ON COOKING. AND LIFE.

May 12, 2016

i rang in 2016 with illness. one that left me house-bound for the first week of january and resulted in me taking sick leave that i did not have spare. but while being grouchy at home i decided to bake a loaf of rye bread - my first loaf of bread ever. and that magic loaf changed everything. 

perhaps it’s a consequence of finally having a place of my own that has pushed me into grade a nesting mode. the tea cabinet, the wine collection, the endless cookbooks strewn around our living area, and a fridge with a perpetual stash of cheese and ready-made stews.

because in 2016, i cook. properly cook. 

i learnt properly when i was seventeen, but it is only now at twenty four where i have free reign of a kitchen. all the space, all the utensils, the entire pantry and fridge and freezer. all mine (and jacob’s). over christmas we made batches of jacques torres cookies and fell in love with the great australian bake-off. we refined the brownie recipe we discovered when we first lived together, and became people who always have dessert leftovers in the freezer. jacob’s mastered beef and bean chilli, and bakes a better loaf of yeasted bread than i do. me, i’ve fallen in love with our corningware dutch oven and am already hankering for a second. 

sundays are for farmer’s markets and fresh produce. wednesdays see me at the counter chopping uneaten softening fruit for a crumble. all my former special occasion meals have now become well-worn regulars. and each week i challenge myself with a dish i’ve only ever ordered at restaurants. braised beef cheeks. pad thai. a thai beef mince and basil dish i’ve only ever ordered at takeout places but now know how to do myself. soy ribs. next on the list: coconut poached chicken. they are not difficult, but they aren’t dishes often cooked and eaten when cooking for one. now part of an ever growing repertoire. 

with an ever growing interest in nutrition and food, the fridge is now home to many new staples: water left over from fermenting rice (which you apparently save to kick-start fermentation on the next batch of rice. because yes, i ferment rice now!). a container of discard sourdough starter i use to make crumpets. homemade nut butter. all the things a food blogger writes about, except i am not one. but somewhere along the line 2016 has made me a keen home cook.

we are now people who plan our days around the resting times of bread. 

i am a self confessed homebody. i prefer a glass of wine every night as opposed to four drinks in one night, and my dream future hens night would involve pyjamas, face masks and thai takeout (except now i’ll probably be able to cook it). it has taken me a long time to be happy about the fact that my perfect evenings and weekends consist of me doing not very much at all. hovering around the kitchen, watching a lot of cooking shows, and reading food magazines. maybe a walk. and then spending time with the people i dearly love. i have often wished i were an easier extrovert, and happy with spending large amounts of time out and about like everyone else seemingly does in their twenties, and it has taken a lot of self love to coax myself into just being. and sometimes i still find myself wondering what to do or where to go next next on days off, when i really just want to run myself a bath. 

i also realise there are many things that are on my list to do: learn spanish, take a barista course, learn more about nutrition. and i am figuring out which ones i actually want to do, and which ones i merely think i should be doing. an affliction that perhaps comes from formative years spent doing very many obligatory things.

but i realise how damned lucky i am to have space to figure it all out. my space, generously given and willingly shared and all the trimmings that make it a brilliant home. one i haven't had since i left my hometown at sixteen. everything in this house is ours, and i don't have to put anything away if i don't want to. it is freedom that i have rarely experienced, and for a classic introvert it is heaven. and it is with a big sigh of relief that i realise that i'm being really taken care of - something my parents have only been able to do from afar, and something friends rarely are able to do. because when you move to a different continent alone at sixteen, a lot of growing up is done on your own. and even now when i move to unload the dishwasher and jacob calls out that he'll take over, i stand and stare blankly at the bowl in my hands and for a second i cannot believe that someone's volunteering to help. and while i am grateful that my parents allowed me to flee the nest so young, i'll admit i'd be hard pressed to be able to do the same for my future child. because i know how damned hard it is. i have learnt a lot, but still i do not know how to buy shares in this country. 

but i can have the worst day and still come home, see the sunlight glinting off the floorboards and know that i have the freedom to just be me. no moderation necessary. 




