Tuesday, 19 November 2013

"It's a Miracle!" Freeform Berry Tart

Kia ora!

Well it's been quite some time since I posted. I could give you a million reasons, but mostly it's just that I've been living life (and loving it!).

As I write this I'm on holidays with Kirsti visiting Kat in NZ . We've been bumming about Auckland with Kat for the last few days, and tomorrow we head off to find us some Hobbitses. We haven't yet decided if we will make it a habit to eat Second Breakfast in our travels but I guess we'll just have to take things as they come ;)

Speaking of breakfast, this recipe is one you could **almost** get away with for breakfast - I mean, if berry Danishes are breakfast food then surely so may this be. I made it for a friend the night before I flew out, so the lucky bugger had the option at any rate!

I made a half batch (or at least I **thought** I did - recipe as follows), but the full recipe can be found in Margaret Fulton's Baking (which Kirsti gave me last year for my birthday). True to form I only vaguely followed the instructions. You should all know by now that I'm pretty impatient and also tend towards laziness, interspersed with forgetfulness. And yet, it turned out just fine. Things usually do, when it involves butter and sugar, not to mention berries and cream. Can't really go wrong :)

HAHAHA oh man, I just re-read the recipe before copying it out, and realised just how poorly I halved it. So the recipe below is the complete one. I halved the flour and almonds in the first bracket (I can't say for sure whether I halved the butter. I may have, but make no promises), and everything in the second, and it's actually a bit of a miracle that it held shape at all, but hey, it tasted great!

2c plain flour
125g butter
1/2c ground almonds
2tbsp castor sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
A little grated lemon rind
1tbsp rum

1/2c ground almonds
1/2c castor sugar
600g mixed berries (frozen is fine - thaw them first though, and if there is lots if juice/water, drain most of it off)
3tbsp icing sugar
Cream to serve. 

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Mix ingredients in the first bracket in the order in which they appear (I dumped them all in the food processor) until combined. Form into a ball, wrap in glad wrap and refrigerate for an hour. (I chucked it in the freezer for about half an hour. Impatience and all!)

Roll out on baking paper in a 30cm circle, put on a tray and chill for 30 minutes. (Seeing as I had halved the flour and almonds, my circle was a bit smaller, and I estimate that I smooshed it to around 5mm thick. With my hands. Yep, I was totally winging it.)

Preheat oven to 180oC. (Check!)

Sprinkle tart shell with the second lot of almond plus 1tbsp of the sugar. Spread fruit over shell, leaving 5cm border. Fold border up to hold fruit in, leaving a gap in the middle. Sprinkle remaining sugar on pastry. 

(Because I was transporting ingredients, I  combined the almonds and sugar in a freezer bag. Fortuitously there was a big lump of sugar in there to sprinkle on the pastry at the end, so I set that aside then sprinkled a thin layer of the combined mixture onto the tart shell, then dumped the berries into the bag, trapped some air in it as if you were crumbling/flouring meat and shook it around to coat the berries. I then spread that mixture on, folded the edges up and sprinkled on the sugar. More than one way to skin a cat!)

Bake on the lowest shelf for about 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Cool on tray until just warm (we know how impatient I am - I cooled it for around five minutes!), dust with icing sugar (I didn't), cut into slices and serve with cream. 

Dodgy iPhone photo (nicely styled cream, though!):


The half(ish) batch would have served four. 


This is quite an easy recipe, and although it requires refrigeration steps, you can kind of work around that as you cook your main course. It's definitely one I'll make again. And because it's freeform, it doesn't matter a jot if it turns out "rustic" (or, to the average bystander, "ugly"). 


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Teacup Apple Crumble

So... is it me, or does anyone else suffer from the illusion that things that come in tiny servings must be healthy? Mini muffins. Fun-sized Mars Bars. Fun-sized anything. Mini Magnums. Doughnut centres. Aeroplane-sized cans of Coke. And that somehow, because it's in a tiny portion (and therefore uses more packaging - three cheers for environmental destruction!), you can eat more of them. Like two. For the purposes of this, let's say two. We don't need to dig deeper into my abysmal snacking habits here right now.
Now, I love apple crumble. I love apple crumble almost as much as I love deluding myself. So making apple crumbles in tiny portions seemed like the perfect idea. Sure, I could have made them in shot glasses like you see at cocktail parties, but come on, you need enough apple crumble for it to work its wonderful, warming magic on you.
3 apples
1tsp sugar
1tsp cinnamon
3 cloves
A little water
1tbsp butter
1tsp cinnamon
2tbsp brown sugar
3tbsp plain flour
(Note that I "wrote" the quantities into the My Fitness Pal app in grams (which was a rough conversion to begin with), and now I'm converting it back, so they may be a little out. Play with it until it feels (and tastes!) right!)
Peel and roughly dice apples. Cook them, covered, with a little water and the sugar and spices until softened - around 5 minutes. Make sure they don't stick. Once softened, tip off any extra water and leave cover off.
Meanwhile, rub butter, cinnamon, sugar and flour together until evenly distributed. Try not to "test" too much of it - rest assured that it really does taste quite nice!
Grease 3 (or 4, depending on their size) oven-proof teacups. Divide apple mixture among the teacups. Remove and discard cloves. Top with the crumble mixture.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200oC for around 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Obviously I can't remember whether it was 5 or 10 minutes, and as you can see from the scorched bits hidden under the ice cream, I overshot the mark, so keep an eye on it! All you're doing is browning the topping as the filling should still be hot. At some stage in the near future I will make this again and test the times but for now, hey guys, it's apple crumble. It's not rocket science. It needs to be hot, and apple-y, and cinnamon-y, and wonderful. No biggie.
Enjoy one with a scoop of ice cream. Or two.
And for those health-conscious peops out there, there are 301 calories per serving without adding ice cream. So it's probably just as well you made these in a tea cup, otherwise you'd go back to the pan a sneak another spoonful. And then another... and another... and another... yeah, I'm onto you!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Breakfast at Tom's Farm. Alternate Title: Lost In Translation. Second Alternate Title: Why It's A Miracle I Didn't Lose Weight In America.

So I've been hanging out in the US of A for the past week with my friend Carole from Toot Sweet 4 Two. We met at Bloggy Boot Camp Vegas last year and totally hit it off, although, to be fair, **not** hitting it off with Carole poses a far greater challenge!

