A Fork in the Road

Yesterday, I finished reading a Lonely Planet publication called A Fork in the Road: Tales of Food, Pleasure & Discovery on the Road. After having read a slew of particularly bad books lately, I’m happy to report that this one was one rather wonderful. Editor James Oseland (Saveur magazine) opens, “Every traveler has two or three or even a hundred of them: moments on a journey when you taste something and you’re forever changed.” The following collection of thirty-four essays from writers, critics and chefs alike explore those moments – be it an Englishman’s long-anticipated taste of the all-American Twinkie, a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia, or blood soup and maggot cheese in Sardinia (credit to that last one – I’m now not entirely adverse to the idea of larvae-laden cheese). I found almost every story genuine and captivating, and loved the focus on the seemingly small and unexpected.

Little Wanderings - A Fork in the Road 1

A Fork in the Road certainly got me reflecting on those moments in my own travels, and I think I’ve definitely got a few I’m eager to jot down and share. Then again, the book also made me realise how I’ve perhaps too easily breezed through countries in the past and emerged without such tales to tell. Not that a fantastical travel tale can be forced – but maybe youth and blissful naivety sometimes prevented me from slowing down and properly opening up to the possibility, or even just plain awareness of those experiences. I loved the essay A Coffee Ceremony by novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants), who writes, “Time. That’s what it’s really about. Taking the time to realise what you’re doing, what you’re drinking… Food and drink is so much more than food and drink. When we consume them we are engaging in a backstory – the effort and attention, the craft and history, the community and connection, and the ritual itself.”

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And so this book has come to me at a splendid time, in that I shall soon be travelling – and not only travelling, but returning. When I first visited Europe four years ago, I suppose I was a foodie beginner in the sense of an unfocused excitement for ‘European food’ (gelato and tiramisu and croissants, oh my!). I certainly came home with a sudden fondness for many things at which I’d previously upturned my nose. Oh, to imagine a time in which I didn’t like olives, pesto or even wine for godssake! Now I return on a trip pretty much centred on the idea of simply eating my way around the continent. In A Fork in the Road, both Carla Hall’s Leek of Faith and Tom Carson’s A Wedding Feast delve into the theme of such a sudden awareness of food culture, one’s previous naivety and the prospect of adventure henceforth. To be soon going back to Europe with that expanded awareness of food and cooking, I realise, is very exciting indeed.

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That awareness also comes twofold. Most every piece in A Fork in the Road makes reference to the writer’s culinary upbringing- something that, no matter how modest or grand, seems to hold perpetual influence. It shocked me to realise I’d never really given much confidence to the particular food culture in which I’d grown up. Sure, there’s no foreign, exotic or particularly ‘gourmet’ footprint at my family table – but I’ve been careless in thinking that’s a mark of the unexceptional. Last month, in spending Easter with family at my grandparents’ house, I suppose I had a ‘moment’ when my grandpa walked in and placed two fresh figs on the table. Figs! Quite in vogue on food blogs and Melbourne menus right now – I’d only really just started to eat and delight in them – and here my grandpa was growing them in the backyard. My grandma would later whip up half a dozen jars of fig and ginger jam. Just like that.

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There’s an important food culture at home of which I’ve either taken for granted or simply remained totally unaware. My family quite literally revolves around my grandparents’ Laminex-topped kitchen table, and it’s nice to be finally waking up to the craft and history behind that. So long as I care to look for them, there are perhaps as many moments, stories and recipes to be shared from home as there might be from my travels. And that is also a very exciting notion.

Photos taken at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, April 2014.

Fodder for Failure

A couple of weeks ago I came upon the most gorgeous-looking recipe for Oven-Poached Quince from an equally gorgeous Melbourne-based food blog. I was mesmerised. The blogger sang of the riches of seasonal Autumn produce, the heady aroma of simmering spices and the generous ruby-red reward after hours of slow cooking. I was thrilled to try it. I’d not eaten poached quince before, but as a raving fan of quince paste, jam and jelly – I was delighted by the wonderfully arcadian idea of popping a few oven-poached quince wedges into my porridge each morning. I tracked down fresh quinces at my local organic grocer, almost sliced a(nother) finger off cutting them up, and piled my spices and water and sugar into a cast-iron dish. As the apartment filled with the tantalising scent of anise and cardamom, I started to feel mighty proud of myself.

Six hours later, however, when I lifted the dish from the oven and cracked the lid – my stomach fell with that dreaded ‘this definitely does not look like the picture’ feeling. Instead of plump, ruby-red pieces in a vibrant, juicy syrup – I had a thick, sticky mess highly reminiscent of True Blood -esque vampire remains.

My quince caper was a total failure.

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I’ll admit, the whole thing left me feeling very disheartened. For some reason, this didn’t just feel like a stuff-up. It was a failure. There would be no wedges of oven-poached quince in my porridge, and the tentative blog post I was excitedly dreaming up on seasonal foodie adventures was now kaput. I’d spent precious money on fresh fruit and spices, all for nothing. The fact that I’d initially been so thrilled and optimistic now made me feel naive and impostor-like. 

The very next day, I put my apron back on (but very nearly, almost didn’t) to tackle Cupcake Central’s Salted Caramel Cupcakes for the first time as a pre-Easter treat for the Ruby Slipper office. And as I took those cupcakes out of the oven, I felt a little flicker of hope. They looked kinda perfect. I  even took out my camera. Perhaps I’d not lost a blog post after all.

