jamie oliver + ministry of food perth launch

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In culinary terms, I pretty much grew up with Jamie Oliver. My first memories of Jamie and his ‘brand’ were as a child of sixteen, when his first television show (The Naked Chef, circa 1999) appeared on Australian television screens. On first impressions, I thought he was rather young and… well, incessantly energetic. Too young to be teaching me culinary skills, anyway (I was raised on Rick Stein and no-nonsense ‘Saint‘ Delia).

However, despite his use of the word ‘pukka’ (which apparently he even finds annoying) I eventually came to like the lad from country Essex. His shaggy hair and honest approach to cooking was both warm and approachable and over time, he won both my heart and a great portion of my bookshelf.

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It seems I wasn’t the only one. Fast-forward to 2016 and it would be fair to say that Jamie Oliver is a global household name. His ‘brand’ adorns everything from basil pesto to Tefal frypans but somehow he’s managed to maintain both his ‘cheeky’ demeanour and a strong sense of personal integrity.

One could argue that the latter is inextricably linked to his ‘social activism’ which began in 2002 with the establishment of Jamie’s Kitchen (a chef apprenticeship program for disadvantaged youths which later transformed into the Fifteen Apprentice Program). Soon afterwards, he established the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation which now oversees (non-profit community programs) Jamie’s Ministry of Food, a Kitchen Garden Project and the accompanying Food Revolution Campaign. He was most recently seen in the media doing a spontaneous ‘sugar tax dance‘ after the British Government declared its levy on the soft drinks industry this Wednesday.

Cheeky, but authentic. It works. It’s very Jamie.

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So let’s talk about Jamie’s Ministry of Food. Since it’s inception in 2008 (in Rotherham, South Yorkshire) these community-led kitchen centres have attracted thousands of participants per year, all of whom have signed up for 7-10 weeks of practical food education, budgeting tips and Jamie’s own home-cooking shortcuts. Over the past eight years, the program has expanded to four locations across the United Kingdom and, since 2011, three centres in suburban Australia (under Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia).

That brings me to the point of today’s post: the establishment of Jamie’s cooking school in my home state of Western Australia. Since the first Australian centre was established in Ipswich, Queensland, the program has expanded to include three more fixed-location cooking centres alongside fully-equipped mobile kitchens in Queensland and, as of last week, Western Australia.

It’s an exciting progression for a state in which 66.6% of adults are overweight or obese with only one in every ten Western Australian residents eating their recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables. There has been recent media emphasis on the prediction that this generation of Australian teenagers may be the first to die at a younger age than their parents (Dr Lyn Roberts, National Heart Foundation of Australia). A frightening thought, indeed.

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The Western Australian mobile kitchen program is a partnership between Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia,  The Good Foundation and Edith Cowan University (ECU) with sponsorship through Woolworths Australia and The Good Guys. I was privileged to attend the media launch last Wednesday with a recorded message from ‘the big man himself’ (watch it below) alongside introductions from Elise Bennetts (Acting Chief Executive Officer, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia and The Good Foundation) and Professor Steve Chapman (CBE, Vice-Chancellor of ECU).

The event was held in and around the working mobile kitchen, with canapés and drinks provided by the Ministry of Food’s qualified Food Trainers. In typical Jamie style, presentation was fresh, healthy and rustic, served off simple wooden boards with warm enthusiasm.

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In contrast to previously established Ministry of Food centres, the Western Australian program will operate alongside ECU’s School of Health Science (nutrition and dietetics) with internship and research opportunities for students and staff. The kitchen classroom will initially be situated at ECU’s Joondalup campus (for the next fourteen weeks) before shifting to other ECU campuses in Mount Lawley and Western Australia’s South West (additional locations to be announced).

With adequate consultation, there also plans for specific work with rural Aboriginal communities, focusing on diet-related disease and improved health outcomes.

