Good habits return

28 May 2020



I ate a lot of chips at the start of isolation, afternoon tea too. And now I'm suddenly remembering... vegetables 😂 It's like everything's happening in reverse - more and more of my good habits are returning as the city starts to open up. There were a couple of weeks where I'd forget to leave the apartment, maybe because I was so nervous about being outside. Now we're going for walks most days and starting to visit some of our favourite cafes and ice cream shops again. It's small stuff but really nice.

I'm super excited about Movie Night, a way to rent and stream films from my favourite Sydney cinema. Even though I live in Canberra, I often look at what's playing because the curation is always great with a nice mix of indie films, cult classics and docos. I reckon I'll start with either the Ryuichi Sakamoto documentary or Yellow Is Forbidden, which is about a Chinese couture designer.


Being at home for so long has helped me improve little corners of the house. My bedside table no longer has books on, in and under it. Instead it's just a few special-to-me things, some from my time in Wagga Wagga and newer things like a bunch of flowers my sister-in-law dried. It's a nice reminder that things can look good without spending a lot of money.

Most nights I read a couple of instalments of 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith before bed. I've never read any of his books before (and only realised he was a dude a couple of weeks ago!) and the concept for this book is so unique. Originally the novel was a serialised column in a Scottish newspaper. A new one came out every day, which means you can read a bit of the story every day without too much effort. It's been the nicest way to ease back into reading after a long break.

My friend Irini recommended the book after reading the first instalment of a comic series I've been involved with at work. She's also the reason Tony and I became obsessed with High Fidelity on iView. We watched the first ep after hearing about it on a podcast but didn't love it right away - and I'm so glad we went back and kept watching.


It's been super nice to grow stuff again! A friend at work says it's just nice to care for something and I'm finding that to be very true. I'm also loving chef Roy Choi's posts on Instagram this week from his funny pep talks ("Be the turtle") to dreams of becoming a florist.

Finally, some recipes to share. I made Julia Ostro's pasta e fagioli this week and had forgotten how magical it is. It's super flavoursome for something with a couple of simple ingredients. I also spent Monday testing her newest recipe for ABC Life, peanut butter and chocolate blondies with salted peanuts. It's super delicious.

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Seedlings, yoga and takeaway dessert

22 May 2020


This week was a really good one. I've been able to do yoga more regularly (treating myself to a digital subscription has really helped), finish a book and put birthday cards in the post. It's been nice.

In the kitchen, we've been trying to get through our tinned food stash, which has mainly looked like fried rice made with tinned peas, corn and carrots (which makes an easy dish even faster). The lone tin of prunes in syrup has become porridge topping, along with my new favourite thing - bananas grilled in butter.


This weekend I'm going to plant some seedlings for winter - spring onions, English spinach and baby cos lettuce. I bought them from a sweet front yard stall in Canberra, which I stumbled upon while looking into microgreens (this blog post intrigued me). You slide your cash under the front door and pick up a free packet of broad beans on your way out. Aside from the excuse to go somewhere new, I love that the seedlings are grown locally and suited to Canberra's very cold conditions.


We also treated ourselves to fancy desserts this week, something Tony and I used to do when we lived in Sydney. We'd meet in Newtown after dinner, which was halfway between his share house in Chippendale and mine in Lewisham, and find somewhere to eat cake or ice cream. I got a slice of miso chocolate tart with delicious dark cherries and Tony chose the other dessert special, a Basque burnt cheesecake.

And there were lots of family hangs too! I chatted with my parents over a video call and beat my brothers at Monopoly again - during the pandemic we've played almost every week. The game is always fun but so is the video call/hang out. Especially if I win :)

Here are some things to share for your weekend:

I loved Madeline Albright's interview on Death, Sex and Money. It's especially good for the times in a you-can-get-through-it kind of way.

We're making this kimchi, udon and butter dish on repeat. It's fast and super spicy (via Highly Enthused).

I bought some... nice instant coffee, something I never thought I'd be into! I had some sachets from Reuben Hills and they made such a difference when making mini tiramisu, chocolate cookies and a faster version of this coffee and banana smoothie.

We watched The Half of It last weekend on Netflix and it was such a great romantic comedy that ends in a way I didn't expect. It's very heartwarming viewing.

On ABC Life, a satisfying and super quick udon noodle soup from Hetty McKinnon. I love the egg drop in the soup because it's something I grew up with!

I also had the great pleasure of working with illustrator Grace Lee (she appeared on the blog years ago!) on her comic about moving to Japan and finding her feet overseas. It's a six part series and you can read episodes one and two now. There are some very honest and heartbreaking moments coming up. New episodes come out every Thursday.

And a song I've been listening to on repeat.

Catch you next week!

