black bean soft tacos with pickled radishes + boozy onions

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It’s a warm, sleepy Wednesday morning. After waking at 5:30 for the morning drop off (husband, not offspring – we share one vehicle and I need it today), returning home and eating breakfast, both Loki and I have retreated to the couch in a feeble haze.

I’m still trying to be productive, slowly editing photographs from Monday’s recipe shoot whilst sipping lukewarm tea. Loki, on the other hand, succumbed to sleep as soon as his head hit the cushions. He’s now curled up beside me in what I term his ‘biscuit’ position; head tucked against his hind legs, paws curled in, spine flexed in a half moon shape against the fabric of my summer dress.

It’s a little bit adorable, if not uncomfortably warm in this relentless weather. His slow mellow breaths lend steady texture to the soundtrack of my fingers against plastic keys, occasionally changing tempo as he repositions.

Aw. It’s alright for some.

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Anyway, getting back to the reason for this recipe post – let’s talk tacos.

Soft tortillas, to be exact, filled with smoky black beans, rich guacamole, sour cream, fresh salads and the crunch of homemade spicy pickles. In my opinion, when accompanied by an ice-cold beer, you’ve reached Summer dining at its absolute best. Fresh, generous, reasonably healthy and undeniably delicious.

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I realised over the weekend that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted a ‘mains dish’ on the Mess. At least eight months or so, give or take a few days.

After searching the archives, I’m pretty sure this post was my last substantial dinner post (from May 2015 – insert cringe). Pretty darn shameful for someone who not only eats dinner seven nights per week (well, don’t we all?) but also prefers savoury food over sweet.

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Yeah. I’d wax lyrical about lack of sunlight, our generally-late dinner times (we eat around 7:30 – 8pm most nights) and the patriarchy, but in all honesty, I just prefer ‘real dining’ at dinnertime. I torture my family enough on weekends with endless prop searching, food holding (check out this site and video for a laugh – Aaron assures me I’m not this bad!) and lukewarm coffee (“…don’t drink it yet! I need a photo!”) without the need for food styling on weeknights.

But as it’s summertime, the nights are long and my family are trying to help me retrieve my ‘blogging mojo’ (thanks, my loves) I’m promoting some temporary change. A slightly less styled, candid snapshot into my home on any given night: what we eat, when we eat it, exactly as I’d serve it.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m choosing meals that are still ‘blog worthy’ rather than five minute bowls of tuna salad, but this is definitely me on a plate. Easy to prepare, generous, lots of condiments (you get me Graz), various types of vegetable preparations (fire-roasted, fried, pickled and fresh) and a selection of ass-kicking hot sauces. Yussss.

This particular meal was prepared on a Saturday, due to the element of pickling involved. It’s not as hard as it might look, despite the multiple bowls and pickles. If your knife skills are reasonable (or if you have a mandolin with a guard) you can probably knock out all these dishes in less than two hours… including the pickles.

If you happen to keep homemade pickles in your refrigerator at all times (like me) the black beans, guac and salads can be prepared in under 60 minutes. Easy food at its finest.

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So, welcome to my self-serve, vinegar-splashed (yep, that happened), Mexican inspired dinner table, free of any real styling or pretence. The first of what I hope will be a series of ‘real dinners’, from my home to yours.

^^Oh, and you may also spot a rather large platter of tender marinated beef steak on my (vegetarian) taco table, which was provided by my relentlessly omnivorous, generous mother. It went beautifully with the rest of the taco ingredients, sliced thinly and layered atop the smoky beans and salads. I’d definitely recommend that you follow suit if you’re similarly omnivore-inclined. Just a simple marinade (or even just salt and pepper) will do, due to the availability of strongly flavoured condiments.

Thanks mum (yes, I do watch my protein! I love you).

taco

Black Bean Tacos 

Serves 4-6

Inspired by black bean tostadas from BBC Good Food

  • 3x 400g cans organic cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium brown onions, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1.5 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp ground cumin
  • 5 tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp clear maple syrup or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper, to season
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

  • 12 soft taco tortillas (preferably corn but wheat is fine)
  • guacamole
  • boozy Tequila pickled onions (recipe below)
  • spicy pickled radishes (recipe below)
  • Mexican corn salad or esquites (recipe within this post)
  • pickled whole chillies or sliced pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • sour cream or cashew cream (I love this vegan cashew sour cream recipe from Oh She Glows)
  • finely shredded red cabbage, dressed with fresh lime juice and zest, white pepper, crushed sea salt and olive oil
  • fire roasted strips of red pepper
  • crumbled Mexican cotija cheese (substitute feta cheese)
  • fresh coriander leaves
  • lime wedges
  • hot Tabasco or chipotle sauce (see my recipe for the ‘skull and crossbones’  hot sauce above within this post)

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the spices, fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add in the vinegar, maple syrup, liquid smoke (if using) and a splash of water. Allow to cook for 2 minutes before adding the beans.

