Blackberry and Coconut Muffins + Friendship

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In recent years, I’ve become more and more aware of how blessed I am to have lifelong friends. Friends who I know (with absolute certainty) will be there during the highest points of my life whilst also traversing the earth-shattering lows. Friends like these are a rarity in the transient nature of modern life. I’ve somehow been blessed with a few.

I’ve written a few times on this blog about one of my best friends, the absolute treasure who answered to Hippy Vic (I’m using past tense as she’s progressively abandoned the blogging game). It was her birthday on Monday and I still haven’t given her a hug.

It frustrates me how life has steadily crowded out the times when we just used to sit and breathe. Nights when we’d talk unrestricted til the air grew cold and the sun emerged from hiding. I miss smiling til my face hurt and soaking in the relentless swell of youth.

At least it seemed relentless; perennial in the best of ways, tinged with blissful ignorance and folly. But youth finally faded, as it always does. Responsibility awakened like a lofty giant. Age brought maturity, and with that came both beauty and perpetual loss. I’m trying to appreciate both.

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Back to the issue of time, or rather, lack of it. I’m sure most (if not all) of you can relate to the burden of conflicting responsibilities, the absorbent qualities of full-time work and the joy (but occasionally overwhelming nature) of parenthood. I often experience pressing guilt or regret after choosing to do one thing over another. I also spend endless moments reflecting upon what I want to do as opposed to what I need to do. This year, I wanted it to end.

Last weekend, I spent some very deliberate time reflecting upon how I spend the majority of my waking hours. The past ten years have been largely consumed with study and work, the remainder being fragmented into time with family and friends. I’ve long been aware of a glaring imbalance between time spent with lifelong friends and that spent with ‘incidental acquaintances’, i.e. colleagues or people attached to my personal pursuits. All very nice people, mind you. But not those whom I’d call ‘sisters’ when I’m old and grey.

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I’ll spare you the rest of my weekend contemplation. Let’s skip through to some very purposeful time spent last Sunday eating muffins on the crest of a hill. Time spent chatting in the cool of the morning until hours disappeared and the afternoon arrived.

Time spent with my other best friend and heart sister, Lucy.

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We arrived around 9:00am, armed with fresh pencils, paints, snacks, one furkid (Loki) and our two favourite boys (Aaron and Lucy’s little boy, Isaac). Over the course of the morning, we etched images on paper, cracking almonds with our teeth and breathing the scent of warm eucalyptus.

Lucy was Lucy, beautifully creative, always kind and encouraging. The same strong-but-gentle woman whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over fifteen years. She’s seen me crumble under pressure and glow with happiness on my wedding day.

I’m so, so grateful for the journey that we’ve taken together. And most of all, I look forward to the days to come.

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So, back to Sunday. Before leaving the park, we took Isaac to Synergy parkland to climb stone dinosaurs and eat rainbow ice creams. Loki nosed around in the wood chips, making friends with stray children and chasing abandoned balls.

We lay on freshly watered grass which left stains on our clothing and huge smiles on our faces. We loved every minute and as usual, we’ve promised to ‘do it again soon’.

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And this time, we will.

I’m already baking the muffins.

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Blackberry and Coconut Muffins

Makes 18

  • 1/2 cup coconut yoghurt (I used CO YO, substitute natural yoghurt)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup organic, cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (substitute oat or dairy milk)
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup organic oat flour
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking (bicarbonate) soda
  • Optional: coconut nectar and coconut chips/flakes, to garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Whisk the yoghurt, water, eggs, milk and coconut oil together in a large bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.

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Spoon into lined or greased muffin pans and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

If using coconut nectar, prick holes into the top of the muffins and drizzle over a little coconut nectar whilst still warm. Garnish with toasted coconut chips.

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Picnics and Caramelised Onion Foccacia

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I’m a big fan of picnics. Particularly during the summer months when the warmth of the sun lingers long after her brightness has faded.

On the balmiest of nights, we can often be found on the shores of City Beach with a basket, Esky (the Australian word for cooler or ice box), swimmers and (on the odd occasion) a battered volleyball. Quite Australian indeed.

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In fact, amongst our friends (and many others) this tradition also occurs on most Australia Day holidays, usually accompanied by barbecued meat and the Triple J Hottest 100. We’ll possibly do the same this Monday (for overseas readers, Australia Day falls on the 26 January each year) or alternately, dunk ourselves in a swimming pool whilst sipping a cold beer. I can’t wait.

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For those of you planning an Australia Day feast, I’ve included a few recipe links below that are perfect for warm weather snacking, feasting and transporting. There’s also a quick recipe for what I’ve found to be a fail-proof olive oil focaccia.

We eat on its own (the herby, garlicky caramelised onion topping is delicious), with dips (hummus, olive oil, babaghanouj) and sliced lengthways for incredible grilled sandwiches. It’s so, so good.