I try: No Buy Feb

March 1, 2016

I have made it to the end of my self-imposed 'No Buy Feb' after I realized how much money I was spending, completely unknowingly. As I attempted to relax my draconian hold on my savings by actually allowing myself to buy things that didn't cost $30, I unknowingly started giving myself a free pass on things under the guise of 'self loving'. Books suddenly fell into the 'spend zone'. Then $20 teas. Then little knick knack household goods. And consignment store clothes (because they're cheaper, so I'm saving money). Then suddenly $200 shoes weren't so expensive. Then $400 shoes were a comfortable spend. Lo and behold I was spending way more despite my income increasing every few months, and despite my household expenses decreasing after my move to the city.

The rules as follows:
  • No purchases on clothes, shoes, misc. items (including books)
  • Purchases on groceries and other essential items (a caveat I had to add in after I ran out of contact lens solution) okay
  • No meals out alone, unless I can reduce my meals out with people to less than twice a week
  • Meals out with other people okay
  • Purchases towards group experiences okay (i.e. activities with people)
The idea was not to halt spending completely in February. It was to halt my mindless whipping out of the credit card whenever I saw a dress I liked, or shoes I wanted, or a book that was on sale. Reminding myself that I didn't NEED to buy a new tea when a box ran out (because I have a whole cupboard full).

Things I Am Learned

1. I eat out too frequently.

Despite wanting to stick to a 'twice out a week' rule, last week saw me eat out three times. Four times the week before. Eating out has stopped becoming a 'once a week' activity like it used to be for me years ago. Now it's just the norm. All those fancy menus (marketing people like me have a lot to answer for!) and fancy food writing have me planning meals WEEKS ahead for the privilege of spending money on a gorgeous looking plate of food.

2. Quitting clothes shopping is the easiest bit.

Surprisingly, it's been the easiest thing to drop the clothes and shoe shopping, which I often do mindlessly whenever I have a hour or so. Beauty and skincare products are my weakness, but I am focusing on reminding myself of the utter abundance of makeup and skincare I own and how one face really doesn't need that much. And I generally wear jeans and a t-shirt most days when I'm not at work - I really don't need many 'dress up' clothes.

3. I grocery shop too often.

Working across the road from a shopping district has proven challenging. I now have a rule of not spending money in the town centre during work hours (I do destination marketing for said town centre). But the grocery store is my weakness. I love food, I love wandering the aisles, and despite our weekly farmer's market shop, I spend way too much time perusing the aisles and buying all of one item each time. All in the name of 'at-home cooking'. A consolidated shop would probably be the smarter move, and spending a LOT less on luxury food goods like pecans... 

4. The number of things I feel comfortable spending money on has inflated.

Where a $300 Bose headphone purchase would've made me flinch early last year (and the years after that), I think almost nothing now of throwing down $130 for a facial every few months, or $200 on shoes. My last few shoe purchases have been an expensive flurry of $480 Ferragamos and $250 Repettos, proving that as my income has gone up, so has my quota and tolerance of indulgences. I have a post-it note stuck to my Filofax reading "You can't indulge in everything you want. Because then it's no longer a treat, it's a lifestyle.". Which encapsulates my biggest problem with spending at the moment: I no longer see buying things as a treat. It's just simply what I do. And I'm not comfortable with that sort of mentality OR lifestyle. 

5. I need to find a long-term fitness solution

Surprisingly, I have started working out regularly! Over the past three months, my twice-a-week work out regime has turned into a five-times-a-week work out regime. And that's really upped the price. I've pre-paid for February's workouts through a really great first-month offer, but after Feb I'm on my own. Gym-going isn't sustainable the way I'm doing it (i.e. always booking in for classes). So here I go branching out on my own. 

