Sunday, April 29, 2012

Flourless Cake

Let's get back to the food, shall we?

I made this cake the weekend before we moved, to help clear out the pantry and celebrate Andy's graduation. It was pretty simple to put together, is a fantastic flavour combination, and is gluten free (if you use the right baking powder). It's moist and dense and a little bit crumbly, and the sort of cake that, if left in the middle of the table, people keep reaching for more. I found the recipe here. I made some minor adjustments to suit our pantry (adding coconut, which was a delicious addition) and to include okara instead of yogurt. I also stupidly added cream of tartar, instead of baking powder, and realised at the last minute and quickly stirring in some baking powder. This didn't really seem to make a difference, though I guess I won't know unless I make it again. In any case, here is the recipe. I highly recommend that you make this. Of course if you don't have okara, soy yogurt or even silken tofu would work. And I used egg replacer powder + water, but use your preferred substitute for 2 eggs.

Flourless Blueberry-Lemon Polenta Cake

3/4 c. raw sugar
1/4 c. vegan butter
2 tsp. egg replacer powder
4 Tbsp. water
1 c. almond meal
1/3 c. desiccated coconut
3/4 c. polenta (corn meal)
1 tsp. baking powder
zest and juice of 1 lemon
100 mL wet okara (sub with yogurt or blended silken tofu)
1 1/2 c. frozen blueberries

Heat oven to 180C (350F). Lightly grease a loaf pan. Cream together sugar and butter in a large bowl. In a small bowl or a jug, whisk egg replacer powder and water until foamy, then add 2 Tbsp. of the almond meal and whisk until creamy. Add this to the sugar/butter. Then mix in remaining almond meal, coconut, polenta, baking powder (NOT cream of tartar), lemon zest and juice, and okara. Stir until well combined, then add 1 c. of the blueberries and fold them through. Dump it into the pan and press it down, then sprinkle with the remaining blueberries and press them into the top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until it is set nearly all the way through. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes or so, then flip out and cool fully. Store in the fridge if you're keeping it for any more than a day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New House!

We were supposed to settle on our house last Tuesday. Planner and list-maker that I am, I had a very specific idea of how the day would go. We'd pick up the keys Tuesday afternoon, do a bit of cleaning in the new place, move a small load of stuff in, and then the next morning moving would begin in earnest. And we needed to be in by Wednesday, because we were handing over the keys to our flat on Friday - and we had carpet cleaners coming Thursday morning, and fumigators Friday morning. So, carefully timed, extensively planned operation.

You can possibly imagine my stress when we got a call from the solicitor on Tuesday lunch time, telling us the sellers couldn't settle. We ended up being allowed to move in early anyways, and the place finally settled on Tuesday this week - 7 days late. Everything went smoothly, despite the legal hiccup, and luckily I had cupcakes to absorb some of my stress levels.
Vanilla bean cupcakes, with the last of the rainbow sprinkles stirred into the batter.

Now that we're in, this place definitely feels like home. Nacho didn't think so when she first got here. She walked around, hissing at no one in particular, crouched low to the ground and jumping at Every Little Noise. But after about a day and a half, she relaxed and claimed the space as her own. Now she spends every evening and most mornings running around, full of beans, up and down the hall. She especially seems to love losing her footing on the slidy wood floors as she scrambles around corners.  She also managed to sneak into an awful lot of the photos I took of the house last week, so it kind of looks like she's giving you a tour. So I will let her do the work!

Before we moved, all of our stuff piled up in the garage.

The living room is nice and bright and airy, and the dark wood floor is a perfect canvas to show off all the cat hair.

This is what it looks like from the living room into the rest of the front space. Behind the dining table is a cat-access to the kitchen. The room with the lino flooring is currently a junk room, full of empty boxes purrfect for playing in.
The kitchen is a bit squeezy, and the cabinets are almost too high for a kitteh to jump on top of. Almost. That room you can see into at the other end of the kitchen is Andy's room.

The epic hallway of happy-fun-times! Look at all the doorways a cat can hide behind!

Theresa's room at the end of the house, which is full of empty suitcases at the moment but will become a craft room, a guest bedroom, a yoga/pilates room, and a room full of lovely things.

That's about it for the inside, and since Nacho doesn't go out of the house, I'll have to show you that another time!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Moving out cleaning

We've lived in our current flat for 4 years and 9 months. But the longest lease we were ever allowed to sign was 12 months. And since 2010, our employment/living situation has been a bit uncertain. So since we moved in, in 2007, we've always thought we would move out sort of soon. As a result, we avoided the sort of regular cleaning that you might do if you knew you were staying a while - why clean now, when we'll just have to do it at the end of our lease? I don't mean that we lived in a dump-hole. Our house was regularly tidy, and I always kept kitchen, bathroom, and living areas clean. I'm talking about the less-necessary cleaning -- getting dirt out of window tracks, cleaning windows, getting oil spots off garage floors...

