Monday, June 30, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 3

Porridge with rhubarb and apple compote, soy milk.


Spanish omelette: potato, onion, garlic, olives stuffed with sun dried tomato, eggs, and parsley.

Pan fried baby snapper (dusted with cornflour), roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary, salad (rocket, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Dairy-free (gluten and soy-free) vanilla ice cream with warm sour cherries in light syrup (thickened with arrowroot).

Fluids: 1 brandy, 1 sauv blanc, 1 espresso, water.

Notes: After a couple of weeks of too much eating out both the SE and I have been craving home cooked food. He came home today with two of the freshest baby snappers I have ever seen. We’d usually bake whole fish but the chef was feeling a little whimsical. The non-wheat flour worked well and the skin was crispy. Not to be outdone I whipped up an impromptu dessert.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008


I love it when great minds think a like. Just as I challenged a local reviewer to consider a week of eating as a vegan, London food critic Jay Rayner has done exactly that. His piece about the experience gave me some of the best laughs I have had today.

Rayner's standpoint can be best summarized as:

I also don't believe you can be genuinely happy and vegan. I think the two are mutually exclusive. The thing is, Morris dancing and incest aside, it's hard to criticise something unless you've tried it. My week as a vegan will add substance to my argument. These are the sacrifices I am willing to make for the moral low ground.

Thanks Wendy for getting me on the hunt for this article.

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The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 2

Oats soaked in soy milk with rhubarb and apple compote and a ‘corn thin’ crumbled on top for crunch.

Salads from David Jones: Traditional Nicoise and Italian bean.


Vegetarian lasagne: gluten-free pasta sheets, Greek “fasting cheese” (dairy-free), tomatoes, olives and lots of vegetables.

Schoc chocolate: lemon and pepper, lime and chilli.

Fluids: 1 espresso, water.

Notes: Really wanted sushi for lunch but needed to bring my own tamari (as a wheat-free option to soy sauce) or got without the salt hit. The lasagne was another of the SE’s cooking experiments. Neither of us were totally sure about whether we liked the cheese. Schoc chocolate was delicious!.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The 1 week wheat-free challenge: Day 1

Porridge: oats, water, nutmeg, grated apple, sultanas, soy milk (malt-free), maple syrup.

Leftover brown rice bake: Rice, tomatoes and lots of vegetables.

2x vegetarian dolmades.

Artichoke stuffed with quinoa, parsley, anchovies, garlic and almonds. (A variation on this recipe).

Baked mushrooms marinated in tamari, mirin and ginger, stuffed with tofu, garlic, spring onion, ginger, parsley and tamari.

Fluids: 1 espresso, 1 sherry and lots of water.

Notes: A day at home, so not too many temptations to stray. Leftovers made lunch really easy.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

up for a challenge?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere I read the story of a hardened meat-eater chowing down on an animal product ladened meal, which is fine by me. It is just the blog title heralded a vegetarian offering at a fine restaurant. It made me realize that my idea of a meat-free meal may differ from the average carnivore's. My choice to not eat meat was a natural progression after twenty years of eating the stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If anyone had told me at 19 that within a year I’d be turning my back on a juicy steak or start feeling nauseas at the smell of bacon cooking I would have thought they were mad. I can’t explain the transition, it just happened.

My relationship with all things milky had been even more passionate. I forswore that dairy was something that I would NEVER give up, at a time when every second person was being told that anything that ailed them could be alleviated with a wheat and dairy-free diet. Oh no, not for me. To say I lived for dairy would be over stating it, but lets just say that polishing off half a kilo of cheddar in a week would not have been unusual. Despite the dodgy tummy, the sore throats once or twice a month and a whole host of other bodily displeasures I was in firm denial that this had anything to do with my diet. But one day after a delicious dairy-rich meal I became aware of my heart thumping so fast that I began to wonder if someone so young could have a heart attack. The next cheesy delight did the same thing and what is more it came coupled with other hard to ignore symptoms and so it slowly dawned on me that my road to good health would not be coated in chocolate ice cream after all.