Next Month:

I really want to try sticking to 'no buy needless stuff' through March as well. I cut my credit card bills by HALF this month, and I really want to keep that going! I will eventually need to buy a couple of new bits and pieces for the cool weather*, but before I do so I plan on making a detailed list of what I need. And if something doesn't fit that list, I cannot buy it. 

I want to work on reducing my food outings, but also reducing the amount I spend on groceries. I'm thinking a smart move might be to put aside a certain amount of money aside JUST for food, and once I spend it up that's it. It's so easy to keep whipping out the cards or the coin purse to pay for a $5 item, and it all adds up quickly without me ever even noticing. 



*so far this list only has three items: a camel coat (which was on my list last winter but i stupidly bought a navy coloured wool coat on sale instead. great price and a lovely coat, but it meant camel coat is still on my list!), long workout leggings because anyone who has seen me wrapped up in jackets at work AND outdoors knows i need them, and a pair of work-friendly pants that aren't black (which is the only colour i own in work pants, i'll admit)



the good things.

February 24, 2016



morning coffee. the ritualistic pot of tea after dinner and when I start the day for real. the moment during gym sessions where it all clicks and I actually begin to have fun. listening to happy music, even if that's one direction. cracking open a book and realizing that yes - it is good. a movie that transports me to another place. when i walk into our apartment and the light from the setting sun sets the place aglow as though to welcome me home. bread and wine - the simplest things that have survived biblical days and have made their way to my table. 

lighting the candles. using the cloth napkins. buying fresh flowers and filling bags at farmers markets. lifting heavier weights. surviving something impossible and realising it is no longer hard.

celebrating life every day. 

I learn: life takes time (and effort)

IN FEB I LEARN: LIFE TAKES TIME (AND EFFORT)

Shauna Niequist is the writer of one of my favourite books, Bread and Wine. She once wrote, "we’re living a love story, not running a small business together." And the words resonated, because I am compulsive and reactive and often spend a lot of my time tidying up, wanting to tidy up, and doing endless piles of laundry. Then I sit down on Sunday and wonder where my week went. 

And I learn that life takes effort. A good life takes effort just like a good coq au vin needs some tender loving care before it slides into the oven for a good few hours and comes out perfect. 

So. 

To be able to have a laundry-free weekend, it needs to be done during the week.

I cannot come home and spend my entire evening on my MacBook and block out the world, because I live with someone who deserves my time and attention. 

If I want to have a glass of red wine and put on Sex And The City while sorting out my wardrobe, I can. And all this can be done during the week too. The wine-drinking, that is. 

I can open a bottle of good, reserve red wine. For no other reason than the fact that I want to drink it. Because if I wait for someone special* enough to share that good bottle of red with I’ll be waiting a long time. 

Take off your makeup early. Because having to do the bedtime routine droopy eyed and grumpily is no fun. 

Tidy as you go. Because you deserve to live in a clean home. 

If it feels right, buy the flowers. Eat the brownies. Splurge on the figs. Work to put aside the crippling guilt that tells you that treating yourself is an extravagance. 

Life takes time and effort. And planning to get right. A good one, at any rate. So I make the lists to remind myself of what I want to do. Running a bath, baking a crumble. Writing them down so I remember that life is for actually living. That first step takes effort, but the rest comes easily after. 


*in the avoidance of doubt, jacob does not drink red wine. 




WHAT I EAT, PART THREE

February 22, 2016

Where I limit my eating window to 10 hours a day through intermittent fasting. 

First, a disclaimer:
1. This is not about calorie deprivation. I would not be lying if I said I ingest approximately the same amount of calories every day whether I practice IF or not. 
2. I'm not doing it to lose weight. And in fact, I haven't seen any weight loss on me that I could reasonably attribute to IF (although do note that I am a healthy weight and hence possibly not the right candidate for a 'weight loss by IF' experiment). 
3. I am not a nutritionist, health expert or anything that denotes that I actually know what I'm talking about on a broad scale. I just like experimenting with my eating habits in a bid to understand more about my body.

