Archive | kitchen RSS feed for this section

A New Home

11 Jul

So much has happened since I last posted. Life has changed beyond my wildest imaginings … Sometimes, I take a moment, a pause, a breath – and I wonder… How did I get here? How was I so lucky? There are times when I realise its not luck – I have had a life which, good and bad, has been a struggle in finding my voice and my truth. Now, in my 40s, I am coming into my self – and it is real grounded happiness. I know this: when you live a life that is true to your core self, when you recognise your passion and your joy – then anything is possible.

Since I graduated from Ballymaloe, I have been traveling the world. But I have always returned to Ireland. There is something about this place – the feel of it – that draws me back. I think I may have found my place in the world. And certainly, for now, I have found my cottage, by the sea, and my bliss.

A few months ago, I was in Ireland, doing an amazing tour of artisan food producers. I traveled 4,000 kms in 1 week and met people passionate and focused on producing the most amazing food, with respect for the earth, kindness and presence. Thats what it is all about really, isnt it? I went to see an abalone farm, sea urchins, the incredible and beautiful women at Burren Smokehouse, lobsters, Dublin Bay prawns… the list goes on. (And I will post that journey, hopefully, when I manage to write it all in a way that is not overwhelmingly gushy!)

Not only was I inspired, but I also decided I needed a base here in Ireland – and I found one. My friends agreed to rent me their cottage, in East Cork, by the sea. I am 5 minutes from Midleton town, in an 1890’s labourers cottage, with a remarkable history. When I first saw the cottage in March, it looked like it needed some work, but the bones of the house were beautiful – I could see that. When I returned to Ireland in May, the house had been transformed – and I did a bit of my own personalisation to make it complete.

As I have settled into my home I have felt it embrace me – and have been grateful for the sacredness of living in a place which is truly nurturing. The silence of living out in the country is amazing – because its not really silence. The sounds of the animals, the wind, the rain, the sea, all surround me. The freshness of the air, the clarity of the sunshine on skin … I soak these moments up after having been cooped up in a city for all my life. I go to the Ballymaloe farm and collect fresh vegetables from the greenhouse and raw milk and I come home and I cook and welcome those I love into my space. I am blessed. And so thankful.

So, this my house – before and after. When I first visited the cottage in March 2012, I took several photographs, and once I had moved in – and made it mine – I took another series. The transformation is amazing – almost a visceral, physical testament to the internal changes that have resonated with in me … And the joy of it is plain to see. This is probably the first home I have ever lived in which is so full of light. And oh, I am embracing it! These photos are for all you who have asked to see … those of you who celebrate my happiness and my joy because you love me as I love you. Know that I hold you in my heart and bring you along with me on this beautiful journey…

Outside

This is the view from my cottage in March 2012 when I first visited. The cottage is located directly across the road from the water, which is an estuary that leads to the sea. So there are tides, and the scent of the sea, without the wildness of being directly in the face of the ocean.

View in June 2012

And this is what I saw when I returned in May 2012… amazing how green it gets! And sometimes, I am pottering around the cottage, and I look out the window and I am transfixed by how the sky changes and melds with the earth and water.

And this is what I see when I wake up in the morning from my bedroom 🙂

The front of the cottage as I first saw it! The walls are so thick – its almost soundproof inside, and very warm and dry. The cottage had not been lived in for several years, and definitely needed a little bit of work 😉

And when I returned back to Ireland … it had been given some TLC – paint and flowers and gravel. Amazing how different it looks, and feels. Brighter, and lighter, some how. Just goes to show that a little bit of love goes a long way.

My cottage from the road – clean and repainted, with the hedges newly cut.

This is the overgrown backyard in March 2012. It was so chaotic I had no idea how large the garden really was.

And this is the garden when I returned in May. Its been tidied up – but it needs a huge amount of work still. What I didnt realise is, there is an acre of land attached to this cottage, and most of it is wild. It will take a good couple of years I imagine to bring it back to its glory.

This is the back entrance as I first saw it – an extension was built onto the cottage, and the back door you see open here is used really as the main entrance.

And this is how it was when I returned. The paint colour is “Mucky Swan” !!! I think its gorgeous – and I love my plants out there. Ive added a few roses and delphiniums since so there is a riot of colour as you enter.

This is the view from the entrance of the extension. They even put a picnic table up outside! Its gorgeous on the (few) sunny days to sit out there … pure joy.

Extension – Before

This was my first view inside the cottage! This is the inside of the extension – with the internal door going towards the kitchen. On the right side of this photo is the cupboard which holds the washing machine and dryer. The couches were cleaned and eventually moved to the living room. The hideous plastic table cloth disappeared somewhere 😉

And this was the view of the extension from the kitchen doorway.

Extension – After

This is the extension as it is now. New lighting fixtures, a lot of cleaning, and paint. I found the St Brigid’s cross (meant to protect hearth and home) at a craft shop on my travels. The rug is from India (via Ballymaloe House shop), the chair covers are from Ikea and the beanbag is from Groupon!

Dining table in the extension. Lovely how some flowers and candles can brighten an entire space. What makes it even more satisfying is that most of the flowers you see are from my garden. Who would have ever thought I would tramp around outside and pick and arrange flowers?

To the left of the entrance, Ive also created a little work space (it will have a desk eventually). Ballymaloers will recognise the four compartment recycling bin. I also have a little composting bucket on top of the bin. I found a great deal on a printer (50 euros) at Tescos. The painting on the wall is by Lydia Allen and is the menu for our graduation dinner at Ballymaloe Summer 2011.

Kitchen – Before

 My first view of the kitchen! Its a galley style kitchen – very well organised and equipped. Obviously needed a very good spring cleaning, but you could see the potential. Cant you? 🙂

The kitchen viewed from the living room. Note the little wooden chopping board built into the dividing space between kitchen and living room. I love details like that – because they tell me that this house – and this kitchen were meant to be lived in … functional and clever.

Kitchen – After

The kitchen when I moved in. The “animal head” is from South Africa – made from reclaimed, recycled plastics. The sign on the upper left is an Irish version of “Keep Calm..” which says “Keep Going Sure Its Grand”. Glasses from Ikea. Kilner jars hold raw milk from the farm. Broadbeans also from the farm – freshly picked and about to be eaten!

