Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An exercise update and Chocolate coated fruit

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This is a bit of a double post, as I wanted to balance out exercise talk with something a little more fun. And naturally, when I thought of fun, I thought of chocolate.



Exercise Update

At the end of March, I set myself some exercise-related goals for April. My main priority was to mix things up, as I was getting bored with my standard routine, particularly the gym. I  wanted to get outside more and diversify my activities.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that my April goals could apply to May too. Thus, this update now relates to the last two months.

1. Cycle to and from the gym three days per week. Instead of cycling to one of my workplaces once per week, I wanted to use my bike as transport to my morning gym session ~3 times per week, thereby moving some of my cardio work outdoors and allowing more gym-based time for weights and stretching (things I neglect).

This has gone surprisingly well. I feel 100% better on the mornings I cycle - invigorated, awake, alive, and ready for the day. The downside is that it's now very dark at 6am, and getting colder and rainier as the weeks go on. I've switched my summer route to my winter route (the summer one is now super dark, and also tree-lined, and I get spooked!), but there are still mornings when the car appeals more than the bike.

This means that, on average, the last few weeks I have cycled 1 - 2 times per week instead of the intended 3, whereas when I started in April I was averaging 2 - 3 times per week. I would like to keep the average around 2, which I think is realistic over winter.

2. Sign up for races / running events.

This was a dismal fail! My running is still ticking along at a fairly stagnant rate. This is partially laziness and partially low-grade, back-to-back injuries (knees to hips to glute muscles to neck / head aches, etc.). I need to consider how much I want to work on this and how much I want to stick with the status quo.

At the moment, I think I'm happy maintaining things where they are at: keeping, and extending if possible, time, distance and speed. I would also like try to strengthen the muscles that seem to make me prone to injury.

3. Do one different activity each month.

I have played tennis with my partner twice over the past two months, which isn't very much, but we did do it and both times were lots of fun (although I lost terribly!). We also continue to manage weekend walks most weeks. I'd like to keep these things up and add in some new activities too: we've talked about indoor rock climbing, and I'm still keen on getting to an adult gymnastics class!

I guess in summary, I would say that I'm happy with (1) and (3), but admit that (2) didn't go anywhere. I'd like to continue with the things outlined above, and really focus on (3) in particular. In effect, I would like to extend myself more than I currently do.

I'll update again in another two months, at the end of July!

And now for the fun...


I really like chocolate-coated fruit and nut mixes, generic and fancy brands alike. Sadly, it can be hard to find dark chocolate-coated varieties, and when I do find them, the dark chocolate is typically of the faux dark variety, by which I mean it is perhaps 42% cocoa and has milk in the ingredients list.

So, I thought I would try making my own.

Having decided on this incredibly simple and straightforward approach, I then skipped over the sultana / nut ingredients altogether and decided on pineapple and apricots instead.

First: Melt your chocolate. 


I like to do this in the microwave, because the idea of heating water underneath a bowl of melting chocolate always seems fiddly, and I am lazy when it comes to fiddly. Plus, microwaving seems to work.


Second: Dip your fruit in chocolate. 

This is easier when you accept that (1) you are going to drizzle chocolate everywhere and (2) your hands are not going to stay clean. 

I used a spoon for the dipping, but used my fingers to get the fruit off the spoon. 


Third: Realise you want to do more than just coat fruit in chocolate.

At this point, the idea of mixing puffed millet, dried pineapple and chocolate together wafted to me. I blame my recent reflections on cereal.


I can't say I mind though. 


I set this mix into mini cupcake papers, and the resulting product was so much better than it should have been for the 5 minutes of preparation required!


The good thing about these is there's really no need for a recipe. What I did is as follows, but you could throw in whatever takes your fancy.





Super Simple Chocolate Creations

~70g dark chocolate
~50g dried pineapple
~100g dried apricots

+

~70g dark chocolate
~50g dried pineapple
~1 cup puffed millet


For the first ingredient set: Melt the chocolate. Coat the dried apricots and 50g of dried pineapple, and place on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper. Refrigerate until set (~45 minutes).

