The real reason I moved to Australia

Avocado on toasted sourdough with a squeeze of lime

Was it because the troika have taken over Ireland, and now you’re all poor?

Or maybe, because you’re allergic to rain?

Perhaps you just had enough of being called a culchie by all those Dublin jackeens?

Oh no, it was for love right? For the grá of your Australian Fella, the one you’re going to marry, it’s got to be for that, right?

WRONG!

Folks, the real reason I moved to the big red land down under had nothing to do with recession, rain for even love. Let’s be honest here; it was for avocados.

Yes. I said avocados.

Avocado on toasted sourdough with fresh cracked black pepper

When I was a child, my mother had a strict rule. Whenever any family member went abroad to warmer climates, they were warned not to bring home duty-free or Toblerone. Instead they were charged with smuggling ripe avocados into the country. My brother and I must have been the only children growing up in the north east of Ireland in the eighties who had avocado addictions. Hell, we must have been the only children for miles around who knew what avocados were! They weren’t spuds that much was for sure.

Things haven’t changed much since then. When I still lived in Ireland I would buy (imported) avocados in bulk and ripen them in the hot press. Yes, like a crazy lady. Now, I live on a much bigger island, one where ripe avocados are very commonplace; and they taste unreal! Gone are the days of waiting ages for an avocado to be ripe; now I can buy a luscious, nutty fruit in my local corner shop, open it up, and immediately spread it on my toast. I’ll repeat that for the folks back home, yes, I did say SPREAD. In Australia, the avocados are spreadable, like some kind of delicious, green butter. Are you beginning to understand my reasons for emigration?

You might all think that avocado on toast is pretty much a non-recipe, but I say, don’t dare knock it until you’ve tried it. I eat this about three times a week, for breakfast, brunch or even a midweek dinner.  And I can guarantee, if you can get quality avocados with super-fresh sourdough bread, you too will fall in love. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!

Avocado on toasted sourdough

Avocado on toasted sourdough slice

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Bread for your belly

Rosemary flecked focaccia

If you haven’t seen the film Anchorman, you should, right now. Stop reading this post and go rent it. I’m serious.

Those of you that have will no doubt remember Ron Burgundy singing at his scotch:

I love scotch.
Scotchy scotch scotch.
Here it goes down, down into my belly…….

And so on.

Well today I am here to confess that I feel much the same way about bread. It’s sad really, scotch and bread don’t really have a lot in common, one takes 18 years to mature, is smooth and effortlessly cool and the other is, well, just bread. But the heart (and by heart I of course mean belly) wants what it wants.

If someone told me in the morning I could never eat bread again I think I might consider slapping them; at the very least I’d shout at them, loudly. I always feel sorry for those women in glossy magazines who profess the benefits of a carb-free diet. I mean, they may be skinny, rich and successful, but could they really be happy? I doubt it. But then again, the less bread they eat, the more there is for me, whoop!

The magic of yeast

Magic stuff, that yeast!

Making your own bread is a lot less effort than you’d think and the results are oh so worth it. You just need time and a little elbow grease. The recipe I’m sharing today is one I’ve adapted from Maureen Tatlow’s The Back to Basics Cookbook. I’ve tweaked it a bit to suit my tastes and I just love it.

There are just two things to point out with it, if you don’t put in the requisite kneading time your bread will be heavy and dense; but hand-kneading for 10 minutes is a kind of exercise and so in a way makes up for the delicious carb overload that’s coming. The second thing is, this bread doesn’t keep well, you really need to eat it on the day it’s made, although it does toast really well on the day after. So adjusting the quantities to suit your hunger levels ain’t a bad idea.

Rosemary flecked focaccia

Rosemary focaccia

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Christmas stollen

Christmas Stollen Loaf

I am writing this while basking in the (relative) cool of the evening, which is quite a strange feeling on Christmas Eve. Where I’m from, we tend to bask in the warm glow of turf fires on the 24th, instead I’m battling with the cats for who gets to sit closest to the fan. The cats are winning; they use their cuteness against me, clever things.

It’s still 24 °C at 10 pm, which is not generally a temperature that makes me think of mulled wine and mince pies. Or stollen for that matter, but I’ve got to make some concessions to this festive season, right?

Dried fruit, glace cherries and Cointreau
Nothing screams Christmas better than dried fruit, glace cherries and booze!

I have to admit (and I’m sure it’s already clear), this year I’m finding the summer-time Christmas a little difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem sitting in the sun sipping many cool drinks (like this one), but let’s call a spade a spade here, it’s just not Christmas when it’s over 30 °C out. Today I’ve been pining for Grafton St and Grogans and going out with my girlies.

