the aftermath of easter.
the half eaten, donnie darko, cheap pink bunny.
the countdown to the rock show.
the unsettling feeling of going it alone.
[ the photo by maeve ]
the aftermath of easter.
the half eaten, donnie darko, cheap pink bunny.
the countdown to the rock show.
the unsettling feeling of going it alone.
[ the photo by maeve ]
good friday, i served up — somewhat sacrilegiously — a shepherd’s pie for dinner: lamb (of god) mince, cooked with a couple tins of tomatoes, most of a tin of chickpeas, diced carrot and sweet potato, and rather a lot of broccoli. the potato topping was mashed with the remaining chickpeas, and dotted — as prescribed by stephanie alexander — with butter. i do not know why i have not made a shepherd’s pie before this, but it’s a fine way to eat two large potatoes in one sitting.
i figured i’d walked it off earlier that afternoon. we walked from the heart of the city into chinatown for vietnamese — pho bo tai and some porky nem. good old chinatown, who else would be open to feed you when everyone else shuts down to commemorate the lord’s passing? after, we walked the length of the city to get to the botanic gardens. around the time jesus gave up the ghost, the skies above us grew dark and ominous, and the bats ever more shrieky. we caught a bus home then, before the heavens opened.
easter saturday, after a companionable lunch of pastrami bagels and ginger beer, i headed into kinko’s on broadway to rustle up some grunge on the photocopier. kinko’s — that bastion of 24-hour print self-servicery — was shut. the bastards! i hightailed it to the big kinko’s in the city, and it was a hive of activity. blowing up line drawings to 400% — now that was like coming home. but, ok, for actual homecoming, i stopped by BBQ king for a box of their finest, stickiest char siu.
easter sunday, the easter bunny — visiting from chiltern, victoria — presented me with a giant lindt easter egg casket, and the kid with a startling assortment of lesser chocolates. a good start to the day, which went on to include the circus festival at darling harbour, a BBQ pork bun picnic, the parisian toy boats exhibition at the maritime museum, and then a meandering walk through pyrmont, over the anzac bridge, up the back streets of balmain, and home to leftover shepherd’s pie.
we ate a lot of meat this weekend, and i was glad for the cleansing veggie wrap of easter monday. we walked a lot through the city this weekend — it’s both infuriating and a joy. in between i finished a drawing of what may become a CD cover, hopefully. it feels good to be working again.
these are busy days. i’ve been laying out the program booklet for the sydney arab film festival for a week now. last friday, as i waited in the train station beneath the airport, i fielded a call — the most crystal clear reception in an underground station! — asking me, only partly in jest, why i was not at home laying stuff out. but it seems even super urgent and late jobs are entitled to five rounds of author’s corrections, so here i am, the millstone still tied to my neck. a very sleek millstone, mind, if i do say so myself.
night times at the computer call for simultaneously stimulating and comforting snacks. a cup of tea, definitely, and a rotating roster of small sweet things. a square (or four) of chocolate one night, a raspberry cream biscuit another.
this particular raspberry cream was unexpectedly good, though somewhat smoushed from being in its paper bag for too long. we found it at the cookie man concession at david jones, nestled close to the caramel creams. you get a crunchy shortbread sandwich, filled with sugary “cream” and anointed with a dab of sticky red jam. the caramel’s definitely on the cards for the next trip to DJ foodhall.
speaking of caramel…
i never dallied the mille feuille at adriano zumbo patissier, not even that season he filled it with mandarin creme. i don’t know what held me back — all that pastry cream, all that pastry — but i suspect it was that there was always something pinker on display. if he’d just remolded it into a cream horn, i totally would have bitten.
but all this is in the past now, because to herald the autumn, there it was: the salted butter caramel mille feuille. after a couple of weeks of missing each other in the shop, i finally had one cornered. and… the planks of pastry were crisp and very nicely sugar-glazed, the fat lines of creme patisserie most enticing. and while the richness of it was lush on my tongue, and i felt completely full after a mere third of the cake, i was left wanting more. more! more salt! more caramel even. i still have two thirds, just to make sure. but, just, more.
zumbo is a riot of colour at the moment: a rash of new cakes hit the counter in the last few weeks. there’s a fancy piped meringue thing crowned in fat, shiny cherries. there’s a slab of chocolate (and chocolate rice crispies!) beneath a wave of pistachio something. there is a multi-layered pink thing in a glass wearing a jaunty pink macaron beret, another incarnation of the macaron marie (ispahan), which will surely be the next thing i pick. but oh! the pink things to be had!
