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? 
Everything. 

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. :)
Axx

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? 

(Yes?) 

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.
Axx

***********
Jam-Choc Cookies
Makes about 24


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

Ingredients
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

Process
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 

Ingredients
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. 

Process
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. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Only Way to Eat Radicchio


Radicchio is seriously bitter. So why would anyone eat it? Because it looks awesomely trendy on a plate, for one. And it's one of those things you see at the market and you're like what's that? And you're kinda curious and you don't have anything purpley-red in your basket and it's next to the lettuces, so maybe it's like lettuce? Or perhaps you already know what it is, and you eat it because it has 4x the antioxidants of romaine. (Take that, lettuce)

Regardless of why you bought it, there's only one way to eat radicchio.
Grill the hell bitterness out of it.

Pick a deep red radicchio with unwilted leaves. In my experience, the fresher it is, the less bitter. Remove outer floppy leaves and quarter. Rub gently in olive oil and grill over a hot fire until it's cooked and charred and generally pretty appetising. Have a glass or two of wine, just in case. Remove the radicchio from the BBQ, douse in extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and Maldon sea salt flakes. A sprinkle of Greek oregano or fresh black pepper is optional. Carve up and enjoy.

If you're lucky, it's sweet and delicious. If not? Drink more wine.

Happy BBQing,
Amanda xx

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A little story about tomatoes


Have you ever been wandering through a Friday farmers market in the Northern Beaches with a strong long-black-dash in one hand and your dog in a bag slung over your shoulder (not for fashion purposes but because dogs weren't allowed and you didn't know that and she's small anyway, so you thought you'd sneak her in) and you happen upon the Tomato Guy. Every market has one, and if you're lucky he's Italian. You fall madly, instantly in love with his tomatoes. No, not those. Don't be disgusting. I mean real, honest-to-god, fugly, yo nanna's nanna ate these, farmer's market tomatoes. So you stack up on them - or, as it happens, you direct the Tomato Guy's grandson behind the table to fill a bag of them, which he does. And then asks you for $25. You nearly choke on your coffee, but you're so embarrassed - !SUPPORT LOCAL PRODUCE! - that you accept the cost and borrow money from your sister in law (because it's somehow less embarrassing than declining the tomatoes) and pay it and run. And the farmer's market is over for you, because you're broke and your dinner must now consist exclusively of tomatoes. So you go, removing your dog from her bag and sliding the tomatoes in instead, gently guiding them home to wash and slice and drizzle and fucking hell you better enjoy every healthy, flavoursome cent from every single red, green, orange, yellow, purple, black or stripey tomato. No pressure. They're heirloom.

Nope? Me neither.
Amanda xx


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Healthy Choices for Family Road Trips

healthy road trip food

Yeah, you could eat half a bag of chips. (I recommend salt and vinegar.) Stop the car now and then for a stretch and a coffee and some sunshine and a packet of chocolate chip cookies - hydrogenated oils included! Don't worry about it ... Springsteen's blaring on the radio and you're on the open road, baby. 

But ... maybe ... you do want to worry about it. Because (oh, yeah) the kids are in the back and they need more than junk food (and iPads) to sustain them on the 12 hour road trip. So do you. And your hands are greasy, their hands are greasy, and you feel bored and hungry despite all those handfuls of Doritos. The car is covered in fine, particulate, orange dust. Chip motes. 

There's another way - all you have to do is plan a little bit ahead. And avoid panic. I'll show you how.

this is a tiffin - the best ever lunchbox / picnic box / camping food carrier

First things first, this is a tiffin: three stackable stainless steel layers that keep your food separate and can be held together (and carried) with a heavy duty locking handle system. You don't need one, but if you can find a good quality, stainless steel one - buy two of them. I bought mine in Malaysia ... you can get the same one on Amazon here .

