Sweet Little Siesta

Well, instead of a Sweet Little Something, this week we are posting about our Sweet Little Siesta – a short break over the holiday season to feast, spend time with our dear ones and brew up ideas for next year’s posts. In fact, we already have some great plans….watch this space! It’s gonna be good!

Sometimes being a blogger is scary. On your blog you don’t just share your writing you also share your life. It can be challenging and feel very exposing. Our idea behind this blog is to write as though speaking with a close friend. We open our hearts and share our lives as if talking to eachother as we always have. It’s frank, it’s personal, it’s real.

This blog is our gift to you and your gift to us is that you read it. Read it or “like” it, pass it along or comment. Thank you so much for reading our words and sharing in our stories in 2012. A writer is nothing without a reader; so we give you our gratitude that you stopped by here and were part of the dialogue.

We will be back early in the New Year with more stories, more photos, more talk of food and books. Have a wonderful holiday, a very Merry Christmas and we’ll see you again very soon…

Love, Hannah and Ria x

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The Christmas Cookie of my Heart

I’ve fallen prey to the sentimentality of the season, folks. Actually, it’s pretty true, even if trite. I have room in my heart not only for my family but also for a few precious baked goods. One of them is this one.

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First I must explain the taste experience. Really, this is just a kind of shortbread, but for some reason, that seems insulting to this elegant and defiantly complex cookie. The flavour is a balance of sweet and bitter, married by the warmth of vanilla. It’s walnuts, butter, vanilla sugar. It’s magic.

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This, vanilla kipferl, is an Austrian Christmas cookie I grew up eating and making. You can sometimes find approximations, or blatantly false imitations, in stores, but so far I have not found one that comes close to the homemade deal.

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I need to talk about the walnuts for a minute. You can make this cookie with hazelnuts and almonds too, but as far as I’m concerned, the walnuts are it. It’s the slight bitterness that works so well with the sugar and vanilla. It’s what makes you eat more of these cookies than you ever intended. My friend, you can’t eat just one. I triple dog dare you to try.

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Vanilla Kipferl

(From a piece of scrap paper in my envelope of random recipes that probably originated from another scrap paper with the recipe my cousin uses)

NOTE: You will want to double this. Or quadruple it like I did here. Seriously. I don’t even know why the recipe is so stupidly small.

1/2 cup butter

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp water (I don’t always use this)

1 cup flour

1/2 cup freshly ground walnuts

Vanilla sugar for rolling–about a cup should do it. (I make my own with a split vanilla pod, a jar, some granulated sugar and time)

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar until light. Add the walnuts and vanilla, then the flour, combining just until the flour is incorporated. Roll balls of dough (about walnut-sized) into crescent shapes. Mine usually look like Cs or horseshoes. They still taste good. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for about 12 minutes. Give or take. Don’t leave the house or anything; these can get dark on the bottoms quickly. I usually do one tray at a time, in the middle of the oven, but you could also use the top two racks and alternate them. Prepare the vanilla sugar bath: pour the sugar into a pan with decently-high sides. Once you take the cookies out, you should give them a minute to cool or they will just fall apart in your hands, but you must roll them while they are warm or the sugar won’t stick. Gently put cookies, two at a time or so, into the sugar and roll/cover them with it. Then they are ready to go into your mouth cookie tin.

I don’t know how many this makes. Yes I do. Not enough.

On that note, I wish you a lovely and food-filled holiday. Love and hugs from the North!

Ria

(Vegetarian) Summer Feasts

There’s nothing better than coming home, right? Well, maybe there’s one thing better than coming home. Coming home and having your sister and her husband come home at the same time! Especially if your sister is a domestic goddess, full up on stories of her travels through Nepal, India and Sri Lanka and wants to get her cook on. Okay, we’ll let you…

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We have been hearing all about their adventures over delicious vegetarian food and bottles of Swedish cider; as you do. The weather has been perfect and even B2 seems to have decided to give up on the all night screaming. Phew. I used to be vegetarian, until my husband tempted me with a lamb chop while we were living in China. Vegetarian for eight years in fact. My sister has to be going on at least eight years “vege-oh” and her husband is of the same inclination so when they are around we get to eat like (herbivorous) kings.

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Here’s a trio of our latest feasting: Spiced Chickpeas and haloumi (yet another Annabel Langbein recipe, photo above), Broccoli, pea, mint and feta salad and throw-everything-on-it pizza. The “everything pizza” was a fun experiment because my sister discovered a website which has recipes with only two ingredients. Two! The pizza base was merely greek yoghurt and self-raising flour. Quite bready and needing to be pre-cooked, but fresh and good all the same. I know how you like your pizza

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My favourite of all was the humble broccoli, pea, mint and feta salad. Mum got the recipe from who-knows-where, wrote it on a bit of note paper and forgot about it for years. Until this week. What a little treasure.

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Here’s how to make it for yourself:

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Broccoli, Pea, Mint & Feta Salad (dressing):

1/2 cup light sour cream, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 3/4 cup mint leaves, 2 T lemon juice, 1 T water, 1 crushed garlic clove, salt and pepper.

Whizz it in a blender and pour over peas, broccoli and feta. Like, you know, enough to fill a 4-6 people salad bowl.

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As you can probably tell I’m a very big fan of easy cooking, easy company and easy conversation. To me, nothing says summer better than a huge salad and a cold drink of something or other so this kind of food makes me smile. It’s been so nice to enjoy warm nights with family and good food. Where I am the pohutakawa is covered in red flower, the air smells salty and the sun has a sting in its tail. Sigh.