Carole had kindly agreed to drive me from her home near Escondido (kind of outer San Diego) up to my aunt's house in Pasadena at the end of my stay, and we stopped by the side of the highway at Tom's Farm for breakfast. It started out as a produce stand on the side of the I15 near Lake Elsinore and has now morphed into almost a destination unto itself. It has a diner, a Mexican restaurant, a wine/cheese place, a produce store, a traditional candy store, a furniture shop and a model train and pony rides for the kids. And on weekends it hosts a craft market as well as the occasional blues show.

Anyway, I tried my darndest to order breakfast there, and all I can say is "lost in translation". My own thoughts were encapsulated by a set of pointy brackets, but it did something funky to the formatting and they all disappeared :(

ME: "I'll have the hotcakes combo with bacon and fried eggs over easy"
SERVER LADY: *blank look* "I'm sorry, how do you want your eggs?"
ME: "Uh, you know, like, sunny side down...?"
SERVER LADY: "Uhh..." *looks as Carole for help and then back to me* *crickets chirp*
ME: "Um, you know, fry the eggs, flip 'em but try not to bust the yolks...?" *awkward laughter*
CAROLE: "So I think she wants the eggs over, a little cooked on top"
SERVER LADY: "Oh, okay, so how do you want them?"
ME: "Medium please. Like, not too hard but not too runny."
SERVER LADY: "Right, gotcha. And what do you want to drink?"
ME: "Can I have a cup of tea, please?"
SERVER LADY: "Sure, uh, so you want, like, hot tea?"
ME: "Yes, please."
SERVER LADY: "And would you like blueberries or chocolate chips in your hotcakes?"
ME: *stunned look* "Blueberries, please."

(And for the record, blueberry pancakes go really well with fried eggs! Crazy, I know.)

(Also, Carole assures me that I used the correct terminology straight up. I can only assume she was concentrating on my accent and not my words, because that's what I do when Irishmen speak and... *vagues out to a happy place full of cute Irishmen with charming accents*)

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Another year has passed. It went by so quickly, and I don't know how. So much, and yet so little, has happened. I'm not sure whether it's birthdays or the turn of the new year that makes me take stock more, but both seem to have a similar effect. Last year I was freaking out about turning 30 and it turns out there was nothing to be afraid of. It's actually a little bit liberating when you're smashing up all the expectations people have of you this age. That keeps me entertained enough to stave off my fears about it, anyhow!
So what happened last year?
On this weekend last year I was motivated enough to particpate in the Run Melbourne 5k event. I raised $1080 for the Victor Chang Cardiac Reasearch Institute, and if I'm honest, I ran very little of it. But I had trained, which was a big step for me. In hindsight, less than 16 weeks post-pacemaker implant it was a little ambitious.
In September I took some time out to find my mojo, and spent nine weeks travelling. Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, then Vegas, Pensylvania and New York, the UK, Kenya and Tanzania. Wow. I saw so many incredible things and met some pretty incredible people. I'll tell some stories here, once I get around to sorting those photos out.
I went back to work up on the Murray after I got home, only to discover that I had left my mojo stowed safely in the overhead compartment of the plane, some place in the world... but that's probably because I felt more or less redundant when I got back. Partly my own doing and partly not, but that's old news.
In March I moved down to Tasmania for work and, Tassie jokes aside, I actually quite like it here and there are no signs of a second head growing. I like the people I'm working with; the job is challenging without stuffing with my head too much; I've made some friends *neglects to mention they're mostly somehow attached to my favourite bar*; and the scenery is beautiful. Yes, even the sub-zero starts to the day and the snow are okay. Which I guess is easy for me to say when I spend a lot of my day in the car! I found my work mojo down here in the arse end of the country and it has given me the opportunity to develop some new skills.

In mid-May my personal mojo started to come back, too, and I started looking after myself a little better. Things seemed more managable. Life got a little bit more interesting.
In June I joined a gym, and have actually really been enjoying the challenge. It makes me think a little bit harder about making healthy choices, and about what I want for myself.
And those healthier choices are not to say there hasn't been an abundance of food, good food, yummy food! I'm just mostly making smarter choices outside of meal times, and smarter choices in what I choose to do with my time. The obvious exception is that tonight I'm going out for Mexican to celebrate, which probably isn't the smartest choice but it is certainly up there on the list of delicious choices! For now, I'll leave you with some pictures of things you will see in the coming months - both places I have been and recipes I have cooked whilst the cobwebs have been growing here on my blog.
In the meantime, I'm off at the end of next week to visit the very sweet Carole and her niece Tiffany from Toot Sweet 4 Two and spend some time warming up in San Diego as they celebrate their first Bloggoversary. I met them in Vegas last year on the last night of Bloggy Boot Camp, and last month Carole invited me over for their party on the offchance I could come. Seeing as how I need to thaw out a little, I said sure, why not! I'm super-excited :)
As to the next year, well who knows what new adventures await me. I figure, for all the negativity I've waded through in the last year I've also made some new friends, reinforced old friendships, been to all sorts of places, seen all sorts of things and learnt all sorts of things about myself and about people in general. So if the next year has even a fraction of that positive stuff from the last year, I'll still be doing okay. Here's to 31!
Harba Tasting Plate for 2, Harba Oyster Bar & Grill, Mornington

Loch Ness Monster topiary in one of the mazes, Tree Surfing, Mornington Peninsula
View across Arthurs Lake, Tasmania, from my work site

My first Pho, Springvale, Victoria. At least I think that's what it's called...
Beach near Binalong Bay (I think!), Bay of Fires, Tasmania
Sang choy bao (or however you want to spell it this week)

Coconut-crumbed fish soft-shell tacos with salsa and creamy honey-cider dressing
Tiramisu. Sort of. Let's just say there was a failed sponge cake involved and it seemed a waste not to use it!
Pea and ham soup
Earthworks cake!
Hand-painted frog biscuits!
Macaroons. That's macarOOns, not macarOns. Accidentally coffee-flavoured but they turned out really nicely!
Losing my venison virginity!

