October 12, 2016
I am not Martha Stewart (or whomever the most current example of domestic goddess-ness is). I gaze at the cooking magazine covers with perfectly-glazed cookies and tastefully decorated seasonal tables and wish, as always, that I could just get invited to one of those people’s parties. It would be my Oscar night. And all the trophies would be edible.
Instead I focus on making fun–dare I say cute–things for Little e’s school lunch. Namely, mini muffins. I wrote a while ago about my go-to method of cooking steel-cut oats for a fortnight, and this is kind of a riff on the same idea. Make a bunch of tiny muffins and stuff them in a freezer bag, to be retrieved two at a time Monday through Friday (unless a hungry late-night snacker finds them). So far, it’s been a success. And poor DH only has to scrub the mini muffin pan once every two weeks. Bless.
Butternut Squash Muffins
Adapted from Allrecipes
1 ½ cups butternut squash, roasted
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup raisins (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a 24 mini muffin tin (or make about 12 regular-size muffins).
To roast the squash, I cut it in half lengthwise, deseed it and placed it cut side down on a greased cookie sheet. Cover it will foil and roast at 375F for about 30-40 minutes, depending on size. Surplus roasted squash is always nice to have around for risotto, soup, pie…
Put the measured (and cooled) butternut squash into a large bowl. If it’s not soft enough to easily mash into a smooth puree, I get out my hand blender, add a few tablespoons of water and puree it with the next ingredients: the eggs, both sugars and oil. Add the raisins to the wet mixture. Combine your dry ingredients in another bowl: whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Pour dry into wet ingredients and mix just enough to combine everything. Don’t overmix; some little lumps are okay.
Fill mini muffins cups to 2/3 full and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the usual toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 2 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.
October 5, 2016
I recently listened to an illustrator describe the tools she had used to produce a picture book – “graphite pencils, watercolour, collage, old photographs…and stubbornness.’ Ah. Yes.
Picture books may look simple. In fact, the simpler they look or seem, often the better they are. But there is hard graft in simplicity; in elegance. Brevity is difficult. What looks easy probably took years, sweat and tears.
Eight years ago I wrote my little picture book, the first book I ever wrote. Marjory and the Mouse tells the story of a baby boy, Marjory Vendramini and the founding of the Macau-based orphanage, Cradle of Hope. Over twenty years ago a baby had been found abandoned in a rubbish bin. Rats had bitten him and he was quickly rushed to hospital. Marjory offered to care for the child until a permanent home was found for him and when he was adopted Marjory found herself caring for more and more babies and children. Over 200 children to date, since 1993, within two residential homes – Cradle of Hope and Fountain of Hope. Marjory’s story was an unshakable tale. I lay awake thinking of it. Thinking about her resilience, humility and compassion, the role she has played in changing and shaping the lives of hundreds of children and the way every terrible thing, including the rat bites, had led this child to Marjory’s care. This was a story that had to be shared.
Having an idea – for a book or otherwise – is easy. Cheap, you might say. It costs you nothing to have an idea but often quite a lot to make it a reality. Over the course of a few days I had written the first draft for Marjory and the Mouse. Easy! But then I rewrote the draft. Many times. I explained the book idea to a friend and Cradle supporter, Fran Thomas, who quickly came on board as chief cheerleader and co-ordinator. We translated the english-language story into Macau’s official languages – Chinese and Portugese. We found an illustrator who, after several attempts, was then unable to complete the project. This happened at least half a dozen times. Years passed. Almost a decade. I was unsure if the project could be revived. But after a couple of serendipitous, mutually exclusive events, which reinstated the book as a priority for both Fran and me, it was slowly resuscitated. This round of revival, after the completion (hurrah!) of the illustrations by French artist Mahe Corrolleur, began in mid-2015. We had words! We had pictures! I thought – we must be close now! Cut to over a year later and, as the clock struck midnight last night, I was on a phone call discussing whether Marjory and the Mouse will be printed in time for the book launch. The launch which is on the 16th of October. Oh, my heart. I have to admit – I never thought producing a picture book would be easy, but I also never imagined it would be this challenging.
But Marjory and the Mouse will be published. We will find a way. Fran and I, Marjory, Mahe, Helene, Luis and Joana, generous sponsors and tireless supporters, all of those we have gathered along the journey will make sure it is published. And when it is you will see that it is beautiful. Mahe’s illustrations are bright and charming, the translations have been completed with great effort and care and the print quality will be gorgeous. A book to keep and gift, one to share with your youngest loved ones, a story to help explain that some are less fortunate than others, one that demonstrates that even if you feel small you can make a HUGE difference. Marjory and the Mouse is a simple but heartfelt story with illustrations that are darling and uncomplicated. Hopefully it will all appear very easy. When in fact it was anything but.
Marjory and the Mouse Book Launch – An invitation to all Fork & Fiction followers:
Date: Sunday, October 16, 2016
Time: 15:00 – 16:00
Venue: Orient Foundation Praca Luis de Camoes, 13 Macao
RSVP: Please indicate your attendance by Friday, October 7, 2016, and let us know if you wish to bring family members or children with you. Please contact Ms Fran Thomas or Ms Melie Ruston; email: email@example.com or telephone: (853) 6684 1718
We would love to see you there!
