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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and so this is (almost) christmas

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It’s just clocked past midnight on Tuesday, December 23, 2014. I’ve spent this evening buying groceries, wrapping presents, detangling my dog from a length of red-and-white string and… well, mostly just wondering where this year has gone.

It’s exactly two days until Christmas; nine until the dawn of two thousand and fifteen. Rather strange, considering that it’s now half-of-my-life-past-the-millennium. Man, I’m old (and my school uniform is still in one of mum’s cupboards. Oh dear. But I digress).

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CHRISTMAS. Ah, Christmas. As per many other blogging friends, I’ve spent most of the month intending to write more holiday-specific posts and accomplishing very little. I blame work, accumulated stress and residual lethargy from a persistent cold.

But mostly? It’s procrastination. Long summer nights lead to a very laid back attitude, sticky skin and consequential reluctance to turn on the hot gas oven.

“Maybe tomorrow night,” she says, whilst sipping water from an ice-filled glass. Tomorrow is inevitably hot. The pattern continues.

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Anyway, as you may be aware, this month hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve baked a beautiful glazed ham as well as some mince pies from a few years back (recipe here, please excuse the non-DSLR photos).

I’ve also eaten many homemade pizzas (and some AMAZING cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers made by my friend Erin) and sipped beer by the glow of a hot barrel fire.

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I also spent part of sunday watching Jamie Oliver season his free-range turkey (the original Jamie’s Christmas is from 2005, what!) whilst eating seasonal fruit and drinking herbal G&T’s.

Oh summer, you are grand.

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But back to Christmas (dis)organization.

I’m sorry to admit that we still have no Christmas tree. I failed dismally on the ‘international Christmas card’ front, too (sorry everyone, I do love you) and my box of stamps is losing stickiness by the month. Good thing I can cook or I might have been scratched off some Christmas lists by now.

Buuuut… summer barbecues need salads and I’m kinda good at them (whoever said that you don’t make friends with salad was wrong. Just saying).

finsalad

loki

Anyway, this post wasn’t intended as a page-long whinge about my poor Christmas planning skills (or Christmas itself; I do love this time of year and the ability to appreciate our families and the immeasurable gift of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world).

Rather, I wanted to wish you (my amazing followers, collaborators, family, friends and readers – most of you are combinations of these!) a wonderful festive season and a peaceful start to the new year.

Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and downs of travel, homesickness, sporadic recipe posting and commenting for another year. Your friendship, critique, humour and encouragement means more than you’ll ever know.

I’m praying for blessings, peace, creative inspiration and strength as one year ends and another begins.

MERRY CHRISTMAS + a HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Laura, Aaron and Loki x

summer to autumn

silhouette

It’s late on Thursday evening. Six past eleven, to be exact. The world seems quiet; inky black except for the occasional headlight beam from the highway. The skyline, once illuminated by clouds of rich crimson, has become embedded in a dense cloud of onyx. The air is heavy, thick with the scent of grass and scorched eucalyptus.

Despite being thirteen days into autumn, it was hot today. Yesterday was even hotter, a humid 37 degrees Celsius, or 98 degrees Fahrenheit (if you’re from the northern hemisphere). Even now, I can hear garden cicadas droning a final ode to the sweet heat of Australian summer. They’re working in well with the ice-cube percussion from my depleting water glass.

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Despite our recent uncharacteristically warm autumn weather, I’ve dedicated this particular post to the ‘official’ last days of summer that occurred two weeks ago. We spent four days at the seaside village of Gracetown (above) enjoying warm sunsets, cooked breakfasts, wine tasting and dips in the pristine blue sea.

If you’re a regular reader of The Mess, you might remember some previous posts about Gracetown, Margaret River and the south west region over the past twelve months. You could say that I’m a little bit in love with the rolling fields, artisan produce, deep red wines and friendly country folk. The rest of this post simply contains photographs and notes from our end-of-summer trip; however, if you’d like a bit more background to the region itself, click on the three links below:

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Any south west adventure always starts with a visit to Yallingup Woodfired Bread, a traditional wood-fired bakery that creates certified biodynamic sourdough, rye and fruit loaves. Owner Gotthard Baue is a truly passionate man who takes pride in his work (take a look at this video for an introduction to Gotthard and the bread process itself).

