Breakfast, Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Choosing Life’s Colours / Apple, Goat Cheese & Elderflower Turnovers

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” C.G. Jung

It’s the last limping steps of summer in our neck of the woods. We’ve been sneaking in as many beach days as possible, while slowly moving into long-sleeved tshirts, thicker duvets and autumn produce.

I love this time of year. I love autumn clothes, I love autumn food, I love that my Englishness feels increasingly comfortable as sunrises arrive later and the weather cools, I love that Melbourne sits in comfortably warm temperatures for many weeks yet. I love the anticipation of switching our summer wardrobes for winter ones; the gorgeous coat I haven’t worn for months, the new dress I bought for this Australian winter while in England last October. I love discussing the turning of leaves from green to gold with my son, the first time he’s been consciously aware of the change in season.

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Coincidently in line with this, I’m embracing all manner of change at the moment. My mood’s increasingly one of willingness to live a little differently, a little bolder. I’m no longer pushing down the rainbow of colours that flood through me, the parts I may have been embarrassed to show previously. I’m more anxious than I’d care to admit, and often more neurotic. Certainly more fragile than I’ve ever allowed myself to openly show. These have always seemed like negative traits, the dark sides I wished  away and tried to whitewash and replace with characteristics I once decided (and who knows when or how) were more acceptable.

I was standing outside my home yesterday, staring at a flat tyre on my car and wondering what comes next. Conversely, my friend was rummaging around in the boot, pulling out metal contraptions and wheels, asking where I keep my jack. Ummmmm… Moments later, two local boys came around the corner and asked if they could help and between the three of them I had a new tyre on my car within 10 minutes. The old me wouldn’t have let them do it, I’d have been ashamed that I’m not very practical and would’ve tried to hide it by assuring them I had it all under control. Yesterday, I let them help. And today I thanked them by baking for them. Practical I am not, but I know my way around an oven… So they got to feel good for helping, I got to practice honesty and humility by letting them and we all get some food.

Sounds like a fully coloured life to me.

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These creamy and sweet turnovers are a simple go-to on those days when a warm tummy is entirely welcome at any time. The soft goat cheese is the flavours’ foundation, tangy and decadently creamy; while the elderflower dances on taste buds with its cheerily floral notes; and right in the middle is the timeless combination of buttery, hot apples and a light flaky pastry. I like to sprinkle mine with sesame seeds before I pop them into the oven as the hint of smokiness adds an even great depth to this delicious combination of flavours.

Enjoy.

  • 800g (1.75lb) or 5 sheets of ready made puff pastry
  • 1kg (2.2lb) green apples (about 10 small apples), I use Granny Smith, only because we don’t get Bramley or Cox apples in Australia’s woefully limited varieties. If you can find something tarter, go for it
  • 75g (3oz) brown sugar
  • 3 tbl sp elderflower cordial
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 75g (3oz) unsalted butter
  • 100g (3.5oz) Chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbl sp sesame seeds

Peel, quarter and core the apples before cutting each quarter into four (quarter them again)

Heat the butter in a frying pan over high heat until foaming

Add the apple, half the sugar, elderflower cordial and vanilla and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until the liquid reduces to gooey sweetness

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside for 15 minutes to cool

Stir through the rest of the sugar, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until chilled

Preheat oven to 200˚C / 390˚F and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper

Roll out half the pastry, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until about 2mm thick. Use an 8cm-diameter (about 3 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (if you’re using the ready-rolled stuff, you’ll need two sheet for this)

Place the pastry discs on the prepared baking tray

Pile 2 tablespoon of the apple mixture onto each pastry disc before dotting with the goat cheese and placing in the fridge (this can be a balancing act but trust me, it’s worth it!).

Roll out the remaining pastry until about 2mm thick. Use a 10cm-diameter (about 4 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (3 sheets of the ready rolled pastry). Brush the edge of each disc with the beaten egg

Remove the tray from the fridge and place the larger pastry discs on top of the apple mixture. Gently press the edges of the pastry discs together

Brush the pastry tops with egg and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds

Cut a small slit in the top of each turnover before baking for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden

Serve with cream or vanilla ice-cream, if desired

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Four Small Steps to a Big Life / Pecan & Chai Spiced Hot Milk Cakes

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

I’m thinking about living big. You may have picked up on the theme some time ago as I steeled myself to step out from my safe life and embark on this authentic one. The final days before leaving my marriage and home were a surrender, through gritted teeth and a shattering soul, that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t try hard enough, but that I kept trying to be a bunch of someones I can’t be.

