Friday, January 27, 2012

The Bee Whisperer

I came home yesterday afternoon to discover my bedroom crawling with bees. They're gone now though and all that remains are a few bees on the floor with their toes curled up. 

Picture sourced from internet

When I wrote about extracting the first lot of honey from my dad’s hives I mentioned that if I ever kept bees, I would have to learn how to do various care-taker jobs such as capturing a swarm.  The people who keep bees along with my dad at the community garden have all had some experience in dealing with bees when they swarm and, when I heard the other afternoon that my dad’s bees had done just that, I was excited at the prospect of being involved in the capture! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it), the bees had been magicked back into their box by the time we turned up the next morning.

But I needn't have worried about missing out on the action since it was brought right to me yesterday. We still don't know what happened to why they hopped back into the box on their own or why they randomly started dying in the air-conditioned comfort (we can spare the electricity bills for the bees only) of my room but hopefully our local beekeeper friend can sort it out for us. That's where all the [living] bees are now. 

*** Edit: Good intentions but negative impact - Dad actually froze the bees in the air-con  so, once they got out of the box, they couldn't move to warm themselves up enough to keep moving and consequently died... talk about a vicious positive feedback cycle. ***

According to the extremely reliable source of Wikipedia, swarming is how bee colonies reproduce in nature which usually occurs in the early summer, between September and December. It occurs when the old queen bee decides to take a whole lot of the bees (apparently about half) from the colony with her and bugger off. They then find a fence, tree or shrub nearby to hang onto until the worker bees find a permanent site for the swarm to move to and make their own new little colony. This effectively splits the original hive into two. 

... Apparently a swarm leaving the hive is a sight to behold, with thousands of bees buzzing as a cloud to drift away and reform again at their new temporary home. If they end up staying there, they’ll start building a new comb and attach to whatever the structure is onto which they are hanging.

Dad and his mate Fernando are actually going to register themselves as swarm-catchers (or something along those lines) so that they can help little old grannies who suddenly 'discover' year-old gigantic swarms in their backyard - true story. I'm not exactly sure what the attraction is when it comes to going out and angering a lot of bees but each to their own I suppose. I'll definitely be there to watch, though! 

Below, the first ever swarm-catching attempt by a couple of clueless idiots I unfortunately happen to be acquainted with. 

Trimming branches in order to access the swarm
Bringing the swarm down and putting them into the box


The swarm in their new home
(cartoon sourced from internet)
The cartoon probably isn't a very accurate representation of Dad and Fernando but, in my defence, they were stung a fair few times so they must have panicked somewhere along the line! 

- Matilda

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“Raw Chocolate Milkshake Miracle”

I was extremely skeptical when I first read the heading (see above) for the recipe of a raw chocolate milkshake containing bananas, cacao, honey, cashews and... avocado. Judging by the look he gave me when I told him I was making a chocolate milkshake without chocolate ice-cream, Dad was as well. Well let me just say that it is a-mehhhh-zing! 


This is a recipe I tried when I first discovered Green Kitchen Stories and My New Roots, both of which are (if you haven’t worked out by now) vegetarian – and sometimes vegan – blogs that post healthy takes on your traditional indulgences. The raw chocolate milkshake was from MNR and it exceeded my expectations, to say the least. I encourage you to go and make it this very instant. No joke. Do it.

I wish I could improve my food photography but my efforts with my wee compact Canon will have to do for now.  However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get this to look as delicious as it is. At least I know that it tasted fantastic… and that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned :-)
However,  there is one unfortunate thing about this recipe... I can no longer enjoy the chocolate thickshakes at the cafe down the road that I used to crave so badly: they pale in comparison - in terms of taste and  nutrition.  Hell, this one is positively good for you!!

Raw Chocolate Milkshake (adapted from My New Roots)

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp raw cacao powder
1 avocado
1 very large peeled & frozen banana (or 2 small) 
2 Tbsp raw honey
Dash sea salt 

1 cup water
5 ice cubes

Directions: Blend all the ingredients together. If it's too thick for you, add water or ice (I prefer to add ice as it makes it extra cold for these hot summer days!). 

Similar to Sarah's father, my own dad is a chocolate and refined sugar nut and it gives me hope for his forever increasing cholesterol levels (hemhem I hope he reads this) that he actually requests these milkshakes. Not to mention sighs in a satisfied way and tells me I "make a mean chocolate milkshake" every time he takes a mouthful. 

