Food Memory: Linzer Torte

Oh, the food rapture! How do I say that in Italian?! I was inspired by how you transported me to Italy (in Sydney) and stuffed me full of gnocchi and I had to come up with my own food-filled, nostalgic ramble. So here goes.

Aren’t food memories the most quality memories you’ve got? Taste and smell are so interlinked that I’d throw smell memories in there too, both the lavender field and the pig sty, even if that seems nasty. It just makes sense to me.

So I thought I’d tell you a little story about a food memory that’s been on my mind lately, pardon the pun. It’s our wedding anniversary this time of year and that got me thinking about the event itself, four years ago.

And what I mean by that is, the food. Specifically, the cake. Are you surprised? Of course not. You know cake is my favourite food group. So we had some lovely cupcakes that were cute and delicious and perfect for our backyard wedding. I can’t pass by a cupcake without eating it, so let’s just say I rushed through the meal to get to them.

But the night before, we had Linzer Torte. Cue memory.

As long ago as I can remember, it has been my favourite: Raspberry jam encased in a hazelnut, clove and lemon zest-scented pastry, latticed so that the jam shines like rubies in deep brown lacework. Softly whipped, room temperature cream dolloped on top. Plates passed around to guests first, so that my mouth waters with each passing slice. We use the long-tined forks that are family heirlooms and somehow make eating better. We take it outside if it’s summer—robins calling in the trees around the garden. If it’s winter we eat around the dining room table and the torte fills our conversation. Plates are scraped clean. I always ask for another piece.

Naturally, for our wedding, I just wanted a table full of desserts, never mind the main course. Clearer heads prevailed, but I got two wedding cakes—the cupcakes, and my mother’s Linzer Torte. There wasn’t enough for the actual wedding day, so we ate the lovingly-prepared tarts the night before, as we relaxed after setting up all the tables and chairs in the garden. Warm August night, hummingbirds buzzing our heads, somewhere, a jazz song on the radio. Raspberry jam and hazelnut curling around each other perfectly.

Linzer Torte

This is the recipe that my mother uses and it comes from one of those tourist cookbooks you pick up at the train station or souvenir shop. I’d be ashamed that it doesn’t come from my great-great grandmother if it weren’t so damn tasty. Pedigree isn’t everything, clearly.

I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer for ease and speed.

250 g unbleached flour

250 g ground hazelnuts

250 g butter

250 g sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

a pinch of salt

zest of one lemon

about 250 ml raspberry jam

Mix together the flour, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, then add the hazelnuts and lemon zest. Add the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together. Leave to rest for an hour in the fridge.

Roll out two-thirds of the dough to line a tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom and fluted edges works best). You also can skip the rolling and pat the dough into the pan, pressing down firmly and creating a raised edge to contain the filling. Fill the tart with raspberry jam. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into long strips. Lay the strips on top of the jam to form a lattice. For help with this pattern, go here. Bake at 350F until golden brown on top. I’d guess 35-40 minutes. Austrian recipes are notorious for not giving specific (and helpful) times and instructions. Let cool before unmolding. Serve at room temp with whipped cream and long-tined forks.

Let’s do more of this! What food memory makes you weak with longing? I’d love to hear about it.

(Linzer torte photo credit: Mark Walsh)


Gnocchi, mi amore.

Bonjourno Amica Mia!

I’m taking you to Ferragosto today.

Ferragosto? A fabulous Italian tradition celebrating harvest, summer, August and eating. Oh yes. Clearly we are in the wrong hemisphere for all that summer and harvest business so over here it’s all about donning your jackets, whacking the kidlets into the stroller and heading to a local street fair. Hey, if there’s food and flags and music involved, I’m there. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before but I am cuh-raaaze-y about a festival. My heart and flags a-fluttering…

First we wandered past the cooking demonstration (porchetta and something. Oh the smells!), resisted the gingerbread stall (not easy) and quickly whisked Matt around the corner to where espresso was being sold. A curly-haired fella was playing the accordion and men were surveying a display of Italian cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini…lots of standing around, lip-biting and getting lost in fast-car-driving fantasy. Then there was this guy. Vehicle of choice? Gondola…

