Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Comforting foods

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Getting home after being away, even if just for 4 days, is rather comforting. Familiar surroundings, a proper kitchen, and a full cupboard of clothes are nice perks of home-based living, amongst other things.

Sunday was spent doing washing, visiting the supermarket, visiting my parents, going for a walk, and generally enjoying being home and hearing what Mr Bite had been up to whilst I was gone.

In the spirit of familiarity and comfort, I thought I would share some of my recent favourite foods and food combinations. Some of these are rather basic, but I enjoy them hugely nonetheless.

Puffed Kamut. Especially with berries and almond butter.



Kamut is a variety of wheat (sometimes referred to as 'ancient wheat') that is often tolerated by those who aren't suited to regular wheat. It has 20 - 40% more protein than regular wheat, and includes more vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

I like it plain and with toppings, for breakfast and for snacking.


Flavoured rice crackers with various sides for weekend lunches.

Lemon pepper wholegrain rice crackers with a drizzle of almond butter, a mandarin, and side salad

 

Mediterranean flavoured rice crackers, carrot, Special K fruit & nut blend (new!) with strawberries

I'm conscious these may not be the most balanced lunches, but my weekend breakfasts are often late - and come lunch time I want variety more than substance. The satisfying crunch of rice crackers pleases me greatly, even if the salt content of some flavours does not.


Fruit. This is always a favourite, but strawberries, apples (I'm a Pink Lady fan) and pears seem particularly good at the moment.






Sweet potato. Done just about anyway at all.



Carob. I like adding carob powder to yoghurt or oats, and enjoy the Lewis carob blocks as an alternative to chocolate.

 




What are your current favourites stand-by foods? Or the things you miss the most when away from home?

I also updated my Books page on Sunday, with the following additions: Inverted World (Christopher Priest), Revelation (S. J. Sansom), and The Lady Elizabeth (Alison Weir). All were good!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sydney extended

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As my last post may have suggested, Sydney has been treating me quite well. The weather has been gorgeous. My free afternoon was put to good (and busy) use. The conference itself has also been enjoyable, in a work-related way, although Friday and today were rather full days.

I do enjoy the camaraderie of conferences though, and the refreshed feeling I take away with me, full of ideas for new things to try and ready to return to work.

If I'm honest, conferences are also aided by hotel accommodation paid for by someone else. In this instance, at the Crowne Plaza, Coogee Beach.

This has also been my first 'adult' experience of Sydney, and brief as it has been, it's been nice to form some semi-coherent ideas of the city. I can hardly presume to know it well after such a short visit, but my memories from our family holiday when I was 15 were definitely faded - and my ideas of the city mostly stereotypical.

In truth, I have tended to define Sydney by how it differs (in my mind) to Melbourne, which I am more familiar with. Melbourne makes me think of cafes in lane ways, culture, parks and trees, a friendly city centre, terrace houses, good coffee, and cool weather (something I like). In contrast, I associate Sydney with a fast-paced life, a busy city centre, beaches and sunshine, heat (which I don't like), apartments, and beautiful people who work in business-y jobs or the entertainment industry.

I told you I was stereotypical :P

Some of those Sydney associations may be realistic, and having the conference based at Coogee Beach (not far from the more famous Bondi Beach) has certainly cemented the beach associations.

The view from across the hotel looks like this...




My visit to the city also lent some support to the fast-paced idea, with an atmosphere of action that felt different to even the larger cities I've visited (London, New York). I'm not sure what it is. Unexpectedly, the acclaimed Westfield shopping centre in the city centre also proved surprisingly scary. Prada, Chanel, marble floors, black walls, sparkly lights...I felt like I was in Dubai.

Please excuse the poor photo quality. 
The atmosphere at Sydney City Westfield also made me think I might just get arrested for taking photos.

I'm all for shopping, but know when I'm out of my league!

This visit has shown me, though, that there is more to Sydney than those qualities (and indeed, those who actually live in Sydney may tell me I'm wrong about those too).

As yesterday's photos go some way towards showing, it is a beautiful city. The waterfront is gorgeous, especially in sunshine, and you don't have to be a beach person to enjoy it. The botanical gardens are right in the city centre, and the city itself might be busy, but it has a lot to offer - and older shopping arcades as well as the new, flashy stores.

Being able to walk and run along here in the morning is quite nice too.


The Coogee Beach area, around where I'm staying, has also turned up a few pleasant surprises, particularly of the food variety.

Good coffee...



