Saturday, 2 February 2019

Recent gardening and baking adventures, February 2019

The recent heat has left my poor garden suffering a bit. While I have always subscribed to the theory that if a plant needs too much care then it is not the plant for me, I feel sad when circumstances such as weather conspire against my kitchen garden. I haven't planted anything new for awhile as the heat would shrivel anything I dared to put in. We haven't had rain in awhile so all my once prolific tomato and eggplants are stunted and fruitless. Having said that, I got out there one weekend and cut everything back and harvested what there was to be picked. I ended up with a bowl of hot chillies, a handful of shallots and some spring onions. They were all used and enjoyed, so I do feel a little joy in eating the fruits of my meagre harvest. 
Some of the cherry tomatoes that did end up surviving the heat were used in one of my focaccia loaves. Even these aren't immune from the heat and I severely overestimated my proofing times. I ended up with a very puffy loaf, which although it looked a bit odd, was still tasty and enjoyed. 
After coming back from holidays over the Christmas break, I got back into the swing of baking with Lorenzo again. He's such a resilient starter, and I missed him while we were away. Shop bought bread just doesn't do it for me anymore, when I know that I can bake my own and make it just the way I like them. I think Lorenzo was happy to see me too. He put on a lovely performance for this bake. These loaves used up the very last of my beloved Trader Joe's Everything But The Bagel seasoning that a kind colleague from America brought over for me. I'm very sad about that as I haven't found another source and while I know Amazon have it, I cannot convince them to send it to Australia for me. There just isn't a comparible alternative seasoning I've found.
Although I usually shop at Coles, I find that Woolworths have really upped their game in vegan offerings of late. Over Christmas, they advertised a vegan loaf, and my philosophy is that if I don't support vegan offerings, they'll think people don't want it. So I ventured to buy one. It took me ages to find it, and I had to ask three assistants for help. Eventually we tracked it down. In the meat section. I see where they are going with that. The helpful assistant who found it also proudly pointed out the vegan patties and sausages too, located right next to the meat equivalents. The only way to tell them apart was the packaging was a slightly different green, and reading the label proclaimed they were plant based. I did try to find a link to the loaf, but it's disappeared from the site, so perhaps it was a seasonal special or others also found it hard to locate. Anyway, I saw them marked down after Christmas and bought another one to keep in the freezer. Here's what it looks like - the red thing on the bottom right of the plate. I think it was lentils, beets and a few other things. To be honest, it wasn't that great, and I probably wouldn't have continued to buy them, but I applaud Woolworths for trying (they constantly have new vegan and gluten free options advertised).

I served that loaf with maple carrots, peas (at the small man's request), some creamy potato bake (I use almond milk and haven't had any complaints). Also, gravy, loads of gravy because... gravy is delicious, but also, that loaf was dry.

Finally, I have been experimenting with some baked vegan donuts lately because I bought a donut pan and I'm not having it in the house if I don't use it! I'm not sure I like them. I find them a bit dense and more like donut shaped cakes than anything else. I think it's obvious here though from the small hand sneaking in to grab one because he just could not wait for me to take my picture, that the kids do like them. So I've been making batches when the oven is on (like for baking sourdough, also visible in the picture!), trying out various ingredients in the hope that I'll hit upon a fabulous mix, and freezing the experiments for school lunches. Miss E is in year one this year, and has quite liked taking a donut to school. By the time lunch rolls around it's defrosted sufficiently to be tasty I'm told. So at least the freezer is filling with school lunch possibilities.
I am linking this into the monthly In My Kitchen round-up, hosted by Sherry of Sherry's Pickings. What's happening in your kitchen this month? Do you have any school lunch tips to share? Does anyone know where I can source more bagel seasoning? 

Monday, 21 January 2019

I spark joy with upcycling

Everyone is talking about Marie Kondo, and the mantra that items should spark joy in order to have a place in the home. If an item doesn't spark joy for owning it, then it should be moved on and the result is a lovely decluttered home that is easy to keep clean and has wonderful energy because everything in it brings joy. I think this is a wonderful idea, once it's been put into practice.

