Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

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If you haven’t already figured from Instagram, I’m… uh, kinda excited about this post. I’ve been waiting approximately two weeks to upload it and in the meantime, I’ve had joy bursting out of my ears.

Why? Well, it’s not just any old post about apple cake. It’s a celebration post; a deliciously heartfelt contribution to a virtual Bridal Shower hosted by my blogging friends Kayle, Stef and Stephanie.

You may already be familiar with the gorgeous bride-to-be – it’s the auburn haired, ever-smiling Stephie from Stephie Cooks (read more about how I met Stephie here). She and her fiance Alex are set to get hitched in a few short weeks (April 2015!) so we’re celebrating in the natural way that bloggers do: making food and photographing it. And then eating it, with Stephie and Alex in mind.

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The girls above spilled the beans on Stephie’s wedding theme a few weeks ago in preparation for this virtual shower. She and Alex are running with the idea of ‘rustic elegance’, complete with BBQ for dinner and pies for dessert!

In keeping with the ‘rustic’ idea, I decided to discard my initial plan to make individual tarts or decorated cupcakes in Stephie’s honour. Instead, I made one giant country apple cake, complete with chunks of fruit and lashings of double cream.

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A comment from Stephie’s mum Julie (@jkswope) on an Instagram post of mine further solidified my decision to use homegrown apples:

Make those little Apple pie cookies that Stephie made. They are so good!

Then, bring some to us. We’ll need them with the frantic wedding planning. #fourweeks 

Apple goodies for wedding planning? Okay Momma Swope… I’m onto it!

However, after searching Stephie’s blog for the apple pie cookies, I became sidetracked by this stunning apple cake from a few months ago. Caramel, apples and vanilla bean? Yum. I quickly decided to make my very own apple cake, packed full of organic apples from my own mother’s heaving apple tree. After it baked, I briefly considered the idea of sending it over to the United States but… well, that didn’t seem so sensible.

Yep, I ate it instead.

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So, before I stop blabbering and leave you with the recipe, I just have a few short words to share in regards to our amazing bride-to-be:

Stephie, you are brave and beautiful, hilariously creative, heartfelt and loyal. It’s been a privilege to be a friend across-the-seas for the past couple of years. I will be praying for strength, love and blessings to inhabit each step that you and Alex take as a married couple – on your wedding day and afterwards. I can’t wait to see your celebration photos, to drip tears of joy into my keyboard and to cheer you on in your endeavors to come (of which there will be many, I’m sure!).

One day, we will share cake together across a table. But for now, this recipe will have to do.

P.S. I know this is a Bridal Shower but Alex, you’re pretty awesome too. Peat whisky has made us friends for life.

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Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from A Pinch of Yum

Cake batter:

  • 1 cup raw caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses sugar (substitute dark brown sugar)
  • ⅓ cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 2½ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups peeled. diced apples

Topping:

  • 1 apple, peeled and finely sliced to decorate
  • ½ cup raw caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm diameter round cake tin, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, coconut oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla essence. Sift in the baking powder and plain flour. Stir through the diced apples.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake tin. Mix together the caster sugar, cinnamon and butter for the topping. Gently layer over the reserved sliced apples in a circular pattern from the outside to the inside of the cake. Dot over the cinnamon butter mixture.

Gently transfer the cake into the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until risen and pale golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached).

Allow to cool in the tin before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by a thick dollop of double cream.

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Want to visit the rest of the Bridal Shower?

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Click on the links below:

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

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For those of us heralding the arrival of autumn, today’s post might seem a little out of season. But trust me, there’s method to my madness: I’m guest-posting over at my friend Erin’s blog, The Speckled Palate, whilst she and her husband Winston enjoy precious time with their new baby girl!

Erin and Winston reside in Dallas, Texas, hence my reference to the pending arrival of spring (in technical terms, anyway… this forecast might say otherwise!). I can’t quite remember when we first struck up a friendship but over the last year or so, I’ve come to consider Erin as a dear blogging friend across-the-seas. She’s wonderfully creative, kind and nurturing and I know that she’s going to be the most incredible mother to ‘Lady Baby’ (as she’s known for now!).

Such exciting times.

strawberriesI’m including my original recipe below as part of the blog archive, but I’d encourage you to jump over to Erin’s blog post for a printable version (and more talk of how this Aussie blogger became friends with a big-hearted Texan photographer!).

You can also read more about Erin and her journey towards motherhood here and here.

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Back to peas and carrots strawberries.