For the second ingredient set: Melt the remaining chocolate and add the remaining 50g of dried pineapple and puffed millet. Mix well. Spoon into mini cupcake wrappers. Place in the fridge or freezer until set (I used the freezer, and made about 10).

















So easy! I can't see myself getting perfect spheres of chocolate around a sultana or nut, but I think I can live with that. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

An ode to cereal - Part I

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I have a slight obsession with cereal. I don't think I'm alone in this. After all, cereal is such a versatile food, and covers such a range of textures and flavours. There are so many options with cereal!

I don't just have it for breakfast. In fact, some of the cereals I buy regularly I never have for breakfast. I have breakfast cereals and snack cereals, and sometimes dessert or even lunch cereals.

I cope with this obsession by limiting my purchases to what fits on a dedicated shelf in the pantry. When the shelf is full, no more cereal until I have finished a box and made space for its replacement.

Currently, I'm full up, and in an effort to remind myself what I have (and encourage myself to use up some dregs at the bottom of a few boxes!), I thought I would share what features on the cereal shelf.

Given that there are 9 cereals to cover, I will split this into a few posts, to avoid a cereal overload and a very long post!

First up: The basics

These are the staples I always have. Admittedly, not the most exciting options out there, but reliable and sensible, and certainly nutritionally sound:

Puffed corn, puffed millet, rolled oats, Weet-Bix

Oats


I don't think any explanation is needed here. I have them cold with yoghurt in summer, and hot as porridge in winter, and frequently topped with berries. 

Until a year or so ago, I also bought the instant oat sachets, which I thought were easier and more 'fun' than the standard oat varieties. Of course, the sachets also lost a lot of the nutritional benefits. These days, I still make porridge in the microwave, in about 2 minutes, but enjoy the chunkier texture of the oats - and being able to add my own flavouring as required. Mostly, I'm more than happy with just topping with fruit.


Weet-Bix



This Australian staple features in my childhood breakfast memories (particularly, for some odd reason, the memory of trying to make tunnels in my bowl of warm weetbix with grated apple...).

These days, I don't have it daily, sometimes not even weekly, but it is always in the cupboard.

The biscuits are 97% wholewheat, followed by raw sugar, salt, barley malt extract, and minerals (zinc gluconate, iron) and vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflvin, folate).

I love that they can go from looking like this...
...to this













...in just a few minutes flat.

Mixed with chocolate soy milk, topped with berries

Very versatile, and very expandable when topped with liquid! In fact, this is just about the only cereal to which I'll add more than a drizzle of milk. I also like them topped with tinned fruit in juice. 


Puffed corn and puffed millet


I don't usually eat these cereals plain. Being 100% puffed corn and 100% puffed millet, I find the flavour to be a little bland if left as is. 


They do, however, form a good base for adding yoghurt and fruit, and the puffed corn is good for snacking on when topped with cinnamon. Like an easy and healthier version of popcorn :)














Incidentally, millet is a cereal grain that is free of gluten and a source of magnesium, calcium, tryptophan, phosphorus, fibre, and B vitamins. I think of the puffed version as an adult equivalent of Rice Krispies, although sadly the 'crackle' and 'pop' experience isn't quite the same.

The more exciting cereals will follow (promise!), but would you describe yourself as a cereal fan? What would your 'basics' be?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pleasures without guilt

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Sometimes (most days) I have the interesting experience of starting off with a particular train of thought, and ending up somewhere so far away that it's akin to travelling from Australia to Russia.

Quite often, I'm not even sure which original thought triggered the extensive detour to where I ended up.

This week I got to reflecting on the term 'guilty pleasures'. I think this may have been triggered by a comment from someone at work, around their enjoyment of a particular coffee shop hot chocolate. 

You see, I find the term 'guilty pleasures' to be a horrible contradiciton in terms. I don't think pleasures should be guilty, or induce guilt. 

I am also someone who is quite prone, I assume for personality-based and genetically influenced reasons, to feeling guilty. I have a tendency to blame myself when things go wrong and can feel guilty about just about anything at all. That can be a topic for another day (or not), but the reality is that I don't need, or want, to be feeling guilty about things I enjoy, on top of everything else.