I bought a selection of biscotti (orange and almond, hazelnut, chocolate chip) which we ate later with cups of tea. Soft, chewy interiors, dusted with icing sugar, satisfyingly nutty in flavour. Hmmmmmmmm…  And then. This:

It’s probably worth explaining that I am a bit doolally la-la about gnocchi. I know gnocchi can be a bad experience; slippery and stodgy, sticking in that not great way to the roof of your mouth. As far as “pasta” goes it may be the equivalent of the girl with the curl on her forehead. When it’s good it’s very very good and when it is bad it is horrid. I took it as a pretty good sign that this gnocchi was being made fresh, in front of my (adoring) eyes by three Nonnas who seemed convincingly deft and unfazed. I watched as the dough was rolled…

Then cut (into tooth fairy sized pillows)…

Then, finally, quickly boiled and topped with either pesto or tomato sauce. I got so distracted I ordered a drink and promptly forgot it because I was too busy being in luuuuurve with my plate of gnocchi. I guess that was my $3 drool fee. I do that sometimes, get all food-flustered. Here I am, in seventh heaven…

So simple, so fresh, so…molto delizioso!! I first tasted gnocchi in a previous life, working as a waitress in my University town of Hamilton, NZ. The restaurant I worked in served it up with a peanut based sauce that was, well, weirdly yummy. I am yet to attempt making (potato) gnocchi from scratch. I know, I know, embarassing (Ria, I can hear you tutting from here!! Don’t hate me! ;-)) But, I did try out this stellar recipe – ricotta gnocchi – and it was most sensational thank you Gourmet Girlfriend.

And so it was with bellies full of gnocchi, scarves slung around necks, smiles from ear to ear, B1 jazzed up on donuts, B2 doing her thang in the stroller (snoozing, bless her cotton sox) and Matt and I giving each other happy little glances (because we both love food as much as each other) we strolled the rest of Five Dock’s Ferragosto and celebrated a European festival in a most Southern hemisphere way.

[PS. Apologies for any atrociously incorrect Italian. Does enthusiasm make up for errors? Spero di si!]

Chopped Garden in a Bowl

Not sure what the title of this post actually evokes–maybe a slasher film? Rest assured there are only vegetable corpses…

We have an overabundance of vegetables right now. And an overabundance of heat. I know it’s not even-the-kangaroos-are-sweating Australian heat, but you know how when you’re used to cold and then it gets even a little hot and it feels like you’re being broiled alive? I’m not complaining; it’s been a looong time coming, this summer we’ve got. But now we have beans and zucchini and patty pan squash and cucumbers and tomatoes and maybe some eggplant (Who am I kidding. Eggplant doesn’t like our latitude. It laughs at our puny summer, no matter how hot it briefly is. We have some lovely purple eggplant flowers, and I’m going to content myself with those. They’re probably edible.)

The last sugar snap peas

Seductive multicoloured bush beans

Patty pan, meet sugar snaps

Patty pan gets the chop

The beauties below didn’t go into the salad, but they’re so plump and pleasing, they begged for a photo. Our fig tree is giving us a modest harvest this year, after a bumper crop last August. Also last summer, our late, great dog, Pender, was spending afternoons under said tree, waiting to gobble up all the ripe fruit that fell as we picked on our tip toes. This year, little e is proving to be a figlover too (but don’t worry, she doesn’t sit under the tree getting pummelled with fruit). And so the circle of life and death continues. With figs for everyone.

So, about that fennel. Have you seen this cool site dedicated to it? I found some interesting recipes there. But not so many dessert ones. So I found this recipe for ice cream, but it only uses the seeds (which are great; I’m not knocking them). This fennel and apple cake with rose icing sounds amazing, don’t you think? So that might be my next fennel adventure when I have, oh, a few unstructured hours on my hands. Shelve it with ‘get a pedicure’ and ‘go to the dentist’.

On another, but related (tasting) note, I’ve become re-enamoured of the world of liquorice. I was never a huge fan of the cheap black stuff, but on a  recent trip to Saltspring Island I found a guy who imports dozens of kinds of liquorice. And it’s delicious! I’m so sad I won’t be back there for at least a year. I may have to do some online ordering. Have you had the white ‘chalk’ liquorice (funnily enough, called school chalk)? It’s delightful. And they carry Australian liquorice too–whatever that means. Clearly I’m a newbie to the world of fine liquorice producers.

