Sticky, chewy date and nut bars …

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Looking for something to get you through the 3pm slump ? Look no further !
These easy to make, gluten free, vegan bars are just the thing. They come together in about 10 minutes and require no baking so are perfect when you’re baking on the run.

Sticky date and nut bars

1/2 cup honey, maple syrup or rice malt syrup
1/2 cup nut butter – this can be any nut butter or a combination. I like to use 1/2 peanut
and 1/2 almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats) – if you are gluten intolerant make sure your oats are GF
1 1/2 cups nuts – use what you like here – almonds, pecans, walnuts – if you have time toss them around in a frypan for a few minutes to toast them and bring out their flavour
2 cups dates, pitted
1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces chopped finely (optional)

Melt honey/syrup and nut butter together in a small saucepan over low heat. When melted remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Blitz dates in a food processor till it forms a paste. Don’t worry if there are still some lumps. Place date paste in a large bowl.
Place nuts in food processor and pulse till roughly chopped. Place in bowl with dates.
Add rolled oats and chocolate if using. Mix well. This is easiest done with clean hands.
Pour over butter/syrup mixture and mix well.

Line a slice pan with being paper and spoon in mixture. Top with another piece of baking paper and squash flat with hands or rolling pin till about 1 1/2 cm thick.

Chill in fridge or freezer till cold then slice into small bars. These are quite rich so small bars are best. Store in fridge or for longer term storage you can place in freezer and thaw as wanted.

Feel free to change the ingredients to suit your taste. Try replacing some nuts with seeds, dried fruit or rice puffs.

 

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Wedding carrot soup with coriander pesto

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About 14 years ago my eldest daughter Zoe changed schools. On her first day at her new primary school she met a girl called Sammy and from then on they were inseparable. She loved Sammy and so did I and since then I’ve always thought of her as one of my girls. Last weekend I had the honour of attending Sammy’s wedding to her lovely new husband and it was such a wonderful thing to see them so crazy happy together.

Sammy is one of those girls that you cant help but love – brave, beautiful, kind, creative and gentle. She’s a dreadlocked, musical, vegan, fun loving girl and it’s no wonder she has found someone who loves her so well.

After a walk down the aisle to Radiohead in her lacy gown (and Doc Martens) we headed for the party where the vegan food and great music kept coming. I was so taken with the super delicious carrot soup that I pulled up all my carrots and picked some coriander and now have a pot bubbling on the stove.

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Carrot soup with coriander pesto 

1kg carrots
2 onions chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 litre vegetable stock
pepper

Fry onions and garlic till soft. Adding curry paste and stir until fragrant. Add in chopped carrots, stock and pepper. Simmer for 30 – 40 mins until carrots are tender. Whiz in a blender till smooth.

Coriander pesto

A good handful of coriander – about 2 cups
1/2 cup roasted cashews
2 tablespoons each of sunflower and sesame seeds
1/2 clove garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil

Place all ingredients in blender and whiz till smooth adding enough olive oil to get the consistency you like.

 

Spring has sprung – time to get planting ….

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Looking around my garden I can see signs of spring everywhere. The trees are budding and starting to sprout baby leaves, flowers are blooming and the veggie patch is giving us more produce than we can keep up with.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my veggie patch. It’s my happy place. I go there to get my hands in the soil, to hang out with my chickens, clear my head and to soak up some vitamin D while I watch things grow.

We are currently awash with broccoli, fennel, greens of all types, peas, spinach, herbs, celery, beetroot to name a few. I’m looking forward to some great meals from all of this and getting into my spring prep and planting for the warmer months ahead.

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This is a great time of year to have a go at growing some of your own food. It tastes better, is more nutritionally dense and has hardly any fuel miles. I think the best part though is being able to wander into the garden and pick something for lunch or dinner knowing that you grew it yourself. I love that there are no sprays, fertilisers, pesticides or any other nasties on our little patch of land. We have no problems with weeds, pests or poor harvests and it all comes down to great soil. Healthy soils means healthy plants means no need for all the other awful things that all too often get into our food supply.

So how do you get started ? Try some of the most hardy and productive plants first to get your confidence up. You can grow any of these in the ground or in pots. I have had the most success with raised beds because they keep the weeds out and the moisture in meaning plants can tolerate a bit of neglect more easily.

