Monday, 8 September 2014

Coffee down under and Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello. I haven't written a blog in over 1 month....where does the time go? Most of the past month has been taken up by the arduous task of moving. After living in the same house since we arrived in Australia 4+ years ago, we moved to a smaller (town)house. I think I am destined to live in towns with terrible names. I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY a place that is hard to pronounce, hard to spell and has been the butt of jokes for years. On the older popluar show, Ally McBeal, the stuttering lawyer was told by his therapist to say, 'Poughkeepsie,' when he started stuttering. More recently Sex and the City 2 movie had Charlotte 'Poughkeepsie' in her pants - yikes! Clontarf is an equally bad name but in a bad ass way. It makes me think it would be a place in the TV show, Game of Thrones as I could imagine someone saying, 'You are hereby banished to Clontarf forever!" or "Don't behave like that or the evil dwarves from Clontarf will punish you." And now we live in Manly an equally bad name for a town and one that always gets laughs from my friends abroad. It actually conjures up the macho stereotypes that Australia has of rugged, handsome men - "Hey, you smell manly." "Boy you are looking manly tonight...the girls are gonna like you." I'd forgotten how much work moving is - selling, trashing, donating, packing, unpacking, organising, settling in, etc. It has been almost 1 month and I still don't feel settled nor are all the boxes completely unpacked. I will say it is great to live in Manly where it is more urban, eclectic, and full of great restaurants/bars/cafes. There is a great vibe here and also more ex-pats and backpackers passing through. I wrote a blog on Manly before. I do love my old neighbourhood but it was time to venture out (so far away - only 10 minutes:)) and try living in a new area of Sydney. With beaches all around, I can't wait to spend the summer here although summer doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon.

Spring started on September 1 and it was a glorious warm day but now it is bloody freezing. I am all "rugged up" as I type this as most homes here do not have central heating and the fan heater we have doesn't seem to do the job. There is also a southerly gale that has been blowing for the past day that made it hard to sleep last night with the house howling. My daughter even came into my bed last night as she was scared of the wind and needed earplugs which we keep in the house for these windy nights. I wasn't concerned or even knew much about wind patterns when we lived in California. A 'southerly' - do you mean south in San Jose? Out my window, I can see the large ferries, that shuttle people back and forth to Sydney's CBD,  and big white caps waves. The ferries are bobbing up and down like a speed boat. I'm wondering how many people have thrown up? Are babies flying in the air? Perhaps the captain is enjoying this joyride through the waves?  It's weather like this that you just want to stay inside, unpack boxes, pay bills and take care of things around the house. Wait, who wrote that? That's too sensible. No, for me today is about taking care of a sick daughter, baking, blogging, and drinking coffee.
You might think tea is very popular due to the pervasive British influence in Australia. Think's coffee.While Paris has pastries, Italy has pasta, Belgium has chocolate, Australia has coffee. There are many other things Australia has but who knew one of them would be coffee? Coffee and the cafes are a big part of the social life in Australia.  Like Europe, people drink coffees and meet at cafes all times of the day. The local cafe becomes a community center, a place to meet friends and possibly bump into the neighbours.