Kitchen with a new fridge, a sweet geranium plant, new knife magnet, and my favourite coffee maker (Aeropress). I love that the fridge is tiny – It makes me rely on fresh food rather than anything that sits in the fridge for too long. And its really a tiny kitchen – almost as small as my kitchen in KL – but its well organised and very easy to work in.

Double oven (of course) … and my Ballymaloe apron.

The built in wooden cutting board that marks the divide between kitchen and living room. My basil plant – and the amazing print my sister gave me to celebrate my graduation from Ballymaloe. Isnt it gorgeous?

 Living Room – Before

This is the living room as I first saw it in March 2012 – viewed from the kitchen. The front door is on the right. Entrance to the bedroom is on the left.

Living room before I moved in – taken with my back to the bedroom door. Fireplace (and Van Gogh print which I replaced) and view into the galley kitchen. Very faint view of built in bookshelves on the left hand side.

Living room with a view towards the bathroom entrance (next to the built in bookshelves).

 Living Room – After

Living room when I moved in in May 2012 – once it had been repainted and the couches had been restored. Lovely old candle holder on the mirror. This photo is taken from the kitchen.

The fireplace stove with my newly framed picture by David Choe (he of FB fame) … one of my favourite artists ever. I have had this picture for years, and brought it with me from Malaysia. Love it in the living room 😉

Second couch, near the entrance to the bathroom. The window looks out onto the sea. On the window sill, I have placed an Irish Ogham script which says … Blessing. Each time I stop to look out that window, it reminds me what grace I live in right now.

Another view from the kitchen – the main couch, beautiful old wooden table and restored wooden lamp. And a lovely painting of milk cans. Im not sure who its by, but it just fits so perfectly into the house.

View into the back yard from the living room. Note the lovely Penan basket – its so nice to be able to incorporate a bit of Malaysia into the house. And what makes me smile is the even lovelier photograph of the beautiful Z!

Bathroom – Before

The bathroom, off the living room, as I first saw it in March 2012. OK I admit, it looks a wee bit grimy.

Bathroom cupboards in March 2012. Even grimier!

View from the bathroom in March 2012 – the hedge hasnt been trimmed in years!

Bathroom – After

Bathroom once I had moved in and it had been painted and cleaned up a bit – I love the blue and white combination. Clean and crisp and bright.

Paint does amazing things – it just cleans it all up! The bathroom looks and feels pristine.

The bathroom windows – with beautiful muslin curtains from Ikea, fresh lavender and flowers … and hedges trimmed so one can see the water!

Bedroom – Before

When I first saw the cottage, the bedroom was the room that inspired me the most – but also worried me the most. It had these gorgeous – what feel like original – wooden floors. Very rough hewn, organic and natural. I loved them. But the rest of the bedroom needed serious care.

To the right of the bedroom entrance was a window that faced the water and two built in cupboards. The cupboards were quite basic – in very rough pine wood. While they gave a huge amount of storage, they werent exactly pretty!

And inside the closets was not much better … However, at least I knew there was good insulation in the room!

To the left of the bedroom door, was the piece of furniture which made me most happy – a gorgeous sleigh bed frame, which fit perfectly into the alcove. A window looks out onto the garden and back yard beyond.

However, this side of the bedroom also contained the part of the house that most concerned me – a very clear case of mold on the walls and the ceiling. Definitely needed some help here!

Bedroom – After

The rickety old bureau at the entrance to the bedroom has been transformed – by a good lick of paint, and a beautiful old mirror placed on top. Simple things make a huge difference.

And what makes a space a home are the meaningful things which are placed carefully. My Ayah, my sayang Adik, my beads from my Goddess Mother, my stones from Spider and my Laughing Buddhas. These welcome me (and my loved ones) every single time we enter the room.

 The built in cupboards have been completely changed – theyve been painted white, and bring such light into the bedroom. I added a gorgeous Indian rug which I felt gave colour and strength to the space. The curtains are linen from Ikea – I was going to buy dark brown velvet (dont ask where my mind was at!) but thank the good Goddess for Gina who insisted I consider plain linen curtains. She was absolutely right – and I realise am learning all the time!

The interior of the closets has also been spruced up with paint and back wall colour. I lined the shelves with bright blue lino which I found very cheap at the local Co-Op – and I bought tons of blue and white wicker baskets to hold all manner of potion and lotion and bits and pieces. I also installed the pegs on the left, and hung all my necklaces in a pretty row.

The window between the two (now cleanly white) built in cupboards holds a lovely antique tray I found at a second hand shop, and a water colour of a view of the sea. It is soul nourishing to wake up in the morning and look out at the sky and the water. Every day is different, and every day is beautiful.

And to the left of the door, is my beloved sleigh bed. I added a mattress topper I got at Ikea (makes for a blissful sleep), and sheets I had always adored from Muji. A lot of work was done here – they actually rebuilt the wall before it was painted and dealt with the mold issue. And I hand carried this precious Tibetan thangka from Malaysia and hung it as soon as I could when I arrived. It is the essence of creation – the yin and the yang – the balancing of opposites – the endless cycle. I sleep and I love in full view of the ultimate truth.

And nestled on the windowsill, by my bed, are always roses from the garden, and a Buddha to remind me of thankfulness and grace, beauty and eternal wisdom.

My home, my solace, my joy.

Thank you for coming along for the journey. x

What I Cooked Today – and an Apology

17 Aug

Yes, I know. I havent posted in literally months. I was so excited about the prospect of blogging Ballymaloe Cookery School – and when I got there, I was quite good … but suddenly … I was just immersed. Its not that I didnt have time – it was just that there was so much going on internally and externally, that I needed a moment, every day, to just be.

And unfortunately, that moment that I took for myself on a regular basis, would be the moments when I would have, should have, blogged instead. Apologies. To you, and to myself, for not having documented this extraordinary experience as it was happening. But it was so deep, so life-changing that … to be honest, I didnt have the words.

However, I took loads of photographs … and over the next few days, I will go over them, and share some of my most special Ballymaloe moments with you.

As for now … I am sitting in Provence, in the golden sunshine, at the home of my dear friend… and I am cooking in a brand new way. I learned so many techniques at Ballymaloe which enriched the way I cook, and also the way I see food. Nothing goes to waste… a grapefruit eaten for breakfast gets considered, and the peel gets turned into candied fruit. Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs. And raspberries, which were fresh yesterday, but might not be utterly perfect today, get turned into raspberry jam.

