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Archive for August, 2012

And that is why all good life discussions should take place with ocean views and espresso martinis.

Oh the Espresso Martini……..

Unless of course you are Dorothy Parker who put it so eloquently when she said ” I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three, I’m under the table, after four, I’m under my host”

Diggies, for breakfast or anytime ūüôā

The scene for such goings on was Diggies, my favourite cafe in Wollongong. The cafe and adjoining North kiosk are a regular haunt for Poppy and I. Often its milkshakes, fish and chips and an occasional naughty slice of Rocky Road making its way into our tummies as we recline on a perfect patch of grass looking out to the sea. However today’s affair was refreshingly child free.

There is something rather wonderful about returning to a cafe or restaurant again and again and not once having a bad meal. Breakfast is delish, the fresh juices yum and the wine list, well, don’t worry……. you’ll find something there.

Now don’t expect highbrow, thats not what its about. You’re a few feet from wriggling your toes in the sand and getting your feet wet, so don’t go getting all Bathers Pavillion on me. But do expect smiles and enough quinoa, ¬†gruyere and¬†daikon to satisfy even the fussiest foodie.¬†¬†And what about the essentials? You’ll be sipping a coffee that will keep any city slicker happy.

Treadlie

If you pop in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you will find scores of bike riders who have thoughtfully been supplied their very own corner complete with Treadlie reading material. In summer, Diggies opens for dinner and there is nowhere you’d rather be on a balmy night. Today however we had our chill on so inside behind the big glass windows we were.

 

After coffee and a lazy cocktail, we were so dreadfully slow to order. Had I been the waitstaff, I would have been ready to poke a fork in my eye, however, with warm smiles, characteristic laid back diggies style, a gentle nod in the right direction and a comforting hand on the shoulder we eventually made up our mind.

First up was warm flatbread, with minted yoghurt, chimichurri and sea salt, $8.

Flatbread

Perfectly warm, just enough salt and not too heavy.

A short while later, a wait that we didn’t mind at all. ¬†Given a few child free hours, we were discussing the big issues, you know. And then our mains arrived.

My glamorous dining companion ordered the market fish with herb & almond pilaf, watercress & lemon butter $25. This looked sublime and by the licked clean state of her plate at the end of the meal, I suggest it tasted the same.

I was feeling a little more homely and needing a little moment of comfort amongst the wild winter weather.

 

So for me it was the parmesan herb crumbed veal with potato and white bean mash & eshalot jus, $23. The jus was just perfectly sticky and quite lip lickable really.

With the worlds problems nearly solved and end of school fast approaching, there was no time and no room for dessert, however we did manage to squeeze in another quick coffee. These rather spectacular coffee cups are a fairly recent addition and I might suggest a welcome one at that.

 

Diggies today maintained its near perfect score again today with me. I have eaten here clad in bathers (not on their own!) and thongs (the ones for your feet in case you were wondering), met with clients here, been a little bit tipsy and now its been the setting for the discussion of monumentous life changes. I have to say Diggies handles them all quite nicely.

Driving to the Gong? Make sure you drop in.

diggies licenced beach cafe

open 7 days from 7am

1 cliff road. north beach. wollongong. new. australia. 2500

 

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I remember seeing a story on Colleen McCulloch quite some time ago, in her gorgeous house on Norfolk Island. She can’t stand the way the “modern typewriter” beeps at her. She thinks that women today dress like “haws” and does not bat an eyelid at saying the most politically incorrect thing possible. But she is completely likeable, and totally hilarious. Somehow the more politically incorrect she gets, the more you can’t help but like her. When asked what the best thing that has happened to her during her life was, she said without a seconds hesitation, “Meeting Ric” (her husband) and she chuckles when talking about her nervousness at living with him after living as a loner for so long and says with affection¬†¬†“Well it‚Äôs probably a help that Ric doesn‚Äôt talk much”¬†Colleen’s body is failing, she is going blind but yet she still emits an aura of happiness and contentment.

Colleen McCullough

You can watch an interview with her here.

Maggie Beer, arguably one of Australia’s happiest personalities sat on a panel at this years Happiness and its Causes conference discussing the link between happiness and food and spoke with her customary warmth and energy about “the feeling of warmth that comes not from heating but from the people around you. Thats the really important thing.” I have long admired Maggie’s cooking and religiously watched every episode of the Cook and the Chef, ¬†but in recent years have come to admire her for so much more.