Salads:

Dips:

Snacks/Antipasto:

Dessert/Sweets:

Drinks:

focaccia

Olive Oil Focaccia with Caramelised Onion Topping

Adapted from this recipe by Kerrie Sun

Makes one loaf

For the dough:

  • 450g (3 cups) strong bread flour
  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) warm water
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp extra for kneading + greasing pan
  • 2 tsp flaked sea salt

Topping:

  • 1 small red (Spanish) onion, finely sliced
  • small bunch rosemary and thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil + extra 1 tbsp to brush
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place the flour and half of the sea salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture alongside 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix the wet yeast mixture into the flour using a fork or wooden spoon, then use your hands to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth, soft and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl (I used the same mixing bowl, wiped clean) and transfer the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, then leave to prove in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size*.

Whilst your dough is rising, prepare your caramelised onion topping: in a medium pan, gently heat a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add in the sliced onion, garlic and picked herbs, stirring gently over low heat until the onion is translucent (do NOT allow the garlic to brown or burn or the mixture will become bitter). Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Brush a 20 x 30 pan with remaining oil, then set aside.

Punch down the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly greased surface and knead for another two minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to original size. Press out into a rough rectangle and transfer into your prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough has finished proving, uncover and use your fingers to press dimples into the surface. Distribute the caramelised onion topping over the surface, pressing some of the herb sprigs into the dough. Sprinkle with a little flaked sea salt.

Transfer into your preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden (the foccacia should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Brush with a little more olive oil to soften the crust, then leave to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Dough can be refrigerated overnight at this point in the process, covered in plastic wrap. You may need to complete second proving in the oven to ensure a good rise (I turned the oven on, preheated it to 100 degrees then turned it off. Leave to cool slightly then transfer your pan of dough onto the centre rack), covered in a moist tea towel. Prove until the dough has doubled in size. 

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To all the Australian readers, happy Australia Day weekend. For my overseas friends, stay warm – I hope this post brings you a sliver of sunshine.

Sweet Potato and Cacao Brownies

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Now, let me just start this post by saying that I am a huge skeptic when it comes to ‘healthy’  versions of sweet treats such as mashed bean brownies, applesauce muffins and the like. I won’t touch them with a bargepole. Mostly as they taste quite horrible and, more importantly, because I love, consume and see the benefits of quality cultured butter consumption (I’ve even started making my own using this tutorial from the gorgeous Heidi Sze via Tucker. OBSESSED).

Case in point: last Sunday morning, I decided to make a batch of chewy, crackly brownies to bring as a contribution to our nephew’s birthday dinner that evening. Whilst I was rustling around in the refrigerator for my batch-churned Pepe Saya, Aaron chimed in: “…can you make healthy ones?”.

I immediately screwed up my nose. Healthy ones? For a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD? Uh, no. That’s not gonna go down well. But then my eye caught a bag of golden sweet potatoes, peacefully languishing in the vegetable drawer. An idea came to mind; a nutrient-filled, coconut drenched, cacao dusted idea.

Sweet potato brownies.

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After a little bit of internet research, I soon discovered that this idea wasn’t exactly new; in fact, a few hundred thousand million (or more) people have been baking these beauties since at least 2013. Most versions attest to be paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and the like, and indeed they are – however, as someone who is fortunate enough to have no dietary restrictions, I just thought that they sounded delicious.

After inventing my own recipe, I did a little taste test prior to packing a plate for the nephew’s birthday party (I was still filled with flourishing seeds of doubt). A sliver revealed a moist, fudgy, supremely chocolatey brownie with a very faint shadow of sweet potato (mostly masked by smooth aftertastes of mild coconut, cacao and vanilla). I fell immediately in love and, after sharing a sliver with a very enthusiastic Aaron, my waning hope was sweetly restored.

We skipped off to the birthday party (cue glowing smiles of happiness).

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Now, in fear of habitually exceeding my blogger word allowance, I’ll cut out the niceties and head straight to the ‘kid verdict’ from our nephew’s birthday dinner. After the first few chews, these did not pass (I’m imagining Gandalf and the bridge of Khazad-dûm).

Possibly due to the vague aftertaste of coconut and sweet potato. Probably due to a childish unfamiliarity with healthy versions of sweet indulgences. Positively due to my enthusiastic cries of “They’re healthy!!” during the first few bites. Man, I’ve got a lot to learn about parenting.

I later returned to our vehicle with a superficial smile and an almost-full plate of sweet potato brownies. Despite Aaron’s reassurance (ah, bless that man) I was crushed, kicking myself for not using my tried and tested brownie recipe (one of my very first novice posts on WordPress, still a fail-safe favourite in our house and others). You live and you learn.

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Anyway, it’s now been four days since I tasted the lingering bitterness of healthy baking defeat. I guess it was to be expected, but the buoyancy of imbued hope lingered high over my sea of doubts.

I’m probably not going to attempt healthy baking for children again unless they’re my own (whom, in my idealized, not-yet-a-parent mind are going to be raised on wholefoods and rice malt syrup). Or unless I coat each said item in melted dairy milk chocolate. Hm.

