Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Blackberry and blueberry pie

February 20, 2011

I love the variety and quantity of fruit available during summer, and if I were to make a list of my favourite fruits, the different sorts of berries would certainly come somewhere near the top. I’ve attempted to make such a list in the past but the occupant of the top position changes depending on what fruit I’m currently eating, so it’s really more of a top-ten-fruits-in-no-particular-order list. But berries are definitely in the top ten.

Yesterday the farmer’s markets were overflowing with blackberries and blueberries of the plumpest and sweetest type, so I decided to celebrate by making them into a pie.

A few tips: using only egg yolks (add a bit of extra water) and working your pastry as little as possible ensures it won’t shrink or bloat into an enormous chewy lump. This is because egg whites act as a raising agent (not ideal in pastry), and rolling and kneading will develop the gluten threads, destroying the crumbly, ‘short’ texture. It’s easiest (and quickest) if you use a food processor to rub the butter into the flour. Shortcrust pastry demystified (you can thank me later).

Blackberry and Blueberry Pie

The filling is fairly oozy especially when warm, so add some gelatine if you’d like it a bit more solid. However sometimes the messiness adds to the enjoyment: as with mud pies, so with berry pies.

1 quantity Jamie’s sweet shortcrust pastry (you’ll have some leftover so pop it in the freezer)

500g blackberries

250g blueberries

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1-2 tbs lemon juice

3 tbs sugar (or to taste)

1-2 tbs cornflour

23(ish)cm glass pie dish

Make the pastry according to Jamie’s instructions. While it’s resting in the fridge, start the pie filling.

Put the sugar, cornflour, lemon zest and juice into a saucepan and add the blackberries. Stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved, then increase heat to medium-high and cook until mixture thickens, ~5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

While the filling is cooling, line your pie dish. First butter and dust with flour to keep pastry from sticking, then cut 6mm slices of pastry and lay them over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Wet your fingers, press together the edges, and even out any inadvertent topography until you have a nice smooth surface. Pop it in the freezer, pie dish and all, for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 180°C.

Bake your tart shell for 15 minutes or until starting to dry out. While it’s baking, roll out half of the remaining pastry. With the cookie cutter of your choice (I used a star because, y’know, I have this thing for stars), cut out enough shapes to sparsely cover the top of your pie. Put the shapes carefully on a lined baking tray, and when the tart shell comes out of the oven, pop them in for about 5 minutes.

Once blackberry mixture is almost cooled, stir through the blueberries: adding them at this stage keeps them from bursting. Pour the berry filling into the tart shell and lay the pastry shapes over the top. Put the whole thing back into the oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown.

Divine served with thick double or clotted cream, either warm or cold.

Summer bliss

January 26, 2010

Please excuse me if I’ve been away longer than anticipated, but I’ve been having the most wonderful summer. And I’d like to share some of it with you, if in a rather whirlwind fashion.

Before Christmas, I mentioned that Phil and I were heading north—to Queensland, to spend time with family, friends, the beach, and other important things. We were away for almost three weeks, all of which was just delightful. Although squashing all your obligations into a couple of weeks can be exhausting, for us it’s definitely worth it—we don’t really have a chance to see our special people at other times of the year.

The drive up (yes, drive—over 1100 km according to Google maps) was the easiest it’s ever been, perhaps because the oppressive heat arrived later than usual. And waiting for us in Toowoomba were family dinners, coffee dates with friends, and the familiar (if slightly awkward) atmosphere of the town you grew up in. But you have to make the most of where you are, and this is not difficult when surrounded by the people you love. And I have to admit a somewhat guilty pleasure in some of the things that survive in regional towns, but would never survive in cities. Like Christmas lights competitions!

Garish, but somehow satisfying.

Christmas day was lovely as ever—I love how being with your family or loved ones can turn a normal day and an unexceptional setting into something special. The little traditions are important too, like my family’s Christmas breakfast. To the outside observer, pastry and fruit may not be anything special, but to me they mean a lot.

And an afternoon spent with the in-laws at my brother-in-law’s house continued the perfect day—who could want more than lazing around, playing with the kids, and eating till you burst? That’s my kind of Christmas—laid back.

On Boxing day Phil and I headed up to the Sunshine coast with my parents, for a glorious beachside week. Cue plenty of swimming, walking in the sand, and lazing around on the balcony, with a side order of shopping and folk festivals.

Perfect. I miss Queensland beaches so much during the year—the southern ones are never quite the same. Maybe that’s partly to do with my nostalgia kicking in again.

Our beach week over, it was time to head back south. Stopping briefly in Brisbane to see some of our most special friends, we journeyed back, this time down the coast road. Like every year we decided to spend a little time in Bellingen—a sort of holiday from our holiday, if you will—time to spend with each other before getting back home. Ah, Bellingen! Have I told you of the wonders of Bellingen yet? Never mind, that’s coming later this week.

And since getting home—well, you know how time passes. I had a hectic first week back at work, and a week at a Summer School in Melbourne. And it has been SO HOT. I still feel like the year hasn’t really started for me, but I’m working on that. There has, of course, been a degree of knitting, and perhaps more spinning than usual, and the huge amount of cooking that normally happens when I’m in holiday mode. Ooh, I can’t wait to share it with you. But I don’t really want summer to end.

My favourite wine

December 11, 2009

Welcome to Favourite Friday. This week the management is pleased to announce a special offer—two favourites for the price of one!