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After making up some salted caramel, my spirits were seriously lifting. I love making caramel – oh, that magical moment when the syrup turns amber, that great puff as you pour in the cream! And what fun it was to cut little cores in the cakes to spoon in hidden caramel pockets, before popping the tops back on. These cupcakes would be my saving grace, I thought.

Moments later, I realised my buttercream frosting had split.

I had no time or ingredients to start again. The frosting was useable – but I couldn’t un-see that ever-so-slight separation of the mixture. And so here it was. Another failure. I did the messiest, most frustrated frosting job I’ve ever done, and poured on some extra salted caramel. As I left home that night for dinner with friends, I messaged Mat – “The cupcakes I made look like absolute arse, I was too frustrated to try one properly before I left so you are welcome to try but the icing is just a giant fail. Not winning in the kitchen lately! :(“

A couple of hours later I received his reply.

“What. Are. You. Smoking. That was delicious. So yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.”

The ladies of Ruby Slipper and friends had rather similar thoughts. Despite my continual apologies for the ugly icing, no-one seemed to care – and in fact insisted I was bordering on delusional. It seemed that while I was determined to sell the cupcakes as a total failure, they were actually a hit. To realise as such was an interesting and perhaps even humbling moment.

Baking blunders certainly aren’t the end of the world. I started this blog as a place to share my explorations and wanderings – but to also share the journey of learning and discovery. Labelling something solely as a failure neglects the importance of the learning experience, and tends to rule out the possibility that something good may indeed still come of it. It’s also an awfully serious way of looking at the world, and I know that’s just not my style. In a world of beautiful blogs and carefully constructed Instagram uploads, it’s easy to imagine that botched quince and split buttercream simply don’t exist. Well, turns out they do. And I’m going to stop beating myself up about it.

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet

Last summer Mat introduced me to the wonderful world of homemade ice-cream. With the help of his little Sunbeam ice-cream machine, we happily snacked our way through flavours like chai choc-chip, peppermint, espresso choc-flake and cinnamon frozen yoghurt. Despite the soaring temperatures this year, however, we’ve been very lax in pulling out the ol’ Sunbeam bowl from the freezer. Well, no more! I’ve decided I’m determined to churn out some delicious new creations before the season ends. To kick-start it all off, Mat suggested a delicious twist on a Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet favourite from last summer – and so it was. Introducing: the Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet, using our much-beloved Innocent Bystander Moscato.

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David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop is a veritable bible for home-made ice-cream makers, and his Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet was a smash hit in our line-up last summer. The whole thing became particularly memorable when I Instagrammed the latest batch one night and the man himself chipped in with his endorsement:

 

 

On the other hand, this year Innocent Bystander’s famous moscato has become a delightfully refreshing go-to for hot summer nights. If you’re ever in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, you seriously must go to the Innocent Bystander winery and restaurant. It’s a big, beautiful warehouse-style dining hall that feels industrial yet wonderfully warm and cosy – and most importantly, the food and wine is stunning. We visited again over the New Year’s period and finished off a night of indulgence with a glass of the signature moscato – and so the love affair began. It’s sweet (but not so much to set the teeth on edge) and smooth and packs a candy pink punch – and incorporating it into a favourite sorbet recipe was an exciting prospect indeed.

I actually ended up using Lebovitz’s Raspberry-Champagne recipe – it’s very similar, but makes a smaller batch and includes a little water. Being a bubbly wine, I thought the usage of moscato might need to follow this method too. I could be wrong, but I was very happy with the results – so I suppose that’s all that matters! Lebovitz actually encourages experimentation with the sparkling wine used in this recipe – so definitely have a go at subbing in your own favourite bubbly!

This Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet is an excellent expression of Innocent Bystander Moscato – wonderfully fresh and sweet, with a little hint of tartness that tickles the whole mouth.

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet
Adapted from: David Lebovitz’s ‘Raspberry-Champagne Sorbet’, The Perfect Scoop

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Makes approx. 500ml (about 3 little bowls of sorbet). Cup measurements according to American standards.

  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) Innocent Bystander Moscato
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) water
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 220g (2 cups) raspberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen!)
  1. Add the moscato, water and sugar to a medium, nonreactive saucepan (I used a stainless steel Scanpan saucepan; anything made of stainless steel or lined with stainless steel is fine!). Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and add the raspberries to the mixture. Cover saucepan with lid and let sit for at least 10 minutes. This allows the raspberries to soften so that you can…
  3. Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Use a flexible spatula to press the raspberries through the sieve. This is my favourite part! Keep at it until you’ve pressed through as much juice as you can. Discard the pink lumpy mass of seeds left behind. Give the mixture a little stir to make sure everything is combined well.
  4. Cover the mixture and pop into the fridge until chilled. I left mine for a couple of hours.
  5. Freeze the chilled mixture in your ice-cream machine as per instructions. I use a basic freezer-bowl Sunbeam Snowy machine, and churned the mixture for a good 20 minutes. Because of the alcohol content, it takes on more of a slushie-like consistency – so don’t be too worried if it doesn’t look like it’s freezing enough in this type of machine! It will firm up in the freezer.
  6. Pour sorbet into a container, close and pop into the freezer. I left mine to freeze overnight – though if you’re super keen I’m sure a few hours would do!
  7. Before serving, take out of freezer and let stand for 5-10 minutes (depending on how long it’s been in freezer). Home-made ice-cream and sorbet generally appears to set quite hard, but it softens up quickly and still has an amazing texture.
  8. Enjoy!

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