Saturday, February 25, 2012

Banana Chocolate Muffins for Bobby C.

It is strange how much can change in the turn of a year. I am one of those sappy sentimental types who loves to look back over the course of time and see the progression of my life, and the lives of those around me, at any given opportunity.
You should have seen me on New Year's Eve. I was a moist-eyed, messy haired maelstrom of emotion.
Anyway, the strangest things can transport me into reflecting over the year, and today it just happened to be the price of bananas.
Please, stay with me, I promise there is a point, a recipe, and some photos, very soon!
This time last year Brisbane was in the early stages of cleaning up after our horrendous floods. Every day there were new reports of the extent of the devastation and the millions of dollars of work that needed to be done to put people's lives back together. I won't deny that there are so many people still suffering the after effects, but there is still help available and still work goes on.

Shortly after the floods northern Queensland was severely affected by cyclone Yasi. Again, communities were leveled, whole lifetimes swept away along with houses and possessions and all the banana crops.
Here in Brisbane, in the areas not affected by the flood, such as where I live, one of the major symptoms of the natural disasters plaguing our state was the price of bananas. Such a silly thing, but here it is a type of barometer for our society. In Brisbane, that means that when bananas hit $15 a kilogram, something is wrong.
Sometimes in life it is those common daily objects and foods that we rely on to indicate normality and maintain consistency when all else goes awry. Over the past couple of months when there have been some major shifts in my life the rhythm of the everyday, the dulling, soothing regularity of household tasks has been a blessing. You just surrender to the familiarity, and you know that those everyday things, those simple parts of life, mean that when you look at the bigger picture, when you are able to, everything really will be all right.
Now, a year after the floods, and what a year it has been, I saw bananas at the market today for 29 cents a kilogram. 2012 might be a restful year after all. The banana always knows.

These muffins were made for my Dada, Bobby C.

Banana Chocolate Muffins for Bobby C.

I used a scale to measure all large quantities of ingredients, wet into one bowl and dry into another. It made for easier cleaning up! To convert grams to ounces simply use this handy little calculator.
Makes 20 medium sized muffins.

225 grams plain flour
115 grams brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

170 grams milk
3 small bananas, or two medium
Juice of one lemon
2 large eggs
50 grams rice bran oil (or other mild flavoured oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

2/3 cup chopped dark chocolate


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line two muffin tins with 20 paper liners, or spray with cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl mash bananas with the lemon juice, you want them to be mostly liquid but a few banana chunks are okay and will caramelise slightly when baked.
  3. Into the banana bowl weigh the other wet ingredients; milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla bean paste.
  4. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.
  5. Add dry ingredients to the banana mixture and stir until mostly combined, then gently fold in the nuggets of dark chocolate.
  6. Spoon mixture into prepared pans and bake for approximately 15-18 minutes, swapping trays between top and bottom halfway through the cooking time. 
  7. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Returned, and, Observations about Observation

Here I am, returned safe and sound from my southerly sojourn. Lighter of pocket, and heavier of suitcase with blistered feet and a relaxed mind I wound my way back into town on Monday afternoon.
I did a great lot of walking, and thinking and drinking and talking whilst I was in Melbourne. I present to you some thoughts recorded while sipping chamomile tea one afternoon, and some photos from my week away.

It is no great secret that one of my favourite pass times is people watching. Whether I am travelling, or just a home town tourist, even on my commute to and from work, I love to observe my fellow humans.
How can we, all essentially the same, be such an endless source of entertainment and wonder?
Perhaps that is what people-watchers like myself are trying to figure out.
I find amusement in the details of people, the intimate and telling parts of ourselves that we put on display to the world everyday; the chic minimalist woman who wears her grandmother's earrings because they remind her of a beloved now passed, the tough businessman with his 'I Heart My Labradoodle' keyring, the rebellious neon haired teenager who still wears her confirmation crucifix. These are the almost imperceptible details of people that provide me with hours of entertainment and endless leads and lifetimes in my mind.

When that which can be seen starts to bore, I turn to that which cannot be viewed.
What are the secrets of those around me? Who are they? Where have they travelled from to be in the same place as me today?

The three women across from me at the cafe today are a perfect example. An eclectic group for sure; one woman in a council worker's safety fluorescent shirt, another who would be right at home as a humanities lecturer at the local university, and another who appears to work in hospitality if anything can be guessed from her monochromatic black garb and serviceable and steady sneakers.