Create a soil mix of 1/3 each mushroom compost, garden soil and compost or composted cow manure and away you go. Plant your seeds or seedlings, give them a good water, pop them into the sun surrounded by some sugar cane mulch to keep them warm and happy and watch them grow, grow, grow.

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The Easy Ten
Mint
Zucchini
Spinach
Leafy greens – Asian greens or lettuce
Cherry tomatoes
Radish
Shallots/Spring onions
Parsley
Celery
Hardy herbs – rosemary, thyme, oregano

Its easy to get bamboozled by all the loads of information and complicated theories about how to best grow food but my advice is to keep it simple and enjoy the process. Good soil, enough water and sun and you are on your way.

Embracing the cold…

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It’s getting cold again.

We have spent the day in the garden while the weather is still forgiving, soaking up the dwindling rays of sun. We have moved vegetable beds into sunnier positions, planted out lots of winter treats and tucked them in with heat holding mulch. It does my heart good to have my hands in the earth.

We have had the fire going on and off for a few weeks now and the leaves are turning on the trees. I love this time of year. My feathery friends Minxy, Ginger, Lola, Phoebe and Gracie are fluffing up and putting on their winter feathers and all is right with the world. My beloved is playing his guitar and I am singing along badly but it makes us both smile and isn’t that the point of it all.

These quiet homely days are my favourites. They are a balm for my soul when the world can be full of busy and doing-ness.

So hello again after my longish absence… I hope you are happy and well.

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It’s time to plant : peas, snow peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, silver beet, beetroot, asian greens, carrots, leeks, parsley, celery, broad beans, kale, brussell sprouts, fennel, lettuce ….

 

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Day 365 of my year of gratitude…..

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This time last year I made the decision to be mindful of the things in my life deserving of gratitude. In order to keep me on track, and following the example of Ingrid Mason, I decided to make it public by posting every day to my Facebook page.

I must admit that I felt a little self conscious. I wondered if people might think me a bit cheesy or PollyAnna-ish. I wondered if it might just be boring to other people and perhaps I should have just been more private about it.  Throughout this 365 days of gratitude I have been meet with encouragement, kindness and nothing but positivity.

This process has allowed me to hone my sense of thankfulness and more importantly, to find the good in days when sometimes there seemed there wouldn’t be any. Because the page I posted to is my work FB page I did chose to be careful of my privacy and that of my family and friends. There were days when I was publicly thankful for one thing while knowing in my heart what that day actually meant to me – some days I wanted to be thankful for the best kiss ever, or for the fact that someone dear to me had managed to step out of their overwhelming grief for a few minutes. I have been thankful for fantastic breakthroughs with clients and for crazy things like not getting caught out when I realised that I had accidently gone to the shops with no undies.

For all the things said and unsaid at the end of this process I am still enormously grateful.

When I look back over the year there are obvious patterns to my thankfulness –

My extraordinarily brave, kind and laugh out loud funny children.

My best friend and husband whose loyalty and kindness leaves me gobsmacked every day.

My vegetable garden, my fluffy bottomed chickens and the peace and groundedness they give me.

Meaningful work and the chance to make a positive change in someone’s life.

Noticing the small things and how they impact on your life in a big way.

The value of real friendships and connectedness.

The good things – health, wellness, change, other people’s joys, opportunities, belly laughs, Toby the Wonderbike.

For the hard things – illness, sadness, grief, loss. It may seem strange to be thankful for these but that’s where the opportunity to make a difference came and I am very grateful for that.

So at the end of it what have I learned ?  There is nothing like a sense of belonging. The things that truly make me happy have nothing to do with stuff. Most things that lifted my heart and left me breathless with gratitude were things that took me out of myself and found me focused on someone else. That the small stuff is actually the big stuff – at the end of an awful day where you feel like there can be no reason to be grateful a smile, a cup of tea, a kiss or patting a chicken can be the thing that saves you.

Would I do it again ? Oh yes. Would I recommend it to someone else ? Oh yes again. Has it changed me ? I think so.  I feel more able to find the gold quickly these days. My attention has been on finding things to be grateful for and when you do that the other stuff seems to take more of a back seat. It all comes down to where you put your focus.

I’m going to continue this daily practice but in a more private way now. I hope that some of you may chose to give this a try – you won’t be disappointed. So finally, THANK YOU, for being part of this process and for your encouragement along the way.

Perfect food for this cold and wintry day … Broccoli & Lemon Soup and a Pear & Ginger Cake

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Winter is most definitely here. It’s cold, wet and rainy outside with a top temperature of about 12 degrees today. The mist is swirling around the house, as it does when you live on top of a mountain, and the only thing to do is make soup… and a yummy ginger and pear cake.

Back in February I was making the most of a bumper crop with pots of zucchini and basil soup. This winter version is a way to use the masses of broccoli I have coming on. This gorgeous soup is quick and tasty and you can have it on the table in about 30 minutes. Perfect Sunday night supper.

Lemon and Broccoli Soup

1 large head of broccoli
1 leek
3 cloves of garlic
4 cups vegetable stock
1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Good handful of parsley

Thinly slice the leek and fry till soft with the garlic in a little olive oil.
Roughly chop the broccoli. Include the stalk. It will all get whizzed up in the food processor and it is such a waste to throw it away. If you would rather not whiz the soup you should just use the flower of the broccoli.
Add broccoli to the saucepan and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Allow to bubble away until the broccoli is tender.
Add a good grinding of pepper, nutmeg, parsley and zest and juice of the lemon. Feel free to go to town with the lemon. If it’s only small or not very juicy use two.
Whiz it all gently in a food processor or buzz with a stick mixer.
You can add some creme fraiche or light sour cream for serving if you like but it really doesn’t need it.

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Now onto the cake. This cake is a lovely hark back to Grandma style baking. It’s simple, makes a big yummy tray full and is perfect for lunch boxes and morning teas all through the week.

I have made this version pear and ginger but feel free to play around with other flavours. We have had great success with apples and cinnamon, quince and honey or fig and vanilla. Just use what you have in your garden or fruit bowl.

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Pear and Ginger Cake.

2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups brown sugar
125 g butter
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 cup milk of your choice
1 egg ( or 1 tablespoon of no-egg mixed in 1/4 cup water)
4 pears, peeled and sliced into sixths
1 teaspoon good vanilla
1 heaped teaspoon of dried ginger

Place flour, butter, bicarb soda and sugar in the food processor and whiz till it forms a fine crumb.

Press half of this mixture into the base of a baking tray or large cake tin then lay pears on top.

Add milk, ginger, baking powder, egg/egg replacer and whiz together until just combined.

Pour this mixture over the pears and bake for about 45 minutes at 180 degrees.

Stay warm.

Sharing the love….. Agadashi Tofu style….

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The last few days have been great in my world. An intense but ultimately satisfying day at work, lots of new vegetables planted in the garden with some gentle rain to water them in, my chickens have finally stopped bickering and I don’t have to hang around them all the time like a, well, like a mother hen and to top it all off it was agadashi tofu time last night. Yipee.

In the interest of sharing the love and spreading the joy here it is….

Agadashi Tofu (vego/vegan style)     TAAA  DAAAA

Agadashi tofu is one of life’s great pleasures but is usually off limits to vegans and vegetarians as it is made with fish stock as the base of the soup and often has bonito flakes (dried weird looking fish) shaved all over the top.

This is our version. I grant that it may not be totally authentic but it sure packs a punch as comforting, warm, lovely, tasty soupiness for the perfect winter supper.

Here we go, it may seem a little fiddly but once you get the hang of it it all comes together in about 15 minutes.  This recipe serves four.

2 blocks of firm silken tofu, taken out the packet and wrapped in lots of paper towel (you will be surprised by how much water comes out) You are aiming to get it as dry as possible and if you can leave it wrapped in paper and weighted down with a plate for 30 mins or so the results will be much better.

Broth :

250 mls water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
1 heaped teaspoon of white miso paste

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

While the soup is bubbling and the tofu is draining –

Finely chop a couple of spring onions, some pickled ginger and some greens like spinach, wombok or bok choy.

Place 1 cup of potato starch in a bowl. ( You can get potato starch from an Asian grocer and some supermarkets. Use cornflour if you can’t get it but the results won’t be as good.)
Cut the blocks of tofu into eighths.

Heat a fry pan with about 1cm of peanut oil. Gently roll the tofu in the potato starch and place in the hot peanut oil. Fry until a light golden colour.

Place the chopped greens in the bottom of the bowl. Put the cooked tofu on top and pour over broth. Top with spring onions and ginger.

If you are looking for something more substantial, or you have ravenous teenagers and a cycling crazed husband like me, you can serve with some sushi rice.

I hope this becomes one of your favourites too.

The benefits of change and renewal …

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It has been raining here for a week or so and I don’t mean a dainty sprinkle. It’s been bucketing down on and off and we even had a mighty thunder storm which dumped a bunch of hail on us essentially wrecking the garden.

I was feeling pretty bummed at the sight of my shredded vegetable gardens, especially the basil which was thriving and getting to the point where it was begging to be made into some seriously good pesto.

Due to the rain and my general feeling of despondency I hadn’t been into the garden for a week or so which is unheard of for me. It’s usually my happy place where I hang out to regain a little peace and feel the benefits of putting my hands in the earth.

Things are changing today ! I have decided to rally. I have ripped out all the battered plants (except for the basil which I am hoping will make a miraculous recovery ), dug in some cow poo and planted some seedlings – pak choy, red cabbage, lettuces, broccoli and parsley. I am hoping the rain settles long enough for them to dig in and thrive.

It has been a big week at my house with lots of change. Kids going to uni, work offers, trashed gardens and life in general. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming and change can feel unsettling. I am going to try to take a lesson from the garden – sometimes things can look a little trashed, they can seem messy and unproductive but when you step back and take a look it’s an opportunity to start again – to try something different or to do something old in a new way.

I have been watching my children embracing change and being really brave about so many things. Leaving school, going to new universities where you know no-one, facing demons, doing things that really scare them, persevering with difficult things…. they are amazing people.

So my aim for this week is to embrace the change and to be more like them. I know that it can take a while to get used to new ways but I am going to try to look at things in a positive way – to see the changes as possibilities rather than losses. Wish me luck ……

Making the most of the summer harvest… zuchini and basil soup

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At this time of year the sunny days and regular rain mean masses of food growing like crazy. It’s time to make the most of what you have growing. This week we are roasting the last of the tomatoes, picking basil, eating more salad greens than ever and enjoying the fact that we have enough to eat and enough to share.

This recipe, a family favourite here and super standby meal which comes together in about 15 minutes from bench to bowl comes courtesy of my friend Nettie.

Even if you are not growing veges at the moment this soup makes the most of what is now seasonal and cheap so there is no excuse for not eating well. It also makes a great leftover lunch and freezes for those nights when cooking is the last thing you feel like.

Zuchini and Basil Soup

1 kilo of zuchinis, grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
A few tablespoons of olive oil

Fry these three ingredients for about 5 minutes or until the garlic is cooked out. Then add…

4 cups of stock
1 bunch of chopped basil
1/2 bunch chopped parsley

Simmer for another 5-6 minutes.

You can now add any or none of the following according to your taste – parmesan, salt and pepper, a dash of cream.

Baby chickens are the best ….

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Who would have thought that I could get so much pleasure from four little chickens ?

My devoted husband has been doing some substantial upgrades to our chicken house in anticipation of getting some new ‘girls’. We have had a bit of a rough run with dogs or foxes taking our last two lots and breaking my heart in the mean time. Some people have dogs or cats… I have chickens. Loved up chickens who get cuddled and coddled.

A couple of days ago we went to the farm supply shop to get ourselves some chickens – I was a bit reticent after the sad loss of our other girls but chickens are a big part of our semi-pemiculture set up here and we were really missing their lovely cluckiness and the fantastic way they contribute to the food growing process. We usually get them at point of lay – around 16 weeks old – and although I am always happy to have them I do feel saddened that the breeders seem to think they have to have their beaks trimmed. It’s cruel and unnecessary and they are never quite able to peck properly. After all the rough handling they have received in their short lives they can tend to be a bit skittish too. I usually make it my mission to love them up and to give them the nicest possible life… with no threat of death from their vegetarian family and a long and languid retirement once the eggs stop coming.

We have usually chosen these birds because it has felt good to liberate them from the dingy surroundings of the chicken farm but this time something different happened.

We walked into the shop braced for the sad choice of which chickens to take and which ones had to be left behind when we saw the mesmerising sight of little, fluffy two weeks old girls. They are tiny and helpless and best of all, they have all of their beak!

After umming and aahhhing about where we would keep them and getting the logistics right we left the store with four of these little gems and I have been feeling ridiculously happy ever since. They already have little personalities all their own and are getting more and more adventurous by the hour.

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So here’s to our new feathery friends. May they live long and happily doing what chickens are supposed to – pecking and dust bathing, laying a few eggs and eating all our yummy scraps….. and bringing along a lot of happiness at the same time.