Friday, December 23, 2016

Review: The Swag reuseable produce bags

Recently I've been using something new to keep my fruit and vegetables in. We've never been a family that produces lots of waste, and even if we do, I'm very eco conscious and odds are it will end up being eaten by the dogs or the chickens, or the compost heap will get it. However, I am also conscious of the amount of plastic that is used these days too. It particularly irks me when I see fruit and vegetables pre-wrapped or portioned into plastic containers, and I will deliberately go out of my way to choose to fill my own (reusable) bag with the portion I want to buy.

The Swag is an Australian product for storing produce. It's made of three layers of natural unbleached cotton - the outer layer protects the fruit and veg and stops the water in the middle layer drying up. The middle later absorbs and holds water, but draws moisture away from the inside produce, therefore increasing the storage life. The inner layer is a dry barrier which sits against the produce but allows them to absorb the water and air through the fabric too.

I have them in a few different sizes - the green one is a longer size which is great for things like celery and spring onions. The white one is the large size, and pretty much anything fits in there. The red and blue ones are small bags, and I love that they're colour coded so I can identify individual bags in the fridge.

They're super simple to use, and in fact, the instructions are sewn onto the bag! All you have to do is make sure the swag is a little bit wet, but not dripping. Put the produce in and then store it in your fridge. Make sure the Swag is a bit damp and there you have it! I need to sprinkle them with water every few days but that's not a big deal for me at all.
I don't even have to separate different types of veggies and fruits, in fact, I find it convenient to store all my veggies together, all my fruits together etc. I even use one of the bags to store my potatoes in (but that one lives in the cupboard, not the pantry, and isn't kept damp at all).
I've been using my Swags for a little while now and I love them. Here's some carrots stored in one of the small bags. They're just loose in there, but they're perfectly happy and still crispy and good. I definitely think that these bags are helping to prolong the life of my fresh produce - and actually, my mushrooms are quite happy to be stored in a Swag as well (although like potatoes I don't wet their bag).

I'm very happy to be cutting down on plastic storage bags, saving money by not having to discard food (although the chickens might not agree!). I think it's a great product.

Note that this review is not sponsored, I just love the bags and wanted to show how I keep my fruit and vegetables fresh for longer.
 

Friday, December 9, 2016

What's in my kitchen, December 2016

I'm cutting it a bit close for this month's In My Kitchen. In fact, I didn't think I was going to do one, it's just been so busy lately. But then, Mr Fork told me that he had to go interstate for work and so I'd be single parenting for a week or so. Which, compared to what some parents have to do when their partners work fly in/fly out isn't really that bad, but I do find it exhausting. Mainly because it's so hard to always be 'on call' and available to my children without another adult backup. So I decided to snatch a few minutes time to myself and blog while I could. We're smack in the middle of birthday season (both my children and their friendship groups are second half of the year babies) so we've had parties to go to most weekends. Coupled with end of year festivities and it's been a crazy social whirl. It's actually a good thing - lots of new foods to try and since my small man has decided to wean I can indulge in a drink or two. Hurrah! Anyway, here's what's taking up space in my kitchen lately.

In my kitchen is...

Lemongrass tea, brought back from Bali for me from my lovely aunt. I like to brew it up and then drink it cold - I find it quite refreshing and a nice way to drink more water in this humidity lately. I love tea, although I do have quite the tea collection and should probably put some effort into working my way through it before it gets too far out of control!
In my kitchen is...

A jar of pumpkin pie spice. As an Australian, I've always been fascinated when Americans describe their Thanksgiving foods. I've never eaten a turkey, nor been interested in it, but the side dishes, well they intrigue me. Sweet potato casserole with marshmallow on top? Salad made of jelly? Pecan pie? Pumpkin pie? Well sign me up for those pies! When one of my colleagues was in the US lately, he told me he thought of me while walking around in Whole Foods (another place I feel I must visit one day) and brought me back a bottle of pumpkin pie spice.

