Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: In Review

It's been a big year in my life, though I suppose they all are in different ways. Since today is the last day of the year, it seems like a good time to wrap up the things that happened this year, big and small.


In April, Andy graduated. The most ridiculously coloured robes are saved for the highest honours, of course, and are only donned by those becoming Doctors.

Three days later, we settled on our house. Actually, we were meant to, but some shonky paperwork from the other side meant that we moved in and settled a week later. But regardless, we moved in, which is the biggest thing.

Having a house means we have the power to make choices like... painting the living room orange! Or the bathroom bright blue!

And it also gives us space for furniture, which we buy second hand and then I have excuses to do fun things to, like paint and cover with fabric.

And more meaningful things, like putting a big pile of solar panels on the roof.

In May, we adopted our beautiful Tika dog. Nacho and Tika have reached a relatively peaceable equilibrium. Tika still runs in fear from time to time when Nacho chases her, but she also manages to sneak in big kitty kisses when she comes in from outside.

In July, my job upped from a half-time to a full-time position. That was something I had been hoping for. Now I think staying part-time might have been nice -- full-time work is a lot of, well, work! I love love love my job, it's flexible and I get to have interesting intellectual conversations, and I get to hang out with students as they learn stuff and open their eyes and expand their worlds. But it is also really tiring to work all the time and still feel like you don't get everything done.


This year I read 51 books, just over my goal of 50 for the year. Three of these, at the end of the year, were children's books, but I think they still count. My favourite book of the year is hard to choose, but I think I'll go with Jasper Jones, which I read back in February. I loved the characters, I thought it dealt with a bunch of different political issues in a non-preachy way, and the novel was also suspenseful and interesting to read, which is of course the most important thing.

Andy and I have planted 13 trees, 3 bananas, 3 coffee bushes, 2 grevilleas, and piles of smaller plants. The only thing we have spectularly failed with has been a tea plant, which didn't make it through the first few weeks of summer in its very sunny position. Clockwise around the garden, the trees we've put in are: avocado, mulberry, Australian blood lime, ice cream bean, star apple, guava, West Indian lime (key lime), pomegranate, three papayas, mandarin, and lemon. Yesterday Andy ordered three more which we'll plant in the new year: a Peanut Butter tree, a jackfruit, and a grumichama. We've also got some seedlings of the Queensland Peanut tree to go on the verge.
This pomegranate is the newest addition to our orchard.

I travelled to Cairns twice, to Melbourne once, to Sydney once, and to Brisbane twice. Amongst those travels, I hung out with 5 other vegan bloggers - Susan, Mel, Amy, K and Toby, two of whom I met for the first time. Andy and I also took a purely enjoyable - not work related - trip to Jervis Bay for a wedding.

I took up running, and finished off the Couch to 5k training program (finishing just at the start of summer, which was not wise timing). Regular walking and then running lead me to discover the joy of podcasts. The two that I subscribe to are Team Earthling, an Australian vegan podcast, and Progressive Podcast Australia, a generally leftist political discussion. I also get my nerd on with iTunesU and listen to lectures and open courses in between episodes of these two.

And in November, I worked with some vegan friends in Townsville (including Stevie and Luc from Team Earthling, whose blog post about the event I will direct you to) for a vegan outreach stall at the uni. Stevie (and sometimes Luc) have been rocking the ongoing outreach stall on Magnetic Island, and I'm hoping we can organise more on campus in 2013 - O Week would be a good place to start!

It's been a big year, an interesting year, and I can only hope that 2013 is as fruitful for us!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mango Chutney

What do you do when you have three trays of ripe or quickly ripening mangoes on hand? Well, there are lots of options - eating them straight up, pancakes, cakes, jam, salsa, smoothies.... But if you want to spread the mango love across the year, preserving them in one way or another is a good idea. Drying them, either straight up or as fruit rolls, is one option. Or you can turn a bunch into chutney, to spice up drab meals and accompany Indian curries all year long.

Andy and I have made a few batches of this chutney recipe, but have found it, at various times, too spicy, or too vinegary, so have modified it a bit and come up with a configuration we quite like. Andy bought a starter canning kit from Green Living Australia, so this year we could make a very big batch (or several) and keep them in the pantry - in years past we have been limited by refrigerator space.