Second? Pack your tiffin full of rainbow colours for the road trip. Let's be honest, you don't really get ravenous when you're driving ... you just want to munch on things. Crispy things. And you don't have to limit yourself to chips. Try carrot sticks, zucchini sticks, multi-coloured mini tomatoes, sugar snap or snow peas, fresh green beans. Try berries and almonds and crisp, washed grapes. The key (as always) is variety and rainbow colours. Plus - the kids are trapped! No chips in the car? Too bad. Heh, heh, heh.

Don't forget to pack a picnic or two for some nice stops or a casual outdoor dinner at the hotel.

picnic, not panic - simple and nutritious and without rushing


Just don't panic about the packing. You'll get there. Preferably, without spilling a jar of poppy seeds in your mad rush out the door (as I did. Oops.) 
It's holiday time.

Have a great weekend out there!
Amanda xx

Friday, May 9, 2014

Yoga for Waiting

I've been spending a lot of time in bathrooms lately, and it's got nothing to do with fibre in my diet. My daughter seems to enjoy sitting on the commode - thinking, daydreaming, contemplating, chatting, doing pretty much everything except what she's supposed to be doing. 

For me, standing and waiting waiting waiting? 
It's excruciating.

temple buddhist travel with kids
Penang, Malaysia

Particularly when we're having dinner. Or have just finished dinner. Or when we're at a busy hawker centre in Penang, Malaysia. Or at the Singapore Zoo, where undoubtedly exciting things are happening in pens just around the corner. We are going to miss the elephant show!!

Nothing I can say or do makes it happen faster. Never before have I wished my words could incite bowel movements - never before have I wished to become an oral laxative. Come on, sweetie, just finish. Please? Are you done yet? Can you hurry a little more please

And if this was physiological, dietary, I'd be more sympathetic. It's not. As an armchair psychologist I can assure you this is a control thing. This is the one time she calls the shots 100%, because she knows I'm not leaving her in a random toilet in Kuala Lumpur. She's got me. 

So I've just got to get her back deal with it. Appreciate this time for what it is.
Time.
I've started doing yoga. 

family travel in asia
Kek Lo Si Temple in Penang, Malaysia

I once had a boyfriend who took every opportunity to stretch, or flex, or do press ups, or otherwise contort himself in humiliating (to me) ways. In line at the bank? Standing on the subway? Trying to decide between Powerade and Gatorade in the sports drink aisle? That's wasted time, if you're not working on your flexibility. It used to kill me when he'd do that. But now I kinda see the point, just a little bit - it's not just about using that time, it's about taking control of it. My time. 

Don't get me wrong, I may see my ex's behaviour in a new light, but won't be doing calisthenics while I'm waiting in the toilet. That would be pretty silly - I mean, how dirty is that floor?! Nope, you can find me doing vrikshasana - the tree pose, with modifications that mean a) I don't have to put the bottom of my shoes on my pants and b) it's not actually obvious to others that I'm doing yoga. 

Here's tree pose:


NOTE: Adriene (above) is awesome. She does awesome yoga videos - you totally need to check her out. 

And here's my modification (and a REALLY dirty vintage mirror ... uh, sorry):

yoga tree pose patience parenthood
tree pose for waiting

See how I do it? The main difference is foot placement, because (ew) we don't want the bottoms of our shoes on our pants when we're standing in the toilet, right? So my legs are firm, my foot rooted into the ground, spine straight. Opposite (inside) ankle resting on the back my standing leg, as far up as I can get it by just lifting my foot. I stand tall and strong, using my leg muscles to push my bent knee into the same plane as my body. Shoulders down, shoulder blades pulled together, chin up, abdominal muscles engaged. Looking around makes this pose less apparent to everyone else in the toilet, and is also more difficult, which increases muscle toning. 30-60 seconds, then I switch to the other leg. If you're like me and my charming daughter, you should get a few dozen rounds in before you have to stop. 

But even a few minutes of yoga while you're waiting helps make you stronger - physically and mentally. So thank you, child, for this time.
And can you please finish?

