Friday 29 January 2016

Torquay beach holiday and what we ate

A few weeks back I decided to try my luck at booking a beach house over one of the busiest weekends in summer, the Australia Day weekend.  And look at where we arrived in Torquay last weekend.  The gods were smiling upon us!  This was a perfect place to arrive home from the beach, kick off our thongs and eat dinner outdoors.

Not only was it a darling verandah but this was the view.  Torquay is quite close to Geelong where my parents live so it is not unfamiliar to us.  However the house was by Spring Creek in an area I don't know.  The garden of stone fruit trees, squash vines and tomato plants was lovely.  The tall gum trees attracted screeching cockatoos and cats wandered in the garden.

You might notice the garden is quite damp.  On the day we arrived, it was a miserable wet day.  It took us almost twice as long as usual to get to Geelong.  The weekend was fairly cool but warm enough in the afternoons.

The kitchen in the living area was compact but had everything we needed.

I took quite a few simple meals and snacks.  Bread, swiss cheese, milk and coco pops for breakfast.  (Sylvia loved the little holiday cereal packs.)  Baked beans, hummus, crackers and vegies for dinners or lunches.  Chips, soy snacks, teddy bear biscuits, wagon wheels, roasted broad beans and dried apricots for snacks.  And soda water and tea bags for drinks.  It all worked well for us.

Sylvia frowned upon not seeing a telly.  Then she was amused to find it was in the cupboard.  And once we found it too difficult to work the tv I was quite relieved.  It made for peaceful evenings.

Sylvia was even happier at the day bed in the corner.  She is very fond of creating houses and before long had made it her space with her minion tucked under his blanket, a mirror on the windowsill and books on a side table..

E loved having the cats visit us.

We managed to go to the beach most days after the first wet arrival.  It was quite cool for swimming in the mornings but lovely to walk along the tide.

We went to Zeally Bay Park along the foreshore.  It is a great kids playground with lots of space and play equipment.

We parked by the corner of Zeally Bay Road and Cliff Street for brunch each morning and were very fond of the healthy food at Kindness Co cafe.  It was so good that I have written a separate post about it.

Meanwhile nearby on Cliff St was one of our other favourites: the taco truck run by The Daily Food Co.  It didn't quite cater to Sylvia who only likes cheese in her tacos.  They did not serve cheese.  They did serve amazing tacos.

Here is my vegetarian taco (beside some sliced tomato that Sylvia rejected).  It was full of black beans with charred corn, capsicum, red onion and zucchini with red slaw, tomatillo salsa and kewpie mayonnaise.  It was really delicious.  (I checked and was told without the mayo it was vegan and they will be there at least until Easter.)  The taco wasn't really filling but at 3 for $13 you can't complain.

We were quite happy to eat a small lunch as it was followed by raw cake at the Kindness Co and frozen yoghurt at Orange Leaf (2C Gilbert Street).  We met my brother and his family who had cycled from their home to Orange Leaf.  It is the sort of place where you fill a tub with frozen yoghurt and all sorts of toppings (fruit, nuts, lollies etc) and pay by weight.  I just ate some of E's because I wasn't so hungry.

Then my mum came to visit.  It was merciful to sit on the verandah of our beach house with a cuppa and a teddy bear biscuit.

Then back to the beach for a swim.  Sylvia got into using the boogie board earlier in summer but the beach at Cosy Corner didn't have many waves for her boogie board.  She was happy to play in the shallows.

For dinner we went to Flippin Fresh fish and chip shop (33 Surfcoast Hwy, Torquay).  We had a bit of a wait but loved the chips and potato cakes.  Unfortunately there were no corn jacks but the pumpkin cakes were really nicely fried and I also tried a vegetarian spring roll which was lovely and crisp but nothing fancy inside.  E also liked his flake and chips.

We were back at the Kindness Co the next day but Sylvia wasn't so keen on the offerings so I bought some cheeseymite scrolls for her at Bakers Delight.

We spent some time browsing the shop.  Yet that is a green giraffe and no I didn't buy it.  I was more excited to find a copy of Vegan Life magazine from the UK.  I have been resisting buying food magazines lately.  This one was great for reading on the verandah back at the beach house.  I also read Tom's Midnight Garden which many of us would remember from childhood.

