pomegranate molasses. and loki.

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It’s Monday. The last day of February and, officially, the end of Australian summertime. Rather hard to believe, as the weather remains warm and I’m still in light clothing past midnight (it’s 01:04am). As I type, a slight breeze wafts through the open door, the air redolent of wet grass and burnt shrubbery. Both were presumably soaked this evening by domestic sprinklers, a timer set to summer restrictions. I can imagine the leaves unfurling after hours in the blazing sun.

This is my favourite time of day. The inky black, the quiet. The street is almost still and other than Loki’s gentle breaths, our living room is too. I’m tired but relaxed, my fingers wrapped comfortably around a glass of iced water. I type, thoughts align: if only life was always this simple.

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In my last post, I mentioned that I made some pomegranate molasses from some fruit that was languishing in my refrigerator crisper. It’s absolutely beautiful, sticky and piquant, so much better than anything from the store.

The original plan was to use the molasses in this sort of salad with some crumbled blue cheese, mum’s leftover apples, lentils and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts. Instead, I ate the apples (yep, told you I would) then went Ottolenghi-esque with various glazed roasted vegetables (carrots, eggplant, Brussels sprouts), all of which disappeared with some wilted spinach, toasted pepitas and soft goats cheese.

I took absolutely no photos. Well, other than these, which were snapped after I made the molasses. I guess I was too busy eating.

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So, take two: I’m posting the recipe for pomegranate molasses today with plans to make more as autumn takes hold. It’ll be drizzled over roasted cauliflower (in yoghurt, olive oil and sumac), whisked into lentil salad dressings and best of all, I’m planning a chicken tagine with the molasses, plenty of pepper and oregano.

All very autumnal food, slow and nourishing, fragrant with warming spices. Watch this space for (new season) recipes, coming soon.

But for now? Make this molasses and drizzle it over your (homemade or store-bought, I don’t judge!) hummus with some toasted crushed pistachios and/or walnuts, chopped tomato and parsley. Have an end-of-summer (or winter, depending upon where you are) sundowner, with char-grilled bread and some chilled white wine.

It’s super good, borderline gourmet with very little fuss. You’ll be glad you did.

Pomegranate Molasses

Adapted from this recipe by Sarah Hobbs

  • 2-3 fresh pomegranates to yield 1 cup (250mL) of juice (I found 1 pomegranate = roughly 125mL of juice)
  • 1/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Remove arils from pomegranates (I use the scoring method from this post). Place into the bowl of a food processor, then process until crushed (the inner seeds should be visible and all flesh should be reasonably pulpy). Strain through a fine sieve into a jug, pressing the pulp with back of a spoon to release the juice.

Combine the juice (which should be around 1 cup) with the caster sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy, has reduced by half and easily coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into an airtight jar.

I store my pomegranate molasses in the pantry (at room temperature) as I use it quickly, however it should keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

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As I know how much you all love Loki, I thought I’d end with a quick snap (by Aaron) of what he does every time I use my food processor. As soon as the motor starts running, he sprints to the kitchen bench and launches an attack.

Heck he jumps high. I do hope he’s not afraid of it. I’ve attempted to confine him to the bedroom while I use it but… well, he hates it (meaning the confinement, but possibly the food processor too). Maybe he wants to operate it himself?

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buckwheat apple zucchini bread

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my mother has an apple tree at the rear of her garden. It’s an espalier of sorts, trained to grow parallel to the back fence of her city apartment’s courtyard. Despite the confines of a garden bed, it produces a beautiful glut of organic fruit every year; plump, knobbly and subtly sweet under a crisp green skin.

Funnily enough, my mother purchased the plant with the intention of growing a Manjimup ‘Pink Lady‘, a tribute to John Cripps and our home state. However, the green apples never developed their trademark blush of pink and we figure the variety is a ‘Golden Delicious’ with nursery mislabelling.

Whatever the variety, it always feels like a privilege to participate in the growth and harvest of homegrown fruit each year. When I was at home, I used to regularly mulch, water and thin out the apple blossoms, but these days my job mostly consists of picking the high-growing fruit. And eating them, of course.

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So back to the annual apple harvest: this time each year, I start jotting down ideas for making buttery pies and glossy tarte tatins. Occasionally I’ll follow through, but more often than not the apples become crisp salads, coleslaws and the occasional moist apple cake with cream.