 Cataract Gorge, Launceston, Tasmania

Roasted pork shoulder, The George, Kyneton, Victoria
Belgian Chocolate Somethingtrulydelicious, The George, Kyneton, Victoria 
My birthday cupcakes!
Schnitzel - a birthday gift from my Austrian friend. And now I know the secret to a great schnitty!

Also, I'm a little freaked out right now. Google just said happy birthday to me... which would be because I'm also logged into Blogger right now so it has my details, but it still freaked me out!
 Happy birthday to me :)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

"It's All Relative" Healthy Chocolate Brownies

Quite some time ago I made Chocolate Heartache Cupcakes which used eggplant as a base, and were flour and butter free. They were so incredibly rich and moist and dense that the thought of applying the whole eggplant-as-a-baked-goods-base concept more broadly has been playing on my mind ever since.
It was inevetable that my thoughts would turn to inventing a brownie that was (gasp!) healthy. I mean, who wouldn't want to be able to eat brownies, relatively guilt-free?? I carefully crafted the recipe over several days' driving to and from work (50 minutes each way. Why yes, I DO devote a lot of time to thinking about food, why do you ask?) and was finally ready to test it on the guinea pigs at work execute the magnificience that is these brownies. Inevitably I made some changes on the fly to improve the texture, but that was always going to happen.

And lo and behold, these healthy chocolate brownies were born. Relatively healthy, anyhow!
1 medium eggplant
1/2 large zucchini
1 banana
1 block Club chocolate (180g)
2 large dollops honey (it's probably close to 1/4c, but to me it was using a dessert spoon and doing two huge spoonsful)
3tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/2c ground almonds
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2c choc chips
1/2c pecans
Prick eggplant all over with a fork and place in a covered dish in the microwave with a little water in the bottom. Steam for 4 minutes. Flip over, and steam for a further four minutes. Allow to cool enough to handle, then chop the top and peel skin off. Mash or blend until relatively smooth and set aside.
Grate zucchini. Squeeze as much excess moisture out as possible. Add to eggplant mix.
Mash banana. Add to eggplant mix.
Melt chocolate. Add to eggplant mix.

Mix in honey, lightly beaten eggs, cocoa powder, almonds and baking powder until you have a consistent mixture.

Transfer mixture into a greased baking dish or tin and bake for about 50mins at 180oC until set.

Note that you will likely find it quite difficult not to eat several pieces at once. If I were you I'd do what I did and bring it into work!
EDIT: It helps them hold together if you refrigerate them overnight once cool. I cut the lines in before refrigerating, and then just cut over them again before serving. Also, I'm quite sure those are the quantities but the question has now been raised in my mind. When I get home tonight I'll find the envelope I wrote the recipe on and correct if need be!
EDIT #2: If you have copied this recipe out before the 23rd of June 2013 then the quantities are are a little out of whack and there are a couple of things missing. Obviously I found the envelope I wrote it on this morning and am editing it accordingly. Sorry if I stuffed up your brownies! Best you try again ;)

Thursday, 30 May 2013


I don't know what to say or how to say it. I've been in a very dark place for a very long time and have been absent not just from here but also from life, from conversations. I would be surprised if there is anyone left to read this.

I find myself observing myself interact with others as though an outsider who is not participating and, for the most part, not feeling. My mind floats to one side and watches, and often doesn't really pay attention. Entire conversations are lost to mindless, automatic responses. I have trained myself not to believe that good feelings will last, and to keep a stiff upper lip when bad things happen; as a result the only emotional response I am capable of is a negative one - tears or white-hot anger - and even then it is rare. I am mostly numb.

I am disengaged, in both senses of the word. The last two years have been a living hell, filled with unrelenting suspense and uncertainty; unwelcome discoveries; people taking their frustrations out on others (and I'm hardly innocent in that one myself); and waiting. Always waiting. It's hardly surprising that I have chosen to seal my heart off from emotions. My beautiful engagement ring has been put away in its box. The perfect ring, to me, and now I wonder what it would be like to go down the marital path with another. Could I love another ring as I do that one? Would I wish it were the same? Would the wedding we planned be much different? After all I am still me, and raspberry red is still my favourite colour, and I still have the same taste in, well, everything.

It's not my story to tell. My part in it is but a small piece of the puzzle. It affects many and I respect the privacy of others, and have no intention of betraying trust that has been put in me or airing my dirty laundry here. I also won't tell you what happened because it's none of your business. No offence intended.

But I can tell you how it has made me feel.

It started out wonderfully. There were fireworks. Literally. I had never felt love like that before and, although loth to say that I doubt I will again, it seems hard to believe that I will. When I met him I just knew. In the Hollywood sense of the word. I knew. Big, crazy, intense love.

There were so many wonderful things. A kind man who opened doors, picked up the tab, pulled my seat out. Who would buy me a gift just because he thought I might like it. Flowers for no reason. The incredible depth of feeling when I looked into his eyes. The adoring expression on his face when he gazed at me. How safe I felt with my head on his chest and his arms around me. Feeling special. Being loved. Being held when my heart played up and I was scared. Sharing plans and hopes and dreams. Being a member of the smug couples club. No longer being pitied.

But that's gone. I won't say it has gone forever because it is impossible to conceive closing the door indefinitely on someone you love so very much. But the time has come to be realistic, and we are two different people to who we were before. Circumstances such as this will do that to a person. And still there is waiting. So much time has slipped by; years that can not be lived again.

Everyone just wants me to be happy. Nobody wants to see me hurt, and by inference, people who care quite likely want me to leave him behind. I know that I am surrounded by an abundance of love from friends and family, but nobody can comprehend how disappointing it is to know that your own dreams are not shared by some of the people you care about the most.

And nobody can comprehend how their (mostly) quiet disapproval makes me - or him - feel, either. Few realise they are doing it and everyone has the very best intentions as heart (namely, concern for my wellbeing), but by God can it be hard not to be resentful. Especially when every relationship I see has flaws, no matter how hard people try to hide them. Unfortunately our own flaws were so visible because I would seek comfort when I needed support, and in doing so give people the wrong idea. I never shared my joy, which was abundant, and I should have done so as to project a more balanced picture.

