to four mingled with the cold air and occasional snow. I came to love nothing more than wandering through the festive cheer rugged up in my winter woollies, all the while ignoring the chill that was slowly penetrating though my gloves and felt-lined boots. 

This year I am in Perth while my mother is visiting the Christmas markets in Germany, rubbing it in through the wonders of modern technology. So I decided to visit the markets at the Perth Cultural Centre, dragging the loveable N along for company. In the midst of a run of 35+C days, it was not the time for gloves and winter coats, but instead thin t-shirts and shorts and the omnipresent set of sunnies strategically perched on top of the head, or tucked into the neckline of one's top.

My prime motivation was that I was missing the markets of Europe, but I also suspected that Delish Ice would be there, and after the day's summery weather (read 39C) was craving an icy pole.

Besides, there was still some Christmas/birthday presents that needed to be bought and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

In the centre of the frog pond someone is warbling along to something musical but with no ear for music and a greater focus on food and presents it is perhaps not surprising I can't provide any details. 

Pausing to determine our next move (icy poles consumed) it delighted me to see our Art Gallery gift wrapped, the perfect present for some other city in dire need of a collection of unexciting art. Perhaps that is rude, but I do insist that the best thing in that building is the gift shop. 


Around the side an old fashioned animation creeped N out as we contemplated dinner and present buying - in that order. 

Grabbing a bite to eat, we headed for the Urban Orchard to devour it in peace, in amongst the herbs and fruit trees. Its a rather delightful place to relax and well worth checking out, even if only for the opportunity to forage for strawberries and white mulberries. On this particular night it was packed, a well stocked bar at one end and dozens of children at the other, all interspersed with more shops and food stalls.

I love the little blonde girl looking no doubt to learn how to use chopsticks to eat noodles in the least messy way possible. 

As we gathered together our purchases and headed back to the car, through the rowdy streets of Northbridge, it was nice to see that families were still reclining on the steps, making the most of the cool evening air.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Things that go bonk in the night.

Cat laws have recently been introduced into my shire. Laws to keep those marauding felines from hanging around in gangs, terrorising the neighbourhood and launching attacks under the cover of darkness.

Fortunately our cats are too old and/or stupid to be of any danger during the day and, now tagged, are firmly locked away (with beds, comfortable laps and abundant food) of an evening.

Unfortunately, our neighbours are not so considerate which, unless this law is properly enforced, is of huge concern. Not for the bell-less, collarless cats who slink around, but for our other houseguests:

And our newest guest: 

After all, the last thing anyone likes to hear as they relax with a glass or two, a good book, their favourite show... is the sound of a frog, squealing. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Saturday, 16 November 2013

No Cheese, and an Abundance of Jam (Marmalade Pannacotta)

My family came over for dinner this week and so as per normal, I decided to cook up a storm. Dinner wasn't a problem, it never is. Once the Osso Bucco was decided upon, the sides quickly fell into place.
What was difficult though was the dessert. Usually I have a hundred and one recipes for lemon cake or tea biscuits or chocolate raspberry brownie to fall back on but at this particular point in time I was still trying to abide by a relatively carb-free eating plan. This basically means no normal carbs (including flour) and no sucrose, glucose, fructose... whatever natural sweetener you usually use in baking.

As a result I've been indulging in unsweetened cheesecakes on a purely nutty base. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, the lemon or chocolate cheesecake are both moreish and eaten at the most unsavoury of hours. However, my aunt is a decidedly non-cheese eater. This extends beyond your normal 'smelly' cheese  to encompass everything, including  Philadelphia and, strangely enough, Marscapone.

With a disastrously limited repertoire I fell back upon my other current favourite: pannacotta. Pannacotta translates as cooked cream but is even simpler than that; realistically it is just flavoured cream set with gelatine: a sort of custard devoid of eggs and the need to bake it in a bain marie for hours. Pannacotta can be fiddly; too much gelatine and the texture becomes rubbery and the cream grainy, too little and it hasn't set enough to unmould for presentation purposes. However this ratio appears to work beautifully:

1 tsp of gelatine powder dissolved in 1 tbsp of warm water, mixed into 1 cup of scalded cream.

I try to flavour each pannacotta with solid ingredients that won't impinge upon the setting ratio (anything too liquid-y will still set, but will produce textured layers when you unmould them). Looking for something unusual that would cut through the richness of the cream, I was rummaging through our pantry and discovered a jar of home-made marmalade. We always have too much jam in this house, and no occasion to eat it, so this felt like the perfect solution, killing two birds with one stone.

Mixing a few tablespoons into the cream to give it a taste, I also spooned a tablespoon into the bottom of each ramekin. What this meant was that when it came time to serving, as the ramekin was gently heated to loosen the pannacotta, the marmalade would melt and become the sauce for the unmoulded pannacotta.

Marmalade Pannacotta
1 cup cream
1 tbsp warm water
1 tsp powdered gelatine
1 jar of sour/bitter jam to use up

Mix the gelatine in the warm water and set aside
Heat the cream on the stove until it starts to bubble around the edged. Do not let it boil
Add the gelatine mixture and 1 tbsp of jam to the cream. Mix well
Spoon 1 tbsp of jam into each of the ramekins intended to be filled. (sorry forgotten numbers)
Pour the cream mixture on top.
Allow to set in the fridge for approximately four hours or overnight

Carefully hold the base of each ramekin into a bowl of boiling water. As the pannacotta unmoulds it will start to slide around.
Upend onto a plate to serve. The jam should have melted slightly. Pour on top of the pannacotta. If it is still solid, hold it in the hot water for a little longer.