E on the other hand was quite keen on browing books.  He spent quite a bit of time at Torquay Books.  It is a really lovely bookshop.  Then he had a few hours at the Book Fair.

Sylvia had her book the Railway Children with her but when it came to purchases, her heart's desire is ice creams.  We had to try these Glamington Drumsticks.  Chocolate, vanilla, raspberry jam ripple and some coconut on top.  Fun for a change but more novelty than amazing.

We ate our ice creams just before having a swim.  Which means all the stickiness washes off in the sea rather than finding its way through Sylvia's clothes and hair.

I was ready for a lighter dinner.  We had hummus with crackers and vegies.  Sylvia had baked beans.

On our last morning we went to E's sort of cafe (Tapas?) next to Torquay Books.  He had an egg and bacon sandwich.  It was the sort of place where your options are limited if you don't want egg or meat.  So Sylvia and I both had toasted bagel with nutella.  It was ok but not really a proper bagel.  Sylvia had a well toasted bagel which was rather difficult to eat with a very wobbly tooth.

It is not a place we are keen to return to.  Later I thought maybe we should have gone to Torquay Larder or Growlers or Mobys with its outdoor play area.  Another time when we are down that way!

Then we headed to the beach and had a paddle in the tide before heading back homewards.  It was a relaxing short break before back to school and work this week.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Vegemite fudge, beach, afternoon tea and more on Australia Day

Last night we returned home from a long weekend at the beach in Torquay.  It was glorious to walk in the shallows with the sand between our toes.  On the way home we stopped at my parents' home for a birthday afternoon tea.  Today is Australia Day so I had some fun with our national icon Vegemite and added it to fudge.

I was inspired by vegemite caramel chocolate, to add a layer of caramel into a chocolate fudge (made of chocolate and condensed milk).  However it was not easy to know how much vegemite to add.  I felt that my cautious quarter teaspoon could have been doubled.  I was happier with my caramel.  I learnt from the caramel for the recent rice krispie slice and tested the caramel on a cold saucer earlier rather than giving it the full 10 minutes other recipes suggested.  It was a bit chewy when kept in the fridge but lovely at room temperature.

Before we left for our holiday in Torquay, I chopped up the fudge into small squares, wiping the knife between slicing.  Sylvia and I tasted a piece or two and it was addictive.  We wisely dropped it to wait in my mum's fridge before the afternoon tea.  I would not like to say how much would have been left had we taken it to the beach house with us.

My mum put on an impressive spread for the afternoon tea.  I loved that there were plenty of savoury options - herb scones, samosas, sandwiches, bruschetta, zucchini fritters, as well as lots of sweet options - lamingtons, friands, my fudge, little cakes, scones with jam and cream, and lemon tarts.  I also took down cashew cheese stuffed dates but am not sure which category they fit.

There was also a gorgeous Persian love cake for the birthday cake decorated with pomegranate and pistachios.  We were so full after all the good food.  Luckily we didn't eat much after breakfast and then we just had snacks for tea.  Some of the family then played cricket outside but I stayed inside and chatted.

Today back in Melbourne, we headed out to Kings Domain on the fringe of the city for the annual RACV Australia Day picnic and federation vehicle display.  It the place where the Australia Day parade finishes and the crowds enjoy food trucks and activities.

On the way in we were handed free cartons of Choc Lamington Big M (flavoured milk), offered Australian flags and given free sun cream.  I had a baked potato and a chocolate ice cream.  We spent most of our time sitting in the shade at the main stage watching the ukulele group, Justine Clarke, Aussie pub rock classics and hip hop dancers.  I wondered if I could change my birthday when we watched those born on 26 January birthday being treated to cake.

We had a little time to wander around the other stalls.  I would have shown Sylvia how to play totem tennis if it hadn't been so popular.  I was convinced to have a henna tattoo.  And we enjoyed looking at the vintage cars.  The one above gave everyone a start with the [fake] arm hanging out the back.  I asked the owner if he drove around like this and he said he had too many complaints about a body in the boot so the police have ordered him not to do it any more.

