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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Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

frangipani and pineapple

Seasons are funny things, aren’t they? In Ireland we tend to have on average, oh, about two days of summertime a year. Three if we’re really lucky. When I was a student these days always conveniently coincided with major exams; in fact I think the gods of Irish summertime still do this. Those guys must hate students.

In Sydney, they have pretty much the exact opposite case. Here, we’ll get about three weeks of winter, tops. Summer glides into autumn, which sometimes threatens to turn into winter, but generally thinks better of it and simply glides back into spring again. We had sunshine and highs of 21 last week, but it is starting to get much cooler and wetter.

spiced pineapple brulee

A major hint that winter is on the way are the two rapidly-shedding frangipani trees outside my house. During the summer these tress keep our bedroom shady and cool, while filling it with the lovely scent of frangipani. At the moment however, they are covering my car in a deluge of dying flowers and leaves, meaning I have to practically dig my way into it every morning.

Two weekends ago, I picked what I think will be the last frangipani flowers of the year and paired them with the last of the autumn pineapples to make a totally-tropical desert. Crème brûlée with spiced pineapple is actually a great choice for this in-between season; the Chinese five spice gives a lovely autumny accent to the summery pineapple. And crème brûlée is just plain awesome no matter what time of the year.

As The Starks say – Winter is coming. Even to Sydney.

Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

five-spice pineapple creme brulee

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Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad

Irish flag Aussie salad

Well it’s that time of year again, when the entire world commandeers my nationality and dyes everything green. Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

Paddy’s day as an expat is a strange experience to say the least, although I’d say it would be worse for Irish people living in the States. It’s such a big deal, a day that everyone knows about, but no one is really sure what’s it for. According to the rest of the world St Patrick was some drunk bloke who wore oversized green top hats and said thirty-three and a third a lot.

This year I’m OK with it though, people can think what they want to as long as it makes them happy. And if they get a bit of craic out of it, sure all the better.

Leprechauns and mangos

The Fella thinks I’m an absolute disgrace to my country for posting this picture, he thinks I deserve to get my passport taken off me because of it. But I say, if the world wants leprechauns, why not give them leprechauns?

You can all blather on about corned beef (baffling and disgusting in equal measures), leprechauns (just plain lame) and pots of gold (I don’t know if any of you folks heard, but Ireland is currently owned by the IMF) as much as you like and I won’t bat an eyelid. But, I would really like to remind everyone that there are actually two other colours in the Irish flag. Yes folks, believe it or not there is some orange and white in there too! I know right? It just blows your mind.

I made this salad as an homage to the oft-forgotten tricolour, where mango represents the orange and macadamia the white. An Australian take on my national flag if you were, as mangos and macadamia nuts are a little harder to come by in county Louth.

I will be celebrating Paddy’s day in Sydney CBD with The Fella and his family and I’ve no doubt there won’t be a tractor or a bunch of shamrocks in sight, but it will be fun none the less. And I hope you have the craic too, wherever you are in the world and however you choose to celebrate; but I do ask this: as you’re tucking into your green beer, do save a thought for the tricolour, sure it’s a grand wee flag!

Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad – spinach, mango and macadamia

Tri colour salad

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Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

heirloom & cherry tomatoes

There’s a building right at the edge of North Sydney with a giant digital time and temperature display that I’m kind of obsessed with.

Every morning, as I drive past, I mentally take note of the temperature. Without fail. It’s kind of a morning ritual for me, like coffee and newspapers. I think it might be an Irish thing; as a nationality, we do tend to be unreasonably fascinated by temperature.

Take your annual summer holiday for instance; sure you couldn’t be expected to have a good foreign holiday until the mercury reaches at least 30 °C. You see, you just wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth. Sure what would be the point of leaving the country if you didn’t get pure roasted alive?!

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Likewise, hot days at home are monitored with fascination – jaysus, the winky weatherman said it’s going to be 23 °C tomorrow! Oh holy god! I may dig out the shorts, let’s bring the kids to the beach, and ring the neighbors, we’re going to have a barbeque, god it’ll be great to get a bit of tan! – would be the typical thought process of many an Irish person on the annual day of summer.

Neither would a Skype conversation with anyone from home be complete without an enquiry about the temperature. It’s one hot topic!

So, true to my race, I check the temperature on my drive to work every morning, and think about what a mental country Australia is. Last Friday it was 19 °C at 7.03 am. I kid you not.

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Let me just put that into context for you: at seven in the morning, in the spring, it was as warm as it sometimes ever gets in the middle of the day in Ireland in summer.

I think that means summer is officially on it’s way. Australian summer, obviously.   