Mix well. If the mixture looks a little dry, add in a splash more water before simmering gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place the pan on a steady surface.

beans

Mash half of the beans with the back of the spoon or spatula until you achieve a chunky puree (this can really be to your preference, I mashed some of the beans to a paste whilst leaving others whole for texture). Season to taste, then spoon into a serving bowl.

Serve spooned into warmed tortillas, with guacamole and your choice of toppings.  This bean mix is also fantastic as a dip with corn chips or crudités.radishes

radishslicePickled Spicy Radishes

Makes 1 x 475mL (American pint) jar

Adapted from this recipe by Kathryn at Cookie and Kate

  • 1 bunch (200g) fresh radishes, washed
  • 3/4 cup good quality white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tsp maple syrup or rice bran syrup
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
  • half a fresh jalapeño, finely sliced
  • ½ tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds

Top and tail your radishes with a sharp knife, then slice into very thin rounds (or half moons, if you have a few very large radishes like I had) using a knife or mandolin. Mix with the finely sliced jalapeño, then pack into a canning jar. Set aside as you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, honey or maple syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then add in the spices. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the packed jar of radishes.

Seal the jar immediately whilst hot if you want to store your pickles for a while. Otherwise, let the mixture cool to room temperature before serving with the tacos above. These pickles are tasty on the day they are made, but improve if left to sit in the brine for a couple of days. They will keep well in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

pickles

Boozy Tequila Pickled Onions
Makes 1 x 375mL jar
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) tequila
  • 1/2-1 tsp agave or rice bran syrup
  • chilli flakes (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pack the sliced Spanish onion into a 375mL canning jar, then set aside whilst you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar and sweetener with a good splash of water. Bring to the boil, then add in the chilli flakes (if using) and boil for one minute. Add in the tequila, salt and a grind of black pepper. Pour into the jar of onions, tilting gently to ensure that the liquid drips down to the bottom. Seal immediately, if intending to keep the pickles for a while, or allow to cool to room temperature before serving with the above spread.

These pickled sliced onions should keep in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

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chocolate nut butter truffles

tray1It’s late afternoon on a very warm Saturday in Perth. I’m curled up on the couch in comfy slacks, tapping on blackened keys whilst being continuously nudged by the wet nose of Loki. He’s a little bit sick of my passion for writing this week. It’s detracted my attention from his quick brown paws and beckoning eyes on multiple occasions. He’s taken to alternate strategies for attention, like dropping things off the back of the couch onto my head, keyboard or the timber-clad kitchen floor. I become easily engrossed when I write, so… let’s just say I’ve learned certain things the hard way. Like the level of attention required when holding hot tea.

Anyway, the intention of this post was not to continue rambling about Loki (though he did visit the vet yesterday and I did trim his wispy grandpa beard). Rather, I just want to share in a sentimental fashion about life, the universe and everything that’s been significant over the past couple of weeks.

Including peanut butter, because… well, peanut butter. You get me, right?

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If you’re a regular reader of the Mess, you’d be aware that I’ve been in a bit of a funk over the past twelve months. Certain events led to maudlin thoughts and general pessimism which in turn informed some melancholic narratives. Well, enough is enough. It’s a new year and I’m done with subjugation and general inertia. There’s something beautiful happening in my consciousness which is inextricably linked to mindfulness and positivity.

Yep, I said it. Positivity as a cognitive strategy. I should probably have forewarned you of the cliched #inspo territory but it works, people, particularly when mixed with gratefulness and acceptance (that’s when the mindfulness comes in). I’m letting myself embrace each moment for its individual benefits, discomfort and impermanence. The cloud is finally lifting.