Sometimes people say "you'll find someone" or "you're better off without him" or something along those lines. I know they're trying to be supportive but sometimes I just want to shake them and scream at them. You see, the overwhelming majority of the people saying it are married, or have long-term partners, and many have or will soon have children, and it's just so Goddamned easy to believe that someone else will get their Happily Ever After when you know you will wake up next to the long-time love of your life tomorrow, and that you will have him by your side, holding your hand for the rest of your days on this earth.

And as for me, well they have everything I ever wanted, but they just don't fill the same spot in my heart. I don't begrudge them that. They're not supposed to fill that spot. Their happiness makes me glad and gives me hope, but it is so isolating being outside of a partnership, no matter how tightly you are embraced by friends. It's like the wires that run through a power cord - tightly twisted around one another, and needing at least two wires to operate, but always separated by an insulating layer.

Things fell apart the day I was to post our wedding invitations. There is a beautiful dress hanging in a bridal shop in Adelaide, fully paid for, waiting for me to get the guts to go and pick it up and put it away in a cupboard. I can't even bring myself to sell it because that would feel so final, like saying goodbye, and that thought breaks my already-battered heart. And I can't keep it, because if, by some miracle, I do find a suitable gentleman to have a serious relationship with then he will probably think it odd that I have a wedding dress in my wardrobe and dump me on the spot. And if he doesn't, well assuming this hypothetical chap wants to marry my mountains of baggage and I, I don't know how he or I would feel about me wearing it. There is just so much sadness in that beautiful, beautiful dress. So many broken dreams and at least two broken hearts.

If I have any readers left, they probably first came here to read about food. Believe me, there has been food, but I have been too ashamed to share most of it. I have gained eighteen kilograms in eighteen months, and it has made me further retreat within myself. I am so desperately unhappy with my appearance and my lack of control and my lack of motivation. Some pretty confronting photos helped snap me out of it last week and I think I might be on the mend, but I am still unhappy.

My self-confidence is shot to pieces, and I feel uncomfortable in any and all clothes that I wear. I second-guess how others perceive me. I have one pair of jeans I can fit into, and one shirt that hides most of the sins, so to speak, without making me seem terribly frumpy. I don't feel beautiful, and I don't know if it's because I am clinically overweight and everything jiggles when I walk, or because he is not there, telling me every day that I am beautiful. If it is the latter then I am quite disgusted that I have so badly lost hold of my old, confident, feisty self as to wilt in the absence of positive affirmation.

But there is light. A man told me tonight that he thought I was absolutely beautiful, and he was so kind and genuine about it that I believed him and accepted the compliment with grace and thanked him. Properly, I mean, not in my usual disbelieving, flippant sort of way that I brush off compliments with.

Sadly, it's high school all over again - boy likes me, I like boy's friend, boy's friend doesn't feel the same. I only met this man because his friend who I have spent a bit of time with this week took pity on me for being alone in a new city and invited me along, and in the last week his friend has made me feel like maybe I will feel again. He is friendly and normal and a gentleman, and he bought me a drink and chatted with me. More than once. It's not something I've experienced before.

I don't feel like I am betraying my ex, partly because we have been so broken for so very long (and yet I hung in there to keep him afloat, because I kept hoping for a reprieve and because I care so much, and in doing so nearly sunk myself), and partly because I don't think this guy is actually interested because he's quite awkward around me which makes me think he senses I like him and is trying to throw me off. Either that or he really, really likes me. Or possibly it's just me being awkward around him because he is smoking hot and I have never had that laid before me, so to speak, especially when the package comes complete with a lovely personality, and don't really believe that I can get it. Who knows.

But I have felt the faintest stirrings of... well, I don't know what and it doesn't really matter, because it was a positive emotion, and when I realised that I smiled. It wasn't quite happiness and it definitely wasn't love, but it was something small and warm and hopefully it will grow until I can feel like a normal person again. It's not about a boy. It's about how a boy makes me feel. And for the first time in a long time, that is a good feeling.

I have to believe that it gets better than this. I have to believe I will find someone to grow old with. And I'm 30, so I have to believe it will happen soon, before its too late to have kids. Once again, the people saying I have plenty of time are looking down benevolently from their comfortable, self-assured relationship cloud. In some cases there are babies crawling about on their cloud. Being single sucks and always did. Being single at 30 is worse. But I need to work on me for a bit before I can worry about someone else.

And don't worry, I've been seeing a counsellor, for both the eating issues and the other stuff. But mostly I think I need time and reassurance that lows won't necessarily come hot on the heels of highs, and that not all men will let you down.

So hopefully I will soon return to my old self and get my blog on again on a more regular basis. Except of course I won't be my old self because with what I've been through that's simply not possible. But hopefully I can craft myself into something better and brighter than before.

And once I am better and brighter, something amazing will come around the corner. I have been waiting a long time for it, and I'm sure it's very near now. Maybe it's that Ryan Gosling/Bradley Cooper/other eligible hottie will see me in the street and be spellbound. Maybe I will achieve something truly tangibly awesome, rather than a series of just kind of pretty good stuff. Maybe I'll become famous, somehow, and I will never have to worry about money again. It could be anything. Likely it will be none of those but it could be anything. So please send positive energy and thoughts my way, cos Nessie needs all the help she can get!

Good night everyone. I have finally unloaded and it feels... Not good, but better. The clock in the post office clock tower has just chimed twelve, so it is a new day. May it be the first in a series of progressively brighter ones.

Edit: I couldn't have got through this without the incredible support of family and friends. People came out of the woodwork to help from all over the place and I know it's unreasonable to be hurt by things people don't even say, but this whole thing hasn't been at all reasonable. It hasn't brought out the best in me and at times I've hit out at people, said nasty things and tested friendships because... Well I guess when you're an injured animal trapped in a corner you tend to bite, rather than seeing that people have only the best intentions. For that I am truly sorry. So thanks to everyone for putting up with my ornery behaviour
for so long xoxo

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Anzac Day Porridge

For those of us here in Australia (and also in New Zealand, and various Commonwealth island nations), last Thursday the 25th of April was ANZAC Day. It is a national holiday and treated as a day of remembrance, much like November 11th (Remembrance Day, known as Armistice Day or Veteran's Day elsewhere in the world), although it initially began to commemorate the 12,000 members of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fell during the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey which began on the 25th of April in 1915.