The interesting thing is that guilt has been classified as a "primary emotion". It's one of the emotions that people are hard-wired to experience, along with joy, love, interest, sorrow, surprise, fear, disgust and anger (or some variations on those, depending on what list you look at). And primary emotions are thought to have adaptive value, either for physical or social survival. They're distinguished from "secondary emotions" (e.g., feeling ashamed about feeling sad) because secondary emotions are more complicated, are learned over time, and stem from thought processes and particular beliefs or values.

However, in the form it's experienced today, guilt often doesn't have an adaptive value. 'Guilty pleasures' certainly don't. Feeling guilty about hurting a friend is adaptive; you won't do it again and will (hopefully) maintain your friendship. In contrast, feeling guilty about sleeping in, drinking a hot chocolate, or buying something you don't 'need' is unlikely to change your behaviour. If it did, people would do those things once and stop.

What's more, feeling guilty about those behaviours is dependent on viewing those behaviours as somehow 'bad'. All of the examples above could cause problems if done to excess on a regular basis, but they're not likely to cause problems if they occur in moderation. Most things cause problems if done to excess.


In light of all of the above, I propose to re-name 'guilty pleasures' as 'small pleasures'. If your guilty pleasures are large scale, and/or involved breaking the law, perhaps disregard this post and consider seeking help. But if not, enjoy what you enjoy! If you're going to drink your hot chocolate (or whatever it may be), make the most of it. Otherwise, what is the point?

Plus, imagine how much harder advertising companies would have to work  if they could no longer sell products as 'guilt free' because they're reduced fat, artificially sweetened, on special, or available with a 'bonus gift'...

So, ranting aside, what would some of my small pleasures be?
  • Eating whilst reading. I know you 'should' focus on your food. I really do. But the combination of food and books will always hold a frisson of enjoyment for me that is entirely disproportionate to the activity.

  • Spending 30 minutes in the supermarket when I popped in for a single item. Coming out of said supermarket with the planned single item and two or three bonus unnecessary items.

  • Re-reading children's books. There are many, many books written for adults that I haven't read, and I know it might be sensible to prioritise these over re-visiting childhood favourites. But sometimes childhood favourites are what I want. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books are a big contributor to this category, and I like them just as much now as I did at age 5. I think I must have read each book at least 10 times. I also liked (like!) Mary Grant Bruce's Australian Billabong series (I secretly wanted to be in the Billabong series), Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, anything ballet or gymnastics related, and of course much more.















I learnt to read on the Laura Ingalls Wilder series...and like them just as much 20+ years later. 
















Mary Grant Bruce was kind enough to provide 15 books in the Billabong series. In contrast, Ballet Shoes was one of a kind, but Noel Streatfeild managed to fit a lot into a single book.




  • The completely unnecessary and over-priced purchased coffee that creeps into my mornings at least once per week.

  • Going to the movies, even though I could wait and see the film for free eventually (although I actually only go to the movies a handful of times per year).

  • Using the heater (and sitting virtually on the heater) when it's not technically winter yet, and/or it's not technically that cold. In the same category, staying in the shower for an extra minute because it's too cold to get out.

What would your small pleasures be? Are you able to enjoy them without feeling guilty?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sweet Potato and Chilli Soup

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Over the last month, I have made soup twice and ratatouille once. Thus, I conclude it is getting colder!

I actually find soup for lunch one of the perks of colder weather. If I make a batch on the weekend, I have lunch pretty well sorted for the working week, and I tend to eat more vegetables than if I was trying to cut up salad daily (as I try, but don't always manage, to do in summer).

This Sweet Potato and Chilli soup is particularly satisfying, and is very easy to make if you have a blender / processor. It's also good for cold days, as the chilli packs an extra flavour and heat punch.




Sweet Potato and Chilli Soup


Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Taste.com.au.

