awards and acknowledgements IV

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You’ve just clicked into part two of my finalAwards and Acknowledgements’ post. As mentioned in the part one, I’ve made the difficult decision to cease ‘official acceptance’ of awards from hereon; primarily so that I can focus on producing more food-related posts and quality content for you to enjoy. I’ll still acknowledge any award that is forwarded to me with sincere thanks. However, after the conclusion of this post, I will no longer be completing acceptance posts, ‘acceptance criteria’ or forwarding nominations.

Thanks to each and every one of you who have seen fit to nominate me for various blogging awards. You’re wonderful people and I feel humbled to be recognized as part of the blogging family.

*for the bloggers nominated below, please don’t feel any pressure to respond, accept or fulfill stated nomination criteria unless you really want to. I’m paying it forward, for those who find this process valuable.

wordpress-family-award6. I am Part of the WordPress Family Award (x2)

As far as I understand, this award was created by a Scottish blogger named Shaun as a way to thank those who had demonstrated support, love and encouragement throughout his journey with life-limiting chronic pain. I’m yet to become personally acquainted with Shaun, but his blog is refreshing, honest and inspiring. He explains the reasoning behind the award here.

I’ve been blessed enough to receive this award from two blogging friends:

Viveka at My Guilty Pleasures – a beautiful, inspiring blog full of poignant moments, music, recipes and stories. Viveka chronicles her life through her blog, and manages to bring a smile to our faces despite experiencing personal challenges of all kinds. Viveka is an inspiration to me and it’s been humbling to receive her kind words, love and hugs as I’ve worked to establish myself as a food blogger.

Rachel at Loving Homemade – Rachel’s blog makes me happy. It’s beautifully warm, comforting and homely in the best of ways. Rachel’s been a generous blogging friend to me in the months that I’ve known her. It’s a privilege to receive this generous award from her!

Nominees for the WordPress Family Award are:

  1. A Global Garnish – Jeannee is a food wonder. She’s incredibly talented as an international cook, photographer and writer. I feel inspired every time I take a look at her beautiful recipes and stories. Big plus, she’s incredibly encouraging, warm and lovely too! I count Jeannee as a foodie sister so it was easy for me to pass this nomination on to her. Thanks Jeannee!
  2. Fig and Quince – Azita has been one of my biggest sources of encouragement and inspiration since I joined WordPress. She’s an incredibly talented blogger, cook and writer in her own right, but she also supports other up-and-coming blogs no end!  Thanks Azita, for all that you do. You’re amazing and I’m thankful to have ‘met’ you!
  3. Fleur de Sel –  I had to mention Lindsay. This beautiful San Francisco girl is one of the most honest, genuinely inspiring and encouraging women I’ve ever ‘met’. She’s definitely a sister in the blogging world and I do hope that we meet one day! Make sure you visit her blog – her recipes and photographs are completely and utterly mouthwatering. A feast for the eyes and the senses.
  4. Small Kitchen Chronicles – What can I say about Christina? She is beautiful inside and out, generous with her words and affections, creative and inspiring! Her recipes are particularly tailored for what can be cooked in a ‘small kitchen’, so I’d encourage you to take a look if you’re in the same predicament. She’s such a gorgeous friend. I am blessed.
  5. La Petite Gourmand Anglaise – Fiona is an English girl who fell in love with a French boy. She consequently decided to learn the technicalities of traditional French cookery and it’s proven to be darn difficult! But yet, she’s triumphed with glorious eggy blog posts such as Tarte aux Framboises et Amandes (Raspberry and Almond Tart) and Orange Brioche Puddings (yes, she actually did impress the French boy’s parents). I’m so impressed with everything she does. She’s a gorgeous foodie sister whom I hope to meet one day.

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5. The Liebster Award (x4)

Please see my previous Liebster Award acceptance post for some of the background on this particular award. Though I no longer fit acceptance criteria (in terms of followers and site traffic) I’m writing the full acceptance post(s) in honour and respect of those who have gifted this award to me. As mentioned above, I’ve received four nominations (that’s a lot of questions to answer). Ready? Go:

Nomination 1 was from the beautiful woman behind Married in Marrackville, whom I’ve already thanked for the Versatile Blogger Award (see previous post). Thanks again for your generous and kind thoughts, MIM! Here are her questions:

  1. Savory or sweet? Uh, that’s a very hard question. It depends upon which mood I’m in, but I’d say… sweet today. My weakness is Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, or… Green & Black‘s Maya Gold.
  2. Favourite travel destination? Definitely Europe. I love history, art, architecture… so it’s a bit of a travel Mecca for me.
  3. Most memorable dining experience? Eating a ‘mince pie’ in Nova Scotia, Canada, that turned out to be moose meat. Dry, chewy moose meat. I thought it was fruit mince (it was Christmas, after all!)
  4. If you could have one Chef to cook for you, who would it be? Perhaps Jamie Oliver? I think he’s amazingly philanthropic, talented and fun. But I’m also a huge fan of Heston Blumenthal, George Calombaris (from Australian Masterchef) and Luke Nguyen (from Red Lantern, Surrey Hills, Sydney), Maggie Beer (she’s not a chef but she’s amazing) and Bill Granger. I am a big fan of modern Australian food.
  5. Favourite post on your blog? Orange and Almond Cake with Lavender and Rose Syrup. Every recipe I create has a strong association with the event(s) surrounding it. This cake was created as a celebration of my mother’s life… specifically, her 60th birthday, but more generally, the fact that she’s survived breast cancer and she’s now back to full health.
  6. Your favourite cookbook is? I’d have to say Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver. It’s the only cook book that I’ve made anything from in the past, uh, ten years? I have quite a few cookbooks but I fail to use them. Dismally. I need to change that.
  7. Your dream job? I’d love to own and run a small bar or specialty cafe (with a gallery attached) somewhere in Perth.
  8. A garden salad or a greasy bacon sandwich? Both? I love vegetables and could easily devour a bowl of salad, but I’m also a huge bacon fan. I reckon that the two would balance each other out!
  9. Which blog do you follow religiously? I love so many of my fellow bloggers’ work, so it’s difficult to pick just one. I do read almost every post on Vintage Kitchen Notes. Paula (the woman behind the blog) is one of my blogging heroes. She’s beautiful, creative and generous… but above all, she lets her humanity shine through. I love that.
  10. What is the one thing you keep putting off? Answering this question.
  11. Favorite ingredient to cook with? Specifically, I’d have to say potatoes. I love eating them, cooking with them, seasoning them… they’re so versatile. Generically, I’d say ‘herbs and spices’ (including aromatics like garlic and ginger) as I do feel that they make every meal come alive. My herb garden and spice racks are overflowing at present… favourite spices/spice mixes include harissa, Ras el Hanout, Za’atar and Salish Alder smoked sea salt. I grow oregano, basil, coriander, rosemary, lemon thyme, old fashioned mint, sage and flat-leaf parsley.

