Saturday, June 13, 2015

Those Edges

I just felt compelled to re-write my "About Me" page, because when I did it last year I was kind of copying a blog I wanted to be. Which is what they say you should do … but it really oversimplified (?) dramatised (?) who I do want to be. It's something I've been struggling with a bit, both in this space and in life. 

Who the fuck am I? What makes me happy?

And I think I'm finally beginning to get it. Happiness isn't cutting off your edges to fit into the right slot. It's pushing those edges up against the world - letting them feel the hot and cold, letting them ache and sting. 


So I rewrote my About Me page

And it makes me think that we all need one - a place to not-define who we are but where we can go when we forget that it's ok not to know. 

Write it. Use it like a map, but don't follow too closely.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups (In Ball Form)

Winter's here, Brisbane.

There's a sting of it in the evenings and the mornings, before the sun beats it out. But there's no snow, no ice, and you can still get a sunburn; the bougainvillea's flowering at the corner of the deck, the passionfruit vines up the house a bit more each day.

So it's not much like the winters I grew up with in Iowa - building snow forts that lasted for weeks, careening down the hill on a little saucer sled. But it's winter, for sure. 

And you know what winter calls for, don't you?


But more than that. Peanut butter, too. 

I made these chocolate-peanut butter balls this week for a quick and easy after-dinner dessert, after a vegan feast I put together for Robbie's lab from the cookbook Jerusalem. On a side note, that book is AMAZING - really, if I'd taken pictures of our dinner, you'd be seeing almost all of it - but I had to look elsewhere for dessert. I needed fast and easy and vegan, and something I could make from my pantry.

Yes, dessert was an afterthought. Guess it goes to show how inspiring Yotam Ottolenghi's salad and grain recipes were.

There are a fair few chocolate/peanut butter ball/cup recipes out there, but I wanted something vaguely healthy, too. Angela didn't let me down. These little balls require only a few nutritious ingredients (dark chocolate! peanut butter! coconut!) and come dangerously close to satisfying my cravings for Reese's Peanut Butter cups. I'm in biiiiiiiig trouble.

I followed the original recipe pretty closely but added a little too much coconut flour, so they came out a bit stick-to-the-top-of-your-mouth-y. But I can live with that. These peanut butter cup wannabes are even better after a couple days in the fridge, and I shudder to think how good they might be out of the freezer.

I had to eat two just to get the picture you see above.

Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
adapted from Oh She Glows
makes 16-20

1 cup natural peanut butter (I used chunky)
1/2 tsp sea salt (if the pb is unsalted)
3-4 Tbs maple syrup or thick raw honey or a combo of both
1-3 Tbs coconut flour (depending on consistency)
1/3 cup crispy rice cereal

3/4 cup - or 130 grams - 70% dark chocolate (I like Green&Blacks! Go fair-trade for sure)
1/2 Tbs unrefined coconut oil

NOTE: it's less fiddly to do these as balls than cups and doesn't use all the paper wrappings, too!

1. Mix the peanut butter with the salt (if needed) and the syrup or honey until it's thick. In the original recipe, Angela talks about how the PB thickens up after a few minutes of stirring. Mine was always thick.

2. Add coconut flour a little at a time until the mixture is the texture of cookie dough and can be rolled into smooth balls that don't fall apart. I didn't need much flour at all with the peanut butter I was using, but at least put in some, because it gives nice tooth-feel. ;)

3. Stir through the rice cereal. Definitely don't skip it - you want the little crunches as you bite in.

4. Form the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls and put them on a sheet covered in baking paper. Set aside or in the fridge while you make the chocolate coating.

5. Microwave or stove-warm the chocolate and coconut oil over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it's all melted together. Let it cool a little bit.

6. The original recipe suggests spearing a ball on a fork to coat it, but I preferred a plop-and-recover method using a spoon. This fancy technique entails dropping a single ball into the dish of chocolate and fishing it back out with a spoon, before returning it to the tray. When all the balls are done, pop them into the freezer for 10 minutes or so until the chocolate has hardened.

7. Serve these cool or at room temperature, and store extras in the fridge. Just remember to WASH or SOAK your bowl and spoon straight away or the chocolate will harden into something like titanium on them.