So, in finally accepting I need a life that’s mine, the rest of the journey’s simple. Right?

Not so much. After all, the light can be blinding after so long in the false-safety of the dark. So, my recent behaviour’s been consumed with wild fears, obsessions, avoidance of practical matters, perfectionist-led procrastination and so many other unhelpful actions as I scrabble away from feeling exposed and vulnerable.

And damn it’s exposed. As I step hesitantly into a big life, I feel on the edge of failure most of the time and can rapidly turn into a dribbling mess. I may have been squashed into solitude before but at least I knew what each moment brought. Today, it can feel as if I know nothing.

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But then I remember that I know how to do this. Sure, I don’t know how to leap in a single bound to the end of this journey, but I’ve spent over a decade learning what it looks like to live big in each moment, and I’m finally getting to live it…

Firstly, just keep walking. Fear is a wily, sneaky, petrifying bastard and needs to be stared down. This week, I spoke with a friend about doing some apprentice work with a baker she knows whose work I adore. I baked and photographed. I wrote. My fear tells me I need to do so much more to be enough, but even one step forwards is a good day.

Secondly, in this moment, all is well. I’m currently sitting in my kitchen writing to you, while a thunderstorm rolls overhead. I lit some candles for my meditation this morning and they’re still flickering. Ryan Adams and Goldfrapp keep my reflective mood in good company, they mingle with the downpour as lightning cracks open the sky. Conversely, my head wants to be wrapped in future financial fears, while arguing with a person I’ve never properly met but who recently upset someone I love. I’m completely winning the argument (in my head), but am feeling hurt and angry (in real life) because they said things to me that I don’t like (in my head). My head can get pretty bonkers. So I focus on staying present. Far less madness…

Thirdly, don’t do it alone. I had to find my gang and let them see me. It’s horribly exposing to be vulnerable and human. But, once I found friends in the seas of people who weren’t mine, I no longer lived alone. This morning I had breakfast with one of those friends and spoke a little of my financial fears, they’re not gone but I feel so much better. Like now-I-can-eat-cake-and-grin better. I tell them stuff and they tell me the truth in return; lovingly, honestly and usually while teasing me. I just hear it better that way.

Finally, trust in life. I say and write this often. I need to write it often because I don’t naturally trust anything. I’m convinced a decreasing amount of the time that life’s out to get me. It’s exhausting and untrue. I had a bad case of the fears (again) last week, convinced (again) I was an idiot for trying something new, that culminated (again) in being unkind to someone I love. Afterwards (and I really do look forward to the day I can write ‘before’), I called a friend I trust to tell me the loving truth. After reminding me (again…) that I’d started walking this path to seek a bigger life, she sent a recording from Elizabeth Gilbert about creative fear, which I now listen to constantly. Another friend dropped in moments later to surprise me with a gift for a food styling course. Later, I was accepted into a photography masterclass I’d applied for. The friend who’d sent me the recording laughed, saying, “So it seems you haven’t been saved from drowning only to choke to death on the shore!” Trust. That is all.

Well, not all, because these cakes might be needed for everything to be completely right with the world. They’re super-light and fluffy, warmly spiced with superb chai flavours and dotted with pecans. They’re one of my most comforting bakes, set aside for those days when the past and future are crushing the present into misery. They stand proudly on their own merits, no adornments needed to improve them. Each bite reminds me the moment’s a deliciously preferable place to be, they’re best eaten in good company and, best of all, it’s a foolproof recipe; simple to follow and entirely trustworthy.

Enjoy.