Well, now we're at the end of our lease, and we had about 5 years of built-up dirt to clean up. We're fairly unwilling to spend money on cleaning products, though, especially since most are pretty terrible for health and the environment. But we do have a few nearly-empty bottles of things, and our natural cleaning products. And with these, plus a lot of elbow grease, we've been able to get everything pretty clean.

Vertical Blinds. Ours are vinyl, and were pretty dusty and a bit mouldy. We took each vinyl strip down, removed the plastic inserts, and soaked them in boiling water with a tiny bit of bleach (we got half a bottle of laundry bleach with a second-hand washing machine we bought once). When the water cooled, we scrubbed them with a sponge and then hung outside to dry. They look like new!

Curtains. These were already very faded, but had some water & dirt marks from open windows. We took them down and hand washed in some hot water and laundry detergent, and then carefully hung out to dry without getting wrinkles. They're still faded, and the stains didn't disappear, but it's good enough for us.

Oil spots. Luckily, there were some oil spots on the garage floor when we moved in, so the ones from Andy's car don't stand out so much. But, there was an obvious distinction between old and new oil spots. We had a bottle of floor cleaner (from god knows where) which claimed to cut through grease and grime. I squirted that onto the spots and scrubbed (and scrubbed) with a stiff brush. After rinsing and drying, all the spots look old and some are barely visible.

Carpet stains. We only had one - a cat puke stain, from when Nacho ate a shoelace, and we were a bit too busy and preoccupied to clean the carpet properly. I got this up with just a bit of bicarb soda and vinegar. First, I made a paste of bicarb soda and water, and scrubbed that into the carpet with a brush. Then we sprayed with vinegar water and let it fizz up. Blot with paper (or rags) and let dry over night. In the morning, it had dried and was a bit crusty, so I just used a dry brush to break up the crust, and then vacuumed. Be warned, though, that this will leave a clean spot in the middle of an otherwise kind of dingy carpet.

General cleaning. I made a mix of dish soap, vinegar, clove oil, and eucalyptus oil, and that has been a really effective all-purpose cleaner. This is going to be my go-to cleaning product from now on, I think. It cuts through soap scum in the shower, kills mould (from the clove oil), and disinfects (from the eucalyptus oil). Spray it on, let it sit a minute, and then wipe or scrub (depending on how dirty!). Leaves bathrooms shiny as, and gets regular smudginess of painted walls and doors.

Windows. This is hardly original, but vinegar + water sprayed on glass, and then wiped until perfectly dry with newspaper gets windows crystal clear. I do it with one wet newspaper, one dry newspaper, for maximum efficiency.

Outside tiles. Our pavers were covered with something green - moss? algae? I don't know what. But it happens every wet season, and our real estate has been cranky about it before. So we've gotten good at this one - all it takes is scrubbing. With a stiff brush. Scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, and then washing the dirty residue away with water.

Kitchen bench top. Our counter top gets a bit dingy, so every few months (and especially now) I clear everything off of it, sprinkle dry bicarb soda all over, and scrub it in with a damp sponge. Pay particular attention to any stains (around our tea pot is a bad spot, and near the stove where turmeric-stained spoons get set on the counter). After it's all been scrubbed hard, spritz with vinegar, and then rinse off.

A few more things... Those gimmicky "magic erasers" work only sometimes, but where they were really effective for us was on greasy things - the inside of the oven-window, the top of the cabinet above the stove (which was surprisingly grotty!). Andy's parents washed down the walls, using a mop, with sugar soap, and then washed it off with methylated spirits + water. This made the walls look really good. Some bits of wall had caked on sticky tape - WD40 and a scour-y microfibre cloth got rid of this. Window tracks came clean with a rag stuffed down into the track with a pen cap.

Basically, it was mostly elbow grease and natural products, with a few chemical-y things thrown in that got our place sparkle-arkly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Home Resolutions

Today is moving day - the removalists are scheduled to arrive at the moment this post goes live (whether they are early or late remains to be seen, however) to haul our biggest furniture items 5km down the road on our behalf. We'll be following with boxes and bags and bins full of all our stuff. Now seems like a good time, better than the New Year even, to make some resolutions for life in our new house.

