Tag Archives: thyme

A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins

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Christmas lunch has come and gone. Once again, I didn’t take photos during lunch, as I didn’t want to interrupt the festivities. This morning, I sat in a garden looking out over the ocean, in a white tee and white sun hat, writing down notes from the meal: what worked, what can be better next time.

I was peaceful, lulled into daydreams, detached from the comings and goings in the house, yet more aware, alert to the sounds and sights of nature around me. The sun was shining; turning the ocean shades of royal blue, deep sea blue, turquoise. The sun made dappled patterns through a tree. It was warm on my back, yet a sea breeze brushed across my notepad. The waves continually crashed on the rocks, again, and again. White clouds formed fantastical patterns on the edge of an equally blue unending sky.

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Inside the house, guests talked about local traditions over tea and slices of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. Every year, the local fire brigade dresses up as Santa and his helpers, drives a fire truck to every local house and popular beaches, and gives out lollies to children (and the young at heart). It is one of my favourite part of Christmas on the South Coast – anyone can go to a shopping centre and have their photo taken with Santa, but how many have caught a bag of lollies from Santa standing on top of a big red fire truck?  

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I digress.

Here is our Christmas lunch menu, which featured flavours from Sicily and Morocco rather than Ye Olde England. The recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins follows – halfway between a pickle and a chutney, a nod to tradition in an unorthodox Christmas meal. Recipes for a few other dishes will be posted over the next month or so.

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Post-election goat cheese and pistachio loaf

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Australia has a new Prime Minister-elect. Before the election, some people planned to move overseas (unil the next election) if one political party won; and some others planned to leave the country if either of the main political parties won – guess they must be somewhere far away by now.

Political ‘stuff’ aside, if I was choosing a place to live for the next three years, where would I go? Would I be able to find goats cheese, fresh mozzarella, figs and quince in season? How far is a good vendor of xiao long bao, or pho, or green papaya salad or hor mok? What about crusty sourdoughs? And would I miss Clive Palmer’s Titanic II?

I probably would take an extravagant round-the-world trip instead.

The first stop? France. All that cheese, wine, and women who don’t get fat (what about the men?), and all that kuign amann.

After France, the possibilities are (almost) endless – Bolivia, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, India, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Spain, Portugal, Russia (with a ride on the Trans-Siberian railway), Iceland, some corner of the Middle East (Syria, I wonder if I could go back to Syria), Japan, and let’s not forget that blogger feast in a Medieval feasting tent I’ve been planning with Laura.

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In the meantime, I’ll bask in the sunlight, clear sky, reading at the beach and riot-of-colours flowers that come with a Sydney spring. And bake things with a French accent. Such as this savoury goat cheese loaf (still working on that kuign amman…).

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Playing with dessert: tim tam soil and macadamia ‘tayto

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Sometimes, I just want to play with food.

Not just mashing potatoes and turning that into gnocchi. Not just making a tree house cake (long story). But turning food into hands-on fun, into toys. You know, like a child playing in a sandpit or in the fields, making mud pie.

So, for dessert (and with St Patrick’s Day just past), we dug for potatoes – in a potato field with chocolate biscuit ‘dirt’ and macadamia ‘tayto’.

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This was one of the easiest recipes ever, and one of the most fun. Tim tams (chocolate cream biscuits) were whizzed up in a food processor to dirt-like clumps, then potatoes (macadamia nuts) were buried in the dirt. Plant a couple of sprigs of thyme over the mound of dirt, and then use teaspoons to ‘harvest’ the potatoes from the field.

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Topping! Focaccia three ways

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Focaccia brings back bad memories of suburban sandwich shops: dry, flat squares of bread, topped with desiccated bits of herbs and with a dense crumb. Or dry, thick-bottomed things, smothered in greasy ‘Italianate’ toppings like ham and cheese.

Nancy Silverton’s quip about bad focaccia sums it up well:

Here in Los Angeles, those dense, cake-like squares of dry, flavorless bread, topped with rosemary if you were lucky, always seemed like a bad cliché — something Italian American restaurants offered for their bread service as a way to appear authentic or simply to stick with a theme.

Since then, I’ve encountered another kind of focaccia from real bakeries: thinner, simpler, with deeper uneven dents made by the baker’s fingers (or the apprentice’s).

I began this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) focaccia wondering which type of focaccia will come out of the oven. I needn’t have worried. This recipe and I are going to be good friends; actually, my friends and this recipe have become good friends.

After the initial kneading, and during the 36 hour rest, the dough ballooned and coyly promised fabulous thing. Fresh from the oven, it delivered on that promise: we inhaled lightly crusty, pillowy, chewy bread.

Since I can’t help tweaking recipes, I tried a few sweet and savoury toppings. Each one worked well and showed off the bread’s versatility.

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