We are off to the Mainland soon for some fun in the City and the Coast Mountains. Also known as eating our way around town. I’ll let you know if anything especially delicious is encountered!

A Winter’s day

So, what is Sydney like in winter? That is a good question. If today is representative it is warm, clear and I was hot wearing jeans. I know, right, what a show-off city?! It’s not been a great winter here, according to people that are more local than I, which means it’s been chillier than expected with more rain. But to me it’s dry and sunny, not really a winter at all. My niece, who is from Queensland, thinks it is bone-achingly cold. I pointed out that it might be cool(-ish) but we’ve not had rain for days. She looked at me as though I was a bit mad. No rain? So what? Don’t worry, I’ll take her to British Columbia one day when she is a bit older and  has packed some rain boots….

B1 and the blue skies of a Sydney winter.

And what do people do in winter? Well, today we walked along the foreshore to a local market, each pushing a babe-ette in a stroller. We stopped at a playground so that B1 could shriek and chase an Ibis (or two, “crowd” is the official collective noun. Sidenote: don’t you just love collective nouns?), pointed out sun-baking lizards on the path and made room for enthusiastic families spending their morning cycling together. Then my sister-in-law, husband and two kids picked up Matt and B1 and took them for a spin on their boat. They’d spent the morning at the Sydney fish market and had bought us a huge bag of oysters and prawns. We washed it all down with cold Tsingtao, a tradition from our Macau days. As for B2? She took it all in stride, she’s been napping most of day, oblivious to Sydney sunshine or big-beaked birds or boats or beers.

Seafood feast.

B1 eyes up the Tsingtao…

Well, the city might not really “do” a cold winter, but after all the glorious summery-ness of this morning’s activities and food I am now pretending it is a winter’s evening. I am writing to you with a big portion of hot rice pudding next to me. I’m not sure if you like rice pudding but last night we had thai takeout and therefore a ridiculous amount of leftover, cold, hard rice (eeeuuurgh) and I suddenly thought….rice pudding! Hmmmm! I used this recipe and switched raisins for cranberries (must have been thinking of Canada..) and it is yummy mcyummy.

Now, a final food question for you – what to do with fennel? I bought a bulb the size of my head for 99 cents and now I need to use it. Ideas? Did you find a fennel dessert recipe in the end?

HUGS, Hannah

PPS. Clearly, as you can tell, I too procrastinate with food. It could be worse, couldn’t it? I like your point about “feeding your family”. Now I am seeing it as a useful bad habit. Perhaps not a bad habit at all. Perhaps even slightly virtuous (okay, now I’m pushing it…). I’m off now to read your link about writer’s procrastination. Instead of writing. Procrastinating by reading about procrastination. Now that’s a new one.

Procrastination Nation

Okay. The Big P.

No, it’s not just you: fear is a huge part of my Procrastination too. Pretty much every writer I know has a sometimes-crippling Fear of Sucking. My personal view on this is that as writers we are innately sensitive and emotional and that our egos take a beating from this fear. The very thing that makes us good writers—the ability to create emotion and relationships and characters who readers care about—also makes us susceptible to Fear of Sucking. And if we feel this fear even in a small way, procrastination is a great short term coping mechanism.

I’ve read some great things about writer’s procrastination lately, but sadly, reading these things doesn’t seem to make the habit go away. It just makes me feel less isolated in my habit. In fact, you could argue that reading how great writers who have published a lot of stuff also battle this demon is an enabler for the rest of us. Hey—if [insert author’s name] succumbs to it, it’s okay for me to. I guess the biggest thing, though, is to come out the other side and finish your work. Even if it takes a little longer. I’m a stickler for writing deadlines—I abhor going over them. So really, it’s only the middle of the process that sucks (the middle, in my mind, is an ocean I am adrift in—maybe on a tiny raft—and there is no land in sight, no seabirds, no rescue boat, just water that might as well be a desert. How the hell am I supposed to get to somewhere from here? What the hell was I thinking starting this journey/novel? Why didn’t I bring more drinking water?).