Nomination 2 was from the sweet Miss Golly Gosh Girl. She’s a beautiful English girl who embarked upon a quest for a healthier lifestyle a few months ago. She’s been documenting her experience via her insightful, honest and inspiring blog, Golly Gosh Girl. There are even tips for natural skin and hair care that I’ve loved reading about! She’s set her nominees the following questions to answer:

  1. Why did you start blogging? I have a few reasons. Primarily, I was being asked for my ‘recipes’ by friends and family, and I… uh… didn’t have any. All of my methods, ingredients and quantities were in my head. I figured that this blog would serve as a place to store my recipes and stories, whilst making them accessible to all who wanted them. It’s been a valuable experience.
  2. Who is your hero (or heroine) and why? Can I have two? Firstly, my husband, Aaron. He inspires me to be a better version of myself. He’s loving, strong-but-gentle, funny, loyal and talented. I’m forever humbled that he chose to spend his life with me, and I’m grateful for every day we have together. Secondly, my mother. She’s strong, courageous, wise and selfless. She brought me up predominantly on her own after my parents divorced and my father moved back to England. She also suffered breast cancer, which led to surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy from 2010-2011. She’s come through, stronger than ever. I love her to bits and I’m grateful for each day I get to share with her.
  3. Best piece of advice you’ve been given? Worrying is pointless, as it doesn’t achieve anything.
  4. Favourite quote? From my husband’s friend, when I mentioned that cooking was my ‘creative outlet’: “…that’s good. Well, my mouth is happy to be a creative inlet”.
  5. One thing you’ve learnt this year? Drinking nice wine chews up a lot of your money.
  6. One goal for this year? Survive full-time work til Christmas
  7. When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up? An animator. Always an animator (from… uh, 6 – 16 years? Then ‘reality’ hit me. Sad day. I still regret being gutless)
  8. Favourite food? Too difficult to answer. But I love all vegetables, Indian food (mmm, garlic naan bread), all Middle Eastern and Moroccan food, pomegranates, sour cream, beetroot, quince paste and blue cheese. Oh, and Turkish bread and homemade hummus with harissa and lemon oil (ctually, I could just eat just that and be very happy).
  9. Where would your ideal holiday destination be? Germany. I’ve wanted to visit Berlin for years.
  10. If you could learn one new skill or take up one new hobby what would it be? Digital painting. I love painting on canvas, sketching and other traditional mediums of art, but I’ve recently discovered the capabilities of digital art and I’m fascinated. 
  11. What do you see as your greatest success? Surviving my career as a Social Worker thus far (after a breakdown and commencing anti-depressant medication!). And managing to somehow be attractive enough for my husband to fall in love with me.

Nomination 3 came from the beautiful Fiona over at La Petite Gourmand Anglaise. Let me say, genuinely, that Fiona is one of the most awesome bloggers I know. She’s hilariously funny, warm, talented and encouraging. Her blog was created to launch a new assault on the powerhouse that is French cooking and she’s done an incredible job. Check out her recipes; in particular, her take on French classics such as Galette aux Pommes (hers has pears and Roquefort cheese, yum!). Now, eleven questions from Fiona:

  1. Explain your blog name. Take a look at my introduction, here.
  2. Why did you start your blog? I have a few reasons. Primarily, I was being asked for my ‘recipes’ by friends and family, and I… uh… didn’t have any. All of my methods, ingredients and quantities were in my head. I figured that this blog would serve as a place to store my recipes and stories, whilst making them accessible to all who wanted them. It’s been a valuable experience.
  3. Is there anything you would never eat? Uh… blowfish? Because I value my life. I also abhor foie gras for ethical reasons. 
  4. What are you most frightened of? Losing a loved one. Particularly my husband or parents. It terrifies me.
  5. If you were given the chance to go for free, would you go into space? Nope. I like the earth. It has oxygen (and dogs).
  6. Cats or dogs? Dogs, definitely. I’d love a German Pointer, a French Bulldog or a gorgeous Boxer (they’re my favourite)
  7. If you could time travel to any point in history, where would you go? I’m fascinated by Medieval Europe (the ‘Middle Ages’, 5th-15th C). I took quite a few units of Medieval history at university just for the fun of it. I probably wouldn’t want to ‘visit’ though as it’s highly likely that I would have been killed by a barbarian!
  8. What trivial thing gets disproportionately on your nerves? When ‘s’ is substituted with ‘z’ (e.g. ‘beanz’). It causes me irrational annoyance. I also detest when people use sms-type slang in their everyday communications (e.g. U want 2 go 2 da beach grl?). It’s unnecessary decimation of the English language.
  9. Where’s your favourite place on Earth (whether it’s Florence or just your own bath)? Anywhere Aaron is.
  10. If you had 1 minute to live and 1 phone call you could make, who would you call? (Aargh! Fiona! Your questions are ridiculously hard!) Let’s say… I would call Aaron, speak for 20 seconds and tell him to get my mother to call me. Does that work?
  11. What’s your key to happiness? Good food, great wine (or beer or cider, I’m not fussy), people I love and a whole lot of humour. I love being silly. Stupid, even. It makes life a lot lighter.

Nomination 4 arrived from Margaret at Simple Food. She is a beautiful mother of three from Brisbane, Australia who works as a librarian by day and blogs about her gorgeous food adventures by night. One of my favourite posts from Margaret is her incredible baked eggplant with crunchy Parmesan crumbs. So delicious! Here are the questions from Margaret:

  1. The fruit you love the best? I love most fruit, though if pressed, I’d have to say that mango is my favourite (closely followed by peaches, cherries and raspberries).
  2. Music you like to listen to when you cook? This completely depends upon my mood. At present, my favourite bands include City and Colour, Jinja Safari, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Fleet Foxes, Little Dragon, Emma Louise, Radiohead, Neon Indian, Josh Pyke, Phoenix, Massive Attack… ah, the list is endless. I usually put iTunes on shuffle and see what I get.
  3. Your favourite cookbook? This was a question in list 1. Again, I’ll say Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver.
  4. Favourite kitchen gadget? I’m not one for modern gadgets, other than my recent blender purchase – the Ninja (thanks Whit and Sally for the recommendation!). Otherwise, I’d have to say my mortar and pestle, closely followed by my knife set from Mundial. Sharp knives make all the difference.
  5. Hero/heroine in the kitchen? I’d have to say Maggie Beer.  She embodies everything beautiful, wholesome and honest about food. I love seeing her unpretentious style of cooking on Masterchef or other such programs. She’s a wonderful woman, and I love how she’s instilling a joy and excitement about food into our next generation. I’d love to visit her farm in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. 
  6. Pineapple on pizza. Yes or no? I used to love it as a child (I guess most kids do) but it’s no longer a preferred pizza ingredient! I’d eat it if it was put in front of me, but I’d much prefer some beautiful thinly sliced pear, spicy chorizo, soft-curd goats cheese and rocket. Yum.
  7. Coffee or tea? Both. I drink at least one coffee per day (usually a mug of good, strong flat white with no sugar) but often drink tea at work (Earl Grey with a splash of milk). I’ve also recently discovered aniseed tea, which I’m loving.
  8. What’s great about where you live? My husband and I live in an apartment that’s within walking distance of a cafe and restaurant strip. It’s fantastic on a lazy Saturday morning… we can just tumble out of bed and head down for a beautiful coffee, followed by poached eggs and sourdough.
  9. Dream job? This question was also covered in nomination one, above. Definitely to follow my foodie dream of owning a small bar or cafe with a gallery attached.
  10. Your favourite post on your blog? Orange and Almond Cake with Lavender and Rose syrup.
  11. Roses or lillies? Definitely roses, for so many reasons. Their beautiful, delicately soft, fragrant blooms contrast sharply against their thorny branches. They come in so many different colours, fragrances and heights… with both tightly packed and wispy soft blooms. Lillies remind me of funerals (sorry to anyone who loves lillies. I do still think that they’re beautiful!).

