Wednesday, February 23, 2011


My new job is only part time - 50% of a regular full time week - which is a little bit less than ideal in terms of my paycheck but I was actually looking forward to the free time that came with it.  Instead, I have found myself spending the last two weeks working 5 days a week, for 6 to 8 hours a day.  And the semester only started this week, so I've got 14 weeks ahead of me in which I will need to write lectures, run tutorials, mark assessments, and somehow manage to keep on top of my own research.  Basically, I'll be working more than I'm getting paid for, which is not that cool but is something I guess I need to do this year!  Next year will be easier, since I'll have already written the lectures, so for now I just need to embrace being busy.  But anyways, today I have taken the day off and I am sitting at home, baking bread and blogging (and reading a few chapters from my textbook in preparation for my lecture next week, but nevermind).

Luckily, I am supported by Andy, who is pretty good at cooking and baking, and who is very generous, especially when I am the most tired.  The weekend before Valentine's Day, he baked me a big cookie.

It was a coconut choc chip cookie, recipe from La Dolce Vegan, baked at a lower temp and for much longer to cook through, and it was pretty giant - much larger than my head.
I know I look naked, but I was wearing a sarong - it's been hot here.
Compared to the cookie, my bites look very small.  But we managed to finish it off in two sittings, because we are greedy gutses.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Allergen friendly...

I have a friend who has some serious food allergies.  She isn't gluten free, or nut free, or vegan - she has to avoid amines and salicylates.  This means that lots of fruits and veggies are on the no-go list for her, as is chocolate, raw sugar, anything but plain white flour, and so on.  But I like to cook and bake for people - it's how I show my appreciation!  So I've tried a few times and failed, but this time I finally got it right.

First, I did some googling and found this website, which lists foods with neglible, low, medium or high salicylate levels, and also marks with a % foods that are naturally high in amines.  I identified what was okay, which is not very much.  I decided that pears and poppy seeds were a potentially yummy combination, and thought about how to combine them.  I decided on a tart, and then searched around for a recipe.  In The Joy of Vegan Baking I found a recipe for a pear tart that looked pretty yummy, but it called for vegan cream cheese and I wasn't sure about salicylate or amine levels in that.  So I took the concept - a custard tart topped with sweet glazy pears - and played around with it.

In time for my friend's birthday, I went up to the shops and got a package of Orgran pastry mix, and Orgran no-egg to use as the custard powder.  I had searched both and found this website, where you can search by allergen and it shows products which are free from those things.  Orgran was safe, so I made full use of it.  I got home, only to realise that I had spent so much time focusing on the pastry and custard that I had forgotten to buy pears!  And this was right in the midst of the QLD floods, so I was fairly certain that I hadn't actually seen any pears in the store - the produce section was almost bear, and surely seeing them would have jogged my memory?  Then I realised that the soy milk we make, which is all we had in the fridge, has coconut in it, which is a no-no.  So I gave up, and told everyone that next time we got together, I would come armed with this tart.

Two weeks later, we were preparing for Cyclone Anthony (who ended up crossing south of us), but my friend and I had arranged to meet up, so I decided to go ahead and make my tart.  I made the pastry, which I was sceptical about - this isn't Orgran's fault, I'm just pretty terrible at pastry.  I baked it, and made a tiny tartlet with the extra, which I ate that night.  It was so. tough.  Just not good.  I decided to forge ahead, thinking I would warn my friends that the pastry was no good, but the filling would be okay.  So I mixed up my vegan, low-salicylate and low-amine poppy seed custard, which was really yummy, and poured it into the crust and let it set overnight.

The morning of our get-together, I cut up a bunch of Ya pears and sauteed them in nuttelex and raw sugar.  I double checked and the only spice on the okay-list was black pepper, so I left the pears plain and spread them on top of the custard.  The result was looking pretty good, even if I did know the secret about the pastry.

But in the end, everyone decided against meeting up - the cyclone still felt imminent at that stage, and people were busy preparing.  So Andy and I had to eat the tart ourselves, which really did make me sad!  We sprinkled it with cinnamon and nutmeg since it was just for us, but other than that it was a gluten free, vegan, low salicylate and low amine dessert.  And Andy reckoned the poppy seed pastry felt very posh, so it is something I will definitely do again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Australia Day, aka Invasion Day or Survival Day, was a few weeks ago now, but with the cyclone my planned posting got a little waylaid.  But this post is too yummy to just let drop, so apologies for my belatedness.  I don't consider myself full of pride for either my country of origin or my country of residence, but I do love excuses for cooking and baking that fits a theme.  So for Australia Day this year, I tackled an Aussie classic which I had never tried before: Lamingtons.