Have a great Mother's Day out there!
Amanda xx

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This is a Post about My Writing Process

This is a post about my writing process - a little different from my stuff on lunchbox inspiration or food "rules," or favourite recipes for homemade skin care products or vegetarian mediterranean feasts. If you'd rather read about those things ... just come back next week, or have a browse through the archives. I won't be offended.

Nope, this is a post about writing. Because I'm a writer ... in addition to everything else I am on a daily basis - and I'm pretty sure that even if you don't write for pleasure you have something outside of the job that pays you that makes your heart sing. Writing is mine, and even though I'm back and forth and often confused about what I want to really DO with my life (when I grow up?), writing is always there. With eating. And coffee. And making baby basil plants. And marsupial carnivores that fuck themselves to death. Yes, you heard me.

writing and traveling
where I write - (Penang, 2014)

I was tagged in this Writing Process blog hop by Anna Leahy, an American poet, essayist, blogger and all-round excellent writer who I had the fortune to meet (along with her husband and co-blogger, Doug Dechow) at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop last year. At the time, I was just starting my research fellowship and in the midst of a serious existential crisis ... to which I say - if you haven't burst into wracking sobs in your writing group, you haven't really been writing. Ha. 

Anyway, thank you to Anna for tagging me to talk about my writing process. Anna's book Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize, and she's been published in Crab Orchard Review, Cream City Review, The Pinch, The Southern Review and others. Anna is the editor of Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom, which launched the New Writing Viewpoints series. Anna teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at Chapman University in California, where she curates the Tabula Poetica reading series and edits TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics. You can also find Anna and her husband Doug blogging about all things SPACE at Lofty Ambitions

Phoenix Arizona travel writing
where I write - (Phoenix, 2013)

On to my writing process. Here are the questions I've been asked to address, and my answers to them: 

1. What am I working on?
I'm currently taking an online course in the Lyric Essay - which is a form of nonfiction that, well, garners inspiration from pretty much anywhere. Shopping lists, phone books, things in one's medicine cabinet, dreams, etc. The idea is poetic and creative nonfiction writing in whatever shape and form it takes. This course, along with a short fiction course I took late last year, have given me courage to write in ways I never did before. 

So currently, I'm working on essays about cancer, immigration, and sex (not all at once, people!) and a series of short stories based around my research on ageing ... or at least that's what I'm trying to write about. Often what comes out is well and truly different from what I'm expecting. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't believe in picking genres, actually. In fact, I think the best writing out there - whether it's a blog  post or academic or literary or narrative nonfiction or poetry or science fiction or whatever - does 2 things: (1) it plants something  sticky in your brain and (2) it makes you see something in a different way. Still caught up on the sticky thing? Sorry about that. But you see what I mean, right? 

One of the things I'm really working on is bringing my experiences in science and as a scientist to new audiences. I want to finish up my fellowship in 4 years with a series of stories and essays (and Nature papers, of course) that inspire readers to think about ageing in a new way. I don't want to pick and choose, or define myself. I just want to explore. 

3. Why do I write what I do?
I guess I write what I care about, or what inspires me. For awhile earlier this year, I lost interest in writing about food or sustainability, so I dropped out of the blog sphere for awhile. It wasn't planned, or intentional, but I felt I had to go with what was clawing out of my heart at the time - which was short stories (and some lengthy research grants, ugh). The older I get, the more I realise I have to be true to what I'm feeling NOW. Underlying it all is a need to explore new ideas and infect readers with them, and to inspire people (including myself - I often need reminding) to live how they really REALLY want to live. 

4. How does my writing process work?
Technically, I do science 3 days a week and write the other 2 ... but science tends to bleed over into the other days. Research is really tough, and it takes a lot of time and brainpower. And it pays the bills. Currently, I try to make Wednesdays a full-on writing day, and do science or science writing the rest of the week. Eventually, I'd like to use more of my "academic" days to work on some of these other modes of scientific communication, too - the essays and fiction and still/video photography ideas percolating inside my head and heart. 