Simple Easy and Gorgeous

And thats what I made today. Raspberry jam – dark, deep, so delicious slathered on a fresh croissant, perfect and bursting with the sunshine and the fruit. And simple beyond words.

To make this jam, you need equal parts fruit and sugar. And thats it. Yes, its really that simple.

I had 125 grams of fresh raspberries, which I washed quickly under the tap. With the water still clinging to them, I put them in a little pot, over a medium high heat. They began to sizzle and disintegrate, and I helped them along a little with a spoon. As soon as they became a glowing red mush (a matter of a few minutes), I added an equal amount (125 grams) of sugar. The sugar melted into the raspberries, and I boiled this mixture for about 4 minutes, or until it had “set.”

You can tell that jam has set if a little of the jam spooned onto a cold plate sets into a wobbly sort of solid consistency. You can draw a line through the jam with your finger, and the line stays.

I poured the jam into a little pot (gorgeous isnt it? It was a yogurt pot from the supermarche!) and set it down to cool. And then I decided to write.

I am glad to be back. If you have a few berries, consider making some jam today. Fresh jam is like nothing else, and it really takes only a few minutes.

Be well!

Ballymaloe Cookery School – Days 10 – 15

17 May

What a whirlwind week it has been. So many extraordinary stories and voices, such bliss and peace, laughter and light. When I look back over the posts on this blog, I see the trepidation with which I approached this trip. I knew it would be life changing – and when one comes to that moment in time where all will change, there is a pause, a hesitation. But time is inevitable – it keeps moving forward. And as long as one goes with it, with the flow of experience, with the grace of the universe … change is beautiful. And experience is precious.

So this past week has been intense on a whole variety of levels. We had some wonderful visits from cheese and wine makers, as well as Ballymaloe House’s resident sommelier. We had cooking demonstrations from Darina and Rachel, did our chores, changed our kitchens, and cooked our hearts out. Every day we are learning new techniques. We are being pushed to consider timing and rhythm, presentation and plating. Every day we produce food that we sit down as a group to eat together, and we are truly blessed. And this past weekend, I found myself wandering to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.  And I returned full of grace.

So here we go. Days 10 – 15 in this magical place they call the Emerald Isle, in a little corner called Ballymaloe.

Day 10 – Blessed are the Cheese Makers and Wine Tasters

Wednesdays are always full on theory – demonstration days. And this past Wednesday, we had a morning of cheese making, and an afternoon of wine tasting.

In the morning, we were introduced to Eddie O-Neill, Dairy Artisan Food Specialist at Teagasc’s Moorepark Research Centre. Eddie is a cheese man pure and simple. He is immersed in cheese making and can easily explain the science of milk – and cheese – in an accessible and yet scientific manner. Eddie was fascinating, enthusiastic, passionate and totally immersed in the magic of turning milk into cheese.

Eddie and Darina

We were given a brief and thorough overview of the different kinds of milk, fat content, and methodologies of treating milk. Eddie showed us how to separate the cream from the milk – and from this process, all else follows! He used the gorgeous raw milk from the Jersey cows at Ballymaloe.

Separating the cream and the milk

From that point, we were taken on a whirlwind tour of cheesemaking. Eddie and Darina made butter, yoghurt, labne, buttermilk, srikhand, cottage cheese, mel y mato, paneer, ricotta, couer a la creme and a gouda! It was completely overwhelming, and they would never have been able to accomplish so much without the sure, strong preparedness of the fabulous Emer who was working with them. Once you understand the chemical reactions of milk to heat, to enzymes, to agitation and time, it all doesnt seem quite so difficult. But it was a lot of cheese making going on, and it all looked delicious!

The butter was made with the rich Jersey cream – whipped past whipped cream stage, into butter stage. It was washed and cleaned, cooled and patted into little balls. Incredible!

Jersey Cream, whipped into butter, ready to be cleaned, cooled and eaten! The white liquid at the bottom is whey.

Eddie went through the complex and precise process of making a Gouda type cheese with us. He heated the milk, added the rennet, waited a certain amount of time, and then cut the resulting set milk, and stirred for a set amount of time to release as much of the liquid as possible. It may look mundane, but there was something mystical about the entire process.

Making the Gouda-type Cheese - cutting the curds

And then … before we knew it, it was time for lunch! Wednesdays are the only days we do not cook – so our instructors cook for us. We feasted on the various cheeses that had been made, the first of the new potatoes, and some gorgeous salads (the carnivores also had a roasted piece of bacon, which smelled fantastic, I must admit). I was enjoying the tastes and textures of my lunch, when I looked down and realised how beautiful the colours were, how fresh and clean everything looked. When you are surrounded by such bounty, your body feels healthy and clean and nourished. It is beautiful.

My Multi-Coloured Nourishing Lunch

In the afternoon, we were introduced to Colm McCan, the Sommelier at Ballymaloe House, winner of the Sommelier of the Year award, and our lecturer for the next 12 weeks in the intricacies of wine. He is passionate and funny, and gave us a an in-depth introduction to the world of wine. He introduced us to various white wines – including our first tasting which was an alcohol-free wine! He wanted to ensure that we understood that while he could teach us about the different varietals, introduce us to the rituals and techniques of wine, and guide us through the various established types of wine… our perception, our taste, and our own sense of what we liked and did not like were in the end, intensely personal.

It was a great session, and while I didnt actually drink any of the wine, the intricacies and depth of flavour that Colm introduced us to were fascinating and thought-provoking.

Colm McCan - Sommelier at Ballymaloe House

Day 11 – A Quiet Day

On this day, to be honest, I felt a bit squiffy. I went in in the morning, with my order of work completed, and started gathering together my ingredients. But I just didnt feel “right” and I told Annmarie, my instructor. She immediately told me to go home. Ballymaloe has a very strict policy that if you feel unwell, you dont cook. They dont want students passing on viruses or illnesses to each other, and so off I went, back to the quiet cottage at the top of a tree lined drive. I fell into bed, and slept the morning and through lunch. It felt strange not to cook, but obviously, my body needed to just stop for a moment.

