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Three bean chilli nachos

This is a long time coming. A whole year has passed since I was here. So I’m unsure of which story to give a voice to first because there are simply so many, all in one way or another connected to food. Like the night I invited all the girls over to our new home and made a whole roast cauliflower with tahini, black olives and currants. I could’ve made four! Or the picture perfect wedding I catered at the Little Black Shack and my quest for the perfect pizza dough to bake in the wood fired oven there. Or the day we made a huge fire pit and cooked a Cinderella size pumpkin in the glowing coals, eaten with sharp Cheddar, sour cream and crunchy jalapeños. Yet the one tale that I feel more compelled to tell than any other, and the thing that has had the most profound effect on my life in the last 12 months, is about surfing. It’s not connected to any one dish in particular. Beyond that, it’s become an intrinsic part of the way I cook and who I am. To tell this story though, I need some starlight motivation in the form of a surfing mums bonfire story night, complete with a giant pan of three bean chilli nachos. And I need to start from the beginning.

Newquay is England’s surfing mecca and it’s where I repeatedly went on childhood holidays. If I close my eyes, the memories of the place and those days are sparkling clear. The alarm clock squarks of seagulls, fluorescent buckets and spades strung from shop doors, Mr. Whippy ice creams crowned with sticky chocolate sauce, bamboo handled fishing nets and hunting for crabs, newspaper parcels of hot chips spiked with malt vinegar, castles and moats dug in the sand. Most enduring though is my connection with the ocean. The salt, fresh and clean hanging in the air, the waves forever beating the land, the mineral rich taste in my mouth and the sandpaper feel of briny water dried on my skin. The sense of freedom and excitement jumping in the swell. Crashing, splashing, falling with abandon. Immersing my little body in the energy of the waves, reveling as they lifted me up and down. It was only when I was blue with cold that would return to my mum and dad and the comfort of a warm towel. That pull of the sea has remained with me. And it’s there now more than any other time in my life. I give you this snapshot into my early years because those times, playing with the rhythm of the ocean is where I now see that my desire to surf was born.

Fast forward to my thirty ninth year, and given the opportunity I will still remain in the ocean until I’m either too cold or too tired to continue. Now though instead of jumping waves, I’m trying to ride them. Arriving in Australia fourteen years ago I intended to make my childhood dream of learning to surf come true. However, it’s a hard sport to master, or even begin to master. There are so many constantly changing factors involved. I just thought I would get around to it one day. At least I was now in the right place and had a board. The rest would happen. But other ambitions ensued like owning a cafe, running a marathon and having children. In fact it took until Thea was born and I found out about Surfing Mums that I actually committed to surfing once a week. I’m confident in the water and was always happy to paddle out the back. On some days that was an achievement in itself. Yet actually catching waves eluded me. I was excited to be forming new friendships with inspirational and like minded people though, all of whom loved the ocean too, while at the same time making small steps towards my dream. Then a tree fell on our house.

That gum tree was blessing. For two and a half years we lived away from the ocean while our house was rebuilt. And what that did is make me realise what is vitally important to me. That I love the sea. I have always known this. During a French speaking class at school we were asked to tell everyone a sentence about ourselves. Mine was “je voudrais habiter toujours pres de la mer” ( I wish always to live close to the sea). Now though, I know with absoluteness. There is something within me that craves the ocean and feels better for being close to it. Time away from the beach also taught me not to take where I live for granted and to seize the opportunity that I have to make this want in my heart that is to learn to surf a reality. Because when you do lock on to a wave and take that drop, it’s an incredible one of a kind feeling. It’s grinning from ear to ear with elation pounding in your chest. It’s a radiant glow. A sparkle in your eye. It’s energising. Restorative. Calming. Uplifting. Life affirming. It’s an addiction that I’m very proud to have. And there is a fire burning so bright inside of me right now to give everything that I have to achieve my dream.

The thing with me is that I’m fiercely determined. I also expect a lot from myself. And I love a challenge. This combination has seen many tears and much frustration this past year in my surfing crusade. Board breaks that have seen me sobbing in the sand and left me in deep, black holes. The emotional levels I’ve had to work through each time I’ve taken a knock have staggered me. Events from my past that I thought I had dealt with reared, but they’re now tamed and my time in the water is so much lighter. That yarn is for another time though! Then come the highs, so skyscraper tall that that the bad times fade away. I finally feel that I’m making progress. I can see that I am. I’ve gone from being unable to stand up to now being able to pop up with ease and surf directionally on a wave. I can even turn. And on a shorter board. My little girl’s wish is becoming my adult reality. What has surprised is the domino effect that surfing is having on my life in general. It’s making me more confident and assertive as I push myself to paddle for waves alongside others, calmer and patient as I learn to quieten the disruptive little voice in my head. And not even a powder day during my ski seasons, made me hop out of bed quite like I now do for a dawn surf!

