December 02, 2014

food styling & photography

I received my very first camera in my early teens.  It was a gift from my late grandfather and one that brought me much excitement at being able to keep a picture record of life as I knew it.  My expectations of taking these amazing photos were a little unrealistic though and what resulted was a rather large and somewhat disappointing collection of blurred shots, shut-eyed portraits, flash flare or too dark pics and accidental back of the head and foot shots.  So bad was my photo taking back then, that I still have twenty odd films sitting in our fridge yet to be developed.

I was happy as Larry when I finally got my hands on a digital camera.  No longer was I going to be out of pocket for a film of dodgy photos that looked like they’d been shot by a two year old.  Nope, my little point and shoot gave me the ability to hit delete on any photo I was less than thrilled with, so trigger happy me began clicking away on auto mode like there was no tomorrow. 

While my skills as a novice photo-taker have vastly improved from those earlier days, I've been getting rather frustrated lately with not being able to achieve the results I want or with the lack of control I have over my camera and let’s face it, food bloggers win big brownie points with pin worthy images and I figure if I am to hold my own against the big boys, I need to play like the big boys.

So this weekend I pulled up my big girl britches and attended a Food Styling and Photography workshop at the uber hip The Mantle in Freo.  It was an opportunity for me to not only learn once and for all how to take my photography up a notch but to connect with likeminded individuals.  To say that I have come away inspired is an understatement!!  Peggy, an insanely talented self-taught photographer, had such an easy way of explaining the basics of shooting on manual that it actually clicked and I have had my camera attached to me like a fifth limb, shooting at every opportunity while stylist extraordinaire Bec has me itching to not only add to my prop collection but to cook and style just for the sake of taking photos.  My thighs and hips are going to hate me!  Ha! But at least I've taken the training wheels off.

October 30, 2014

favourites – October edition

indoor plants
So it’s been a little over three weeks since we arrived back from our trip to NZ and we are only now settling back in to this time zone.  A five hour time difference certainly knocks the wind out of ones sail!  Our trip was all kinds of wonderful and then some but as is always the case when I’ve been away, it is good to be back.
I returned home all inspired to inject a little greenery into our home after being reminded of the amazing variety of indoor plants that my mum has and to *ahem, tend to my rather bleak looking herb garden which is always a work in progress for this black thumbed wanna be gardener, ha!! 

Speaking of gardens…how fricken awesome is The Nursery Project?  Such a wonderful concept on so many levels!!
Great post!!
Feeding my buckwheat obsession with this parfait
A simple yet effective way to display plants
Awaiting the arrival of The Whole Pantry cookbook - love the philosophy behind The Whole Pantry and how inspiring Belle's story is
Majorly crushing on these boards

image – would love a similar display in our home

October 27, 2014

mango, banana and ginger smoothie

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We’ve been living in Australia for eight years in December.  Eight years!!!  It feels like a life time ago that we packed up our then family of six, with our meagre belongings stuffed into four suitcases, to embark on a new and exciting life.  We’d never travelled overseas before our move but we had itchy feet and were not overly daunted by such a drastic shift.  Yes we were sad at leaving behind loved ones, but excitement filled us at the adventures that lay ahead. The first two years were spent living in sunny Queensland but we still felt a little unsettled so after a bit of discussion we decided to hightail it over the country to Western Australia where we’ve been living somewhat blissfully, ever since.

Despite having lived here for so long I still haven’t gotten used to the heat.  Winter is only fleeting compared to my country of birth but summer…holy, you ain’t ever experienced summer until you have suffered through a Western Australian one, it’s a total scorcher! and every summer that follows seems to be getting hotter than the last.  I am already bracing myself for this year and we’re still in spring.  A day when the temperature is over the mid twenties sees me cringing…I am a total heat wuss which is ironic given where we live…so you can imagine how bad I am at summers height.

Speaking of heat, please tell me I am not the only one who struggles to eat when it’s so hot outdoors and in? (we have no air-con so there’s little relief) About the best I can do is slurp on a smoothie or eat ice cream like it’s going out of fashion.  The great thing about a smoothie is that they are a meal in themselves, unlike a heaving bowl of ice cream, and no rules apply as to what you can add.  Some of our better concoctions have been those that we’ve haphazardly thrown together.

I’m on a bit of a ginger bender at the moment and throwing it in to everything I make.  It’s zing rounds out the sweetness of the mango and banana quite nicely here.