Of course, this has inevitably meant that there has been a rush of people decluttering their house and moving things on - op shops in my area are turning away donations and the buy/swap/sell sites I follow are overflowing with items. I love the idea of only owning things that bring happiness. This is something that I have practiced myself for a long time - considerate buying, and thinking about whether the item I'm purchasing is a need or a want. Often, if I walk away and think about it, I realise that I don't really need it after all, or I have something already that will fit the purpose.

The frugal Asian side of me also delights in a bargain, in fixing things that others might discard, and reusing or repurposing what I already own. I like to hoard things, just in case they might spark joy come in useful in the future. With that in mind, here are two of my most recent projects:

Dining room chairs
Our dining room set was a bargain. A friend was going to send it to the dump because she was redecorating and it didn't suit her new decor. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the set, so I claimed it and we suddenly had a new (to us) set for free. It's a wonderful solid wood table that expands from seating 6 to 10 comfortably. It also had 6 wooden chairs with plain upholstery. These chairs serve us well, but as the kids grow, so too did the wear on the chairs. There were stains I couldn't get out and holes in the fabric that my small man has been picking at so they were no longer discrete holes but great gaping tears.

Mr Fork wanted to get new ones. I convinced him that they had good bones so instead to come to choose new fabric so I could re-cover them. For $5/m (on sale!) and half a day of labour unpicking staples and re-stapling (we already had one, and staple guns are fun!) we have chairs that look just like new again (if perhaps a little crooked on the pattern).  $12.5 worth of fabric, a little bit of work and I saved 6 chairs being sent to waste, and having to buy new ones that would never match the table properly. Also, I love that no one else will have chairs like ours.
New fabric on the left, old stained fabric on the right
I even had some time to use the leftover fabric I'd bought to whip up a quick cover for the ottoman, and added some pockets for tv remote storage to help tidy things away. Win!

Reuseable makeup wipes
I just knew that my love of flannelette pyjamas and keeping my sewing scraps would pay off. As soon as I saw the tutorial on Fiona's blog for making reusable makeup wipes, I knew that was a project I could pull off. An hour later, and I had a tidy little pile of cute wipes. I won't go into the method as I pretty much just followed Fiona's guide. All my little offcuts and threads went into the compost heap so no waste here!
I've been using them for the past couple of days and they're just as good as the bought ones, and heaps better for the environment. I followed Fiona's tip to keep a delicates bag nearby and they go straight into that as I use them ready to be washed. During this process, I also remembered just how much I hate sewing curves though. If I make another batch, I'm doing square ones!

Monday, 19 November 2018

Life and garden notes

It feels like the year has only just started, and yet, here we are past the halfway point of November. It's nearly Summer, and in a few weeks my daughter will have finished her first year at school. Where does the time go?!

On the days where I do not work, and it is just my youngest and I alone together, there is still a tangible empty space beside him that is quiet and missing a small person in it. He looks to me to fill the gap, to play with him, to lie with him, to be his childish companion and explore on the same level. Sometimes I can do that. Sometimes I am just so exhausted with the minutiae of life that it's all I can do to make sure he eats something nutritious for lunch and does something stimulating that doesn't involve lying in front of the television for long stretches.

Our days are bookended with school drop off and pickup. The mornings are a whirling dervish of packing lunches, checking that books, folders, hats, and everything necessary for the school day is packed into that overly large bag of hers. Afternoons are spent with a cranky child, tired from a long day of concentrating, yet bursting with so many new things to share with her brother and I.

School day evening meals are quick, where I have done the preparation in advance or meals so familiar I can cook them in my sleep so that I can have dinner on the table early, so she is fed, bathed and in bed with plenty of time to stock up on sleep for the next school day.

Days where I work are even more frantic as we leave earlier; I have the small man to drop at daycare, and we do before and after school care. She quite likes those days as she gets a second breakfast before school, and they feed her "better treats for after school snacks than you do mama". Cough.

This is my new normal. It is frantic, and new and sometimes so shiny that I'm afraid to grasp it with conviction in case it pops the fragile bubble that's working for us right now. The end of the school year is so close I can almost touch it, and is there anything full of more sass and exhaustion that a child near the end of term four? Maybe her mother...