this is how the days go when a sister is in town.
you might wake up early on a sunday morning, breakfast in a flurry, catch a bus and then another bus to the sparkly blue edge of bondi. you will meander through the markets, spurring each other on: a sausage on a roll, a red pleather handbag. you will eat fish, and chips, and pineapple fritters, when all the while you really want to get to the gelato shop on the corner. you will meet with cousins. you will bury your hot feet in the cool sand, and build a colony of tiny sandcastles, fashioned from an empty gelato cup.
you might wake up at a respectable hour, breakfast leisurely, catch a bus and then a train out west, to auburn, just to eat a couple scoops of chewy turkish ice cream. you will step into one, then two, and maybe even three dollar discount stores, coming out with bags of cheap household treasures. a pink plastic basket for pegs, perhaps; a rubber anti-slip mat for the tub; some rolls of masking tape… all these things take on a desirable mystique when they are under $3. you will step into one, then two, then three bakeries, and come away with as many little paper bags of sticky sweet lebanese biscuitry. meat shaved off a large rotating torpedo will be eaten, as well as dips the colour of candy.
you might wake up just in time to be lazy, and sit in the park across the scout hall, while the kid takes a music class, and then you will catch a bus to the art gallery, to meet another cousin — the city is just full of them at the moment. you will look at bats — wooden ones at the gallery, and real, hanging-upside-down, screechy ones in the botanic gardens. on a whim you will catch a ferry to luna park, to arrive just in time for a ride on the carousel — it spins at a cracking pace, to the tune of “bonanza” — before the park closes. because you can, because it is the last day of your weekly travel pass, you will catch a train back across the bridge to marrickville, and walk a great distance to a restaurant you know will serve you excellent chilli-lemongrass squid (or tofu, you can’t decide), and when you get there, you will learn that said restaurant is closed mondays.
nights, after the kid has given up and gone to sleep, there might be a selection of truffles unearthed during the day’s outing, or a rose syrup and shaved chocolate sundae. there might be something from zumbo with the gilmore girls. or a whole season of “sex and the city” and the ensuing pangs of not being in new york. there are always cups of tea. jasmin, rose pu erh, chocolate spice.
days, well, they go by, and today, we followed the script we know by heart. someone takes someone to the airport. “see you real soon,” we say, although we don’t know if it will be one year, or two. we felt queasy, but we put it down to hunger. we felt queasy, and we put it down to the mcdonald’s we ate simply to quell the hunger, because the hot cross krispy kreme doughnut hadn’t quite done the job. and then she got on the plane and i got on a train and our lives returned — instantly — to normal.
of course, we could not visit haberfield and only get food to go.
we had pizza, and it was fine pizza, but as soon as the seafood-stuffed calamari arrived at the next table, we felt the regret deeply. we had pizza, but not so much pizza that we could not then head across the street straight after for a selection of dolci at pasticceria papa.
i think, even so, that we were being hopelessly optimistic. there were three numbered plaques on the table, and in good time, two of those were replaced by twin plates of mini cannoli. i had my eye on larger things. my order was for a cup of gelato (two, if you count the kid’s mango ice), and a fat chocolate eclair.
there are those in our circle — a solitary frenchman, actually — who believe steadfastly that a chocolate eclair must be filled with chocolate creme. a strip of choux pastry with a slick of chocolate icing on top, filled with fresh whipped cream? a travesty! i should be very amused to see his reaction to an eclair of mock cream. i, for one, would not turn it down.
but. so. papa’s chocolate eclair is filled with both! i cut through the beastie to find a layer of dark chocolate custard beneath a layer of cream. bliss.
the gelato was equally sublime. firmly packed into every last facet of the cup, it made a pretty picture in red, white and green. viva italia! the amarena was a vein of red sour cherry running through light, milky gelato. the pistachio was almost savoury.
there were still biscuits left on the table when we reached the outer limits of our stomachs, but i’m sure you’ve figured out that in the end, i did get a couple of mini cannoli to go.
saturday, we barreled up to haberfield, which is always less than the expedition in my head. which is to say, it is a great adventure, but it takes only two buses to get there, and if you time the connections right, and if the buses run punctually, then you can be there in just over 30 minutes. deborah can walk across the highway to get there in 10 minutes, but let’s not hold that against her.
