Makes 24.

There are the two that got a bit burnt in the oven.

The one you have to try to see if they are done.

The three with tea when Mum comes around, awww, perhaps just one more.

Go on.

There’s the one that wouldn’t fit in the biscuit jar,

and

the one that you sneak when you get home from work and can’t think of what to make for dinner.

There are three that go to work in a lunch box

and

four that are missing when you get home to find crumbs on the counter.

There are the two that were used as a little extra to make a bowl of vanilla ice cream special.

Two are dunked in hot espresso with Dad at the dining table.

Three eaten when Cate drops around unexpectedly - served on a china plate with a tiny rose buds pattern.

And then there is one.

The one that rolls around the jar with the crumbs for a week - the one that no one dares to eat.

And then it’s gone.

Makes 24.

ProseAnne Giacomantonio
Nonna’s kitchen: biscotti

 

Saturdays and Sundays were for visiting and visitors. And church. That’s just the way it was. Ritual, expected, understood. The cakes were baked and the tables were set. Friends and neighbours knew the rules. This is what my Nonna said. Cakes were good for visitors one expected and biscotti was good for the unexpected type.

Think about it. You bake a cake. It’s got to be eaten fresh, as close to the hour of baking as possible but biscuits... no, you could make a batch of biscuits and they would last weeks - should they need to.

Nonna’s simple biscotti has a firm place in my childhood memories. A constant place. Ever present. Always in the cupboard and always on the table at any gathering. They aren’t fancy and that’s what makes the perfect kind of unexpected visitor biscuit. They aren’t intimidating or show-offy. They are the perfect accompaniment with tea or coffee and people don’t feel decadent in eating one or three.

Watching Nonna’s small capable hands make them is a privilege. Watching her get out the special board to roll them (probably not necessary but that’s the way it’s always been done). Listening to her tell me that the dough reacts differently in different seasons. In summer you need to work quickly and in winter she would work in the warmest part of the day. It’s imperative that the dough is very soft - she uses butter in summer and margarine in winter.

Attempting to understand and learn how to roll the correct thickness of dough and then shape them into and S or a bow. Adding the egg wash so that they come out of the hot oven shiny and golden. These are important things. Very important things.

This is her recipe.

Her origional recipe in her curled and precise handwritten Italian.

Biscotti con vino dolce/ Sherry biscuits 

250g burro/butter or margarine (summer/winter)

1 tazza zucchero/cup sugar

2 uove/eggs

50 ml vino dolce (Sherry) or 2 cucchiaini vanilla/ 20ml Sherry or 2 tspn vanilla

1 tazza corn fleur/cup corn flour

600 - 800 grammi farina /4 cups of self raising flour

Heat oven to 180 degrees

Sift three and a half cups of plain flour and cornflour into a bowl.

Cream butter and sugar, add sherry or vanilla.

Add eggs one at a time.

Fold in flour until it forms a pale dough.

Kneed the dough well on a smooth surface . Add the second half a cup of flour.

The dough must be soft.

Form the biscotti and lay on baking trays. They will rise a little so don’t put them too close.

Glaze generously with a beaten egg or two.

Pop them in the oven for 14mins fan forced.

RecipesAnne Giacomantonio
Songs I cook to ...
Songs to cook to

1. Cler Achel,Tinariwen from Aman Iman: Water is Life

2. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Madeleine Peyroux from Careless Love

3.Roll River Roll, Richard Hawley from Lady’s Bridge

4. Bach: Cello Suite #1 In G, BWV 1007 - Praeludium, performed by Truls Mørk

5. Boquinene, Ibrahim Ferrer from Buenos Hermanos

These are my five choices for the RN First Bite programmes ‘Songs to Cook To' comp.

It wasn’t hard to come up with five. My kitchen activities whether they be meal making, baking or simply doing the washing up are always accompanied by a soundtrack. This could be a podcast or a digital radio tune in (BBC Radio 6 Music is such good fun) or a selection of music from Spotify.

As I was compiling my list however, I had the recurring thought that it’s actually whole albums that I enjoy listening to rather than a ‘playlist’ of individual tracks. Listening to an album in its entirety is such a joy. It as though you are being personally escorted around an artist's gallery by the artist themselves. Albums ebb and flow and beckon you to follow them on to the next audible treat.

Go have a listen to some of the tracks on the expanding playlist.

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, Rufus Wainwright, Lilac Wine, Nina Simone, Return Of The Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons, Banana Boat (Day-O), Harry Belafonte .... there are some odd ones.

What would you add?

EventsAnne Giacomantonio
Podcasts that make life worth living

I have been meaning to post this list of addictive podcasts for a while now. Podcasts are window into other worlds, into the past and the future and version of someone's truth. They are travel and taste and transportation. So for your aural delectations here they are ...

FOOD

BBC Food Programme http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnx3

A short sharp fix of excellent specialist topics discussed in some detail. Asking big questions not just following trends.

BBC Kitchen Cabinet quiz http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01klvhq

A foodaphile's take on the comedy panel show. Hosted by Jay Rayer (Guardian food critic) with a nice spread of panel guests including chefs, bloggers and food writers, historians, scientists. Have a laugh at some of the most ridiculous food trends and facts along side the live audiences they are recorded in front of.

BBC SCOTLAND Kitchen Cafe http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010t0x5

Transport yourself via the Scottish accents of the presenters and the conversation to colder climes of Scotland to discuss food both local (to them) and exotic.

ABC RN First bite http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rnfirstbite/

To the other side of the world now, this Australian article based programme that will deliver a nice slice of the food scene across the country. Think coffee, immigrant community food trends, seafood and discussions about food security.

