After a year living in Italy followed by time in London, I had forgotten how much Australians loved to talk about the weather.
Greetings from one stranger to another, and conversations between friends are often preceded with a gesture to the weather. I can't count the times I've heard "Beautiful day?", "Looks like a storm's moving in", or "It'll get up to thirty today" bandied about in place of good-mornings and how-are-yous. Granted, us Aussies get the rich, delicious, lip-smacking cream when it comes to Mother Nature's moods, unlike the Brits, whose days under low, murky skies and sodden weekends are down there with watery, bland milk (shame).
I'm not interested in talking about the weather. I love the winter sun, so sharp and clean, I love watching the clouds of a storm front, purple in their fury, roll in after a salty day at the beach, and the gelato colours of a sunset over the city. It just seems pointless to confab about what is inevitable and yet profoundly abstract. Like the need to breathe, drink water, full moons and chocolate cravings, weather just 'is'.
When it comes to a Sydneysider's definition of winter, Londoners, New Yorkers and even Melburnians would baulk at our lack of respect for the cold. Shorts and thongs (sadly) appear at any time of the year, even when legs and toes should be well under wraps. While the Brits have plenty of reason to cosy up indoors with a pint and a roast, it's just so hard to feel cold and miserable in a Sydney winter under that crisp winter sunlight that casts everything from parked cars to magnolia trees, in a high-definition, movie-set glow.
That light invokes a happiness redolent of lazy January days, summer holidays and endless Sundays spent with friends – who needs summer, anyway?
So, although I'm still not interested in talking about the weather, although I seem to have managed to have given it adequate airtime already, here is my ode to the sun and all that summer loving and happiness that it conjures, even from the shallow depths of a Sydney winter.
Orange, almond and honey baked ricotta cheesecakes
Makes about 8
This recipe is perfect for winter – creamy, comforting baked ricotta cheesecake laced with a refreshing citrus tang. The honey I used was given to me by the guys at Sydney wine bar The Wine Library. They produce it (well their army of bees do) on their tiny terrace rooftop, and I have to say, urban bees do it better.
300g amaretti biscuits
150g almond meal
80g unsalted butter, melted
250g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbs honey
Finely grated zest of one orange, plus juice of half and orange slices to serve
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease 8 ramekins or small ovenproof dishes with butter.
Crush the biscuits in a food processor. Add the almond meal and melted butter, then whiz to combine. Use the almond mixture to line the base of each ramekin, pressing it down firmly with your fingers or the back of a teaspoon to level the surface. Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until cheesecake bases are golden and slightly dry. Set aside to cool while you make the ricotta topping.
Using electric beaters, beat the cream cheese for 5-10 minutes, this will help the filling stay light and luscious. Add the ricotta, eggs, vanilla, honey and orange zest and juice, then beat for a further 5 minutes or until smooth and combined. Taste the filling and add more honey or orange zest, if necessary.
Spoon the ricotta topping into the cooled ramekins and level the surface by lightly tapping the base of each ramekin on a tea towel placed on the bench. Place ramekins in a large roasting pan and pour enough boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is just set. Remove ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool to room temperature, the chill for at least 3 hours or overnight (this will allow the flavours to develop).
To serve, top each cheesecake with a slice of orange, or blood orange.