because i don’t actually get to haberfield that often (see: expedition in my head), i end up going a bit crazy with the procuring of comestibles. this time, i’d even brought my stripy esky.
it was exactly the right size. by the end of the afternoon, it was packed to the brim. from the italian deli, a modest package of freshly-sliced olive mortadella, and one of chilli salami, both wrapped neatly in luridly printed waxed paper. from peppe’s, two boxes of ravioli: veal, pancetta, sage and white wine; roasted duck, prosciutto and caramelised onion. and from paesanella, a small tub of ricotta and a large tub containing a voluptuous ball of cream-filled mozzarella. burrata.
according to my recent googling, burrata is “the current darling of cheese lovers” — around southern california in any case. i first had it a couple of years ago, and i think about it from time to time. it is a spongy white lump, formed by hand. essentially, it is a thick outer skin of freshly-pulled mozzarella, filled with shreds of leftover mozzarella and fresh cream, before being sealed up.
we brought it home and had it for lunch a couple days later. it’s true what they say: you slice it open and the cream runs out. it is mild and rich at the same time, and the innards have the texture of scraps of cheese sealed in a pouch.
it was wonderful with sliced tomatoes, pepper, salt and a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
a week ago, we had breakfast for lunch at circle cafe. well. i had breakfast for lunch; everyone else had lunchy-type things.
the tea service at circle is a beautiful thing. sure, it could do with a few more leaves to the pot (and some sort of removable tea-leaf container so that whatever leaves in the pot don’t sit and stew in the time it takes you to drink three cups)… but these days, when a cafe tea experience usually involves a flaccid teabag in a stingy cup of lukewarm water for the same price as a barista-pulled coffee, taking tea at circle is none too shabby.
i am taking tea right now, but it has gone cold. it is 1.22 in the morning after all. i have lucked into some work, you see, and this means that after a morning of fun out with the kid and the sister, and an afternoon of gingerbread-baking, and a late evening dinner of ruffle-edged pasta with broccoli, asparagus and fetta (with a side of giggles), i am moving slabs of text around while the house sleeps.
throbby head aside, it is a nice feeling. not so nice is the feeling of blog posts left unwritten. i have so much to tell you! perhaps tomorrow i could sneak in a tale of the cream-filled mozzarella…
this is how to make a makeshift sausage risotto:
buy some nice sausages. (today at about life, we picked a pack of toulouse sausages from eumundi smokehouse: pork, with pepper and white wine.) split the sausage skins and fry the meat in a small amount of oil, just to break it up and brown it a little. remove the meat from the wok. there should be a puddle of sausagey oil in which you can now fry a finely-diced onion. and some risotto rice.
you would have had you stock on another burner, of course. this may be that stuff out of the freezer that you made three or four months earlier by boiling the remains of a roast chicken dinner. add the stock one painstaking ladle at a time, while it is slowly absorbed by the rice.
i think you generally have to stir for like, thirty to forty minutes? halfway through, return the sausage meat to the rice, then keep going. you might want to sample a couple of grains of rice from time to time, just to see if it’s cooked through enough. you will be excited by the rich, meaty flavour of the broth — the extreme savouriness — and encouraged by the cries from across the counter in the loungeroom, “oh my god, that smells so tasty!”
when the rice has just about lost its al dente-ness, it’s time for mantecatura! i don’t beat in quite as much butter as locatelli prescribes (75 grams), but i like the symbolism. also, i don’t generally add parmesan because i don’t crave the cheesiness.
this is how to fuck up a makeshift — though promising — sausage risotto:
the last couple of times i made this, i added a handful of rocket after turning off the heat. it wilts and adds colour, and a foil to the meatiness.
this afternoon at about life, we’d procured a bag of organic rocket — wild rocket, actually, from ladybird organics. and now i think the “wild” makes all the difference in the world, because where the rocket i’d been buying previously from the local fruitshop was mild and pleasant, this organic stuff was really something else. a vile weed from hell!