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After my story of failure, you’re possibly wondering why this recipe still made it to blog-post stage. Well, Aaron and I adore these little beauties. We’ve been devouring delicious slivers over the past few days with hot coffee or as an after-dinner treat, with reassurance that they’re choc-full of goodness.

I used milk chocolate chips for the version that I took to our nephew’s house (predominantly due to the kid factor – silly me) however future batches will be made with the substitution of either crunchy cacao nibs or 70% cocoa dark chocolate – the bitterness will do wonders in off-setting the mild taste of sweet potato.

Nope, they’re no crackle-topped, butter-filled brownies. They don’t ooze with melted chocolate. But they’re a marvelous staple to have in the fridge when you just want a fudgy chocolate fix without the regret. Just don’t tell the children that they’re healthy.

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Sweet Potato and Cacao Brownies

Makes 16 – 20 squares

  • 500g peeled, cubed sweet potato (I used gold, however the milder white sweet potato would work well)
  • 2 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract*
  • 3 tbsp coconut flour*
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped bar chocolate or chocolate chips* (optional, I’d recommend 70% dark chocolate)
  • pinch of sea salt flakes

Line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) brownie pan with baking paper, then set aside.

Place the cubed sweet potato into a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover. Boil until tender, then leave to cool in the cooking liquid.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

Pulse the cooked sweet potato in a blender with 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid for 30 seconds or until just smooth (don’t over-process your sweet potatoes, you don’t want a gluggy mess).

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Transfer into a large bowl and add the coconut oil, rice malt syrup and vanilla extract.

Once thoroughly combined, add in the whisked egg and your dry ingredients – the coconut flour, cacao, baking powder, a pinch of sea salt and the chocolate chips.

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Mix well, then spoon into the prepared brownie pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool, dust with some reserved cacao and slice into however many squares you like. Eat straight from the fridge, at room temperature or slightly heated with some cold dairy or coconut cream.

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*Exchange the vanilla extract for hazelnut liqueur, sweet orange extract or a few drops of peppermint oil if you like. Substitute chocolate chips for a handful of cacao nibs to add crunch and extra nutrients. Substitute coconut flour for oat flour or buckwheat flour if you like; I’d probably just cut down a bit of the sweet potato cooking liquid due to the reduced absorbency of alternative flours.

P.S. I had a little collaborator attempting to eat the goods helping me with this brownie shoot. You might be able to spot him here:

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita + January Heat

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It’s quiet; a still and mild Saturday afternoon. A halcyon breeze floats through the window, softly scented with warm eucalyptus. Quite a change from the week-that-was – when temperatures reached over 46 degrees C (115 degrees f). Today feels positively balmy.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably read my complaints about this January’s blistering heat wave. Monday afternoon felt like a billowing sauna, extraordinarily hot and thick with the scent of roasting vegetation. Whilst venturing out at lunchtime, hot bitumen melted the sole off my sandal. What a way to start the new year.

Another victim of the recent heat is our three-and-a-half year old MacBook Pro. The once reliable beast appears to have died in a flash of heat and blinking white (even following this advice didn’t help). On Thursday, we consulted a bearded, self-confessed ‘geek’ wearing Rip Curl shorts (paradox much?). $160 and ten minutes later, temporary optimism melted into bitter disappointment as we were instructed to ‘…take it to the Apple Store’.

And so we did, only to be given an appointment for next Tuesday. Sad face.

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Life without a laptop is rather inefficient. I’ve been using my phone and iPad, but neither is optimal for writing or reading blog posts. My kindly husband has now loaned me his desktop PC for the afternoon, however I’m quite aware that this is holding up his own personal work (and more importantly, his progress in The Wolf Among Us).

I’m typing as quickly as possible, my gaze flicking back and forth between his giant dual monitors like a tennis spectator. As someone who is as much a geek as I am an emo (read: not at all), I feel like I’m stuck in the temperate cockpit of some tiny, artistic aircraft with floorboards for wings. The screens are wallpapered with digital paintings, gently peppered with art files and music downloads. All very Aaron. None of my foodie files are here, neither are my individual PhotoShop settings.

Another sad face.

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Anyway, that’s enough negativity for one day. Let’s focus on the positives of January; shiny orange positives in the form of sticky mangoes, blushed apricots and juicy nectarines. Summer has brought fruit galore, coloured jewels that are ripe for the picking. I’ve mostly been eating them cold, sliced into salads or piled upon thick coconut yoghurt, though a recent glut from the market may be turned into apricot compote (perhaps by the sun if I leave a pot on the balcony!).

Another January upside is the fact that glorious warm weather is perfect for lighter meals. Salads, quinoa sushi, raw vegetables and blackened corn slathered in chilli lime butter. I’ve also been relishing cocktails crowned with piles of ice, perfect for balmy evenings spent with a good book.

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Over the past week, my book of choice has been Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful volume of recipes and stories both penned and photographed by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (the talented husband and wife team behind vegetarian blog Green Kitchen Stories). After purchasing the book several months ago in London, it’s taken me a little while to start cooking from it – so far our table has been blessed with avocado and kiwi paletas, chocolate bean chilli and vibrant raspberry chia jam, all of which have been relished with keen eyes and sticky fingers.