While eggs and seafood still adorn my diet, winter is the perfect time for grains and beans. Inspired by the challenge to a meat eater to have an animal product free week – I wondered what I would be prepared to give up for 7 days in order to expand my cooking repertoire? So I thought what has been over represented in my diet this month and the answer was obvious – wheat. There is something comforting about flour. It is convenient. After an inedible airline breakfast, having got up at dawn, paced about the airport for 2 hours, sat on a flight for another 4 and deplaned slower than a wet week – I was desperate enough to grab a snack to keep me going for the car trip to my parents home. As often is the case, the only thing I can find in most airports that I am able to eat is an egg sandwich. I have had some horrors – over chilled, of dubious age and totally tasteless but let me tell you the new kiosk at Wellington airport delivered the freshest pre-packaged egg sarnie that I have ever found, in grainy bread that was soft and with three days stamped til it expired – it was a winner.

The last couple of weeks have been studded with eating out – spaghetti marinara twice, the pre-dinner nibble on crusty bread because it is there, a lunch grabbed on the run inevitably in some kind of wheaty wrapper. So my body suggests rather loudly that the food to challenge for me is obviously wheat.

Wheat is a sneaky sucker. Not just the main ingredient in most breads and cakes (sure there are a lot of non-wheat and gluten-free options out there if you shop at the right stores but this involves planning, when you are hungry the choices can be quite limiting), it is a favourite of chefs to dust on fish or meat before searing, to thicken a sauce, to mix with other flours (check out your rye loaf, often there is an ingredient just called ‘flour’) and also used to make non-floury foods like soy sauce.

For this week I am going to banish the wheat and bring in alternative grains. Though not spelt, burghal, couscous. semolina, kamut or triticale. Also no malt (fortunately my favourite soy milk is wheat-free but this also means no beer or malt vinegar), soy sauce or anything pre-made with thickeners, starch or the ubiquitous ‘flour’. No solstice cake either!

So, is anyone else up for the 1 week challenge? Take your pick vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, rotation diet, nut-free or whatever you think would be a suitable shift of perspective for you. Anytime, even months after this is posted, give it a go and send me a link.

For a week, post what you eat and drink each day, as well as any observations you make. The idea is diversification rather than deprivation. To think outside the box a little diet-wise rather than focusing solely on what is temporarily removed. It is a great motivator to revisit neglected favourite meals or try something new.

Need some ideas?

A dairy-free diet is reputed to help chronic conditions like eczema, asthma, recurring sinus and chest infections and IBS. If you’re stuck for ideas, the majority of my recipes are moo-juice free.

Going wheat-free might give you a little more energy. Once again, not many of my recipes worship this grain (or contain gluten) if you are looking for inspiration. There are also lots wheat-free products available in supermarkets in most big cities.

Gluten-free ramps it up a notch, removing not just wheat but all members of the grass family. Any coelic/cellac friendly meal will fit the bill. If you are prone to getting mouth ulcers, gut upsets or are low in iron (especially if you are already a meat eater) this might just be what you need.

For aching joints having a rest from the nightshade family is an obvious choice. Avoid: tomato, eggplant, potato (sweet potato is ok), capsicum, chilli, paprika and tobacco.

A sugar-free diet is perfect for those trying to break their sweet addiction or are sick of mood or energy swings. On this diet fresh or a little dried fruit is as sweet as you get. Cane sugar is an obvious ingredient to steer clear of but anything ending in ‘ose’ (eg fructose), as well as honey, maple and other such additives are to be avoided.

Going vegan or vegetarian for a week is perfect motivation to get back in touch with eating grains, beans, seeds and nuts. It would get the Singer or Pollan tick of approval.

It is a good idea to do a bit of reading first, as sometimes things are not as obvious as they seem. A gluten-free diet excludes some alcoholic drinks like beer and whiskey. A vegetarian gets used to asking restaurants (and friends cooking for them) what stock is in the vegetable soup and if there is gelatine in the jelly.

But the upside is an exploration of different tastes and flavours. On a dairy-free diet there are alternate milks (rice, oat, nut, soy etc) and dubious cheese, yoghurt and ice cream replacements but there are also other ways to approach flavour balance. I’ll use olives to give an omelette a salty tang instead of a sharp cheese, crumbled tofu instead of ricotta, finish a meal with a plate of raw nuts, dark chocolate and dried fruit instead of cheese when I have guests.

A week is too little time to cause a nutritional deficiency if you haven’t got the hang of how to balance the temporary way of eating but long enough to make you rethink your automatic approach to food.