Mango Chutney
10 ripe mangoes
1 onion, finely diced
4 cups of vinegar
1 cup of dried fruit (Andy used dried mixed fruit, with the cherries picked out, which was actually better than I expected. The citrus peel gives it a bit of zing every few bites)
1 chilli, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger

Cut the cheeks off each mango. Score each cheek into fairly small squares, and then scoop the fruit out with a spoon. Put all the fruit from the cheeks into a very large, non-reactive bowl. Peel each seed. Cut the flesh from the seeds and put into a separate smaller bowl, or a jug, or a blender. Blend this up and then mix it with the diced fruit.

Put the diced onion into a jug and cover with boiling water. Let this sit for a few minutes and then drain the water and add the onion to the bowl (I do this because I find the raw onion a bit bitey. If you like raw onion, skip this step). Then mix in the vinegar, dried fruit, chilli and ginger. Cover this and let it soak overnight at room temperature. We stuck ours in the oven, so it was out of the way. 

The next day, put the mango mixture into a very big pot with:

2 and 2/3 cups of sugar

Heat this over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then add:

4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. mixed spice
2 tsp. ground ginger
4 cloves of garlic, minced
chilli powder to taste, if you want it spicier.

Bring this up to the boil and then lower the heat down to a simmer. Cook the chutney for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it has thickened up.

If you are canning these, put the clean jars and new lids into a big canning pot filled with hot water (with a trivet or something in the bottom) and bring them up to a simmer, then turn the heat off and leave it on the stove. Do this about 20 or 25 minutes before the chutney is finished cooking. When the chutney is nearly done, remove the jars from the pot. Using jar tongs, shake out the extra water and then place them onto a tea towel.

Fill each jar, and then clean the rim of the jar with a damp cloth. Remove the lids from the hot water with a fancy magnetic lid wand thingie, and seal each jar up tightly. Put the full jars back into the hot water, ensuring they are submerged by about an inch, and bring it back up to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, cool a bit, and then removed the jars and let stand at room temperature until they are fully cooled and have sealed.

Friday, December 28, 2012


One of my new year's resolutions for 2012 was to make my own laundry detergent. I spent the year, off and on, looking for all the ingredients, which are not that easy to find.

Andy brought home an old container of borax from work, which was the first ingredient acquired.

Then in Cole's one day I spied washing soda and nearly shouted with joy.

But soap flakes completely eluded me. I looked in Bunnings. I looked at the grocery stores. And then, in November, I was marking essays written by my first-year sociology students. Early in the semester I made them write about the social problem they are most troubled by, and then after those essays were finished I told them to do something, anything, to make a change. One of the students had identified consumerism, and the constant need to be spending money, and her social change project was convincing some of her colleagues to do what she does and make her own laundry detergent (along with other anti-consumerist things, of course, but that's the one that stuck out at me). I excitedly read her final essay, in which she reflected on this, and wrote my burning question in the comments: Where do you get soap flakes?!

I shortly got an email back (it's nice to know that some people read my comments!) saying you can get Lux brand soap flakes at IGA. So I looked there, and there they were. The box was about $10, which made Andy raise his eyebrows, but I was determined.

A few days ago, I finally managed to get all three ingredients together (along with some essential oil) and make the damn laundry detergent. There are so many recipes on the internet, but they all made about 10 or 12 litres of detergent. Andy and I only do laundry once a week, or at most 5 times a month, so we have no need for giant buckets full of washing liquid. Even if you do washing a few times a week, this was easy enough to make that whipping up a batch every three or so months wouldn't really be an inconvenience. So I cut the recipe by 4, and put it together like so. It was super easy, and it will go far, so expensive ingredients really work out to be very cheap indeed.

All you need is:

1 cup of soap flakes - these can be bought pre-flaked, or you can grate a bar of soap yourself
1/4 cup of washing soda - not bicarb soda. We have soft water. If you have hard water, try 1/2 cup
1/4 cup of borax
a few drops of essential oil - we used ylang ylang
3 litres of hot water

In a saucepan, mix the soap flakes with a cup or two of hot water.

Cook it over medium-low heat until the soap flakes dissolve. Mine went kind of clumpy, because I didn't put much water in.

Add the washing soda and borax and mix this up. Somehow, adding dry ingredients made my soap go smoother and more liquidy, so I think magic might be involved.

Slowly add in the rest of the water.

If the soap goes lumpy and doesn't dissolve, like mine did, heat it over low heat until it does.

