Wednesday, March 28, 2012

light and shade

I have enjoyed discovering how the light plays around in our new house. Throughout the day there are so many interesting shadows cast on the walls - the light almost feels like it's a living part of the place.

There have been some magical moments outside too.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

black bean and kumara soup

Recently, in amongst all the unpacking and boxing and sifting and sorting and the discovering of old high school essays and mismatched socks and forgotten trinkets - I somehow made a surprisingly good soup. Kristian dubbed it nacho soup and was very keen to have it become a regular staple (it has since been made a few more times). For my part I was pretty happy to oblige because it's tasty as all get out and very nourishing in these cold again, warm again Autumnal days.

The key to this stewy soup in my opinion is a good walloping of spice and a decent quantity of black beans, which you can get most places but not Coles in Leichhardt. Let that be a lesson to me. Anyway, we've been eating a lot of black beans lately. During the move when we were trying to clear out our cupboards it was those tins that got a lot of attention. This soup is a great way to clear out tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and black beans all in one fell swoop - it's a pantry buster.

Black Bean and Kumara Soup
Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen

The great thing about this soup is that really it's more a matter of ingredient assembly rather than sticking to strict measurements. In fact I encourage you to go off the beaten path a little and add some more spice or less tomatoes, or whatever floats your boat.  Taste often as you make it and you won't go wrong.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 a small head of cabbage, chopped
1 medium sized kumara (sweet potato) chopped into smallish cubes
2 cups low salt vegetable stock
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp of chilli powder/ flakes (or more if you're daring)
1 tin of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tin chickpeas (optional)
salt to taste
lime juice
avocado, more lime, coriander and sour cream to garnish
flatbread to serve

Warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat then add the onion and cook well until it begins to brown a little. Add the garlic, cabbage, kumara, tomatoes and vegetable stock. Simmer with the lid on for about 15 minutes, or until the kumara is tender.

Then the fun part. Add the spices and beans, with a big squeeze of lime and let it all swirl around in there together for another 5-10 minutes.

Whilst this is happening you can pop some flatbread or wholemeal tortillas into a medium oven to crisp up for about 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven.

Once the soup has had enough flavour melding time, add salt to taste, blend about half the soup in the pot (I used what my friend Sarah fondly refers to as my 'stab-blender' to achieve this) and you're almost ready to go.

Remember to take your tortillas out of the oven. Serve up big hearty bowls of the soup and garnish them with some chopped avocado, a good handful of chopped coriander and a dollop of sour cream. I think you'll know what to do with the tortillas... dunk them in and enjoy!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

friday reads

Lately, I've been going through a bit of a blah phase when it comes to reading. It may have to do with the fact that most of my books are still in the moving boxes but I feel like I've had the attention span of a gnat. I'll pick up a book, read a few pages, then put it down and end up playing scrabble on my ipod all night instead. I suppose Scrabble is still wordy but it's not as relaxing as tucking into a good book right before bed.

But then...

A few weeks ago we had a book sale at work and I was totally invigorated. I only bought about five novels but just having them lined up on my bedside table is making me all excited to get reading again. They're acting a bit like my stuff to cook and make list - a jumping off point for rediscovering two of my favourite things to do, aka the title of this blog.

So what's on that bedside table you ask? At the moment there is:

The Secret Cure - Sue Woolfe
Blindness - José Saramago
A Maggot - John Fowles
The Nature of Ice - Robyn Mundy

So far I'm about halfway through The Secret Cure, which is intriguing and surprising and sort of odd too. For example, I didn't work out it was set in the 1980s until about page 201.

But, as for the rest, I think that might be my Easter reading stitched up, right there. Even just typing those words Easter reading gives me a little thrill of anticipatory pleasure. It's not all about chocolate and easter buns, though they are both thoroughly enjoyed in a big way in our house. Amongst other important things it's also about a bit of quiet time to curl up on the couch with a cuppa and a great read. 

How about you - are there any books you're looking forward to reading over the break?


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

listing towards inspiration

When I was a kid I used to love going over to friends' houses for dinner because I would get to eat from a whole new playbook of meals. As much as I loved my Mum's cooking, I was pretty familiar with the usual range of meal options and there was something exciting about seeing and tasting someone else's take on things.

Lately, I've become a bit tired of my own meal playbook. There's been plenty of fine soups and stews and salads but nothing that's got me really excited. Nothing that has prompted Kristian to say, 'You should add this one to the regular rotation.' Part of this may be to do with my general fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants take on cooking, especially for dinner. Often, I just take a bunch of ingredients out of the fridge or cupboard and they get assembled into something or other, based on what's at hand. This, incidentally was also my mother's most common (and best) cooking strategy when I was little. The other one was usually to ask me for inspiration as the car pulled into the local grocery store and I'd list off: sausages, meatballs, peanut chicken - you know, the classics.