Happy low-allergy eating.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The cakes of solstice

Fruitcakes – who ever thought that such a simple piece of baking could elicit such strong responses in people? While some love a rich, wintry Christmas cake, others are less keen on them. The role of citrus peel or glace fruit in a classic cake stirred up passions. Don’t get me started on the topic of Parisienne essence that we’ve had at Chez FoodNazi. Love them or leave them – the Solstice Cake discussions, on and off line, have been a joy for me to read.

Oddly, I fall into the camp of ‘not a huge fan’ of the Christmas cake but for Solstice it is about a whole heap more than a sweet treat to have with a cuppa or round off a meal. I enjoyed the reconnection with my childhood, the physicality of stirring a massive amount of macerated fruit through a batter and the smell, oh the aroma of the cake baking was almost enough for me. To be honest I haven’t even eaten mine yet, as my recipe suggests letting the cake sit for a couple of months before devouring. Though that is taking some restraint in my household.

With the shortest and longest days of the year occurring in the different hemispheres there has been a sterling effort by entrants embracing the task. The trick has been making it your own. Uncoupling the cake from the tradition of Christmas seems to have freed up a lot of cooks to claim the genre for themselves. Each story has been a joy to read. I hope you like them too.

The Solstice Cake Round-Up

Lucy of “Nourish-me” in Melbourne made a most delightful fruit and marzipan cake. The inclusion of marzipan on the inside certainly peaked a lot of excitement. The first one was so good, she’s made a couple more since!

Din, of “No Eggs or Nuts” fame, has worked around the household’s dietary requirements to make a yeasted, egg-free Saffron cake. Another Melbournite with a long standing family tradition of marking winter solstice with a pudding, it was impressive to see the cake get a look in as well.

Still in Melbourne, a delightful newcomer to the blogging world Doc Witch high priestess of “The Dark Side of the Broom” has knocked up a Nigella inspired dark and sultry fruitcake. As a recently diagnosed coeliac, the cake turned out perfectly by substituting the regular flour for a gluten-free mix.

Also in this chilly city is Johanna from “Green Gourmet Giraffe” who managed to overcome her ambivalence towards fruit cakes with a large helping of chocolate. The people from Sunbeam would be proud to see their recipe updated in her Chocolate Fruitcake.

The chocolate theme continues with Nora in Sydney from “Life is a Smorgasbord”. She has created a rich, chocolate Drambuie fruitcake for solstice. Chocolate and liqueur has always been a winning combo in my book!

Bravely representing England in this event is Lysy from "Munchkin Mail". She has gone all summery with a Lemon solstice cake. As the only Northern Hemisphere entrant Lysis had a taste of how some of us feel about heavy fruit cakes at the height of summer and has opted for a Nigella inspired number with the fruit on the outside.

Last but not least is my own offering, reviving Alison Holst's great 70’s kiwi classic. A rich fruitcake featuring a tropical twist, my entry is a Pineapple Solstice Cake.

Honorable Mentions:

To the following Melbourne bloggers who got into the spirit of all things solstice but didn't give away their secret recipes or formally enter. They've taken great pics, so don't forget to check out their posts.

Suse whipped up a rich and dark number and celebrated the longest night outdoors with friends, family and very pretty lanterns.

Duncan teased us mercilessly with the a macaroon creation (I want some!)

Anna made the family’s secret recipe fruitcake.

It has been a joy to see people inspired by the theme. Long may the solstice tradition continue.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Solstice cake and a reminder to send your link

Howdy one and all from the free wi-fi at Wellington airport. The view outside is blanketed with rain and I suspect the temperature is in single digits. As I've been off line for a few days, it will take me a while to read through the many comments that have been left on a wide variety of posts while I have been in the wilderness (well not quite but being without the internet for days does feel like that sometimes).

I'm excited there has been a few more entries in the Solstice cake event - but please send me your links and details to my email address as requested in the event details - that way I wont miss telling the world about your grand cake making efforts. You have til Wednesday this week to get your entry in.

While I have been gone I have been told gleefully by the Significant Eater about meaty delights his family have made in my kitchen. I can only hope that by the time I arrive later tonight that the place has been fumigated and the house is vegetarian friendly once more.

My winter solstice was spent being out there in the world. I caught up with kiwi friends over breakfast, lunch and finally dinner - wall to wall friendship and food. What could be better? Hope the season has been kind to you where ever in the world you may be.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

cake reminder

It is just a couple of days off winter (and summer) solstice. I am packing my bags to head to an even colder climate. Time to put all my recent nostalgia into practice.

