Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Adventure to the Botanical Gardens.

Botanical gardens may seem boring, and not adventurous, but I like them.  Especially the ones in Townsville (we have three) where pretty much anything grows.  A few bored weekends ago, Andy and I took a walk up to the Anderson Park Botanical Gardens, which is ironically the one closest to us and the one we have been to least.

According to the pamphlets, there is a Tropical Fruit Orchard somewhere amidst the plantings, but on our previous visit we didn't manage to locate it.  So we made it our mission on this trip to find the damn orchard and bring some fruit home.

First, we had to make our way through the Cape York section of the park, which was dark and jungly and quiet, but full of biting mosquitoes.

Then we moved on to the lakes, which are quite shallow but host lots of small fishes and piles of ducks, ibises, and other peculiar water birds.

From there, we made our way through the trees and across the grass and eventually found ourselves standing under a pummelo tree.  Snooping a bit further, we found confirmation that our mission was accomplished.

There were lots of trees around -- every kind of citrus, custard apples, sapotes, Australian natives, exotics, bananas, etc.  I didn't get photos of any of the trees because I was too busy protecting myself from mozzies.  A lot of them were not labelled, which is a bit sneaky.  And even more of them were not in fruit -- apparently autumn isn't the best time to go scavenging for tropical fruit.  However, we did not go home empty handed.

Here you see our haul -- the big one is a pummelo, the dark ones are Burdekin Plums (a local bush food).  The lighter coloured greenies to the right of the plums are canistels.  Below them, two lemonades (we thought they were lemons, as they were unlabelled, but on juicing realised our stroke of good fortune).  At the centre/bottom of the photo is a Mitchell River Lime, and the group of five are regular (Tahitian?) limes.

However. Andy and I are not fruit experts.  Apparently we picked our pummelo way too early, because when I cut into it, the pith was about 4 inches thick -- I kid you not.  There was about a lime-sized amount of fruit inside, which was inedible.  FAIL.

We googled the burdekin plums, having never heard of them before, and found out that we should put them in a paper bag in a dark place to soften before eating.   Apparently they don't ripen on the trees and shouldn't be eaten straight away.  So we did this, checking them periodically.  But, before they softened, they moulded.  Ew.

The Mitchell River Lime was another unknown, and we googled and googled but came up with nothing.  So we cut it open, out of curiousity.  It oozed a big pile of sticky, bright yellow sap, and went straight into the bin.  Boo.

The limes and lemonades were good, if not very juicy, and saved us a few dollars, so the trip wasn't a total waste.  Plus, we managed to succeed at the two canistels.  They get very soft and yellow when they are ripe.

We cut them open to find a creamy, almost boiled egg yolky texture with a not-really-sweet flavour.  I didn't love it, but it was good.

Later, Andy made smoothies with one of the canistels, which enhanced its sweetness and was far more pleasant.

Regardless of all the fails we had with our fruit, it was still a fun adventure -- scavenging our own food felt pretty badass (though I'm fairly certain it's not illegal, otherwise why would they advertise that it's an orchard?).  Now that we know where it is, we'll be going back to see what else comes into season.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Between seasons.

April is usually my favourite month in Townsville.  After several months of humid, 34 degree days, the April average of 30-ish feels wonderful; the rainy season has ended but the landscape is still lush and green.  Basically, it is what earns Townsville its status, in my opinion, as a freaking great place to live.

This year April hasn't been so great, though.  I don't know why, but the rain hasn't quite let go.  We've gotten a few heavy washes, and a few days of stupid drizzly weather.  Monday it was 22 degrees, which felt practically frigid.  But we have had some nice days, the kind of days I associate with April.  As a result of this funny back-and-forth weather, our meals have been shifting back and forth as well.


Sunday Roast Drumsticks from Vegan (see my review of this cookbook here).  These weren't super accurate, as we didn't know what tinned chestnuts are like so had trouble guessing on a substitution, but they were good anyways.  On the side, roasted brussels sprouts & green beans; just-wilted Ceylon spinach; and porcupine potatoes.


Veggie Burgers with chips!  Andy picked up a pack of EatWell lentil burgers reduced-to-clear so we made bread rolls to have a proper burger-bar dinner.

I used my new pottery (more on this to come) to lay out a spread of beetroot-carrot slaw, guacamole, and salad.

Andy made Cajun-Spiced Chips from Vegan with a Vengeance which were amazing.

The result was a decidedly summery meal.


Pumpkin Soup.  Actually, this is Pumpkin-Daal Soup from Urban Vegan and it was delicious.  Rich and creamy and amazingly flavoured, this warmed us up one cool evening.

On the side we had some sauteed brussels sprouts with rocket and balsamic.


Morroccan Millet Bulgur Timbales, from Urban Vegan.  Topped with Easy Tahini Dressing from Urban Vegan.  Light and room temperature, with cold seitan roast on the side.


Pumpkin baked goods.  Following the recipe for The Best Pumpkin Muffins from Vegan with a Vengeance, I made muffins as well as bread.


Coconut-Crusted Tofu with peanut satay sauce, based on a conglomeration of Urban Vegan recipes.  Although this was oven-baked, it was very tropical and felt light and summery.



I kind of don't mind that the weather has been so variable, because it gives us a lot of variety with our meals!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Natural Wonders

When I think about natural wonders of the world, geological formations are what pop into my head -- waterfalls, gorges, geysers, mountains...

But there are a lot of smaller things which are no less wonderful.  Especially if you can eat them.  Today I bring you wonders of the plant kingdom.

These sweet potatoes are fairly unimpressive.

Until you cut them open.

They make a beautiful purple-hued soup, delicious paired with five-spice and sesame oil, some seaweed and the next wonder...

....Ceylon Spinach.  We got this plant from the markets probably 2 years ago and it sort of languished in our pathetic garden.  It went to seed without producing much and survived, just.  But Andy threw some of the seeds into the ground before Christmas and we came home to an absolute jungle. 

Ceylon spinach loves humidity and heat, and it's a twiner so it needs lots of vertical surfaces to wrap itself around.

We have so much of it we've been cutting whole stems, from which we take off the leaves.

The stems were sitting in a pile outside waiting to be dealt with and they started growing roots, so we've replanted them.  It's amazing.

Also wonderful is the standard avocado.  My favourite variety is the Shepherd, which is currently in season and on sale at the local markets.

It makes a wonderful addition to mexican food, salads, burgers, and sandwiches.

It also combines with lime & icing sugar for a delicious and pipe-able icing in a gorgeous green.(On top of orange poppy cake.)

It's a great season for the markets; last week we picked up some mangosteens for $10 a kilo.
They're called the Queen of Fruits for a reason.

In addition to being tasty, I think they're really pretty.  And it doesn't get much more wonderful than that.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I've mentioned this cookbook before, particularly noting its reasonably non-descript name. What it lacks in title, however, this cookbook more than makes up for with the quality of the recipes. And it has pictures!

I've posted plenty of recipes from the book already (typically with lots of adaptations). There was the totally amazing potato and sea vegetable soup.

Of course, we quickly fell in love with the corn fritters.

At Christmas, just after getting the book, Andy and I made a big brekky cook-up featuring the Creamy Breakfast Mushrooms.

And I wowed all the non-vegans with the beautiful and delicious Black Forest Chocolate Cake (topped with Urban Vegan's Macho Fudge Sauce).

Andy had a go at the croissants, and was frustrated with the lack of direction provided but the end result was delicious anyways.

Our results from this cookbook haven't been perfect, but I expect that has as much to do with our cooking as the recipes. For instance, we had a go at the Egg-Free Omelette, using far more tofu than was called for, but less (and different) veggies. When it came time to flip the omelette, Andy tried to slide/shake the omelette onto a plate, as the recipe suggested, and we ended up with an epic fail.

The scramble that resulted, while not pretty, was really yummy and something we'll try again in future.

We also tried the ravioli (from Tapenade and Yogurt Ravioli with Calaloo Sauce) which was good but not great.

One of our most desired recipes from the book, based on the photo, was the Wild Rice and Lentil Quenelles in Tomato Sauce. We used all brown rice instead of while rice, but otherwise kept to the recipe and found they tasted a bit healthy. They were also far less beautiful than the cookbook photo. (With salad, potatoes and risotto balls.)

There are still heaps of recipes I want to try, like the Crispy, Stuffed Peppadew Peppers (baked, not fried!), Savoury Cookie Swirls, Inca Parcels (leaves stuffed with amaranth filling), Haggis, Sunday Roast Drumsticks, and Banoffee & Quinoa Custard Pie.

In all, we kind of love this cookbook.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Things I eat when I'm home alone.

For some reason, I am a very lazy cook when Andy goes away. I don't know why – I love cooking, and I love eating, but I kind of can't be bothered for just me. So I tend to eat a lot of quick things, like noodles. Sometimes I don't even bother with food and just have a juice-meal.

Every now and then, however, I muster some motivation and come up with some pretty good results.

For St Patrick's Day I made a tiny loaf of Irish Soda Bread, from Joy of Vegan Baking. This was enough for me to have dinner and breakfast the next day (with ginger marmalade, yum).

With my soda bread, I had a small batch of Potatoes with 40 cloves of Garlic from Urban Vegan, and also which I saw on Nigella Cooks the weekend before. The squishy roasty garlic went really well on the bread.

A whole block of slightly-jiggly tofu without much flavouring is a major turn-off to some, but I kinda dig the flavour of plain tofu. I did marinate the outside of it for a bit in soy sauce and sesame oil before sprinkling some sesame seeds and nori flakes on top and baking.

Since the oven was on, I made Porcupine Potatoes, inspired by the Radioactive Vegan, sweet potato medallions, and a bit of roasted garlic. I also had a giant salad of cos lettuce which was reduced to clear, with creamy miso dressing. And a flashback to my childhood – quick pickled cucumbers (cucumbers, vinegar, sugar and salt, left to sit for a few hours or a few weeks). We used to call them 'super pickles' and eat them like there was no tomorrow.

Tofu scramblde doesn't require much inspiration, nor effort, although this one did have ceylon spinach from the garden which is a bit of a pain to harvest.

With a few onions that really needed using, and inspiration from VegNews magazine, I successfully made caramelised onions for the first time ever. I usually get impatient and burn them. They made a beautiful topping for foccaccia.

Seitan burgers from the freezer are a great home-alone dinner, especially with a quick side of home fries, and a pile of Ceylon spinach (quickly wilted by putting it in a colander and pouring boiling water over it). And a dill pickle, because I really love pickles.

My fruit-shopping requirements are eased when friends drop off backyard bananas, perfect for adding to morning muesli and smoothies.

In preparation for dinner with a friend of mine, I made some BBQ sauce based on Pomegranate BBQ Sauce from VwaV. Instead of pomegranate molasses, I used plum sauce which goes really well with the five-spice in the recipe. I poured it over some tofu to have for dinner the night I made it (with plenty left for later), with cooked rice and cucumbers and eventually made into yummy wraps.

For a nice relaxed weekend breakfast I made Pumpkin Pie Pancakes from Vegan Planet, which were a little disappointing.

Both the pumpkin and the spice were hardly noticeable.

And finally, to cap off a massive post, I marked easter weekend by attempting Hot Cross Buns. But I'm not religious, and my cross material was hard to work with, so I made maths symbols instead – plus signs, minus signs, multiplication signs, a fraction, and division signs. Here they are before baking.

Unfortunately, they didn't go so well. The tops didn't brown and just got kind of dry and crunchy, and the bottoms overbrowned and went chewy.

But they were edible, and saved me walking to the store.  And that's really what most of my single-food is about -- minimal effort.  Now that Andy is home, however, we have been cooking exciting things again.