This year was no different. After a few weeks of waiting for this year’s apples, I had a list of potential recipes including a rustic galette and sugar-dusted jalousie. But after squirrelling them home, I ate one, dipping the crisp, juicy wedges dipped into homemade cinnamon almond butter. Accompanied by a mug of rooibos tea, there didn’t seem to be need for much else.

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Since that first day, I’ve done a little more ‘proper cooking’ with the apple harvest. I’ve sliced one into julienne, tossing it into a salad with radishes, soft herbs and mustard vinaigrette. I also stewed one for breakfast with some soft local figs and a vanilla pod, adorning it with thick coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a chilled can of coconut milk) and toasted walnuts.

Today, I made this gluten-free loaf full of buckwheat and ground almonds, gently mixed with some grated apples, mashed bananas and a zucchini that was languishing in the vegetable crisper. It tastes glorious; dense, moist and incredibly filling due to the inclusion of buckwheat protein, almond meal and pounded flax. I’ve eaten two doorstop slices at various points in the day, both toasted under the grill until browned before being topped with melted Nuttelex. They’ve accelerated my Monday happiness ten-fold.

So I’m making a bold statement: if you have a tendency towards three-thirty-itis or the dreaded lunchtime ‘hangry‘ face, this loaf is for you. Buckwheat zucchini bread, healing workplace relationships since 2016.

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This buckwheat loaf is completely gluten-free, egg-free, vegan and refined sugar free, though you can easily sub rice malt syrup for honey and flaxseed for an egg or two if you fancy. The latter seems to even qualify as a ‘paleo’ loaf (buckwheat = pseudograin according to paleo authorities) though as a non-paleo eater, feel free to argue the point.

Next on my apple recipe list: some sort of shaved apple salad with blue cheese, walnuts, watercress and a sticky pomegranate dressing (I made my own pomegranate molasses this morning, using this recipe by Sarah Hobbs). Perhaps served with these delicious crackers and a poached egg for Aaron.

If I don’t eat all the apples with almond butter first. Watch this space.

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Buckwheat Apple Zucchini Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1.5 cups organic buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk, however you can sub dairy, oat, soy or rice milk here)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (equivalent to 1 cup mashed fruit)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, cored (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1/4 cup rice bran syrup (substitute maple syrup or coconut nectar)
  • 3 tbsp flaxseed flakes (pounded flax; you can also use ground flaxseed)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • optional: add in some raisins or toasted walnuts if you feel like it!

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f). Line a 4 cup loaf tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Using the grater attachment on your food processor, finely grate the zucchini and apples with all the skins intact (you should end up with about 1.5 cups of grated zucchini and apple together). Add in the mashed banana and pulse again until well-combined (the mix should still have some texture and flecks of green from the zucchini and apple skins).

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Tip into a medium bowl and mix in the milk, vanilla bean paste, rice bran syrup and flax. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for the flax to thicken the mix (as an egg substitute).

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Sift the buckwheat flour into a large bowl. Add in the almond meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the wet ingredients. Mix well and spoon into your prepared loaf tin.

Tap the tin on a sturdy surface to expel any bubbles, then transfer to your preheated oven to bake.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes or until your loaf is well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

This loaf is beautiful served thickly sliced and toasted with dairy butter or Nuttelex. I would also attempt it with mashed avocado (due to that miraculous sweet-savoury lean that avocado has) or toasted til brown with a dollop of mascarpone (or ricotta), runny honey and a smattering of toasted almonds.

Cook’s note: I’ve also made this bread successfully without zucchini, just 4 bananas and 1 reasonably large apple. As long as you’ve got around 2.5 cups of mashed/pureed fruit and vegetables you’ll be fine. I’d love to know if you come up with any adaptations!

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australia day lamington pie

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It’s hard to believe it’s already the fourth day of February, 2016. The official last month of Summer and its long halcyon days. I’ve taken it upon myself to milk the very last drops from this season’s dwindling balmy nights, mostly by sitting near the back door as grassy breezes waft by. I’m drinking chilled Summer white, grilling fresh romaine and eating ripe stone fruit with juice dripping down my chin.

As I type, it’s nearing midday. I’m sitting on the couch in a t-shirt, barefoot, my skin tinged pink from yesterday’s sun-drenched day in the park. Yes, I know sunburn is bad. It definitely wasn’t intentional; to the contrary, I’m one who wears multiple layers of sunscreen and gravitates to every patch of impervious shade. I just have extremely low sun resistance, assumedly due to my English heritage and a distinct lack of adaptation during the 25+ years that I’ve lived in this hot climate (thank goodness that natural selection is rather antiquated amongst humans these days).