PS. I've always found it difficult to make those 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies you see on the web - something about all that peanut butter … But these? No problems at all.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is a Massage a Week Too Much?

I'm on a bit of a massage thing at the moment, trying to sort out the clench of my shoulder blades and my hamstrings, the twinge in my lower back. Trying to relax. I go to those places at the shopping centres, where tiny ladies lean their elbows into you and your muscles explode. Amazing. Patentable.

I don't want to have to justify my habit, if you want to call it that--Reliance? Program?--but sometimes I feel the question rise up in me: Is a massage a week too much?

Here's what I think: Fuck no. Is sex too much? Or shavasana at the end of hot yoga? Or the bit of ice cream dripping down the side of the cone, or tongue-slidingly-silky chocolate mousse, or those amazing head tickling things you are seriously not going to pay $25 for (but maybe?)?

How about when you do whatever it is you love doing, and you get into the flow of it and time tips over on its side, but what does it matter because you've had a killer coffee and you're doing what you love doing--that thing you'd do if it were your last day on earth because it makes you feel so right.

Yes, that. And massage. And maybe sex, too.


Every day, we stress about dying or work or gravity, and none of it binds us. Stress isn't some miracle that keeps us from decomposing, and it doesn't mold us into the people we truly are. Who we are comes from looseness--physical and psychological and creative mobility. When we wear our skin like a naked mole rat does (and look how long they live!)

"Hold your story loosely," says Alan Watt, in his book on writing.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the answer to everything. Don't try to pin it down too soon, force it into something: if you let it breathe it can become so much more. More than you can ever imagine.

So can you.

Make space in your self--oceanic, atmospheric, blood-rushing space. Feel life rush in.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Be Awesome

You don't need a Thermomix to be awesome. 

You just need some leftover veggies, herbs, sea salt, a couple splashes of olive oil and a blender or food processor. A glass jar, a fridge. 

You need to look at yourself naked, and be ok. Scars, floppy bits, all of it. You're you, and you're beautiful. 

You need to listen to your heart more, follow it whenever you can. 

You need to sleep, move, eat. Live and love like you're mortal, because you are. Grow things. See the way light strikes your world. Examine, feel, taste.


Awesomeness comes from the foundations - the basis, the stock. It pours up like water through a tree, so find your roots and nourish them. 

Whatever you need to be awesome - that's what you need. Nothing more. 


So stand at the stove. Watch the water bubble off the bottom of the pot, stir in the veggie paste, tip in the skewers of pasta or the hard kernels of rice. Wait, and they will soften, pull in the flavour of the stock and the salt; absorb it. They will take it in and transform, become their better selves, truer somehow. 

Watch it happen. 
Amanda xx

Veggie Stock Concentrate
like the stuff you make with a Thermomix, only without the Thermomix

700 grams raw mixed veggies - offcuts, extras, scrubbed peels, random bits
a handful of mixed fresh herbs
1-2 cloves garlic
150 grams sea salt (I like Maldon)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

I first saw this veggie stock concentrate at a friend's Thermomix demo and had to steal the recipe. (I found a great one here.) I don't have a "Thermie" but I do have a super-powered blender, which easily smoothes up the veggies. You'll need to have a good food processor or blender for this recipe because we don't dilute it with water - that's the point, actually. It's a concentrate, full of flavour and salt*.

*On that note, DO NOT skimp on the salt, even if it seems excessive when you measure it out - it keeps the concentrate fresh and seasons the food perfectly. 

Just blend all your fresh, raw, clean, chopped veggies and herbs and garlic and oil and salt into a paste, store in the fridge (or in cubes in the freezer); it'll keep for weeks (or longer). 

Use it for everything - 1 Tbs per 500mL of water.  
Life-changing. Seriously.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Through the Looking Glass

This is not a post about food. If it were, I might tell you how I sat on a bench in the shade of the primate exhibit and pulled a baguette from my backpack, how I tore it into large pieces and smeared the soft insides with butter from tiny plastic cases, how I used my sharp eye teeth to rip through the chewy crust. 

But this isn't about that.