Nominees for the Liebster Award include:

  1. Cured by Bacon – Nic Harmston is one cool, meat-lovin’ dude. His partner Katie is an incredible baker. Together they are a formidable, culinary force to be reckoned with! I love this blog. Nic is also doing a current series on sous vide that’s fascinating for the initiated and non-initiated alike. Definitely take a look at this blog. It’s meat and cake paradise.
  2. If Looks Could Kale – Anetta is a beautiful food blogger from Oregon, USA, who specialises in creating nourishing meals that can be enjoyed by the whole family. She’s unpretentious, creative and warm. I’m looking forward to seeing what she creates as the year continues (and… yay for great blog names!).
  3. Gather and Graze – this gorgeous blog is managed by Margot, an Australian woman who loves travel, food and family. She enjoys cooking food from scratch and her pastries make my mouth water… but it’s not all sweets. She has created a number of beautiful dishes on her blog site. Go and say hello! I know she’ll welcome you with Aussie warmth and charm!
  4. Fashion, Food and Flirts – Eveline is a fashionista with a love of food, photography and impeccable style. She writes recipes with a touch of class (and occasional sass!). I love her posts, her recipes and her insights. Check out this latest recipe for Portuguese custard tarts. Yum.
  5. Playing with Flour – this blog belongs to a beautiful medical intern named Lisa, who’s currently finding time management a bit of a struggle when it comes to baking and blogging (ah yeah, I guess saving lives is sort of important). Nevertheless, her blog is a gorgeous space with beautiful photography and wholesome recipes. Take a look!

versatile blogger6. Bouquet of Three Award

This award (awards?) was given to me by the beautiful Whitney over at Indian Food Made Easy. She’s one of the most encouraging, hilarious and genuinely talented bloggers I know. I feel happy to have ‘met’ her in the blogosphere and I’d encourage you to peruse her amazing collection of recipes. Her photos are absolutely drool worthy, in particular her curries and Indian condiments. I’ve been staring at this recipe for Aloo Patta Gobhi (Potatoes and Cabbage) all afternoon and I can’t wait to run to the supermarket to buy cabbage.

Nominees for the Bouquet of Three award are:

  1. Edibles and Travels – Ally, the blogger behind Edibles and Travels, is a gorgeous, sweet and creative soul. She blogs about beautiful restaurants, cafes and places she’s visited in her hometown of Sydney, whilst also including some delicious recipes of her own. Ally is well and truly a worthy recipient of this trifecta!
  2. Gotastè – Danny is one cool, creative dude. He works in advertising and promotions but still finds time to cook up a storm on weekends. I love his creativity, his generous support of other blogs (including mine!) and his present bread series, in particular, his beautiful pumpkin bread. I’d definitely encourage you to brew a cup of tea and have a read through Danny’s posts. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Cate’s Kitchen Adventures – this gorgeous blog belongs to a Sydney girl, Cate. Her site is full of beautiful stories, recipes and photographs… check out this mouth-watering post for ricotta hotcakes with baked honey nectarines and cinnamon sugar. Yum! I’ve been inspired by Cate many times over; mostly due to her complete honesty, beauty and warmth. It’s obvious in every post. She definitely deserves all three of these awards.
  4. Daisy and the Fox – Bec is a beautiful ray of sunshine. Every time I click onto her blog I know I’m going to feel warm, happy and positive about the world! If you’ve never visited Daisy and the Fox, I’d encourage you to. It’s a beautiful mingle of fashion tips, DIY, cafe adventures and recipes. Bec will make you feel absolutely, positively welcome!

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Thank you so much for bearing with me; I do realise that these posts have an overwhelming amount of text (and personal information, argh) but I wanted to ‘finish well’, in respect of all the beautiful bloggers who have recognized, encouraged and supported me as a fledgling recipe writer, blogger and photographer. I value you all greatly and I look forward to our friendship continuing for years to come.

So, that’s it. The conclusion of my final awards post. As Vicky’s little boy would say, “Now I’m gonna go play!” (Laura’s interpretation: I need a glass of wine). Over and out, amigos.

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awards and acknowledgements III

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It’s 1.30pm on Monday afternoon and unusually, I’m still at home on the couch. Unfortunately it’s due to sickness rather than leisure, as I’ve had an awful virus that’s affected my sinuses, blood pressure and balance over the past week. I hate being sick. It feels entirely unproductive, unless you count the… uh, nasal productivity? Sorry, that’s quite inappropriate for a food blog. I’ll stop now.

Looking on the bright side, the past week has given me ample opportunity to consume some of the six kilograms of citrus that I’ve been blessed with over the past three weeks (from colleagues with lemon trees, my mother’s lime tree and another friend’s clementine trees). I’m sipping from a steaming mug full of hot water, lemon juice and honey as I type. I’ve also processed about fourteen jars of lime and clementine marmalade in an effort to cure my boredom.

peelsmontThis past week has also provided some required time to catch up on blogging awards that I’ve been neglecting for the past month or so. Fourteen, to be exact. I feel quite terrible about this delayed acceptance post, but… to be honest, the awards have been arriving at a pace that I’ve found hard to keep up with.

So, after a few weeks of reflection, I regretfully inform you that this will be my last full award acceptance post. I just don’t feel that I have the capacity to respectfully accept and renominate fellow bloggers through this medium whilst also focusing on my food-related recipe content. Though I will continue to express gratitude and humility to each blogger who sees fit to nominate me, I will no longer be fulfilling the renomination and acceptance criteria. I hope that’s okay.

Now, on to these awards (you can read about the first five awards I received via my Awards and Acknowledgements posts one and two). I’ve broken this post into two ‘halves’ to avoid reader eye strain and honest boredom. You’ll see that I’ve only provided 3-4 nominees for each award, due to the sheer number of awards that I’m responding to (3 x 14 = 42 nominees!). I’ve also omitted ‘award acceptance criteria’, but your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to trace back to my original nomination post (on the referenced blogs) for details.

Sorry. I’m being lazy. Just know that I appreciate each and every one of you who follows Laura’s Mess!

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1. Versatile Blogger Award (x2)

This award was gifted to me by sweet Genevieve at Life is Like a Dumpling and the beautiful blogger who created Married in Marrackville. I attempted to understand this award a little more by reading the supposed award page, however the absence of information just made me more confused! Anyway, before going on to seven facts about me, I just want to introduce you to my two lovely nominees:

Married in Marrackville is a Sydney-based foodie blog run by a former Western Australian girl (yay! Sandgropers unite!) of Russian, Italian and Greek heritage. It contains gorgeous photography and mouthwatering recipes, my favourite of which (so far) is the gorgeously rich recipe for Mexican Chocolate Chilli Pots (suggested for a date night, though my Aaron despises chocolate and chilli together. Sad face). This blog is food for the eyes, heart and belly. Definitely worth visiting.

Life is Like a Dumpling is a predominantly vegetarian blog run by the gorgeous Genevieve (a Toronto/Hong Kong girl who’s currently studying in St Andrews, Scotland). Her recipes and photos are seriously mouthwatering, but my favourite thing about Gen is her writing. She writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there in the warmth of her living room, eating good food, surrounded by friends. Check out her recipe for Coconut French Toast. It’s absolutely delicious!

Okay, seven facts. Here goes:

  1. I scribble all of my recipes onto scrap paper, particularly the back of envelopes or receipts. I think it’s a product of my creative untidy mind; when inspiration strikes, I reach for the closest ‘word receptacle’ (I should start carrying around a notebook).
  2. I once wrote a recipe for Moroccan chicken on the back of my electricity bill. I… uh, then forgot to pay it.
  3. I always keep goats cheese, homemade beetroot relish, Dijon mustard, natural Greek yoghurt and cured meat (usually chorizo or bacon) in the fridge. They’re great as last minute flavour boosters for the most average of meals.
  4. I could very happily live in my Havaianas. I’d wear them to work if I was permitted.
  5. I dislike socks. I wear my Chuck Taylors and high tops sans socks, even in winter. In fact, I only compromise on the sock rule whilst exercising. Sweat requires sock absorbency.
  6. I studied Japanese language for two years at school and remember negligible traces of it (Konnichi wa?)
  7. I used to eat one banana per day until the impact of Cyclone Yasi hit Queensland in February 2011, devastating banana crops and hoisting the price of bananas to around $14 per kg. I’m now completely out of the habit and often forget that they’re in the fruit bowl (cue: banana bread). Weird but true.

Nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

  1. Loving Homemade – I love this blog. It’s creative, inspiring, honest and ‘homely’ in the best sense of the word. Rachel, the woman behind the blog, is a true creative who makes nourishing, delicious food that you’d love to have on your kitchen table. She’s awesome.
  2. The Local Kitchener – this blog was created by Jon, a cook and locavore who values fresh and sustainable produce. He creates really awesome, wholesome and delicious meals from his kitchen in Kitchener, Ontario. Visit him (on the blog, not, uh… his house) and be inspired.
  3. Lilly Sue’s Bites and Brews – Lilly Sue is one of my favourite bloggers, ever. She’s unashamedly beer, food and travel obsessed, whist also being a darn smart engineer. I always feel happy after visiting her corner of the internet. She provides amazing beer and food reviews, all with a touch of carefree humour. You need to meet her. Now. Go to it.
  4. The Peckish Kiwi – Mr P is not only a versatile blogger, but he’s an all-round awesome guy. He covers everything from restaurant and bar reviews to WordPress recipe tests (written by fellow bloggers) and product reviews. He does all of these things very well, with a touch of humour and intelligence. Love this blog. You will too.

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2. Sunshine Bloggers Award

This award was gifted to me by Mr P at The Peckish Kiwi. His blog is a joy to read with restaurant reviews, recipes and a special section entitled ‘WordPress Cookbook‘ that contains his recreation of fellow blogger’s recipes. At present, he’s also completing a review series of local New Zealand ice-cream. As an ice-cream fiend, it’s making me insanely jealous. Just check out this gorgeous review of Joshua’s Lemon Curd ice-cream. Drool worthy. Even on toast.

Nominees for the Sunshine Bloggers Award are:

  1. The Striped Strawberry – This beautiful blog was created by Beverly, an honest and inspiring woman who set a recent goal to create a healthier version of herself… to take control back over her body and mind. She’s now glowing, inside and out (well, not that I’ve seen her insides but… she’s eating a whole lot of good stuff) and she’s sharing her secrets with the world! Take a look at this really beautiful, positive blog. Put a bit of sunshine in your day!
  2. Searching for Sugarplums – this gorgeous blog aims to turn ‘everyday moments into celebrations’. It’s beautiful, unashamedly floral, sweet and inspiring. I do feel that the ‘Sugarplum fairy’ (as I refer to her!) is sunshine and light in a world of boredom. Visit her lovely space, fill your kitchen with fragrance and be inspired.
  3. Le Pirate – Sam, the gorgeous woman behind the blog, is a ray of Australian sunshine (she’s also one of Mr P’s favourite bloggers, so this nomination is quite fitting!). Her photography, recipes and stories are beautiful, and I know that every time I stop by her blog I’ll be greeted with warmth and cheer. I have no idea how Sam manages to maintain her blog standard in the midst of exams etc, but… she does! She’s gorgeous, inside and out. She’s way more talented than I. She’s going to go far!

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3. One Lovely Blog Award (x2)

This award was given to me by the beautiful Poppy at Poppy’s Patisserie | Bunny Kitchen and a very new blogging friend, Κουλούρι. Now, I’ve been a regular at Poppy’s beautiful blog for a while now, but I hadn’t visited Κουλούρι prior to the award nomination. It’s humbling enough to get a nomination from a blogging friend, never mind someone who has to translate your posts into Greek to be able to read them! Now, let me introduce you:

Poppy’s Patisserie | Bunny Kitchen is a beautiful UK-based vegan blog run by Poppy, an effervescent 20-something who loves fresh, wholesome produce and animals (in the field, not on a plate). Her posts are a pleasure to read; honest, warm and inspiring. I love her achievable approach to recipes. She makes a fabulous vegan carrot cake with coconut cream frosting that I’d love to have on my table. Like, now. Please.

Κουλούρι is a baking blog written predominantly in Greek (with some English posts; the rest is translatable via the wonder of Google). From what I’ve read so far, this blog is pretty much an ode to the wonder of sweet treats: cakes, cookies, slices and confections of all sorts. There are a few cafe reviews to read too, so I’d definitely encourage you to take a look. This post about chocolate cake with ‘pigs in mud‘ looks divine!

Nominees for the One Lovely Blog Award:

  1. Papaya Pieces – Sofia is one of the loveliest, most generous bloggers around. She welcomes each comment with an honest warmth that is only equal to the beauty of the recipes she creates! Her food covers Western favourites through to Asian fusion. I love the way she writes; it’s almost like you’re watching her prepare her meals in her own kitchen. Lovely, in the true sense of the word!
  2. Indian Cooking Made Easy – Whitney is awesome. She’s also the woman behind this beautiful blog that has fast become one of my favourites. Looking for Indian recipes? Find them here, written by a white girl who unashamedly loves Indian food. She’s inspiring, lovely and darn funny. Check out her internet space.
  3. Cottage Grove House – I love this blog. It’s like cottage charm, warmth and genuine hospitality stuffed into a virtual web space. Mrs Cottage Grove House (in absence of her real name!) is very generous, encouraging and welcoming to new readers so I’d encourage you to go and visit her beautiful space. Be nourished!

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4. Very Inspiring Blogger Award

This award was given to me by Lori Leigh Wilson, a beautiful blogging friend based in Canada whose lifestyle blog contains posts on a range of topics from parenting to fashion, recipes and general health. She maintains a predominantly vegan diet and has managed to convert her three children to the wonder of green smoothie breakfasts each morning (a pretty amazing feat, methinks!). One of my favourite things about Lori’s blog is her beautiful, eloquent way of writing about self-acceptance, true beauty and wisdom as we progress through life. I find her inspiring, and I think you will too (plus, her ‘swiftly adapted’ black bean burritos look absolutely delicious!)

Now for 7 interesting (well, that’s subjective but I’ll try my best) things about myself:

  1. I dislike most romantic comedies, which sometimes gets in the way of ‘female bonding movie nights’ with my girlfriends (I’d rather watch an action movie, particularly if it has zombies in it).
  2. My favourite coffee is a well-made, simple flat white (no sugar required)
  3. I love the colour green but I only own one item of green clothing, a forest-green corduroy jacket with brown leather buttons (the rest is mostly a neutral palette of cream, blue, grey and brown).
  4. I used to think that I preferred dark-haired men but I’ve married a blonde (and I think he’s the most handsome man in the entire world)
  5. I’m obsessed with small vintage medicine bottles (I now own about twenty)
  6. I’m a dual Australian and British citizen
  7. I love bugs and think that the world would be much more boring without them. Check out this video for example. So cool.

Nominees for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award are:

  1. Welcome Company – Danielle is one of the strongest, most beautiful pillars of faith I have ever ‘known’. Her blog is raw, honest, inspiring, heartbreaking and humbling. She’s chronicled everything from thoughts on parenting to love, marriage, food, faith and values. She’s made me think more times than I can mention. Take a look at this space. Join the community. You’ll be welcomed warmly.
  2. From the Bartolini Kitchens – Now, I’m sure to most of you John doesn’t need an introduction. He is one of the most inspiring, generous and versatile bloggers I know. His blog contains everything from beautiful, nourishing family recipes to genealogy and Bartolini history. He actually doesn’t ‘do’ awards (due to experiencing the same thing as me, I’m guessing) but I wanted to mention him anyway.
  3. Middle East Moments – Andrea is a blogger whom I now count as a foodie sister. She’s incredibly wise, strong and eloquent, and I’ve felt it a privilege to be able to follow her experiences as a wife, mother and Australian ex-pat in Jordan. Some of her stories are hilarious, others are cringe-worthy and frustrating. It’s an honest, genuine account of life in raw form. You’ll love this blog. Visit and be inspired.