* With warm, heartfelt thanks to all those who have ensured Marjory and the Mouse became more than an idea; who have been generous and thoughtful and tirelessly determined. Including, but not limited to: Marjory Vendramini, Fran Thomas, Helene Wong, Timothy Ma, Joana Vann, Luis Pereira, Mahe Corolleur, Kylie Rogers and Melie Ruston. Your efforts have made an enormous difference. Thank you for your stubbornness! *
September 28, 2016
Finally, the third installment of my sauce/dressing series. (One and two here.) This one is less leafy salad condiment and more noodles/rice/stir-fried veg enhancer. It’s peanutty and sharp with lime and fragrant with cilantro. If you like it a little heavy on the garlic it has a nice punch of heat when you first make it, but that will mellow over time (I’ve kept this in a jar in my fridge for weeks and it’s still good). It’s great for dipping things in, for tossing with rice or egg noodles or in a bowl of jasmine rice and Asian greens. We love the broccoli-yam combo around here.
And it’s so, so easy. If you like a bigger kick of heat, you can add your hot sauce of choice, or red chile flakes.
Lime-Spiked Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Rebar Modern Food and Bon Appetit
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 if you like it less garlicky)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
juice and zest of one lime
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce (use low sodium if you want)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
In a food processor or blender, add everything together and process well to a smooth sauce. I always taste and adjust seasonings accordingly–sometimes I need more lime, sometimes more soy sauce.
September 21, 2016
Who else finds it almost impossible to choose just one dish for brunch? Or, more specifically, who else finds it impossible to choose either a sweet dish or a savoury dish? (I’m looking at you Ria Voros) What you need is a brunching partner that will allow you to have your choice of both savoury and sweet dishes and then halve them, with the skill and deliberation of a neurosurgeon, to provide you with the perfect, two course, mixed meal. Or you could stay at home and make your own. Which is exactly what I did last weekend.
As a belated birthday catch up I invited a few friends over for brunch and resolved to make the two courses I’d order if given the chance. First course – barbecued corn fritters with bacon, avocado, roasted tomatoes and creme fraiche (plus an incredible sweet + tart homemade plum sauce my friend brought with her. Love you, KatiePo). Second course – whiskey, caramel and prune brioche pudding, cooked in a cast iron skillet and served with custard and poached fruit.
Poaching fruit is a little fiddly but ultimately super-easy and almost foolproof. If I can do it you absolutely can. To get my poach on I had to work with the good lookin’ winter fruits available, which led me down a path of finding and tweaking recipes for poached pears and tamarillos. Just to reinforce the food in pairs / dichotomies theme – one turned out spiced and rich and crimson, the other sweet, fragrant and blonde. The Snow White and Rose Red of poached fruit. I regularly seem unable to settle on one flavour – check out these two chocolate recipes – poached fruit is clearly no exception.
Boozed Tamarillos with Brown Sugar and Spices
(Ingredients in bold)
September 14, 2016
I think I told you a long time ago about our old plum tree and how it suddenly and miraculously started bearing fruit (singular, because we only got one) after we’d assumed it was a dud. Well, this year I can report the most bumper crop yet: a whole twenty plums (!) and all of them delicious. That’s what you see in the above photo, but for the recipe below, I got extra help. A good friend of mine is blessed with the most fecund plum tree ever (she might see it as being cursed because she doesn’t care for Italian plums), and a few weeks ago I brought home a huge, heavy bag full–a beneficial situation for both me and her.
So, of couse I had to bake with them, and this is the recipe I make every year, no matter what, with Italian plums. It is September. It is the best part of cake + plums, which = so much yummy. I urge you to make it, either now or in six months, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, and eat it with softly whipped cream or on its own, outside, in the fading light of later summer.
Italian Plum Cake
Adapted from Menus from an Orchard Table
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 vanilla bean, sliced open and scraped of seeds
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
about 20 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
vanilla sugar to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a nine-inch baking pan. I use one normal layer-cake pan, but springform works as well.
Cream the butter and sugar until light, then add the eggs and vanilla seeds scraped from the vanilla pod. (You can also substitute 1 tbsp vanilla extract if you don’t have a bean). In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Slowly add to the creamed mixture and combine well. Scrape the batter into the pan with a spatula and smooth it flat. Stand the halves of the plums in the batter, pushing them down so they stick out about a third above the surface. I like to start at the outer edge of the pan and make a circle, then a smaller circle inside that, and so on until I’ve reached the middle. Make sure the plum halves don’t actually touch each other, but otherwise they can be pretty close together. Sprinkle the cake with the vanilla sugar, or if you’d rather, a 50/50 sugar and cinnamon mix.
Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of the cake (not a plum!) clean. Cool on a rack until the edge shrinks back and you can run a spatula or knife around the edge. I cut and serve mine straight from the cake pan using a non-metal knife, but if you want to have prettier presentation, bake the cake in a springform pan so you can put it out on a plate with lavender springs or mint leaves or gold leaf. Just kidding. Maybe.