The salad recipe below is more of a concept than an absolute instructional. Feel free to experiment with flavours and textures, harnessing the best fruit and vegetables that you can find. Add a little avocado for creamy goodness or some pea shoots if you can find nice ones at the market.

Swap the strawberries for juicy chunks of ripe peach, or add sauteed leeks or sweet onions as a beautiful accompaniment to the goats cheese.

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As per my notes, feel free to bulk out this recipe with some cooked and cooled quinoa for a more substantial dish. I’ve also added the almonds as an ‘option’ as… well, I’d like to say I was catering for nut-free people but to be honest, I just forgot about them (honestly, I can’t even blame baby brain!). If you do add the nuts, they’ll provide a gorgeously satisfying crunch.

Thanks Erin, for giving me the opportunity to share one of my favourite recipes with your readers. I’m sending you, Winston and (fur kid and big sister) Lucy lots of love from my apartment across the seas!

Oh, and talking about fur kids? I think we’ve got ourselves a little strawberry thief…

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

  • 100g edamame beans, shelled (50g shelled weight)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 50g sugar snap peas, stringed
  • large handful of fresh greens (I used baby spinach and rainbow chard, however watercress or rocket would be lovely)
  • 100 – 150g strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved (leave a few small ones whole for garnish)
  • 100g fresh goats cheese (substitute feta), broken into chunks
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from lemon below)
  • small handful of mint, washed and chopped (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
  • 50g slivered almonds, optional

For the dressing (combine all in a screw-top jar and shake*):

  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed sweet almond oil
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from half a lemon
  • drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

If using, scatter the slivered almonds over an oven tray and toast them at 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Blanch the asparagus spears in hot water for 2 minutes or until bright green. Refresh under cold water, drain and set aside.

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Slice the sugar snap peas into thin slivers on a diagonal. Place into a medium bowl with the shelled edamame and sliced strawberries. Pour over enough dressing to coat, then toss and adjust seasoning to taste.

Scatter the leafy greens over a serving platter. Lay the asparagus spears over the top and spoon over the pea and strawberry mix. Combine the goats cheese with the chopped mint, lemon zest and a little extra dressing. Gently mix, then spoon over the plated salad.

Scatter over the whole strawberries, remaining mint leaves and slivered almonds if desired.

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This salad is wonderful with seasoned grilled chicken, fish or pork on a warm spring day. You can also bulk it out with 1 cup of cooked quinoa and some flaxseeds for a wholesome vegetarian meal.

Notes: I mixed my salad dressing with just a tiny bit of honey to retain a ‘tangy contrast’ to the sweet, juicy strawberries. Don’t overdo the sweetness or you’ll throw out the balance of your salad. The ingredients listed above make more than enough dressing for this salad. Add just enough to coat the strawberry and pea mix with a little extra for the goats cheese and leaves. Don’t be tempted to pour over the remainder of the jar unless you’re adding cooked quinoa as suggested above (save it for another salad!).

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The Best Banana Bread

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Like most learn-on-the-job bloggers with no formal photographic training, I’m excessively critical of everything I posted in the early days of Laura’s Mess (circa 2012).

Granted, I was working against the odds with a small automatic camera and no formal knowledge of composition, food styling, lighting or photo editing. Most of what you’ll see my first few posts is well-practiced application of the ‘winging it‘ technique, supplemented with tips from my husband Aaron.

Most props were scrounged from the depths of my mother’s kitchen cupboard (with permission of course) and, uh, never returned (sorry mum).

I’ve come a long way since then.

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Not to say that I’m an expert or anything; heck no, I’m still essentially an amateur who now owns a better camera (and who, with much trial and error, is much better at composition and lighting). I’ve attended a couple of blogging conferences and amassed a sizable collection of vintage knives, bowls and platters, most of which still don’t get used on this blog (what was I saying about food styling again?).

I guess I’ve figured out what I like. The kind of shots that speak to my personal sense of style, my food ethos and (most importantly) my stomach.  I love natural light, blemishes, timber and well-loved crockery. Speckled eggs, dark rye and glossy fat aubergines. Food as the star that speaks for itself – with minimal props and clutter.

Beautiful simplicity.

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I don’t always get it right. More often than not, there’s something I dislike about my photographs. I never hold ‘shoots’ with stylized food; each and every morsel that you see on this blog goes into my mouth or someone else’s.  I have so much to learn.

But in saying that, I’m happier with my work these days. I do better justice to the stunning food that graces our table each day. Like this banana bread, for instance. I first posted it in 2012 after a long battle with sunlight and our automatic camera. The photographs are quite horrid, but I’ve left them there as a monument to the early days.