In the afternoon, we had our first demonstration from Rachel Allen. She has a wonderful way about her, funny, quick, and sure, passionate about food, and open to questions and comments from the peanut gallery. It was a pleasure to learn from her.

R & S Cooking Demo

Days 12 & 13 – The Ringsome on the Aquaface

The next day, last Friday, I felt good enough to cook in the morning. I made a white soda bread, a French Peasant soup and a gorgeous almond tartlet with fresh raspberries. The French Peasant soup’s original recipe called for blanching and frying cubes of bacon, and as a vegetarian, I did not particularly want to do this. I thought about possible substitutions, and decided that the soup might taste good with dried mushrooms instead of the bacon – they would give the same smokey note, without the meat. One of the best things about Ballymaloe is the personal interaction with our instructors, who are there to guide, mentor and grade us. But they are also very open to our suggestions, and Annmarie was happy to let me try out the substitution. It worked really well, and instead of chicken stock, I used a combination of the porcini mushroom soaking water and vegetable stock. It was a good, simple, delicious soup, and I was happy with the process.

However, I did not stay for lunch, or for the afternoon demonstration. Instead, I went on an adventure – to the seaside – to West Cork – with an old friend. We stayed at Incheydoney Resort. Its a strange place – it feels like an Italian cruise ship from the 1970’s in the form of a hotel. The food there is dire (as we found to our common dismay on Friday night) but we redeemed ourselves with a meal at Deasey’s by the water in the pretty village of Ring the next evening. Sublime food, wonderful balance, and a perfect setting.

But beyond the food, and the hotel … there was pure bliss. I have no words to describe it so I will let the poets and the pictures say it for me.

Did the sea define the land, or the land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision. 
Sea broke on land to full identity.
 

Seamus Heaney

I watch 
the sea
your hands
the waves
seep into my bones
 
the sky descends
we sleep in blue
 

Eileen Carney Hulme

Day 14 – Drifting Back

Sunday saw me coming back to my own breath, and drifting back into the beautiful life at Ballymaloe. M and I went to an antiques fair where I picked up a tiny silver rattle for my newest godson, and a gift for my hostess in Provence later this summer. We stopped at the Ballymaloe House Cafe and had coffee and lemon curd cake and a beautiful plum tart. I hope we will make both of these during our time here!

Perfect Plum Tart at Ballymaloe House Cafe

Then the other M and I went for a little outing, and fed Ms. Piggy some organic apples and pears. She was glad to see us again, and I think this may become a regular Sunday visitation. Kind of like church, but better. 🙂

Ms. Piggy by the Pub after her organic apple - Happy Piggy

All in all, a blessed and bright weekend.

Day 15 – Monday Happy Monday

And Monday rolls around, and we are back – at school, cooking our passion. New assignments, new partners – I like this rotation. It keeps us on our feet, challenges us to find our way around new kitchens and spaces, and ensures we work with new people every week. R and I are partners this week, and I like his chilled out style. He is relaxed and calm, good natured and knows what he is doing.

On this day I made vegetarian stock, another (very good) white soda bread, a mint sauce (for the lamb that my partner was roasting) and a salad of Crozier Blue Cheese, wild rocket, chervil, caramelised spiced walnuts and chargrilled pears. The salad was stunningly pretty, with many delicious layers of flavour  and texture – salty, sweet, fresh, tart, crunchy, creamy. It was quite complex to make. But it was one of those dishes that offered a lovely meditative space. I spent time on my salad leaves, cleaning each leaf, and gently coating it with dressing. I melted ground spices and sugar, and slowly caramelised toasted walnuts. I peeled a juicy pear, and grilled it over fire. And I scattered petals over the salad and rejoiced in balance and beauty.

Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese, Char Grilled Pears and Caramelised Spiced Walnuts

And I was thrilled with my Irish Soda Bread. It came out beautifully – perfect texture, and lovely deep slashes to let the faeries out!

My Lovely Little Baby Soda Bread

In the afternoon, we had a surprise visit from Niel Ellis, one of South Africa’s top ten most influential wine makers. Colm introduced him, and he spoke to us about the wines he makes, and the importance of handing down knowledge from generation to generation. What struck me the most was the intimate relationship he had with the land, and his connectedness to how it affects all growing things.

And then later, Rachel gave us another demo. It was an amazing array of food – from a lesson on prawns and how to cook them (including prawn bisque, prawns on brown bread, etc) to moussaka and shepherd’s pie to chutneys to mangoes with lime, banana and passion fruit.

What Rachel Cooked

It was quite the spread! And tomorrow morning, I will be making a vegetarian moussaka, a dessert of mango and lime, a brown Irish soda bread, and a spiced apple chutney (the last one in tandem with R). So I best go and do my order of work before I doze off … and wake to another bright and beautiful day at Ballymaloe.

Happiness abounds. All is light.

Cleaning & Organising My Kitchen

5 Nov

Every six months or so, I try and do a total clean-out of my kitchen. Well, let me be honest here, I dont do it alone – my beloved Hildabilda and AngelKitten are on hand to help — and also to take home the doubles and sometimes triples of things I find hiding out in dark places! Without these two, I doubt I would have the energy to tackle my kitchen. Though it is tiny… I can almost touch the four edges if I stand in the centre… it is packed from floor to ceiling with stuff.

And sometimes, stuff gets so crowded upon each other that I cant see or find the thing I desperately need – so instead of taking a breath, and finding it, I go out and get a new one! This drives me crazy. As does the spice-herbs-oils-vinegar collection that sits around and gets sticky and confused and …lets say, unfresh.

So… once every six months, I do a total clean-out. I inspect every drawer, take everything out, and put most everything back again. I assess if I really want something or not. My philosophy is that if I have not used it or thought of it or seen it in six months, well then, its not a part of my life. Its out! And those things I do want, need or use, sometimes need a little wipe down, spices need to be checked for freshness (after 6 months, they usually get tossed), and oils need to be checked for ripeness. Anything I can recycle, I do – to other people, or to the recycling centre at Ikano.