Waste less
I'm keenly aware of how much stuff we just threw away in the process of moving - even though we donated all we could, there were a number of things we had that just weren't give-away-able. This is mostly because we have a habit of using things to death, which is kind of a good thing. But I would also like to take the opportunity of moving house to make an effort to reduce the amount of stuff that comes into our house, and the amount of garbage that goes out.

In our regular, not-moving-house life, we don't throw away too much, thanks to the worm farm we've kept for a few years now. And with 770 square meters of yard, we will have space for a big compost pile as well - which will accommodate our weekly kitty litter dumps (we use recycled paper litter). So this will reduce our weekly trash already. But I'm also going to try to adopt strategies to avoid buying things with excessive packaging, short life spans, or things we just don't need. Suggestions in this area are more than welcome.

Grow All the Things!
Something I've been looking forward to since the remotest possibility of getting a house has entered our lives has been the future things we will grow. My dream, perhaps unrealistic, is to have a garden in which everything is edible. The house we are moving into has a few established plants, but plenty of empty space to play with. The things already growing include a hibiscus, which makes me happy because I love hibiscus tea. There are some things we'll need to take out - like some small clumps of palms that will get big and annoying. I've also got short-term plans for papaya trees, pineapples, and herbs of all kinds. And down the track we'll branch into ginger and turmeric, citrus, bananas, and of course a veggie patch full of wonderful produce. To maximise our space, I am going to try out this rocking vertical garden for herbs and greens. We're lucky to have some very handy gardeners within our circle of friends, and have been promised seedlings and cuttings and small plants already, so that will be a good way to kick things off.

Become a more sophisticated Saver
Andy and I have been pretty good at saving money. First on two PhD scholarships, and then on one scholarship + 1 half-time salary, we managed to save a fairly sizable down payment.  We did it by not spending much - buying very little, getting things second-hand, eating out almost never. This suited our lifestyle, and didn't feel like we were being deprived in any way. But the fact is, for the last 5+ years, we have been saving for just one thing, and our only regular expenses were food, rent, electricity, and the car. When we needed to spend more than usual, for a trip, or for a vet emergency, or a new washing machine, we could just take it out of our pot of house-money.

Now, though, we have entered the world of regular fortnightly mortgage repayments. And annual home insurance bills. And bi-annual rates. And maintenance and home repairs. So although we'll be saving $13,000 a year in rent, we won't be $13,000 a year richer. And now, in addition to spending most of our money on paying back our home loan as quickly as possible, I would also like to have other pots of money working towards the odd holiday, home improvements like solar panels (and maybe a new kitchen, long-term plan), and things of that nature. So I think I'll need to learn about budgeting and being deliberate with money in more depth.

Talk to the neighbours
In the flat where we have spent the past five years, we barely say hello to the people in the same unit block, let alone people in houses next door and across the road. When we moved in, some of our neighbours would avoid eye contact when they bumped into us in the driveway, making it hard for me to say "Hi! Let's be friends!" even though I sometimes wanted to. After a while there, though, neighbours change and we have at least said hello to everyone, even though we're not chummy with anyone.

In our new house, I'd like to try to be a bit more social and community-minded. This will be easy with at least one of the neighbours, who I already know from work. And hopefully she can ease the introductions with other people nearby, so I don't have the constant tension between wanting to know and like (and especially, to be liked!) by everyone, and also being terribly shy around new people.

Get a dog
We're already working on this one...

These are the things I have in my head before we even get our stuff into the house.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dr Andy

We took an entire day off yesterday, doing absolutely nothing related to moving house, because it was time to celebrate something else entirely.

After starting university as a future engineer in 2002, switching to marine biology in 2003, doing an undergrad degree, an honours, and then a PhD, Dr Andy has graduated.

And I managed to coerceconvince him to go through the ceremony, so he donned his best Hogwart's robes, put on his floppy hat, but we couldn't find the wands. Congratulations, Doc!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cleaning out the Kitchen

As I said in a previous post, we have been doing our best, in the past few weeks, to clear as much out of our kitchen as possible. Instead of shopping, we have been emptying out the pantry, fridge&freezer, and garden. We have been buying fresh veggies still, because duh. But we have gotten our cabinets down to practically empty.

This is where we were up to on Wednesday morning.
Freezer: 2 blocks of flavoured tofu, 1 block of plain tofu, bread, 2 ice bottles (for keeping our food cool when we move), pumpkin ice cubes for Nacho, 2 seitan steaks, 3 pumpkin muffins, 1 jar of mango chunks, 1 jar of chickpeas, a handful of blueberries.


Pantry cabinet 1

Pantry cabinet 2

Pantry cabinet 3

Okay, so we still have a lot of food. But we have been focusing our eating-efforts on things we knew we could finish off in the timeframe. So a huge thing of chickpeas, and the 4 jars of jam Andy brought home from a field trip, weren't included in our list (you bet I made a list).