- Matilda 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A little bit late (or early) for the festive season: Gingerbread


I have never, in all my years of life, made gingerbread.

Up until now.

That fact is quite amazing when you consider the number of times I harassed my poor, long-suffering mother when I was a child to help me bake gingerbread in order to make a gingerbread house – which is still a dream of mine by the way.

Whenever I used to bake biscuits (or cookies, depending on which part of the world you hail from), they would always be either plain butter or plain butter chocolate. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the recipe was from a Japanese source, but they always ended up being in the shape of Pokemon. I loved Pokemon. In fact, I still do!

This time, I tried a no butter and no sugar version of the traditional Christmas treat (yes, I know, Christmas was nearly three weeks ago).  They also happen to be from my lovely adopted (as far as I’m concerned ;-P) family from Green Kitchen Stories. Apparently their recipe is a take on the traditional Swedish gingerbread cookie, pepparkaka. If these are any indication of traditional Swedish sweets, I’m keen as a bean to try some other treats from that corner of the world. They’re not too bad… not too bad at all. Mmm. Yum.

Although the original recipe from GKS calls for cloves, I couldn’t find any in my cupboard so I just threw in some extra cinnamon and ginger to make up for it. Also, because last year’s festive season has long finished and this year’s is still 11 months away, I decided to make a greater number of smaller flower-shaped biscuits rather than the usual Christmas-y shapes. These could also be vegan if agave nectar was to be used in the place of honey.



Gingerbread Biscuits (adapted from Green Kitchen Stories)
Makes 30-50, depending on the size of the biscuit cutters

Ingredients:
1 cup almonds
15 dates
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
3 tsp ginger, grounded
3 tsp cinnamon, grounded
1-1,5 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

Directions:
1. Place the almonds in a food processor or blender and grind them until they resemble a flour. Add dates, oil, honey, ginger and cinnamon and pulse until everything is mixed into a dough.

2. Sift together the flour and baking soda and start kneading the flour into the dough, little by little. The dough is ready when it can be formed into a moist, round ball without being sticky. Put the dough in the fridge over night or for four hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 150°C and line a baking pan with parchment paper. To prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin, sandwich it between two sheets of cling wrap and roll it until it is about 4-5mm thick. Cut the dough with your biscuits cutters of choice and transfer the gingerbread to the parchment paper. This dough is a little bit more brittle than your typical dough so it helps to be careful when transferring.

4. Bake for 7-12 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the biscuits. These contain almonds so they burn easily so try to keep an eye on the oven so as to make sure not to overdo them.

5. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.


In hindsight, I probably should have used the bigger biscuit cutters; they’re quite addictive and the small size makes it even easier to reach into the container and just have one more

- Matilda

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Raw Brownies

There is nothing I can do except send Sarah B – creator and mastermind behind the blog My New Roots – the most magnificent bunch of flowers imaginable. That or send her a marriage proposal. Unfortunately she’s already declined all of those in advance.

The other day I tried the decadent ‘raw brownie’ from My New Roots and boy oh boy, it is soooooo unbelievably good: rich, smooth and gooey all at once. I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming, as well as suspiciously looking through the fridge to see if someone had replaced them with the baked Betty Crocker version. But no, I wasn't. And no, they hadn't been. And they’re BETTER than Betty Crocker. Now that’s saying something, 'cause Betty Crocker is top-of-the-line when it comes to packet mixes. Trust me; I’ve eaten a lot of packet mixes in my day.

I could rant on forever about how good these are so I’ll just let anyone who is curious try it for themselves – you won’t regret it. For all the health benefits (yes, health benefits!!) of these magic little square of joy, as well as for beautiful photos, check out the original recipe.

You can do as Sarah suggests and halve the quantities of the ingredients if cost is an issue. I did this because ensuring that each of the individual ingredients is of high quality is super important in this one.

Raw Brownies (from My New Roots)
Makes 30 brownies

Ingredients:
2 cups whole walnuts
2 ½ cups fresh dates, pitted
1 cup raw cacao 
1 cup raw unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
¼ tsp  sea salt
Directions:
1. Place walnuts in food processor and blend on high until the nuts are finely ground.
2. Add the cacao and salt. Pulse to combine. 

3. Add the dates one at a time through the feed tube of the food processor while it is running. The result should resemble cake crumbs but sticks together easily when pressed. Add more dates if the mixture doesn’t hold together.

