Saturday 26 March 2011

A Touch of France : Crème Brûlée and the Child Within.

For most people, a secure childhood is crucial for well-being and success as one pupates into adulthood. Our entrenched behaviours often mimic that of our parents. Keeping with this observation I should be “looking good”, but sadly I have inherited a disproportionate number of my parents rogue genes which have overridden much of my environmental influences. One could say that I’m the “black sheep of the family” - definitely a product of nature and not nurture

My childhood was simple, rhythmic, and comfortably predictable; full of laughter and crammed with low cost, high return activities (CFO* heaven) – mud pies, biking adventures, catching yabbies, fishing, reading, being read to, camping, bush walking, playing cards in front of an open fire, endless concerts (for which I was the producer, director, choreographer and "star"), cooking with mother and eating at our expansive dining table, usually with an additional guest or two............Idyllic.

Of course there were challenges, emotional and physical, but they made us stronger and fade into the past, tempered by a “balanced life”.

The smell and taste of specific foods evoke strong memories of childhood and a feeling of security, despite my age. Just a waft of cooking toffee or true vanilla custard carries me back in time.

Still catching yabbies
.......with my nephew

Cooking family meals was an expression of my mother’s love for her brood. Our food was often a multicultural affair - accompanied by an appropriate wine on Saturday evenings. Special occasions called for mother’s revered Tante Marie, her kitchen bible, to be opened. Thus crème brûlée has become one of my favourite adult “comfort foods” in which I take refuge in times of stress and delight in time of repose. Savouring it is a sensual experience - a glistening toffee hat on rich creamy custard with a hint of vanilla…..soft and smooth against brittle toffee that emits cranial echoes on shattering in the mouth. Bliss in a bowl! 

A trail of empty crème brûlée dishes chronicled my last journey around France.............Delish. 

So for a touch of France, here is my crème brûlée recipe adapted from The Food of France, a Journey for Food Lovers. The orange flower water adds a subtle layer to the much revered recipe from mother’s beloved Tante Marie.                                                                    
Crème Brûlée Recipe 

Ingredients (metric measures)
2 cups double cream
¾ cup full cream milk
½ cup of castor sugar (superfine sugar)
1 good vanilla pod
5 egg yolks (from large eggs)
1 egg white (from a large egg)
I tablespoon of orange flower water
½ cup Demerara sugar

Collect 8 ½ cup ramekins and a roasting dish in which they may sit.

Preheat the oven to 1200 C
Mix together the egg yolks, egg white and ¼ cup of castor sugar.
Put the cream, milk, ¼ cup of castor sugar and vanilla pod into a saucepan and bring just to boiling point, but do not boil.
Strain the boiling milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking and continue to whisk well, then add the orange flower mixture and stir. The custard mixture is now complete.

Cooking and Storing
Divide the custard mixture evenly amongst the 8 ramekins.
Place the ramekins into the roasting pan.
Carefully pour hot water into the pan until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins.
Cook the custards in the oven for 1 ½ hours or until they are cooked in the centre.
When cooked, cool the ramekins and refrigerate them until needed.  Before eating allow time for then to come to room temperature.

Completing prior to serving
Sprinkle the top of the custards with the Demerara sugar and caramelise until very hot. This can be done by placing the pots under the griller (broiler) or with a blowtorch. Watch carefully to avoid burning the sugar............Bon appétit! 

And my first dessert to be cooked and savoured in My French Folly?  Crème Brûlée!
*CFO – chief financial officer

Sunday 20 March 2011

The Land of the Rising our thoughts

The land of the rising sun is indeed a land of contradictions. For all of its technological wizardry and sophistication, Japanese people lead relatively simple lives compared to their western counterparts - of this,  I have personal experience.

Ancient traditions are intertwined with contemporary living.

Complexity is juxtaposed to minimalism.

Despite the recent devastation in Japan and the horrific ongoing threat of nuclear contamination - social order, dignity and respect persist– qualities that were sadly lacking in many parts of New Orleans post Cyclone Katrina. Is this civilised response by the Japanese to the current catastrophic events an inheritant outcome of a collectivist, Buddhist society? Are the rights and increasing self-indulgence of individuals in Western societies impinging on the rights of others and the wellbeing of society as a whole?

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.” Oscar Wilde.

Australian medical scientists who have been monitoring radioactivity levels since the 1950’s found that nuclear explosions anywhere in the world are accompanied by an increase in the level of radioactivity in sheep fat – in Australia! Yes the world is indeed a global village. Horrifically, its food web continues to be contaminated by nuclear waste with a half-life of thousands of years. What is our biological “tolerance level” to radioactive waste?

May the world learn from the unfolding tragedy in Japan. It’s time for the political opportunists and spin-doctors to check, and if necessary, realign their moral compasses.

Our thoughts and prayers are with friends, “family” and strangers in Japan.

“In all things it is better to hope than despair” Goethe