Unfortunately I only have a picture of a blue cheese pannacotta to illustrate this post. Will rectify it when I can.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Spring Fever

Unfortunately, this year spring brings with it the reality of hay fever, but this doesn't mean the garden is any less beautiful.
In fact it can be argued that the late winter and sudden summer have made it even more spectacular. The garden paths, normally covered with a hearty layer of mulch and leaf matter are instead hidden beneath a carpet of pink weeds and nasturtiums.

The cabbage moths are out in force, outnumbering the Monarchs 100 to 1 (and proving far more possible to catch in camera).

Over near the pomegranate, Igliot and his friend survey the extent of their restaurant, choosing where in the smorgasbord to start in this sitting. From the kitchen window Mum is scowling and complaining about the subsequent depletion of worms in her compost pile. However Igliot has proven to be made of sterner stuff and won't be swayed.

In the morning sun the frogs have taken to sunning themselves on the bank of their pond, always remembering to keep a wary eye out for intruding cats or camera-wielding humans.
They've made the most of the warming weather, filling the pond with a swarm of minute tadpoles that, with hope, will eventually take over the garden and like the birds, terrorise the cats into believing they are the second class citizens on this patch of earth.

It is just hoped that these frogs and frog-lets do not become target practice for the butcher birds who have also taken to procreating in the area. Their fledgeling is fully fledged but still voices demands for food, filling the air with its pitiful cry. I feel for the parents!

This frog was looking particularly smug having secreted himself in an elk horn out of reach of both the cats and humans of the house.

At the front of the house the bed of roses is in full bloom. Along the fence line Crepescule cascades in a mass of pale apricot blossoms while further along Guinee vies for attention, its long tendrils climbing skywards whilst encased in its annual show of dark red blooms.

Unable to compete but just as exquisite are such little old fashioned tea roses as this:

However none of the roses can hold a candle to the flame-like flowers of the protea. Although nestled in a corner of the garden, these tumbling tongues are impossible to miss, each flower extending out and up, reminiscent of an antique lamp, lighting up this patch of garden.


In another part of the garden the lilies are in bloom...

while the aquilegia's buds still require shielding from the snails and caterpillars so that they too have the opportunity to flaunt their coloured variety.

The pink and gray galahs' hollowed trunk in the nearby park has become inhabited by a swarm of bees eager to be within reach of our garden of plenty.

In the vegie garden the broccoli is seeding, in competition with the parsley and the silverbeet while the broad beans have rocketed skywards, all 'protected' by the cat, too busy luxuriating in the combination of shade and cool damp dirt under foot. After all, it is such effort to watch the vegetables grow.

But first, to cure the hay fever...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Welcome Home

Coming home from London this time last year it felt as though everything one and everything was welcoming me back with open arms.
Not only were my family and friends ecstatic to see me and my cat forgiving of my prolonged absence, but it felt as though even the garden was putting on a show of welcome. My little corner of London had been green, but not as green as this:

Having been home a year I still remember the magic of stepping out the side door into a sea of brilliant colours and textures. The symbol of spring and rebirth that I brought home from London. But this year I look at it slightly differently.

It's still magical; a carpet of pink curls around the driveway and down towards the side door where it is overtaken by oranges and yellows that continue down the garden path and spill down onto the back lawn.

However here the vibrancy is less impressive if only because the announcement of spring is less necessary.

Here, these plants have returned to being just weeds; pretty but annoying products of an overgrown garden that each week are removed in swathes to allow the other plants a chance to behave with the same voracity.

And yet these very weeds have come to remind me of coming home and rediscovering the beauty of the world in my own backyard. 

Spring Breaks

The arrival of spring is usually heralded by warmer days, the appearance of flowers and insects in an otherwise barren setting...

I don't this can really apply to the environment in which I live. So instead I propose another measure:
the arrival of spring is confirmed by the presence of the first flies.

Living in London flies were one of the few things I did not miss. It was bliss to be able to just be out of doors and not accompany every journey, every conversation with the typical hand movements that typify the batting and swatting of flies. Back in Perth I have unfortunately been reminded of the summer of swatting I have to look forward to.

But on to the more glorious elements of the season:

Minuscule feathered flowers and ground-cover grevillias are in bloom cascading down the sandy slope.

The orange is blossoming (it must be the season for marriage), the sweet blossoms intermingled with the sticky fruits. Of a similar palette, the Californian poppies project their sunny faces towards the heavens, each petal held in place with silken threads defying the desire to capture the warmth and carry it indoors. 

Across the length and breadth of the garden the bees are hard at work tasting everything from the basic yellow daisies to the obscurest bulb that arises out of nowhere and dazzles with its weird whimsicality.

The garden is alive with noise at the moment as a pair of fledgling wattlebirds flit around the garden after their parents constantly shrieking 'feed me' 'feed me'. Meanwhile the parents are keeping their chicks so well fed they even have time to argue with the cats over their presence in this exclusive location.

This fluffed up beauty was adorable, though with his beady eyes directed at my cat (no doubt wondering if she could be carried away for a tasty midnight snack), he could have behaved better.

From the front the wisteria is an inviting blaze of colour facading the bland brick wall of the garage, while around the side a double wisteria covers the path dropping scented pompoms on all who dare pass beneath 

And it is not just the birds and the bees who are out in force. On the ornamental quince is the obvious food of choice for the furry caterpillars while the orchids are housing a host of baby spiders who hopefully escape the attention of the neighbourhood birds.  

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