Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween

Legend has it that once a year the thin veil that exists between our world and the world of the spirits is lifted, but only for a night. On this one night the spirits are free to roam the human realm and cause mischief and mayhem….and screams……
I have loved Halloween for the longest time, in fact I think I can trace it directly back to my primary school days when I devoured 'The Baby Sitter's Club' books, and noticed that there were so many seasonal traditions and holidays that were different to the ones we celebrate in the Great Southern Land.
The autumn and winter holiday period has always fascinated me the most. From late September Australians are preparing for the longest, hottest, and (sometimes) rainiest period of the year; a time when it becomes impossible to be bothered doing one's hair because humidity makes a joke of even the sternest attempt, and when as a child it was perfectly normal to run under the sprinklers at school in our togs (bathing suits) at lunch time. Our northern cousins meanwhile are watching the leaves change colour, getting their winter wardrobes ready, baking all sorts of tempting treats, and celebrating traditions like Halloween and Thanksgiving.
So this year, I am bringing a little Halloween down under. I have two massive and gorgeous pumpkins decorating my table, a bucket of spooky toys and treats for the few trick-or-treaters we may have visiting our door tomorrow night, and these beautiful cupcakes to share with my work family tomorrow.
Of course, I have taught myself to cackle in an appropriately witch like manner as well.
I want to be prepared just in case that really is a goblin knocking at my door on Halloween night….
Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, thanks Martha
In other news, this is evidence of exactly how much more clever and talented the mini chickpea (my sister, Jess) is than I am.
Yes, we now worship at the altar of Jess.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Change of Season

Every September the whole of Brisbane turns a brilliant shade of purple as Jacaranda trees blossom; heralding the start of spring. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved these trees, and every time I pass them now I am taken back to afternoons in my childhood where the blooming Jacarandas sent the message that the summer school holidays were not far away. I spent many lunch times in high school seated under a particular Jacaranda, laughing with my friends, sharing tales and secrets, and enjoying the strengthening spring sunshine. When I had graduated and my sister had moved into high school, she and her friends sat under the same tree; Jacarandas are to me a little piece of growing memory, living history, that comes back to me every spring.

Perhaps these lilac tinted memories are part of the reason that spring is my favourite season of the year. Yes, I love the long days of summer and the heat and humidity that soak into every pore as the sun practically beats the earth into molten copper some days. The relief of autumn is always welcome as the days grow shorter and food more hearty, and winter nights snuggled in my bed with a cup of tea and a book feed the soul during a time of hibernation.

But that first bloom of spring; the whisper that starts in a corner of the garden and spreads rapidly until it is a chorus of colour and scent throughout the garden, the street, the city; that is where my joy lies.
If you stand quietly in the garden at this time of year, you can nearly hear the earth waking from her winter slumber, look closely and you can see daily progress in the leaves and flowers that celebrate the longer sunlit hours, and breath deeply of the life that seems to fragrance the air along with the flowers.
Let yourself feel lighter. Take a message from the trees, and the flowers and let yourself blossom.
Come into the sunshine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Do I Thank You?

I believe in saying thank you.
Two little words that can mean so much.
A mere pair of syllables that can beat out the drum of emotion gathering in my chest when something good comes my way.
I need to verbalise my gratefulness when the universe sends positivity into my life.

I believe that thanking people should extend along the spectrum from acknowledging everyday courtesies like opening the door for someone, to the efforts that come along once in a life time or less.
Every time someone takes effort from their own life and puts it into yours, donates their energy to your universe, paints your sky blue again: I believe in saying thank you.
But sometimes, I don't know how to thank people enough.
Sometimes people make such a big difference to my life that these two words spill from my lips and seem like rocks next to the jewels they have offered to me.
Sometimes I don't think that I can offer them compensation for their effort by merely using these two syllables.