Before I finish this post, I have a few esoteric Australian photos to share.  Above is a group of haybales with the Australian flag imposed on them.  We saw it on the Princess Highway yesterday.  I am always in admiration of vision while driving along country roads and stopped to take a photo.

Given that we have just been to the beach, I thought that for Australia Day I would share a quintessentially Aussie picture I took of my family at the beach a few weeks back.  It was my first outing to the beach for the summer and a joy to see how Sylvia enjoyed surfing the waves on a boogie board.

This picture is street art in North Carlton I took late last year.  I wish there were many Indigenous images I had encountered today and I didn't need to dig through my photo archives for a picture.  However though I have been seeing lots of Australian flags around Australia Day, the only Aboriginal flag I saw today was carried by a couple on the train home.  It embarrasses me.

There are Aboriginal events held today.  My friend Heather met us at Kings Domain and said that she encountered an Aboriginal group occupying the Flinders St Station intersection.  However I would love to see Aboriginal Australia incorporated into more mainstream events like the RACV picnic.

I wish I had more space and eloquence to explain why it is sad and harmful when we don't remember Australia Day as a day of invasion of Aboriginal Australia.  Instead I highly recommend you read Chelsea Bond's article The day I don't feel Australian: that would be Australia Day and then if you want to imagine how it would feel to have your land invaded, check out The Conversation's Australia Day film guide listing films in which Sydney has been invaded. 

It would be great if Australia Day were a day for all Australians.  And though I want to be inclusive, I happen to know that not everyone embraces vegemite.  There are many who share Amanda Palmer's sentiments against our lovely salty black spread.  However we always tell newcomers it is best used sparingly.

This fudge can be compared to a salted caramel with a slightly deeper flavour.  In fact I was surprised none of my family was horrified when I told them the secret ingredient was vegemite.  If you grew up on vegemite like we did, you wil no doubt love this fudge.  To the novices, I suggest try this fudge and you might just find it is a way to like vegemite.  If you really can't bare the thought of vegemite in fudge, the check out more of my Australia Day recipes.

More vegemite in recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Cheeseymite scones
Dark vegetable and lentil stew
Mashed vegetables with vegemite 
Nut roast

Chocolate fudge with vegemite caramel
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe, Bakers Corner and Tin and Thyme

300g condensed milk
300g dark choc chips

Caramel filling:
100g condensed milk
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp castor sugar
2 tbsp butter
1/4-1/2 tsp vegemite*

Line a 13 x 22cm loaf tin with baking paper.   Melt 180g condensed milk with 200g choc chips.  (I did this in the microwave.)   Spread evenly into the loaf tin.  Set in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the caramel.  Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil on medium heat stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.  Check if it has struck the right balance between too soft and too chewy by putting a small drop on a cool plate and checking it once it has cooled (this should be seconds).

Scrape the caramel into another bowl to help cool it.  Leave about 5 minutes and then spread onto the set chocolate mixture.  Return loaf tin to freezer for about10 minutes.  Then melt remaining condensed milk and chocolate and spread over the caramel.

Set in freezer an hour or so and then cut into small squares.  Wipe the knife between each cut to keep the slices neat.  Keeps in the fridge for at least5 days.

NOTES: I added 1/4 tsp of vegemite which was barely discernable so next time I would try more.  However for vegemite novices, 1/4 tsp might be just enough.  I accidentally melted 300g each of chocolate and condensed milk and used about two thirds for the bottom and then remelted the last bit for the topping.  I found that I had about 90g of the 395g tin of condensed milk left for the caramel but luckily had a little extra in the fridge.  However I would measure the 100g for the caramel before I measured the last 100g for the chocolate topping as I think the later is more important to have correct.

UPDATE: Shaheen at Allotment to Kitchen has posted a marmite fudge based on this one.  She used a lot more marmite than I used vegemite so I definitely will next time too.

On the Stereo:
Molly - Do Yourself a Favour - the Soundtrack to the TV Miniseries and Molly's Life in Music - Various Artists

Friday 22 January 2016

Australia Day recipes

Australia Day on 26 January is almost upon us.  Whether you are celebrating settlement or commiserating on invasion (it is a day full of political opinion as much as parades and bbqs), I hope you will be eating good food.