Ingredients
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 dried chillis, chopped and de-seeded (I accidentally left a few seeds in, which somewhat boosted the level of spice in my version!)
  • ~800g sweet potato (weight pre-peeling), peeled and cubed
  • ~1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 - 1.5 cups water (amount depending on how thick you want your soup. I used 1.5 cups and think I might use 1.25 in future)
  • Olive oil to taste, for cooking the onion



Directions

1. In a large saucepan, saute the onion over moderate heat for ~3 minutes, until slightly soft.

2. Add the chillis and cook for a further 3 minutes, until the onion is golden.

3. Add the sweet potato, vegetable stock and water. Cover and simmer on low heat for ~15 minutes, until potato is soft.

4. Add the coriander and stir through. Turn off the heat and leave covered for ~15 minutes.

5. Process the soup in a food processor or blender, in batches to avoid explosions.


I love the combination of sweet potato, chilli and coriander, so this soup was just right for me. It was quite spicy, but I attribute that to my rogue chilli seeds, and it was still not too spicy.

If you wanted to reduce the chilli, you could easily use just one, or even add a whole chilli at the simmering stage and remove before processing. As the original recipe called for garlic and not coriander, I think it would also be easy to play around with the flavours to taste.



Whilst this was cooking, I tried re-making Apple and Zucchini Muffins with whole-wheat flour and honey instead of white flour and white sugar. Unfortuantely, whilst the resulting muffins tasted beautiful, they were somewhat soggy in the middle! I think I need to tweak the flour amounts and baking time to compensate for the honey, so I won't share a revised recipe at this stage :p.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Toe injuries from nothing at all

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[I should offer a warning that if you're particularly squeamish about blood, or if you're currently eating, this may not be the post for you!]

Last week, I managed to stub my right big toe whilst walking a 15 minute route back to my office (a route, it may be noted, that I have walked many times before).

I didn't walk into anything, or trip over a rock, or encounter any other object that would offer a reason to stub one's toe. I just tripped on the flat ground I was walking on, and stubbed my toe in the process.

This isn't particularly unusual for me - I trip over nothing far more often than I would like - and so I continued walking. I did notice that my toe hurt rather a lot. I figured it would stop.

When it continued to hurt (rather a lot), I thought I would inspect my toe for signs of injury. I find it surprisingly helpful to back up pain signals with visual confirmation that something is, in fact, injured. Unfortunately, on removing my shoe, I found there was rather a lot of blood. On my toe. On my shoe. On my adjoining toe.


This wasn't where I was walking, but it could have been. See the flat surface? Nothing to trip on. Nothing at all.

Being 5 or so minutes from my office, and in the vicinity of other people, I thought I should try to maintain some outward normality. I also tend to carry bandaids everywhere, for situations just like these. As I was also equipped with tissues, I made the best I could of things and continued back to my office.

After washing and re-bandaiding my toe (and trying to wash my shoe), the day continued in a fairly average way and my toe has been only slightly sore in the aftermath. The thing about toes, after all, is that they bleed rather a lot even with small injuries, due to being at the bottom of the body and thus in prime position for blood to flow down and out.

The thing about my toes, though, is that they go through this sort of experience at semi-regular intervals.


In contrast to the path above, my feet seem to think that all surfaces are like this. 
They certainly act as if many surfaces are like this.


There was the time, in my student years, when I was walking into university and felt like my left big toe was rather uncomfortable, but not unduly so; not enough to stop and investigate. When I reached the campus, I realised that I had somehow rubbed the bottom of my toe in such a way as to induce bleeding. Again, quite a lot. The shoes I was wearing on that occasion were never able to be rescued.

There was also the time, when I was preparing for a 12km fun run, that I felt like my right big toe had the toenail of my adjoining, smaller toe digging in to it. Given that I was on a running roll and didn't want to stop and take off my running shoes some kilometres from home, I continued on. The 'digging in' sensation stopped after a while (perhaps, on reflection, due to endorphins from the running) so I figured my toes had sorted themselves out. I don't grow excessively long toenails, so there shouldn't have been too much conflict happening in my shoes (I naively thought).

As I was nearing the end of my run I happened to glance down at my shoes and was rather alarmed to notice a considerable amount of red on my right toe area. I initially thought it must be mud. Even when I worked out it must be blood, I didn't want to stop and investigate. At that stage, I was rather concerned about what might be inside my shoe.

Fortunately, the toe damage was again small, but the position of feet (and in this case, the running action) had contributed to rather a lot of blood being shed.

I actually took a picture of that shoe, so impressed (in a slightly gruesome way) was I by its appearance.

I know. Sorry. Ick.

I think I'll have to accept that my slight accident prone nature and inability to keep track of my feet will result in more of these events in the future. And on balance, that may be better than less frequent major injuries.

I only hope I don't ruin too many more pairs of shoes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chocolate. All Chocolate.

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Recently, I had a rather exciting Double Chocolate Experience.

Experience One

One of my closest friends from university bought me some Green & Black's  Dark Cherry Chocolate.



I really like the Green & Black's brand, although I do dislike a few of their specific chocolate flavours (and was saddened to hear that the original UK company was bought out by Kraft a little while ago).

When I was in England a few years back, I was also amazed at the considerably greater flavour range that is available there than here in Australia. Dark cherry, dark ginger, and dark hazelnut and currant are just some examples.

My friend was in London at the same time as me on that holiday, and she remembered my glee in the Selfridge's food section (oh Selfridge's, how I love you).

So when she saw the cherry flavour of this chocolate at a local supermarket! she bought me some. And, she told me which supermarket she found it at - definitely a good friend :)


I have heard that some people don't like fruit in their chocolate, and if so, this may not be for you. It's also quite a 'dark' chocolate, and not super sweet.


However, I found the contrast between the rich chocolate and the tart dried cherries to be incredible. A little certainly goes a long way with this block.

I also now know where the full Green & Black's range can be found, which is almost as exciting as the Cherry block itself.

This leads us to Experience Two.

Experience Two

When visiting the store which I now know stocks the full range of Green & Black's chocolates, I found another chocolate brand, which I hadn't seen before.

It's Australian. They have varieties that are dark enough to not involve milk. They have interesting flavours. They all look amazing.

Unfortunately, each product also costs over $10, for a 100g - 150g pack.

The combination of too many flavours and the >$10 price tag meant I had to leave the store quickly, to avoid a meltdown where I was overwhelmed with possibility and just bought all flavours on offer. It was getting a bit close.

This means I can't do a product review, but I thought I would share my product daydreaming with you instead.
Introducing... delicaseys

Delicaseys describe themselves as offering "handmade chocolates using only the finest ingredients. Try your old favourites such as Hokey Pokey, Hazel's and Liquorice, to exotic gourmets like Sour Cherry Brandy, Chilli Bark or Tasmanian Pepperberry" (http://www.delicaseys.com.au/) .



(screen shot from delicaseys.com.au )


I'm conscious it's a bit dangerous to rave about a product you haven't tried. I really am. They might taste horrible. But Chilli Bark? Tasmanian Pepperberry? I never knew these things were available 5km from my house!

If I could justify spending large sums of money on chocolate that it would take me many weeks to eat (and I'm working on the justification, believe me!), I would buy:
  • Chilli Bark ("traces of chilli and cinnamon join layers of dark chocolate for a warm embrace")
  • Guinea Figs ("bite through the crispy dark chocolate shell to reveal soft, chewy figs on the inside")
  • Hokey Pokey ("golden caramelised honeycomb dipped in dark chocolate")
  • Tasmanian Pepperberry ("Tasmanian pepper berries have a mild spiciness and an aromatic fragrance similar to lavender. Blended together with pieces of caramel in a snappy dark chocolate, creates a unique taste")
  • Liquorice in 70% ("Top-grade soft liquorice dipped in delectable extra dark chocolate")
  • Limone ("Tender slices of juicy lemon dipped in 70% dark chocolate")
(All descriptions from the delicasey website)

All except the Tasmanian Pepperberry are dairy free, and all except the Liquorice in 70% are gluten free.

Have you every tried the delicasey brand? Do you have a favourite? Can you think of any reasons that I should purchase a pack?

I am still happily working my way through the Green & Black's block, but I can see myself coming up with a reason to buy one of the above before too long...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vegetable Ratatouille and Sage Soda Bread

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At the start of this year, I set a goal of making one new recipe a week, on a Sunday. That plan has really never gone brilliantly. On the weeks I do try something new, a positive outcome is never guaranteed. On the other weeks, I am too disorganised and/or don't feel like trialling new recipes, and I dish up a quick, familiar, and non-exciting meal.