To celebrate, I made a wonky heirloom Caprese salad, because nothing tastes more like sunshine than tomatoes and basil. I used some juicy heirloom tomatoes and chopped everything up so roughly, you’d swear I don’t even own a knife. Then, I sat in the back garden, soaked up some rays and enjoyed it.

Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

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Roast baby squash with mozzarella and celery leaves

Since moving to Australia, one of my very favorite things is the abundance of interesting and seemingly exotic fresh fruit and vegetables. I know that sounds silly, and I don’t mean to diss fresh Irish produce in any way what so ever. Absolutely not. I firmly believe Ireland produces some of the finest fruit and veg in the world. All I’m saying is that, wonderful as our food may be, visiting the green grocers in Australian can be a tad more exciting and baffling in equal measures.

Take the recipe below for instance, I will eat my own shoes and call them delicious if any of of the folks back home can honestly say they frequently find baby squash in the local Dunnes Stores. Perhaps pre-recession; but now? Doubtful.

When I was in Dublin, I’d have had to visit the always yumbo Fallon & Byrne (or the Temple Bar food market). And while I probably would have found them, I could pay through the nose for the diminutive gourds; and the taste of middle-class, carbon-footprinted guilt would have been hard to wash away; no matter how much wine I drank with dinner.

Not so in Australia my friends. The same sun that likes to mock my stupid Irish skin does wonderful things to mangos, pineapples, bananas, papaya, passion fruit, macadamia nuts, custard apples, and endless more exotic (and not so exotic) bundles of yumness. And I am busy reaping the rewards.

 Roast baby squash with mozzarella and celery leaves

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Upside-down Christmas and New Year

Overindulgence (over|in¦dul¦gence).
Noun.
1. the action or fact of having too much of something enjoyable: her alleged
overindulgence in alcohol

2. excessive gratification of a person’s wishes: his overindulgence of her whims

I’m sure many people are just like me, and had to look this word up in the dictionary yesterday morning. At least I hope I wasn’t the only one.

This was my third Christmas and New Year in the land down under. And while I do miss Christmas at home something shocking, I have to admit, I find New Years in the sun very pleasant altogether. Hot sunshine, beaches, laughing kookaburras, barbecues, factor-30, kangaroos and buckets of chilled white wine may not scream Christmas to most people, but they do make for some good times. A little too good, truth be told.

I did very little cooking over Christmas, but I did make this desert. It was an attempt to reconcile the two very different types of Christmases I’ve experienced. Because, despite the fact it’s thirty degrees outside, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the pudding!

Upside-down Christmas pudding ice-cream

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Posh Lamb

Ohhhh, look at this, it’s poshness squared!

I’ve never been mad about traditional roast dinners, I don’t really know why. I know thousands of people think a roast dinner is what makes a Sunday, not me; perhaps I’m abnormal? Oh dear.

But there is something pretty cool about them all the same, and this lamb is not only yum but also looks seriously impressive to boot. And it’s much less effort than you’d think, always a plus in my book. I would definitely consider making it the next time the in-laws are due around, and hopefully they will be mucho-impressedo.

Posh spring rack of lamb with fennel

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Chicken satay pizza

Oh dear, I seem to have created an uber-addictive and calorie ridden tour de force.

Anyone who is on a diet, please proceed with caution. I’m pretty sure this harmless looking snack contains oh, about 79 bazillion weight watchers points per slice. By all means make it, but when the top button of your pants starts to object don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This recipe is from one of The Fella’s cookbooks from back in his bachelor days. It’s a wonder he found a girlfriend at all, given how much he likes this pizza; although I suspect all the faffing about with yeast and dough probably put him off making it too often.

I’ve adapted the recipe and made my own satay sauce, rather then just using a jar. So now I have plenty left over for chicken or prawns or the more traditional satay companions. Satay makes a super interesting pizza sauce and this recipe has actually inspired me to experiment a bit more with what I would consider to be stapes in a recipe.

I would definitely recommend you chuck the diet out the window, go forth and be adventurous with peanuts!

Satay sauce and chicken satay pizza

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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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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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The dreaded pesto

This recipe is for my dad.

Dad is usually very adventurous about what he’ll eat, with one major exception: he cannot and will not abide pesto.

He was raised on a diet of spuds, cabbage and bacon that bored him to tears; so now he has an appetite for absolutely anything. He has been known to disgust friends and colleagues in posh French restaurants with a penchant for things that crawl on the sea bed (raw, of course). And in college he was affectionately known as Two-Dinners-Dillon. This is a man who likes his food.