I stumbled across a study on intermittent fasting one day and it hit me that I was already doing it, unconsciously by choice. A 12 hour a day fast, just to ensure I wasn't going to bed on a full stomach. And then I read an article on IF assisting with tempering food cravings through a daily 10-hour eating window, and I thought - well, that's not hard! So I did.

HOW I DO IT:

My eating window is 9am - 7pm. Many articles recommend skipping breakfast and making the window 12pm - 10pm, but I dislike (a) skipping breakfast and (b) eating so late. I'm also awake and active by 5.40am during weekdays and 6.30am on weekends, and I like breakfast. Generally my day of food looks a little like this:

9am - Breakfast
12.30pm - Lunch
3.00pm - Snack
5.30pm to 6.30pm - Dinner

Yes, sometimes I'm done eating by 6pm and I fast for 15 hours instead of 14. You'd think I'd be hungry. I thought I'd be hungry. But the freedom from hunger and cravings that this has given me has been phenomenal. I can honestly say that I have never gotten hungry - actually physically hungry between 7pm to 9am. I get the occasional pangs of 'I want a damn fudge brownie', but never an actual call from my body for proper food. The line in the sand when 7pm passes prevents me from chowing down on two pieces of peanut butter toast at 9.30pm, and soon I realize I don't actually need the toast. And as time goes by I realize I'm getting infinitely better at catching my cravings and deciding rationally what I should do with them. And because of THAT, I can be flexible without going crazy.

We went for a little microadventure in Fremantle on Thursday night that turned into a 6km walk that turned into a conversation about whether we wanted ice cream. We got to the gelato shop at 8.30pm, well after my eating window, and we shared two scoops. That's it. I didn't actively crave ice cream, but I wanted it. I thought about it. I chose to have it, and enjoyed every bite. On Friday I ate dinner at 5.30pm (sushi), went to a basketball game, then sat in a bar and watched two men eat burgers at 8.30pm. No cravings. Because I wasn't hungry, and I didn't actually want or need a burger.

Many people use IF as a dieting method in order to skip meals. I don't actually skip meals, and I know I would get hungry if I did. I see IF as an eating schedule that works very well with my waking schedule, and gives me a reason to check in with myself if I find myself wanting - not needing - to eat outside of the prescribed window. Nutritionists have touted its health benefits, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some. I wouldn't be surprised if it aided in weight loss, although I haven't lost any weight from it. But I also haven't felt any active sugar cravings (perhaps also due to the fact that I don't incorporate sugar into my normal eating patterns) or food cravings since. And that, to me, is food freedom.

And that's what I want to cultivate. The 'I can eat it or leave it' mentality that I never used to have. The feeling of being able to make an active and conscious choice of what I put into my body. Because food IS addictive, emotional eating IS a thing. And I love food too much to associate it with negativity, although I so often do. The urge for a sundae at 10pm on a Sunday evening gets swapped out with a more meditative and conscious choice of chamomile tea. Toast, or a brownie doesn't make me actually feel better. Tea does. I don't succumb to mindless eating when I'm watching Bake Off at night. So much better for me, both physically AND emotionally.



WHAT I EAT, PART TWO

February 19, 2016



Or a list of foods I don't eat.

One of the most freeing things in my life has been reading an article by Gretchen Rubin about abstainers and moderators, and how giving up something completely can be so much more freeing than attempting them in moderation. 

It sounds militant, and yes a lot of people don't get it. If there is one thing I've learnt in the past few months it is that people tend to mock dietary choices they (a) do not understand or (b) wouldn't choose for themselves. 'Why give up X when you don't have to?' Because I want to, of course. It doesn't hurt anybody.

This is the list of foods I don't eat: 
Cronuts
Doughnuts 
Pies
Pasta 
Pizza (all pizza. Gluten free or not.)
Most cake (especially when it's from a buffet)
Waffles (except from Lindt and Gabriel & Co)
Pancakes
French toast
Banana bread/any cake masquerading as bread 
Deep fried fish
Potato chips
Any candy bar that comes in a packet, including Tim Tams
Most ice creams, except in company. 
Most desserts, unless I Know for a fact they are good (not refined sugar free or whatnot. I just want them to taste delicious.)

This list is constantly growing. I've recently added nuts to the list. I eat nuts, but baked into things and not on their own. The criteria is simple: foods that I cannot control my urges around. I'll eat the whole lot and (here's the crux. Here's why I give them up...) hate myself afterwards. 
They are not foods that allow me to love myself. They are not foods that give me lasting joy. They are foods I eat to tamper down emotions within me. Binge foods. Unhappy foods. And in understanding how I feel afterwards - sick and unhappy - it has made giving them up easy. Would I rather have one Tim Tam knowing that I'll not be able to stop at one and would hate myself afterwards? Not at all.

A month ago I saw myself leaning over a sink attempting to purge up something I'd eaten that I'd come to regret. Even when I struggled with an eating disorder I never attempted to purge - I was always about restriction. But here I was attempting to make myself throw up out of disgust and self loathing from what I'd ingested. A low moment. A moment of sickness and self loathing. A moment I could have prevented by foreseeing that exact reaction. And as I write down the food I've decided to give up on my ever growing list, I don't feel miserable. I feel happy.

I eat foods that are bad for me health-wise. Absolutely. I love brownies. I love chocolate chip cookies. I love the best homemade goods. We've been making batches of brownies as gifts, and I've happily taste tested every batch. I've attempted to make healthy swaps and I don't like them. I might one day. But for now the full fat infamous brownies that we make ourselves are my favourite. And in knowing what I like it sets me free to NOT take the free brownie at morning tea. Not when I have whole wedges of fudgy goodness at home.

But I've given up spaghetti. The one food I never thought I'd be able to give up. I haven't eaten spaghetti for months.

Confession: I love spaghetti. Absolutely. But due to what I suspect is a slight intolerance to gluten, it makes me feel ill. I experimented with ordering gluten free for a while, only to realise I didn't like gluten free pasta. So I gave it up completely. If I crave a specific pasta topping, I have it on rice or beans or bread. Goats cheese with burnt butter. Bolognese. Prawns in a sauce. Giving up pasta might be my proudest abstainer move - giving up the self hate when I'm feeling nauseous and sick after I eat it. And it actually wasn't hard.

I don't drink hot chocolate except at Lindt and Angelina in Paris. I generally don't order desserts out but when I see a chocolate Soufflé or fondant I always will. I don't drink lattes or milky coffees except at Brother Baba Budan in Melbourne. And I have given up brunch except for occasional friend dates and also the odd spot I really really want to try. I eat the foods on my ban list - some of them, anyway. But before I do, I check in: were you satisfied the last time you ate this? Or did it make you feel miserable after?

When I choose to abstain I have a moment where I check in: why are you giving this up? Self love, or self hate? Will writing down that food on your ban list give you joy? Yes? Then forge ahead, with blessings. 

WHAT I EAT, PART ONE

January 31, 2016

We talk about food rules a lot in our daily lives. No sugar, no gluten, no grains, vegan, paleo, everything. I myself have a long list of foods I do not eat - a list that sets me free to eat dozens of other things.

But I think the other food rules are more important. So I do not eat foie gras - my favourite food when I was sixteen - because force feeding geese for their livers is not okay to me. I do not eat non free range meat, because I try as much as I can to ensure my life and appetite does not cause any animal to live a life of suffocation and cruelty (although I am flexible when I dine out socially, because manners). I eat free range eggs. Proper free range. and I do not buy free range eggs from any manufacturer who also does caged, barn or cage free eggs. I cannot reasonably believe that such a manufacturer treats some hens well and mistreats the rest. Ideally I'd love to source eggs directly from a farm I've seen myself, and I used to do this when I lived in the country. 