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5. Shine On Award

This award was given to me by the beautiful Helen at Eat Pray Bake. She’s a Toronto born girl who’s passionate about nutrition, food and cooking. Lucky for us, she’s shared a lot of her delicious recipes via her blog! For example, check out this Vegan ice-cream sandwich with banana soft serve. Drool-worthy!

As far as I understand, the Shine On award is:

“…for the blogs that shine, make you feel good and are inspiring to the reader.”

I have so, so many blogs on my reader list that fit that category! But before the nominations?

Seven things about me (are you sick of me yet?):

  1. I dislike my feet, but as I can’t walk without them I’ve grown to appreciate their usefulness.
  2. I hate being photographed (I had to pep-talk myself for months before my wedding day)
  3. I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like
  4. I attended law school for three years (out of five, as I was doing a double degree) before deciding I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer. I transferred into psychology, then anthropology, then finally social work. I still don’t feel like I’m following the right career path. But it makes me money, so I do it.
  5. I was born in Hammersmith, London (England)
  6. My father is a Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA) and registered auditor. I hate maths.
  7. I’m currently reading Magician by Raymond E. Feist. Such a good book.

Nominees for the Shine On Award:

  1. IBD and Beyond: This blog was created by a beautiful woman named Lucy who was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and ulcerative colitis in 2001. She’s since undergone surgery to remove her colon (in 2009) and now has to manage a stoma/j-pouch as part of her everyday routine. But still, she smiles. Beautifully. Her blog has lots of tips and anecdotes to help fellow IBD sufferers manage their condition. She’s also given us a peek into her personal experience with a j-pouch. This woman is strong, courageous and inspiring. She’s an ideal candidate for this award.
  2. Saucy Gander: I love this blog. It’s the brainchild of a pretty awesome lawyer chick who also has a passion for food and travel. She has a fantastic sense of humour that shines through all of her posts. I always feel happy to experience the foodie life with her. I’m sure that you will too!
  3. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 4 – Kimberley is cool. Very cool. She’s also an amazing photographer who shares her beautiful world view with us on a regular basis… just check out links such as My View Master. Ah-mazing. I feel inspired by the feeling, light and sentiment that seems to inhabit her photographs. They’re much more than images on a screen. Take a look. You’ll be glad you did.

pulpmontNow, that’s seven down.

Seven to go. Onto the next post. Thanks for bearing with me.

raspberry and lemon baked cheesecake

cakefaveThose of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that I’m a very instinctual cook. I disregard both measurements and recipes, and tend to rescue my food from the oven by sight, smell and touch rather than adherence to cooking times. I used to view this ‘freestyle’ cooking ability as a strength; something born of experience and personal creativity. Last Friday, I definitively changed my mind.

Let me take you on a little trip down ‘memory lane’: it was 11:00am on a cold-but-clear Friday morning. The sun was high in the sky, casting shadows across the coffee table as I tapped out answers to emails on my laptop.  I coughed, watching steam rise from my coffee cup as my eyes flickered absently across the computer screen. In approximately 19 hours, four men would be arriving at my door to eat a pork belly roast in honour of William, a friend of ours who’s leaving Australia for good this coming Thursday. I wanted to create something delicious for dessert; something meaningful, indulgent and worthy of the occasion. For some reason I decided upon cheesecake. Specifically, lemon cheesecake, as a tribute to William’s uncanny ability to eat three of my glazed lemon muffins in two minutes (yep, true).

sccheesemontAs you can probably imagine, I’ve got my own ideas about making cheesecake. I’ve made quite a few before, all successful, but… well, as I was seeking perfection I made the unusual decision to follow a recipe.

After a few clicks through various websites, I chose this one from taste.com.au. Now, if you inspect the link you’ll see that this recipe isn’t actually for lemon cheesecake; however, I was sold by the convincing user reviews. I figured I could add in some homemade lemon curd and all would be dandy, right? So, I set to work: snap, melt, blend, press. Refrigerate crust. Check recipe. Shake, measure, blend, stir. Fill chilled crust. Looking good. Now, lemon; let’s dollop in some lemon curd. Raspberries? Yeah. Top up with vanilla filling. Check recipe. Oh no.

I stared at the beautiful, glistening cheesecake on the bench top. It looked perfect; dense and creamy, with a crisp biscuit crust and smooth vanilla filling. But… I’d forgotten the eggs. And the recipe called for three.

Darn it.

lemonrindmontI stared dismally at the cheesecake, my brain ticking over possible solutions to the ‘egg problem’. The preheated oven creaked menacingly as I mentally berated my poor ability to follow recipes. Any sane cook would have placed the cheesecake in the refrigerator to firm up overnight, as without eggs, it would have worked perfectly in its unbaked form.

Me? Hah. Well, my stubbornness kicked in. I rummaged through a drawer for a flat, wide spoon before attempting to skim off the top layer of vanilla filling. I chucked it back into the blender, cracked in an egg and… soon it resembled a vanilla milkshake. I added in a little more sour cream then poured it back over the cheesecake base. I hoped for the best.

Oven opened. Cake went in. Heart sank. I waited, hoping that my cheesecake might at least be a little bit better than my husband’s favourite packet abomination from White Wings.

raspstrawbmontFast forward three hours. The cheesecake had baked and cooled for two hours before emerging from the oven. It looked fine. Good, even. The milkshake layer had set nicely; it was glossy and crack-free with the slightest bit of wobble in the centre. The crust had a lovely golden hue.

But still… I had no idea how the egg-free layer turned out. I placed the tin in the refrigerator, covered, to set overnight. I then washed up, broke a glass, lost a hairpin in the remaining sour cream and saturated my shirt. I decided that I should just go back to bed. So I did.

The next day, the cheesecake emerged. It was decorated, served and eaten. Yes, you’ll get to see how the cake turned out… after reading the recipe. I’ve posted in full as it should have been; my modifications are mostly in italics, including the addition of lemon curd, fresh berries and dollops of frustration.

cakeRaspberry and Lemon Baked Cheesecake

Serves 12 (adapted from New York Baked Cheesecake by Katrina Woodman, at taste.com.au)

  • 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 2 x 250g packets of full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs (I used one)
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 1/4 cup raspberry conserve
  • 200g (about 3/4 punnet) fresh strawberries, washed
  • 200g fresh raspberries (not frozen, or they’ll leak juice all over your cake)
  • mint, to serve (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f. If you have a fan-forced oven, use 140 degrees C/280 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, then set aside.

MariecookieIn a food processor, process the biscuits until they reach breadcrumb consistency. Add in the melted butter and process until just combined. Press the mixture over the base and sides of the pan, leaving a 2cm gap from the top. Use the base of a glass to press over the base and sides of the pan for a firm, smooth consistency. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

crustAdd the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla and lemon rind to your food processor bowl. Process until smooth*.

bowlofcheeseAdd the eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined (omit this step if you are Laura). Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the lemon curd and a few teaspoons of raspberry jam. Swirl to create an even distribution.

layer2cakePour over the rest of your cheesecake mixture (then scrape it off, blend it with an egg, add another dollop of sour cream and pour it back on – see the bubbles? Milkshakey, eggy goodness).

topBake for 60-65 minutes (40-50 minutes if you’ve made the two layers as I did; the base cheesecake layer doesn’t need baking) or until just set (the centre should still wobble slightly). Allow the cake to cool in the oven for two hours with the door ajar. When sufficiently cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Release the sides of the springform tin. Carefully lift your cake from the base and remove the baking paper. Transfer to a serving plate.

curd.likeWarm your remaining lemon curd in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until it’s spreadable.  Carefully cover the surface of your cake with the remaining lemon curd (emphasis on carefully, as the surface of the cake may be a little delicate). Refrigerate whilst you prepare the berries.

berryjammontSlice your strawberries into quarters, then place them in a bowl. Melt the rest of the raspberry jam (until slightly warm and pourable, not hot and bubbling) then combine it with the berries, stirring until each piece of strawberry is coated and glistening. Pile the strawberries onto the centre of the cake, adding the fresh raspberries and mint, if desired.

cakebench2So. The verdict: absolute, unexpected, gloriously delicious success! The cake was creamy, smooth and perfectly set, with a gorgeous layer of fresh lemon curd and raspberry jam in the centre. The textural difference between the top and bottom layers of cheesecake filling actually worked well; the upper layer was pillowy soft and light whilst the bottom layer was dense, creamy and decadent.

cakeslicemontThe boys who tasted it said that it was reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie mixed with a cheesecake and a Victoria sponge. Strange but entirely accurate. William was altogether pleased (he laughed when we recalled the muffin story. Ah, memories).