Mango, banana & ginger smoothie – serves 3-4

I ripe mango - preferably frozen
2 banana’s - preferably frozen
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 – 2 tsp grated ginger

chopped glace ginger – optional
toasted/raw desiccated coconut – optional

Place all the smoothie ingredients into a blender and blend till smooth.  You may have to scrap down the sides of the blender bowl a few times.  Serve topped with glace ginger and toasted coconut

- 1 tsp of ginger gives a subtle taste, for a bit more zing add another tsp or more
- I prefer to use frozen fruit in my smoothies for a thick cold mix, feel free to use unfrozen fruit in which case you may want to add a few ice cubes to thicken and chill
- I used home made coconut milk but any coconut/nut or dairy milk would work fine
- I don't tend to sweeten many of my smoothies unless the fruit is particularly tart, feel free to add it to your liking

October 25, 2014

monkey bread

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As a teenager I absolutely dreaded the mornings, preferring to sleep my day away if given half the chance but since becoming a mum, I have grown accustomed to rising early and have actually come to relish that time between dawn and when the kids eyelids finally flutter open.  It’s often the only solitude I will get on any given day before donning my mothers hat.  My little ritual used to include making a pot of tea and taking it outside to listen to the birds chorus while the sun rose, these days I’m hitting the gym at 5 am in a bid to get fit and healthy and lose the last of this ‘five pregnancy’ weight. 

The other advantage of rising with the birds is that it gives me ample time to make bread.  Such as this monkey bread that I threw together before I skedaddled to the gym on Saturday morning.  I’d not heard of monkey bread before last year some time and when I did my attention was piqued.  I really have no idea where the name originated but on biting into my first ball of sweet, cinnamony, donutty bread, I was sold!  After that very first initiation I think I made a dozen batches in so many weeks…hello hips!!!  These days I don’t make this bread as often, which suits me fine seeing as I can’t eat it, but when I do the smell is absolutely intoxicating and I kick myself at being gluten intolerant.

Monkey bread – serves at least 6
(recipe adapted slightly from The Tart Tart)

30 butter
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup raw sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups flour
80 g melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp cinnamon

Place the first measure of butter, milk, water and sugar into a small pot and heat gently over a low heat until the butter has melted and the liquids are luke warm.  Stir in the yeast and set aside 5 minutes till frothy.  Meanwhile, measure the flour into a large bowl and add the salt.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a knife/wooden spoon until it comes together like a dough.  Turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for 5 minutes until smooth and glossy.  Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with gladwrap and leave in a warm spot till it’s risen to double the size.

Once the dough has doubled in size, melt the second measure of butter and place in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon till well combined.  Grease a loaf tin well making sure to get into the corners.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured bench and divide evenly into roughly 50 pieces.  Dip each dough ball into the melted butter then coat in the brown sugar mix and place into the loaf tin, layering as you go.

Cover the loaf tin with gladwrap and leave to rise for 30-40 minutes.  You want the bread to rise again slightly.  Preheat oven 170°.  Once the bread has risen bake for 40-50 minutes until golden.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

- we are spice freaks so add lots of cinnamon, you can reduce the amount to suit your tastes
- bread is best eaten on the day it is made and definitely while still warm
- the original recipe calls for a glaze, we found this much too rich for our liking but feel free to add it to yours
- I’ve added chopped walnuts, raisins and some mixed spice to my flour mix before adding the wet ingredients…it takes this bread to a whole new level!!

September 30, 2014

favourites – September edition

the Bay
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be seeing out the end of September in my homeland.  It’s been far too long in between visits and I didn’t realise how empty my tank was until being surrounded once again by my whanau (family) and kiwi friends.  While I’m luxuriating in all this love and attention feel free to check out this months current favourites…..

Mooncakes? Hello!!

It would be my dream to start a community like this

Our grandmothers certainly had the right idea

Ceramic LOVE!

Yum and yum

A nifty gift idea

image (how awesome to find a photo on the internet of my childhood stomping ground)

September 22, 2014

date & almond balls

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I’ve been feeling a little unsettled lately, actually I’ve been feeling this way for a while now.  That pull to be closer to family is really tugging on my heart at present and the fact that we’ll be travelling home for two weeks tonight has me so excited that I can barely contain myself let alone concentrate on anything.  It will be a time of firsts for our youngest three…first time back in seven years*, first time meeting cousins who have been born in the eight years we have been away, first time seeing the changes that have occurred in the place of their birth, first time being back since the passing of loved ones.  So much has changed in the time we have been away, goodness knows I am not the same person I was when I left, but despite all of that we will finally be on home soil, albeit briefly, surrounded by family, and that fact alone makes me giddy just thinking about it.

In preparation for our trip, which will be 13 hours from woe to go, I’ve been busy making portable snacks to keep us sustained.  I know I am not alone in thinking that airline food is pretty dismal and the options for me are even more limited now that I know I have food intolerances.  Gluten free muffins, chia pudding (oh my goodness guys, the roasted strawberry miso chia pudding that I came up with is to die for!!) and these date and almond balls were just the ticket.  Simple to throw together, easy to transport and nutritiously filling!

Date & almond balls – 24-28 balls

1 1/2 cups whole almonds
1 cup medjool dates – pitted
3 Tbsp cocoa
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp coconut oil – melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and blitz till roughly chopped.  Add the remaining ingredients and blitz again until well combined and the consistency you want.  Using moist hand, roll tablespoon amounts of mixture into balls and place on a plate.  Refrigerate until firm.

- chocolate ganache or salted caramel sauce can be added for a more decadent ball, just omit the water and oil
- a nip of baileys or kahlua is perfect for the festive season
- maca or mesquite powder is a lovely earthy addition
- any type of nut can be used as can an assortment of nuts
- can be kept in the fridge for up to a week (if they last that long) and in the freezer for 4 weeks

* lets not delve into how guilty that makes me feel

September 17, 2014

roasted kumara, beet and quinoa salad with an orange-tahini dressing

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Things have been a little hectic this week as I prepare to leave for New Zealand next Tuesday.  In between the end of term school events/birthday parties/play dates and shopping for supplies for my men-folk who’ll be staying back, I’ve been trying to squeeze in the odd cuppa with friends, complete some sewing orders and prepare a few freezer meals on top of spring cleaning our home and of course pack.  It’s daft to be trying to do so much before I leave but I seem to work better under pressure and to be honest, I could do with the distraction.  It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled home and even longer since our youngest three were there so you can well imagine the excitement that is building.

When I know I have a busy schedule ahead of me I opt to keep our meals fairly light and simple and prepare what I can ahead of time.  This allows me to throw a salad, such as this one, together in mere minutes.  The thing I love about a salad like this is that it is a great base for other flavours and ingredients depending on what you have on hand.  Don’t be afraid to play around and make it your own.

Roasted kumara, beet and quinoa salad with an orange-tahini dressing – serves 2-3 as a main or 4-6 as a side

Ingredients: (salad)
1 cup quinoa
2 beetroot – peeled and chopped into cubes
1 medium kumara (sweet potato) peeled and chopped into cubes
1 Tbsp olive oil
handful parsley – chopped finely
toasted walnuts – chopped roughly
1/2 cup of orange-tahini dressing

Ingredients: (dressing) – makes 3/4 cup
juice and zest of 1 orange (1/2 cup juice/2 tsp zest)
3 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp sweetener of choice
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 180°.  Toss the cubed kumara and beets in oil and place on a baking tray.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and tender.
In a pot bring 2 cups of water to the boil.  Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under running water and leave to drain.  Once the water is boiling, add the quinoa to the pot, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook the quinoa for approximately 12 minutes.  (Quinoa is cooked when it has swelled, becomes translucent and has a little tail sprout on the end of it)  Once cooked fluff up with a fork and set aside to cool.
Shake the dressing ingredients together in a jar until well combined and creamy.
Add the quinoa to a bowl with roasted veggies, chopped parsley, nuts and the dressing and toss gently to combine.

- left over dressing is delicious drizzled over porridge or a fresh fruit salad or stirred through greek yoghurt (if tolerated*)
- any roasted vegetables work well in a salad like this. zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant are particular favourites
- use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.  mint and coriander are a wonderful addition
- crumbed feta* rounds out the flavours beautifully
- substitute lemon for the orange for a more zesty dressing
- freshly grated ginger and chopped garlic give a lovely zing to the dressing as does ground cumin - use in 1 tsp amounts
- any lightly toasted nuts and seeds go well with salads like this
- serve on a bed of mixed salad leaves or wilted spinach/kale for a more substantial meal
- great side to bbq/grilled/roasted meat or salmon