To Brie or Not To Brie

I read a ‘Fun Fact’ the other day: There are 450 types of cheese in the world and 250 come from France. I wondered if the remaining 200 included that famous Aussie variety, the self-proclaimed yumminess that is Tasty Cheese. When I first saw this on the shelves of Australian supermarkets I almost tried to instigate a conversation: Oh, are you? Are you really?? Isn’t that for me to decide? The cheese was stunned into silence. But I was intrigued so I bought some. And then I discovered that it is just cheddar. Apparently cheddar is so popular over here that its real name is rarely used. Instead it is sold by strength: Mild, Sharp, Tasty, Extra Tasty (allegedly) or the delightfully named Strong & Bitey.

The thing is, I don’t need all those other cheeses from France. Just brie. Last weekend I found a way to make this exquisite cheese 10 times more indulgent than normal and I don’t mean by pairing it with a sweet Riesling. I didn’t think it was possible to feel guiltier about eating cheese, being ever so slightly lactose intolerant and almost completely in denial about it. The words of my doctor still ring in my ears: A little dairy is ok but you will probably not feel very good if you have a big piece of cheesecake.

So he never specifically mentioned cheese, per se. I proceed on a technicality.

I discovered that if you bake a round of brie in the oven, topped with some toasted honeyed nuts, it turns into heaven on a plate. Just look at this portrait of gooey perfection:

brie

Please forgive the bite-shaped cavity which was caused not by an actual bite (I’m no savage) but by a merciless cracker attack. In my haste to enjoy the moment I forgot to photograph this beauty in its whole, unadulterated form before we got stuck in. It was worth the lack of Insta-shots. Each mouthful was a combination of warm, buttery cheese, caramelised, crunchy walnuts and a lingering kiss of honey. Now that’s what I call tasty.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Stop and smell the Rosé

I do like a good collective noun. Especially a surprising one. It creates an explosion of imagery and brings a group of otherwise nondescript nouns to life.  For example:

A parliament of owls. Owls being all wise, making decisions.  

A posse of policemen. Strutting about, like some kind of hip-hop crew.

A confusion of weasels. Weasels running around, dazed and disorderly.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes. Just imagine. Slinky snakes performing a hip-swaying Latin dance.

A flight of wine. Now we’re talking. A flight! This is wine that can transport you to a better place.

Technically (and Google-y) speaking, a flight of wine is “a selection of three to eight wines presented at a tasting. A ‘horizontal’ flight is one which compares the same wine produced by different wineries. A ‘vertical’ flight would be a selection of wine made by the same winery over a number of years.” OMG. Fascinating.

I stumbled upon this phenomenon in a beautiful winery in Tasmania. Not literally stumbled (I hadn’t had any yet). For those of us who have wine-commitment issues or get wine envy when someone else’s Pinot is better than ours, a flight of wine is the perfect option. Choose 4 different wines from a list and they magically turn up, presented in a specially designed contraption.

rosetinted

Can’t beat the view through rosé-tinted glasses.

I’m almost certain this is not a revolutionary idea. People have probably been sipping on flights of wine in stylish wine bars and wineries since time immemorial. My experience of wine tasting for the most part has involved perching at the counter, going through the entire wine menu from top to bottom and skipping only the Chardonnay.

Because in my house wine o’clock begins shortly after whine o’clock (approximately 7.30pm), there is no delicate measuring of sippy-portions of selected varietals. Pour me a nice big glass and no, I don’t need to taste it first. I’ll be horizontal on the sofa with the Netflix remote control. Like a bed of sloths.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Espresso yourself

3littlebirds was not created as a ‘mummy blog’. Still, after the third parenting-themed post, a friend threatened to ‘unfollow’ me because it might affect his “street cred”. After gently pointing out that that ship had already sailed, I took a long, hard look at my posts.