Today for Australia Day I share some iconic Australian recipes, and recipes using iconic Australian food.  It has been hard to narrow down so many favourite recipes so I have tried to only include quintessentially Aussie food, rather than recipes of my family. Here they are (clockwise from top left):

Classic Australian baking:

Kids parties and lunchboxes
  • Hedgehog - similar to fridge cake, biscuit cake or tiffin - a chocolate slice with chunks of biscuits
  • Honey joys - cornflakes baked with a honey butter coating
  • Lemon slice - chunks of biscuit in a slice of lemon, coconut and condensed milk
  • Apricot delight - dense uncooked mixture of dried apricots and coconut cut into small squares
  • Coconut ice - very rich condensed milk and coconut mixture usually with a pink layer and a white layer
  • Chocolate crackles - chocolate coated rice bubbles, traditionally made with copha (hydrogenated coconut oil - which is less popular these days). 

Australian brand names in recipes:
  • Tim Tam brownies - brownies stuffed with tim tams (chocolate sandwich biscuits)
  • Chokito fudge - fudge stuffed with chokito (chocolate bar with fudge and rice bubbles)
  • Grubs with Tim Tams - chocolate balls made of condensed milk, cocoa, coconut and biscuit - this recipe uses Tim Tams instead of traditional Marie biscuits
  • Violet Crumble ice cream - ice cream stuffed with Violet Crumble - a chocolate covered bar of honeycomb
  • Tick Tock teacups - biscuits with clock faces form the saucer with a marshmallow cup, a lifesaver handle and a freckle for the froth - these are really cute party favourites
  • Cherry Ripe cake pops - cherries, condensed milk and coconut are mixed and dipped in chocolate to imitate a favourite chocolate bar

Classic savoury Australian recipes (vegetarian):
  • Sausage rolls - one of my favourite party recipes - "sausage meat" wrapped in pastry
  • Damper - simple campfire bread leavened with baking powder
  • Party pies - while the larger meat pie is an Aussie classic, these smaller versions were always at parties of my youth
  • Chiko rolls  - minced meat and cabbage in a really chew fried pastry
  • Zucchini slice - lots of egg and grated zucchini plus some fried bacon all mixed and baked a bit like a fritatta
  • Pumpkin soup - it was a great shock when I first travelled to find that pumpkin soup was not as ubiquitous as I had thought from living in Australia

Recipes using Australian ingredients
  • Vegemite in Cheeseymite scones - I hardly need to tell you about how dark and salty vegemite is and that it is best eaten in small amounts - it goes well very with cheese.  (Also try the vegemite burger or vegemite fudge.)
  • Pumpkin in Pumpkin, pecan and poppyseed scones - I know well that many other countries have pumpkin but few seem to have it like we do in Australia where our Queensland Blue and Kent pumpkins are regular household vegies - and we love it in scones
  • Quandong syrup in the frosting on Kale cake - I only tasted quandong syrup recently and loved its gentle fragrant fruitiness in a cream cheese frosting - an indigenous fruit that I must learn about
  • Dried wattleseed in Mud cake -  I love using native seed, dried wattleseed, instead of coffee granules in baking - it has a slight bitterness that echoes coffee
  • Weetbix in Marshmallow weetbix slice - weetbix was first made in Australia (though it became weetabix in some countries) and was one of the main cereals when we were young - it is low in sugar and high in fibre so retains its popularity - the marshmallow slice with it is a faovurite from my childhood
  • Pepperberry in Tofu and pesto crackers - in Australia we have an indigenous mountain pepper with edible leaf and berries - I've used it in baking occasionally