The friendships that I have formed through Avalon Surfing Mums are the cherry and rainbow sprinkles on top. Wonderful people who are open and welcoming, who encourage, support, nurture and look out for each other. People who are just as stoked when you catch a wave as when they do and are always there to offer advice, or a shoulder should you need it. I’ve needed a few. A network to whom this post is dedicated. You are all rockstars who make the world a better pace. May we share many more waves, post surf beers, glasses of wine, skinny dips, road trips, bear hugs and belly laughs. And of course paella picnics, birthday bacon and egg rolls, girls trip Indian feasts and fireside three bean chilli nachos! Thank you for inspiring me. For eating my food and for looking after my kids. I feel overwhelmingly lucky to not only be living my dream, but to be able to do so surrounded by so many incredible souls.

Three bean chilli nachos

An original recipe

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 red capsicum
1 yellow capsicum
1 sweet potato
1 bunch parsley
1 zucchini
2 400g cans mixed beans (I used these)
2 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 generous tbsp tomato paste
2-4 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp chilli (or more to your liking)

Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, capsicums and sweet potato and parsley stalks and all to the bowl of a food processor and whizz until everything is finely chopped. The reason for this is I wanted the chilli to be somewhat smooth so it is easy to scoop up with corn chips. You could always chop everything by hand too. The chilli will just be a bit more chunky.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the processed ingredients. Cover the pot with a lid (or foil) and cook over a low heat until everything is soft, 20-30 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and cook uncovered for an hour or so until the mixture is slightly reduced. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary; add more salt or chilli.

Enjoy with rice/quinoa/corn chips/tacos, pico de gallo, guacamole (I love the Pioneer Woman’s recipes for these), sour cream and cheese.

If you liked this three bean chilli nachos recipe than you may also like classic spaghetti and meatballs

No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

I think it’s been about 10 months since I last visited here. Life with two small people is needless to say, very busy. Jam packed really. From the moment Thea comes into my room and grins her morning bed hair grin at me and Pat cries out to join in the fun, it’s non stop action and a little bit of chaos for the next 12 hours. Add work into the equation. A nutrition course. Building a new house. It makes for a full day. But I wouldn’t have my life right now any other way. Yet this post is not about any of those things. The reason for my sudden impetus to write, apart from the fact that I’m craving to put the jumbled sentences swimming in my head in to a meaningful form, is that my sister-in-law Tash, one very cool lady and among many things, a passionate doula, has asked me to share the story of Pat’s birth. And the timing seems just right with the anniversary of that day fast approaching.

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Pat’s impending arrival was jigsaw puzzle perfect. I found out I was pregnant two weeks after running my first marathon. Immediately I made a vision board full of round tummies and chubby newborns. My second pregnancy was going to be different. This time I was going to grow the little human inside me for the full 40 weeks. I was going to have a peaceful natural birth and I was going to cradle my newborn son in my arms before the cord was even cut. Wrong. For all my positivity, at a 24 week scan, booked so that Pat’s size could be measured to check that everything was on track, it was discovered that I had the same complication that I experienced with Thea. The flow of blood in the umbilical cord was compromised and he wasn’t getting all the nourishment that he needed.

Hearing the news time slowed down. My cheeks flushed, my heart started racing and a tumultuous feeling settled in my stomach. This can’t be happening. Not again. Not two premmie babies. But with Thea on my lap as testimony of a beautiful outcome, I accepted what I had been told and decided to maintain my optimism.

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Fast forward through 12 weeks of ECGs and growth scans, to 36 weeks and five days pregnant and the night before my Caesarian was due to take place. I had been told in answer to my requests to deliver baby later, “No, going over 37 weeks is really not a good idea as the chances of the cord giving up get much higher.” I had also been told no to trying for a natural birth. It was all out of my hands and to be honest knowing that all the monitoring and stress related with having a high risk pregnancy was going to be over was a huge relief. That said, I was sad. Sad for the loss of those final few weeks. Sad for the negativity surrounding my unborn baby which the doctors and nurses insisted on fostering. Sad knowing it just wasn’t my fate to experience a natural birth. I am aware that these things are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but let me tell you, becoming a mother is life changing. And how your child is delivered leaves an indelible mark. One moment you are someone, the next you are a completely different person with feelings so big that they are able to bowl you over.