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In reflection, these realisations are rather comical, seeing as I’m a social worker by formal training. I’m used to dialogues of self care, impermanence and resilience on a daily basis. For other people, not me, akin to a plumber who never fixes his own dripping tap (due to post-work fatigue, lack of impetus, general excuses and probably a touch of laziness).

I’m therefore claiming this bojon period (thanks Alanna!) as a time to transition theory to practice. I’m excited. Life is good.

And you know what? So am I.

ing2mix dough

So, back to the recipe below. Let’s call them ‘little balls of happiness’ (‘nut butter’ somehow translates into ‘happy’ for me) to be shared with the best of friends. In past decades, I would have made these with just peanut butter and a pile of powdered sugar (as per the original peanut butter ball) however both age and wisdom have inspired the reinvention of this much-loved treat.

This incarnation contains just 100% natural nut butter, powdered peanut butter (see my notes below regarding PB2 nutrition vs. peanut flour), maple syrup and non-dairy dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt (the use of Bahen & Co cracked coffee bar also contributes the crunch of a bitter coffee bean here and there). Mixed nut butters also contribute added nutrition from calcium-rich tahini, omega-3 rich pure-state Super Spread and protein-rich peanut butter.

I was even going to go as far as using raw chocolate (such as the coating on my salted tahini date caramel slice) instead of melted dark chocolate but, well… it’s a little less stable in the summer heat.

And I’m intending on sharing these happy treats far and wide.

tray2Chocolate Nut Butter Truffles

Makes 28

Filling:

  • 1 cup 100% natural nut butter (I used a mixture of Mayver’s crunchy peanut butter, hulled tahini and Original Super Spread)
  • 2 tbsp dark roast peanut flour or powdered peanut butter* (I used PB2), plus a little extra if required
  • 3-4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • water, if required (for correct consistency)

Coating:

  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate (I used 75g Bahen & Co cracked coffee for a touch of depth mixed with 125g plain 70% cocoa non-dairy dark chocolate)
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix together the nut butters and maple syrup until well combined. Taste and add a little sea salt if desired. Sprinkle in the powdered peanut butter, then mix until you have a smooth ‘dough’. Here’s where you need to use your instincts: the mix should be soft and cohesive (see image below), not dry or crumbly (if you experience the latter then add a few drops of water and mix again). If your mix is too wet, oily and/or sticky, sprinkle in a little more powdered peanut butter and mix again.

doughball

When the mix reaches the right consistency, roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place onto a lined baking tray. Refrigerate or freeze for 15-20 minutes.

balls

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl (preferably glass) over a pot of gently simmering water until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and place on a stable surface. Using two forks, drop each frozen ball of nut butter dough into the melted chocolate mixture, roll until evenly coated, then pick up, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl (I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to this process, however if you’d like perfectly glossy truffles invest in a truffle dipper or follow this Saveur tutorial). Carefully place back onto your cold lined baking tray. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt (optional).

Carefully return the baking tray to the refrigerator until the truffles have set.

inside

pb2

*Powdered peanut butter (in this case, PB2) is basically peanut flour (peanuts that have been pressed/defatted to remove most of the oil content) with additional salt and sugar. It’s a processed, imported product with added refined sugar so it goes against three of my key principles of eating (whole foods, refined sugar free, locally produced and/or grown) but for some reason I was curious enough to purchase it.

It’s not terrible; it’s still relatively low in sugar (1.0g per 2 tbsp serving as opposed to average 3.0g for traditional peanut butter), has no trans fats (much better than Jif or Skippy, which contain hydrogenated soybean and palm oils – basically trans fats – and emulsifiers) and reports being non-GMO (see Bell Plantation’s FAQ’s).  It’s a little grainy and dry when mixed with water (as per the suggestion for reconstituted peanut butter) but works well as an agent to soak up natural nut oils (such as in the recipe above) and/or to mix into baked goods and sauces.

If you’ve got peanut flour on hand, I’d totally recommend using it as an alternative to the PB2 in this recipe. However, use of either powdered peanut butter or peanut flour will work similarly to create a dough-ish consistency with increased protein and peanut butter flavour. It’s useful to note that traditional buckeye candy and peanut butter truffles use a hell of a lot of powdered sugar to the same effect (somewhere between 2-3 cups per cup of peanut butter) so whether you use peanut flour or powdered peanut butter with the natural sweetener, you’re still winning.

