So far #HappyHourDDU has been all about the classic cocktails, the tried and tested. This week I thought I’d try one of the new kids on the block. The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival hits town today and plays host to the best cocktail bartenders Australia has to offer. This thirst quenching concoction comes from Sydney’s Bulletin Place and hits just the right spot.
This drink works on so many levels, the Tequila with the salt and lime (sound familiar?), the watermelon and mint and a bitter sweet dash of colour from the Aperol. After making the Margarita and the Aperol Spritz (not to mention a bit of watermelon pilfered form Max’s lunch box) I had everything I needed so it would have been rude not to.
If you only ever take one thing from this blog, let this be it.
30ml Blanco Tequila (substitute for gin, vodka or white rum if tequila doesn’t float your boat)
30ml fresh watermelon juice (just whizz the fruit in a blender)
15ml lime juice
One teaspoon castor sugar
One tablespoon saltwater
Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve in a tumbler. Garnish with a mint sprig.
If you’re having a little Happy Hour all of your own, I’d love to see what’s in your glass. Take a pic and share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #happyhourddu and we can all get merry together. What’s your favourite cocktail? Happy Happy Hour!
February 28, 2014 | 4 Comments
I’ve been sneaking in and out of our veggie patch of late. I am the first one there when it’s green and bountiful, proudly hosing my tomato plants or picking basil. Recently I’ve let it go a little bit, alright a lot and the long, hot summer has left it looking bedraggled and neglected. It had become another thing to do, a chore, something to stick on the list.
I went down there this morning fully intending to wave the white flag and give the plot back so another family could enjoy it. Max and I started tidying it up, pulling out some of the weeds that had moved in uninvited. Max found a single red tomato, he plucked it and shoved it straight in his gob.
One of the things I love about the garden is that Max, who scrutinises most vegetables with a suspicious eye, will greedily gobble anything from sprouts to broad beans if he can pick it himself, no questions asked.
For nostalgic purposes I filled up a watering can one last time to give the parched little patch of earth that had served us so well for the past 6 years a final toast. Max snatched it from me as he does and started showering the plants with some H2o love. He then proceeded to squelch, stomp, dig and flick the muddy ground until his 3 year old heart was content.
We took some of the decaying veg over to the chicken coop, Max giggled and squealed as the greedy chooks pecked away a whisker from his fingers. “Daddy I love our garden”. Abort, Abort, Abort! Some things in life you just have to make time for, this little pile of earth that sits in a 8ft x 3ft border has provided our family with food, exercise, friendships and plenty of happy memories.
I came away feeling relieved that not for the first time Max made me see sense. Here’s hoping it will sow a little seed in him that will grow and grow into something beautiful.
If you ever find yourself with time on your hands in Melbourne, come along to Veg Out in St Kilda, it’s a fantastically vibrant place to have a wonder and little people love it. Do you have green fingers? What’s in your plot right now?
February 27, 2014 | 17 Comments
The fact that I wrote the title for this post this morning, stared blankly at it for a while before getting up to make myself a cup of tea and returning 10 hours later, sums up my work from home style perfectly.
I have a vague recollection of meeting people at parties who worked from home and struggled to click with them on the grounds that I was immensely jealous and wanted their life. I thought that working from home was a cushy number packed full of impromptu naps, leisurely lunches, online shopping and perhaps a couple of emails here and there to show willing. Despite now knowing this not to be true for most stay at home workers, it bears an uncanny resemblance to my working day.
I get up when my conscience forces me to do so. Head out for a coffee, I tell myself this is a necessary part of my working day and will have me firing on all cylinders when I return. Unfortunately I tend to over indulge, three coffees later and I feel like I’ve had my drink spiked by a vindictive barista and I’m completely incapable of work on account of the fact that I’m physically shaking. Not to worry it’s nearly lunch time, I can’t work on an empty stomach can I?
I will scour every nook and cranny of the internet for a recipe that grabs me, there’s no telling how long that could take, before popping out to get the necessary bits and bobs. Appetite suitably appeased I glance at the clock and shift effortlessly into panic/guilt mode. I have three hours left to justify my claim to work from home by actually doing some work.
I make myself comfy at my desk, open a host of none work related internet pages and the moment things get tricky I transport myself to a place less mentally taxing; this place usually comes with cats that play the piano, shoes I can’t afford and holidays I’ll never go on. Perhaps some exercise will put me in the zone, all those happy little endorphins will surely equate to some good old fashioned graft? Unfortunately endorphins don’t respond to sitting by a pool reading a book.
Back home and I find myself looking around the house for possible chores to do, that’s when you really know you aren’t cut out for this kind of work. I even tell myself “if I was to do some hoovering perhaps that would reduce the feeling of guilt I’m experiencing and actually make me feel a sense of achievement?” I try it and it doesn’t work.
Usually around this time Anna gets home and makes enquiries about my day; what I got up to, whether it was productive, why there’s a video of a cat playing the piano on the computer, that sort of thing.
Working from home is really hard work when you lack self control and will power in equal measures. Have you ever worked from home? Have you got any tips for a rank amateur?