A delicious rice paper roll with pumpkin and coriander...





And Maloneys Grocer, which provided a delightful local store, with fresh fruit and vegetables, packaged salads and pre-made meals, exciting frozen yoghurt and coconut ice cream varieties (sadly, not to be tried by me on this trip), and rather a lot of appealing snack and chocolate options.













I was very excited by the dark chocolate coated dried banana pieces, and couldn't resist buying a pack to take home, despite the rather extravagant price.

As most of my meals have been conference based, or with work colleagues, they have been fairly standard fare and gone unphotographed. I did have perfectly grilled barramundi last night, and was grateful to still eat fish, given the lack of vegetarian options at the restaurant we went to. Given that it was a seafood and grill restaurant, I think that was probably understandable though - and the fish was good enough to make me glad I chose it.

So all in all, a good few days, a lovely visit, and a lovely city. As this goes up I should be flying back (I hope!) to Perth, and whilst I'll be glad to return home and to Mr Bite, I'm pleased to have seen a snippet of what Sydney has to offer.

Have you had your stereotypes of a city challenged? Or have any additional insights into Sydney to share?



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sydney in brief

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How much of Sydney can one see in 4 hours? 

As it turns out, a reasonable amount.


Compulsory sight number 1 - The Sydney Harbour Bridge (in dazzling sunshine):



Circular Quay:



Compulsory sight number 2 - Sydney Opera House:





Botanical Gardens:





 New shopping centres...



...and old:



Cupcake shops...



...and chocolate shops...


...and of course so much more besides.

It's rather a pity to have to return to conference and work matters tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tutti Frutti frozen yoghurt

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I have been a little unfair to my home city this year. You see, soft serve frozen yoghurt is one of my favourite foods. Although Perth has a few icecream / smoothie bars that carry it, they are rare, and the flavour choices are pretty unimaginative.

This year, two soft serve frozen yoghurt stores opened in my vicinity. I was overwhelmed with excitement. And I haven't blogged about it.

Perth, I am sorry.

My favourite of the two is Tutti Frutti, an American company that has started expanding to non-US markets. Currently, Perth has the only Tutti Frutti store in Australia (a Melbourne store is planned), which is pretty amazing.

Located in Leederville, an inner city suburb with a stretch of cafes and restaurants, the store is small and doesn't offer much seating. It does, however, offer a fantastic array of flavours, which also change over time.


On my most recent visit, camera in hand, I selected plain / natural (which is actually my favourite, unimaginative as it is), coconut (which looks identical to the plain when photographed), chocolate peanut butter, and just a dob of green tea.



I was a bit skeptical of the green tea - thus the small amount - but was pleasantly surprised. One of the reasons I like the natural flavour is that it isn't too sweet, and the green tea was similar in that regard.

It was also my first time trying coconut, and I chose it somewhat on a whim, not usually being a big fan of coconut products. However, it was wonderful. Although it did taste coconut-y, the flavours were subtle, and it was reminiscent of vanilla.

On previous, unphotographed occasions, I have tried...
- Strawberry (ok),
- Mango (great),
- Plain chocolate (ok)
- Vanilla (average)

...and more of the chocolate peanut butter and natural. I don't usually get toppings, as when paying by weight I don't really find them to be worth the cost. However, for those that are topping inclined, there's a big range to choose from (from fruit to nuts to chocolate to cookies).

There are several more flavours on the Tutti Frutti website that I hope to discover one day: banana, mint chocolate, vanilla bean, pumpkin pie (!), lemon, and pistachio, among others.


In the mean time, though, I'm pretty delighted with the flavour selection I have. And I'm more than happy to make a dairy exception to eat them :P



Now that I've apologised to Perth, I am off to Sydney tomorrow for two-and-a-half days of conference and one afternoon of how-much-can-I-see-of-Sydney-in-4-hours.

I'm rather excited, especially as my conference presentation is now done. I'm even looking forward to the flight (most unlike me), with 4+ hours of no phone calls to answer, no emails to respond to, and no tradesmen to rush home for.

On the topic of tradesmen, I'm very excited to report that we have hot water again :D It took a lot more time and effort than I was expecting to get the new system installed (it turns out our old system didn't comply with regulations...cue various problems and challenges when re-installing the new one), but one week after it broke, and 5 hours after the servicemen arrived yesterday morning, heat was back.

I celebrated with a bath :) And a long shower this morning.