After imagining it for so long I was disappointed to find that it was just a mix of spices I already have in the kitchen but it does smell delicious and I have grand plans for this bottle. I tested it out by adding some to a batch of of plain mini cakes and oh my did it make my kitchen smell delicious! I can't wait to experiment some more when I have actual pumpkin in the house.
In my kitchen is...

Sweetened condensed coconut milk. I found this is my local Asian grocer. I was super chuffed that it was on sale, down to 49c a can due to the short shelf life remaining. No matter to me, I have ear marked the ones I bought for Christmas baking - a caramel slice and some apricot/coconut balls to be precise. I'm so pleased to have found a source of dairy free condensed milk as some of my favourite childhood treats are made with it and I can add them back into my repertoire without my tummy rebelling due to dairy. Win!
In my kitchen is...

A souvenir from a recent girls' weekend away. I escaped with some friends for a weekend of wandering around markets, lazing by the pool and having tapas and wine for dinner without having to worry about getting up to tend to small humans. In a little boutique winery I found a bottle of fig and ginger jam and had to have it. It's delicious on scones, although no one else in my household seems to appreciate it, which just means more for me!
In my kitchen is...

A large bottle of Tabasco sauce, which my brother asked me to get for him next time I was at Costco. I didn't photograph it next to anything for scale, but it's the biggest Tabasco bottle I have ever seen - 355ml. It should keep him going for quite some time. I'm going to include it in his Christmas present.
In my kitchen is...

Well, not technically in my kitchen, but in my kitchen garden, are some eye wateringly hot chillies in various stages of ripeness, which I plan to use to make a batch of home made tabasco sauce.
In my kitchen is...

Sourdough loaves. Thankfully my previously reported sluggish dough has perked up and is back to producing loaves that I am happy with again. These loaves are a higher hydration, with a coarse polenta coating. They go deliciously with vegemite and avocado, which, now that prices have come down to something reasonable again, are back on my menu at home.

I'm sending this to Lizzy, of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things for linking in to her monthly IMK roundup.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy festive season, and I look forward to seeing all the seasonal goodies in everyone's kitchen. What's happening in your kitchen lately?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How does your garden grow, November 2016

This season I've taken a different approach to my kitchen garden. Instead of planting things out in neat rows and sections, I've decided on more of a laissez-faire strategy. By that, I mean that I'm letting seeds fall where they may. I'm letting things from the compost grow and revelling in the mystery of what comes up. Yes, it's a bit of a lazy approach, but it seems to be working pretty well.

I've got a new crop of chillies fruiting. The original plant was grown from a chilli Mr Fork's father gave me. They've got a great amount of heat, so I love these chillies. The plant is a prolific producer, so I've always got a well stocked freezer supply too. The kids don't tolerate heat as well as their parents do, so spiciness is always something we add at the end of the cooking process to individual portions. It doesn't taste as good in my mind as cooking the heat in, but what can you do? I hope to gradually build their tolerance up so we don't have to prepare quite so many separate meals. You can also see a small section of my chicken proof fence.
Part of my natural approach includes letting my plants with good properties go to seed so that I can save them for later planting (and let some fall where they may as well!). Coriander flowers are so pretty. I have this herb constantly growing as the Queensland heat makes them go to seed so quickly. I like the contrast of white coriander blossoms with purple eggplant flowers.
Speaking of eggplants, my sad plant has perked up with the recent rainy weather. I've got a bumper crop of eggplants. I'm never quite sure when the ideal time to pick them is, but they're a welcome addition to my cooking - such a versatile ingredient.
The weather has made my basil plant very happy. It's started to grow at a very rapid rate and keeps me busy pinching off the flowers so it doesn't go to seed.
I *think* this is some sort of purple basil. Mr Fork's aunt gave me a cutting. I thought I'd killed it but it seems to have come back with a vengeance. We use the leaves when we are making Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I'm not sure what else people use it in, but apparently it's quite hard to grow. It definitely smells and tastes delicious. You can also see my clumping sweet potato in the background. I grow it not for the tubers, but for the leaves which are great in stir fries and similar.
I found a few organic corn seeds left from last year so popped them in garden bed too. They're about six inches high now and looking very happy. There's also some tomato seedlings coming up, I think some lettuce seedlings, and I admit I have no idea at all yet what that round leafed plant in the top left corner underneath the corn is.
The rough leafed pineapple I planted from a leftover top some years ago is fruiting again. I'm quite glad as the chickens ate all the other pineapples I had planted in the garden so this is the last one left. It probably only survived because it was in a pot and it has the most delicious fruit, so I'm looking forward to that, and also having a second top to plant out too. Waste not, want not!
Finally, here are Vanessa and Jemima, greedily eyeing my vegetable patch. Chickens are much messier and destructive than I ever imagined, but they're so useful. They eat my scraps and leftover plants, they do fabulous things for the lawn and give me a great source of fertiliser. My family and neighbours are also grateful for their eggs as well. While not technically in my edible garden, Mr Fork has recently put lots of effort into the lawn and it's lovely to see it looking so lush.
How is your garden growing lately? I'd love to hear tips about when to harvest the perfect eggplant.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recipe: Coconut Scones

