Our backyard, the one in which I grew up, teemed with wildlife. Backing onto bush land (Patrick White territory, no less) my father’s garden, always beautifully kept, is a haven for birds of all kinds. In a week that saw an extraordinary outpouring of emotion from the sublime (a nation’s long overdue apology) to the ridiculous, I spent most mornings patiently coaxing the Rainbow Lorikeets into eating, literally, from the palm of my hand. They sang to me then danced on the table for the camera, hanging first this way, then that. Jesters the lot of them, dressed in vivid green, red and blue.
As usual, food was central to the week away. There was Jo’s birthday dinner, a sun-soaked lunch on a central coast deck with Emma (we’ve hatched a little visual project to keep us both in check), an exquisite lunch with mum and dad and a long overdue catch-up at Red Lantern with my oldest friend. There is something about the simple – no, simple won’t do - spare elegance of Asian cuisines that cleanse more than merely the palate. Who would have imagined that fresh lemon juice mixed with roasted, ground peppercorns would make the most amazing, ever, dipping sauce?
My mother’s cooking is a dessert-lover’s dream. Her cherry sorbet was blindingly good, especially when paired with another made of ripe, juicy nectarines. A marriage of two beautiful stone fruits in each little bowl – one scoop assertive and unctuous, best attacked in small spoonfuls; the other light and pink, a tart contrast to the rich, wine-dark red. The pantry boasts six kilos of chocolate at any given time; three of the creamy, buttery white variety and three of the wickedly dark and bitter stuff. I was brought up on a passion for dessert. But somehow, working my own way around the kitchen, it seems that the sweet tooth that defines my small family has, in my case, been firmly extracted.
Is it a remnant of teenage defiance? That sheer will and determination to set oneself apart from the flock? Actually, I think it’s all the washing up. Coming back to our quiet, sparsely decorated home, the baking bug bit in an altogether unfamiliar way. Like that teenager I recall, my brand of baking is stamped, decidedly, with my own, unfussy, thang.
Chocolate thumbprint cookies – makes about 20
A revelatory one bowl wonder this recipe is and, thankfully, there’s very little washing up. Based on a recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s now legendary book, Vegan with a Vengeance, these are utterly, spectacularly, delicious.
5 tablespoons of macadamia oil (or almond, grapeseed, etc, but not olive)
5 tablespoons of soy milk (or rice, oat, etc)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of almond extract (this adds a great, marzipan-like something)
135g (4 ½ oz) unrefined sugar
120g (4oz) of wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour
5 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder
Good pinch of sea salt, finely crumbled
Good pinch of baking powder
Jam (fruit preserves), your favourite, to finish
Preheat the oven to 180 C (375 F). Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Mix the first 5 ingredients together in a roomy bowl with a fork. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder into the wet ingredients and stir well to combine.
Place dessertspoon sized dollops of the mixture onto the baking trays, leaving a little space for expansion around each. With damp hands, roughly mould each dollop into as round a shape as you can be bothered to, then gently press to flatten very slightly.
Bake for 5 minutes, retrieve from the oven and gently make shallow thumbprint sized indentations in each cookie. Fill each hollow with half a teaspoon of jam and return to the oven for 6 minutes. Cool on their trays for 2 minutes then cool completely on a rack.