Female bonobo, San Diego Zoo

This is about a bonobo, a species of ape that shares 99.6% of its genes with chimpanzees and 97.8% of its genes with humans. This is about a moment I had, where a female bonobo lumbered toward me in a kind of crouched walk, sat down just across the glass wall and flicked her hand in my direction. Her heavy knuckles smacked against the barrier. She looked toward me, then turned her head away.

The window from my world to hers was scratched, but transparent - I have no idea what things looked like from her side. Could she see me seeing her? Or was I simply a shadow behind her own reflection?

Amanda xx

bonobos, San Diego Zoo

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Fruit-Themed Vegetarian Dinner Party and Anise Olive Oil Crackers

We recently had a dinner party for a bunch of our friends, because yes I'm crazy and I love doing this shit and you know you do, too, so stop being afraid and just invite some people over and feed them.

dinner party for 8 - because friends are awesome

Nelle, who's completely inspired by the show My Kitchen Rules, set up our "instant restaurant" for the evening. We called it Nelle's Garden, because it was held in our garden, and she set the table, and because I purchased a mega box of seconds produce at the greengrocer earlier that day, so I felt inclined to put fruit in EVERY SINGLE DISH.

Here's our menu (for 8):

Homemade anise crackers with melted cheese and pear
Best pizza ever with green pepper, apple and onion
Quickie chocolate cake with plum chia jam

Ok, sounds terrifying, but it wasn't. I'll walk you through it, you'll be fine.

vegetarian dinner party
PS. This is the only picture because then it got dark. But just imagine every course looking this pretty, and that's how it went.

My all-time favourite cracker recipe, which I've reposted below because it now has appealing photos. Because I'm now able to take better photos on my better camera and because I'm almost 40 and that's something. On a perhaps more-relevant note - the slight licorice-y flavour of the anise seeds complements the cheese and fruit.
(NOTE: I made the dough earlier in the day but rolled out the crackers right before people arrived so they were still a little warm. I cut the rolled dough very haphazardly because no one really cares what crackers look like. The recipe is perfect for this number of people.)

The plum cordial was tasty, but I probably won't make it again. I'm more of a lime-with-my-gin type, I think.
(NOTE: I made the cordial the day before and assembled the drinks when people arrived. The recipe is perfect for 8.)

BUT the bonus of the plum cordial was that I blended up what was left of the plums after straining for the cordial and added chia seeds and lime to it to make jam. How? 2 Tbs chia seeds per 1 cup strained, blended fruit, with lime to taste. It's amazing. I used it in the cake at the end and gifted some and still have some left for toast … all for practically FREE because the cordial recipe told you to throw that bit out. Ha!

I wanted something fresh, and this cold peach-and-tomato soup was tasty but not my favourite. On the bright side, it didn't take much effort just to blend the shit out of everything and pour it into cups. Next time, I want to try a strawberry gazpacho recipe I've spotted in one of my cookbooks.
(NOTE: I made this right before serving. The recipe was too much for 8 - I would halve it.)

OMG I loved the roasted carrot salad with oranges and avo!! I used regular carrots but cut them on angles so more surface area caramelised in the oven. A fantastic combination of flavours and a great way to use up carrots when you buy those giant bags of cheap "juicing" ones like I do. I went with a simpler dressing than called for - just a tiny splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hefty drizzle of rice vinegar. Hell yes, I'm making this again. And again.
(NOTE: I put the carrots in to roast right after I took the crackers out of the oven and assembled the salad right before serving. I didn't really follow the quantities in the recipe, more went by how many carrots I had and how many avocados I could afford*.) *these things are like gold in Queensland at the moment. 

Two things here.

First - the combination of green pepper, apple and onion (with a dash of rosemary and basil) was a mouth bomb I learned from my very talented friend Cristjen, who made a stir fry with those ingredients on his recent visit. I put them fresh on pizza, added mozzarella and a little dressed rocket, and was VERY happy indeed. I love when people change my perception of what flavours go with what!
(NOTE: I shredded the cheese and cut the peppers and onions the night before, and stored them in separate covered containers in the fridge. I also drizzled the cut onions with a little vinegar to take the burn out of them. I used 1 red onion and 1 huge green pepper and a couple small green apples to serve 8. Herbs were from the garden.)