Last weekend, to my delight, I tried two new recipes and both turned out to be edible. And both were easy. Success!


Chunky Ratatouille Stew
Adapted from a cookbook of my Mum's, title not remembered because I copied the recipe with no book-related details (very poor behaviour)
Serves 4 - 6
















Ingredients:
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large red capsicum, chopped (sliced or diced, to preference)
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped
  • ~1/2 cup green beans, chopped
  • 2 full sticks of celery, chopped
  • 4 mushrooms, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tin crushed tomatoes, with added herbs if possible
  • ~1.5 tsp dried basil or equivalent fresh
  • ~200g (1/2 tin) canned cannelloni beans, or equivalent from dry
  • ~1 tbsp water
  • Oil for cooking, to taste
(Note. The original recipe called for 2 tbsp dry red wine and didn't include cannelloni beans.)

 Directions:
  1. Heat a non-stick pan and add a light coating of oil or oil spray.
  2. Add onions and capsicum and cook until slightly soft and the onion is golden.
  3. Transfer to a saucepan; add eggplant and ~1tbsp water.
  4. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  5. Add beans, celery and mushroom; continue to cook on low heat for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Add basil and tinned tomato; continue to cook on low heat for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Add canneloni beans; continue to cook on low heat for a final 5 minutes.
Other than the vegetable chopping, which can be done in stages given that the vegetables are cooked in batches, this is a super simple and quick meal.

The cooking time is about 25 minutes from start to finish, but the meal could also be made in advance and left to sit or simmer until needed.

My final product looked somewhat like minestrone, which I think was due to my dicing vegetables rather than leaving some in strips, but I found the taste was thicker and more flavoursome than soup.



Sage Soda Bread
Also adapted from a cookbook of my Mum's, title not remembered
Serves 6 - 8 as a side dish

Side note: Soda bread is made with bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast, and also (traditionally at least) involves buttermilk. This combination of ingredients react to give carbon dioxide, which allows the bread to rise without yeast or extended rising time. 


I had half a carton of buttermilk left from my failed Mother's Day carrot cake, which was one of the reasons I elected to make this loaf. Interestingly, buttermilk was so named because it was the milk left behind when butter was churned out of cream, so it's actually lower in fat than standard milk. It's also higher in lactic acid, which is why it works so well when reacting with bicarbonate of soda. 


I'm not sure if non-dairy milks would work, but I guess it could be tried.


 Ingredients:
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup plain white flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ~2 tbsp chopped fresh sage, or equivalent dried


Direcitons:
  1. Preheat oven to 220'C.
  2. Combine flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. Add sage and then buttermilk, and combine to make a soft dough. Mix well and knead very slightly.
  4. Form dough into a rough ball, cut a cross in the top (I assume for cooking rather than religious purposes...), and place on a greased baking tray.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped (I found this last point quite amusing, but the loaf really does sound hollow when ready!).


Voila...home made bread in under an hour.

The taste and texture were reminiscent of a savoury scone, and quite different to standard bread.

I'm not usually a savoury scone person, but I did enjoy this (perhaps having it straight out of the oven helped!) and it paired well with the ratatouille.


All in all, this dinner was easy to make and a nice change to standard routines. The ratatouille was a great source of varied vegetables, and if you aren't serving lots of people, the recipe makes enough for several batches of work lunch leftovers.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday morning reflections

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Recently, it has seemed like half of the people I know are pregnant or have just had babies, whilst the other half are travelling or have recently done so / are about to head off.

On my morning run yesterday, I counted the number of people in each group. The result? About 6 in each, not counting partners. As you might expect, there's not much overlap between the two groups, so the total comes to about 12.

Now, 12 people is not my entire social circle. Clearly I do have plenty of non-pregnant and non-travelling friends and acquantances. At the same time, 12 is not a trivial number.

Why is this making it onto my blog? Well, because I am finding the experience a bit odd. When enough people you know do a certain thing, you start to feel slightly on the outer of an impromptu club.