Three very different occupations, three women who do not appear related, and yet here they are sharing coffee, laughter and conversation. Where did their lives become entangled? What spark inside each individual lit a fire of companionship in the other so that they came to be sitting around a small, round, concrete table on a sunny afternoon in Melbourne.

Then, how did it transpire that the wires of each of their lives led them here at the exact moment I sat down to my own cup of tea and pistachio macaron?

These are their stories to keep and mine to keep wondering about.
Isn't it amazing though, that all those stories intersected for an hour one February day.

They leave, together, and I stay, alone, and wait for the next unknown story to pass before my eyes.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bon voyage!

My dear readers,
I am off adventuring tomorrow, just a week long jaunt to gorgeous Melbourne to catch up with some friends, drink amazing coffee (and perhaps some champagne...) and do some damage to my savings account. 
I feel my feet drawing me to all corners of the city to gather tales and walk through the dappled late summer light. 
I may have time to regale you with my adventures during my sojourn, but this wanderer might forget...

Your peripatetic friend,

Thursday, February 9, 2012

So Many Celebrations!

It seems we can barely go a week in the chickpea household without some celebration or another, not a bad way to live at all!
Today marks a very important occasion in our family calendar - my parent's 32nd wedding anniversary!
February 9th, 1980
There is beauty in love that has lasted so long, and many years of happiness to look back on; from their love grew our family and the wonderful times we have all had together.
My parents have taught me so many beneficial things throughout my life, and watching their marriage over the past (nearly) 25 years of my life has allowed me valuable insight into how love blooms and grows throughout our life span.
Things are not always perfect, in fact who would want them to be? There will be areas of pressure build up, and things will go wrong, but if you remember that the greatest bond between you is love, then you can survive these things. Seams of pressure build coal into diamonds, and diamonds are forever.
You are in it together, and as long as you have each other nothing else matters.
Remember to value the small things that other's do for you - because while grand gestures and diamond rings are fabulous, at the end of the day making the bed and mowing the lawn are just as valuable expressions of love everyday.
My parents have stood side by side through many storms in their 32 years and their love now is even more beautiful with its patina of time and care. There are worn in comfy spots that show in the smiles on their faces, and rituals that still transport them back to when they were only newly weds.
Perhaps the moment that I see the years fall away the most is when my Dad gathers Mum into his arms for a waltz every time 'Three Times a Lady' by Lionel Richie plays on the radio. The smile on her face, and the mist of happy tears in her eyes turn Mum back into a blushing bride dancing with her husband at their wedding, and Dad back into a young man who was so happy to start a life with his lady.
Congratulations Mum and Dad, here is to 32 years more of happiness, health and love.
'Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love'
(1 Corinthians 13:13)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday Book Corner: Caleb's Crossing

This past week I have had the pleasure of losing myself in 17th century New England through the lyrical voice of Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks' new novel 'Caleb's Crossing'.

This offering is a thought provoking read about the meeting of two cultures, namely the English Puritan settlers and the Native American tribes of Martha's Vineyard. The story takes place through the eyes of young Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of the island's minister, and her interaction with both the island itself and a young Native American boy she names Caleb. As their stories become more closely entwined over the years and Caleb makes the crossing from his world to hers Bethia begins to wonder whether the part she played was for good or evil and how she will be judged for the deeds of her life. 
This tale draws out the elements of interaction between old worlds and new; both in terms of settlers and native peoples, and also the roles of men and women. Learning and education are also highlighted as Caleb attends Harvard University, and hungry for knowledge Bethia must hide her desire to feed her mind, and sacrifice much in the journey. Next time I encounter some 'old world' myself I will be thinking of what I could learn from them, before I impose my own way, thoughts and emotions onto something that could be perfect just as it is, and perhaps enrich my life.
Tragedies abound in 'Caleb's Crossing', death, sickness and back breaking work are never far from the protagonist and she seeks to find God's message as each unfolds, believing that she is being punished for her sins. The hardships Bethia faces in her personal life are echoed in the role of the sometimes harsh seasons that pass on the island and the new mainland world Bethia finds herself in. 
Of late I have found myself struggling with immersing myself in fiction, however the realistic painting that Geraldine Brooks gives through the eyes of Bethia captured me within the first chapter and kept me prisoner until the last word. Bethia is a modern day woman in a pilgrim's world, and her fight for education and justice in a world not easily giving of either is an inspiration. 'Caleb's Crossing' left me reflecting on how lucky we are to have our freedom of speech and ability to seek education as women, and the still unfortunate existence of less liberated places still on earth. 