Just a reminder that is a week to go til the solstice cake event comes to a close. The entries thus far are all so different. I'd love to see your take on the theme, so turn the oven on and get baking!

Back in a few days.


Monday, June 16, 2008

the meatless blog meet

I’ve been fortunate to have broken bread with a few local food bloggers of late. What is not to like in a fellow home cook who feels passionate about legumes and other such wondrous things? Over summer Ed from Tomato and I had planned to arrange a North of the Yarra meet up, you know something simple like a picnic in the gardens. We blinked and now it is winter so there is a slight revision of plans.

With a bit of a genius twist on a debate Ed’s had about “foodies” (or rather “anti-foodies”) we’ve have devised a simple plan to catch up in a venue that epitomises the opposite of food snobbery. No chefs table here, nor fine wines or wagyu – this is the Meatless Blog Meet.

Date: Saturday 26th July
Time: 12.30
Place: Lentil as Anythings @ The Convent, Abbotsford and afterwards at Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment.

For those unfamiliar with Lentil as Anything it is a unique not for profit community restaurant, where customers pay what they feel the food is worth. It is funny watching people come to grips with the concept the first time around, actually it shouldn’t be humorous to watch patrons become distressed at not being told what to pay – but it is. What is more, LAA supports refugees, new migrants, people with disabilities and the like with its non-discriminatory employment at its five sites.

Oh and it is also vegetarian.

So if you are free for some very pleasing food on the 26th of next month, or thinking of catching the Slow Food Market in July then let us know to keep an eye for you. If you are running late or just want a coffee, juice or beer - catch up around the corner and upstairs at Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment, an equally quirky Convent establishment. Steve writes “You won't find eggs, 'cooked to your liking', skinny lattes, wraps, low fat muffins or light beer. It's S for Salt, F for Fat, S for Sugar, C for Caffeine and A for Alcohol. Now these foundation stones come in different shapes and sizes and may have never met, but they'll make you'll feel a lot happier than having a yo-yo biscuit for a friend.”.

All welcome (carnivores, partners, small creatures – or not, as you desire).

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When life gives you lemons, make…

I love lemons for their tangy-sweetness and they way they cut through sugar and fat. For once there is an abundance of the glorious fruit in my life. First, working my way through the delectable Meyer lemons from Lucy’s abundant tree (which tasted best squeezed into a glass of sparkling mineral water) and now a whole boxful smuggled across the border from the SE’s uncle.

Other than lemonade, there are whole heap of other goodies I have planned for the latest haul:

Preserved Lemons – I’ll learn from past lessons and just do a small batch. I got sick of the never-ending jar a made a couple of years ago.

The preserved lemons would be perfect for this healthy Lentil Salad and coriander.

This Spiced Lemon Pickle recipe looks interesting. I much prefer tang of a pickle to a chutney.

On the weekend the Kent Hotel had whole baby snapper with lemon and thyme on the specials menu. It was a standout meal – with some fries and very generous salad. I think the odd lemon in the stash could be used to revive the dish very much like the one I’ve made previously.

The same uncle also bought a whole box of oranges from his tree as well. They are really too sweet for marmalade but with some of the lemon it could be interesting.

Have you got any favourite dairy free citrus recipes?


Sunday, June 15, 2008

winter solstice cake with pineapple

Today I approached my kitchen in an entirely new way.

First, I tried to remove as much stray cat hair as possible clinging to my clothes.

Then, I tied back my wayward hair.

I even put on an apron (I own an apron? Well it was a giveaway with a magazine or something).

My hands were washed, the table and bench top wiped.

I got out all the ingredients ahead of time.

It was like the totally organised, Virgo part of me was invited to a party and the rest of me came along for the ride.

After two days marinating of copious amounts of dried fruit in the largest bowl I could find, today was D-Day. Cake wise that is. Barring any catastrophe, I would make a solstice cake.

I was sure there would be far too much fruit. No way would the completed mix ever fit into the cake tin. I even got out the tape measure to see if the largest tin really was 9 inches (in old money). I had contingencies, the muffin tin at hand if there was any leftover but despite all odds the quantities were perfect. Imagine that, when you follow the recipe it all worked out in the end.

I improved a little on the spices, threw in a random ingredient and even blanched my own almonds.

And now I sit, being tortured by the most exquisite aroma of a cake cooking for at least another 3 hours.