4. In a large bowl (or the pan you intend to put the brownies in), combine the walnut-cacao mix with the chopped almonds. Press the batter into a lined cake pan or mould. Place in the freezer or fridge until ready to serve (note: these are easier to cut when they’re cold). Store in an airtight container…. If you have any left.

Ugh. I’m in love.

I vow never to bake a brownie again.

- Matilda

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Bee's Knees

There are some foods that I quite simply adore. Raw honey happens to be one of those.

Today I tasted my first ever fresh, fresh, FRESH raw honey (and first ever vegan “pasta” – more later). My dear old dad started keeping bees last year and today we went down to our local beekeeper’s place to extract the first lot of golden goo from the hive.

The equipment we used was all home-made and the innovation displayed in its construction was truly amazing. I would love to explain the whole process but I think more reading is required on my behalf and they say a picture says a thousand words, so…

Chock-a-block full of honey
Uncapping the frame using a blade heated by steam
The uncapped frame
Spinning out the honey in the extractor

Pouring the honey out of the extractor
Mm-mmmm.
Left over wax from the previous extraction (2-3 weeks ago)
I honestly have never tasted honey before that is so delicious. You might remember that I mentioned that I even put honey on warabi mochi (a Japanese jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and usually eaten sprinkled with kinako, or soybean flour). It also goes into my porridge and on my toast by the tablespoon, as well as on peanut butter crackers, yoghurt, fruit, tea, coffee, etc. I’m not exactly sure how much of the stuff I sucked out of the comb this afternoon, but it was enough to ensure that not getting home until late at night didn’t call for too much rumbling from my tummy.

Dad has been crazy about his bees for some time now and I have got to admit that they are pretty exciting. I’d really like to learn a bit more about them and how they behave so maybe that one day I will be able to keep bees of my own! There seem to be a few things that you really have to be able to do to be a beekeeper (rescue the hive when it swarms, for one) that I would have absolutely no confidence with if someone asked me to give it a go this very moment. The hive Dad keeps lives at and feeds off the local community garden – an amazing urban farm that chugs out seasonal vegetables like they’re going out of fashion. That’s where all the zucchinis I’ve been using have been coming from… which brings me back to my vegan “pasta”.

Whenever zucchini was served with dinner when I was a kid, my parents would sit there  and force me to finish my food. It didn't matter how much I cried, dry-retched or point-blank refused, there was no way I was allowed to leave the table until those horrid (or so I thought at the time) vegetables were cleared from my plate.

Photo sourced from internet
Today I took my relationship with zucchini to the other extreme and tried it raw. Disguised as pasta. Apparently this is what vegans eat when they crave the comfort of carbs.... I don't think I could ever manage but, each to their own and I respect the rationale behind veganism. I've been wanting to try this recipe for quite a while now because the concept of raw pasta really fascinated me.  I am slightly annoyed to admit that it tastes like it sounds as it should: exactly like raw zucchini. 

Is that a mind-blowing revelation or what? 

However it appears that my parents knew what they were talking about when they wanted me to eat my zucchs. It turns out that not only does the peel help keep you regular but the flesh is  packed full of vitamins A, B & C, potassium, antioxidants and folate. This is a tangy summery dish that fills you up on minimal calories and maximum goodness, particularly if you're using organic veggies. I would probably recommend peeling the skin if the zucchinis are not organic to prevent the ingestion of even more unnecessary chemicals. 

Zucchini Pasta with Heirloom Tomato and Basil (adapted from Roost
Serves 4 as a main or 6 as a side

Ingredients:
4 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes (I also put in 10 sun-dried tomatoes for an extra kick) 
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, depending on how many nice boys you want to be kissing later that day
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5-6 medium zucchini
Salt and pepper
Pine nuts (optional - I also threw on some pumpkin and sunflower seeds)

Directions:

1. The sauce: Put the first five ingredients into a highspeed blender and blend until smooth. As the blender is running, slowly pour in the olive oil and continue blending until completely mixed.

2. The pasta: Trim the ends of the zucchini and, using a spiral slicer or vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini into ribbons. Toss the zucchini ribbons with sauce and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. top with pine nuts and garnish with a little bit of extra basil. 

It wasn't bad I suppose, but I wouldn't rush out and go to the trouble of making this again. My zucchini pancakes (from Skinny Taste) and carrot & zucchini cake (from my last post) that I served on the side and for dessert, however, were quite delicious and I'll keep these recipes for falling back on when it's necessary to use up the zucchinis in a rush. It ended up being quite a zucchini-y lunch now that I think about it.