Second - I can never go back to pita pizza knowing how good the homemade stuff can be. I'm fucked. This dough was flavourful, easy to work with, and crispy and chewy in all the right places. Damn you, amazing pizza dough recipe!!
(NOTE: This is "overnight" dough but that doesn't mean you just put it in the fridge and it's done. There are many a gazillion steps but they are very worth it! This served 8 easily, with tragically few leftovers. Next time you people are getting more gazpacho.)

Individual (vegan) cake portions in cute cups? I LOVE it!! I used this recipe, but substituted my homemade plum jam for the peanut butter because a) I had heaps of jam on hand and b) Australians are insane and do not in general like peanut butter and chocolate together. WTF?? And yet I became a citizen. Hmmm.

Anyway, I found the recipe a little challenging to make for 8 people, as the ingredients are listed by the single serving, but I did my best guesswork and everything came out deliciously. If you use super dark chocolate like I did, be sure to serve this with ice cream or fresh cream or sorbet to cut the bitterness. I cooked the batter in tea cups with enough space for dollops of ice cream and it was just right.
(NOTE: I mixed the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately before the party and assembled and microwaved while I brewed coffee. I employed child labor on the ice cream.)

Overall, this menu was great for a summery, vegetarian dinner party! I didn't spend too much time in the kitchen while our friends were here, except for the pizzas - but Nelle helped me with those. Next time, though, I think we'll do pizzas on the BBQ instead of in the oven so we can hang out with everyone else while they're cooking. I could hear snippets of interesting conversations out there!

Here's to enjoying your food, family and friends,
Amanda xx

And - as promised - the crackers:

Olive oil crackers with anise seeds 
and prettier pictures*

* and if you don't believe me, just look

1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 c warm water
1/3 c olive oil
+ 2 Tbs anise seeds

olive oil cracker dough

What to do
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients. Mix with a fork until you can't mix it anymore, then use your hands to knead the dough in the bowl and/or on the bench top. 

When the dough looks smooth, stop and put it in a covered dish for 30 minutes or so. Turn on the oven, really hot, like 200C hot, and put some pizza stones or baking sheets in there to warm up. 

Sprinkle flour all over your bench top and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough as though you're making cookies. Thin, but not too thin. Use a knife to cut it into random sections. 

Transfer the cut dough pieces to the hot baking sheets/pizza stones and cook for ~10-12 minutes until golden and crispy. You may have to flip them, depending on how hot the baking sheet is when you start. Super browned is not ideal, but not the end of the world, either. 

Serve immediately! Or when cool enough to touch. You can keep these, but they're best eaten straight away.

anise and olive oil crackers with pear and melted cheese

Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Great Comfort Foods to Make This Weekend

Apparently there's a cyclone or two coming.

Cyclone Marcia

They say that Brisbane will get around 400-500mL (16-20") of rain tomorrow today alone one of these days - before the storm continues on its merry way down the coast, bringing even more rain for everyone.

Robbie tried to convince Nelle that we're all going to spiral away in the winds to a land called Oz, which is kind of true, but also the wrong kind of cyclone. Luckily, she knows better than to believe him.

You know what I think? Our garage will flood. The dog will refuse to go outside. My hair will frizz. My feet will get wet. And my legs. Quite likely, all of me.

So I'm going to drink a lot of tea.

A lot of tea 

And make comfort food.

Because I'm currently in bed and I still don't feel like downloading the new photos I took of some yummy things I've been making, I had a look through the archives for recipes I haven't made in awhile. It's kind of alarming, actually. I mean, it's been YEARS since I scalloped anything, or popped popcorn just as a substrate for peanut butter! And we definitely need some cookies around here. You probably do, too.

oat and sunflower biscuits, redux

So here are the recipes I'm revisiting over the next few days -

And right now? I'm making fresh bread and I reeeeeeally hope it works, because I need something NOW for butter and honey to go on. I'll let you know how we go :)

Stay safe and dry, friends,
Amanda xx

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What's Organic? What's Authentic? What Does it Matter?