I agree with you–laundry sometimes sounds like a fantastic idea when I’ve got untold pages to edit or write. There’s safety in achieving these small tasks—mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom (normally, ew!), and of course, making lots of stuff in the kitchen. This is my worst place for procrastination. But I think I know what’s going on: I’m fairly confident that my production in the kitchen will be successful (and feed my family, which always makes me feel good), so if I’ve squandered an hour of writing time by making chocolate zucchini cupcakes, at least I have something delicious to show for it. Right? Oh, that is such a trap. I actually think it’s why I’m a pretty good cook. It’s a by-product of (not)writing.

So, yes to small goals, as you suggest. I find that works for me too and keeps me from pulling out my stand mixer every time the going gets tough on the page. Sometimes it’s get to the end of the page, or the paragraph, sometimes it’s get to the end of the chapter. I find once I’m in the home stretch of a book, my productivity skyrockets. I’m through the ocean-desert and there’s land in sight!

And yes to your take on sacrifice. We have husbands and kids and friends and other commitments and you’re right, something has to give. I hate sitting at my computer for the third hour and having to tell DH when he pops his head into my office, suggesting a movie, that I have to finish this chapter. He’s supportive of my work and also a pretty nice guy to be around, so I feel guilty. And sometimes I do give in. But mostly I know it’s going to have to happen this way in order for me to be a writer. I’m dreading the years when little e comes in asking for a story or for me to take her to the park or just play on the floor, and I’ll have to make a decision. I see myself choosing her, because of course she’s the priority, but what does that make my work? Where do we draw the line?

Enough rambling. Here’s some garden.

Question for you: What’s really really awesome about Sydney in the winter? I still have a hard time a) imagining it being winter in August and b) imagining it being cold in Australia. So bust open my stereotypes!

Fear (and parentheses).

Dearest Ria,

I am so jealous that you are right now on Saltspring Island and it is summer where you are. If I didn’t like you so much I’d be sulky. Hey, if you get a chance check out Bruce’s Kitchen, yummm… I have such wonderful memories of Saltspring and Foxglove Farms. I’m going to attach some of my old Saltspring photos, just to be nostalgic.

Barn at Foxglove Farms.

Blooms at Saltspring market.

Dessert pizza! It’s the best! My niece and I went to town making dessert pizza one night, quite spontaneously – stewed apple, brown sugar and butter, vanilla ice-cream accompaniment. Crispy, caramelly, delicious. As for hoarding rhubarb, I would too. I HEART rhubarb. {By the way, do you think this letter exchange is just going to be us constantly agreeing with each other about how much we HEART food?? Hmmm. Probably. I’m not complaining…}

Speaking of HEART-ing things…I HEART parentheses! I am a total parentheses addict. I don’t know why. I guess I must speak in parentheses too as  I’m not a very sequential sort of a person (especially when excited) and I like to side-track into all sorts of interesting (to me) and related (pfff! only just) information. Seriously, how can a person not adore parentheses? You will never hear me bemoan any overuse of them, don’t you worry for a second, my friend.

So….did you notice what I left till last? Procrastination. What I would love to do right now is rattle off a list of helpful tips. I would like to say that I have battled the demon and won. I would like to give you a how-to-(kick-it-in-the-butt)-guide. I would like to… Okay, you get the picture. Procrastination plagues me. Having two children instead of one has not made a lick of difference to this particular beast. It’s a strange thing because I love to write and even when it is hard / challenging (let’s face it, sometimes it SO is) it is still so rewarding and it really gives me a great sense of purpose and satisfaction. So why not leap right to it, instead of doing other things that are far less fulfilling?? The laundry, for example. I don’t have an answer. Sometimes I wonder if it is exactly because of those things I have described above and us gals have a hard time putting ourselves and our needs first; or thinking that our work is “good enough” (fear and procrastination are good buddies, I’ve discovered). Of course the only good tip is to “just do it”, as they say in the footwear business. But sometimes I find it pays to trick yourself into making a small goal like a certain number of words to generate or chapters to edit per day. I like the expression – The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Terrible quote to offer to a vegetarian, but you get the idea – set a tiny target for a big job and you’ll be more likely to achieve it, not feel so daunted and start to build up momentum. The other thing I battle with is the idea of sacrifice. You can’t do everything. If writing is a priority then something else will inevitably have to drop off the list. Again, something I think us women have a hard time accepting. We’re like to be all-rounders! We wanna get it all right! Well, sometimes your house is going to have to look like a pigsty or dinner is take-out (seven nights in a row…) or you don’t get to have a shower today, if you really, really, really want to write. It’s worth it, but it’s hard to accept. But, finally, back to fear. Don’t you think that it is the main reason we procrastinate? We just aren’t convinced that what we will create will be any good? I’d be keen to hear your musings on this. Is it just me?

