Blackberries

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While cycling around the lake last week, I was tempted by several ripening patches of blackberry bushes. Eventually I couldn’t resist – at a particular accessible bush, almost underneath the King’s Avenue Bridge, my lovely and very patient companion waited while I weighed up the likelihood that the berries had been sprayed.

They looked okay; they smelled okay; and I figured, in a public place like that, it would be pretty risky to spray such tempting berries without signage. So I scoffed a few, survived, and went back a few days later with shoebox in hand to forage for ingredients for my Tuesday experiment (and after reading this website, which assured me spraying needs to be signposted).

Picking blackberries reminded me of brambling in Scotland as a child, and foraging in the hedgerows in southern England. As a child, the picking part was more fun than the eating (the berries weren’t quite sweet enough), but this time I found myself rather more tempted. A tip: if you go blackberry picking (and they’re all over Canberra at the moment in its wild places, with more plenty to come in the coming weeks), be more sensible than I was and wear old clothes and sensible shoes. I headed straight from work and ended up a little scratched, pricked and stained (but oh, the satisfaction of feeding very close friends, my guests for dinner that evening, with fruit I’d collected that very evening!)

They are such beautiful, glossy creatures, with a juicy tartness that added interest to this creation as well as making it look pretty.

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Blackberry, mint and fetta salad (serves four)

120g mixed leaves

100g feta

Handful blackberries

Handful roughly chopped mint leaves

50g toasted slivered almonds, or other nuts

1 carrot, shaved into fine strips with a potato peeler

One mini fennel bulb, finely chopped then and marinated for a few minutes in lemon juice and olive oil

and a simple dressing.

This is one of those salads that it is worth taking a little time to construct. I build it in the following order: greens, carrot, crumbled fetta, mint, nuts, blackberries, fennel.

For a dressing, I dribbled over some olive oil mixed with pepper and verjuice, and that was just fine. Simple is best, I think.

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Project 365 – Part 2

Despite challenges with Instagram (sure it does lovely things, but why did I not just use my DSLR, which I carry around anyway?) and with finding things to photography on long work days, Project 365 is taking shape. I love that those challenges encourage me to try things I wouldn’t usually bother with, and that there is more impetus to find everyday adventures for photographic fodder.

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Project 365 – Part 1

My other major exercise in structured creativity in 2013 is to attempt Project365: a photo for every day of the year. In 2013, that means finding something like 200 photos to take in and around Canberra (and weekend destinations), with most of the rest starting a new life in Oxford. I like the idea that, if I keep going, they will be 365 photos with an appropriate mixture of mundanity and variety.

In a decision that is making this project simultaneously more convenient and more challenging, I’ve decided to take the photos on Instagram – partly inspired by the wonderful things that the take-everywhere-camera in the iPhone can do (such as Dan Chung of the Guardian and his extraordinary iPhone photos of the London Olympics). Perhaps unexpectedly, I feel a little more eccentric waving my iPhone camera around than I do with my chunky, old-school noisy DSLR. Nonetheless, I like the way this project, and the elegant simplicity of Instagram, are encouraging me to see the beautiful in the everyday.

My first twelve days of 2013 in photos are below. More to come.

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Experiments with cherries

My new year’s resolutions for 2013 are fairly practical, and provide some structure for continuing to be creative (in photography and cooking) and active. In 2013, when it is possible, Tuesday night will be my kitchen experiment night. So about a week ago, I kicked off my first Tuesday experiment night by finding savoury ways to use up some of the the large, plump summer cherries that have been filling my fridge over the past few weeks.

Almost a year ago now, A and I shared a memorably lovely entree at a tavola, one of my most favourite Sydney restaurants (and a place that my lovely friend K, while visiting Sydney, described as the perfect date restaurant, with its dark lighting and sensual food). It was a lump of silky, creamy cheese, enriched with cherries and basil.

The first dish is inspired by that entree.

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Cherry, rocket and basil salad (serves 2-4)

A handful of cherries, pitted
200g milky cheese (I used fior di latte; I think fetta could also work well)
50g rocket
Half a red capsicum, thinly sliced
A large bunch of basil, shredded

Dressing
Two tablespoons olive oil
Two tablespoons verjuice
Squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

This salad is more of an arrangement than a recipe. Pile rocket onto a plate, followed by capsicum, slices of cheese, shredded basil and then cherries. Combine ingredients for the dressing and drizzle over gently.

I served the cherry salad with the dish below, inspired by a few sources.

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Grilled chicken with cherry balsamic sauce (serves 3)

2 skinless chicken breasts, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil

Sauce
Approx. 15 cherries, pitted
Half a leek, sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white wine

For the sauce, sauté leeks in a little olive oil until softening, then add cherries, squashing them into the leek mixture. Add balsamic vinegar and white wine and allow to simmer gently for 5-10 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens.

Meanwhile, season chicken lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper then fry. Once chicken has been turned, coat cooked side in cherry glaze with a pastry brush or similar. Repeat this on second side of the chicken, once cooked. When chicken is nearly done, add remainder of sauce (including chunks of cherries and leek) to the pan, and serve with the sauce.

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Sheltering in the mist

On this furnace of a day, with strong hot winds and the scent of bush fires in the air, leaving my office air conditioning held little appeal. But I decided a short walk was worth it, to spend a little while enjoying the adult equivalent of playing under a backyard sprinkler. At the National Gallery in Canberra, not so far from my office, is a small but beautiful collection of sculptures. Below is Fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya (1976), which operates between 12.30 and 2pm – perfect for a cooling, slightly mystical lunchtime wander. And with such a strong, hot wind, both my camera and I were dry by the time I got back to the office.ImageImageImageImage

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Sand, rock, eucalyptus

The past two weeks of summery, Christmassy, balmy time in Sydney, Canberra and the south coast have meant limited internet access and no posting. It has also meant plenty of future post fodder: photos and food. The photos below were taken near Moruya.

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Pomegranate Christmas tartlets (and a birthday picnic)

A request for a fuss-free birthday celebration led to a lunchtime birthday picnic in the rose gardens next to Old Parliament House.

We headed down to find a shady place under a tree, with big tupperware containers full of Thai chicken salad and pomegranate tartlets.

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I’m planning to make these little tarts again for family Christmas dinner. They are super-easy and tasty and look beautiful.

(makes 6)

six brandy snap baskets (I bought them from Coles)
250g mascarpone
100g good-quality vanilla yoghurt
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 pomegranate

Deseed the pomegranate. Combine mascarpone, yoghurt and sugar and spoon into the brandy baskets. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top.

If you’re preparing these in advance, everything can be ready to go (the most time-consuming part is pulling the seeds out of the pomegranate), but the creamy mixture will make the brandy baskets go soft and, ultimately, fall apart in a few hours – so leave the spooning part as late as possible.

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