You know what it all comes down to? We are all dying, every single one of us, every day. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. 

I know, and I'm sorry. This kind of information sucks. But it's absolutely true, and I firmly believe that the sooner we accept the fact that we are going to die (and probably younger than we'd like, and with unresolved issues, and trips we never went on, and things we forgot to say, and time we forgot to appreciate, and maybe a little bit of pain), the happier we can be during this short, sweet life. Yes, I said pain. Get over it.

I've seen death in so many ways, we all have. That hair in your shower drain? Death. Death in my garden, in my heart, in nature, on the news, everywhere in the world around us. And that's just what we can see. Today, 50 billion cells in my body will die. Yours, too.

But I'm still alive.
And presumably, since you're reading this - so are you.

Which means that we can still make this the best fucking life ever. 

Yes, I've had too much coffee and my brain is pounding out my head with enthusiasm here … but also I really want you to see what I see - that there is TIME, there is right now and it doesn't matter what comes after that.

Now is time. 

So what does any of this have to do with being organic or authentic? 

Being organic isn't just about growing food without undue chemicals, though you know how I feel about that. (When you can, eat organic!)

It's about being a LIVING BEING. Think: organ. And if you don't believe me, check the definition. It's about being a live, dynamic, breathing, sweating, farting, crying, laughing, stressing, eating, thinking being. Changing everything, just by living. 

We're alive, that's already been sorted. What we get to choose is how we live - and the more we care about the world, about our bodies, about the time we have left, the better off we'll all be.

That's where being authentic comes into play. You're going to die. So are you going to do it anonymously? Or are you going to stop pretending to be something you're not and rip your clothes off and find out how this world feels on your skin?

(Personally, I like being naked. Particularly in unexpected locations. Like mountain lakes. The rain. My living room. You should try it.)

You know what authentic is? Don't you dare tell me hipster, or Kinfolk, or those awesome Instagram feeds we all drool over (yes, I love them too … ;) ). It's YOU. It's your little happinesses, and anxieties, and dreams, and insecurities, and all those trillion thoughts that flit through your head every day. It's who you were and who you want to be and most importantly who you are TODAY.

Be YOU. There is no one else.

So does it matter?
You tell me.

Big love, friends,
Amanda xx

PS. I get scared, too. That's cool. :)

Friday, January 9, 2015

My Friend Died Today

Actually, she died Friday. Yesterday. But I wrote this last night in bed, my daughter asleep and softly snoring beside me, the doona off and the fan on blowing hot, heavy air. Summer in Brisbane - the smell of mock orange, the chatter of geckoes. You can tell how hot it is by how fast they chirp. 

And my friend is gone, and I don't know how to feel about it. I'm sad, but am I as sad as I should be? Because she was so important to me in all those cancer years - the year of the surgery and the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy, when Nelle came to our support group sessions not even walking yet but with cheeks so pink and fatty you could sink your teeth into them - and then over the years after when it was still all about cancer. Every day. Death at my door.

But then, I didn't die. 

I moved on into cancer-free life, a life of known but surely-distant mortality, and her cancer moved out of her breast and through her lymphatic system and into her liver where it would stay and grow and mark the end of her existence one cell at a time. 

Is it fair that I survived? Is it fair that I lost touch?

I remember her smile, and the softness of her hugs. Sometimes she had hair, sometimes she didn't, and she wore bandanas and short scarves to cover her bareness. Years of chemotherapy. Years of hope, and waiting, and living, and dying. I ache for her pain, I hope she lived hard. 

And how is it possible that I feel so connected and so distant at the same time, for this life that's gone and a friendship that had already spread apart over the years? Us girls, we are like a photograph in my mind - an image in another friend's living room, all of us smiling, making it, getting through. A picture that fades with time as we dissipate - as delicate as dandelion seeds - blown off the stem or stuck to it, but changed for the shared experience. My friend, all these friends, carved a space in who I became, who I am and will be all these years I live on and on. 

Amanda xx

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lost and Found

This year I got lost. I flew over the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean and through several books, including Olive Kitteridge and Elders. I found my name carved in a tree.