And my reward? A kitchen where baking pans are well organised and stacked beautifully. Where a box of cookie cutters, natural dyes and other playthings sit waiting, happily for my busy hands. Where everything is in its proper place – a baking drawer, a stove top implements drawer, a cleaned up baking cabinet… I am so happy I made another batch of Starry Starry Night Cookies to celebrate! And I invite you to take a peek at my newly organised (well at least for me, in the tiny amount of space I have) kitchen…

And Herbs

My spices and herbs shelf. Finally organised so savoury spices and herbs are on the left, and those flavourings usually used in baking sweet things on the right. This shelf was so full that I could never find anything. I think I had 3 tins of baking powder, 3 jars of rosemary, 5 different kinds of salt. Now I can reach what I need easily, and I can tell that actually, Im running out of cinnamon!

Beautiful Knives

My much used knife rack. Note the addition of my Shun Elite Santoku and paring knives. Oh how I love love love them! I sharpened and cleaned the knives as part of the general clean up today. They are all happy and purring as a result.

Sharpeners

 

My graters, sharpeners and knife guards all in one place! The knife guards and Shun sharpener are from the US. The Microplane graters I could not live without. And Im always scrabbling to find them. Now they all live in one place, together.

Cabinet

My baking cupboard – finally with everything in its place. My beloved Alessi cake stand, my measuring jugs, fantastical bundt pan, and all shapes and sizes of baking pans – from cake tins, loaf tins, spring form pans and pie tins. On the bottom shelf, on the left, is my cookie cutter box – all the different cookie cutters I have collected for years, all in one place! Hooray!

and Timer

The inside of my oven – with my new Oxo oven thermometer which has changed the way I bake – I now know exactly what temperature my oven is running at (its usually too hot) and I can adjust! And my new cookie sheets – they were dwarfed in my sister’s large oven, but they actually act as cookie racks in my little oven. No matter, they make perfect cookies, no burning, no twisting of the pan, smooth even heat. Such joy.

Pans

My rack of pots, pans, wok, sieves, and my brand new and much beloved (I bought a bigger suitcase just to fit it!) copper mixing bowl – the lightest most gorgeous egg whites! I cant tell you how much I love that piece.

Salts

My oils and vinegars and sauces (chili, soy, tabasco, etc). All wiped down and organised. 2 rice wine vinegars, 4 toasted sesame oils, 2 olive oils! Enough is enough – so I chose the ones I used all the time and gave away the rest. And my precious Fleur de Sel and Maldon salt, which I use for cooking all the time, in airtight boxes on the right.

Drawer

The utensils I use when I cook over open flame. My brand new recycled cherrywood spoons (love love love), a couple of silicon spatulas, spoons, pasta spoon and ladle. Now when Im cooking, and something needs stirring, I wont be looking everywhere like a lost duck!

Drawer

 

My baking drawer. Teaspoon measures, whisks, spatulas and smoothers. Electric instant read thermometers. And my two favourite purchases from the US – my red bowl scraper which gets every last drop of batter or chocolate or whatever I am making out of a bowl, but which also acts beautifully as a smooth silicon extension of my hand… and my Oxo Good Grips dough scraper, divider, chopper, flipper. One of the coolest most useful tools ever!

Drawer

And finally, the everything else drawer! My mother’s flying saucer grilled cheese sandwich press from my childhood, my rolling pins, hard cheese grater, and some tongs, as well as my new Alessi pasta measure from the Museum of Modern Art in NY (it was so pretty, I really couldnt resist!)…. all inspected and passed muster by my beloved Kai.

And now, I am going off to clean myself from my massive clean and organisation frenzy! It may not look like much to you, but for me, cooking will be even more pleasurable, clean up will be easier, and life will be happier – because everything is now settled in its own happy home 🙂 … as am I!

Happy cooking!

 

 

Even More Kitchen Obsessions

21 Sep

I have been ill lately, and in no fit state to cook. I managed soup yesterday, but I worry that if I make something, I will pass on this nasty bug to one of my family. So with very little to occupy my time (well, except the Queen Z of course), I have taken to dreaming about my perfect, modern, streamlined, totally organised kitchen. These are some of the things I would have in it!

messerstahl

This knife block reminds me of Starck’s ghost chair. Sexy and streamlined, its truly a thing of beauty. Such clever design. Of course, I know that if I had it in my kitchen it would soon be scratched, splattered with food, and precariously sitting atop something… but a woman can dream cant she?! If I could have a kitchen that would fit a knife block like that … well, it would have to be as large as my entire flat at home!

Knife block by Messerstahl. Dreams by me 😉

with stones!

Talk about sleek. This water pitcher uses Binchotan charcoal and Iouseki stones from Japan. At once earthy and modern, I can imagine having this in my stainless steel fridge. The water is filtered through the charcoal and stones, and becomes mineral rich in the process. Its a gorgeous serving carafe as well. I love it because the charcoal and stones last up to 6 months – when one thinks about treading on the earth lightly and with care, using a product that gives you up to six times more use than regular water filters… well, that just makes me really happy. Plus its stunningly beautiful. I wish I had more room in my luggage!

alessi

In my  dream kitchen, I would have this Gnam bread box by Alessi, designed by Stefano Giovanonni and Elisa Gargan. The kitchen of my heart is brushed stainless steel with bamboo wood accents – light, airy and yet very industrial modern in colour. However, my life is not monochrome, and I would want the occaisional pops brightness… I adore the colour of this bread box, and yet its modern lines are very in tune with the design aesthetic that I love. How gorgeous is this?!

I must pause to admit here, that the kitchen of my dreams will in all reality stay exactly that. I am too messy, too much of a hoarder, and like cosiness too much to be able to maintain a zen space of which I dream. Within two minutes, it would be messy, warm, splattered, covered in photographs and notes, and painted with the textures of my life. I understand and accept this, but in a world where I wouldnt have to do the cleaning up and putting away, I might attempt a streamlined kitchen!

by prepara

These gorgeous modernist tubes hold water at the bottom, and fit into the door of the refrigerator. You can safely store asparagus and a variety of fresh herbs fresh for up to 3 weeks! What a pleasure that would be. One of the reasons I dislike buying fresh herbs is that they very rarely survive to the second cooking… I use them once for a recipe I am dreaming up, and then when I go to use them again a few days later, they are sticky and dying. Its an expensive waste, but this would solve that problem in absolutely stunning style. What I would give to have six or seven fresh herbs at my disposal day and night. And to be honest, at USD$30 for a set of 3, the Prepara Herb Savor is an economical designer friendly way to be green.

profi plus

I love this Profi Plus Bobble Whisk by WMF. Its so beautiful and yet so simple. One of the main reasons we whisk ingredients together is to aerate them – and the bobbles are designed specifically to enable more air to circulate within the ingredients while whisking. Theres the science of it, and then theres the pure aesthetic pleasure of looking at and using something so pretty. This whisk is about USD$30 – but I think it is worth it. I love things that work well and are designed with care and thought.

from DWR

Back in Malaysia, I have two very used and beloved black granite mortar and pestles. They were bought in the markets, and have been used for everything from grinding spices to making sauces. They are heavy as hell, and very comfortable. This, however, is a mortar and pestle from design heaven (actually, its USD30 from Design Within Reach, but you know what I mean!). I would probably keep my black granite ones, but this piece would be on the counter top (next to the ghost knife block). Its simple and yet sensuous. Those curves are lovely, and that pestle looks like it could fit in the palm of my hand perfectly. Stunning in its simplicity, and yet very user friendly.

And finally, a bit of whimsy. This tea kettle, by Michael Graves, from Alessi, is something that I lusted after for ages. I loved its usefulness, and yet its sweetness. Its charming and yet so beautifully made. Thanks to one of my best friends (yes, you, ZaZa), I now own this gorgeous piece. I have to figure out a way to use it in my real life kitchen though… its so gorgeous, I am saving it for best. I have come to realise, in the course of writing this blog, that the best is NOW. So when I get home, I will take it off the highest shelf, where I look at it and admire it, and actually start making tea with it 🙂

More Cooking Obsessions

7 Sep

So here I sit, eating the last of the vegan chocolate cake (man, it was good), full as a tick after a phenomenally good veggie burger from BGR The Burger Joint. Their veggie burger is sooo delicious – black beans, oats, rice, molasses, with a smokey BBQ flavour, slathered in mojo sauce, roasted onions, fresh ripe tomatoes, lettuce, on a toasted brioche bun. Their fries are amongst the best I have ever had – I cant decide between the Yukon Golds or the sweet potato fries. And dont even get me started on the vanilla bean shake … pure sin. Creamy, flecked with vanilla bean, so thick it takes effort to get the good stuff. Full I am, full full full.

So obviously, I didnt do a lot of cooking today! I just ate, and ate very well. And that got me started thinking about some more of my cooking obsessions. I have written before about some of the things that I cannot do without, and I have remembered several other bits and pieces which I really adore. These are the things I take for granted in my kitchen, but which I could not do without. They make my daily life as a cook so much better.

Chef's Mat

I never think about it because its always there, but my GelPro Chef’s Mat is something I absolutely could not do without. This piece of kitchen equipment is used every day, and here in the US where I dont have one, I feel the difference. This mat is used in the most heavily trafficked areas of the kitchen – where I stand and chop vegetables, in front of the stove when I am cooking for ages. Its a very simple concept – a thick mat, filled with gel, that completely alleviates any fatigue associated with standing and cooking for long periods of time. This mat is so comfortable, easy to clean (simply wipe off any spills or stickies) and if anything sharp (like a knife) drops, then its cushioned and wont chop or cut floor or feet.

I love my mat. Its meant to stop foot, lower back and arthritic pain when cooking or standing for long periods of time. Its truly amazing. Its quite expensive, and for a long time, I really wondered if it was worth it to get one. But I did because I am sucker for new and interesting things, and I have never regretted it. Its quite beautiful in its simplicity, but its very well made, with anti microbial additives, so it never gets moldy even if its left without being cleaned for a while.

If I had to give a cook a present that they would not give themselves, this is what I would get them. I cannot tell you how fantastic cooking on this surface is – pure absolute pleasure. It makes standing over a hot stove for hours on end, or chopping a mountain of vegetables over the sink, totally easy. And it does it without me even remembering its there!

Magnetic Clips

When I cook, I often print out a recipe I have already written, and I need a place to put it so I can refer back to it as I mix and chop and saute and bake. Magnet clips, which are attached to my fridge, do the trick. I love the Endo Magnet Clip because it can hold up to 20 pages of writing. I usually have a pencil handy too so that I can notate and adjust recipes as I cook them. These clips are used constantly in my house.

Not only do they hold recipes, but I clip my shopping lists to them, important notes to my housekeeper, emergency contact numbers, calendars. Again, this is something that I never really thought about, but which makes my kitchen more efficient, and helps me do the work I need to do. I wouldnt be without them.

Magnet Hooks

And may be even more than I love the magnet clips, I love love love these magnet hooks that cover a whole lot of space on my fridge. As I have written in an earlier post, my kitchen is teeny tiny. I need to be able to access stuff quickly, but I also need to be able to store it nicely too! I like having things to hand … and because its my kitchen, and I know my own patterns and rhythms, I know that certain things, I want to be able to grab without opening a drawer or looking around for it.

These gorgeous magnetic hooks from ThreeByThree are wonderful. I use them to hang my oven mitts, my cooking aprons, dish towels, certain utensils, and for the big huge strong ones, even a fry pan or two. Seriously. They are amazing. They come in great colours, and are really strong. Useful beyond measure.

French OvenI have many, many pots and pans. I have different ones for different things, and of course, I love to collect them. I have a few copper pans that I have saved up slowly to purchase, but I have to say, my Le Creuset oval French Oven is probably one of my favourites. I found this pan at a Filene’s Basement store in NYC, for USD99, and I carried it home to Malaysia on my lap in the airplane (long ago, when you could bring things like a heavy cast iron pot onto the plane!).

Since then, many moons ago, I have used this pot for everything under the sun. You can bake brilliant bread in it, its wonderful for soups and stews, South African potjiekos, gratins and any manner of pasta. I have used it to bake a cake, and a tart when I didnt have the proper cake pans. Because it goes from stove top to oven with effortless ease, its the perfect multidimensional cooking vessel. Because its made of cast iron, the way it conducts heat is brilliant – even and strong, with no burning spots. I love this pot, and if I had to choose just one, I would probably choose this one.

Frying Pan

But I am very lucky, because I dont have to choose just one! My other favourite pan is my Green Pan. I use it all the time, every day, for just about everything. When I was renovating my kitchen and house, I was very aware of trying to be as ecologically friendly and sensitive as I possibly could. I read that non-stick pans were being reevaluated for their health and safety functions, and so I started doing some research.

I invested in several pans – a cast iron pan, which I love, but which is heavy and can be a bit unwieldy. I also bought a Green Pan, and I instantly fell in love. This is a GREAT non-stick pan – easy to use, very light, and yet incredibly functional. My Green Pan is the pan I reach for when sauteeing, frying, grilling cheese sandwiches, making pasta sauces, just about anything. It uses PTFE free Thermalon (dont ask me, I have no idea what it really is) technology which seems to be less scratch resistant and more sturdy than my other non stick pans. I use less oil and butter, and the heat conductivity is superb. Cooking with this pan makes me happy.for the oven!

One of the most annoying things about having an old oven is that temperatures can be so incredibly unreliable. For this reason, I really adore my Oxo Oven thermometer. It hangs on the oven rack and shows me temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Sometimes when you bake, a few degrees can make a huge difference between burned cookies and cakes or ones that turn out perfectly. Since I dont have the luxury of (or the money for) professional baking ovens, this oven thermometer which only costs USD15, ensures that I get as close to perfect as possible. I bake so much at home that I could not do without it! I love Oxo for all their kitchen stuff – beautifully designed, well thought out, useful and user friendly. Their salad spinner is the stuff of legend, their knives are sharp, comfortable in the hand and powerful, and their storage containers are awesome. But this simple thermometer is useful beyond words.

Santoku

And finally, an indulgence. I told you that I was totally obsessional about knives. Well, I was perusing a sample sale online, and I found this set of Ken Onion limited edition Shun knives. A paring knife, and this 7″ high carbon stainless steel Santoku knife. Look at that handle, imagine how it will fit snugly in the hand. Check out the blade… its so beautiful I could cry. It was so expensive, even on sale, that I almost did cry, but its my gift to myself for this trip. I cant wait to get them, and will write about them as soon as I have used them well enough to know how they feel in the hand… I was just so excited, I had to share them!

Favourite Things (Part 2)

26 Jul

I was thinking just now (when the fire alarm woke me for no fire) about posting a few more of my favourite things. As a cook, I get obsessional. I have favourite knives that no one else is allowed to use, and, for example, I only like using the biodegradable rubbish bags. I only drink Ceres juices (from South Africa of course!) and while I will buy plastic bread, I try and only have organic milk and eggs. Strange, but these are my balances, in my kitchen. Its a pleasure to have been able to develop these choices and learn what balances appeal to me and only me. You would be surprised how much of a struggle it is sometimes to claim my own space. All this musing reminds me of a story …

When I first rented my apartment, I went shopping to fill up my pantry. I get nervous when I dont have enough in the pantry to make at least 3 good meals. Anyway, I stopped at the jam aisle, and flush with that particular pleasure one gets when living on one’s own, tried to figure out what jam I wanted. I suddenly realised… I knew what kind of jam my Ayah liked, my Mum, my sister, my ex-housemate, my other ex-housemate, my ex-husband… I knew what kind of jam was every body’s preference – except for mine. Hell, I didnt even know if I liked jam at all! And then I realised, jubilantly, that now was the time to figure that out…

It might sound like a minor episode, and in reality, it was, but it was also an empowering experience. Shopping truly for myself, and my tastes. For my desires and my comfort. Mindblowing, after a life of cooking and feeding everyone else. I think that is when my commitment to being a vegetarian really sunk in and stuck – because I did not have to do it for anyone else but me.

I suppose the reason I am telling this story now is that this blog is intensely personal as well. I cook what I like, when I like (to paraphrase Steve Biko). I cook to share, of course, and as an extension of my loving for family and friends, but also because cooking is me. And I cook because its what I love, and where my passion lies.

So on to my favourite things. Some may seem very ordinary, but they are indispensable to my kitchen. I couldnt do without them…

Pretty little cheese all in a row

Greaseproof paper / baking paper

Goddess, I love this stuff. I use it every single day, for something or another. Its such a simple kitchen staple, and until I really started cooking on a regular basis, and for my own whim and fancy, I didnt realise how much I used it, and relied on it. I like it better than plastic wrap or aluminum foil because its paper – much more environmentally friendly to throw away (some bits can even be recycled) and much better chemically when interacting with hot, soft, wet or otherwise foods.

I use greaseproof paper to line my baking tins for everything from cookies to roasted butternut. They are a wonderful means of preventing that sticky gooey mess that ends up at the bottom of the tin and that takes hours to clean. They are a brilliant way to ensure that cookies and cakes bake evenly, and dont stick to the pan. I used to think it was a waste to use baking paper on top of a perfectly good baking tin – but I used it once – in response to strict instructions in a recipe – and have never looked back.

I use it to wrap all my cheeses in comforting, organised little packages. I hate the plastic cling wrap or packaging that most cheese comes in these days. Once the cheese is open, the plastic encourages it to dry out quickly, or even for mold to form. I butter my cheese (I know, crazy, but it works) lightly to keep it moist, and wrap it in baking paper. It is fresh and delicious and there is so much less wastage.

I use it to cover puddings or mousse or soups – anything liquid that will form a skin – when I store in the fridge. This little bit of paper (sometimes I oil it a bit so as to prevent major sticking) prevents the skin from forming, and makes me feel much happier than if I were to cover a hot liquid with plastic wrap. I always worry (I told you I was slightly obsessional) that the plastic will release toxins in reaction to the hot liquid, and that would be bad for the consumers (namely me and those I love).

I use it around my cutting board, and underneath a bowl when grating cheese, to pick up the mess, and make for instant cleanup. Oh I love this stuff. Its simple and inconspicuous, but its a staple I cannot do without.

How do I love thee...

Immersion Blender

I have loads of fun toys and gadgets in my kitchen. Ive got my beautiful and deeply beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (I saved up for that baby, and have used her a lot), my Cuisinart food processor, and my professional ice cream maker (on sale, and adored). But the one thing that I have found I use all the time is my Kenwood cherry red immersion blender. I bought it on a whim because it was on (another) sale. I thought, this might be fun to play with at some point. When I unpacked it eagerly at home, the plug point wasnt attached, and I am not technical in that way, so I left it until I found a friend who would figure it out for me.

I didnt really think it would get that much use in my kitchen, but to be honest, its the thing I turn to for most of my pureeing, chopping, mashing needs. I made the most amazing blueberry banana smoothie with my immersion blender – in seconds – and it just liquidised all that frozen fruit in the blink of an eye. I make the densest creamiest soups with it, I mash potatoes with it (they come out like silk if you use a deft touch, otherwise they can get a bit gluey), I creamed butternut and spinach for a pie and mixed them with sour cream — all using the immersion blender.

Its such a simple piece of equipment as well. It looks like a … well, now come to think of it, it could be, to a naughty mind, just a little obscene! Its a large wand, with a head that holds rotating slicers. It operates like a food processor, but its much smaller, and because its handheld, much easier to control. Dont get me wrong, I love my food processor. But in part because of space issues, its a big pain in the tukus to take it out of its little storage space. And once I am done, the food processor involves a lot of parts to clean up. Not so with the immersion blender. You pop off the metal part of the wand, wash it, and you are done. It is awesome. Probably my new absolute favourite gadget. I keep thinking of new ways to play with it…

Hardworking and beloved!

Fridge

When I first moved into my apartment, my landlady provided me with a fridge. Dont get me wrong, it wasnt an awful fridge. But it was definitely from the 1970’s, that particular vomity green colour that all major appliances had back then. It was very retro in not a cool way, and it wasnt very big. I could barely fit my juice and staples in, and I certainly didnt have enough freezer space for more than ice cubes and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. I thank the good Goddess that this indispensable piece of kitchen equipment is par for the course. But when I renovated, I decided I deserved a larger fridge. I think I might have gotten my measurements wrong, or in my mind’s eye my kitchen was bigger than I thought it was, because this fridge just fit. I had to get things built around it, but I dont care! I love love love it.

Its freezer is on the bottom – a clever bit of design, because you dont use the freezer as much as the fridge part, and so bending to check out whats in the bottom of the fridge lurking in the veggie bin, is a thing of the past. My fridge is full of stuff – my vitamins and staples (flour, sugar, salt – all of which I keep in the fridge because of the high heat and humidity here) – as well as food I have just cooked and am saving for friends to eat and taste – or thats waiting to be frozen for next week – and fresh fruits and vegetables waiting to inspire me. It gives me great satisfaction to look into a full fridge – may be its that Jewish-Muslim feeding people thing, but I love knowing that if someone drops by, I will always, always have something to offer them.

My fridge makes me feel safe (against hunger, because as anyone who knows me knows, I could just fade away! 😉 ) and satisfied. When I look in my fridge, I see all the things I have made (thats one last lone oven roasted fig in the centre, by the way, waiting for AngelKitten and Ezril), and I know that I have expressed my love and passion in a way that is distinctly me. I also am inspired. Sometimes I just look in the fridge and think… Oooh, I will make that today! Or I think, I need something soothing and quiet. And whatever my mood, I can always find inspiration there.

Its funny, but taking photographs of the interior of my fridge was a bit intimidating. Kind of like showing your your undies to complete strangers. Oh well, its me, and this is my blog, so fudge it 😉

My Kitchen

26 Jun

I have always wanted a huge kitchen, with an island where I can stand and cook, an Aga, or a big six burner professional oven (or ovens), and a dining nook. I can see the kitchen of my heart in my mind’s eye. And it is fantabulous! Its a place to hang out, chat, eat, laugh, share. Its an extension of my cooking philosophy and my way of living – casual yet passionate, full of pleasure and joy.

The reality? My kitchen is so small that if I stand in the middle of the (possibly 8 foot) square room, and hold out my arms, and slowly turn a circle, I can touch all the edges of the room – the fridge, the oven, the sink and the stove top. The kitchen is crammed with cupboards and storage, and still, there are some things (like my professional ice cream maker, or the huge cast iron pot) which just dont fit in – and therefore find space snuggling elsewhere in the apartment.

Dont get me wrong, I love my kitchen. I know where everything (well, most everything) is, and I can produce some pretty phenomenal food from here. I love it for its windowed view of my garden airwell, for its compact efficiency, and for its double sink. But if you stick more than 2 people in the kitchen, no one can move!

So I thought I would give you a “tour” of my kitchen, beloved, bedraggled, and slightly battered though it is, its mine, and I love it!

The fridge is immediately on the left, as you walk in. The front is covered with magnets – hooks and clips and things I love. This view shows my two favourite – a hook magnet, holding the most awesome pot holder from my sister – its by Annie Taintor and says, “Resentment is the secret ingredient” – made me laugh out loud when she gave it to me! And the second is a clip which holds whatever recipe I am working on at the moment. A useful trick for hands free checking of recipes while cooking.

Above the fridge is the bookshelf which houses may be a third of my cookbooks (I didnt realise I had so many!) and some store cupboards for things I dont use very often. I have a step ladder to help me get up there! I love my Mah Meri Kitchen God wood mask – he protects me and ensures that everything that comes out of my kitchen is delicious!

Going in a circle, after the fridge comes the oven, and then the countertop. Well, its more like a fully stuffed area where all the immediate cooking stuff is. Stand mixer, kettle, toaster. Bottles of olive oil, wine, and home made vanilla essence. My knife rack, which holds my most used work knives, not my obsessional ancient Sabatier which I collect, and take out every now and then to caress. My spice shelf – holds the usual suspects, grinding pepper, white pepper, fleur de sel, Maldon, vanilla, smoked paprika, herbs of various kinds. Its a mess, but its an organised mess, and I know where everything is!

Next to the countertop is my double sink (a lifesaver!) and big windows looking out onto my airwell garden. I love this view, and my gorgeous Tord Boontjie lamp which hangs outside. This airwell is where PutPut and Kai (the cats) hang out all the time (their litter is hidden in a long wooden bench) and it gives much needed light and air to a very small space.

Just to the right of the door leading to the airwell garden (and my self contained washing machine + drier – another lifesaver!) are my most used pans, and my oils and seasonings – sesame, truffle, and varied olive oils, canola, red wine, apple cider, and white vinegar, balsamico, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce. Mmmmmmmm. Delicious!

All in all, a compact and slightly (okay, very) messy space. But it works for me, and its efficient. I would love a bigger place, but until then, this is my solace and my joy – my very own kitchen!