Thursday, 15 September 2011

A head full of thoughts......

The other day a strange thing happened to me.

I had an urge to bake.

Bake cakes.

This may not seem surprising for someone who likes to cook but for me it is really out of character.

I'm not a mumma baker.

I bake bread.

I bake pies.

But I don't really bake the sweet stuff.

This week I just had ideas floating in my head about little mixtures of things.

I had 2 bananas in the fruit bowl that were just a little bit too ripe for the kids and given that they still cost about $110 a kilo while the crops recover from the floods, I am not going to let them waste!

I had some Macadamias too and wanted to use them.

I was inspired by Matthew Evans lovely brownie recipe that incorporated Walnuts (go here for the Brownie recipe- believe me it's worth it!)

I had a head full of thoughts about other stuff and I needed a distraction.

Does cooking do that for you too?

It takes me to a happy place.

A place where I allow my mind to be free.

To be in the moment.

Time to breathe.

To slow down.

To be in the moment.

That is why I love it so much.

In my busy busy world of wrangling about a gazillion children it is good for me to have somewhere I can let go of it all....

So when my weird desire to bake the sweet stuff happened I let myself go with the flow.

And I reminded myself to use a lovely and very precious gift that my lovely Hubster gave me many years ago.
The most beautiful tea set EVER.   A gorgeous Jasper Conran design for Wedgwood.  And there is only ONE teacup.  Intentionally so that I would make time for myself.  Only ME....imagine!

NOTHING beats tea that is made in a pot.  A teabag just doesn't cut it.  It is not just the flavour...there is something beautiful about the ritual of pouring tea from a pot. A few cultures give significant importance to tea ceremonies.  I love that.

It is the slowing down.

The taking care.

The taking of a deep breath.

Morning tea that day was looking very good indeed!

It tasted very good too.

I was really happy with the way this worked out.  When I started I really wasn't sure but the result was fabulous.
I hope it works well for you too!

  • 2 ripe Bananas
  • 2 tblspoons Golden Syrup
  • 3/4 cup of Sugar
  • 1 cup SR Flour
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or use 1 tspn Vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 cup Macadamia Nuts, chopped coarsely
  • 30g melted Butter
  • 1 egg
  • flaked almonds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place the bananas in a large bowl and squish with a fork.

Add butter, egg, vanilla bean and golden syrup.  Mix well.

Add flour and sugar.  Stir through.

Lastly add the Macadamia nuts.

Line a loaf tin with baking paper.  Pour mix into tin and sprinkle almond flakes over the top.

Place in oven and bake for 50 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack.

Serve with tea from a teapot and sit quietly and enjoy.
 I was listening to this as I ate my morning tea.  One of my favourite Piano pieces- Beethoven's Sonata No.8 in C minor.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath and enjoy.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Little box of TRUST

When one of my lovelies started school they were given a very special box by the teacher.

Inside it was 7 objects.

All represented something bigger than what it was......much much bigger.

This little box was full of love.

The teacher had armed each and every child in her class with something very special by giving them each this little box.

It was the ability to trust.

To trust her.

To trust their classmates.

But best and most importantly of all...

To trust themselves.

My VERY helpful 2yo was taking apart my diary from that year the other day and the copy I had written for myself of her note fell out.

When I read it I had tears.

It's message and values so strong and pertinent.

It's message valuable for all of us at every stage in life.

It resonated with me so strongly.

I might just pack myself a little box of objects like that and keep it in my bag ALWAYS.

Learning to really TRUST myself is something that is still very hard for me.  I could do with the help of that little box I think.

Here is what the note said....

The ERASER us to remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is ok.

The STAR is to remind you to shine & always try your best.

The TISSUE is to remind you to dry someone else's tears.

The BAND-AID is to heal your hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself.

The TOOTHPICK is to remind you to pick out the good qualities in your classmates.

The MOVABLE eye is to keep an eye out for each other.

The LIFE SAVER is to remind you that you can come to me if you need someone to talk to.