So I typed two weekends ago. I had so much fun “acting into” the role. Really, it took me back to my acting days.

My mother, the daughter of a baker, spent her teens icing cakes and slices and other sundry kitchen handing. I grew up knocking out sweet treats under her tutelage. But in my post-non-dairy, health conscious years the ritual of the cake is all but lost on me. My mum is on the decline these days; she doesn’t cook let alone bake. The last time I made Alison Holst’s Pineapple Christmas Cake I was still at school, my mother buzzed about the kitchen lending a hand yet still made me feel like it was her creation. This drive to bake a solstice cake has been a very personal one – part pagan and part nostalgia. I’ve been slow on the uptake about this but I have realised making any kind of food from my childhood has become a way of reconnecting with the happy memories I have of being mothered, in the kitchen where she reluctantly spent most of her time.

So a confession. I don’t really like fruit cake, though the Significant Eater goes wild about it. The making of the cake was about the process for me – I don’t give a hoot about the outcome but I promise before the event is up I will have the critics road test it for us all. With such good quality ingredients (organic butter, flour and eggs, dried fruit not preserved with additives, I know you would expect nothing less from me!) it would be really difficult for anyone to mess it up.

Another joy about baking a cake that I had forgotten about was the child like pleasure gained from licking the beaters and the bowl before cleaning up. I certainly know that got my taste buds excited.

As you may have guessed, I had to make a few tweaks to the original recipe. Firstly if you want a temperance cake, omit the rum and brandy and just soak the fruit in the pineapple and its juices. The original recipe doesn’t macerate at all but I think it is always a good idea to rehydrate the fruit. The real deal also uses 1/2 tsp of almond essence and a 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg. The former is too synthetic for my liking and the later; well I just got swept away by the smell of mixed spice instead.

I have always wondered why my fruitcakes are blondes while others knock out to brunette til I came across the SE’s mother’s recipe that calls for something called Parisienne Essence. Basically this little concoction of chemicals is used to make gravy darker and other such things. As much as I liked the idea of a lush, dark battered cake I wasn’t going to use some fake browning agent. My solution was to use 1 tablespoon of cocoa. I didn’t want this to be a chocolate cake so figured that a tablespoon would make the colour slightly richer (along with brown rather than white sugar). Though have to admit my choice of rum, not my favourite brown distillation brandy, was a tribute to rum and raisin dark chocolate. It could have been worse, I seriously considered Malibu as a companion to the pineapple for a number of days!

Stay tuned for the updates on taste, appearance and texture.

Have you started your solstice cake yet? Get cracking as you have til the 25th June to submit it.

Pineapple Solstice Cake

1.5 kg mixed, dried fruit* (sultanas, diced dried apricots, currants etc)
1 cup crushed pineapple
200 ml dark rum

225 g (8oz) butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons mixed spice (or 1 tsp each mixed spice, cinnamon and ginger)
1 tablespoon cocoa
6 large eggs
3 cups flour
blanched almonds – to decorate
1/4 cup of brandy

Soak the dried fruit, pineapple and rum in a large bowl for 1-2 days. Keep covered but stir occasionally. In the cooler months it is fine to leave it macerating at room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 150 c (or 130 if using a fan forced oven). Line a 23 cm (9inch) cake tin with a double layer of paper. You can use newspaper or brown paper on the bottom and a layer of baking paper on top.

Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add spices and cocoa and give it another whirr with the beaters. Add eggs separately (it is a good idea to crack them as needed into a small bowl, to make sure you don’t wreck the cake with a dud egg or a bit of shell). Between each egg add a little of the sifted flour if there is any sign of curdling.

Stir in the macerated fruit mixture and slowly add the rest of the flour. Use a wooden spoon and a lot of muscle to as you work the mixture. Make a wish as you stir away (mine was for better muscle tone). Add a little extra flour if needed, you are aiming for a moist batter that will "drop from the hand" (so said the recipe I slavishly wrote in my best hand writing as a teenager). It just means that it batter shouldn't be so wet it sticks to your fingers. Once you have reached the required consistency, dollop the mixture into the lined cake tin, pushing it well into the corners. If you are not going to go the whole hog and do the marzipan icing, then decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds.

Bake at 150c for 2 hours, then at 130c for a further 1.5 – 2 hours. You know it is cooked when the skewer comes out clean.