Are you a frozen yoghurt or softserve fan? Do you go for toppings or no toppings?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blueberry Chai Smoothie

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The other week, I tried a chai latte for the first time. I know, I'm only 5 years or so behind everyone else.

The thing is, I don't like coffee in latte form (too milky). And I've confirmed this year that I just don't like soy milk in tea or coffee (tastes wrong!). Thus, since trying to reduce dairy, I've tended to order herbal teas when out at cafes. I still have the odd cappuccino, but not often.

The cafe I was at last weekend didn't have chai tea, or many tea options at all. I didn't feel like coffee. My friend ordered a chai latte and I decided to try it, placing a soy order.

I don't know why I didn't think I would like this, given chai tea is one of my favourite drinks. As it turns out, I loved it. The soy milk worked fine, and I've since had a second chai latte that was even better than the first.


The result of this discovery is that chai has been on my mind. I've been drinking even more chai tea. And with almond milk to use up and a 23'C forecast, a chai smoothie seemed like a good way to start a weekend morning.

Blueberry Chai Smoothie
Makes 1 medium serve

Blend:
  • ~1/3 cup chai tea, cooled
  • ~1/2 cup - 3/4 cup almond milk, or milk of choice
  • ~1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • Optional: ~1 tbsp oats (I didn't include oats, but would next time for added thickness and texture)



The chai flavour didn't stand out, but lent a certain depth to the overall taste. Subtle spice tones mixed with blueberries was just what I was looking for.

The smoothie wasn't super thick, and I would probably add the tablespoon of oats next time. However, on this particular occasion, I was in the mood for a drink smoothie rather than a spoon smoothie.



I served it with a side of chai tea, of course.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Purple Possum Wholefoods & Cafe - St Mary's, Tasmania

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Thanks for your comments and well wishes regarding our hot water (and the less-than-positive week). Our new hot water system will be installed on Monday - not long to go!

This post could have been subsumed within my Tasmanian holiday reviews, but my enjoyment of the Purple Possum Wholefoods & Cafe was such that I wanted to give it a post all of its own.

Described in The Lonely Planet Tasmania guide (2008) as "an unexpected find in a little country town...[with] wonderful homemade soups, vegetarian wraps, fabulous coffee and cakes to die for", I had hoped this might provide a nice lunch option on our final day.

As it turned out, this could have provided nice breakfast, snack and lunch options, albeit not all at once, and especially not when driving back to Launceston in order to fly home. 



Set in a side street of the sleepy town of St Mary's, the store seemed amazingly well set up. In addition to a whole wall of bulk food bins, they carried an impressive selection of organic, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free packaged foods. They even ship to the rest of Australia.




The cafe menu was quite impressive too.

When we came in, the owner asked us, slightly hesitatingly, if we were vegetarian or...? We hastily assured her we were, and she relaxed and indicated that some people were disappointed when they didn't find meat on the menu.

Not us. There were great looking soups, sandwich options, wraps, a frittata, the Purple Possum veggie burger, and a range of vegetarian and even vegan pies. Although many items were listed as including cheese,  I asked for the vegetarian wrap without cheese and they were happy to oblige.




Mr Bite had the Madras Vegie pie ("curried veg with coriander"), which coincidentally was vegan. Although he eats chicken (and fish, and the odd beef burger!) at home, he usually sticks with vegetarian options whilst travelling, and was also happy to have an extensive range of choices.

My wrap included baby spinach leaves, capsicum, tomato, grated beetroot, and beautifully done tofu. Slightly warm, slightly toasted, with just a little of a tomato-y relish, it was delicious.




Mr Bite also liked his pie, with its side of tomato relish. He reported that he couldn't tell it was vegan.

I was torn between a coffee and a tea, but went for the former as I felt in need of caffeine. It was well done, and I suspect the teas would have been too: a full range of herbal and flavoured options, including liquorice (one of my home favourites).

If we'd had more time, or more meals left to eat in Tasmania, we could have tried or taken away some of the sweeter offerings. The date scones, rhubarb cake, and fig and ginger cake looked particularly appealing. Sadly, we didn't manage to squeeze them in, but if we're ever in the area again I will be factoring this cafe into our plans!

Purple Possum Wholefoods & Cafe, 5 Story Street, St Mary's, Tasmania, 7215

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One of those weeks

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Monday

Wake tired. Not enough sleep.

Realise new black pants, bought to replace previous black pants, are somehow just slightly too big.