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From Tuesday 29th March 2016, the Western Australian Mobile Kitchen program is set to run two series of seven week cooking courses, comprising of one 90-minute cooking class per week. Each class can take up to 12 participants aged over 12 years (the oldest participant so far being a ’96 year old widower’ from Eastern Australia).

Program coordinator Marie Fitzpatrick states that each class will focus on using Jamie’s own recipes and techniques, with emphasis on ‘simplicity’ and ‘transferable skills to take back home’. As per other suburban centres, the Western Australian program will incorporate emphasis on specific community demographics, family budgets and entrenched ‘fears’ of cooking from scratch.  Basic principles will be covered (such as ‘how to boil an egg’) using everyday, cheap ingredients (eggs, chicken, rice and tinned beans) and common kitchen implements (domestic-sized pots, ovens and kitchen prep areas). All classes aim to incorporate simple skills and food knowledge that will ’empower’ individuals and local communities.

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According to comprehensive studies by Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia has already made a positive impact in Eastern Australia. Participant evaluations report strong evidence of increased confidence in key skill areas required for cooking and daily food preparation, with increased cooking confidence and daily vegetable consumption (increase by 0.52 serves).

Behavioural changes were sustained for at least six months after conclusion of the cooking course, with flow-on benefits such as increased frequency of communal eating (families eating together) and reduction in takeaway meal consumption.

Pretty good for a ‘cheeky’ Chef and his team, methinks.

paperNow, I’ve read a fair amount of critique surrounding the Ministry of Food, most of which labels Jamie a ‘hypocrite‘ who doesn’t understand poverty. Whilst I’m the first to admit that Jamie Oliver’s cooking school can’t solve every nutritional or social problem (but heck, what can?) he’s started a practical community dialogue about cooking and general health, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Furthermore, even academics concede that Jamie’s ‘brand identity’ has in itself provided an ‘edge’ to his social projects that most other food and nutrition programs don’t have: corporate sponsorship, public accountability and actual community enthusiasm (the last point being of utmost importance). He seems genuinely committed (to the point of personal exhaustion), his manifesto rings true and his local team in Perth appear both impassioned and aware of local issues.

So that said, I’m excited to see the impact of Jamie’s Ministry of Food in Western Australian communities, families and suburban kitchens. It’ll be pukka, you’ll see.

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Jamie’s Ministry of Food Mobile Kitchen

The Western Australian Mobile Kitchen will be running two initial seven week courses which include one 90-minute class per week. Classes will run six days per week, including weeknights.

First release: Tuesday 29th March – Monday 16th May 2016

Second release: Tuesday 17th May –  Monday 4th July 2016.

Location: Edith Cowan University – Joondalup Campus
Car park 14, between building 21 & 22
Access from Deakin Rd via Lakeside Drive
Joondalup, WA 6027

Book here.

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.

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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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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.

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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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the life changing loaf. and authenticity

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It’s been a strange couple of months around these parts. Quiet, slightly uncertain, full of questions surrounding my future income, Worker’s Compensation, options and priorities. Weeks of diversion from my normal routine have resulted in extra time for sleep, walks with the dog, therapeutic cardio sessions and some dismal left-handed kitchen experiments (read more about my injury here). ‘Right hand dominant’ is an understatement.

Thankfully, the worst part is now over. I’ve commenced a ‘return to work program’ and I’m no longer the victim of bad daytime television. My application for Worker’s Compensation was thankfully approved and I’ve been fitted with what my therapist calls ‘sexy nighttime apparel’, aka a custom overnight wrist splint. I’m also strapping my wrist with Rock Tape so that I can complete some light upper limb work at the gym, which feels great after weeks of low activity. I’ve recommenced some independent cooking, though Aaron (my ‘sous chef’ – thanks baby) is still available for weight bearing or manual kitchen tasks as required.

I’m healing, my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, life is returning to some sort of balance. I’m thankful.

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I’ve still had fun in the kitchen during my weeks off. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d be aware that I’ve been doing a lot of recent experimentation with vegan cuisine, particularly salads and healthy treats. This has been a natural response to my growing interest in plant based nutrition and whole foods whilst also doubling as a cost-saving measure (my preferred dairy brands aren’t cheap and neither is ethical, sustainable meat, so we avoided both whilst my income was awry).