I discovered Rebecca Solnit and Hanukkah donuts (which were much like these, but lemony) and drank too much wine and slept in whenever I could, sometimes because I was tired and sometimes because I just didn't want to have to deal with my day. I made new friends, and spent time with old ones.

I oscillated between writing and thinking and planning and cooking and wishing I didn't have to feed all these fricken carnivorous marsupials every day, but I fed them anyway, raw mince and calcium powder and vitamin drops. They, in turn, bit me and urinated and defecated and ejaculated on me and I wiped my hands on my jeans. All in the name of science.

In Malaysia, I tried fresh durian and roti chani. In Scotland, I learned to salt my porridge. At home, I topped pita bread pizzas with crisp green salad and tangy vinaigrette, and poured milk over cereal, and ground freshly-roasted beans for coffee. And in the evenings, Robbie made fires in the Weber on the deck and we sat outside - sometimes with Nelle and sometimes with friends - to watch the Brisbane sky darken and the fruit bats fly over, and when we were alone we talked about trips and renovations and ideas and our daughter. Stories I'd written and edited and submitted. Rejections. Existential crises. We laid next to each other in bed and watched people deal with kingdoms and zombies and surely that's more difficult than our everyday middle-class lives, right? 

I boxed the shit out of some heavy bags and did as much yoga as I remembered to and walked in the desert. One month, I had a massage a week. I got stressed and angry and got shingles in my mouth and my daughter watched too much TV. Good mother, bad mother. A funny bright spot on an MRI, the pinch of a long needle, the sting of mortality, relief. I had a short story printed in Christmas crackers

I chopped potatoes for roasting and danced in the kitchen to London Grammar and sometimes my daughter would dance with me but even if she didn't, I would. That's something. And you know that fuzzy feeling you have when you just wake up in the morning? Pushing your way through a muck, a haze, a softness, into the light and with some sadness leaving behind the imagined that you will never see again for the real, the very real ...

Well, that was 2014. Sometimes you need a year like that, a year of dreams, to prepare you for what's next.

And what's next?

The dreams will solidify, like clay left out in the dry air, formed and unformed and chalky in my hand. I'm going to write out my heart into science and short stories and essays and here, yes here. I'm going to stop worrying about whether I can be one thing or another thing and just do all these things, even the things that scare me. I'm going to push out, break out, crack open and live. Start seeing my real self in the mirror. Work towards strong. Experience individual moments. Carve my name somewhere. Taste my food, my world, my life.

That's my plan for 2015. What's yours?
Amanda xx

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Coffee Lover Holiday Wish List

Coffee Lovers' Holiday Wish List

I love coffee, and I use all of these things all the time. So just in case you have a coffee lover on your Christmas list (or are one yourself!), I wanted to share some great gift ideas with you. 

From the top left:
(1) a high-quality stainless steel stovetop espresso maker - These make an amazing espresso-style brew and encourage a tea ceremony-like patience. Believe it or not, waiting is good for you. You might even do yoga. The size of stovetop espresso maker you choose will depend on how many people you often serve for, and you might even feel the need to have more than one. Currently, I have a 2-cup size I keep in the US and a 4-cup size I keep in Australia. Yep. Seriously. 

The one pictured here is drool-worthy, but also pretty expensive. Don't feel like you need to spend $200 (!!) but you should definitely get one that's a little more expensive than you feel comfortable with, and that feels heavy when you lift it. Light = thin steel = likely to warp or fail. A nice hefty stovetop espresso maker will last you AGES and you'll find yourself taking it on camping or cabin holidays with you. 

Why do I like this? It makes an amazing coffee and doesn't have moving parts. 

(2) Eva Solo coffee maker - It's so pretty, it's won design awards! I have both sizes, 0.6L and 1.0L, for when I'm coffee-ing on my own or with others. The Eva Solo employs a pour-and-stir-and-filter method that's very easy and feels faster than a stovetop espresso, though I'm not sure if it really is. You still have to let the coffee steep in the glass carafe for 4 minutes before you pour it through the filter insert and serve it. The stylish little jacket keeps the carafe at just the right temperature, but a warning - it can make for some awkward moments if you try to put it on with someone you haven't had sex with. Just saying. 