Quirky Australian themed recipes
  • Southern Cross cake - an easy Australian-themed cake
  • Buttermilk and lemon myrtle damper in Aboriginal flag dinner - many years ago as a new blogger I created a dinner homage to the Aboriginal flag - one day I will do it with a better photo!
  • White Christmas - we have very few iconic Christmas recipes in Australia but this no bake slice filled with rice bubbles, dried fruit and copha (or white chocolate) is an old favourite
  • The Getting of Wisdom book cake - the cake didn't look very much like a book but it did feature the name of a classic coming-of-age Australian book that we studied at school
  • Shamburger pizza with the lot - the classic Aussie burger in a fish and chip shop has lettuce, fried onions, beetroot, fried egg, tomato and bacon as well as the burger in a bun - I had a go at putting a veg version on a pizza
  • Gluten free Tim Tams - I also had a go at making gluten free Tim Tams for the celiacs in my family - they were good but the melted chocolate was not on my side that day

Classic Australian recipes I hope to blog one day
  • Sponge cake - my mum makes beautiful light sponge layer cakes regularly on birthdays so I feel it is my destiny to bake sponge cakes
  • Fairy bread - what Aussie party is complete without bread with butter and coloured sprinkles though such a simple idea that it seems crazy to blog it
  • Jelly slice - have loved jelly slice since childhood but need to get around gelatine to make it (the Moody Noodles have had a go)
  • Cheesymite scrolls - a recently Aussie classic take on the bread roll though the idea of pairing vegemite and cheese is an old one
  • Vanilla slice - custard between layers of puff pastry with lots of icing on top - I only occasionally want one so the idea of a whole batch of them seems a bit much
  • Pavlova - this is one of my mum's regular desserts that I grew up on - I want to try one but dream of making a vegan one with aquafaba - though it needs to have the marshmallow inside and crisp outside to be proper pav
So now I am pretty amazed at how many Aussie recipes I have produced here.  Cultural cringe makes us Aussies believe we have little to offer the rest of the world but it aint true.  And I haven't even started on other favourites like coffee scrolls, jelly cakes, peach melba.  Check out my Australia Day Pinterest board for more ideas.  Whether commiserating or celebrating, I hope you are finding some Australian food for our national day.

NOTES: For American readers, when we say "biscuit" it is like your cookie.  Our slices are similar to American bars.  Rice bubbles are known as rice krispies elsewhere.  It is confusing but Google will mostly help out.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Damper: traditional Australian campfire bread

When we were young, my mum would mix flour and water and places it in the coals of the fire in the BBQ at a bush picnic area.  We ate it with slabs of butter from the local dairy and (for my parents) billy tea.  I have such fond memories of it that I am very picky about damper recipes.  They have to be very plain and have a thick crust.

I read somewhere that damper is Australia's version of soda bread.  Though I used self raising flour in my damper, it is different from using bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk together in soda bread.  I love the simplicity of damper.  If you have flour and baking powder you can make it.  Which I guess is why it was part of the swagman's diet in colonial Australia. 

Of course in the days when the swagmen wandered the bush they could stop at will to light campfires on which to bake damper and boil the billy.  Nowadays we are more aware of bushfires and must be more careful about lighting fires.  This summer is not a great one for cooking damper on an open fire.  The hot dry weather has resulted in many days of total fire ban. 

When we were young a bbq was a grill above a fire.  These days bbqs often involve gas and coals both at home and in picnic spots.  So I guess there are generally less people lighting campfires.  However you can baked damper in your oven.  It wont have that charred taste of the fire but it can have a thick crust and be fluffy inside.

We really loved this damper.  It had that robust yet fluffy crumb with a thick crust.  More like beer bread than soda bread.  I tried to bake it in a casserole dish to imitate a camp oven but it cooked too slowly so then I baked it on a baking stone until it was golden brown.

We tore chunks of damper to eat with a bottom-of-the-fridge-clearing stew.  Then we had some with jam for afters.  Well E and I did.  Sylvia had been on a sleepover the previous evening and had fallen asleep at 5pm.  I tried to wake her for dinner but she slept through til the next morning.  A shame.  I think she would have enjoyed the plain damper.  Seems I need to make it again.  And it would be perfect on Australia Day next week.

I am sending this to Kimmy for Healthy Vegan Fridays, Solange and Margot for Inheritance Recipes, and Helen and Camilla Credit Crunch Munch.

