All in all, it’s just another cake in the wall: Golden syrup and ginger cake

I loathe school cake stalls with a passion. It’s not the baking per se. Baking is not my number one talent but I do have the ability to throw sugar, flour and eggs together in some configuration that will vaguely resemble a cake. Neither is it the inevitable edge of competition, the deep – in – your – soul sense of failure that is experienced in the face of perfectly iced, cellophane wrapped glories that will sell like hot cakes. I know my odd, nuggety offerings will not move without either heavy discounting and / or creative marketing. Often not even those tricks will work.

No, rather it is the subtle subtextual aura that surrounds cake stalls that bothers me. The feeling that I should be willing to walk in the door at the end of the days work and bake, dammit! That instead of my work boots, a head full of project logistics and needing a shot of straight spirits, I should be in a frock and apron and in control of my egg whites. Largely I suspect that this is an artifact of my distaste for authority and generalized resentment of the intrusion of school and work on our collective familial time, time that could be more profitably spent developing new and enjoyable methods of sticking it to the man. Whatever. Continue reading

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Solstice: Saffron Chocolates

The winter solstice passed on the weekend. It passed here in Apollo Bay to perfect weather, cool blue skies and a low sun spinning forth clear light. The moon, a “super moon”, was much closer to the Earth than normal and rose golden at dusk over a dark blue ocean that was surly and ruffled by the easterly breezes. Solstice, the start of the journey back towards the light.

I have in the last couple of years come to realise that a year’s great markers, the solstices and the equinoxes, are not simply cute pagan observances for dreadlocked henge fanciers. They are real, tangible and profoundly meaningful. I have been watching this little corner of the world in which I live for 6 years now, and listened to people, and can feel the first rudimentary stirrings of what I take to be understanding of what it means to live within this cycle. And it fills me with something very much like bliss.

I think I am becoming a permie, a practitioner of permaculture. I am as hesitant to brand myself as such as I once was to brand myself a Taoist, not out of any uncertainty in relation to the ideas, but out of recognition of the sheer amount of theory and practice that lies behind both these concepts and my corresponding lack of deep knowledge of either. It seems highly presumptuous to assume such labels for ones self. Tonight I have been thinking of how aligned permaculture and Taoism are as thought systems. There are obvious correspondences in the fact that they are both based on intricate observations of nature but there are other things as well.

Both thought systems are holistic and the opposite of the mind numbing reductionism that infects so much Western thought (particularly in science) and which I find both counter-intuitive and intellectually unsatisfying, not to mention dangerous. At the same time they are both rigorous systems that require discipline and systematic critical observance from their practitioners. Both largely refuse to make judgements: things are good and bad only within the context of their use. Taoism and permaculture both call upon you to trust and honour your own observations and to question those who would enforce their superiority on you. And they are both powerful tools of revolution as they promote, gently, subtly, as part of their inherent structure, a form of civil disobedience. They are delicate instruments of productive anarchy.

Solstice was spent with the Otways and Coast Permaculture Group in a permablitz. We pulled weeds, built compost bins, did garden work. Food was shared from scones to chocolate to raw goats’ milk. Knowledge was shared. We built a little fire to burn the dreaded kikuyu grass to trial the biodynamic method of “peppering” the grass. The winter sun shone down upon us. My mind, my body and my long neglected spirit are full.

Solstice chocolates

My first attempt at making chocolate. The result was rustic but delicious. This recipe used largely Balinese ingredients, many of which were given to me by the woman who hosted the solstice permablitz. You could use any flavourings you like.

  • 1/2 cup chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1 vanilla bean (sliced open and the beans scraped out, pod put to other uses)
  • Ground cardamon to taste
  • 3 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1/3 cup raw cacao powder (you can add a little more or less according to your preference)
  • Saffron flowers (optional)

Set a bowl over a gently boiling pot of water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom. Add all ingredients except the cacao powder and saffron flowers, stirring until the cacao butter has melted and the coconut sugar dissolved. Remove the bowl from the pan. Add the cacao powder and whisk until glossy and completely combined. If you have chocolate moulds, try pouring the mixture in. I just used a square plastic container. The mixture is delicate and prone to crumbling so use moulds you can turn out easily or pour into a single block that you can cut into squares. When it is nearly completely set, turn out the moulds or cut the block into small squares and toss the chocolates in saffron flowers. Return to the fridge.

 

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Sticking it to the man: Garfish with lemon and nasturtium sauce

Big change is happening in my life at the moment. I have returned to full time work for the first time since my son was born nearly nine years ago now. Nine years. The time it has taken to see two children off to school and to restore my professional life to the point where I am again appropriately employable. I love my job with the Southern Otway Landcare Network. In it I am working to serve the needs of the community, not a corporate machine. I am advocating for the needs of people at the grass roots level, aiming at the ambitious goal of enhancing and restoring the productive capacity and biodiversity of this beautiful stretch of country surrounded by wild ocean and National Park. My work makes me happy.