Now to find some new zucchini recipes to experiment with! It's funny how a vegetable you detested as a young 'un suddenly becomes something of a staple in your diet...  

- Matilda



Monday, January 2, 2012

Carrot & Zucchini... cake?

Yesterday one of our friends surprised us with a call to say that he was back in town and, as any person who hasn't seen a dear friend for an extended period of time would do, my dad invited him over to shoot the breeze over a couple of beers. Similar to other South Americans I have encountered, Pasquali is one of a kind, not to mention a total character; I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard and so earnestly at someone's stories. His experiences of chef-ing all around the world have left the limbic system of his brain cradling an array of colourful, exciting and sometimes downright unbelievable adventure tales. After a night of far too much beer (the boys) and kombucha tea (me), too many gyoza, bowls of rice, slices of rich chocolate cheesecake and warabi mochi (done my way with dollops of honey on the side - my Japanese ancestors would be horrified), I decided to harness my inner chef - yes, despite the incriminating evidence I still like to believe that it is hiding deep inside me somewhere - to make a light and healthy recipe I have been wanting to try for a long time: carrot cake. Yes, a HEALTHY carrot cake. Healthier, anyway. I mean, it is sugar-free!

It turns out that there WERE carrots in the fridge. However, there was also a truckload of zucchinis that were crying out to be used. So I decided to combine the two and see how it went! Unfortunately I didn't have any fresh dates so I soaked dry ones for a couple of hours, before draining and wringing them out to use. It turns out I didn't wring them out enough which, combined with the watery yellow zucchs I had, yielded a rather soggy carrot and zucchini... thing. I'm yet to try it cooled as I ate it hot straight out of the oven with my morning coffee so hopefully it firms up a bit once it has cooled off and been let stand at room temperature for a bit longer.

*** Edit: I tried it again cool and it was actually quite good! The middle had firmed up and the sweetness of the dates and bananas seemed to have used the extra time to penetrate the cake and make it a little bit sweeter than it was, which is no bad thing.***

*** Edit - take two: Ok, maybe it tastes a little better than 'quite good'... Mmm yum. I think I will most definitely be making this again. Although I'm keen to try it with just carrots as well. The flavours are subtle and absolutely lovely.***

Regardless, I think I'll stick to what the recipe says next time. Although it's all Pasquali's fault - he told me that swapping the carrots for zucchinis would work fine. And he's a chef so I should be able to trust him, right?


Wrong. 

Never trust anyone who is a) a man, b) a chef and, c) a friend of my father's. 

I adapted the recipe from Green Kitchen Stories, an absolutely gorgeous family who blog from their home in Stockholm. They have been my inspiration and beacon of hope in times when life was quite tough. One thing I love about this blog in particular is that it is relatively clutter-free; Blogs that have photograph after photograph of the same sort of thing tend to annoy me and hence I end up closing the window without making it down to the recipe. It doesn't matter whether or not the photos are pretty... it's still visual pollution as far as I'm concerned (I already know that this statement will come back to haunt me - maybe 'visual pollution' is a little bit too harsh). Green Kitchen Stories is the first blog I have ever been remotely interested in reading and I have so much for which to thank David, Luise and darling little Elsa.

Carrot & Zucchini Cake (adapted from 'A "healthier" carrot cake' from GKS) 
Serves 6-8

I made this in one 3 x 7 and one 3 x 6 loaf pan because they are the only pans that will fit in my little 9L toaster oven... and it's easier to cut when it's in a loaf shape rather than a round cake. 

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1-2 bananas
20 dry dates, soaked for a couple of hours and drained thoroughly
6 tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1-2 zucchinis (medium size, grated)
1-2 carrots (medium size, grated)
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup walnuts (roughly chopped)
1/2 cup raisins or sultanas 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Whisk the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Using a hand blender, mix bananas, dates and oil into a thick cream in a mixing bowl. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg and fold it into the eggs and the banana-cream. Add grated zucchinis, carrots, coconut flakes, walnuts and raisins and stir until just mixed.

2. Pour the batter into a cake pan or loaf tin and bake for 45-50 minutes. It is ready when a toothpick stuck into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let rest on wire rack to cool.

Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee, knowing that it's full of natural sugars and probably contains at least one of your recommended serves of veg for the day! 

Matilda