I write with my laptop and a strong coffee and - most often - the "Tranquil with a Beat" playlist on Spotify. The fast pace of house music without words (or with non-English words) makes my brain very happy. Some days I'm ok at my desk at home - or the kitchen bench, where I am now ... others, I need to get out. I'll work at coffee shops or wherever. For me, I need to be thinking about what I intend to write for awhile before it hits the screen, so walks are good, too. When the words are ready, they flow out really easily ... when they're not quite there, they're definitely NOT THERE. I'm working a lot on my efficiency lately, so when the words aren't there I tend to abandon them for the short-term and work on something else.

where I write - (Texas, Queensland, 2013)

That's it for the questions on the blog-tag, so now I'll pass you on to the next writers in the series. I've picked 3 people whose writing and philosophies I admire, from the 3 "facets" of my writing life (science + blogging + literary). 

Here's who's coming up next week:

Vincent Cannataro holds a B.S. in biochemistry from SUNY Geneseo and is working towards his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Florida. Sometime during his graduate studies he caught the science communication bug- resulting in an NSF national public choice award for a science outreach video and a "best graduate student teacher" award from his department. His love for chatting about the world around him, and the process we use to discover this world, can spill over to the internet at his (relatively new and still-getting-the-hang-of-this-thing) blog. Here's Vince's post on his writing process.

Steph Bond-Hutkin writes about Australian design for Mum, Kids and Home on her award-winning blog, Bondville, and is a regular contributor of articles on food, home and life at Ebay's Mum's Business. Steph organises abcd networking meet-ups for art, craft and design bloggers in Sydney, Australia, to inspire (mostly) work from home women to get out from behind their computers and meet in real life. 

Chris White writes science fiction, horror, dark fantasy, and/or steampunk. He should have just said he writes speculative fiction, that's what umbrella terms are for. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and his words have appeared in both 1's and 0's and in dead-tree form. Some free words at http://chriswhitewrites.com

So there you have it! My writing process. I hope you've enjoyed this post, and I'll see you soon for the next one ... on Bathroom Yoga. Yep, you can't wait :)
Amanda xx

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Make Zucchini Pasta - Julienner vs. Box Grater

Zucchini is NOT pasta. 

But if you'd like to use it instead of pasta, go for it. It's good for you, it carries sauces and dressing well, it's less filling and calorific than pasta, and it's bloody easy to make. 

vegetarian lunchraw food


How do you make zucchini pasta? I've seen it made with a special veggie spiralizer, a julienner and a box grater, and here's what I think about each.

Veggie spiralizer: this is probably what the restaurants use, because it makes a lovely, rounded noodle. BUT. Do you need another device in your cupboard? Do you need to spend $40 to make the occasional zucchini noodle? Probably not. 

Box grater: simple, and you're likely to have one in your cupboard already. BUT. This is more like shredded zucchini than long, lean, smooth noodles. You can see what I mean in the photo below. My opinion? (So glad you asked :) ) Save graters for grating. 

Julienner: I've waxed lyrical about these before, and I'm going to do so again now. LOVE LOVE LOVE my julienner. I use it all the time to make raw veggies interesting - carrots, beets, and - yep - zucchini. Long strokes along the squash, avoiding the seedy middle, gives you decent zucchini noodles with minimal effort, cost and storage space. Spend $7-10 on a quality julienner and you will not regret it.

zucchini noodles 101 : julienner (left) vs. box grater (right)

And what are you going to do with your zucchini noodles? Try them in this persimmon salad (substitute zucchini for the cucumber) or smothered in pesto (courtesy of Julie and Sarah) or warmed and tossed with brussels sprouts and hazelnuts and *butter* (courtesy of Carrie) or marinated in mint and mango (courtesy of David, Luise and Elsa).

Basically, use your noodles as a gluten-free and raw (if you don't cook them) alternative to spaghetti any way you like, salad-wise or pasta-wise. Zucchini LOVES tomatoes or sesame or mayonnaise or butter (and who doesn't?) so play around with flavour genres depending on what's in season, and what you feel like.

Zucchini's not pasta. But who cares? Go for it.
Amanda xx

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