My husband, on the other hand, is not currently working. The reason for this is because he is going to be building us a house. A house built on a small property on which two generations of my family currently live. It will be a modest but undoubtedly lovely home and 4 generations of us will eventually live together. This is normal for me. This is how I was raised and how I want my kids to be raised. Continue reading

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Date night: beef rendang

Recently a friend asked the following question: what to cook for a man who was invited to dinner. Aforementioned dinner was explicitly pitched as being not-a-date, however my friend was hoping that a not-a-date dinner would provide an opportunity to demonstrate that she is in fact highly date-able (and by the way, she is). Her quandary highlights a basic human truth that will outrage many in this post-feminist era: men get turned on by good food and therefore if you can cook a good meal for a man then the chances are reasonably high that he will be at least a little bit turned on by you.

(Disclaimer: I make the above comment as a reflection of my experiences as heterosexual woman who can cook. I imagine the condition is universal and can be applied to any combination of human relationships.) Continue reading

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A State of Bliss: Christmas Chocolate Fudge

Notes: gluten free, dairy free, low GI

The hardest part of ditching addictions and bad habits is saying goodbye to those you love. In the last year I have bid a slow adieu to a number of passions and pleasures. Some of these goodbyes have been easy: chips, chocolate bars, soft drinks and their ilk have always been marginal acquaintances at best. I would now consume such things once every few months, and never with any real pleasure. It’s the epicurean equivalent of hanging out with right wing extremists: slightly soiling, depressing and void of all values beyond rank self interest. Others are a bit harder. Deep fried treats remain an itch that must sometimes be scratched: spring rolls, sesame prawns, honey chicken, pakoras, samosas. Fortunately in my tiny town of 1200 souls at the foothills of the forest and the edge of the Southern Ocean such things are hard to come by. My diet and I have an open arrangement that such treats when I’m on the road are understandable. Indiscretions are to be forgiven and moved on from quickly. Continue reading

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Hello, little cow

Warning: this post is not suitable for vegetarians.

Early in the morning one day last week I received a phone call from a certain restauranteur, let’s call him Steve (which would be wholly appropriate because this is in fact his name). Steve had a beast I might be interested in, a wagyu Black Angus from his own personal specialty herd that slowly marinades in salt against million dollar views of the Southern Ocean outside Apollo Bay. The beast, he explained, had lived a full and good life and was now to be the subject of a bespoke slaughter job. Steve was trialling the idea of directly marketing his beef to local people with a passion for fine local produce and he wanted to know if I might be interested.

I put in an order for 3kg of the cheap cuts (or “the tasty bits”as Steve described them) that I have been cooking with recently and today I was invited into the kitchens of his restaurant La Bimba to examine the produce. Money was exchanged, the deal finalised. Two kilos of chuck and one of topside are now in my possession. So thank you, young Angus for providing us with your flesh. And thank you Steve for growing this animal slowly and lovingly just 15 minutes down the road. Thank you for your commitment to the wellbeing of this animal and your respect for its life’s worth.

Previous adventures at Steve’s business, Otway Harvest, are available for your reading pleasure.

 

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Lolly night: 2 chocolately treats that you can pretend are healthy

I’m not so sure I’ve fully entered the spirit of this gluten free / dairy thing. I think I’m meant to be concentrating my efforts on nutritious, healthy food that nourishes and sustains, right? Yet somehow my creative juices are flowing in quite a different direction. Today I have been making soft-centered chocolates.

If you want to pretend these are kinda, sorta good for you then go right ahead. Certainly they contain no gluten, no dairy and no refined sugar. If you are doing the Paleo thing, these are probably OK, however you should consider going on a diet with a less ridiculous name. The notion of stone age Homo sapiens sitting down to whole egg cupcakes dressed with delicate nut butters is clearly absurd. Come back to me when you’ve killed an aurochs, skinned it with a sharp stone and roasted it over the fire with a couple of lizards and some assorted starchy tubers. If you must stick with such an enormous misnomer, please consider spelling it properly: it’s Palaeolithic, unless you’re American and therefore apparently incapable of managing the additional vowel.

But best not to get me started on that, so without further ado, here are two quite delicious and easy to make treats.

Cherry Ripes

My great discovery recently has been coconut oil. A quick google search would suggest that coconut oil possesses a myriad of health benefits. Whatever. I just enjoying snarfing spoonfuls of it from the jar.

  • 1 1/2 cups pitted tinned cherries, well drained
  • 10 macadamia nuts
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded or desiccated cocounut
  • 1 cup hazlenut or almond meal
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • Around 300gms dark chocolate (I used the wonderful Green and Blacks 85%, ostensibly because it’s gluten and dairy free but given my daughter won’t eat these, I honestly only use it because it’s delicious)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Blend the cherries and macadamia nuts to a rough paste and then transfer to a bowl. Mix in the nut meal, maple syrup and coconut oil, stir well and chill. After the mixture has chilled down, melt the chocolate and stir the vanilla essence through. You can shape the cherry ripe mixture however you like – I quite fancy them as little bars – however you won’t be able to make the shapes too big. Dredge the mix in chocolate and allow to harden.