This is truly a book that you won't be able to put down, and one that will stay with you long after the final page.

"My hands will be engaged in menial tasks - but my mind will be free."
(page 277).

This is one for the bookshelf dear reader.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Just a Line Today

Don't allow any definition of yourself, the human spirit lies beyond categorisation.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Fate of the Leftover Brownies

I have a tale to weave my friends, of the brownies who were left behind after their delicious counterparts had already been gobbled the night previous in a sugar deprived haze.
These lonely chocolate souls awaited their fate on the counter of my kitchen thinking of the simple days and wondering when they too would be plated plainly and savoured simply with a cup of tea. Little did they know that some brownies are bound to have greatness thrust upon them, whatever their humble beginnings might have been.....

Right now, some of you are probably thinking, Amy, why did you have leftover brownies? What on earth could those chocolate morsels have ever done to you that you could neglect them so badly and leave them alone all day? Well friends, it's called moderation and because I wanted to build something a little exciting out of them when I had a friend over for dinner on Friday night. These plain but delicious brownies became perfectly fancy mini desserts when paired with some other everyday ingredients that I had on hand.

On Thursday I made some delicious Healthy Secret Brownies (recipe to come) and I got to thinking how even more tasty they might be as a dressed up brownie trifle when my friend Caroline came to dinner.

Firstly I took a cookie cutter that would result in pieces of brownie small enough to fit in the bottom of the small glasses in which I planned to serve dessert.

After the brownie medallions were safely tucked into their new glass homes I mixed about 1/3 cup of milk and two teaspoons of instant coffee powder and heated it in the microwave for thirty seconds. Remember to use a large enough microwave safe bowl otherwise your milk will foam over the top (not that I know this from experience...). I then drizzled about a tablespoon of the mixture over each brownie and put them in the refrigerator to macerate in the caffeine elixir.

When dessert time came I warmed up each bowl for about a minute in the microwave and topped them with a correspondingly tiny scoop of ice cream and some toasted chopped almonds.

Oh, and some shaved chocolate because, they are only mini you know....

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Coming Home to the Garden

Today I put my hands back into the earth and I remembered where my heartbeat truly lies.
I forgot everything but the microcosm of life before me, the afternoon sun lovingly warming my back, the blades of grass tickling my ankles and the smile on my face as I felt the old familiar joy of dirt under my fingernails.
It seems that my life has revolved around the garden in one way or another. I suppose that it was always fated that it would with both my grandmothers being avid gardeners; for necessity in providing for their family, and for celebrating the beauty of the bloom. My parents have always surrounded our home with plants, trees to bring shade in this sometimes sun beaten land, and blossoms for colour in our dark green world.
I don't remember the first time I planted something of my own, but as a child most photos of me reveal that I was never far from a flower. Even now, the gift that is most guaranteed to bring a smile to my face is a bunch of blooms.
A seven year old me.
When I was in late primary school, about ten or twelve I suppose I planted the first thing that really brought me pride; Hollyhocks that grew so high that they seemed to be reaching up to touch the great blue yonder, there is a picture of a five foot nothing me standing beneath the rods of blooms; yellow, pink, red and white, smiling at something that I had helped come to life.
At that age gardening for me was a hobby born from both curiosity, an endless hunger for more and more knowledge about anything I could get my hands on, or my mind into; and also from the fact that I was very uncomfortable amongst my peers. At that age most of my friends were characters from the stacks of books I voraciously devoured weekly. Many of these books focused on some sort of magic, in particular magic of the natural world and I suppose that also stirred me on to get out into the garden.
As an adult the garden to me is ripe with metaphors (if you will excuse that awfully obvious pun), and it seems particularly poignant now, at the not so fresh start of the new year, to be discarding that which I planted last year to begin again. Today while I was removing the remains of some pea plants that did not thrive under my care, it came to me that sometimes in life it does not matter how much you try to foster some things, they are not meant to grow. You can tend to love, and try to bring a heart to life, but if it does not come from fertile ground and your conditions are not ideal to its particular temperament, it will not stay yours for long no matter how hard you try.
Removing last season's radicchio plants brought to mind the old adage 'there is a season for everything', I think this is true for emotion too. There was a season, a lovely long season for rejoicing in love, and the shiny promise that it brought to even everyday matters, there was a season for mourning the love that was lost, through no fault, and now a season for healing and bringing back to life all that has lain dormant for so long and fostering the new growth.
There are all manner of lessons waiting in my garden, and I am a willing student.
Yours, from the vegetable patch,