Tuesday, July 31, 2012

DIY Vanilla Extract

Here's one of my favourites from the archives {while my harddrive gets reformatted ... Boo}. There's no limit to what you can do with vanilla extract, and it's one of those things that is much, much cheaper to make yourself.
  • The flavour's beautiful, and enhances muffinsloaves, and toasted muesli.
  • You can dab a bit on pulse points as a quick, natural perfume.
  • Rumour has it that mosquitoes aren't fond of vanilla ... so you could try it as a natural repellant.
  • Your fridge smells amazing when you use vanilla extract to clean it.
  • A splash goes well in cocktails ...
  • And little bottles of homemade vanilla extract make beautiful Christmas gifts or shower/wedding favours!

Today Nelle and I met up with some friends at a gorgeous cafe ... the decor was really inspiring for vintage/crafty types. The cafe resides in an old house, and is really earthy and woody and  dark and has little nooks to hide yourself away with your caffeine of choice. Wow.

{I recommend the baklava. It washes down your coffee beautifully.} 

I instantly wanted to
a) go out and buy a slab of wood and make a table


b) kidnap Robbie for a romantic date in one of those little nooks. To talk about dreams and happinesses and travel to crazy cool places ...

While I'm thinking of romance, here's a really quick and easy and romantic recipe for you! Vanilla comes from an orchid ... and whether it's the amazing smell or the fact that orchids are just naturally sexy, vanilla has been a known aphrodisiac for centuries.

Vodka is also a known aphrodisiac, for obvious reasons.

Vanilla Extract
makes 250ml

The time
5 min prep + 1 month steeping

The ingredients
2 organic vanilla beans
250 ml vodka

The process
1. Put the 2 vanilla beans (whole, unsplit) into a sterilised* bottle. Pour the vodka over.

2. Put the lid on your extract-to-be and put it in a dark cupboard for 1 month or so before you use it.**

3. Pour yourself and your hubby a martini.

*Simply wash your bottles in hot, soapy water then place into the oven at low heat till they dry.

**The alcohol part of the extract will evaporate off when you cook with it. So you won't get your kids drunk. 

The cost
The vanilla beans weren't organic but the guy at the natural foods shop knew where they came from and they were spray-free {it pays to shop in small places!} ... I got two for $5. The vodka was the cheapest one in a smallish bottle at $24 for 700mL {depending on where you live this may be significantly cheaper}. So my 250mL of extract cost me $13.50. The last organic vanilla extract I bought at the shop was 50mL for $17 ... I've saved myself something like $70 here  - and that's a few romantic dates' worth!

Hope to see you again soon with a functioning computer! :)
Amanda xx

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Simple Pasta Salad {Stuck-in-the-Wilderness Food}

I couldn't ever just eat one thing for the rest of my life. So, sorry in advance if you ever get stuck on a remote island with me, and there's just ... an apple tree or something. I'm going to get totally grumpy.


If I was to nominate my favourite stuck-in-the-wilderness food, it would be this pasta salad. Not that I've ever eaten it in the wilderness, but I could. For days and days and days. 

I don't know what it is about this recipe that makes it taste so amazing ... because it's really, really simple. My guess? It's probably in the dressing ... and this one {a Jamie Oliver derivative} packs a bit more olive oil and a bit more white wine vinegar than your average urban chickie {me} might feel comfortable with. But that's the thing. The pasta soaks it up, so it ends up perfect.

{Thank you Jamie}

Like any good wilderness food, this salad is very adaptable. Sometimes I make it with mozzarella, sometimes without. I pull handfuls of herbs from the garden, or shake on dried. I use penne or fusilli, or bowties or macaroni or whatever random pasta shape I grabbed last time I was at the shop. I often substitute zucchini for cucumber, and vice versa. Green olives? Black olives? Whichever. 

I recommend you make a big batch, and whatever doesn't get devoured for dinner you can pack for  lunches. Or just your lunch. {You never have to tell ... }
Amanda xx

Simple Pasta Salad
adapted from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef
serves 4

The time
20 min prep

The ingredients
500g shaped pasta {I usually use bowties or penne or macaroni}
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped*
1/2 raw zucchini or cucumber, chopped*
1 handful pitted olives, halved {Kalamata or Sicilian green are my faves}
1 cup cubed mozzarella {optional}
1 handful garden-fresh herbs {any or all of: chives, basil, basil flowers, oregano, thyme}
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 clove minced garlic
generous sea salt

*according to the original recipe, you should chop up your tomatoes and zucchini so they're 1/2 the size of the pasta, whatever size your pasta is. I like that.

