Wednesday, 4 March 2015

cayenne, mint & bay leaf tea (and it's more than just a tea!)

Cayenne, mint, and bay leaf tea. A herbal drink to enjoy hot or iced.

Hello, everyone! It's been a while. I've been busy with some freelance work, and have thus neglected this blog. The lack of work-life balance is really not cool, though, so I'm going to take a step back, and try to regain some measure of blogging momentum.

Here is a simple cayenne, mint and bay leaf tea that is more than just a tea. More about that in a moment, but as a beverage, this tea possesses a certain intrigue with the use of bay leaves. The distinct fragrance of bay leaf lends a pleasant sense of mystery that fascinates the nose and the taste buds. I originally made this for another purpose, but bay leaf tea is definitely now in my tea-drinking repertoire. Apparently bay leaf tea is good for digestion, so that's a benefit to add to the appeal - but mostly, I'm drinking it because I like it.

cayenne, mint & bay leaf tea

2 cups freshly boiled water
4 fresh mint leaves
4 dried bay leaves, torn up
1 pinch cayenne powder

Pour the hot, freshly boiled water over the mint leaves, bay leaves, and cayenne powder in a mug or jug. Stir, cover, and allow the flavours to steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain and add sweetener of your choice, if desired. I like it with a touch of honey. You may drink it while it's still hot to keep yourself cozy, or chill it and add some ice for an invigorating coolness.

Note: Some people simmer the bay leaves with boiling water in a saucepan for a few minutes instead of steeping them. This will likely draw out more flavour, so if you choose this route you can probably use just 2 bay leaves. I was feeling lazy and I thought it would be more convenient to use the electric kettle.

Some cayenne, mint and bay leaf tea, coming up!

But wait, there's more! As I said, there is more to this bay leaf tea, it goes beyond a mere beverage. In fact, I originally created this as a natural insect repellent. That's right! We have had some issues with ants and cockroaches lately, and apparently a combination of cayenne, mint and bay leaf can work to deter both. For the natural insect repellent, I made the solution more potent, adding extra mint, bay leaves and cayenne powder, as per the following:

cayenne, mint & bay leaf insect repellent

2 cups freshly boiled water
1 sprig mint, or 1 mint tea bag
6 dried bay leaves, torn up
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

Almost the same instructions as for the tea recipe above, except I leave the "tea" to sit until it's completely cool, and obviously I don't use any form of sweetener. I then stir the mixture, strain it, and pour the pinkish-orange water into a spray bottle.

I've been using this spicy, aromatic solution in lieu of store-bought detergents to wipe surfaces around the home, so I'm basically using it as a 2-in-1 spray for cleaning surfaces and repelling insects. It works nicely as a cleaner, and while I have not performed any controlled experiments with this, I do observe less insects around. I feel good about using this - it's all natural with edible ingredients, so if I drop some food on the counter and pick it back up, I know that instead of potentially toxic chemicals, it will have traces of mint, bay leaf and cayenne in it. Which is totally fine by me!

Cayenne, mint and bay leaf solution as a natural insect repellent.

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Sunday, 15 February 2015

the incredible and phenomenal journey of the giants to the streets of perth

The Little Girl Giant walks the streets of Perth.

The Giants are in Perth for the weekend!

So, for Valentine's Day, Simon and I spent our Saturday afternoon following giant marionettes up and down the streets of Perth.

The Giants is street performance art, created by Royal de Luxe, a French mechanical marionette street theatre company founded by Jean-Luc Courcoult. Since the 1990s, the Giants spectacular has toured city streets around the world, bringing delight and wonder to their wide-eyed inhabitants.

The summer 2015 event in Australia is titled "The Incredible and Phenomenal Journey of The Giants to the Streets of Perth", with the story unfolding gradually over the course of three days, featuring the main marionette puppet characters of the 6-metre-tall Little Girl Giant and the 11-metre tall Diver Giant.

Giant girl cruises the streets of Perth in a boat, wearing a raincoat to help keep herself dry amidst the splashes!

During her travels, the Little Girl Giant stumbled upon an Aboriginal community, where she was warmly welcomed, and she decided to stay.