Last Thursday, my mother and I decided to spend an impromptu evening drinking elderflower mojitos joined by Aaron, my beautiful (vegetarian) friend Lucy and her son Isaac. It took me three seconds to decide to make baked falafel from the original volume by David and Luise published in 2013.

Over the course of the evening, we drank from ice-cold glasses, slurped on healthy popsicles and drew elephants upon computer paper. We ate these crisp, nutty falafel balls in crisp cabbage leaves (san choy bau style) alongside baked pesto mushrooms with guacamole, smoky baba ghanouj (recipe here) and fresh turkish bread.

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If you’ve made the original recipe from The Green Kitchen, you’ll notice that I’ve switched up a few ingredients whilst adding a ‘chilling period’ for the falafel mix (which is specific to warmer regions). I’ve also omitted the cashew nut dressing in favour of a lavish spoonful of nut butter and fragrant coconut raita. Experiment as you like – I can assure you that the original version is just as blissful, as would a simple adornment of Greek yoghurt or garlicky hummus.

Here’s to a beautiful, healthy 2015 for all of us (and my computer).

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita and Tomato Chilli Salsa

Adapted from The Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (aka Green Kitchen Stories)

Falafel:

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) washed mint and parsley leaves
  • 200g (about 2 cups) unsalted nuts (I used pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 400g chickpeas, cooked or canned
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (substitute coconut oil if desired)
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp buckwheat flour (substitute oat or wheat flour if desired)
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Line a large baking tray (about 35x25cm) with baking paper, then set aside.

Blend the herbs in a food processor until coarsely chopped (about 30 seconds). Add the nuts and pulse until combined. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients and blend for 1-2 minutes or until well combined with a little residual texture (stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).

Remove the falafel mixture from the food processor and place into a large bowl. Scoop slightly heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture into your hands and roll to form about 24 small falafel. Place on your prepared baking tray, then push down lightly with your fingers to flatten slightly. Depending upon your climate, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up a little.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Drizzle the falafel with a little olive oil, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Turn after 10 minutes to get a uniform brown colour. Allow to cool slightly before assembling your falafel wraps.

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Coconut Raita:

  • 225mL (1 cup) chilled coconut cream (substitute natural dairy yoghurt or soy yoghurt if desired)
  • small handful of mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • small piece of finely chopped green chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Place all ingredients into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. Leftover raita is amazing with curries or dolloped over fresh green leaves with chickpeas, chopped grape tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds.

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Tomato Chilli Salsa

  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes or 250g mixed cherry tomatoes, finely diced (leave the seeds in)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you’d like less heat)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything in a medium bowl, mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to intensify the flavours.

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To serve:

  • 1 green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, core removed, leaves washed and dried
  • toasted sunflower seeds
  • soft green herbs (coriander, mint, parsley), leaves picked
  • gently warmed nut butter (cashew butter, pepita butter or tahini) to dollop
  • lemon wedges

I served these falafel pre-assembled in little cabbage cups however you can wrap them up in iceberg lettuce for a crispy alternative… or leave everything in small bowls on the table for people to help themselves.

For a more traditional meal, serve the falafel in warmed pitas doused in plenty of nut butter, raita and salsa. They’ll be delicious either way.

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And so this is (almost) Christmas

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It’s just clocked past midnight on Tuesday, December 23, 2014. I’ve spent this evening buying groceries, wrapping presents, detangling my dog from a length of red-and-white string and… well, mostly just wondering where this year has gone.

It’s exactly two days until Christmas; nine until the dawn of two thousand and fifteen. Rather strange, considering that it’s now half-of-my-life-past-the-millennium. Man, I’m old (and my school uniform is still in one of mum’s cupboards. Oh dear. But I digress).

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CHRISTMAS. Ah, Christmas. As per many other blogging friends, I’ve spent most of the month intending to write more holiday-specific posts and accomplishing very little. I blame work, accumulated stress and residual lethargy from a persistent cold.

But mostly? It’s procrastination. Long summer nights lead to a very laid back attitude, sticky skin and consequential reluctance to turn on the hot gas oven.

“Maybe tomorrow night,” she says, whilst sipping water from an ice-filled glass. Tomorrow is inevitably hot. The pattern continues.

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Anyway, as you may be aware, this month hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve baked a beautiful glazed ham as well as some mince pies from a few years back (recipe here, please excuse the non-DSLR photos).

I’ve also eaten many homemade pizzas (and some AMAZING cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers made by my friend Erin) and sipped beer by the glow of a hot barrel fire.

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I also spent part of sunday watching Jamie Oliver season his free-range turkey (the original Jamie’s Christmas is from 2005, what!) whilst eating seasonal fruit and drinking herbal G&T’s.

Oh summer, you are grand.

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But back to Christmas (dis)organization.