X

Hello weekend

16 May 2020


For the first time in ages, I have plans for the weekend at home :) I made lazy pastries from Midnight Chicken and spent the morning planting some cuttings while listening to this episode of This American Life that recently won a Pulitzer.

We've eaten a bunch of meals from the freezer lately, so it's been super nice to make something decadent for Saturday dinner again. I've been craving bolognese and was planning to make Marcella Hazan's iconic recipe, until I saw Deb Perelman's version which looked easier to use. Hers has one carrot, instead of two tablespoons of carrot.

Tomorrow, I'll make a mini tiramisu because the start of the week is always easier when there's dessert in the fridge. It's also perfect for the six ladyfinger biscuits we have left in the pantry. And I have plans for outside the house too! I'm going to see my friend Sarah for takeaway coffee! And a walk!

Two other things... this week I watched Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates on Netflix and really enjoyed it. And this recipe for chickpeas in a rich tomato sauce is a new favourite comfort food in our house. It's a decadent meal that feels really good for you too.

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One night away (!)

13 May 2020


Last Friday we woke up at 6am, put on proper clothes (and shoes) and drove to Sydney for a wedding where we were the only guests. At first I was really nervous about leaving our home in such a big way but we checked and checked again that we were allowed to travel, talked a lot about what we were comfortable with and what precautions we'd take (physical distancing and so much hand sanitiser) and then started to get excited about being part of a very special day.

The roads were so quiet and I was super relieved to find lots of places to wash my hands along the way (this is sad but true). We made it to Sydney in record time and stopped in to see my brother Zac and his wife on our way to the ceremony. We had a belated wedding present to deliver and had never seen their place. It was a visit with lots of space between us, because of my sister-in-law's work as a doctor. We watched them open their pressie from the doorstep, and they ran to the other side of the room so we could step inside and have a quick look around.


We gave them a framed print of Tony's and a smiley spatula, my sister-in-law handed me a bunch of dried billy buttons and a Devil's ivy cutting in a jar of water. The entire visit lasted less than 10 minutes, and yet it was completely thrilling. Zac and I have seen each other a lot over video calls, usually over a game of family Monopoly, so it was crazy to see his house/background IRL. I was so hyper as we drove away.

We'd originally planned to do a day trip but because home visits are now allowed in NSW and the ACT, we were able to go to the wedding and then back to the couple's place for champagne, lunch and cake. I made a little wedding cake, this lemon yoghurt cake, which I topped with a honey, elderflower and creme fraiche icing and edible flowers. It was a simple and pretty cake that perfectly matched the special but low-key vibe of the day.


We treated to ourselves to a night at the Paramount House Hotel in Surry Hills, which had discounted rates because of all of the shut downs. Because it was kind of on the way, we drove there via the city so we could visit my brother Derrick and his wife on their final night of hotel quarantine.

I'd seen my parents and Derrick's friends wave to them from the street over Instagram and thought it would be fun and a little bit silly, which is my favourite kind of thing. It took a little figuring out, but like seeing Zachary, it was totally thrilling. Even from very far away with a window and several storeys between us.


We haven't ordered any takeaway since the pandemic started (just bake at home crossiants!), but definitely made up for it during our one night stay. The hotel is right opposite Chin Chin and they were offering room service, so we ordered a big bowl of noodles and veggies, which were piping hot on arrival.

We put on Asia Rising Forever, a video concert featuring all Asian artists that Derrick had been working tirelessly on in America. The whole concert is 4.5 hours, and we watched it in three sittings - some at night, again in the morning and the rest when we were back in Canberra. The diversity of acts was amazing, and it was kind of like watching a mash up between Rage and PopAsia, only all the acts were Asian, which blew my mind.


One of my favourite parts of the stay was... room service coffee! I loved waking up, picking up the phone and having a hot coffee delivered to my room and being able to drink it in my pyjamas. We also ordered breakfast from the cafe downstairs, and may have eaten bacon and egg rolls in bed while watching more music videos.

Everything about the trip felt new and very exciting, from the pretty skies on the highway drive home, to seeing family from afar, and being both witnesses and photographers at a very intimate wedding. It was also so different from our last trip to Sydney in March. This time round we spent time with a total of five people, instead of mingling with 100+.


Hope you are safe and well this week! Here's a film snap from the wedding - I had one chance and blinked 😂

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Presents and projects

06 May 2020


I sent an email to myself while working last week, a clear sign I'd hit a wall. It was easily my most restless week to date. But things turned around. There were tiny nice moments, like listening to music while driving in the rain and seeing bright autumn leaves on my way to get groceries and remembering that seasons still change, even though we're inside.

This is going to sound strange but there's something about seeing packets upon packets of toilet paper at the shops that brings a great sense of relief. Like we're at a turning point where things will continue to get better (I'm really hoping for this!).