It's hard to find a good scone. Everyone has their own variations and favourite recipe but I think what really makes a scone good is the fluffiness and the freshness. I'm always disappointed by scones when I'm at a coffee shop or a high tea as they just never live up to my expectations - they're usually dry, dense or could serve equally well as a hockey puck. Not when I can whip something up at home, exactly to my taste, and have it fresh from the oven and served with exactly the right toppings (none of that horrible cream from a can the places I go to seem to love). 

Personally, I'm a big believer in some delicious jam with my scones, and perhaps if they're fresh from the oven, a bit of Nuttelex as well. For a truly decadent occasion, I might whip up some coconut cream, but it's not a must.

I baked these coconut scones to satisfy the cries of my smalls for cake and quite frankly, I really just wanted a cup of tea and a good scone. These delivered! I made them with coconut oil instead of butter, and I thought while I was coconutting them (can that be a verb?) I'd add some coconut flour too. I got a result that was light, flaky and perfect for afternoon tea. 

The mix would easily double, but we weren't having company and scones don't keep very well, so I was happy making a small batch.
Coconut Scones
Makes 6

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup plain flour 
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used soy, but that's just what I had in the fridge, any non dairy milk would work)
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200ÂșC and grease your baking tray with a little coconut oil.
  2. Combine the flour and baking soda together in a decent sized bowl, and then add the coconut oil, rubbing it into the flour gently until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix the sugar, baking powder and salt in, distributing evenly.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add in most of the milk (you may not need it all). With a light touch - I find a butter knife works perfectly - mix the milk into the dry ingredients until it forms a ball. If you need to add a little more milk to help everything combine, now is the time to do it.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, gently press the dough to about 3-4cm high. Use a floured glass or cutter to shape the scones. Place them onto the baking tray, making sure to position them with sides touching to help them rise nicely.
  6. Bake 12-15 minutes until they are done, then cool on a wire rack.
Best served immediately, we kept ours simple with some homemade raspberry jam. I was really impressed with how well the coconut oil did as a butter substitute, and the coconut flour added a small hint of coconut to the scones. They were delicious and perfect for afternoon tea. Most definitely they were approved by my smalls as well (although that may also be influenced by the late amounts of jam they smothered theirs in!). 
Do you have a favourite scone recipe?

Friday, October 7, 2016

In My Kitchen, October 2016

I said something in a previous post about time having gone so slowly, and yet so fast at the same time when pondering my daughter's birthday. The same rings true for months and here we are, well and truly into Spring (in the Southern hemisphere) and also, apparently the sign for shops to begin bringing Christmas decorations out! At the end of this month, my 'baby' boy will turn two. I still remember when I announced his birth, and it honestly doesn't feel that long ago at all. Time. It's a funny thing. Anyway, without further ado, here are some things in my kitchen. Lots of bought things actually, but bought with the intention of turning them into something else! (which I will do... when we get over birthday season, and being the house of sick, which does tend to make for lazy meals)...

In my kitchen is...