Speaking of garden updates, have you heard of the Secret Garden installation in Milan by Paola Navone? Strange blue pods (constructed of 11,000 painted hazelnut branches) filled with hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers. Visitors are guided to the pods through “Orto Botanico” by little blue figures holding aloft red lampshades! Bizarre and mezmerising; check it out. I’ve just spent a good few minutes looking at the photos and daydreaming about trips to Italy. Now that’s just the kind of thing that might  be considered procrastination…

HUGS, Hannah x

Wherein There is Pizza

My Dear Hannah,

Since you mentioned the Olympics I’ve been thinking about my attachment to them and how it’s changed in the last few years. I’ve always really enjoyed watching the events, but this time around, I still haven’t watched any of the Opening Ceremonies or even a second of other coverage, and I attribute this to not having cable (and until recently, no TV). Which is silly because we can get all the coverage we want online, but I just don’t go searching for it when there are raspberries to pick, a baby to make faces with and pizzas to make (see below). I do feel guilty for not knowing anything about the medal standings, who’s gone home disgraced or what underdog won gold in what event. That is good stuff! I guess it’s a shift in priorities, but that doesn’t fully explain why I willingly google the evolution of teeth and dessert recipes for fennel in my free time. If that, why not the high jump final? I was never a terrific athlete in my youth either, and I had a love-hate relationship with playing team sports that made me much more comfortable watching than partaking. So I do love an exciting soccer game or relay race. It’s a bit of a mystery why I’m such a lousy Olympic spectator this time. I’ll consider it my homework to get in some quality Olympic coverage and report back to you. I’d love to see some water polo too! And also synchronized swimming. Those gals rock.

Now. Pizza. You know all about the pizza we make over here, so I feel comfortable telling you about the batch in detail. I don’t have to hide my food geekery from you. The other night I got the itch to make it Friday Pizza Night on a Saturday and had just enough garden zucchini and patty pan squash for the topping. And then I ended up with some spare dough and an armful of rhubarb that my mother had pulled from our two plants the day before. (I think she wanted to take some of it home, but I neglected to say she could because I’m a horrible, rhubarb-hoarding daughter.) So I made a quick rhubarb pizza for dessert and now I want to try all kinds of dessert pizza. Apples! Berries! Chocolate and cherries! Wouldn’t that be amazing? I’ve posted photos of the pizza production. Delicious.

Sole en papillote is just a pretentious way of saying sole cooked in parchment paper. Should I just have said that?!

Okay, so let’s talk shop a little. I know we’ve had this discussion before (maybe more of a mutual lamentation), but I need your feedback again. Procrastination. Writing. That draft of a novel that’s due sometime soon. How the hell are you (read: me) going to get it done? (And, how will it not suck, but that’s maybe a different conversation.) I’ve set a goal for myself of the end of August for a draft of my next novel to my editor and right now I’m looking at the calendar and all those cushy weeks between me and the end of the month, but I know that with the baby and summer and work and the garden and Pizza Fridays and on top of that, excellent procrastination skills, I might never make my deadline. Which seems crazy right now because all those weeks! So what’s your strategy? I know you’ve got even more going on with two babes, so let’s get our heads together and come up with some ideas. Please?

Well, it’s late and tomorrow we are headed to Saltspring Island and Pender Island for our first camping trip with little e. I’m anticipating a lot of consuming of minerals from the dirt in our campsite. For her. Maybe us too. But mostly her. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I feel like there were a lot of parentheses used in this letter. Also, I have not delivered the garden update I promised last time. I fear I’m becoming the kind of letter writer who only dangles the carrot (oh, so punny!). How about: unless something much more exciting comes up for me to tell you about, there will be a garden update next time.