I know in a few weeks we will have another new normal with school holidays starting, and the activity of the festive season. And then, the cycle, in all it busy-ness will start again, but this time it will (hopefully!) be easier and more familiar. In the meantime, I take solace in the garden - it's predictable, slower moving and not so much blink and you'll miss it. Here is my hedge flowering, and the beginning of an agapanthus flower in the background.
My geraniums just do their thing and continue to bloom and spread out happily. They're quite glorious to come home to and admire as I walk up the garden path.
My monstera grows new leaves in a delightful manner: a new stem grows along an existing one, then splits out separately and the leaf gradually uncurls from its tightly rolled light green shape, to form a darker green, more easily recognisable pattern. Now if only my children would allow them to unfurl in peace instead of trying to make it happen faster and ripping the poor fragile things (excuse my very dusty blinds!).
Speaking of gardening, I've talked before about the (free!) Science of Gardening university unit I did awhile back. I did a follow up unit as well which I immensely enjoyed, and I've since learned that the University of Tasmania is again offering the (online) unit starting again in December. You can learn more about it here. Applications close on the 1st December and the course starts on 3rd December.

Since it's online, you can work at your own pace. I don't get anything from mentioning this, but I will say I really enjoyed the two units I studied and had my brain stretching in ways that it hadn't had to in some time! It saw me investigating the role of climate and soil in shaping which plants grow in different regions. I mapped my garden on drafting paper to scale, taking into account soil type analysis and acidity, land slope, sun angles and block positioning, as well as localised predators (e.g. possums), pathogens and friendly garden critters. There is so much that I just never considered when planting my garden out - how it has ever survived my wilful neglect is a wonder! I'd love to hear about it if you do sign up.

Is it just me, or does life seem to be travelling in the fast lane at the moment?

Friday, 2 November 2018

What's in my kitchen, November 2018

Forgive me readers, for I have been a bad blogger. I have nothing to say except that life is what happens when I'm trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air. I tend to be quite the perfectionist. If I can't do something well, then I like to not do it at all instead of putting in a half arsed effort. So blogging slips while I do my paid job, and while I do the thankless (but necessary) unpaid tasks that go along with raising a family. We have been busy at chez Fork. There have been birthdays and school events, there have been hospital visits (not me, but all is fine now!) and lots of follow up appointments to make sure that everything heals as it should (seems to be ok). There has been lots of family catch ups, lots of friends catch ups, and plenty of my usual baking adventures.
If this month seems a bit heavy on the processed foods, well, it is. For some reason, vegan food products have become much more prevalent in the supermarkets. It's easier than ever to walk down an aisle and find vegan products centre stage, not just pushed into a little hidden corner. And I have this thing where, if I see a vegan product that looks decently appealing, I need to buy it, because I feel like if I don't support them, they might stop making it and that would make me sad. So! Lots of (new-to-me) prepackaged things this month, although it does make my little eco-conscious heart sad too.