Chia seeds galore. 1.5kg of them actually, which is really a bit obscene, but at $14.89 for the bag at Costco I couldn't pass it up. I've been having them sprinkled over oats, in smoothies and adding them to my baking. My uncle recently told me that he ground up chia to use as a coating on meat, so I was thinking I might attempt something similar with some firm tofu slices.

In my kitchen is...

Another Costco find, Eco Organic Pasta. There are three flavours - Mung Bean fettuccini, Black Bean spaghetti and Soy Bean spaghetti. These were a bit pricey at $8.89 for the pack, but I couldn't really resist them either. When I walk past something that is vegan, and organic to boot, at shops that aren't always very vegan friendly, I like to support them in the hope they'll continue to source such things. I haven't tried any of them yet (did I mention we've been sick?) but I have grand plans, although I'm not really sure which sauces would best complement each pasta type.
In my kitchen is...

Some Hidden Orchard wines sent to me by Hardy's. They're a new(ish) range of wines blended with natural flavours and juices, which are meant to be refreshing and delicious chilled.
Now that the toddler is finally well on his way to weaning, I can indulge in wine a little more, so I started with the Ripe Raspberry & Rich Cassis bottle (the dark red one). First sip saw me hesitate a little as it was so rich but after I added ice it was much more drinkable. Honestly, I'm a little weirded out adding ice or serving a red wine chilled but it made it much better (it tastes like Ribena in wine form actually).
Our guests preferred the Pink and Zesty White Grapefruit wine but it was a bit sweet for me straight out of the bottle. Diluted with soda water was much better.

I'm unsure if my tastebuds are out of commission from non-regular wine consumption or whether these wines are just so sweet and fruity, but I found them best mixed and diluted. I have yet to try to Peach, Mango, Passionfruit and Pineapple bottle, but it sounds awfully like something university-aged me would drink actually.

In my kitchen is...

Home made raspberry jam, although not made in my home unfortunately. This pot of delicious jam was gifted to me by a friend who had too much. It's a delightful mix of sweet and tart and perfect for eating by the spoonful (ahem). My kids like it with peanut butter between slices of fresh bread, but inspired by Kari's recent post about porridge toppings, I've been adding it, with chia seeds and some Mayver's dark roasted peanut butter to my oats, making a delicious bowl of peanut butter and jammy oat goodness.

I note my photo looks like there is a big glob of peanut butter inside the jar but insist that is just the bench showing through a gap in the jam and not due to double dipping!


In my kitchen is...

Dumplings. Lots and lots of dumplings. We go through phases of food in our house, and it has recently been the phase of dumplings. Which is handy because everyone in the household loves them, they're quick and easy to prepare (once made that is), and make a delicious meal.

My mother in law made me a batch of vegan dumplings which had been pre-steamed and I wasn't able to eat them at the time so I froze for later. It was a time poor night so I unearthed them from the freezer and pan fried those beauties in a little oil until they were the right combination of crispy and chewy. Served with a mix of soy sauce and red vinegar (and a bowl of edamame on the side for greens), everyone was happy. (Well, I should say that Mr Fork had made himself a separate batch of prawn dumplings as he insists on meat versions, but I neglected to photograph those).

Tell me, what's been happening in your kitchen lately? Any tips for using chia seeds? Ideas about how to best enjoy my bean pasta?

In my kitchen has a new host, Lizzy, of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things. I am linking in to her monthly IMK roundup.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

An update, and sourdough improvements

My last IMK post mentioned I was having some problem with my starter. Lorenzo still isn't back to his former glory, but he is producing loaves with a bit more lift now. Perhaps the warmer weather here in Australia is helping. I've been experimenting with using the fridge to rise the bread, and I'm getting some ok results. The first time I did it, I didn't realise that I should have shaped the loaves before popping them in the fridge, so they lost a bit of air when I pulled the bowl out and shaped. These loaves turned out a bit better - I used polenta on the outside which gave them a nice crunchy crust. I'm loving the sourdough experimentation and different techniques I pick up from various books and blogs.
One of those loaves came along on a weekend away with us. We rented a little holiday apartment with a kitchen up at Caloundra. It's not a long drive, but I find that travelling with kids is always best if I can minimise disruptions to their routine, and give them plenty of distractions. We had a concert (Lah-Lah's big live band for any parents in the know) to go to at 10am which is a bit of a witching hour for my toddler. With an early nap, I figured he'd be fine so we decided to stay up there and let him nap at the apartment first rather than driving up on the day to have him strung out and exhausted instead of grooving to the music!

Anyway, the kids loved it - the concert and the apartment. We stayed within walking distance to the beach. On one of our wanders we saw this pelican swimming along the boardwalk. I was sad to see that it had a fishing hook embedded in its throat and the line wrapped around it's neck. It was swimming near the fisherman along the boardwalk, hunting for little bait scraps and the fish they were trying to catch. I guess I know how it got that hook!
Travelling with children is also exhausting as it's not their own space so we were constantly entertaining them. Much coffee was consumed.


Ellie recently turned four. I can't really wrap my head around the fact that I have a child who is four. The years feel like they have just flown by... and yet gone so slowly too! She insisted that I make her cupcakes to take to daycare and share with her friends. I was not allowed to make my own cakes, they must be the Finding Dory mini cupcake mix that she had spied on the shelf at the store. Since it was her day, I capitulated, but in an act of defiance (and sympathy to the children with food allergies in her class) I used Nuttelex and apple puree instead of butter and eggs. By all reports they were a hit. I'm quite taken with the edible wafers included in the pack; apparently they are made with potato starch.
One of Ellie's favourite presents was this hula hoop. I admit we have all had a bit of fun with it actually, but she is getting very good at it (although watching her learn to hula was an absolute hoot!)
We came home from our mini getaway to find the hens and hounds overjoyed that we had returned. My garden, while dry, seems to have come along in leaps and bounds. I'm especially chuffed that this little nasturtium seed that I threw into a empty pot has suddenly leapt taller and sprouted several new sets of leaves (although something has been munching on one).
I love mini holidays, and every time we do one I promise myself they'll happen more often. Here's to getting away from things for awhile!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Mama, you have to share!

When I was pregnant with Jimmy, we had a book that we would read regularly to Ellie, called "Share". It was a story designed to teach children how to share, and it was done in a really lovely way, with scenarios that children could relate to (and boy can I relate to them now!). Just as an aside, but pre-children, never in my life would I have thought I'd have to measure and weigh out cereal to ensure peace and equality, now I do it without thinking.

Anyway, the lessons from the book have stuck and now the constant refrain around the house is, "... but mama, you have to share!" when I try to hide my nice things away from small children!

I was cleaning out my closet recently, and had set aside a pile of clothes that no longer fit the same. Ellie happened to spy an old pair of pyjamas that she liked. They were nice ones and there was nothing wrong with them so I told her I'd cut them down to her size for her.
Honestly, with my rudimentary sewing skills, by the time I was done unpicking hems, ripping out stitches and pinning it all back together, it would have been much faster to use the material and start again from scratch. I suppose that's not the point though is it! Essentially, I shortened the legs, and brought in the outside hems, trying to minimise the amount of re-work. It backfired a bit as I ended up having to fiddle around with adjusting the waist, but it worked out in the end.
Ellie is just chuffed with her bee pants. I reused everything, even the elastic and the drawstring (which I neglected to iron before rethreading because I was lazy). I even saved the portion of the legs I cut down to make scrunchies for her hair... are scrunchies still a thing these days?

I never thought I'd be sharing clothes with my not-quite-yet-four year old daughter, but I guess since I am that means a few things:
  • My taste in clothes is either immature, or hers is very mature
  • I am destined to be the family midget
Here is another example, where I went to check on her after her shower, and found that she'd requisitioned one of my shirts for her own oversized nightie. Apparently nothing is off limits in this house. When I questioned her, the only response was "But mama, you know I like Elmo. You have to share!"
Well...ok then. Teenage years are going to be fun!
 
Anyone have any tips for helping teach personal space and things?

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