It hasn’t been difficult; in fact, it’s been delicious and edifying. However, my ‘online profile’ (a strange concept to me, however I’m referring to this blog alongside my Twitter account, Instagram and facebook) has become a little confused as a result, so I’ve felt a growing need to formally clarify things on here. I hope that’s ok.

So, before I start: I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on my nutritional standpoint over the past week. A lot of time. I’ve revised the content of this post about twenty times as I tend to overthink things, so if you’re not remotely interested in my nutritional standpoint (and philosophical musings) skip on to the recipe. Secondly, I am very aware that my Instagram and Twitter followers aren’t necessarily blog followers and vice versa, so you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I probably devote needless intellectual energy into thoughts of personal authenticity, but if I’m going to maintain an online presence I want to be accountable for it.

cocodishA lot can be misconstrued when scrolling through those little filtered boxes (yes, I know that they can be rectangles now but stay with me) on social media. They portray only a small part of a person’s varied, flawed and messy existence (usually the bits with good lighting and a timber backdrop), including my own. It causes me personal conflict, as I don’t want my social media accounts to be filled with images of burned grilled cheese under fluorescent lights. However, I equally dislike the idea that impressionable young people would stumble upon my account and view me as a ‘clean eating’, virtuous ‘fitspiration’ freak who demonizes animal protein and wakes with a passion to brew her own kombucha.

Here’s the (honest) deal: I don’t like labels. I care about my body but sometimes I’m lazy. I’m not an ethical vegan, a dietitian, a nutritionist or any sort of authority on physical health. I like beer (I have confessed this on many occasions, but just in case you’re uncertain), red wine, kale and oatmeal. I both hate and love cardio. I attempt to make good choices, but I don’t eat righteous food for every meal. There are many who do, and they have my respect. But I’m not one of them.

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Continuing with the theme of authenticity, I’ve written the notes below as an attempt to clarify my nutritional values for both myself and those within my network. It’s as free of hashtags, buzz words and media filtration as I can make it.

Again, I have no qualifications in dietetics or nutrition, so please visit your General Practitioner, a certified nutritionist or a dietitian (such as the beautiful Heidi, when she concludes maternity leave!) if you’d like any advice suited to your individual needs.