But rather than highlight the amount of mummy-blog-type content on these pages, it made me realise that the posts about my three munchkins – these adorable, messy, exasperating, hilarious creatures – were the easiest ones to write. Inspiration overflows in this crazy, chaotic, beautiful world where stressed is not just desserts spelled backwards but an actual, frequent example of one thing (stressed) leading to another (desserts). It’s all about the balance.

Speaking of desserts, inspiration came in another (delectable) form today. So I decided it was time to write about another of my true loves: gastronomy. The art and science of food. Which I suppose technically also covers drink. Molecular gastronomy, perhaps? Ok, ok, just cocktails.

An impromptu, post-work drink date with a girlfriend took place this evening, instigated by the sweet, caffeinated promise of a $10 espresso martini at Firefly in Neutral Bay – a stylish yet comfy wine bar & restaurant on this side of the Bridge. It is our 9th birthday, the promo email said. Help us celebrate, it said. Our martini is topped with cookie & cream shavings, it said. How. Not. To? Who am I to turn down a drink that is a fusion of coffee, chocolate and vodka? The trivector of guilty pleasures lovingly poured into one sexy martini glass. So we went. We ordered. We took a photo.

espresso martini

A drink so beautiful that even the camera made everything else fade into the background.

Impromptu martinis are the best kind. I might even ask for one without the vodka next time. Forget the street cred.

©2017 Seetha Dodd

What would MacGyver do?

dinner

There is a perpetually hungry 7 year old in my house. His favourite question is What can I eat? If I had a dollar for every time he uttered these words, I would be able to hire a personal chef.

His hobby is raiding the fridge and/or the snack cupboard. With each visit, he lowers his standards and therefore increases his options.  Much like a visit to Tinder in the dating world, I imagine.

What can I eat?  Yes he’s a growing boy. But he’s not, presumably, growing into a giant. Or a beanstalk. If you saw him eat, though, you would have your doubts.

I am also amused (in an eye-rolling kind of way, not ROFL – that’s ‘Rolling On the Floor Laughing’ for the non-texters amongst us) at this recurring situation:

He is happily creating a Lego masterpiece worthy of an architecture accolade/ watching educational and age appropriate television programs playing Score Hero on his iPad (let’s keep it real). The minute he sees me, even if I have just cleaned the house from top to bottom/ completed a 10km run cleared the dishes from lunch (still keeping it real) I hear those words:

What can I eat? It’s as if the sight of me triggers in him some kind of brain-stomach-brain message. I’ll assume it does not mean that I look like I’ve just eaten a heavy meal or that I must have easy and constant access to food, but instead understand that he sees me as his nurturer, provider of nutrition, maker of Milo, creator of school lunches. So I resist the urge to respond with Well, what can you make? and instead, make him his 42nd snack of the day.

You know the 80s American TV show where the guy with the mullet gets out of tricky situations using only what he finds around him plus a Swiss Army Knife and duct tape? Yes, MacGyver! How did you…oh, oops, post title. Anyway, I try to apply that kind of skill to my meal preparation. Without the duct tape, of course.  Unless too many people under 5 feet start asking me when dinner will be ready.

The challenge is greater if a grocery shop is due. But the formula is tried and tested.

  1. Survey the surroundings – fridge, pantry, kitchen counter, random items conveniently lying around
  2. Plan the strategy (recipe)
  3. Execute the MacGyver Meal under pressured conditions.

The Japanese have a word for allowing the chef to decide your menu: omakase, or ‘I’ll leave it up to you.’ Unbeknown to us all, this custom is practised every day in my kitchen. Being neither Japanese nor a real chef, the power of omakase may have unwittingly gone to my head. So If I am asked What are the choices? I very firmly say ‘Your choices are Take it or Leave it.’

But back to my 7 year old Very Hungry Beanstalk. A week before his birthday this year I asked him what he would like as his birthday meal. ‘I’ll make you anything you like,’ I said boldly, confident that he would not ask for stuffed zucchini flowers or anything that required a sous vide machine. I imagined having to Google ‘how to make sous vide chicken without a sous vide machine’ before I snapped myself out of that culinary horror. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said:

Fish fingers.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked, a little disappointed that none of my Big Gun meals were his favourite, and also because my flamenco apron would not be required for fish finger ‘cooking’.

