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. 

YESSSSSSS.

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.
Axx

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?

Chocolate.


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

Ingredients
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!

Process
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.
Damn.
Axx


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.
Axx


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

Ingredients
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

Process
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.

Starter:
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!

Gazpacho:
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.)

Salad:
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. 

Pizza:
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.)

Cake:
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

Ingredients
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? 
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

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