Finger numb, eyes rolling, mouth salivating

I’ve spent much of the last week limply scrolling the trackball of my nifty mouse, trying to conquer the number of posts in my feed reader. These are the thrilling things you do when you are, seemingly, the last person in town to have come down with the flu/bronchitis/laryngitis which has been ravishing Melbourne for the last four months.

For the entire week, Google Reader displayed the ominous message “All items (1000+)”. It never changed. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, scanning titles frantically until my eyeballs were rotating faster than the trackball. It’s probably a good thing that the Reader doesn’t bother counting higher than one thousand. I would venture a guess that I had over 4000 items waiting to be read. Had I realised that, I might just have blitzed everyone’s words and started afresh. Goddamnit! You people write too much!

Alongside all the foodbloggers from near, far and further are my trusty brainfoods… places like BoingBoing, Freakonomics, ReadWriteWeb, Science-Based Medicine, to name a few.

But you know what? Today, at 23:26, my cramping scroll-finger shivered with joy as the Google Reader showed I had scaled the pile of feedliness. “All items (926)” Sadly, this cannot last without further cramping and maddened eyeball rolling, for those 926 items encompass a mere six days of posts from the various feeds. Six days. People, stop writing so much! 😛

It was lucky I could calm my nerves tonight on a special delivery, courtesy of the J-man of Malvern and, more precisely, the favours of J-man’s jetsetting Mother-V. Late last night I received an SMS: “Make time for me tomorrow. Just ten mins.”

The merchandise was handed over in Bourke Street. A small, nondescript package. Furtive glances. I concealed the tupperware under my jacket and hastened back to the office. I clung my bag tightly to my bosom all the way home. (It was rush-hour, so pretty much the entire train felt like it was clamped tightly to me.)

Air-freighted from Ladurée, Paris. What a way to lift the mood after a week of trackball scrolling and watching bad telly.

Alas, after just 35 mins, Google Reader now shows

Daring Bakers: lavash

At some point I’m going to have to stop saying oh-my-god another-month-has-passed! But it seems only days ago that I was munching on éclairs. Lo! today it’s time for lavash crackers, thanks to the Daring Bakers. No buttercream. No ganache. No calories (almost).

I can’t profess an enthusiasm for dry, crunchy bready things. I compulsively munch on those revolting bar-pretzel icky things. I gulp down fish shapes (odd nominally-fish-flavoured weird things in Australia) even though I’m pescaphobic. But I don’t make these crunchy things. Nup.

So, with some reluctance, I stood by my commitment to the Daring Bakers project and did the thang. Really simple. Let’s do it again! LOL. Seriously, they were a breeze (I think it’s the lack of buttercream, ganache, etc etc… maybe I should concentrate on savoury baking 😉 ).

Lavash crackers are made with a thinly rolled yeast dough. A touch of honey lends this lavash recipe a delightful fragrant sweetness. You can decorate them with seeds, spices or other pretty thingies.

The recipe used was from Peter Reinhart’s great book The Breadbaker’s Apprentice, but you’ll also find it over at Lemonpi or on the challenge initiator’s site Musings From The Fishbowl.

Lavash doesn’t have to be dry. In fact, although most Australians probably know it as crunchy stuff, the Wikipedia entry (see link in first para) would indicate it’s primarily used as a soft flatbread (which would suit me just fine 🙂 ).

The bakers were required to serve up the lavash with a vegan, gluten-free dip of some sort. As I’ve previously described my love of baba ghanoush, despite my antipathy to eggplant, I thought it was an ideal companion to my newly-loved crackers. My baba ghanoush is just the flesh of a large grilled eggplant, mashed with a clove of garlic, salt, juice of a lemon and 60ml of tahina.

A quick tip about crackers: if you don’t want them crunchy, these are actually delightful slightly underbrowned — but the residual moisture will make them a bit leathery within a day or two, so they are best eaten fresh.

Violet jelly

Have you rummaged in your undergrowth recently? Did you see any deeeeep blue flowers? No? I guess yours might be one of the gardens I pillaged for a supply of violets. You see, while flipping through the lovely Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry, I saw mention of a violet jelly, popular around Toulouse in France.

If you go Googling (no, wait, do it later!), you’ll find a few recipes out there for violet jelly — think clear preserve, not wobbly stuff. On a recent visit to Canberra, intrepid jam-man Greg suggested we go a-picking. So we denuded his garden, steeped handfuls of flowers in hot water, then cooked up the liquid with sugar and pectin and lemon juice to make… a rather pink jelly. We used this recipe.

Alas, blue colours in food are quite unstable. To set a jam you usually use pectin and a little acid. The acid (in this case lemon juice) does, however, turn blues to red. So, fixing the jelly endangers the prettiness. I overshot a little in my juice-dosing, it would seem, so pinkish jelly with violet taste was the result.


Recipes vary on their recommendation of variety of violet. Most just say ‘violets’, but some ask specifically for parma violets (which have lots of petals, a so-called ‘double’ violet variety), while others might ask for sweet violets (viola odorata).

Note that the violet fragrance is very delicate. It is difficult to create a jelly with a strong violet flavour, so if you’re tempted to make some, be prepared for the fleeting beauty of the violet.

Supermarkets shrinking in the USA

Here’s an article from the New York Times which writes about the growth of down-sized supermarkets, based on a perhaps British model of small ‘express’ or ‘local’ supermarkets. (Mile of Aisles for Milk? Not here. May require free registration.) These can be pretty similar to, say, a very well-stocked 7-Eleven, though sometimes a good deal larger (the article quotes 10,000 sq.ft.) offering a range of essentials and not much more, but with the cachet of being within a supermarket concept, rather than overpriced convenience store (though your reality may differ 😉 ).

I don’t think we’ve seen people clamouring for this yet in Australia — probably because our supermarkets are still rarely as large as some of the larger US or UK stores. We’ll presumably see some more growth before consumers start complaining about too much choice! (Although the big players here have developed the city-centre smaller store concept a bit, I suspect this has more to do with burgeoning apartment-dwelling populations than a desire for simplified choices.)

Yes folks, there are incompetent pâtissiers in Paris

Just so my readers don’t think it’s just Australia which has mostly crap macarons… here’s a picture from a rather sad pâtisserie in Paris.

My Parisian correspondent Harry kindly snapped this bunch of macaronic mangulation just the other day. Look at ’em. Cracked, deformed, mismatched… Indeed, they’re about as ugly as the most expensive macarons I’ve found so far in Australia. In a ‘patisserie’ in Canberra.