Gallipoli was the first military campaign of WWI that sustained heavy Australian and New Zealand casualties, and around 2,000 Australians died on the first day. At the time that meant that for every 550 Australians, one person from a very narrow demographic (able-bodied young men) died in that single campaign. For a young nation, this campaign and the war in general went a long way to shape national identity.

People argue the relevance of a 98-year-old military failure in modern Australia, but personally that makes me quite angry when people disregard it all so easily. I'm not pro-war by any stretch of the imagination, but where you are today is a result of everything that went before, and I feel very blessed to live in Australia. Our military history is part of the nation's history, and so it is a part of me. I think people also underrate the sacrifices military personnel and their families made and make, and I don't think we should ever forget it.

The qualities the diggers at Gallipoli displayed became known as the Anzac Spirit. Things like courage, making the best of a bad situation, working hard, helping your mates out and a tendency to be a bit cheeky and push the envelope. I, for one, am more than happy for that to be a part of our national identity, and I fear that those qualities are slipping in today's society.

Anyway, you didn't come here for a rant. You came here for noms!

Normally I bake Anzac biscuits on Anzac Day. They are made of oats, flour, butter, coconut, golden syrup, coconut and sugar. Because there are no eggs or milk they keep very well, and legend has it that people would make them and send them to our troops serving overseas.

Knowing how untrustworthy I am around a batch of Anzacs (I have to have a little bit of the raw mix; a piping hot one which hasn't yet set that will inevitably burn my tongue; and a cooled one. Quality control, you see!) I decided to go with something on a smaller scale that could possibly be construed as wholesome, and invent myself some Anzac porridge.

No need to reinvent the wheel here! I just microwaved 3/4 cup of rolled oats mixed with (I think it was) half a cup of water for a minute or two, stirred it, mixed in 1/4c of milk and a heaped tablespoon of desiccated coconut and microwaved for another minute, then got a massive dollop of golden syrup on my spoon and drizzled it all over the top of the porridge.


You'll have to play with the times and the liquid quantities because every microwave is different. Be aware that I have had porridge literally explode all over the microwave, and I have also had it boil over and coat everything with a thick, sticky mess. Choose a deeper bowl and put less in it. If mine turns out dry I usually just add a little more milk and work it into the porridge.

I have heard disturbing rumours that other parts of the world don't have golden syrup, and this shocks and saddens me. The best way I can describe it (and in fact, I have cobbled some together like this) is a cross between honey and molasses, kind of a pale treacle. It is basically a cane sugar-based syrup that has a wee bit of bitterness to its sticky sweetness. Honey is too sweet and molasses is too bitter. I imagine a 3:1 mix might come close. Maybe. Or you could just Google it - no doubt someone has done the maths!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Review - The Junk Food Cooking School, Docklands, Melbourne

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being asked to join my friend Tanya in a Vietnamese cooking class on a Chinese junk (formerly a brothel moored in Footscray, now casually moored in the harbour at Docklands). Tan's husband, you see, had quite obligingly suffered a bout of gout that week and so I was chosen as the person who would most appreciate it. And boy, did I appreciate his pain. Thanks, Mark! :)
The Junk Food Cooking School is run by a lovely woman named Hazel, and there are classes on various cuisines available throughout the year. I wanted to attend the Mexican class quite badly, but I'm being moved to a FIFO roster at work and am not sure which weekends I will be available to fly back to Melbourne, so I guess I'll have to let that one slide for now. Boo :(

In the meantime, I have done the Good Morning, Vietnam! cooking class and discovered just how simple (and healthy) Vietnamese food is. Because it's been a while since I posted a recipe I'll post my favourite one, but if you want the rest of them you'll jolly well have to attend the class ;) I don't have any qualms in posting this as similar recipes are widely available on the internet and so there are no trade secrets being given away, but I do encourage you to go along to a class. You'll be glad you did.

Two things struck me about the food we cooked: One, even though we made seven different dishes (including dessert), I wasn't completely stuffed full - the food was light, and not at all greasy; and two, the same ingredients were used again and again - chilli, lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar. So it's really not one of those cuisines where you need lots of fiddly things. I don't know about the rest of you, but I already have all of those things in one form or another in regular circulation in my pantry. Now all I need is a garden with some herbs in and I'll be set.

The classes were well-run, and Hazel was open to questions about dietary requirements etc. She has herself been recently diagnosed as caeliac, so I do know that at least the cooking class I did was gluten free and I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the others were, too.
Our class had around ten people in it, and there was a cooking/prep work/demo table at one end of the junk and a dining table and chairs at the other. We were also given a choice of bubbles, wine or beer to drink (plus water, coffee and tea) with our meal, which I didn't expect and which I thought was a nice touch. You could participate as much or as little as you liked, with everyone standing around the demonstration table and Hazel getting people to participate in various ways. As the class wore on we found that the group naturally involved itself and took it in turns, so Hazel didn't have to do too much directing. I guess we had a good group dynamic.
The class lasted four or five hours, including eating the meal and checking out laughing at the buck's night (well, day) boats going in and out of the harbour. You should wear closed-toe, comfortable shoes because you are on your feet for a lot of that time (that, and you don't want to drop a knife or hot oil on your bare foot), but I imagine you could just as easily sit back and watch if you wished. Personally, I'm a more hands-on sort of gal, especially in the kitchen.

Chilli and Lemongrass Curry - The Junk Food Cooking School.
500g chicken Marylands, chopped into 3 pieces and excess fat and skin removed
1tsp sugar
1/2tsp salt and 1tsp black pepper
2tbsp fish sauce
2tbsp vegetable oil
2 lemongrass stems, white part only finely chopped and pounded, bash remaining ends
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 birds eye chillies, thinly sliced
90mL water
2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch Chinese broccoli or other Asian greens
2 birds eye chillis, sliced, to garnish
1/2 bunch coriander leaves, to garnish.

Combine fish sauce with sugar, salt and black pepper. Stir to dissolve sugar.

Add chicken pieces, stir to coat then cover and chill for half an hour.

Meanwhile pound lemongrass in mortar and pestle until it goes powdery. Fry on medium heat until golden.

Pound garlic and add to wok with chilli and cook until fragrant.