I’m sorry to admit that we still have no Christmas tree. I failed dismally on the ‘international Christmas card’ front, too (sorry everyone, I do love you) and my box of stamps is losing stickiness by the month. Good thing I can cook or I might have been scratched off some Christmas lists by now.

Buuuut… summer barbecues need salads and I’m kinda good at them (whoever said that you don’t make friends with salad was wrong. Just saying).

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Anyway, this post wasn’t intended as a page-long whinge about my poor Christmas planning skills (or Christmas itself; I do love this time of year and the ability to appreciate our families and the immeasurable gift of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world).

Rather, I wanted to wish you (my amazing followers, collaborators, family, friends and readers – most of you are combinations of these!) a wonderful festive season and a peaceful start to the new year.

Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and downs of travel, homesickness, sporadic recipe posting and commenting for another year. Your friendship, critique, humour and encouragement means more than you’ll ever know.

I’m praying for blessings, peace, creative inspiration and strength as one year ends and another begins.

MERRY CHRISTMAS + a HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Laura, Aaron and Loki x

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d probably already be party to my big news of the month. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I adopted a tiny chocolate brown poodle x mini pinscher puppy (a ‘pinny poo‘) with golden eyes and a wispy grandpa beard.

Subsequently, our night life has transitioned from drinks with friends to pee puddles, gushing swoons (when he frets in his sleep, so cute) and copious amounts of mashed sweet potato (not entirely new, but this time with minced chicken and puppy biscuits). It’s been a beautiful learning experience, for both teeny pup and his proud new parents.

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If you’re wondering what his name is, that admittedly took a day or two (I’m predicting a week of baby-without-a-name when Aaron and I make a human). We finally settled on Loki, more for its cuteness than mythology or semantics. It seems to suit him.

Names aside – I’ve come to a few realizations about pet ownership over the past three weeks. First and foremost, it’s much harder to cook with a puppy sitting on your feet. Secondly, it’s impossible to type when a puppy is gnawing on your keyboard; stern words and distraction techniques are required.

Thirdly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Anyway, chocolate brown puppies aside, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post. CAKE. Or rather, a recipe for dark chocolate and pistachio torte.

This dark, rich slab of heaven was baked as a birthday gift for a very special work friend of mine, Belinda. Despite many challenges of her own, this amazing woman has been a steadfast source of encouragement, support and grace throughout the past two years. I’m grateful that life brought us together.

Thanks Bels, for all you are and all you do.

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Strangely enough, I wrote notes whilst baking this cake (a scattered occurrence, to say the least). And just as well, as I’ve been asked for the recipe at least five times since the cake was baked.

So, a few nights ago I gathered my crumpled notes and typed out a semblance of a recipe. It’s dead easy, inspired by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate and pistachio fudge and a similar recipe of hers which I believe was published in her cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess (which I do not own, so admittedly the reference is vague).

This cake is deeply chocolatey, complex and densely moist. Ground pistachios add both texture and flavour to the cake batter, whilst orange blossom and dusky rose provide sweet fragrance to the rich, shiny ganache.

I hope you love it as much as we did.

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Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

Makes one 23cm round cake

  • 150g dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate
  • 150g raw caster sugar
  • 150g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm round springform cake tin, then set aside.

Place the pistachio nuts and caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture reaches a fine meal.

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Melt together the butter and chocolate over a double boiler. When thick and glossy, remove from the heat and add to the processed nut mixture with a pinch of sea salt. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, ensuring they’re fully combined. Set aside.

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In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach firm peaks. Add a large spoonful of egg white to the chocolate mixture and vigorously fold in (you need to chocolate mixture to loosen).

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Add the loosened cake batter to the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently but firmly until no large patches of egg white remain. Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin.

Transfer into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and firm when touched in the centre.

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Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then refrigerate for at least one hour before icing with ganache (recipe below).

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Orange Blossom Ganache

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 150ml thick cream
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • optional: 1-2 tbsp roasted, crushed pistachio nuts + 5-6 dried organic (unsprayed) rosebuds, crushed.

Melt the chocolate and cream together over a double boiler until smooth. Remove from the heat and add in the splash of orange blossom water. Keep mixing until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Cool slightly then pour or spread over your cooled cake. Use a palette or butter knife to smooth out any extra-thick patches.

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Sprinkle the edge of your cake with the pistachio and rose mixture, if using.

sidecu*Another big thanks to our dear friends Shawn and Erin for providing us with fresh, home-laid eggs from your chicken coop over the past few weeks. Seriously blessed <3

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

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Despite his many (many, many) redeeming qualities, Aaron’s not really the textbook romantic. Flowers, moonlight walks, date nights and the like… well, they’re not his thing.

I get that – I’m just building a picture here, not complaining about absent romanticism. Not everyone finds authenticity in bunches of long-stemmed roses or shiny pieces of jewellery; there are other ways to demonstrate love. But with that in mind, you can understand how excited I get on the odd occasion when he does make an effort to appease his soppy wife. Like a picnic he planned in the second year of our marriage.

A Valentine’s Day picnic nonetheless.