One day, however, she realised that she wanted to return to her family again, and embarked upon a voyage across Western Australia in search of her uncle, the Diver Giant.

In the end, the Giants were reunited. They embraced, the Little Girl danced, and on the last day, they both left in a barge for their next exciting journey.

Diver Giant, the Little Girl's uncle.

I was grateful to be part of this unique spectacle - it was crowded, yes, but people were generally quite well-behaved, and it was a truly magical sight to see these giant marionettes trundling the streets of Perth, dwarfing the shops and the people in their presence.

There were several facets to the performance, where in addition to walking the streets, you could observe the Giants partaking in various activities - sleeping, exercising, resting, reading a book, licking ice cream, riding a scooter, taking a shower, changing clothes, drinking water, even doing a wee - in various locations in the Perth city. We didn't catch all of that, but we are happy to have experienced some great moments of the Giants up close. So thank you, Royal de Luxe, for this creative production, and thank you, Perth International Arts Festival and all the sponsors and supporters, for making it happen in Australia. You've got me hooked, and I hope to see the Giants again, somewhere in the world, someday!

Little Girl Giant in Perth, Australia.

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

summer potluck butter bean salad

Summer potluck butter bean salad.

Potlucks are fun. I fret about what I make, and I worry about how they will be received, but I also love thinking about potluck ideas - I get excited about all the possibilities and what I can bring to the table. Not to mention how awesome it is to try all the potluck dishes that everyone else is sharing with the crowd. Ultimately, a potluck is a pretty cool food adventure.

But in addition to potlucks, I want to talk about something else. I have only recently realised that butter beans are actually rather tasty, with their mild flavour and soft, creamy texture. To think all this time I've been ignoring them in the supermarket aisles.

Driven by an impending summer potluck date with friends, and fueled by a desire to make up for lost butter bean time, here's a corn and butter bean salad I created for the occasion. It's supremely wholesome, it's light and refreshing, and it travels well in a container to take to a potluck, or even a picnic if you're feeling outdoorsy. It's also gluten-free and vegan-friendly. Best of all, it's easy to make. No complicated tricks, no cooking required: just a bit of chopping and then tossing it all together, and you've got yourself a sunny salad with a friendly outlook - bright and colourful with an abundance of healthy, delicious ingredients.

summer potluck butter bean salad

2 cans butter beans (cans of approximately 400g / 14oz each)
1 can corn kernels (can of approximately 420g / 15oz) or 1.5 cups fresh corn kernels
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 capsicum / bell pepper, sliced (any colour - I used red)
1 chilli, sliced thinly (any colour - I used green)
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 tablespoons lime juice or lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Drain the cans of butter beans and corn kernels, but reserve 2 tablespoons of liquid from one of the butter bean cans to form part of the salad dressing.
Mix the butter beans, corn kernels, and reserved liquid in a large bowl or container. Add all other ingredients and toss everything together thoroughly.
You may serve the salad immediately, or allow the flavours mingle for a while before eating. It keeps well, so you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge overnight for consumption on the following day.

Assorted vegetables, butter beans, and corn salad for summer picnics and potlucks.

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Saturday, 31 January 2015

grape & yoghurt icy poles / popsicles

Grape & yoghurt icy poles.

It's summer in Australia, and it's hot, hot, HOT. Most of my time is spent indoors, trying to stay comfortable. And alive.

Frozen desserts seemed like a good idea, so when I bought a bucket of green grapes from the farmers' market recently, I soon put them to use, pairing them with honeyed yoghurt to create ice cream on a stick. You can use them fresh as well, but I decided to stew my grapes in coconut oil to soften them and concentrate their sweetness.

I indulged myself in these grape and yoghurt icy poles as an invigorating cold snack any time I felt like I needed a pick-me-up, and the truth is, they are so wholesome that you can eat them for breakfast and pat yourself on the back for a pretty tasty well-balanced start to the day.

grape & yoghurt icy poles / popsicles / ice pops
(makes around 5, depending on the size of your ice cream moulds)

1 cup grapes
1 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil
1 cup unsweetened yoghurt (plain - natural or greek)
1 tablespoon honey 

Slice about a quarter of the grapes in half, leave the rest whole. Cook in coconut oil or olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until soft. Alternatively, you could roast them in the oven.
Mix yoghurt and honey together in a bowl.
You can either stir the grape compote directly into the honeyed yoghurt before spooning it into the ice cream moulds, as I did, or try alternating the mixtures by spooning in the yoghurt and the grapes in turns.
Freeze until solid - this usually takes several hours for me, and I tend to just let them do their thing overnight.
When you would like to eat your grape yoghurt icy poles, run some warm tap water over the moulds to loosen them and gently ease them out.

Yogurt popsicles, studded with grapes.

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

food monkey cafe, northbridge

Perth has a reputation for expensive prices, particularly for eating out, so when some new friends invited me to the relatively new establishment Food Monkey (101 Lake St, Northbridge) for brunch recently, I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable their prices were.

The menu had plenty of food options under the $10 mark, with a few closer to $15 if you feel like splurging a little more. As an unemployed person living off my savings in a foreign state, I appreciated this very much. It's nice to be able to afford to widen my social circle without breaking the bank!

Take this veggie bagel that Simon ordered, for example. It's not a huge item, but it's fair and wholesome at $6.95, layered with grilled eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, olive and sundried tomato cream cheese, spinach and aioli. If a plain bagel is too boring, you can get a fancier one topped with sesame or poppy seeds at no extra charge. I didn't try it, but Simon seemed pretty happy with his choice.

Veggie bagel ($6.95).

Meanwhile, I received my potato, carrot and onion hash cakes with poached eggs, which was a much heartier serving than I imagined for $8.95. I was expecting a few standard pieces of hash browns, but what came out really were literally large triangular slices of hash brown cakes. It was very satisfying.

Hash cakes and eggs ($8.95).

I also give them bonus points for offering complimentary water infused with cucumber or orange slices. I personally find Perth tap water to be objectionable, so anything that makes it more palatable is a win. The venue's multiple indoor spaces was also pretty cool.

My only criticism here may be the use of small wooden boards for serving their dishes. I can see it working for some things - dainty sandwiches, perhaps; or cheese, crackers, and cured meats - but for anything that has the potential to fall off the edge easily, or get drippy or messy, there isn't much room for error. I had to be very, very cautious with my poached eggs and hash cakes, when all I wanted to do was to attack them with fervour and tuck in without a care in the world, but that cute hipster cutting board was cramping my style.

So, there was that, but overall, I genuinely had a good time at Food Monkey, and I'd be happy to return for more. Give me a plate, and I'll probably be even happier!

Food Monkey Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 19 January 2015

mixed summer smoothie (with a little tomato)

A summer fruit salad smoothie.

British journalist Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

I wonder what he would say about this summer smoothie recipe, which is pretty much a blended-up version of a fruit salad... with just a touch of tomato.

Just a touch, mind. One single cherry tomato. Baby steps. Or kind of a wildcard, if you will. I'm not the biggest fan of the taste of raw tomato, in general, so really, this is me living life on the edge.

I was pleased that I tasted only just the tiniest hint of tomato in the end result - just enough to be discernible if you think about it, but so subtle that you might just completely miss it. I might be more daring next time in an attempt to slowly endear myself to the taste of raw tomato. Maybe.

mixed summer salad smoothie
(serves 1)

1 ripe banana
1 soft ripe nectarine or peach
1 orange (use whole segments with seeds removed)
1 cherry tomato / grape tomato / baby roma tomato
10 mint leaves
2/3 cup water
4 ice cubes

Blitz all ingredients together with a blender until smooth.
Serve and drink immediately while it's cool and fresh!

Mixed summer smoothie, with a little tomato.

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Monday, 12 January 2015

chocolate tahini chia pudding

Chocolate tahini chia pudding, topped with blueberries.

I have noticed chia seed puddings around for a few years now, but have not felt compelled to try them.

The fact of the matter is, I think the world is divided into those who like the texture of chia seed gels - the foundation of chia puddings - and those who don't really care for it.

I had a feeling I would fall into the camp of those who don't care for it, and now that I have finally taken the leap, I can confirm my intuition was correct. The slippery water-logged chia seeds with their still-crunchy centres are an interesting study in texture, but not for me. Which is a bit of a shame, because the sweet chocolate-tahini combo, by itself, was spoon-lickin' good, so it all seemed like a waste.

