November 22, 2009

Times are changing...

Today I find myself with a bit of time, so I thought (perhaps unwisely) that I might get this year’s introspective out of the way before the enormity of the festive season and what it means to those of us who have lost so much actually hits. I will try not to keep you long (there is food at the end)…
One thing I have learnt over the past year is that the psychology of grief is a curious thing. That certain experiences can dominate your mind so powerfully they can destroy you physically still amazes me, and no matter how much you focus on what you know you should do, it often seems near impossible to break out of the darkness. And then you feel guilty because you promised you’d try to live life and be happy, and of course you want that too, you just never imagined that it would be this difficult…
For me, the two biggest things to try and accept have been that firstly, my life also ended that day, and secondly, that despite being surrounded by the most supportive and wonderful people, I have been left very much alone, and I need to be ok with that. I have learnt that I need to ask for help, and have become better at allowing people to do this for me. Having cared for someone for so long it has felt ludicrously selfish, but I am beginning to realise that it's just people doing for me what I so enjoy doing for others. I still give little of myself away, but I am now more comfortable with asking for what I need, and am more confident in saying what I think and choosing how and to whom I devote my time.
Tied up in all of this came the realisation that I was ready to start searching for some semblance of happiness. That you have to fight with every fibre of your being just to find something that will make you feel happy is crap. No one should ever have to fight for something like that, but that’s the way it is, and I’ve found that if you acknowledge and accept these things as part of “the process”, it becomes something you can work at, another “goal” to get you from point to point.
So that is what I’ve been doing, trying to find a little bit of happy. Much of it comes dressed backhanded; as you re-live the things you so desperately miss and pursue new adventures that would be so much more fun to share. But Team Pretty Bake has given me a passion, I have done lots of new things, and I am learning to find the balance between stubbornly doing things on my own and asking for company, and am so lucky to have such wonderful and obliging friends who do this for me.
When something catches you out it’s usually a little thing, although that’s probably just me. I’m not one for the pomp and glamour of a frenetic life; I prefer simpler things and would quite happily lose myself in an epic Valdes solo and good cup of coffee. So it perhaps shouldn’t have been that surprising when I was somewhat floored this week by a simple request. You see, due to the nature of circumstance, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy cooking for people – not for special occasions or planned dinners, just cooking – and so I’ve recently been enjoying a little solo time at the helm of TPB to do exactly this. What I found that I apparently missed even more than this was being asked to cook something in particular. It sounds silly now, so I won’t bother trying to explain what I mean, only to say that it was nice, and it made me happy.
Baked chicken meatballs
Asparagus, courgette and haloumi salad
Cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt sauce
Berry mascarpone tart
So it seems there will always be a balance. On the positive side, I have found that pushing yourself physically can do wonders for the mind, and there is a certain satisfaction in tilting that emotional-physical seesaw towards the more constructive end. Less positively, the sensation that I may be managing this new life of mine better has been coupled with a profound sadness and realisation that amid all the turmoil of the last year and a half, I had almost forgotten how much I miss dad - and that’s a little heartbreaking. But while struggling to maintain a sense of balance, I have also managed to achieve a lot. Maybe not big things, and certainly not to the usual level of personal expectation, but enough to know I’m ready to take control of my life again and start finding my own way (rental property gods willing). Who knows how it will go, but I’m ready to find out, and at worst, at least I’ll be able to make myself a mean lunch…

November 16, 2009

Posting without light...