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meat cake and puppy teeth

lokicakecut

My husband bought me a laptop for Christmas. Well, Christmas and my birthday and our fourth wedding anniversary last year. Due to the notable expense, it was a few presents in one.

It’s beautiful; shiny and new and expeditious. After almost an entire year of stealing hours on Aaron’s desktop computer (read my original eulogy here) it feels like a luxury to have my own device again.

As I had hoped, the accessibility of a laptop has somewhat rekindled my passion for creative writing. I’ve been tapping away at all hours of the day and night, sipping cold tea and humming absentmindedly. I’ve also uploaded almost twelve months of digital photos from my DSLR, uncovering many edible inventions and several hundred (no, I’m not joking) photographs of Loki (our scraggly fur-kid with ambrosial eyes).

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ballAh, Loki. He’s one family member who’s less than fond of my Christmas present. Within a few days, he identified the laptop as competition for my undivided attention (second only to my cell phone). He takes great pleasure in lying across the keypad, ‘nosing’ my hand away from the keys at every given opportunity.

This occasionally leaves wet smudges on the corners of the screen. I kind of like them; I’ve left them to dry like a little line of clouds.

They’re evidence of his friendly occupancy, his shared residence of this shoebox of ours. This place is his home.

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It’s hard to believe we’ve had this smart little bundle of energy for over twelve months now. We celebrated his first birthday last September and, rather cheesily, I baked him a ‘meat cake’ with sweet potato and carrot ‘frosting’.

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It was an improvised job, a spontaneous project based on this idea by my friend Trixie. I packed it full of his favourite things (minus the loose ‘anything on Aaron’s plate’ category) in this order:

  • cake: one beaten egg (plus the ground eggshell – just dry them out and pound them up in your mortar and pestle), about 350g of beef mince, chopped parsley and some bone marrow (leftover from bone broth) mixed and oven-baked in a small 15cm/6 inch lined tin until firm (160 degrees C /320 degrees f for roughly 20 minutes from memory). Allow to cool, remove from tin and invert onto a plate.
  • frosting: mash one small steamed sweet potato and one steamed carrot (peel left on) together with some bone broth to loosen. Spread over cooled meat cake.
  • decorations: Italian parsley leaves and sliced vegetable leather (from my favourite local Perth dog bakery, Go Fetch)

I was rather pleased with his level of enthusiasm:

lokiup side ear lick bite fini

Yep. One happy dog, although I can’t really extol my canine baking skills – he’s rather unfussy when it comes to food. We’re very, very lucky.

Hopefully he feels like he’s lucky, too.

hugs laurloki

I treasure each moment with this pup; his tentative growls, morning licks, keen stick legs and pleading eyes (usually whilst I’m eating my cereal. Or eating anything. The common factor is eating). He’s always enthusiastic, regardless of fatigue, fear or pain.

The trust, unconditional love and genuine affection you receive from a dog is incredibly humbling. It makes me want to be better, to try harder, both for him and because of him.

He deserves the very best of me (as does my husband. No, not just because he bought me a computer).

lokisleep

Thanks for indulging this very personal, sentimental post of mine (I do hope those of you who keenly follow my Loki photos on Instagram feel satisfied with a big ol’ dose of scraggly cuteness! For those who don’t – I assure you my next post will be something vegetarian and delicious).

I’m praying for many more years of meat cakes and nose smudges. It’s definitely worth the daily vacuum bag full of dog hair.

salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

mix

But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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cacao

In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

grapes

So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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shaved carrot salad with orange, pomegranate and mint

plateThere’s something about the end of another year that makes one strangely contemplative. Whilst I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, I generally follow the loose aim to try to ‘be better’ as the clock ticks over to January 1.

A better wife; strong, gentle and wise. An efficient worker and homemaker. A better daughter (this one has spanned decades), generous and loyal. A better friend and sister, regardless of time and frustration. A clear representative of my faith. Just generally better than the year before.

Better. 

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Despite realising the folly of setting broad, inchoate goals (less added value, inexorable failure) the ‘reset’ has been somewhat subconscious. I mean, I don’t spend each December 31 meditating upon my failures (okay, well maybe I do to a certain degree), selecting ‘states of betterment’ whilst sitting in the lotus position.