However! It appears that Simon falls into the camp of those who enjoy chia puddings, so that worked out well. After I miserably attempted to endear myself to the pudding and failed, he took it away and happily finished the rest, proclaiming it to be delicious. Thus, despite my personal misgivings, I am reassured that this is still a chia seed pudding recipe worth sharing. If you're a chia pudding lover, try it and let me know what you think!

Chocolate chia pudding, with a touch of tahini.

chocolate tahini chia pudding
(serves 2)

1 heaped tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder
1 heaped tablespoon tahini
1 level tablespoon honey (or maple syrup)
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup milk (or oat milk, almond milk, rice milk, etc.)
1/4 cup chia seeds

toppings (optional): fresh fruit e.g. sliced bananas are a good choice, as are cherries, or any berry fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.

Mix cacao powder, tahini, and honey (or maple syrup) together to form a paste. Add in warm water and stir thoroughly to create a cohesive liquid. Add in milk and stir vigorously again to make sure everything is mixed well.
Place chia seeds in a bowl or container. Pour over the liquid mixture and stir everything together. Cover and refrigerate.
Give the mixture a brief stir after 30 minutes to encourage a uniform consistency throughout, then let it sit in the fridge again for another 2 hours, or until mixture is chilled and thickened to your liking.
Divide into little glasses, top with fresh fruit of your choice, and serve.

*To make this recipe vegan, use maple syrup and non-dairy milk.

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

happy new year, new beginnings, and the 5:2 diet...

Delicious homemade Christmas breakfast, thanks to Simon's mum.

Happy new year!

After the gluttonous indulgences of the Christmas season, we are finally ready to tackle a new routine.

As regular readers will know, we have recently returned to Australia after nearly 5 months traveling through Asia - we set foot on Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Taiwan during this time, and had adventures that we will remember for years to come. I will be sharing some of these memories with you over this year as I sort through my thousands of photos, but for now, let's get back to food blogging.

As our journey neared an end, Simon expressed an interest in trying out the 5:2 diet. Many of you might have heard of this diet, which employs intermittent fasting to achieve weight loss (and potentially other health benefits as well). Basically, for each week you choose two days in which you you consume a very limited number of calories (500 for women, 600 for men), and the other five days you may eat normally.

While I am not terribly interested in following a diet, personally, and often find them a bit gimmicky, I have heard good things about the 5:2 diet from people who have personally tried it. Plus, I do enjoy crafting meal plans and recipes, and of course, I fully support Simon in his endeavour and I hope he succeeds.

A salad appropriate for the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet.

I made this salad for Simon's lunch on his first day embarking on the diet, after meticulously researching the calorie contents of various foodstuff the night before. It was made based on what I found in the kitchen, and, other than the egg and some red oak lettuce leaves, by chance it turned out to be made entirely out of green ingredients.

P.S. I'm not doing the 5:2 diet. My support is solely in preparing the appropriate food for Simon. I eat whatever I want while he suffers, hahaha! (Though actually, he has been coping alright, all things considered. I like to think that it's thanks to my wholesome meals.)

P.P.S. If you're interested, on that day, he had a banana and a coffee for breakfast. For dinner, he had another salad (slightly different to this one).

a green salad recipe for the 5:2 diet
(Serves 1.  Each serving = 136 calories.)

50g mixed salad leaves (16 kcal)
4 broccoli florets - raw, steamed or boiled (28 kcal)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (5 kcal)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves / cilantro (4 kcal)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce* (10 kcal)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (10 kcal)
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder (2 kcal)
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste (0 kcal)
1 hard boiled egg (61 kcal)

Put all vegetables and herbs in a large salad bowl. Combine the condiments and add into the bowl. Toss everything together till thoroughly mixed. Taste and add more condiments if necessary, but remember to factor in the added calories if doing the 5:2 diet. Top it all off with the egg.

*Traditional Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, however, there are vegetarian/vegan versions on the shelves these days. Some contain gluten, while others are gluten-free. Please remember to check the labels if you have specific dietary requirements.

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