Friday, September 15, 2017

Dinner @ Junk

I'm currently in Brisbane for a two-day conference. It has been great catching up with old friends and making new ones, and last night I skipped the formal conference dinner to meet up with my buddy Liana. She recommended we eat at Junk in Southbank, and it didn't disappoint!

The food is described as having 'several Asian influences including Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Chinese' and Junk was the perfect venue for a casual, colourful and delicious gossipy catch-up. Liana is a vegetarian and I'm more omnivorous so we shared some things but not others. We started with lotus chips and spicy edamame, then had crispy pork belly (with a kaffir lime and dark palm sugar caramel, laksa, green papaya and cashew nut salad) and salt and pepper tofu (with wakame, pickled ginger, yuzu avocado and soy dressing) for the main meals. It was all fabulous.

Junk is at Shops 11 and 12, Little Stanley Street, South Brisbane and they also have branches in Maroochydore and Toowoomba.

Yum ;-)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Coffee and cardamom ice cream? Oh, yes please!

First up, a confession. Much as I can't bear so-called reality shows, I got this idea from MasterChef. I was at a friend's place, MasterChef was playing in the background, and someone said 'coffee and cardamom ice cream'. The concept sounded too good to ignore. So today I tried making it. Oh. My. Goodness.


600 ml fresh cream
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon granulated coffee
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Whip the cream, add the condensed milk and whip some more, then stir the coffee and cardamom through. Combine well and spoon into freezer container/s. Freeze and enjoy. Makes about two litres.

If you want to try other super-simple ice cream flavours (no fancy devices required) you may also like my:

Coconut ice cream
Rocky road ice cream
Green tea ice cream
Baileys and macadamia ice cream
Avocado, lime and ginger ice cream
Brandied fruit and nut ice cream
Strawberry ice cream

Happy spring!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Pulled pork and coleslaw burgers

A couple of months ago I attended a book launch where one of the finger food items was pulled pork sliders. What? It seems sliders are mini hamburgers. (Why? Because they're small enough to slide into your mouth, whole?) They were delicious and I've been combing menus for that distinctive flavour combination  shredded pork and coleslaw  ever since. Recently I mentioned my craving to a friend and she said you could buy pulled pork at the local supermarket. Why, so you can!

To construct the burgers, I firstly made some coleslaw (a.k.a. Swedish pizza salad) with red cabbage, carrot, spring onions, and a dressing comprising mayonnaise, natural yoghurt and a little Dijon mustard. I briefly microwaved 75 grams of pulled pork, mixed in a similar volume of coleslaw, and spooned the mixture into six mini rolls. (This made enough for dinner for two people.) 'Delightful and charming!', says Andrew.


On a separate note, we're going to our friends' place for dinner tonight, as we so often do on a Sunday. It's our turn to take a (child-friendly) dessert so I made a batch of Afghan cookies:

It's pretty safe to say the kids will approve

Brekkie @ Ha Ha Bar

Yesterday we went out to breakfast at Ha Ha Bar, which overlooks Lake Ginninderra in Belconnen, Canberra. It's a lovely spot. The menu changes regularly and was different to that currently shown online, so we'll have to try and remember what we ate! I had decision paralysis as SO many of the items on offer sounded great. Corn fritters? Eggs benny with house-cured salmon? Mushroom ragoût with feta and sourdough? Aaaargh. In the end I opted for the mushroom ragoût, which was fabulous:

Andrew had the French toast ... something about bourbon and citrus and strawberries ... with a side of bacon.

A delicious brekkie with cheerful service in a delightful setting. What more could we ask for? I'll have to go back one day and try the menu items that missed out.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The sustainable wardrobe

You know how sometimes several facets of your life seem to converge? I've been thinking a lot lately (well, for years really) about how to dress sustainably. There are many aspects to this: not following fashions, not buying 'disposable' clothes, only buying items I truly want and need and making them last for many, many wears ... and being mindful of where clothing and footwear come from, who made them, and the processes used in their production. For several years I had a goal to buy no more than 20 new items of outerwear or footwear per year; for the past two years I've reduced this goal to 12 items. This is quite fun as, in addition to feeling good about minimising clutter and waste, I only acquire things I really want to own and will make good use of.

So ... over the past month I've done a 30 Day Shop Your Wardrobe Challenge. While the challenge is associated with a program aiming to help shopaholics become more conscious about clothes shopping, I enjoyed having a list of prompts reminding me to wear what I already own. I had a bad habit of saving my favourite items 'for best', which meant some dresses and shoes only made it out of the house a couple of times a year. All that has changed. The 30 Day Challenge has seen me combine colours and styles I wouldn't have thought of, wear more accessories (rather than leaving them languishing in drawers), and receive lots of compliments.

Day 4: Wear something that's 'just for good'. Blue shoes!

Cool bananas. It has definitely reminded me to squeeze maximum use (and joy) out of my wardrobe!

Then, last night I attended an event called The Sustainable Wardrobe here in Canberra. Several speakers discussed aspects of clothing sustainability – materials, environmental impact, reusing and recycling, and ways to get more from less  and took some very curly (yet very intelligent) questions from the enraptured audience. I found the evening interesting and thought-provoking and came away with a bunch of new ideas about how to be stylish yet sustainable.

I'm excited about continuing this journey.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Palak 'paneer' ... the vegan version!

One of my favourite Indian dishes. Palak means spinach, while paneer is the Hindi word for fresh cheese. This recipe is not only delicious, but very simple to make. You can buy paneer ready-made at some South Asian grocery stores, though it is easy to make your own. Recipe here.

This week I tried something different. Rather than using paneer I used tofu! Simple and delicious.

2 bunches spinach, washed and chopped [silverbeet also seems to work OK]
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon cumin
salt, to taste
garam masala, to taste
red chilli powder, to taste
vegetable oil
375 grams firm tofu

Cook the spinach and onion till soft (use microwave or steamer). Cool slightly, then blend the spinach and onion till you have a gorgeous green sludge. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the ginger and garlic for a minute. Add the other spices, then add the spinach mixture and cook for four to five minutes. Allow mixture to cool while frying tofu slices. Add the tofu and heat through. Serve hot with naan or roti, or as a side dish for curries.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Cacao-nib cookies

According to the National Day Calendar, 4 August is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. Ha ha! Why not, I say. On a trip to Melbourne a few years back, I became acquainted with cacao nibs. Yum. So this week I tried using cacao nibs (described variously as a 'superfood' and a 'nutritional powerhouse') instead of chocolate chips in these choc chip cookies. Delicious! And a fun new texture.

200 g butter
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar
200 g flour
0.5 cups ground rice or cornflour
100 g cacao nibs

Cream butter and sugar, add other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown.

Makes about two dozen. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The stuff stops here

Acquire (verb): to come into possession of. (Thank you to the Macquarie Dictionary for this definition.) I tried to find an opposite for the word (dequire? decquire?) but no such word appears to exist. Anyway ...

I recently turned fifty. FIFTY! Once upon a time fifty seemed old; now, with increasing life expectancy, it's more like middle age. (If you're lucky.) I may not feel old but I'm definitely in the second half of my life and, accordingly, have decided to stop acquiring stuff. Sure, there will be times when something wears out or breaks and I'll realise it makes sense to replace it. But essentially, I plan to make everything I already own last for the rest of my life. I have ENOUGH stuff. More than enough.

From now on I will (continue to) refuse, reduce, repair, reuse, repurpose and recycle. I will decline, de[c]quire, donate and discard rather than acquiring.

This goes not only for things I purchase myself, but for gifts. After decades of trying to politely resist accepting tangible gifts, it is time to be more direct. No more stuff. None. Nada. Nope. If you do feel like giving a minimalist a gift, there are many options. Consumables like food and wine. Experiences, such as movies and meals and tours and e-books. Donations to their favourite good cause. A plant for their garden. Or nothing. If someone says 'no gifts', please believe them!

Let's reword that appalling bumper sticker message from the greed-is-good era. Let's say that she who dies with the least clutter wins.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Brekkie @ Soho on Summer

We just spent a lovely four-day weekend in Orange, NSW. There was much to enjoy: food, wine, art, history, baby lambs ... I didn't take many photos but did want to share this brekkie we had at Soho on Summer:

Smashed avocado on toast with heirloom tomatoes
and lime pepper, plus a side of bacon

The menu described it as 'better than owning your first home'. I don't know about that, but it was delicious!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Huggable podcasts

Happy Thursday!

Since moving to fabulous Kaleen last year I've fallen into a routine of riding my bike to work most days, but walking to the office on Thursdays. It's about 7 km so a fairly good chunk of exercise! On the days I walk I like to listen to music or podcasts along the way. It is also fun to listen to podcasts while gardening. Here are a few of my favourites:

ABC Radio National: Correspondents' Report, Dear Science, It's Not a RaceTrace, The Health Report, Best Practice, God Forbid, The Money (and probably others I've forgotten to list!)

I Hate My Boss: Solving workplace conundrums with a touch of humour.

Modern Love: The website says 'stories of love, loss and redemption'. Couldn't have put it better myself. You may need tissues.

Dear Prudence: An advice column. People ask the oddest things ...

Dear Sugar: More advice! I guess I'm interested in problem solving.

This American Life: A venerable radio show on all aspects of American life.

The Minimalists: Thoughts on living a well-curated existence.

The Good Life: My local federal MP, Dr Andrew Leigh, interviews people about living a happy, healthy and ethical life.

Brain food ;-)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The joy of pomegranates

Pomegranates are delicious! Messy to eat but worth the effort. I avoid buying them for most of the year as they're often imported and I want to avoid the food miles, so it's always exciting when locally grown ones appear in the shops. Maybe now we have a garden I'll try growing them.

Here's my recipe for the vegetarian Persian stew fesenjān (or fesenjoon). I cobbled this recipe together from several available on the web. The main alteration made (again because I prefer to use local rather than imported ingredients where possible) was to use pecans instead of the traditional walnuts.

1 large onion, chopped
olive oil
0.5 teaspoon turmeric
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon
half a pumpkin, cubed
one large eggplant, cubed
2 cups vegetable stock
0.5 cup pomegranate molasses (try Middle Eastern grocery shops or delis)
1 cup pecan nuts, roasted and roughly chopped
seeds from a fresh pomegranate (currently in season here in Australia!)
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook until translucent, then add the spices and cook a little longer. Add the pumpkin and eggplant chunks and stir till they're coated in the spices. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and add the pomegranate molasses and pecans. Simmer for about twenty minutes. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley to serve. This recipe makes about six or seven portions. Freeze leftovers for another day.

Today I made enough for tomorrow's dinner
plus three other week night feasts

Oh, and did you know the French word for pomegranate is grenade, the same as the military weapon?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Loafing around

It has been a bit chilly in Canberra lately. Not by, say, Canadian standards, but cold for here. The frosty weather has made me want to bake and I've rediscovered some old favourite (yeast-free) breads. These are delicious served warm, but also make excellent work day lunches.

Banana bread (throw in some choc chips for an extra treat)
Pumpkin bread
Beer bread
Date loaf

Pumpkin bread (left) and date loaf (right) ... yum yum

Sunday, July 09, 2017

A cornucopia of holiday reading

One of the many joys of train travel is having plenty of time to curl up with a good book (or three, or seven). On our recent trip to Oregon and Canada Andrew and I read heaps of books! I took a fully-stocked Kindle with me and also purchased a couple of Canadian books along the way.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I'd heard the author interviewed on ABC Radio National and was eager to learn more of his story. J.D. Vance grew up 'dirt poor' in Kentucky and Ohio, in a dysfunctional family, yet managed eventually to attend Yale University and qualify in law. The book has been praised by conservatives and (in some cases) panned by liberals; I find this odd as my politics definitely lean to the left yet I really liked it. It had a personal resonance for me: I've often felt embarrassed to be the first (indeed, only) person in my family to have fought for a university education and pursued a professional career. Hillbilly Elegy reminded me to be proud of my achievements.

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee. This novel is set in Vancouver and I bought the book in Montreal. It was compelling. The book tells the story of Jessica, a social worker, who is sorting through her dead mother's possessions when she finds two bodies at the bottom of a chest freezer. The author skilfully moves between past and present. The topics in the book are confronting but it was very well written and hard to put down.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. Loved this book! It is the third novel by Kevin Kwan to follow the lives of the uber-rich Young and Shang families; his previous books Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend were similarly hilarious. Just read 'em. They're great fun.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. I'd been hearing about this book for ages and finally got around to reading it. As a bit of a minimalist already I don't think it'll change my life dramatically, but I did find its no-nonsense advice on what to keep, what to discard and how to store things useful. One thing the author doesn't address  and I wish she would  is the importance of simply not buying clutter we don't need. The environment would be cleaner, and people's bank balances healthier, if we just bought less crap. (IMHO.)

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant. I bought this book from a cute wee bookshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia and didn't realise, ahem, that it was more geared to the young adult market till I started reading. Anyway ... it was fun! Set in Halifax, it is a mixture of mystery story and romance, with plenty of quirky characters and plot twists. Ideal reading while waiting for a plane.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. An oldie but a goodie. First published in 1873, this is a delightfully crafted and very funny tale. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the attitudes and social mores of ~150 years ago, not to mention to reflect on how much easier it is to get from A to B in the jet age.

And in a first for this blog, we have a guest post from my partner Andrew. Among many other books, newspapers, brochures, signs, etc. etc. he read on our journey, he enjoyed The National Dream by Pierre Berton. He bought a second-hand copy of the book from a tiny bookshop at Lake Louise.

He says: The foundation story of the Canadian Pacific Railway is in essence also the foundation story of Canada. If it hadn't been for John A. Macdonald's completely bonkers promise to connect British Columbia to the Eastern Provinces within 10 years in 1871 Canada may never have reached further west than Ontario and the United States would have stretched from California through the Canadian Prairies to Alaska. What is most interesting about the story of the CPR is the fact that it was ever finished; the level of corruption and incompetence is eye-watering. Be prepared for a story of politicians 'fixing' voters, wage clerks stealing workers' pay, towns fighting towns, contractors gaming the tendering system, money wasted on unneeded surveys, penny pinching on supplies to the point of starvation, politically appointed incompetents, and the discovery of the joys of building a railway across the muskeg and granite of the Canadian Shield.

(Thanks Andrew!)

Brekkie @ Gang Gang Cafe

The shops at Downer were abandoned for years. We vaguely remember having dinner at an Indian restaurant there around 2002, but it closed soon after and the shops stood empty. Happily, they're in the process of being revitalised. A friend who lives in Downer recently mentioned that a cafe had opened. As connoisseurs of breakfast and fans of local shopping centres, we went there this morning. The Gang Gang Cafe was a cosy little haven on a chilly day. I liked the rustic decor and macrame wall hangings. The menu is simple but has plenty of scope for mixing and matching extra ingredients.

He had:

Poached eggs on sourdough toast, with bacon and chorizo

She had:

Smashed avocado and feta on sourdough toast,
with mushrooms and bacon

The coffees were good too.

In other news ... the Filipino eatery Lolo and Lola is due to open in Watson next week! It's in the spot where Marco's and Joey's and Cherryripe used to be. Let's hope it stays a while. We've enjoyed Filipino food at Canberra's occasional Night Noodle Markets and I'm looking forward to trying the restaurant.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A weird chat with my hairdresser

I've been going to the same suburban Canberra hairdressing salon for about fifteen years. The staff are lovely (and know me by name), they know how I like my hair done, they don't try to sell me unwanted products and their prices are reasonable. (Much better value than in the Canberra CBD.)

Anyway, y'know how small talk is obligatory while having one's hair done? Earlier this week I had my hair cut and the hairdresser mentioned that she'd recently had her jewellery cleaned (free of charge) at a local jeweller's shop. She asked me whether I did the same and I rather sheepishly replied that I don't own much jewellery. Indeed, that I'm not a fan of 'stuff'. The conversation became a bit odd after that. Something like this:

Hairdresser: You don't want jewellery? Don't tell your partner that!
Me: Oh, he knows. He doesn't like accumulating clutter either. We haven't given each other tangible gifts in years. [We do give each other e-book vouchers and take fancy-pants holidays together.]
Hairdresser: What about clothes?
Me: I try not to buy more than twelve items of outerwear (including footwear) each year.
Hairdresser: What?! We need to go shopping!
Me: Noooooo ... I'd rather have one great item of clothing than a hundred crappy items.
Hairdresser: But you could have a hundred great items!
Me: No. I don't want to clutter my house with unnecessary stuff.
Hairdresser: [No words. Just a puzzled expression.]

Hairdresser: What about when you need new furniture?
Me: Well, we've owned most of our furniture for decades. It meets our needs so we probably won't ever need to buy more.
Hairdresser: [Simply looked horrified.]

The exchange reminded me that not everyone lives the way we do. People tend to think of minimalism and frugality as denying oneself pleasure, or being cheap or stingy. That's not what those things mean to me. Minimalism means being absolutely conscious about what we acquire. I don't buy things on whim, or to cheer myself up. I don't buy things because they're on special or in fashion. Everything I own has a place and a purpose. Being frugal doesn't make me a cheapskate or ungenerous; it allows me to live in a tiny house (you don't need heaps of storage if you don't have heaps of stuff) and to save money for more important and enjoyable things. Like supporting good causes, travelling to exotic locales, and retiring sooner rather than later.

Anyway, while I was still pondering the question: am I weird? and realising the answer is probably yes, I stumbled across an apt article in today's Sydney Morning Herald. Entitled The Seven Secrets to Happiness from the Dismal Science, the article notes that 'the past decade has seen an explosion in economic research designed to uncover what truly makes us happy'. The seven 'secrets' listed are:

  1. Have a high income
  2. Be in control of your finances
  3. Spend money on experiences
  4. Buy yourself time
  5. Spend money on others
  6. Nurture strong relationships
  7. Have a sense of purpose

Most of these tie in nicely with frugality and minimalism. Maybe I'm not so weird after all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Pumpkin bread ... even easier than before

I posted this recipe for pumpkin bread about seven years ago. Today I wanted to make it again but felt somewhat disinclined to spend ages grating pumpkin! So I tried making it with cooked pumpkin instead and it worked JUST FINE. Yaaay for shortcuts. Enjoy ...

0.25 cup olive oil
2 eggs
0.5 teaspoon vanilla essence
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
0.5 cup chopped nuts or pepitas (optional)
2 cups pumpkin, chopped and microwaved (or steamed) until soft

Beat oil, eggs and vanilla together. Add to sifted dry ingredients, nuts and mashed pumpkin. Bake in a greased loaf tin for 1 to 1.5 hours in a moderate oven (about 180 degrees Celsius).

Slather on some butter for a delicious yet nutritious weekday lunch.