Bread and philosophy

I’ve been stretched out of shape this week.

Since June I have been immersed in an Introduction to Philosophy course. It’s a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course), a learning format that is starting to make inroads into the way we learn, and is offered by MITx via edX, the non-profit and open-source platform founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012. It offers a wide range of courses and programs from many of the world’s leading universities and institutions. I did a couple of shorter courses earlier in the year but the content weight and length of the Introduction to Philosophy course was a much bigger challenge for me.

After twelve weeks, eighteen lectures and three written submissions, on Thursday I received my final mark (88%) and my certificate.

Intro to Philosophy certificate

It’s been a long time since I’ve undertaken a lengthy period of formal study. Even though I’m not working at the moment, setting aside 6-7 hours each week – sometimes more when a written assessment was due – has been challenging. Much of my impetus to keep at it was the fear of falling behind and potentially having to find double the time the following week.

It’s also been a subject that’s really tested me. Contrary to what you might think, the course was not about what I believed about God, knowledge, consciousness or identity but rather reading a range of arguments about these subjects and assessing them rigorously using a particular structure.

I’ve always loved learning and when faced with difficult concepts, I usually get through by applying myself to pulling the topic apart and putting it back together again. But there were a couple of weeks – thankfully not in a row – when I floundered. I couldn’t see the point of the arguments and engaging in the discussion forums/asking questions made me even more confused. In the end, surviving all of my harsh self-talk required an exercise in generosity. I surrendered to the feeling of ‘wandering in the wilderness’ and tried to trust that I would eventually work it out. As the weeks moved on, the fog did clear a bit and I was able to pick up the pieces and put them together again.

I am proud of receiving my certificate. However more than that, I’m proud of sticking with it, not letting the feeling of being completely clueless deter me and of finding a little generosity of spirit in myself to get me through the difficult bits. And I feel different – more open, more aware, stretched in a new direction.

Speaking of difficult bits, on Saturday I stretched myself in another direction, this time to take on my battle with bread.

About seven years ago, I started my relationship with bread by making hot cross buns. I’m allergic to oranges and all of the hot cross buns here in the UK contain mixed peel (even bakery-bought ones). So I thought it would be an excellent thing to be able to make my own. So with recipe in hand and wielding my spatula, off I went.

The first batch of buns I made were amazing – mouth-wateringly fragrant, absolutely delicious with a cross on each glossy crown.

Since then I’ve attempted several more batches as well as a variety of other loaves. I love the physicality of making bread – my fingers pulling and stretching as they knead, seeing the magical doubling of the dough as it proves and the oh-so-glorious smell as the fresh bread emerges from the oven. But none of these have reached the dizzying, delicious heights of that first batch. So I decided that I needed to go back to basics and booked myself into the Beginner’s Bread Bakery at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I loved it!

Over five wonderful hours, Laini took us through the rules according to bread: The science of the ingredients, the importance of exact measurements and temperatures and the stretchy, springy consistency of great dough. To my delight, my doughs proved and proved again and I managed to produce a range of delicious breads…

Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia

Foccacia montage

Here it is:  Proved, flavoured and about to go into the oven (left) and beautifully baked and cooling (right).

Pesto and Cheese Straws

Foccacia Straws montage

We used some of the focaccia dough after the first prove to flatten, fill and shape these deliciously salty straws to accompany the mushroom soup served for our lunch. I had two at lunch and then the other two that evening.

White Bloomer Loaf (and dinner roll)

White bloomer montage

What’s a baking course without a white loaf and here it is (left). We also learnt how to make a perfectly shaped dinner roll (right). It’s not as easy as it looks!

I also learnt where I had been going awry in my bread-making, namely the water being too warm (thereby killing the yeast before it even got going) and using flour instead of oil to knead the dough (according to Laini, adding flour during the knead makes for a very dense loaf). Needless to say I’m very keen to put these all of these new techniques into practice but I need to finish all of the bread I brought home first…

bread basket 1

I ate the two focaccia straws and the dinner roll that evening, enjoyed the crust of the white bloomer loaf with organic raspberry jam the next day and portioned three quarters of the focaccia for freezing.

