Waking up on Monday morning and realising I don’t have to go to work – that makes me happy! The novelty of public holidays is still exciting even though I’ve been in my job for seven months. Instead of being at my desk today, I’ve cooked and gardened and done the dishes and the washing and fixed the chicken door (to their house, not mine) and tidied and played music. So nice!
This is the last of the quinces on the tree out the front. I’m letting them hang like Christmas tree decorations until they drop.
Cheese is probably my favourite food. It’s not really fair to say that because there are so many different cheeses – everything from stinky old washed rind to a mild creamy feta – and I love them all. Having lived in France, the range of cheese available in Australia is a bit sad, but there is joy to be found. One of those happened this evening: I finished my gig, popped into the supermarket to pick up some bread for school lunches tomorrow, and stumbled across a stack of seriously discounted King Island Camembert.
Now the joy here is not really about the price. It’s about ripeness. The cheese was cheap because the ‘best before’ date is tomorrow. What Australian supermarketeers don’t understand is that for camembert it should actually say ‘best after’. Any earlier than that date and the cheese is underripe, like a green banana. This means that all the camembert in the supermarket needs to be matured in your fridge for weeks or months after purchase. Courtesy of tonight’s late night shopping, I now have a stack of camembert in my fridge that is perfect for eating this week – soft and creamy, and if you let it warm up a little it will become gooey. Heaven!
The quince trees in my garden both have a story. They are cuttings from my Mum’s tree, which she planted from a cutting from the old milkman who lived down the road when I was a kid. The fruit of this variety is particularly delicious and keeps its texture when cooked. The Currawongs were threatening to devour all my quinces this year, so I picked them early – a dozen or more giant yellow baubles – and left them sitting on the kitchen table to ripen. The wonderful thing about quinces is the way their scent permeates the house. Its not strong, but fruity and exotic, and a delightful waft hits me every time I walk in the front door.
Today I decided to slow-bake some of them and now the house is filled with the divine smell of quinces mixed with spices and lemon peel. I like to think it’s how a handsome 18th century spice trader might have smelled arriving back from mysterious lands and the high seas.
Anyone who knows me a little knows that travelling makes me happy. France has been my most frequent destination, and Bordeaux in particular in recent years for my PhD research on wine. But just over the mountains to the south is Spain. I feel instantly at home there – it’s relaxed and easy going, Spanish is an easy language, they do siesta, and the food is amazing. I could go on for pages about all the Spanish foods I love (goats cheese, pinxtos, boquerones en vinaigre …) but I will simply share my love of Spanish hot chocolate. While in Australia we have the slushie machine that spins eternally with flourescent orange iced cordial, in Spain they have the same device for hot chocolate. It turns mesmerisingly, making waves of warm silky hot chocolate. Somewhere between a drink and dessert, it’s dark, not too sweet and has an incredibly decadent texture.
I make it as a gustatory escape to Spain when I’m on the other side of the planet and in need of a dash of Europe.
5 tbs dark cocoa powder
4 tbs sugar
1/2 tbs cornflour
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup water
Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk. Add the vanilla and water. Mix well then heat, stirring constantly until it is smooth, thick and silky. For a little extra depth add a pinch of spice such as nutmeg, cinnamon or chilli.
This recipe is more than a single serve, but if you don’t have anyone to share it with, it keeps quite well in the fridge and just needs warming.