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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Seasonal Baking

Every year about this time I become a bit obsessed with Christmas baking.

I’ve rarely made a Christmas cake, but since I was given my sister’s recipe a few years ago, I have done. This year though, I might not. Or I’ll make it for the New Year. There’s not much nicer than relaxing in the evening with a cup of chamomile and a slice of Christmas cake over the New Year, or having something to offer friends who visit.

Instead, I always make my bite-sized Christmas mince pies, and usually give them away. This year, I’m taking some to my sister, have already given some to an elderly uncle, and a third set will be going to a friend tomorrow. So I’ve made over six dozen pies, finishing the last batch today when I narrowly saved them from being burned. One or two are a bit charred – but they were delicious for a snack this afternoon! lol

I’m visiting my sister and her family “up north” soon, so will bake some favourite ginger biscuits (cookies) for my niece. There are a few things that our family have all loved across three generations – ice-cream is one, and ginger biscuits is another. I might do that tonight after dinner.

Finally, I’m thinking of trying a new recipe. A friend brought a fruit mince baclava a week or two ago. It was so delicious – better than any other baclava I’ve eaten in New Zealand, and rivalling the (much less sweet) delicacies I fell in love with in Turkey. So I have the ingredients, and may try making it tomorrow morning, so that I can give some to my friend, and break a long tradition of giving her only mince pies.

Clearly, I do not have time (and cannot afford the calories) to make a Christmas cake this year!

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As usual, the Weekend Market at Chatuchak was hot, steamy, wet, smelly, and very crowded. But if you go accepting that fact, it is full of delights. This time though, we were visitors to Bangkok, and couldn’t buy anything that would be too bulky for our suitcases, or too breakable to take on the journey. And there were different items for sale – many more homewares and art than when I first visited.

That was back in March 1980, when the market was based at Sanam Luang (a large field over the road from the Grand Palace). It was my first full day in Bangkok, and it was overwhelming. Over that year, I visited the Weekend Market many times, usually wearing our school uniforms because then we could truly haggle (we’re only students, we have no money!). Then ten years later, when I returned to work at the New Zealand Embassy, we were regular visitors and took all our guests there too. I still have the table lamp and other items we bought there.

Fast forward another 18 years, and we were back at the market with friends who were working at the Embassy. We came across a large area selling crockery. Particularly interesting were some tiny, brightly-coloured cups (espresso-sized, I guess) and saucers. My friend fell in love with them, and she and I spent a long time choosing flawless cups and saucers (there were a lot of seconds in the large baskets) and mixing and matching the colours, without any duplication. The men wandered off. This was not their scene. They didn’t realise that these cups might influence their social life for decades.

“But really,” C said as she was sorting through the basket, and looking for a lime green saucer that would work with the splash of green on one cup, “what will I use the cups for? They’re so small.”

I had a brainwave. “You could use them for chocolate mousse, or soups for a fancy meal. You know, when you only need a couple of mouthfuls of soup because there are six more courses to come.” She loved the idea, and bought the cups and saucers. When she returned to New Zealand, and some years later bought a house that was made for entertaining, we remembered the idea of a fancy dinner. And so, our semi-annual/annual degustation dinners were born.

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(Unashamedly copying the idea from Mel’s post here, with a slight tweak in title.)

Note before I start: There are many extremely memorable meals I have eaten, but often these are less about the food, and more about the people I was with, or the location, or maybe even the format (eg my first ever wine-matched degustation menu). Whereas these are probably my favourite things to eat. Not always the most memorable, or the fanciest, or even necessarily the most delicious. But they stay with me, and I could eat them over and over again.

  1. Thai Massaman curry at Cabbages and Condoms in Bangkok. I’ve written about this curry before, in my Food Biography series here. I’m still searching for the perfect recipe, the right mix of curry paste and other ingredients. I make it regularly, and it is enjoyable but never the same. I’d be in heaven if I could recreate C and C’s massaman curry, and would eat it ALL THE TIME.
  2. La Dolce Vita’s La Dolce Vita pizza. It’s a simple variation on a margherita – with tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and a drizzle of pesto. The crust was to die for, and it was my favourite pizza in our entire three months in Italy. Now that I’m into making my own pizza dough, I might start trying to recreate their crust. It was perfect. Though, as they’ve said recently on Billions, “it’s all about the ovens.” So I’m doomed to fail, but determined to try.
  3. Homemade tomato sandwiches. Again, my love of tomatoes is probably nothing new to my regular readers. But there’s nothing quite like the joy brought by a very humble tomato sandwich –fresh fresh fresh bread (slices or a baguette), with maybe (but not compulsory) a smear of a vinegary kiwi-style salad dressing, and lots of salt and pepper. I’ve been eating seasonally over winter, and so haven’t bought fresh tomatoes for months. But it’s spring, and I’m starting to hanker after them again.
  4. The pumpkin gnocchi at the Trattoria alla Cerva in northern Italy. Yes, the location was spectacular, sitting outside in a medieval square. But the taste was what made it so memorable. I could eat this again and again. And in fact, I do. Just last week I recreated it (or close enough) for lunch. I now make pumpkin gnocchi once or twice every year, and freeze meal-size batches for quick and easy first courses or lunches.
  5. Ice-cream and gelato in a cone. No, this isn’t one specific meal, or even a meal in itself, despite the fact that my mother used to tease us by suggesting the ice-cream we just ate was, in fact, our dinner. It’s a life-time of eating and enjoying ice-cream. It’s knowing that I can’t have it in my freezer on a regular basis, because it will not last for long. It’s the pleasure of an ice-cream as a special treat, winter or summer. Hokey-pokey (a local flavour – vanilla with honeycomb chunks) ice-cream is almost every Kiwi’s first ice-cream love, and was also mine, but I find it hard to go past boysenberry too. Then in Thailand I discovered caramel flavours, and in my 30s, I went to Rome, and fell for gelato. It’s not a meal. But it could be. It should be.

There are so many delicious meals I would love to eat again, but I suspect much of my joy in these dishes was where, when and with whom they were enjoyed. And so many of my favourite meals have been overseas, because food is, of course, one of the best parts of international travel! I think, for example, of the food we loved in our time in Italy, unbelievably eight years ago, and I’m taken back to the delicious seafood ravioli in a restaurant at the top of a cable car overlooking Lake Maggiore, the pucce (sandwiches) in a square in Puglia, and the seafood pasta at a Sardinian restaurant in Rome! I think further back to a pizza in San Francisco in the 1990s with shrimp and pesto, or chicken fricassee in a square in Avignon, a chilli crab eaten with family in Singapore, a tagine in a riad in Marrakech, and patatas bravas in Cordoba, Spain, beer-battered fish and chips in Queensland, or one of my first (non-Thai) international food experiences, eating lobster in Vanuatu beside a lagoon with my feet in the sand.

There’s so much I’ve missed out, though I covered a lot in my Food Biography series. I haven’t touched on childhood food favourites (except for tomato sandwiches) because they are mixed up with family and love and outings and long summers or cosy winters, or my regular dishes. In fact, maybe I should never have attempted this topic because a) how could I ever narrow it down to five meals? and b) it has made me really really hungry, and it is only 5 pm! Bon appétit!

La Dolce Vita’s pizza

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