I love it when disasters redeem themselves (but I still need to learn how to read recipes).

jamjar*If you’d like to reproduce my accidental cheesecake triumph at home, I’d suggest dividing your whipped (eggless) cheesecake filling into two halves. Pour one half over your refrigerated crust, then top with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Return the other half to the blender with one egg. Blend until just combined, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake as instructed.

potato, fennel and thyme gratin

fennells

I still remember the first time I tasted fresh fennel. I was in the lunchroom at work, eating something very mundane (like a cheese and ham sandwich; this was before I discovered the value of preparing nutritious lunches the night before) when Aviva, a colleague of mine, pulled out a snap-lock bag of carrot sticks. Hiding among the carrots were some pieces of sliced white vegetable with pale green veins. Noting my curiosity, she gave me a piece to try; it was crisp, watery, fragrant with peppery aniseed. Now, I’m not a fan of liquorice but I love aniseed (weird but true. My husband is exactly the same). This thing was like Sambuca in vegetable form.

cheesyfennel

On the way home, I stopped in at my local greengrocer to find a piece of this vegetable heaven (which had now been identified as fennel). I bought two small bulbs, an organic lemon and a can of chickpeas. Half an hour later, I crunched through a whole bulb dipped in good extra virgin olive oil and homemade harissa-spiked hummus.

fennellike

Needless to say, since then fennel has become a permanent item on my shopping list. Aaron and I (being aniseed fiends) eat it shaved in various salads, braised in stock, roasted with potatoes and carrots, pan-fried with pine nuts or, simplest of all, in chunks with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved Parmesan. So good.

Today’s post contains a slightly more complicated recipe than those mentioned above. My husband and I had a group of friends over last night to play The Settlers of Catan (don’t start playing this game, it’s addictive) and I decided to cater with a garlicky slow-roasted lamb shoulder, potato and fennel gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots followed by warm sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. The gratin was a hit. The sauteing process and the deliciously creamy sauce diffuse the pungent fennel just enough for aniseed-haters to enjoy it whilst also maintaining a pleasing balance of flavour against the crunchy toasted walnuts and fresh thyme.

thymemont

So, whether you’re a fennel fan or not, I’d encourage you to try this recipe soon with some succulent roast meat, crusty bread and a glass of good Shiraz. It takes a bit of time to prepare but once you’ve perfected the method, it will soon come together into a warming, nourishing dish to enjoy on a cold winter’ evening.

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Potato, Fennel and Thyme Gratin

Adapted from this recipe by Ina Garten

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

  • 1 large or 2 small Florence fennel bulbs (equivalent to 4 cups sliced fennel)
  • 1 brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 kg (2 lb) firm-fleshed potatoes (I used Royal Blue)
  • 2 cups thickened (heavy) cream
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used 1 cup grated vintage Cheddar, 1 cup grated Dutch Gouda and 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled)
  • a small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked (about 1 tbsp of leaves)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled raw walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350 degrees F). Butter the inside of a 10-cup baking dish, then set aside.

Thoroughly wash your fennel to remove any soil or grit. With a sharp knife, remove the stalks, woody base and fronds (retain the feathery fronds for garnish and discard the rest). Divide the fennel bulb in half; thinly slice the bulbs crosswise.

fennelcut2Melt the butter in a large pan or pot with the splash of olive oil (the oil helps to prevent the butter from burning).  Add in your sliced onion and fennel, then sauté on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes (or until tender). Set aside to cool slightly.

potatomontWash and peel your potatoes. Thinly slice them (about 3mm thick) by hand or with a mandoline. In a large bowl, mix your sliced potatoes with the cream, 2 cups of cheese,  the fresh thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in the sautéed fennel and onion. Mix well until the cheese and fennel mixture are thoroughly incorporated.

potatoes and creamPour the potato mixture into your prepared baking dish. Arrange the top layer of potatoes if necessary (for presentation purposes) then press down lightly to immerse the top layer under the cream. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

cheesethymemont

Cover with foil and bake for one hour before removing the foil and sprinkling over the walnuts. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbling. Set aside for ten minutes to rest before serving.

gratinmont

Extra notes about Fennel:

  • Fennel is widely cultivated for both culinary and medicinal uses. Florence fennel (the popular cultivated type of fennel used in this recipe) has sweeter flesh than wild types and the inflated leaf bases are edible both in raw and cooked form. Florence fennel is one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe (an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink worldwide).
  • Fennel is sometimes mislabeled as ‘anise’ in supermarkets (I’ve also seen it labelled as ‘aniseed’ here in Australia)
  • The bulb, foliage and seeds of fennel (both wild and cultivated) are edible. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice that is often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. In many parts of India and Pakistan, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener.
  • Medicinal uses: Fennel is sometimes used to treat flatulence in humans (and dogs!) by encouraging the expulsion of intestinal gas. Other sources claim that fennel is useful as a diuretic, that it improves eyesight and also lowers blood pressure. An organic compound in the fennel, anethole, is responsible for most medicinal benefits (but then again, anethole is also responsible for the psychoactive effects of guarana and absinthe… so moderation is likely the key).

curing olives. and an intro to hippy vic

olivebowlLast Sunday, I spent approximately five hours with one of the most beautiful, warm, strong and wise women I know.  She greeted me with a hug, dark eyes sparkling. We drank coffee from cornflower-blue mugs before fastening our jackets and heading to the local farmer’s market. The air was cold but dry. We bought field mushrooms in brown paper and long-stemmed roses with the thorns still attached. She selected a cauliflower, white and tight-packed, whilst her two under six splashed in puddles. Patterned wellingtons and wide smiles gleamed against the greyish sky.

pomestallsHer name is Victoria. Vic for short, or Vicky if you’re feeling in-between. You might recognise her from here, here and here; she’s relatively famous around these parts as my eternal best friend, frequent clean-living inspiration and occasional cooking buddy. Over the last twelve months, she’s also answered to the pseudonym of Hippy Vic, the lifestyle blog she created as a means to share her organic gardening ideas, recipes and nutritional tips with the general public.

Since its establishment in October 2012, ‘Hippy Vic’ has gone from strength to… uh, dormancy. Vicky’s life has rolled forward with home renovations, part-time study and parenting responsibilities and a thick layer of metaphorical dust has settled on ‘Hippy Vic’. Vicky has now forgotten her WordPress password altogether. Sad but true.

bubblesnlegsSo, what to do? Last weekend over a bottle of vino, Vicky and I decided to re-establish part of ‘Hippy Vic’ right here on Laura’s Mess. Rather than an official ‘guest post’ series, Vic’s going to send me bits and pieces ranging from recipes to photographs, gardening tips to interior decorating. I’m going to post these fresh ideas for her, formatted and edited, for your reading pleasure (posts will be tagged under ‘guest posts’ and ‘hippyvic’ for easy reference).