I've ticked three funny things off my stay-at-home to-do list, growing spring onions from their roots (extremely satisfying), a Zoom yoga class with my favourite Sydney studio, and a pear and blueberry crumble. I've also been working on a lovely project that I've been busting to write about.


I've been making a podcast for two! Or a mini morning radio show. Every morning, I send my brother and sister-in-law a song introduced by a friend or family member to help brighten their hotel-quarantine stay. They moved back from America at short notice and while they were packing and preparing to leave, I hatched a plan to make their hotel stay a bit warmer.

Each morning there's a different host, from high school friends to siblings, new buds from their time in London, and one very special guest - a lead singer from a fave band! I asked everyone to record a voice memo sharing where they are, what they can see and hear, plus one thing they're looking forward to. I also asked them to choose a song and introduce it. The idea was to bring the outside world into their Sydney hotel room.


The morning messages and songs were inspired by this episode of the Soul Music podcast, which opens with an astronaut talking about the songs that were piped into his shuttle each morning, chosen by family members back on earth. The song he remembers was Can't Take My Eyes Off You, chosen by his wife to mark their wedding anniversary apart.

During this time at home, I haven't been too good at reading or doing anything other than working, cooking and being on Instagram - until this project came alone. I started working on it over the Anzac Day long weekend and woke up with a real sense of purpose and excitement each day, as new audio recordings popped into my inbox. It was so good to be editing audio again, I'd forgotten what a wonderfully intimate medium it is. And it's been so much fun to sample all the chosen songs - from K-pop hits to Mozart. There are only three episodes to go and I'll so miss this joyful little project.


In Canberra, you're now allowed to visit one other household, so on Sunday when Tony was busy painting I went to my sister's house to deliver a belated birthday present. It was a short visit but a very uplifting one! We gave my nephew a mini golf set and he took to it immediately. I also got to see my niece's wobbly tooth IRL and see their hermit crabs in action.

At the moment I'm watching Mindy Kaling's Never Have I Ever on Netflix and loving it. I'm strangely into teen dramas at the moment and also caught up on All The Boys I've Loved Before. I'm excited to watch the sequel and another movie with a Asian main character, The Half of It. I'm totally going to watch the Netflix adaptation of Michelle Obama's Becoming too.

And I must've turned a corner because I'm reading a book again and really enjoying it. After listening to Gabrielle Hamilton's much talked about NY Times essay, I downloaded her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. It's a wonderful read, full of adventure and action.

I hope you're going ok wherever this finds you. Things that've helped me this week - exercise and fresh air for energy and good sleep, and salad. I'd completely forgotten about salad, even though I used to eat some version of it for lunch every day at work. On that note, this is a lovely dinner that isn't pasta. A tofu, brown rice and brussels sprout salad from Hetty McKinnon. And good relaxing music, complied by my brother.

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Standing in the warmest light

26 April 2020


Years and years ago, my friend Matt wrote me an email that included the line 'standing in the warmest light'. I can't remember the context but that line and its sentiment stood out to me. I remembered it again this week as found myself warming my feet in the sun. It seems like a lovely way to try and make it through this period at home.

Today we welcomed my brother Derrick and his wife home from New York. They're in hotel quarantine in Sydney and getting a video call from them once they'd checked in was nothing short of thrilling. It's such a relief to have my whole family back in Australia, especially at this time.

It's a long weekend here in Canberra, so I've been making Anzac biscuits, chicken stock and an eggplant melanzane, which was our special Saturday meal. I followed my friend Angie's advice and oven roasted the eggplant to skip the frying and breading stage and used smoked mozzarella too.


It's been an excellent weekend for recipe testing too. In the coming weeks I'm planning to make this mushroom stroganoff again (it's so creamy) and a childhood favourite - beef rendang!

The weirdest things make me teary these days, including songs on this playlist, this video of a dad watching his baby being born over Zoom, and my workmates in Sydney offering to drop a hotel care package to my brother. People are so nice.


I remembered the documentary podcast Soul Music this week and listened to the Toto's Africa episode which is excellent. It's a wonderfully distracting podcast because it doesn't refer to the world at present, making it truly escapist. And I made my first ever Dutch Baby, inspired by Jessica. I used the NY Times recipe, which was crazy easy and so much faster than making individual pancakes.

And that is me for another week!

Stay well,

S

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Peak iso

19 April 2020


How are you going at home? I vacuumed a lampshade this weekend and felt a real sense of achievement, which tells me I've hit peak isolation.

Podcasts make me feel connected to the outside world, mainly The High Low, Sugar Calling and Highly Enthused - I loved their at-home facial tips. Listening to them reminds me of our years in Wagga Wagga, when I'd listen to RN on the radio at night to find out what was happening beyond our town.