  • 300ml (10.5oz) whole milk
  • 140g (5oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tbl sp of strong, black breakfast tea leaves (equivalent of about 4 teabags), I use Yorkshire Gold
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 280g (10oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 80g (3oz) pecans

Preheat oven to 180˚C / 350°F

Lightly grease two 12 hole muffin tins

In a small saucepan heat the milk, butter, spices and tea on medium, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and bubbles are just starting to appear

Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to let the spices and tea infuse the milk

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs on high speed for a few minutes until they are thick, foamy and a pale yellow

Gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl

Sift the flour mix into the batter, before gently folding with a wooden spoon until smooth

Gradually add the milk mixture to the batter, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined

Gently stir in the pecans

Pour into your prepared muffin tins, filling each hole almost to the top

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted near the centre of a muffin comes out clean

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack

Eat as many as you feel you need in this moment

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

First Light’s Passion / Orchard & Date Crumble Cake

In a dawn’s mist that hovers lightly over muddy grass, market stalls gradually gather shape. Posts thrust in the ground, canvas covers raised overhead. Some are elegant affairs, with graphically designed fonts and glass-fronted cases; others are no more than a couple of tables, cotton tablecloths and a hurriedly handwritten sign.

In the middle of it all, a huge urn hums with steady steam and the smell of its whole-spiced chai intermingles with sizzling sausages, waiting their turn for bread and piles of caramelised onion.

If nothing else defines one of the 185 accredited farmers’ markets in Australia, it’s the sausage sandwich. Not a piece of plastic white bread, supermarket ketchup, or sugar-filled brown sauce in sight. At my local market, each individually-kneaded twelve-seeded roll is lovingly smeared with fresh aioli and a scattering of just-potted tomato salsa. The sausages are from heritage-breed pigs, raised in large plots, lovingly fed treacle porridge the morning they head to the abattoir. You can taste the producer’s pride in every bite.

And conversations with people at the market are one of the best parts of turning up. Ask any passionate producer about their product and you’ll hear about soils, seed stocks, butter churning and meat drying methods, why growing mushrooms using dowels from eucalyptus trees is so difficult, why purple garlic is so much smoother than white, why the best roast potatoes are cooked in top quality duck fat. And so on and so gloriously on.

It drives my terribly sensible and unaffected husband mad, and it’s true that the potential for pretentiousness is pretty high. But this is a fast-growing section of the Australian consumer landscape that plays a vital role in our everyday relationship with food. Not only can we buy local goods, therefore ensuring that our community is prospering, we’re also supporting produce that’s grown ethically, using methods that don’t include large amounts of chemicals or additives, and haven’t been stockpiled in huge storage bins for months before making it to our shelves.

My toddler loves to come along. Admittedly, the wagging dogs and free face painting holds most of his attention, but his winsome ways has procured him more than one free tomato, carrot or bagel as we’ve wandered. I love knowing that he’s going to grow up in these places, watching the seasons move by our food choices, and eating his way through passionately grown and harvested produce.

And for me? I know quite a lot about produce, at least for a consumer. I hit my formative years during the dark days of English meat causing headlines for all the wrong reasons. I’m not allowed to donate blood anywhere in the world, outside of England, because I lived in Britain between 1980 and 1996. Britain’s national story’s interwoven with the horrors of factory farming’s consequences, and the hard-won knowledge that cheap and plentiful produce definitely doesn’t mean better produce, or even that it’s always safe to eat.

And out of these domestic horrors came some wonderful goodies; The River Cottage, Waitrose supermarkets and Nigel Slater, to name just a very few who shaped and moulded me as I cooked and ate into adulthood.

I also grew up in the Italian countryside, gorging on organic, backyard tomatoes rested in sun-drenched bowls and local wild-boar sausage. I was incredibly lucky that my mother and her friends cared about food, long before it was trendy, and made sure we knew the taste of good produce.

So these markets are a dip back into my childhood, a tip of the hat to my future, and to the even more distant future I hope to leave for my son. My husband may not love to come along, but he absolutely adores the results pulled from our oven later in the day, like this orchard and date crumble cake, that I’ve adapted from Eric Lanyard’s Pear and Prune Cake.

I just love pears and apples in Australia’s early autumn, when they’re at their absolute giddy height. Pair either with cinnamon and dates and no matter where you are, there’s a part of your mind flinging autumn leaves above your head in sheer joy.

Enjoy.

Cake

  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g raw caster sugar
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g dates (preferably Medjool), stones removed and cut into quarters
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 medium pears, peeled and cut into roughly the same size as the dates
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and cut into roughly the same size as the dates

Crumble

  • 70g unsalted butter, soft
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 50g light muscavado sugar
  • 50g rolled oats

Pre-heat oven to 180˚C

Combine flour, baking powder & cinnamon in a mixing bowl

Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy

Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter and sugar. With each egg, add a scant tablespoon of the flour mix to prevent curdling

Gently fold in the dry ingredients until just combined

Gently fold in the dates & pear

Spoon into lined 23cm springform tin and smooth down

Add all crumble ingredients in a fresh mixing bowl and rub together with your fingers, squidging all the butter in your fingertips until the mixture seems like sand

Liberally cover the top of your sponge with the crumble topping

Bake for 60 minutes until cake has risen and crumble is golden

Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes before taking out of the tin and serving while still warm

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A big thank you to Sara over at Sunshine & Salad for suggesting this topic. She’s one of my favourite bloggers; weaving joy, grief and the simple pleasures of life into her wonderful writing – I highly recommend checking out her blog!

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Lies, Damned Lies and Coconut Oil / Creamy Berry Tart {raw, vegan, gluten free}

I’m just going to put it out there right now — I hate coconut oil; I despise its flavour of oily nothingness and I loathe the texture of solidified fat. However, more than both of these things, I detest that the coconut oil marketing juggernaut has otherwise sane and sensible people believing that it’s healthy when it’s about as unhealthy as a food can be. I use it very rarely in my cooking and I’d recommend that you click on this article to see what proper scientists (not the coconut oil marketing people) are saying about coconut oil.

I believe strongly in educated food choices and the coconut oil PR has hit a raw nerve with my desire for us all to be informed about what is going into our bodies. Now that you’ve clicked on the link (of course you have!) and know that we’re dealing with a product that’s 85-90% saturated fats, please don’t feel that I’m telling you not to eat coconut oil, because I’m not. I just feel better knowing that we’re all making an educated decision when we next follow that recipe purporting to be healthy while including a huge amount of coconut oil, rather than be tricked into thinking it’s healthy when it patently isn’t. And if you read this and decide that I, and scientists, are wrong? Well, that’s also your prerogative and absolutely fine by me.

Phew. Got that little soap box moment out of the way. I know I haven’t had one of these on The Imperfect Kitchen before, but it’s rare that misinformation in the food world irritates me so much I feel that I need to write to you about it. My belief system around other people’s eating habits is pretty much that I shouldn’t push my beliefs onto others – mostly because there’s little that’s more annoying in life than a self-satisfied know it all. I hope you don’t judge me too harshly for this one.

So, with my inner diatribe about coconut oil currently on overdrive, it’s been a bit of a mission for me to create a recipe for a delicious raw and vegan tart that doesn’t include that anti-artery ingredient. And I really wanted to see if I could steer clear of coconut products completely for this one, it seems that most sweet, raw recipes out there at the moment have coconut somewhere in the ingredients list. I have nothing against that and have written a recipe for a delectable raw lime and coconut slice in a previous The Imperfect Kitchen post, but I wanted to see if it was possible to create a delicious, creamy dessert for my vegan and raw readers without resorting to the coconut bandwagon.

It appears that I can, and rather stupendously at that. I’ve recently gone through a make-my-own nut products phase and found that it’s entirely possible to have a seriously gourmetastic coconut-free vegan dessert.

I picked up some unbelievably sweet and tasty organic blackberries from a lady up the road from me (her of the wonderful eggs in my trio of gelato recipes) and I wanted to show them off a little. We also recently returned from a holiday in Western Australia where I picked up several kilos of delicious macadamia nuts which, alongside hazelnuts, are my favourite nuts of all time. A long-term favourite dessert of mine has been Nigella Lawson’s no fuss fruit tart, so I experimented for a few weeks with a variety of ingredients to create a raw, vegan, gluten free and processed sugar free version that I think is absolutely delicious.

Enjoy.

  • 800g raw macadamia nuts
  • 3 tbl sp raw honey or pure maple syrup (or sweetener of your choice)
  • 4 tbl sp lemon juice
  • Water
  • 2 tbl sp lemon zest
  • 20 Medjool dates
  • 250g (8oz) blackberries
  • 250g (8oz) strawberries (or use any berries of your choice)

Place 500g of macadamia nuts, 1 tbl sp raw honey and half the lemon juice in a blender and just cover with water
Process until the nuts are completely smooth, adding more water if needed. You want a fairly thick consistency
Place the mix inside a piece of muslin or a cheese cloth, tie closed with some string and suspend over a bowl to catch the whey as it drains out (see the pictures above for my MacGyver skills using a wooden spoon, a roasting rack and some leftover Christmas string…)
Leave in a warm location for 24 hours to let the whey drain from the macadamias
Discard the whey and open the cloth to see your delicious vegan cream cheese!
Store in the fridge until ready to use

If you’re looking at the vegan cream cheese recipe above and thinking, “yeah, right!” – there are some good vegan cream cheeses available in stores these days. You’ll need about 500g

For the tart, pulse the remainder of the macadamia nuts, dates and half the zest to a sandy rubble in a food processor, then press the mixture either into the sides and bottom of a deep 25cm (10in) loose bottomed tart tin, or into four 6cm loose bottomed tart tins
Place in the freezer (or fridge if that is not possible) for at least 10 minutes
Clean the bowl of the food processor, then process the vegan cream cheese, the rest of the honey, lemon juice and zest and spread it into the bottom of the chilled tart tin, covering the base of the tart evenly
Arrange all of the fruit gently (so that it doesn’t sink into the filling too much) on top of the lemony cream cheese in a decorative manner
Place the tart in the freezer or fridge for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. It does need to get properly cold in order to set enough for the tart to be unsprung and sliced easily
When it comes times to serve, run a small, sharp knife around the edge of the macadamia and date pastry to loosen before freeing from the loose bottomed tart case

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Breakfast, Easy, Savoury

Some Kind of Autumn / Apple & Nut Soda Bread

Autumn’s stealing in and bringing with it my favourite time of year. If spring and summer are cotton – joyful, light and simple, then autumn and winter are cashmere – cosy, elegant and complex. The trees banish their leaves to the soil beneath, food for next year’s growth. The darkness slips in a little earlier each day, a thief seeking to heist the light.

Now that I live in Australia, reality’s different to my childhood autumns. Reds, browns and the weeping bark of silvery eucalyptus trees dominate this land’s skyline, with temperatures never dropping low enough to need the comfort from layers of added warmth. It took me some time to forgive such mild offerings to my European blood. Now, a few years later, I’ve come to love the mostly dry, mild-weathered autumns that strengthen the roots my feet have gradually grown in the soil beneath. It’s a reminder of the things in life that really matter and a nudge to take the time to burrow deep.

There’s a natural settling down of my energies during this time, like the hibernation of evolutionary ancestors long gone still reverberate through my cells. I subconsciously allow my world to quieten. Meditations are easier to find, pauses in moments of agitation or doubt more natural. Stillness and silence feel like an organic honouring of the time. I ask less perfection of myself and hold onto fewer expectations. It’s like my soul has settled down next to a fire and spends its time revelling in the logs gradually melting to embers and ash.

Fruit is exceptional during Australia’s autumn. Cumquats, figs, persimmons, quinces, pears and apples are all dropping from the Australian trees and into our waiting mouths. Being predominately a baker I feel especially blessed in this season, a time of year seemingly created just so we can crank up the oven and pour out doughy offerings of baked goodness.

I bought some beautiful organic apples from my Green Mumma supplier last week (her of the incredible pears in my Pear & Hazelnut Cake) and have finally found and bought a buttermilk in Victoria worth raving about, thanks to the Myrtleford Butter Factory. It seemed entirely appropriate to honour these two ingredients with a bread that sings of both.

This loaf, that I’ve adapted from the fabulous The River Cottage Bread Handbook, is simplicity itself. No kneading, no proving, no fancy bread flours. It’s an ideal weekend breakfast, taking about 40 minutes from sleepily pulling out the ingredients to tugging on hunks of warm, fresh from the oven, bread. The apples and treacle add a rounded sweetness of texture and taste. Meanwhile a good quality buttermilk adds a hinted undertone of creamy sourness that makes this a truly worthy addition to any kitchen.

Enjoy.

  • 500g wholemeal plain flour
  • 10g salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 200g nuts, roughly chopped (today I’ve used almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, but only because I didn’t have any macadamias, which are divinely delicious in this bread)
  • 325ml buttermilk (if you can’t get good buttermilk, thin unflavoured yoghurt is a better option than the horrible, fake buttermilk from supermarkets)
  • 1 heaped tbl sp of treacle / molasses
  • 200g apples, peeled, core removed and cut into fingertip size pieces
  • A sprinkling of rye flour (optional)

Pre heat over to 200˚C / 400˚F

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder

Add the apples and nuts and mix well

Make a well in the centre

Combine the buttermilk and treacle together and pour into the well of the dry ingredients

Knead as briefly as possible, the less you knead the lighter this will be – you really want the mixture to be only just combined, should take no longer than a minute

Divide into two and shape into rough rounds

Pat to flatten until about 5cm high

If you like, and have any to hand, flour the loaves with a little rye flour and place on a baking tray

Cut a cross on the top of each loaf, almost through to the bottom and lightly stab all over

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base

Allow to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack and, if you can, eat while still warm either dipped in delicious foods or with lashings of top quality butter

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Dessert, Super Easy, Sweet

Love Thy (Really Annoying) Neighbour / Coconut, Finger Lime & Chilli Ice Cream {Raw, Vegan, Gluten Free}

A lightbulb of an idea crept into my mind a few years ago as I awkwardly came to realise I’d spent a long time in my search for an emotionally healthier self lost in wanting to be a happier person purely because I thought people would like me more and then I’d find life easier. I had struggles for years when I’d think, “But I’m being so lovely, thoughtful and kind!” when something in life didn’t go my way.

With the lightbulb’s glow steadily growing, I found a wise piece of writing that suggested trying to follow the principles of good living (honesty, tolerance, boundaries, patience and love) whether my desires were met or not. To trust that things were as they were meant to be, in spite of how they may appear to me.

Radical stuff. And one of the things I’ve been trying to focus on ever since.

So, with the lightbulb shining steadily in my mind, I’ve been trying to find a way through the recent behaviour of a neighbour.

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When parking yesterday, with my son and husband in the car, our neighbour across the street stormed out of his house, wearing nothing but saggy, used-to-be-white underwear on his very portly frame, and started swearing loudly at us. Apparently he’s been angry with us since Christmas, although this is the first we’ve heard of it, as we sometimes park one of our cars outside his house.

Translating his swear words which was pretty much all he spat at us, I think he was saying,

“Golly gosh, darling neighbours of mine. I’ve noticed that, although this is a public road, you seem to be parked outside my house and sometimes I have friends over who now need to park ten metres further on. This is rather frustrating and I’d like you to park somewhere else. Please.”

Setting aside his appalling fashion sense, and my hell-fire fury at someone shouting and swearing like that in front of my toddler – my husband and I come from populous suburbs where the concept of a public road belonging to anyone is ludicrous. But I’m trying to understand that we could be suffering from the cultural clash of moving to a quieter suburb, and have to ask myself whether private public streets are normal here and the onus is on us to change?

During the night, the neighbour took it upon himself to move both his cars from his garage to park them outside our house. I think he believes this’ll upset us, not understanding that we actually do believe public roads are for public use – the only disturbing part for us is the pettiness and vindictiveness of his behaviour.

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It’s tempting to knock on his door and talk to him calmly – to insincerely convince him I’m truly lovely and worthy of being treated gently and kindly. Although, right now, it’s more tempting to go over there with my cast iron frying pan and smack him over the head… physically persuading him that I’m a force to be reckoned with and he’d better be afraid, very afraid.

Unfortunately, in doing either of these I’m conveniently ignoring my lightbulb’s attempts to teach me honest, loving and light living in the world regardless of the outcomes. To pretend to endorse his behaviour’s no longer acceptable for me. Equally, an attempted power drive won’t bring me any peace.

Ultimately I’ll need to come back to my decision that it’s more important for me to be at ease than right. But today I’m just allowing myself to be angry, and as long as I don’t act on it in any way until I’ve found my balance again, that’s imperfectly okay.

And the best bit? As we were walking away from him; my oblivious, darling, glorious son leaned over my shoulder back to our impossible neighbour, waved both his arms and shouted, “BYE BYE! BYE BYE! BYE BYE!” followed by exuberantly blowing kisses. I tried not to laugh, I really did.

A hot and sour recipe today, as if you need to ask why… Finger limes are in season and they’re enormously pretty while tasting incredible. For those who aren’t aware of these native Australian fruits, they’re shaped like a fat finger (hence the name) and are filled with flesh that looks exactly like bright green caviar. Once in your mouth, each little pod shoots a torrent of delicious, fresh lime juice all over your taste buds. For those in Melbourne, Georgie’s Harvest at South Melbourne market sell these little beauties during their short season. For those who can’t reach the market through geography or sheer laziness (nothing wrong with that) you can even buy them on Etsy.

Enjoy.

  • 2 x 400ml cans of coconut milk
  • 100g honey (I use raw honey, but use whatever you’re comfortable with)
  • 2 finger limes (or, if you can’t find them, 2 regular limes)
  • 2 bird’s eye chillis, seeds and membrane removed, very finely chopped (increase or decrease to taste)

With an ice cream maker

Place the coconut milk in the back of your fridge for at least 24 hours, this will aid the freezing process

Once cold, open the cans and scoop the thick cream into a blender, followed by the thin coconut milk

Add the honey, the zest and the caviar from the limes (or, if you’re using regular limes, the zest and juice) into the blender and blend until smooth

Pour the contents into your ice cream machine and follow your manufacturer’s instructions, adding the chilli 5 minutes before the timer ends

Spoon into a freezer safe container, and place in your freezer until ready to serve

I’ve sprinkled some extra chilli and finger lime over the ice cream for the photo. Feel free to do the same before serving, but it’s certainly not essential.

Without an ice cream maker

Once the coconut cream, coconut milk, sugar, lime caviar (or juice) and zest are blended, stir in the chilli

Pour into a freezer safe container and put into the freezer

Stir every half an hour, until the ice cream is frozen through

I’ve sprinkled some extra chilli and finger lime over the ice cream for the photos. Feel free to do the same before serving, but it’s not essential.

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Dessert, Super Easy, Sweet

Do Monks Eat Chocolate? / Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut Cake

I’ve spent all week feeling deeply uninspired for something to write. It happens to me on occasion. The week solely consists of my regular day to day activities and the only movement occurring in my internal world is still murky and inexplicable.

I know that I have some movement in my internal life over the last year about self care and slowing down. I also have a fear that’s currently paralysing me when I challenge myself to write something other than this blog (a big shift from 6 months ago when I couldn’t even fathom having the courage to write here). And surrounding all this is a pain sitting in my chest that I believe, at the moment, has something to do with grief of letting fear keep me small in my desired life – but may have nothing to do with that at all, and really, I feel wholly unqualified to write about something that’s still so shadowed.

So I keep meditating and just trying to observe that part of me through the day as it twinges, without engaging or telling myself a story about what the feelings mean. I just let them come and go, trusting that when the time comes the acceptance and solution will become clear.

The reason I do this is not because I’m someone who woke up one day thinking, “this meditation and mindful-living malarkey sounds like a fun idea, and I just love the thought of trusting something I can’t see, hear or touch.”

I was dragged into meditation, a ‘spiritual’ path (there really needs to be a better word for this, doesn’t there? I can still cringe when I read the word ‘spiritual’ – thanks go to Robin Ince for bringing that to the fore for me again) and a search for something greater than the human experience, kicking and screaming. As I wrote before on my post about fundamentalism, I consider myself rather smart and educated – a dangerous pattern for someone who also gets lost in boggy mires of mental anguish from time to time. No matter how smart I was, how much I studied psychology and philosophy, I just couldn’t shake those long moments of pain, and they were getting worse.

So, I’ve found myself walking a path for the last ten years that I’m a natural cynic for. A journey that I take micro-shuffles on, saying at each step, “I have to do what?! You’ve got to be kidding me?  And trust which invisible friend? Pah! Rubbish!” – until sheer desperation has me turning a problem over to this way of living, all the while waiting for disaster to strike.

And you know what? Whatever it is that helps when I genuinely attempt to live mindfully, meditate, seek unheard guidance and trust unseen hands, works. It works every time. Not in a I-get-a-new-car-and-win-the-lottery way, but in a I’m-always-given-what-I-need-along-with-some-good-old-peace-of-mind way.

So I continue to be one of those near non-believers who does all the things that really makes it look as if I believe. Because whether I believe or not, I have a more peaceful, fun, engaged, full and joyful life when I do these things. And so does everyone who has to be around me.

Hazelnuts_Fotor

Raw hazelnuts in a beautiful handmade bowl by Mark Young

Having written the above, I found myself at a meditation session today being led by a women I like and truly admire. The meditation went well, there were about ten of us present and everyone was beautifully engaged. I felt a great energy during the meditation as my perennially clenched jaw relaxed and I could sit comfortably in the space behind my conscious mind.

She rang a Tibetan singing bowl to finish the session and everyone stood around chatting about the lovely sound it makes. She showed how running the mallet around the edge of the bowl created the singing noise, which produced a chorus of “oohs” from the room.

“I know,” she sighed, “it’s amazing what the Tibetans know, we just can’t imagine their wisdom in the West.”

Now, I’m traditionally not a fan of Eastern religion any more than I am of Western. I’ve seen John Safran’s brilliant TV show on Buddhism and also know that the Tibetan monks were fearsome and pretty horrific warriors in their time who murdered their own people for centuries and generally acted appallingly.

So, with no pause in my mind to check for my audience, I piped up, “yeah, like the monks slaughtering all their own people for years.”

Silence.

I mean… BOOMING SILENCE…

My wise woman smiled kindly and joked, “thanks for that!”

And everyone went on.

Meanwhile, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.

What had I said?! Here I was, surrounded by lovely, highly educated, well-meaning people who want to believe the best about Tibetan monks, and it’s not as if that causes any harm. And I basically accused them of stupidly supporting evil in the world.

I stood in shuffling silence for a while, then made my excuses and left.

In the car on the way home, paying little attention to the road, I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. Really? I had to say that? I just had to be right instead of happy? Couldn’t I just leave them be? AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH!!

I called a few friends but everyone was out. So I went and bought chocolate – I wont lie, it was a big bag of chocolate – and I sat in the car and ate it all before I went inside to my husband and son.

When I told my husband what’d happened he roared with laughter and asked why I hadn’t saved any chocolate for him. Sometimes I forget how completely normal he is, and that he just doesn’t get the mad panic that comes from being an occasional total emotional behemoth.

So, when people ask why I meditate and search continuously for a spiritual path, this is one of the reasons why. I may have been a bit of a tit today, but I haven’t been one for at least 2 weeks. Ten years ago I was making these gaffes several times a day and the self loathing was crippling. Today I can laugh at myself (after some time and chocolate) and get on with living a life that’s steady, fun and genuinely forgiving.

With all this in mind, I’m giving you a recipe today that’s stunning in its gentle and generous simplicity. Much like the spiritual journey, you may look at the given ingredients and think, “doesn’t look like much.” But this uncomplicated, untrendy recipe is actually the best cake in the whole wide world.

I’ve made it for years following the River Cottage’s recipe with pears and almonds, but I had some hazelnuts to use up and thought, “why not?”

The result is better than fabulous. Juicy, caramely rounded flavours and truly delicious. I can’t begin to describe how much I love this cake.  And if you have a day like mine today, you can eat the whole thing and not feel too guilty because, as cakes go, it’s very low in gluten, uses only raw sugar, and has fruit!

Enjoy.

Delicious organic pears delivered to my door by Green Mumma

Delicious organic pears delivered to my door by Green Mumma

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g raw caster sugar + 1 tbl sp for the pears
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 75g wholemeal self raising flour
  • 75g ground hazelnuts
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 3 pears (reasonably firm, but not rock hard)

Pre heat oven to 180°C

Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Peel, quarter and core the pears.

Melt 25g of butter in a frying pan big enough to take all the pear pieces, over a medium high heat. When it’s bubbling, add a tablespoon of the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved into the butter.

Turn down the heat, add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they’ve softened and are starting to colour – 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the rest of the butter with the rest of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each to stop the mix curdling.

Combine the remaining flour, the ground hazelnuts and the nutmeg, and fold into the mixture. Scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour on any buttery juices left in the pan.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Stand the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then release the tin.

Serve warm or cold on it’s own, or with the thickest cream you can find.

Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut cake on a beautiful plate by Mini Labo

Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut cake on a beautiful plate by Mini Labo

 

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