A super chill Canberra Christmas

30 December 2019

On Christmas Day the smoke haze that had kept our doors and windows shut for almost a week cleared, and we were able to go on a long morning walk and open up the house. It was so nice to be out and getting a sense of what everyone was up to.

It has definitely been an unusual summer, a very indoor one, because of the lingering smoke haze and the hot hot days. We normally spend this time of year riding our bikes, going for picnics and visiting the pool so we've had to rejig our plans and expectations. Most of all, we're super glad we moved apartments earlier this year. Even though we didn't plan to move, it's meant we've ended up in a really comfortable place with air con, which has been so important with the current smoke situation.

Anyway, onto more festive things like Christmas food, summer books, movies and a few favourite gifts. We've totally upped our tea and coffee game these holidays. Angie chose this beautiful Marimekko tea pot for us (I knew I wanted a new one but had no idea where to look - she nailed it!), and we unwrapped some herbal tea leaves and coffee from friends. I gave Tony a V60 pour over coffee kit and grinder for Christmas, so every morning we've been reading in bed with freshly made brews.

It's been a very Alison Roman Christmas. I made her seafood linguini for Christmas Eve (lining up to buy prawns and vongole at 6am, which was surprisingly festive), and our friend Sarah gave us a bag of her famous choc chip cookies, which we munched on for lunch desserts and while watching Netflix :) I've also just made the cover recipe from her latest cookbook, a delicious slow cooked oregano and tomato roast chicken (the recipe is on the NY Times).

We've also eaten a bunch of Tyrrells potato chips and Ortiz anchovies (two new obsessions), and this delicious grain salad with pomegranate, goats cheese and sweet roasted veggies. For the first time ever, I've had opinions about drink pairings. We drank Wildflower's golden ale with our grain salad for Christmas lunch. I'm still into sour beers and this one isn't too sweet. I also bought a Good Intentions orange wine to go with our seafood pasta after trying a delicious one in Melbourne. And we finally cut into the Panettone on Christmas morning - we shelled out a little more for this one and have no regrets. I used a Nigella recipe to make very custardy French toast one morning and might squeeze in one more batch before Panettone is done for another year.

My favourite Sunday morning ritual is to read in bed with a cup of tea until I get hungry - which has so far been every day of the holidays. I'm two-thirds of the way through Haruki Murakami's Killing Commendatore, which I'm really enjoying. It has the usual amount of mystery and spiritual activity for a Murakami novel but is less scary/intense than others I've read. I'm also reading The Best American Food Writing 2019, edited by Samin Nosrat, worth it for this essay alone.

We watched Marriage Story, which I didn't love as much as I thought I would. Noah Baumbach movies have been especially long lately. I really liked The Two Popes, maybe for the same reason that I enjoy watching The Crown, it's part historical and explained how the papacy works (I had no idea the pope is voted in!). And after missing it at the cinema, we rented Animals, which was fun and also surprising. On our list for the new year, Little Women and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

I took this photo after we woke up this morning because it was so smokey out that it looked like fog. It's cleared up now so we'll head out for our daily adventure. Still to do these holidays - bake some sourdough (my first from a newly made starter!), make a batch of sourdough crumpets, visit the brewery for a burger, and go indoor plant shopping. Have a lovely NYE!


Summer Sydney trip

22 December 2019

We spent the second week of December in Sydney and squeezed in so much - loads of family time, early Christmas dinners with friends, and Tony's birthday too. Somehow, we also managed to keep working.  Tony was developing some new prints at Cicada Press and I worked out of the Sydney office where most of my team is based. Here are some highlights, starting with a long weekend in the northern beaches:

We'd partly based our travel dates around a baking and cookbook workshop I wanted to do in Palm Beach with Gillian Bell and Julie Gibbs. We rented a cute Airbnb in Avalon, where we could walk to the beach, bars and cafes. I'd never visited this part of Sydney before, so it felt like a mini holiday. Our favourite discovery was a pizza shop with a kooky fit out, dukebox tunes and delicious seafood pizzas. We also loved this laneway Italian restaurant, where an older Italian woman ran the kitchen and the pasta was delicious.