Eating down the pantry, for us, has meant eating pretty well. Here are some of the yummy things we've had so far...
 Remember when we bought 22 packages of sweet chilli flavoured tofu for 20cents each? We weren't even halfway through them when Andy brought home a few more packages of other-flavoured tofu, left over from a field trip which was massively over-catered. We're down to two, finally, thanks to meals like this one. Tofu, fried briefly. Also, brussels sprouts with leek, spinach, and the last of a jar of vegan bacon bits from the US. And basil potato salad in the background. The dressing for this salad used up a tin of coconut milk, a bunch of basil from the garden, and some capers from the fridge.

Pasta, from the pantry. Sauce, made from 3 tins of tomatoes, the last of a jar of tomato paste, some sundried tomatoes, the end of a jar of capers, a jar of artichoke hearts, and some green olives. And a heap of basil from the garden.

 Pizza/focaccia. In front, caramelised onion and za'atar focaccia. In the back, hawaiian pizza, which used up a block of seitan from the freezer and a tin of pineapple from the pantry.

Tapioca pudding, which used up all the big tapioca pearls, a tin of coconut milk, some bananas from the freezer, and some of the rainbow sprinkles from the pantry.

Black bean tortilla chip soup (based closely on the recipe from La Dolce Vegan), which used up a jar of frozen black beans, a chilli from the freezer, spinach from the garden, some chips, and a whole bunch of garlic chives from the garden.

Chickpea & seitan green curry. This used up a jar of frozen chickpeas, the last of the seitan blocks in the freezer, some garden spinach, all of the brown rice, a tin of coconut milk, a bit of ginger from the freezer, and the rest of a jar of green curry paste.

A green smoothie, which used the last of the frozen pineapple and bananas, and some spinach from the garden.

So not too much to go yet, but we still won't be eating like paupers, if the past fortnight has been any indication!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Eats

Our four-day long weekend was well-timed before our move in a week, allowing us plenty of time to do some deep cleaning, de-cluttering, and begin the packing process. It was also a good opportunity to do our fair share of eating.  We started, naturally, with dessert.

Friday morning, the first thing I did was to put on a batch of hot cross buns. I had extra cross-mixture, so some became star buns. And one was a bit blobby. Because, hey, why not?

These were the very best hot cross buns I have ever made, ever. Ever. They were the perfect texture - soft, and just a little bit doughy, chewy, full of mixed fruit. We used the recipe from Vegan Bake Sale but only used mixed fruit instead of blueberries and whatever else the recipe calls for. We also left off the glaze, because we like our buns un-sticky and not too sweet.

Since we had the oven on, and we had 4 less-than-ideal apples in the crisper drawer, I also threw together an apple crumble. I used the recipe for Trailview Inn Apple Crumble, from the Girls' Night In chapter of Celebrate Vegan. There is an alarming amount of sugar in this recipe, but let me tell you - it is totally worth it. It sort of melts around the apples and mixes with their juice to create a delicious caramel sauce, topped with crispy delicious oat topping.

We ate ours cold, with hot coconut custard. And it was so good.

It wasn't all sweets, though. I had also been prepping for a few days, getting ready to make a big Ethiopian dinner. Using Mel's recipe for Injera, I finally opened by bag of teff flour. I fed my starter for 5 days, made my batter, and then started cooking the injera.

It was all full of promise, so when the first one didn't work, I didn't mind - the first pancake/crepe/flatbread is often a dud.

When they kept not working - sticking badly to the pan - I switched to pikelet-sized injeras, because at least they are easier to scrape from the pan without completely mangling. Let me be clear that I don't blame Mel's recipe - something about my batter, my climate, my cooking technique, my pan... it just didn't work. And the injera was a bit too sour for my liking. So I will try another recipe, if I can be bothered making this ever again.

By the time I was done with the injera, my feelings towards my Ethiopian feast were a bit battered. But, Andy noticed my grumpiness and came to take over. He made some mesir wat while I put together a shiro. This was our first time making shiro, again following Mel's recipe. This was really good, and I will make it again - with just a tad more chickpea flour, and more berbere (not Mel's recipe's fault - we ran out).

We did get a feast, in the end, and were too full to eat any of our desserts. Good thing we started with them!

This was all appropriate fuel for our cleaning spree, during which Nacho slept. And slept and slept. I've seriously never seen this cat so lethargic. Must be the change in weather, and the coming upheaval, that made her feel so lounge-y.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Cleaning out the Computer

In preparation for moving, Andy and I have been slowly clearing out our closets, shelves, and other storage spaces. We're giving away as much as we can, but some things are just not good enough to give away and they have made their way to the bin. Still, Salvo's has been rolling in a fair bit of our stuff. Likewise, we've begun the process of clearing out the kitchen, eating as much as we can from the pantry and freezer, rather than doing much shopping. Now also seems like a good time to clean out my photos from my computer, even though they won't take up any physical space, or need to be packed or unpacked, or make moving more complicated. But there is something cathartic about cleaning out old stuff, so I've been doing with photos what I'm doing with our stuff - throwing out the ones that are just not good enough, and the rest I post here, in this mish mash of random food photos.

Carrot salad with nigella seeds and lime juice.

Rice paper rolls filled with tofu, noodles, carrot & capsicum.

Fronch Toast made with Irish Soda Bread. Not as good as I hoped.

BBQ Seitan Ribs, lemon pepper green beans, American potatoes.

Hemp & sesame seed biscuits. Variation of a recipe from Celebrate Vegan.

Rambutan from the market.

Fried rice.

Fluffy maple banana pancakes.

Nachos with bean & veggie topping, and mango salsa.

Curried sausages with mashed potatoes.

Lime & Poppy Tempeh with chokoes and quinoa. Tempeh recipe from Urban Vegan.

Spaghetti con Salsa Fresca, recipe from Urban Vegan.

Black bean burger with guacamole.

Nacho on a shelf.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Pressure Cooker Risotto - the good, and the disastrous

A few weeks ago Andy got himself a full-time job (which is how we can afford to buy a house). So we're both a bit busy, and relying on easy-quick dinners many nights. One thing that we discovered at the start of the year is pressure-cooker risotto. I use the term 'risotto' quite loosely, because it is really more of a sloppy, saucy rice than the creamy, lovingly-stirred rice that is risotto. But, it's easy, it's tasty, and it hits the spot. And it's modular - we usually have pumpkin and olives, but sometimes use spinach, other times zucchini, and so on. So it's a great weeknight dinner. Most of the time. (Cautionary tale of disaster and woe beneath the recipe!)

2 T. olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
750 mL vegetable stock
2 c. chopped pumpkin
a handful of kalamata olives
spinach leaves

Heat oil in a pressure cooker pan and cook onions until translucent. Add garlic and stir, then add rice and cook, stirring, until the rice smells toasty. Add pumpkin and stock, put on lid, and bring it all up to pressure. Cook at high pressure for 6 to 9 minutes (we leave it on the heat for 7 minutes, then turn off the stove and let it sit for another 2). Cool by running cold water over the pressure cooker lid. Open, stir in olives and spinach, and let stand uncovered until all the liquid is absorbed. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Now, one night a few weeks ago, we got home especially late (for us, about 6.00) because we were signing the contract for our new house. So we were excited, and tired, and hungry, and perhaps a bit over-ambitious. We had some leftover potato-leek soup in the fridge. Andy wanted to mix it in to the risotto at the end of cooking, like cream. I thought there was too much, but said it would be fine to use the soup instead of stock. So we sauteed our veggies, toasted the rice, poured in some soup and a bit of extra water, and put everything on to come up to pressure. And started to smell a horrible smell. Again, I said, it will be fine, we'll just avoid scraping the bottom when it's done cooking so we don't stir up the burnt bit. But after a few minutes, and an increasingly bad smell, we had to abort. We opened the cooker to find a blackened, stanky mess.

We hate, hate, wasting food. So we tried to salvage the pumpkin. Andy scooped it out, I washed the burnt rice off, and we put it in a tupperware. Later, we realised the burnt smell was embedded in the flavour of the pumpkin, and our work was a waste - the pumpkin went into the bin anyways.

We burned some oil, to try to get rid of the smell. Still, for at least a day afterwards, our place (and my hair, and hands) had a residual burnt-risotto smell.

But this left us hungry and food-less, and 7pm was quickly arriving. Andy thought on his feet, pulled some veggie burgers out of the freezer, and started cooking up a mixture of red onion, the olives & spinach we hadn't yet added to our disastrous risotto, and some frozen red capsicum. Meanwhile, I started building the burgers - and disaster struck again, as the tin of beetroot spilled all over the bench.

But eventually, we got our messes cleaned up. We overcame our disasters. We ate burgers and celebrated buying a house.

So I can see at least three morals to this story: (1) good things and bad things happen, and you just have to get over the bad stuff and focus on the good; (2) pressure cooker risotto is a great time-saving meal, so long as you use stock and not soup; and (3) always open beetroot over the sink.