MONOCLE 24 The Menu https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/monocle-24-the-menu/id475220376(Other Monocle podcasts inc. The Urbanist/Globalist/The Stack)

UK based sister outlet to the design magazine Monocle. Hosted by the affable Finnish accented Markus Hippi who guides listeners though the luxury, primped and poised world of food styling, on-trend bars and restaurants from Berlin to Caracas and little diet discussion. Listen out for the hilarious sexual tension between Markus and Santiago Rodríguez Tarditi in the 'Santiago's Basket' spot at the end of each episode.

CULTURE/NEWS/SCIENCE

Chicago Public Media This American Life http://www.thisamericanlife.org/podcast

Very entertaining and sometimes touching window on the life and times of real Americans. I have caught myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion listening to this one.

ABC RN By Design http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bydesign/

A higher discussion about architecture and design from Australia. From homes designed for footballers to theoretical discussions on sustainability, features on classic design and industry discussion.

BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb (I listen to this religiously!) (5 star)

My absolute religious MUST LISTEN daily podcast. Their tag 'a programme that offers a female perspective on the world' says it all.  Woman's Hour's presenters intelligently and professionally guide the listener though a huge variety of topics without ever patronising or over hyping. Good mix of serious and frivolous topics, this programme is everything that is good about radio.

BBC Radio 4 Thought for the day http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0145rtw (a bit of an odd one but I quite like it)

A concise two minute thought for the day often related to a topic in the news delivered by hosts of all faiths.

BBC Radio 4 From our own correspondent (FOOC) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/default.stm

More little windows on the culture behind the global headlines. I think of it as conversation with a foreign corresponded - what they would really want to tell us if they could.

BBC Radio 4 Infinite monkey cage (science) http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/timc

Science blows my mind but at least Dr Cox and co make it applicable and wondrous.

BBC Radio 4 More or Less (statistics) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd

Ahhh statistics - dry topic right? WRONG! Well, actually right but again, this little BBC goodie opens up an entertaining world of understanding of how statistics are used and abused in the media.

DRAMA

BBC Radio 4 Drama of the week http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ptw

For those who enjoy a good old fashioned radio play with sound effects and everything!

BBC Radio 4 The Archers http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qpgr (I also listen to this religiously but that's cause I'm a bit odd)

The world's longest-running radio soap opera - need I say more? Listen for an amble through the British countryside.

The New Yorker Fiction https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/new-yorker-fiction/id256945396?mt=2

For those of you that enjoy good prose and the voices behind their creation.

MEDIA 

BBC Radio 4 The Media Show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dv9hq

A hard-nosed report on hard-nosed reporting. Host Steve Hewlett's attack-dog mentality can be a bit full-on but ultimately revealing.

ABC RN The Media Report http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/mediareport/

A softer Australia version of the above.

Do  you have a favourite? I'd love to add to my list.

IssuesAnne Giacomantonio
Kitchen detritus

The pot bubbles, you taste it, add some seasoning and stir. You taste it again, a ha! I know what it needs. A good squeeze of lemon juice. Grabbing the only lemon left in the fruit bowl you slice it in half and crush the juice into the pot. Perfect. Dinner is served and delicious it is too.

You wash the dishes and put out the compost and as you wipe down the bench, there it is. Sitting all smug and yellow; the other half of the lemon.

‘Oh well’ you say to yourself, I’ll use it tomorrow, I’ll just pop it in the fridge.

You open the door and your hand holding the little half moon of lemon absentmindedly goes to the place on the door where you keep all the half used things and DOH! There’s already one there.

Don’t you just hate that!

What clutters up your kitchen? What lurks, half used in your fridge? I’m sure most of us have a fair collection of one-use only utensils that clutter up a drawer or two but, I have been noticing the biodegradable items more lately.

A friend commented that she’s forever collecting half used tea bags as she’s a drinker of weak tea. ‘Half used’ tea bags of the common and green variety decorate her kitchen sink awaiting their second cup. Another friend tells me for her family it’s chillies: not a fan of their heat but of their flavour she cuts them in half and the unlucky half languishes in the fridge. Slowly shriveling up with dehydration.

Avocados are a classic. Although I’ve never understood why you don’t just eat the other half there and then with a spoon and a squish of that half of lemon you have spare. Half onions, half cloves of garlic, half a cucumber, half bunches of herbs, all of these seem to suffer the same fate.

Even the best of us are guilty of it. Food waste.

If you want to find out some more fast facts about the ridiculous amount of food waste Australians produce each year Do Something! Foodwise is a good place to start. And there are so many great and dedicated people out there attempting to sharpen up their end of the food waste equation. Second Bite, Food Bank, Oz Harvest, Fareshare to name but a few. There are also people adding value to our food waste to turn it back into an asset to the community. Food not Bombs, Salvos and numerous others.

But the best place to start is in your kitchen. Make sure you use up your kitchen detritus.

IssuesAnne Giacomantonio
inherited

Hi, my name is Anne and I am a nostalgia addict.

A recent discussion about the design of the modern kitchen and a request from a friend for an image of my little kitchen have got my brain ticking over. I have a small but very functional kitchen. It’s got deep benches (and hence cupboard space), pull-out small pantry storage, a goodly portion of drawers and some decent cupboards for my odd collection of serving ware. One of my favourite elements is the two level revolving wire shelves that enable me to have full access to the very corner of the corner.

All this storage allows me to welcome new additions to my kitchen collection without much thought to where I might put it. At least for a while. And it was with this welcoming spirit that I accepted a gift of a Kenwood Chef circa 1980 from my Nonna. Truth be told she never really used it. Too heavy for her to lift up and down from her bench space (lucky she never bought a Kitchenaid) and she is of the era where doing things by hand means literally using one’s hands only. My mother on the other hand had one of these glorious beasts and I have fond memories of the baked and blended items it produced.

And now I have inherited one of my very own. But it isn’t the only inherited item in my cupboards: I have cookbooks (mother), a waffle press (Nonna), a beautiful white milk-glass bowl (Nanna), a 1800ml green glass sake bottle where I keep my rice in the Japanese way (a foreign friend) amongst others.