Why do I like this? It's simple and elegant and makes a great coffee.

(3) Bodum stainless steel double-walled travel mug - I love these, and never leave home without them. Baristas all over Brisbane and Phoenix are probably looking at this and thinking oh, yep, she's that girl because I pretty much use it every day wherever I'm going for coffee. (I have 3 in regular rotation). I wanted a mug that was quality steel with the option that I would never have to drink through plastic. Many steel mugs have a plastic rim at the top - this one doesn't. It does have a spill-proof plastic top that you can use if you want, though.

Why do I like this? My coffee stays warmer for longer and tastes like coffee instead of plastic. 

(4) Hario ceramic burr coffee grinder - I only just learned about the benefits of ceramic grinders over the metal, whizzy kind. They produce (apparently) a nicer, more even grind, though I'll be honest - I really bought this for the hand crank and small size, meaning I can TRAVEL anywhere (electricity or not) with the ability to make amazing coffee. Mine is actually an all-steel version. The hand-grinding is another nice way to slow down the process of coffee-making, force yourself into a time out before you caffeinate yourself to the eyeballs again.  

Why do I like this? I can take it anywhere.

(5) Hario v60 ceramic coffee dripper and (6) unbleached filters - This is the rest of my coffee-addict TRAVEL set. Along with some fresh beans, I can grind (#4, above) and brew delicious coffee just about anywhere that has boiling water. Screw you, stale gas station coffee! Life is too short for that shit. If you follow these instructions, this should give you a brew to rival the best of them. But use unbleached filters. Dioxins are icky. 

Why do I like these? I can have great coffee anywhere, and without plastic. 

So there you go. Buy any of these for your favourite coffee lover - along with some freshly roasted beans (yes, fresh does make a difference) - and you're going to be very popular these holidays!

Happy coffee-ing!
Amanda xx

PS. The links here are to my Amazon affiliate account, where you pay the same and I get a small commission for each purchase. Thanks! I use it to buy books and coffee paraphernalia, mostly :)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Leftover Cranberry Sauce? Make Post-Thanksgiving Cookies.

Post-Thanksgiving cookies - use up the extra cranberry sauce

Of course you have leftover cranberry sauce. It's virtually impossible to finish a whole batch in a meal. But then what the hell do you do with it after Thanksgiving? Let it fester in the back of the fridge? 


No way. It's time to make cookies. Here's a fave recipe of mine from the Easy Peasy Organic archives - just use cranberry sauce instead of jam! 

And I know you're still full from all those mashed potatoes and stuffing and cornbread and turkey and whatever you ate all day yesterday… I am too. But hey, we don't want to waste the stuff, right?

So make these. Tuck your turkeyed self up in a comfy chair with a great book and a hot tea and these chocolate cookies. And have a great weekend! Remorse can wait.

Jam-Choc Cookies
Makes about 24

Adapted from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook and originally posted here

1/2 c cranberry sauce or jam (your favourite flavour)
1 c raw sugar or coconut sugar
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil)
1/2 c + 2 Tbs raw cocoa powder
1 1/2 c unbleached plain or spelt flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 160C, 325F.

1. Mix the cranberry sauce or jam, sugar, oil and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until well-combined. Add all the dry ingredients and mix.

2. The texture of your cookie dough will be a little strange, but don't worry. Once it's all mixed well, pick up a Tablespoon-sized glob of dough in your hand, roll it around to make a ball, and then smush it flat between your palms.

3. Put the cookies onto a greased or baking-paper-lined tray. I like to make little forkprints in the top (like what you do in traditional American peanut butter cookies), but that's not necessary.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 min. Don't leave them too long or they'll dry out and lose their chewiness. Take them out and cool on a rack. They'll feel a bit floppy, but they'll solidify a bit as they cool.

