Posted in Travel

New Orleans: food city

New Orleans is unlike any US city I’ve ever visited. It feels European, with its narrow streets and tall balconied buildings. Mum and I were there in May and the weather absolutely perfect: sunny every day, not too hot, and mild evenings. We stayed in the Omni Royal Crescent hotel near the French Quarter, but far enough away from the noise. It was a very easy and cheap to get around on the trams, and it was, of course, very easy to find places to eat. Which brings me to the first topic of this three-part post: FOOD!

New Orleans School of Cooking

After reviewing TripAdvisor and other places, we decided that going to watch a cooking demonstration would be a Good Thing to do. So on our first morning we turned up at the New Orleans School of Cooking for their Daily Open Demonstration Class. The room was packed and the class sat with rapt attention as instructor Pat described the foundation of New Orleans, and how the coming and going of the French and the Spanish informed the cuisine that the city is famous for.

The $32.50 fee was worth it just to listen to this history lesson, but then we got to watch Pat cook four dishes: gumbo, jambalaya, bananas foster and pralines. Then we got to eat it all and wash it down with the local Abita beer. We were given the recipes, and told if we cooked one of the dishes at home we could send off for a certificate. I bought some of the local spice “Joe’s Stuff” and cooked gumbo when we got back to Pasadena – and duly received my certificate!

And the rest

After the cooking class, and based on all the recommendations we received, we had a big list of other food we needed to try, including boiled crawfish, po’boys,  grilled oysters, and of course, beignets and chicory coffee at Café Du Monde. And naturally, each evening, we had to try a new cocktail – the more imaginative name the better (Gator Juice anyone?). Brennan‘s was the stand-out place for cocktail hour, thanks to its calm back courtyard and attentive service.

Next post: What to do in New Orleans

Posted in Life

Making a Christmas Cake in the US

“What’s a Christmas Cake?”, ask my American friends.  Aside from the obvious (a cake eaten at Christmas), this British cake is made primarily of fruit, and brandy.  In the 10+ years I lived in Australia, and the nearly 3 years I’ve lived in the US, I’ve found that finding the ingredients to make a ‘proper’ Christmas cake can be difficult.  I still have not found anywhere I can buy a cake ‘frill’ – i.e. wrap, decoration (something like this).

The recipe I use comes from the book pictured below, and of course, it makes the best cake ever.

Best Christmas Cake recipe inside!
Best Christmas Cake recipe inside!

To help those Brit expats in the US looking for ingredients/substitutions I present here my version of this recipe – an ‘expat-proof’ US Christmas cake.  Photos are at the end of the post.

Ingredients for cake

  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 oz soft brown sugar (to soften rock hard sugar, put it in a bowl with a moist paper towel for a few hours/overnight)
  • 6 small eggs (no such thing in the US, use big eggs)
  • 9 oz self raising flour
  • 5 oz plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of mixed spice (no such thing in the US, use Pumpkin Pie Spice from Trader Joe’s – it’s basically the same thing)
  • 2 oz blanched almonds, chopped
  • 2 lb mixed fruit: sultanas, raisins, currants (of course, sultanas don’t appear to exist here, so just raisins and currants)
    • including 2 oz mixed peel if desired (not sure if it exists in the US – based on my other experiences, I’m going to say it doesn’t).
  • 8.5 fl oz brandy (cheap). Soak the fruit in the brandy for at least 24 hours before making the cake.
  • 4 oz glacé cherries (maraschino cherries)
  • lemon – 1/2 juice, all rind
  • 2 tablespoons black treacle (doesn’t exist, use molasses)

So the recipe is essentially as follows: cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with a little sifted flour, add rest of dry ingredients, add rest of wet ingredients, add everything else.  Allow everyone in the house to stir the mixture and make a wish (very important).

Put the batter in a 9″ round or 8″ square tin. Bake in oven at 140C/285F for about 3 hours.

Ingredients for Icing

  • 1 lb marzipan (something else I couldn’t find in California – but did find in Massachusetts – so I got some from the internet which arrived JUST in time).
  • Apricot jam/preserve
  • 6 cups of icing sugar (confectioners/powdered sugar).

A few days before Christmas, smear the cake with the jam, roll out marzipan about 1/4 in thick and cover the cake, then add the first layer of icing.  The next day (at least), when the icing has hardened, add another layer.  Decorate if you can.

Voila! Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cake!
Christmas Cake!

Here are the ingredients and the recipe:

Posted in Australia, Travel

9 things I miss about Australia

We recently visited Australia and had an absolutely awesome time.  I found out that some friends and family actually read this blog! Hi!

On arrival we immediately noticed three things: how well dressed everyone is, how affluent the country appears, and how much the price of everything has gone up since our last visit a year ago.  Since when did a McDonald’s meal cost over $8?  Since when did an overseas stamp cost $2.55?  And since when did a Cherry Ripe* (see below) cost $2.50+?

That aside, here are some things I realized I really miss about the land down under. Obviously it’s not an exhaustive list…and a worrying number of the points below relate to food.

1. Storms

They have proper storms in Australia. As witnessed by the recent storm-pocalypse of Brisbane. Always good when you go to stay with friends then have 1.5 days without power.

2. Vegemite on Toast

Craved it.  Note, must be proper Australian bread.

3.  Food in general

Everything we ate was awesome (and very expensive).

4. Prawns [shrimp] are the correct size

I.e. Massive.  That’s not a prawn, THIS is a prawn.  Preferably cooked on a BBQ by a blond Australian man holding a beer (not pictured).

5. McDonalds

Edible! Also apparently now called “Macca’s”.


6. Coffee

So much coffee.  Even in Melbourne airport they have a helpful sign telling you where you can buy it in the terminal.  The man at the lovely Cafe de Aura in Redcliffe, Qld, made a pattern of a phoenix on my flat white.

7. Place names

What’s the name of that creek? So strange.


8. Sunsets

Ok, so I know LA has awesome sunsets (due to, ahem, smog) but somehow I just prefer the Australian ones.

*9. Cherry Ripes

A wonderful, Australian only, Cadbury’s chocolate.  Savored until the next supply run!



Questions: What do you miss about ‘home’? | Any thoughts on Vegemite?