So in the space of a week I feel like I’ve achieved a little mastery over two challenging subjects – bread and philosophy – and now have some sound points of reference to build on. I feel incredibly energised, eager to apply it all and excited to learn more.

Just goes to show what a little stretching can do.


For my other visit to the Waitrose Cooking School – Sliced and Diced – click here

A scrumptious success

In my last post, I waxed lyrical about my day slicing and dicing at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I am delighted to report that just ten days later, I have successfully reproduced one of the recipes at home.

I’m SO pleased…and proud!

Here’s my path to today’s red onion chutney.

I started by slicing up two large red onions and heating them in a medium-sized saucepan – with a little groundnut oil and sea salt – until the onions started to ‘fall’ (that’s cookery school jargon for soften slightly).

Red Onion Chutney 1 (crop)

I added 62.5g of caster sugar and a quarter teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds…

Red Onion Chutney 2 (crop)

…and stirred through until dissolved (see pic below).

Red Onion Chutney 3

I then added 70mls of red wine vinegar and left it all to simmer – no stirring! – for about 15 minutes.

I ended up with about 100g of this…

Red Onion Chutney 4 - finished

 

Yippee! Woohoo! You little ripper! 

 

Yes, I’m a bit excited. I’ve already had some and can report that apart from looking gorgeous, it tastes absolutely delicious.

I am one happy little Vegemite right now.

Feel free to snaffle the recipe – in about an hour, you could be enjoying this scrumptious treat for yourself…

You are welcome.

Sliced and diced

This week I did a knife skills course. No, I am not running away to join the circus. I’m talking about knife skills of the kitchen variety.

I’m a bit of a foodie, have loads of vegetables in my diet and tend to spend a lot of my meal preparation time chopping stuff. I never had lessons in how to do this – I just got stuck in with what needed to be done over the years and it all seemed to work okay. Especially as all ten fingers remain attached and intact.

But when watching cooking television, I’m always hugely impressed and intimidated by the speed and confidence with which chefs slice, dice and generally handle their knives. Every so often they offer a smattering of how-to-chop instruction when a celebrity guest gets involved but do you think I can remember it for application later on?

So I have never filleted a fish or jointed a chicken and terms like Chiffonade and Brunoise are a complete mystery to me. Or used to be.

Continue reading

Favourite things: Returning home

I’ve been back home in London for a few days now. The weather is about 30 degrees (celsius) cooler than when I left Melbourne on Sunday and while I love the sun and heat, I have been enjoying feeling the brisk air on my face when outdoors followed by that cosy rush of warmth when I venture inside again. The real test will come tomorrow with temperatures forecast to get down below zero overnight and remain that way for the next week. I’m guessing there will be little opportunity to show off my holiday tan.

Speaking of holidays, I am due a post about my month away – an indulgent week in a Thai resort followed by two and a half weeks in Melbourne with family – and there’s a whole lot of stuff milling around inside my head but it’s resisting taking shape right now. But rest assured that something will appear soon…in some form or other.

But right now, I am battling the jet lag and indulging in some cocoon-like time at home enjoying some of my favourite things to do.

Sleeping

I love a good night’s sleep and I haven’t slept through the night since my return. I went to my first yoga session in a month yesterday – which no doubt will hurt quite a bit tomorrow – and then managed about five and a half hours sleeping straight through last night so it’s all going in the right direction. I am trying to be patient with myself / this but I wish it would all just hurry up.

Reading

After an absolute glut of Kindle reading at the end of 2016, I returned home inspired to read some of the stuff that’s been on my bookshelf for a while. At the moment I am really enjoying Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay before I see him interviewed next week.

imag6535-407x640

Catch-up telly

My mid-December departure meant that I missed the final episode in season two of the sci-fi series Humans – which has had me glued to my TV screen each Sunday night – and the Strictly Come Dancing Grand Final. Both have been addressed and enjoyed with equal fervor. I also saw that the first episodes of two new shows – The Voice and Let It Shine – had aired so have gotten these under my belt too. My particular jury’s out on these but may return with a more positive verdict in the coming weeks.