I love Chickpeas (I LOVE spinach too) and I often resort to using good quality tinned ones but you will get a superior dish if you have the time to prepare dried ones.
This is delicious served as Tapas with cold beer or as a side dish to any Tagine. My son took it to school and ate it cold for lunch. 
It would also make a DELICIOUS filling for my stuffed Paratha! (recipe here)

  • 250g chickpeas, soaked overnight  drained and then cooked in fresh water for 1-2 hours until soft. (or substitute with 2x400g cans)
  • 5 tblspns EVOO
  • 500g spinach, rinsed well and chopped
  • 5 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into small cubes
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
  • a small handful of fresh Oregano (mine is going nuts in the garden at the moment!)
  • 2 tblspoons Red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked Paprika
  • pinch of Saffron threads 
  • S & P

Infuse saffron threads in about 3 tablespoons of boiling water to release the flavour & colour.Let it sit on the bench to infuse until you need it.

In a pan add 1/2 and add cubed bread. Cook till brown all over.

Remove bread and set aside. 
Add the rest of the EVOO  and add garlic, cumin seeds, smoked Paprika & spinach.
Add the chickpeas, Oregano and Red Wine vinegar and Saffron (and it's liquid!).
Cook through for about 5 minutes while stirring. Lastly crumble the croutons a little and add just before serving so they retain their crunch.
Season with S & P.

Serve and enjoy!

Who doesn't love the Big O?! Well here is a rendition of his masterpiece-Blue Bayou by two artists I love. M.Ward & Norah Jones.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Choosing favourites

Do you have a favourite meal?

I have so many it would be singularly impossible to choose.

You know when people talk of the desert Island meal....I just can't ever answer.

It feels like when someone asks me if I have a favourite child?

I answer...."Yep, I have a favourite 13, 11, 8, 5 and 2yo".

I love them all.

They are each unique.

They are all wonderful.

Their differences excite me & interest me.

I don't need to have a favourite.  They're all my favourites.

It is the same when i have to choose a favourite dish.

We are so lucky in Australia.

Picking a favourite cuisine on offer to us here is impossible for me.

Australia is a country made up of a mix of about 90 or so nationalities.

The amazing exposure to cuisine this gives us is truly magnificent.

We are able to buy so many ingredients now that were not available to us before.

We live in a country that has so many different climates and as a result gives us access to so many different fruits and vegetables.

I love the stories behind different dishes.  I love to find out where they came from, how they evolved.

I love the window into culture that food gives us.

I love to collect cookbooks and read about the stories behind food.

I wrote about that a while back. (Click here to take you back to that post).

I read them in bed like other people read novels.

Anyway.......last night I had a real hankering for what I am going to say is ONE of my favourite dishes- Ma Po Dou Fu.  It is literally translated as Pock marked woman's bean curd. Yeah...ok...not so flattering but boy oh boy the dish is a total winner!  This particular lady was a restaurateur in Chengdu and was famous for her amazing bean curd.  

It is from the Sichuan province of China.  The food from this region is famed for it's distinctive 'hot and numbing' spice- Sichuan peppercorn.  It is an amazingly aromatic  spice and like  curry spices it's complexity is brought out by roasting it a little before grinding it and using it.  It is readily available in good Asian grocers.  It leaves an amazing zingy numb sensation on your tongue.  I LOVE IT.  And the Sichuanese are not shy on Chili either- another love of mine.

I changed the recipe slightly (I'm really bad at keeping true to recipes...I just can't help but tinker!) as I had some eggplants that I needed to use and I have added them to this before with great success. So I will share my altered version here.  Feel free to be a purist and omit them!

Thankfully Chinese cuisine has come a long way in this country since the days of Honey Prawns & Sweet and Sour pork. 

For me trying this recipe is a bit like a test of a Chinese restaurant...a bit like the never ending search for the best Laksa in Malaysian places.  

This is a dish that is best cooked in a smoking hot wok.  You could do it in a non-stick fry pan but don't be shy with the heat!  Like all stir fry cooking it pays to be organised before you heat up your wok. 

