Autumn in Melbourne has been a few months of beauty and hard. March was probably the hardest month I’ve had in years, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover, but I am always, always amazed at the richness found in the seasons of difficulty. It becomes fuel for the seasons to come. Here’s what I learned in Autumn 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.
I want to live in Melbourne. Maybe forever.
It’s too long a story to share here, but we had to deal with some administrative paperwork related to my husband’s Australian visa this autumn. Having to stare in the face the reality that living in Australia together is not guaranteed is the first time I realized there is nowhere in the world I would rather live than Melbourne. I guess you don’t know what you want until it feels like someone is going to take that away.
Take away social media, add in something else.
I went off social media for Lent, and it was not nearly as restful as my previous social media sabbaticals have been. Instead of surfing Facebook and Instagram, I watched Stephen Colbert’s Late Show monologues every day, I started watching The Crown and SeaChange (an Australian drama from the late 90s). What I learned: Media is easy to consume. Whatever that media may be.
Homemade hot cross buns are a thing of wonder.
Easter morning was insanely delicious. No need to elaborate.
Music makes miserable moments a bit better.
Hubby started making playlists, and he finds the best music, and one of my kids is calmed magically by tunes, the other one is obsessed with playing DJ. We have music on most mornings, evenings and afternoons now via Spotify, and it has been a delight. Music has been bringing tears to my eyes, levity to difficult moments and dance party fun. Some of my current favourites are Stay Alive, Fools Gold, and for something sassy, Hey, Soul Sister.
Don’t just say yes to a project.
I said yes to a writing project without thinking too much about whether or not I could write it. Saying “Yes” was easy, I was flattered, it involved a contract and pay, but when I got to writing, I felt out of my depth in a way that I did not expect. The deadlines were around some of the personally darkest weeks of the autumn season as well, I could not have anticipated that, but I wonder what would have happened if I had actually sat down, weighed the work and seen. Can I do this? Am I supposed to do this? I won’t be taking on another writing project without having a strong sense of “Yes” to those two questions.
For us Easter lunch always means a spread of salads, some warm, some cold, but the table is full of a variety of vegetables. Even though the centerpiece is a roast leg of lamb, I still think it’s the salads that steal the show. I try to pick recipes that will be colourful, fresh, full of flavour and inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine.
This year I made four “salad” type dishes. I planned to make three, but while I was cooking on Sunday morning I realized the recipes were for four people, and we had five adults plus two hungry kids. But the potato drawer was full of sweet potatoes, so I sliced those into thick wedges, tossed with cornflour, cumin, chili flakes and sea salt and roasted them for a filling side dish (inspired by The FauxMartha‘s sweet potato fries recipe).
Time was involved, yes, but this is a meal we eat once a year. The time is worth it, and honestly, I had so much fun in the kitchen getting lost in my work. Now, on to the salads. All of the recipes are from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Do yourself a favour and get this book. One day I’ll get out of the salad section, but for now, I can’t help myself. I am not a salad person. I laugh in the face of people who think salads are a meal. And yet. This cookbook. These salads. Fresh, tasty, punchy, at once crunchy and then it’s smooth. Almost all of the ingredients are simple and easy to find, and when it’s not easy to find, I leave it out, and the dish still tastes great.
I know I can get into trouble for using the word easy, but these salads are easy. There is very little food preparation involved, most of the work happens in the oven or in the jar you’re shaking that’s full of tart dressing. Trust me on this. If I’m an expert on anything food related, I’m an expert at knowing what will make for awesome results with as little work as possible.
The most important part of this recipe to me is to make sure you roast the aubergines until they are a beautiful golden brown colour. At this stage, they are soft while the outside is caramelised slightly and a tiny bit crisp. Honestly, I don’t think the dressing is necessary – it is lovely, but if you want to keep it lighter, skip the dressing. I didn’t have any saffron, so I substituted turmeric to get a yellow colour.
3 medium aubergines, cut into 3 cm circles
2 TBSP toasted pine nuts
a handful of pomegranate seeds
20 basil leaves
coarse sea salt and black pepper
a small pinch of saffron threads (I dissolved several dashes of turmeric in 3 TBSP of hot water)
3 TBSP hot water
180g Greek yoghurt (I used Turkish)
1 garlic clove, crushed
21/2 TBSP lemon juice
3 TBSP olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/420F. Line a baking tray with baking paper (for easier clean up) and place the sliced aubergines on it. Brush with olive oil on both sides – don’t be tempted to skip one side, it really does make a difference to the taste and colour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Roast for 20-35 minutes, but keep an eye on it depending on what kind of oven you have. For me the salad is made when the aubergines are roasted well but not too roasted, and it’s worth taking the time to check and re-check. Their done when it’s golden brown in colour. (Tip: You can roast these up to three days before hand and keep in the fridge and warm them up before serving.)
3. While the aubergines are roasting, make your dressing. I had Turkish yoghurt and no saffron threads, so I put 3 TBSP of hot water into a bowl and put several dashes of turmeric into it to dissolve and then mixed that into the yoghurt. I didn’t even check the amount of yoghurt I had, to be honest, I just eyeballed it based on the quantity of aubergines (and we still have a lot of dressing leftover).
4. Add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt to the yoghurt and stir to mix it all together. Taste and check if there’s enough salt and lemon juice. You should be able to taste the bite of the garlic and tartness of the lemon, my favourite part of the dressing.
5. To serve: arrange the warm, roasted aubergines on a platter, slices overlapping. Drizzle the dressing over and leave some on the side as well. Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Be generous. I don’t follow the recommended quantities here – I really pour it on. Finally lay the basil on top.
This is another favourite salad in our home. We are fennel lovers cooked or raw, although there aren’t too many salads out there that can pull it off raw. Fennel has a distinct, licorish-y taste, it’s sharp and quite chewy if not sliced finely enough. I’m sure it’s not everyone’s favourite vegetable. But with the pomegranate and this sharp, sour dressing, the fennel sings, and tastes fantastic with roasted meats. I’ve made the salad with and without feta (because of lactose intolerant guests), and I don’t miss it, but I’m not a huge dairy person. The sumac adds a nice touch, but if you don’t have it, just leave it out.
2 medium fennel heads
11/2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp sumac
juice of 1 lemon
4 TBSP tarragon leaves
2 TBSP roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
70 g Greek feta cheese, sliced
salt and pepper
1. Start by making the dressing. In a bowl mix the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon and parsley leaves, sumac and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside. I didn’t chop the tarragon leaves, by the way, just picked them and left them whole, so it’s almost like another tiny salad leaf in there as well (I made this the evening before and refrigerated it.)
2. Remove the leaves and green fronds from the fennel and set aside to garnish at the end. Cut off and discard the base then finely slice the fennel lengthwise. The cookbook suggests a mandolin, which I don’t have, so I just try to get each slice as thin as possible. Toss the fennel with the salad dressing, making sure that the dressing coats each slice.
What did they think, I wonder, when they saw his body taken down from the cross? Did they believe it was happening or did they wonder until the end if somehow something was about to change? These women and men, they had followed Jesus for three years because they believed, he was the Messiah, he was the one who was going to fulfill prophecy, change their world and who was changing their lives. He was going to win. It’s not supposed to end with him vulnerable, humiliated, naked and broken on a cross.
I’m one of those people who has her mind set on the ending before it even happens, and when it turns out differently, I’m sitting there shaking my head and saying, It can’t be. It can’t be. I know what I would have been thinking at the Golgotha hill. My hope is gone.
Several friends recently had major shifts in their lives, prayers they poured out for years to God finally answered. I’m not talking about, Please God I need a parking space, kind of prayers, but long-prayed, deeply-desired things coming to pass. Some of them I’ve watched from the distance of a Facebook news feed, others closely followed over years of friendship.
One of them I’ve known for almost a decade, and the desire in her heart was so heavy, so strong, so good, and I’ve watched her wait for it’s realization. There were seasons of strength and joy, others of heartache and pain, days when her hope was strong and days when hope barely existed, but in every stage she waited. In the end, she waited.
I’ve watched on the sidelines of her lifes, sometimes near, often far, but always knowing the desire of her heart and always wondering when or how God would work this out for her good.
He did not disappoint her. Today she holds in her hand the realized hope, the fulfilled faith, the beauty of experiecing, living and believing that God is faithful to keep his promises to her.
And me? I’m on the other side of a skype call filling up with tears because even though it’s her story and her miracle, it’s for me, too.
I’m four years deep into major life changes that were wonderful and profound and permanent, I didn’t even notice that my dreams and hopes for the future – what I was waiting for – were unrecognizable to me, so unrecognizable in fact that I don’t know what they are.
Hopes and dreams sound like a fluffy, pink cloud of cotton candy, the stuff of self-help books and cheesy television. But hopes and dreams are pictures of our deepest heart, light in the darkest days and fuel for the toughest stretches of the journey. Hopes and dreams keep our lives moving in a certain direction.
Seeing friends receive the substance of what they hoped for, it renews my hope. It reminds me that I’m not waiting in vain. It tells me to keep watch, to wait, the story will not end as I thought it would. There is still a miracle yet to come.