Cooking

The thing that I’ve loved the most since being back at home is cooking. I ate so many fabulous meals during my trip but after a month, I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and cook for myself. It was with much excitement that I got my grocery order delivered on Tuesday and made a quick trip to my local fruit and veg shop to fill the fridge again.

imag6531-1-640x360

I’ve been planning different meals each night and in my pottering in the kitchen, have managed to try some new things as well.

The day that I returned, I was so pleased to find a portion of my vegetable and chilli mince in the freezer and so I stirred that through some spaghetti for one of my favourite comfort meals.

I’ve also baked some beetroot, a tip I picked up from Mum’s partner Mr Licensed-To-Grill who BBQ’ed these scrumptious suckers while I was Down Under. It was lovely with my crumbed chicken breast and steamed greens. And I’ve been mindful of getting my leafy greens quota up again by stir-frying some chard with onion, garlic, ginger and chilli to have with my Thai salmon fishcake last night. Tonight’s plan is a roasted butternut squash and turkey bacon pasta with a cube of my kale and walnut pesto stirred in…and I can’t wait.

The funny thing about all this is that when I left Australia almost thirteen years ago, my family and friends would never have said that I was great in the kitchen. Oh I could whip up a basic tuna pasta but I was a competent compiler of platters and carpet picnics and the fridge was generally used for wine, cheese and little else. But a penchant for pottering about among the pots and pans has definitely snuck up on me and it was with some surprise that I found myself pining for it.

So until I sort the holiday stories into some semblance of interesting reading, I will be sleeping, reading and wielding my spatula with enthusiasm…and wondering at how Julie Andrews’ trilling about bright copper kettles as one of her favourite things became one of mine.

Lessons in kale

Over the past few months I’ve been paying a bit more attention to my diet.

It’s so easy to get into a food rut and whilst swimming has proved to be an excellent exercise rut and remains in the well-being kitty, I’ve been wanting to create a few more good habits especially since I need to keep myself in good mental shape for my ‘what comes next’.

I’ve been keeping a food and exercise diary since the end of August. The idea has been to become more aware of exactly what I’m eating and, rather than adopting some diet or other, to understand how to balance calories, nutrients and exercise better. Recording this each day has certainly made me more mindful about food choices and also about really enjoying what I choose. Let’s face it – catering to every whim is not particularly healthy but when I do indulge, boy do I make sure it’s worth it.

One of the areas I’m particularly conscious about is getting enough iron in my diet. Many years ago I restructured my eating habits (alongside some other lifestyle choices) and one of the consequences is that I don’t eat red meat. While I get enough protein from other things like poultry and eggs, iron in a form that can be absorbed by the body – like in dark green, leafy vegetables – has not featured in recent times.

I’d rather eat fresh where I can versus taking supplements but I’m no rabbit so I want something more appealing than leaves on a plate. Every so often I’ll add a bit of spinach or rainbow chard to something or munch on some mixed nuts but I know it’s not enough.

In an inspired moment during my bi-weekly shopping order, I decided to add some kale and ordered the smallest size bag available – 500g.

Do you have any idea how much kale this is? (Peeps, this is not the time to be funny and say 500g, okay?) I gasped – and may have actually sworn in shock – when I pulled that big green pack out of the delivery bag. To use that much kale before it became limp and un-usable seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

But as with all challenges, it seems this one has taught me a thing or two three.

Lesson 1: Out of the bag

I was bemoaning my mountain of kale at work when one of my lunch pals gave me a great storage tip. Line a large plastic container with paper towel and store the kale in that versus keeping it in the bag. This blew my mind (I know, it’s the small things peeps). It kept the kale dry for almost a month which, luckily enough, is how long it took me to use it. And it works for spinach too. All of a sudden leafy greens have become workable rather than wasteful in the Gidday kitchen.

Lesson 2: More than a handful

As with most green leafy veg, once kale wilts down there’s not a lot of it so after adding a first miserly handful to my normal stir fried vegetables, I got a whole lot more generous when next I stir fried…

thai-fish-cake-with-veg-stir-fry

Thai Sweet Chilli Fishcake with Kale (and other Vegetables)

I have also thrown some leaves into my Quorn sausage and vegetable stew with fabulous results.

Lesson 3: Hey pesto!