I have no idea how many this will make – I was too busy eating to concentrate. You may find you have some mixture left over.

Orange and almond creams

I am very pleased with this recipe, which is pretty much wholly originally conceived and just terribly deliciously overflowing with chocolate, orange and marzipan flavours.


  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup fine desiccated coconut
  • Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 4 tsps orange blossom honey
  • Raw chocolate powder

Combine all ingredients other than the chocolate in a spice grinder or small blender until a smooth paste and chill. Shape the chilled mixture however you like and gently toss in the chocolate powder. Makes about 12.

 

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Adaptation: Chocolate crepes with coconut ice-cream and fresh strawberries

(gluten free, dairy free recipe)

It should by now be obvious to regular readers of this blog that I am a great advocate of eating with awareness. For me this involves commitments to the following principles whenever possible: local, organic, ethical. And if I’m going to be honest with you, it’s a complete pain in the arse most of the time. Shopping is difficult given most commonly available foods fit approximately none of the above criteria. Considerble willpower is required to not just cram tidbits of desirable rubbish into your trolley, subsequently to be crammed into your mouth. Cooking takes up quite a lot of time and although I love it, there are many times as a working mother I would like NOT to have to walk in the door at the end of the day and spend the next four hours cooking and cleaning. So you know what? I’m not floating around in a cloud of self-righteous glory blissfully procuring whole foods that my rosy cheeked little angels consume with trills of delight. I’m working damn hard at doing the right thing by the environment and the global community in which I live, and even harder at doing right by my kids. Because I’m their mum and the choices I make impact directly on them.

You may have noticed a slightly tetchy tone to this post. This is because I am a little aggravated at the moment. I recently consulted with a beautiful naturopath about my daughter Heide, who has been experiencing some health and behavioral problems that have frankly been breaking my heart. To cut a long story short, it was suggested that I trial Heide on a period of gluten and dairy free eating for a while. My aggravated response to this advice arises from a number of factors. First of all, the consultation made me aware of some things I had really been doing wrong in relation to her diet. Now I don’t want to hear any defensive statements about mothers bearing too much guilt over their children’s health and behavior etc etc. It’s not about guilt, it’s about taking responsibility and as parents we are absolutely responsible for what we feed our children. You can’t raise a child on bread (even if it is homemade) and milk (no matter how raw and organic it may be). Secondly, I now have to wind back the results of my laziness and change the dietary habits of a strong willed 5 year old girl. And last, but by no means least, my entire pattern of procuring and preparing food has had to change and I feel like a stranger in a foreign land. For the first time in my life I am having to cook to a restricted diet. Continue reading

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The Chinese Standoff: Double cooked pork belly with mandarin infused sauce

Scene 1:

A restaurant in Singapore in the bowels of the Paragon Shopping Centre, Orchard Road. High backed wooden chairs, lattice screens, large pottery vases. We have gone out to dinner with my husband’s uncle, an entirely charming and urbane Singapore professional. On the table before us is a Singapore classic:¬†chicken rice. This is not the standard chicken rice that can be purchased almost anywhere in Singapore for a handful of dollars. This is something else altogether. The chicken is jelly-like in its silky smoothness and the way it slithers down the throat is more reminiscent of oysters than fowl. Served with soft cucumbers and a pungent sauce, it makes me ashamed of my own feeble attempts at this dish.

The entire experience ¬†is outrageously sensual, but not enough to distract from the palpable tension that starts emanating from my husband about two thirds of the way through the meal. His eyes are glancing around the restaurant, noting the position of the waiters and the location of the nearest exits. His hands twitch nervously to his jeans pocket and he is observing The Uncle’s every move. He is preparing for the argument that inevitably erupts when we eat with his Chinese relatives, in which wallets are drawn at 20 paces and the men compete for the right to pay the bill. There are evidently rules of engagement to this argument (these seem to relate to an individual’s generational position, family status etc) but my husband was not raised among his Chinese family and so we do not know them. Continue reading

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So happy together: Orange and cardamom tea cake

My family dispersed across the globe in June. Our diaspora was spearheaded by my husband who, having enrolled in a degree in professional and creative writing last year, found himself surprised with the offer to go on a government funded study tour of Norway, Sweden and Denmark to study fairy tales and Scandinavian noir. I imagine the Germans have some long composite word to describe the smile you get on your face when you are trying to demonstrate love and support whilst simultaneously clubbing internal Cthonic green-eyed monsters to death. I don’t know the word, but I’m sure you can imagine.

I was informed by my beloved that part of the assessment would involve keeping a daily journal and that this exercise could profitably be undertaken while engaging in the Swedish tradition of fika. This fine word is apparently both a noun and a verb and means coffee and cake. Apparently if you haven’t done fika you haven’t done Sweden. Required. Almost part of the assessment. Integral to the sense of genius loci. Etc. So fika it would be, and not just any fika: federally funded fika. Continue reading

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