Saturday, April 30, 2011

Loooong weekend.

Last weekend in Australia was a 5 day weekend - 5! That's as long as a typical work week!  Although I'm not religious, and observe neither Good Friday nor Easter, and although I have yet to attend a dawn service or otherwise make a big deal out of Anzac Day, I am not one to turn down a 5 day weekend - or an excuse to theme bake.

So how did we spend our 5 day weekend?  It would have been a good opportunity to travel somewhere exciting, but I was in the final throes of revising, and then submitting, an application for a postdoc.  So we stayed at home, and got up to some fun but low-key activities within bike-able distance of home.

But mainly, we ate.  I started Friday morning by making a batch of Hot Cross Buns.

I followed the recipe in Vegan Bake Sale, but used all dried mixed fruit.  And I threw everything into the bread maker, instead of bothering with kneading.  After 10 minutes of mixing, Andy decided I should make two batches - so we could freeze some, you see - so I quickly rushed around to get another lot put together, so they could go into the oven at the same time.

The buns themselves were wonderful - soft and fluffy, full of fruit and flavour.  The cross mix didn't work out for me - it was too thin, and blobbed out of my makeshift piping bag, resulting in messy white squiggles instead of dainty crosses.  And then when I put them into the oven, the crosses all but disappeared.  Oh well - the crosses are not the best part of the hot cross bun, anyways.

We picked up a bookshelf we received via freecycle, and found a home for it in the kitchen, housing our cookbook collection, some appliances, and Nacho's food.  Nacho digs it, even in its half-filled state.

We rode our bikes up the river and spent a few hours watching some waterskiing competition.  Can you make out the person flying through the air in the photo?

Mostly though, it was just nice to spend some time outside in the sun, next to the lovely river, after such a long wet season.

We tidied up the garden a bit.

And planted a few seeds, now that we are coming into the better growing season in Townsville.

We also read books, and I crocheted some stuffed toys for friends who are having babies soon - more on these after said recipients have received.  I decided the long weekend would be a good time to take up the Couch to 5k training program - I am determined to learn to like running, and I've heard good things about this program.  But I promptly got a sore knee, so have temporarily canned my running attempts - until I get some new shoes. 

 We went for a ride around the Anderson Park Gardens, especially interested in the tropical fruit orchard there...

And then I made Anzac biscuits, to wrap up the weekend.

Now it's Saturday, and I am gifted with another long weekend - that means three short weeks in a row.  Monday is Labour Day in Queensland, and I'm looking forward to another few days of pottering!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

World Kitchen

Andy and I are planning an exciting international trip later in the year.  We haven't booked flights yet, so I don't want to make any pronouncements here - because as soon as I do, something is bound to change.  But we did get some travel books out of the library to give us an idea of what we have to look forward to...
While we were there, I grabbed a few cookbooks.  The Townsville Library has a surprising range of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, but it has even more non-vegan cookbooks covering a range of cuisines.  I don't mind getting meaty cookbooks from the library.  I wouldn't buy them, but I'm happy to copy down recipes, subbing 'tofu' or 'seitan' for animal parts as I go.

When I saw How it all Vegan I was really excited.  When I was in uni, my advisor and friend, Bob Torres, said that me and my vegan friend Nicole were like Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard, and told us about their cookbook while eating some vegan cheese cake and cookies we had made.  But the cookbook didn't really live up to the hype.  Andy was annoyed with the title (I think it's clever), but I was just underwhelmed by a lot of the recipes.  I did like the Pumpkin and Tomato Soup, which I spiced up with some stovetop croutons & crunchy pumpkin seeds.

And the Scrambled Eggless Eggs were really good with some bubble & squeak.

The cookbook Arabesque gave me lots of ideas for Turkish, Moroccan, and Lebanese recipes.  It inspired me to grab a bottle of orange-blossom water from the Asian grocery store, but so far the only recipe we've made from this cookbook was Spinach with Caramelised Onions.  It wasn't very good - kind of mushy, and pretty flavourless.  Probably our fault, for some minor substitutions we made, but I've copied down lots of recipes for mezze that I'll definitely try out soon.

Jamaican Cooking was full of delicious sounding recipes using all kinds of tropical ingredients.  It made me long for a big, lush, tropical garden full of pawpaws, sweet potatoes, chokoes, and pineapples.  But since we live in a unit with a tiny courtyard, I'll have to settle for buying these things from the market.  I haven't actually made any direct recipes from this cookbook, but was so inspired by a recipe for stuffed chokoes (chayotes, mirlitons, etc) that I improvised one of my own.

While the chokoes lightly steamed on the stove, I made stuffing out of celery leaves, celery seed, grated carrot, wakame and nori seaweed, bread crumbs, and when it was ready, the insides of the chokoes.  I stuffed that all into the shells and baked for 25 minutes.

The result was really yummy - the chokoes had the texture of a cucumber, and the stuffing was a great complement to the flavours.