As you tried them on before purchasing, and they're the same size and make as your previous pair (which still fit), this is difficult to explain. Wear them anyway. Then realise you now can't return them.

Work an 11 hour day.

Discover, fortunately after your evening shower, that the pilot light for the hot water system has gone out. Try to re-ignite it. Can't. Mr Bite can't. Eventually give up and go to bed.

Worry about hot water until you fall asleep.


Tuesday

Wake tired. Not enough sleep. Can't bear to get up at 5.30am.

Decide to skip Body Attack in favour of sleeping in to 6.10am and going for a run.

Post-run, try again to ignite hot water system. Can't.

Have Cold Shower Number 1. Wash hair in cold water.

Go to work. Call Dad. Ask if he can try to fix hot water system.

Go home early to meet Dad. He also can't re-ignite hot water system. Realise it may in fact be broken.

Call hot water system company. They can't come until Thursday. They can't give us a time. They will call 30 minutes before arriving, and want payment on the day.

Make dinner. Have a complete dinner fail. Rice noodles slightly too hard, tofu slightly squidgy, flavours not quite right, sauce not quite thick enough. Feel sorry for Mr Bite being given such a dinner.

Have Cold Shower Number 2. Wonder if you can become a 1 shower / day person for this week.

Go to bed at 9pm. Fall asleep at 9.30pm.


Wednesday

Wake at 5.30am after a rare 8 hours sleep. Relieved to not be exhausted.

Have a hot shower at the gym.

Drop the ceramic bowl containing washed strawberries when taking it out of the fridge.

Reflect on the sad irony of trying to save time by pre-washing strawberries, but instead losing time by sweeping up the broken dish.

Go to work. Realise you have one week to learn your talk before flying to Sydney and presenting it at a conference next week.

Have a headache all afternoon. Blame tight muscles in back. Resist taking ibuprofen.

Make veggie burgers for dinner (can't be ruined!).

Have cold shower number 3. Go to bed.

From now on, strawberries live in plastic containers only.


Thursday, today

Have a hot shower at the gym and head straight to work.

Feel slightly on edge due to being 'on call' for the hot water people.


Acknowledge to yourself that you really should work on being flexible and not having to know what's happening, all the time.

Hot water people call to say they'll be there at 2pm. 


Learn that hot water system is in fact broken. Needs replacing rather than repairing.


Replacement to cost $1612.60.


Would swear, but don't.


The End.





On a positive note, next week will probably be better!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chocolate chip cookies for my brother

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Over the weekend, my 'little' brother moved out of home. This wasn't entirely unexpected, as he has been talking about moving into a shared rental with friends for some time. He's also in his 20's, which may be deemed an appropriate age to leave home (even in Australia, where the 'going away to college / university' tradition doesn't apply in the same was as in England or America).

However, he's still studying, which I always interpreted as a good reason to stay at home, and he's the first of my two younger siblings to leave the family unit.

Thus, it felt a bit odd.



As my brother is only 3 and a bit years younger than me, I've not tended to feel parental towards him. I saved that for my sister, who at 7.5 years my junior was 'blessed' with 3 parents growing up.




I think my brother and I had a fairly typical sibling relationship, alternating between giggles, jealousy, games, the odd fight, and mutual understanding over the family-based irritations that only siblings can understand. The boredom of sitting through Saturday morning tap and tile selections when we were building a house, for example.




However, when thinking of him living independently, my maternal instincts kicked in. And what better way to soothe those and ease his transition to living alone than with chocolate chip cookies?




Mama Pea's chocolate chip cookies at that.

I ordered the Peas and Thank You book a few weeks ago, after seeing a plethora of positive reviews around the blogosphere. As expected, it is delightful.

Since receiving it last week, I've marked several recipes to try and thoroughly enjoyed the stories of the Pea household. The book really is like the blog, but in print form.

Helpfully, the Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt also leapt out at me as an edible housewarming gift for my brother.




As this chocolate chip recipe is in the book but not online, I won't repeat it here. However, I was tossing up between making these cookies and the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Balls. The recipe for the latter is online, as an easy-to-access alternative.

Pre-baking 


Post-baking


Packed!

These were easy to make, vegan (if using non-dairy milk, margarine and chocolate chips), and add a nice twist to standard chocolate chip cookies. I used to be skeptical of salt in sweet recipes, but I was converted after trying Lindt Excellence dark chocolate with sea salt. It works! As do these cookies.

If nothing else, I hope they give my brother bargaining power with his housemates :)