If you’re unfamiliar with ‘Hippy Vic’, give Vic’s original ‘hello’ post a read before embarking on this series with us. Today’s post has been primarily written by me, however there will be many pure, honest-to-goodness, 100% ‘Hippy Vic’ posts to enjoy as time passes… I can’t wait for you to ‘meet’ her!

IMG_9309Curing Olives: A Crash Course in Brine

I love olives. I can’t say that I always have (as a child I would have rather eaten a chunk of liver) but in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate their salty, succulent flesh in everything from pasta to sushi (yes, our local Japanese does this!) or a salad roll.

Olives are like natural little flavour boosters. Their concentrated salty richness adds a rounded savoury flavour to braised or baked dishes; a bit like anchovies, but minus the fishy aftertaste. In recent years, I’ve also started making thick, rich tapenade to spread on sandwiches and foccacia. However, despite our regular household olive consumption, I’ve actually never made my own cured or brined olives. Mostly because I’ve never had access to a mature olive tree (correction: I’ve never had access to a mature olive tree that I could raid without getting into trouble). Visiting Vicky’s organic garden changed that.

olivemontVicky’s tree was positively heaving with ripe, blackened fruit last weekend. A light carpet of fallen fruit lay on the moistened grass, gleaming in the afternoon sun. Most were blemished but nevertheless collected with small, eager hands and smiling faces before being squirreled away into plastic bags (these were later discarded: do not use blemished or fallen olives for curing as a soft, blemished olive is a spoiled olive that is not fit for consumption). Vicky and I scaled the lower rungs of the tree and pulled off the firm, glossy fruits. Both green and black were collected for me to take home, alongside some rosemary, sage, old fashioned mint and raspberries.

plotmontUpon taking the fruit home, I washed it carefully and separated the unripe green from the softer black fruit (their different densities result in different cooking times). I then followed the method below, which I developed from a variety of different sources including this article by Kimi Harris and this reference guide from the now-defunct ‘Burke’s Backyard’ (ah, I used to love that show as a child).

salt montTo cure your olives (of all their ailments) you will need:

  • fresh, unsprayed black and/or green olives
  • non-iodised salt (I used non-iodised Australian rock salt)
  • water
  • sterilised glass jars with lids

Wash your olives well. Discard any blemished or soft fruit, then soak overnight in cold, clean water. Make sure that the fruit is fully submerged, as this soaking process helps to eliminate some of the bitterness from the skin. Weigh the fruit down with a plate if necessary.

The next morning, rinse your fruit. Separate the green and black into different piles, then use a sharp paring knife to cut a deep slit in each olive, down to the stone (I cut one side of the olive only, but some sources suggest cutting both sides).

prepmontPour your olives into your sterilised jars (make sure you keep the green and black separate) until the jars are two-thirds full.

Make your brine solution: use 1/4 cup non-iodised salt for each litre of water. To make the brine, mix your salt and water together in a medium saucepan. Heat the water until the salt dissolves (don’t let the mixture boil, or you will end up with a salt crust all over your cooktop!).

brineLet the water cool, then pour it over the olives in each jar until the fruit is fully submerged. Weigh the fruit down with a plate if necessary.

Leave the olives to cure for one week, then change the brine solution. Continue to do this once per week (you may notice some ‘scum’ that rises to the surface; just skim it off and replace your brine solution) until the fruit are ready.

blackjarredBlack olives should be ready after 2-3 weeks, whereas green olives may take 4-8 weeks (due to their high level of bitterness and added density). Taste your olives to ensure they’re soft, a little bit salty but deliciously edible. If they are still bitter and hard, leave them to cure for another week or so (update: I’ve revised my estimated curing times here).

As my olives are still curing, there will need to be a part 2 to this post: dressing the olives. I’m thinking of using olive oil, chilli, garlic and rosemary and will post some finished recipes and photos in the next two months (or whenever my olives are ready, *sob*!). I’ve also made something similar to this marinade from Jamie Oliver for store-bought, non-marinated olives. I’ll definitely be using a batch for the home-cured fruit.

roselaceTo store: the olives can either be stored in the brine solution (with a thin layer of olive oil over the top) or in an olive oil marinade in sealed, sterilised jars for up to 6 months (preferably in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard).

leahherbNote: our Sunday market photos were taken at the Midland Farmer’s Market (Old Great Northern Highway in Midland, Western Australia 6056). Whilst our purchases mostly included fruit, vegetables and flowers, they also have stallholders who make artisan bread (including spelt flour loaves), a range of preserves and occasionally, gourmet cheeses. There were also lots of baby chickens, geese and ducks for sale (a favourite for the under-six pair) alongside bric-a-brac, fresh eggs and meats.

One last note: a beautiful friend of mine, Emily, has recently started up her own blog called Bless this Mess (a big cheer for us messy chicks!). It’s full of encouragement, gorgeous nourishing recipes, work-out ideas and applicable wisdom for tired minds and bodies. It’s swiftly becoming a place where I go for a smile at the end of a chaotic day. I’d encourage you to drop by and say hello. I love this girl – I am sure that you will too!

peanut butter, banana and cacao ‘cheesecake’

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Definition: Cheesecake (from Wikipedia):

‘…a sweet dish consisting primarily of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (not always cream cheese), eggs, and sugar; often on a crust or base made from crushed cookies or graham crackers, pastry or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked. Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, fruit sauce and/or chocolate.’

Houston, we have a problem. This cheesecake has no cheese. And, uh… no eggs, no sugar and no cookie base. I guess the obvious conclusion is that it’s not actually a cheesecake. At all.

nibsmontHaving said that, the concept of a raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ definitely isn’t a new one. A quick search via Google reveals over two million variations on the raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ concept. Granted, most of them are from late 2012 to early 2013 (arguably, a period where raw food has burgeoned in popularity) however the Laura-Jane aka The Rawtarian posted a raw cheesecake recipe in February 2011 that has since formed a basis for many adaptations around the blogosphere. Like this one, created last week (by me, the skeptical omnivore) as a going-away-party contribution for my gorgeous friend Kerryn (who has her own vegan blog, Lawn and Tofu Salad; hilarious hand-drawn photo extract from Kerryn’s blog below) who will soon be departing for a six-month trip around Europe.

DBAVtoattractguysI’m kinda jealous, but happy for her at the same time (don’t you hate mixed feelings!); she’ll be doing an organic farmstay, visiting family and friends, tearing up London and attending a Jane Austen Festival in the birthplace of Austen; Bath, Somerset, in South West England. If there’s anyone who was born to dress as Elizabeth Bennet and dance with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, it’s Kerryn. Though, upon reflection she may have fated quite poorly in male-dominated 18th Century (the birth time of Jane Austen). She’s one of the strongest, most opinionated and intelligent women I know; despite being absolutely beautiful, she’s more known for her love of chemistry, superior intellect, vegan diet and sharp wit.

Actually, she and Jane, both with ‘extraordinary endowments of mind’ probably would have become fast friends and started a revolution. But again, I digress… back to the going-away-party (those words don’t really require hyphens but I just felt like putting them there).

coconutoilmontIt was held on a cold Tuesday night in a hearth-warmed kitchen in suburban Perth. With cold hands, we sipped homemade tomato soup from vintage earthenware bowls before devouring spicy bean chilli with organic corn chips, cashew sour cream, cashew cheese and guacamole. I ate and ate. Then ate some more, and washed everything down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Everything was delicious, but notably cashew-dominant.