This all worked out well for him, as my mother is an absolutely cracking cook. However, as a working mother of four, she has, on occasion been known to favour convenience over taste. So when the first incarnation of this strange concoction called pesto arrived on Quinnsworth’s shelves in the late 80s, it didn’t matter that it actually tasted like something an animal might try and bury. No, no in my mother’s eyes it was new, foreign and exciting. And more importantly, it could be poured over a pot of just cooked pasta, meaning dinner for six could be prepared in approximately 14 minutes. Dad hated it and it became known in our house as “The Dreaded Pesto”. Eventually he just boycotted it, which drove my mother mad. And to the best of my knowledge, pesto (fresh or otherwise) hasn’t darkened the door of their fridge ever since.

I, on the other hand love love love LOVE pesto. It can be used to dress up absolutely anything, from a plain old cheese sandwich, to salad dressings, to meats; and (my favourite) baked spuds. Limiting it to pasta is just an injustice. This recipe is lovely; it has quite a different taste to basil pesto, not as sweet and with a hint of smokiness from the walnuts. I think it’s what pesto would have tasted like if it had been invented by the Irish.

So this one’s for you Dad, one taste and I promise you’ll be hooked!

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Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka!

Years ago, just after we first met, The Fella went on a trip with his cousin to Poland. While international travel broadens most people’s minds, The Fella came back with just one word (which he repeated a LOT) and significantly less brain cells. The word was tatanka. Or to be more specific: Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka!

Tatanka is a cocktail made with a very special type of vodka, Żubrówka is a Polish brand that is infused and flavored with bison grass. It tastes like no other vodka you’ve ever had, as in, it actually tastes nice and not even slightly like paint stripper. So when I saw a bottle in our local liqueur shop, I wasn’t even slightly deterred by the $49.99 price tag (it costs about 20 quid at home) and I snapped it up.

All the tatanka recipes I found on-line called for ice. However I have it on good authority from a Polish friend back home that using ice is a faux-pas, instead you should use super-chilled vodka and juice. The Polish can get very touchy about their vodka and it is mostly drunk undiluted and unadulterated.

This drink is super delicious, very simple and after just a few you too will be singing: Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka! Tatanka!……………

Tatanka

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Summery tart

This week spring well and truly descended onto Sydney, and it got HOT. It has been lovely and bright in the mornings and when I leave the office each evening. We’ve started sleeping with the windows open every night.

So, I started what I feel may become a springtime ritual in Australia: I worried about how many bugs we’re going to have come summer (which was sparked by finding a baby huntsman spider in my kitchen, eek); and I fretted about by my poor très-burnable Irish skin.

But I also hit the interwebs in search of light, bright, summery, yummery food to cook. I’ve resolved to eat no more stodge until May. During my search I found this beautiful tart on one of my favourite websites: Delicious. And it was oh so colourful, simple and delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad it really hit the spot. Plus it gave The Fella ample opportunities to make super hilarious innuendos about all kinds of tarts, like, who doesn’t love a good tart on a hot day? But maybe the less said about that the better….

Tomato, chive and Brie tart

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Offering to the cookie gods

Something strange has been happening in Chez Yumbolicious these past few weeks. Something very strange indeed.

I got a new cookbook last month; it was second hand and I think it might have some mad weird powers.

Basically, it follows me around the house. I keep finding it in the strangest of places: on the dining table, beside the couch, sitting on the landing, next  to the computer……… And it’s always open on the same page: chocolate chip cookies.

It’s so bizarre; I just can’t figure it out. It’s almost like the book is willing me to bake them. It must be the book, who else could it be? The Fella says I’m going mad, he said I should make them to appease the cookie gods, or heaven knows what the book would be up to next.

Heaven knows indeed.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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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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Messy meringue

This week I got to thinking about how recipes are invented. Now, bear with me here, I’m not being totally stupid. Obviously some stuff just tastes good together, like macaroni and cheese. And clearly the Irish national dish of spuds, bacon and cabbage evolved simply because, way back in the day, there just weren’t many other dinner options. But do you ever think some recipes were ‘invented’ by accident and just kind of caught on?

The reason I ask is, this week I made the traditional English summer desert, Eton Mess. Now, I don’t want to mislead you, I hadn’t originally intended to make it. Instead, I envisioned making a beautiful, white, fluffy, towering pavlova. But unfortunately my meringue looked like it had fallen off the back of a truck and then dragged through a hedge backwards by a pack of wild and ravaging dogs.

But it tasted good, nice and crispy on the outside and slightly chewy in the inside and deliciously sweet. So really, the only option was to smush it up, cover it with cream and pretend that’s what I had really intended to do all the while. And I’d like to think that’s how the recipe was ‘invented’ in the first place!

Eton Mess

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Feeling chilli

About two months ago, in a fit of romance, The Fella gave me a chilli plant. Now, I’m pretty dire at all things plant related. Most green and sprouting things like to shrivel up and die if I even so much as look at them, but it seems chillies are a hardy lot. Or else, maybe I’m getting better.

So my plant stayed green and the chillies stayed red and shiny and very pretty. So pretty, I didn’t want to pick any for fear of ruining my bourgeoning green-fingered illusion. That was until last week, when I noticed some of the chillies were starting to look more shrively than shiny. It appeared I’d done it again.

I pruned and managed to save a lot. But then I had to think about what to do with a large quantity of fairly hot chillies at extreamly short notice. As neither I, nor my digestive system, fancied eating curries for a month; I decided it was time to learn the ancient art of preserving. Enter Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking (I heart her!) and hey presto we have lift (your head) off chilli jam. Delicious on sangwiches, cold meats, cheese, or anything that needs a wee bit of a kick!

Tomato and chilli jam

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Pasta with feta, spinach and pine nuts

It’s actually a bit bizarre that in the few months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never posted any pasta dishes. The Fella and I eat a LOT of pasta, mainly because it’s cheap (his thumbs up) and quick (my thumbs up). Because don’t you hate it when you’ve had a long day at work and you’re faced with the stupid what to make for dinner dilemma? I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I find weekday evenings frustratingly short. Some evenings I just want something quick and easy and I don’t like only sitting down to my dinner at 9 o’clock at night. For one thing, that’s when all the good shows start. Hence, pasta it is.

You would not believe the number of “pasta surprise” recipes we have, The Fella is especially good at these. Basically they consist of whatever we have in the fridge, and thus they are great for avoiding a condition called postworksupermarketrage. This dreadful disorder is particularly prevalent among 20 and 30 something childless professionals, who use their weekends for getting drunk and other irresponsible frivolities and neglect to do basic household tasks, such as shopping. Tut tut tut.

This is a wee step up from pasta surprise, and it is a little beaut of a recipe. I found it in Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen, and I guarantee you can get this on the table in 20 minutes flat. Beat that Jamie Oliver!

Pasta with feta, spinach and pine nuts

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Christmas in July

OK, OK I know that it’s now August, not July. But those of you who know me, know that I’m probably going to turn up late to my own funeral. Punctuality is NOT my strongpoint. And also, if you’re picking an arbitrary date to celebrate a northern hemisphere winter style holiday, does it really matter when exactly that arbitrary date is? Eh, I don’t think so.

So this weekend, we’re going to Melbourne to celebrate ‘Christmas’ with our good friends Betty and Elms. The thing is though, none of us are really that pushed on the whole Christmassy element of this celebration, what with temperatures topping 23 °C in Sydney this week, it doesn’t feel particularly like Christmas (or even winter for that matter). So really, this is just an excuse to have a bit of craic and get a wee tincy bit langers (who said that?!), so actually, quite like Christmas at home really.

Anyways, these little mulled wine parcels are perfect for this celebration. Just add alcohol and hey presto, you have Christmas in a glass!

Mulled wine parcels

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Epic (fail) eggs

Ahh, Sunday morning.

Lovely sunny morning, maybe we could go out for breakfast? Maybe someplace by the water, that would be nice.

On second thoughts, why should I leave my nice comfortable house on a Sunday morning? That would require hair brushing and the like. Seems like effort, pants to that. I’m a food blogger, aren’t I? I can make Eggs Florentine; it can’t be that hard, surely.

Surely?

Well, it appears Eggs Florentine are a wee tiny incy bit more effort than I had initially thought. Full epic fail instructions are as follows:

  1. Clatter about in pots and pans cupboard, making as much noise as possible. Wake boyfriend and possibly neighbours; if you’re up they can’t need much more sleep.
  2. Put toast under grill and promptly forget about it.
  3. Perfectly poach the eggs (gold star!) and feel immensely proud. So proud that electric kettle is inadvertently placed on the hot stove ring (which has obviously been left on. Obviously).
  4. Vaguely smell burning toast, ignore.
  5. Melt butter for the hollandaise sauce.
  6. Realise that toast has been charred, curse loudly and put fresh bread under the grill. Resolve to pay much more attention in future.
  7. Think the burning toast smell has a funny plastic tinge to it. Must be imagining things.
  8. Scramble the eggs making the first batch of hollandaise, damn it. Stomp about a bit in frustration.
  9. Remember to check the toast (hooray!).
  10. Suddenly realise electric kettle is melting rapidly, filling kitchen with noxious kettle fumes.
  11. Curse. A lot. Very loudly. In multiple languages.
  12. Run out into garden with melted kettle and flail about for a bit, not knowing what exactly to do with it.
  13. Open all windows and doors.
  14. Snap at emerging boyfriend enquiring about burning kitchen. He should be grateful that breakfast is being made for him.
  15. Stand back, take one large (kettle filled breath) and start again

Eggs Florentine

The second time around I faired much better. However, this dish does require good timing and quick thinking and so maybe it’s not ideal for first thing on a Sunday morning.

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