Beet-ing the country into shape.

August 6, 2011 § 9 Comments

The times in life when I wished I had a camera:

  1. Watching a man on a stand-up paddle board be surrounded by dolphins at Bondi Beach, from the cliffs above.
  2. Many nights of laughter with friends, just to capture the moment.
  3. Seeing the sunset over Charlotte’s skyline from the middle of a traffic jam

And something I never thought I would see, a squirrel sitting in the middle of the road eating Bojangles!
~
I kid you not,  a ballsy little squirrel was sitting in the street with both paws around a biscuit and a packet of Bojangles seasoned-fries. I had to give him a little toot in my car because he would would NOT move! Finally he upped and carried his lunch to the sidewalk, where he sat back down and resumed his munching.
What does this mean?
  1. I should never leave my house without a phone or camera.
  2. Michael Moore will release Fast Food Animal Nation in the fall of 2011.
  3. The next Man vs Wild will see Bear Grylls holding his own in a chain restaurant.

Following this experience it seemed only natural to watch Supersize Me & Food Inc. I was hoping to learn whether rodents prefer drive through or counter service.
~
Instead I was bombarded with a distressing reality check. Kids as young as 4 and 5 are being diagnosed with diabetes. Chickens are being pumped so hard with steroids that their little legs can’t support their overgrown bodies. And poor Alexandra Jameison (vegan chef) had to sleep with a man who consumed nothing but McDonalds for 30 days…shudder.
~
If everyone ate more vegetables the kids would be fit and carefree, Sunday lunch wouldn’t be the result of a science experiment, and Alexandra Jameison would have better sex.
There is this great raw food restaurant in Charlotte called Luna’s Living Kitchen. It is second-to-none. They have this one dish called Lunasagne, which is layers of raw zucchini ‘pasta’ with sundried tomatoes, cashew nut cheese and crimini mushrooms.
Check out the full menu here.
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I have had some beautiful zucchini from our vegetable garden recently so I thought I would turn my hand to a similar dish, using a filling of nuts and sundried tomatoes and topping it with a cashew-beetroot ‘cheese’.
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Now if I could just get some to that squirrel ….
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Raw ‘meaty lasagne’
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  • Slice 2 zucchini lengthways using a mandolin
  • Use the grating attachment in a food processor to grate 2 carrots. Set aside. 1 beetroot.
  • In a blender, mix a handful of walnuts, 2 tbl sundried tomatoes, the carrot and 1 tbl coconut oil until chunky. Set aside
  • Next process 1/2 cup cashews and enough water to make a smooth consistency. Add the grated beetroot.
  • In a glass square dish make a single layer of zucchini ‘pasta’. Add 1/2 nut topping and another layer off zucchini. Add remaining nut topping, final layer of zucchini and top with beetroot cheese and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
Serves 1-2.

Harry Potter & Pirate cupcakes.

July 22, 2011 § 7 Comments

‘The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.’

The words that started an empire.

 

 

I read my first Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets, when I was 13 years old, three years after The Philosopher’s Stone had hit bookshelves but  before Potter Mania had engulfed the world. From that moment the spell was cast and I devoured book after book in quick succession. It wasn’t until page 640 in book number four, The Goblet of Fire, that I had to learn patience. Slow months went by as I awaited the release of Prisoner of Azkaban,  my young mind nearly exploding in anticipation of what the Hogwarts crew was up to.

 

And so it goes with many of the great series.

It was late December 2001, I was coming out of the cinema after watching the first Lord Of The Rings film with the Batman and my dad. The clock had just gone 3pm yet the temperature outside still sat on 42˚C (c.100F). I was on a little sugar high from choc-tops and Maltesers and the back of my legs had gone to sleep about an hour prior. Standing in the carpark, without words at the AWESOMENESS that was LOTR, Batman and I thought we would absolutely die if we had to wait an entire year for the next installment.

 

It was 1999, the streets were drowning in rain, I was 11. We were at a coastal town, having enjoyed breakfast at a seaside cafe watching the storm punish the nearby sand. Batman wanted to get back to the hotel where he would have access to cable. Unfortunately for Batman it was nice weather for Ducks and chickens to trawl second hand bookstores and antique shops in search of the next volume of Trixie Belden, my favourite all-time series, first published in 1948 and not easily accessible at the local library or bookstore. Store after store after store until finally we came upon a man selling rocking horses and old books.

 

It was mere weeks ago when separation anxiety once again reared its ugly  head. NB and I had been loyal followers of the HBO series Game of Thrones, staying up past my bedtime each Sunday evening until the final nail-biting episode. Again, an entire year must go past before I will be reacquainted with those friends.

Now, you may ask what on earth all this talk has to do with pirate cupcakes? Good question!

Another series that has spanned nearly a decade is Pirates Of The Caribbean. While I enjoyed the first POTC, very much actually, it wasn’t one of those “ARE THEY REALLY MAKING ME WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL…” kind of films.

But I do love pirates, and all things nautical.

Two things led to the creation of these cupcakes. First was the release of the most recent POTC film, On Stranger Tides, and second was my toenails.

Yep, you heard right. Toenails. O.P.I has released a Pirates of the Caribbean range and I loved their jeweled, ocean green lacquer. A combination of blue and yellow food colouring and I think I got pretty close!

 

 

 

Tell me blushers, what movie, book or show has hooked you the most?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smoothie Love.

June 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

Gosh I can be silly sometimes.

This Saturday past we travelled up to Raleigh for a wedding. Considering that the weather was sweltering I had packed a bag with a pretty light summer dress, a pair of strappy sandals and a hundred pins to sling up my hair and  keep my neck cool. Makeup would be bare summer essentials: bronzer, clear lipgloss, mascara. The next day I would have a fresh change of shirt and shorts for the drive home. How cool, calm and collected did I sound?

That was until we were driving into Chapel Hill, two hours from home, when I turned to NB and asked:

“Did you put my bag in the car?”

NB: “Did you ask me to?”

BS: “No….ohh gosh!!”

I had a mental image of my overnight bag sitting on our bed beneath the ceiling fan and light that I also didn’t turn off (add electricity bill woes to wardrobe disaster!)

NB looked and me and I looked at NB. NB looked down at the (now unflatteringly sweaty) skirt, singlet and flip flops that I was wearing and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

NB: “How did you forget your bag?”

And this is where food comes into the story, once again addling my brain and dominating my attention.

BS: “I was hungry and decided to make a smoothie before we left…I brought the smoothie with me at least!” I said, holding up a long empty glass. “It was delicious!”

Luckily NB saw the funny side and was happy to make a detour into Macy’s. I’m not adept at clothes shopping on a good day but under a time constraint with the thought of appropriate wedding attire hovering over my head, talk about pressure! It was on like Kong. 10 minutes, a knee length blue dress and a pair of wedges later and we were back out the door. And thank goodness for RH, who hooked me up with makeup, shampoo, jewelry and all the other essentials. Beware, having me as a house-guest may result in a raid on your bathroom cabinet!

But as they say, all’s well that ends well. The wedding was beautiful, full of song and beauty and love, good food and fine company. As for my little faux pas, if I had the time again I probably would still choose the smoothie. It was just really good.

Tell me Blushers, what was your biggest OMG fashion moment?

Banana & Berry Smoothie

Serves 1

Blend:

1/2 frozen banana

1 cup mixed berries (blueberry and raspberry used above)

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup milk (almond milk used above)

Pour into chilled glass.

Add 1/4 cup cold coconut milk

Swirl with a teaspoon to combine.

Remember your bag.

Healthy Salads: Cheap and Cheerful

May 12, 2011 § 17 Comments

Last week I started a Cheap&Cheerful category on Blushing Strawberries’ with these fritters, and thank you to everyone who gave me tips on making a more ‘attractive’ fritter. I’m looking forward to trying again tomorrow, once I buy corn at the farmer’s market.

Lately NB and I have been looking into the Paleo Diet and the Primal Blueprint diet. In the coming weeks I will share one or two in depth posts on the subject, but for now let’s just summarise them as eating the way a caveman would eat – if it does not run, fly or swim, or if it isn’t green, then don’t eat it. Of course that is a wild generalisation and there are many nuances to the theory, which that statement has denied. But basically it is about eliminating all carbohydrates, grains and legumes, all processed foods, most sugars and dairy (a little bit of fruit is ok).

Before NB and I make any grand statements about how ‘We soo, totally eat Paleo now’, I thought I should recap on my history of sticking to a diet:

B/S on Detoxing – “Remember that this diet is not meant to impinge on my sociability”

B/S on Vegetarianism – “I remember once when I was a teenager, maybe 13 or 14, I decided to become a vegetarian. The memory is sadly clear. At breakfast I declare myself vegetarian. Five hours later I smell my dad cooking bacon. I renounce my newfound diet.”

Or this post shortly followed by this slice of pizza.

Not that NB can claim to be high and mighty: Do you think Cheerios or Cheetos are more Paleo? 

But we are slowly trying to include meals that fall in line with this way of eating, at maybe a 60/40 or 70/30 ratio. Which brings me to last nights Cheap&Cheerful dinner – a primal blueprint salad.

Now while Paleo may seem a little extreme for beginners, the Primal Blueprint diet offers a little more leniency, and Mark’s Daily Apple is a great starting point if you are interested in more information. One of the ‘sensible vices‘ allowed under PB is cheese. Here is what Mark has to say:

“While we aren’t diehard fans of all dairy, “the power of the cheese” is right on. However, we do believe in skipping the weirdo processed stuff reminiscent of school lunches. Play it snooty and go for the good, aged stuff. Not only is aged cheese a fermented food, it contains little to no lactose. It’s also got good fat, essential nutrients, and a wallop of protein. But this will all be mere peripheral chatter once you’re actually enjoying. The satisfaction surpasses all of the above.”

Truer words were never spoken! The satisfied look on NB’s face when he bit in to a sesame-chilli goats cheese balls, and his following proclamation that this is the BEST healthy meal I have ever made,  is enough to keep this chef satisfied all summer long. Because after all, why would we want to eat healthily if it doesn’t taste delicious?

Goats cheese salad with spinach stuffed chicken breast

(serves 2)

The money-saver aspect in this dish comes from using whatever you have on hand in your crisper or your garden. By using up leftover spinach and tomatoes from the previous nights dinner, I was able to stuff the chicken and wrap them in bacon from the freezer. You might have some sundried tomatoes or mushrooms lying around, which would work a treat. Choose whatever herbs are in your pots, garden or fridge and buy the goats cheese from a deli, not the supermarket, to save money on packaging.

2 medium sized chicken breasts, halved crossways

2 tablespoon of pesto (optional)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

large handful of english spinach, washed and roughly chopped

8 cherry tomatoes, thickly sliced

4 slices bacon or prosciutto

1/2 butternut pumpkin or acorn squash, diced into 3cm cubes and tossed with olive oil, thyme and salt

2 large handfuls of baby spinach or mixed mesclun

1/2 red apple, finely sliced into fans

Herb goats cheese balls

50g goats cheese

(‘Crumbing’ mix)

1/4 cup basil leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup Italian parsely, finely chopped

zest of one lemon

cracked pepper

Sesame Goats cheese balls

50g goats cheese

(‘Crumbing’ mix)

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoons chilli flakes

1 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds (optional) or poppyseeds

Preheat oven to 160C, 350F and roast pumpkin on a large baking tray.

Meanwhile, to stuff chicken, make a wide insertion into each half, making sure that the knife does not puncture through the breast. Rub 1/2 tablespoon of pesto inside each cavity. Heat 1tbl oil a large based frypan over medium heat and begin to saute garlic. Add in spinach and cook until just wilted. Allow to cool before stuffing each chicken cavity with 1/4 of the tomatoes, and spinach mixture. Wrap to enclose with bacon and secure with a toothpick.

For goats cheese balls, take a tablespoon of cheese and shape into a round using the palm of your hands. Coat half the balls in the herb mix and half in the sesame mix. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Serve chicken, pumpkin and goats cheese atop baby spinach, tossed with a dressing of equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as a squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Garnish with extra herbs and apple slices.

The Duck, Happy Mother’s Day.

May 6, 2011 § 10 Comments

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day for The Duck and I’d just like to say that she is one amazing woman. For the past two decades she has had to put up with Batman and I, which I can assure you must have been quite the experience. Like that one time when BMan and I were sitting in the car while mum popped in to the store, and in the space of 5 minutes we managed to burn circles into the entire dashboard of our station wagon with the cigarette lighter receptacle. Or those holidays when she would have to drive to 3 different places to collect dinner on Treat Night because my brother would want Hungry Jacks, I would want a kebab and then, once she was comfortably settled with a glass of wine, we would both want Baskin&Robbins.

But I’m sure there were good days. Once I decided to help in the kitchen and I woke up an hour early to make sandwiches for our lunch. As I didn’t want to wake up mum by turning on the light I decided to do all the slicing and assembling by the light of a foggy dawn. Needless to say, when Mother Dearest came into the kitchen 20 minutes later she was welcomed with my beaming face as I proudly displayed six blood-stained cheese sandwiches. Or when the BMan decided to take charge of my potty training, plying me jellybeans and smarties, and within two weeks I was flying solo in the bathroom. Surely you would have to love your kids when they do stuff like that. Right?!?!

I used to hound The Duck about cooking extravagant meals every weeknight. She would walk in the door and I would be sitting there in my school uniform surrounded with cook books for pin-boned quail or an Asian banquet. Not until I started working full time that I realised the beauty of something as simple as steak and three veg. But if it wasn’t for The Duck then the foodie in me would never have been nurtured, Blushing Strawberries would never have existed, and NB would always be very very hungry (ps, NB says Happy Mother’s Day!)

Because of that, I wanted to share a little Mother Love with my readers and I have cumulated all of The Duck’s recipes that have so far appeared in the Strawberry Patch. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.

Happy Mother’s Day Mum

I love you.

Mother Duck’s Recipes and thoughts

  1. Wontons and Asian Ribs
  2. Birthday cakes
  3. The Duck’s Winning Meatballs
  4. Bang Bang Chicken
  5. Osso Bucco
  6. Aussie inspiration
  7. Gardening ideas
  8. Thai salad with Duck (eek!)
  9. Medical diagnosis: why I am orange
  10. Raspberry coconut slice
  11. Banana and berry bread
  12. The divine biscuit
  13. Pork chilli salad

Happy Cinco De Mayo

May 6, 2011 § 8 Comments

If you asked me last week, I had never heard of Cinco De Mayo.

Last night that changed, and I found myself surrounded by black beans, guacamole and cheese dip as my book club sat sipping coronas and discussing the days of prohibition and circus politics (we recognised the holiday  one night early to coincide with our literary meet).

As we drove to the apartment of our hostess, the lovely Morning Sun, I asked my fellow book lover and blogger for a quick history lesson. I can now tell you that FIRST & FOREMOST Cinco De Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day, as many people will try to tell you (rather September 16). After this is gets a little hazy.

The funny thing is, depending on whether you’re celebrating in America or in Mexico, the day will have a significantly different meaning.

In the United States Cinco De Mayo is a party, a fiesta and it proves to me that these Americans are perfectly happy to have a drink in celebration for a day that is not really their own. I used to think that St Patrick’s Day was a big deal in Sydney, that was before I realised the city of Charlotte would manage to extend the celebrations for over nine days, from bar-crawl to float parade! Perhaps I should get something going for Australia Day, next January 26?! Here, Cinco De Mayo is a day to honour Mexican culture and heritage, and to commemorate the cause of Mexican freedom and democracy during the early years of the civil war. Today you should expect to see people sipping margaritas and ordering nachos or huevos rancheros.

In Mexico, on the other hand, it is about remembering the victory of the Mexican Army over French forces in the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th, 1862. The day is marked by noticeably less boozing, but instead a military fly over and stirring re-enactments take place. Unfortunately the battles are not all in the past:

“Like many things in Mexico these days, the celebration of the 149th anniversary of the battle swung quickly toward the current drug war. In remarks before laying a wreath to the fallen, Calderon spoke of Mexico’s new enemies, the criminals who rob, extort, kidnap and murder — the kind of opponents who beat 183 people to death and buried them in mass graves 90 miles south of Brownsville, Tex., last month”

William Booth, Washington Post

I’d love to see this day celebrated in its home country but this year I am in America and that means making delicious cheesy, chilli black beans. I hope that this recipe for black beans would not make a Mexican mother cringe, originating from my head as it has, but what can I say? It goes down well with a glass of sangria and that’s enough for me!

Black Beans with shredded cheese and jalapenos

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight,

1 large tin crushed tomatoes,

1/2 cup water,

1 cup red wine,

5 cloves garlic, crushed,

1/4 bunch coriander, stalks chopped finely and leaves picked,

2 tbl chilli flakes,

3/4 cup mexican cheese, grated or crumbled (queso blanco, queso fresco or panela),

1/4 cup jalapeno peppers.

Drain and rinse the black beans until the water runs clear and return to large saucepan. Add all the wet ingredients and the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and stir in coriander stalks and chilli flakes. Continue to simmer for 1 hour for semi-crunchy beans (I like to undercook my beans slightly so they retain some texture and don’t taste like mush!) or 1 and a half hours for soft beans. Remove from heat and stir through cheese and jalapenos. Serve with corn tortillas for wrapping and guacamole for topping.

Eating Wontons & Watching the Grass Grow.

May 2, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have great news! The porch is ready!

Anyone that knows me will freely admit that I have a habit of creating jobs for myself. Not only is our kitchen table covered in To-Do-Lists for immediate jobs, but also to-do-lists for longer term jobs and to-do-lists for backup jobs that I could do if I ran out of jobs. Needless to say, I don’t understand free time.

For some reason I thought that the move to America would teach me to chill out a bit more. Perhaps even sit back and smell the roses. But then I realised – we had no roses to smell. Unfortunately for NB, this was the beginning of the end for our free weekends and not until two months later was the garden deemed finished.

Alas, this is not all. As I was standing outside in the early morning light, admiring our handy work and whispering sweet nothings to our darling little seedlings, I was struck by how grubby the back porch appeared in comparison. Oh dear.  At this stage NB threw up his hands in despair and retreated to the safety of Family Guy reruns, and to be honest I can hardly blame him. Fortunately for me FoodieFresh was happy to don her painting shorts and a few weekends ago we made  5 hours of serious progress.

It was somewhere around here that the project stagnated. Admittedly the state was being ravaged by terrible storms, of which we were getting the tail end, and we were also busy with various eating engagements, but to be honest I think I had just run out of steam.

Saturday arrived and I was busy in the kitchen preparing for a little dinner soiree that night. We had some friends coming over who had lived in Sydney when we were there (they only returned to America a few months before we did) and NB and I thought it would be a good idea to relive the Thai scene that is so dominant back home. Lost as I was in marinating ribs, grating ginger and folding dumplings, that is was a couple of hours before I realised that I hadn’t heard a peep out of NB!

With a trail of shredded cabbage falling behind me, I went searching.

And wouldn’t you know it, there he was out on the porch finishing the painting. Hurrah!!

Ace of Spade’s delicious butter biscuit shortbread with strawberries and cream

That night, as I chinked my prosecco glass with our guests, I made a little promise to myself that next weekend we would relax…Do you believe me?

Sticky Asian Spare Ribs (the style that an Aussie girl can be proud to present in the South)

Serves 4.

1.5kg (3 1/4 lb), or 16 American-style  pork spare ribs

Marinade:

3/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tbl grated ginger

1/3 cup soy sauce

3 tsp sesame oil

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine

2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch chilli flakes and a squeeze of lime.

Bring a large crockpot of water to the boil and blanch ribs, rinsing and refreshing under cold water.

Mix marinade together in a large ceramic baking dish and toss ribs to coat. Cover and allow to marinate for 4+ hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 160C/ 280F and remove ribs from fridge, allowing to return to room temperature.

Leaving the baking dish covered with foil, cook ribs for 3 hours or until meat begins to flake off bone. Remove from oven and stand, covered, for 15-20 minutes.

For thicker sauce, drain some of the sauce from the baking dish into a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking constantly until thick.

Serve with steamed rice.

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