It's Friday, mid winter and our heat pump died last weekend. It's a bitterly cold kind of Canberra day, even the sun hasn't the courage to emerge from beneath the layer of fog and clouds. I'm sitting at my computer with a blanket draped around my body to keep me warm. Meanwhile, a team of men are working in the ceiling. All going well, we'll have new heating installed and a deliciously warm home very, very soon.
Feeling this cold has made me reflect on some things...
Peter and I dated for about three years before moving in together. It wasn't that we didn't want to commit to spending our lives with each other. We certainly did. But with Peter often travelling across Australia with work, we needed time to find the right house to accommodate the two of us and my old Border Collie, Libby.
We happened to find what we thought would be THE house in Campbell. It was a nicely renovated duplex with a dream kitchen (with ILVE appliances!) in a street just near ANZAC Parade and the Australian War Memorial. The location was perfect, as it meant we could walk to and from the city to work. There's a great neighbourhood shopping centre in Campbell, and Lake Burley Griffin and cycle paths are not far away. The house had been on the market for ages, but then the owner withdrew it from sale, so the plan was that we would rent initially and then, perhaps, put in an offer.
We moved in during the depths of winter on literally the wettest, rainiest, coldest day of that year. There was mud and water everywhere. The removalists were late (and useless!). Further, we were faced with the mammoth task of uniting furniture and belongings from two households (and two lifetimes) into one (and unpacking it all!).
Late in the day after the removal gang left, exhausted but happy, we decided on takeaway from the local Chinese restaurant. We had eaten there previously, so knew the food would be good and would bring us some comfort. Arriving back at the house with our dinner, we were mortified to find that the heating was off. Actually, the unit had died. Kaput. Finis. In an effort to warm up the kitchen, I switched the double oven on and whipped up a cherry clafoutis. It was good.
That night it was minus six degrees C (yes, you read that correctly, MINUS SIX!). And the temperature didn't improve over the next three weeks while the three of us (Peter, Libby the dog, and I) waited for the estate agent, the landlord and a heating firm to settle on a replacement. There was no compensation offered by the owner for our discomfort, despite the $700 a week rent that we were forking out. Needless to say, we were not terribly happy, especially given that the house was so poorly insulated, we had to wear coats inside to keep warm. A new heater was eventually installed and we settled in to a happy routine of life as a 'family'.
Springtime was to be the loveliest season in that house. The sun shone in through the French doors at the right angles, dappled by a 40 year old oak tree. The park-like garden was at its leafy best, abundant with cockatoos, kookaburras, wattle birds, wrens and rosellas. The trees along the fence were beginning to bear fruit (mulberries, plums and apricots) and the vines draped over the rear deck were covered in tiny bunches of grapes. Libby was 15 years old by this time, but her inner puppy blossomed as she played with all the new squeaky toys that Peter bought for her. She especially loved our gentle walks to a nearby field every night.
The arrival of summer brought a new set of challenges. Our upstairs bedroom and ensuite hit a whopping 33 degrees C at night, and we were disappointed to find that the owners had not considered the need for air conditioning when they invested in the new system. Mind you, they had lived in the house, so must have known that the upstairs became a tinderbox in December. Realistically, one week's rent might have provided us with a much needed air cooler, but it was not to be. So we installed a huge pedestal fan beside the bed. It sounded like a jet exhaust but provided only a mere breeze in the heat. Then we draped wet towels over our bodies, but still the temperature was unbearable and after a few nights of it we were exhausted from lack of sleep. Finally, we dragged a double futon mattress downstairs to the dining room and, for two weeks, slept on the floor with the comfort of a cool breeze coming in through French doors. Perhaps I had led a sheltered life, but it was at this point that I realised that I hadn't felt so hot nor so cold in my entire life.
A month or so later, Libby suffered a stroke in the middle of the night. Of course, it happened when Peter was on the other side of the country, in Perth. The time had come for me to say goodbye to my lovely old girl. Our vet came to the house and kindly did what had to be done. I was devastated. Without Libby, and with Peter away, that big house and back garden suddenly felt very empty. As the time drew close to renew the lease, the owners indicated they were open to an offer, but having lived almost a year in the property, we knew it wasn't for us. And so we moved on.
That was three years ago. Peter and I have a beautiful home together. It's ours and we love it, despite the occasional maintenance issues that arise (including being without heating for a week!). I made cherry clafoutis again last night and we snuggled up on the lounge to eat it. It was good.
500g-1kg* jar pitted Morello (sour) cherries, drained
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour (or arrowroot or gluten free flour)
2 level tablespoons vanilla-infused caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
zest of a lemon, chopped
1/2 cup slivered or flaked almonds
butter, for greasing
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 F. Lightly grease a deep ceramic pie dish with butter. Place the drained cherries into the base of the dish. In a Pyrex bowl, combine the flour and baking powder, then whisk in the milk and the vanilla seeds. Add the eggs and whisk until combined. Pour the batter over the cherries and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Dust with sifted icing sugar and serve sliced with cream. Clafoutis is delicious cold for breakfast too! This quantity serves 6.
* I happen to love extra cherries in my clafoutis, so if I can find a bigger jar, I will use it. In this case I used a one kg jar, but have used smaller quantities. The jar sizes vary significantly dependent on brands.
NB: As a happy post script, we have heating again, and although it's raining outside, the house is warm and I have leftover cherry clafoutis in the fridge! Life is sweet.
The process in pictures...
There may be some who wonder why on earth I would include a photo of a dog at the end of a recipe for Clafoutis. It's simple. Until Libby passed, I had always had pet dogs (actually, ever since childhood) and they always brought joy to my life. Libby was the perfect canine companion. Gentle, loyal and fun. Peter and I still miss her.
Tell me about your beloved pets.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.