Saturday's become our day for nice dinners and video calls with friends. This week I roasted a chicken (and smoked out the entire apartment, prompting an oven clean on Sunday 😑), made some potato wedges and opened a bottle of orange wine. I've also been eating a lot of chocolate. My friend Irini sent us a box of Easter eggs that's as big as a board game and has the most delicious hazelnut praline filled chocolate bunnies inside.


I'm trying to be less fearful as the numbers in Australia continue to improve, while still being sensible. It helps me enjoy this time at home a little more. I'm also trying to let go of a scarcity mindset when it comes to cooking and shopping. It's small thoughts, like when I catch myself wondering/worrying if I should use two eggs in some muffins or save them, just in case.

I have two tiny hopes for the week ahead - to eat more veggies and move a little more. That's it!

If you're after any food inspo for the week, this tomatoey soup with chickpeas, pasta and spinach is delicious and great for days when you're feeling under the weather. I've also been baking out of this beautiful zine - the PDF version has just gone online. I made peanut butter granola and ginger and chocolate muffins and feel somewhat ready for the week ahead.

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Easter 2020

13 April 2020


How has your Easter been? Ours was pasta-filled and relaxing, with a couple of long walks when the rain and icy winds made way for the sun. We ate homemade hot cross buns, listened to podcasts and took turns making pasta dinners.

A highlight was a Monopoly game played with my brothers in Sydney and New York. We stumbled across the Monopoly app a couple of weekends ago, when we were considering driving to Big W to buy a board, before deciding it wasn't essential.

The app is fun because you can add remote players and don't have to do any maths! Plus, the sound effects are very cute. We were on a video call too, for chatting and sledging and I ended up winning the whole thing! My aim going into it was not to come last.


I bought a bunch of dairy products before lockdown and had been saving the creme fraiche for weeks, so I could make Julia Turshen's lasagne over Easter. I've seen so many times on Heidi's Instagram and decided it was worth four tins of tomatoes (life these days) and made it with some minced beef we'd stashed in the freezer. The ingredients alone felt extravagant. 

Lasagne is Tony's most favourite food and I've tried so many different recipes, including Smitten Kitchen's "Mount Everest" lasagne. Out of all of them, this was the easiest by far (no chopping onions, celery, carrot etc, no bechamel sauce) and we agreed, the most delicious too.


So far, we haven't ordered any takeaway because we're both enjoying cooking and love it as a way to pass the time. But for Easter we have ordered nice wine from a cafe we used to visit every Saturday.

Other lovely things - Tony's busy making tortellini from his Pasta Grannies cookbook 😋 And I'm typing away at the new desk we bought for the spare room. It's a sit/stand desk from IKEA that magically came back into stock last week. Going to the store and actually finding it on the shelf felt like a small triumph (it was my third attempt). 

We've been trying our best to get by with what we have but I was starting to feel a little restless at the dining table, which wasn't the right height for a whole work day. We built the desk that night and it's already improved my WFH situation. I really appreciate being able to go to a different room for work or to blog, given we now spend so much of our time in the lounge/dining room.


Finally, here are some things you might like too.... 

Good Vibes Yoga has released a bunch of new classes, including a Yin practice and a lovely mellow flow. This is my favourite online yoga so far - it's Australian, made for these very strange times, and many of the classes are under 60 minutes. The instructors are excellent. 

Musician Bill Withers was Anna Sales' very first guest on Death Sex and Money. They have re-aired the episode to commemorate his death. It's a very beautiful listen.

Tonight I'm making mini chocolate fondants (aka molten chocolate puddings) because our Easter egg delivery didn't arrive in time, and we're out of chocolate! I'm going to add some salted caramel sauce we have in the pantry :) 

The Strokes have a new album and it's super great.

The Margaret Atwood episode of Sugar Calling is cheery. I listened to the Rebecca Solnit episode of On Being immediately afterwards and needed to hear her definition of hope in uncertain times (it's not straight-up optimism). 

And I've been loving Jenny's series Project Pantry Purpose. There's a new post almost every day, with notes on what she's cooking, noticing and doing during the stay home period.

S

Fun stuff for Easter

10 April 2020


Hello! We made it to the Easter long weekend, one of my favourite holidays of the year. We usually spend it at home, cooking, going for walks and often welcoming visitors from Sydney. So this year, things will just be a little different. I sent a bunch of Easter chocolate to my family and friends to help keep things festive and it's been nice seeing them arrive at people's homes! I'm not sure about you but I'm finding the mail extremely exciting these days :) Here are some nice things for your long weekend:

A relaxing playlist, nice for the early evenings and quiet work.