Within half an hour of getting that enormous leaf-filled bag I desperately googled “recipes using kale” and was particularly inspired by a Walnut and Kale Pesto recipe from The Food Network for a number of reasons:

  • It had a four and a half star rating and was marked as easy.
  • Pasta is one of my go-to mid week meals, especially after swimming.
  • It would use up half the bag of kale.

So I chopped, toasted, grated and pulsed away to make my very first pesto…

The ice cube tray was another gem from a different work pal – that’s fourteen meals right there in the freezer. No need to defrost, just stir a cube into the hot pasta!

This pesto has turned out to be an absolute winner – one cube is tasty enough with a portion of plain pasta but I’ve also tried adding sun-dried tomatoes and black olives and in the version below, turkey bacon and red pepper.

turkey-bacon-tomato-spaghetti-with-kale-walnut-pesto

Gluten-free Spaghetti with Turkey Bacon, Red Pepper and Kale Pesto

I cannot believe I waited so long to make pesto. Seriously peeps, what have I been doing with my life?

So kale has made its way into my culinary pantheon (much to my surprise and delight) and whilst its superfood status may be under scrutiny, adding this green leafy habit into my kitchen is definitely a big tick in the box for me.

PS…If you made it all the way to the end of this random post about kale, well done you. You definitely deserve a pat on the back. And while you’re at it, if you know any other handy ways with kale, please don’t be shy about letting me know. I’d be very grateful.

A dinkum daughter

My name is Kym Hamer, I am 46 years old and I have just cooked my first BBQ.

Yes yes I know. As a dinkum Aussie sheila, I ought to be ashamed of myself for not mastering this patriotic part of my culinary repertoire before now.

It’s not that I’ve been blind to the art of BBQ – I have actually been around BBQs most of my life but it has always been someone else pricking the snags and flipping the burgers.

23KYM

My introduction to BBQ-ed vittels started early in life – but Opa (back middle) was in charge of the cooking.

And quite frankly these BBQ bastions have been happy for me to do my part by plonking a few salad leaves artfully in a bowl and scattering a few condiments around, so who am I to argue (with glass of wine in hand)?

But the weather was looking good…

Phone temp

…my outdoor setting had been re-oiled after a long and rather exposed Winter…

IMAG4771 (360x640)

…so Aussie-K came over for a barbie.

Of sorts…

IMAG4775 (360x640)

To be honest, my turkey and chilli burgers stuck a little and would probably have been better served by a hotplate…

IMAG4773 (640x360)

…but they tasted delicious alongside the lime and chilli mayo, salad and warm ciabatta straight from the oven. And wine of course.

(I would not want you to think I was some sort of kitchen maestro or anything so I must confess again, this time to not making the ciabatta myself.)

And we topped it all off with a slice of shop-bought (just keepin’ it real here peeps) lemon tart, fresh berries and cream.

So on this Mother’s Day, with our respective Mums on the other side of the world, chatting in the sunshine and eating good food together was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

As was ticking my long overdue BBQ baptism off the list.

Mum would be so proud…5KYM

Happy Mother’s Day Mum from your fair dinkum Aussie daughter.

January’s bucket list

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. My resolve tends to scatter across the year and is generally underpinned by my penchant for exploration and variety. However I do love moments, snatches of time when I am completely caught up – and sometimes out – by intense feeling, largely a mixture of delight, wonder, melancholy, outrage and curiosity. I carry this image of a bucket in my mind and I often imagine putting a particular moment into it. Somehow they all combine into a life that inspires me.

I was checking something in my calendar earlier and it occurred to me that while I share about particular experiences, I don’t often reflect on all of the things I’ve done. Fellow blogger, author and longtime Gidday follower Jack Scott commented recently “you do get about” so I thought that it would be interesting – for me anyway – to end each month this year by checking out what’s ended up ‘in the bucket’.

So here goes.

This month it all started with a new chapter in an old story and I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I then moved into a Kenneth Brannagh double bill: All On Her Own, a maudlin 25 minute 3-stars-from-me soliloquy, and the hilarious 4-stars-from-me farce, Harlequinade.

