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

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.

Even 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.

As 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.



This 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!


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

Peach and burrata salad

I know. I know. I feel a bit sheepish coming back, but I really really would like to explain where I’ve been. And also make my comeback along with a killer summer peach and burrata salad that you are going to want to make. Juicy ripe peaches, soft creamy cheese, crunchy buttered almonds, clean fresh mint and tangy pomegranate molasses to marry the seasonal medley together.  A gorgeous starting point or accompaniment for any seasonal gathering.

Ok. Let’s get to the point. Why was my last post back in November? Um, because I’m making a tiny human and the last 14 or so weeks have been all about sleeping, eating more citrus fruit that is necessary and copious amounts of tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil, and generally just getting through the day. It does seem so unfair that pregnancy make you feel like half the person you once were. Sick, tired, cranky, constantly hungry. But as I write this, a small person is growing inside of me, apparently currently the size of a peach (you see what I did there).

Not only have I been feeling exhausted though. If I’m very honest, which is easy on paper, I’m scared. I am just so scared. I know the absolute joy that comes with bringing a child into the world now, and I also know the anguish that comes with bringing a very tiny premature baby into the world, so I’d just like this time to be a smooth ride. A lazy, uninteresting, routine journey to 40 weeks. With a big party at the 30 week mark as I enter unknown territory.

To instil some positivity, which I know can only come from inside myself, I have made a pregnancy vision board, full of beautiful round bellies and cherub like newborns. I bought some new onesies. Unisex ones. And no we’re not finding out this time around. Every night I now read Thea a book all about how she’s going to become a big sister. And you know, I feel a little more carefree.

So with my new outlook (and hopefully second trimester renewed energy) comes new vigour to return to this space and share some beautiful recipes with you, starting with this rather special peach and burrata salad, as well as share this crazy, miraculous and wonderful journey.

Peach and burrata salad

For 2. 1 ball of burrata will serve 2 people so you can adjust this recipe according to how many people you are feeding

  • 1 ball burrata
  • 2 ripe yellow peaches
  • handful fresh mint leaves, roughly sliced
  • small handful of whole almonds
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • pomegranate molasses

This peach and burrata salad is the kind of dish that needs to be made at the last-minute, but don’t let that deter you as it’s extremely simple and quick to prepare.

Begin by toasting the almonds in a pan with a teaspoonful of butter and then roughly chop them.

Depending on how rustic you’d like the salad to look, tear or cut the peaches into  walnut size chunks. Now take the ball of burrata and gently tear it and scatter it over the peach pieces.

Over the cheese and the fruit, sprinkle the mint leaves, the almonds, a frugal dousing of pomegranate molasses and enjoy.

Enjoy this peach and burrata salad recipe? Then you might like this marinated mozzarella salad

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

So now I’ve shared with you where we’ve been staying for the last three months, can you picture it? Can you hear the waves breaking from your pillow as you lie in bed reading a book, smell the jasmine wafting through the window in the middle of the night as you look out over the ocean lit by a full moon, see the whales breaching as you enter the kitchen first thing in the morning? It’s all still so fresh in my memory. Like this fresh and colourful picnic made up of roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley and a kale salad with roasted baby carrots, shared around a gigantic neolithic looking table at the bottom of the garden.

Exploring our surroundings during the first few days of our stay, Thea and I discovered an incredible, almost secret, garden artefact. Below a palm tree and shaded by its branches, on the last ‘tier’ of the house’s land, stood a huge stone table, its rough surface patched with lichen. Embraced by lush grass and perfectly placed for gazing out over the ocean, I pledged to myself that I would make an effort to make the most of such a wonderful thing. To read a magazine at it. To sip my morning cup of tea at it. To have a picnic around it and share it with friends.

Picnics are fun things and can be as simple as a cookie (the word I use with Thea to describe the homemade snacks I make her, like these granola bars) eaten in the park. They can also be as elaborate as wicker hampers burgeoning with cheeses, meats, pastries, fruit and champagne. I remember taking a long-term university flame on a romantic picnic to celebrate the end of his exams. The wicker basket kind. When we got to our destination though it was pouring and after trying to drink champagne under a tree we decided better of it and retreated to a nearby pub. We finished or picnic on the train home and the fact that I can still remember the event so vividly is probably because of the inclement weather.

In fact, pondering picnics, Mark proposed to me half way through a picnic. At Clareville beach, mid bucket of prawns that we were sharing with my dad, he asked I’d like to go for a walk. “You’re not going to propose are you?! You never go for romantic walks” I affirmed, to myself as much as him. Poor guy. He replied that he wanted to go and see the tri-hull moored a short distance away, which seemed like a fair enough explanation. When we reached the boat in question though, he turned and dropped to one knee…

There is definitely a sense of romance where picnics are concerned. Not just girl boy in love romance, but something idealised, pretty and whimsical. Eating atop blankets and rugs, in the shade of trees, surrounded by nature, away from the pressures of life. So next time you take your lunch to a park bench, or pack an elaborate hamper, try this roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley. Perfect with or without champagne.

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

Enough for 4 servings. Place the prepared ingredients into little containers so that you can assemble the roast capsicum bruschetta at your chosen picnic spot.

  • 4 red capsicums
  • 1 ripe truss tomato
  • small handful parsley leaves, finely sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • slightly stale bread

Begin by preparing the capsicums. Cut them in half from stem to base and remove the seeds. Now cut side down, place them under a hot grill until they are blackened all over, then pop them into a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap to allow the capsicums to steam, which will make peeling them easier.

While the capsicums are cooling, cut the tomato into grape size pieces.

When the capsicums are cool enough to handle, peel their charred skin off, but don’t wash them, as this will take away some of the lovely flavour that you’ve just imparted from grilling them. Now slice them into thin strips.

Why stale bread to make roast capsicum bruschetta? The reason I say stale bread is that it will absorb all the juices from the vegetables and still be firm enough to pick up. With fresh bread you may run the risk of creating something that is still delicious, but that you need to eat with a knife and fork.

To assemble, place a little pile of capsicum strips, several pieces of tomato, a generous dousing of oil, salt and pepper and a smattering of parsley on top of your bread and leave for a few minutes for all the flavours to mingle, then enjoy. Some crumbled feta or crunchy almonds, or hell, both, would also be lovely additions.

Need another picnic recipe. What about this marinated mozzarella salad.