During this trip, we bought two loaves of sourdough and a dense and sticky rye ‘rock’ loaf that was divine with cheese. Some of the best bread on the planet, I’m certain.

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Upon arriving at our house in Gracetown, we happened upon this little guy:

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He’s an Australian wolf spider. After relocating him from the bathroom wall to the garden, we took some photographs like the one above. I think he’s cute.

Overseas friends: wolf spider bites are non-lethal despite often resulting in a mild case of nausea, headaches and localised pain. Don’t let stories of spiders scare you off visiting Australia and/or the south west region. morries

The restaurant above is Morries Anytime, where we stopped twice for coffee, cake and morning eats.

Manager-cum-barista Alex Brooks makes arguably the best flat white in the Margaret River region whilst head chef Rosie Griffiths serves up nourishing, creative cuisine that showcases the best of the south west’s fresh produce. Love this place.

morries2

Right near Morries is the Margaret River Fudge Factory with its spinning wheel of chocolate goodness. Beware the taste test boxes. You may never leave.

choc

beef

Pictured above is the Margaret River Farmers’ Market, a beautiful one-stop location for fresh, organic local produce, artisan cheeses, biodynamic meats and a range of other wares in the heart of the town centre. Open every Saturday from 8am – 12pm, this market has fast become a fresh produce hub for locals and tourists alike.

dipp dipp2

*For some reason I just had to take a picture of this ink-scrawled face.

face

One of my favourite stalls was that of the Margaret River Bakery. I’m in love with their danish pastries, baguettes and cakes. They also have a fixed location at 89 Bussell Highway where you can sample their wonderful cooked breakfasts, snacks and coffee. Go there. Your stomach will thank you.

bakerystall

It’s tempting to end with a cliché by saying that ‘all good things must come to an end’. But instead, I’ll just finish with a photograph of Gracetown as the sun dipped below the horizon.

We returned to Perth late on Monday evening after a stop-off for dinner with Elissa in Bunbury. A great end to a beautiful weekend.

harborGoodbye, Australian summer. Until we meet again.

must winebar. cool for cats summer series

glass

There’s something quintessential about cocktails and summer. Not that cocktail drinking can’t be a winter activity, but… well, as soon as the barometer starts rising, I’m craving the closest booze over ice.

Not just any booze… something deliciously refreshing, distinct but light, naturally infused with citrus, mint, herbs or berries. Something like the Ginuary from Must Winebar‘s Cool for Cats summer menu.

Cool for Cats is a promotion being run by chef and owner Russell Blaikie and his talented team at Must Winebar for the entire month of January. To help patrons ‘cool down’ from the scorching summer temperatures, the bar is offering a new short menu of bar snacks, gin-based cocktails and sangria from 4-7pm each day, with wines and Champagne being sold at bottle-shop prices.

sign menu

I first sampled the delights of Cool for Cats on Monday 6th December 2014 as a guest of Russell Blaikie and his creative team. It was a scorching day; 40 degrees C to be exact. After cooling down with some water, we sampled the entire range of Cool for Cats promotional cocktails, delicious bar snacks and sangria whilst chatting to Russell and his head barman, Marz.

About ten minutes into the evening, I berated myself for forgetting my camera. A semi-exclusive invitation, an event launch, Perth food personalities… the camera wielding should have come automatically. But, well… no. Between my day job, recipe development and everything else, I guess I’m still adjusting to the ‘public foodie’ thing. Very slowly.

restaurant

Cue Thursday evening, 9th December 2014. I sent my husband a message on my way home from work, proposing the idea of a visit to Must for both blogging and comparison purposes. Blogging in the respect that I needed some decent photographs for Monday’s event post. Comparison in regards to, well… comparison.

In short, I wanted to see whether the ‘average patron’ would get the same impeccable food, cocktails and service as we received during the launch party. Aaron was agreeable, mostly due to my raving reviews of Marz’s delicious ‘smoked negroni’ cocktail from Monday night.

bar

We arrived just before six pm. The bar was reasonably quiet; a few patrons sat sipping slowly from a pitcher of iced sangria. We scanned the room, settling on seats at the centre bar.

After a quick glance at the menu, I realized that there was no smoked negroni. And no Marz (see * below). However, after a chat with the barman (he explained that he could make me a regular negroni but not a smoked one) I ordered a Prince Harry (whisky, lime, bitters and vanilla sugar, from the regular cocktail menu) and a seasonal Ginuary (Sipsmith London gin, elderflower liqueur, apple, bitters and ginger beer, from the Cool for Cats summer menu).

Our food choices were a spicy prawn gazpacho shot ($5) and the ‘Must’ fish and frites ($19).

bar2

stools2The fish arrived promptly; four crisp pieces of whiting accompanied by thick homemade tartare and an enamel cup of golden frites. We grazed happily whilst awaiting our drinks and I’m pleased to say that the dish was exactly as I remembered it from Monday. The moist, delicate fish was lightly coated in a crispy batter, perfectly portioned for dunking into the thick, piquant tartare.

The frites were thin, crisp and lightly salted. Aaron and I fought each other for the last three.

fish chip

Our drinks arrived half-way through the cup of frites.I had sampled the Ginuary on Monday so I knew exactly what to expect: an easy-drinking, delicately floral cocktail with notes of elderflower, ginger and juniper. It arrived tall, with plenty of ice and a fresh mint garnish.

Aaron’s Prince Harry was presented in a vanilla-sugar-rimmed Martini glass. It was delicious, with dominant whisky notes (from the Monkey Shoulder whisky and Lochan Ora whisky liqueur) and a bitter finish that was beautifully softened by the sugar rim. I’m not entirely sure why it was called a Prince Harry, but… well, it was orange. And perfectly delicious.

glassrimmenu2For some reason, our gazpacho shot was momentarily forgotten; an attentive waiter chased it up after taking our second round of cocktail orders. It arrived soon afterwards, a proud prawn protruding from a chive-garnished shot glass of vivid red.

It was delicious; fresh, plump and beautifully spiced. However, the presentation definitely fell below that of Monday’s launch party with Russell Blaikie. It took me three photographs to get something that didn’t resemble a dismembered finger in a bloodied glass. Here’s the result:

prawngaz

Compare this shot to Bryton Taylor’s snap of Monday night’s offering. Just a small difference in presentation, but… well, we do ‘eat with our eyes’. Rest assured, both versions were equally gorgeous in the eating.

Bryton also has some delicious snaps of Rusty’s Ribs ($19), Russell Blaikie’s own recipe based on the (in)famous ribs from Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud, Bali. On Monday, the pork ribs were succulent, sticky and fall-off-the-bone wonderful, accompanied by a refreshing pickled vegetable salad.

We didn’t order this dish on Thursday, however I’d definitely recommend it if you’re visiting Must during the Cool for Cats summer season. It’s meat perfection, Bali style. So, so good.

finAaron’s second cocktail was Purple Print, bourbon with Creme de Mure (blackcurrant liqueur), cranberry, blueberry jam and mint.

This cocktail arrived with a dollop of blueberry jam on shaved ice, which immediately screamed ‘overly sweet’ to me; however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was perfectly balanced with bourbon heat and acidic cranberry.

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I ended with a glass of smooth Spanish Tempranillo, the name of which evades me, whilst occasionally stealing blueberries from Aaron’s Purple Print. We chatted happily, watching a trickle of dinner patrons slowly fill the seated dining area. By 7.30pm, we drained our glasses and settled the bill.

After two visits to Must’s Cool for Cats summer cocktail series, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a classy summer sundowner along the hallowed Beaufort Street strip. Chef/owner Russell Blaikie, head chef Andre Mahe and head barman Marz have created a beautiful collection of memorable drinks and snacks that have a deliciously light, casual feel. They’re perfect for scoffing after a hard day at work or for sharing with friends.

bottles

Thanks to Russell Blaikie, Sipsmith Independent Spirits and the Must team for a memorable introduction to the Cool for Cats summer cocktail series.

*Update from 13/01/2014: I’ve received information from Must that the smoked negroni is now on the Cool for Cats menu! It’s got delicious Sipsmith gin, Campari, Pedro Ximenez Lustau sherry and aromatic bitters, all smoked over aromatic orange woodchips before being served over an ice sphere. Perthians, get there. Now!

Must Winebar

Open 7 Days, 12 noon – 12 midnight (*Cool for Cats 4-7pm daily in the bar)

519 Beaufort Street, Highgate WA

(08) 9328 8255

summer

freosheds

Its almost half past ten on Saturday morning. I’m sitting, bleary eyed, in a pool of white light flooding through our kitchen window. The warmth feels good against my tired eyelids; a nourishing, incandescent balm. I can smell the earthy fragrance of my herb seedlings toasting in the morning sun. Not ideal, but comfortingly ambrosial.

We went to the most beautiful of Christmas gatherings last night. It was hosted by my friend Alex, with a Spanish Feliz Navidad theme. We sat under a canopy of weathered tree branches and fairy lights, drinking sangria and spicy Tempranillo from patterned glasses. I neglected to bring a camera, so I’ll attempt to build a picture with words: imagine a balmy night, soft air drifting through tree branches as fairy lights gently dot the sky. Flamenco plays in the background as candles flicker against metal and glass.

We sit at a long timber table, plates generously heaving with orange scented chicken, spicy chorizo, beef meatballs and patatas bravas. Blistered broad beans rub shoulders with lemon zest, chilli and fried jamon as fragrant orange segments marry with blackened olives and red onion. Sweet juices are eagerly mopped up with woodfired bread. It’s a merry dance of food, music and conversation.

Towards the end of the evening, as the candles burned down to their wicks, we sat quietly drinking strong tea and the last remnants of sangria. Spoons scraped against earthenware bowls in a gentle rhythm, retrieving cold bites of vanilla bean ice cream, Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins and Alfajores Payes: chocolate dipped Spanish cinnamon cookies sandwiched with homemade salted caramel.

It was my plan to give you the recipe for Alfajores Payes today as part of the pre-Christmas weekend celebration; however, as I failed to bring a camera to last night’s event I have no photographs of the finished product. Here’s a mid-stage image of the cookie sandwiches to whet your appetite (post is now up via this link):

sandwiches

For the rest of this post, I’m going to share an eclectic range of images from the past few weeks as we’ve bid farewell to sweet springtime. Mornings now breathe a rhythm of heat and humidity, dappled sun and steaming bitumen. Dry grass crackles underfoot.

Summer has begun.

shade

Towards the end of November, we attended the Beaufort Street Festival in Mount Lawley. Public art, live music, scorching heat, dog shows, food vendors and sweating Australians in wife beaters and thongs.

Highlights for the foodie in me were spiced, Mexican cream slathered elotes and ice-cold Espolon Tequila slushies from El Publico. Incredible salted caramel ice cream sandwiches from Cantina 663 sold like hot (cold) cakes. frozenmargarita dinos biketable

We also played beer stack’ems at The Flying Scotsman beer garden. Plastic cups, many hands, torn coasters and a camera. We’re creative like that.

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For some reason there were stormtroopers, who must have been baking in their costumes. Seeking shade was a wise choice.

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Last weekend, we attended the very similar Leederville Carnival on Oxford Street, Leederville. The day was slightly cooler, softened by a cool breeze.

We drank strawberry lemonade at Duende whilst feasting on mushrooms and haloumi. We hunted for four-legged friends amongst chutney vendors, buskers and crowds of hipsters. I played I-Spy through pieces of fresh ciabatta.

leedystreet mushys breadglasses dogbin2Aaron and I also travelled to Fremantle for a day trip, in celebration of our second anniversary. We spied lovers on railway boomgates whilst feasting on ice pops from La Paleta at the Urban Locavore market, MYRE Perth. I chose cucumber and chilli, Aaron chose the rich, creamy coconut. So delicious.

photopole cucumberpop coconutpop

fence1We drank coffee at Ootong and Lincoln, home of the famous lentil burger that I mentioned in this post. You can spy the menu on the right hand side of the second picture.

ootongwall ootongcounterThe season of pavlova with thick Greek yoghurt (this one was made by my friend Erin), fresh-picked mint, plump berries and cider has begun…

HAPPY SUMMER to my Southern Hemisphere friends. Until next time (there shall be a recipe, I promise).

berries erinspav

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