blackberry and coconut muffins. and friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And this time, we will.

I’m already baking the muffins.

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Blackberry and Coconut Muffins

Makes 18

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

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

Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.

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

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

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picnics and caramelised onion foccacia

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

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

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

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

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

Salads:

Dips:

Snacks/Antipasto:

Dessert/Sweets:

Drinks:

focaccia

Olive Oil Focaccia with Caramelised Onion Topping

Adapted from this recipe by Kerrie Sun

Makes one loaf

For the dough:

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

Topping:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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

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

sweet potato and cacao brownies

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

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

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

Sweet potato brownies.

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

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

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

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.

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Mix well, then spoon into the prepared brownie pan.

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

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

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

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

lokifeet

baked falafel with coconut raita. and january heat

plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another sad face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita and Tomato Chilli Salsa

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

Falafel:

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

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

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

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

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

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Coconut Raita:

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

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

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.

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To serve:

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

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

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

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