Thursday, May 31, 2012

What I've enjoyed this month: May 2012

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May has been a month of cooler nights paired with brilliant sunshine during the day. There has been a work trip to Sydney, some recipe hits and misses, lots of running (more on that tomorrow), lots of planning (wedding and otherwise), and new chocolate discoveries.

Here are some specific things that I've enjoyed.

Lemon

The combination of the lemon tart I made for bookclub and a current cold (which is making citrus look particularly appealing) has led to a renewed love of lemon of late.


This was aided by the fact that the the lemon tart froze brilliantly. I put the last few leftover slices in the freezer, and the filling turned to a creamy, mousse-like frozen lemon dessert. I see a recipe variation coming up soon, because I really want to eat it again!


Sweet potato and edamame beans


These are two vegetables that I go through stages with.

Sometimes I can't get enough of them, and then I generally over-dose and need a break before they appeal again.

Right now? Definitely in the 'can't get enough' stage.





More work lunches

I talked earlier in the month about trying to get more balance into my work lunches. Your ideas and suggestions following the post were incredibly helpful, and it sounds like many of you rely on leftovers to keep lunch time varied.
Colourful stirfry, thanks to purple carrots and yellow capsicum

I've continued with that stance, and am also getting better at quick 'throw together in the morning' mixes. Yesterday's lunch was made before work in under 5 minutes: chickpeas and corn with salsa layered under spinach leaves, paired with some wrap bread.


In truth, no more difficult than cereal.

Finally getting to some 'classic' books on my To Read list

I read Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) when I was in Sydney, and I'm now a few chapters into The Mill on the Floss (George Elliot). I've always read a lot, but my reading of older books has been a bit patchy and these two have been on my bedside table for a while now.


Now I just need more time to read this one...

(More) chocolate discoveries

In addition to the new Lindt blocks, I found this range of dairy-free chocolate-covered fruit:


Miss Sweetie Yum Fruits. In addition to the dark chocolate coated dried grapes (sultanas, for us Australians), the range includes dark chocolate coated grapes with honey (not sure of the difference to the plain grape variety...), dark chocolate coated apricot, and dark chocolate coated mango.

The grape variety was highly enjoyable, and unlike certain chocolate brands, there is no unnecessary dairy. The price is a bit steep at $4.95 for a 100g pack, but comes in as just about justifiable for an occasional treat. These are popping up at independent supermarkets around me so I imagine they are Australia wide.

Now, it would seem, we are up to June, and I have no idea how this is the case. None at all.

What has May looked like for you? And are you a reader of classics, or mostly modern fiction?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Treehouses

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As a child, I had a slight love affair with trees, and tree houses, and anything I could climb.

As a 4-year-old, I had a cubby platform accessible by climbing up a rope ladder. I fondly recall tea parties with my toys on that platform.

As an 8-year-old, my Dad built us a cubby house that whilst not in a tree, carried the magical possibilities that cubby houses provide. It was also adjacent to a tree with a swinging rope, which made for a wonderful combination.

As a teenager, I had a tree ideally suited to climbing, in which my friend and I constructed an impromptu tree house structure (basically, a platform).

As an adult, I still have a slight love affair with trees and tree houses.

Can you spot me? I'm up there!

This may explain why this book was given to me a few years back:


It's a fun read.

It also explains why the following tree house hotels and residences make me very happy...

The Tree House Lodge in Costa Rica


This tree house is built on stilts and can sleep up to 6 people. The price per night for 6 is US$450, or $300 for 2 people.


It's situated on a 10 acre ocean front property by Punta Uva beach, in the province of Limon. What's not to like about that?

If you did want an alternative, you could consider...



This hotel offers standard rooms, suites, tree house suits, and Tarzan suites (I wish I could figure out what they are! I'm picturing swinging ropes :D ). 

It also has treetop restaurants and amphitheaters.


Skipping hotels, you could just build yourself a tree house in the back garden, providing space was available. 