I love that when I use any of these items I have an image of the person who gave them and a warm sense of their generosity. I know not everyone feels this way about handed down items but then again not everyone’s a nostalgia addict.

Are there any inherited items in your collection that inspire you?

IssuesAnne Giacomantonio
Supper Club. The first of many.

Amongst food-loving types the words ‘supper club’ have become somewhat ubiquitous. The phrase is flipped around on telly and radio, there are supper club cookbooks, hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts and I’ve been to my fair share. So when I had the opportunity to try my hand at running one along with a friend, I jumped at the chance.

We picked our theme, Christmas in August and sent out word. What surprised me however was the number of times I had to explain the concept to people. Perhaps people aren’t as well acquainted with the idea as I had originally thought?

In a nutshell a supper club is a coming together of strangers and friends to share an often lavish meal created and cooked by amateur home cooks in a domestic or out of the ordinary venue. Invitations can be clandestine and spaces are restricted. Ingredients for the limited menu are usually responsibly and creatively sourced and diners are asked to donate an amount of money they feel reflect the quality of the meal and cover the costs. Labour is donated.

Supper clubs, unlike sometimes-snobbish dinner parties, are about a love of food and the sharing of said food with good company. And our little Christmas in August evening did just that. The middle of the year is the appropriate time for a hot Christmas dinner in Brisbane, Queensland. With ye olde fashioned Christmas carols blaring, candles lit and a waft of mulling wine hanging in the air we welcomed our guests and couraged them to mingle while snacking on  appropriately cheesy, literally and figuratively, Christmas hor d'oeuvres  - a labna ‘present’, vol-au-vent wreath and festive fruit tree.

A traditional Christmas dinner is nothing without turkey and we didn’t want to disappoint. Two of the finest turkeys were purchased from Allsop & England, brined and braised a la Nigella, then roasted before being presented to the waiting crowd. Due to the amateur and frugal nature of events such as this it’s not always possible to cater for every dietary tweak but we did have a nut roast. Which perhaps may not look like much but I promise you it almost stole the show. Try it.

Peas and shallots, fancy roast pumpkin, rosemary roast sebago potatoes and honey carrots accompanied the dual turkeys and the nut roasts. We served these communally at the table which felt just like a family Christmas dinner with guests serving their neighbour and talking about Christmases past and yet to come. As the Food Connect homestead warehouse was the location for the feast we gave carving duties to it’s founder Robert Peakin who did a marvelous fatherly job.

Of course we followed this with Min’s great-aunt’s old-style plum pudding with brandy custard. We even lit up the puddings with blue flames - a trick I will definitely be trying again.

It was hard work. There are things we could have done differently. It was so difficult to keep our menu small as there are so much lovely festive fare to get excited about. It was great to mix researched recipes with old family favourites. It was so satisfying to be able to source local and responsibly produced fruit, veg and meat. Including some cavolo nero from my sister’s backyard. It was great to meet new people and share one of life’s great pleasures.

It really was great fun and, for me, highly addictive. We already have plans for the next event.

EventsAnne Giacomantonio
A foodie connection

The clue is in the name really. It’s long. It’s Italian. It’s consistently proven to be unpronounceable but it’s mine. I spent a long time finding it very, very annoying but by the time I had the opportunity to banish it forever I had grown into it like a pair of beautiful shoes inherited from your mother... or father in this case.

My surname connects me with some force to my Italian roots and has the added bonus of making me feel like a ‘real’ Italian whenever I am in Italy. Which sadly is none-too-frequently. It also connects me to my Nonna and Nonno; to their home towns of Fossa in the earthquake affected region near L’Aquila and Beltiglio in Campania.

Both my grandparents came from farming families and my father gave up any hope of being a farmer when he left the farm in Stanthorpe [link] at age 10. Although farming is a noble profession I don’t really think anyone in the family lives with regrets about leaving the land to follow ‘professional’ careers. That said my now suburban grandparents of course treated their urban plot as a farm with beds of herbs, beans, lettuce, endive, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber. They have orange, peach and persimmon trees and my childhood was filled with various vegetables wrapped in newspaper and sent home for Mum to find a use for.

It wasn’t until I started attempting to grow a smattering of veg for myself that I realised this isn’t as easy as it looks. The ability to successfully grow fruits and vegetables in any quantity now seems like a mysterious and wondrous type of magic. It also wasn’t until a recent conversation with Nonna that I fully understood just how much fantastic agricultural knowledge lies dormant within her memory banks. She reminisced with me about harvesting cherries and peaches in Italy, surrounded by family. Of how you could tell when the fruits were ripe by the perfume wafting on the warm breeze from the orchards. She held up her now frail looking hands and described with such passion the exact colour of the blush the peaches had when they were ripe. One side white and one side pink and red. She says you don’t get peaches like that anymore. Tree ripened fruit is almost unheard of and almost such a luxury item as to be prohibitive to all but the most boutique of shops. Or is it?

There are so many aspects of my grandmother’s life that’s foreign to my own. Leaving school at age 11, English as a second language, steadfast faith in the Catholic Church but one thing I have been able to appreciate is the sheer joy and delight at holding and smelling and biting into a fantastic piece of fruit. My part-time self works for Food Connect, a fantastically admirable Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) here in Brisbane. Food Connect builds relationships with South East Queensland farmers (3-5 hours from our front door), encouraging them to grow chemical free produce of all shapes and sizes for the tables of us city folk. In exchange for this dedicated service we subscribers pay them a fair price (often 30 - 40 per cent more than they would be paid at the traditional market place) and everyone wins.

As I am in the privileged position of employee I get to see the shiny crisp apples, the new season mandarins that when you break the skin smell of childhood lunchboxes, the verdant bunches of lettuce and herbs and the bright sweet and stubby ladyfinger bananas as they come packed tightly in boxes from the farm. I see them lovingly divided up and packed into boxes and farewelled from our warehouse to head for the kitchen tables of Brisbanites.