While still warm (the recipe stated to do it in the first 5 minutes) pour over the brandy, if you like a slightly tipsy fruit cake, it is Solstice after all. When cool enough to handle, take the cake out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Once fully cooled store in an airtight container. For a Christmas cake I noted to make it in October. We also lovingly 'fed' the cake with a tablespoon of brandy sprinkled over the top every week. I've never been a fan of glace fruit or marzipan as I feel so much fruit and sugar is sweet enough. But don't hesitate to make this cake your own by honouring it with your own family traditions.

* For this cake I used sulphur free dried fruit – 750 g sultanas, 500 g diced dried apricots and 250 g currants.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

what is in a name?

Winter has bitten me hard. I don't mind the crisp air or mess of fallen leaves that have gone from golden and appealing, to brown and lethally slippery on the footpath. It is the yearning for inactivity, crawling into bed with an engaging book or a warm macbook that has slowed my posting down. I eat and cook but my head is elsewhere. I've made the Solstice cake (how is your's going, come on give it a go!) yet not found the words to tie it all together. It is not being able to cut it yet, the maturation should take months but in this case I'll only leave it a few weeks in all in order to actually taste what I made. I will write about it this week, I promise.

But in the meantime I got an angry comment about my blog title. Fair cop. It is a little thoughtless, though with obvious reference to popular culture. I've spent a few days musing on it and gone off on another tangent in my non-food blog if you are interested at all about semantics and wish to read it. No matter if you don't.

But if the name offends, I am open to hearing about it. Got a better name for me? Do you want "confessions of a food nazi" to have a total revamp, or stay just as I am?

More food writing soon - and that's a promise :)


Sunday, June 08, 2008

time to take a break with a meme

While many lovely food related posts sit in the wings (or in this case knocking around my head), it is a long weekend here in Melbourne, rather grey and wintery. Over at Other Rants I've have wasted a precious hour doing a meme. As much of it is about food, excuse the laziness but I though you'd enjoy it here as well.

All about me!

What was I doing 10 years ago?

A stunned, hard working, newly single, numb kind of year. It began with having to relocate my business at short notice at Christmas, segued into a serious relationship ending (we’d bought the house, planned the kids and learnt as best we could how to co-exist) and left me moving into the communally owned house temporarily. It took a year to resolve the property issue, leaving me feeling vulnerable and rootless through those twelve months. In the meantime I was working in my business and had my teaching load doubled. I remember enjoying the solitude of the house and garden, the friendship of my cat waiting for me at the end of the day and working bloody hard. Oh and celibacy!

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:

1. My mum’s chocolate mousse.
2. French pastries, especially Filou’s apple slice.
3. Black & Green’s peppermint chocolate.
4. Perfectly crispy, hot potato chips with mayonnaise.
5. Rich, fruity cocktails.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:

1. Lindt 85% chocolate.
2. Raw almonds
3. Fresh fruit, feijoas at the moment but I’m craving mango season already.
4. Smoky babaganoush from Tiba’s with plain rice crackers.
5. Kalamata olives.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Finish my house and pay it off.
2. Travel more, at the moment New York (have just turned down a trip later in the year due to being sensible about finances), Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Mexico are whispering my name.
3. Get a writing coach, pilates instructor, massage therapist and tailor.
4. Continue working in my business 2-3 days a week, take on an apprentice – basically do what I do but with greater flexibility.
5. The clincher is I’ve always dreamed of setting up a philanthropic trust. My vision is to provide seeding grants for small projects that encourage wellbeing and personal empowerment, plus some study grants. Actually I’m looking at doing this on a smaller scale with my sister in our post-mortgage-pre-death years as we are the last branches on our family tree.

Five jobs that I have had:

1. Data inputting Swedish childrens’ dental records, 1986 on a home PC (you had to do a back up every 5 minutes or you lost the lot).
2. Actor/entertainer in summer festival – I don’t remember much except it was hinted very loudly that taking drugs at the big public party that opened the festival was encouraged in order to look like we were all having a good time.
3. Creating online communities for a sadly short lived site for women at the height of the boom. Basically creative writing as different characters on the forums we were setting up. I’d wished for a job that paid me to play on the internet and I got exactly that.
4. The above new media also paid me approximately $2 per word to write articles relevant to my real day job as a resident expert (life has never been so good!)
5. Cleaned a private hospital as a summer job at high school. The percentage of old men who used the hand basin in their room as a urinal, instead of going to the en suite bathroom, was remarkably high.

