Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paper earrings for Christmas

A friend sent me a link to a photo of some folded paper Christmas trees, and they seemed pretty simple so with a little experimentation, I worked out how to make them, and with some cut out red ads from a catalogue I made some little ones, just to see if they worked and they did.

It's very easy -- just a circle folded in half then folded back and forth. But light and fun.

Then I found some double sided colored paper, so of course I had to try it with that, too. I snipped a shred away from the top layer of each fold to show the color beneath, and attached earring wires.

Then I made the ones below with a music print and I tried slipping in a slightly larger red semicircle between the fold, and that worked a treat, I think. 
They'd look lovely, I think, hanging in a line on a string but here they are just as small ornaments to hang.

And someone just sent me this link, so I can also send you to a pattern
She's used semicircles for her cards, but I used circles folded in half — it makes for a more dimensional earring or hanging ornament, I think.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Secret of Babaganoush

I've probably spelled it wrong, but you probably know what I mean -- babaganoush, the middle eastern dip made with eggplant (aubergine) and tahini and lemon and garlic.

When I first started cooking, back when I was a student in a share household, we'd developed a taste for middle eastern food from the many cheap and delicious Lebanese restaurants along Sydney Rd (in Melbourne.) For a few dollars we'd order the "dips and salads", which started with a large basket of Lebanese bread hot from the oven and a dozen or more little bowls of various dips and salads — at the time the number of little bowls seemed endless.

It was enough for a meal in itself. If we were feeling extra hungry, or it was a celebration, we'd order the set menu, and the many little bowls of deliciousness were then just a prelude for the main course that followed, of various grilled meats, rice and salad, followed by sweet pastries and tiny cups of thick, strong, sweet coffee.

Of course, I wanted to make these dishes at home, and most of them I was able to reproduce quite nicely. but not babaganoush, never babaganoush. Mine was always too bland, tasteless, dull. I tried various recipes and followed each one faithfully, but was never happy with the result. There was something missing from the recipes, some essential ingredient.

Enter my friend Mae, Lebanese heroine and fabulous person who, before a party one night, offered to come around and show me how to make proper Lebanese babaganoush. Fantastic, I said. I'll provide everything. I made a list and she checked it twice.

So she arrived. All the ingredients were laid out at her fingertips, as well as a cool glass of white wine — it was a warm summer night. I had the griller going for the eggplant, and in case she preferred the oven method, I had the oven preheated, too. These were the two methods recommended in every recipe I'd ever seen.

"We won't need those." Mae turned off the grill and the oven. She lit a gas burner on the top of the stove and plonked an eggplant on top of it. Flames licked at the hapless vegetable's naked skin. Not high flames, low and even. Slow charring, not instant conflagration.

"Won't it burn?" I asked.

"Yes, that's the idea." Mae sipped the wine as the smooth shiny skin of the eggplant crumpled, then blackened. It hissed gently from the cracks.  From time to time she turned the eggplant so it charred evenly. The kitchen smelt of burnt skin of eggplant, oddly attractive.

Finally it was done to her satisfaction and she took it off the heat and placed it in a bowl. "Too hot to handle yet."

I poured another wine and we waited. When the poor sad, crumpled blackened eggplant had cooled enough, she picked off the charred skin. The inside flesh was soft and well cooked. She mashed it with a fork, then stirred in garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and a drizzle of good olive oil, mixing it well but not thrashing the life out of it. She tasted it then pushed the bowl toward me. "Try it," she said.

I tasted. It was fabulous. Perfect. The exact flavor I'd fallen in love with at the restaurants and hadn't been able to replicate. I'd had all the right ingredients all along. What was missing was the smoky flavor that had come from cooking the eggplant directly on the flame.

For me, all those years ago, it was the Secret of Babaganoush and I think of my friend Mae every time I make it. I've seen that method of cooking the eggplants show up in recipes since, but a distressing number still talk about cutting the eggplant in half and baking it in the oven or under a grill, which is what I'd been trying all those years ago. Useless!

It's even better cooking them on a wood fire barbecue, BTW, and utter bliss is to slow roast/char peppers the same way. The most popular peppers to roast are red bell peppers, but for my money, though they're fiddlier to handle and have less flesh, the most delicious are the long yellow peppers — sweet or hot. I strip off the blackened skin and chop them into chunks with my kitchen scissors — inside with seeds and all — add lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt,  olive oil, and the juice of the peppers and let cool. Absolutely delish!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman books

I've been on a Kerry Greenwood reading binge lately. It started when I went to SheKilda, the Sisters in Crime conference a few weeks ago, and browsing through the bookstore, I spotted a series of hers I hadn't read. I've been reading her Phryne Fisher books since the first one was published in 1989 — and there are currently 19 in the series. (And by the way, I'm interviewing Kerry over at Word Wenches right now, and she's giving away a book to someone who leaves a comment.)

But I hadn't read the Corinna Chapman series at all. So I bought the first one at the conference... and ended up buying and devouring all 6 in the series.

They're cosy contemporary mysteries set in the heart of Melbourne — in the laneways/arcades area of central Melbourne, an area I happen to be very familiar with, especially because I've taught at the CAE and also done some courses there myself. The main character, Corinna Chapman is an accountant turned baker, and her shop is on this very lane.
Corinna lives above the shop in an elegant eccentrically designed Roman-themed apartment building, a lot like the one below.
It's a very foodie-friendly area, with all kinds of small coffee shops and restaurants, all of which are pretty good because the area has so many eateries the competition is fierce. Apparently these days it's also become a place for tourists to visit and take photos of the vibrant grafitti that abounds in any unused space. They also eat and shop.
There's also a wide variety of choices, for eating and shopping -- from the funky little places like the ones pictured above, to the timeless and elegant Block Arcade, which has been a popular destination for shoppers and eaters since the 1880s.
Part of the ritual of coming up to the city from the country when I was a kid  — if you'd been good — was having morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms — still a gorgeous place to visit and just as popular now as it was when it opened in 1892. You can see why — and there are more delights inside...
So it's the perfect setting for mysteries that also feature yummy food (it's not recommended that you read the series while dieting) a cast of quirky and interesting other characters, a gorgeous ongoing romance, and some delightful cats.

A friend of mine who lives in another state altogether loves this Kerry Greenwood series, too. "For me, it's got a very Melbourne vibe," she told me, "but it might not ring as true to a Melbournian."
 But it does to this Melbournian, completely. The books are a lot of fun in themselves, but you don't need to know the place to enjoy the books
Though I have to admit it's fun knowing the places where Corinna and her Daniel visit. It's a rare pleasure to read a book set in a place you know well. 
What about you — have you read any books set in your home town?