More savoury Australian baking:
Buttermilk and lemon myrtle damper
Party pies (v)
Pumpkin damper (v)
Pumpkin scones 
Sausage rolls
Zucchini slice

From Kidspot

2 cups self raising flour
generous pinch of salt
1 cup water

Mix salt into flour and then gradually mix in water to make a soft sticky dough.  You can use your hand to knead in the last few bits of flour and give it a couple of kneads on a floured surface to make a smooth(ish) dough.  However it should be treated gently as too much handling will make it tough.  Bake on a floured baking stone or baking tray in a hot oven until golden brown.  Mine took about 40-50 minutes at 220 C but my oven is quite slow.  Best on day of baking but will be ok the next day.

On the Stereo:
Ruby: Killjoys

Monday 18 January 2016

Chokito fudge

Today I want to encourage you to celebrate underrated Aussie chocolate bars.  Such as the Chokito.  Honestly, I get worried some days when they are not available in my local supermarket.  Not that I am looking to buy.  Just checking that they are still in circulation!  So I created a fudge filled with chunks of Chokito.  It is sort of like a fudgy crispy fudge.

For those who aren't familiar with it, here is what it looks like.  A bar of fudge smothered in rice crisps and milk chocolate.  Yes it is sweet but oh so good.  If you are a fan of condensed milk, then this is for you.  Unless you don't live in Australia, in which case you might not be able to find them easily.  Although according to Wikipedia they are also sold in Switzerland and Brazil.

When I was young we didn't eat chocolate bars a lot but there were moments when we could choose one.  At such times we all knew our favourite bars.  For me it was Chokito.  Strangely enough I have very few vivid memories of it but I have one: as a teenager I had a minor operation and I remember waking from the anaesthetic and being greeted by my family bringing me a Chokito.  It cheered me up.

I made this fudge upon a whim.  I know that January is supposedly the month of detox and dieting after festive excesses.  Yet that is just not happening when every weekend is another birthday celebration and at the end of the month is both Burns Night and Australia Day.  I guess we are still in party mode.

It is also the school holidays which meant that this was a fun activity on a day around the house.  Sylvia was beside herself with excitement at chopping up Chokitos.  She was also very excited when I pulled out the couches and mopped the day before.  

And what kid - big or small - could not be excited at fudge that involved chopping up chocolate bars, melting condensed milk and chocolate, and sprinkling fudge chunks.

In fact we were so excited that we could not wait for the fudge to be firm enough to slice.  Which might mean we each had a piece of soft fudge.  It was so very yummy.  Then I put it into the freezer so it got firm quicker.

I could highly recommend putting a Chokito into your fudge.  However I understand not everyone loves it as much as I do or has access to it.  So I can also recommend adding other chocolate bars to this fudge or even veganising it with vegan chocolate, vegan condensed milk and vegan chocolate bars.  Or you could just be really healthy and enjoy this fudge on my blog vicariously.  Which I think I probably need to do in future!

I am sending this fudge to We Should Cocoa which is hosted by Lovely Appetite and about simple recipes this month.

More fudge on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Black bean cacao fudge (gf, v)
Caramel fudge (gf)
Chocolate cashew fudge (gf, v)
Chocolate layered fudge (peppermint or caramel) (gf)
Hedgehog fudge with dried cherries
Mostly raw double layer fudge (gf, v)
Nutella fudge

More fun fudge elsewhere online:
Chocolate Crunchie Fudge - Jacqueline Meldrum on
Easy Tim Tam Fudge - Kidspot
Mars Bar Fudge - Create Bake Make
Peppermint Crisp Fudge - Thermobliss
Tim Tam Milo Fudge - Bake Play Smile

Chokito Fudge
Makes lots of small pieces

300g dark chocolate (I used one with 50% cocoa solids)
300g condensed milk
25g butter
3 Chokito bars
85g fudge chunks, for topping

Line a 15cm square cake tin with baking paper.  Chop Chokito bars into chunks and set aside.  Melt chocolate, condensed milk and butter.  Mix in Chokito chunks.  Tip into prepared tin and smooth on top with the back of a spoon. Scatter fudge chunks over the top and lightly press into the fudge.  Leave in the fridge to firm up (or put it in the freezer if you are impatient).  Cut into small squares.  Keep in an airtight tub in the fridge or at room temperature.

On the stereo:
The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic