Monday, September 12, 2011

Doing the dishers

Growing up at home there was always a rule that whoever cooked didn't have to do the dishes. I took this rule with me throughout life when I moved in with my first boyfriend, lived in share houses or went to visit a friend. The nice thing about this rule for me is that as a chef I'm usually the one cooking...and someone else is left to clean up the mess.

Lately I've noticed that unfortunately this rule has filtered out into other areas of my life. I guess I got so used to having someone clean up after me...that at times it didn't matter how much mess I made. It has been a long time since I've been solely responsible for my emotions and how I deal with them. For the last seven years there has nearly always been someone there to help me pick up the pieces. I have lost count of the times a partner walked into the bathroom to find me sitting at the bottom of the shower sobbing over a bad day at work, or something equally trivial. Suddenly, I have become aware that there is no one in my new life to pull me out of the shower, dry me off and tuck me into bed with a cup of tea. I could just stay down there on the moldy tiled floor all day as the hot water runs out and I shiver myself into an early grave.

Okay...I am being a wee bit melodramatic, but the point I am trying to make is that at times it can be incredibly daunting starting a new life, in a new city, all by yourself. I have days where I am so unsure what to do with myself in this big city that I just hide under my blankets.

I have however found a wonderful way to counteract all this scariness. Again it's something my parents passed down to me, and it's the importance of community. The glue that sticks us all together. So this is what I have done...every place I go regularly I try to make at least one friend. Be it a cafe, school, work, the train station or the supermarket. That way no matter what happens I am always surrounded by my little self made family. Every morning I go visit the same barista for my daily coffee. He is about forty and tells me off for studying too much, makes sure I'm doing okay, gives me a few compliments and sends me off to school with a coffee. Then at work I am surrounded by a group of lovely ladies. We are constantly checking up on each other, making sure no boys are breaking anyone's hearts too badly, swapping stories and advice. In one of the laneways in the city is a new father and cafe owner and we talk about his business and his little son. Once a week, just before pay day, he makes me a free lunch, in exchange for cup cakes and tells me off if I try to pull out my wallet and offer to pay. My wonderful housemate is also always keeping me company, buying me red wine when life gets hard, and opening a bottle of champagne when we have something to celebrate. Then there are my lovely girlfriends that I have picked up all over the city. These people create the back bone of my life here.

So when I truly think about it, as long as I can pick myself up off the shower floor I've always go as much support as I need here in Melbourne. So life after all isn't all that scary, and I don't mind doing my own dishes too much.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Watermelon and Haloumi Salad

It's like someone flicked a switch, and no longer am I sitting around moping while holding onto a bottle of cheap red wine. All of a sudden I don't want to be alone, hidden under my doona, and life has blossomed into something beautiful. It's safe to say spring has officially arrived...and not just in the weather. My own personal winter seems to have ended as well.

So I'm all ready for the next season in my life. I've started running regularly again and doing the things I love. I dyed my hair back to red, and eat chocolate raspberry sandwiches for breakfast. I have stopped worrying about money (how can I worry about it when I have none to worry about?) I have even switched from Merlot to Shiraz (it's more 'springy'). The fact that I no longer have to live under three layers of clothes all the time also makes me feel so much more free. Normally I love winter...but my first one in Melbourne felt so very long and hard and I am glad it's over.

Time is flying by so very, very quickly and suddenly I have found myself nearly at the end of term again. Soon I will be knee high in tests, cooking examinations, and 'work-flow plans.' Surprisingly I am not at all stressed (yet). I've gotten used to the end of term rush and the stress of trying to be so very organised with my recipes and cooking times. In saying that...I am starting to look ghostly. Around this time of every term my face seems to's like I age several years in several weeks. I'm probably the only person who can notice it, but I feel as though I could pack all my possessions in the bags that rest under my eyes. I forget what it feels like to have a weekend. It is going to be such bliss to have a holiday after not having two days off in a row in ten weeks.

I'm so very glad the spell of winter has finally been broken. I'm not sure what's changed in me? Maybe it's genuinely just the change of weather that's making life feel more pleasant. Or possibly, like Cinderella, all I needed was a little spring kiss to wake me up again.

I've got a really simple recipe for you today that I ate recently at a friend's house. It's very 'spring' so I felt it would be appropriate given my topic. I'm a bit unsure of the quantities of the ingredients but I think its the sort of thing you can just use however much you like of each thing. I hope you enjoy it!

Watermelon and Haloumi Salad

You will need:
  • 250 g of haloumi sliced thinly
  • About 2 cups of watermelon diced (preferably seedless so you don't have to pick out the seeds)
  • Half a bunch of basil
What to do:
  1. Ok it's ridiculously simple. So fry your haloumi in a little bit of olive oil until golden on both sides
  2. Dice your watermelon
  3. Pick the leaves off the bunch of basil
  4. Mix it all together and serve on a big's super yummy

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Baking coconut cakes

The first day of spring dawned sunny and beautiful, but I hid under my blanket, hung over and groggy. I wish I could say I had a huge, fun night out last night that left me in this state, but unfortunately, red wine being my medicine of choice, it was mainly another night of me drinking one too many glasses and going to bed teary-eyed. Recently I have taken to dealing with my heart ache by sniffling over a bottle of wine and eating too much chocolate. Countless mornings I wake up feeling worse for wear after a boozy night with "farmer wants a wife" and flavours of chocolate I don't even like. Everyone knows that I have been dealing with a bit of heartbreak, but recently I have felt like I want the world to know. I envision myself telling the checkout lady as I purchase some junk food "I used to be skinny," I'd tell her, "but then my heart got broken." She would nod and smile knowingly and slip in an extra block. If the man at the bottle shop enquired after my evening plans I would simply say, "A man left me," and he would look knowingly at the $6 bottle of wine I was buying and be sympathetic.