I'm waiting for Tigertail to drop on Netflix, it should be out today or tomorrow. It's a movie by Alan Yang, one of the co-creators of Master of None. I've started rewatching Master of None - it's the perfect funny and familiar show to put on at the end of the day.

This is beautiful - photos and stories of women before they were mothers.

Sugar Calling is a new podcast from Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, and agony aunt from the Dear Sugar advice column. It's made for right now, and she calls a writer every episode to help make sense of the pandemic. Tony and I listened to the first episode with George Saunders one night after work, and while I'm not familiar with his writing I loved his thoughtful and funny take on this time, which didn't shy away from its grim realities. The second episode features Margaret Atwood!

The ABC's Fran Kelly is another comforting voice at a time like this and I listened to this 14 minute interview/pep talk while assembling an IKEA desk. My screen time has been way up, so it was reassuring to hear that she hit 13 hours in a single day.

I made my YouTube debut demonstrating how to make ABC Life's hot cross bun recipe from Thalia Ho.

Alison Roman's passover dinner video is super fun. I really want to make Matzo ball soup and homemade Ice Magic.

We just finished Unorthodox on Netflix, a four-part series about a Jewish woman who leaves an arranged marriage and flees to Berlin. I couldn't wait to finish work and watch more this week.

One last and lovely thing,  an interview with Ross Gay from the On Being podcast, titled 'Tending Joy and Practicing Delight'. Via Highly Enthused.

Have a lovely Easter at home.

X

Working out weekends

04 April 2020



What have you been doing on weekends? Last Sunday, I probably cooked a little too much (sourdough, roast veggies for weekday lunches, an apple pie just cos) and felt properly exhausted by 1pm. At first, I was disappointed by how much I'd taken on and then I realised... there were going to be plenty more Sundays at home to have another go. A nice lesson for days - at work or at home - that don't quite go as planned in this unusual period.

The highlight of last Saturday was driving to a flower farm just outside the ACT to pick up some freshly picked dahlias. We were excited to be in the car again and driving somewhere new. The area reminded us so much of Wagga Wagga and its surrounding towns.



I brought an old chickpea can so I could leave some flowers on a friend's doorstep along with some banana bread I made while waiting to video call my brother overseas. It felt really nice to plan something for someone else. There's a lot of worry that comes with the pandemic (words I never thought I'd write), and finding small ways to think about or help others takes some of that panic away. It's good for perspective too.

Food is never far from my mind, which is why I'm donating to local food pantries. In Canberra, there is St John's Care and the Canberra Relief Network. Across the country, Foodbank has chapters in all states and territories.


Last weekend we also started and finished watching Cheer on Netflix, which was extremely captivating, distracting and uplifting. This Friday night it was Crazy Rich Asians, which I really enjoyed on the rewatch. It's still pretty surreal watching a film with an all-Asian cast.

Other good things - the Bon Appetit test kitchen are still making videos, only from home 😭 It's really fun to see the different cooks in their home kitchens. I found the coffee episode especially calming (we also learnt that we haven't been 'blooming' our coffee - we use a pour over).

There are so many good cartoons doing the rounds at the moment, but this one about life at home when all of your plans have been cancelled is my favourite.

Hope you're taking care.

S

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Life at home

26 March 2020



Like so many people around the world, we're adjusting to spending our days and nights at home. For us that's a two bedroom apartment with a balcony that looks out onto mountains :) We're making a special effort to keep it tidy, making the bed most mornings and clearing the dining table of laptops and notepads when the work day is done. I've never swept the kitchen floor so frequently in my life.

Tony and I are both able to work from home, something we're extremely grateful for. These first few days have been a bit of a dance, especially when multiple video meetings are underway. Sometimes the internet can't handle it. It's been the biggest nudge to tidy our spare room, which is now our 'meeting room' and Tony's impromptu studio. He's working on a small painting and it's nice to have him properly home.

I'm working out a simple morning routine - a yoga video, shower, breakfast and coffee before I open up my laptop. There are so many great live streams and yoga videos at the moment, many of them free. This 30 minute mellow flow from Melbourne studio Good Vibes is especially lovely and a favourite Canberra teacher is live streaming soon. I love Sky Ting videos and their live stream, especially when I'm in the mood for something fun and slightly more challenging.


Sometimes it feels like I live at my dining table. But I'm learning to move around a bit more throughout the day, taking phone calls on our balcony, longer meetings on the couch and using the kitchen bench as a standing desk to keep things interesting and my body moving. And I'm thinking about end-of-day activities to help me switch off and wind down. A few days ago it was opening a parcel my brother sent me from NYC!

