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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Barbequed shrimp Aussie style

I wonder if there is a nationality on earth that doesn’t have a stereotype associated with it?

As an Irish ex-pat, I sometimes get wished a lovely morning; and while I always appreciate the sentiment, I’m not usually a fan of the delivery. Let me be clear here, Irish people don’t, nor have they ever used the phrase ‘top of the morning to you’.

When Australians say this to me, my response is always the same. I say ‘Ahh yeah, throw a shrimp on the barbie mate’.

That usually gets a reaction.

And I just love a reaction.

Prawns on the barbie, BBQ, Aussie BBQ
If the only thing you know about the Land Down Under comes from Crocodile Dundee or Men at Work songs, you need to throw out those misconceptions. I’ve never seen a deadly spider or snake;  I’m still not entirely sure what a billabong actually is; I don’t carry around large knives; The Fella hardly ever drinks Fosters or rides kangaroos to work. It’s all a bit disappointing really. Although I still hold out hope of one day finding a koala bear living in my back garden.

Barbequed crustaceans are sadly lacking from my life, so in honour of Australia Day I decided to turn that around. God damn it, I threw some shrimps on the barbie and they were bloody bonzer mate!

Barbequed shrimp Aussie style

Barbequed prawns

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Sydney Swelters

Passion fruit, lemon and mint and creamy cherry ice-lollies

This is the counterpoint to my post Sydney sparkles. It seems in the springtime Sydney sparkles; but by the time January rolls around, Sydney simply sweats.

Last week, all of Australia struggled through a massive heat-wave. Temperatures were literally off the charts with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology having to come up with new colour indicators on their forecast charts. Bush fires raged across Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, but thankfully no one lost their lives. The weather in this country certainly is serious business.

Colourful fruit ice lollies

On Wednesday the mercury in Sydney reached over 41 C, which is just as uncomfortable as it sounds. When it was still 37 C at half eleven that night, I regretted my decision not to just sleep at the pool. So what do you do when you live in a country located – as Dylan aptly observed – three quarters of a mile from the surface of the sun, in a house with no air conditioning? You make ice-pops and eat them while sitting in the bath, isn’t it obvious?!

Don’t let the fact you’ve no ice-pop making accoutrements stop you, do what I did and make them in little shot glasses with straws instead of sticks. You can all judge me if you want, but I was hot and I wasn’t driving to the shops. Anyway, I think they look kind of cute in a DIY sort of way. They tasted good at least and they were cold, which was really all that mattered to me.

Lemon and mint, passion fruit and creamy cherry ice-lollies

Lemon and mint, passion fruit and creamy cherry ice-lollies

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The desert your dentist will love to hate on

Every kid loves Roald Dahl’s dark, twisted and hilariously grotesque stories, right? Or was that just me? I love that he got right to the crux of what kids really like, there’s no pink fluff or fairy godmothers in his stories, no sir. Instead there are disappearing twits, shrinking grandmothers, squish-able aunts and other villains coming to raucous, violent and; let’s be honest; hilariously funny ends.

One of my very favourite characters is Violet Beauregarde, maybe because I can relate to poor ‘oul Violet a little more than I’d care to admit. For those of you who don’t know, Violet, a serial gum-chewer, won a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  But poor Violet comes to a colourful end when she insists on trying a prototype gum that doubles as a three course meal. Long story short, she sweals up, turns into a blueberry and has to be rolled away…. to be juiced.

I love the idea that you could eat so much of something, you could turn into it. I’m pretty sure it can’t actually happen, at least, I haven’t turned into a lump of chocolate just yet; although I do have a friend who insists her skin once started to turn orange after she over dosed on carrot juice.

Well, eating tonnes of this yummie desert won’t turn you into a blueberry, but it will turn your teeth and tongue a jaunty shade of purple. Hence why your dentist won’t like it, but I bet your friends will find it hilarious.

I threw this together after The Fella’s mother gifted me a whole bucketful of blueberries (yes, I am a very lucky girl). It’s like a cross between a fool and a fruit crumble, mainly because I couldn’t quite decide on what to make, but it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it is deeeelicious. I think it would work with any summer berry, especially raspberries, so if you’re not lucky enough to be gifted a pile of blueberries in the morning, feel free to mix it up, your teeth can take it.

Little pots of blue

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Sydney Sparkles

When it comes to weather, us Irish like to think we’re pretty hardy.  We just love to hate it, almost as much as we love to talk about it; and I did think we had it pretty tough, until I moved to Australia. The weather in this poor country is pure mental.

MENTAL I tell you.

When I first moved here and was house hunting, I amused quite a few real estate agents asking in-depth questions about central heating. At that stage I was such a FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) I didn’t realise the buzz phrase in Sydney is ‘reverse-cycle air conditioning’, doh! One actually guy laughed in my face. Well what can I say? I love to keep people entertained.

