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!

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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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carrot and zucchini cupcakes with yoghurt frosting

cupcake Over the past ten years, I feel like I’ve transformed from a Type-A, borderline obsessive, rigidly organised individual into someone who is late for everything. Someone who forgets birthdays, who loses the electricity bill ‘somewhere’ between the bedroom and the study, someone who forgets to pay said bill until one week after the due date.

It’s strange. Slightly unnerving.

Not to say that I’ve completely eradicated my Type-A personality traits; conversely, I’m still a typical over committing, perfectionistic workaholic who suffers more stress and emotion than the average Type-B. I’ve just slipped further down the spectrum. coconutbutter Take this weekend, for example. After a full week at work, the scourge of disorganization struck. I completely failed to organise Mother’s Day activities until late on Wednesday night. All plans to bake my mother’s favourite cake fell in a heap after I forgot to buy oranges and eggs.

(It’s the scourge, I tell you).

I finally got around to organising breakfast and a posy of flowers yesterday (the latter from The Little Posy Co. in Perth; I’m a big fan). We ate avocado toast with plenty of chilli flakes and hot English Breakfast tea. But… there was still something missing. Warm baked goods, hand-delivered, made with my mother in mind. veg So, yesterday afternoon, I sifted flour and poured batter with sticky hands. I made sugar-free yoghurt frosting and pried Loki away from my beloved jar of coconut butter. I sang rhyming songs in dulcet tones whilst my thoughts drifted to days of old; four hands grating apples onto the kitchen bench of my childhood home.

There was love baked right into that apple cake. lokivegveg2 So, mum – these are for you. Full of goodness, not-too-sweet, moist with fruit and vegetables. Just the way you like them. I love you more than feeble words could say.

Happy Mother’s Day.

P.S. I’m on my way, bearing cupcakes. Put the kettle on! x spoon Carrot and Zucchini Cupcakes

Adapted from this recipe by Giadia De Laurentiis at Food Network.com

Makes 12 medium cupcakes

  • 1 cup nut meal (I used a combination of almond and hazelnut)
  • 1/4 cup rice flour (preferably brown)
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup or maple syrup
  • 1 large free-range egg, at room temperature (substitute a flax egg to make this completely vegan)
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 large carrot, I don’t bother peeling)
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini/courgette (about 1/2 large zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Yoghurt Frosting:

  • 180mL (6 oz) plain coconut yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2-3 tsp coconut nectar (I use Loving Earth, it’s got a stunning burnt butterscotch flavour; substitute honey or rice malt syrup) to taste
  • for garnish: crunchy toasted coconut flakes and edible flowers (the latter if you happen to have some hanging around)

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line 12 muffin pans with paper liners, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, sieve the dry ingredients together (add any nut solids left in the sieve back into the bowl and mix in). In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and the grated vegetables. Add to the dry and mix until just combined.

Using two spoons, distribute the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cups. Bake until light and golden (about 15-20 minutes). Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

When completely cool, whisk together the yoghurt and coconut nectar until smooth. Spread liberally over each cupcake. icingSprinkle with coconut flakes and edible flowers, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving (this allows the frosting to set; however if you’re impatient like I am, feel free to dig straight in!). icedhand

coconut cacao and buckwheat granola

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This morning, I woke to the dull patter of gentle autumn rain. Rather comforting, in fact, after many weeks of radiant heat. After crawling out of bed (and unearthing myself from Loki’s pile of toys) I rubbed my eyes and shuffled towards the kitchen, where Aaron was stacking a uniform pile of Weetbix in his breakfast bowl. After applying some honey, he doused the structure (I don’t use this word lightly; Aaron is a precision Weetbix stacker) in dairy milk before habitually migrating to the couch.

Crunching followed, with an occasional clink of metal against glazed stoneware. This is Aaron’s ritual. Today the rain provided a steady backing track.

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For me, breakfast is a little less predictable. In regular rotation are raw buckwheat with maca, sliced banana and almond milk (my new favourite is cold-pressed local almond milk from The Pure Press), filling overnight oats (this is my favourite recipe) and avocado toast (ALWAYS with chilli flakes and lemon oil) however I occasionally mix things up with granola or fruit toast with lashings of butter.

I adore breakfast. I’m one of those weirdos who falls asleep thinking of breakfast the next morning. Last night was no different. I wanted granola stuffed with walnuts and deep, dark cacao.

We didn’t have any.

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So, back to this morning’s turn of events. I stumbled into the kitchen, deliriously hungry and leaden with sleep. The absence of granola resulted in crumbled Weetbix with maca, toasted walnuts and cacao nibs, all swimming in creamy almond milk.

Half an hour later, I made a batch of toasted buckwheat granola mixed with warm cinnamon, organic walnuts, chocolatey cacao, coconut oil and raw honey that I snaffled on a recent trip to Melbourne, Victoria.

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SO GOOD.

I think today calls for a second breakfast.

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Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Sarah Britton’s recipe from My New Roots

  • 2 cups (400g) raw buckwheat**
  • 1/2 cup (50g) organic rolled oats
  • 1 cup (75g) golden flax flakes
  • 2 cups (80g) coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup (35g) coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (125g) walnuts
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey (I used Guildford Gold) or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp organic natural vanilla extract
  • generous pinch of flaked sea salt (equivalent to 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cacao powder (fair trade, if you can find it)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, buckwheat, coconut flakes, flax flakes and coconut sugar. Roughly chop or crumble the walnuts (you still want some reasonable size chunks) and add them to the mix.

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In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the honey or maple syrup, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk to combine until smooth.

Pour the cacao mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to coat evenly. Spread the mixture evenly over your prepared tray and press firmly with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the granola starts to become golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and flip over clumps with a spatula (don’t worry if your granola isn’t clumping yet, it will start to stick together as it later cools). Return to the oven and cook for another ten minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes until evenly toasted* and fragrant.

Store your granola in an airtight jar or container in a cool, dry spot for up to six months (ha – like it would last that long!). You can also freeze granola, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or a (airtight) freezer bag.

I like to eat this granola with almond milk or coconut yoghurt, piled high with fresh berries or sliced banana. It’s also AMAZING with a generous drizzle of thin peanut butter or tahini.

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Notes:

*The dark colour of the granola makes it hard to tell whether it’s cooked or not. Go by smell – you want a toasty, sweet smelling batch of granola (your nose should be able to tell you if it’s burning!). If you’re uncertain, taste one of the larger pieces of walnut or coconut (which will take the longest to toast). If it’s golden and toasty, the mix is done.

**You can find whole raw buckwheat (often referred to as buckwheat ‘groats’) at health food shops and good grocery stores. Raw buckwheat should appear very pale green rather than dark brown (the latter version is called ‘kasha’ which has been toasted; for this recipe you require the raw version of buckwheat as you’ll be toasting it yourself).

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spring pea, asparagus and strawberry salad

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

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

Such exciting times.

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

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

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Back to peas and carrots strawberries.

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

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

goatscheese

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

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

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

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

side

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

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

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