Giving me hope right now are photos of friends and their brand new babies, professional photos from Zachary's wedding, video chats with most of the family. My brother Zac left me a voice memo the other day about his honeymoon and new home, and it was the nicest thing to listen to in the morning. Simple things like sunlight, a cool breeze and baking are helping too. Sourdough is in high production and I've made some choc chip cookies too.


We have a good amount of supplies for now and no real plans to head out for anything soon. We are very lucky in this way. But when the time comes, I've been bookmarking a bunch of local businesses who are offering pre-ordered produce boxes along with coffee, milk and eggs. If you're in Canberra, High Road, Choku Bai Jo and Rita's Farm are three offering pick up and delivery. We'll probably mix it up to share the love! 

On Sunday night, I also made this very cheery creamy corn pasta, a recipe test for work. It's another Heidi special and it is sunny in both appearance and flavour thanks to some lime zest. The recipe makes a decent amount too, so we've been happily munching on it after a tense half hour of watching the news.


I'm trying to get out for walks at quiet times and it always feels so nice to be outside! I am hoping that everyone will be able to stay safe and well and keep up the social distancing for the good of ourselves and the whole community.

Something I've thought about recently is the fact that this transition, while challenging, has been a little easier for us because of our experience with the smoke haze. We were indoors for weeks over summer but felt more confined with the doors and windows shut and the air-con running 24/7. Being able to see the sunset, hear birds outside is something we're still excited by and grateful for.

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Some nice things

20 March 2020


Hello, I hope you're going OK with everything that's going on. I am trying to check the news occasionally rather than all-the-time and feel best when I'm chatting to friends and family (video chats have been extra fun this week!), going for walks, and reading books rather than being on my phone. I hope you can stick close to home this weekend and find some pockets of calm and relaxation. Here are some good things to share:

The 'A bit of relief' episode of The Daily is short but properly soothing, especially the C.S Lewis reading right at the end. Via Leslie.

I read Quartz's 'Staying In' edition of their newsletter weeks ago and enjoyed it but it feels especially relevant now.

Another article from weeks ago - My ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend is Lady Gaga (NY Times). The headline alone is so great but the piece is a thoughtful reflection on the personal moments and info we share and consume on social media.

Fried arancini balls with salad... yes please!

Ugly Delicious is back on Netflix and I adored the first episode, Kids Menu, which was recommended by a work mate. It follows Dave Chang and his wife Grace as they prepare for the arrival of their first child. I really liked the discussion about work and family and how you might balance the two (or simply accept that your life is changing).

We stumbled upon Louis Theroux's latest series on the ABC one night and watched the polyamory episode. It reminded me that I'm yet to watch his Scientology movie so adding it to our list.

Alison Roman's caramelised shallot pasta (NY Times) is really, really good. I've bought supplies so I can make it again soon.

Speaking of Alison Roman, I was meant to be going to a lunch she was hosting in Melbourne as part of the food festival but like many things, it was cancelled. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she'll be able to return in spring. In the meantime, I've taken her lead and done a free live streamed yoga class from her studio :) SkyTing is doing a free video every day (donations accepted!), with the time difference some of the sessions are 7am AEDT, as the sun is just starting to rise.


Finally, when it comes to reliable coronavirus information, I've been finding Dr Norman Swan's videos for the ABC clear and and to the point. He and ABC health reporter Tegan Taylor also have a daily podcast called the Coronacast in case you'd like the latest on coronavirus but not too much of it (most eps are 10 minutes and under). And this is the only corona-related thing that's made me laugh this week. 

Son

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I made a wedding cake!

18 March 2020


I made a wedding cake for my brother Zachary and his fiancee Hannah who were married on Saturday. Bringing the cake meant showing up in a big way for my youngest brother (we're 12 years apart), who had 50 guests cancel due to coronavirus, including my sister and brother.

Tony took this photo after I'd finished installing the cake on the morning of the wedding - I was completely elated, it looked like a real wedding cake :) My work friend Eleni described the weeks-long process that I documented on Instagram as a "wonderful drama", which just about sums it up.


The cake making started with a couple of test bakes to perfect the sprinkle layer, which I'd offered to include in the cake but had never successfully made. It was also the layer the bride was most excited about, so I really wanted to get it right.

Luckily my friend Danie clued me in on the secret ingredient - American sprinkles which are so much brighter than the ones you can buy here. You can order them from Brisbane, along with clear vanilla extract to make sure the cake stays white rather than yellow. I watched so many YouTube videos at various stages of the wedding cake prep, especially helpful at this point was this video of  Molly Yeh making the sprinkle cake recipe I used and this one of Christina Tosi making her famous sprinkle birthday cake (Alison Roman is in it too!).


The final cake had two tiers, eight layers and four different flavours - sprinkle, lemon, chocolate and coconut rose. It was inspired by a beautiful wedding cake that Molly Yeh made with multiple flavours inside, which I'd had a go at replicating one year for my birthday.