Since we've moved house, I've temporarily (I hope) lost some of my food bearings.  Perhaps it's that I'm wanting to establish some new routines in the new place, to welcome in this new home with more honest and simple fare.  Bizarrely, despite living with Kristian for four years, I've also felt a strange domesticated urge since we got engaged to amp it up in the kitchen, to establish some new classic meals, which we can call our own.

So, with all this in mind, I've been compiling a list of things to cook in the new place.  I am trying to be honest about it, not putting down fancy stuff because it looks good or seems like something I should make but rather reminding myself of the food that gets my taste buds whirring. The good stuff. At the moment it reads:

chickpea and tomato salad
kumara and black bean soup with guacamole
something with pickles (roast beef?)
smashed baked potato with peas and bacon
tuna patties with yogurt dressing
ricotta pancakes
grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches
garlicky green beans
meatballs in sauce
spinach soup
curried squash
frittata with caramelised onions
roast chicken and coleslaw
lamb tagine

And, having written it, I'm already feeling a hint of excitement, mixed with lashings of hunger.  The list is going up on the fridge quick sticks, next to the wine vouchers for Camperdown Cellars and I have a feeling it's going to be a bit of a saviour over the next few uncertain weeks ahead. 

I've recently discovered some folk with inspiring thoughts around this idea:-
~ Astrid's dinner project
~ This book
~ The Yellow House post on information overload versus home cooking. Very well worth a read.

Do you have any particular favourite meals you like to make at home or reliable classics you fall back on? I'd love to know.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

a few breakfasts lately

A few breakfasts enjoyed at our place recently. Normally, I'm a vegemite toast and tea person but on the weekends we have been splashing out a little in the breakfast department.

Sunday was the first time in about a month that we've had a day at home together - we celebrated with huge baguette french toast, bacon and maple syrup, with coffees from Norton street. Heaven.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

a day off

Friday was the first day in ages when I didn't do housey stuff or work or anything remotely work-like. It was heaven. My mum and I had a day trip out, a surprisingly Ferris Bueller-y day when I think about it. We headed out to the Art Gallery to see the Picasso exhibition, compared notes on whether a 3/4 full flat white was stronger than a piccolo latte (they were about the same) ate lunch in the botanic gardens, chatted up a storm and watched the passers-by, something I feel like I only really make time to do when I'm overseas.

It was so refreshing to act like a tourist for a day in my home town. And besides some of the most enjoyable things to do in Sydney don't cost a lot - grabbing a coffee, finding a park bench with a view, discovering interesting architecture in hidden courtyards or lying on the grass. I don't think I've done nearly enough lying on the grass this last Summer, so hopefully I can get some more in before the weather gets too much cooler.

I hope you had a lovely weekend folks. Here's to the sunny days continuing this week.


Monday, March 12, 2012

there are no rules...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about authenticity and struggling a little with how to best be myself and represent myself in this space.  Sometimes I impose a lot of rules on myself about what I should be writing about rather than what I want to be writing about. 

The thing is when I post less frequently here it's often not that there isn't much going on but rather a lot is happening and I don't know how to translate it in a way that feels authentic to me. That's been the case lately.  Between moving house, visiting my Dad in hospital in the lead up to him having a transplant, helping K’s family paint our old flat and working, I’ve hardly taken pause for breath, let alone be bothered to prepare good meals, or eat properly or take pictures of things.  

A few weeks back I was so tired that I'd go to say something and unintentional words or sentences would pop out instead. I told a cabbie I wanted to go to the Cross instead of the Rocks, which was confusing for all involved. The hypochondriac in me was beginning to envisage a tumour-like scenario but I think it was just lack of sleep and stress.

I tend to avoid writing about this sort of stuff, but in a way it's almost like I haven't really been honest with myself so perhaps being a bit more honest with you is a small step in the right direction. I have to admit that life is often a lot messier that it comes across here and that sometimes I fervently want to cultivate the kind of life I see on other blogs, a life that often feels illusive in the normal scheme of things.  

But... and it's an important but, I have gradually come to realise that there really are no rules about how to do things - whether it's baking or blogging or decorating or designing or taking pictures - you have to do what you like and what works for you, even if sometimes it seems a little odd. 

A few others who have been touching on the topic of authenticity lately: 
- Paul Graham on how to do what you love, especially this bit: 'Prestige … causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.' 
- Brian's post about honesty and food really got me thinking about how much we style our lives for the camera, when the truth of it is often just as, if not more, compelling.
- Edits quarterly  is a new online publication of “short narratives in film and photography” which is  inspiring and beautiful.
- This lady knows how to express things beautifully too.

These and many other good things have been keeping me going during this strange period of time and I know things will get better. I'm looking forward to sharing more pictures of our place - moving has been like a spring clean to the head, let me tell you. Highly recommended.