Christmas and summer is well and truly upon us. Where did 2013 go?? Last week, it was still a teensy bit cool in the morning. Over the weekend, it became gloriously sunny, summery, and humid – like we are standing in a sticky warm bath. A time for sitting under a fountain, sipping Vietnamese iced coffee, or flocking to the beach.
A long way from America
Last week, I received a very exciting parcel from Anne at Uni Homemaker. I had commented on her peanut butter pumpkin spice kiss cookies post that I couldn’t find pumpkin kisses in Sydney, and she promptly got in touch and sent some to me!
I found much more than pumpkin kisses in the box, Anne had also sent butterscotch morsels, creme de menthe chips, and Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. I sneaked a couple while taking photos. The pumpkin spice kisses tasted like mildly spiced gingerbread; the creme de menthe made me think of minty candy canes, and I can already see the Ghirardelli and butterscotch jazzing up some oatmeal bars and brownie bars that rotate through our kitchen.
…and Anne’s box also had these colourful baking cups!
A broken oven and flood of jam
Our old, creaky oven is officially on its last legs. The oven light went out, quietly, modestly, on the weekend. Currently, pastries, breads and cookies are going into a dark cavern of an oven, with only smell and sound to guide me.
*silent movie-style gesture of despair*
There are some consolations. The lack of a good oven has encouraged me to discover jam and preserves. So far we have a sour cherry jam, which has been made into thumb print cookies (and survived the black cavern of an oven!), and a blood orange and carrot marmalade.
Here’s hoping the oven will be fixed before I flood the house with preserves and fermented things, like kimchi. Or even garum. I think Mr Gander would be keen to fix the oven before I moved onto garum.
Christmas via Sri Lanka
Summer means cricket (the sport not the insect). Everywhere. On the radio and TV at home, in the car, on the smart phones. It’s the sound track to a classic Aussie summer, and at least in our household, Christmas baking wouldn’t be the same without the drone of cricket commentary in the background.
This year, I made a Sri Lankan Christmas cake – just before the oven light gave up the ghost. I first read about the cake in an old book. Then, it seemed to be everywhere, with cooks, writers and bloggers raving about how moist and flavoursome it was, how it was better than any other kind of fruit cake from ye olde England.
The cake recipe asks for various Sri Lankan preserves. So a friend and I left our familiar cocoon of inner west Sydney and journeyed to a Sri Lankan grocery store. There were so many things that we did not recognise (and I felt like a kid in a candy store).
We found the preserves:
The chow chow or chokoes was preserved in a dark, thick syrup that really tasted like condensed, dark palm sugar. It had no vegetable taste, just a deep, sultry kind of sweetness. It would probably make a great stir-in to a spice and molasses-laden banana cake. Like date butter, but more mysterious.
The pumpkin preserves weren’t made of pumpkins like Halloween pumpkins, but ash melon – the picture looked a little like melons that I grew up with in China. The pumpkins / melons tasted like crystallised melons from Chinese new year snack bowls – a childhood memory found in the most unexpected place, in a jar from Colombo.
I also found these:
Red is my favourite colour, so red basmati rice and roasted red country rice flour caught my eye. I’ve since learned the red country rice flour is made into a steamed breakfast dish called puttu, and was traditionally steamed in a bamboo tube. Quite a few recipes call for rice flour to be steamed with freshly grated coconut, and the steamed rice served with side dishes including a Kadala curry or bananas. The ragi vermicelli should be steamed, which reminded me of a Moroccan dish of steamed noodles, which I didn’t learn in time for our Moroccan dinner party but is still on my to-do list.
My friend also became excited by Sri Lankan groceries. Between us, we must have bought 5 different varieties of rice. What does one do with so much rice? Plan an Iron Chef Rice ( + Vermicelli ) dinner of course!
That’s it from me, I can’t wait to visit other people’s December kitchens!