Yes.

Two days later I asked him again. “You know I said I would make you anything you wanted. How come you said ‘fish fingers’?’

He looked up from his Pokemon cards to say: Because it’s easy to make.

And then I knew. He is growing at an alarming rate. Into a kind and considerate human being. I had no choice but to make the best damn fish fingers the boy had ever tasted.

©2017 Seetha Dodd

The >seven-year dish

This banana bread is ‘the one’

Seven years of living in Australia have uncovered the following observations:

  1. It is common to start sentences with “Look…” but it is not meant to sound angry or confrontational. It’s just another form of saying “Well…” or “I think…” I used to get taken aback at the seeming harshness but I learnt to filter the word somewhere along its journey from ear to brain to heart. (No they’re not trying to start a fight, it’s just a drumroll announcing the arrival of their next statement.)
  2. You will never be more than 5 minutes away from a Thai restaurant, and some of them warrant a visit just for the name alone: I present Thai Me Up and Thaitanic as two opposite extremes of the pun.
  3. When turning left or right at an intersection and the light is green for you, note that pedestrians also have a green light allowing them to cross the exact road you are entering. Most confusing at first, and in fact is No.2 on the Top 10 misunderstood road rules in NSW, second only to Roundabouts.
  4. Paying $4.50 for a slice of banana bread is considered perfectly acceptable on the Lower North Shore.

We didn’t have banana bread in Glasgow. We had cake, pastries, buns, pies, regular bread and deep-fried Mars bars. But this strange and delightful bread-cake hybrid was something completely new. When I saw that almost every café in the area had banana bread on its menu, I realised this was some kind of Sydney staple and I did what anyone who was temporarily unemployed and permanently frugal would do: I asked the internet to provide me with a recipe so I could attempt to make it myself.

Now, I’m a decent cook and I’ll say so myself, but I’m not much of a baker. So I must have Googled ‘Easy banana bread recipe’. Or perhaps (because I had an impatient 2 year old assistant and was also 7 months pregnant): ‘Quick and easy banana bread recipe with minimal washing up’.

From the numerous results, I picked this one partly because I liked the name of the website (Fig & Cherry) and partly because my senses were drawn to the words ‘dense’ and ‘moist’. But mostly because it hit the minimal washing up requirement in the very first two lines:

“You know the best thing about this recipe? Actually, there’s two things; you don’t need an electric mixer and you only need one bowl.” – Fig & Cherry’s Dense & Moist Banana Bread

Bingo! I didn’t bother reading any of the other recipes. After the 50 minutes of baking time, my dubious assistant and I peered into the oven and yelped with glee at the beautiful, golden brown, buttery exquisiteness with the toasted walnuts on the top that looked almost like the picture in the recipe! Safe to say, no wire-rack cooling took place. We got stuck right in. I never had to Google another banana bread recipe ever again. This one’s a keeper.

I’ve made this over and over for seven years with different variations and it has always turned out delicious. Every single time. I could attribute this to the Fairy spell we chant as we place anything into the oven: ‘Wisha wisha wish-a/ Make this deli-cious!’ but I’ve shared the recipe with friends and family who also agree it is truly banana bread heaven and they don’t (didn’t) know our Fairy spell.

I love it because you can add whatever you have lying around – shredded coconut, different types of nuts, pumpkin seeds, cocoa powder, some cheeky chocolate chips, sultanas….the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Oh, and basic food science. And I suppose a wee bit of common sense. But really, the loaf tin is your oyster. We made some recently and I didn’t have enough flour, so we (my now 9 year old assistant and I) decided to use a half flour – half rolled oats combo and yet again, the result was the most requested morning tea item that week.

Look, just trust me on this one. Try the recipe. It will make you yelp again and again. You will not be disappointed.

#7yearsandcounting

©2017 Seetha Dodd