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It was a balmy February afternoon. I had just returned home from work, quietly exhausted with little expectation of intrigue. I was greeted with a mischievous smile and the smell of fresh-baked bread from a wicker picnic basket. We drove to the beach, lay on the grass and ate cured meats, strawberries and cultured butter. As the night grew cold, we wrapped ourselves in fuzzy wool and sipped red wine with icy fingers.

I remember every detail from that night, from pebbles under my feet to the music playing in our car on the way home (Bon Iver, if you’re wondering). I also remember the scent of the skip bin as I climbed in to retrieve our best cutlery (accidentally thrown out as Aaron cleaned up. Ah, bless him).

Now, I’m not just spinning sweet allegory on a Sunday morning whilst teasing you with baked ham. Aaron bought most items for our Valentine’s Day picnic from The Boatshed market in Cottesloe (I’m obsessed with that place). Beneath a happy tumble of sourdough, French butter and Gorgonzola (he knows me well) was a jar of vibrant green pesto. The best jarred pesto I’ve ever tasted, in fact. In the moonlight I took very little notice of the label itself but after returning home (and climbing out of the skip bin) I made a mental note that has since remained.

Roza’s 100% natural, gluten-free Traditional Pesto, fresh-made in Brisbane. I’ve been buying it ever since.

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My infatuation with the traditional pesto led to staunch enthusiasm when I was approached to try a few other items from the Roza’s Gourmet Sauces range this week. In particular, a seasonal Cranberry & Orange Sauce with brandy-marinated orange rind.

After popping the lid, I can honestly vouch that this stuff is good. I’d eat it straight from the jar, smeared onto dark rye with a chunk of double brie. But as it’s one week shy of Christmas, I thought it’d be an opportune time to experiment with a seasonal favourite – glazed ham.

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So, yesterday morning. I woke with fragrant dreams of sticky cured pork, sizzling scored fat with a caramelised cranberry glaze. After eating some breakfast, I removed the pork rind, ran a knife through the fat and pricked each diamond with a scented clove.

Now for the good part: I smothered the scored fat with a thick layer of cranberry, orange and balsamic glaze. The end result was better than I could have ever imagined; deliciously moist, sweet meat with crunchy bits of caramelised cranberry, dark vinegar and bitter orange. I was stealing bits straight from the roasting tray.

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This recipe will definitely be a keeper in our family for years to come, but if you’re pressed for ingredients? I’d be happy for you to just douse your ham with the jar of Cranberry & Orange Sauce (obviously, you still need to prepare the meat before hand – sorry folks – and add half of the sauce before putting the meat in the oven and the rest half-way through the cooking time). The brandy-marinated orange rind and sweet, whole cranberries are already beautifully balanced.

A perfect addition to your Christmas table (and mine).

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

Serves 8 – 10

You will need a large baking tray with a rack for this recipe.

  • 6kg cooked leg ham
  • 1 x 240g jar Roza’s Cranberry & Orange Sauce
  • 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 tbsp)
  • large handful of cloves

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan forced, 350 degrees f). Place the ham on a sturdy cutting board. Use a small, sharp knife to carefully cut through the ham rind about 8cm from the shank.

Run your thumb under the rind to separate it from the thick layer of fat. Carefully peel it back, making small cuts with the knife if the rind sticks too tightly. Peel back and remove the rind, then discard.

Score the fat in a shallow diamond pattern (don’t cut all the way down to the meat or the fat will melt and spread out during cooking). Press one clove into the centre of each diamond.

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Cover the shank end of the ham with foil to prevent burning.

Combine the Roza’s Cranberry & Orange sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange rind in a medium microwave safe bowl. Heat for 20-30 seconds, stirring regularly, or until thinned (squash any large whole cranberries with the back of a spoon).

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mipbetter glaze2

Place the ham over the wire rack, then spoon half the cranberry sauce mixture over the ham, using a pastry or basting brush to ensure even distribution.

Bake for 30 minutes, then use a spoon and pastry brush to baste the meat with the remaining cranberry sauce mixture (make sure you get the glaze into any cracks that have opened in the scored fat). Cook for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the fat is sizzling and the glaze looks caramelised.

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Serve warm or cold, thickly sliced with salad and buttered bread. Or, as I’ll be doing this year – as a beautiful part of a Christmas banquet.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a sample of Roza’s Gourmet Sauces Cranberry & Orange Sauce for the purpose of recipe testing. However, I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread – TSP Christmas Cookie Week

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It’s hard to believe it’s the final month of 2014. This year has flown by in a tumble of seasons and emotions, the most significant of which were two summers and two autumns (the product of a four month trip to the Northern Hemisphere, which I’ve written about in a series beginning here).

This month marks the beginning of our second summer – hot, dry and sun drenched, trademarks of an Australian December. As I write, a soft breeze drifts through the window; eucalyptus-scented and warmed by the afternoon sun.

It’s less than three weeks til Christmas. Three weeks until glasses will clink, presents will be opened and carols will be sung around gilded trees. As per usual, I’m a little behind in terms of organizing small stuff like presents, cards and, uh, turkeys, that kind of thing.

But at least I’ve baked cookies.

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Now that I’ve confessed my chronic Christmas disorganization, let me introduce you to someone who’s the polar opposite. Despite planning for the (exciting!) arrival of her very first child, my beautiful friend Erin at The Speckled Palate is again hosting a massive Christmas Cookie Week for 2014!

If you’re a long-term reader of this blog you may remember that I scraped into the last day of Christmas Cookie Week 2013 by the skin of my teeth (or rather, by furiously typing into the wee hours – read the post here). I’m pleased to say that this year’s been a little bit different. I’ve baked, jotted and photographed in time for the kick-off!

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As for the recipe? Well, after a recent trip to Scotland I couldn’t help but think of shortbread as the classic Christmas cookie. For something extra special, I’ve embellished the traditional version with almond meal, Amaretto liqueur and a drizzle of bitter dark chocolate.

The Speckled Palate‘s Christmas Cookie Week will run from Sunday, December 7th to Saturday, December 13th 2014. If you’d like to participate, you can find more details right here.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Makes 18 cookies

  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 60g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 60g almond meal
  • 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tsp Amaretto liqueur
  • 50g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa content), melted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, Amaretto and sugar together until pale and creamy.

butterAdd in the almond meal and flour, then stir to combine (the mixture should be cohesive but not sticky).

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Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then place onto your lined trays (allow room for spreading). Press down gently with a fork until the cookies are about 1.5cm thick.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and leave for five minutes (the cookies will be soft when you first remove them from the oven) before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When your cookies are completely cooled, drizzle with the melted chocolate (I just used a fork dipped in chocolate in a back-and-forth motion, however you can use a small snap-lock bag with the corner snipped off if you prefer).

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When set, store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Thanks Erin for coordinating another beautiful Christmas Cookie Week for 2014! Now, onto my Christmas shopping…

Asparagus and Cheese Tarts

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It’s Monday night, blackened quiet, a few hours away from the pale dawn of Tuesday. I’m sitting on the couch, right hand nursing a glass of wine as my left taps on plastic keys.

The wine seemed like a good idea three hours ago because… well, I like wine. But as sleep envelops my senses, I’m starting to regret the decision. This blog has been long-neglected since I returned from Europe, buried under work and fatigue. So, as I’ve found a quiet evening, I’m determined to pump out a post before my brain retires. Hear that, red wine? Good.

asparagus

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A few nights ago, Aaron and I picnicked at King’s Park with two of our very best friends. As night slowly swallowed the blush of day, we spread blankets upon dewy grass and ate smooth cultured butter upon chewy sourdough.

Glasses were clinked and stories were swapped beneath plaid woollen blankets. Our feet grew cold and our hearts warmed as we feasted on fresh mango, olive and zucchini salad, beef meatballs with nectarine chutney, soft cheese, asparagus tarts and cured salami.

Oh, it was good.

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By late evening, we were laughing into empty plates as brown ducks battled over the leftovers. My half-eaten asparagus tarts (the product of a glut of new-season asparagus at the market) were swiftly packed away from prying beaks and feet.

By 10:00pm, the canopy of cloud started weeping on the darkened landscape. We shuffled towards the car, lugging baskets, lanterns and blankets, packing them away before officially calling the night’s end.

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These asparagus and cheese tarts are still a bit of work in progress. The first taste-testers proclaimed them to be a ‘cross between sweet and savoury’ due to the creamy mascarpone and lemon zest.

Despite liking the original tarts, I’ve amped up the flavour in the recipe below with extra cheese and peppery Dijon mustard. The finished product is a shallow, pale-golden savoury tart with streaks of crunchy asparagus, fragrant lemon zest, salty cheese and soft egg custard. The crisp cheese pastry adds both flavour and transportability. Chipotle sauce is optional (unless you’re, me, of course).

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side

These little tarts are begging to be brought to your next barbecue or family gathering. Their cheesy asparagus flavour is perfect for what’s left of the Australian Spring asparagus season*.

Get amongst it.

*Northern Hemisphere friends, don’t let winter stop you. Thin batons of raw zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes or bits of finely diced broccoli would be a perfect substitute for asparagus during the off-season.

presented

Asparagus and Cheese Tarts

Makes eight 12cm diameter x 2cm height tarts

Pastry:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 40g wholemeal spelt flour (or just add another 40g plain flour)
  • 85g butter
  • 85g cheese (mixture of cheddar and Parmesan)

Filling:

  • 6 free-range eggs
  • 100g cheese (cheddar and/or Parmesan)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp freshly grated lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 2 bunches (400g) fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and halved (do NOT use canned asparagus. Substitute raw zucchini batons or halved cherry tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 50g blue cheese, crumbled (such as Roquefort or Stilton, optional)

For the pastry: Butter eight loose-bottomed tart tins, place onto a sturdy oven tray and set aside in a cool place (put them in the refrigerator if your apartment or house is hot). Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the flour and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the grated cheese and mix. Add 3 tbsp cold water and mix until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 5 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

pastry pastry2

When pastry is sufficiently chilled, roll it into a log and cut it into eight even portions.

pastrycutPress one portion into a rough circle and flatten using the ball of your hand. Carefully lay it into a buttered tart case. Press to fit with your fingers (don’t worry if the pastry seems very thin, it’s supposed to be like that). Line each case with baking paper and baking beads. Blind bake at 180 degrees C (360 degrees f) for 10 minutes or until light golden.

For the filling: whilst the cases are blind baking, combine eggs, herbs, cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard and mascarpone into a large bowl. Whisk together well.

Wash, trim and halve your asparagus spears. After removing the tart cases from oven, gently distribute the egg mix between the cases, then top with sliced asparagus, salt and pepper. Dot with crumbled blue cheese (optional).

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Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until egg mix is set (do not allow to brown). Enjoy warm or cold with chutney, bread and/or some dressed rocket leaves.

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Cacao Overnight Oats + Australian Sun

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It’s been just over a week since Aaron and I returned to the city of endless sunshine and eucalyptus trees. Despite initial apprehension, the Australian weather has been treating us kindly, with temperatures largely under 30 degrees C (86 degrees f).

Despite this fact, I’ve been struggling with the brightness and heat after four months of increasingly grey skies and chilly mornings. On the day that Aaron and I left London, we wore woollen hats and kicked autumn leaves whilst drinking hot mulled wine from paper cups.

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Today I’m dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet and a scraggly ponytail. A glass of iced water sits on the coffee table in a dripping pool of condensation.

But it’s not all bad. Despite initial fatigue, jetlag and lack of internet (we are still awaiting a home broadband connection) we’ve spent many hours catching up on lost time with beautiful family and friends (and their adorable new puppies, eep! Say hi to Mooch below). I’ve rediscovered my balcony garden, planting rainbow chard, dark Tuscan kale and a glut of organic tomato seedlings.

sleeping paw

Cooler afternoons have been spent in our tiny, cramped but altogether beautiful kitchen kneading spelt pizza dough and making fragrant tomato passata. I’ve pounded basil for pesto and picked mulberries from a nearby churchyard (with permission, of course) for baked goods and fresh chia jam.

It’s been idyllic, really. All the things I’ve missed wrapped into a warm, fuzzy ball of eight days. I’d be happy for it to last forever but (understandably) four months of travelling has made a significant dent in our bank account. Cue our return to full-time work (with 6:00 am wake-ups, a million emails and 20 minute lunch breaks for me) next week. Sigh.

bowl mix

In preparation for our return to routine, I’ve been dabbling in healthy pre-prepared breakfasts, lunches and snacks over the past week. Transportable, nutritious deliciousness that can be shoved into an airtight container and snatched from the fridge as we rush out the door. First on the list were a million things in jars ranging from creamy nut butters to pesto, chia pudding and sauerkraut (from this recipe by my friend Graz) followed by healthy fruit slices and wrapped nut-and-seed bars.

In terms of breakfasts, I’m a big fan of homemade granola (I’m a sucker for this Christmas-y recipe from lovely Kate) but after reading this recipe from my beautiful dietitian friend Heidi, well… I had to make a batch. Before heading to bed last night, I folded the ingredients together, popped the bowl in the refrigerator and (as always) went to sleep with happy thoughts of breakfast.

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This morning, I awoke to a bowl of creamy, chocolatey overnight oats. Aaron and I topped our servings with tart raspberries, strawberries, toasted sunflower seeds, crunchy dried mulberries and plenty of sliced banana (Aaron doused his in extra milk because, well, that’s what he does) before happily tucking in. We’ve now decided to make one double batch per week (to be scooped into bowls or packed into transportable boxes) for health, deliciousness and convenience. It’s the perfect transportable breakfast for an active day.

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Now, in terms of the recipe – I’m not going to include it here as I don’t want to deprive you of a visit to Heidi’s beautiful blog, Apples Under My Bed. It’s one of my personal favourites, both for wholefood recipes and heartfelt, honest stories (the hashtag #wishwewereneighbours perfectly applies).

Heidi states in her recipe that the maca powder is an optional extra, however I was happy to include a large spoonful towards both mood and hormone regulation (post travel and cessation of, uh, certain medication). I’m still debating whether the investment is worth it, so if any of you have experienced any personal benefits (or detriments) from consuming maca, I’d appreciate your advice.

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As I finish this post, it’s just past six in the evening. The soft remants of daylight are slowly melting into an inky, cloud-streaked dusk. Aaron is sketching next to me, tiny templates of figures for a commissioned project. Light falls upon his face and as always, my heart melts.

We’ll soon be eating garlicky greens with smashed avocado, poached eggs, goats cheese and this seeded sourdough from Wild Bakery for dinner. I relish the simple things in life. Like oats for breakfast and home grown vegetables.

And the wet noses of puppies. Yep, I just went full circle.

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Chompchomp

Perth Food Blog | Restaurant Reviews | Food & Travel Blog | Gluten Free

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