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.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy 150th birthday, Canada

We're still a bit elated from our magnificent trip to Oregon and Canada, despite having arrived back in Australia. Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday today (happy birthday!) though the country is clearly making it into a year-long party. Why not? In honour of Canada's sesquicentenary I made pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast.

(recipe makes enough for two pancakes)

1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1.5 cups milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup (plus extra for the topping)

Combine the flour, milk, baking powder and maple syrup well. Melt butter in frying pan, pour in batter and cook pancakes on each side. Serve with maple syrup and whipped cream.

(What, no eggs? OK, so I forgot to add eggs. I usually put eggs in pancakes. But the recipe worked really well without them – the pancakes were crispier than usual – so I think I'll continue omitting eggs in future.)

Here are pictures of some other quintessentially Canadian foods we ate while away. Yummo.

Poutine at Frite Alors in Montreal

Yeah, yeah. We may need to go on a diet now we're home.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Halifax, Nova Scotia ... and a wonderful walking tour

Much of our three-week Canada trip involved sightseeing clichés: Rocky Mountains (tick), Niagara Falls (tick), Québec City (tick). Gorgeous and delicious and interesting, but not exactly quirky. For our final full day in Canada, I wanted to do something a bit more off the beaten track. There's a small company in Halifax that offers a range of foodie walking tours, and we signed up to do their North End Craft Food and Beer Tour. What a great experience! Our multi-talented guide Claire (a cellist and chef, as well as a passionate and knowledgeable tour leader) met us at a microbrewery, where we tried a couple of local beers and some smoked cheese.

Then we moved on to a Venezuelan eatery where we ate some excellent empanadas ...

... then on to enVie vegan restaurant where we enjoyed a melt-in-your-mouth peanutty chocolate dessert and some local cider:

Next we wandered to Hali Deli for a delicious sandwich and chips ...

... and then to Dee Dee's for some fabulous made-on-the-premises ice cream!

Our next stop was LF Bakery, where we each devoured a humongous chocolatine:

The penultimate stop on our journey was at Ratinaud, where we sampled some excellent French (or French-inspired) charcuterie and cheeses.

Last but not least, The Nook plied us with yet more beer, this time accompanied by cute chunks of avocado toast.

The afternoon was fascinating, delicious, and very filling! It also gave us an opportunity to look around a part of Halifax we wouldn't otherwise have seen. Unlike house colours here in Australia (often snoringly boring) they know how to brighten up a street in Canada! A few examples from our wanderings around Halifax:

The food tour was wonderful. If you find yourself in Halifax, please do it! The company is called Local Tasting Tours and you can find 'em on the web at There are several different tours to choose from, including some offered at night.

Thank you Halifax and thank you Claire ;-)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

All aboard the Ocean ...

The Ocean is VIA Rail's sleeper train from Montreal to Halifax. We spent a couple of days in Halifax back in 2008 and were keen to go there again. The train takes about 24 hours and we travelled in sleeper plus class, which means we had our own cabin (with teeny tiny bathroom) and all meals were included.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Montreal and Québec City

After leaving Toronto we caught a train to Montreal. We spent two nights there ...

... and took a day-long bus trip to the charming Québec City.

The Musée McCord in Montreal had a lovely exhibition on the fashions of 1967:

Next stop on this epic adventure ... another sleeper train!