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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

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

Do you ever get that impulse, that you just have to make a certain dish. I do. And last week it was for classic spaghetti and meatballs. From out of nowhere came the absolute burning desire to make flavoursome Italian meatballs with a caramelised crust, in a rich, slow cooked, tomato sauce, with my favourite of all the pastas, spaghetti. A dinner to be served in a wide, shallow rimmed bowl, with garlic bread on the side to mop up all the delicious juices. Not a sophisticated meal, but complete comfort food, to be enjoyed with friends around a table with a bottle of red wine.

It just so happened that we would be dining with friends on Saturday night. During the day we would be removing all of our furniture from our house in order to store it in Ma and Pa’s garage. Knowing that Thea would need to be looked after for such a task, her Auntie and Uncle had stepped in to take care of her for the day and as way of thanks, I would cook them a delicious dinner. One that could be pre prepared a few days in advance, needing a few finishing touches on the night just before we all sat down to eat. My impulse to make classic spaghetti and meatballs and our weekend arrangements seemed perfectly aligned, so I headed to my new favourite butcher to buy the ingredients.

Making the meatball mixture is a straightforward job. One that you can stop and start, which is useful when there is a small person at your feet who is far more interested in gaining your attention than in patiently waiting while you make dinner. Portioning the balls however is a task that requires your toddler to be well occupied. Once your hands, and using your hands is the best way to do such a wholesome task as this, are immersed in meatball mixture, there’s no easy or fast way of turning back. So with snacks provided, books and toys all over the floor, Thea seemed happy and I set about rolling portions of parsley flecked meat between the palms of my hands.

For my meatballs I use half Italian sausage meat and half beef mince. The combination seems to make for really tasty, as well as, juicy meatballs. Ones that make you want to come back for seconds and thirds. When the mood strikes to prepare something like meatballs, it’s worth making a large quantity. The raw portioned mixture will freeze extremely well and serve as a quick and hearty week night dinner. I managed to roll out all two kilos of the mixture before Thea emptied the last of the contents of cupboard under the sink onto the floor. Something that I’m rather proud of. It is possible that since having an active baby, I am now faster in the kitchen than I was during my time working in restaurants. The thought of the chaos that she could cause while I’m busy with a task, is far more frightening than the wrath of any head chef!

With my impulse for classic spaghetti and meatballs satiated, a meal for Saturday prepared as well as a dinner for another night, I felt a cheerful sense of achievement. I sat on the kitchen floor with Thea and we restocked the kitchen cupboard. It seems to me that children always act on impulse, doing whatever is is that makes them feel good. Perhaps it’s something that we adults should all do more often, act on a whim, because it’s nice to feel happy.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

For the meatballs. Makes 60-70.

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1kg Italian sausage mince
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • bunch of chopped parsley
  • 1 cup loosely packed grated parmesan
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • generous grinding of black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Portion the mixture into walnut sized balls.

For the sauce.

Plenty for 20-30 meatballs, assuming that the remainder have been set aside to be frozen.

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 x 400g tins tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500ml beef stock
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste

Over a low heat, sweat the onion, carrot and celery with a little oil in a large pot. By sweat, I mean cover the pot with a lid and leave the vegetables to cook slowly for about 10 minutes until they are very soft.

Next add the garlic and cook until it’s fragrant, then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and stock.

Bring the tomato sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until it has slightly reduced.

Using a stick blender, blend the sauce until it’s smooth and then season with salt, pepper and vinegar to your taste. It should be slightly sweet and piquant. Keep the sauce warm over a gentle heat. Perhaps put a lid over the pot at this stage incase the sauce bubbles and splatters.

Now to assemble dinner.

Cook the meatballs (5-7 per person) in a little oil in batches a frying pan. Make sure that there is enough space in between each ball so that they don’t sweat, but instead caramelise and brown. Make sure that they are well coloured before you turn them. Doing this will impart depth of flavour into the finished meal. Now add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce so that that flavours can mingle.

With the sauce and meatballs ready, cook the spaghetti and drain it. Tip it back into its cooking pot and add a few ladlefuls of the tomato sauce. Now set the pot over a moderate heat and stir to combine the two. This method will ensure that all the strands of pasta are not only coated with rich tomato sauce, but that it clings to it too.

Combine the spaghetti, meatballs and rest of the sauce together, stir once again, transfer to a big serving platter for people to help themselves to (or even just take the cooking pot to the table) and enjoy with grated parmesan, garlic bread and a glass of red wine.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like A versatile beef and red wine stew