I started baking two weeks out, on weekends and some nights after work. Each layer was frozen, wrapped in multiple layers of clingwrap so they didn't attract any freezer flavour! But before that, they were levelled so they'd sit flat on top of each other. That meant cutting the bit that domed in baking, which was handy for taste-testing as I went along. I drew up a timeline, so I knew what cake I was making each weekend or weeknight, which also helped me feel like I was on track :)


Of all the steps, I took the fewest photos of the icing because it was very new to me and required my full attention. Three out of three friends who'd made wedding cakes recommended making Swiss meringue buttercream instead of regular buttercream. It's made from egg whites, caster sugar and a little butter instead of lots of butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract.

It took me awhile to get the hang of it and I only properly mastered it at 10.30pm the night before the wedding 😂 It can be temperamental (it can curdle or become runny) but when you do it right the texture is silky and it tastes light and marshmallowy. My brother and his fiancee wanted the cake to have a white finish, and Swiss meringue buttercream comes out bright white because it's mainly egg whites and sugar rather than butter. Plus, if you do stuff it up, there are plenty of ways to fix it.

I made all of my buttercream at home in Canberra while listening to a lot of Drake (thanks Derrick!) but didn't even think about practicing icing with it. If I could go back in time, I'd ice a cake with it, just to get a feel for it and build my confidence. And to save me a lot of stress the night before the wedding.


The wedding was in Sydney so I packed everything up and drove it down the afternoon before the big day. The frozen cake layers travelled in a lidded styrofoam box that my veggie store gave me - I'd seen Molly Yeh fly with cake layers like this and it totally worked for a three-hour road trip.

Driving meant I could bring a lot of stuff, including my Kitchen Aid to re-whip the icing and to have on hand in case I needed to make some more. I didn't love the idea of bringing it but am so glad I did, it would've been a very slow process without it. Also in the car, a cake turntable which my friend Angie gave me when I went through a novelty cake phase that included a rubber ducky and bus shelter cake, offset palette knives, and a brand new metal icing scraper.


I put the cakes together at my parent's place because while I'd booked an Airbnb with a full kitchen... I didn't double check the size of the fridge! My accommodation only had a bar fridge, but in the end it turned out for the best. It was so nice to hang out with my parents and brother the night before the wedding and have some company as I got to work. Their place was also much closer to the venue, which made moving the finished cake slightly less stressful.

This cake involved many firsts, including a cake soak! I've never used one before but they're meant to be great for cakes that have been frozen because they add moisture back into the cake. I used a simple syrup that was 50/50 sugar and water and brushed it onto each cake layer before adding icing. I also used dowels, which I'd previously never heard of (apparently if you're a Bake Off fan, this will make immediate sense). They're like extra sturdy straws that you put in the middle of the cake to keep the layers together, there were three in the middle of each cake. They also help strengthen the bottom layer so the top tier doesn't sink into it - aka one of my top wedding cake fears, right up there with dropping the cake. Speaking of...


This happened at around 9.30pm the night before the wedding 😑 It was the lowest point of the whole project, and the first time I wasn't sure I could pull it off. This is how it happened: my parents and brother had left to set up the church hall, which meant my dad wasn't around to hold the fridge door open as I moved the cakes in and out between icing them (I'm all about a good crumb coat). I tried to do it myself, holding the fridge door open with my foot while trying to move the top layer into the fridge. All the juggling meant I lost my grip on the cake and it toppled over - I caught it just in time.

I reckon the dowels were the reason the cake layers didn't go flying, so it could've been worse. Still, I was exhausted by this point and so disappointed. Throughout the whole process, I'd had a lot of support from my friends Le and Angie, so I sent them this photo as a bit of a distress signal. They both replied right away and no one thought it was a big deal. Angie encouraged me to take my time and enjoy the icing bit. So I took a deep breath, put on a podcast (Highly Enthused is back!) and kept going. My energy and spirits returned, and both cakes were finished and in the fridge by 11pm. The final layer of icing wasn't as smooth as I would've liked but I'd decided hours ago that that was fine.


Then came the bit I was most afraid of - driving the finished cakes to the venue and stacking them. I found it hard to sleep the night before and my stomach wouldn't stop flipping. I managed four maybe five hours max. But I found some focus in the morning and pretended I was at work. We got some coffee, picked up some flowers from my friend Angie who'd done a last minute dash at the markets (love her) and were back at my childhood home by 10.30am.

Tony took this pic of my family as the top tier was loaded into its special cake box! Zachary's groomsmen had arrived, my parents were in their wedding clothes and things were feeling festive. Tony ended up carrying both cakes to the car because I was a wreck at this point and the job needed a calm head and hands.