the thing is, after plating up, i also dolloped a spoonful of rocket pesto onto the mound of risotto, for dramatic effect, so you can stir through for a uniform green tinge, or a burst of something extra. again, when i’ve bought this at the fruitshop up the road, it’s been like the icing on a cake, a little salty green accent to the grand starchy statement. the about life house pesto is a startling emerald green, just gorgeous, but it was like eating poison. the bitterness, just from the tiniest first contact with our tongues, was like one of life’s harshest lessons. i guess in this case, that lesson would be: taste the damn pesto before you use it. or at least, read the label to discover that it contains just a healthy blend of rockets (sic), pistachios, lemon juice and olive oil, and then choose another pesto with salt, and maybe even cheese.
i put an empty bowl on the table, to contain the pesto i was not ashamed to scrape off the top of the risotto. we thought that would take care of things; we trusted that the bitterness had been contained. but we were wrong: it lingered. and that was when we realised what set wild rocket apart from the regular tame stuff.
we scraped the risotto off our spoons with our teeth so that it would not touch our lips, and at least one of us contorted herself so that she could swallow each mouthful without it touching her tongue. did you succeed, nellicent?
we made it through the meal, giggling from the awfulness, and we did not go back for seconds even though there was plenty left in the wok. in fact, after dinner, i spent a good few minutes picking out each strand of wilted rocket from the rice. and then when i had amassed a sizeable tangle, i took a photo of it. sigh.
but see, i’m not discouraging you from making your own sausage-and-rocket risotto — no way, it can be wonderful — but you might just want to check that you’re not using any hardcore, top-of-the-line, clean-living type ingredients.
the fizz is nice against the prickle. distracting, anyhow. for i am falling sick once again, and in need of distraction, from the sharp (in the back of the throat) and the cloudy (all around my head). my rose-print drinking glass is filled with rose-red fizzy. i’d been searching for a while, in a cursory and on-and-off manner, for a bottle of rose syrup cordial. this involved falling into any indian spice-and-video shop i might happen to pass, and not finding a tall bottle of red. last thursday, though, i got lucky. so. rose syrup + soda water = the bestest red fizzy ever.
thursday was lucky for several other reasons. first up, we dropped the kid off at playschool. and then nellie said, “let’s have breakfast at bourke street bakery.”
at the bakery’s broadway outpost, we lucked into the corner booth. well, the only booth. my sourdough toast with house jam came with a just-right portion of salty butter, wrapped up in a twist of waxed paper to look like candy. my hot chocolate came in a wide, low bowl. it was perfect fuel for a day of trudging through the rainy streets of surry hills.
a litany of old favourites unfurled. at object gallery, we found ceramic thongs hand-painted with intricate blue-and-white scenes. at christopher’s cake shop, we bought a bag of shortbread, filled with jam, dipped in chocolate. we moseyed, ambled up bourke street and down crown, and finally came to climb the galvanised staircase at fratelli fresh…
…to sopra. here’s a tip. get there a little way past two. the masses will have lunched and departed, and the water jugs, though empty, will be refilled with a smile if you bring one up to the counter.
the handwritten blackboard, as high as the ceiling, confounded me with choice, so i fell back on another old favourite: the antipasto plate. there are always four parts, and three of them change according to the seasons; the one constant is egg mayonnaise, which sounds a bit low-rent, but in fact it is a perfectly boiled egg draped in… silk. in the silky mayonnaise there are great chunks of chopped-up cornichon. it is great. great, i tells ya.
today, the lineup included some asparagus, pickled beetroot with gorgonzola, and boiled fennel with salsa verde. everything was simultaneously light and intense, the kind of delicious that makes you slowly whittle away at each element, one at a time, as you weigh up in your mind which you want as the final taste in your mouth.
as it turns out, the final taste in my mouth that afternoon was of an ethereal (and ephemoral) buttermilk pudding, which collapsed halfway into its own puddle of berry sauce.
we caught a break in the rain, and a bus to the city, and then another bus back out to get the kid, and after spending some time looking at pyjama pants and petshops, it was dinnertime. we had lured maeve to playschool that morning by promising a sushi-train dinner afterwards, and we are not girls who fall back on their word.
especially when it involves tomodachi. upstairs at broadway shopping centre, they do a fast trade in exotic sushi filled with schnitzel and cream cheese, or topped with blowtorched scallops and kecap manis. we had a plate of maki, whose crowning glory was a sliced of grilled cheese.
for dessert we pulled this off the train: an azuki mochi, divided into bite-sized portions, decorated with aerosol whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
it’s like all the fun in the world happened on thursday.