I still have a lot to learn about the depth and breadth of a subject that evokes such passionate discussion but it feels fantastic to work somewhere that is not only part of a solution but constantly re-examines and participates in the debate. How easy it is to throw one’s hands and say, ‘Well what can I do? And do my actions even make any difference?’ But take heart. Get informed and get involved.

I like to think that if my family were still in farming we would supply Food Connect, and through them the great and the good of Brisbane.

Urban foraging for all

Last Saturday this little city dweller donned boots and a lovely brown felt/fur hat and headed out for a spot of urban foraging. The word foraging may conjure up images of frolicking in verdant fields with a basket full to the brim with mushrooms and berries of many hues, or chic restaurants such as Norma that produce plates of delicately hand-gathered herbs. Urban foraging however probably produces memories of bin-diving possums or scrapping, sneaky urban foxes. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to be bin-diving in this outfit but I guess you can’t blame the hungry critters when we throw out such amounts of perfectly edible food. Anyway that’s another matter for another day. What our little group of well-dressed urban foragers wanted to know was what tasty little morsels of leaf, herb, fruit and vegetable can be found in our suburbs and perhaps in our very own gardens.

Who better to guide us though the delicious discoveries and pitfalls of the urban palate than Mr Permablitz himself, the aptly named Ben Grub. I say aptly named because as Ben tells us, he’ll eat almost anything. Luckily he also carries around a little reference library in his manly black pull-shopper: Food Plants of the World and Mind-altering and Poisonous Plants of the World. He clearly knew his stuff and the strip of urban turf we were wandering.

Brisbane’s inner city suburb of West End is the perfect patch for pilfering and poking around for edibles. Mr Grub had no shortage of material to demonstrate how a fruitful garden can be cultivated in an urban environment. The suburb’s rich immigrant population combined with a higher density living and community spirit results in streets of tamarind, guava, loofa, olive and curry leaf trees and sweet potato vines. West End gardens are full of paw paw, fig, citrus of all shapes and sizes, spikey dragon fruit cactus, towering coconut palms and mammoth jack fruit which look as though they could kill a man but whose sweet yellow flesh tastes of gummy bears. Fences are laced with grapevine or creeping spinach or Brazilian cherry.

There are also the greens: the wild basil, the carotene-y thickhead weed, the unstoppable mottled all-spice plant and the delightfully named pig weed. It’s all there, alongside the neighbours who’ve jointly planted up their kerbside and housed beehives on rooftops. Truly inspiring.

Ben Grub believes the streets are for the people and the more we make use of them the more richly textured our lives and our plates will be. Luckily he and his permy pals have made a map to help us.

We ended our journey by wending our way downhill for a meal at Tukka, a restaurant that celebrates Australian native foraged flavours. I’d been longing to lunch there for a while but what I didn’t know is that their open-air dining room hides a little walled plot. Raised beds and a gravel path planted with herbs, rosella, lemon myrtle, Davidson plum and a very mean and spikey looking finger lime shrub. Given my recent and seasonally short addiction to finger limes I was quite surprised to find that the plant could do you some real damage. I certainly gained a new appreciation for the farmers. But this is what we had all come to find out, to see what things look like, to identify where and why they grow and to hopefully fill our gardens and our bellies with new and exciting foraged finds.

Special thanks go to the lovely @nataschamirosch for organising, @blitzbrisbane and Chef Bryant Wells for looking after us so well as well as all my fellow foragers.

All clear now
 
 
“I trade the sill's dryness for the sound”
Jonathan Hadwen

  The rain has cleared now. The ‘cold’ is here and the sun beams warmly from bright winter skies. It really is the best of Brisbane’s weather for a recently returned pseudo-European. Autumn in Brisbane means rain – quite a lot of it. I enjoyed hearing the soft pitter-patter on the leaves outside my kitchen widow. It’s different type of rain from the wispy, drizzly, sodden kind you get in London.

I don’t know why I expected to relocate to the other side of the earth and find non-stop clear sunny weather. Actually that’s not fair, Queensland is a very sunny place. I have no right to complain. The state has emerged from a drought followed by terrible floods in its recent past. And it is especially in this regard that I have no right to complain.

Since I’ve returned it’s been its calm self and I have enjoyed following a different set of seasons.  The clearest of blue skies, a slight chill in shade and a deeply warming sunshine that makes you want to be walking out of doors. Eating and walking, two of my favourite things and lots more 'winter' to do it in.

‘I know this great little place’

Despite being a native to the city of Brisbane I believe my seven years away qualify me as a newbie, especially as its boundaries and spaces seem to have moved and continue to move at such a rapid pace.  Despite this and because of my dubious reputation as a ‘foodie in the know’ I am frequently asked where is a good place to eat?

Now it turns out this might not be so much because of any reputation but more so because, research has shown, that it’s what we Australians do. We like to hear a personal recommendation ‘from the horse's mouth.’

Research carried out in 2011 by Roy Morgan revealed advice on where to eat out was the second most discussed topic amongst the 18, 851 sample group. 61 per cent people had either sought advice, provided advice or both. So it seems I am not part of some exclusive group of informed and valued advice givers, it’s just that Australians ask everyone. So disappointing. Saying that, I guess part of it is the quality of advice you give.

I like to be the person people ask but when it comes to the delivery of said information it gets more complicated.  One has to take into account the inquirers likes/dislikes/ability to spend money and what I like to call, their complainability rating. Otherwise understood as ‘how much do they whinge?’

There is a couple in my acquaintance, that although I thoroughly enjoy their company and conversation, I know are nit-pickers and serial complainers. Some may call them perfectionists but, really, life isn’t perfect so why should there be a little bubble of perfection when you enter a café or restaurant? Don’t get me wrong, venues should strive to do their utmost to win your cash but this couple’s ability to complain is incomparable.

Now for them, there will be a snowflake’s chance in hell that I will name or take them to my favourite place to eat. This is purely for the fear that they will visit, not enjoy the experience and consequently shoot it down in flames in my presence. So you see this whole equation is far more complex. In future when I seek advice it may just do me well to reflect on how this person views my behaviour in light of any answer they give.

Overall the survey tells us that by degrees “Australians tend to be more ‘info seekers’ than ‘trusted advisors’” so I guess there is room to move.

[end note] among the other riveting topics of discussion were purchasing cars, home entertainment or electronics, mobile phones, internet providers, finance and investments, home renovations and health and nutrition. Perhaps we just need to find more interesting conversations?

 

 

 

Popcorn and surviving home/alone

My New Year and geographic relocation has brought with it a chance to work from home. What some view as an exciting opportunity others see as a living hell; I guess I sit somewhere in the middle leaning precariously towards the former. By chance another member of my family has, in a way, found himself in the same position although his comes in the fortuitous form of early retirement. Despite the different reasons and workload within the boundaries of our home/work environment I can see, in his behaviour, a real battle with the unstructured nature of the typical weekday.

The last time I took a journey down this road it was over a three month period during an English winter. The expense of heating resulted in a decision to attempt to survive without said heating for six hours over the middle of the day. Not the easiest task when it was snowing outside.

It did however, in a funny way, help me create a structure to the day built around keeping warm. My day became a carefully scheduled mix of percolators of bubbling hot coffee, exercise, a hot shower, hot lunches and steaming hot tea and  wrapping myself in a woollen clothing and/or blankets. It was a bit ridiculous but it became a challenge to get through the day without feeling the cold. At one point I actually went running while it was snowing.

In fact I’m starting to think it was less of an experiment in what kept me warm and my day structured and more a demonstration of my slow drift into insanity. However, I did really enjoy it and one of my favourite cold weather snacks was popcorn. And my love of popcorn continues in my current work/home environment.

Tips and hints for a good crop of popcorn.

  •  Always start with fresh corn (if it’s been sitting in your cupboard for a year or two it ain’t going to work)
  •  Make sure your pot has a lid.
  •  Pre-heat your pot (make sure your pot is hot before you put your corn in)
  •  Don’t forget the fat (whether it’s oil or butter you need something, but only a little of it, to get a good puff to your pop)
  •  Don’t over load the pot (Once the fat is heated pour in enough corn to cover the bottom of the pot, one layer only. Too much and all you’ll be left with is burnt offerings)
  •  NOW listen to the popping – the best bit apart from the eating – the pops will become less and less as the pan fills with popped corn.
  • Once you think it’s all popped take the pot off the heat but leave the lid on and listen. There will always be one or two pops to go.*

Plain, salted or sweet it’s a sensorial delight. The popping, the aroma and finally, and most satisfyingly, the taste.

*Warning: There will always be one or two kernels that won’t play fair and remain unpopped. You may be tempted, like me, to gnaw on the unpopped kernels – do so at your teeth’s own peril.

London, my friend

A little under five months ago I left my beloved London town and, a little over three months, I returned once again to the warm southern shores of Brisbane, Australia. The latter half of 2011 has been a supa-dupa roller-coaster but, before letting you live my new warmer lifestyle vicariously through my blog, I must publicly acknowledge my love of London and more precisely my little home suburb of Kew.

London was my home and my friend for the past seven wonderful years. I’ve grown and she has supported me, encouraged me and shown me just how easy it is to pick yourself up and find a way forward. She’s introduced me to hoards of fantastic, supportive friends and talented individuals and characters. I am a better person for having lived in her boundaries.

Before B and I left I was lucky enough to be able to spend three weeks enjoying every opportunity she threw at me. It was a joy and a privilege, and here are just a few of the fantastic things I got up to.

In no particular order and in all likelihood leaving some crucial events out, I partied with 200,000 in Hyde Park for THE Royal Wedding. I learnt how to appreciate all the wankery that goes along with a great cup of coffee. I even attempted a bit of latte art with Australia’s top latte artist of 2010 (fyi - I wasn’t great). I celebrated my 29th birthday in style at a fantastic sitting of @SpagnettiWednesday with Francesco Mazzei (I even have the video to prove it). I devoured suckling pig carefully and lovingly roasted by Uncle Ji and then stayed far too long in her lovely canal-side apartment.  I feasted at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal c/o of Olive Magazine. I dressed up like the abominable snowman on top of Festival Hall on the Thames in order to know the plight of the urban bee. And speaking of rooftop adventures, there was also the rowing and drinking atop the iconic Selfridges Oxford Street and the feasting on Hammersmith Rowing Club rooftop c/o @FridayFoodClub. I foraged for wild foods and was privately educated in the ways of Persian foods by the lovely and generous Sabrina (@SabrinaGaynor the preserved fruit strips were a lovely shot of sugar while trekking in the Himalayas). I discovered and rediscovered the treats that lay in wait for you at Brixton market and will never forget gobbling the sourdough doughnut on the tube.

I miss mint cocktails on Miss Clare’s balcony in SoDa. I miss culturally themed feasts and ridiculous dress-ups at a certain address in Lower Putney. I miss Sunday art class at Jim and George’s. There is so much I miss but there is also so much to discover in my new old home. Please stay tuned.

Credits to these folks and many, many more (in no particular order):

Please keep up the tweets :)

TravelsAnne Giacomantonio
Lukpah extraordinaire!

In a room butted up against the Monsoon-swollen River Ganges in Varanasi I think back to the eight-day bone-dry trek from which I have just returned in India’s northern province of Ladakh. India’s ample size means that in the 15 or so days B and I have been in the country we have already experienced the ends of the extremes. From Dehli’s immaculate new, post-Commonwealth Games airport and security-tight air-conditioned Metro system to their fetid waste and slum-dwellers and the humid chaos of the Old Town. Then on to the provincial capital of the Indian Himalayas, Leh, with it’s western hippies and adventure-seekers, Tibetan refugee traders and its landscape dotted by Buddist Stupas and Gompas. And now back down to wet, wet Varanasi.