Lamingtons are traditionally a light & fluffy square of sponge cake, coated in chocolate icing and then rolled in coconut.  On Masterchef last year the Country Women's Association broke out the tape measure to ensure that contestants' lammos were perfect cubes.  Going on that criteria, I failed.  But in terms of snackability, these were a win, and I'm glad to have firsthand experience of the lamington hype.

A few comments before I post the recipe that I used (following Vegan Eats & Treats, I veganised this recipe but didn't bother with freezing, etc).  The cake itself is not good.  I tried a little bit and it was dry and a bit chalky.  Don't let that put you off!  Somehow, dipping them in the runny chocolate icing and then rolling in coconut imbues the bad cake with magically delicious properties.  Also, this recipe makes a bunch - depending on how big you cut your squares, around 20-24.  They freeze well; I put mine in a tupperware with plenty of space between them until they froze fully, then I packed them in a bit tighter.  Ours defrosted when the power was out thanks to Yasi, and we nommed them amidst cleaning up leaves and palms.  Yum!

Vegan Lamingtons
1/2 c. nuttlex, softened
3/4 c. raw sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
egg replacer powder equivalent to 2 eggs
2 c. plain white flour
4 tsp. baking powder (that's 1 aussie Tbsp, or in American measure 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. soy milk

4 c. icing sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk
2 T. nuttlex.

2-3 c. desiccated coconut (have plenty on hand so you can top up your supplies if you need to)

Heat oven to 190.  Butter and flour an 8x12 inch pan.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  I did this with a fork and it took 3 to 4 minutes, with breaks.  Add vanilla, then egg replacers, mixing well.  Add a small amount of the flour mixture, mixing well, then add a small amount of the soy milk, mixing further.  Repeat, alternating flour and milk, until everything is mixed together.  Pour and spread into prepared pan, and bake 30 to 40 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out and cool fully.  Chill overnight and cut into squares - I made 20 fairly big pieces.

In a large bowl, combine icing sugar and cocoa and stir until no lumps remain.  In a small saucepan, heat soymilk and nuttelex until melted.  Add to icing sugar mixture and combine thoroughly.  Set up an assembly line - cake squares, bowl of icing, a plate of desiccated coconut (which is finer than shredded coconut, and also unsweetened), and then a wire rack set over a baking tray.  I had a spoon and fork for the icing, and another spoon and fork for the coconut.  Dip a cake square into the icing, turning it over and covering completely.  Pick it up, let the excess icing drip for a moment, and quickly transfer to the coconut.  Immediately roll around in the coconut and when coated on all sides, transfer to the wire rack.  The pan underneath will catch any drips, but it doesn't take long at all for the icing to set.  Continue with remaining cake squares, and if the wire rack fills up you should be able to move the earliest lamingtons to a plate with no worries.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cyclone Yasi: Cleaning up

Friday morning was the first day that I felt like we were truly "post-cyclone".  From Friday until Sunday, Andy and I went for lots of sight-seeing walks, ate much more (and much more richly) than we normally do to eat up everything before it went off, and spent a lot of time sitting around fanning ourselves and trying not to die from heat.

First, we cleaned up.  Except, we don't have a proper garden, so we don't really have garden tools.  So we improvised.  I swept, with a broom - the back courtyard, including the walls, which had been blasted with broken bits of leaves.  It started out like this:

And we ended up with a pile like this:

Then Andy and I moved out to the front and continued sweeping.  We swept all in front of our unit and the one next door, and then went down to #5 and #6, where some older women live.  We opted not to clean in front of the two middle units, because they are occupied by able-bodied young people like us, who can clean up themselves!  The front went from this:

To this:

We also helped ourselves to some pawpaws from the leaning pawpaw tree down at the other end of our unit block.

Then we walked up to Aplin's Weir along the bike path, and back through the suburbs.  I got a sunburn, and blisters, but the damage to the vegetation and houses along the river was much worse than my minor suffering.






We walked past Rising Sun Honda, where people were lined up out the door for generators.

Our neighbours spent a few days having a go at the tree across the road with axes.  Someone came along with a chain saw, to everyone's relief, and then some other neighbours used their truck to pull the still-huge tree pieces off the road.

Later, someone with a bobcat came and cleared further, so our street was once again passable (and it wasn't even an hour before we had hoons coming through!).

A different walk in another direction looked much the same - trees down, a few on houses, and massive piles of vegetation.



On Sunday we had to go in to the uni so I could pick up material I needed to teach the next day up in Cairns, and we got a bit of a broader view of the cyclone damage.

Annandale had loads of uprooted trees.

The uni didn't get off lightly either.



An evening walk on Sunday night was incredibly frustrating -- a kilometre or so from our house, we noticed lots of lights on.  As we returned home, we got very hopeful.  Then, two streets before ours, it got dark again.  And stayed dark, until one street beyond ours.  So, an area of about 2 or 3 blocks was without power, and we were in it.  The worst part was that our very street had electricity on, just 30 metres away from us.  There was even a streetlight lit up just outside our house.  Very frustrating.  Especially as one of the residents in our unit block had been running a very noisy generator since Saturday.  He had set it up in his courtyard, which meant that the fumes and noise was worst in the bedroom of our unit.  So we had to drag the mattress out to the living room in order to have open windows.

Post-Cyclone Food
Andy and I are both fans of not-wasting-food.  And we had planned ahead by filling the freezer with water bottles, which kept things pretty cold for a few days.  So it wasn't until Saturday that we really started throwing food away, though we had been without power since Wednesday night. Part of the reason is that we're not as precious about temperatures as we probably should be.  But, not having a fridge & freezer full of dead animals and dairy really helps, too!  Some of our post-cyclone meals...

For lunch on Friday, a container of bean salad that had been in the freezer, mixed with ceylon spinach, sundried tomatoes and olives (both of which actually survived without refrigeration quite well), and dill pickles (which I didn't want to leave at room temperature for long).

Friday dinner was a big curry - a block of tofu, a bag of veggies that were in the freezer and were all but thawed, a tin of coconut milk, and half a jar of rogan josh paste.

For Saturday breakfast, we had oats cooked with soy milk (asceptic cartons which we opened in the morning and used within a day, so Andy could have cups of tea) and bananas.

We ate lots of fruit - fruit leather and bananas that had been gifted to us after Yasi knocked down a friend's trees.  We also finished off a grapefruit that had been in the fridge, and some pawpaw from the tree in our unit block.

Saturday lunch was a much bigger lunch than we are used to.  Tofu, fried up with spinach and noodles from the freezer, and coated in half a jar of homemade BBQ sauce that had been in the fridge (and another pickle).

On Saturday afternoon, we took two batches of seitan from the freezer - they were defrosted but still cold.  Andy marinated one in a whole bunch of lemon juice we'd kept in the freezer, thinking the acidity would stop anything bad from growing.  The other batch was covered in dukkah, which we also store in the freezer.

For dinner that night, we cooked up a pack of still-cold hotdogs that had been frozen, and the dukkah seitan, and ate them wrapped up in mountain bread, with more spinach.

On Sunday we tasted our tofutti cream cheese and it wasn't off, so we  decided to eat it up.  We fried up the lemony seitan and wrapped it up with cream cheese and spinach for a late lunch.  We were so full that we decided to forego dinner that night.

A few things didn't make it at all - cooked beans, in both the fridge and freezer, started fermenting fairly quickly.  Ditto with the soaked soy beans.  We didn't even attempt to save the vegan mayo.  We also had to throw out the bananas, ginger, frozen spinach and chillis from the freezer.  Nacho had a big feed of frozen corn and peas before we threw the rest.  But other than that, jams, nuttelex, and curry pastes lasted the distance.  Our freezer houses lots of stuff that doesn't have to be frozen, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and yeast, so we just re-froze them when the power came back on and they seem alright.  And our ceylon spinach, which we had harvested in anticipation of the cyclone, lasted really well in a big tupperware container for about 6 days.  So all up, though it was annoying and hot with no electricity, we managed just fine, thanks to ice bottles, a camp stove, and strong stomachs.

On Monday morning I went to the airport early and headed up to Cairns to teach an intensive class, while Andy went back to uni to sit in air conditioning and use the internet do some work.  When he came home that afternoon, the fans were spinning and we were back in business.  So although there are still massive piles of debris waiting to be cleared up around town, that was basically the end of our Cyclone Yasi experience.

If you want to see more photos, you can check out my flickr set, the Tropical Cyclone Yasi flickr group, or the Townsville Bulletin galleries.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cyclone Yasi: Weathering the Storm

Picking up where I left off, the power went out around 5.30 on Wednesday evening. At this point it was windier than normal, but not dramatically. We looked outside and there was a tree down from the neighbour's house, completely blocking our street. We watched out the kitchen window as our idiot neighbours (from the other side) walked outside in the wind and rain to have a look – bringing their not-yet-teenage children out with them. They sent one of the kids back in after a few minutes, but only to fetch them cold beers. Talk about responsible parenting choices.

Because the power was off, it got pretty warm pretty quickly – we don't use aircon at home, but the lack of fans was definitely noticeable. But we realised how lucky we were. The wind was coming, at that point, from the south. Our unit is on the north end of our unit-block, so we were able to leave our windows open until 10pm or so, without too much blowy-ness.

We spent lots of time watching the wind whip the palm trees from the kitchen window.

When it got a bit darker, we could only see the silhouettes, but it was pretty clear that the wind picked up speed progressively.

All the while, Nacho slept through the storm. She's normally a major scaredy-cat, so we were surprised how utterly unfazed she managed to remain.

We snacked on cold sausage rolls, cooked earlier in the day, throughout the night. Our only battery powered radio is a bit insufficient: it plays FM only, and it needs earphones. So much of the time, Andy and I were squeezed together despite the heat, sharing one set of earbuds so we could hear the local radio.

After we shut the windows it got oppressively hot inside, so I ripped apart a shoebox to make a fan to cool us off ever so slightly. Then, as the storm got even worse and the wind howled around us, Andy and Nacho both fell asleep. I did a crossword puzzle by candlelight, listened to the radio, hoped the noises I was hearing on the roof were branches and not our roof blowing off. Between 12 and 1, the eye of the cyclone crossed between Cardwell and Mission Beach – around 200kms north of Townsville. Then the wind changed direction, coming at us from the east this time. By 3am, the windows hadn't blown out, the roof was still attached to the walls, and it was starting to (barely) calm down a bit. So we went to bed. I woke up a few more times, but by morning it was clear that we had made it through unscathed. It was still a bit blowy on Thursday morning, but much less than the night before.

We went outside, but not far. We had a peek at the downed tree, crossing the street just beyond our driveway.

We walked up in the other direction, but were quickly stopped by downed power lines in every direction. Since the wind was still blowing, we didn't want to take any silly risks.

We noticed that traffic poles had a bit of an angle that hadn't been there before.

And we saw a smashed window at Liquor Land.

On closer inspection, though, we concluded that it wasn't cyclone damage. There was a rock just outside the broken glass, and just inside were two bottles of booze that looked like they'd been quickly abandoned.

We went back inside, fired up the campstove, and made a cup of tea.


Then we hung around and waited for things to settle. I had a nap, we listened to the radio, read books, did crosswords, and played cards. We snacked on some carrot sticks and green hummus - chickpeas with spinach and also sundried tomatoes - which Andy had blended up the day before, when we still had power.  The fridge stayed cold overnight, but by morning we emptied out the important stuff into an esky bag with a bottle of ice, but we left things like jam in the still-slightly-cool fridge.

Since the power was out, we wanted to keep the freezer shut for as long as possible, to keep the cold from the ice bottles in. So for dinner that night, we made pasta with sauce – a jar of pasta sauce with added beans, carrots, and spinach.

We ate by candlelight, which may have been romantic if it wasn't so... dark.

While we were eating, the army rolled up.  I thought they were there to clean up the tree blocking the road... but they left a few minutes later.

And we went to sleep almost as soon as the sun went down – at around 7.30pm – and slept like logs until well after the sun came up the next morning. Then, the weather was good, and it definitely felt like the storm was over – so I'll be back with a final post about our clean-up and sight-seeing adventures.