A trip back in time with the Museum of London and a tour of an old Roman fort inspired my historic sensibilities so much that the Museum became a new Friend. Five days later I joined hundreds of women at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster to listen to the Women’s Equality Party and left non-plussed and suprisingly uninspired: lots of valid and important messages but the whole thing was a bit ‘rah rah’ for me.

A decidedly French tone emerged in the second half of the month with the NY MET’s performance of Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers and the National Theatre’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) being live streamed at the Phoenix Cinema just a ten minute bus ride away. When I was raving about the latter in the office the next day, I was informed by a young French colleague that the book continues to be part of the literature curriculum in French schools and is considered “a classic”. By the way, both productions were ‘magnifique’.

I’ve also read six books this month and rated three of them a mighty 5-stars, an excellent 50% hit rate. March Violets by Philip Kerr and A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute were my first dip into these respective writers and my return to Stephen King (and introduction to his criminal mastermind Mr Mercedes) was the recommendation of another Gidday follower, author Charlie Wade. (Thanks Charlie!)

In between all of this I embarked on some new cooking adventures with a foray into pastry (albeit frozen) as well as ‘cooking with beetroot’ and I managed catch up dinners with three different friends, one long overdue.

I also inadvertently fell across London’s Lumiere Festival on the face of the Abbey…

IMAG4146

…and delighted in the lighter mornings on my walk to work.

IMAG4130

Speaking of commuting, this gem really lifted my tube ride home one night.

IMAG4157

It also snowed…

IMAG4150

…and I celebrated twelve years in London.

So Jack was right and January was full to the brim with moments that were both planned and completely surprising. (And that’s doesn’t include what happens in my job.)

In any case, I’ve quite enjoyed this retrospective approach to bucket list-ing and am curious to see what reflecting on February might bring.

What would a look back at your January moments yield?

Spring Frolic…

This afternoon I hosted a small group of friends at Gidday HQ.

Our quartet – or Fab Four if you like – makes an effort to do something together every month. March saw us venture into The Lost Lectures, February was lunch at The Banana Store and a wander around Borough Market (see my post on London’s Hip Pocket for more on this outing) and last year we discovered  some rather delectable delights at Ceviche in London’s Soho and beneath Tower Bridge at The Perkin Reveller.

It has been such a busy time for our little quartet that there was a danger of April slipping away without a Fab Four frolic. So I took matters into my own hands and invited my trio of lovely ladies for a Gidday soiree on the back patio.

To my delight (and great relief) the weather stayed dry and while it was a trifle chilly, I had blankets and wraps on hand. There was even much excitement when the sun made a cursory appearance between main course and dessert and for a few brief minutes, we basked in Spring-like warmth.

I learnt years ago that the key to being able to enjoy hosting these events is being prepared – I have no desire to be stuck in the kitchen while my guests are having all of the fun.  So we started proceedings with a vegetable platter, an avocado dip and some Mediterranean bread and seeded crackers for dipping – and I got to enjoy the wine and conversation, both of which flowed effortlessly.

To follow was a cheese and vegetable pastry-less quiche which went down a storm and after part-baking this morning, only need another 20mins in the oven. It came with a big bowl of green salad (easy to whip up) and some fresh vine tomatoes marinated in a light dressing (made last night) all of which meant I spent more time at the table…and drank more wine.

But the thing I am most proud of is my dessert – individual ginger and white chocolate cheesecakes…

..built to frame the cute champagne candles I had found in Tesco a couple of weeks ago and complete with golden ‘bubbles’. And made last night meaning even more time at the table for me this afternoon.

Before long, over three hours had passed, the coffees had been finished and it was time for my visitors to go.

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon and it reminded me how much I love to cook for other people, an opportunity that needs to be ‘manufactured’ in my time of singledom versus being ever-present – as it was – when I was part of a couple. And in any case, solo cooking exploits can be quite dangerous. Prior experience tells me that one cannot should not consume cheesecake (or any baked goods for that matter) on one’s own and still expect to fit into one’s jeans. Sharing is definitely the key.

So here’s to more Spring Sundays with fabulous friends, scrumptious sustenance and convivial conversation.

