Roasting chestnuts wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be when I stopped at the farm gate on a beautiful stretch of gumtree-lined road to pick up a bag for $3. Like broad beans, chestnuts herald a new season and only hang around for a short time. This is key, as they both rely on you to forget how much effort you had to put in to prepare them last year. Unlike broad beans, shelling chestnuts is a full-contact sport that carries risk of puncture wounds and burns. But if you manage to avail the sweet flesh of a chestnut from its burning shard of shell, you will be rewarded with the full earthy flavour of this nut.
The beauty of eating seasonally and locally is that the produce you’re presented with at the market tends to work well together. The rust-coloured pears, crisp dandelion leaves and mild, crumbly blue cheese that I picked up at the market were very content to be paired with the sweet chestnuts from the nut farm. It doesn’t take much effort to follow nature’s plans for your dinner table; just buy what looks good, prepare it simply and be rewarded with the flavours of the season. This salad is autumn fare, no doubt.
A toasted ham and cheese sandwich is warm comfort. I’ve talked about the power of toast before, and this combination is a classic that most people can place in their food history. After-school snacks, late-night munchies, cold nights with hot soup, lazy brunches – it’s a flexible meal. This twist on it takes the humble toastie from the past to a very modern and adult present.
I first came across this sandwich in New York where I worked in a building overlooking the Hudson. It was a 15-minute walk from the subway and a much longer power walk to a decent food establishment. Although that part of Chelsea is gentrifying by the minute with giant cranes pulling up skyscraper apartments and art galleries moving in to old shipping warehouses, there’s not a lot of foot traffic to encourage cafes to set up shop. My only options for lunch were vendors that came into our building on daily rotation (taco Tuesday!), the building’s cafeteria that had recently failed a health inspection and Wichcraft, a sandwich chain store.
Everyone at work knew the Wichcraft menu intimately and each had their preferred item. The Heritage Smoked Ham became my staple work meal. You could say I over indulged on it, because although I loved it and would struggle to limit my intake to twice a week, it has taken me eight months to recreate it at home. I guess I needed the break, but after tasting it again, I’m committed to making up for lost time.
If you have an egg, you have a meal. Eggs are wonderfully flexible and will happily lend themselves to an otherwise boring dish to make it a tasty feed. A scrapped together mess of lentils and leftover veggies becomes a treat with a fried egg on top. And yesterday’s rice gets a second life when fried with onion, sloshed with soy sauce and served with a well-seasoned, chopped omelette stirred through.
My fondness for eggs has grown in direct correlation to my increased access to fresh eggs. Living in a country town means I now have friends with chooks and I am gifted a dozen eggs relatively regularly. The difference in colour and flavour of these eggs to the ones sitting on supermarket shelves is vast. Cracking an egg and seeing a bright buttercup yolk is enough to make me very happy. Turning those eggs into simple but beautiful meals is even better.
Since humans worked out how to use grains around 10,000 years ago we’ve been making unleavened bread. It’s been a staple in many cultures, harking back to the birth of modern civilisation in the Fertile Crescent. You could say we’ve collectively had a decent amount of practice making flatbread, so I’m not sure why I thought it would be difficult. Turns out, all that practice was worthwhile. It’s really quite easy to make very tasty bread with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry (especially if your garden boasts a rosemary bush as my new garden does).
Uprooting oneself and moving to the other side of the world is a delicate business. Like repotting a plant, it’s relatively easy to pull up a life by its stem and place it elsewhere. But it takes time, attention, the right conditions and a welcoming environment for a life to thrive in its new location.
I’ve spent the last three months finding a good pot to plant myself in back home in Australia. The desire I felt in NYC to slow down and focus on the things that make me happy has lead me to something new: a country life.
Last week I moved to Kyneton, a small town nestled in the Macedon Ranges, about an hour from Melbourne. 6,629 other people live here, which is around 8.2 million less than New York City. I have traded in my Brooklyn apartment for a large weatherboard home with a garden that boasts an apple and pear tree, and my new oven is roughly the same size as my Williamsburg kitchen (only a slight exaggeration). Life is definitely slower. And so far, I’m loving it.
All this decision-making and moving is hunger making work. And as Spring unfurled its petals here in Australia I found myself craving comfort food, but on the lighter side. Well, lighter if you call adding some mint and lemon to a lovely, fried hunk of cheese “light”.
The furnace that powers the NYC summer is burning at full capacity this week. That, combined with the fact that my apartment is in various stages of disarray in preparation for the international move, has meant that cooking has been nonexistent. I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying goodbye dinners at some of my favourite restaurants (Momofuku, Diner, Porsena, ABC Kitchen, any Mexican, Fat Radish – I will miss them all!) which has left my kitchen lonely. But I did need to eat something at home, and this salad was perfect. No cooking – just assembling.
Next week is my last week in New York City. I’m in the process of packing up my little apartment and sending everything home to Australia where I will join it in September after travelling down the West Coast of America (ROAD TRIP! Sightseeing suggestions welcome…).
New York is a city that changes you. It becomes a character in your story that exerts its influence whether you like it or not. New York made me focus. It made me prioritise what was important in my life, because there is no way you can do everything it offers. I was quite surprised to find that my priorities included simple, uncontrived things: cooking, friends, family, nature. The antithesis to a pulsating metropolis.
When I’ve told seasoned New Yorkers that I’m leaving, a look of pity crosses their faces and they nod in an understanding way. “You couldn’t take the pace”, they state, implying that they are made of tougher stuff than I. They may be right. Or I just miss home, the ocean, and stars. And a slower pace of life. And Melbourne coffee shops. I have loved my time here and will miss the convenience, the culture and the variety of people and experiences I encountered every day. Those interactions will stay with me as I head home to a wide open sky.
I’ll still be blogging while I’m travelling, though not as often as I have been. Here’s to new adventures! Continue reading →
On a late-summer evening many years ago, I followed my Lonely Planet guidebook down a tiny street in Nice, France to find somewhere to eat socca, a traditional chickpea pizza served on the shores of the Mediterranean. The street was lit by the warm light of a restaurant that vibrated with the happy noises of people enjoying excellent food. I joined them, and was promptly served a chilled glass of rosé and a large plate holding a pancake-like base topped with glossy tomatoes and olives.
It was my first taste of the earthy, peppery socca, and it was not my last. I returned to that restaurant the next night and on other trips and have since started making socca at home. I can’t replicate the soft mediterranean sun or the atmosphere of the old town, but this recipe is almost fool-proof and definitely brings a little bit of Nice into my kitchen. Continue reading →
The deli counter is my favourite part of a market. The pungent smell of cured meats and cheeses lures me in so that my eyes, and inevitably my belly, can feast on the array of briny, salty treats behind the glass. The thick cured sausages hanging overhead next to strings of menacing looking chillies beckon to me, inviting me to order more than I need as I reach for a taste of cheese on the counter. Tins of things dressed in bright Italian labels line the shelves next to more types of mustard than I thought possible. Buying a large wheel of parmesan or a whole leg of prosciutto seems like a perfectly reasonable option as I stand there, trying to decide what cured goodness I will take home with me.
Whatever I bring home doesn’t last long. As those parcels are unwrapped their contents usually go straight on a board, surrounded by jars of pickled things, fruits and whatever takes my fancy from the pantry. It’s Saturday lunch. The best kind. It’s the sort of lunch that encourages lingering, flicking through the weekend papers and drinking a cheeky glass of cold beer. There are no rules to a Saturday lunch, but a good charcuterie plate does have some variation. So here’s a rough guide to a well-balanced plate of meat that is also a simple, no-fuss dinner party appetiser.
A cold bottle of Riesling, a sunny afternoon and a few friends should be the three ingredients required for this tart, because that’s how I prefer to eat it. But before you open the wine, you’ll just need to pick up some asparagus, puff pastry and cheese. For this is the most accommodating of tarts. It requires very little to turn simple ingredients into a dish that looks like you trained in a French patisserie to make.