So, last week, when the reverse-cycle air conditioning in my office gave up the ghost, it wasn’t a good day. The system was kaput, defunct, dead. And it got hot. Oh so very hot. I started to glow, then to glisten and then to sweat profusely; all over my keyboard. As this was happening I also got progressively more stressed and stupid. Apparently my mental faculties are inversely proportional to the temperature of my immediate environment; which means if I ever move to Finland or Antarctica or someplace, I would probably be SO smart.

When I got home I needed alcohol, cold alcohol.

So I made this, and it was yum. I got the idea when browsing Heidi Swanson’s pop-up shop, QUITOKEETO. Heidi made hers with a straightforward thyme-infused syrup, but I decided to take things a step further and use lemon thyme instead of the regular variety. Lemon thyme is wonderful and I would urge everyone to get a pot, just for the beautiful smell if nothing else.

This cocktail is so very yummie. It’s lemoney and herby, aromatic and sweet, I love it; and I usually like my gin so bitter it makes my face turn inside out. So if you’re not a gin drinker, this might be the perfect introduction.

They fixed the air-conditioning, by the way; but the next day there was a hail storm, so it was a bit redundant really. See, I told you: mental.

Lemon-thyme gin sparkler

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A tipple for advertising gurus the world over

There’s a great website I follow called Gojee; I subscribe to their newsletter which has a weekly round-up of all that’s hot and tasty on the interwebs. One feature I especially look forward to is called WWDDD? As in: what would Don Draper drink? A question on the forefront of minds across the globe no doubt.

Image

The Fella and I are huge Mad Men fans, massive. Ever since the show started in 2007 we’ve been totally hooked. You see, The Fella is an advertising creative, and a very clever one at that; so he enjoys it for much more than just the great storylines and the super-awesome-fabulous styling. Hence when the fifth season finished up last week, we found ourselves at a bit of a loss on our usual Mad Men night. Then I’d a brain wave and made us some deliciously-retro whisky sours. They were just the ticket to get the creative juices flowing and I feel sure Don would have approved.

While I got the inspiration for this cocktail from Gojee, I actually used a recipe given to me by a friend of The Fella. She insisted that a good whisky sour absolutely HAS to have egg white in it. Initially I wasn’t convinced. But she argued and persisted and basically wore me down and I’m so glad she did. Not only does putting egg white in your cocktail make you feel like Rocky or some other super-fit-healthy dude (thus totally negating the alcohol content); it also give the cocktail a beautiful frothy head and a je ne sais quoi that is hard to describe, especially after a few.

These are delicious, and the more of them you drink the more your boyfriend will start to look like Mr Draper, which is never a bad thing, is it?!

Whisky Sours

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Passionfruit and lemon curd

Edible gifts are the best. End of story.

The Fella took this picture in our Dublin apartment in early December 2008. I was pretty intent on making, oh about 10 bazillion litres of jam and so didn’t notice when he crept up behind me. That was the year the Irish recession was just starting to take hold, and boy did it take us all by surprise.

For most of the preceding Christmases, I ran up huge credit card bills buying unnecessary presents for both of our families. Not that the gifts were unnecessary, I like giving people gifts, but I think we’d kind of lost the true spirit of it. I know I’m at risk of sounding like cheesy American film, but bear with me here. We bought things just for the sake of giving them, without really thinking if the recipient would need, or even like the gift.  We were also buying for so many people; getting ‘something small’ for The Fella’s-cousin’s-ex-boyfriend’s-neighbour-because-they-sat-beside-us-in-the-pub-one-night suddenly became perfectly reasonable. Celtic-tiger Ireland was certainly a place to behold.

Then in 2008 I had what the Australians call a ‘dummy spit’. I had been working in a high-pressure sales job and was watching the market contract before my very eyes. But also on a personal level, I’d just had enough of the excess, the waste, and most of all, the pressure. So I went on-line and ordered two cases of jam jars; and that was my Christmas shopping done. It took all of 10 minutes.

I ended up making a trio of preserves: chili and tomato relish, rhubarb and ginger jam and lemon and orange marmalade. I packaged them all together in cute little bags and gave them as gifts to friends and family alike. I wish I had a picture of them, but this was long before I had ever even thought of blogging.

They were the most successful presents I ever gave. Small, thoughtful, delicious; but most of all: useful.

Since then, I’ve never reverted back to the mass-consumer gift giving. The Fella and I have pared back our list and our spending. Of course, we don’t make everything we give, but we do try to put in a little more thought into what we give and to whom. And this year everyone we love will be getting a jar of this delicious curd on various special occasions.

I made this a few weeks ago with the last of the autumn passion fruit, and oh my god was it delicious. It lasted all of two days in our fridge, and that was with us trying to be self-controlled! It’s like lemon curd but it gets an extra little bit of tang from the passionfruit, also the seeds give it a lovely bit of texture. It could go on absolutely anything from pie-crust to scones to ice-cream or meringue.  And best of all you can personalise your labels or jars and turn it into the perfect (and dare I say it: pretty darned impressive) gift for any occasion.