Fortunately, I have no desire to embark on a long period of travel right now (ok, maybe a small desire, but practicalities win out at the moment) and I definitely have no desire to be pregnant or have children right now.

At the same time, it feels strange that so many poeple I know are either throwing caution to the wind and travelling the world, or madly preparing their work and home lives for the addition of a baby and all the responsibility that entails.


A random travel photo, because I have nothing else even remotely relevant. 
Central Park, New York City, 2008.


I suppose the strangeness is also enhanced by one category of people (the pregnant group) experiencing something that I can't begin to fathom. It's a real privilege to be able to follow friends through 9 months of pregnancy and then into new parenthood, but I don't understand the process at all. It's exciting to witness, but I don't know what it's like, and if I'm honest, the whole thing is somewhat terrifying to an outsider looking in.

Of course, the travellers will return home and I suppose that pregnancy will become more common and less noteworthy as I get older. No doubt my running thoughts will go somewhere completely different next week. But because these things were swirling around my mind, I thought I would swirl them around the page (screen?), and thus this rather random post.

Sorry if you were hoping for a recipe!

Have you had similar experiences with friends or family moving in directions you weren't moving in? I suppose it could be unusual to get this far in life without experiencing that, so perhaps I'm just catching up.


A second irrelevant photo: Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England, 2010


On other, perhaps more sensible, matters, I finished The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson) over the weekend, so that has been added to my Books page.

It took a full month for it to work from the bottom to the top of my April book pile (which extended into May...), but I thought it was a worthwhile read. Definitely thought provoking, although sad in parts.
  
I also trialled a new dinner combination last night, so there will be recipes later in the week, and I have a chocolate review coming up...as well as an as-yet-untasted but delicious looking chocolate discovery!

All of which make not travelling (and not being pregnant!) very worthwhile.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Apple and Zucchini Muffins

9 comments
I find it slightly unfortunate that after proclaiming the benefits of various Google products, Blogger crashed for what is reportedly the longest period ever. Oops. I guess even Google isn't immune to technical glitches.

Now that things are back up and running (although I apologize to those of you who left comments on my last post - I read them through my inbox, but they have since disappeared from the system!), I wanted to share a recipe.

Last weekend, in addition to a failed carrot cake, I made apple and zucchini muffins for our Mother's Day picnic.

As I hadn't made these before, or even baked with zucchini before, I was a little concerned about how they would turn out. But I needn't have worried. They turned out beautifully.


In fact, I could almost say that they are the best muffins I have ever had. They are certainly the best muffins I can remember having. Which is a big claim, as I have had a lot of muffins in my time!

They aren't the most attractive product (definitely a muffin and not a cupcake), but if you like apple, I don't think you could not like these. And if you make them, I don't think you will regret it.


Apple and Zucchini Muffins
Adapted from All Recipes. Makes about 16 standard sized muffins.

Print recipe

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (or replacement to taste)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Egg replacer to the equivalent of 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup apple sauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 medium to large apples, grated
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated

Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 180'C and prepare a muffin tin (I made 12 regular size and 12 mini muffins, but I think this would equate to 16 regular muffins. Or 12 jumbo muffins).
  2. Combine flour, sugars and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  3. Beat together egg replacer, oil and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir apple sauce and grated apple and zucchini into the wet ingredients; add in dry ingredients and stir to just combine.
  5. Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 20 - 25 minutes (less if you make mini muffins).

These muffins were incredibly moist. And delicious. There was no discernible zucchini flavour, and the taste and texture were really just that of an apple muffin, but better! An apple muffin with punch.

A little on the bland side in appearance...but definitely not in taste

My main modifications from the original recipe were to reduce the brown sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup; reduce the oil from 1/2 cup to 3 tablespoons; add in the 1/3 cup apple sauce; and use egg replacer instead of real eggs. I also used slightly more apple and zucchini.

Because I was making these for a diverse group, I stuck with the white flour and refined sugars. When I make them again (and I will be making them again!), I think I'll try half white and half wholemeal flour, and replace the white sugar with honey.

Given they were so moist, I also think I could have reduced the oil even further. The addition of the apple sauce seemed more than sufficient.

I see a re-run happening in my kitchen soon...