It just happens, like a subtle alarm, the benefit of which is urgency for positive change.
ribbonsSo, on January 1 2016 at 12:59, I’m sitting under the air conditioner with a cup of steaming herbal tea (current temperature is currently 35 degrees C / 95 degrees F but I’m English and tea solves everything). I’m contemplating effective change, clearer goals and less self-depreciation, as adherence to old patterns would cast me as either a fool or a lemming.

Short term goals seem like a good idea. Achievable, smart and time limited. Michael Hyatt seems to think it’s a good idea to write them down, so I’m factoring in some blogosphere accountability (a strange concept indeed) and capping the number at three.

Goal one for this year is to secure a job (preferably) before the end of January. Being unemployed is liberating but also disconcerting in the worst of ways; I’m continually counting pennies with mounting portions of nervous energy. Please don’t be concerned regarding my self esteem or resilience. My contract ended due to economic circumstances within my organisation, not due to individual performance (golly gosh, I think I’d avoid sharing that on the internet. Please know I’m ok!). However, I’ve explained in previous blog posts that I’m a terrible overthinker and free time leads to unconstrained pondering at all times of the day (or night).

I need purpose for my cognition, posthaste.

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That leads me to goal two, interim creative projects. I’m going to use my free time (and aforementioned cognition) productively whilst waiting for the right employment door to open. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff, I’m going to exercise a little grace and appreciate each moment as it comes. It’s not exactly an epiphany, but I’m gradually realising that each juncture should be appreciated and utilised, whether it be for breathing space, rest or creativity. However long I’m waiting for a passing train.

Last but not least, goal three: finding a way to reconnect with Church. This is a rather personal goal that may only make sense to those of you who follow a congregational faith. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably familiar with dialogues surrounding Church (and organised religion in general).

I struggle with Church. I find it hard to attend one. But I know that I need to.

pombetterAnyway, as the photographs suggest, I’m posting a recipe today. Something fresh, light and healthy, perfect for hot days and balmy Summer nights. It’s a new favourite on our seasonal menu, mostly due to the innate adaptability of the recipe. Extra hungry? Add protein. Feeling exotic? How about adding some coriander and chopped red chilli?

Just use the basic dressing and carrot ribbons, then follow the core principles below:

  1. freshness – soft herbs like parsley, mint and coriander and/or fresh leaves e.g. some torn baby spinach, rocket, beet leaves or chard
  2. fruit – switch up the pomegranate for some raisins or dried cranberries soaked in the orange juice, add in some grated or slivered apple (perhaps with some chopped celery and walnuts, such a good combination), substitute mandarin for the orange
  3. crunch – substitute the almonds for some toasted, crumbled walnuts or pecans, even some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  4. optional added protein (for the extra hungry) – if you’d like to fill out the salad for a healthy light meal, I’ve added a few of my favourite protein-packed ‘extras’ below (under ‘optional add ins’).

As always, thanks to all of you for being not only readers, but friends across the seas. Wishing you a beautiful, blessed and memorable start to 2016!

plate2

Shaved Carrot Salad with Orange, Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a light meal

  • 2 large carrots, washed and peeled
  • 2 spring onions (green shallots), topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • a good handful of washed mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 navel orange, segmented (squeeze the juice from the leftover pulp into the dressing – 1 got about 50mL)
  • a good plug of extra virgin olive oil, about 50mL
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) good quality white wine vinegar
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • a squeeze of honey, to taste (use maple syrup for a vegan alternative)
  • optional, protein-packed add ins: good quality crumbled feta (about 100g will do), Italian canned tuna, rinsed cooked brown lentils, 1 cup cooked quinoa

Using a vegetable peeler, shave long thin strips off each carrot in a lengthwise rotation. Discard the hard centre and stem. Place shaved carrot into a medium bowl with the pomegranate arils, sliced spring onions, orange segments and mint (reserve some pomegranate arils and mint leaves to garnish later. Add in any optional tuna, quinoa, beans, lentils or feta (reserve some crumbled feta for garnish).

In a jug or bowl, whisk together the orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and a little honey or maple syrup. Taste, season and adjust sweetness as required.

Pour the dressing over the salad. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes for the flavours to develop. Remove from the refrigerator and gently mix through half of the toasted almonds, reserving the rest for garnish. Use tongs to transfer the salad to a serving platter, allowing excess dressing to drain back into the bowl.

Garnish with reserved pomegranate, mint, toasted almonds, feta (if using) and a grind of black pepper.

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