I wanted to talk about my favourite wine. I don’t want to sound like a wino, but choosing a favourite from the many wonderful drops available was never going to happen. I just like wine too much—all sorts of wine, wine from different regions, wine by different vintners, wine of different ages, wine at different temperatures, wine drunk in different places. Narrowing it down to two types was a wrench, I can tell you.

On to the first favourite: Champagne.

Let me make one thing clear from the start. Most of the white fizzy wine I drink doesn’t come from the Champagne region, in fact it’s probably never heard of France. But I’m damn well going to call it Champagne here and in every other conversation I have about the stuff. Sparkling wine it may be, but to me it’s always been Champagne and always will be. Any other name is cowardly legal twaddle and an insult to the romance of this beautiful drink.

What is it that makes Champagne so attractive? It has many charming qualities, but somehow it has a little something more, something that other wines don’t possess. The pale golden hue, the sight of bubbles rising. The delicate scent, grassy or buttery, sometimes with a faint whiff of flowers. The clean, fresh taste that’s just on the right side of too dry, the feel of bubbles on the tongue…and yet, and yet. Champagne has a certain romance about it. When you drink it, you could be in a 1920s nightclub listening to jazz. You could be a 50s-era film star, celebrating your latest box-office success. You could be at a friend’s wedding, or on a first date, or making someone’s birthday a night to remember. Champagne, apart from all its measurable qualities, has the taste of celebration, the smell of parties, and the look of romance.

See how it lights up my otherwise dull and dirty kitchen bench? Champagne is instant glamour.

Of course, another of its good qualities is that it is so versatile. You can mix Champagne with just about everything. Half-and-half with orange juice on Christmas morning. Allow a strawberry to macerate slowly in the wine as you drain the glass. Add a wild hibiscus for some colour and flavour. Mix it in a cocktail—I love the Classic Champagne Cocktail, the French 75, and of course the Bellini. Or throw in whatever you’ve got laying about—this evening I added some leftover raspberry syrup, but saffron syrup also makes an exotic and delicious blend.

Actually, it’s funny, given how much Champagne I consume, that I can’t find a photo of myself drinking it. Perhaps some angel with more regard for my reputation than I would usually show has destroyed all the evidence?

Summer, with its propensity to increase the consumption of Champagne, is also the perfect time to drink my other favourite wine—Rosé. With a colour halfway between red and white wine, but a nose and flavour all its own, Rosé has always fascinated me. It’s perfect for those occasions that call for something a little more fragrant and a little more flavoursome than Champagne. I love discovering new Rosés, and I honestly can’t remember ever buying the same bottle twice. There are so many different Rosés available these days, made (as far as I can tell) from several different sorts of grape. Some are fresh and dry, others have a hint of sweetness, and I can remember one that smelt distinctly of strawberries. Distinctly.

These are the three bottles that are currently in my possession. Appropriately, they are from three different regions—Queensland, the Barossa, and Western Australia—and I believe all three are concoted from different grape varieties. And one’s even bottled under a cork, bless their old-fashioned little cotton socks. The central Rosé in this picture is actually of particular significance—it was the first Rosé I ever discovered, having never before heard of the existence of pink wine. Mum bought a bottle of this from the vineyard when we were in the Barossa in 1998, and I can remember being fascinated by the matching pinks of the brolga’s wings and the wine it attended.

Rosé is the wine I like to introduce Summer with. It’s fruity enough to drink in Springtime, and refreshing enough to carry you through Christmas lunch and to the hot days beyond. And there’s hardly a woman I know who isn’t attracted to pink wine.

With romantic Champagne and fruity Rosé, there’s plenty to keep me occupied this Summer. What will you be drinking?

First apricot of the season

November 17, 2009

Well, actually the second, but the first one I had tasted like woody water so we’re not going to count that.

Mum says they’ve been getting stonefruit in Queensland for weeks now. I really miss that climate! Bring on summer, with many sweet apricots.

Thoughts on productivity

November 16, 2009

I  haven’t been knitting very long. It’s about three and a half years now, and while I wouldn’t call myself a beginner (I can do some stuff pretty well, you know) I don’t think I really qualify as intermediate—there’s lots of things I’ve never tried, like fair isle, or i-cord edging, or learning the right way to weave in ends. Let’s call me an advanced beginner, then. I’m decent, but I’m learning new things all the time.

With knitting (for those of you who don’t) some of the things you learn aren’t about the craft itself, but are instead about yourself, or the community, or the practicalities… kind of like the knitting metadata. For example, I’ve learned that knitting with small pointy needles will inevitably poke small painful holes in my right index finger. That the majority of knitters will come at you with pointed implements if you give them acrylic yarn or fun fur. That you shouldn’t go into a yarn shop on payday.

Lately I’ve been discovering about knitting productivity.

I was always determined not to be one of those knitters who never gets any knitting done over summer. I mean, sure, you’re less likely to want to wear knitted garments in summer, but not knitting means you’re wasting a whole season. And imagine how prepared you’d feel if you could have your entire winter wardrobe finished before the first frost. A good argument, no?

But then I discovered how unpleasant it is to have a lap full of woollen jumper on a 35 degree day. Quite unpleasant, really. Rather like portable prickly-heat rash.

I’m determined to get through this. I’m sick of having my winter knits finished just as the first real hot weather arrives. I’m sick of getting that guilty feeling of idleness whenever I look at my WIP bag and realise I haven’t knitted for a month. And anyway, blocking is so much quicker in summer. My house is so hard to heat that in winter it can take over a week for a large project to dry.

So, this summer, I am pledging to knit at least once every week. Given that this is in line with wanting my summer shrug and my autumn cardigans finished, it should be easy, right?

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll ask for calamine lotion for Christmas.