What is it like where you are? What is the food of the season you just can’t stop eating?

HUGS, Hannah x

Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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Comfort Me with Chocolate

Is that a song? It should be.

Specifically, chocolate pudding, from scratch. I’m not sure what’s in chocolate pudding from-a-box since I don’t have any in the house, but I imagine there are more ingredients than in this chocolate pudding. It is too simple and easy to be ignored. And, as I think you will agree, dresses up well enough to be taken out. The French call it Pot au Chocolat and it includes egg yolks among other things (French things often do, n’est-ce pas?). My version is eggless and creamless except for the whipped cream I couldn’t help spooning on top. And you must do this. It is not guilding the lily. It is putting the lily in the right vase with the right accompanying greenery and standing the whole show in front of a sunny window. Okay?

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Now for the book analogy to go along with the chocolate pudding: comfort reading. Because what’s better than eating your favourite dessert? Why, eating it while reading your favourite, comfortable reading material. I think I’ve made it plain what my words of choice while eating are. But depending on my need for comfort (and whether little e is sleeping) I might read Haiku or the West Coast Seeds catalogue or a YA novel or a graphic novel. And of course blogs–which, let’s face it, are often the most easily-accessed reading material. Those are definitely comfort reading. You know when you just need a boost or a laugh or to read something you’ve already read but really enjoyed?

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Well, that’s this chocolate pudding, too. It’s been in my repertoire since I lived in a basement suite in East Vancouver as a student and aspiring-and-often-terrible writer, which is to say, for many moons. I come back to it because it always delivers that warm, wrapped up love feeling that got me through nights of angsty singledom then and gets me through cold December nights of baby-induced exhaustion now. Just like a favourite book. I’m looking at you, Jane Austen.

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Chocolate Pudding

(adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest)

3/4 cup good quality dark chocolate, chopped

2 tbs brown sugar

2 cups whole milk

pinch of salt

3 tbs cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla

Combine the chocolate, sugar and milk in a saucepan and gently heat to melt the chocolate. Remove from heat once mixture  is uniform. Place salt and cornstarch in a small bowl and then pour a quarter of the hot mixture over the salt/cornstarch, whisking vigorously to avoid clumps. Then pour this solution back into the saucepan. [I often get a few lumps and hate that, so I pour the solution through a fine-mesh sieve into the saucepan.] Stir the chocolate mixture over low to medium-low heat (depending on your level of patience), until thick and glossy. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. I like to use ramekins because it makes the pudding look sexy and stops me from eating too much at once. A skin will form on the top pretty quickly, but you can avoid this by lying a sheet of wax paper on the surface right away. Or just eat the skin with the rest of it like I do. Or cover it with whipped cream after it’s cooled in the fridge. It’s really a win-win.

What’s your Queen of Comfort (food and book)?

XO

Ria

Christmas Pudding Cake Therapy

Ahhh, the sleepless season. I mean festive season. I recently accomplished an international plane flight with both my girls (no, I wasn’t the pilot but it took so much skill and finesse I feel justified using that particular verb) and since then baby number 2 just will not settle. Flat out refuses. Clearly she does not appreciate that after I coped with them both on the plane we landed in a hurricane and my stroller came out of stowage with a punctured wheel. It was awesome.

So, as you can imagine, I have needed therapy. Lots of therapy. Therapy that looks like this:

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That medicine, right there, is my Mum’s Christmas cake. It’s made from a recipe by Annabel Langbein, who is one of NZ’s most beloved cooks. It is delicious. It is so sticky and full of nuts and fruit that I told her it really should be called “Christmas Pudding Cake”. Even Mum, who suffers from practically crippling humility admitted that the neighbours at her neighbourhood Christmas party were “quite taken with it”. Yes, my Mum watches too much Downton Abbey. But truly – it’s a cake to be quite taken with. Or taken by? Ah, whatever. Make it, make it, you will see!

Here is the most splendid recipe. Thank you Annabel. Check out all that fruit, would you? Yummmm. I think Mum might undercook it slightly to make it even more “fudgey”. Served with tea, I am telling you, it can right a whole lot of wrongs.

It certainly takes the edge off sleep deprivation, which is saying something. Isn’t that always the way with Mum’s cooking? Cooking so familiar and comforting it can make the world seem brighter and burdens feel lighter. Of course it’s not just the cooking, but the whole coming home experience. Mum has put fresh sheets on the beds, hung mobiles and bunting for my girls, cleared out wardrobes, made space and cleaned. There’s love in the details. Dad has bought boutique NZ beer to share with me in the evenings, Mum has pegged up an advent calendar, the tree is assembled but not dressed, so we can hang decorations with B1. Little things, that all say “We’re so happy you’re home”. Feeling loved – now that is the true therapy.

Without getting too sentimental (i.e. you know I am going to) that’s what Christmas is about, isn’t it? Love? The heart of the matter which can get a bit buried in travel and stress and hosting and buying and rushing. It’s lovely to be back in New Zealand, watching my girls being spoilt with the same traditions I had as a kid. It mean, it might just be chocolates behind cardboard doors, or silver baubles on hooks, but I can see in their faces that they feel the love in it all.

It makes me happy. Happy to be home, sleep deprivation, challenges and all. With family. And cake. With tea.

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Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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