After finishing the savouries, we sat around the communal table and contemplated life’s big questions (mostly political issues, with a dash of life and travel). I sipped from a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea with a dash of almond milk and realised that I was very full; not uncomfortably so, but to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to eating a wedge of dessert-style cashew cheese. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’d be aware that I’m quite a fan of vegan food. I make many vegan salads and I love using flax eggs, chia seeds and nutritional yeast. However, despite the fact that my diet has been about 80% plant-based for over a year, the idea of cashew cheese, cashew sour cream and raw dessert was entirely new to me. And, perhaps by bad design, I consumed all three in one night.

cakemont2So, the main event (aka the central theme of this post): at about 9.30pm, the vegan cheesecake appeared. It looked beautiful; glossy, rich, thick and dark against the ripe red strawberries. The scattering of cacao nibs resembled chocolate chips and all mouths at the table (vegan, coeliac, omnivorous and 50% carnivorous) uttered words of absolute praise and expectation. My stomach turned. I dished out small pieces to all guests at the table, making sure to include a few ripe strawberries. To be honest, this cake is exceptionally appealing. The layers of vanilla (speckled with date) and chocolate were distinct and moist in texture, with scattered ribbons of peanut butter and crunchy cacao.

toppings2My first bite was a delicious surprise. This cake is moist, creamy and texturally pleasing; each bite had a crunch of bitter cacao, sweet notes of date and banana, and undertones of rich chocolate. The date and nut base was chewy. I can only describe it as ‘savoury but sweet’ due to the toasty notes of almond and walnut, enrobed with sweet Medjool date and pure cacao. Murmurs of pleasure could be heard around the table, alongside some obvious flavour analysis: ‘I can taste banana… oh, and there’s some date in there’; ‘…yeah, there’s some peanut butter, but I’d call it Banofee Pie’.

For a first attempt at a raw vegan cheesecake, I was quite happy with the feed back. Especially from those in the carnivorous category. But strangely, half-way through my slice, I paused. My spoon hovered over the cake and my brain switched into ‘dislike‘ mode. I was quite confused, and attributed the negativity to ‘cashew overload’. I pushed my plate away.

pbmontThe following evening, I completed a ‘cake post-mortem’ with my husband after a dinner of homemade lamb koftas, flatbread, tzatziki, carrots with pomegranate molasses and amped-up tabouli with lemon oil and goats cheese. He simply commented that the cake ‘tasted good’, but as a ‘cheesecake’, it failed dismally. I scraped the last shiny pomegranate beads off my plate, chewing my last piece of meat thoughtfully. Yes. It made sense, as… well, vegan cheesecake sans cheese is really a nut pie. Delicious, but… well, pointless if you’re an omnivore and you’re hankering after a creamy slice of cheese heaven. After savouring several chunks of smooth, salty and utterly creamy goats cheese, I understood. My brain, my sensory memory and my mouth had been in absolute, unresolvable conflict. It hurt.

So, after that ridiculously long introduction… let me just say that this cake is delicious. If you’re vegan, feel free to call it a ‘cheesecake’ as it’s composition (discounting ingredients) resembles the aforementioned dessert quite well. However, if you’re an omnivore like me, I’d recommend calling it a Nut Pie; this may avoid personal confusion, cheese withdrawal symptoms and painful (unnecessary) brain activity in the middle of the night (for a food obsessive like me). Either way, make this cake. It’s a deliciously healthy addition to any dessert repertoire.

caketopPeanut Butter, Banana and Cacao ‘Cheesecake’ (aka ‘Nut Pie’)

Makes one 20cm cake

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts) soaked for 1 hour
  • 3/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)

Filling:

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
  • 1/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (substitute any liquid sweetener, e.g. maple syrup or honey)
  • seeds from one vanilla bean (substitute 1 tsp natural vanilla essence)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
  • water, as required

Extras:

  • 4-6 tbsp organic (no salt or sugar added) peanut butter
  • 5 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 x 200g punnet of strawberries (optional)
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced (optional)

To make the crust: Blend the soaked and drained nuts in a food processor until they reach a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. Add in the chopped dates and cacao. Blend until the mixture starts to stick together.

crustmixPress into a greased (I used coconut oil) and lined 20cm springform tin, ensuring that layer of mixture is even and around 3-5mm thick. Refrigerate whilst you make the filling.

cashewsoakmontTo make the filling: Blend the soaked and drained cashews in a food processor until they reach a fine consistency. Add in the dates, bananas, coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches a creamy, smooth consistency (add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets ‘stuck’  around the blade, or if it appears to be too thick).

bananadateSeparate the mixture into two bowls. Add the cacao powder to one, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and chocolately brown with no dry patches of cacao. You now have two batches of filling to create attractive layers in your cake: 1) vanilla with banana and date, 2) chocolate.

layer1To assemble: Remove your cheesecake base from the fridge. Pour or spoon over the vanilla filling and smooth with the back of a knife. Warm your peanut butter briefly in the microwave until it’s smooth and easy to drizzle. Pour half of the peanut butter onto the vanilla filling, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs.

layer2Now it’s time for layer two: carefully place spoonfuls of your chocolate mixture over the vanilla layer, taking care not to displace the ripples of peanut butter and scattered cacao nibs. Smooth the mixture out until you have an even layer, with no patches of vanilla showing through. Tap your tin softly against the bench top to ensure that no air pockets remain.

layer3Ripple over the remaining peanut butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs (reserve 1 tbsp for serving). If necessary, use a knife or spoon to ensure that the peanut butter is evenly distributed on the final layer of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.

layer4To serve: carefully loosen the sides of your springform tin. Use a large flat-bladed knife or spatula to ease the cake away from the base of the metal tin. Remove all traces of the baking paper and transfer to a serving platter.

Cut half of your strawberries (optional) and scatter some over the top of the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries around the sides of the plate, to be eaten alongside the cake (*I didn’t have an extra banana to spare, but definitely add some fresh slices to the top of the cake if you have one on hand. The fresh fruit compliments the rich chocolate and banana filling perfectly). Top with the remaining 1 tbsp cacao nibs.strawbsWarning: This cake is very (very!) rich, so I’d recommend serving it in small slices with a hot cup of tea (even for those with big appetites; err on the side of caution. You can always have a other slice if you finish the first one with gusto. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

strawbdateNotes:

  • Use the best quality blender or food processor you have to make this cake. Anything less will either result in blender burnout (adding a ‘burnt’ taste to your mix or breaking your blender altogether… uh, yep that’s me) or a grainy consistency within your filling. Invest in a good blender for the long-term (I have recently ordered the Ninja online, can’t wait til it arrives! Thanks Whit and Sally!)
  • If your mixture seems too firm/viscous and gets stuck in your food processor, feel free to add a little more water or another complimentary liquid (e.g. a little bit of almond or oat milk). If your mixture becomes too loose, it may require a few hours in the freezer to set before serving. Leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
  • Feel free to substitute different nuts for the base layer of this cake. Great complimentary flavours include macadamias and pecans. I wouldn’t recommend switching the cashews for another nut in the cake filling though; cashews are a reasonably neutral, subtly sweet nut. Other varieties such as almonds and walnuts would likely become overpowering.
  • This cake would work beautifully in individual tart pans or jars for a dinner party. Make sure you grease each pan or jar well with coconut oil (as it would be difficult to line each with baking paper) and sprinkle the sides with raw dessicated coconut to prevent sticking. Take a look at this beautiful vegan chocolate cheesecake from The Bojon Gourmet, served in individual jars. Perfect for an extra-special vegan indulgence.
  • I also considered topping this cake with a drizzle of Coconut Chocolate Butter from Loving Earth, but my jar of butter sadly solidified in this chilly Perth Winter weather. Next time, I am going to blitz the sucker in the microwave briefly, before succumbing to a delicious river of chocolatey, coconutty goodness. I recommend that you do, too.

*Have a wonderful trip Kerryn! Can’t wait to follow your blogging adventures at the organic farmstay!

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