  • 200g pork mince
  • 1 block firm tofu, cut into cubes
  • 3-4 spring onions, chopped diagonally 
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and chopped finely (use roots too- this is where all the flavour is!)
  • 2 tsblpns Shao Xing wine
  • 1 tblspn dark soy sauce 
  • 1 tspn sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, chopped finely or grated
  • 1 heaped tblspn chili bean sauce (buy this from the asian grocer) (use a little less if not a big chili fan- this sauce is quite hot!)
  • 1 cup of chicken stock 
  • 1 tbslpn corn flour (add to stock)
  • 2 tspns Ground  sichuan pepper.
  • 3 tblspns Canola oil
  • 1 eggplant (optional)
Dry roast the Sichuan pepper until fragrant and grind in a mortar & pestle.

Add pork mince to a large bowl and add soy, shao xing wine, ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Mix through well. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes.

If you are using eggplant you can chargrill them while the pork marinates.

I cut my eggplant lengthways and then into chunks like this.  I like it to be an rather large chunks and this also allows more surface to gain flavour from chargrilling.

 Set aside in a bowl.
Now heat the wok to smoking point. Carefully add oil and then gently add the marinated pork mince to the wok. 

Add the Sichuan pepper & the Chilli bean sauce.

Stir continually until the pork is cooked through.
Now add the stock (the cornflour is added to this to thicken the sauce).
Stir through.
Add tofu, spring onions and coriander and stir through gently for about a minute or until tofu is warmed through. 
 If you are adding eggplants do so now.

Serve with steamed Jasmine Rice.  I have to add some Chow Chiu chilli oil.....and a sprinkle of more coriander & spring onion.

I hope you try it and it becomes one of your favourites too!

We have been loving this lately- it's an old favourite....the melifluous voice of Robert Fisher is so beautiful. My 11yo is going to give it a go on his guitar.  Might be a while before he matches the gorgeous deep vocals though!


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A new day

Last night as I sunk into the couch nearly defeated by the ways of my fabulous 2yo and the great Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spill of 2011. (read here if you missed it)

I say nearly defeated very consciously.

Nearly...... because every day is a new day.

An opportunity to make right.

To try a little harder.

To see a little clearer.

To love a little bigger.

To forgive a little easier.

To  enjoy a little more.

To let go a little better.

To hold a little closer.

To say a little less of the negative....

And more of the positive.

Today was a new beginning.

And despite the very clear (and very expensive) oil stain all over the floor.....

I was able to wake today and look at it and laugh.

Today we could start again.

A new day.


I made these the day before as Matthew's gorgeous latest cookbook 'Winter on the Farm' was on the table and one of my kids had opened it onto this page and asked if I could make them.  You may know of Matthew from the Gourmet Farmer series on SBS
I am not the kind of mumma that bakes.  I know that seems strange. Yes I love to cook but I don't do the whole muffins and cakes for the lunchbox thang.  But I made a exception.  When a recipe asks for an entire block of 70% dark chocolate it is really pretty hard to refuse- non?
Earlier in the year on our trip to Tassie we had spent the day with Matthew, Sadie & Hedley & other good friends making our annual Tomato sauce (you can read about that here).
He inscribed my copy of his book with the kindest of was just what I needed to read yesterday.  As I flipped it open to look at the recipe his words made me feel so much better after a very trying day....that and a few of the brownies of course!
Thanks Matthew!


  • 150g butter
  • 200g chopped dark chocolate (70%cocoa)
  • 4 eggs
  • 300g sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g plain flour
  • 150g chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Grease a 20cm x 30cm baking tin and line with baking paper.  The bigger the tray the less cakey the end result.

Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl & place over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir till melted.

Set aside to cool to just above room temperature.

Using electric beaters, beat together eggs, salt & sugar in a large bowl until pale.
Fold in the chocolate mix, followed by the flour.
Last of all fold in the walnuts; try not to overmix or it will lose some of it's air.

Spoon into tin and bake for 25-35 minutes; when tested with a skewer it won't come out completely clean like it does when testing a cake but it should not have raw mix on it either.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin.  Turn out and cut into squares to serve.

Store in an airtight container for 3-4 days at the most.   
(The last line made me IF they will last 3-4 days....ours are gone already!!!!)

I can vouch for their EXCEPTIONALITY!!! And so will my kids....they are dark chocolate fiends and really loved these! They were lovely and crunchy on the outside and gooey lovely dark chocolatey goodness on the inside with a little crunch of the walnuts. Sooo good!