After some debate about who would drive, I put on a playlist and drove carefully to the venue, with the cakes in the boot. The night before (prior to the cake topple), Zachary and I were in the kitchen discussing whether the cakes should be stacked at all. Maybe they could just sit side by side? It seemed a bit risky for a first-timer.

But I'd come this far and with Tony's encouragement (and a second set of hands to spot me/catch cake), I used a palette knife to lift the top cake off one of its bases, slide my hands underneath it and somehow transferred it on top of the larger cake. Not without a bit of a thud, a gasp and some swearing but we were almost there.


I'd brought a small repair kit with extra icing and did some touch ups while Tony prepped the flowers. Angie had given us a crash course in making the food safe - basically we wrapped the stems in clingwrap to make sure no sap got onto the cake. There was no plan for decoration - Tony did a bit and then so did I. It ended up being asymmetrical, which I loved!

Zachary and Hannah had friends and family setting up the church hall with plenty of homemade bunting and fairy lights - the inspiration was Carson and Mrs Hughes wedding in Downton Abbey. The hall looked like something straight out of a movie. As soon as the flowers went on everyone started to get excited about the wedding cake taking shape. After 24 hours of last minute prep, I was totally thrilled with how the cake looked and was ready to focus on the wedding.


We dashed back to the house, ate some lunch, got dressed and headed back to the church, in about 45 minutes flat. I got teary when I saw my brother in his suit jacket and white tie at home. We took some photos together - all of which were blurry because I was so excited.

The ceremony itself was beautiful and I felt honoured to witness it. I thought about all of the firsts I'd seen this little guy - now man - do. From watching him take his first tentative steps down one of the hallways at home, a sibling or parent at each end to catch and encourage him, to his very first movie (Monsters Inc) that was memorable mainly because we made it through the scary bit together (I gave him my phone to play snake when he was sure it was time to go). And now, getting married to Hannah before moving into their first apartment (seeing photos of their place made me teary too!). 

I was so proud to be there for him as he married Hannah, who is clever, kind and extremely thoughtful. She's also excellent at sewing and made her own cheongsam for the Chinese banquet part of the wedding. The ceremony was also the time I thought most about my brother and sister who weren't able to be there.


I checked on the cake a couple of times during the reception just to make sure it was still standing. My uncle Mark pointed out that it had a slight lean, which it totally did from the base cake. Zac and Hannah officially cut it at around 4.30pm and while the original plan was for me to serve it, that job went to Tony and my cousin Max as it was cut while I emceed the speeches and read my brother Derrick's best man speech.

In the end, it was a relief to hand that job to someone else. It probably wasn't the best task to do in heels but also my time with the cake was done. One of my favourite bits was watching Tony and Max silently negotiate the cutting of it while the speeches went on in front of them. I saw them carefully take the top layer off - it wobbled as they put it down and I snuck this photo straight after they did it and congratulated each other.


I tried my best with the exterior of the cake but it's the interior I'm most proud of. It's colourful, fun and different to regular wedding cakes, and was perfect for Zachary and Hannah. The bride and groom chose which flavours would go together, the top layer was coconut rose on the base, sprinkle, lemon and another sprinkle layer. The bottom cake had coconut rose, sprinkle, chocolate and sprinkle. 

I packed up a box of the best looking slices for the honeymoon - one of my happiest memories from my own wedding was eating leftover wedding cake with Tony the day after the wedding. We had cups of tea on our hotel balcony and were still letting it all sink in.


Back at home, we have a lot of egg yolks to get through - leftover from both the buttercream and the sprinkle cake. So we'll be eating carbonara for awhile yet and maybe some chocolate mousse too! Apparently you can buy eggwhites in a carton at the supermarket to avoid a situation like this - but I couldn't do that to my brother. I only bought the best for this cake, investing a lot of money in Lurpak butter.

Throughout the whole process, I imagined plenty of things that could go wrong but not Zac and Hannah cutting into the cake as husband and wife. That bit was totally thrilling. Cake is always great but it's definitely even better when you're baking it for two people you're rooting for, who share it with the people they love most.

It's been a bit a shock coming home from such a happy weekend to bare supermarket shelves and a sense that things are changing quickly. I am on holidays this week and was planning to travel to Melbourne for the food festival and a work mate's exhibition opening and then back to Sydney for a hen's party. All of my plans have been postponed, which I totally understand. Instead, I've been chilling at home and slowly making some preparations for the weeks ahead.

I have a feeling that the satisfaction that came from making the wedding cake and the sheer joy that comes from watching someone you love get married is going to sustain me for awhile yet. 

X

P.S If you're making a wedding cake, I loved Smitten Kitchen's sensible break down of all of the steps, which includes cake maths.