First of all, while not strictly in my kitchen, it was on my plate and it was delicious, so I can't resist sharing this amazing vegan from Todd and Pup. It's not on their new menu (sad face) but it was a tofu benedict liberally topped with a spiced cauliflower hollandaise sauce. It was delicious, filling and looked beautiful on my plate. I hadn't ever thought to make a vegan hollandaise before, but I can see that it would be appealing in a whole host of meals.
While I was with my in-laws at Costco, I spied this big tub of vegan cheddar cheese style slices. My eyes lit up with thoughts of melty burgers and toasted sandwiches. I had to have it. Sadly, it's very disappointing. It doesn't melt. It has an odd texture. It tastes weird... maybe too much coconut or something. However, I paid I think $15.99 for this 625g of sliced cheese approximation, and I will make it my mission to finish it because I hate waste - physical and economic. Its not too bad if I hide it in things and don't make it the feature of a meal. Buried in a sandwich with homemade pesto for extra flavour, or layered into a lasagna or under the potato of a lentil shepherd pie... well, then it's not so bad. Won't buy again.
One thing I can recommend is this Coles coconut spread. I've repurchased it several times now and I like it. There was another brand that brought out something similar at the same time, and it was almost double the price. I couldn't justify that, and this Coles version is good. I've had it on toast, in sandwiches and it also is good in baking. I had to send some dairy, nut, soy and egg free cakes to daycare for my kids birthdays (so many allergies in classes these days) and I used this spread instead of butter or Nuttelex. I made vegan cakes although neither of my children are vegan, but it was just easier to cater for the class allergies. They were a hit. Also, the spread is amazing.
As you can tell, I've done lots of broswing in the cold foods sections lately. Possibly because the weather has been extremely warm. Those fridges are awfully tempting. Sheese! I've heard lots of good things about it, so when I spied some, it was in my trolley quick smart! I'd tried the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese before and didn't really rate it so I was slower to open this tub than I was to buy it. I shouldn't have been. As far as cream cheese alternatives go, this one was pretty good. I had it on fresh baked sourdough english muffins, sprinkled with some of my precious and adored Everything But The Bagel seasoning (on that, please come to Australia Trader Joes so I can have a regular source!). So good. I also tried it with some of the Ikea seaweed balls I'd shared on a previous IMK. Good Sheese.
For a sweet treat - coconut milk chocolate mousse. Thank goodness these come in small containers because otherwise I'd eat my own body weight I think. Spread out over several desserts so I didn't feel greedy eating it all in one sitting, and served simply with some fresh berries, my sweet loving tastebuds were happy. Winner!
We had some friends over for dinner one night. I really wanted to feel included on the cheese board Mr Fork put together, so I found this tomato and basil vegan cheese to put on for me. Served alongside crackers, quince paste, pears and the other cheeses, I was a happy girl. While the cheese was ok it was definitely an obvious cheese substitute. It retained it's shape and while it had cheese intentions, it didn't quite make it. Regardless, it was nice on crackers and topped with sweet things. I can't remember how much it was exactly, but for the occasional treat if a cheeseboard is happening, I'd repurchase it.
I was also going to include Halloween goodies in my post, but funnily enough, the pickings looked quite sparse when I went to photograph them. I see my children have also inherited my sweet tooth! Christmas things are out in the stores and the year seems to have gone by all too quickly. Soon I'll need to start the Christmas baking. Lucky I don't make fruitcakes otherwise I can see myself sharing the liquor quite well with the cake! Then again... who needs the excuse of cake?! Happy November!

I am linking this into the monthly In My Kitchen round-up, hosted by Sherry of Sherry's Pickings. What's happening in your kitchen this month?

 I've had real trouble getting this post to format correctly and be viewable this month. Please just let me know if it looks or behaves oddly for you so I can (attempt) to fix things!

Monday, 24 September 2018

Oh hi! Or maybe O Mai!

I know, I know, things have been very quiet here on the content-front. It's not strictly a planned thing, but I find that although I have lots of time to scroll through other people's content, it's really hard to keep up with my own.

I've been busy, and real life just gets in the way of online life sometimes. Of course, there has still been lots of eating, and baking, and interacting with my small people going on. I just haven't felt the need to blog in detail about it so much.

However, recently (as in, a few months ago now), I dragged Mr Fork and the smalls to a new-to-us pho (pronounced 'fur') place for lunch while we were out and about. We liked it so much, that we took his parents to eat there the next day and they were impressed. I may not have mentioned it before, but Mr Fork's parents are Vietnamese, so for them to give this place a tick of approval means it's pretty darn tasty. So I thought I needed to tell everyone about it, because good pho deserves to be shared!
O Mai!
Cafe O Mai and Pho Queue (love those pun names) are located side by side and are owned by the same family. We like them both and they serve pretty much the same pho - O Mai is a little bit rustic and casual and opens earlier so you can indulge in pho for breakfast if you choose (it's delicious!). Pho Queue is a bit fancier, opens from lunch through to dinner time, has a glorious open dessert kitchen to sticky beak into and produces some wonderful French desserts. Mr Fork has a preference for Pho Queue because they offer normal washable chopsticks instead of wooden disposable ones, and he prefers to eat with those so we probably frequent Pho Queue slightly more because of that. They also offer baby pho at reasonable prices, which are smaller sized bowls specially for the kids, so my children love that they can order their own bowl and not be overwhelmed by adult sizes.

