Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I've enjoyed this month: June 2012

I don't know how we are up to July. Half of 2012 is gone already. This does not seem possible, at all.

Still, here we are, and another month is behind us. June has been a mixed month for me, but one of the nice things about these posts is that they remind me to focus on the positives. Here are some of them!

I got back into porridge eating, thanks to the onset of truly cool weather...

Oats, unsweetened almond milk, apple, cinnamon...
and tea, because tea goes better with oats than coffee

I also found, and enjoyed, dried incaberries. These are also known as cape gooseberries, Aztec berries and golden berries (amongst other things) and have the technical name of physalis peruviana. 

They taste a bit like a tart raisin, but are also sweet - making for interesting and enjoyable eating. They are thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and whilst I ate mine plain, I imagine they would work well in baked goods too.

As some of you may already have picked up via Twitter or other means, I fell in love with Game of Thrones...

We watched the first season of the television series, which covers the first book (Game of Thrones) in the larger A Song of Ice and Fire book series. I tore through that book in an effort to catch up to our television viewing, and am now about three-quarters of the way through the second book (A Clash of Kings).

Despite being fantasy (I don't usually enjoy fantasy writing), despite the television series being rated R (expect lots of violence and sex), I am well and truly obsessed. 

The lovely thing about this is that there are four more books for me to read, and I suspect many more television episodes to watch too. I am not sure if there is anything better than discovering a new, captivating, thick series of books!

Unless, of course, you have delicious snacks on hand to fuel that reading...

This month was quite productive in that regard, with snack and dessert creations including a vegan lemon slice, chocolate cherry quinoa mousse, a chilled vegan strawberry cheesecake slice, and homemade raisin bread. Not to mention a whole lot of cupcakes!

In hindsight, that is actually quite a lot of sweet creations. Fortunately there were savoury dishes to even things out, including my first (but definitely not last) foray into tofu bacon, some experimentation with cabbage, that split pea risotto with some challenges, vegetable soup with barley, and a few other dishes that are yet to be mentioned on here, including individual ramekin pot pies.

It seems like I spent a lot of June in the kitchen, which is a lovely thing indeed.

On a slightly more random note, June was also a month of discovery. Hair discovery to be specific. I have always considered myself to have brown hair, but Mr Bite insists it is red in the sun. When I asked a few people what colour they considered my hair to be, there was about a 50% response rate of "red".

And then Mr Bite took this picture, in which my hair really does look red.

This picture also makes me look like I have straight, well-behaved hair. It isn't, 
so I'm still not fully convinced the picture is honest about the colour...

So there we have it; a month of food, reading, and red hair.

What did your June bring?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fortnightly Fitness Fridays - Why do I find 15 minutes of basketball harder than 30 minutes of running?

We have established that I am not very good at ball sports.

The thing is, though, I love someone who would play them several times a week if he could. Mr Bite isn't one for gyms, or even organised ball games, but if you take him to a park with a football or basketball (or to a tennis court with tennis balls and racquets), he is happy.

As a result, sometimes I play ball sports despite not being good at them. Generally, this ends up being more enjoyable than I expect it to be, in large part due to Mr Bite having fun despite my lack of skill, which allows me to have fun despite my lack of skill. Also, we don't necessarily play by the rules. In the case of basketball, we don't even play a game in any formal sense of the word.

Nonetheless, I am often left in pain afterwards.

It is quite rare for me to experience sore muscles. Tight muscles, yes, but sore muscles, no. The exceptions are after basketball and tennis.

Last Sunday, we played basketball for perhaps 20 minutes. Please note - 20 minutes. It was fun, we followed it with a low-key walk, and it made for an enjoyable afternoon.

That night, I had sore muscles down the left side of my neck into my left shoulder. As I get tight back and  shoulder muscles quite frequently, and neck-related headaches semi-regularly, this in itself wasn't too unusual.

On Monday, though, my left wrist and forearm were sore to the extent that it hurt to type (!), my upper arms were sore, and lifting my arms above my head was impressively painful. That was unusual.

This prompted me to try and determine just what basketball was doing to leave me in such a state. For someone who does planned exercise most days, it is a little dispiriting to think that 20 minutes of casual ball shooting could leave me feeling so sore.

(Mr Bite, of course, was entirely fine.)

After reading a few articles, it would seem that there are four main upper body contributors to basketball shooting:
  • Triceps (back of the upper arm; they work to push weight away from you, and are strengthened with exercises such as push ups)
  • Biceps (front of the upper arm; they work to pull weight towards you, and are strengthened by exercises such as bicep curls with hand weights)
  • Deltoids (shoulder muscles; they work to elevate the arms and guide their movement when lifted at the front of the body, and are strengthened by exercises such as lateral arm raises with weights)
  • Wrist and forearm muscles

The rest of the body is also involved, with leg muscles used for moving around the court and for pushing off when shooting the ball, and the core (abdominal / back) muscles used to stabilise movement. For me, though, I think it's safe to say that the problem lies in my arms, not my legs or core.

Skeletal muscles homo sapiens

On reading about the muscles involved in basketball shooting, it suddenly made perfect sense that my arms would be sore after 20 minutes of it. I am hopeless at push ups, can't do chin ups to save my life, and tend to avoid weights-based exercises that call on the triceps and deltoids because I find them so hard.

On reflection, that may not be the most sensible strategy for dealing with poor upper body strength.

The new plan? Push ups, barbell raises, lateral arm raises, and any machines I can find in the gym that say they target triceps, deltoids or the forearms. At least twice a week. Even if I have to start on the lowest weight possible and a tiny number of repetitions (and let's face it, I will).

I am keen to shoot for injury-free basketball within 3 months!

Do you have any muscle groups that aren't quite up to certain activities? 
Or do you have any more general basketball hints to share with me? I could use any advice going, believe me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cupcakes galore


This month, I have baked 48 cupcakes and helped to decorate 84.

It has been great fun.

The first batch was made at the start of June, for Mr Bite's brother's birthday. They were made to complement a lemon cake and followed my standard, 'can't go wrong' vegan chocolate cupcake recipe (repeated at the end of this post).

I decorated the cupcakes simply, with vegan vanilla buttercream and assorted sugar-based sprinkles: leaves in the above photo, and butterflies in the one below.

I have tried a number of vegan cupcake recipes (including the batch I made for bookclub back in May), but these are still my favourite. They are always fluffy, chocolatey, and can stand alone without icing, as all good cupcakes should.

The other 36 cupcakes were, of course, made for my sister's 21st party. My Mum and sister made another 4 batches between them and we ended up with more cupcakes than I have ever seen in one kitchen.

The party was last Friday and from all accounts it went well. I think my sister had fun. I think my contributions (cupcakes, a speech, a photo slide show) went ok. Speech aside, I even found it to be more enjoyable than the 21st parties I went to when I was that age. I suspect this was because I got to stand with Mr Bite, my brother and the adults, rather than the 21-year-olds, and to go home at 10pm. I am old at heart!

I had intended to make the same (vegan) chocolate cupcakes for this occasion, but then on the Monday my sister casually said "You aren't going to make vegan cupcakes are you?".

Now, in fairness to my sister, because I haven't been open about this blog I also haven't gone into extensive detail on my vegan eating preferences. Up until recently my family has thought of me as vegetarian (they do now know I prefer vegan when possible). When I bake, I don't necessarily tell people it is vegan. All in all, they haven't had the opportunity to work out what 'vegan' actually looks like or to grasp that much of what I have been baking over the past year or so is vegan.

Instead of going into this with my sister, I foolishly just said "No, of course not!".

This was a lie.

Unfortunately, my sister then double-checked at the end of the night that I really was going to make "normal" cupcakes and not vegan ones. After confirming this twice, my conscience wouldn't let me make vegan ones and not tell her.

At the same time, I didn't want to try a non-vegan cupcake recipe for the first time when the stakes were a 21st party with 70 plus people.

What to do?!

In the end, my research brain kicked in. I would make a vegan batch and a non-vegan batch and arrange for a single-blind taste test comparison.

The vegan ones

I made the non-vegan ones according to this recipe from . I followed it exactly, but marbled the batter so that they would look different to the vegan, plain chocolate version. In the end, they would have looked different anyway, but the marbling was easy to do (the recipe calls for melted chocolate, which is mixed in to the batter).

The non-vegan ones

Mr Bite was my first willing participant. I gave him half of each variety and asked him to describe what he thought of each; to pick a favourite; and to guess which one was vegan. For reference, I labelled the vegan batch A and the non-vegan batch B.

A (vegan) on the left; B (non-vegan) on the right

He tasted B (non-vegan) first and described it as "nice, rustic and home-like [?!], chocalatey, and with no harsh undertones".

As for A (vegan)? "Very similar to the first, with the same consistencey and background flavour. Both are chocolatey."

He thought that B (non-vegan) was the vegan one, and indicated that if he had to pick, he slightly preferred A (vegan).


When I repeated this with my Mum and sister, they also found the cupcakes to taste similar. My Mum said that she couldn't pick a favourite but found A (vegan) to be fluffier and so she though it was probably the non-vegan one. My sister said she couldn't pick a favourite but thought A (vegan) was probably the vegan one.

I'm happy to take these results as support for the fluffiness of vegan cupcakes, and for the similarity of this version to the 'real thing'.

Having determined that all cupcake varieties were edible (my Mum and sister's vanilla version also met with approval), we set about piping pink, lemon and vanilla icing onto 80-odd cupcakes and decorating them with marshmallow flowers and more sprinkles.

These were served on an assortment of cupcake holders, with mini chocolate cups mixed throughout. The latter additions were made by my sister's boyfriend and consisting of milk and white chocolate melted over lollies, a simple but effective idea that I am tucking away to try in the future.

All in all, I think it was a cupcake success. I think I may also have reached my cupcake quota for June.

As for the recipe, I have posted it before but I am re-blogging it here as the photos in the original post are a little less than optimal!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Vegan and intensely fluffy, these cupcakes have become a firm favourite of mine
Adapted from the Red Velvet Cake recipe in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table
Makes 12 large cupcakes or 16 small

For the cupcakes:
1 cup non-dairy milk (I tend to use soy)
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup good quality cocoa (*see note)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180'C and prepare your cupcake tin.

In a medium bowl, combine the milk, sugar, oil, vinegar and vanilla, and beat with an electric beater on medium speed for 1 - 2 minutes.

Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mix well. 

Bake for 20 - 22 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back slightly when touched.

Note. The quality of the cocoa is important as it is what gives the cupcakes their flavour. We tend to use Van Houten, but any good quality brand would work. Although I rarely sift anything, I would also recommend sifting or whisking your cocoa if it is lumpy.

For the icing:
50g non-dairy spread, at room temperature (I use Nuttelex)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 - 1tbsp water, depending on desired thickness

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

If you plan to pipe the icing, I recommend making a double batch and using only 1/2 tbsp water per set of ingredients.

Do you have a favourite cupcake recipe? And do you think you could pick a vegan cupcake in a line up?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hearty vegetable soup with barley

I don't think the internet needs another vegetable soup recipe. There are many, many versions out there. The thing is, though, sometimes I blog recipes for entirely selfish reasons.

Of course, I tell myself that others might be interested in the fact that I (i) made soup (something I do relatively infrequently, given how much I like homemade soup) and (ii) made it in this particular way.

In this case, though, it is difficult to really believe that. I am sure you've all made vegetable soup. You probably make it more often (and better!) than I do. But, selfishly, I want to record this recipe for my own reference, and the easiest way to do that is by blogging it.


To even things out, I thought I'd tell you about my weekend too. The only problem there is that it wasn't that interesting, even though it was enjoyable to me.

Friday night was The Big 21st Party, which will be discussed in its own post before too long.

Saturday was running, cleaning-washing-shopping and an afternoon at a football game (the Western Australia Football League, which I have attended less this year).

Sunday was washing-ironing-shopping, various To Do tasks on the computer, soup making, banana bread making (more on that sometime too), and basketball playing with Mr Bite (I'm still bad at it).
There was also gorgeous, perfect winter weather, with crisp evenings and mornings, maximum temperatures in the high teens, and dazzling sunshine.

All highly enjoyable, but probably not very exciting for you.

I can say, if nothing else, that this soup was everything I wanted it to be: jam-packed full of vegetables, dense enough to be eaten at dinner but light enough to be eaten for work lunches this week, flavoursome, nutritious, and with protein from the butter beans and barley.

You might have your own recipe, but I hope you enjoy this one too.

Heart vegetable soup with barley
Serves 4 - 6

Print recipe

2 cups water
3 cups vegetable stock (see note)
1 leek (white part only), roughly diced
2 carrots, roughly diced
2 stalks celery, roughly diced
~1 cup green beans, sliced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2/3 cup barley, rinsed
1 tin butter beans (or canneloni beans)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
Pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, saute the leek in 1/2 cup of the water until soft. Add the 3 cups of vegetable stock with the carrots, celery and green beans, and stir over medium heat until simmering.

Add the parsnip and reduce to low - medium heat. Stir regularly for ~5 minutes. Then add the remaining 1 1/2 cups water, barley and herbs and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, for ~30 minutes.

Add the butter beans and simmer, covered, for a further 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to stand for at least 20 minutes or up to several hours, before reheating to serve.

Note. I like to buy prepared stock for soups as I don't trust my ability to flavour things sufficiently otherwise. You may be skilled enough to do things from scratch, or be happy to make stock up from a stock cube.

This could easily have been thinned out with an additional cup of water or stock, and if you have a sufficiently large pan you may wish to do that.

As it was, I filled my largest saucepan to the brim and couldn't have added anything extra. I also quite liked the density of this, and of course it is easy enough to thin soup out later by adding water to an individual serve if desired.

The only downside of this soup is that you really do need to like barley to enjoy it. Regrettably for Mr Bite, I only discovered on serving it that he does not. At all. I probably could have predicted this (and on reflection, when I made this barly risotto, I didn't serve it to him), so I can only apologise again for his impromptu scrambled egg sandwich dinner!

Do you have a favourite soup recipe? And what did you get up to this weekend?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chilled vegan strawberry cheesecake slice

I have mentioned before that I rarely eat bananas plain. I like them frozen and whizzed into banana soft serve, or dried and turned into banana chips, or combined with peanut butter...but in their original form, I am not so keen.

(Except, of course, when they were only available at $14 / kg after Australia's banana plantations had been ruined by cyclones. Then I developed a sudden craving for them.)

With strawberries, it is the opposite. I love them plain and fresh,  but am not a big fan of strawberry flavoured products. Strawberry ice cream has always been my least favourite flavour. Strawberry jam seems boring. Strawberry yoghurt tends to taste artificial.


Here we have a strawberry cheesecake slice and technically I don't like cheesecake either. Strawberry cheesecake should, by rights, have me running away at great speed.

But I'm not running. I loved this slice more than I can say. It has the flavours of fresh strawberries with the silky smoothness of a chilled cheesecake and a base that seems to pull it all together.

It is a million miles away from the strawberry cheesecake you might find in the frozen section of the supermarket. No artificial strawberry flavours here; indeed, no artificial flavours at all. The ingredients are predominantly raw and yet again (I may be getting obsessed...) there is that magical dessert ingredient - avocado.

For some added fun, this recipe was also largely born of imagination. I started off with a vague notion of making Gena's raw strawberry vanilla pudding from Choosing Raw, which was the first time I had seen avocado featured in a strawberry dessert. Between reading her post and making this slice, I started thinking about a strawberry version of Hannah's raw chocolate brownies from Wayfaring ChocolateThen I thought back over my raw vegan cheesecake experimentation.

My mind whirred happily for a week or so, and this is what it gave me.

Chilled strawberry cheesecake slice
Makes 16 small slices

For the base
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/8 cup agave (or maple syrup)
Up to 1 tbsp water, as needed (I used about 2/3 tbsp)

For the topping
2 small avocados (mine weighed 110g each with peel and stone)
12 medium strawberries, washed and de-stemmed
1/4 cup agave (or maple syrup)
1/8 cup desiccated coconut
1 tsp vanilla

Line a loaf tin or square baking tin with baking paper (if you use a square baking tin you will probably only cover ~2/3 of the tin, but that doesn't matter).

To prepare the base, combine all of the base ingredients except the water in a food processor. Process until fine. Add up to 1 tbsp water, as needed, to form a slightly sticky mixture that is starting to clump together to form a ball.

Press the base mixture into your prepared tin, using a spatula or your fingers to spread it out evenly. Set aside while you make the topping.

To prepare the topping, combine all of the topping ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth. Spread over the base.

Set in the freezer for at least 4 hours before slicing. Store in the freezer but bring slices to room temperature 5 - 10 minutes before serving.

*I had enough topping to cover the base and still have some spare (a small bowlful). I ate the spare topping plain but you could make a thicker topping on the slices if you preferred.

I was initially worried about the colour of these, as they were a bit murkier before being chilled. However, the time in the freezer turned them to the pink shown here (how? I don't know) and in the end there was no hint of avocado in colour or in taste.

With that said, these aren't as sweet or creamy (in a dairy sense) as regular cheesecake and I can imagine that they might not appeal to those who do like traditional, sweeter cheesecake products. Mr Bite was less enamored with them than I was, although this was partially due to the base. He doesn't like nuts, coconut or oats (I know...) so that dislike was not particularly surprising.

As for me? I am smitten.

What do you think of strawberry products and desserts? Yes or no?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Colourful Mexican - or how to use up cabbage

Prior to this year, I don't think I had eaten cabbage since I was a child. I have never liked coleslaw (even the thought makes me feel slightly ill) and cooked cabbage doesn't usually seem that exciting. Cabbage has been one of those vegetables that I skip over when buying produce and just don't give much thought to.

That changed when I went to Sydney in May. The lunches for our training course were catered, and day 1 included a cabbage-based salad with cabbage (obviously), carrot, capsicum, spring onions, and a dressing of lime and chilli. Even now it sings in my memory. I had the salad alongside rice paper rolls filled with tofu and mushrooms, and the combination was blissful. The only downside is that it made lunches for days 2 through 4 look bad by comparison - I had hoped for a similar menu each day, but things reverted to rolls and sandwiches and other more boring (to me) fare.

Since then, I have been thinking about possible uses for cabbage. I am yet to recreate the lime and chilli salad of Sydney, but I did make Angela's Over the Rainbow Cabbage Salad with Tahini Lemon Dressing from Oh She Glows.

It was impressively colourful and surprisingly flavoursome. My version omitted the sesame seeds but otherwise followed Angela's recipe closely, although I did find that I preferred the salad warm (just heated through in the microwave before serving) rather than cold.

I made a decent batch of the salad, but I had bought half a cabbage and the salad only required a quarter. Cabbage is definitely a vegetable that expands when chopped!

The challenge of what to do with the remainder was solved by plans for His and Hers versions of stacked quesadillas. I have posted the recipe that Mr Bite likes previously - a fairly standard vegetarian recipe that includes beans, avocado and cheese, with several layers of tortilla bread. My version is usually similar but omits the avocado (I still only like avocado when it's turned into dessert...) and cheese.

This time, I also added cabbage to my batch. It worked surprisingly well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it worked very well and may become a regular inclusion in my Mexican dishes from now on.

I didn't take a photo of the quesadillas, but did photograph the leftover filling. As with the salad, it was happily colourful. I actually found that I enjoyed the filling even more plain than I did in the quesadilla dish, and it has proved a perfect match for our recent wintery weather.

Colourful Mexican with cabbage

Makes 2 serves

1 small onion, diced
1/4 purple cabbage, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 yellow capsicum, thinly sliced
~1/4 cup mushrooms, peeled and diced
~2/3 tin kidney beans, canneloni beans or beans of choice (I used a 4-bean mix), drained
4 tbsp salsa, mild or spicy to taste (mine was spicy)
4 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the bottom of a large saucepan.

Add all other ingredients and stir over low - medium heat for approximately 15 minutes. 

Serve with tortilla bread, baked potato, or plain with a side of crackers.

Cabbage, it seems I under-estimated you.

Next up - that salad with lime and chilli!

Are you a cabbage fan? If so, do you have any favourite uses for it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What I wish I knew when I was 21

Yesterday, my baby sister turned 21.

Clearly, 'baby sister' isn't an appropriate phrase any more.

Part of me, though, will always think of her in those terms. She is the only person who I have known for their entire life, in the sense that I can remember every year of her 21 years. My brother was born when I was 3, so I don't have any memories of him until he was a few years old. My brother and I grew up together; my sister grew up with us watching over her.

Yesterday our celebrations were family-focused, with dinner and cake in the evening. The main celebrations are happening at the end of the week. My sister is the first of us siblings to have a 21st party and in true fashion she has jumped in to do it properly. There will be 70 people, a hired venue, 84 cupcakes (which we will be making...), and speeches by an assortment of people that includes me.

In other words, we are sisters but there are some pronounced differences between us :-)

Today, I want to write a post for her. In addition to being the only person who I have known for their entire life, she may just become the second person (after Mr Bite) to know about this blog...

What I wish I knew when I was 21

It’s ok to make your own path. Fitting in with others can only take you so far - and it’s not always the best thing to do.

The little things count so much more than the big things. Find pleasure in something every day. Make time for the things you enjoy.

Politeness generally pays off. Rudeness may backfire. That applies to others too. Rude people are likely to get their punishment without you becoming involved.

Real friends accept you for who you are, even if you look, act or sound different to them. Real friends deserve to be treasured.

Acceptance is a hard thing to achieve. It’s also one of the most important things we can do. If you can accept yourself, others and the world - it makes a huge difference.

The world is a big place. Some problems fade when they are put into context.

Whilst it’s good to put things in context, it’s also ok to have a bad day. You might still have problems, even if other people have bigger ones. 

Take risks sometimes. Playing it safe only gets you so far. Follow your dreams. 

Play it safe sometimes. Risk isn’t always the right choice. Trust yourself to pick the path that matches the occasion.

Have enough confidence in yourself to pick yourself up if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out. 

Because the world is a big place, there are many ways to live one’s life. Travel, work, relationships…there are a multitude of options and none of them are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Care about things. About people, causes, events, philosophies. Not caring is safer, but caring is more rewarding.

Allow yourself to love, even though you might get hurt.

Expand your horizons. Try something new. Read the news. Stay tethered to the bigger picture.

Know that money doesn’t buy happiness, even though it sometimes seems like it might. Also know that society carries certain requirements and commitments, which money can aid. Know what is ‘enough’ for you, with income and with possessions, and don’t be afraid to pick a different ‘enough’ level to those around you.

Never be afraid to change, and always seek to trust yourself.

Happy birthday!

What do you wish you knew at 21?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The best chocolate dessert I've had this year*


What do cocoa, avocado, cherries, and quinoa have in common?

They can all be considered super foods.

They are all relatively unprocessed.

They are all vegan.

And they all feature in today's dessert.

Oh yes indeed.

I think we've established (several times) that my kitchen experimentation can go well, and that it can go badly.

Sometimes very badly.

Today, I'm pleased to say, I think we are in the "well" category.

This dessert has a total of five ingredients, there is minimal washing up, no oven time, and no advance preparation. It uses avocado for creaminess and quinoa flakes for substance, but you wouldn't know it from the taste. The flavours are all chocolate, with a hint of cherry, and just enough sweetness from maple syrup.

Life can be good.

Chocolate cherry quinoa mousse

Rich, smooth and deeply chocolatey, this dessert is easy to prepare and can be served chilled or frozen. 

Makes 4 - 6 small serves.

Print recipe

1 small or 1/2 large avocado (I used an avocado that weighed about 120g with peel and stone)
1/2 cup quinoa flakes (oats would also work)
1/2 cup, heaped, frozen cherries (raspberries would also work)
1/4 cup good quality cocoa
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp maple syrup (or agave)

Add the avocado and quinoa flakes to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth (if desired) or nearly smooth (if you're like me and don't mind some cherry chunks).

Divide between small bowls or ramekins and set in the fridge or freezer, for 2 - 4 hours.

I used small individual silicon ramekins, and put 3 in the fridge and 3 in the freezer. The fridge ones chilled to a creamy, rich, mousse-like pudding. The frozen ones chilled to a creamy, rich, mousse-like ice cream. I liked the frozen form best.

As noted, I also left my cherries semi-processed, which kept them noticeable in the final product.

Whilst similar to chocolate avocado pudding, this is lifted by the quinoa and cherry. The result  is a dessert that is less dense than chocolate avocado pudding, but somehow deeper and more intricate in its flavours.

Although this should keep for some time in the freezer, I found that the quinoa became more noticeable after 2 - 3 days (in terms of texture and flavour). I am sure there is a chemical explanation for that, but as identifying it is beyond me, I will just suggest you eat it within 1 - 2 days of making it. If you enjoy it as much as I did, that probably won't be too hard.

This isn't ideally suited to winter weather, but I liked it so much that I don't care at all!

On other matters, Kristen at Swanky Dietitian has kindly nominated me for the Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. Thank you, Kristen!

The Food Stories Award requests that you share one random fact about yourself, and then nominate five others to do the same. I always find it difficult to pick people to pass these things on to, but in this case I selecting bloggers who I feel I know relatively little about and would like to know more. I am pleased to nominate (in alphabetical order, coincidentally by name and by blog name!):

As for my random fact? I have never drunk a beer or a glass of wine. Truly!

I have had sips of both, but only in the way that children do when given secret tastes (in my case, by my UK grandfather). I am not a big drinker and after drinking pre-mixed, flavoured vodka drinks in my late teens, for the sole purpose of fitting in socially, I moved on to not worrying about the social aspect and pretty much giving up on alcohol. Having never got into it, I just don't think about it these days.

What is the best dessert (or dish) you've had in 2012? 

*Possibly also the only chocolate dessert I've had this year, but let's not get caught up in that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fortnightly Fitness Fridays - Cycling fun

A month or so ago, I mentioned that I wanted to consolidate my outdoor cycling efforts and also use my bike for trips to the fruit and vegetable market I visit each Sunday. Unexpectedly, a number of you commented with helpful advice on bike carrier / pannier options - for which I am very grateful. It sounds like panniers are definitely a good buy if you're looking at a purchase in this area.

After that post, I got myself into gear and looked into panniers. I looked online. I looked in stores. I found some great options. However, in the end I was a little daunted by the price!

It would have been about $100 for the rack and pannier bags. That isn't a huge amount of money, and if I was cycling daily it would be easily justified. However, for short trips that may only occur once per week, it seemed a little too much for my needs.

So, instead I bought a detachable basket for the grand total of $25.

Panniers would have given me more carrying space, and a better balanced load, but there is something quite quaint about having a basket and I'm liking it very much. 

It's not a perfect carrying system and I've found that the best approach is to use the basket for produce that might get squashed, and then put heavier items (carrots, potatoes, apples...) in my backpack or messenger bag. I do like that the basket slides on and off, and that it's large enough to fit a reasonable amount.

I also like, in fact love, the experience of cycling to the markets, buying produce, and then cycling home again with my basket. It just feels good.

It feels good to cycle instead of drive. To avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot, use less fuel, and feel the wind on my face as I zip along on the bike (or crawl along, on the homeward stretch that involves an uphill component...).

It feels good to abandon all efforts at appearance, something that I find surprisingly (perhaps scarily!) easy to justify when I need to wear a bike helmet and be dressed to cycle. My hair gets to be a little wild. My outfit gets to be entirely casual. Definitely no make up.

It just feels good.

It may be the best $25 I've spent this year.

Do you use your bike for transport or carrying purchases? 
Or do you have any other simple activities that give you enjoyment?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Joining the party

It seems that Perth has finally decided to join in on the party that has been happening in the Eastern states for many months now.

This is not necessarily a good thing. The party might be a little wild, a little out of control. One wonders if a touch too much alcohol has been involved.

I'm talking, you see, about the weather.

(Although I appreciate that linking weather with parties may be a new peak in my nerdiness.)

After the hottest summer in 34 years, Perth had a warm, sunny autumn and even started winter off with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-20's (celsius). This, of course, happened whilst the Eastern states missed out on summer weather and instead experienced rain, cold, and multiple floods.

When talking about the weather, there are limited opportunities for relevant photos. 
This is in City Park, Budapest, Hungary. It's a traditional and still functioning hot spa, which seemed a soothing match for those experiencing winter weather.

In an attempt to catch up, the last week has brought Western Australia a tornadomultiple storms (complete with house damage and extensive blackouts), impressive bursts of rain, and winds of over 100km / hour.

Another old spa, of sorts. I pretty sure this one isn't heated though.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex.

The thing about all of this, other than the rapid transition to winter and the inconvenience to people affected by the storm damage, is that Perth might have joined the party but it doesn't seem to have the stamina to get through the night.

(I think maybe I should move on from the party analogy now.)

The blackouts  have lasted for multiple days in some parts of the state, there were primary schools closed on Monday due to roof damage (it wasn't a public holiday here), and in a particularly eventful calamity, a crane at the new children's hospital building site fell over in the wind gusts last week and tipped onto the adjoining, occupied, adult hospital.

Dubai Museum, Dubai. This was so incredibly hot.

What is more, most government departments sent an email around yesterday afternoon to update workers of the latest weather warnings and to encourage them to go home early if possible (!). Consistent with that, both of my workplaces sent around emails encouraging us to go home early if possible (if only work could magically disappear to allow that!).

Butterflies feeding on fruit; greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens at Kew, London. 
It was hot in there too.

One of the four universities in Perth even rescheduled exams that were due to occur yesterday, and other univerities encouraged students to leave exams early if they needed to get home before The Storm Hit.

Does this happen elsewhere when storms occur?? Or is Perth just inept at extreme weather? I really suspect it must be the latter.

What is your weather like at the moment?