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As spring is in the air and the flowers in my garden are blooming, suddenly my mood has lifted and I am starting to feel alive again. According to Wikepedia, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also know as winter depression, winter blues or seasonal depression is a mood disorder in which people with normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer, spring or autumn, year after year.

Blueberry bush in flower in my garden

Interestingly, statistics show credit card debt, chocolate and alcohol consumption, suicide, relationship counselling and even child abuse all reach a peak during the winter months. It is estimated that 1 in 300 Australians suffer from this mood disorder.

Cymbidium buds waiting in the wings

Now, I am not one to do a bit of random self diagnosis, but I can say with absolute certainty that I could live on the equator in a heartbeat, I despise the wind, at the slight hint of a cold day I have enough clothes on to make me look like the michelin man and my heating bill in winter is not carbon friendly!!!! I think perhaps this may be more of a Vata trait than a disorder however.

Orchid from my garden

In the first four days of spring here, I have noticed some miraculous things, my orchids have started flowering in the garden, my blueberry bush has flowers and the weather has been glorious this week. What a magnificent entry into spring we are making this year.

SADs or not, four days of warm, non windy weather makes you feel damn good!

Before I rush to consume all the fragile whims that spring brings, I thought I would take a moment to nod to the sturdier fruits and vegetables that see us through the colder months.

And so I present to you………..Pumpkin Pie……..an appropriate dessert whatever the weather……

the crust

2 cups almond meal

1/4 cup crushed walnuts this give a lovely texture to contrast the silken filling)

1/4 cup LSA

120 grams butter at room temperature

the filling

3 eggs

1.2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and cloves

3/4 cup cream

2 tablespoons arrowroot/tapioca flour

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Combine the base ingrediens and rub through with your fingers. (I asked Poppy to do this since she likes mass and she told me that she like mess on the floor, not on her fingers!) Pat into the pie dish until evenly covered.

Cook for 8-10 minutes till slightly browned. Allow to cool.

Cream the eggs and the sugar and then mix in the remaining ingredients. I did this with the whisk attachment on my kitchen aid. It should be about a medium pouring consistency, a bit like thickened cream.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake for about 50 minutes. (Try and keep little hands and spoons away from the mixture……….)

Once the pie is cook, it will be set firm in the middle. Allow to cool. Serve with cream and celebrate the end of winter!!!!!

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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’s probably a help that Ric doesn’t 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 “Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”  (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

1⁄2 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 – Bertrand 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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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 🙂

 

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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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Its that time of year, when the sun is shining but theres still a chill in the air. There is a  few remaining weeks left of winter and our bodies are desperate to be back  out soaking up the rays. Spring is coming. There are some new flower buds waiting to bloom in the garden, they just need a little more encouragement.  Looking through the windows is deceptive. It looks glorious but don’t go out without a jacket. Slowly we are feeling a little more social, it seems a little easier to crawl out from under the doona,  the beach is a little more enticing if only for a morning walk and it seems the end of our winter hibernation is near.

But I am not quite yet ready to sit outside with a chilled glass of wine or spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in the sun with friends and a cold cocktail. I am still a little fragile in the chilly air, searching like a lizard for a patch of sun to warm myself in. Perhaps then, there is nothing better than warming your hands with a steaming glass of Mulled Cider and Cranberry, making the most of the beautiful winter colours of apples, oranges and lemons.

Mulled Cider and Cranberry

Mulled Cider and Cranberry

4 cups pure apple cider

1 cup cranberry juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp brandy

1/2 tspn ground nutmeg

2 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

Apple slices and fresh (if you can get them, I used dried) cranberries

In a saucepan, combine cider, cranberry juice, sugar. brandy, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon stick, lemon zest and orange zest. Heat over a medium heat, just to combine flavours; do not boil. Strain and serve warm. Garnish with apple slices and cranberries.

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They say in life that one door closes and another opens. It sounds so cliched , but its true. This is exactly what is happening to me this week. I am literally closing a door. A door on something that just didn’t work and you know what, I couldn’t be happier about it.

Berry Clafoutis

Sometimes things are not meant to work. We take on too much or we take a step in a direction that we were not really passionate about. Perhaps we did what we thought we were supposed to do, envisigioning ourselves happy in that future, all the while having that uneasy feeling that is hard to ignore.

For so long, I have been feeling like I had lost my groove. I just didn’t feel quite like me. Somehow, there was a spark missing, and all because I wasn’t really being me. I have been making decisions for a while now and they are good decisions for a change. Decisions based around where I really feel I need to be and need to go. Decisions that are true to me. But risky decisions. Decisions that leave me living a little closer to the edge than I would like. Ok, a lot closer. And I have been feeling nervous.

Blueberry Clafoutis

Then something happened this week. I was in my groove again. Often when I feel like this, I’m feeling good. I might get an extra look in the street, or maybe a few. Male or female, it doesn’t matter. I remember one day this happened and I’m thinking, “Wow, I must be looking good today. This is what used to happen when I was 22! Just call me yummy mummy!” Then I walked into the ladies toilets and looked in the mirror. I realised I had my top on inside out. This is not the only time that happened.

But this week was different. First one thing happened, and then another. I checked my clothes. I looked in the mirror. All was ok. Even my undies were the right way round. I think finally the universe is saying. You’ve got it. Your in exactly the right place for where you are meant to be right now. Don’t give up because its going to happen.

So I made Berry Clafoutis. A kind of a celebratory treat. With cream. Lots of cream.

Berry Clafoutis

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup caster sugar

3 tablespoons whole almonds (you can use almond meal but I like the added texture. If you don’t have a food processor, use meal though)

1/2 tspn salt

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated zest 1 lemon

Fresh cherries or frozen blueberries or raspberries (I used cherries and blueberries. Mostly because Poppy is a blueberry fanatic. I worry one day I will come home to a child who looks like Veruca Salt)

In a food processor, whiz up flour, sugar, almonds and salt. Pulse to combine. Add eggs, cream, vanilla, lemon zest. Pulse to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. The mixture will be quite runny, like pancake batter. You can leave this for a few hours if you like. Great if you are having guests over.

Preheat oven to 180C. Arrange chosen berries in 6 ramekins. Pour over the chilled batter evenly over the berries. Bake until golden brown and puffed up. It should take about 40 minutes. Let cool a little before serving and then serve with lashings of whipped cream and sprinkles of fresh mint.

This is one of the easiest and most effective desserts you can whip up. Seriously, make the batter in the morning. Pop it all in the oven when your guests arrive and you will be a domestic goddess. Talk about groove!

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