Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mandarin Syrup Cake

Many people complain about the depleted bounty of fruit during the winter months. I choose to revel in the variety of apples, pears and citrus fruits that enter the markets at this time of year. One of my favourite fruits, the mandarin, is available from April and during the cooler weather I delight in eating as many of these delicately flavoured globes as I can get my hands on. I have however been guilty over the past few weeks of buying mandarins and forgetting about them which caused me a little despair when I looked in the back fridge yesterday and realised that I had more mandarins than I could possibly work my way through in the next five days until I go away to Melbourne.
Thus the Mandarin Syrup Cake came to life.
Sometimes happiness in life is taking a good look at the bounty and beauty all around you and making the most of  it. That's where the sweetness is.

The photo really doesn't do this moist cake much justice
 Mandarin Syrup Cake

3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 mandarins, zest only

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line an 8 x 4 inch loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar, then stir in egg and sour cream, followed by the milk and vanilla essence.
  3. In another bowl mix together flours, zest and baking powder, I used a whisk to make sure there were no lumps.
  4. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, beat until smooth.
  5. Pour batter into lined tin and place in the oven.
  6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. Remove from oven and spoon glze (recipe follows) over warm cake.
  8. Allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then cool on wire rack still in paper.
  9. Store in an airtight container. I left it wrapped in the baking paper to maintain the moisutre of the cake.
Glaze: Mix together 2 tablespoons of mandarin juice and 1/4 cup of caster sugar.

The cake is now safely tucked into my bag ready for sharing at work tomorrow and I only have about 2 kilograms of mandarins to finish in the next three days!

This beautiful blossom certainly stood out in the
 grey rainy morning on my way to work today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sometimes it's the Simple Things

Sunday was one of those days where you just don't want the sun to go down and the day to be over because there is something special about the hours that you want to hold onto for as long as you can.
It started out with brunch with my darling Casey. She cooked amazing French toast using fruit toast and Grand Marnier in the egg soak. We spread it with left over creme brulee (oh yes, you must try French toast with creme brulee on top, believe me it's a new height of decadence) and topped it with various things including toasted coconut, caramelised apples, rhubarb and ginger compote and Grandma's rosella jam. 
Accompanied by some chocolate tea (surprisingly good) and elderflower and mint cordial. Sitting out in the morning sunshine with Casey was the perfect start to our day of eating and catching up. 

Then we headed out and saw 'Bridesmaids' - funny, so funny and yet, so wrong in some ways. I highly recommend it. This was followed by sushi at our favourite sushi train, I had some awesome fried eggplant sushi and of course, an avocado roll. 
Strolling along Oxford St in Bulimba we couldn't resist the lure of the bakery, and I when I spotted this mini cupcake with mini M&Ms on top I knew that I simply had to have one.

We drove into the city and headed to the winter festival. This is the first year of this festival in Brisbane so it wasn't very big but we had fun watching people slip and slide across the ice as the sun faded in our city. 

After my cupcake on Sunday I woke up with cupcakes on the brain this morning. In between patients I couldn't help but think about coming home and indulging in the simple pleasure of creaming some butter and sugar and creating wonder in my kitchen. 
So these were born: Lightly Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Cloud Frosting.

I modified a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery's new book 'Cake Days' and adapted the creamy vanilla frosting from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook which also appears here. This frosting has special memories for me as Casey and I went to New York in 2008 and spent a particularly wonderful afternoon strolling through the village eating cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery. I can still remember the slant of the sun through the trees that shaded us from the midsummer heat, the fat pigeons crowding at our feet waiting for crumbs and the ecstatic sugar rush that we got after devouring our delicacies. Casey then recreated this icing and the accompanying red velvet cake when we returned to Brisbane, and it never fails to bring back that wonderful afternoon.
Trust me, you have never tasted anything like this, it truly feels like a cloud in your mouth. Sure it takes a little extra time, and at several points you will probably think that you have messed it up. But follow the directions exactly and you can't go wrong. Then sit back with a freshly frosted cupcake and marvel at the simple pleasures in life.

Lightly Lemon Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

80g unsalted butter
280g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
240mL milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence 
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line cupcake tins with paper cases.
  2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer) slowly beat together the butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest until well mixed and resembling fine breadcrumbs.
  3. In a small jug whisk together the milk, vanilla essence and eggs.
  4. With the mixer on low pour 3/4 of the wet mixture into the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl until ingredients are fully incorporated. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth.
  5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases, up to about 2/3 full and slide into the oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. 
  6. Leave to cool slightly in the tin and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Cloud Frosting

Follow instructions from epicurious, you will only need a half recipe to frost this number of cupcakes.
Once you have refrigerated the frosting for the specified time spoon into a large piping bag fitted with a star tip. You will need to work quickly and be careful because in summer this frosting will melt very quickly.
I piped stars on top of my cupcakes and then sprinkled them with purple sprinkles. I refrigerated the cakes to ensure that they will make it to work tomorrow in (hopefully) one piece.