Today the coveted Mercury prize was awarded to my fave rock Goddess Polly Jean Harvey for the second time but seeing as I posted a track by her on my last post I thought I would post a song by the dark horse of the prize this year. A collaboration between John Hopkins & King Creosote that created an album I love- Diamond Mine.
This track has the noises of a busy cafe in the background....I love it. Hope you do too. x

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Mindful or Mindless?

Once upon a time a good mother tried to sit down to watch a 40 minute video piece on being a more mindful mother.

Her intentions were good.

She had set the two littlest (5 & 2) with activities they were happily engaged in.

The silence should have been a sign.

Not a good one.

Quietly. Very quietly....... 4 litres of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) was slipping itself carefully ALL over the floor, into every crevice.  Being sucked up voraciously into the dry floor. The 2yo was just checking to see if I really was being as mindful as I could be.

Clearly not.

Wheels were driving through it.

Hands were slipping through it.

And then........that mindful mother (even taking a few notes to remind myself of the really resonant parts....) only 10 minutes into the bliss of learning about how to give herself to the ones she loved ; came out to check on them only to discover that there was an oil spill of Exxon Valdes proportions quietly seeping into the wooden (THANKFULLY) floor.
You can even see the tracks of the getaway vehicle!
The video still waits......

SO......... for today I feel as if mindless might just be how I roll.

I hope to watch the end tonight.

And then the more mindful me will return.

I am sure you will forgive my current state of mindlessness given the trying circumstances.

Here is the video I was trying to watch....I hope you can get all the way through!

Luckily I had already made  batch of my all in the pot chicken soup when this happened or it would have been take away.
The recipe for my soup is here. 

Here's a song that always takes me to a calm place and gives me strength at the same time.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Slow to quick

Stretching days.......

Dogs lying in the sun...playing while they lie on the warm ground.

Children outside all day.

The days are starting to get markedly longer.

By the time I even start to look at the clock to think of cooking it is usually past our usual dinner time.


Luckily as we swing from one season to the next the things we desire for dinner changes from long slow cooked meals to meals that are quick and lighter in ingredients.

Last night was one of those nights.

The day had been full.

And dinner needed to be quick.

Hungry little birds with mouths wide and expectant.

Here's what I cooked.

I LOVE noodles.  Like really really LOVE them.  I love noodle soups, noodle stir fries, cold noodles, breakfast get the picture!
I only started cooknig these a little while ago.  I think they are one of the easier of noodle dishes to cook.  The simple mix of ingredients (Japanese simplicity) makes them a winner for fussier eaters.  

I tend to add chilli to mine......but it is not very traditional to do so....I just can't help myself.
Last night I also made some Char Siu(Chinese BBQ pork) so I added that too but I normally just use chicken. My recipe for Char Siu is here. 
I usually have dried noodles of MANY varieties in my pantry as I can't bear to run out.  You can substitute fresh noodles here too. If using dry noodles prepare them and have them ready to go when you start the recipe. The thin Hokkien noodles would work too- these are readily available in the supermarket these days.

  • 1 packet Soba noodles
  • 350g chicken thigh fillet, cut into strips
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 onion sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 spring onion, chopped finely 
  • qtr head of Wombok cabbage cut finely
  • 4 tblspoons soy
  • 1 tblspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Sesame Oil
  • canola oil for frying
Toast sesame seeds lightly by dry roasting them in a shallow non stick fry pan on a medium heat.
It is best to make a larger batch and keep them in an airtight container. Slice the onions.
Julienne the carrots and cut the spring onions & Wombok.
Slice the chicken.
In a small bowl mix the soy, sugar and sesame oil. Place in a microwave for a few seconds to warm through. Stir well.
Pour over chicken.

Heat your wok to smoking point.  Add oil carefully.
Add the chicken and stir till cooked.  Remove and set aside in a bowl.
Now fry the onions tills soft and add add all other vegetables except the spring onions.
Stir and then add noodles and the chicken and all its juices.
Add the spring onions and toss well.

Remove and sprinkle sesame seeds over each serve.

Today's listening pleasure is a new fave.....S U B L I M E. Hope you think so too. You know some people are born with outrageously fantastic talents....I am so thankful for this:

Friday, 2 September 2011

Reviving the Vegie patch

Here is a glimpse of my daily uniform.

Clogs & a Marimekko apron is how you will find me on any given day if you drop in for coffee.
But not today.........
.........Today I'm donning the Blunnies.  My other love.

Did you know that Blundstone boots have been being made In Tasmania since 1870!!! *pls see note at the end of the post

Spring is here....glorious sunny days!

Along with incredible Sunsets with glimpses of storybook moonlight.

I am chasing my tail a little with getting my seedlings organised but I just haven't felt like it.

But now the sun is out I want to be in it.

Doing stuff.

So this morning I got out my seed packets and got organised.
I gathered up some of the reserved toilet rolls and collected some of the amazingly rich soil from my chicken coop, raided the recycle box for some newspaper and found my string.

We may be building here soon and so my vegie patch lies fallow as it will have to move elsewhere.  In the meantime I am using every other spot possible to plant my vegies & herbs.

It is a myth that you 'need' a vegie patch or space for that matter.  You can grow vegies & herbs in very limited space & with very little money. You just need to be savvy!

Over time we have raided hard rubbish and collected old pots to use to plant in.  You can use old polystyrene containers that fruit shops will give you if you ask- for FREE!

There is no reason that you can't plant your vegies in amongst the rest of your garden.  There are no rules and vegies can look really beautiful. People just have in their mind that you HAVE to have them in a patch- NOT SO- who knew!

Last year at about this time I re-invigorated my vegie patch after leaving it fallow.

I wrote about it in length here.
I have left the vegie patch fallow this year as we are going to be building where the vegie patches lay.

So,  I have planted most of my vegies under the fruit trees that are in pots.  They get all the sun as the fruit trees have been without their leaves over winter. PERFECT!  We have the trees in pots as we are still unsure about where they will end up.  I wanted to use up the space below each tree.  I see all empty space as an opportunity to plant something!
Underneath the Dwarf Nectarine I have Vietnamese mint, Silverbeet & Giant Red Mustard

In my garden I have Thyme, Parsley, Chillies, Sage, Oregano, Rosemary, Vietnamese mint, Coriander.  Some are in pots, some are in the ground.
Under the Blood Orange is more Vietnamese mint & Giant Mustard

There is also Silverbeet, English spinach, Giant Red mustard, raddichio, Perrenial Artichokes.

Today I have planted seedlings for Climbing malabar spinach.  It is the most beautiful plant and has succulent leaves that are great in salads or stir fries and some more Cavalo Nero.  I talked about that beautiful veg here.

Seedlings are quite fragile and need gentle handling until they go in the ground.  I like to buy heirloom variety seeds if possible.  I have been buying my seeds from Diggers for years.  If you live in Melbourne and are interested in Vegie growing, then visiting the Digger's garden is a MUST!!!!!!!!

I don't like the waste of the plastic seedling containers.

Here is a great way to plant your seeds using your old toilet rolls.  We all have them and they usually just go in the bin.

There really is nothing like eating food you have grown yourself- go on have a try at it!

Here's what you do:

 Lots of people use egg cartons but it is not so easy to plant directly into the ground. I love this method.

  • old toilet rolls- label with what you are planting
  • string
  • old newspaper
  • seeds of your choice
  • good quality soil (I dig mine out of my chook pen- so full of chooky goodness!)
Place folded up newspaper on a tray.
Water well so newspaper is sodden.
Place 4 rolls together on top and tie with string- this helps keep cylinders upright as they get soggy.
Fill with soil to the top.
Place 2 or 3 seeds in each toilet roll.
Press into soil & water gently.

The wet newspaper will help keep the seedlings moist.
Plant out when seedlings are about 10cm tall.

When you are ready to plant you can just cut down one side of the roll and plant directly into the soil. the cardboard will disintegrate over time. 

N.B. You can achieve the same result by folding newspaper into a cylinder and tying a few together with string to help support. Toilet rolls are just easy as they are ready to go!

*kind readers have alerted me to the fact that Blundstone boots (although still owned & operated by the original Tasmanian family) have indeed succumbed to Chinese manufacturing :(
Here's a tune I have been enjoying this week: