Cucumber Raita

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I’ve been dabbling in a spot of scuba diving. A surprise to myself as well as those who know me. Being painfully un-athletic and colossally uncoordinated (who put that wall there?!), I never saw myself in a wetsuit, 20-something metres underwater, breathing from a tank and incredibly, not freaking out!

Being a serial over-thinker is something I’ve had to push aside. Because really, if I allowed myself the luxury of thinking about it……………..I am underwater, people!! Breathing from a tank!! With compressed air in my lungs!! Air that can diffuse into my bloodstream and form painful bubbles if I come to the surface too quickly!! This is not natural!! Humans were not supposed to breathe underwater!! What was I thinking?? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good boat or walk off a perfectly good shore to breathe through a tank underwater?!?!

So as you can see, my usual over-thinking habit has no place here. Instead, I am learning to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and beauty of the underwater world. The stillness and slowness and floatiness of it all makes it a beautiful, almost a meditative experience.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see something awesome to distract me when my mind wanders to unwanted places. A gorgeous school of fish, zebra-striped with fluorescent green dorsal fins, engaged in a perfectly coordinated dance. An underwater flash mob.  Or will it be a baby shark, hiding under a soft coral, biding its time until it is big enough to survive the big bad ocean?

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Raita has nothing to do with scuba diving. Nothing whatsoever. There is nothing unnatural about this refreshing yoghurt dish, a standard side in every Indian restaurant. It is the cooling element to any Indian meal. This is the way I like it, with a base of smooth yoghurt, sans cream and sugar which seem to feature in many restaurant versions.  Ginger and some light spices give it depth but keep it light and refreshing. Finally, tempered cumin seeds add a crunch that makes you want to interpose them between your front teeth just to enjoy it.

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Cucumber Raita

Get:

2 cups loose/watery plain yoghurt OR 1 1/2 cups yoghurt and 1/2 cup water
2-3 cm ginger, finely grated
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp mild paprika (optional)
Salt to taste
1 telegraph cucumber or 2 small lebanese cucumbers, finely diced (peeled or unpeeled)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced (omit this if you dislike raw onion)

For the Tempering:

1 1/2 tsp vegetable/canola/sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 or 5 curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Make:

Place yoghurt (or yoghurt + water) in a large bowl with ginger, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined and smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed- the mixture should only be salty enough to neutralise the tartness of the yoghurt.  The mixture should be no thicker than a pancake batter, so add a little more water and stir through if needed.

Add cucumber and onion and stir through gently.

In a small non-stick pan, heat the oil. Turn the heat down to low-medium and add the cumin seeds. Once they have popped, add curry leaves and dried chillies. Fry for a minute or two until the leaves are crisp. If using fresh leaves, you may need to step back or use a lid to protect yourself from oil splutter (see my post on tempering here).  Add the oil mixture to the Raita and stir through.

Garnish with coriander and serve as a side dish.

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Making Progress

It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking.  That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie.  That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.

My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia.  Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens.  The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place.  She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself.  That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey.  It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding.  It was, from memory, a good cake.

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My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven.  What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake.  More desert than dessert.

The Rock Cake haunts me to this day.  It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb.  The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves.  It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.

It was a tough lesson but an effective one.

Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely.  Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking.  I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge.  What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old.  It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery.  The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.

It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.

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Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen

Get:

85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).

Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined

Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined.  Fold in the coconut gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top.  Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

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On Popsicles and Pooches

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If you follow me on Instagram you would have seen that I’ve been so proud of my little boy this week.  After tearing a ligament in his knee and hobbling around pathetically for a week, I finally took the leap and operated.  We anaesthetised him, all 7.8 kg of cuteness.  We stuck a needle into his little spine to deliver epidural pain relief.  He had an entire team at his disposal.  An anaesthetist, a surgeon, a vet student, two nurses and two trainee nurses.  Many many two-leggeds for one tiny little nugget of a 4-legged.  Then he was all draped up and for a little while I could forget that it was my precious little fur-child I was doing major surgery on.  This helped as it had been all I could do not to curl up in a ball of nervousness leading up to the event.

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Thankfully it all went according to plan and before I knew it I was packing a sleepy and sore bundle of fur into my car alongside his drip pump and medications.  Two days on, he is vehemently disagreeing with the post-operative plan to keep him confined and is demanding in true small dog style to be given access to the rest of the house.  He is using a well prepared arsenal of woeful looks, sad tail wags and softly incessant whimpers which even I as a veterinary professional am struggling to ignore.

But ignore we shall as the little body with the chubby little knee needs to heal.  And if Cookie can withstand and recover from major surgery as an eleven  year old pooch, I’d better do my part to ensure that his recovery is as smooth as possible.

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All this has nothing to do with popsicles.  However I am a firm believer that coffee and popsicles are enough reason to indulge in coffee and popsicles.  These have a good caffeine buzz, with fragrant cardamom providing an extra jolt.  Sweetened with rice syrup, they are almost toffee like, the warm flavours complementing the freeze.  A grown-up popsicle, if you will.

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Coffee, Cardamom & Yoghurt Popsicles

Makes 6

Get:

1/3 cup strongly brewed coffee
6 cardamom pods
1 cup full-fat Greek yoghurt
1/3 cup honey or rice syrup

Special Equipment:

Popsicle moulds
Freezer

Make:

Use a mortar and pestle to crush the whole cardamom pods until they break open and the seeds are roughly powdered.  Place the seeds and pods in the coffee and set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.  Once infused, pass the mixture through a strainer and discard the cardamom.

In a large bowl, whisk the yoghurt with the syrup or honey and cardamom infused coffee to form a smooth mixture.  Fill the popsicle moulds, insert popsicle sticks and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight.

To serve, dip the popsicle moulds in hot water to make it easier to lift out the popsicles.

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Bounty Bar Popsicles for SABH (Low-Fructose)

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I’ve ditched the sugar again and apart from a couple of planned (and one unplanned) cheat days, I have been well on track.  After I fell off the wagon towards the end of last year, I made a decision to quit the white stuff again in the new year.  Isn’t it funny how we consider new years eve such a major milestone in our decisions?  As if on the 1st of January we somehow get that extra push we need to make a positive change in our lives.  Really, it’s just another date, isn’t it?

So I’ve taken on a slightly different frame of mind now.  This time around, it is all about what I deserve….remember we talked about that?  From a health point of view, what I deserve is a healthy, well nourished body that I fill with goodness.  After all, you can’t expect to get the best from this vehicle that has been assigned to you in this life unless you give it the very best care, no?

And so it is that the menacing ‘I MUST LOSE WEIGHT’  has been replaced by ‘I deserve to be happy with myself, inside and out and a positive step towards that is to be slimmer and healthier’.  Is that not much kinder, friends?

Like any affirmation, it is to be repeated.  We humans are creatures of habit and our mental patterns, created over years, take gentle persistence to break.  So I remind myself daily of my decision to ensure I have what I deserve and try not to berate myself too much when I slip up.

Try it, dear friends.  Let’s treat ourselves with kindness, and the universe will do the same.

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I was a tad excited when this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop theme of Popsicle Party was announced.  This month it is hosted by the lovely Swah from Love Swah. 
These chocolate covered, coconut popsicles are a frozen, low-sugar version of the Bounty Bar, a popular Australian chocolate bar.  If you want them to be dairy free, leave out the yoghurt but the result will be a harder popsicle.

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Bounty Bar Popsicles (Low-fructose)

Makes 6-8 depending on size of moulds

Get:

270 ml (1 tin) full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
4 tbsp rice syrup
1/2 cup frozen fresh grated coconut
150g good quality dark chocolate

Make:

 Whisk all ingredients together except for the chocolate.

Pour into popsicle moulds.

Freeze until set.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts, stirring in between.

Dip  the popsicle moulds in hot water to loosen, then dip the popsicles one by one into the dark chocolate or paint it on with a pastry brush.

When the chocolate has set, place back in the popsicle moulds (they won’t fit as well) and in the freezer until ready to eat.

Notes:
Frozen coconut is available at Indian grocers.
I had a little mixture left as I have small popsicle moulds, and I poured this into an ice cube tray to throw into my smoothies.

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Click the Month: November 2013

So this Click the Month business was actually meant to posted at the end of the month.  A sort of sum up of one or some of the highlights in the 30-odd days gone by. 

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But, well, despite my best intentions, sometimes life gets in the way.  So it doesn’t happen or it pops up a little late.  You know what? Anyone who knows me knows that ‘late’ is the norm for me, ‘on time’ is early in my world and ‘early’….actually early?  Well, that’s what I’d call a dream.

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This month I lunched at my friend Julia’s, where a bunch of us gorged on incredible food such as some succulent roast chicken, this salad and this cake.

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I followed the dogs around, camera in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, and managed to get all three of them to sit still for a decent click or two.

CTM Chicken

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CTM George

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The Tale of Gilbert (Watermelon, Mint and Ginger Sorbet)

There was once a friendly watermelon called Gilbert.  When Gilbert was a young boy-melon, he found himself on a shelf in a fruit shop surrounded by equally juicy watermelons.

Gilbert longed to leave the fruit shop and find a loving home.  Being a rather amicable melon, Gilbert one day struck up a conversation with one of the fruit shop’s customers, a veterinarian and a watermelon enthusiast.
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Gilbert was overjoyed and looked forward to his destiny of being sliced and devoured on a hot summers day.  He found his place on the dining table and awaited his opportunity to show off his refreshing, lush qualities.

But alas, the veterinarian became far too lazy busy to undertake the onerous task of watermelon dissection and Gilbert was left neglected and wondering whether he would ever be given a chance to fulfill his fate.

For days Gilbert sat dejected on the table that no-one used, emitting dramatic sighs that no-one seemed to hear.  He watched his keeper rush to work in the morning in her surgical scrubs.  He waited all day for her, sure that she would be missing him too.

He saw her return every evening with a spark of hope that perhaps today would be the day, only to be disappointed.  And so he waited, his crisp red flesh aching with longing to be devoured although his tough green armour gave nothing away.

He observed her as she cooked and ate her meals without a glance towards where he sat.  He watched TV with her, patiently.

(It must be said that while he rather enjoyed ‘How I met your mother’, he found ‘My Kitchen Rules’ really quite offensive- although really, haven’t we all at times?)

He waited and waited until one day the veterinarian who usually walked past him unseeing, stopped and finally looked straight at him!

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And before he knew it, Gilbert was in quarters.  A quarter was cubed and devoured fresh, another quarter was turned into sorbet and the rest was juiced.  Most importantly, all of him was thoroughly enjoyed and Gilbert finally, finally, met his destiny……….

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Watermelon, Mint and Ginger Sorbet

Modified from Australian Good Taste Magazine, Jan 2006, via taste.com.au

Get:

2 cups water
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 inch piece fresh ginger, finely grated
Small handful mint leaves, finely chopped
1kg Gilbert or other watermelon flesh roughly chopped
1 egg white

Make:

Place water, sugar, ginger and mint in a saucepan and stir over low heat for a few mins until the sugar dissolves.  Increase heat and bring to t boil, boiling for 5-10 mins until the mixture thickens to a thin syrupy consistency.

Blend watermelon in a blender or food processor until pureed.  Strain the puree through a fine sieve into an airtight container suitable for freezing.  Discard the pulp or use in smoothies.  Alternatively you can use a juicer to extract the juice. You should have around 600ml of juice.

Add sugar syrup to the watermelon juice and stir to mix.  Place the lid on the container and place it in the freezer for at least 5-6 hours.

Using a fork to break up the sorbet, transfer it to a food processor or blender and whizz until the sorbet has a 7-11 slushie texture.  Return the sorbet to the container and place it back in the freezer for a further 5-6 hours.  Blend again to a slushie consistency and return to the freezer for another 5-6 hours.  Place the sorbet in the blender with an egg white and whizz again until it is a soft, smooth consistency.  Place back in the freezer and freeze for another 5-6 hours.

Scoop into bowls and enjoy.

Notes:

The original recipe called for 2 egg whites but I choose to just add one as I was worried about it being too slimy.  I was happy with the texture I ended up with.

The original recipe called for a cup of sugar but I reduced it to 3/4 in the interest of health.  After tasting it, I felt I could have actually decreased it further, to 1/2 cup.  If you like a sweeter sorbet, stick to 3/4 cup or even use a whole cup of sugar.

This recipe is really not as time consuming as it seems, however you should start making it 36-48 hours before you need to serve it.  I made it one evening, left it in the freezer overnight, then blended it up the next morning, again the next evening and did the final blend with the egg white the following morning.

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Summer

Australia is truly a sun-burnt country.  Our summer is one of the things that defines us.      It is what brings the Europeans to us with their enormous backpacks and sun-starved skin, to mingle with us on our beaches and in our hostels.  It is holidays, picnics, swims and post-swim ice-creams.

It is gloriously long days filled with sunshine that fade gently into lingering dusks and balmy evenings, just in case the day’s feeling are hurt by a sudden transition.

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Summer comes hot on the heels of Diwali and Halloween and brings with it Christmas and the ultimate night to let one’s hair down after all that holiness……New Years Eve.  Even our Christmas cards are adorned with Santa in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, as if even paper Santa can’t stand to wear his usual outfit in this scorching heat.  And after all that is over, there is still the rest of summer to look forward to.

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Summer is lovely Saturdays spent doing Saturday things and then realising with stomachs grumbling and light still pouring in the window that inexplicably, dinnertime has arrived.

It is weekends away and weekends in watching the cricket.  It is barbecues, ice-blocks and hopefully, slip slop slap.  It is too many mosquitoes, too much champagne and too dark tan lines.

I love the sun, sand and waves as much as the next girl, but I have to admit I’m not really a beach person.  Not in the typical sun-baking, volleyball playing, bikini clad way anyway.  Evening walks on the beach? Sure! Being toasted to a crisp? No thanks!  Besides, like many Indian girls, I am far too interested in preserving my complexion to spend hours in the sun.

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For me, one of the highlights of the summer is all the incredible fruit that seems to appear in the hotter Australian months.  I will never forget that childhood summer when we returned to Sydney after a family holiday to find that my uncle had filled the fridge with gorgeous fruit.  Now that was a sight for sore (jet-lagged) eyes.

Cherries that obligingly dissolve in your mouth, sold by the boxful from the back of utes by the side of highways.  Watermelon that is instantly revitalising and refreshing.  Rockmelons with their fragrant, meaty flesh.

And the Mangoes…..ohhhhh the Mangoes!  The cool weight of them when they are taken out of the fridge.  The impossible sweetness of that first good mango of the season.  Eaten with their cheeks sliced off, cut into small symmetrical pieces by my dad or devoured uninhibitedly with teeth tearing golden skin, Australian mangoes have to be one of the best parts of summer.

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So expect some summery fruitiness to come.  And to those of you who are fortunate enough to live in this sun-blessed patch of the globe, happy summer!