While we wait impatiently for our actual travel plans to come to fruition, I'm happy to let our kitchen wander the globe for us.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sweet Tart

I've been on a bit of a caramel apple kick lately, manifested in my graduation party caramel-apple upside down cake.  The start of the caramel apple theme started a week earlier, though, with a Friday night dinner.  Andy suggested we have enchiladas for dinner, and while the oven was on, why not make a tart? 

We had a few apples and one pear in the fridge, so I got the puff pastry out of the freezer and sliced up some apples.  Flipping through my exciting new cookbook, Vegan Bake Sale, I saw a recipe for a small batch of caramel sauce.  The sauce is meant to drizzle over cupcakes, but I thought it would do well with some apple tart.  And flipping through The Joy of Vegan Baking, I was inspired by a crunchy nut topping for an apple strudel.  So I combined all of these things into my tart, which ended up being reminiscent of those caramel apples coated in peanuts that I occasionally got from the fair when I was a kid.

First, I sliced up two apples and a pear.  I don't bother peeling, because I like the texture.  I tossed those in a bowl with some cinnamon, a dash of salt, and a tablespoon of flour.  I mix my apples with flour for crumbles, pies and tarts because it helps the juice from the apples get thick and glazy, instead of runny.
I mixed up my strudel topping - crushed peanuts, sugar, and cinnamon.

Then I mixed up the caramel. 

This recipe is great because it only makes 1/3 of a cup.  I let that cool down a bit before assembling everything.  I turned out to have too many apples, but I kind of liked having a big mound of fruit on top of my puff pastry.  Then I drizzled the caramel sauce over the top, and Andy sprinkled with the nuts.

It went into the oven while we nommed on our enchiladas.

Then when I pulled it out, it looked pretty disappointing.  Some of the caramel had run and burnt into the pan. 

But when we served it up, it turned out not to be a fail at all.  It was sweet, and tart from the apples, and delicious.  Andy wanted another the next day, it was so good.

And then we mixed together the leftover nuts and caramel, and swirled them through some peanut butter ice cream, for a delicious, delicious frozen treat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Hey, so remember how last year I submitted my PhD thesis?  Well, after 6 months of examination, then a few corrections, I made it through!  My thesis was officially passed at the end of February, about 2 days before the deadline to attend the graduation ceremony.  That ceremony finally happened, on Friday.  And I officially became Dr Theresa, PhD.

JCU's academic dress is a bit ridiculous - blue and red wizard robes, a blue velvet bonnet, and a wand (just kidding - I felt like I needed one, but no wand was provided).

I opted for plain black underneath, but splashed out and bought myself a pair of red Melissa shoes to go with my silly outfit.

After getting dressed and taking photos, I was led into the ceremony - the doctoral grads sit at the front of the room, off the side of the academic staff. 

After all the undergrads and masters students were presented with their diplomas, they called out our names, announced our department and our supervisors - who stood up, and we 'doffed' out hats at one another.  Then I walked forward a bit, and as a guy put my hood on me, another guy read a short summary of my thesis.  Then it was on to shake hands with the Chancellor of the uni, have a little chat, and get my diploma.  Andy sat as far back as he could, so I don't have any good photos of this, but it was pretty exciting (for me).  A really important ritual - and when I was announced to the crowd as 'Dr Theresa' I really felt like I had completed my Phd.

So anyways.  The next day, I joined with a few other postgrads to celebrate the graduation - not just for me, but for another friend who completed her Masters degree.  We spent Saturday afternoon drinking beers, experiencing an earthquake, and eating too much sugar.  My contribution took the form of:

Orange-blossom water cookies.  Basically snickerdoodles, but with orange blossom water.

Gingered chocolate chip cookies, from Vegan Bake Sale.  These were a crowd favourite.

Caramel apple upside down cake.  So sweet - a good cake to share, so you don't get a sugar coma from eating too much.

And a non-sweet, sundried tomato and cannellini bean dip.

All up, it was a great weekend.  (And p.s. - the earthquake was no big deal.  There was no damage anywhere.  Me and two others at the party felt it, while no one else noticed.  Those that did notice joked that it was an earthquake but thought it was my friend's kid jumping around on her wood floors.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bogan Pizza, Boutique Pizza

One of the things I love so much about pizza (aside from the delicious, delicious crust) is how versatile it is.

Case in point:

This cheeseburger pizza is probably the biggest bogan of the pizza world (though my frank & beans pizza might give it a run for its bogan money).  TVP soaked in Massel beef stock, soy sauce and vegemite to make it taste hamburger-y; sliced up dill pickles; American-style yellow mustard & tomato sauce instead of a typical pizza sauce; and piles of vegan cheese sauce.  This combination is messy, not terribly healthy, and probably listens to Jimmy Barnes while drinking beer in the driveway after work.  But it's so, so yummy.  It tastes like McDonald's - which is, admittedly, not something I want to re-create on a regular basis, but every now and then a certain amount of junk is required in life, I think.

On the other hand, this antipasto pizza is understated, and if it were a person would shop locally (even though it costs more!), drink organic wine, and host fancy-dress dinner parties every second month.  It was topped with no sauce - just olive oil & garlic; marinated artichoke hearts; sundried tomatoes; just-wilted spinach (from the garden, no less); roasted capsicum strips; and kalamata olives. 

Both, in isolation, would be annoying to hang out with.  The first, a bit boorish, the second far too wanky.  But since pizza crust is so amenable to being dressed up or down, I can hang out with both just often enough.

(Though when I told Andy about this post he just called me a promiscuous pizza eater...)

Sunday, April 10, 2011


In my semester of crazy last year I found myself, somehow, teaching 4 classes which managed to span 5 disciplines.  I was social sciences, sociology, politics, anthropology, and archaeology.  The most tricky of these was archaeology, since I have never, ever done an archaeology subject in my life.  I wanted to, when I was in year 4, but I don't think my vague desire as a 10 year old translates in any way to a qualification to teach the subject.  Luckily I was only responsible for leading discussions, and those were based on the readings.  So my questions were more about the human side of things, rather than the technical side, and I managed okay (at least, I think so).

But one thing I do know about archaeology is their interest in layers.  They dig down, little by little, to see what they uncover as they go.  Sometimes they take a bulldozer in to dig a trench, so they can visually see the progression through time.  I still have a vague desire to go on an archaeology dig, but these days my layers are limited to the kitchen.  But they are a lot more delicious, and less dusty, so I'm happy with these for now.

After a pancake breakfast involving fruit sauce, Andy suggested we put the leftover berry sauce to use in some kind of dessert.  I threw around a lot of ideas, but finally settled on these.

From the bottom, which archaeologically represents the earliest era... A layer of coconut tapioca pudding.  This is a combination of seed tapioca (the littlies) and multicoloured tapioca pearls.  A later generation, er, layer, is the berry sauce.  On top of that, some custard, made with Orgran No Egg, sugar and soy milk.  The berry layer appeared again, indicating a cultural resurgence of some kind.  And the most recent layer, on top, was the most unique yet - crumbled up gingernut biscuits.

Like an archaeological dig, I used a combination of excavation methods.  I took each layer on its own.  The custard was yummy, the berry sauce so-so, and the tapioca chewy and delicious (until a few days later, when the bigger pearls were very dry).  I also dug right down in, getting a combination of layers in every bite.  This is where I realised the incongruity of the tapioca layer.  It just didn't fit with the rest of the parfait.  I guess that's why I'm an academic, and not a professional dessert-maker!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tortilla Pie

Andy and I always try to cook enough dinner that we can have leftovers, which I bring to work for lunch during the week.  But sometimes we find ourselves with an excess of leftovers, and we need to find more creative ways of using them up so that I don't have to eat the same lunch for days in a row.

This was the situation we were in after a dinner of nachos.  Lots of leftover tomatoey, beany, sweet potato mix sat in the fridge, asking to be transformed into something delicious. 

I thought of my ill-advised purchase of a $5 round silicon cake pan - it was too cheap and cakes don't bake properly in it.  But, it is beautifully non-stick.  So I decided it would be a good pan for a tortilla pie.

I cut tortillas to fit the pan, and then layered it with nacho filling and uncheese sauce.  After the pie baked for 30 minutes, it was time for the moment of truth.  I flipped it over and slid off the silicon pan, worried that it would fall apart, but success! It looked great.

And it sliced up pretty well, and was very tasted topped with salsa and jalapeno slices.

It was a respectable use of leftovers, especially served with potato wedges.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Wat is the new Dhal

Dhal is a staple food in the Tropical Vegan household, as I suspect it is in many vegetarian and vegan homes.  It's a great meal to have when we're low on veggies, or don't feel like putting much effort into cooking, or don't have the imagination to come up with something new and exciting but still don't feel like boring or junky food. 

Our go-to recipe has been Peter Singer's dhal (scroll right down for the recipe), but with actual spices added in addition to the curry powder - usually cumin seeds, mustard seeds, sometimes coriander or fenugreek, depending on what we have on hand.

But dhal has recently moved over for a different lentil-based, heavily spiced stew in our lives.  Mesir wat, which I've posted about once before, has recently taken its place as our new go-to recipe.  This Ethiopian red lentil stew has all of the virtues of dhal, with the added bonus that we haven't eaten it so many times that the flavours are boring.  It is thick and hearty, beautifully flavoured, and easy-pants to throw together.

It's not quite perfect without the sour flavour and spongy texture of injera with it, but these wholemeal chapatis do a reasonable job of filling in.

Although we haven't forsaken dhal from our lives entirely, it has definitely taken a back burner to yummy wat.