Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Was Going to Be About Artichokes

This was going to be a post about artichokes. Farm-fresh artichokes that we bought on our way down the California coast to Carmel. How I steamed them up on the little gas stove in our cabin in the mountains. How I melted the butter. How I prepared - to be amazed.

But to my (heartbreaking) disappointment - they weren't edible. The inside was full of prickliness. Pretty, but not so tasty. Alas.

So instead, this'll be a story about sunshine. And beaches. And redwoods. 'Cause I'm adaptable like that.

San Fran and Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula have been a great end to our trip ... 

We met lovely people (Mike and Elizabeth, this means you!), had incredible sunshine and summer-like days, and even managed to squeak out a fire in the woodburning stove on our last night here. (Yes, I would have been slightly disappointed had this unseasonable heat prevented my fire ... ). We saw otters and kelp forests and sea cliffs and roads that were not only jaw-dropping but might just be car-dropping if you weren't careful ... 

And then (on this last leg of our trip), we'd return to our cozy little cabin for some wine and Scrabble and those last few rays of daylight ...

(and Shrek, for Nelle). Shrek, at least 4 times in the 4 nights we were here ... (but hey, it's a holiday.)

And today, our last day in California - we met Big Sur itself.

And though it lacked the tang of artichoke, I made a pretty awesome last-night salad out of all our leftovers. No photos, sorry. But I will tell you about it. Just in case you ever feel like throwing all that stuff out at the end of a trip ...

Last-Night Salad
The ingredients
Leftover lettuce (aka mixed greens)
Leftover eggs
Leftover bread and butter and garlic
Leftover onion
Leftover cheese
Leftover veggies (we used sweet potatoes and tomatoes)
The dregs of the balsamic dressing we bought upon arrival

The process
1. Boil whatever needs boiling (such as the potatoes, and the eggs). Chop and cool. Set aside.

2. Thinly slice the onion and caramelise it in copious amounts of butter. And by caramelise, I mean cook over low heat until nice and brown and bubbly and yum. If you happen to be packing (or writing blog posts) at the same time, try not to let the onions get (shall we say?) blackened. If so, remove the blackened onions and just use the brown ones.

3. Butter slices of bread and saute until golden. Remove the slices and rub each golden side with a clove of garlic you've sliced in half.

4. Now, assemble. First - the mixed greens. Go on - fill the plate! Top this bottom layer (as attractively as possible) with the veggies, eggs, and onions. Then, the garlic toasts (2 per plate is best). Stack them up nice and high. These? Think of them as your giant croutons. Grate cheese over them ... so it gets all melty. Oh, yeah. Then drizzle the whole thing with your leftover balsamic dressing.

5. Enjoy with the rest of the drinks you can't take home with you because they're too heavy (or at least that's what you tell yourself).

The cost
Well, considering you were going to throw all this stuff out ... this buys you major brownie points!

And ending on garlic? Well, they're no artichokes, I know. But, the garlic capital of the world isn't so far from here ...

Thanks California, for a great end to a great holiday.
Amanda xx

PS. Funny. I just realised last year we took our little family holiday to the Olympic peninsula (you know, that region of the States with hardly any sunshine and lots of fictional vampires?). And this year? Garlic-land. Just interesting. That's all.

NOTE: I'm having some issues with my comment form. I love hearing from you! So if you don't see where to leave a comment, just click on the individual post and it'll appear at the bottom. It just doesn't seem to behave on the front-page. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Farmhouse Baked Ricotta

Yes, yes, I live in the city. But sometimes I imagine myself in an alternate universe - where Robbie and I have a farm and grow things and raise animals, and where Nelle collects eggs every morning and gets muddy on a regular basis. And where I can bear to be more than a kilometer from a good coffee shop. 

Of course, I want everything. So, we live our urban lives (with all cafe-related happinesses) ... and take holidays in more rustic places. Like farms. And cabins. With fireplaces. Ahhhh ...

But urban girls (like me) can channel their inner Granny - and what was Granny all about? Frugal living. Not wasting. Baking and cooking with love.

Yep, I can do that! Dare I say it? Yee-haw!

I think ricotta must be one of the most thrown-out of fridge items ... we buy it (or make it) for a lasagne and then ... oops. But ricotta makes the loveliest tarty-things! Perfect for lunch with a whole host of different  toppings to choose from. 

Imagine how nice it would be to come in from a morning of hard work (in the fields? or the supermarket?) to one of these ...

Farmhouse Baked Ricotta
serves 4-6
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine

The time
10-15 min prep + 20-30 min baking

The ingredients
The tarts
500g ricotta
120g pecorino (or another sharp, hard cheese), grated
1-2  sweet potatoes, thinly sliced

Herb sauce
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 handfuls basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1 Tbs lemon rind (or 1 tsp dried)

*Try to use organic ingredients when you can

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Line 12 muffin cups with baking paper. Don't worry about them looking perfect!

2. Mix the ricotta with 1/2 the pecorino.

3. Basically, each tart will consist of 3 layers - cheese then sweet potato then cheese. Fill each baking-paper-lined cup with the layered mixture.

4. When you're done making the layers, top the tarts with the remaining pecorino.

5. Bake for 20-30 min, until the tops are golden and puffed. Then remove, and set aside.

6. Meanwhile, put all the sauce ingredients in a blender and whizz till smooth.

7. Let the tarts cool slightly before removing them from their baking paper shells. Or serve them in the baking paper ... they look pretty cute that way.

Enjoy with the herb sauce (or a derivation of ... feel free to substitute other herbs!) or tomato ketchup or chutney ...

The cost
Well, if you're using up ricotta (or you've made some yourself, on the cheap) this family-sized dinner will set you back $7 - $8. And that's for all-organic! 

Nice work, Granny.
Amanda xx

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My True Love, in a Sandwich

I have fallen in love with a cheese.

I never expected it to happen, but ... well ... there's no going back now. The only thing is that it's going to be a long distance relationship for awhile. Until I can convince some Aussie cheese-makers to start making it for me. (Please? Will you?)

My true love is called Smokey Blue. And, as it sounds, it's a blue cheese that's been smoked.

It's amazing all on its own, or with crackers. And it tastes unbelievable in the sandwich I had today. Want to try it? Find yourself some smoked blue cheese ... and get ready to fall in love ...

Red, Green and Blue Sandwich
serves 1

The time
5-10 min

The ingredients
Your favourite bread (I used honey wholemeal)
Super-thin apple slices
A handful of baby spinach
Smokey blue cheese

The process
1. Toast your bread. Assemble.

The cost
I estimate this'll cost you less than $2 per sandwich.

And Robbie? You know you are the true love of my life ... I could never give you up for a cheese.

(Even one as good as this.) Promise.

Amanda xx

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Liquid Sunshine (Lemonade)

As if you need more sunshine, all you Phoenix-ites.

Yes, I'm talking to you ... with your postings on Facebook about wearing shorts in the winter, and going swimming. You, with your orange- and lemon-tree photos everywhere. And, hey kid! - you going outside ... without 3 layers and a parka ... to draw on the sidewalk ...

Yes, you.

Oh, and by the way, thanks dear friends for letting us come and visit you in Phoenix this winter! We had a great time - enjoying the sunshine, taking photos of all the lemons, playing hopscotch out front ... uh ...

Anyway, I'm going to change the subject now and tell you about the amazing lemonade my friend Amy made when we were visiting! Ready?

Here's how it started, of course:

Lemons off a friend of a friend's tree. Of a quality and quantity that just had to transform into more than mere zest and frozen lemon juice cubes ...

And so, it became liquid sunshine!

Liquid Sunshine (Lemonade)
makes 1 pitcher
Recipe by my lovely friend Amy 

The time
15 min prep + 1-2 hrs cooling

The ingredients
6 medium lemons, preferably organic
5 c water
1 c fine raw sugar*

*If you don't have this, just grind some of your regular raw sugar in the blender or spice grinder!

**Try to use organic ingredients when you can.

The process
1. Wash the lemons and peel the zest. Save it for later!

2. Cut the lemons in half and juice them - by hand, or whatever fanciness-level juicer you own.

3. Heat 2 c of water and the sugar in a saucepan over med-low heat, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

4. Combine everything in a pitcher and stir to mix. Stick in the fridge for a couple of hours, and serve with ice! If you're impatient, as I often am - just add more ice and you'll be set straight away.

The cost
Well, if you're lucky enough to get your lemons for free ... this is amazingly cheap! Just the cost of the sugar - which is maybe $0.25! Otherwise, try to pick up lemons at the farmers market.

And of course my beloved Brisbane is nothing like Phoenix when it comes to sunny, warm-ish winters ...
Amanda xx

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Longest Day

i hate it when my baby's sick.

when she's burning up and i've given her medicine and it hasn't helped yet. and she's aching and feeling 'wobbly' with chills. and there's nothing i can do.

and now she's sleeping ... i can hear her soft breathing. but even still, i want to wake her up ... feel her forehead ...  hear her voice ... make sure she's ok. i lay back down and cover myself up. tell myself - stay in bed ... close your eyes ...

i know she needs the sleep right now. but me? i lie awake thinking all those bad thoughts i usually keep at bay.

all the fears in the back of my mind rush at me. because i'm old enough to know how the world works, and i'm a mum now. and she's ... my heart? my hope?


Is the longest day.

Amanda xx

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Green and Black Cocoa for Snowy Days

My Nelle. She's a sub-tropical girl ... growing up with leaves that don't fall off trees, and flowers blooming all year round, and a garden that produces the best lettuces in the winter (not the summer).

So here we are, in the Rockies, and there. is. snow.

Like magic. Nelle believes the snow will bring Santa back. And why can't we have Christmas again?She wants to have a snowball fight, and build a snowman, too ... that is, till she feels how cold the powder is on her bare fingers. She's fascinated with the way her boots smush into it, and how she leaves footprints behind.

I'd almost forgotten how beautiful snow can be.

And when we get a little too cold, and we come inside ... we'll have to make something warm to drink. What'll it be? Hot tea? Chai with honey? A steaming cup of cocoa?

Something warm and cozy and rich in antioxidants ... something to snuggle up with ...

Green & Black Hot Cocoa
(Named after my all-time favourite chocolate)
serves 2

The time
5-10 min

The ingredients
1 1/2 c water
1 green tea bag (the 'green')
2 Tbs fair-trade cocoa powder (the 'black')
2 Tbs coconut sugar* (or use rapadura sugar, or brown sugar)
1 1/2 c whole milk
2 dashes of cinnamon

*I found this at the natural food store and thought I'd try it. I mean, coconut products are so good for us! (and yummy). But substitute any brown sugar if you need to.

**Try to use organic ingredients when you can - and, at the minimum, fair-trade cocoa.

The process
1. Heat the water in a small saucepan to just below boiling point. Remove from heat and add the green tea bag. Steep for 3-5 minutes.

2. Remove the tea bag and add the cocoa powder, sugar and 3/4 c milk. Heat again to just below boiling, stirring until the sugar and cocoa dissolve. Remove from heat, stir in the remaining milk.

NOTE: you can heat up all the milk at once ... I just split it because I like to drink my cocoa straight away, and if I don't add cold milk it's too hot!

3. Pour into two mugs and add a dash of cinnamon to each. Cuddle on the couch, get yourselves warm.

The cost
Well, I'm on holiday at the moment ... so it's tough to cost this one out. But it doesn't cost much per cup  (and lots less high fructose corn syrup than a hot choc at certain ubiquitous coffee chains) ...

And now we're warm, the two of us. And we look outside at the snow and wonder ... might those prints out there possibly ... just maybe ... belong to Santa?

I love magic.
Amanda xx

Friday, January 14, 2011


Today, Nelle and I are hanging out at the airport. We missed our flight - and the next one isn't for 6 hours. Oops.

Oh, it's not all bad ... I've drawn her a train track on a piece of paper and she's rolling Thomas around and around and around. I've got my coffee, and a patch of sunshine through the window, and a happy toddler.

And on the TV at the gate, CNN is talking about the floods back home, in Brisbane. It's surreal, seeing my city inundated ... breathing a sigh of relief because our place is on a hill, and fine ... but knowing some of our friends' houses have been completely filled to the ceilings with water.

And the lady sitting next to me, and all the other people here at the gate, have no idea that this is real. That this is my city. These are my friends. That I can verify this isn't just something CNN's made up. I feel like I have a secret, something no one else knows.

It occurs to me that it's hard to imagine the reality (even for me, who lives there), because - hey, the news inundates us with news and pictures of catastrophe all the time, right? We kind of get used to it. Because at the same time as the flood in Brisbane, there's one in Brazil ... and one in Sri Lanka. It's almost overwhelming, isn't it? So we turn off a little bit. We couldn't possibly care and help everybody who's in trouble ...

But you know what? We can start. Do a little bit - and make a big difference.

If you're in Brisbane-

1. Bake! 
A brisbane blogger (Digella) has started a movement to take homebaked goodies to the SES emergency crews who are working tirelessly to help flood victims. If you want to participate, check out her website for details about where to take food.

2. Volunteer for clean-up! 
The Lord Mayor of Brisbane has posted lots of information about volunteering around Brisbane here. Or help out your friends and neighbours.

Donate time, money, food, clothes, your spare bed.

(Our department at UQ has banded together to set up a Facebook site - so that people who weren't flooded can help those who were clean out their houses. And they're cleaning the campus day care centres, too! Wow.)

If you're anywhere-

1. Shop! 
Lots of lovely, crafty people are donating merchandise for the cause. You can read about some of these here.

2. Donate to the Premier's Queensland Flood Appeal! 
Any little bit helps ... and you can find out how to donate here. This is the primary disaster relief fund for the flooding - even the Red Cross will direct you there.

And you know what? Already, $55 million has been donated by generous people out there. Wow. (But lots more will be needed, trust me)

3. Or, donate to the RSPCA. 
Lots of animals have been displaced during the flood as well ... pets, wild animals, livestock. Help them out here.

Basically ...
Do whatever you can, with whatever you have to give. Even if you're far away, like I am.

And, to all of you in Brisbane - our hearts are with you. Truly.
Amanda xx

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Orange Poppyseed Cookies (and a Girls' Day Out at Joshua Tree)

I can't stop eating these. I'm sitting in a hotel-room bed, wrapped up in an 80s-style floral blanket, listening to the low rumble of the heater under the window, watching The Biggest Loser ... and I can't stop eating these.

The irony is not lost on me.

But hey- check out where Nelle and I went today:

Beautiful, right?

We had a day to ourselves - just us girls, on a road trip through the desert. So under a winter sun, we explored the prickly vistas of Joshua Tree National Park.

We had the greatest adventure - no preconceptions, no plans. Just driving till we found a lovely viewpoint or a little trail to wander along.

And wander we did. Over rocks, through the sand, among an incredible diversity of plants. Under cold blue skies. Holding hands most of the way.

These are the days to remember forever. Simple and special.

And, of course, ending with cookies in bed. (For me, anyway - sorry, kiddo.)

Orange Poppyseed Cookies
makes ~24-30
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio

The time
10-15 min prep + 10-15 min baking

The ingredients
225 g softened butter (or 2 sticks)
1/2 c maple syrup
1 Tbs poppyseeds
zest of 3 oranges
3/4 c wholemeal flour
1 1/4 c unbleached plain flour

*Use organic ingredients when you can.

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Line a cookie sheet with baking paper.

2. With a mixer or a whisk, cream together the butter and maple syrup. Add the poppyseeds and orange zest and mix thoroughly.

3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly.

4. Make Tbs- sized balls of dough and roll them into spheres in your hand. Put them 5cm (2") apart on the cookie sheet, and just before you put them all in the oven, use a fork to flatten them slightly.

5. Bake for 10-15 min, until lightly golden. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

The cost
For a 100% organic batch, I estimate it'll cost less than $6. Or $0.20-$0.25 per cookie.

So here's an idea - take a day with one of your kids ... do something you might not ordinarily do ... laugh, take photos, make memories. Then, sometime soon - repeat. 

Amanda xx

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Holiday Crepes with Lemon

I just had a holiday kind of holiday. You know - the kind where you feel completely apathetic about doing anything at all, because hey - the house is warm and the desert outside is chilly ... and you can get lost in that couch with your little girl or the love of your life ... 

And there's something about the palm trees nestled up against the mountains that makes me happy.

And seeing my parents definitely makes me happy.

But do you know what the icing on the cake was? The house had citrus trees. Ripe lemons, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines. All bright and full of vitamins at the peak of goodness. Naturally chilled and ready for breakfast. Salad dressings. Quick, tart sorbets. Cookies. And crepes. 

Crepes on holiday are one of those special treats that are much simpler than they look. They're actually really practical. Like a DKNY factory outlet clearance sale. You look like a million bucks for next to nothing. (Heh, heh, bet you can't guess where I spent my Santa credits ... )

They only use 3-4 ingredients, and often those you need to use up by the end of a holiday. You can make a big batch and fill leftover crepes with savoury stuff for lunch, or slather with peanut butter for a snack, use them for enchiladas or cannelloni. 

But start out with butter and sugar and lemon. And smile.

Holiday Crepes with Lemon
makes 12-16
adapted from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio

The time
5 min prep + 30 min rest + 15-20 min cooking

The ingredients
1c wholemeal flour
1c unbleached plain flour
2 c + 1/2 c milk (I use whole milk)
8 free-range or organic eggs
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

*As always, use organic ingredients when you can

NOTE: I'm usually not a big fan of non-stick cookware - but in this instance (as with omelettes) you really need one ... trust me, it'll keep you in your happy zone.

The process
1. Mix the flours and milk together in a large bowl. Then cover and pop into the fridge for 30 minutes (or even overnight). This allows the flour to soak up some of the milk. You don't have to do this, but your crepes will probably turn out nicer if you do. 

2. Then add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Try to mix out all the lumps. 

NOTE: Your batter should have the texture of a runny milkshake ... add small amounts of flour or milk  to get it to the right consistency.

3. Heat up your medium- to large-sized non-stick pan over med-high heat. Rub with a little bit of butter and pour in just enough batter to cover the bottom. The crepe should be really thin - just beyond see-through. When the crepe starts to get lovely brown spots on the bottom, flip it and slightly brown the other side.

4. As you finish them, stack crepes on a plate in a warm oven. Serve with butter and a sprinkle of raw sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Roll up and ... yum!

The cost
I can make a large batch of 100% organic crepes for less than $6. 

Have a lovely day!
Amanda xx