But who can’t resist marzipan fruit bread? Not me I tell you, doesn’t matter what the temperature is! So I rolled up my sleeves, whacked on my oven and set to work, and the results were worth it, oh so worth it…..

Nollaig shona daoibh!

Christmas stollen

Stollen with cherries and marzipan

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Soda bread cures all ills, it’s a fact

I’m a scientist, and am therefore totally and officially qualified to make broad, sweeping statements such as above.

This week two major things happened here in Chez Yumbolicious. Firstly, I was awarded Australian permanent residency; and secondly, I got the worst dose of homesickness since I landed here nearly two years ago.

OK, so I know it’s not Kerrygold, but I’ve got to admit, those Kiwis seem to know their stuff!

Funny how things work out isn’t it? I’m finally allowed to officially call Australia my home FOREVER and all I want to do is go back to the not-so-tropical island of Ireland. I must need a brain transplant. There just must be something about constant doom, gloom and recession that gets to me. Perhaps, unbeknownst to myself, I’m actually some sort of economic masochist? I must Google that, try and find a support group or something.

So what to do when you’re 16,000 km from home and wishing you were on Bettystown beach instead of Bondi? Answer: make soda bread, it solves everything. Fact.

For all non-Irish readers, soda bread is a traditional bread, made with soda and buttermilk instead of yeast. It’s absolutely delicious and is immensely popular. Not only will you find it in supermarkets and corner shops across Ireland; almost every family has a recipe for it too. In fact, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like it.

I know this sounds utterly stupid, but until I moved to Sydney, I never realised exactly how traditional and parochial soda bread really is. I did half expect to find it here. Not so my friends; in Sydney sourdough is king. After a few months of searching I found a great bloke called Paddy the Baker who makes (and delivers!) soda bread, along with some other delish Irish treats. But for the past few months now I’ve actually been making my own and it couldn’t be easier.

Yesterday I decided I needed an extra special soda-bread treat so I got me some smoked salmon, capers and lemon. And my-oh-my did it hit the spot!

Beginner’s brown soda bread

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Hot cross buns

Who doesn’t just love some religious iconography on their baked goods?!

As I was making these, and diligently piping out a cross on each one, I got to thinking: how does an atheist come to this? How is it these little buns are so loved that pretty much everyone, religious or not, eats them this time of year? Weird huh?

I was curious so I hit the interwebs and found out loads of interesting things about these yummie bunnies. Apparently they could have been eaten in pagan times, the cross (symbolising the four quarters of the moon) being a nod to the goddess Eostre. Which leads me to ask, did these Christians ever have an original idea?! But they were popularised in Tudor England, where they were so trendy with Catholics that Elizabeth I had to pass a law allowing them to be only made on Christmas and Good Friday. Hence how they are now associated with Easter.

Apparently there are all kinds of superstitions around them, like if you hang one in your kitchen you’ll make good bread all year, they’re also good luck to have on a ship. Who knew hot cross buns could be so interesting? If you fancy reading more try here, or here.

Or you could just skip to the recipe and enjoy these steaming hot from the oven with lashings of melted butter and a cup of tea. Yummo. It’s still the weekend after all, there’s no need to start being healthy until tomorrow.

Hot cross buns

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Hallowe’en barmbrack

It appears that Australians don’t do Hallowe’en.

It makes a lot of sense; obviously October evenings in the southern hemisphere are a lot less cold, dark and, well, scary than they are back home. Which I guess is why Hallowe’en never took off here, despite the influx of Irish immigrants over the years, and why it flourished in the States instead.

It does slightly bother me that the American version of Hallowe’en is all that’s widely known here; no one realises that it’s an ancient Celtic festival. Therefore, the focus is all on trick-or-treating, and nothing else. No bobbing for apples, no bonfires and no barmbrack. I have decided that I’m on a one-woman mission to change all this. I did have to go to stupid work today though, so I only got as far as the barmbrack, but every little counts. Right?

Barmbrack is a traditional Irish fruit bread made to celebrate Oíche Shamhna (Hallowe’en night). It’s not only totally delish but is also loads of fun as it contains some odd little things you don’t normally find in baked goods, such as a ring, a coin, a pea, a piece of cloth and a stick. These objects mean different things for the person who finds them. The ring and the coin are the two best-known ones, they indicate that the finder will either get married in the coming year or get rich. The others are not so optimistic. The pea means the finder will not get married that year, the piece of cloth means they will be poor and the stick means they’ll have an unhappy marriage. Presumably, the stick was to be used a weapon! Lovely!

Hallowe’en Barmbrack

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