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Enough about me and my feeble freckled complexion (slip, slop, slap, you young ‘uns out there). Back to the end of Summer and its lingering sweetness. It’s actually nice to meet February, it already feels like a positive month full of fortunate (some might say serendipitous) events. It’ll be Valentines Day in a week (any of you harping on about commercialism, I don’t wanna hear it. #helplessromantic), Aaron‘s birthday right after and a celebration party for my mama bear the following weekend (she’s five years clear of breast cancer this year, yussss).

Matt and I are also finally meeting Graz next week after many months (actually, years by now, argh) of waxing lyrical about burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food. At a joint that serves burgers, hot sauce, ribs and other barbecue food (of course). I can’t wait. It’s the next best thing to actually realising the glory of the hallowed ‘burger off’ challenge that we’ve been planning for a few years now (read one of Graz’s posts about it here). Next time, when I actually own a backyard, we’ll be doing it Graz and Matt. Start trembling.

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Anyway, the main crux of this post isn’t upcoming February wonderment. I want to take you back to the last week of January, during which roughly 23 million Australians celebrated something called Australia Day (I do realise and pay respect to the fact that there are mixed feelings attached to the celebration of our ‘national day’. Whilst I am not choosing to address political sentiment here, this message explains the current political standpoint).

For the majority of the population, ‘Aussie Day’ is characterised by time in the water (whether that be beach, bucket or pool), some sort of barbecue, beer, poorly executed face paint and the Hottest 100. Some also push the boat out with… well, a boat (usually in the shape of an inflatable thong).

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We were definitely no different: we ate snags, we drank beers, we sang songs and soaked in the pool ’til our skin was soft and wrinkly. Some of us visited the Skyworks, as per Perth tradition.

But our barbecue was followed by Lamington Pie.

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For those who don’t know, a lamington is a classic Australian dessert characterised by sponge cake (usually a square or rectangle) dipped in chocolate icing. The dipped cake is then rolled in dessicated coconut, occasionally sliced and sandwiched with jam and cream.

My idea to make a ‘pie’ version of a lamington this year was largely spontaneous, driven by a few types of coconut in the cupboard. In hindsight, I would’ve topped this pie with vanilla whipped cream rather than Italian meringue if I had some on hand (both for ease of construction and to channel a more ‘traditional lamington’ flavour). However, the meringue was equally delicious and stable for transportation in the January heat.

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If you’d like to replicate this pie, I’ve provided the ingredients and method for both Italian meringue and whipped cream below. As aforementioned, both versions have their advantages, though tasters of the meringue version (aka my friends at the Aussie Day party) stated that it was a little more like a ‘Bounty Pie’ than the traditional lamington cakes we scoffed as children.

If you try either version, please let me know your thoughts – particularly if you were a bake-sale lamington eater during your school days. I found that the soft chocolate layer reminded me of sticky lamington icing, particularly good against homemade strawberry jam, buttery pastry and a spoonful of cream.

To all my Aussie readers and friends, happy belated Australia day. May the last month of Summer be especially sweet.

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Lamington Pie

Heavily adapted from Emma Knowles’ Chocolate Coconut Meringue PieGourmet Traveller magazine.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:

  • 250g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 60g pure icing sugar
  • 160g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • splash of ice water
  • lightly beaten egg, extra (for egg wash)

Chocolate layer:

  • 120g desiccated coconut
  • 200g good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut nectar, to taste
  • 300 ml pouring cream (I actually used half and half sour cream and regular cream)
  • egg yolks
  • good pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam

 Italian meringue (or substitute whipped cream option, below *):

  • 220g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) water
  • egg whites
  • splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To serve: 

  • shaved coconut, toasted (optional) 

Sweet pastry: Sift the icing sugar, flour and a pinch of salt into a medium sized bowl. Add in the cubed, cold butter and rub in until the mixture reaches a ‘sandy’ consistency. Add in the egg yolk and a splash of cold water, then mix (with your hand or a spoon) until the dough starts to ‘come together’. Turn out onto a floured work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand and knead until smooth. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to rest.

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After your pastry is rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to 2mm thickness. Carefully transfer into a  4cm-deep, 24cm-diameter tart tin, pressing to fit. Trim off any stray edges and refrigerate for 1 hour (in the meantime, prepare your chocolate filling).

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and remove your tart case from the refrigerator. Line with baking paper and weights (baking weights or some dried rice or beans). Bake for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove the weights and paper, prick gently with a fork. Bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until the base is light golden and starting to dry. Gently brush the half-cooked case with egg wash, then bake again for 4-5 minutes or until dark golden. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate layer: Whilst blind baking your pastry case, toast the desiccated coconut on a lined oven tray until light golden (5-6 minutes). Set aside. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside. Bring cream to the boil in a medium saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate starts to melt, then mix through. Sift over the cacao and mix again.

Whisk eggs and 1 tbsp warm water in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water until pale and thick (if you can’t control the heat of your gas or electric hob well, I’d recommend turning it off once the water starts simmering – there should be enough residual heat to thicken the eggs). Gradually pour the mixture into your chocolate and cream mix, whisking until thick and well combined. Taste, then add in coconut nectar and sea salt to your preference (bear in mind that you’ll be folding through toasted coconut). Finally, fold through the toasted coconut. Set aside until your tart case is baked and cooled.

When your tart case is cold, spread the raspberry or strawberry jam across the base. Pour over the chocolate mixture, smooth the top with a spoon and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours). Top with either Italian meringue or whipped cream (both options below).

Italian meringue: Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove sugar crystals, until syrup reaches 115 degrees C (240 degrees f) on a sugar thermometer (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Whisk the egg white, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt together with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue cooking syrup for another 3 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reads 121 degrees C (250 degrees f), then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg white, whisking consistently until thick and glossy. Cool to room temperature, if necessary, then spoon over the refrigerated tart.  Toast the meringue with a blowtorch if desired, and/or top with toasted shaved coconut. Refrigerate until serving.

*Whipped cream option:

  • 2 cups cold thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Add the cold thickened cream to the bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or seeds), then whisk until stiff peaks form (about 4 to 5 minutes). Top the chocolate layer with the whipped cream and toasted coconut, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

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A few shots from Australia Day Skyworks, City of Perth CBD:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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). 

slicetable

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. 

bowl

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!

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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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old fashioned porridge in the country

porridge

It’s been a long time since I last put metaphorical pen to paper in this food diary of sorts. Too long. I’d offer excuses, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t click on this post to read about my annus horribilis (if you did, well… I’ve written previously about my elevated work stress and injuries, blah blah. Ironically, I’ve also found myself unemployed this week – one week shy of Christmas. Life, huh? It keeps on giving).

On a more pleasant note, I began writing this post two weeks ago from the confines of Green Cottage, an original shearer’s cabin in country Western Australia. Located on an 80 acre farm property, it was rough logged and tin-clad, full of cracks, dust and rusted fixings.

It was perfect, in an imperfect kind of way. The kind of place you visit to escape from cell phones and schedules. We booked the farmstay as a creative family retreat: for Aaron to draw, me to write and for Loki to… well, connect with nature as only a city dog can. It was beautiful to watch him embrace paddocks, sheep and dry horse manure with bright eyes and tousled fur. He’s tucked in beside me as I write, his little body heavy with sleep and wild forest dreams.

lokipathhaus apples

One of the main reasons why Aaron and I booked this particular cabin was the presence of an old cast-iron stove. A ‘Homesteader’, I think they’re called, with compartments for hot coals and kindling.

After booking our accommodation, I began planning meals of hot smoked potatoes, herbed damper and roasted vegetables with saffron aioli (in fact, I packed ingredients for most of these things into our vehicle, excitedly unpacking them into a mini-fridge upon our arrival). On night two, I was determined to make it work.

homesteaderb2

Fast forward to night four: I had set off the smoke detector three times, blackening my fingers and a depleting pile of kindling. Despite multiple attempts, the only by-product of my efforts were ash and disappointment.

I eventually abandoned the ‘Homesteader project’ for the hooded gas barbecue on the front porch, occasionally relieved by an ageing microwave. Both were effective in feeding us over the course of five nights, with reduced chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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By the end of the week, we created barbecued homemade pizzas with goats cheese, artichokes and pesto, various smoked barbecued root vegetables and a barbecued garlic ciabatta loaf. I also steamed beets and potatoes in the microwave, serving both with herbs and butter.

There were no further kitchen incidents, unless you count the unauthorised consumption of two pears, one banana and Aaron’s jam donut in the dead of night. We assume the culprit was a wily rodent, though any beady eyes escaped investigation (some sad evidence towards the end of this post).

My favourite cooking experience by far was also the simplest of our five nights in the south west. We collected kindling from the surrounding karri forest, stoked a fire in the front garden and drank wine whilst the larger logs caught aflame. As the sun descended in the sky, we prepared the most beautiful, basic dinner of barbecued local Italian sausages, rosemary fried onions and warmed, buttered Manjimup bread with mandatory condiments. Oh, and a little crumbled Cheddar because, cheese.

After eating our fill, we snuggled in plaid blankets with Loki at our feet. We sat, talked and laughed until our candle died and embers flickered in quiet, inky blackness. The best kind of country evening.

firepit1 sausages saucebreadhotdog closeuponions lamp

Whilst the original intention of this post was to laud the greatness of a cast-iron stove, I now admit that I’m rather inept at keeping the home fires burning… or even lighting them to start with. Despite retaining my fascination for ‘old-school cookery’, I’m more comfortable with modern heat sources which can nevertheless yield some rather old school results. I’ve produced many smoky dishes, slow cooked meals and charred crusts with the aid of a ceramic stone, gas oven, modern cooktop and good quality cookware, so rather than focusing on Homesteader cookery in this blog post, I’m praising something very old-school that can be made in any modern home: traditional porridge.

Despite being consumed for hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years by varying methodology, porridge (or oatmeal, if you’re American) can be easily recreated on a gas or electric cooktop, or even in the modern microwave. I’ve been eating it since I was tiny and despite experimenting with various commercial evolutions (such as packaged quick oats and flavoured concoctions) my traditional childhood bowl reigns supreme over all imitations: full cream, slow cooked, simply topped with honey (my mother) or blackberry jam (yep, that’s dad).

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We prepared porridge frequently during our few days in Green Cottage. Despite being summer, the weather was unpredictably cold and wet which provided perfect opportunities for warm breakfasts, scalding cups of Builder’s tea and evenings by the traditional pot belly wood burner.

The first porridge morning was Aaron’s idea, after he discovered a jar of oats in the cottage pantry. I was already crumbling some Weet-bix biscuits into my cereal bowl, so I left him to his own devices until waterlogged oats overflowed from the boiling pan. Being Aaron, he ate the oats anyway with a glug of milk and some banana. I spent a few minutes scrubbing dried oats off the cottage cooktop. The next morning dawned with a cool breeze and a request for some tips on perfect porridge. He’s been using these ever since.

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Despite being more of a ‘guideline’ than a recipe, I’ve included my default method for porridge below with suggested quantities. I’ve also listed a few porridge toppings that rock in our household, my favourite being nut butter (pure peanut or tahini) and sliced banana.

I’m quite aware that my method contradicts that of Scottish purists (who advocate for only salt, oats and water whilst cooking). Despite my Scottish surname, I’m going to come straight out and say that I use milk for the entirety of the cooking process which creates extra creamy, delicious oats. Do as you will, I say.

horses apple2Wishing you and yours a beautiful, peaceful Christmas and a blessed start to 2016. May there be plenty of porridge.

– Aaron, Loki and Laura x

My kind of Porridge

Serves 2

  • 1 cup wholegrain rolled or steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups full fat milk (either dairy or plant based, I like coconut or almond milk but Aaron prefers creamy cows milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a pinch of sea salt

to serve: dairy/plant milk or cream, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup to drizzle, ground cinnamon, fruit (sliced banana, blueberries, grated apple, sultanas, sliced figs, mango and toasted coconut), toasted nuts or seeds (I like toasted, crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds), nut butter (peanut butter with sliced banana is divine), cacao nibs, chia jam or French conserve

If you’re organised, add your oats to the milk and soak overnight in the refrigerator (in a covered bowl or airtight container). Transfer to a small, heavy based saucepan in the morning with a splash of water to loosen. If you’re pressed for time, place the oats directly in the saucepan and soak for 20-30 minutes to produce creamier porridge.

Crank your burner to medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, add a little more water to loosen and stir regularly, watching your porridge thicken and ensuring that no oats stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep adding water until the oats are soft, smooth and creamy (around 20 minutes).

Spoon your porridge into two bowls, top with a splash of plant or dairy milk and any other toppings you desire. For more inspiration, I’d suggest that you head over to my dreamy, super-mum friend Heidi’s porridge archive on Apples Under my Bed (second to my parents, she is my porridge heroine).

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sheeps

ginger pressed salad

stillife

I’ve recently been gently chastised by my husband Aaron for buying too many cookbooks, from which I cook… nothing. Yes. It’s not the purchasing that he’s opposed to (lucky for me), it’s more that I get terribly excited, pore over them for days, speak of large banquets including recipes from pages 14, 36, 79 and 124 and then… nothing becomes of it. Another one bites the (literal) dust.

It’s a bad habit. One that I’ve continually failed to break. 2013 was supposed to be the year when I cooked through Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty (2010) from cover to cover, but come 2015? I’ve, uh, made about three recipes. And plenty of hummus (Aaron can vouch for that).

Oh, and I now put pomegranate molasses on everything. That was definitely Ottolenghi-inspired. See, it was a worthwhile investment…plate

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about my ‘habit’ over the past few days (in case you required more evidence that I overthink). I genuinely get excited about trying new, beautiful recipes from cookbooks, but then when dinner time arrives? I’m too hungry. There’s not enough time. I’ve run out of garlic. Or I flip through a cookbook and realize that my chosen recipe requires overnight marination, darn it.

So I ‘wing it’, in colloquial terms. For creativity and convenience. Or I’ll enter ‘pumpkin’ into Google and read blog posts ’til I feel somewhat inspired… and then I’ll cook something entirely from the mashed-up ideas in my head. I’ve admitted plenty of times that I’m an instinctual cook who finds it difficult to follow a recipe, so… why the cookbooks?

Aaron’s frustration makes perfect sense.

lokisniffchopbowl As far as I can explain, I constantly get drawn to the beauty of cookbooks. They’re inspiring, both in a creative and intellectual sense. I can read them for hours, soaking in cooking methods, personal anecdotes, ideas and rich imagery. I suppose they’re as much a consumable narrative to me as they are an instructional manual (does anyone else feel the same?).

In reflection, that in itself isn’t a bad thing. But when our bookshelves are already heaving with visual diaries, novels and plenty of cookery books (most of which, let’s face it, are rather large) it seems prudent to refrain from future purchases until I’ve at least cooked a few things from each volume.

bottle

Anyway, with gentle encouragement from my husband, I’ve made a decision to spend the rest of this year cooking through my existing book collection before investing in the next volume(s) on my ‘hit list’ (those being Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food,  Ella Woodward’s Deliciously Ellaohhhh dear).

My starting point will be a whole lot of goodness from my newest purchase, Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Wholefood Kitchen with some equally vegetable-heavy (see my recent post on my food philosophy here) deliciousness from The Green Kitchen, Green Kitchen Travels (both by David Frenkel and Luise Vindahl) and A Change of Appetite (by Diana Henry, gifted to me by my beautiful friend Trixie – who also happens to be the author of Almonds are Mercurial).

I’m also hoping to add in a few meals from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam, one of my favourite food-based narratives (that also happens to contain a recipe for the stickiest of jammy cookies).

radishchop

I’ll share a few of the recipes on here, possibly with a few adaptations thrown in (as per the recipe below, I just can’t help myself) whilst also continuing to work on my own vegan and vegetarian wholefood recipes. In fact, I might just have a coconut nectar, buckwheat flour banana loaf in the oven right now…

Watch this space.

And thanks, Amy, for this beautiful pressed pickle. It’s becoming a fast favourite.

sticks

Ginger Pressed Salad

Adapted from At Home in the Wholefood Kitchen by the amazing Amy Chaplin

Notes: if you have a mandolin (or a minion) you will save yourself a lot of prep time. I cut everything by hand as I find repetitive slicing to be strangely therapeutic. If you’re preparing this salad in advance, store it without the black sesame seed garnish as the colour bleeds. Leftover salad can be stored in a jar in the fridge for up to one week (it will soften as the pickling process continues).

  • 1 celery heart (about 5 sticks/2 cups chopped)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small Lebanese (thin skinned) cucumber, thinly sliced (if you can’t find a small Lebanese one, use a large one but remove the peel)
  • 8 radishes, topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) brown rice vinegar
  • 1 small thumb-sized knob of fresh young ginger, finely grated
  • chilli flakes, optional
  • toasted black and white sesame, to garnish
  • shelled edamame beans, to garnish
  • optional: thinly sliced spring onions to garnish

Place all of the ingredients (except the garnishes) into a medium bowl and toss well to combine.

seasonedGently push down on the vegetables with your hands to help soften them and release their juices. Place a small plate on top of the salad and a weight on top of the plate (I used some cans of beans, however anything heavy would work). Set aside for 1 hour or longer to ‘press’ and pickle.

Remove the weight, drain off the liquid and season to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl (gently squeeze to release any more liquid if the salad is still very ‘wet’). Sprinkle with black sesame seeds, spring onion and edamame beans if desired.

Serve as an accompaniment to a bento set, with sushi or as a tasty accompanying pickle for barbecued meat.
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