Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Splashing the Josh dosh

This year the Australian Liberal government (that's Liberal, meaning conservative, rather than liberal, meaning left-leaning) bribed Australian taxpayers to vote it in for yet another three-year term by offering immediate tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners. Personally, I would rather they'd spent the money on increasing welfare rather than tossing money at people with above-subsistence incomes. Nevertheless, as a recipient of some of treasurer Josh Frydenberg's largesse I felt duty-bound to spend the money in my local economy to help ward off the coming recession. Not being a fan of stuff, here's how I invested the dosh:

Cheers. Here's hoping my efforts were helpful.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cheese scones. A triumph!

About 15 years ago, my partner Andrew spotted a smallish book on sale at our local supermarket. First Principles – The 'Basics' Cooking Handbook, by Victoria Hansen. I think he was drawn to the science-y title! We bought it on the spot and it's become a valuable reference whenever we need step by step instructions to cook something, well, basic. It describes how to make things like sauces, soups, biscuits, cakes, dumplings, quiches, risottos ... providing a simple recipe and encouraging the home cook to introduce variations.

I frequently reach for this book, even after 40+ years of cooking

Today I have a brief lull between editing jobs so grabbed the book, turned to page 186, and made cheese scones! They were quick, easy, fluffy and delicious. Two thirds of them went into the freezer for future lunches and one third became today's lunch. I'm also still basking in having a new oven that is so much more competent than the old one ;-)

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Vego shepherd's pie

Hmmm. The name of this dish doesn't quite work. Just as my chocolate nut cake contains no chocolate and no nuts (and, technically, is more of a slice than a cake), no sheep or shepherds are involved in its construction! It's also not really a pie. Suggestions for a new name are most welcome ...

1 kg potatoes
1 cup cheese, grated

1 cup red kidney beans (tinned, or rehydrated)
2 large onions, chopped
1 tbsp butter **
1 green capsicum, diced
2 tbsp wholemeal flour *
1 cup vegetable stock
basil, oregano, paprika and/or parsley (to taste)
1 tbsp soy sauce *
2 tbsp tomato paste
corn kernels
baby corn spears

Boil the potatoes, and when they are soft mash with the cheese and milk. While the potatoes are cooking, combine all other ingredients in a large microwaveable container, and cook on high for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put the vegetable mixture into a large casserole dish and top with the potato mixture. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 minutes. Serves six to eight, and is freezable and reheatable.

* for a gluten free version, use tamari instead of soy sauce, and either omit the flour or replace it with a gluten free thickener such as rice or potato flour.

** for a vegan version, use a splash of olive or coconut oil in place of the butter and leave the cheese and milk out of the topping (or just skip the topping).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Moringa choc chip cookies

It's been one year, this month, since I visited Timor-Leste. I'd always been fascinated by the place and the fascination has continued to grow. I read books, support Timorese charities, listen to Timorese music, and occasionally dabble in trying to cook Timorese food! While there our tour group snacked on some locally made moringa cookies and – while I didn't know what moringa was – I spotted some moringa powder in a Dili supermarket later that week so bought a packet:

It turns out that moringa is a tropical plant that features many valuable nutrients so is often used to supplement diets in Asian and African countries. The powder looks and smells remarkably like matcha green tea powder. Today I experimented with including some moringa powder in a biscuit recipe, finding that it enhanced both the flavour and the colour. Oh, and presumably the nutritional value ;-) I adjusted my versatile shortbread recipe to accommodate the moringa and choc chips.

200 grams butter
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar
175 grams flour
25 grams moringa powder
0.5 cups ground rice or cornflour
200 grams chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar, add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into small balls, flatten slightly, and place on a non-stick baking tray. Bake at 150 degrees C for 20 minutes.

Makes about two dozen. Store in an airtight container.

More info about moringa as treatment for malnutrition in Timor-Leste
Where to buy moringa powder in Australia ... I've also seen it at Healthy Life Belconnen, if you happen to be in Canberra.

Update: Monday 12 August 2019

Andrew and I really liked the moringa choc chip cookies and we also took them to our friends' place for dessert last night. While our (adult) friends were fine with them, their kids were quite scathing in their reviews! I'm used to their scorn – and have blogged about it before – but the flavour was quite strong so next time I'll use a smaller quantity of moringa (and not take these biscuits to the same friends' place!) One more thought ... given that moringa looks and tastes so much like matcha green tea I imagine it could be used in place of it in recipes. Ice cream, crème brûlée, etc. etc. etc.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Nachos ... yes please

I've finished all my editing work for this week (expecting more next week) and it's cold and rainy outside, so I'm enjoying a very domestic day! Cooking, cleaning, polishing shoes, listening to podcasts and reading. Nice. First up, I made a big batch of nachos. I'll freeze it in two portions and will serve them for dinner sometime soon.

splash of olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced
several cloves garlic, crushed
0.5 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
750 g can red kidney beans
400 g can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste

Combine oil, onions, garlic, and spices in a large microwaveable dish. Microwave on high for 6 minutes. Drain and rinse beans, and mash them slightly. Add the tomatoes, beans and tomato paste to the onion mixture, and microwave on high for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Serve with corn chips, sour cream, cheese and guacamole (to taste). Serves four, and freezes well.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Whales and manta rays and turtles ... oh my!

Last week we visited Lady Elliot Island, in the Great Barrier Reef, for (ahem) the fourth time. It's a wonderfully relaxing place where you can snorkel both in a shallow and accessible lagoon at high tide, and in deeper water if you catch a boat. This was the second time we'd been in winter ... it's a good time to go, as it's nice to escape Canberra's chill, and because the humpback whales and manta rays are migrating so if you're lucky you get to see them. A few pics:


Red-tailed tropicbird and chick

The (old) lighthouse

Abandoned crab shell

Plant nursery

Battery storage for the solar power produced onsite

Pandanus trees


Oh, and I went snorkelling seven times in four days! Three times in the lagoon and four times on boat trips. I saw numerous rays (including five mantas) and sharks, glimpsed whales from afar, and gazed upon many smaller critters. It's such a privilege to be able to swim alongside sea creatures.

Three nights in Brisvegas

When my sister invited us to visit Fiji with her family, we already had plans to visit Lady Elliot Island a couple of weeks later. (Actually, we'd originally planned to go to Lady Elliot LAST July, but a jury summons meant the trip was moved to this year.) Anyway, rather decadently, we decided to do both! So we spent three nights in Brisbane between leaving Fiji and catching the train to Bundaberg to fly to LEI. The highlight of the Brisbane trip was catching up over lunch with five former colleagues. It was lovely to see them all. Here are a few pics from the stopover ... I'm afraid they're all related to food!

We had a fabulous dinner at Punjabi Rasoi in Spring Hill.

He had the non-veg thali ...

... while she had the vegetarian thali:

They take their coffee seriously in Brisbane ...

Lunch with the former colleagues – some of whom are also current editing clients – was at Penny Coffee Co in Dutton Park. A really nice spot!

He had:

Charred corn and coriander fritters with avocado,
beetroot relish, zucchini herb salad, salsa verde labneh,
dukkah, two poached eggs and a side of bacon

while she had:

Woodland mushrooms with goat's curd on toasted sourdough,
pumpkin puree, romesco, crispy sage, hazelnut za'atar and a poached egg

Oh my goodness. So much deliciousness. Thanks, Brisbane!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Family and fish in Fiji

We've spent the past week in Fiji, at a resort on the Coral Coast. My sister is celebrating a milestone birthday this month and kindly invited Andrew and me to join her family here!

While it's not the usual type of establishment we'd stay at (we're not exactly party animals), it's been lovely to catch up with my sister, brother-in-law and two teenage nieces. Plus some extra extended family members and friends.

The other highlight of the trip has been the snorkelling. Oh. My. Goodness. Multiple times per day, we've been able to walk out of our bure (cottage), straight into the Pacific Ocean, and swim a short distance to meet all manner of fabulous fish. I'm very grateful to my friend Rachel for lending me her snorkel and mask. They've had a lot of outings.

Being nerds, we've also taken advantage of some of the activities, educational and otherwise, offered by the resort. A guided walk around the tropical gardens, a trek up a nearby mountain, an information session on coconuts and a curry cooking class.

I won't waffle on, but here are some pics from the trip ...

View of the Coral Coast from the top of the
(smallish) mountain we climbed

Most days I queued up to order a personalised omelette
for breakfast. With plenty of chilli! I watched the
routine and am determined to recreate them at home

Caramel mousse ...

We were delighted to have an outdoor shower at our
bure. We were also delighted we weren't
showering at the time a tree blew into it!

Fijian feast: snapper, root vegetables,
spinach and a coconut gravy

Curry cooking class ;-)

It was our first trip to Fiji (though we've been other places in the Pacific: New Caledonia and Vanuatu and, of course, New Zealand) and I confess we didn't soak up the local culture as vigorously as we usually would. The week has been all about family and relaxation. And fish. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to plunge into the ocean for one last fish-ogling session before the shuttle bus takes us to the airport!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Scenes from a truffle hunt and brunch

Yesterday Andrew and I went to a truffle hunt and brunch at Turalla Truffles, near Bungendore. The truffle season only lasts about six to eight weeks each year, so we always try to eat some local truffles in the brief window when they're available. It was COLD but fun and delicious ...

If you're getting a sense of déjà vu, so are we. We attended the same event, at the same place, exactly one year ago! I bought a small truffle after the brunch so will make some truffle butter to freeze and use over the next few months ;-)

Friday, June 28, 2019

Afghan cookies ... a celebration of the new oven

Since getting our kitchen renovated last month I've been basking in the joy of having a working oven! While it was a little sad to see the Baroness Deluxe carried out to a rubbish skip (she had done well to last over forty years) it's so much fun to have an oven where the number on the dial is the temperature you get, and you don't need to rotate the items being cooked repeatedly during the cooking process. Today I've celebrated the shiny new Bosch by making some Afghan cookies to take to our friends' place on the weekend, and a home made pizza for tonight's dinner.

Afghans ... a NZ favourite ...

200 g (7 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) sugar
175 g (6 oz) flour
25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder
75 g (3 oz) crushed cornflakes (or crushed Weet-bix)

Soften butter. Add sugar and beat to a cream. Add flour and cocoa. Lastly, mix cornflakes in. Put spoonfuls on a greased oven tray and bake about 15 minutes at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). When cold, ice with chocolate icing and put walnuts or pecans on top.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Unequal Childhoods (a book recommendation and some random thoughts)

I've always felt like a fish out of water. As a child, I was an ambitious, bookish, maths-loving nerd in an uneducated, unambitious family. After buying a one-way ticket to a new country (and a new life) at 22, I wriggled my way into a different social class, becoming educated myself and making friends who themselves were educated ... and who'd never had to fight to get an education, as I had.

Recently, I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success and it included a whole chapter on Annette Lareau's ethnographic research into different parenting styles. The chapter was so eye-opening for me that I then bought Professor Lareau's book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (2nd edition).

Oh. My. Goodness. So many eureka moments. Lareau and her research assistants embedded themselves in the lives of twelve families, each of whom had a child aged around ten. The families were categorised as middle-class, working-class or poor, and the researchers found distinct differences in parenting styles between the groups. Middle-class parents engaged in 'concerted cultivation', looking for ways to encourage and nurture children's skills and talents, whereas working-class and poor parents' parenting style was called 'the accomplishment of natural growth', under which children were provided with basic necessities (food and shelter) and expected to develop spontaneously.

While I've long thought of my own childhood as featuring benign neglect, or perhaps half-arsedness (to use an Australianism), apparently it is perfectly normal in cash-strapped families, as mine was, to not teach your kids to ride a bike, or swim, or drive a car. Or to handle money, or negotiate, or debate issues. The research indicated a huge gulf between the groups, with the 'concerted cultivators' encouraging and supporting kids to learn, flourish, and develop, and the proponents of natural growth ... not doing those things. There are, of course, pluses and minuses of both types of upbringing. My parents were firmly in the 'natural growth' camp. Educational and extra-curricular activities were often actively discouraged, and my sister and I grew up with little hope of escaping the intergenerational mediocrity that categorised our family. On the plus side, this experience helped me become fiercely determined and hard working. On the minus side, at the age of almost 52 I'm still sussing out certain life skills that it seems are actively taught to rich kids; poorer kids have to work them out through trial and error.

Anyway, back to the book. I found it really interesting and insightful. My parents, who seemed oddly hostile to all my attempts to improve my place in the world, were probably just repeating the free-range parenting they'd grown up with. And my friends, who shower their kids with sports, music lessons, therapy, dance classes, tutoring and camps, almost to the point of overwhelming all involved, are probably just following in their own parents' footsteps. No wonder there's so little social mobility. As the Jesuit motto – often cited in Michael Apted's long-running documentary series – says, 'Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.'

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Monet and high tea and me

It's been quite chilly in Canberra lately. Downright freezing, in fact! So, what better to do on a Sunday than visit the National Gallery to admire some art and eat some goodies?

Not my dog. I just liked his cosy attire ...

The exhibition Monet: Impression Sunrise is showing at the National Gallery of Australia until 1 September 2019. We pre-purchased tickets to see the exhibition ...

... then enjoyed a leisurely high tea:

and afterwards, wandered around admiring the Asian art, both the permanent collection ...

Tang Dynasty Earth Spirit Guardian Figures

... and the current exhibition Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia. All excellent!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

My new favourite curry pastes

I've been shopping at Choku Bai Jo, the organic/farm shop in North Lyneham, since the very first day it opened in 2008. We used to live around the corner and now live a couple of kilometres away. Still close enough to pop in several times a week for fresh local fruit, veges, honey, cheese, etc. Recently I noticed they'd started stocking curry pastes and recipe bases from Zest Byron Bay.

While I know how to make curry pastes from scratch – after taking cooking classes in Singapore, Malaysia and Canberra – we don't always have the time or inclination to do so! So these products, which contain no unpronounceable ingredients and taste fabulous, have become a welcome addition to my kitchen. So far we've tried the Rogan Josh, Massaman Blend and Rendang Blend, and I'm planning to make a huge pot of tofu vindaloo later this week. Each pack has a suggested recipe on the back, some specifying a particular meat and some simply suggesting 'protein'. I've been mixing it up, for example, using a mixture of lamb and winter vegetables (pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower) for the rogan josh I've made to take to our friends' place for dinner tomorrow night.

I adore spicy food and would eat it several times a day if I could! So finding this delicious, easy and authentic range of products has been wonderful ;-)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hazelnut caramel slice

I think my friend Alice gave me this recipe, several years ago. It was a hit with her kids, and no wonder ... what's not to like about a crisp chocolate-y base covered in caramel, hazelnuts and chocolate? I halved the amount of sugar in the base and think it's even better when less sweet. It's made in three stages:

For the base
200 grams butter, chopped
50 grams cocoa
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs, beaten
225 grams plain wholemeal flour

For the caramel topping
180 grams butter, chopped
110 grams caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
0.75 cup sweetened condensed milk *
185 grams hazelnuts, toasted

For the chocolate topping
200 grams dark chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Base: Preheat oven to moderate-slow (around 150 degrees Celsius). Grease and line a 20 cm x 30 cm baking tray. Melt (base) butter and cocoa together, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat, add vanilla essence, eggs and flour, mix well. Spread into baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Cool.

Caramel topping: Combine butter, sugar, syrup and condensed milk in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until butter is melted. Increase heat to moderate and simmer about 13 minutes or until mixture is a dark caramel colour. Remove from heat and stir in hazelnuts.

To assemble: Spread caramel/nut filling evenly over the cooled base and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until firm. Melt the chocolate and oil together. Spread over the caramel topping, refrigerate until set, and cut into squares or bars.

* this time I used Pandaroo sweetened condensed coconut milk, after stumbling across it in the supermarket. It worked really well!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Two days in Newcastle

A couple of weeks ago Andrew mentioned that he had the option of attending a symposium in Newcastle. He has relatives there, and it was an opportunity to escape Canberra's icy winter for a couple of days, so I said 'let's go!' Fortunately, now that I'm self-employed, I can work anywhere (have laptop, will travel) so I took my work with me.

On our first night there we shared a delicious dinner with several of his colleagues at Sapphire Indian Restaurant:

We were honoured to be adopted by our hosts' cat, Lily:

and delighted to wake up to a sublime sunrise:

As well as finishing my editing work on Thursday, I took myself for a couple of meandering walks around the neighbourhood.

Merewether Beach

A Cocowhip brekkie bowl (so yummy) and soy flat white at Blue Door Kiosk

Oh, and it turns out the fabulous Trevor Dickinson (best known in Canberra for his iconic paintings of bus shelters) has also painted an excellent fishy mural through a road underpass. Very cool ...

Newcastle is a fun place to visit. We enjoyed catching up with the rellies and I enjoyed my wanderings!