Today a dear friend of mine made a grand gesture, a selfless offer that made my world a whole lot brighter, and banished a load of worries from my mind.
All I have are these two words:
Thank You.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Calories for a Cause

Breast cancer will directly affect the health of 1 in 9 women in Australia in their lifetime, of these 88% have a chance of surviving to five years post diagnosis (National Breast Cancer Foundation).
Early detection gives women a better chance of reaching this survival milestone.
During October Australia turns pink as morning teas, breakfasts, and many other celebrations are held to raise money to help increase breast cancer awareness and fund research into beating this disease.
I am so fortunate that through my work I get to talk to women who have survived breast cancer every day. These beautiful ladies are beacons of inspiration in my life, and I am humbled by the road they have walked, the challenges they have faced and the way that so many of them seem to embrace life and each opportunity it presents, with open arms.
Although my role is to coach and inspire them I find that it is often the opposite.
I am encouraged to walk my own road, because they have shone a bright pink light ahead and promised me that I am strong enough to face whatever twists the path may take.
I am steadied in my challenges by the voices of those who offer wisdom and lessons from a future that I have yet to live.
I show affection to life, because I am aware of just how precious, how fragile, how dynamic and changing it can be. Every second, every moment is a gift. You never know when that may change so come rain, hail or shine, embrace the everyday.
Every October we have the opportunity to raise funds to help with awareness, research and treatment of this disease.
These are calories for the best of causes.
Whether you choose fuchsia, peony, blush, salmon, magenta, or rose; going pink for a day and participating in your own pink ribbon day event is a shade that flatters everyone.
Last Thursday my wonderfully generous workplace donated their gold and their stomachs for our own pink ribbon morning tea.
Thank you to my beautiful colleagues for the funds we raised, they will be going to the Kim Walters Choices Program to help with the valuable work they perform in the Brisbane community.
Anyone for another cupcake?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anticipation White Chocolate Hazelnut Blondies

There come those times in our lives when we are on the cusp of either celebration or commiseration, thus finding ourselves in the state of anticipation. Being one of the least patient people I know, anticipation is a state that I like to keep driving through until I see the 'Thank You for Visiting' sign receeding in my rear view mirror and the landscape that lies beyond filling my windscreen.
This week in my office the professors found themselves in the state of anticipation. Actually it has been a long six months of work leading up to a few more weeks of anticipation as they first prepared grant proposals and then sat back and waited to see if their funding would be approved. My input in these proposals has been minimal as I sit on the other side of the fence and work on projects that have already been approved; however I have seen the amount of work going put in by professors and research assistants and so all I had to offer was an anticipatory batch of blondies.
They are the state food of anticipation after all, and they make the journey that much easier to bear.

White Chocolate Hazelnut Blondies
Adapted from Martha Stewart.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted hazelnuts, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a 9 inch by 13 inch pan with baking paper.
  2. Spread chopped hazelnuts across another rimmed baking sheet lined with paper and toast in the oven for ten minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile put flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Beat butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla to butter mixture and mix until combined.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture. Scrape down sides of the bowl and mix until well combined.
  7. Add chopped chocolate and toasted nuts and mix by hand.
  8. Spread mixture in prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging lovingly to it.
  9. Cool in pan, then lift out and slice into pieces.
  10. Let anticipation recede as you take the first chocolate and nut filled bite.

Just so you know, we did get the grant! Congratulations professor and all your hard working research assistants!

Now, for a little more sugar....

Cupcakes for a birthday at Mum's work tomorrow!

And these are teaser for my Thursday post which will be all about 'Calories for a Cause', the pink morning tea that two friends and I are holding at work to raise some money for a local breast cancer charity.

Sweet dreams chickpeas.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh What a Wonderful Weekend!

Days like these remind me that I am one of the luckiest people I know. I left work on Friday afternoon and immediately stepped out into a relaxing spring weekend full of baking, walking and catching up with my beautiful Casey!
After reading this wonderful article from 'The Kitchn' about the wonderful Judith Jones I found myself with a craving for a well made omelette, thus ensued this culinary perfection; a symphony of fluffy green onion omelette with mushroom and parmigiana accompanied by pan fried asparagus. It was exactly what I had been  imagining all afternoon.

After dinner Jess decided that Molly needed to taste test some of the cupcakes she had baked. After all, Molly is one of the best food critics we know.
The cupcakes received the tail-wag of approval. 
I then got to play 'Queen of the Buttercream' and decorate the now approved cupcakes.
Oh. Delicious.
Saturday was a highly anticipated day full of adventures with Casey Tara!
Of course, we started with something sweet; my darling Casey knows of my predilection for the peanut and chocolate combination and thus created for me mini peanut butter cheesecakes crowned with chocolate.
Watch out! These might appear again in a moment!
Then we headed off for an early lunch at 'The Little Larder'. A funky breakfast and lunch spot that is highly popular on the weekends. After our experience I can see why, and I shall definitely return. Casey and I both had the 'Vege Delight' sandwich, mine as a salad and hers as nature (and the chef) intended it to be. A wonderful combination of nutty, chewy grilled haloumi, zucchini fritters, salad greens and tomato chilli jam dressed in sweet balsamic vinaigrette. I can't wait to try and repeat this at home.
As a salad.
As a sandwich.
We then headed to James Street in Fortitude Valley and wandered and wondered at all the treasures that we found at every turn. As this area was once quite industrialised there are many old warehouses that have now become interesting shops. The high ceilings and catwalk mezzanine of this old warehouse provided an interesting contrast to the delicate Provincial style furniture on display.

After some more imaginary furniture shopping, a relaxing swim and a great Pilates class Casey and I headed back home for a family dinner. The mini peanut butter cheesecakes were too scrumptious for just one appearance in a day and so they got a little fancier for dessert when dressed with whipped cream, home made caramel sauce, shaved chocolate and salted peanuts. All served in my new amuse-bouche glasses (we had to test them out you see). Just enough to satisfy a sweet ending to a very sweet day. Thanks Casey!

The spring sunshine that woke me this morning called for a wonderful walk to revel in the promise of the coming summer heat. Following the storms that we have experienced this week nature has thrown on all her jewels; the grass shining emerald and every flowering shrub and tree displaying ruby and amethyst decoration.

Of course there is no other way to end a wonderful weekend morning than getting in the kitchen. Therefore we have the white chocolate and hazelnut blondie.

Yes, my little chickpeas the recipe will come very shortly!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dark Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my last two posts. I know that the last post 'Saying a Final Goodbye to Yesterday' was a little (okay, a lot) darker than most of the other essays that appear on One Chic Chickpea but I had finally dealt with something that had lingered for too long and I wanted to put it somewhere public to remind me, lest should I ever forget that I have closed that chapter. 
So thank you, and I thought of you all when this greeted me this morning.

Now for the food portion of my post today.
There is something about an oat cookie that evokes images of country kitchens; a delft blue tablecloth on a round table bearing a plate piled high with cookies and a clear glass jug full of ice cold milk to accompany the freshly baked goods whose scent fragrances the air with its cinnamon vanilla perfume. This is the little fantasy that wove itself through my mind as I stirred this batch of lovelies up. For an hour while I mixed and they turned golden brown and chewy in the oven I was a million miles away from suburbia in my own little cottage in the middle of nowhere listening to the trees grow and watching the spelt wave in the breeze.

Dark Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies
Makes about 48 cookies (or 47 if you taste test before the oven!)

200 grams of butter, softened
200 grams caster sugar
80 grams brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (you can use vanilla essence if you do not have paste)
200 grams wholemeal self raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
200 grams rolled oats
100 grams instant cooking oats
150 grams dark chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line three large cookie sheets with baking paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter, sugars, eggs, milk and vanilla bean paste until creamy and smooth.
  3. Add flour, oats, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Stir the dry mix gently but thoroughly through the butter and egg mixture.
  4. Drop rounded teaspoons of mixture onto the lined cookie sheets, leave about 5 centimetres (2 inches) between each round of mixture as the cookies will spread while baking. 
  5. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the cookies edges are lightly browned.
  6. Allow to cool completely before packing into an air tight container.  
Chickpea Customisation: You can replace the dark chocolate chips with any other variety of chocolate you might prefer, or instead you could use dried fruit or nuts in place of the chocolate. 

So come into my (imaginary) country kitchen and pull up a chair. I'll pour us some milk and we can dunk our cookies and just drift away on the breeze for a little while...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saying a Final Goodbye to Yesterday

Today I ended a relationship. I picked up her stuff and threw her out the front door.
Took her photos and her torture equipment and walked to the rubbish bin, placed it all inside and slammed the lid, sealing it from the sunlight of this beautiful Sunday.
No longer would this evidence linger in a corner of my sunshine coloured room, gathering dust and festering like a scar from the past that never quite grew over.
It has been a long time coming and there is still some healing to do but for the most part she is now only a bad memory and a lesson that has been lived and learned.
The break up has been a long and arduous process. With each day I worked at removing her from my life; one twisted tentacle, one poisonous root reaching from my past to my present, at a time.
Her sneers and constant jeers, the chanting of her unworthy canticle; I learned to drown these out with songs I sang about myself and how beautiful my life is and all the blessings I can count in everyday.
Sometimes she still turns up the volume, slips into my top forty. I have learned to change the channel.
She took photos, cruel pictures of a twisted soul that loved to pinch itself and exclaim over how ugly and dark everything was, every wrinkle, every wart, every stretch mark like a pleasurable wound to be opened up over and over again with the sick satisfaction of self inflicted pain.
I deserved this, she told me. I deserved to suffer. I deserved to live in the dark because I had no control, because I carried extra when others had enough control to go without, because I couldn't stop when others could, because I was an expert at hiding all I took.
She showed false cheer and lured me back into her arms with the promise that if I listened to her, if I loved her enough, if I let her lead my life, that she would make me worthy one day. She played her Pied Piper tune and conjured images in the smoke of the days of my life she burnt; one day my life would look like theirs, if I said no to myself enough, if I hated myself enough,  if I punished myself enough.
But it would never be enough.
Slowly, I emerged from her darkness.
I saw that her love wasn't love at all. If she really loved me she wouldn't tell me that I was ugly and unworthy of anyone's love but hers. She wouldn't keep me in the dark and cover me with her kisses of shame.
She wouldn't pet my hair in the dark of night, whispering dark fairy tales of the monsters that people like me became if they wandered off the path she lay at my feet.
She wouldn't wave future happiness in my face while making everyday a misery.
So I started packing her bags for her, practicing my break up speech in my head. I started squirreling away strength and starting a new life that she couldn't see, couldn't destroy.
A year and a half ago I knew it was over.  I spent more than a year saying goodbye.
Today I finally threw her out.
She will not be missed.
She is my past.  I am my now. I am my tomorrow.
And the sunshine has never looked brighter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sorry I Couldn't Help But Overhear...

"You know I've never liked my belly, even my daughter said something about it the other day." said the first lady.
"It's my thighs for me. Look at these!" Replied her friend.
"And, my arms, I shouldn't wear sleeveless tops anymore they're so bad." Continued the first voice.
"I know what you mean. I've definitely got some bingo wings happening here." Her friend agreed.
"Then there's...." The first lady nodded and started again.

This is the point where I stick my earphones back in and turn up my iPod to drown out the conversation occurring on the treadmills next to mine.
Yet even though I can't hear them, their words stick with me as I run, and I long to say something, actually several somethings. Knowing that turning to two complete strangers at 5:30 in the morning and starting a conversation about their negative body chat would probably not be welcomed I will instead turn to all of you.

Let's have a little chat about body talk.

I must precede this by stating that I am in no way perfect in my own body talk. However, I think that in this case that allows me to comment as I walk the same path as every other mirror owning person who wakes up some days and sees something in their reflection that isn't quite what they had hoped for. I must also say that I am working hard at recognizing when I am being negative, and trying to turn these thoughts around.

There are times when I look in the mirror (or any reflective surface that is handy) and scrutinize what I see before me, usually some sort of conversation then starts in my head, directed at my body. Depending on how the day has gone the talk might sound something like this:
'Gee, need to work harder on that upper body strength. Better wear a cardigan to work today, those arms are not fit for public consumption.'
'Pencil skirt not an option today, that belly is way too bloated.'
And so on...
Of course there are good days as well.
'Damn chickpea! That run on the weekend made your legs look good! Definitely wear that shorter skirt today.'

One of the first times I really paid attention to how I spoke about my body around others took place when I was driving a friend to the airport and had my 12 year old cousin in the back seat. My friend started to complain about the size of her thighs or behind, and I then made a comment about being larger than my sister.
Then out of the mouth of the babe in the backseat came the comment.
'But you are probably a lot stronger than Jess then, aren't you?'
This one little comment made me stop, close my mouth and really think.

I realized that I didn't want my cousin to grow up in a world where women thought it was okay to have negative body talk as a common topic of conversation.
I wanted her to celebrate her body. Whatever shape she grew up to be, I wanted her to be happy with the way the universe made her and to realize the gift of having a body capable of moving and running and dancing and adventuring.
In fact, I wanted that for me too.
From that point on whenever I looked at a body part in despair I tried to turn around the message that the evil little voice in my head was trying to broadcast.