Passionfruit curd

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Lemon, lime and bitters

This year, the poor people of Sydney have experienced what can only be described as an Irish summer. Well perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration; seeing as Irish summer is the one day in July where the mercury reaches 22 °C and the entire population goes to the beach to eat ice-cream and get sunburnt. No, the weather here hasn’t been that extreme; but by Sydney standards, it hasn’t been great either. And the poor Sydneysides are getting very very upset and muttering a lot about vitamin D withdrawal symptoms.

This weekend however has been fabulous. Not too hot or humid, but by no means cold; it has been nice, bright and sunny. This morning we went to Clovelly to go snorkelling with friends and then enjoyed a fish and chip lunch by the water. It was beautiful, but the drive back was hot, and we were both sweaty and flustered by the time we got home, and in dire need of a cold and refreshing drink.

Enter lemon, lime and bitters, possibly thee most refreshing drink in the world. And so apt on a hot summers day like today. Yumo.

Lemon, lime and bitters seems to be a real Australian thing, I had never heard of it, nor tasted it until I started coming here on holidays with The Fella. After one of our holidays here, we actually brought bottles of Angostura Bitters home to Ireland, as we could never find any in Dublin. Shortly after that trip, we were in Westport for a weekend and found loads of the stuff in the town-centre Centra. It was totally bizarre! Perhaps there’s a large Australian community in Westport, or perhaps they’ve just copped on to how god-damn delicious the stuff is.

So if you’re in Sydney, make this and soak up the last of the evening sun, apparently there’s a storm coming tonight, so you might as well enjoy the weather while you can. If you’ve got no place to go, you might even add in a wee sneaky splash of vodka or rum!

And for those of you at home in Ireland, you’ve got five whole months until summer arrives to find a shop selling Angostura Bitters and buy up the lot.

Lemon, lime and bitters

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Potato and egg salad with fennel and lemon

I’m all about dinner salads; love them I do. It’s great to pile loads of tasty and (sometimes) healthy food onto a plate and call it dinner. Add a dash of dressing, crusty bread for some dippage and you have a great mid-week supper.

Although, perhaps this dinner salad lark is just another way for me to delude myself into thinking I’m healthy.

This recipe is absolutely wonderful; I’ve adapted it from Epicurious and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It takes minutes to prepare and has a beautiful array of flavours and textures. Boring oul egg salad it ain’t! Let it brighten up a midweek dinner table near you, and soon.

Potato and egg salad with fennel and lemon

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Haloumi salad

Is there anything in this world better than fried cheese? Really? I’m pretty sure it’s virtually impossible to beat, even with a super-long-great-big stick.

I actually wonder what was going through Mr Haloumi’s mind when he was inventing it? I like to think the thought process went something like this:

Mmmmmm, cheese really is some kind of super food, totally healthy and not at all packed with fat. No, no, no. So how could I make it appeal to the non-healthy eating market? … conundrum … I know, let’s FRY IT! Whoop!

Genius.

So to counteract it’s many health benefits, I’ve paired the Haloumi with super fresh, calorie-free veggies in a yummie salad of my own inventing (that sounds so way better then admitting these ingredients were all I could find in the fridge).

I know there are the Haloumi haters out there, who think it’s too chewy and salty and just plain weird. Well I just say bah to them, the less they eat, the more there is for me, right? But I did cook my Haloumi with a squeeze of lemon juice, just to cut through that saltiness, then paired it with a little lemon dressing and Bob’s your Uncle, you have yumness on a plate.

Haloumi salad

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Unorthodox souvlaki

One disappointment I’ve had since coming to Australia has been my experience of the great Australian Barbecue. Now, don’t get me wrong, these Ozzys do love their outdoor cooking, but it’s just not quite as I’d expected.

I really should use this information to challenge my stereotypes; as I’m sure the Ozzys appreciate hearing ‘throw a shrimp on the barbie’ about as much as I welcome idiots saying ‘top o’the morning to ye’.

Most self-respecting Ozzy barbecuers have a large gas-powered or electric grill on their patio, instead of the tray of smoking, glowing coals that we’re so fond of on the annual three days of Irish summertime. And I can see why they do; it’s simply easier to control a grill. You’re less liable give your friends salmonella with pieces of charred chicken that are still raw on the inside, or turn a sausage into a weapon, or transform a nice juicy steak into something you could wear on your feet.

But really, isn’t that really half the fun?!

So, anyway, the point of all this is, I found this recipe for souvlaki, which are meant to be cooked on a barbecue. Not actually owning a barbecue, I opted to cook these on an electric grill (albeit an indoor one). And although, I know this was unauthentic, they still tasted soooo good.

I know many many Greek people are probably cursing my existence night now, but in my defence, I was excited to try these and simply couldn’t wait until summer. But once it does come around, I’ll cook them again, on a proper, smoking, coal barbecue and I’m sure they will taste even better again!

Souvlaki with salad and tzatziki in pita bread

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