There was slow improvement, evidence found here and here. Let’s hope that next year’s hindsight will be similarly pleasing.

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The recipe below is for traditional banana bread, marked as ‘recipe one’ in my original blog post. It’s richly moist, fragrant and studded with plump walnuts and raisins.

For today’s loaf, I made one further modification from the original recipe: I substituted three quarters of the stated brown sugar for Billington’s natural molasses sugar. The latter provided a rich caramel flavour and a dense crumb that beautifully complimented the ripe banana and warm cinnamon. I’d recommend the switch, particularly if you have some hidden in your pantry (like I did).

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Serve this bread thickly sliced with a dollop of mascarpone, a handful of toasted coconut shavings and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s also wonderful toasted, adorned with butter and consumed with a mug of strong Builder’s tea (aka happiness).

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The Best Banana Bread

Loosely adapted from Marks & Spencer’s Good Home Baking cookbook (1983)

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar (or 135g molasses sugar and 40g brown sugar)
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar and crumbled walnuts, optional (for decoration)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

rubin

mix

Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles).

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Sprinkle with demerara sugar or more walnuts if desired. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin for neater slices, or dig straight in with keen smiles and a butter knife. I understand if you choose the latter.

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The Last Days of Summer + Pet-friendly Holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe - Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

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Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

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Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

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Char-grilled Watermelon Salad with Mint and Goats Cheese

plate4It’s been a slow couple of months at the Mess. Slow and weary; mostly due to the insufferably hot Summer weather. Over the past two months I’ve been reluctant to even move, never mind turn on the oven. Aaron and I have spent a majority of nights sleeping on the cool kitchen floor underneath our single air conditioning unit (don’t get too excited, it hardly copes with humidity. Cool, wet towels have become my new best friend).

Meals? Well, they’ve largely consisted of raw vegetables, hummus, sourdough and cultured butter, chunks of good cheddar and the occasional barbecue chicken from Red Rooster. Oh, and homemade quinoa tofu sushi. That’s about as interesting as it gets. melonNot that I’m complaining. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed these nights of light, simple food. My sole problem has been poor blogability, if that’s even a word. Nothing’s really stood out as beautiful enough to throw into the blogosphere.

Add that to the absence of my beloved laptop (which has officially bitten the dust) and the lack of Western Australian daylight savings and… well, you’re left with a dearth of recent blog content. I’m dreadfully sorry. vase But back to today’s post and the beauty of char-grilled watermelon. This, my friends, is the kind of food that makes my weary, sweat-soaked Summer heart sing.

Quickly tossing watermelon onto a hot grill plate creates a beautiful smoky exterior that contrasts perfectly against the sweet, juicy flesh. Add some fresh mint, creamy chevre, crunchy pistachios and piquant lemon and you’ve got a salad fit for warm weather entertaining. plate1 Or for eating by yourself, with sweet grilled chicken and a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy February, friends. plate3 Char-grilled Watermelon Salad

Serves 2

  • 4 one-inch-thick slices of seedless watermelon, rind removed
  • 2 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 sprig mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 hunks of good-quality goats cheese, preferably French chèvre (approx 20g per person)
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp toasted, shelled pistachio nuts, crushed
  • light olive oil or coconut oil, to cook

Lemon Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from half an average lemon)
  • a good pinch of brown or coconut sugar (to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue plate to high heat (or until it starts smoking).

Rub each side of the cut watermelon with olive or coconut oil, then immediately transfer onto the hot pan or rack. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Transfer two slices onto each plate.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients into a small screw top jar. Shake, then taste. Adjust amounts of acid or sweetness to your liking (ensure the dressing is a little acidic as you’ll require the acid as a contrast to the sweet watermelon.

dressingingred dressing Top the watermelon slices on each plate with some crumbled goats cheese, mint, spring onions and finely grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a bit of the lemon dressing and sprinkle with crunchy pistachio nuts.

Serve alongside some grilled white fish or chicken for a complete meal. Or as a Vegetarian option, add some sourdough and cultured butter for a pretty delicious lunch. plate2

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.

sunset picnic

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).

cacao

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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.

bowl

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:

lokifeet

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.

tahini

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.

table

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.

mojito lucynisaac

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.

falafelbowl

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.

salsa

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.

closeup aerial

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

barrel2

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.

melonjuice

pizzabl

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.

fruit

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).

finsalad

loki

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

Chompchomp

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

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Wannabe baker extraordinare

my sweet addiction

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I eat, therefore I am

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Cooking and Eating Well in London Without Going Broke

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