Three of my habits:

1. Nitpicking. Awful I know but I have a pedant streak that the Significant Eater is seriously trying to liberate me from.
2. Talking to cats, not just mine but any feline that crosses my path.
3. Spending too much time on the internet and not enough on the pursuit of exercise.

Five places I have lived:

1. Wellington, New Zealand.
2. Stoke Newington, London, UK.
3. Cremorne, Sydney, Australia
4. Out of my backpack in Europe – beaches, hostels, hitch hiking.
5. Melbourne, Australia.

Feel free to share the meme.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

anticipation and more beans

As much as I love the convenience of grabbing a can or two of organic beans from the cupboard, it is not the same as soaking the dried goods and cooking them up from scratch. Even though the majority of legumes I buy are still conventionally grown, the texture and flavour is far superior when cooked the old fashioned way.

This week I have been musing on the role of anticipation in cooking and eating. You may have rightly gathered I’m one of those spur of the moment, throw it together and don’t spend days agonising over it – kind of home cook. The process of planning and making the solstice cake has got me in touch with the other side of the creative process, pouring through hand written recipes, remembering the first time I made a dish or the person who passed it on to me, planning the shopping trip for special ingredients, arranging my diary so I can have a long stretch of uninterrupted time in the kitchen and so much more.

For me cooking beans is like that. Soaking legumes means tomorrow we will eat beans. That I am skipping ahead a whole 24 hours in the planning department, while I still don’t have a clue as to what I will cook tonight. Using dried beans creates a triptych of sorts. First the soaking, quietly in a bowl for at least twelve hours, then the cooking of the beans til they are digestible and lastly their addition to a whole other creation. A definite three-parter cooking wise.

Though I have referenced my usual chili bean recipe before, I’ve never got around to formally recording it. When I first started making this in another country many years ago I have no idea whether I had fallen in love with spices like cumin and coriander then. I certainly had not developed any affection for the green herb that some call cilantro, in fact I detested it! If these flavours are still not to your liking, or you don’t like the heat of chili, stick to garlic and ginger.

Chili Beans

(serves 4, or just 2 hungry people who’d like to have leftovers)

2 cups dried kidney beans

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large, or 2 small, brown onions, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
Chili – fresh/dried/red/green – if you like chili you know what you want (in this case I used 1 long, green chili which packed a mighty heat), finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans chopped tomatoes (or equivalent of fresh, peeled)
1 large carrot, grated (optional)
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
sea salt (to taste)
1 – 2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

The day before soak your beans in a large bowl, amply covered with water. The next day you will need to set aside an hour or so to cook the beans. Discard the soaking water and cook with fresh. My beans took 55 minutes of simmering until they were ready. Drain in a colander when done and set aside.

In a large heavy bottomed pot sauté onions in vegetable oil over a low flame. Take your time. You don’t need to hurry. Add your ground spices and chilli. Keep cooking til onions are transparent. Add garlic and continue stirring. Pour in the cooked kidney beans, stir til coated with onion and spices then add the two cans of tomatoes. Stir a little more. Add the carrot if you wish to value add your meal with a little extra nutrition. If you would like your beans to have a faintly smoky flavour sprinkle in the paprika (of course what would be better is to use the wonderful Mexican chipotles but this works when you can’t get them). Stir once more and set the pot on a low heat. If you need to get on with having a life outside of a kitchen a heat diffuse mat is indispensable for this.

Cook for about an hour, longer if you have the time. Stir from time to time. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid. If it looks like it is starting to dry out add a little water or good quality vegetable stock. As far as fluid goes remember this is a stew, not a soup.

Before serving add the fresh coriander if you have it.

This bean dish goes well with: brown rice, avocado/guacamole, tacos and eggs.

Update 30/6/08: I varied the ingredients of tonight's beans a little, due to the array of fresh spices and vegetables crying out to be used. The veggie combo was 2 cans beans, 1 tomato, 1 sachet tomato puree, some vege stock plus, 1 onion, 1 large grated parsnip and 1 grated carrot. Spices were fresh turmeric, root ginger, a little cumin seeds (whole), fresh corriander rood and leaves, 1 long green chilli, chilli powder and a little dried crushed red chilli, plus a generous sprinkle of smokey paprika. The hint of sweetness from the parsnip worked well and the spice combo was a winner (even though there was no garlic).