Tis The Season…Party Feet

With the big day fast approaching (only 17 sleeps to go peeps), attention has suddenly turned to collaborations of the festive kind. And this week has seen me celebrating with considerable commitment to the Christmas cause, the result being that I am ensconsed on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ today after last night’s work Christmas party. Amongst today’s priorities is resting my aching feet, having kicked off my dancing shoes *slash* drinking boots in the early hours of this morning before pouring myself into bed.

It was a fabulous night, starting with a drinks-style mingle (with a spot of champers, of course) and delicious dinner table conversation under the majestic Rubenesque ceiling of the Banqueting House in Westminster. Commissioned by King Charles I and installed by Inigo Jones, the ceiling comprises the only canvasses from the old Whitehall Palace to remain in situ. Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens painted them in his studio in Antwerp, shipped them across for installation in March 1636 and was paid the princely sum of £3,000 for his efforts.

Eyes up at dinner – what a spectacular view!

After dinner it was down to the Undercroft for a spot of drinking dancing. Designed as a drinking den (how appropriate!) for James I, the area went on to host lotteries after his death, which sounds kind of akin to some (alright, most) of the moves on show under the temporary disco lights last night. And a big shout out to DJ Jeff who kept the floor packed with swinging, singing partygoers – and at whose feet I lay the blame entirely for my scratchy throat and tender tootsies.

But this was not the only celebratory collaboration as earlier this week, we turned to team-building of a whole different kind. On Tuesday night we found ourselves in the south London suburb of Wandsworth for a night of culinary negotiation at Venturi’s Table. Split into three teams, we kneaded, chopped, stirred, dipped, chatted and laughed under the careful supervision of Anna Venturi’s team of patient chefs before sitting down to a fabulous three course meal – fresh pasta, chicken ballotine and a super-scrummy pannetone pudding. Oh and a few drinks. (There may also have been a bit of singing. Yes it’s true.) This is not the first time I’ve done something like this (see my post on Hot Chicks & Hens) and let me just say right here and now, it won’t be my last. It is such fantastic fun.

And last but by no means least, I managed to squeeze in a catch up with three colleagues from workdays past and over a bottle of wine (or two) and a cheap and cheerful meal at my local Italian, we shared the news, reflected on 2012 and speculated on what changes 2013 might bring.

It starts again this week so right now, I’m feeling rather grateful for today’s respite. But not for too long. After all, it is the season to be jolly…

…and my drinking boots still have plenty of tread.

Gidday Soiree…A Hat Trick Of Birthdays

The inaugural Gidday soiree is done. My guests have left replete with good food, an indiscriminate amount of wine and feisty yet flowing conversation.

Le outdoor setting (or patio furniture as my American compatriate at work calls it) did me proud and the skies, while not exactly blue and sunshine-y, kept to themselves with not a drop of rain falling. That’s a minor miracle in itself given the past few weeks.

(Although as I woke this morning after yesterday’s intermittent and torrential rain, I do believe I closed my eyes and whispered ‘oh please just let it be dry!’ Maybe someone was listening.)

It has inspired me to do more of this. I have to say that I rather enjoyed having visitors to fuss over, deliberating over the menu during the week prior to strike the balance of both the ‘right’ quantity and trying out some new things.

(There was a chilli, cheese and corn loaf and some savoury rolls – basically a soft cheese mixture and some other ingredients wrapped in pita bread, chilled overnight and sliced – which were both newcomers to the party.)

It was also an opportunity to use my ‘stuff’. You know the stuff I mean. You have some of this yourself. For me it was my Oma’s crockery, my Mum’s tea set (for the coffee) and, being a cup short, even a lone Royal Doulton cup and saucer for the fifth of our party.

Having the room at the new Gidday HQ for all of this to have been unpacked from the boxes that were their home for 6 and a half years is absolutely brilliant. Now it’s all just an arms reach away on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.

I’m extremely proud to say that the only thing not Gidday-Made was the chocolate cake, collected from the local Polish store round the corner this morning, to celebrate our three birthdays.

Which brings me neatly to a reminder that there are only 17 sleeps to go until my big day. Celebrations may have started today at Gidday HQ but this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook peeps.

Not by a long shot!