Meeting Maggie at Masterchef 2010

I met Maggie a few years ago at the Masterchef Live event and even watching her from a distance, she exudes an energy and an exuberance that is a rare quality. As I sat with her in a question and answer session I witnessed her warmth and ability to engage with people in such a personable way and I developed a new admiration for her.

More recent research, suggests that there is a direct correlation between mindfulness and happiness. Mindfulness can be defined as¬†‚ÄúBringing one‚Äôs complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.‚Ä̬† (Marlatt & Kristeller) In recent times this has become a hot topic in western psychology and one has to wonder what the Dalai Lama thinks of this revelation of modern research. Possibly his customary laughter would fill the room. And if you haven’t heard his infectious chuckle you must watch this hilarious piece of footage.

And so you ask, what does this have to do with cheesecake? Today I was grumpy. For no particular reason and so I was wondering, is it really possible to change your “happiness level” just by deciding to?

I was recently watching a documentary called “happy”, and one of the things this documentary argues is that once¬†basic necessities like food and shelter are provided for, economic factors have relatively little to do with overall satisfaction in life.

By studying identical twins, happiness scientists such as Sonja Lyubormirsky from University of California Riverside have found that 50 percent of our happiness level is genetic. They call this our set point.

Our circumstances, our job, income, social status, age and health accounts for another 10 percent of our happiness. But the really good news is that there is a great deal you can do to make yourself happier, as 40 percent of our overall happiness is determined by intentional behavior. These are things people can do on a regular basis to become happier.

Recently I was at a conference in San Jose and the concept of happiness came up. It was discussed that novelty, that is, creating and experiencing novel experiences regularly makes you happy.

This weekend I was happy. Pretty much all weekend. I was away, away somewhere that makes me happy. I was with someone who keeps me warm, even without heating, and in small appreciated moments there was novelty, joy and pure unadulterated happiness.

And one such moment was cheesecake.

After taking a bite of an exceptional pistachio cheesecake that I had made it occurred to me that it could be more. I cut up a lime and squeezed the tart juice over my slice of cheesecake.

And there it was. In a few seconds, an idea, a tiny bit of novelty and a happy moment. The perfect mix. I realise now it doesn’t take much. Just try something new. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t but when it does you’ll feel it. Lime on your cheesecake. ¬†Happy.

Lime and Pistachio Cheesecake. I promise it will make you happy. 

The base

(The base of this is taken from Sarah Wilsons I quit sugar cookbook. The filling is from my “lets just wing it” cookbook in my head)

1 cup coconut

1 cup pistachios,

1 cup (150g) almond meal

1‚ĀĄ2 cup butter, softened to room temperature

The filling

2 1/2 boxes of full fat Philidelphia cream cheese

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

A good handful of crushed pistachios to sprinkle on top and lime wedges to serve

Preheat oven to 160 C. Crush pistachios. Now I would recommend this in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle but we had a very under equipped kitchen where we were staying, so my lovely boyfriend did this with a saucepan and an empty wine bottle. THis meant the chunks were varied and there were some really chunky bits but this gave it a delicious extra nutty quality.  Add in coconut, almond meal and butter and rub with your fingers.

Press into a baking paper-lined spring form pan . Cover the base and a little up the side, about 1 inch. I don’t like the whole side to be base. I like the browning of the baked cheesecake to be visible.

Bake for 8 minutes, until it starts to turn golden. Remove and allow to cool fully.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients. Spoon the mixture into the base and return to the oven for 20-30 mins or until the mixture pulls away from the base a little and the centre is almost firm.

Cool in the fridge. Once cooled, sprinkle a handful of the crushed pistachios over the top and serve lovely big slices with lime wedges for squeezing.

Happiness.

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In the past few months, circumstance has forced me to re evaluate. Overwhelmed and overcommitted, a quiet rebellion was taking place inside my head. There was so much busy…….. hectic………stress……….and it was just going around and around and I couldn’t seem to get away. ¬†And for what? I simply did not have time to live. I started to remember what life was like…….before……….before the clutter.

I spent this weekend in Kangaroo Valley. This place is sublime. It heals. There is a special energy there and when I am there this energy fills me. Renews me and feeds my soul.