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

searching (for a good wife?)

blanching almonds for the solstice cake

While I've been busy baking and cooking up beans, all things that make me feel most uncharacteristically 'wifey' (despite my long dead aunt's prediction, circa 1979 when as a sweet young thang and made my first beef stroganoff, that I would "make someone a good wife" I've firmly remained the unmarrying kind) I finally discovered the code to put in a search function on the blog. It makes me feel so competent when I do things like changing fuses (a thing of the past now the house has been rewired) or learning how to write html.

Anyway - the search feature, below the profile box on the right, is now at your service to explore all things food nazi. Please enjoy.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Sunday roast

The Significant Eater had been dropping the word "roast" into conversations with persistent monotony, so with suitable prompting I crafted a roast of sorts last night. While his colleague was coming home to pork with crackling, his was more of the vegetarian variety. Life’s tough sometimes!

Using the basic nut roast template I soaked some dried shitake mushrooms, mashed a medium sized block of tofu, ground a cup of cashew nuts and set to work. This was to be lighter, with more tofu and no rice, than the earlier version. I also threw in a grated carrot, a generous handful of parsley straight from the garden and finely sliced shitakes (reserving the soaking water for the “gravy”) as well as some sautéed onion and garlic. Because I discovered the remains of a bunch of coriander in the fridge I also tossed in the finely chopped roots of a couple of pieces. This is the nice thing about a loaf - tofu having such a neutral flavour it blends with vegetables and herbs so well and is an adaptable base to a meal. For a little extra oomph I mixed in 2 teaspoons each of roasted sesame oil and tamari. Finally all the ingredients were bound with 2 beaten eggs. Simple – bung it into a medium oven and depending on how big your loaf pan is it will take about 30 minutes. Nervous types should start checking the loaf from about 25.

One roasting pan of potatoes, pumpkin and parsnip was already on the go, with a smaller dish of Brussels sprouts tossed in olive oil ready to be put in the oven for the last 15-20 minutes, there was only the gravy to make. This one is just too easy. I don’t usually have mushroom water on hand but it provided a subtle addition to the flavours.

Vegan “gravy”

1 – 3 tablespoons miso paste (light or dark depending on what you’d prefer)
1 – 3 tablespoons tahini
Warm water or shitake mushroom soaking water

Quantities depend on how much gravy you want to make. For the two of us, 1 tablespoon of tahini and another of miso is enough. Add a little warm water to start to work the two ingredients together, then keep adding more til you get the desired consistency, which is thick or thin depending on how you like your gravy. It can also be whisked together in a small pan on low heat. Miso is a wonderful ‘living’ fermented product and should never be boiled.

All in all a great roast to welcome the first day of winter. The leftover loaf is also a protein packed hit to pop in your lunchbox. While the SE has been promised a bit of crackling today from his studio mate, my roast is a lot kinder on the arteries.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

National Porridge Day

I’ve just completed the first four steps of Flip Shelton’s advice on how to celebrate National Porridge day.

1. Start... slowly. Don't set the alarm.

2. Slip... into some woolly socks. (In this case a well worn woolly pair of ugg boots, bogan but toasty warm.)

3. Wander... into the kitchen and prepare a big bowl of Flip Shelton's fabulous new "five-grain porridge" with rolled oats, rye, barley, triticale and spelt.

4. Go... back to bed with your bowl of porridge or sit comfortably and eat slowly.

I managed to do all this without even consulting the website. How instinctive am I! But perhaps the 5th step which involves more activity (walking, pottering or generally communing with nature beyond the confines of the bedroom) will have to wait a while longer.

During the week a pack of the aforementioned “Five-grain Porridge” landed on my desk. My working life finds the odd freebie falling in my lap but rarely anything edible. As a longtime lover of porridge I was a little skeptical that this grainy, not overly processed, mix would require no cooking as it claimed. Simply a case of ‘just add (boiling) water’, cover, have your shower, then add your desired accompaniments and eat.

So I did.

The result. The grains were softened but still had a lot texture. The temperature was lukewarm after the addition of soy, a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of walnuts. Though certainly a more nutritious option than the popular instant varieties on the supermarket shelf, next time I will make it the traditional way.

But eating a bowl of porridge in bed is always a pleasant way to start the day.

If like me you are taking your time over step 4, the history of porridge makes an interesting read.

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