  •  In majority, I consume wholefoods (unprocessed and non-GMO, organic* if possible) and a vegetable-heavy diet (edit 06/2016: I previously termed this a ‘mostly plant based’ diet, however that’s caused some confusion with a vegan lifestyle. I’m referring to the terminology used in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food). However, I’m not entirely vegetarian nor vegan. I don’t eat much meat these days but when I do, I feel strongly about buying ethical, sustainable meat or fish from people who care about their animals.
  • I enjoy plant milks, creamy avocado and cashew cheeses but I also wholeheartedly support the inclusion of goats cheese, dairy milk, cultured butter and yoghurt in my diet (both for health benefits and enjoyment). I’m not really an eater of eggs (not that I’m philosophically against it, I just don’t really like them) but I purchase free-range eggs if/when required.
  • I’m resistive to extreme diets, fads and buzz words on social media. Though I’m not a dietitian, I believe that science has given us a solid basis for appreciating the benefits of a varied diet including some forms of cooked food, carbohydrates for energy and healthy fats in moderation (cholesterol is still bad, people). Crank nutritional information is rife within both social media platforms and the internet in general, as are extremist views from activists, so please, please seek professional dietary advice rather than excessively consuming the next ‘superfood’ (coconut oil is NOT a spiritual elixir. Whilst I do consume it in small amounts alongside other fats, I would go as far as saying that it cannot solve all of your dental problems, it will not cure you of high cholesterol, it should not replace all other fats in your diet. People talk complete rubbish).
  • I believe that dietary rigidity and categorization can lead to unhealthy thought patterns and disordered eating (speaking personally from my teen years, dietary rigidity can also act as a guise for disordered eating) whilst robbing an individual of the pleasure of social eating. I’m not saying that it’s not good to follow healthy dietary principles most of the time, but if it gets to the point where you feel guilty about eating a piece of chocolate (or you’re avoiding social events because there may not be ‘appropriate food’) then something’s out of whack. If a friend of mine serves me a lamb shank at a dinner party, I eat it (maybe not all of it, but at least some). Same goes for an occasional piece of cake or a fried donut made with refined sugar. I understand that some people may disagree on this point (and I’m not referring to those of you with medical issues such as coeliac disease or diabetes where compromise cannot occur) however I’m a person who demonstrates love and generosity through the preparation and offering of food, and I want to validate reciprocity in this area. This doesn’t mean that I abandon my personal food ethics and nutritional standpoint. An otherwise healthy human body will not be broken by a cheese and prosciutto pizza and a glass of wine at the weekend (and I don’t choose my friends by their nutritional preference).
  • *On the topic of unprocessed, non-GMO, organic, free-range: we’re not rich by any means, so this also affects my food choices. I buy a ton of vegetables and they’re not always organic as we just can’t afford it. I’ve recently been trying to keep my organic purchases to the the ‘dirty dozen‘ (produce that usually contains the most pesticides) whilst purchasing regular non-organic produce for the ‘clean fifteen‘ (products that generally contain the least amount of pesticides). I believe that a diet rich in vegetables, even if they’re non-organic, is preferable to a diet that lacks plants. Alternately, if I can’t find good dairy or meat from sustainable, ethical sources, I’d rather eat plant based sources of calcium and protein. I vote with my hip pocket (Aussies, click the following links to find some information on sustainable living and ethical meat suppliers) and my heart.
  • To sum things up, I’m just trying to cook, eat and live as responsibly as I can. I value and respect animals, but also want to value, love and respect my fellow humans. I want to enjoy food as well as nourishing my body. I don’t want to beat myself up if I feel like dairy milk chocolate or cultured butter on a piece of sourdough. I want to remain honest, true to my own conscience and principles. To be the best version of myself, not someone else.

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Oh, and one last thing. I eat messy food. Simple food. Ugly food. I eat mushroom burgers with aioli running down my chin. I sometimes eat in monochrome (usually brown; oats and tahini with mashed banana ain’t pretty) from chipped IKEA crockery whilst wearing the daggiest of trackpants. I’m massively imperfect and it keeps me humble.

You’re probably always known it, but I’m glad we’re straight.

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That brings me to this super simple loaf of seeded goodness from My New Roots. It didn’t exactly change my life but it it’s good, oh it’s good. And so is Sarah, the nutritionist who created it.  She’s authentic. And that resonates with me.

The Life Changing Loaf of Bread

Adapted from this recipe from Sarah Britton, My New Roots

  • 1 cup (135g) sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup rolled flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
  • 1 1/2 cups (145g) rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp psyllium husks
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1 tbsp rice malt syrup (brown rice syrup)
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk together the water, coconut oil and rice bran syrup until the syrup is completely dissolved.

Pour over the dry ingredients, mix well until everything is completely soaked. The dough should be adhesive but still ‘mixable’ (add a couple more teaspoons of water if it is too thick). Pour into a silicone loaf pan (silicone will make it much easier to turn out your bread; however, I successfully used a rigid loaf tin greased with extra coconut oil, plus a little baking paper to line the bottom) and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula. Set aside at room temperature to ferment for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. When the dough is ready, it should retain its shape when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees f). Bake for 20-30 minutes on a centre oven rack until the bread can be carefully turned out of the tin. Place upside down directly onto the oven rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Store in a well-sealed container for up to five days. It can also be successfully frozen; slice before freezing and defrost in the toaster as desired (this makes the best nutty, crunchy toast, top with smashed avocado and seeds, ricotta and honey or a bit of chia jam for a delicious treat).

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