It appears that time has got away from us somewhat, so my apologies for any feelings of neglect. I can assure you we have not been idle, just a little preoccupied with other matters in life. So I’m afraid all eye-candy-gastronomique will be lacking this week; instead just the briefest of notes to update on our exploits and hopefully to convey that we have not forgotten you.
After the whirlwind visitation of Family Yow and all manner of class-mastery with the divine Mother we were left wanting, and so mango puddings were recapitulated, poste-haste. With their sublime air, simplicity and deliciousness, I can certainly see them becoming a significant presence over the coming summer months…
Next, a quick-fire Sunday session was hastily planned to test-run a few ideas and indulge certain desires, which we shared with good friends on a particularly warm and stifling spring evening. For dinner, fresh cod was served with the Ottolenghi-inspired, Pomonal-grown mangetouts with hazelnut and orange, and our ever-favourite broad beans with bacon. Dessert took the form of coconut jellies, made with our very own coconut milk. Every good cook needs a hammer in their armamentarium, and I can certainly vouch that watching the petite Miss Rose lay into a couple of stubborn coconuts is a sight worth seeing (and a good demonstration of why one should never incur her wrath!). There is surely some quip in there to be made about large hairy balls, which I am trying to resist, but being nigh-on impossible I will instead just infer it (and with the faintest of smirks also leave the children among you ponder the milk joke currently in favour). Depending on your facilities, milk production may take some time, but fresh coconut milk is something else, and thoroughly worth the effort. And if you go the extra step and make these luscious jellies, with some fresh mango and strawberries, I guarantee you will spend any warm summer night in a happy stupor (pleasant company willing). I also managed to try out an idea that the glorious Ottolenghi meringues would work a treat flecked with vanilla seeds and topped with powdered sugared violets. And? They most certainly did. Elegant bordering on ridiculously girly, they were lovely and would suit any high tea snobbery indulged by wanting lovely ladies and charming chaps.
Our second quasi-Sunday session was a simple (if somewhat overindulgent) barbeque and salad affair trialling a number of new recipes that have been waiting in the wings for some time. Ok, so maybe not all new – it is very difficult to go past our beloved roasted pumpkin with chilli lime vinaigrette. But the French bean salad was crisp and refreshing, the Catalan chickpeas with tomatoes and almonds a nice variation on a theme, and the punchy eggplant stewed with honey and spices sufficiently killer to even get a reserved nod of approval from one not fond of aubergine.
And that, I believe, is about where we stand. In other news I have recently completed a screen printing course – so watch out for the Team Pretty Bake designer autumn collection (ha!) – and I indulged in the delightful company of the de-lovely Miss Rose and Herr Will who joined me on a barista course with the wonderful gents at The Brunswick East Project. That I need a little practice is an understatement most spectacular, but it was a fabulously fun evening and something I should like to do again. And again…
So again my apologies for such a text-heavy post; I was in need of a rest, and also apparently have no concept of keeping things brief. I only hope by now you appreciate that we don’t do things by halves, and will thus respectfully indulge my ramblings. I cannot guarantee that any forthcoming items will be better structured as we are hurtling towards the end of the year with astonishing speed, and you all know what that means…
…Christmas baking…

November 1, 2009

Guest appearances...

Ok, first things first… Happy Halloween!
All right, so I know we don’t really do this here - being in the opposite season and all - but the other day Marky Marc got in some delightful looking pumpkins, I happened to comment on their appropriateness as rather grand Jack o' lanterns, and apparently these days that’s enough to sign you up for the gig. So…

I was perhaps disproportionally excited about my first attempt at gourd carving, but this paled into insignificance in the face of the absolute giddiness being reserved for our latest baking occasion. You see, this all Hallows’ eve we were hosting a guest master baker, and our culinary caller was none other than the infamous Mother Yow.

Spending a day with Family Yow is indeed an experience for a small family girl like myself, but when one of the first things you hear is “well essentially it’s just caramelised pork…” you know it’s going to be a good day.
We spent the day bidding Mothers’ wishes, performing all manner of kitchen handy tasks and picking up many a snippet of information. I had an exceptionally splendid time and am genuinely in awe of Mother Yow’s gastronomic talents. Attempts to explain how divine dinner was would quite frankly not do her justice, and if you thought we over-did things… well… Admittedly some additional guests were unable to eventuate, but the amount of food generated by that little lady in such a small kitchen on a sweatingly hot day was simply phenomenal. For the record, there were:
Pork and prawn dumplings

Pork hock with steamed buns and pickled carrots and cucumber

Beef rendang with steamed rice

Vegetable rice noodles with egg and Chinese sausage

Pork and radish with bean curd

And I was so thoroughly overwhelmed by the whole experience that I didn’t even manage to get photos of the sticky pork ribs or delicious steamed greens.

For dessert were the utterly delectable mango puddings

And as if that weren’t enough, we also managed our spectacular French lemon cream tart with Italian meringue. We have been working through various adaptations of this extraordinary tart (going Swiss with this iteration's meringue), as it is my contention that, when perfect, it will have the power to woo any human being to your bidding, and even perpetuate attaining world domination. Evidently I am yet to succeed on either front, but I did manage to score highly on the critical scoresheet of Mr Yow, missing an 11/10 opportunity for taking over the world by a whisker of refrigerator congestion.

But it is only fair that the power of the tart was not fully executed on this occasion, as the day truly belonged to Mother Yow and her unparalleled kitchen talents. Quite simply, she is amazing, and should you ever have the opportunity to share in one of her spectacular feasts, take it in a heartbeat. You will not regret it.
Thank you ever so much, Mother Yow. It was an honour, a privilege, and an absolute pleasure.