The Shed

Before I went I had a plan, a list. I always have a plan and a list. I was going to cook gourmet meals, improve my photography, style my food shots, I had some lectures I needed to listen to and I had taken down 2 books to get through. What? 2 books in 3 days?

And then I arrived, and I stopped. I could breathe. My lungs filled with clean air and my head cleared. I poured a glass of wine, I lit the fire and I ate some cheese. And nothing mattered. I forgot the plan, the list. My partner arrived later that evening and we drank more wine and ate more cheese and we stopped.

Our laptops stayed closed. Because we stopped. There is something about being away from the noise of life that forces you to stop. To take it in. To appreciate. Nothing needs to be done, there is nowhere to be and I was reminded of these words.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time РBertrand Russell

There is beauty in simplicity.

 

In a society of abundance and wealth somehow it seems that we have less than we ever did. We are detached from our communities, the elderly live alone, isolated. We commute, we work late. Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger televisions and somehow, smaller lives. Is the question then what we can take out of our life, rather than what we can add into it?

Simple, Perfect Pumpkin Soup

And so today I share with you, simple. Nothing more is needed. Sit quietly in the sun and be deeply satisfied.

Simple Perfect Pumpkin Soup

About 2kg Jap Pumpkin

125 g butter

50 ml olive oil

1 teaspoon good salt such as Himalayan Pink Salt

1 litre unhomogenised organic milk

freshly ground black pepper

crusty toasted bread to serve

Cut the pumpkin into small cubes, no more than 1″ or grate with a food processor. Cutting the pumpkin into small pieces will allow it to cook quickly extracting the natural sugars and giving you a beautiful sweet soup.

Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sprinkle with the salt. Cook the pumpkin, covered, stirring occasionally until it is soft. About 8-10 minutes.

Stir in the milk and bring to the boil.

Blend the pumpkin in a food processor or if you like it chunky you can use a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with beautiful bread.

Enjoy. Appreciate.

 

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I love markets……but my last market affair had been weeks ago in San Francisco when I tasted plums and sour cherries until the juice was dribbling down my chin.

San Francisco Market

This last Friday finally after weeks of commitments and illnesses, I could get back down to my local market, the Wollongong Friday market in Crown Street mall. I love wandering around searching out new treasures. I make it a goal every time I go to a market to try something I have never tried before.

Heirloom Dutch Carrots

Not quite sure what I was going to do with 3 bunches of carrots but unable to resist one in every colour, these had to come home.

The Berry Guy

The guy who runs this berry stand has been here forever and is the quintessential market guy. He’s loud, friendly and don’t think you’ll get past his stall without him catching your eye…..”Two punnets for $8, best quality!” Every week its strawberries, raspberries, whatever berries are out and about. I tried my first logan berries from this stand.

Wonderful winter citrus

And this is just Poppy’s favourite time of year, oranges for breakfast, mandarins for little lunch, just not those blood oranges she tells me!

Honey with honeycomb

 

This honey is non heat treated so all the goodness and health benefits of honey stay intact. Make sure you always buy raw, non heat treated honey or you might as well just eat sugar on your toast!

Lovely sourdough

And beautiful freshly baked sourdough………..be early because they always sell out!

Batlow Apples

And if you have ever been to a market in the Illawarra, you will recognise this guy, the Batlow apple guy. He does all the markets down here. He has one of those old fashioned apple peelers and corers and Poppy always makes sure she gets a yummy peeled and cored apple from him!

The treasure for the day?

And so what was the find of the day? Blood Limes! There is one stall holder there who always seems to have something a bit different. Last time I saw him it was mushrooms, pine mushrooms and saffron milkcaps. Blood limes¬†are an Australian hybrid, citrus fruit developed by the CSIRO on a project to investigate salt resistant crops. Apparently a little sweeter than a regular lime and it is actually a cross between a Red Finger Lime and an Ellendale Mandarin. The grower I was talking to suggested using these in a sauce or dressing.¬†¬†However……….. I have a hankering for a dessert …………I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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Oh, its that time of year. Winter has dragged and the flu is doing the rounds. There is a smidge of jasmine in the garden and spring is nearly here but that has not stopped us from hibernating this week under a blanket of what is hopefully the last of the winter illnesses. In my house that means only one thing. Soup!

