Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fig Sorbet for Cato

I mentioned in my peach sorbet post that I would try fig sorbet, also a recipe of Marcella Hazan.

What fascinated me most about her recipe is that she gives two variations: one where the figs are peeled and one where the figs are unpeeled.    She says the unpeeled fig sorbet has a 'keener' taste whilst the taste of the peeled fig sorbet was more subtle. 

I was interested in the taste difference, it's true. 

But mostly I think I was interested in the colour difference. I mean what colour would fig sorbet, peeled and unpeeled, actually be?   Pistachio green? Pale cream?  Pinky blush?   I had to know.  

Before we get there, here are some lovely fig paintings, the first by Charlie Baird

The next is by Luis Melendez which you can find in the Louvre: 

And this delicate depiction by Craig Stephens: 

Here are the two sorbets.  As you can see the peel makes a marked difference.   It makes the sorbet much stronger, and much more textured.  I do prefer the peeled, I think. I have decided this after extensive comparative taste tests.     My son wouldn't even try the unpeeled one.   I guess brownish greenish icecream is not everyone's cup of tea.  

 (peeled fig sorbet)

(unpeeled fig sorbet) 

And what, you may ask, does Cato have to do with all this?

Figs are ancient, and records indicate they were consumed by Sumerians as long ago as 2500 BC.  And they have always been a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

As it happened, Marcus Cato (the Elder) was most concerned about the threat from Carthage, in Libya, to Rome. 

The story is told that to illustrate the danger, he, in making a speech to the Senate, contrived to pluck an 'African' fig, plump and ripe, from the folds of his toga which he said was obtained in Carthage just a day or so ago.  When the Senators gathered around to admire it and its ripeness, Cato remarked that Carthage was only three days sail from Rome and hence 'must be destroyed' (from Plutarch's Lives). 

This occurred in approximately 152 or 149 BC depending on which account you believe.  And some time after this 'stunt' (as it was suspected that the fig in fact emanated from Cato's orchards outside Roma) the Third Punic War commenced, and Carthage was indeed destroyed.   For more on the interesting debate about the timing of this, see here.   (Yes it's true, a whole blog devoted to the Third Punic War. Well why not.)  

I have always rather wanted to meet Cato (the Elder, and indeed his grandson the Younger, depicted sourly in the second of Robert Harris's amazing trilogy about Cicero).  

So this fig sorbet is for you, the two Catos.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mirror Mirror on my Verandah

Just a little thank you to all those readers who suggested that I get some mirror pre-cut at a glass shop. I am obviously a bit brain dead so it had never occurred to me that a glass shop would do this. 

In an effort to make my front verandah less stern, I have put in a mirror, a bench and some cushions and a little table painted the colour of a weak cafe latte and some cacti.

This frame is actually a large Christmas wreath left over from December which I found at Perfect Pieces.  

The glass man cut some mirror to fit and stuck it on.

Hopefully the ficus will grow over the side wall of this part and turn it into a lovely sunny reading bower.

This is now just the place to enjoy this wonderful book by Edward Hollis, which contains some nice biting architectural criticism, and the gripping history and people behind buildings from the Parthenon to a casino in Los Vegas.

Which is much more preferable to the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix which I can hear in the distance as I write. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Little Beefeater in the Forest

In late 2008 some work and a wedding took us to London, where we did lots of fun things as well as work, and we did one cliched tourist thing, which was visit the Tower of London on Remembrance Day. It was quite memorable to stand in the cold for that minute of silence at 11 am with crows cawing overhead, and all the tourists (except some confused ones), standing still whilst the guard blew the Last Post.

In the overpriced shop we bought two costumes for our children, a Knight of St George for my daughter and a Beefeater for little P. When I say costume I really mean T-shirt material with a pattern printed on but they look pretty good.  I am a big fan of costumes and dress ups for children and sometimes the simple kitsch things are the best. 

Here is a little beefeater wandering in our garden.  He doesn't have a bearskin hat but he does have a sword to go with the running and the screams of 'I'm Ironman - kill kill' (disclaimer - he did not get that phrase from me).

Apologies for the sporadicism of my posts. I am battling a night time cough, a semi cold, and gastro. And both children are sick.  And I have lots to do.   But still I think I might pop my son into his costume tonight and we can both have a laugh about the funny beefeater people.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Restaurant Inspiration - Guillaume at Bennelong and Peach Sorbet

Summer is over and soon the leaves will start turning orange and dropping into my garden en masse.  To use up very ripe end of summer stonefruits, there is nothing better than a fruit sorbet. 

I started an intermittent series last year where I cook something I have eaten in a restaurant.  This was our dessert at Guillaume of Bennelong, where we ate in January.  It is described as strawberries and blackberries with lemon verbena cream, meringue and a trio of raspberries.   This strawberry sorbet was smooth and rich and delicious.

Guillaume is a rather fine dining restaurant located in this anonymous little structure on Sydney Harbour. 

Guillaume at Bennelong on Urbanspoon

See the little sails on the right - that is where the restaurant is located.   It shrieks Special Occasion (shudder).

However, I had a marvellous meal here, and it was a restaurant which disproved the oft quoted rule that the quality of the food in a restaurant is in inverse proportion to the view. 

The peaches this year have been nothing short of superb.  The orchards got rain and sun at just the right time and we have been feasting on peaches for months now. 

In honour of Guillaume Brahimi, here is a peach sorbet.

First step is to double check the recipe.  In my case this involves reassembling the cookbook from whence it came.  It really is time to bite the bullet and buy a new copy of this book.

Pile the peaches up attractively for a last shot:

Peel and remove pips.  It all looks a bit like a massacre at this stage. Avert your eyes if you need to.  But not whilst holding knife.

Put in food processor with about 100g of caster sugar (the actual recipe calls for 680g peaches and 100g sugar. I find about 6 peaches makes 680g.  You can adjust the proportion of suger down if you do not have enough peaches).

Add a little lemon juice after liquidising. 

Put into ice cream maker.  As an aside, can I just say how much I love this appliance. I am not an appliance person.  We do not have a microwave (yes I am the only person I have ever heard of with children and no microwave), we have no toasted sandwich maker, milkshake maker or popcorn maker (all of which incidentally populated my childhood kitchen in the 1970s so there is obviously something going on there).  

And if you look at the photo above you can see that I have a set of scales which date from 1947.    

But I do have a Girmi GranGelato maker and it is heavenly.   Simple to operate (it has an on/off switch and that is it) and easy to clean, it makes icecream and gelati in about 15 minutes. In my case I had to set it up in the hallway because Certain People were complaining about the churning noise.  But don't let that put you off buying one.  

Here it is once churned suitably.   My camera cannot really capture the pinky blush colour of this sorbet, with little flecks of red (where my peeling skills failed me). 

Next up (when I find them), fig sorbet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Strathroy and smiley happy people - Watch this video.

Strathroy is was built in 1882 and is a striking and intact example of the small mansions in gardens built all over Kew and Hawthorn in the Victorian Italianate style.  When it was first built, its net annual value was 50 pounds. 

The house was built for John McCutcheon, one of the top executives of the Commercial Bank. It is now known that he was one of the land boomers, engaged in speculative high risk activities, which were sometimes partly funded by the bank's assets.  He was insolvent when he died, although this was kept secret. 

It is now for sale (through this agency).

Here are some other external shots of the beautiful garden and pool.

As is often the case with these houses (picky me) I don't like their interiors much, even though they are clearly very expensively fitted out, so I haven't included interior shots. The interior also loses major points for me for the plasma TV in the bathroom, and the fact that every single coffee table is Very Ugly.

A relatively new approach to the sale of these large mansions is the You Tube video, prepared at vast expense by the real estate agents, for the international market of wealthy bankers no doubt falling all over themselves for this piece of heaven in Melbourne.

Before I show you this magical little video, some context. Here is a sample of the kind of clothes worn by ladies when Strathroy was built:

(from costumes.org)

And here is what we wear now, when we stride around our beautiful mansion:

Isn't it just something else? You realise of course that these people are pretend people - a pretend wife in pink or leopard print silken mini dress, pretend children combing their hair, pretend hard working husband coming home at night, pretend cocktail party, pretend platter of sushi (oh so that's what those people eat) and so on.

Anyway, kudos to the owners for preserving a lovely home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good Luck Ganesha

How often, I wonder, do people return to the same place they have stayed before on their travels, even one they have really enjoyed?  Quite rarely,  I am guessing.  There are so many other wonderful places to visit, and who needs routine and the familiar on holiday.   However  I am sure that the return visit is, like a repeat shop visitor, what all hotel and resort owners aim for.

We have visited the same magical place in Bali three times now.  It is in northern Bali and getting there is an adventure in itself involving a 7 hour flight (which if you are flying Garuda could indeed be taking your life in your own hands - in fact I could do a whole post on Garuda stories I have heard), negotiating customs, confronting the heat and humidity, then a 6 hour drive from the bottom of the island to the top, through chaotic Kuta, dodging motorbikes and Spirit Day processions, across a volcano, through the misty mountain top and vegetable gardens, and down into the rice paddies outside Singaraja.  In our case it also unfortunately has involved numerous toilet and vomit breaks.

Having said that, Puri Ganesha has inspired us in so many ways and also help me to keep dreaming of new ideas for our house.  Thank you Diana...

These stone lights reinforced our love for stone walls, which I wrote about here:

This spice market made me appreciate freshly ground spices and now I always cook this way excepting of course when I just can't be bothered:

And these terraces made me realise the importance of a shady quiet place to read. I am still working on this one. 

Some ideas didn't work out.    We loved this bed so much we bought a queen size bed net to fit on a frame in Ubud and I got our carpenter to rig up a wooden contraption to hang it on.  Well was that a mistake.  You know how DIY can occasionally look embarassingly unfinished and basically, crap?  Well that was what this looked like.  It lasted only a few months over our bed.   (I do have an excuse which was that I had just had a baby and was obviously not thinking straight).   Clearly some holiday experiences are best left on holiday. 

And we still have a few 'still to be fulfilled' ideas.

An outside bathroom, like this one.   In Australia, I think an outside bathroom is quite sensible and practical.  Perhaps not in Melbourne but how wonderful to step out to this each morning....

A wooden door to replace the basic standard gate we have down the side of the house, so that the dark side of the house becomes a transformational adventure, rather than a dark spider dodge:

And,  perhaps not for our current house, a deep stone paved pool, which looks somewhat like it has been carved from rock:

Or this one from the Uma Ubud:

And finally, somewhere, somehow, by hook or by crook, I will one day have a pink painted outdoor wall, like this:

(Photos: 1, 4, 5, 8 and 10 Puri Ganesha, others by Jane)

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Mad Tea Party (in my head)

Everywhere seems to be awash with images from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.   Indeed, tomorrow my daughter is due to see the film at an 8 year old Film'n'Pancake Parlour combination party which is certainly a popular theme this year.   

I, alas, will be having my hair done and will wait to see it on DVD.  Which has been pretty much the case with all films for the last 8 years.

But am I complaining?  No, not a jittery jot.   Alice has been such a wonderful inspiration for artists and illustrators for more than a century.  And it is not hard to see why - a pretty girl and lots of wonderful and crazy animals and characters to portray. 

And everyone brings their own imagination to bear.

(Marjorie Torrey, 1946) 

(AE Jackson, 1914)

(Mabel Lucie Atwell 1910)

(Angel Dominguez, 1996) 

(Gwynned Hudson, 1922)

(Maria Kirk, 1904)

(Nicole Claveloux, 1940)

(Peter Newell, 1901)

(Arthur Rackham, 1907)

(Sir John Tenniel 1865)

I can tell you that this picture used to scare the living daylights out of me when I was younger. Much scarier than even Stephen Fry. 

So, this weekend, I will be tea-partying with the Mad Hatter in this hat:

(from Harvash.com)

And drinking my tea from one of these, because I think a tea party calls for flowery porcelain:

Taitu - tea for one


Taitu - L'Erba del Vicino

Bernadaud - Frivole

(all porcelain from tableideas.com) 

And the Mad Hatter can use this teapot, if he dares:

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