**try to use organic when you can!

The process
1. Boil the pasta according to directions on the package. Drain, then rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool to touch. Drain again and set aside.

2. While the pasta's boiling, combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the cooled pasta and add sea salt to taste. Sprinkle with extra herbs if you'd like. Done!

3. This salad keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

The cost
A takeaway container of pasta salad for 1-2 will run you $8 at the local cafe ... and it doesn't even promise to be *this* good! A batch of organic simple pasta salad {serving 4} and made at home will cost you less than that ... running ~$2 per serve. {Even less without the mozzarella.}

Very happy days.

NOTE SOME DAYS LATER: I have just remembered that I could probably eat frozen cherries every day. All day. So hopefully we can find a desert island with a freezer. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Whenever there's something just ... not quite right with my body, there's a part of my brain that cackles: "CANCER!!" Because - hey, guess what - this body betrayed me before, and if it can slip up on little ol' influenza, whose to say those immune cells are out there responsibly killing cancer? 

Like. They. Should. Be. 
{It's your job, cells. Can you please do it effectively?}

I know it's all a bit ridiculous. I feel like crap, yes; but this is the flu, not relapse. All this time laying in bed just reminds me what life was like only 4 short years ago. And how much I don't want to go back there.

I wish there was a recipe for cancer-proofing my body. 
Maybe it would go something like:

Cancer-proof Body
serves 1

The time
Whatever you've got. No more, no less.

The ingredients
Good genes
{substitute what you were born with. we don't all start with 'good' ones, cancerwise ... }
Varied, unprocessed foods*
Clean water
Lots of exercise

*organic if you can

The  process
1. Treat your body kindly. Like you treat whatever you treasure the most. Does your child get organic veggie purees? Do you treat your car to the special petrol? Do you walk your dog twice a day? Yep. You deserve the best, too.

2. Don't let guilt pervade your life. So ... when you don't treat your body kindly? {Missed a run? Ate too much? Feeling hungover ... on a Tuesday?} Don't punish yourself. Try again next time. Guilt just sucks up energy in your life that you could be using for other things. Like living.

The cost
Time. You spend it to gain it. Get it?

Of course I know there's no recipe for cancer-proofing myself ... no guarantees. But life isn't about guarantees ... it's about probabilities. Chances unfolding before me and you like flocks of origami birds. Opportunities to try, to fail, and try again.

And tomorrow I'm going to wake up, and {unlike today} I'll not do too much ... I'll just sit back and recover.
Happy weekend, friends,
Amanda xx

Friday, July 13, 2012

My TOP 5 Natural Skin Care Remedies

Over the last few years, I've started using natural products on my body {and my daughter's, and - though he hates to admit it - my husband's}. Why? In part, because I'm quite suspicious of the cosmetic industry. {See what I mean here}.

beautiful Queensland, where I live ...

In my day job, I'm a scientist. I did my PhD on climate change and frogs, and I'm NOT a chemist by any stretch ... {and in fact, until childbirth, I think organic chem was the most painful thing I ever had to experience}. But in my 4 years of playing with wild tadpoles, I learned a bit about how sensitive a frog's skin is to chemicals in its environment.

Now, our human skin is a bit less permeable than a frogs' - yes - but I definitely started wondering how much of my shaving gel/moisturiser/lip balm and so on were filtering through my own skin and into my tissues and bloodstream. I tried to find some good, reliable evidence on this for you ... to no avail. But, let me just say that it's worth thinking about what might go into your skin when you put something onto your skin. Especially when you've just damaged it via sunburn or shaving or exfoliating. Or when the product says "quickly absorbed!"

Ohhhhh ....

Plus, as far as natural skin care goes, I like that I can buy unrefined, organic oils and honey and butters to use for cooking and beauty - saving me money, giving me better quality control AND meaning that my beauty products don't have to include preservatives. I can make them fresh as I need them!

So, as far as I'm concerned - kitchen-based skin care is good. Very good.
Here are some of my all-time favourites!

 #1 - Coconut oil for eye makeup removal
Coconut oil smells all beachy and sunshiney and pulls that mascara straight off your face. Simply pour or swipe a bit of virgin coconut oil onto an organic cotton ball or soft cloth and wipe gently across your eyelids, trying not to get it in the eye itself {because that kind of hurts}. Rinse with cool water and pat dry. I find coconut oil too heavy for the rest of my face ... but love it for my eyes.