I posted a delicious chicken soup a few weeks ago and that is still my healing preference but for a change, I thought I would go for something different. This is also a super spare change special. I would say you could rustle this up for about $10, homemade stock included! Less if you have leftover cheese, bread and a bag of onions about to sprout in the bottom drawer!

French Onion Soup with toasted croutons and cheddar

It always pleases me when I can make something from seemingly nothing! I had made some yummy beef and bone stock the weekend before. I do try and make all my own stocks as they provide so many significant nutrients and taste so much better that the packet stuff. ¬†This stock is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other trace minerals and it helps the immune system. You can read more about bone broths here¬†on Sarah Wilson’s blog. My recipe is a little different to the one she uses but will work perfectly for this recipe. I will do a post on broths and stocks soon.

Onions $1.29 a kilo

 

Anyway, combined with my homemade stock and onions at a very attractive $1.29 a kilo, French Onion Soup was on the menu. This particular recipe is a seriously rich soup. Perfect for a cold winters night with a big glass of a very buxom red wine. This is also lovely as an entree at a winter dinner party but only a small bowl per guest as it is very rich.

French Onion Soup

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

About 5 large onions thinly sliced ( I used my food processor which made this super quick and easy to put together)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp plain flour

8 cups homemade beef stock (you can use pre prepared but you won’t get the same depth of flavour or nutrients)

2 cups dry red wine

salt and pepper

sourdough bread, cuts into cubes and toasted

2 good handfuls of grated cheddar

crushed thyme to serve

In a large pot, heat butter and oil over a medium heat. Add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Increase heat and add sugar and salt, sauté, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, until onions are softened and a deep, rich brown. About 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, Gradually whisk in the stock, then add the rest of the stock and the wine. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Preheat the grill and lay the sourdough cubes out on a tray. Sprinkle the cheese over them and pop back under the griller until cheese has melted and the cubes are warm. Place a handful on each bowl of soup and serve sprinkled with some crushed thyme.

Bum Humming Soup

Now in case you were wondering about the title of this post…..take heed….the fructose in raw onions can cause a little bum humming but before you take this off your dinner party menu, the sugars/fructose will be partially broken down and reduce this effect. Some people are more sensitive to this than others ūüôā

 

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Why is it that when I ask Poppy what she would like for breakfast, she says ice cream?! I really do try so hard to make healthy food for her but I suppose at the end of the day, its not healthy if they don’t eat it!

I had made what I am going to call my super awesome, super easy discovery of the year!!!

This recipe has been doing the rounds of the vegan food blogs and I had been dying to try it. Seriously one ingredient, one minute and you can have ice cream that looks like this!

One Minute Banana Ice Cream

I had a bunch of bananas this week that were starting to look a little sad. You know that point they get to when you know if you put one in a lunchbox, everything is going to smell like banana?

So I peeled them all (about 6 of them) and popped them in the freezer. The next day I took them out and chopped them into 1 inch pieces. Then, I just threw them in the food processor. At first they looked just all chopped up, and then they looked just kind of mashed. But then something magic happened. Something to do with the fat in the banana causes the banana mix to go this lovely pale yellow colour and develop the smoothest ice cream consistancy.

I was starting to feel like Jamie Oliver in 30 Minute Meals! Throw it in here, press this and a 3 course meal on the table!!!!! Ha, not quite but nearly!!!

Poppy and I ate some of this straight away. Yum! We loved it!

It is very bananarry (yes thats a made up word) so if your kids don’t like it that strong you could throw some yogurt into the mix also, choc chips or cinnamon would be yummy too (have we all heard about the amazing health benefits of cinnamon? see here to read more)

This does freeze well but like most homemade ice creams does go really hard upon freezing so let stand out of the freezer for 10 minutes before scooping. And yes, when Poppy asked for ice cream for breakfast the next morning, I was only too happy to give her this one minute banana ice cream and strawberries. I managed healthy and happy all before 8am. And thats a win win, I say!

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If I could live on one food and one food alone, it would have to be baklava. I adore it. I crave it and if I had to choose between baklava and chocolate, baklava would win every time.

Yesterday, Poppy and I had to go up to Westmead hospital. After arriving there and finding endless lines and hours to wait  just get into the carpark we decided to first head off for some lunch. About 10 minutes drive from Westmead is a suburb called Auburn. One of my friends upon learning of my baklava love, had told me that I had to make a visit here.

I grew up not too far from here and when I was growing up, it certainly was not the Turkish food mecca that it is today. Sydney has over the past 20 years developed these food hubs. Haberfield for Italian food, Cabramatta for Vietnamese, Punchbowl for Lebanese, Marrrickville for Greek, Korean in Eastwood and Petersham for Portuguese. 20 years ago, some of these now destination suburbs were less than desirable places to visit, however now they are some of the most colourful and delicious place to visit and eat.

I had heard from a few people about Mado cafe and when we arrived in Auburn, Poppy and I had our tummies firmly set on a mythical sounding ice cream made from a wild orchid root that needed to be eaten with a knife and fork! But first, some lunch! We headed first to Godze, which from the outside looks like a takeaway store. The giant skewers of meat in the window indicate to me that we are in for a treat. Poppy’s nickname is sometimes “meat beast” as she devours meat not unlike a ravenous carnivore, and so the sight of these giant skewers produces a beaming smile from her.

Shish Kebabs

We grab a table inside and order a mixed plate of shish kebabs. Whilst we are waiting, we spy a big glass box with a tap in the middle pumping out what looks like milk. We enquire about this and are told that it is “yoghurt water with salt” or ayran. We order some and it is strangely refreshing. Our waitress tells us, that in summer it is delicious served with chopped up cucumber.

Ayran

This is actually a great place to eat with kids. Poppy loved watching the meat chargrill in the front window and being Ramadan at the moment the shop was relatively quiet considering it was lunchtime.

Chargrilling the meat

When our lunch came, I was so glad we didn’t order more! It was a giant serving! As you can see, Poppy was in such a hurry to get into the kebabs, she couldn’t even wait for me to take a photo!

The meat came with a yummy tomato salad, onions, rice, red cabbage and a lovely pile of turkish bread. Needless to say we enjoyed the delicious smoky meat. Always concious of leaving room for dessert, Poppy soon announced it was time for the “ice cream you eat with a knife and fork”!

We made our way up the street to Mado and discovered that stepping into this cafe is like entering another world. It is beautifully decorated with rugs and Turkish artefacts hanging from every possible space.

Inside Mado Cafe

It was a mission to get Poppy to sit down and not explore inside every single pot and pick up every single object in her sight!

Mado Cafe

We ordered the Kazandibi (charred pudding) and the Maras Ice Cream with a Turkish coffee and an Apple tea for Poppy.

Kazandibi

This pudding is so hard to describe. I can’t think of a western texture like it. Its somehow thick and gelatinous and stretchy and yum with delicious pistachios on top! But the Maras ice cream is the big hit!

Maras Ice Cream

According to the menu; “the people of Maras have produced this confectionary by mixing the snow layers accumulated from the caves and pits on the outskirts of the legendary Ahir Mountain, with the fruit essences, the foundation of this tradition.

The sweet confectionary, named “Karsambec” by the unknown flavour masters, gained consistency in time, with some substance additions such as honey, milk and salep. In the hands of latter skilful masters it has reached the peak of development and was named “Dondurme”

The salep obtained as a result of processing the tuber roots of the orchids that have a high nutrient value, is added to the milk. The marvellous consistency and taste that was mentioned is obtained in this way. It is believed that salep may have an aphrodisiac effect since the ancient times. Salep has a significant place in medicine and has been used as a medicine in various forms. The famous scholar, Ibn-I Sina recommended the sale of salep as an aphrodisiac, the means for strengthening the self, and appetiser, stimulating the mind and appetite and as a stimulator for respiratory tracts.”

In any case as I finished off a delicious murky turkish coffee, Poppy informed me that she didn’t like it……….she LOVED it!!!! And that means a good day was had by all!

Turkish Coffee

As we left, I couldn’t resist buying some baklava on the way out. The waitress told me that they bring this baklava in from Turkey which would explain perhaps why it is not as textural as the locally made baklava that I usually eat. I was told once that Turkish Baklava is made with sugar syrup only whereas some countries will use honey in their baklava. The baklava I usually eat has very distinct honey and cinnamon flavours.

Nonetheless, I can’t resist taking home some of the thin crispy layers drizzled with sugary syrup and filled with pistachios or walnuts (walnuts are my favourite). ¬†It is delicious and I eat it the next day with coffee.

Baklava

Note……please excuse the grainy photos! They were taken on my iPhone in really unfriendly light. I couldn’t resist sharing though!!

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