Add chicken and marinade and stir-fry for around 10 minutes until coloured. Chicken does not need to be cooked through at this stage. Add water and bashed lemongrass ends and bring to the boil then reduce heat and cook, with lid on, for approx. 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Just before serving add greens and spring onions and cook a further 2 minutes then serve garnished with chillis and coriander.

It won't look pretty, but you'll be surprised at how rich and flavoursome it is!

We made seven dishes in all - a variation on a rice paper roll, with a prawn and pork sausage in the middle along with herbs, rice noodles and a peanut sauce; sugar cane prawns; pork spareribs braised in coconut water; chicken, chilli and lemongrass curry; coconut rice; green mango salad; and sticky rice to finish off. Today I have shared with you the chicken, chilli and lemongrass curry because it packed such a flavour punch, and also because I was downright shocked that it didn't contain coconut milk - the sauce was just so creamy. It's definitely one going on regular rotation in my kitchen!

Besides the curry we made sugarcane prawns (seen here sitting on a green mango salad)

Pork spareribs braised in coconut water

 Coconut rice

Rice paper rolls with a prawn and pork sausage 

And sticky rice with banana for dessert.
What a feast!

 In addition to plenty of food, drinks and a cooking lesson you also get a snazzy red apron as part of your ticket price. Which is just as well because I get an apron grubby just about every time I use it, so multiple aprons are a must in my life!
 I get the impression the classes do book out fairly quickly, so if you want to book several places then plan well in advance. Hazel does run private classes, though, which could be an option for a hen's night or a work function. I'm not sure whether the price is any different, but it would definitely be worth a look. Included in the normal price is the class, the (multi-course) meal, a drink or two, an apron and a booklet of recipes (I assume that applies across the board for all classes), which I think makes it very good value for money. All in all I recommend the Junk Food Cooking School for a nice day out with friends, or as a gift for someone.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Headed South. No second head growing. Yet.

Hey! I'm here! Just been crazy busy. I moved down to Tasmania (shocking, I know!) and it's usually a minimum of 13-14 hours door-to-door. But it's an exciting job, just lots to get my head around. And not much time for cooking or blogging!

I've been living off McDonald's and Lean Cuisines for about three weeks now and the Maccas is winning the battle, or so my thighs tell me. But I've got a flat now, and therefore a fridge and a stove, and am super-excited about getting back into healthy cooking and sharing it (and some of the less healthy stuff!) here.

For now I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of leaving Melbourne on the ferry and a couple of the job site. If there are any professional tree-huggers reading this you will probably realise what a challenge sediment control will be. Wish me luck with that...

I'm writing on my phone and don't know where the photos will show up, so these are the would-be captions: 1. Bye, Melbourne! 2. Obliging seagull improving an otherwise average photo. 3. Arthur's lake, where the pipeline begins. 4. Looking down the hill to where the pipeline ends. Oh, and this ain't the steep bit!

I'm off to the Victorian Alps for the long weekend now to be shown around Red Robin Mine, which I believe is the last remaining gold mine in the area and is in its last season. It interests me both as a professional tree-hugger and also as a former honours student in the Alpine region. I first met the miner doing my field work back in 2005, and tripped over him again on a hiking trip over Christmas 2011 - the day before I was airlifted out, in fact. I'll write about it here, and who knows - I might be able to convince an outdoors magazine to pick it up.

So stay safe over the long weekend, everyone. Enjoy your Easter and don't eat too much chocolate! (Or forget that Easter is not just about the noms.)

Monday, 11 March 2013

Mango and Peach Sorbet

You may recall that I got the ice cream maker attachment for my Kenwood for Christmas. The first thing I made with it was raspberry sorbet, and, having neither the time nor the inclination to faff about with making an egg-cream-custardy-thing to make proper ice cream out of, or to then do something with the egg whites, I decided to make sorbet again yesterday instead of branching out into the grown-up world of proper ice cream. After all, Melbourne is in the middle of ANOTHER week of 30oC+ and I ain't turning no stove nor no oven on for nobody!
Sorbet it is. Locate fruit, sugar, liquid of some sort and food processor. Whizz together. And this one's even better than the raspberry sorbet because this time there was no boiling of sugar syrup. Huzzah!
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, chopped
2 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, chopped
1/4c lime juice (that's about the juice of 1.5 limes)
3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar
Whizz it all up in the food processor until smooth. If it's not cool, which it will be if the fruit was in the fridge, chill it.
Jump into your Tardis, put the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer 24 hours ago (if that's the sort of unit you have, like I do), then come back to the present day and remove it from the freezer and set it up.
This is where I say "freeze according to ice cream maker manufacturers' instructions" but in my case, turn your Kenwood/other inferior machine on, pour the puree in and leave it going for half an hour to 45 minutes.
Once again I got quite a soft sorbet but I'm imagining that when I pull the leftovers out the freezer tonight I will discover that it is quite solid. (Note: they were. I had to leave them out for ages before I could get the spoon through!)
You can add more or less icing sugar to taste, but the amount there was just enough to balance the lime juice and let the mango shine. This was originally supposed to be all-mango but SOMEONE ate the other mango (and it wasn't me, y'all!). Nonetheless I think it was better this way - the peach made it not-terribly-mangoey but sort of supported the flavour without overpowering it. If that makes sense.
I can't say which is my favourite because I am inherently biased towards raspberry but it doesn't seem fair to choose the quality of a recipe on what my favourite flavour happens to be, so... if you want something tart and refreshing, possibly to accompany a chocolatey dessert (although it is damned fine on its own), go with the raspberry. If you want to lounge about eating sorbet on a summer's eve then go with the mango (and it has also occurred to me that I could just serve it in a glass and add a splosh (bigger than a splash) of rum to it, just for kicks).