Another feature that I love is that both stores practice sustainability where possible. Straws are reusable metal ones and in an effort to reduce wastage, bean sprouts, basil, chilli and fresh lemon are all available (free) pho additions, but won't be served unless they are asked for. I'm all for being eco friendly and reducing single use plastic so I'm fully supportive of this practice but you better believe I'm piling those additions into my pho! Now if only O-Mai would get rid of the disposable chopsticks...

I should also mention that both stores serve a delicious Bahn Mi, the Vietnamese crusty bread roll. There is a dedicated bahn mi station where they bake the baguettes onsite between the two restaurants and it's always busy. I get the lemongrass tofu option (minus the mayo and pate), but Mr Fork raves about the traditional pork one. I have no pictures of those because they get devoured far too quickly but take my word that they're amazing.
Pho Queue branded bowl
From my perspective, I'm impressed because they also have a completely vegan pho option made on a super tasty mushroom broth. You can choose to have it with tofu and vegetables (regular), or with a medley of gourmet mushrooms and crispy soy pieces (deluxe).
Regular vegan pho
I'm hard pressed to choose my favourite but maybe I'm leaning ever so slightly to the deluxe mushroom medley because a) I love oyster and enoki mushrooms and b) the crispy soy tastes amazing after absorbing the broth and it gets that wonderful texture where the inside is soggy and delicious but the outside is crackly and perfect.
Deluxe vegan pho
If you're ever in the area, I 'pho sure' recommend stopping in for a delicious bowl of pho, vegan or not.
Pho Queue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 11 June 2018

What's in my kitchen, June 2018

I know people who aren't in Queensland scoff when I say it's getting cold. For example, today, the temperature is expected to range from 8 - 22 degrees (Celsius) and was a chilly 12 when I was up making breakfast. My colleagues based in Melbourne often laugh at me when we are having video meetings and I'm encased in a woolly jacket and scarf while they are still walking around in t-shirts in much colder temperatures. What can I say, I'm thin blooded and feel the cold more! So, with that in mind, something that is back in my kitchen now that the weather has cooled down, are my old trusty Ugg boots... I do so appreciate toasty toes!
Leading into the end of financial year time, work starts to get very busy and the hours longer. I always have a snack drawer with various bits and pieces in it to tide me over, but of late I've noticed lots of sweets creeping in along with the porridge sachets and soup mixes. It feels like I hadn't had gummy anything for ages (due to gelatine) but lately I'm noticing lots of vegan friendly gummy things... like these highly addictive Sour Patch kids. It's hard to stop at one or two, but they're great for a sour/sweet sugary hit.
While grocery shopping, I like to walk methodically aisle by aisle, just looking at all the things available. My kids saw this in the jelly crystal section and couldn't walk past the glitter. Surprisingly, it's also another ninja vegan product, with no gelatine in it either. I didn't eat any, but both my children highly approved of it as a treat.
I had to pick up a few bits and pieces from Ikea recently, and as usual, I walked out with what I intended to get, and a haul of things I didn't know I needed but obviously did (hmmm). I like to look through the food hall after shopping and spied this vegan-friendly imitation black caviar. I had to have it, even though I've never eaten caviar in my life. I just like to support vegan friendly products when I see them, and the novelty of it tickled me. I don't actually know how to consume it - any suggestions?
While meeting a friend for a catch up at a vegan friendly bakery, the little man and I shared this piece of vegan carrot cake. I really loved that the cake was so moist and appropriately carrot and walnut packed. My child was rather taken with the icing more than the cake, although it's fair to say he also ate his share of the cake too. A definite winner. Cake is good anytime, but I especially appreciate it when served with coffee and eaten with friends.
I have wanted to try spaghetti squash as soon as I heard of them. They have always seemed illusive, and I thought it was just one of those things that wasn't to be had in Australia. However, I happened to be near a fruit shop I don't usually frequent and popped in for a look. They had half of a spaghetti squash for sale (and for a bargain 99c!) so I snapped it up. I scraped the seeds out, sprinkled it with a bit of olive oil and roasted it cut side down for about 40 minutes. I then used a fork to scrape the inside and all these glorious little strands resulted. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much flesh there was - it all easily detached from the skin. I served these little squash strands topped with a quick mushroom stroganoff sauce made with cashews for creaminess and it was delicious, but I think that was overkill. If I get my hands on another one, I think it would be best served more simply, maybe as a side dish with some good olive oil, salt and pepper.