I think the message of baking is that it doesn't take something complicated to create happiness. You can start with the simplest ingredients whether they are butter, sugar, eggs and flour or friends, family, laughter, and love and create something amazing, cake, cookies, frosting, or bonds, connections and happy memories. Sometimes in this world of instant messaging, constant consumerism and bigger, better, best we can forget that it really is the little things that make us the happiest; a walk in the sunshine, a hug from someone we love, a smile from a stranger, a cup of tea after a long day at work. Take some time this week, even just a moment to breathe in some of the simple pleasures that make life worth living.

Mum's special treat tonight - she is a frosting connoisseur

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Minty Munchy Crunchy Cookies and a walk down memory lane

In our circle of family and friends my sister and I are known as the bakers, the ones who are never far from the kitchen, and never show up to a party empty handed. Baking has been a shared passion between Jess and I from a very young age. When we were in primary school we would bake cookies and cupcakes for Dad to take to work to sell for pocket money, we would charge about 50c per item and save the money to pay for Christmas or wedding anniversary presents for our parents.
Now that we are older Jess and I still cook together, usually scampering around on a week night pulling together something acceptable for the omnivorous and vegetarian melange that is our family. Baking is something that we do in our spare hours which never seem to cross over much any more. This week however I had the pleasure of watching Jess make a batch of Minty Munchy Crunchy Cookies which are based on a cookie recipe that we used to bake batch upon batch of for Dad to take to work and sell to his colleagues. They also incorporate two of my favourite sweet treats, the country mint (hard mint on the outside and chocolate on the inside), and of course dark chocolate.

Unfortunately they were made on wheat flour which is not exactly agreeing with my stomach at the moment. I am thinking of bribing her into making these with spelt flour in the very near future.

Minty Munchy Crunchy Cookies (makes about 24 large cookies)

1 1/2 cups (185g) plain flour
3/4 cup (90g) cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups (280g) brown sugar
180g butter
150g dark chocolate, chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten
0.5 - 1 tablespoon mint extract, or to taste
200g dark chocolate, chopped, extra
Large handful country mint lollies, chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line 2 large baking trays with baking paper
  2. Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl, and stir in the brown sugar making sure there are no lumps. Make a well in the centre.
  3. Place the butter and the chocolate into a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until the mixture is melted and smooth
  4. Stir the butter mixture into the dry ingredients. Then stir in the beaten eggs and mint extract.
  5. Add extra dark chocolate and mint lollies and incorporate into mixture.
  6. Drop heaped spoonfuls of mix onto trays, leave room for spreading these babies get big!
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Biscuits will not completely harden until they are cooled so be careful not to over bake.
  8. Cool on the trays for at least 5 minutes until transferring to a wire rack to cool.
The finished product

Close up of the chocolate beauty and a melted peppermint lolly - this hardened to a chewy
bonus on the side of the cookie. These ones went first of course.

The world is always better through peppermint glasses!

These are perfect cookies to warm up and serve with ice cream - choc mint of course!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fallen in Love With...Friday

I am currently sitting right in front of the heater with a pair of socks on and a cup of tea watching 'North by Northwest' with Mum and Dad. Oh Carey Grant, how I love thee.
So without further ado here are this Friday's Fallen in Love With...items: 
  • In view of my upcoming girl's week in Melbourne I have of course been researching the most important sight seeing of all - food establishments! Of course I am looking forward to breakfast at Phamish my favourite cafe in Melbourne's suburbs. I am also excited to try out Kinfolk , a cafe in Melbourne's CBD that uses organic and local produce but more importantly uses its profits to support four national and international development projects. Diners are given a coffee bean with their meals and when reaching the counter they place it in one of four jars to signify which charity they would like to support, then the funds are distributed accordingly, also whilst there are a few paid staff the wait staff are a volunteer work force. I look forward to donating both time and appetite to support this wonderful initiative!
  • The Winter Festival 2011 is going on in Brisbane this weekend and I am off to enjoy the festivities with my darling Casey. The festival is taking place in four different Australian cities over the coming months and this week is my home town's turn to enjoy the winter delights of some other cultures. Casey and I will be sipping some rich hot chocolate or indulgent chai latte, perhaps snacking on some poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) and enjoying the festivities. Casey has made it her mission this Sunday to help me carbohydrate load for the upcoming race (see what great support I have!)
  • The Los Angeles Times ran an article this week on Italian design company Boffi and I was instantly enchanted by the clean aesthetic and workable spaces of the semi industrial kitchen modules.
A rather short list this Friday evening but I am off to get back to Mr. Grant and make another cup of tea. I'll be back tomorrow with a recipe devised by my gorgeous chic chickpea sister - Minty Munchy Crunchy Cookies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Climb Your Own Everest

'I achieved my Everest, but for other people, you know, it doesn't have to be Everest. It's about finding your Everest whatever that might be, believing it and going for it.' 
Sharon Cohrs ('Peak Performance',U on Sunday, June 19, 2011).