The workshop itself was my first experience of a cooking class and I learnt so much from watching and asking questions. I am a big fan of the Dispatch to a Friend podcast and was excited to meet one of its hosts Gillian, and watch her make one of her famous cakes. Her co-host Annabelle happened to be there too, as a participant, and it was an extra surprise. Cheese souffles were made for lunch, along with a couple of big salads, and it was definitely unusual to be among people with cookbook collections as big (if not much bigger) than my own. And I loved hearing from Julie, who has edited many iconic Australian cookbooks from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion to the recent Flour & Stone cookbook (which I immediately went out to buy, it's on sale here).

Ahead of our visit, I ordered a couple of salads for work lunches along with some choc chip cookies from Kate who runs her own catering company (she featured on the blog years ago!). I'm signed up to her weekly newsletter just because I'm a fan of what she does, so it was fun to actually place an order and enjoy the food while I was in town. They were delivered to my office on Monday afternoon and it was so nice having something healthy to eat most days, to balance out all of the dining out. Plus, it was one less thing to think about during a busy week that was filled with meetings and job interviews.

I've been busting to try this rooftop produce market ever since I saw it on Harriet's Instagram. The market is designed to be zero waste, so you place an online order during the week. It's the prettiest and calmest place to pick up your shopping on a Saturday morning, and we definitely scored a few extra items like excess mangoes and a generous extra handful or two of cherries. It was also the best excuse to have breakfast downstairs at the Paramount Coffee Project. It's one of my favourite places in Sydney because the interior is so relaxing and the food is always next level. 

Our final night in town was also Tony's birthday. A month or two in advance, I'd organised for his best friend from high school and his fiancee to join us (and have enough time to organise a babysitter). It was meant to be a surprise... but I was so excited, I told Tony a few days after it was all locked in. We went to Don Peppino's because Tony loves Italian food and  it was high on my list after hearing about it on Highly Enthused. It was even better than I'd hoped. The food and wine were incredible, the service was super friendly (I didn't even ask for a candle on the dessert - it just happened) and the vibe was fun and low-key. We ate freshly made pasta, steamed fish, peach salad and ordered all of the desserts. 

I gave Tony some Airpods and as it turns out, he chose the exact same thing for my Christmas present. We had one weekend apart (Tony went ahead of me to Sydney), where we both went shopping for gifts, only to choose the exact same thing for each other :) 

We're now back in Canberra and readjusting to our life back at home, which suddenly feels very chill and quiet. We were lucky enough to stay with Sean and Emma, Tony's brother and sister-in-law, and their three kids. We got used to the activities and action that come from living in a busy and loving home. It was such a welcome shift from our usually work-focused lives to wake up and hang out with our nieces and nephew. And it was extra fun being there at Christmastime too, with the tree up and excitement building. We left presents (but not under the tree, apparently it was too risky 😂) and hope to visit again soon.


Hello weekend

20 December 2019

How are you spending the last weekend before Christmas? We have our fourth annual Christmas dinner with Canberra friends, which is one of my favourite end of year rituals. I'm in charge of snacks and there's going to be a chocolate cloud cake :) Other than that, we'll probably decide on our Christmas Day menu, wrap a few last gifts and finally watch Marriage Story.

At the moment it's incredibly smoky in Canberra, which has been the case since for a week or more. It's been scary seeing the bushfire smoke roll in of a night - sometimes completely obscuring buildings and mountains we can normally see from our balcony. It's made me quite anxious as it's not something I've experienced before and because I have asthma. I'm grateful that our house has aircon. I am also incredibly thankful for those fighting the fires on the front line, at RFS headquarters and reporting on the fires too. I woke up this morning and made a small donation to the RFS. It doesn't totally feel like a time to celebrate, but it's also a time where cheerful distractions are very welcome. To that end:

Pretty alternatives to wrapping paper. Side note: wrapping is my favourite part.

Two holiday-themed podcasts I'm excited about - Dispatch to a Friend's Christmas episode (and start of season 3 yay!) and Nigel Slater's Christmas Chronicles.

A fun discovery - iconic Sydney bakery Flour & Stone puts cakes in the post! They're romantically called Gateux de Voyage and different flavours are available each day of the week.