I'm not-so-secretly hoping the seeds sprout from the compost. Mr Fork does not like me growing pumpkins on purpose as he is very proud of his lawn, and the pumpkin vines do tend to sprawl out of my garden space and take over whatever they touch. If one was to grow *accidentally* of course... well, it's like it was meant to be, right?!
Finally, talking of gardens, ripening on the windowsill of my kitchen (and visible behind the spaghetti squash above) are homegrown tomatoes. I'm not sure what variety they are, they are smaller than a roma but bigger than a cherry variety. They grow like a truss and are sweet and delicious with a good flavour. I think they might be from a heirloom variety I threw in and have just sprouted randomly. I am picking a handful daily and they make a nice addition to winter salads or just for snacking. 
I am linking this into the monthly In My Kitchen round-up, hosted by Sherry of Sherry's Pickings. What's happening in your kitchen this month?

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Vegan snack exchanging

After the success of my previous snack exchange I couldn't help but let out a squeal when I saw talk of a random vegan snack exchange. In fact, I don't think I've ever been more excited for an exchange theme. As the only veg*n in a family of meat eaters, it's very rare that I get vegan goodies unless I make or buy them for myself, or explicitly point out what I want, which does sort of ruin the surprise.

The random part of the exchange was also fun. Random being, you sign up for it and then when sign up closes, all participants are randomly assigned a match. The person could be in a different country and the only caveat on the whole exchange was that anyone was welcome to sign up, but anything sent had to be vegan. As there is no option to communicate directly with your giftee in this case, all participants had to fill out a short questionnaire about allergies, preferences and whether they were happy to accept home made snacks. The exchanges don't really specify a budget but say that most participants usually spend about $20-25 (excluding postage), although you are welcome to spend more as you like.

I watched the statistics and analytics on this exchange quite avidly. Many of the people who signed up were vegan or vegetarian, but others were not although were curious to try. When gifts are received, many people post a picture to a gallery and there were lots of surprised comments about how some foods were unexpectedly vegan (Oreos! Pringles! Hummus! Skittles!). There were also a few disappointed posts about how they could tell their match had tried, but just wanted to point out that a selected snack had beeswax, or milk, or gelatine in, so wasn't considered vegan. I'm sure these were honest mistakes though, as I remember how hard it was to read labels when I started to vet my food in the beginning too.

Anyway, in the spirit of sharing again, here's what I sent my giftee:
  • BBQ flavoured broccoli chips
  • French onion flavoured chickpeas
  • Spinach and wholegrain protein crunch bar
  • Sweet carrot rice chips
  • Roasted pumpkin seed munch snacks
  • Lemon 'jelly' crystals (made from agar)
  • Salted caramel mylk chocolate
  • Chia seeds

I had a lot of fun picking out what I'd send. My giftee told me their preference was for savoury snacks and things that weren't too commonly found so I think I got it pretty right. I'd also baked a batch of herbed sourdough crackers to include, but somehow Mr Fork and the kids managed to consume them in between baking and the postage deadline, so they didn't make it in.
Here's what I got back. I really think my Santa went above and beyond with my gift. Everything was individually wrapped and carefully packed with bubble wrap (I did not get a picture of this unfortunately as my kids were all.... wrapping! bubble wrap! and deconstructed it all while I was mid blink admiring it all).

There was also a hand written note describing all of the thoughtful inclusions, and even suggestions for using them. I am really looking forward to making those patties...and eating the cacao spread... and, well, everything!

I was also really spoilt with some non-snacky things - a reuseable bag as a little love note to the environment (perfectly handbag sized and great timing with the major supermarkets discontinuing single use plastic bags!) and even some vegan Lush goodies.

I am so, so happy with my exchange. While some of these products I had tried before, some of them are also new to me, and I really appreciate all the thought my gifter put in.
I really love getting mail, and I love seeing the thought that all the participants have been putting into this exchange. I'm keeping a list of all the delicious things that pop up that I need to try! So many ideas and regional favourites I'm learning about! What would be in your package if you sent a food exchange to someone?

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