Monday 27 January 2014


International travel is a funny thing. One day you're standing on a Californian cliff overlooking the Pacific, staring out at migrating grey whales, and the next you're on the other side of that same ocean, having migrated yourself on the Airbus A380. In a matter of hours. Well, thirteen or so. Give or take. But still, you get my point. It's disorienting. So I cooked. In my own kitchen. To help me get my bearings. It was Australia Day, so I made lamingtons. For those of you back on the other side the world, lamingtons are a particularly Australian childhood treat: squares of soft sponge, dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. You can find them at any country town bakery, right next to the vanilla slices, apple turnovers and Neenish tarts.

The cake is usually stale, the chocolate coating thin and teeth-jarringly sweet and more of the coconut - in its desiccated form - ends up on your clothes than in your mouth. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean they're a disappointment. In my book, there's no such thing as a bad lamington but this version kicks things up a notch, quality-wise. The sponge is light and fresh, the chocolate rich, thick and infused with orange, and the shredded coconut clinging to the outside is as shaggy and strange and spectacular as the Joshua trees I left behind in the American desert. It's a small world after all.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Ann's biscotti

Certain food I associate with certain people. Chutney, for instance, is my mum's domain. My friend Tammy is famous for her croissants. And my cousin Ann for biscotti. I first had her version of the sweet, dry Italian biscuit on my first trip to the United States, back when I was just twenty-one. When I had an Arts degree with a double major in French, a suitcase full of borrowed winter clothes, and no clue about what direction my life was to take. I didn't know much back then, but I knew I liked those cookies. Previously, the only exposure I'd had to biscotti was the wafer-thin kind found (mostly crushed) in packets in delis where I'd worked. These were the polar opposite - chunky, generous, studded with thick slivers of almond, and perfumed with the aroma of anise seed.

This part of the world with all its mountains and water holds many memories for me. Learning how to make biscotti one rainy winter afternoon - watching hands I know so well make something I love - adds another. I hope sharing the recipe doesn't mean Ann will stop making them for me. I'm priviliged to be on the receiving list at all. It's an exclusive club this biscotti one, comprised of a select few. Some of us with international membership. 

When she bakes them, Ann usually makes a double batch. She's tried tripling the mixture but doesn't recommend it (all works to keep things exclusive). What she does recommend is dunking them in vin santo... or coffee, or tea, as their structure is hardy enough to absorb the liquid without disintegrating into a soggy mess. That's their genius. This cookie doesn't crumble. Not even packed in a suitcase. Lucky me.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Chocolate pecan pie

This trip has been about people. And because of it, I’ve got to see some amazing places*. Last week I flew from the swamp to the high desert to see my friend Robin. Robin and I met a year ago in the woods in New Hampshire, at an artists’ colony, which is kind of like camp for grown-ups. But with better food. We bonded over lots of things, but mostly fiercely over our joint obsession with the chocolate pecan pie. Maryel, the chef at the colony, had prepared it for Thanksgiving, and, after going back for seconds (and maybe even thirds) we begged her for the recipe. Unfortunately I left that recipe back in Australia, not realising that it would be the perfect dessert to make for Christmas dinner with Robin and her boyfriend Don til I arrived in Santa Fe. So I winged it with help from the internet and my memory. And it worked out just fine - sweet, gooey, and all the shades of brown, which seemed appropriate in a place with that particular palette. Where that colour encompasses rust on a pick-up, the golden glow of farolitos lining the roads and rooftops at night, the warm cinnamon of the adobes, and the deep, dark brown of the Stetson I bought to keep the desert light at bay.
* And eat the most amazing things. In New Mexico: enchiladas with blue corn tortillas and green chile, Mexican hot cocoa with cinnamon, and the world’s largest, stickiest (and possibly most delicious) cinnamon roll.

Chocolate pecan pie
Adapted from this recipe, but inspired by memories and Maryel

As difficult as this is, you want to let this cool to room temperature before eating. 

3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
3 tablespoons strong coffee
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell (I used this recipe)  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. While butter is melting, add beaten eggs to a medium sized bowl. Stir in brown sugar, flour, vanilla extract, corn syrup and coffee until combined. Add butter when just melted.

Mix in the pecans and chocolate morsels. Stir together and pour mixture into pie shell. 

Place on a sheet tray and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.