Monday, May 31, 2010

Beans, Beans...

Despite the Aussie-Aussie-oi-ness of a breakfast like beans on toast, it isn't a meal Andy and I have very often.  Andy finds tinned baked beans mushy, not to mention the fact that they are sweet (in a weird way) and not that great.  So baked beans was something we rarely ever thought about, unless we splurged on a pack of veggie hotdogs.  But after travelling to Sydney in February and having brunch at the fabulous Naked Espresso, we both realised that baked beans on toast can be good, especially for breakfast.  So, they have recently entered our repertoire for breakfasts and brinners.

Beans on toast is surprisingly one of those dishes that you can tweak a bit to make it seem fancier than it is.  For instance, try serving in a bread bowl.  The only problem with this was we wanted way more beans than fit into the bread.  After photos were taken, the rolls were drowned in saucy beans.

Or, you can try serving with a boutique bread.  This is Brown Bread.  It was actually a bit of a fail, but it has great potential.  I followed the recipe from Vegan Planet but used the method for skillet cornbread because I wanted crunchy crusts.  What we got was a dry, heavy bread which was fine with beans but not good on its own.

My final verdict -- Beans on toast: better than you'd think!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pottering around.

A few weeks (months??) ago I mentioned I was taking a pottery class.  Well, dear readers, said pottery class is now finished and while I may not be a Master Potter, I do have a few finished pieces.  You asked for photos, and you shall receive...

Pinch pot.  The first time I put my hands in clay in years.  Suprisingly, kneading clay is a lot like making bread.  Glazed in a matte greenish glaze.

Pinch pot 2.  This one is an oblong, and is cleverly (okay, accidentally) tri-toned.  Half is dipped in a browny-red, and half in a whitish-green, and where they overlapped I was surprised with a dark brown.

Pinch pot three, this one shallow and very ashtray-like.  And oh so creatively stamped with swirlies inside.

This is a bowl, upside down, made by putting stamped clay into a mould. 

Around the rim, I stamped a coil for my very uneven and amateurish top.

Here is the whole first-batch of pots.  All of these were made in the first class and then glazed.  We've had them at the house for a few weeks and like using them for mise-en-place, holding garnishes at the table, and sauces.  And the big bowl has become a favourite for soup, porridge, pasta, etc.  After finishing these, I moved onto my most favourite piece...

A cake plate.  This one is made by two methods, which makes it multi-purpose.  The plate is moulded from coral-stamped clay pieces and the stand is a coil pot.  But wait for it...

Flip it over and the coil pedestal becomes a dip bowl at the center of a plate.  Wahoo!

Check out that coil action!

Finally, it was onto the wheel.  This was not such a success.  As a leftie, I found it very tricky to handle the clay which spun at me in the opposite direction to where I was comfortable.  Plus, my hand-eye coordination is not my greatest strenght.  The results:

They are small and lopsided and fairly useless (though I have fashioned two into candle holders and will be passing them on to people who are obligated to love them -- mothers!), but I kind of like them.

Lastly, I made a soap dish which you can just see in this photo, which was a gift for a friend.

I won't be going into business as a potter anytime soon, but it was fun to play in clay and get dirty and actually create things.  And it feels pretty cool to eat off of something that you made yourself.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The best laid plans...

My blog-buddy, facebook friend and email penpal Hannah has recently been subjected to an icky time.  Travelling the world sounds pretty awesome, but she came back to Australia to be met with surgery and a terribly unpleasant housesitting gig.  So I decided to send some cookies, because that's kind of what I do.  (And how appropriate that I am posting about this today, on Hannah's birthday.)

I thought and thought about which cookies would be best to send.  Then I remembered Hannah's appreciation for peanut butter + chocolate, and thought Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks would be appropriate.  Then I had a flashback to my pregan undergraduate days, when the university catering services provided the most delicious peanut butter filled chocolate cookies at special events.  It was like a light bulb went off in my head -- that was what I was going to do!

I made two batches of dough, both following recipes from Vegan with a Vengeance.  For the peanut butter, I followed the "crunchy peanut butter cookies" recipe; for chocolate I made the dough for "jam thumbprints" -- minus the jam, of course.  I let my doughs rest in the fridge overnight, as I do with all cookie doughs, so the flour can properly absorb the fats and flavours.

When it came time to bake, I decided to be more creative than just one type of biscuit.  I had half-and-halfs; choc-filled peanut butter biscuits; peanut butter-filled choc biscuits; swirls; and other fun designs.

I baked them, pulled them out of the oven and let them cool on the pan for a few minutes.  Then I started transferring them to a cooling rack, and that is where the proverbial cookie crumbled.  The peanut butter was not crispy -- in fact, it sort of dissolved upon contact.  It was like loosely-bound flour with a peanut butter flavour.  FAIL.

I was very sad that my wonderful idea didn't work, but I managed to salvage enough cookies whose foundations were chocolate -- the firmer of the two biscuit components -- and sent a few off to Hannah.

Andy and I were forced (oh the horrors!) to eat the remaining biscuits.  They were tasty and a good idea, but in future I'm going to try different peanut butter cookie recipes and will hopefully not get such a failure.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Queensland had a string of long weekends in April/May, and instead of hanging around the house wondering what to do with ourselves, Andy and I decided we were going to hike on one of these days.  One of the things that is so wonderful about Townsville is how close we are to some very beautiful and very diverse natural areas.  We picked Alligator Creek as our target for the 17km hike it offers.

We prepared by making some granola, along with Urban Vegan's Super Sonic Sunflower Squares, some gingernut biscuits, and bananas for snacking on.

And for lunch when we finished, I made some chickpea flour breadsticks -- because we were out of plain flour, so these are gluten free.  They were a bit stale by the time we ate them, but they were yummy fresh from the oven. (Note: they are shaped specifically to maximise dipping potential.)

We also made sure to look up the route, to make sure we had an idea of what we were in for.  
Then on Monday morning we set off bright and early with a backpack full of suncream, insect repellent, and food.  
We had walked the first 2 km of this hike one Christmas, which brought us up to Cockatoo Creek.  Based on that first leg of the hike, we expected slightly hilly and undulating terrain, but in fact the first two kms were probably the most difficult of the whole walk.

After crossing Cockatoo Creek, the ground levelled off and mostly followed the powerlines.  The trail crosses the creek several times, and most of the creeks were still full of water -- thanks to a drawn-out wet season.  Most of these we were able to cross without getting our feet wet by using stepping stones.

Some, however, were wide and stone-less.

They were also deceptively deep, and cold to boot.
We had to get our feet wet three times before we reached our destination.  
We munched on granola and bananas as we walked through forests and grassy areas.  At the very end of the trail, there was about 10 minutes of climbing over boulders and suddenly we happened upon Alligator Creek Falls.  The first view of it was impressive.

But then we climbed around a tree for a better look and realised it was huge, and gorgeous.

A bit more scrambling over boulders and we found a comfy place to lounge, eat food, and watch the falls.

We were visited by a few yabbies, who tickled my feet as they dangled in the water, and then nommed on some granola with us.

I did some yoga stretches to limber up before the walk back.

And then we headed out.  By the time we got back it was nearly 3 pm, and I was starving.  We grabbed the picnic out of the car boot and chowed down.

We were very tired when we got home, and our legs and bums were sore the next day, but we have decided that we need to go hiking more often.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fun with Pastry

When it gets cold (like it is now, brr!), Andy and I eat a lot of oven meals.  And that tends to lend itself to wrapping things in pastry.  Which is delicious, and while not exactly the healthiest way to eat things, it does make them flaky and buttery-tasting and delicious.

Sometimes we make our own pastry, like we did for these mini quiches.  The crust recipe comes courtesy of The Blooming Platter, known as press-in pie crust.  The idea of not rolling out dough was very appealing, and this crust was quite easy.  It was a bit crumbly for us, possibly because we used silicon cupcake pans and so the pressing didn't pack the crust in as much as firm moulds would have done.  For the filling, a variation on the Global Vegan's chickpea omelette.  We found that recipe about three years ago and still love it.  It's a bit dense for a quiche filling, so next time we might try blending in some tofu or beans, but it is tasty.

More often, however, we take advantage of the readily available frozen vegan pastry.  It makes for delicious sausage rolls -- filled with a blended-up mix of leftover baked beans and oats.  Andy said these were the best sausage rolls we've ever made.

Frozen puff pastry also makes it possible to throw together a quick dessert for those nights when dinner seems like it won't be enough.  A tarte tatin, as I understand it, is an upside-down fruit tart.  I didn't look up a recipe, but just put sliced apples in a pie pan.  I sprinkled brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg over the top, and then laid a piece of pastry down.  It came out of the oven looking like this:

Then I quickly flipped it onto a plate and we had this:

It was very yummy, but I was regretting the lack of custard to go with it.

Sometimes even tarte tatin seems too difficult.  On one of those nights, I made a fancy-looking but very simple banana-choc turnover.  Chocolate spread and sliced bananas folded inside a square of pastry and then brushed with a mixture of soymilk and cinnamon.  This was delicious, and took about 2 minutes to make.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creek to Coast

This adventure happened a few weeks ago now, which just shows how slack I have been lately.

Upon finishing a final draft of my PhD, I found myself with lots of free time and a very good mood.  The draft is currently being read by my supervisors and the people I've written about for final feedback, and they have indicated I'll have only minor revisions before I submit.  So, yay!  To celebrate, Andy and I drove a bit north for a picnic.

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Bluewater is a creek and a suburb, about 30 minutes north of the city.  It's like a small town -- it has a school and a scout hall but not much else happening.  But who needs organised excitement when you have natural beauty?

Andy and I had never been up to Bluewater, and we thought we should remedy that while there is still water around.  The creek itself wasn't so exciting.  We visited two parks with swimming access, and neither was more than waist-deep.  But the water wasn't too cold, so in we went.  We utilised some picnic tables to chow down on olives, hummus & crackers, and leftover baked beans.  Then we spied the "Bluewater Urban Forest", which is just a fancy name for a fitness loop.  Upon seeing some of the playground-meets-workout equipment, I got excited and run to climb up.

I noticed just in the nick of time, however, that something was not quite right about this climbing thingie, particularly the top rung.  On closer inspection, I noticed this guy:
Neither Andy nor I are snake experts, but Andy was fairly certain that the small head and bright belly was an indication of deadly-ness, so we steered clear.  (We got home and googled and realised that it is a common tree snake -- harmless.)

We admired some flowers and gum trees, and that was pretty much Bluewater.

So we drove over to the other side of the highway to see what Toolakea Beach had to offer.  Answer: even less in the way of organised excitement, and a saltwater version of the natural beauty.
The tide was low, so lots of little crabbies were out, running around like mobs and then promptly burying themselves when we came too close.

It threatened to rain on us, but luckily we stayed in front of the interface until we got home, tired but glad we had explored a little bit more of the place we have lived for years now.