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I spent a sleepless six hours in bed, getting up to go to the loo what seemed like every five minutes. I just couldn’t get comfortable. Couldn’t relax. I wasn’t so much worried about having two children and how logistically it was all going to work, or about how Thea was going to react to having a brother. No. I was anxious in that visiting a hospital three and four times a week to check the progression of your pregnancy because it’s considered high risk really gets into your head. Would baby be ok, healthy, a good size? Or was he going to be tiny and need help? Mark and I finally got up at six o’clock on Thursday June 30th and left the house for the last time as a family of three.

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I knew what to expect. Cold room, bright lights, lots of people, numb legs, screen in front of my face, Mark’s cheek pressed close mine. And the birth of a baby. A joyous occasion. But I did not experience joy. I felt sadness. Despair. Powerlessness. I felt defeated. I had written down a few things that I would like to happen at the birth this time around, like to see Pat coming into the world, but not one of my requests was honoured. It was like with Thea but worse, because this time I thought I might have some control over the situation, but really I didn’t. I was a number on a list and my son’s birth was just part of a routine day.

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But then the moment came. I heard the words that I ached to hear. It took a while and I really didn’t think that it wasn’t going to happen and had been forewarned it might not. Would you like to hold him? I howled. Wailed. A primal explosion of emotion washed over me as my perfect little boy was placed on my bare chest. He squealed, I soothed. I cupped him in my hands. He was breathtaking. A gorgeous 2.4 kilos, 10 tiny fingers, 10 tiny toes and the gentlest dusting of soft brown hair. Oh all the things that we will do together, all the memories we will make, all the possibilities in the world that lie ahead of you. My boy. We did it. You’re here.

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The encounter was far too brief though and we were separated until the next morning. My time in recovery was full of tears and anguish. Mark had gone with Pat to the nursery and I had no way to contact them. My temperature kept dropping and my whole body shivered. Anxiety churned in my stomach. With no idea what was going on, I was beyond stressed. Having experienced Thea’s birth, where I knew that she would be taken away from me, this time round I was full of hope, but equally trepidation. How was my little boy doing.

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The next morning full of gusto, my focus entirely on Pat, I lowered my limbs out of bed, renewed my senses under a hot shower and headed straight for the nursery. I was going to cradle my baby boy, feed him, drink him in. Bring him home. He latched straight away, tears pricked my eyes and my heart soared. By 4pm that afternoon, I was allowed to have him in my room and soon discovered that unlike Thea, he was not going to sleep unless held. And that was fine with me. In the clinical setting of the dimly lit hospital room, the two of us dozed and the bad memories of the day before faded. By 1pm on Saturday, Pat Finch Thompson, in a little red onesie, was securely cocooned in his car seat and we were on our way home.

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Recollecting Pat’s birth still makes me sad. Wether my experience with Thea marred her brother’s arrival, or the weeks of monitoring before he was born, or simply the fact that we were separated. Above all though, his entrance into the world may not have been what I wanted, but he was safe and cared for and there have been a multitude of joyous times since that day. I often think that the challenging events in life, the most uncomfortable of times, can teach the biggest lessons. From both my pregnancies I have learnt to surrender, yet not without optimism, but perhaps more importantly, that having children is not about me at all. It’s about them.

And the mint choc chip? Having Pat come home straight after having him was so different to my experience with Thea. The way my body changed over the first few weeks of his life really did make me feel like I’d had a baby. My capacity to eat chocolate was unending and I craved mint chocolate more than anything else. Mint slices dipped into hot cups of tea, mint chocolate mousses, mint magnums, mint choc chip ice cream, no bake mint chocolate cheesecake… If I had craved family sized portions of lemon dressed salad when I was pregnant, now it was all about sugar. And so I give you this no bake mint chocolate cheesecake. Enjoy.

No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

Makes about 10 servings. I would give credit but the recipe comes from Ma Lyn’s recipe book in the form of a very old clipping.

Crumb crust

Combine the biscuits and butter in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until fine crumbs are achieved. Press the crumbs into the base of a lined 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and chill until firm.

Filling

  • 1 tbsp powdered gelatin (I used Great Lakes gelatin)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I used Sunshine vanilla powder)
  • 4 drops real peppermint essence (I used Doterra)
  • 90g dark chocolate, melted
  • 375ml evaporated milk, chilled

Soak gelatin in cold water. Add boiling water and stir until dissolved. Cool.