How to spend Christmas alone (plans are key). Via Erin.

Important - don't kneecap your sentences.

Quick chocolate pudding (yum) from Emiko Davies.

Do you follow the Yia Yia next door account on Instagram? The back story is incredible.

Loved this tour of the Canberra apartment 'gumtree built'.

And some food ideas for the summer break, including this big grain salad inspired by one I ate on our drive back from the coast last year. Think pomegranate seeds, big chunks of goat cheese, and loads of fresh herbs. I also wrote this wrap of summer recipes to share featuring some of my fave ABC Life recipes.

Take care this weekend.


Hello weekend

05 December 2019

Hello! Getting in a day early because I'm working a short week and heading to Sydney soon for a cookbook and cake day with Gillian Bell from Dispatch to a Friend and former publisher Julie Gibbs. And unlike last week, I have plenty of things to share :)

Being home alone has meant listening to a lot more music than usual - I'm also trying to limit myself to one podcast episode a day, to free up some brain space. I loved my brother's November mix, which I listened to on a chill Sunday as I headed to the markets and read magazines on the couch.

From the same podcast, this 15 minute classical-ish song is the calmest thing to listen to while sitting in traffic, running errands, baking a cake.

These are the prettiest cookies I have ever seen (mint choc! tie dye!). They're from Bon Appetit of course :)

Jia Tolentino's interview on In Good Company helped me make sense of a few things I've been wondering (pondering?) lately - like who I am on social media and why I often feel self-conscious there. Also interesting, her observations on the commercialisation of feminism (including 'girl boss' culture). I'm looking forward to reading her book.

I've also been listening to a lot of Alison Roman podcasts this week. One favourite was her Salt & Spine interview. Also on my to-listen list, her chat with Claire Ptak on Violet Sessions.

After finishing Queer Eye, Japan, I've been watching Love on the Spectrum, a dating show that follows several young Australians on the autism spectrum as they try and find love. If you're testing it out, episode two has been my favourite so far.

Finally - there are so many good ABC Life summer recipes to share! Here is Emiko Davies's charred zucchini salad with feta, herbs and lemon. It's light and excellent. Plus, how to make homemade fruit sodas - an excellent festive option for non-drinkers.


P.S How is it December??

Christmas wish list

01 December 2019

It's only the first day of December but I'm planning to wrap a bunch of Christmas presents later today. We're celebrating in a bunch of different ways this year, starting with an early lunch in Sydney next weekend with my parents and brother. Presents this year are a little smaller but hopefully no less thoughtful - I've tried especially hard not to get carried away out of panic and sheer excitement. And while I'm making this list just for fun, I feel very lucky to have everything I need already and know this is not the case for everyone. With that in mind, I'm starting with something most of us can give - a donation to OzHarvest, because everyone deserves to eat fresh, nourishing and delicious food.

A small luxury would be a new release book for the lazy post-Christmas days. Top of my list is Olive, Again - especially because I'm 54th on the library reserve list! I so loved reading Olive Kitteridge and am looking forward to savouring the sequel. I'm also yet to read Haruki Murakmi's latest Killing Commendatore. Reading a new Murakami at Christmastime is a bit of a ritual for me.

An Aesop room spray that smells like a forest for when cooking scents linger... which happens about once a week whether it's sardines or steak (poor Tony). They use this one at my yoga studio and it's super relaxing.

The cutest hat for wearing to the markets and chucking into my bag for trips. It's a bit cuter than a baseball cap and more fun too. Plus it looks a little stretchy, which is helpful for my giant head! This PJ set looks lovely too.

English Breakfast and peppermint tea leaves because I'm hoping to wean myself of teabags in 2020 - for the environment but also for the slow ritual of brewing tea. I'm curious about the Australian brand Ovvio organics after seeing Julie Gibb's collection on Instagram. I'm also on the hunt for a beautiful, minimal tea pot - for one or two - but have no idea where to look.

And finally something a little bit fancy - this octopus dish for serving snacks to friends, inspired by Alison Roman's colourful and fun kitchenware.

Hope you're travelling well as we head towards the end of the year!