All this, however, is ridiculous. No one 'left me' as such. If anything, I did most of the leaving. So why am I wallowing in this great pool of self pity? When this whole relationship ended I decided I honestly didn't have the emotional strength at the time to deal with it. So I put it in a box, labeled, "Deal with breakup when you're feeling stronger", and got on with life. Apparently I'm feeling stronger, because at some stage over the last few months I took down that box and started to feel every emotion I had been saving.

All this got me thinking...and I started to wonder if I was really stronger. I'm a lot braver than I used to be, and seem to be dealing with day to day life much better. Actually, I don't remember another time in life when I had things so together. So I decided that it ends here (the sadness that is...not life). I am going to stop grieving a relationship that ended nearly a year ago. Enough of the wine soaked nights, filled with too much chocolate and bad sitcoms. Spring is here so it's time for a new season of life.

So I decided to do some baking. I searched through my recipe books and looked for an appropriate cake to make for the first day of spring. The one that stuck out was a coconut shifinade cake with lemon curd filling, a layer of creme fresh, and an icing of italian meringue, which is then covered in shredded toasted coconut. This cake meant something to me as I had put the recipe aside to bake before I left Noosa. It looked so pretty and complicated, but I was too afraid to bake it. There were so many elements involved, such as boiling sugar to 'soft ball stage', making meringue, getting the sponge right, and making a curd. I was so scared of all these elements that I hid the recipe at the bottom of my pile of cook books. Today, however, I pulled it out and made it with ease. I loved every minute of it.

So maybe, just maybe, I'm getting stronger...and it's time to cheer up. I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself, even if my heart hurts. How can you cry when the weather is finally warming up and there are coconut cakes to be baked?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Beef Goulash

What I would like to know is when life got so complex? Nothing these days seems simple. On a beautiful enjoyable night out to dinner in the city instead of enjoying my surroundings, my mind is caught up on how much my heart aches these days. "Who is this person," I asked myself as I looked in the bathroom mirror at myself. I remember a very different girl who arrived in Melbourne less than a year ago. Wide eyes open and ready for everything. Now, however, I feel old and jaded. Things have changed.

Three years ago I remember working in a cafe in Melbourne loving the simplicity of life as I thought to myself "this is it. I am so content. I have a job I love, and I want to be cooking for the rest of my life. I have an amazing boyfriend and I know what I want. My life is basically set" It was such an amazing feeling to be so content with my lot, so very sure of myself. Three months later the cafe went broke, the head chef had a mental breakdown, my apprenticeship fell through, and I left the man I was with. Three years later, I have no idea what became of that chef, the cafe is now a Chinese take out, and the boy I was seeing presumably hates me as much as I do him.

When we are young we look ahead at the future at our 'grown-up life' and dream of all the beautiful things we will do. Things are so simple. So black and white. There are good guys and bad guys. Over the last few years I have been discovering that there are just ...guys (and that is not a promising reality at times.)

I am afraid I am becoming jaded, that I feel so let down by these complexities and have hardened myself a bit.

I have been working with red meat at cooking school at the moment and one thing I have learnt about cooking really tender stews and braises is that you must cook the meat slowly for a really long time. If you boil it, the meat will turn tough, and taste like an old boot. I can't help but wonder...have I been boiling instead of simmering my heart? Jumping from one relationship to the next, and throwing myself into situations that I do not yet have the skill to deal with, feels like this harsh boiling process that is making me tough...but not in a positive light. I would love to think that the older I get the more experienced I get, so I can deal with things beautifully and gracefully. Lately, however, I haven't always been feeling like that. I just feel old and haggard. So despite life being complex, I'm going to try and work on letting things simmer for a while. I'll see if I can't soften up a bit.

Here is something that takes hours to simmer...It's delicious and nice for these last few days of winter...

Beef Goulash

Serves if your not single, double it, or if you have a big family make heaps!

You will need:
  • 100g onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig of marjoram
  • 1g caraway seeds
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 25g butter
  • 200g diced beef
  • 15g tomato paste
  • 5g paprika
  • 500ml of stock
What to do:
  1. Dice your onion and garlic.
  2. Melt half the butter in a pot, add the onion and garlic. Cook without colouring it but so it's translucent.
  3. Add the beef and seal (this means just cook so it's brown on the outside.)
  4. Add the tomato paste, stir through.
  5. Add paprika, stir through
  6. Add the rest of the butter, the zest of 1/4 lemon, marjoran, and caraway seeds.
  7. Add your stock (make sure all the meat is covered)
  8. Bring to the boil (but only for a few seconds....or your meat will go tough)
  9. Turn down the heat to a light simmer and good for 3 to 5 hours. I know that sounds like a really varied amount of time, but the longer you cook it the nicer and softer the meat will become. You will know its ready when all the liquid has thickened into a nice sauce that coats the meat and all liquids have absorbed.
This can be served with rice, or pasta, potatoes, or anything you like really. Enjoy