I do not buy imported quinoa, not even the fair trade kind. There has been a lot of talk about whether our appetite for the 'superfood' has meant that others around the world who are much poorer than I are now even poorer and hungrier for not being able to afford their staple food now that our appetites have driven the price up. I cannot ethnically consume something that might cause another to go hungry, so I source my quinoa from Tasmania. It is pricier - much, much pricier - but I am richer in so many ways where others are not.

I recently boycotted our local butcher after I realised the majority of the chicken he sells isn't free range. I never thought to ask before, because with independent butchers they usually always are. Now I always ask.

I am not vegan, not vegetarian. Although I do mostly eat vegetables. I am not a buy local advocate although I do shop at farmers markets - all my butter is imported from France and if you don't think there's a difference I urge you to try it because there is. I eat meat, yet cannot watch animals get slaughtered. But these are small things that I stand for, and food rules I follow. It may not make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but when I hand over fifteen dollars for Aussie grown quinoa to the local shop that I know (oh I know) has marked up the price, it is a thank you to the farmer for growing. A thank you to the stockist who stocks it for people like me even when the imports are a quarter of the price. And when I know that it's not harming anyone, I can eat. I can eat happy. 

More addictive than crack | Or 'The Jacques Torres Cookie Recipe'

January 20, 2016

Disclaimer: I have never tried crack. I don't actually know what it looks like. Is that marijuana? I'm not sure. And I don't quite want to Google it, because our search engines are all knowing these days and it is very likely that if I DO Google it, I will be haunted by remarketing ads for months. 


But that's okay. I don't need crack. I've got these cookies. 


Someone needs to come up with an adage involving these cookies. Preferably one that involves keeping the doctor away, so I can convince myself that they are somewhat healthy. 

Unfortunately, cookies are going to land me in therapy because I cannot stop shoving them into my mouth and it is a problem. A Big Problem. They are everywhere in our apartment. Pre-baked (for a party this weekend), in the fridge, in the freezer... Are they multiplying? I THINK THEY'RE MULTIPLYING. 

The cookies are, of course, the infamous Jacques Torres or New York Times cookie recipe. The cookie that has been sweeping the nations for years and now taking up residence in my kitchen. Okay, and my tummy. There are quite a few in there. They seem to have declared squatters rights. They have declared that I need never try another cookie recipe ever again. And they would be right. If anything, these cookies are terrific for your budget because you'll never buy another store-bought or even bakery-baked cookie again. 

Here how you get completely addicted to a cookie, too: 


INGREDIENTS
·       2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour (Note: I have used all-purpose, and it is absolutely fine!)
·       1 ⅔ cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
·       1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
·       1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
·       1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
·       2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
·       1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
·       1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
·       2 large eggs
·       2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
·       1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (Note: I have tried this recipe with both chocolate disks and feves. They are both delicious, although the feves do give them a rather gorgeous marbled texture and look. If you are using chocolate disks, do attempt to procure the proper kind and not store-bought Nestle baking chips. There IS a difference, I promise)
·        Sea salt.
PREPARATION
1.    Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2.   Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or beaters if you are sans paddles), cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3.   When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
4.   Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
BAKING TIPS
When it comes to refrigerating the dough, do try to wait the full 72 hours. I have done bake tests every 24 hours, and can vouch for the fact that it is worth the wait. The flavour profile is infinitely better.

Also do watch the baking time if you’re not measuring your cookie dough by weight. My cookies take significantly less than 18 minutes. The general rule is to start being prepared to yank them out when they start colouring quickly on the top!


Try not to bake more than one at once. Because from experience, you tend to want to eat the whole chocolately gooey lot.

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