In a large bowl or stand mixer beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla and peppermint essence.

Gradually add the melted chocolate, then the gelatin mixture, then the evaporated milk. Keep mixing/beating at high-speed until the mixture is thick and has doubled in volume. Pour the mixture into prepared tin and chill for at least two hours.

Decorate with chocolate shards or sprinkles and enjoy.

If you liked this recipe then you might like chocolate fork biscuits

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Easy upsidedown pineapple cake

Now that during the day we are three, me, a very little and helpless human and an independent, talkative, whirlwind of a toddler, activities to do with the later, to make her feel included and secure with the new family dynamic are more important than ever. And it’s been a beautiful discovery to find that she enjoys cooking. The weighing and the mixing and sometimes even the eating. We’re still working on the eating and it’s sad for me to admit that as a chef I have an extremely tiny, fussy and plain eater. Anyway, she does still enjoy cooking, and this week we made an easy pineapple upside down pineapple cake.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeEven before children, I had visions of the kind of activities that I would like to do with them when the time came. Painting, drawing, gluing, sticking and cooking. Of course cooking. Cutting out gingerbread men and decorating them with Smartie buttons, baking fairy cakes and licking all the butter cream icing off first, making chocolate chip cookies and munching them with an ice cold glass of milk. I have very fond memories of routinely preparing rock cakes with one grandma and cupcakes with the other. Spending time together in the kitchen doing a common activity and sharing the pleasure of the final culinary creation.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeAs a lot of my day is spent holding Pat, feeding him, burping him, carrying him sleeping in a sling (this one’s the bomb), Thea loves it when it’s time for her to have some uninterrupted focus. Don’t get me wrong, she knows what’s what and why I’m investing so much of my time with Pat, but she still craves one on one attention. And cooking seems to be a solution. It’s almost an out of bounds area that she gets to enter into, up on her little stepladder spooning flour into a bowl, haphazardly cracking eggs and pressing buttons on the processor. Yes, it’s messy, especially when there’s cocoa or hundreds and thousands involved, but we both laugh, and surely that counts for more.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeDSC_1030easy upsidedown pineapple cakeThis easy pineapple upside down cake is a really great recipe to make with a small person. They can be very hands on with its preparation as there are essentially just two simple steps. Plus the finished product is so pretty and colourful. There is no guarantee however that participating in making the cake will mean that beyond nibbling the edges your little helper will want to eat it… But that’s ok. We had fun. And it means more for everyone else!

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Easy upsidedown pineapple cake

Adapted from a recipe in Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 6 pineapple rings from a tin (reserve juice to thin cake batter)
  • 11 or so glace cherries depending how many your toddler eats
  • 100g flour
  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Pre heat the oven to 200C and butter a 24cm isn cake tin.

(Get your toddler to) sprinkle 2 tbsp of sugar in the bottom of the cake tin and arrange the pineapple slices on top. Fill the gaps with glace cherries.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and (get your toddler to) process until a smooth batter is achieved. Thin with a little, maybe 2 tbsp pineapple juice from the tin of pineapple rings.

Pour the batter into the cake tin on top of the pineapple rings and pop the tin into the oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before sliding a spatula around the outside of the tin. Place a plate on top of the tin and then turn it upsidedown. Easy pineapple upsidedown cake!

Enjoy with cream and a cup of tea. Your toddler may or may not do the same.

Like this easy upside-down pineapple cake recipe? Then you might like almond tart with strawberries

A very easy garlic prawn entree

easy garlic prawn entree

Prawns plus garlic. The perfect combination. Add some fresh bread and you have a very easy garlic prawn entrée. The best thing about this starter is that it’s served ‘en papillote‘ or in the bag, which means that there’s a little bit of theatre when you bring the garlicky crustaceans to the table. Guests have to tear open their own individual parcels, releasing the wonderful cooking aromas, at the same time as revealing the pink, parsley flecked prawns inside.

easy garlic prawn entree

Home made garlic butter is the best. A few cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs, a grating of lemon zest and some soft butter, press the button and it’s done. Use it to smother over thickly sliced bread before toasting under the grill to make garlic bread. Stuff chicken breasts with it for delicious homemade chicken Kiev. Fry some sliced mushrooms in it and serve them on triangles of brioche. But make lots and freeze it so that you always have some on hand.

easy garlic prawn entree

easy garlic prawn entreeeasy garlic prawn entree

I think that a hankering for prawns is a sign that the weather is getting warmer. The days longer.  The sun lingering in the sky. Prawns are the kind of food that I like to take time to eat, whether around a table with friends or simply with a significant other and a bottle of wine. Leisurely peeling away the crisp shells and dipping the pink meat into piquant seafood sauce, in an al fresco setting. When buying prawns, look for ones with smooth black eyes, not ones with eyes that look like currants. This is a sign that they are fresh, or so I was told by a lady who sold me some of the sweetest, freshest prawns that I’ve ever eaten.

easy garlic prawn entree

A very easy garlic prawn entrée

For 6.