While coffee and tea have been consumed in Australia for hundreds of years, the influx of European immigrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe in the 1950's brought espresso beans and a demand for high quality coffee. From those influences, high quality espressos and cafes grew. According to a recent report by IBISWorld market research, the Australian coffee industry has $4 billion in revenue, 5.3% growth the past 5 years, employs almost 85,000 people and over 6,600 businesses. Considering that there are only 23 million people in Australia, these are big numbers. There are even barista schools, a barista bootcamp, and Australian baristas who compete and have won international competitions. With a multitude of cafes and steep competition, the quality of coffee beans and the baristas can make or break a cafe.
When I travel back to the US, I miss my Australian coffee. The main option on my travels is Starbucks which I now find so generic, like a McDonalds. While Starbucks is a household name in the US and other parts of the world, it has been a flop in Australia. Starbucks came to Australia in 2000 opening around 100+ stores which probably doesn't sound like a lot of store but remember, Australia has a small population. They charged higher prices and brought America styles of coffee - drip coffee, frappacinos and other mainly American flavours. Today, there about 20 Starbucks cafes left, mostly in urban tourist areas. What went wrong? In the several articles I read, it was summed up best in the Australasian Marketing Journal 18 (2010) : "For Australians, coffee is as much about relationships as it is about the product. An impersonal global chain experience would have trouble replicating the intimacy, personalisation and familiarity of a popular suburban boutique cafe. Also, from many years of espresso coffee drinking, Australia has a developed a more sophisticated palate, enjoying coffee stronger and straighter, without the need to disguise the taste with flavoured, syrupy shots." Most articles also mentioned how Starbucks underestimated that Australia had a sophisticated coffee palate and well established cafe lifestyle.

I have visited a few of the Starbucks in Sydney and found them very out of place. I'd forgotten how generic they are, how big the cups are and how there are so many different types of coffees and drinks. It is ironic as it pretty much sums up my views when I return to the US - there are lots of chain stores, servings are much bigger and there are too many choices.  I also think it is weird after living here for a few years, that Starbucks still mostly serves American style coffees and flavours. Australian cafes don't sell drip coffee, frappacinos nor seasonal sugary coffee drinks. It's harder to find a drip coffee maker in Australia. In fact, I've never had a drip coffee in Australia, only when I go overseas. The coffee menu here is simpler and all based on variations of espresso:
I think Flat Whites are probably the most popular flavour. There is a little coffee lingo too - 'skinny' means with skim milk and 'strong' means an extra shot. There are probably even more terms but since I usually order a skinny strong cappuccino, this is what I know best. 

New York City is starting to take notice of Australian coffee and cafe life down under. The New York Times  just had an article in their Dining & Wine section about Australian cafes opening up in New York City in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The article highlighted their desire to serve both excellent coffee with excellent food and sit down service so people can have more of a cafe, neighbourhood  experience. I look forward to visiting one on my next trip to New York City.

Besides dark chocolate, what tastes great with a coffee? For me, it is a big tasty cookie that is crunchy on the outside and chewy in the center. The recipe below is excellent and came out of a need to get some food into my sick daughter, who likes peanut butter, while at the same time trying to find something flourless as I am trying to eat less wheat. I was also excited to make it as I don't think Ive ever had a peanut butter cookie in Australia. Peanut butter in not popular here; it is a very American food. Most people would have a vegemite or butter and honey sandwich before they'd have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These cookies are great! I made flourless cakes before but never flourless cookies. The batter texture is different and at one point I thought it was all wrong and was going to toss it. Don't that! It may seem weird and different, but they are delicious, especially if you like peanut butter and the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. 

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Martha's Flourless Peanut Chocolate Cookies
PREP TIME: < 5mins
Cook TIME: 15 mins
COOL TIME: 10 mins
Makes 24 medium sized cookies

1 cup smooth or crunchy Peanut Butter

3/4 cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract/essence

1 teaspoon Baking Soda/bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1 cup Chocolate Chips

1) Preheat oven to 375F or 170 fan forced. Take out 2 regular sized cookie sheets/baking trays.

2) Combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips and beat well with an electric or hand held mixer. 
*Note - batter will look like coarse sand. Because it doesn't have flour, it doesn't bind as well. You may think that you made a mistake and want to throw it out. Don't throw it out.*

3) Mix chocolate chips in by hand.

4) Gather up batter into balls. Place balls on cookie sheet and flatten cookie with the back of a fork. While doing this you will need to use one hand to hold the cookie ball on either side while the other hand uses the fork to flatten the cookie.

5) Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Cool for 10 minutes on the tray to set cookies. Enjoy! 

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