Monday, 4 March 2013

Quick 'n' Dirty - Lamb with Chilli and Coriander (Cilantro), with Greek Salad

I realised recently that part of the reason I struggle to post some weeks is that my everyday foods are probably too boring to write about. And, given that I'm quite time-poor a lot of the time, trying out a whole new recipe can seem daunting, especially if it's complicated. That, and my waistline has been... shall we say... rampant of late, so I've been trying to cut down on my one true love - baked goods. Don't worry, it won't last forever ;) But it has inspired me to try out (or invent) a bunch of "Quick 'n' Dirty" recipes to keep things healthy and interesting for me on weeknights, and also for you!
Last week was my first try at something new. It was my turn to cook, and I had taken lamb fillets out of the freezer but had no clear idea what I was going to do with them. So when I walked in the door after work, starving, I knew that whatever I made had to be quick. I also think it's a sin to over-cook lamb unless it's a tougher cut that is supposed to be stewed, so frying it was the only option. I raided the fridge and the spice cabinet, and this is what I came up with.
INGREDIENTS (serves two):
400g lamb fillets (basically lean lamb steaks. 400g was four small ones)
1/2tbsp olive oil (+1/2tbsp more - see below)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2tbsp squeezy coriander (I'm sure fresh would be nicer though - it usually is!)
1tsp chilli powder (depending on how hot you like it)
1 huge tomato or two smaller ones
1/3 large cucumber
40g feta cheese
1/4 red onion
6 pitted kalamata (black) olives
1/2tbsp olive oil
1/2tbsp apple cider vinegar (or other acid - I wanted to use lemon juice but had no lemons)
Mint would make a nice addition but I had none of that, either :(
Tip half of oil over steaks. Evenly apply chilli, garlic and coriander to it and rub in. Make sure both sides are covered.
Heat a pan without oil. When hot, put steaks on. Remember that lamb is best cooked medium and a little pink in the middle, so don't overcook it! It took about 2 or so minutes on the first side, then I flipped them, let them cook for another minute and then turned off the flame and let the residual heat do the rest. The timing will depend on what your pan is made of and how much heat your stovetop retains. Don't leave it in the pan too long, though, because the lamb will continue to cook even after you remove it from the pan.
Meanwhile - and this should take you less time than the lamb takes to cook if the ingredients are already out - slice cucumber lengthways, then lengthways again (longitudinal quarters), then chop into 2cm pieces. Cut tomato in half (top to bottom), remove the yucky bit at the top, then cut each piece in half longitudinally, and then 3 or 4 times as if you were cutting wedges, but now each wedge will already be cut in half. Or, you know, cut it in wedges then cut each wedge in half! Cube feta. Slice olives. Combine all ingredients besides feta in a bowl, put remaining olive oil and vinegar on it and toss to combine.
Place salad on two plates, and crumble feta over the top. Next, slice lamb fillets into 1.5cm pieces and arrange on top.
I imagine it would be nice with a dollop of minted yoghurt on top, but I'd had enough dairy for one day. Oh, and I had no mint!
So, reader, what is your go-to Quick 'n' Dirty recipe?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Review - The Tea Room at QVB, Sydney

