Orange, Almond and Pecan Cake (GF, V)

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We were away this past long weekend. Not far, less than two hours drive north of where we live. Briefly, I wondered why we were going away when we already live near the beach and could do a stay-cation without spending a cent. But a few hours into the holiday I knew. It was the otherness of it all, that just demanded relaxation. The absence of the urge to clean the bathroom, do laundry or even to stick to any kind of routine. It brought with it permission to just read, to move if it felt good, to open a bottle of wine at 3pm or to eat cheese with crackers on the beach in lieu of lunch.

A walk on the beach saw us clambering over boulders, hopping over waves that momentarily filled the spaces between them. We examined deep, straight fissures in rocky plains on the shore, concluding that they were the result of some long-ago sudden impact which sent shockwaves through the otherwise impenetrable stone. Over time, the sharp edges were worn into softly rounded ones on which tiny sea life made their homes. Colonies of perfectly formed grey sea snails no bigger than peppercorns crunched beneath our feet despite our best efforts to avoid them. We returned to the sand and an hour went by with us leisurely stretched out on beach towels, reading books.

On another afternoon, we meandered around the countryside visiting wineries and distilleries, sighing with pleasure when we sampled a wine made of rose petals here, wrinkling our noses not-so-subtly at the first sip of a gin infused with camomile somewhere else. Apple strudel, its buttery pastry filled with perfectly diced stewed apples was bought and shared with sips of hot tea while we lazed in hammocks. A slice of this cake would have also done nicely.

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This is not a fluffy cloud of a cake. It is dense, mealy and quite frankly rather hideous looking. Rustic, if you will. This is not a cake that bothers itself with holding together or providing a scaffolding for decoration. The upside though, is that it’s very forgiving. If you don’t manage to get the aquafaba into soft peaks, fear not. Beat it for at least 4 or 5 minutes until it is nice and frothy, and the cake will still work, although without the soft peaks the result may be denser.  Forget to buy pecans? Nevermind, walnuts (or just pepitas) will work just as well. No cinnamon to be found? *Shrug* it’ll probably still be delicious. Try not to skip the cardamom though. It is vegan and gluten free. Most importantly, it is the crumbly, fall-aparty, syrup soaked nature of this cake that makes it utterly satisfying with a cup of tea.

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Orange, cardamom and pecan cake (GF, Vegan)

Ingredients:

6 tbsp aquafaba*
1/3 cup coconut oil
Zest of 2 oranges, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges- 2 tbsp in cake, rest in syrup
2 cups almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
2tbsp honey for cake + 4 tbsp for syrup
1/3 cup pecans roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Vanilla paste or powder
Pinch salt
4-6 cardamom pods- grind the seeds and reserve the skins
4 tbsp honey for syrup
Small handful pepitas or a few more pecans

Thick or whipped cream to serve

Method:

Grease a small loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 F).

Use an electric beater (handheld or stand) to beat the aquafaba until soft peaks start to form. Add coconut oil, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp orange juice, orange zest and coconut oil. Whisk briefly to combine. In a separate mixing bowl, sieve the almond meal. Add baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and ground cardamom seeds. Stir to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir gently to just combine. Add the chopped pecans and stir just a few times. The mixture will be quite a thick batter, but should still be pourable unlike a dough.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 25-30 min on the middle shelf. On another tray, place the pepitas or remaining pecans and toast in the oven for the last 7-10 minutes. Remove cake from oven when a skewer passed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Press toasted whole pecans into top of cake or sprinkle with pepitas. Press the nuts or pepitas lightly into the top of the cake.

To make the syrup

While the cake is cooking, place the remaining orange juice, 4 tbsp honey and the cardamom skins in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 min or until the syrup thickens. The syrup should be about half as thick as maple syrup.

When the cake is cooked, still in the tin, and still warm, use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Remove and discard the cardamom skins. Gently move the tin around to spread the syrup evenly. Leave at room temperature for at least 20 minutes for the syrup to soak into the cake.

Serve with thick cream and a cup of tea.

Notes:

*Aquafaba is the liquid from a tin of chick peas or beans. You can also use the liquid that you would normally drain away after you cook chick peas or beans.

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Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal Curry + Nourishing Spinach Broth

The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate.  He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past.  The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank.  Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.

Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.

Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one

Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet).  Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn.  Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass. 

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In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to.  They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day.  Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes.  There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.

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He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars.  The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen.  There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.

Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home.  Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning.  It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment.  And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.

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Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry

Get:

2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Salt
Lemon juice
Boiling water
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces

Make:

Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.

In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant.  Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender.  Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked.  Drain and reserve the water.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.  When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients.  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water.  Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp.   Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed.  Cook, covered,  until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).

Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving.  Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.

Nourishing Spinach Broth:

Get:

The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Make:

Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins.  Add salt only if needed after tasting.  Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly.  In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds.  When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Notes:

Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

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On grassy slopes

 

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It is my firm belief that as adults we don’t take enough opportunities to roll down grassy hills.  To lie supine, succumbing to gravity, body against plush felt and eyes squeezed shut.  To relinquish control, if only for a minute, like kids do without a second thought.

What holds us back? Is it the a fear of scratched knees, bruised elbows and scraped egos?  Of nice clothes stained with chlorophyll and indignity? Of achy joints and stiff muscles that may groan a little the next day?  Or is it that our grown-up, weary eyes just see grassy slopes as a part of the scenery, their true potential buried under the clutter of finances, relationships and other sensibilities.

Childhood holidays to Canberra, the nation’s capital, included a mandatory visit to Parliament house.  It was an oblong white structure on top of a hill where the country’s politicians would discuss, defend and decide on how best to run this place.  As kids though, the drawing card was the immaculately manicured carpet of green lawn that sloped away from the building without a tree or even so much as a pebble to interrupt it.  It was the perfect grassy hill to roll down, gathering speed until we would land at the bottom in a pile of grass and giggles.

The sculptured lawns of Parliament house paled in comparison to the emerald slopes of Tuscany.  As we drove to Pienza, a tiny Tuscan town nestled in the Val D’Orca region, winding roads took us past the velveteen undulations of the Tuscan countryside .  There were patches of vineyards here, a punctuation of a farmhouse there but mostly, it was the vast expanse of many-shaded green.  The town itself was a tangle of intriguing, winding. streets and charming shops.  Of inconspicuous restaurants and dusky pink stone walls.  It’s cathedral was as lovely as any, the immense ceiling stretching away from its wooden pews, polished by hands for centuries.

But what drew my attention again and again was the view from the city walls.  From there one could see a circumferential expanse of the voluptuous green hills.  Those hills that the child in me wanted to roll down fearlessly, gathering speed and momentum.

Unhindered, without a second thought and never looking back.

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Click the Month: May 2014

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A Tuscan holiday is just what I needed, and frankly I can’t think of a time when I wouldn’t welcome one.  This holiday came with exceptional timing and I soaked in every minute.  It was the perfect balance of touristy activity in Florence and immersion into a hobby I hold close to my heart, in the beautiful Val D’Orcia region.  I realised I have so many photos from this trip that it makes best sense to share them in batches.  These photos were taken during the first leg of my trip, a few days spent in Florence and surrounding areas.

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I can’t wait to share more with you, particularly those from the Plated Stories workshop on food writing, styling and photography that I attended with 5 other fabulously inspiring women.  The workshop  was taught by Jamie Schler and Ilva Beretta of Plated Stories, both very patient and highly knowledgeable teachers, and I urge you to go over and read their post for their impressions of the lovely experience.

For now, I leave you with these images while I once again battle the beast that is jetlag.

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Garam Masala and Coconut

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An airport meal is a ritual of mine every time I embark on an international trip.  I look forward to that time, after all charms and pleas are unleashed on the person behind the check-in desk to let those extra three kilos through without charge.  After that, toiletries in plastic snap-lock bags are placed in trays, boots and belts are removed, then awkwardly pulled on again, carry-ons are hauled onto security belts and the whole juggling act is carried out whilst waving the passport and boarding card at officials every step of the way.  Finally, when documents are put away carefully and bags are reassembled, there is a simple pleasure in sitting down, catching one’s breath and either hashing out a plan for the trip to come or reflecting on the adventure that was.

I am aware that when it comes to culinary let-downs, airport food is a close second to that on the flying machines themselves.  Food in that in-between land is always overpriced, limited in variety and invariably disappointing.  Bread that is slightly stale after spending the day in an overly air-conditioned environment.  Muffins that are similarly cold and dry.  Slices of ham that are dehydrated around the edges.  Scrambled eggs that can be lifted en masse from the plate.  Sandwiches whose cost might feed a small African nation for a day.

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I know all this, yet I always try and make time, between that madness of the security gates and the departure gates, to sit, reflect and have a meal at the airport.  On the way to Florence, I sat at Sydney airport and nutted out that feeling I always have when I am starting on a trip.  That niggle, like a tiny stone in a shoe, that I have forgotten something.  So I sat, stared at the ascending planes, gathered my thoughts, and dissected the niggle.  I sipped my medicinal coffee and chewed on my grilled (plastic) cheese sandwich, remembered what I had forgotten and realised with relief that it was something I could live without.  Just like that, I tipped the stone out of my shoe.

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It’s been a few days of pizza and pasta now, and this at about the point when I begin to crave something of home.  To me, Italian food comes only second to Indian food.  I love its simplicity- a toothsome pizza base, a well simmered sauce and a handful of basil, and it is at its best.  But after a few days, I do crave a vegetable or two, preferably home-cooked in Indian spices.  Green beans, stir-fried the South-Indian way or in this simple curry would do just fine.  Or this ivy gourd and coconut stir fry.  Or these brussel sprouts, rubbed with garam masala and coconut oil, then roasted until they are slightly sweet.  Tender but still offering some resistance against eager teeth.  Interspersed with chewier coconut.  These sprouts would do very well against my current carb overload, but would also make an amazing side dish, or a main meal with a couple of poached eggs on top.

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Roasted Garam Masala Brussel Sprouts

Feeds 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

Based on Ina Garten’s recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Get:

600g brussel sprouts
1/2 cup shaved coconut (use shredded if you can’t find this)
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
3 tsp garam masala
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Cut the stems off the brussel sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise.

In a large roasting pan, toss all the ingredients using your (clean) hands, rubbing the spices into the cut surfaces of the sprouts.

Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing in the pan every 10 mins, until the sprouts are crisp-edged, tender inside, but still holding together and a little chewy.

Squeeze lime juice generously over it before serving.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Patterns

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Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

I have an abnormal Rainman-like obsession with patterns in photography, so this challenge was practically made for me.  In fact, I was a bit spoilt for choice but in the end I went with this series of shots I took of Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal.

To see other interpretations of this challenge, go to The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Patterns.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

Spot-billed Pelican, Kokrebellur, Karnataka, India

Kokarebellur, a tiny village in Karnataka, India,  is so named because of the Painted Storks (Kokare) that nest and breed here year after year.  Spot-Billed Pelicans are another species that join the egg-laying party and together these magnificent birds are considered an auspicious omen by the villagers.  We visited during breeding season (Sept-Feb), and spent most of our time there looking up.  They aren’t hard to spot; several of these enormous birds can be seen weighing down the boughs of each tree, or flying between trees.  The sight is almost a little silly as it is so much easier to picture these handsome birds perched on the mast of a ship or on a jetty.

This is my interpretation of The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Up.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colours

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Between the rock and the sky, Uluru, NT, Australia

This is my interpretation of The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour.

I took this picture while walking around the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock). The striking colours of the rock and the sky really got me!

(This was one of the areas of Uluru where photography was allowed).