#2 - Cocoa butter for body moisturising
Cocoa butter smells like your favourite chocolate bar and helps keep moisture in your skin like nothing else can. It's not heavy, but some people don't like it on their faces {though others, like my friend Renee, swear by it}. At the least, grab yourself a small block of raw organic cocoa butter and rub it directly on your skin after a shower. It melts at body temperature, leaving a light skin-protecting layer behind. It's also awesome on lips or as a non-liquid travel moisturiser.

#3 - Honey for face purifying
I can't bring myself to slather mayonnaise or avocado or whatever on my skin {or hair} ... but honey? That's different. The sweet stickiness of honey makes it an excellent mask to purify the skin - removing pollutants and deep-cleaning. Just mix 1 Tbs honey with 1 tsp of water or cool green tea, lightly rub onto your face {avoiding the eye area}, and sit down for 5-10 minutes out of reach of your dog. {If you have a dog, you'll know why ... } Then wash with warm water, pat dry and moisturise as you like. I like to use raw honey, because it retains more of its natural nutrients ... but you just need one of those little honey packets from the hotel breakfast to refresh travel-weary skin.

calendula and chamomile

#4 - Hempseed oil for everyday face moisturising
Hempseed oil is light and full of omega 3's that make your skin happy. I've been concocting my own potions out of hempseed oil + calendula and chamomile essential oils, which smells like a cup of tea and makes my skin feel AMAZING. {Or infuse the dried flowers into your oil and strain it into a sterile container}. On its own, hempseed oil smells a little bit nutty/earthy ... you might have to get used to it. Or you can mix in your favourite skin-friendly essential oils to create whatever scent you like best!

#5 - Body brushing for glowing skin
All you need is an old hairbrush to get your skin glowing ... just get nudie in your bathroom and brush your skin before you hop into the shower. Start at your feet or hands and brush your whole body in the direction of your heart. Body brushing feels fabulous, sloughs off old skin, and - importantly - improves circulation and lymphatic drainage. A truly special way to wake up your body in the morning! {And you know you deserve it}

What are your faves? We'd love to hear them!
Amanda xx

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Best Way Ever to Bake Bread {My Soy Vendetta}

I'm a lazy busy girl, you all know that about me ... but I do make it a priority to make my own bread now and then. It reminds me that slowing down is good. Getting my hands {and bench ... and clothes ... } dirty is good. And plus, the bread I make is completely 100% soy-free.


Next time you're at the supermarket, have a look at the ingredients in your everyday loaf of bread. Soy flour? It's pretty much in all of them. Soy flour is used because it alters the colour, texture and browning of commercial breads in a way that makes them more appealing to consumers. So what's my problem with it? 

1. Soy is ubiquitous. It's in soooo many things in our modern diets - things {like bread} we wouldn't even imagine. Whenever you see 'vegetable oil' as an ingredient on something, there's a good chance it includes soybean oil. So even if you've never purchased soy flour or soybean oil or tofu or soy milk or anything, chances are you're consuming a lot of soy anyway.

2. Soy makes my cancer cells happy. If I still have any. {I err on the side of caution here.} The evidence relating soy and cancer is almost contradictory. Some research says lots of phytoestrogens, particularly early in life, can help prevent breast cancers ... but now that I've had it? According to my oncologist, my best bet is to reduce all the estrogen in my body - including plant-based mimics like those in soy.

Which brings me back to making my own scrumptious {soy-free} bread. And how to bake it. 

I hope you're not disappointed - after that whole soapbox thing and all ... but this isn't really a recipe for bread. It's a tip. 

Lately I've been using the New York Times' no-knead bread recipe, and since I can't improve upon it to speak, I'll just direct you there. It takes awhile, but you can set everything up overnight and have fresh bread by lunchtime the next day. Fresh, lazy bread. Great texture, flavour and crust - I love the recipe. 

But my favourite part? BAKING IT IN MY CAST IRON POT. That's the clincher, ladies and gents. Because I've now successfully used that little technique with all of my bread making - knead or no-knead.

All you do is heat up your cast iron pot {I use a Le Creuset dutch oven that Robbie thrifted in Belgium for $5 - I kid you not} in your oven about an hour before you're due to bake the bread. Then pop the dough into the pot, cover with the lid, and bake! The immediate heat on the surface of the dough makes a lovely browning, and the lid traps the moisture from the dough so you get a gorgeous chewy crust. 

If you're using your favourite regular bread recipe, you may have to alter the cooking time slightly. The no-knead recipe calls for 30 min in the covered pot, then 15 min with the cover off ... that seems to work well for me with other recipes, too. Keep checking.

And then? Enjoy your fresh bread with ample butter. And sunshine. 
It's good to be back!
Amanda xx