Monday, December 31, 2012

Dunsborough, Western Australia: The last few days of 2012

I have spent the last 5 days in the south-west of Western Australia, away from my computer and with internet access limited to my phone. Mr Bite's family go away over summer most years, booking a large house to accommodate adults and children and dog between Christmas and New Year. Last year was the first year I joined them; this year I went again.

The south-west corner of WA is an area known, I suspect, by every Western Australian. It is renowned for beaches, forests and wineries, and is the most appealing option if you want to drive out of Perth and reach somewhere nice within a few hours. If you head west from Perth you are in the ocean, and if you head north or east you will hit heat. In summer, south is the best direction by far. Dunsborough and Margaret River are the biggest towns in the upper south-west region, located about 45 minutes away from each other and 3 - 4 hours south of Perth. We stayed just outside of Dunsborough on this trip.

I will confess to finding relaxed holidays a bit of a challenge. I like to do things, you see, and minimal structure and relaxed messiness are not a good match for my personality. This year, it was also very hot. Although Dunsborough is about 5'C cooler than Perth itself, it still hit maximums of about 36'C each day we were away (97'F). I hope you will forgive me for pointing out that 36'C every day for 5 days is really rather hot. The fact that it was hotter in Perth was some consolation, but only some.

With the above said, a bit of relaxed messiness is probably good for me every now and then. Once I have adjusted to lazy days and sand everywhere, I do have fun. I am also grateful to be included in Mr Bite's family holiday at all, and Mr Bite and I tend to add outings on to those we do with his family, to help my 'doing' nature cope.

And so, here are some of the images from our relaxed days down south, the final days for 2012. I hope you enjoy them regardless of your own temperature, and irrespective of your proximity to sand.

Many forests, and many trails

Also many animals, big and small

Beaches and sun galore

Opportunities for camera playing

3.5 books read (I am still reading Bad Pharma, which is actually Mr B's)

Chocolate heaven at the Margaret River Chocolate Company

Whilst I didn't snap many photos of food, I will note that if you are staying in Dunsborough or Margaret River you will have no difficulty finding good food, whatever your food preferences or requirements are. From my perspective, there were many vegan and vegetarian options available and particular mentions go to...
  • Peko Peko cafe at 59 Dunn Bay Road, Dunsborough. Peko Peko is home to fresh sushi, rice paper rolls, Asian-themed salads and noodle dishes, and even vegan cookies. I had a vegan Thai noodle salad for dinner on our first night, a veggie rice paper roll pack for lunch another day, and a carob, buckwheat and dried fruit and nut cookie for a snack.
  • Thai Papaya at Naturaliste Shopping Centre, Dunsborough. This Thai restaurant made an amazing vegetarian stir fry with vegetables, tofu and cashews. 
  • Squid Lips Fish and Chips at 55 Dunn Bay Road, Dunsborough. In addition to winning awards for their fish and chips, Squid Lips makes a range of salads - something that wins awards from me. I had their grilled vegetable and couscous salad when others had fish and chips, and they also offer Greek salads, Asian noodle salads, and coleslaw.

On that note, I would like to wish you a very happy New Year and a sparkling 2013. I look forward to sharing the next year with you, and hope you enjoy whatever celebrations (or non-celebrations, if you are like me and prefer sleep to midnight revelling!) you have planned for tonight.

Are you fond of laid-back holidays, or are you like me and feel a bit twitchy when structure is abandoned?

Friday, December 28, 2012

An end of year recipe round-up: My 2012 favourites

With 2012 rapidly drawing to a close, it feels like a time for reflecting and for looking ahead. I will be doing another post that looks at 2012 and all it has involved (and it has involved so much!) but for now - I am focusing on food. It's easier.

Here are some of the dishes that I have most enjoyed making and eating this year, in sweet and savoury form. I would love to hear your favourite 2012 meals too, either from your own blog or elsewhere!

Sweet things

Bakewell tarts (vegan)

Ugly Duckling Muffins (vegan, low-fat)

Savoury things

Celeriac fries (vegan)

What are some of your favourite recipes from 2012?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A bite-sized Christmas, 2012*

Christmas Eve

Christmas chocolates made with my sister

Some of Mr Bite's advent calendar finds

Family presents ready to go

Roast vegetables for a roast vegetable strudel

Christmas Day

A whole heap of presents (framed pictures included)

with spiced walnuts, and the assembled (slightly crumbly) roast vegetable strudel

Neighbourhood lights

We were dreaming of a white Christmas but...

I hope your 25th December was merry and your neighbourhood was bright!

* In truth, it was more gulp-sized.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas food ideas 2012: Vegan strawberry and white chocolate cookies, and cranberry and dark chocolate cookies


I know Christmas is tomorrow. You have probably planned your menu, started your preparations, finished your baking, and packaged up edible treats if you are giving any food items as gifts.

Given the above, this is a poorly timed post. However, I only made these biscuits (cookies) yesterday. I wanted them for Christmas, not in advance. I wanted them fresh and chewy and just right to bite into.

I hope you'll forgive me. The plus side is, if you do need a last minute baking idea, these biscuits are pretty wonderful. And if you make them today, they will be fresh and chewy and just right to bite into for you too.

I made these by adapting a recipe for chocolate chip pecan cookies in Kris Holechek's The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes. I wanted a festive variation on standard chocolate chip biscuits, and elected to combine dried strawberry pieces with dairy-free white chocolate, and dried cranberries with dairy-free dark chocolate. You could use any variety of chocolate, but I would recommend using larger chunks (by chopping chocolate pieces) instead of chocolate chips. You get more chocolate that way, you see.

Strawberry and white chocolate cookies, and
cranberry and dark chocolate cookies

Soft, chewy, sweet and chocolatey - with two flavour variations
Adapted from a recipe in Kris Holechek's The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes
Makes about 30 cookies in total (15 of each variety)

1 cup non-dairy spread, loosely packed (I used Nuttelex)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
Decent pinch salt

1/4 cup roughly chopped dairy-free white chocolate (~50g; I used the Sweet Williams brand)
1/4 cup roughly chopped dried strawberry pieces

1/4 cup roughly chopped dairy-free dark chocolate (~50g; I used dark chocolate medallions)
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 180'C (350'F) and line three baking trays with baking paper.

In a large bowl, beat together the non-dairy spread and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch, milk and vanilla and beat briefly to combine.

Add the flour, baking soda and salt to the butter/sugar mix and stir through, mixing well to combine. Divide the mixture evenly into two bowls.

To one bowl, add the white chocolate pieces and dried strawberry pieces. Mix through. 

To the second bowl, add the dark chocolate pieces and cranberries. Mix through.

Using your hands or a spoon, create heaped tablespoon sized balls of dough and place on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, until cookies are golden at the edges but still soft in the centre (they will harden on standing). Allow to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

I will be taking these with me to our Christmas day celebrations tomorrow, but have already taste tested several. As I am not usually a big cookie / biscuit fan (I like them, but don't love them), it is noteworthy that I struggled to stop my taste testing and put the rest away for sharing. I really, really liked them. Mr Bite has only tried the white chocolate variety at this point, but has already declared them the best cookies ever.

As this is my last post ahead of Christmas day, I would also like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and a very happy and safe holiday season even if you don't. May you have good food and good company, wherever you are.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Product reviews: Moccona vanilla coffee, Ouma muesli rusks, Woolworths curried pumpkin & corn balls, and Sanitarium unsweetened almond milk

I am pleased to say that, as of yesterday, I have finished work for 2012. One of the advantages of my workplace is that we don't get Western Australian public holidays off during the year (which doesn't always feel like an advantage...) but then get those days off in lieu between Christmas and New Year. Generally we get a bonus day or two as well, to allow everything to shut down for at least 10 days over the Christmas period. Although Christmas Eve isn't usually included in this holiday stretch, it has been made a holiday this year because it falls on a Monday. I think this is brilliant.

Last week was a bit frantic as I rushed to finish everything I wanted to before Friday, but having ticked of most of my To Do list (the remainders can be done over the break with minimal effort), I am feeling like a child on summer holidays. My plans for the break involve lots of reading, sorting wedding and honeymoon photos into albums (we have the photos and the albums, but they are not yet in unison), 'big task' cleaning (windows, blinds, scrubbing grout), a few days out of Perth with Mr Bite and his family, and some time with friends. I think the 10 days will fill themselves up with no trouble.

I am looking forward to getting to these...

Despite my holiday mood, I am veering off Christmas for today's post. Product reviews feel slightly out of place at this point in the year, but they are starting to build up. What is more, all of today's products are ones that I have enjoyed trying. I am hoping they might appeal to some of you too.

Moccona vanilla infused coffee

To start at the simple end, there isn't a lot I need to say about Moccona's new flavoured coffee range, other than that it is good. In addition to vanilla, there are hazelnut and caramel flavours which I intend to try in due course. I have been enjoying the vanilla variety as a slightly sweeter alternative to regular coffee,  and I like it very much.

And that is all I have to say on that.

Ouma muesli beskuits (muesli biscuit rusks)

One of our local Woolworths supermarkets has recently added a South African food section to their store. I was interested to see the new range of foods in general, and intrigued by these rusk biscuits in particular. 

The rusks have a simple, vegan-friendly ingredient list, including wheat flour, muesli, sugar, vegetable fat, and baking powder. They are quite dense and one rusk is equivalent to two plain biscuits in nutritional value, but I found them extremely enjoyable with a cup of tea.

They are definitely a product for dunking in your tea (or any hot drink), and if you are someone who likes to dunk, I think you may well enjoy these. Since buying this first box, I have finished it, bought a second, and finished that too! I am definitely a biscuit dunker, and I definitely like these.

Woolworth's Macro vegetarian curried pumpkin and corn balls

One of the major frustrations in my life at the moment is the trend for Australia's two main supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, to drop independent brands in order to stock their own in-house range. Thus, I feel hypocritical even reviewing these new vegetarian balls from Woolworths. I should really have boycotted them in protest, but instead negotiated with myself to buy them as well as the other (non-Woolworths) brands I usually buy.

Conscience aside, I liked these balls. I liked their taste, I liked their texture, and I liked that they could be microwaved and ready to eat in one minute.

Their ingredient list includes chickpeas (at 62%), pumpkin (29%), corn (9%), and various spices including paprika, cumin, garlic, parsley, and curry powder. They were reminiscent of falafel, and just spicy enough to provide a flavour kick without being so spicy you need to worry about serving them to children, husbands, or guests with unknown taste buds. Nutritionally they are comparable to many veggie burgers: five small balls provide 150 calories, 6.4g fat and 3.9g protein. I would like more protein, but that is something that characterises many vegetarian products.

There are a number of other products in Woolworths new vegetarian range, so I may get to some of them in due course too (conscience permitting). For now, I have enjoyed these balls plain, in rolls / English muffins, and with salad.

Sanitarium unsweetened almond milk

Australia is starting to have quite a collection of almond milk options. I have been enjoying unsweetened almond milk from Almond Breeze since it appeared in April this year. When Sanitarium released an unsweetened option of their own, I thought I should give it a try.

Nutritionally, this is almost identical to the Almond Breeze variety. Both are supplemented with calcium (Almond Breeze provides slightly more) and both have negligible protein. However, I liked the taste of this far less than the Almond Breeze equivalent. I am not sure why, given how similar the ingredient lists are, but it tasted chalkier and generally less appealing. 

I have added the nutritional information for this to my spreadsheet comparing different non-dairy milks. For now, I will be sticking with Almond Breeze, but am still grateful to Sanitarium for broadening their milk options. It's a nice trend in the market.

So there we have it - four new (to me) products. Have you tried any? Would you like to?