Our trek took us up and over 5000mts twice within the eight days, both feats of which I barely (only ever so slightly melodramatically) survived and in turn did much better than others, yet in all likelihood won’t be repeated in my lifetime. Depending on who you talk to the journey through the Markha Valley is an ‘easy’ trek, or something that should only be attempted by experienced walkers with ‘all the gear.’

For me, it was HARD! But very enjoyable. A reasonable part of this enjoyment is the responsibility of one man – Lukpah, our trek cook. I know, you thought I was going to say B, don’t worry, he also contributed significantly to my survival as did our trek guide, not to mention the incredible scenery.

I don’t need to tell you that eight days of walking is hard work even if there were ponies to carry our camping accoutrements (clothes, sleeping bags etc). But whatever hardship we felt at the end of the day it ALWAYS paled at the sight of Lukpah putting up tents, scrubbing pots, brewing our tea, preparing veg for supper.  Day-to-day he travelled, often walking, the route we took with his camp kitchen and all the ingredients packed up on the ponies only to arrive at our next stop to settle, set-up, make us tea and prepare a 3-course supper. And how!

We were warned at the start of our trip that he was the ‘best cook’ in the organization but this really didn’t sink in until the evening of the first day when, after a restorative fresh mint tea and biscuits set on a makeshift table-clothed chest. We were then presented with a meal of steaming hot soup with spicy popadams, followed by two curry dishes, pilau rice and fresh cucumber salad and pudding. This was definitely a precursory sign of things to come. The following nights produced a dexterous array of cuisine including decoratively presented chop-suey, a fantastic chilli-paneer, macaroni-cheese, tempura spicy fried aubergines and capsicum rings, steamed sponge pudding and even a respectable pizza. Lukpah was up cooking us a hearty breakfast as well: a particular favourite being fried home/trek-made bread. The highlight for me was supper on day seven, delicious Tibetan momos.

Much like a dumpling or dim sum, momos are small, thin pastry cased parcels of vegetable, or vegetable and cheese, or vegetable and meat that come as a steamed or fried variety. And they are deliciously served with a slightly punchy tomato sauce.

What is to be applauded really is cooks that, like Lukpah, do a truly great job under conditions that many would deem unthinkable. Lukpah’s kitchen consisted of two kerosene flame stoves, a chopping board made from the cross section of a tree trunk, a steamer, an array of tin bowls, plates and pots of various sizes and a very sharp knife. He cooked in the squat position, which I’m sure he is very used to, but having tried it I myself I found almost impossible for any length of time. His selection of arrayed ingredients had to last 8 days without refrigeration (we had temperatures fluctuating between 20 degrees to -5). He was also sensitive to the purpose of the trek providing ginger tea for relief at altitude and rice pudding when B’s tum decided to give him some jip. Cooks and chefs who work in these kinds of conditions deserve to be celebrated.  So here’s to Lukpah – camp cook extraodinaire!

Vegetable and cheese momo

I observed Lukpah making these from scratch in a darkened and really quite cold tent on top of a mountain. Various livestock, cashmere goats and mountain cows, peaked in while he was cooking only to be shouted abuse at in Hindi. NB: I hope the quantities are correct but the recipe remains untested until my return.

 For the casings

2 handfuls of flour (300g)

2 cups of water (400ml)

For the filling

¼ small cabbage (finely chopped)

2 carrots (grated)

100g grated cheese

2 tbl spn butter

For the sauce

5 tomatoes

50ml tomato puree

1 tspn coriander powder

Salt and pepper

Utensils

Steamer bamboo or other.

  1. Grate carrot and cabbage into a bowl.
  2. Score the bottle of the tomatoes with an ‘X’ and place into a pot of boiling water for a minute or so until the skins start to peel. Remove from water, peel off skins a chop finely then set aside.
  3. Put the flour in a bowl and slowly add the water combining as you go to form a firm dough.
  4. Prepare steamer by boil water and oiling the surface on which the momo will be places (to prevent sticking).
  5. Fry off the carrot and cabbage mix in a little oil till it’s wilted but not dry. Add the grated cheese to the pan and stir, remove from the heat.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and coriander powder to a small pan over a medium heat and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Tear off walnut sized pieces of dough into a bowl with a dusting of flour.
  8. Roll the dough very thin, place in the centre of your palm and fill with a teaspoon of carrot and cabbage mix. Firmly pinch the sides of the momo together and place in the steamer 2 cms apart in the cen ready to be rolled thin and stuffed with filling.
  9. Steam for 10-15min and serve immediately (or fry in a little oil if you prefer the fried version).

So many croissants, so little time!

The final leg of the European half of our travels took us to Paris and a TGV journey to Aix-en-Provence, followed by a week spent in the hills behind Nice. I would have loved to write about the multiple decadent three-course Provencal spreads we indulged in but, alas, budgets did not allow. I am not, however, implying that we didn’t eat well. We ate very well indeed. Like Kings. But then that’s France for you.

Paris revealed many opportunities to indulge in all the food stuffs that make life worth living – creamy oozing cheeses, fantastic breads and the fully developed flavours of French wines; all at minimal cost.

Good food is so democratic in France. Everyone expects it as if it’s their right: ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ and cuisine being one and the same. It really does feel as though to be served something substandard is an offence. We, of course, indulged in the ubiquitous croissant, baguette and numerous pastries; we also tasted some fantastic moules frites, millefeuille of goat’s cheese and aubergine, pot au feu, Provençal olives – the list goes on.

What I am always really impressed by in France (as well as most Mediterranean nations) is the quality of produce available in addition to the way people choose and purchase their 5-a-day.

In the London the ‘norm’ seems to be, mostly for convenience’s sake, supermarket chosen, plastic pre-packaged veg. Often with no ability to smell, touch, squeeze or talk to a knowledgeable person about quality the produce is, in addition, sold by the unit and not by the kilo. Crazy.

I know the supermarket shop is necessary and the trend for all-in-one-shopping that negates the green grocer is creeping into even the Med but I really do think it’s a great shame.

While nestled away in the hill behind the small town of Vence in Provence, B and I ate well and often. Fresh salads made from the bitter-leafed greens, vinaigrette and figs coated in grilled goat’s cheese, Italianesque minestrone made with market fresh veg of all shapes and sizes, and ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers – what a treat. It’s produce like this that makes cooking an absolute breeze – perhaps that’s where one should start in attempting to encourage healthy eating?

 

Issues, TravelsAnne Giacomantonio
Ode to the berry

Surely one of the greatest pleasures in life is to eat a punnet of berries. Any berry you sample from the endless rouge-palette of varieties is a joy and evoke a childlike excitement and greed. As most Australian travellers to Europe would testify, there is a novelty that knows no bounds to be able to purchase a punnet of raspberries, sweet ripe blackberries or fresh blueberries and gorge one’s self as you walk through a city market; more so to be able to pick your own free of charge.

Walking through Portobello market in London I would often think to myself while watching the English, they don’t know how lucky they are! I mean we do have the odd strawberry in the city I grew up in, and a short-crazed couple of weeks where children stain their fingers picking syrup-sweet mulberries. We also have truckloads of tropical fruit coming out our ears, but growing up in Australia, it was the European berries from the Grimm fairytales and bedtime stories that seemed to be so out of reach.

In Europe the joy at the appearance of berries on a riverbank or mountainside means the height of summer. Berries ripen in the very best of the sunshine of the year and at a time of plenty. And berries mean summer holidays.

When my Australian friends and I discovered brambles full of blackberries on the Thames towpath last summer it was all we could do to stop ourselves from stripping them bare, as best we could. Being amateur berry pickers we failed to equip ourselves with gloves, long sleeves or appropriate footwear and were injured in the process, but it was worth it. I also made an intriguing batch of elderberry jam. Intriguing in that I had never even heard of an elderberry before and found the taste to be like nothing I had ever eaten before. What an adventure!

On our numerous visits to Norway I have been repeatedly delighted to find our friends had raspberry, cloudberry, lingon berry (white and red) and alpine strawberry growing in their front yard - as well as a cherry tree! What’s more, I found blueberries as well as more of all the others growing on local mountainsides, on road sidings and surrounding the local golf course. I mean, didn’t they just spend their entire summer fattening on fresh berries, berries and ice cream and berry tart, pies and cakes of all descriptions? It was with disbelief that I was told that no, not really, they like them but they aren’t racing out in some kind of berry-induced frenzy at first sight of the crop. They in turn couldn’t understand how us tropical fruit eaters could let mango fall and rot.

On my return home I will be happy with my tropical delights but I will miss those berries.

 

TravelsAnne Giacomantonio
Nothing like an eis on a hot day

B and I have been coming to the German city of Münster in the north-western province of North Rhine-Westphalia for as long as we have been in Europe. The city is the home of his Australian father and his German wife (the father’s, that is) who generally host us and generously feed us up. It’s a university city full to the brim with students, bicycles and various denominations of the Christian faith. Westphalia is also well renowned for its horse breeding.  The province is flat as a tack, hence the abundance of bikes and perhaps horses, but I’m not sure the geography goes anyway to explaining the faiths. We have visited this flat land in all kinds of weather.  Though something like last winter’s snowfall was exceptional, summer is definitely my favourite season, with long warm evenings spent lingering over eine große bier in one of the many biergartens that populate the city.

One of the other delights at this time of year is the uniquely German creation of the Eis Café (ice cream shop). These cafés spring up in any available space all over Münster and in the surrounding small towns only to shut or transform during the winter months.

Proliferations of chairs and tables appear like summer blooms on paved forecourts and cobbled squares to provide an ice-cold relief for the eager and greedy customers.

But this in itself is not the unique part of my Münster summer ice cream eating. These Eis café’s don’t just serve your everyday cone and cup, they specialise in the becher.

Eis becher: A literal mound or tower of ice cream, fruit and/or nuts, cream, and topping.

It is nothing to sit at a sunny table of an afternoon and consume what must be close to 500ml of ice cream and unthinkable quantities of calories. These ices aren’t a sweet reward for the diet conscience; you need courage and conviction to take on a becher.

You will also need similar amounts of courage and conviction to navigate the menu with, on average, over 100 options and various combinations of eis, topping and sprinkle. Perhaps you’re in the mood for a Hawaiianbecher?  Or a Heidelbeerbecher?  A Zabaglionebecher?  How about a Rumtofbecher? The options are endless and the kinder have their own separate comprehensive menu including a bizarre creation called spaghetti eis.

Once you’ve chosen your poison, you place your order with a grumpy male waiter and ogle as those around you gulp down their cream and wafer creations. The waiter will reappear carrying anywhere from three to six towering sundaes at once, balanced on little silver plates.

When finally the marvel has been placed in front of you it’s time to negotiate the additional summer pitfalls of ice cream eating; namely melting, multiple curious and hungry wasps and the dreaded ice cream headache.

Sure, other countries enjoy their ice creams and even have respectable ice cream sundae options but nothing compares to the German eis becher for scale and indulgence. Guten Appetit!

TravelsAnne Giacomantonio
Brown cheese PLEASE!

If it’s one thing a Norwegian loves, almost without fail, it’s a slice or three of brown cheese - or brunost. Some compare it to vegemite/marmite, declaring it a love-it or hate-it affair, but I don’t think it contains nearly as much potential for offence as either of those local delicacies.

It’s called brown cheese because that’s the best way to describe it: a creamy caramel brown colour, with a smooth texture and a mildly cheesy flavour. It has a sweetness that’s quite pleasing and helps make it a snack for any time of the day or night. Breakfast brunost on toast with jam, lunchtime brunost for that little sweet craving after a sandwich or for an anytime snack – mid-afternoon, after dinner… Needless to say they eat A LOT of it.

Head to the local supermarket and you’ll find a fridge full of brands and consistencies. But what is it?

Gleaned from the expert and no doubt precise knowledge of Wikipedia (check for yourself) brunost is the result of a process of boiling goat and cow’s milk, cream and whey to the point where the water evaporates and the sugars caramelize. This gives the brunost its sweetness.

A lighter treatment results in a substance that shares similarities with something closer to a spreadable cream cheese.

Now the BBC  tells me that ‘brown cheese’ isn’t cheese at all, technically, but why change the habit of a lifetime and nation?

I always get quite excited at the prospect of a week or so of brown cheese eating when I come to Norway but I wondered if there was anything more to be done with this very particular substance.  It being a sweet ‘cheese’ I though that the natural conclusion would be cheesecake. This, apparently, wasn’t a conclusion anyone in the household had come by but they were enthusiastic in their support. We gave it a shot and I’m happy to report the experiment had pleasing results, although I think some of the natives were humouring me with their complements and will continue to devour their brunost  in a more traditional manner.

If you can find some brunost outside of Norway give it a try.

 

Brown cheese cheesecake/ Brunostkake

250g choc top digestive biscuits

50g butter

400g cream cheese

300g prim (soft brown cheese)

½ cup icing sugar

¼ lemon

 

Melt the butter in a small pan. Use a small amount to brush onto the 20cm round springform cake tin.

Crush the digestive biscuits to a fine sand-like crumb in a mixing bowl and add the remainder of the melted butter and mix though thoroughly.

Press the biscuit mixture on the base of the tin and refrigerate.

Beat the cream cheese until light creamy. Add the Prim and lemon juice beat till combined.

Sift in the icing sugar and mix.

Pour onto the biscuit base and smooth evenly over the surface. Refrigerate overnight.

Serve with foraged raspberries – if you’re lucky enough to have them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolf’s first date blue cheese pasta

B and I have been coming to Norway to visit friends for years now. Each visit is a treat and a delightful distraction from the bright lights of London. Our friends live in Hakadal, “the most beautiful place on earth”, a little hamlet 45min north of Oslo. This is said with tongue firmly planted in cheek but in truth it is stunningly beautiful and we wake each morning with a view of the surrounding mountains. We eat brown cheese for breakfast, go for long walks in the surrounding hills and generally enjoy the wonderful company of good friends, their children and extended family, friends and pets.

Rolf is the man in a house of women, although he’s dominance had been challenged with a recent arrival. Still, his prowess in the kitchen is incomparable. He knows, for instance, the absolute optimum temperature to pre-heat the oven in order to cook the perfect frozen pizza. And don’t even get me started on the fish balls!

The story goes that this was the first dish Rolf prepared for his wife when they were dating, and to this day it is cooked on every one of our visits to their lovely home.

Rolf’s first date blue cheese pasta

Serves 4

150g blue veined cheese (Rolf uses Costello Blue)

1 tbl sp plain flour

2 tsp salt

1 good dollop of cream

1 good dollop of milk

400/500g spaghetti

1 knob of butter

 

In a large, pot boil some water for the spaghetti adding a good pinch of salt.

Heat small saucepan and add the cheese to melt. Keep stirring making sure it doesn’t burn.

Once cheese has melted add the flour and keep stirring.

Add spaghetti to the boiling water – Rolf likes to break it in half.

Add the cream and the milk to the cheese sauce and stir. Once combined take off the heat.

Once the spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain and place in a serving bowl.

Serve the pasta and the sauce separately at the table so that your guest can choose just how much they would like.

 

I took the notes for this recipe as it was prepared on the first night of our recent visit and like all true gourmets Rolf was a little hazy on the exact quantities. “You know when you are experienced as I am,” he says modestly,  “but too much salt and it’s not tasteful, “ he adds.

In truth it is a tasty and simple pasta dish, which we will continue to look forward to on every visit.

Thanks Rolf!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pitt Cue Co/Hawksmoor

Sometimes, usually in summer, a combination of conditions aligns to create the perfect London night. Well, what can I say - I experienced one such night a few weeks ago. They just happen upon you; like a mushroom ring after rain they appear from nowhere and for only a very brief period.

The right people, at the right time, in the right place for some very tasty food. In amongst the numerous rainy evenings that have not been uncommon to Summer 2011 came the @HawksmoorLondon’s (London temple to meat) guest chef one-night-only take over of the silver pod of bbq @PittCueCo on the Southbank. Richard Turner, head chef, and Will Beckett, Hawksmoor co-owner, joined Tom Adams and Zeren Wilson who cooked up a storm for those in the know. A chill wind was blowing and the queue was long but the music was playing and the tubo shandies were flowing. Shakey Pete’s Ginger Brew, comprised of gin, homemade ginger syrup, lemon juice topped with London Pride is a thing of beauty. And we ate the Hawksmoor NOTDOG and Tamworth belly pork with spikey red cabbage and fennel seed slaw and pickle. The meat of the barbequed belly pork tore away oh-so-softly even when using the silly street food wooden fork. The NOTDOG of pork and beef and a top secret spice had that satisfyingly, smoky, barbequed squeak as you bit into it.

All this was enough to make the night a success to be sure but it’s the company that can ice the cake of a truly splendid evening. My thanks and special mention to @sloLondon, @LondonFoodFinds and the host of other lovely twitterless luddites [jokes] who helped create the special brand of London social magic.

 

 

Oh and I almost forgot the Pickle Back and Skin (1 x shot of rye whisky, 1 x shot of pickle juice and a wee portion of crackling) - they helped too.