I obviously didn't post last week, and that's because I was a bit busy - I found myself in Sydney for the weekend, and, determined to pack as much into my weekend as possible, my schedule looked a little like this:
9am - Breakfast with the entire St Kilda Football Club (hmm, I should think harder about how I word that one, given their track record... what I meant was that they happened to be in the Virgin lounge where I happened to be eating my breakfast!)
11:45am - get off plane in Sydney and high-tail it to my hotel to drop off luggage, then walk down George Street towards the Queen Victoria Building, foolishly wearing unpadded sandals
1:10pm - arrive at the QVB and spend some time wandering about. Decide that I like it well enough because it resembles Melbourne and its arcardes (sorry, Sydney, I like you on weekends but I can't imagine living there!), what with the mosaic floors
and domes
and old-style architecture
and general all-round arcade-y-ness.
1:30pm - finally find my way to the Tea Rooms on the third floor. It honestly took me quite a while to figure out how to get there, because I knew it was on the third floor but most of the building only goes to the second floor. Here's the tip: if you walk to the north end of the building, you will be faced with the Fat Budha restaurant, and most likely be confused. But if you look a little more closely you'll see a small sign and a staircase to the right, and you climb that to reach the tea rooms.
More on my jam-packed weekend later, because given the title of this post I should probably actually write about the tea room!
I chose the QVB tea rooms after contacting the lovely Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella and asking for her high tea recommendation. She said she hadn't been to QVB in a while and had heard that it had slipped a little, but that it was quite a traditional service. I think the Royal Albert flatware alone probably sold me!
I was meeting Cesar and Pete, two guys I met on my recent trip to Africa (I'll write about that one day, too, I promise!). I figured seeing as I'm rarely in Sydney I should try and see some Sydney-siders, and also should probably take the opportunity to cross off one of my New Year's resolutions, in addition to climbing the Harbour Bridge (that one's on my 101 Things list, and I did it the following day). Done, done and done.
We met at the table, which I had booked the day before. I was under the impression when I booked that we had nabbed literally the last table in the house, so you should definitely book ahead by more than 24 hours. And because they start to close at 3pm on a Saturday they wanted me to make a 1:30pm booking, not a 2pm one like I had originally planned (I've been stuffed around by flight delays so many times that I nowadays try to build in a half-hour contingency to everything). Anyway, it all worked out okay and Virgin ran on time despite a late take-off in Melbourne. You never used to be able to trust them but these days they're definitely improving.
They took our order quickly - probably a little too quickly, given Pete had literally just sat down and had not even picked up his menu when the waitress came scurrying over - but because we were having the traditional afternoon tea ($43 on weekends, including tea or coffee) it wasn't a big deal. We were given glasses of water almost straight away, and little silver teapots came with matching tea strainers about 5 or so minutes later - one individual one for Pete, and a two-person one for Cesar and I. From there it was probably another 10 minutes or so before the food came out, and I was starting to wonder where it was but I suppose they were heating the things that needed heating.
As it turns out, three tiers plus one plate of food all spaced out might not look like much, but it's actually quite a challenge to get through!
I started with the spinach and feta pastry, which was moist on the inside, flaky on the outside and very tasty.
Next, assuming them to be warm and that they should be eaten that way, I attacked a mammoth scone with clotted cream and jam. The scone wasn't as warm as I had expected, wasn't really warm at all, in fact, and I have to say the scone itself didn't impress me greatly... but that's because - yes, I'm going to say it - I make the world's best scones. I'm sorry, but I do. Or, I did, this one time. They were utterly perfect, and every scone that has passed my lips since has paled in comparison. But this was a good, robust scone; not too dry; and didn't fall apart when I spread my jam and cream on it, which is important. Not a scone to be ashamed of, and certainly generous in size.
Next I moved onto the fingers of sandwiches. There were two for each diner, and there were two each of three different types of sandwich, so you had to hope that the other diners wouldn't want the same sandwiches that you did! Our plate included two tuna, two curried egg, and what we thought was two chicken salad but turned out to be one chicken and one ham. I had an egg sandwich and a chicken one, and both had lovely, fresh bread and the fillings were just right. The chicken salad had a little celery and a little walnut in it, which was a nice touch.
On the same tier as the sandwiches there were these tiny, odd little pastry cases filled with what seemed to be a warm cheese sauce or maybe even aioli?? I think we had all assumed that it was a mini quiche and one of us actually tried biting into it and ended up with it on their chin. If it was a quiche it certainly had not set properly. I, unusually for me, put it all in my mouth in one hit and didn't make any mess at all! The filling was too runny for it to stay long on my tongue so I didn't have much of an opportunity for the flavour to register, so I can't say a lot about it. Perhaps we were supposed to put it on the sandwiches or on the spinach pastry - I really have no idea. Maybe someone more cultured than me can tell me what it was supposed to be?!?!
Coming in for a slightly closer view now, the next thing I attacked was a passionfruit yo-yo (melting moment). It's the round one between the two macarons at the front of the bottom tier. The two biscuits were quite thin and melt-in-your-mouth shortbready, and the passionfruit buttercream was tasty and full of flavour, but I knew the very second I picked it up that it had been sitting out a little too long and that the filling was soft and warm. So I sort of slid the two halves of the biscuit off so that both had some filling on them, and ate them separately. I once again, surprisingly, made the right choice, because when Pete bit into his the cream squirted out the sides. But the filling hadn't separated out or gone greasy; it was just a bit tricky to eat.
Next came those little oblongs of cake on the top tier. From what I can tell, one layer was a hazelnut (or possibly almond)-based cake, one was plain sponge and the top was a chocolate gel. The cake reminded me a little of tiramisu, although not as strong, with its moistness and chocolate and hazelnut flavours. Definitely a winner, and certainly only for consumption in inch-long pieces!
Back down to the bottom tier for those little lemon meringue boats. Barely a mouthful, airy and light, and the lemon filling was beautiful. I could probably rack up half a dozen of these and eat them with a cup of tea and good book in hand, no problem at all.
I then ventured into macaron territory. Now, I have to say I'm a little embarrassed to admit, but my macaron experience is quite limited. My first-ever macaron was at Doncaster shoppingtown at Laurant Patisserie and I expected big things, given that we were in the midst of the Great Macaron Craze of 2011. I found it to be a bit meh, but then, when I thought about it, I realised that a biscuit made of almond meal and egg white is likely to be quite plain and that the star performer should be the filling. I don't think Laurant should take what I say personally as I have only tried one in their range so far so can't really judge.
My next macaron (okay, it wasn't one - I ate three) was at La Maison du Chocolat in New York City in October last year (why yes, I do have a knack for sniffing out patisseries, chocolatiers et al in foreign cities, why do you ask?), and I also tripped over Magnolia bakery, just around the corner, which is why I didn't get around to eating the macarons until late the following day. I wasn't terribly concerned as I was aware that they are at their best on Day Two or Day Three. So they were stuck in my hostel locker with a stinky backpack that has done a lot of work over the years in my travels with no wash (you'll be pleased to know that the first thing I did when I got home was throw it in the washing machine!), but they still fared reasonably well. It confirmed for me that the ganache in the centre was the star performer of a macaron.
So when I encountered a pistachio macaron I wasn't really sure what to expect. I mean, it was certainly the exact shade of pistachio, but I like in-your-face flavours like lemon and raspberry and dark chocolate, and pistachio is obviously a much more subtle flavour. I am pleased to announce that the flavour of the macaron did not disappoint me - it did taste like pistachio, and the light but creamy filling carrying that flavour did not overwhelm it. But the structure of the biscuit went much the same way as the passionfruit yo-yo - the filling oozed out the sides, and this time I hadn't thought to separate the two halves. Sigh. Now I feel like I have to go on a macaron-tasting adventure to determine what makes the perfect filling, both in flavour and in texture. If there's somewhere you know (preferably in Melbourne but not necessarily) that will offer me a spectacular macaron experience, pease let me know!
At around this time, the tea rooms were starting to be packed up around us, table cloths and all, and bills being brought to tables, which was a little bit offputting. I suppose that was the intention! The room, surprisingly, became even echoey-er than before with fewer people and furnishings in it. It had previously been quite difficult to hear Cesar and Pete speak, I suppose because of the shape of the room, but then, I am a bit hard of hearing with background noise. It's probably not the best choice of location if you want a quiet, intimate chat, though.
My last-but-one petit four was one of those fruit tarts on top. I saved it until amost-last because I love fruit tarts in all their forms, and they're pretty hard to get wrong. I also wasn't certain I'd be able to fit it in if I ate that orange miniature cupcake on the bottom of the stand first, and the waistband of my skirt was already a little snug, so I didn't want to risk not eating it. The pastry was sweet and crumbled perfectly; the creme patisserie was light but rich; and the fruit was, well, fruit. As I said, pretty hard to get wrong (unless the creme patisserie tastes like uncooked cornflour, in which case you know you have a problem!).
And finally, as the bill was paid, I made a final lunge at the orange mini cup cake. It was rich and buttery, with a strong orange flavour which balanced the butteriness. I'm glad I squeezed it in :)
All in all, I would recommend the Tea Room at QVB, if only for the setting - it is a mixture of tables and of old-fashioned, studded leather and brocade lounge chairs - and the experience of having high tea on nice china. There was a good selection of food, and most of it was well-prepared, but I was a little disappointed by how soft the filling in the biscuits was. I would suggest perhaps going in the morning instead of the afternoon to counter that. Luckily I don't judge a tea room by its macarons ;)
As for the rest of my weekend, well it involved two dinners with friends down at Darling Harbour, two lots of fireworks, a drink down at the King Street wharf with Pete and Ceasar, a Harbour Bridge climb, a couple of cocktails at Bar 100 in the Rocks, and hot chocolate and cake at the Lindt cafe. Not a bad weekend at all, thank you Sydney!