February 26, 2014 | 36 Comments
January can come as quite a shock to the system, we spend much of December consuming everything we can get our hands on and suddenly we’re expected to live like saints. I’m always quite relieved to say goodbye to January and all of its promises and make some choices in February that might actually stand the test of time.
As ‘Head Chef’ I’m making a huge effort to feed the family lots of healthy, tasty, simple foods this year. These days feeling healthy and full of energy is a priority, I need some dietary assistance to keep up with Max. Here are 10 healthy ingredients that I’ll be filling my trolley with in 2014 and some tips on how you can use them.
Good For – High in fibre and rich in magnesium
Recipe – Healthy flapjacks crammed full of seeds, dried fruit and nuts. Perfect for a mid-morning pick me up
Good For – Contains more protein than milk or nuts. Also boosts energy and brain function
Recipe – Mix with yoghurt, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice for a quick and tasty salad dressing
Good For – A rich source of antioxidants and Vitamin C
Recipe – No need to mess with them just pop them straight in
Good For – Full of protein and the famous ’friendly bacteria’ which works wonders for the digestive system
Recipe – Blitz with berries and honey and freeze for a healthy treat you can call ice cream.
Good For – Contains cholesterol-lowering fibre and lean protein.
Recipe – Make a big pot of mild Dahl freezing any leftovers or thicken with mashed sweet potato and breadcrumbs for Dahl Burgers
Good For – A great source of bone-building vitamin K and vitamin C which supports your immune system
Recipe – Replace avocado with pea to make a vibrant guacamole, stir through pasta or dip until your belly’s content
Good For – Everything it seems. Contains high levels of iron and Vitamin C it’s also a low-calorie, low-carb source of protein that’s packed with fibre
Recipe – Use it in stir fry’s in place of Asian greens or roast with salt and pepper for a healthy snack
Good For – A great balance of amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals
Recipe – Marinade firm tofu in honey, soy sauce and ginger to pimp your noodle salad
Good For – high in fibre, vitamin E. and is said to lower cholesterol
Recipe – Use in place of rice to make a quick and healthy risotto
Good For – Ranks among the highest vegetables nutritionally
Recipe – Satisfy your child’s (or your own) craving for chips by roasting in a little olive oil
Each recipe suggestion and ingredient has been enjoyed as a family around the dinner table. Which healthy ingredients always find their way into your trolley?
All of the ingredients are stocked by Woolworths and most are part of their Macro Organic Range.
February 25, 2014 | 9 Comments
Max has toddled his way through toddlerhood and is officially a boy, a big boy if you take him at his word. Suddenly he knows how to say “it’s not fair”, albeit completely out of context, he plays with Lego, finds Thomas the Tank Engine beneath him and no longer believes in siesta time. I’d put most of these changes down to the short time he has spent mixing it with the big boys and girls in Kinder.
He’s attached himself to some older boys and has discovered his rebellious streak. Nothing too heinous just lots of talk of “pooh pooh bum bum” (which let’s face it when you’re three years old is the equivalent of dropping the f-bomb). I put on my Dad Hat and told him that big boys tend not to reference pooh pooh bum bum on a regular basis and that some of his recent behaviour hadn’t been befitting of a big boy.
“But Tommy says it Daddy”
“Well maybe Tommy shouldn’t say it Max and if he does you could always play with the other children too”
He looked at me thoughtfully and gave every impression that he had realised the ‘error of his ways’, excellent work Daddio. The next morning after a pooh pooh bum bum free breakfast I took him to Kinder. Sure enough Tommy came running over “pooh pooh bum bum”. Max explained to him that he wasn’t allowed to say that anymore. He then went one step further and in front of Tommy’s Mummy told him “my Daddy said that I’m not allowed to play with you anymore”.
The more you try and deny a charge like that the more guilty you sound. Tommy’s Mummy did what any self respecting parent would do and gave me the stinkiest stink eye ever and I probably deserved it. Max had a rubbish day at Kinder that day, Tommy refused to play with him and being new to the emotional rollercoaster that is Kinder friendship cliques I felt genuinely crap about it.
Hopefully Max and Tommy patch things up and get back to pooh pooh bum bum’ing their way through life. Going forward I’ll select my words with more care, trust him to work things out for himself and I’ll shout Tommy’s Mummy a coffee by way of grovelling apology.
Have you ever been misquoted by your kids?
February 24, 2014 | 17 Comments
Some people dedicate their lives to helping others, some to bettering themselves; I’ve opted for an altogether shallower route. I seem to have spent an exorbitant amount of my life searching for the perfect pair of jeans. I’ve dabbled with cords, chinos and combat pants but you can’t beat a bit of denim. It’s the one item of clothing I couldn’t do without, I feel naked without them.
The perfect pair of jeans is relative to the era; as a fashion conscious tween it was all about finding a pair so tight that they would cut off the circulation to the lower half of the body. As a moody teen the perfect pair would sit somewhere between the hips and knees, the more boxer short on display the better seemed to be the rule. In my 20’s I cleaned up my act and favoured a smart boot cut and suspect that in doing so I looked a bit of a tosser.