  • 1-1.5kg prawns (which should be around 30-45 prawns depending on their size and how many you want to serve to each of your guests)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 250g soft butter
  • 1 bunch parsley, leaves only
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • glass of white wine

Begin by making the garlic butter. Simply put the garlic, butter, parsley, zest and salt in a processor and whizz until everything is well combined.

Prepare the prawns by removing their heads and shells (you can keep these to make prawn stock) and then the vein that runs down their backs.

Tear off six pieces of baking paper about 40cm in length. Fold these pieces in half, just so you have an indication of where to put the prawns. Place 5-7 prawns per person on one half of each piece of baking paper and top with a generous amount of butter.

Now fold the baking paper over the prawns using the halfway line that you made as a guide and then starting from one end, seal the baking paper all the way around so that you have a parcel.

At this point, the parcels can be stored in the fridge until that are needed.

When you are ready to cook the prawns, unseal the parcels enough to be able to add about 2 tablespoons of white wine to each one. (Don’t try and do this ahead of time as the wine will leak out. I know. I tried and failed.) Reseal the bags really well, as the wine inside the bags will steam and cook the prawns. If there are any gaps, then the steam will escape.

Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes at 180C.

Serve the prawns immediately in their little bags with fresh bread and a green salad. A very easy garlic prawn entrée.

You want to know what to do with the prawns heads and shells? Thai red curry with prawn stock and salmon.

Macadamia chocolate bark

Sometimes after dinner, I want a nibble of something. Not a dessert, nor something to be eaten with a spoon. Just a treat, perhaps containing a little bit of sugar, to punctuate an evening meal. Often this mouthful is in the form of a square of dark chocolate, a duchy ginger biscuit with a slice of cheese or a handful of homemade granola. Having only Callabaut chocolate callets and an array of nuts and seeds in the house, I decided to make macadamia chocolate bark.macadamia chocolate bark

Ok. I confess. This idea wasn’t as spur of the moment as I have just presented it. Back in January, I took Mark to Rockpool Bar and Grill for his birthday. After being faultlessly served a seriously great dinner, we finished the evening with a glass of peaty single malt each and some sweet and salty dark chocolate bark with cashews and sesames. I have been wanting to replicate it ever since.

macadamia chocolate bark

That’s the thing with enjoying something so much at a restaurant that you are inspired to recreate it at home. Sometimes a recipe for exactly what you want to cook isn’t available. I remember having a little bowl sweetcorn soup as part of the build up to the main event in the Barossa Valley a long time ago. It was like velvet in my mouth and the perfect balance of sweet and salt. I attempted to repeat the dish at home, but my version failed miserably in comparison.

macadamia chocolate bark macadamia chocolate bark

I remember that we went to the Barossa because I wanted to go to Maggie Beer’s farm. A bit of a pilgrimage really. Sitting by the lake with our picnic of terrines, pates, fresh bread and fruit pastes purchased from the farm shop, the experience was delightful. I was eating at Maggie’s place. Everything tasted so good. But now if I buy her pates or pastes, the experience isn’t quite the same because I’m not in the moment. I’m not there in Nuriootpa, sitting on the grass by the lake. Sometimes food tastes so good because of the circumstances we eat it in. That said, it’s still fun to try and recreate recipes at home. It brings back fond memories of past tastes and occasions. And sometimes brings about new ones.

macadamia chocolate bark

Macadamia chocolate bark

 

  • 90g macadamias
  • 45g pumpkin seeds
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • pinch sea salt

Toast the nuts and seeds on separate trays in the oven for about 7 minutes at 180C. Leave to cool. Roughly chop the macadamias and then mix the two together.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the temperature go above 70C.

Mix half the seeds and nuts with the melted chocolate and then pour it on to a piece of greaseproof paper. Sprinkle the remaining seeds and nuts on top and cool in the fridge for about half an hour.

Break the chocolate into an assortment of sizes and serve as an after dinner nibble.