The following two examples might provide some inspiration...


This is a private residence in Münster, Germany, designed by Baumraum. It sits in the owners back garden.



And...


This is another a private construction by Braumraum, this time over two levels and designed for a German family living in Hungary.


Well camouflaged!

Do you like tree houses? Would you live or stay in one? 


I would love one in my back garden, but  my current garden courtyard is clearly not up to the task...one day.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lately

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1. Autumn has been beautiful. Cool, crisp mornings and evenings. Blue skies and sunshine during the day.


These sorts of skies are one of the things that best defines Perth for me - they aren't always there, but when the sky is clear, it really is vivid.


2. Whipped peanut butter was on special at Coles for $2. And I didn't buy it.

In some ways, the heavily discounted price actually helped. It highlights that everyone else is managing to steer clear of the paying-for-air thing :P

In saying that, for those of you who were keen to try this, now might be a good time to make the purchase...



3. Soft-serve frozen yoghurt. Again.



This time, in natural, coconut, strawberry, and lychee flavours. I didn't like the lychee.


4. We have a wedding date. And location.


!

And a tiny guest list that is just the length we want :-)



4. Aztec fruit. 

I discovered this at my local fruit and vegetable markets. I think the proper name may be a white sapote, but I'm not entirely certain of that. Does anyone know? The flesh is smooth and creamy and tastes like a sweet, custard-y melon.


Whatever the proper name, I love it.


Apologies for the poor photo here - I couldn't for the life of me take a good close up shot

What is happening in your life this weekend?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Perth pizza: Hero's Pizza North Perth and Crust Gourmet Pizza Subiaco

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When Mr Bite and I were dating but not living together, we settled into a routine around when we saw each other and what sorts of things we did.

(Yes, even back then we were like an old married couple.)

In a standard week, we saw each other on Tuesday night, Friday night, and Saturday day and night through to Sunday morning, at which point we parted ways until Tuesday rolled around again.

Because I lived by myself and Mr B did not, we generally met at my place. This meant we were eating dinner at my (now our) house up to three nights per week. So that I didn't have to cook on each of those nights, we established a routine quite early on that saw us eat out or order take-away at least one night per week.

Hero's Pizza - The Vegetator

Favourites were Thai, Japanese, fish, and one particular pizza place not far from us, Hero's Pizza. Hero's Pizza markets themselves as making "fresher, healthier, tastier pizza" and we tended to agree with their claims. They also go easy on the cheese, which makes me happy.

When we moved in together, we gradually moved away from restaurant and take-away food and these days we mostly eat at home. Generally I don't mind that, and even prefer it, although Thai a bit more often would be nice too!

Hero's Pizza was retained as a take-away treat around Mr Bite's birthday, but then the store nearest to us closed down. In one of those amusing twists of fate, the store shut because the lease expired and wasn't renewed. The new tenants? A Curves fitness centre. I still smile when I drive past.

In the lead up to Mr Bite's birthday this year, we thought we would try an alternative local pizza place, Crust Gourmet Pizza, in case they could fill Hero's shoes. I can tell you the exact date we visited - the 18th March 2012 - because Johanna helpfully reviewed Crust Pizza on Green Gourmet Giraffe the very day we had planned to go. Her review showed the pesto aioli that comes drizzled on top of the Vegetarian Supreme pizza, allowing us to know to steer clear of that.

Crust has several stores in Perth, two of which are relatively close to us. There are six vegetarian pizzas to choose from, plus a vegetarian calzone, which is quite an impressive range. It's also possible to design your own pizza, a concept that appeals to me greatly. When we visited, though, we decided to order off the menu for our first try. Usually when we order pizza for just the two of us, we get one large to share and I pair my pieces with salad, so customised pizzas would have required half-and-half ordering and it started to get messy.

Our choice? The Vegetarian Supreme minus the pesto aioli!

Crust Gourmet Pizza - Vegetarian Supreme

This comes with eggplant, artichokes, baby spinach, capsicum, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes on a tomato base. In standard form it also includes the pesto aioli and two types of cheese, which seems rather excessive. We asked for no aioli and no bocconcini, which left mozzarella for Mr Bite to eat and me to pick off.

Unfortunately, I think we would have been better ordering our own pizzas and/or customising things to our own tastes, even if it meant purchasing two pizzas instead of one. We both found this version a bit lacking, and wondered if the seasonings and flavours had been in the pesto aioli that we omitted - certainly without it, there wasn't a lot of flavour and we weren't able to identify any herbs in taste or appearance. It was also too cheesey for both of us, and by the time I tried to remove most of the cheese from my pieces I had removed most of the vegetables too.



In the end, not a resounding success. I would like to try Crust again with either a customised (and cheese-free!) pizza or with their 'Healthier Choice' baby spinach pizza minus cheese, but for now we are giving them a bit of a break.

For Mr Bite's birthday, we weren't taking any risks and drove the extra distance to another Hero's Pizza store in Perth. We ordered three vegetarian varieties, as we had Mr Bite's family over to help us eat them:

  • The Vegetator (tomato base, onions mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, capsicum, basil, mozzarella)
  • The Snow Meat (tomato base, roast pumpkin, artichoke, eggplant, capsicum, cream cheese, sesame seeds, basil)
  • The Avegers (avocado base, semi-dried tomatoes, roast pumpkin, mushroom, feta cheese, mozzarella, pepper)

The Vegetator is my favourite and I have also tried The Snow Meat before. The Avegers was a new variety that proved to be a hit with Mr B and his family, but I didn't try it as my odd tastes mean that I don't like avocado outside of desserts. 

The thing about all of the flavour varieties (in addition to their names being a little on the creative side!) is that they taste fresh. So many take-away pizzas taste oily or bland, but here there are plenty of vegetables and plenty of seasonings.

The Vegetator


The Snow Meat


The Avegers

There's also not too much cheese.

For now, I think we'll be sticking with Hero's Pizza on the rare occasions we venture into take-away. Crust deserves another try, but it may take a little while for the opportunity to arise.

We visited Crust Gourmet Pizza in Subiaco and Hero's Pizza in North Perth. Crust has stores Australia-wide whilst Hero's is Western Australia specific at this stage.


How often do you order take-away? And do you have a reliable pizza option?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book club baking 2012: Vegan lemon tart and chocolate cupcakes

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Last year when I hosted book club, I entertained myself with vegetable-based desserts: chocolate beetroot brownies, apple and rhubarb pie, apple zucchini slice, and a rogue non-vegetable (and non-vegan) contribution in the form of chocolate marshmallow truffles.

This year, slightly fewer people could make it along, I had slightly less time in the lead up to the day, and I was slightly lacking in confidence after my recent experience with sub-optimal pear and raspberry muffins. Thus, I made two desserts instead of four, and both were made exactly to a recipe. Most unlike me!

One was a lemon tart from Kris Holechek's The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes. I have adapted and posted many of the recipes from this book, but as this tart had no adaptations I won't share the recipe here. I will say, though, that it was easier than I anticipated and made for an impressive end result. I was also so taken with the lemon filling that I am already thinking of ways to adapt and use it again.


I would possibly change two things in future, both minor: one would be baking the base for slightly longer as it was quite a cakey base and a little softer than I would have liked, and the other would be putting the tart in the freezer for 10 minutes or so before serving. It set fine in the fridge, but softened relatively quickly at room temperature.

Even with those things, I was very happy with this and almost found it hard to believe myself that it was egg and dairy free. 


Base post-cooking and pre-filling; not altogether attractive

Filled tart; still not altogether attractive

That's better (albeit with different lighting...)

Set and sliced


The second dessert consisted of vegan chocolate cupcakes made using the recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and colleagues' Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. It is available online here. I am always keen to try new vegan cupcake variations and this recipe was particularly appealing because the vanilla recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is my 'go to' favourite.

The result?


Very good...but I think I still like vanilla best.



These ended up looking almost identical to the chocolate mint cupcakes I made last year, and I think I also preferred the mint twist to these slightly plainer versions. However, that comment comes from someone who doesn't much like chocolate cake, so it is possible I'm not a fair judge. They were certainly enjoyable (even for a non-chocolate cake lover), beautifully fluffy, and very well received.

What recipes have you made recently? And do you have a favourite cupcake base? There is something wonderful about fluffy vanilla bit it does seem like a boring favourite to have!


For those who are interested, our book club book was Zeitoun, which is listed on my books page :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Calzone from Salzburg

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Two years ago, in mid-2010, we had a holiday in central Europe. Like all of my independent adult overseas trips to date, the holiday was linked to a conference, thereby allowing me to avoid paying airfares.

(By 'all of my trips', I should perhaps clarify that there have been two. One in 2008 when I was still doing my PhD, and one in 2010. The third is scheduled for later this year when I have a conference in Portugal, giving rise to an every-other-year approach. Long may that last!)

Our 2010 trip started in Austria, initially Vienna, and then on to Salzburg where my conference was held. The trip brought many firsts. It was the first holiday Mr Bite and I had taken together, after a year of dating (something that could have ended badly if we'd discovered we only liked each other in small doses). It was the first time I'd been to Austria, and to the European countries we visited afterwards: Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. We finished off in England, which I did know.

Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg, Austria

When we were in Salzburg, I also had a first in the form of calzone. Now, this is not an Austrian dish. However, we found Austrian restaurants surprisingly hard to locate in Salzburg. There was an amusing trend, at least in 2010, towards restaurants that served Austrian, Indian and Italian. There were also some Indian only and Italian only restaurants, but purely Austrian establishments were hard to come by.

Danube River and Salzburg city

We weren't particularly keen to try traditional Austrian dinners, given they are very meat heavy, but we were keen to avoid eating somewhere that claimed proficiency in three very different cuisines. It just seemed risky to trust that an Austrian-based chef would be able to competently cook Austrian, Indian and Italian!

As a result, we ate a lot of Italian in Austria. Although I didn't order calzone myself, Mr Bite enjoyed it and the concept remained with me when we returned home.


I have made calzone a few times since then, using variations of the recipe below. It is a surprisingly easy dish. I have found that the dough is nicest when herbs are mixed into it, and when rolled as thin as possible - I don't generally do a good job with the rolling component, and as such my calzones are often spilling out the sides (see above!). However, this is a meal that's hard to ruin, and it is also very easy to adapt to taste. 



Salzburg-inspired Vegetarian Calzone
Makes two large calzones
Vegetarian; vegan if made without cheese or with soy cheese


Ingredients

For the dough
2 cups plain flour
Pinch salt
3 - 4g (1/2 sachet) dry instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water
Dried herbs to taste - I like oregano and basil

For the filling
~3 tbsp tomato paste (1 sachet if you buy sachets)
Drizzle olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large onion, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 capsicum, diced
1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 - 2 tsp dried oregano (or herb/s of choice)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: grated cheese (I use cheddar for Mr Bite's version, probably about 1/4 cup)


Method

For the dough
Combine the flour, salt, yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Knead for several minutes until smooth and then leave in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in size.

For the filling
Saute the onion, zucchini and capsicum until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and keep over low heat for another 1 - 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the tomatoes, oregano and seasonings.

To make the calzone
When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 220'C and knead the dough again lightly before dividing into two. Add any herbs to the dough at this stage. Roll each dough half out on a floured surface, into rounds that are ~2 cm thick. Spread each round with tomato paste. 

Place one half of the filling on one side of the dough, and then fold the other side over to enclose the filling. If using cheese, add cheese to the filling ingredients before folding. Brush the folded edges with water and then pinch to close.

Bake on a lined baking sheet for 20 minutes.



Hot, gooey (even without cheese), packed with vegetables, and easy to make.


Definitely a nice dish to take away from Salzburg, even if it didn't originate there!

Do you have any calzone memories? Or have you been to Salzburg - in which case, how did you find the food?

To those of you who expressed interest in pink laces - expect an email from me over the next day or two :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fortnightly Fitness Fridays - Pink laces give away

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Did you have any coloured shoelaces as a child?

I had purple ones when I was about 8 years old (in 1991 or so), which came threaded through black and purple running shoes. I loved the shoes because of the laces, and used to enjoy wearing them with assorted purple clothing. Black bike shorts and a purple t-shirt. A pair of purple dungarees / overalls that I wore to bits. Even, I regret to say, with a short purple skirt worn over white leggings. The joys of fashion in the late 80s and early 90s!

I no longer wear dungarees or purple skirts over white leggings, but I do still appreciate coloured shoelaces. And as of this week, I'm very pleased to have some pink ones, complements of my Sweat Pink Ambassador pack arriving.


I am still deliberating over which of my shoes should have pink laces, but it's an enjoyable kind of deliberation.

From left to right: My Brooks 'real' running shoes, old New Balance cross-trainers that I wear for gardening and trips to the park, and some Reeboks that I wear casually


At heart, it would seem that I'm still an 8-year-old but that pink is my new purple.


Given that I don't have shoes enough for all of these laces, and sharing is generally more fun that not sharing, I would like to give away 8 pairs of pink shoe laces to any fellow Australians who would like them. If there are more than 8 people I'll pick at random. Just leave a comment if you are interested!


As for me, I'll be admiring my shoes.


What about you - do you have any multi-coloured laces? Or any in the past?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Work lunches

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When it comes to work snacks, I have no trouble at all thinking of ideas. I also have no trouble taking time to pack / prepare the snacks in question. There is always fruit, at least two pieces. Then some selection from cereal, dried fruit and nuts, home-made muffins, English muffins, yoghurt, or even over-day yoghurt and oats, sometimes in rather decadent form.

This is still in first place for my best work snack for 2012.

Snacks are easy. What I struggle with is having a proper lunch in there, and not making lunch a variation of the above foods. I would be quite happy with fruit, cereal and yoghurt for lunch every day, but I think it's probably best for vegetables to feature sometimes too.

Given that I have relatively little time before work most mornings, and I leave the house at 6am two days per week (gym before work), I have been trying to address the lunch challenge by using dinner leftovers. This sounds like an obvious solution, but several years ago I was convinced I wouldn't like dinner food at lunch.

I suspect the shift (I actually do like dinner food at lunch!) may reflect the extra variation in my dinners now, relative to a few years ago, in large part due to experimenting with a broader range of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Here are some examples from the last few weeks.


Purple fried rice was just as good the next day as it was the night it was cooked
(and just as entertaining in colour).


Green salad with raw mixed nuts and dried cherries...

...with a wholemeal English muffin.


I made another batch for the sole purpose of having it for lunch.


This is a re-used photo, but if you picture this as  a messier version served in a tupperware container,
you have my work-based variation of four-bean mix with salsa, capsicum and nutritional yeast, invariably also with crackers.


A less exciting combination - chickpeas with stir fry vegetables. 
I think chocolate may have followed.

But lest we think cereal has disappeared completely...


...it hasn't, quite. My discovery of almond milk is keeping it firmly tethered in place, if nothing else!

Do you see how much milk is on the cereal? This would have been unheard of 6 months ago.


I figure cereal with almond milk is at least better than dry cereal, which was my previous standard. Right? Right.

What do your weekday lunches look like? Any more ideas you'd like to share with me? 
Or are there others that are similarly cereal / snack inclined?!