The search for the perfect pair of jeans is a vicious cycle that knows no ends. Upon finding ‘the pair’ I will then proceed to wear them day in day out until they develop a large hole, usually around the crotch, that has me crossing my legs awkwardly in social situations.
These days my vision of the perfect pair is a slightly worn around the knees with a relaxed fit; something that allows breathing room for a hefty breakfast and this morning I found them. The Denim Gods were smiling down on me, the only pair left and they had my kind of numbers; 33W 34L. They say that you know when you meet the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with and I think the same is true of jeans. I will now wear and wash these jeans until they are threadbare at which point the eternal search for the perfect pair of jeans, my holy grail, will resume.
Could you do without jeans? How do you like your jeans? Do you ever feel like your life has been reduced to an eternal search for the perfect pair of jeans? What item of clothing could you not do without?
February 23, 2014 | 13 Comments
There are two types of Pesto there is the stuff you buy in jars form the supermarket which has saved my bacon by providing Max with many a last minute meal and there is the homemade kind; they are two different things. The jar that is lurking somewhere in the nether regions of my fridge lists over 15 ingredients whilst the jar I just made essentially has three; basil, cheese and pine nuts. It’s reassuring to see how much basil goes into one jar, that much green has got to be good.
How to Grow Basil
I’m a firm believer that food tastes better when you were the one that put it in the ground and took care of it and this morning I reaped a little of what I sowed. You can grow from seed or seedling. If growing from seed start them off inside by a windowsill or a greenhouse. Basil likes its weather hot and dry. In Melbourne the rough guide is to plant seedlings around Melbourne Cup Day, once the hangover has cleared. Pinch off the tips of the plant to encourage a thick bushy growth. Water whenever the soil is dry.
How to Make Pesto
Makes: 1 jar
2 tbsp pine nuts
Pinch of salt
250g fresh basil leaves
25g Parmesan, grated
25g Pecorino, grated
300ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Toast the pine nuts in a pan and then allow to cool. Lightly crush in a pestle and mortar, along with a pinch of salt.
2. Gradually add the basil leaves and pound them into a paste.
3. Combine the cheese and gradually add the oil.
4. Spoon the pesto into a jar, and cover with oil. Refrigerate until use.
I made 1 jar using the pestle and mortar method and one with the food processor. Obviously the pestle and mortar takes longer and is a bit more labour intensive but you get a coarser more satisfying flavour. Either way they are both delicious.
Boil pasta in salted water, drain and mix through your pesto. Sprinkle some more Parmesan on top and serve with a chilled glass of white wine. When it tastes this good you don’t need to mess with it.
The basil went from mud to mouth in about an hour. Have you ever made pesto? Have you ever grown basil?
February 21, 2014 | 14 Comments
Last week I wrote for My Kitchen Rules about what Australian food means to me. Australia has undertaken a food revolution, pies, snags and pavs are still there but there is so much more besides. Australia is a cultural melting pot and a willingness to pluck the best bits from migrant cuisines along with fantastic fresh produce has taken Australian cuisine to someplace else.
It got me thinking which three courses I’d cook up to reflect the Australia that I’ve tasted, my Australia. Here’s my starter;
Salt and Pepper Squid
Eating fresh seafood compliments the climate and outstanding produce in Australia. The contrast between crunchy coating and melt in your mouth squid always has me coming back for seconds. Coriander, chilli, lime and Sichuan Peppercorns inject a punch of spicy, zesty attitude. I had never cooked salt and pepper squid before but I’ve eaten more than my fair share. I stumbled across an article entitled “How to Make Perfect Salt and Pepper Squid, I followed it word for word and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
350g small squid, cleaned
1/2tsp black peppercorns
1/2tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1tsp sea salt flakes
5tbsp potato flour
1 egg, beaten
Groundnut or vegetable oil, to fry
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
Fresh coriander and lime wedges, to serve
Cut the squid body into triangles. Score the inside with a diamond pattern, making sure not to cut right the way through the flesh. Put to one side with the tentacles and pat dry.
Heat a dry frying pan and add both varieties of peppercorn. Toast for a minute until fragrant, then tip into a pestle and mortar, along with the salt, and crush to a powder. Mix two-thirds of this with the potato flour in a bowl and set the rest aside. Put the beaten egg into a second bowl.
Half fill a large pan or wok with oil, or use a deep fat fryer, and heat it to 180C, or until a small piece of bread browns in 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, dip the squid pieces in the egg, then in seasoned flour until well coated. Fry until pale golden, stirring once to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom.
As they’re cooking, heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Lift the cooked squid on to kitchen towel and tip the chilli, spring onion and garlic into the frying pan. Fry briefly until it all starts to caramelise, then add the squid to the pan and toss together.
Tip on to a serving plate, sprinkle with a little more seasoning and serve with coriander and some wedges of lime and of course cold beer.
That’s what Australian food means to me and it’ll probably mean something else to you and that’s the beauty of food, it’s subjective and means different things to different people. What does Australian food mean to you?
February 18, 2014 | 12 Comments