Put in a few drops of essential oil. My advice is to use something you love. Even this small batch will last us for maybe 8 or 10 months, so we're stuck with our smell for most of 2013 - luckily we both love ylang ylang.

Let it cool a bit, then pour into bottles. This part was very messy for me. My funnel is narrow, and clogged up with the thick gloopy soap. So instead I got a plastic cup and scooped soap into the bottles (because the saucepan was far too full to pour). I kind of got soap everywhere, but it is soap afterall, so it didn't take much effort to clean up.

Use about 1/4 cup per load. We've done a load of washing, and it seems to be just fine - not a revolution for my clothes or anything, but it seems just as good as the bought stuff. And considering that the box of soap flakes will probably last about 4 years, and the washing soda will last me decades, well, I think it is worth the savings!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The three days of Christmas

This year, Andy and I continued some of our earlier Townsville Christmas traditions, which are beginning to cement themselves into place as proper traditions. Basically, we spread things out across Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

We have Christmas dinner on Christmas eve. We had, of course, a stuffed seitan roast with yuba skin. I had planned to cook this on the BBQ, so as to avoid heating up the house, but then Christmas eve was rainy and by dinner time it was a chilly 25 degrees, so into the oven it went! 
Christmas dinner, waiting to go in the oven.

The yuba didn't crisp up as much as usual, for some reason, but it was still good.

Along with the seitan roast, we had okra-corn bread stuffing (based on Susan V's recipe), mushrooms baked with garlic-parsley-butter, some (bought) cranberry jelly, and spinach. We topped the seitan with mango chutney, made that morning (which will get its own post soon). 

Tika got a veggie pig's ear, and Nacho had some pumpkin, one of her favourite treats. 

For dessert we had mango-fruit mince ice cream, made with the tropical fruit mince I also used for tarts.
Served up with little pastry bits, the baked scraps from when I made my tarts.
Christmas morning, Andy woke with the beginnings of a sinus infection or summer flu or something, so I cooked him up a nice breakfast and a hot lemon. For breakfast we had creamy mushrooms, spinach, and Vegg (another thing which will get its own post soon) with toast and tea. 

After brekky, we took Tika to the beach, where she chased plenty of sticks, ran around with a few other dogs, and ate too much salt water, making herself a bit sick as a result. 

Then it was back home for a cup of tea (for Andy), a mango-ginger-rum smoothie (for me), and some chocolate and white chocolate spiders, as we opened the gift(s) Andy's parents sent us. 

It was in pieces when we opened it, but a phone call cleared things up - it's a seedling tray, and a little thing for making seedling pots out of old newspaper.

For lunch, Andy cooked up some mushroom burgers with spinach and bacon bits and cranberry jelly.

Which we ate with salt and vinegar potato chips, another of our solidifying christmas traditions.

We spent the rest of the day doing not much - reading books, watching a movie, pulling some weeds in the garden, and drinking rosella cordial.
Our first harvest of rosellas was a small batch, so I only made a little cordial.

Then we ate leftovers for dinner, adding some more mushrooms and spinach to our leftovers, because Andy got a lot of both on Christmas Eve, reduced to clear!
Now all that's left is one piece of seitan, and some sweets. 

Our Boxing Day was pretty similar. For breakfast, we had mushrooms on toast, with spinach and Vegg.

And we spent the rest of the day eating fruit, chocolate spiders, and panadol (for poor sickly Andy). It wasn't the christmassiest christmas - in fact, it didn't really feel terribly christmassy at all. But it suits us - a christmas full of mushrooms, spinach and mangoes is a success, as far as we're concerned. 

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrated it!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mango Mousse Tart

The other night Andy and I had dinner with some friends, one of whom has very recently had to adopt a low GI diet. We had already collectively decided to BBQ some tofu for dinner, which was virtually sugar- and carb-free, and our friends were bringing side dishes, but I wanted to do something more creative than just cut-up fruit for dessert. Partially because I cook for people to show I love them, and partially because I love a cooking challenge.

I did some googling, and found that most of the recipes that came up for low GI desserts were fruit & yoghurt concoctions, or involved stevia, gluten-free flour mixes, and other things I don't have on hand.  I forget how the inspiration struck, but I thought about a fruit tart. I vaguely remembered cooking an oat-based crust from the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, and when I looked at the recipe saw that it would need only a little tweaking to make it good and low GI. For the filling, I thought back to a no-bake fruit tart I made several years ago, and decided that some of our steady supply of mangoes would be a good fruit to use.

The results were good, and mainly low GI (anything below 55 is considered low, and 56-70 is considered medium).The tart filling was velvety and gently set, so that it was still a bit wobbly, and was offset nicely by the nutty, biscuit-like base. The only thing I might do differently next time I make this is to quickly blend up the oats, so they aren't so whole. Either way, this was really delicious, and a great way to use mangoes. Might be a nice alternative to some of the ultra-rich desserts people are used to filling up on at this time of year!

Mango Mousse Tart
Crust (adapted from Granola Nut Crust in Ultimate Uncheese)

1 c. rolled oats (GI 51)
1/2 c. desiccated coconut (GI 45)
1/2 c. almond meal (GI 0)
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sunflower oil
1/4 c. maple syrup (GI 54)

Heat the oven to 180 (350F). In a bowl, mix the oats, coconut, almond meal, ginger and salt. In a jug, combine the oil and maple syrup and stir, then pour this over the dry ingredients. Mix till combined and then press into a pie plate or springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes until just browned. Cool completely.

3 mangoes (GI 41-60, depending on ripeness, variety, etc)
juice from 1 lime
1 Tbsp. agar flakes
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 c. silken tofu (GI 0)

Put the agar flakes and water into a small dish and set aside for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, blend together the mango flesh and lime juice until smooth. In a small saucepan, bring the fruit puree up to a boil. Add the agar and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, stirring pretty constantly to avoid mango splashing everywhere. Remove from heat, add tofu and blend until smooth. Pour into pre-baked crust and put in the fridge until set, about 2 hours.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sneaky Nuts*

In the first few weeks of moving into our house earlier this year, one of the things we planted in the garden was peanuts. We bought a bag full of raw peanuts from a local farmer at the Sunday market and planted some of the nuts.  

For us, peanuts were a slow-growing, very small plant. I didn't hold out great hopes for what they would produce. Even if we didn't get any nuts out of the plants, I figured the nitrogen they produce would be good for conditioning the soil, and the plants would make a good addition to compost. 

Well, we needed to dig up our peanut plants recently because Andy wanted to expand and edge the garden bed, and we were very pleasantly surprised to find all of these sneaky peanuts. Then I read a blog post on Food Feud about spiced nuts, and knew just what to turn these into.

I pulled them off the plant, rinsed off the dirt, and put them onto dehydrator trays to dry out. Then I shelled them - which took ages and made my fingers sore. Then, I roasted them up. In a 160 degree oven (that's about 325F), I toasted them on a baking tray, shaking every now and then, until they smelled nice and started to look toasty. While they were in the oven, I melted together a tablespoon of nuttlex margarine, a tablespoon of brown sugar, two teaspoons of salt, a teaspoon of chilli powder, and a handful - maybe two tablespoons - of fresh thyme leaves (also from our garden). When the nuts were done toasting, I dumped them into a bowl and poured the melty butter-sugar yumminess over and stirred and stirred.

When these cool, they stay sticky. They're sweet, and herby, and then the sneaky chilli powder hits you in the back of the throat. They're all around delicious, and great to have on hand at this snacky time of year.

*If you don't get easily offended, and don't know the Sneaky Nuts reference, here is my cultural reference

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tropical giftie tarts

As an anthropologist, I appreciate the importance of gift giving as a tool of affirming relationships, showing appreciation, and just being nice. As an anti-capitalist vegan, I'm not so good with the buying of cheap stuff to give to people. As a cheapo, I'm not so willing to buy expensive stuff! The easy solution is handmade gifts. Last year I made crocheted Christmas ball decoration thingies for my friends at work. This year, I decided to go the food route.

I've never actually had a fruit mince tart, but for some reason this year I decided I had to make them. But then I decided, why not use tropical fruit? I tropicalised a traditional fruit cake a few years ago, when I made tropical fruit cake for our wedding. So the idea implanted itself firmly in my brain, and I had to see it through.

I made the fruit mince on the weekend. It's best to let it sit for a few days if you can, so the fruit soaks up as much of the boozy flavour as possible. We made a pretty giant batch, because we had some fruit that needed using, and also because I wanted to make not only tarts, but also fruit mince ice cream. The amount in the recipe below could probably make 4 dozen tarts, so consider cutting it in half if you don't want that many!

Tropical Fruit Mince
4 small granny smith apples, cored and grated
1 small-ish green-ish mango, peeled, seeded and diced
4 c. dried fruit - I used 1 c. mango, 1 c. papaya, 1/2 c. crystallised ginger, 1/2 c. mixed peel, and 1 c. dried mixed fruit. The dried fruit should be chopped up roughly
1/2 c. macadamia nuts, chopped coarsely (other nuts would work, too, but less tropical...)
3 Tbsp. mixed spice
1 c. rum
200 grams brown sugar
3 Tbsp. nuttelex (vegan butter)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 vanilla bean, split in half and with the seeds scraped

In a big bowl, combine the fruit, nuts, and spice.  Mix them all up well. In a saucepan, combine rum, brown sugar, vegan butter, lemon juice and zest, and the vanilla bean and its seeds. Bring this up to a boil, let it boil for 2 or 3 minutes, then remove from the heat. Pour the hot liquid over the fruit, mix it up, and let it stand. When it cools a bit, transfer to a tupperware and store it in the fridge until you're ready to proceed.

I made the rest of the tarts this afternoon. I used bought pastry. I know some people will scoff, but in my opinion life is just too short to screw around trying to make pastry from scratch in the tropics, and with no food processor. Five sheets of short crust pastry was the perfect amount for 2 dozen tarts.

Use a big drinking glass or a small bowl to cut muffin-tin sized circles from your pastry.

Brush the circles with oil.

Then put the pastry, oil side down, into a muffin cup. Fill it up with a scoop of fruit mince.

Cut some pretty shapes from the pastry scraps, and put the pastry-shapes on top of the fruit mince.

Brush them with a little bit of soy milk, and then bake them at 180 (350F) for 20 minutes. When they're done, they need to cool in the pan until they're fully cool. So plan ahead, so you don't have to do what I did and run across the road to ask your neighbour if you can pretty please borrow some muffin tins. Luckily Claire is a very generous neighbour :-D

I baked the extra scraps of pastry on a baking tray, so that I can somehow incorporate them into fruit mince ice cream later on this month. When they're just out of the oven, run a butter knife around the outside of each tart to loosen them up.

When the tarts have cooled completely take them out of the muffin tins.

Wrap them up to give as gifts, or put in the freezer for later, or eat them straightaway.

Now that I have eaten a fruit mince tart, I can say that they were worth making, especially tropical style. Hopefully my work friends like them, you know, for the sake of maintaining our reciprocal relationships and all that.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Starting the Day

Mornings at our house, at least Monday to Friday, look a little bit like this...

Sometime between 4.30 and 5.00am: Tika wakes up, walks to my side of the bed and licks my face. If she's feeling very generous, she goes to Andy's side of the bed and licks him, too. If she's feeling very rambunctious, her tail wags the whole time against the wall, making a noisy thunk-thunk-thunk. We *very politely* ask Tika to go back to bed, and she usually does... for about 10 minutes at a time.

5.00am: I get out of bed, feed Nacho, and take Tika for a walk or, more recently, a run.

We're coming up to the final week of the Couch to 5k program, which is a gradual introduction to running. It's pretty impressive, because I've long been very anti-running, but I really don't mind it now. This morning I ran 23 minutes without dying, or even feeling terribly puffed. Part of the success may be because I didn't really start from couch, but rather from walking-5k-at-a-fairly-cracking-pace. I fill my ears with podcasts, usually either Team Earthling or Progressive Podcast Australia.

5.45-6.00: I get home. Usually Andy's still in bed - the luxury! I try to remember to stop and smell the flowers before I have a good stretch.

We organise lunch for the day, put last night's dishes away, and then, my favourite part of the day: breakfast! I pretty much always eat granola (though on the weekends we are fans of toast, or mushrooms, or pancakes). But, since I started running, I have a very big appetite, so I have been supplementing my plain granola with some chia goo and fruit. The chia seeds have highly concentrated nutrients - plenty of fat and calories, which keeps me full for longer!

Granola with chia goo, bananas and blueberries with soy milk.
Granola, mango, chia goo, and soy milk.
By  7am we've usually fed Tika and hopped on our bikes to go in to work - I love getting in really early, when it's nice and quiet and I can get lots of work done. We're creatures of habit, but I love a solid start to my days!