I am thankful for having a body with all its pieces in working order. Sure, it might not be the most coordinated order, but it works for me.
I am grateful to have two arms that even though they will never resemble Michelle Obama's in anyway whatsoever, allow me to beat cream for a batch of scones on a Sunday afternoon, or cream butter and sugar for cupcakes, to hug the ones I love so tightly that they know how my heart beats for them, to lift tonnes of books when I go to the library and can't just pick one.
I am grateful for a (definitely not Gwen Stefani) tummy, that has never known true hunger, that celebrates every meal (and meal between meal) with little gurgles of delight, that feels deliciously warm when I lie on the beach in a bikini, that hurts in a good way after a really big laugh, or becomes a favourite place for a dog to rest their head when I lie on the floor.
I am grateful for my never-gonna-be-a-Moulin-Rouge-dancer thighs because they get me through half marathons, can do a decent version of 'The Twist' with my Mum and sister in the lounge room, help me climb mountains or grip on the back of a motorbike, and form a lap for a cat to find warmth on a winter's night.

This body is my page to write the story of my life upon. Every bump and scratch, wrinkle and scar, tells part of the tale of the person that I am today.
Scars on my hands say I have cooked good meals and made people smile with food we have shared.
Wrinkles on my face have been formed by laughing and late nights studying.
Bumps and bruises on my legs tell me that I have been running and dancing and that I'm not ready to slow down anytime soon.
Every story, every moment that I have had the pleasure of living has been witnessed by this body.
I have been carried through the bad times by this body.
I have danced, laughing and twirling, through the good times in this body.
Why shouldn't I show it the love and respect that it deserves after over twenty (pretty awesome) years?
There is no reason.

I am grateful. I am learning to tell my body how grateful I am that it works so wonderfully and how much I love it everyday.

So tonight, or tomorrow morning, or whenever you pass by a mirror next and start to tear your body down with bad words; please stop.
Stop and turn that thought around.
Tell your belly how thankful you are that it bore children.
Tell your thighs how thankful you are that they walked the dog this morning in the stillness of the dawning day.
Tell your arms how thankful you are that you can hug your beloved.
Give your body back some of the love that it shows you everyday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spring Sunday and Date Almond Cake

Spring weather in Brisbane fluctuates between damp overcast days where you are certain winter has not yet abandoned her grip on the city, and days of bright blue unclouded skies where the very wind seems to whisper of the promises of summer. Today was of the latter variety, a day bathed in sunshine and cooled by dry cool breezes that have blown through the newly opened spring flowers.
Something inside of me needed to celebrate the coming of the warmer months and so I headed out for a run through my neighbourhood; passing gardens bursting into bloom under the newly strengthened sun, and soaking up the feeling of just being out in the world on such a beautiful day.

Of course no normal Sunday would be complete without a decent amount of time in the kitchen, and so the Date and Almond Cake was born. I had been reading 'French Kitchen' by Serge Dansereau this morning and was captured by the thought of his almond bread. However, I needed to put a chickpea twist on the recipe and so flours were changed, dates were soaked in tea and added to the batter and even the sugar took on a different guise.

Date and Almond Cake
Adapted from 'French Kitchen' by Serge Dansereau

225g butter, softened
150g raw caster sugar
3 eggs
150g white self raising flour
125g wholemeal self raising flour
75g almond meal
Zest of half a lemon
125mL milk
3/4 cup of dates
3/4 cup boiling water
1 English breakfast teabag


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and butter and line an 8 inch spring form pan
  2. Place dates in small bowl with the teabag and pour boiling water on top. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before draining and roughly chopping. Set aside for later use.
  3. In a medium bowl combine flours and almond meal with a whisk ensuring there are no lumps.
  4. In the large bowl of a stand mixer cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  5. Reduce to low speed and add eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions.
  6. Add flour and almond meal mixture and combine.
  7. Beat in lemon zest, followed by milk and mix well.
  8. Add chopped dates to the dough and mix through by hand using a long handled scraper.
  9. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. If it starts to brown too quickly cover with tin foil.
  10. Remove cake from oven when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, allow to cool completely in pan before releasing.

This cake is destined for the office tomorrow where its damp almond smell and moist crumb will be well appreciated on a Monday morning when all you want to do is be outside in the spring sunshine.