Sharon Cohrs is one very inspirational lady.
Three years ago she had her last round of chemotherapy after a double mastectomy to defeat breast cancer.
One month ago she reached the summit of Everest with her husband.

I was talking to one of my patients today, a breast cancer survivor herself, and she said that after she read this article on the weekend she had felt a little despondent as she struggles to get through her current 5 minute per day exercise regime. I had not yet read the article when I answered her that everyone has their own Everest, and after reading the above quoted passage I loved the poignancy with which Sharon provided inspiration to others to achieve the summit of their own challenges.
Sharon Cohrs' Everest, was in fact, Everest, but your own challenge might not be an 8850 metre mountain top in the Himalayas. Everyone's peak looks a little different, and we can't measure the altitude of our own summit by casting our eyes to our neighbour's peak. It is so easy to belittle our own challenges or achievements by comparing them with what other's are accomplishing; but there really is no comparison. The topography of the landscape of your life is different to everyone else.
Your Everest might be a physical accomplishment; a 5km fun run, a half marathon, an ultra marathon, or it might be a different challenge; getting that job you've always wanted, graduating university, having a child. You can't measure your life, your mountain, using a yardstick calibrated against someone else's Everest.

What you can do is see what other's have done as inspiration to start out on the journey to your peak. Take off from base camp and head towards the mountaintop. Just like reaching the summit of Everest you may need to climb a little, descend a little, and start out climbing again. You might not be successful on your first attempt. The most important thing is that you never give up. Keep walking, keep trekking up the pass and celebrate every victorious step along the way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Quinoa and Carrots 'n' Cake Review

What a lovely weekend I had. Nice and quiet and filled with sunshine!
I also had my last long run before the half marathon, it's less than two weeks away now so I am tapering off my runs and just adding some walking instead. It is a little strange to run for 3 miles and then stop and think 'oh, that's all there is for today huh?'. Not that I'm complaining, I do some of my best thinking while I walk and it is a little bit of a welcome rest. Now I've just got to battle the nerves that are slowly creeping in over the fact that I am about to run my first ever half marathon. In my mind I know that I am capable of doing it, I have trained well,  my body is still in one piece (at this point) and I have awesome green runners! But in my heart, I am a little apprehensive still, and there is a little nagging corner that questions whether the girl who couldn't even run one lap of the oval (400m) when she was younger, really belongs in a 21.1km race? I just keep putting that voice back in her corner by reminding her that this chickpea has definitely grown up a bit since then, and can face any challenge put to her.
Nice to get that off my chest.

Now onto the quinoa salad recipe that I promised to share last week. I have actually been seeing a lot of recipes around like this lately so I must have been channelling the same culinary vibes when I created this dish to take into work for our picnic.

Quinoa Salad with Lemon Oregano Dressing

Ingredients for salad
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water
300g mixed cherry tomatoes
1 small jar artichoke hearts
100g reduced fat fetta
1/2 cup chopped semi dried tomatoes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 small bag rocket leaves
1/2 small bag baby spinach leaves


  1. Place quinoa and water in saucepan and bring to the boil, lower to a simmer and cook until all the water has been absorbed. Place in a large bowl and allow to cool.
  2. Halve cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts and add to cooled quinoa. 
  3. Dice fetta and mix through along with other remaining ingredients.
  4. Add dressing (recipe below) and toss salad gently.
  5. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Lemon Oregano Dressing
Take the juice of one lemon and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1-2 tablespoons of dried oregano (adjust to taste) and whisk together. 
Add to salad and enjoy.

There was heaps of this salad left over after our luncheon and it made an excellent lunch and dinner the day afterwards. I just jazzed it up with some extra chickpeas and some steamed broccoli. Perfect and pretty.

Book Review: Carrots 'n' Cake by Tina Haupert
I finished the first book on my reading list over the weekend (in amongst reading some cooking magazines that I had picked up...) and I really enjoyed the approach to fitness, health and overall wellness Tina has taken in Carrots 'n' Cake. 
Interlaced with stories about her life with her husband and their gorgeous pug dog, this book suggests simple strategies for gaining and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I enjoyed the straight forward nature of the writing and the way that Tina provides the methods that have worked for her without attempting to take the expert's stance or wow the reader with study results. 
An excellently positive healthy living read and I can't wait to try the recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies (they have chickpeas in them!).

Next up I am reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan while simultaneously drooling over the gorgeous recipes in the latest offering from the Hummingbird Bakery 'Cake Days'.
Expect (many) pictures of cupcakes to start appearing here...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fallen in Love with...Friday

This edition of Fallen in Love with...Friday is brought to you by a week of public holidays, impromptu picnics with co-workers and planning for my upcoming trip to Melbourne with Mum and Jess.
Monday's public holiday was a fabulous winter recharge and I had a wonderful run in the morning which filled me with the hope that maybe I am going to survive the Gold Coast half marathon that is a little over a fortnight away. I am feeling good about the amount of training that I have done lately so there is a glimmer of promise for the morning of Sunday, July 3rd.
Due to a large conference this week my office is almost emptied as the great minds converge in Melbourne to discuss the latest findings before coming back and sharing what they have learned with those of us left behind. The staff members who remained in sunny Brisbane decided that we should celebrate the return of one of our lovely ladies from a recent holiday and also mark the last day of another of our members as she goes off to have a baby, and so it was decided that we would take advantage of the crystal blue midwinter skies and warming sun and venture outside for a picnic. Yesterday was perfect al fresco dining weather and although we did sit at a table (making an 8 month pregnant lady sit on the ground to eat would have just been cruel), we did have all the classic picnic ingredients; there was sunshine, beautiful savoury eats and a delicious maple and walnut cheesecake to finish. A long lunch that should be repeated soon.
Last night I took the opportunity to sit down with Mum and Jess and talk some more about our trip to Melbourne (so excited - we leave the day after the half marathon so I will be able to refuel on yummy hot chocolate from my favourite place), as I really want to enjoy my time together with them and there are lots of exciting things to see in the beautiful southern city.
So without further ado here is what has made my heart pitter-patter this chilly June week:
  • My wonderful new runners from Brooks! I bought them three weeks out from the race and I am hoping that they will be worn in enough by the day. They are super comfy already and bright green!
  • Quinoa salad that I contributed to yesterday's picnic lunch. This delicious recipe will be shared tonight.
  • Memories of Topanga Beach and gorgeous California mornings spent here with my beloved.
  • Friday gym dates with the gorgeous Samantha. Just what I need to keep motivated to get up and go when the morning is cold and my bed is so toasty warm. Thanks Sam!
And now for a longer Fallen in Love with... item that seemed too long to warrant a bullet point entry.

This morning when I opened up my Google Reader one of the first posts to cross my screen was Clean Eating Chelsey's entry entitled 'What are you happy for today?'. This beautifully written post really got me thinking about my own life.
There have been times (well, there was a period of a few years actually) where I have not been happy. No matter how wonderfully my life appeared to be going or all the fantastic things happening around me I was not happy at all. I couldn't change it, no one else could change it, and I felt like it would never end.
Thankfully this time did pass, I graduated from university, I had a fabulous mentor who was unafraid of asking big questions and making me cry so that I could learn from my tears, and I took control of myself and what I wanted.
Over the past two years or so I have worked at being happy; I have asked myself the hard questions about what I wanted to do with my life, I have cried on the (much stronger) shoulders of those around me, and spent time reflecting on who Amy is inside and what it takes to live as authentically myself as I possibly can; I have tried to reduce this simmering pot down to the essence of what the most important ingredients are in my life that make me happy. 
I know that I can't define myself in black and white and pull out a list of what Amy is, and what Amy isn't but for so long I felt like I was undefined, as though I was a watercolour creature rushing from line drawing to line drawing and never fitting in. My unhappiness lay in the fact that I couldn't identify who I was; where I drew the line around the woman I was becoming and the world I was living in, the multitude of different experiences I was having and tasks that I needed to complete.
When I graduated and got my job I had a moment to breathe. I could take a beat and pull together all the parts of myself that I was discovering. As I pieced together parts of myself that had been left by the wayside for so long, and peeled back layers of my unhappiness I unearthed a happier, lighter creature; a woman more possessed of herself and open to learning more about her own life, and curious about those around her.
As Chelsey mentioned in her post you may have to go through hell to find out who you are, but you won't regret it. She is absolutely right.
There are times when I have cried myself to sleep when I realised that some of the dreams that I have held onto so long are not going to happen and there has been pain from the answers I found to questions I asked myself about who I really am. But my pain wasn't pain without reason; it was learning pain, birthing pain, when I came to the conclusion that some of my dreams don't actually fit with the authentic definition of who I am as a person and the life that I want.
Happiness for me comes when I truly accept the organic, authentic version of myself (warts and all) and the wonderful opportunities that are open to me, when I realise the freshness in each new experience and just let go of the potential for unhappiness in my future, don't forcast rain in the bluest sky, when I live in the moment and enjoy each day as it comes, when I am present in the now.
Yes, I know that a certain level of unhappiness in life is to be expected but I see this unhappiness now as a passing parade that will leave me with some learning about myself and an expanded vision of who I am as a happy person.
So right now I choose to be happy.
I choose to look into my future and see happiness.
Right now I am happy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Winter Reading List

I have an addiction. Well, I have many but I have two in particular that come together in today's post.

"Hello, my name is Amy and I am a book purchasing addict with list making issues."

I am here today to make a confession: I own a lot of books, I mean, A LOT. My collection is also growing at such a rate that it will soon rival the Great Library at Alexander. Unfortunately due to a million well worn excuses I have not yet made a significant dent in reading all of said collection, mainly because I buy them faster than I can read them. I also make a lot of reading lists, a habit that started in primary school with reading lists that the library would hand out to challenge the kids, or recommendations to keep children busy over the Christmas/ Summer holidays. I loved ticking each book off the list that feeling of accomplishment, like I had somehow absorbed even more from the book, derived more enjoyment because I could quantify my experience in someone else's eyes. I have continued this tradition into adulthood and still keep a list in the back of each year's desk diary of the books that I have read over the course of the year.

With these two addictions in mind I have decided to share my winter reading list with you all. As I finish each book I will post a review and if you have any ideas or thoughts about these books or authors, please share. There is nothing more important about literature than sharing it with others and letting it spark conversation and nourish connections and create shared experience between people.

Here are the books I have chosen so far:
1. Carrots 'n' Cake by Tina Haupert (I also love this lady's blog)
2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

A fence that I pass on the way to work. Fascinating that the vine is now gone,  but has left behind a lasting memory on the fence.
My bookmark is at the ready and my mind is hungry for whatever I find between the pages, here I dive into some of my favourite travels; through the front covers of a great book.

So tell me, what are you reading at the moment?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Once a Citizen, Now a Stranger

It is strange to revisit a place you once knew so well to only to find fundamental details have changed; parts that were so intimately entwined with your memories and shared experience have disappeared or adapted. It is a different kind of loss, one very separate from any other we experience, with its own kind of grief, acceptance and healing process.

I seem to have a habit lately of returning to places where I was once a citizen; a resident and active participant in the culture and daily activity. Now when I pass these spaces I realise everything is different and I am a stranger to this new version; a living relic of its past, a carrier of the history that happened during my time there.
I can relive what occurred within those walls, summon to mind events, scents, fractured images and conversations, but of course we can never go back and can only really ever wonder if others carry the same memorial souvenirs within their soul that we do. If we talk to our contemporaries of the lives that we lived here, the now fleeting moments of time that passed, we find some solace that the place we knew lives on in other's memory too; we are not the only ones who carry its history, our own local lore, within us. If we try to speak of what we know, what we knew, to those who populate these places now, in the after as it were, I wonder if a memory could sufficiently translate the way these spaces shaped our lives, changed us somehow even though we didn't know it at the time.

When I journey back to an old ground I am in two minds; do I want it to have stayed the same, as though by remaining unchanged some part of my own past has been preserved too? or is it easier if all has changed, so that it is harder to mourn that which has passed and cannot be returned to, save in memory alone.

I find that I learn more of myself each time I revisit a place where my citizenry has expired. That which I went through inside its walls, or within its grounds, is more easily digested with the cushioning of a few years, the essential details have distilled and I see more clearly the lessons that needed to be learned. To now be a stranger again, back at the beginning in the new old places I wonder what they will leave with me this time around?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday, lazy Sunday

I woke up this morning to the pattering of rain on the roof, and a warm cat curled into my side. After my long run yesterday I had planned on a relaxed beach walk this morning. However, the rain and a snuggle from Toby made my bed appear so much more attractive than the cold.
Sometimes, a simple snuggle really starts the day off right.
As did my yummy breakfast! Spelt flour pancakes with only the second punnet of strawberries of the season, some jam and a little maple syrup.

After breakfast I felt like a little walk around the neighbourhood, unfortunately not something that I do very often anymore. I wound my way around familiar streets and lost myself inside thoughts of now and tomorrow and enjoyed the simple beauty that delighted my eyes along the way.

I am now enjoying the smell of pumpkin soup wafting from my kitchen, to be served with some sundried tomato and olive muffins. Then for dessert some spelt flour chocolate chip cookies, not quite happy with the recipe yet so I will share after I have done some experimenting. Still, I am looking forward to testing the results of this pilot study.
All is happy inside our little home tonight.

I also want to say a huge congratulations to Julia (who blogs wonderfully at Pain, Pride and Perseverance) and her sister Jenn who completed their first marathon and half marathon respectively. Wonderful job ladies, you are so inspiring!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fallen in Love With....Fridays

This Friday post is brought to you by the glorious sunshine and blue sky filled winter day that I woke up to this morning!
Molly is home from the veterinary hospital now after having two operations to her leg. She will be sore and sorry for a little while but the vet said she will be as good as new in about three months time.

This week I have fallen in love with:
  • Jamie Oliver magazine. I love the way this magazine is published on soft recycled paper with gorgeous photography, yummy recipes and great articles. The website is also worth a look as it features recipes, local articles and information on Jamie's Food Revolution.
  • Every single piece of kitchen ware and table ware on the Anthropologie website. In addition to their beautiful and unique clothes this shop has wonderful dishes and quirky kitchen knick-knacks.
  • Autumn leaves. I have a particular weakness for the way the leaves fall from the trees at this time of year. There is something so elegant in the way that nature sheds her skin over the winter months and recreates herself in the springtime. 
  • Latest photos from the NOH8 campaign. I have been following this campaign for quite a while now and I love receiving the newsletter and updates from this silent photographic protest for marriage equality and anti discrimination. The photographs taken by Adam Bouska are so beautiful in their simplicity, a worthy cause. Love is love people. Couldn't we all use a little more?
  • Walking everywhere I can. Brisbane winter is perfect for walking, and getting out of the office at lunch, and walking a little further to work instead of parking near the building are all easy ways to build some extra activity into my day. Luckily the area I work in is beautiful and leafy and people take care of their gardens and so there are lots of beautiful things to see on my lunchtime, morning and afternoon rambles.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Trapping the Sunshine

Winter is officially upon us here in Brisbane. Today I think the sun must have taken a look outside its bedroom window and decided not to even bother rising. Grey, craggy skies filled with clouds and a chill wind greeted me this morning as I walked to work.
But I was smiling the whole way.
Because I was carrying the baked form of sunshine!
I like to think that citrus fruits are nature's way of capturing the sun for us to enjoy through the days when there are no rays brave enough to break through the horizon.
A bounty of citrus fruits; limes, oranges, lemons and grapefruit, greeted me at the markets on Saturday and I can't resist the shiny green skin of a fresh lime and so these beauties welcomed me home all week.

A Lime and Toasted Coconut Yoghurt cake was just the right thing to add some sunshine to our day of grey. Think of this as winter's answer to the pina colada. A reminder of the tropics that we have left behind for another season, a little bit of comfort when the clouds don't shift all day.
Here is my version of trapped sunshine, bake it and share the sun with those you love!

Lime and Toasted Coconut Yoghurt Cake


1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tbs finely grated lime zest
3 tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp coconut essence
2 large eggs
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
1/4 cup dessicated coconut

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter and line an 8 inch round cake tin.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer beat together butter, zest and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  4. Meanwhile spread coconut across a baking tray and roast in oven for about 5 minutes or until beginning to brown at the edges. Be careful not to burn (trust me on this one, it can happen quickly). Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  5. Add eggs to butter mixture one at a time, combining well after each addition. Beat in 3 tablespoons of lime juice and the coconut essence.
  6. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with natural yoghurt, beginning and ending with flour.
  7. Gently fold in toasted coconut and then pour into cake tin.
  8. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
  9. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely before spreading with lime icing. 
Lime Icing
Mix together 3 tablespoons of lime juice and 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar. Spread over cooled cake. Top with more coconut if desired.

The only picture of the cake prior to being devoured.
More ways to share the sunshine...
I talked to her yesterday; finally opened my mouth and said the words that I had been thinking for weeks.
And she smiled.
There is a lady who frequents my gym, I see her every afternoon I go. She started out walking, now she sprints. I have watched her journey from afar, seen her sweat, and breathe and quietly go about her journey to health.
I needed to tell her that I had noticed. There have been some afternoons that I have climbed on that treadmill and I didn't want to keep running. Then I would see her walking along, running maybe, and I would feel inspired to keep going.
So the other day I turned to her when she stepped on the treadmill next to mine and I smiled. I told her that she looked fantastic and that I had seen how hard she has been working and that I think she looks amazing.
And she smiled.

We talk so much about boosting our own body image, about talking kindly to ourselves, not listening to the lies of what we perceive in the mirror some days. There is power in that single voice, our own voice, telling us we are beautiful and we are working hard and we are gorgeous just the way we are.
But there is more power in numbers.
What if every day you told at least one other person that you think they are beautiful, or that their hair looks pretty today, or that the colour of their sweater really brings out their eyes?
What if you tell that quiet lady at the gym, or the old man who walks with his dog everyday, or the new mum who jogs with the pram in the mornings; what if you told them that you see their hard work, that it inspires you, that you think they are doing a wonderful job?
They will smile.
If we pass on the sunshine, if we let people know that we notice their efforts, that they inspire us, we take that single voice of confidence and build it into a choir. A chorus with a refrain that echoes that we are beautiful, and we are working hard and we are gorgeous just the way we are.
So next time you notice someone working hard, turn to them, smile and share the sunshine.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Watch my garden grow

There is a time after a bushfire when the earth is raw. Mother Nature's flesh is scorched and scabbed; all life has been taken or has fled from the horror of the flames. It is quiet in this desolate part of blackened earth; save for the cracks of falling trees there is no sound to hint at any kind of hope. But hope is there, you just need to know where to look for it and you need to have a little patience and give Mother Nature a little breathing space.
After a few weeks, and some soothing rain, green heads start to poke out of the soil. These tender shoots take the care of the sun and the cradle of the earth and grow stronger every day. Feeding on what was left behind and forging parts of a new future forest. The old trees who have withstood fires before start to shed the scars of this latest assault and rebuild, healing themselves as they have learned to do time and again. They did not leave in the fire, they did not die but nor will they ever be the same again.
As the old trees rebuild and the new sprouts climb further out of the healing earth signs of life return slowly; smallest insects, reptiles, and as the trees are able to support them, and the new shoots blossom with leaves, flowers and fruit, mammals and birds return to the forest. After ten years it was as if the fire had never been. Mother Nature cannot go back to what she was before the flames, never again will she be the same, but she has learned and she has healed and she has started to live again; brightly, brilliantly and beautifully.

Unfortunately we all have events in our life that raze our souls to the ground; illness, loss, disappointment, no one escapes. But from these we can rise again, never the same but still ourselves, whatever that new normal might be.
It is after these times that we can look to Mother Nature's example as we come back into the light of day.
Firstly, give yourself some time to heal, everyone is different with how long the path back will take them but you need to allow yourself time to become well. Discover what contributes to your wellness; what really feeds your soul and provides you with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual nourishment that you need to enrich the deepest parts of yourself. We all need to have good foundations on which to build ourselves and if we aren't in touch with what brings us to a state of wellness then we are tending a garden in poorly nourished earth. Once we know how to achieve this wellness it is a life long goal to maintain the beautiful earth of our souls and bodies so that we can keep travelling life's wonderful journey and partake fully of every experience.
A strong, nourished foundation allows us to begin growing again. After we have experienced a huge change or loss in our lives often times we need to start so many things again; relationships, career paths, hobbies, interests, even basic lifestyle plans are all back to the beginning and it can be frightening. When we begin to grow ourselves again we are as tender as the first shoots of spring and we need to remember to take things slowly, grow in the direction of the sun, foster our souls carefully and not be afraid to try new and untested grounds. You can never outgrow the bounds of your soul. Your heart can never be too big.
We are lucky as we begin to grow again that parts of ourselves are not consumed by the flames. There are fundamentals that cannot be changed by life, mainstays that can be comforting in the face of having to rebuild everything else. Our families, our friends, those that mean the most to us and to whom we mean the most to, provide the love that we can use to build ourselves back up again. Your own inner strength, your personality, morals, ethics and beliefs are greater than you can imagine and are more old trees amongst the ruins.  These things might flex and change in the face of disaster but they never truly leave us. Use these, seek to understand why they were not destroyed and you have uncovered the secret to what makes you a survivor. Why you are able to get through whatever hurdles are ahead.

As life moves on and seasons change we move apart from the tragedy and begin to blossom again, have faith that your soul is built to do this, to withstand greater forces than nature or any other power can throw at it. Respect the old oaks that have stood the test of time, and flame, and learn from their foundations what is important in your life, what gets you through, shows you life, even when everything else is stripped bare. Nurture the young shoots, take a chance in face of the wasteland to try something new and grow in a different direction. When you have nothing to lose, no more to give, you have freedom.
So when you face the ash and charred trunks after the fire: look at the sun, the good earth and the healing rain and say, "watch my garden grow".

Monday, June 6, 2011

This weekend: birthdays, broken legs and bittersweet chocolate muffins

When it comes to the 'good news first or bad new first' debate I have long sat on the side of bad news first and then good. For me it makes sense; you rip the bandaid off and then get the kiss better, you eat your cauliflower before you get to have your cupcake, and so I present the events of this weekend in the order of unpleasant before pleasant. No, it is not chronological in any way, shape or form, but this is the way my mind is digesting the course of events that unfolded over the past 48-72 hours. 
Here comes the bitter:
Our new beautiful puppy, Molly, who you may remember from here, escaped from our backyard and was hit by a car. Thankfully she is going to be okay but she has had to undergo some pretty intensive surgery today and will be in recovery and rehabilitation for the next three months. This unfolded on Saturday afternoon, on my Mum's birthday so it put a little cloud over our celebrations but luckily we have some great friends who still managed to make it a great night for us, and we know that Molly will be fine in the end.

Let's skip back a few hours shall we?
Saturday was Mum's birthday! This wonderful lady is being celebrated the world over (well, my world over) for everything that she brings into people's lives. My Mum is a born nurturer, she radiates comfort like the sun, she is the warm earth in which all things flourish and are coddled until they are ready to bloom on their own. So on Saturday we celebrated the start of another year in this wonderful lady's life. I am sure I can never tell you I love you as many times as you have whispered it to me through out my short time here so far, so in case I don't tell you enough, I love you Mum. Happy Birthday. Here is to many more cups of tea shared in the evening, countless bags of confectionary that appear at exactly the right time, and thousands of hugs on the couch. 
We booked lunch at a great Moroccan/ Middle Eastern restaurant in Fortitude Valley called Mecca Bah which Mum and I had enjoyed dinner at a few months ago. The location is fantastic, nestled inside an apartment complex that wraps around an array of dining establishments and fine shopping stores and the menu is filled with Middle Eastern delights including tagines, Turkish bread and fantastic salads.

Me and my Mama, and my cousin Grace.

My sister snuggled up with her fiance.

My cousin Grace and I.

I chose the beetroot, rocket and yoghurt salad as I had eaten this before and it definitely did not disappoint on round two. So fresh with a kick of spice and sweetness from the beetroot. To accompany my salad I chose the Morroccan vanilla tea which was heady and sweet and so delicious that I had to order two pots.

I love Morrocan tea glasses, but I always forget to use mine at home. Aren't they pretty?

After lunch we headed home where I started preparing for Mum's birthday feast (14 people, 1 kitchen and a whole lot of cupcakes). Unfortunately while I was prepping and chopping and roasting the Molly incident occured and so I don't have any photos of food as I needed all hands on deck to get dinner on the table as guests were arriving. My thanks to the wonderful people who I count as friends who helped to make finishing up dinner a whole lot easier, and to my beautiful sister for handling a lot of the clean up.
I can however offer a picture of the flowers that decorated the table.

Anyway I couldn't help but feel that this weekend warranted some baked goods after that, and so the Bittersweet Chocolate Muffin was born.
Warning: this is not a sweet cupcake kind of muffin but more a solid cocoa base with chunks of dark chocolate flecked through the batter. Great by themselves with a cup of coffee or tea, or warmed and spread with some berry jam.

Bittersweet Chocolate Muffins

Ingredients - dry
1 3/4 cups wholemeal plain flour
3/4 cup sugar
8 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Ingredients - wet
1 tsp vanilla essence/extract
2 eggs
1 cup soy milk (you could use dairy if you prefer)
1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup chopped dark chocolate

This is why I love muffins and quick breads, the ingredients list can be nearly as long as you like but the method is always so easy.
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line 2 muffins pans (I yielded 17 muffins out of this recipe but this depends on the size of your muffin tray, mine is a 1/2 cup capacity).
2. Using a whisk mix together dry ingredients, ensuring there are no lumps and that everything is nice and aerated.
3. In a separate bowl beat together wet ingredients.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
5. Fold through chopped chocolate
6. Spoon mix into muffin tins, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way up.
7. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before removing from tray to cool completely on a wire rack.
If you can't eat all of them within a day or two these muffins also freeze and defrost wonderfully.

Hopefully the next post will be more on the sweet side of life but for now I am grateful that Molly is going to be okay. I think I'll have to bake her some special get well dog biscuits....

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fallen in Love With...Fridays

This is a new section that I will be sharing each Friday, an edited list of what has caught my eye during the week previous and things that I can't wait to explore further.
For this inaugural Fallen in Love With... I present the following:

  • Matchbook Magazine - a coy and witty online magazine for the girl who longs to live the charmed life.
  • My Google Reader - all my favourite blogs together in one happy home.
  • Home made hummus - oh creamy, chickpea goodness. I can't wait to try out a roasted pumpkin and cumin or roast beetroot variation.
  • Pancakes (try these for an everyday indulgence and watch out for my upcoming always fluffy pancake recipe)
  • The wonderful Andie at - this lovely lady makes words dance across the page with her powerful prose, takes beautiful photos and leaves you wanting more with her mouth watering recipes.
  • Forgetting that I had already registered as an organ donor with donate life and trying to register again. I thought I hadn't gotten around to it yet, as although I made the decision a long time ago and it appears on my license it is important to also register your intent with your country/state organisation. Please give this decision serious consideration and talk to friends and family about you wishes as they will have the final say. The loved ones of up to 10 people whose lives you could save will be grateful for your gift. I like to think of it as one final random act of kindness.
There we have the first Fallen in Love With...Friday. I hope you find entertainment and some thought amongst my chic chickpea choices.
Happy Weekend everyone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Gorgeous Chickpea's Birthday

Today marked the 24th year since the birth of my best friend Casey. This lovely lady and I have shared many adventures both here and abroad; in shoe stores, kitchens, five star hotels and hostels-that-shall-not-be-named. She has taught me to be adventurous in cooking, to be brave with my life and to trust my heart.

I will never forget the first time I met this wonderful woman, somehow we just decided we would be friends and soul mates and never look back.
So here is to you Casey.
To your smile which never fails to light up a room, to your predilection for high heels even when we go hiking in Central Park, to your wild abandon when it comes to ice cream, to your caring heart and sharing nature, to your brain that is light years beyond mine and your wonderful hugs.
You are a lamp in the darkest of nights my dear and you have rescued me so many times. I am grateful for you.
I make a wish for you today that you may always have butter cream frosting to lick off beaters, 1200 thread count sheets to lay your head upon, and kittens to snuggle.
Happy Birthday my dear heart.