5. Enjoy hot, cold, with icing sugar sprinkled over them, whatever your heart desires. Store them in an airtight container and they'll keep for a week or so (if you can resist)

*Photo by Dylan of SBM Photography 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How She Sees Things

I'm here, I'm not here. 
There's nothing that I know for sure.
                   - Julia Stone, 2012

Loch Lomond, Scotland 

I went to Scotland as a scientist, but had to bring the writer along. She doesn't stay behind anymore, and though it's a difficult combination for me - the basis of persistent anxiety and existential dread - in the end I do like having her there. I like how she sees things.

I wrote more about my first night in Glasgow here

Amanda xx

Friday, November 7, 2014

Amazingly Easy Fig and Chevre (and Bresaola) starters

sweet fig and creamy chèvre 

When's the last time you had a dinner party? Forget the mess, it doesn't matter. Forget the complicated stuff - all you need is some good cheese and fruit, fresh steamed or grilled veggies, crispy chewy bread, quality olive oil and flaked sea salt. Add some meat if you like. 

Forget that you don't have time, because this is about making time. Are you going to remember that Sunday afternoon you cleaned out the pool, or the afternoon you had everyone over for an impromptu long lunch?

Thought so. 

chèvre and fig starter with bresaola

This may be the easiest, most delicious dinner-starter you've ever put out there on a wooden board. You do nothing, really, but sit back and sip your wine and watch your party guests self-assemble and devour the food - tart and creamy chèvre, sweet chewy figs. It's my kind of appetiser for my kind of dinner party, the one where everything is so simple that you actually get to enjoy hanging out. 

All you need for this is chèvre - plain, herbed or ashed is fine - and quality dried figs, halved. (And by "quality", I mean dried but not tough). Go organic if you can, it does make a difference. Add strips of salty bresaola or prosciutto and wrap! Cheese on fig or cheese on fig wrapped in meat, depending on how you like it. 

It's all about time, really. And you have it.
Amanda xx

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Apple Cider Bread with Currants (and a Crapload of Melty Butter)

Technically, if you do these without all the butter and honey on top, they're vegan. They're also soft, and chewy, and taste slightly of apples. You might like to add cinnamon, or raisins, or nuts, if you're so inclined. But the very, very best part of this recipe - which derives from this recipe - is that you can use any cider, any flour, any additions, anytime, anywhere. 

I've started making beer or cider bread again in the midst of long working weeks away from home because it requires so few ingredients. Perfect for travel! Perfect for fieldwork! Perfect for breakfast when things aren't going quite right. Or for when they are.

Or any random Wednesday, really. 

Cheers, friends! More soon :)
Amanda xx

Apple Cider Bread with Currants
This recipe goes by ratios - but don't be afraid! It just means you can make it even without proper measuring implements. Any old cup will do. And as for serving numbers? The more you make, the more you'll have to eat. It's ok, though. This bread keeps well for a few days.

Here it is:
5 volumetric units self-raising flour (or regular flour with 1 tsp aluminium-free baking powder or baking soda per cup) + 3 volumetric units cider + a dash of sweetener + a pinch of sea salt + a handful of dried fruit or nuts 

That's everything! This time, I used 2.5 cups spelt flour (*with 1 tsp aluminium-free baking powder to make it "self-raising") + 1.5 cups of apple cider lurking in the fridge (1 can) + a pinch of sea salt + a tablespoon of raw sugar + a handful of dried black currants. The cider is pretty sweet, so you won't need to add much sugar to this. 

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (360F). Grease a bread pan or tin or ramekins or muffin pan with butter or line with baking paper.

2. Pour the flour into the bowl, add the cider, add the sweet and salt and anything else, and stir with a heavy spoon until everything's completely mixed. You'll end up with a very sticky dough - don't worry! Just spoon it into your baking receptacles and pop it into the preheated oven.

3. Bake for about 30-40 minutes*, or until the top is golden and firm and a tap on the crust produces a hollow sound. Take the bread out of the oven, but don't remove it from its tin (or whatever) until it cools down a bit. *This depends a lot on the size of the tin you use - reduce baking times for smaller breads.

4. Enjoy warm with butter and honey. Or cold with butter and honey. Or vegan with … whatever margarine you can find without creepy ingredients. Yep, you heard me. I've got nothing against vegans - some of my best friends are vegans haha … but if you don't like butter then I recommend you always go for the most-natural butter alternative you can find. 

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