Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Simple Plan.

I feel guilty about alot of things. I feel guilty when I sleep in. I feel guilty about how much petrol my car takes. I feel guilty when I forget, guilty when I lie, guilty when I cheat and guilty when I get away with something. I feel guilty when I find something mean really, really funny to the point where water comes up my nose the wrong way while I laugh. I feel really guilty when I avoid the Big Issue Guy in the street. Guilt, it's surely a bugger. But guilt over not eating my greens is much like my Jeremy Jordan fixation, a thing rooted very firmly and distantly in my dimming past.

If you're like most people today, you do give some thought to what not to eat. You might avoid junk, fast food, take away, too much sugar, too much fat, too much processed stuff. You might be so hell bent on avoiding the wrong things that you might have overlooked something quite simple, what should you be eating. Well, different yolks for different folks, right? Almost. I have done a good deal of reading on enzymes lately and tried to relate the amazing things i've learned about to my body now, how it feels and how I can make it stronger. I am very technical when it comes to most things, and I usually miss the obvious, simple and slow things, things that by virtue of their incredibly humble nature are actually, utterly profound. 

Candice once said to me, in regard to a casserole dish she bought, that it's amazing how easy creativity becomes when you have the right tools. Meet the Silver Mixer Bowl. My $7 investment was made as a result of an epiphany. Most epiphanies usually belong beneath the banner of the religious or the moral, nothing so grand here, my epiphany was one regarding salad.
Salad is something we all lie about. We order salads when out in public. We collect recipes for salads. When communal salad is put in the middle of a crowded table, we all take a little more than our tokengreenthingonmyplate share and try to get as much of the good stuff down, partly because we know it will be a good long while before we encounter it again. Salad is the great urban myth. When we do eat it, we're not eating something I think really deserves the name. Potato salad is not salad. Pasta salad is not salad. Fruit salad is not salad. The insipid little watery lettuce and dull tomato jobs you sometimes down in a puritanical moment of self righteousness aren't really salad either. 

Dark leafy greens are not just loaded with phytonutrients, they're flush with enzymes. You know enzymes are a good thing, but how much do you know about them. The position of modern science on the question of enzymes is not dissimilar to one of those people who pretends to recognize someone at a party who knows their name, and then proceeds to talk to them for 20 minutes, afterwards insisting to others that they've always respected and admired that chap. Enzymes are like the life forces inherent in the foods we eat. Not only do raw foods contain a higher level of enzymes, but they conserve the overworked digestive enzymes which originate in your pancreas. Don't worry, i'm not about to tell you to burn your oven and stop cooking, but I am going to let you in on a little experiment of mine.
Knowing that I didn't consistently eat as much good salad as I should, and always complaining about how dull and lethargic I felt, I bought the spunky Silver Mixing Bowl, and decided that at least once a day, every day, for 6 months and no less, I would pile it high with lots of organic green leafy things, combined with lots of fresh herbs, which generally have a much higher antioxidant content than normal greens, and devour it regardless of what I felt like. Only a month on, I feel so much more alert and awake and I have discovered how to make salad taste so good that I look forward to it every single day. I wanted to write this piece not so much to just give you an extra healthy recipe, but to show you how small, simple decisions about what you eat every day can not only induce a metamorphoses of vitality and energy, but also one of taste.

This salad is better than my former favourite, one I tried at Tetsuya's a few years ago. I adore Tetsuya, I love his food, I love his shy smile and his cherubic cheeks, but I am still going to call this:
The Try Harder Tetsuya Salad

All measurements are approximations, fiddle with more and less until you suit your own taste.
About half a bowl of organic leafy greens (mesculin, rocket, raddichio, cos etc)
Half an avocado, spoon out in long slivers from the shell
Sometimes a little raw corn cut from the cob
Sometimes broccoli sprouts (if you can find them, they're so full of good things for you)
About 1 cup of fresh coriander leaves
About 1 cup of fresh basil leaves
About 1 cup of fresh parsley (use any herbs, or just one)

In a small cup combine:
A splash of good olive oil (i'd say 2 tbspns or so if I had to guess)
A teaspoon of dijon mustard (Simon Johnson brand is electric)
A teaspoon of pomegranate molasses 
Juice of half a lemon/lime 
Crap loads of cracked pepper
Sea Salt
If you're really adventurous: a little ground cardamon.

Mix Mix Mix. The avocado makes it creamy dreamy in texture and beautiful to eat, it feels rich, smooth and lush in your mouth but tastes so light because of the lemonpeppersaltiness.

That's it. Nothing fancy, just good, simple salad. The herbs, and in such an amount, give it a beautiful mixture of sharpness and deep flavour, they also boost the nutritional profile astoundingly. We are usually trained to regard fresh herbs as something to be used sparingly as a garnish. I respect that rule about as much as I do the Sydney road laws. Herbs are so antioxidant rich it's not funny, treat the leaves just like you would regular salad leaves. I feel amazing after every days bowl, I feel quicker and more energetic, you will too.
Try it for 2 weeks, find yourself a good mixing bowl, it makes all the difference. It doesn't matter what else you're having for dinner or lunch, have this first and then follow it with whatever. You go all glowy afterwards, my cheeks have been especially pollyannaish since i've been doing this. If you're taking the salad into work, take the salad leaves dry and the dressing in a little jar and then mix it when you're ready to eat. This is a great way to start feeling lighter in time for spring. 

It's a delicious, nobrainer of a change, keep all as is and just add the dizzyingly delicious contents of one little silver bowl! If it sounds like the kind of thing that your food routine is missing, give it a go. It really awes me how much of our life is dictated to by how much energy we have, and how much energy that's available to us has more to do with the way we eat than most of us probably know. 

And so It was said, and so It was done.
I've got a creeping suspicion this piece was way too wholesome and preachy for my hedonistic-drool-on-their-chin readers. I am going to have to do gluten free ecstacy-chip cookies or something for the next entry. Vegan of course, or else i'll be hearing it from Erin.

Ps: To The Sinful Cindy Bolomey times Twenty Six: Happy Birthday! If your way in the world was a dessert, it would a sexy lemon tart: sharp enough to kill, but still sweet enough to get away with it. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pecan, pear, brazil Controversy Cake with Vanilla Cinnamon in Nearly Not a Trace of Wheat

It's a familiar story by now, but I am going to ask you to picture it anyway. Girl meets boy, boy likes girl, girl likes boy. Girl comes to regard boy as the most brilliant, beautiful, funny, kind and caring person she has ever met. Girl adores boy. Girl respects boy. Girl bakes a cake for boy and boy's family one day, a beautiful, nutty, vanilla scented, wheat free job with a dense pear studded loafiness to it. Girl is proud of cake. Girl is very, very proud of cake. Girl gives cake to boy to take to dinner with him.
Girl wakes up the next day, in a considerable state of excitability to ask boy if he loved the cake. Boy rolls over in bed and says, "yeah, it was good". No emphasis to the good. A very weak, curious "good". A sheepish good, a spurious good. The kind of good that makes you wonder. Hmmm. Girl prods boy further. Boy diplomatically locates several far fetched ways of suggesting that the cake was not particularly amazing. The nerve! Can you imagine!? He didn't like the cake. I was aghast. Can you believe that lips so angelic and sweet looking could be the bearers of so unseemly and high handed a cake verdict! My mind was racing, there could only be one explanation: the boy was clearly wrong. I tried the cake again after this little declaration from my so called 'beloved'. The cake was gorgeous. Madly gorgeous. Wildly gorgeous. Gorgeously gorgeous, damn it. Even the girls at the Wholefoods House around the corner who I usually drop some treats off to raved about it. Poor Dan, he has clearly lost his culinary way. For those of you have not, here's the recipe:
The Controversy Cake:

An adaptation from Jude's Coming Home to Eat.

Crumble Mix:
1/2 cup rolled oats (I used gluten free ones)
1/2 cup white spelt flour (next time i'll replace this with coconut flour for a moister cake)
1/2 cup muscovado
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 tspn cinnamon
80g diced unsalted butter (the best you can find)
1 1/2 cups of pecans and brazils (or any nut you look, raisins etc would work well too)

Cake Mix:
125g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup rapadura
2 tbspns brown rice syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla bean extract (I am out of the paste and I am not liking the essence as much)
1 cup white spelt flour (I used white rice flour because I had no white spelt, it was fine)
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
2 1/2 tspns baking powder
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn nutmeg
1 cup milk (I used Bonsoy, there's a little malt and Jobs Tears in it which is why this cake is not entirely gluten free, use a regular soy if you're dairy free, or any other milk, coconut would work well I think)
2-3 pears, washed, skin on, diced.
The Preheat is 170 degrees. Grease a biggish regular cake tin or springform tin and line with baking paper. The crumble mix sits on top of the cake and also gets mixed thorough out (Jude is a Renoir of cake texture, I wonder if Danny likes Renoir). To get your crumble happening, put the oats, flour sugar, coconut, cinnamon and butter in a bowl/food processor. Combine it until it is sticking together in a nice consistency. Don't combine too much, it's a piece-ish chunky type cake. Add your nuts and set aside.
 With the aid of an electric beater, mix the butter and sugar until a creaminess forms. It's really pleasing when it does. Add the eggs one at a time, Jude says, and beat well after each addition. Then in go the vanilla, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, finger, milk. Mix by hand and then fold the pears through with half the crumble mix (minus what you've already nibbled). Spoon into your baking tin and spread over with the remaining crumble mix. 70-80 minutes later you have your cake. Jude advises us to check it at 50 minutes, and if the crumble is browning to much, to reduce the heat to 160 degrees.
And there you have it. The Wholefoods Girls told me it made a beautiful, wholesome afternoon snack with a cup of milky tea. So there. They loved the richness of the nuts and the texture they lent to the pear speckled delicateness of the cake. It's a very sustaining type of treat, and not too sweet, it'll fills you more like a meal than a dessert. 

I think baking beautiful food is its own reward. It normally rises up like a gentle vapour from a deep and generous part of me that wants to nourish the people I love and see them truly enjoying themselves. The next few cakes I bake, however, are going to contain a heady dose of my new secret ingredient: spite. 


Monday, July 28, 2008

Lost somewhere in the Milky Way.

My relationship with milk over the last few years seems to have curdled a little. Upon discovering that lactose can't really tolerate me, I began a search for the perfect milk. What ensued was a (Bon) Quixotic tale involving many mishaps, many watery smoothies and much tea that was tossed after a timorous first sip. Between my allergies, my repeated inquiries made to bewildered barristas about the milk they use, and my general fastidiousness, I know I have Bad Milk Karma. It's going to come back to haunt me. I am already entertaining scenarios where my newborns will turn their little noses up at my offered nipple and give me a wrinkly thumbs down for mouth feel, creaminess and flavour.

But all problems, are after all, opportunities. What I learned along the way is not just what brand and types of milk work for me and why, but also how to use them, and how often. When Rebecca wrote me the other day talking about how her allergy to milk lead her to the caramel nutty embrace of Bonsoy, I decided to write a piece that had already been forming in my mind. I don't just want to tell you about milk, I want to see if I can get you thinking about it as well.

We were all born drinking mothers milk, and my, what a long way we've come. There is full cream dairy, lite dairy, skim milk, soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, goats milk, sheeps milk and milk made from such nuts as cashew, almond, brazil and hazelnut. Given that milk is a product most of us use daily and in considerable amounts, it does well to give some thought as to what we are drinking, eating or licking.

The only milk from this line up which is highly suspect for everyone, categorically, is skim milk. You think a skim milk is healthier, right? Less calories, less fat, all those things that make you skip in your size ten (I wish) jeans. Uh-Uh. So Uh-Uh. Forget what you've heard about fat, even the saturated kind. Full cream dairy milk contains all the B vitamins (which are water soluble), but it also contains the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. I am going to save you the crash course in biology and tell you that if a vitamin is fat soluble, that means that it requires that fat be present for the body to be able to recognise, and thus, take in the vitamin. All Wholefoods, milk included, are a complete package. They contain not only the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants we need, but they also contain them in the right combination and present in the mediums (such as fat or carbohyrate) that make them metabolize. Even if you're not lactose intolerant, your body will do a WhatThe...if you feed it skim milk, even if it's fortified. Most of the nutritional gold will simply be lost because the absence of the fat means that certain vitamins can't compute. David Pitchford in Healing With Whole Foods goes even further in the slap to skim, when he explicates the macrobiotic view point that foods like skim milk cause damage to the digestive system and can lead to such things as constipation. So, skim milk definitely sucks, it has very little nutritional integrity, and, if used long enough and in large enough amounts, it's not going to make a best friend of your intestines.

If you are happy with full cream milk and you want less calories, always order a smaller cup and drink half. Alternatively, if you're making a smoothie at home add a little water to the milk, you'll dilute the heaviness of it without actually changing the nutritional composition of what you're drinking. For beautiful bowls of cereal and porridge and even fruity whips like lassis, you can forget milk altogether and use a wonderfully rich organic yoghurt, loaded with protein and good bacteria, or stir in some apple juice or apple butter or poached fruit.
Asian (particularly Japanese) food philosophies, for which I have learned to have much respect, traditionally view milk as something not to be eaten after the age of 7. They believe it causes dampness in the body. If your diet is too dairy heavy, you could find yourself with alot of phlegm and a general sluggish disposition, acned and congested skin can result as well. I find I can't take milk at all, but a good quality cows yoghurt (one that is organic and does not contain milk solids or gelatin) is fine and never makes me feel icky, that said, dairy is a treat for me and not a staple. Pay attention to what it does in your body and find what works for you. Most people are not allergic to dairy as such, but rather to all the crap that's in it these days. Some people I know who have given cow the heave ho have never felt better in their lives, but that just might not be the case for you. Which ever milk you choose, try opting for better quality products and that will make a huge difference to taste if not to vitality.
Good goat's milk or cheese doesn't taste goaty. Most people who are lactose intolerant find that they can actually enjoy goats milk without having a digestive cow. Goats milk does contain lactose, but some speculate that it is the casein curd, which is both smaller and softer in the milk of goats than it is in cows that contributes to the relative digestibility of the product. It seems to leave most people with a lighter feeling than normal dairy does. Sheep's milk is supposed to be more digestible as well, I prefer sheep's yoghurt to sheep's milk, and goats yoghurt to sheeps. Sounding a bit Eee Iiiii Eee Ii Ohhhh, there, so let's leave the petting zoo and head East.

Soy milk, a sinner and a saint, is not necessarily the lactose free alternative to run to with open arms. Most commercial soy milk is awful, awful tasting and awful for you. I don't care if they sue me, but please, don't ever buy Vitasoy. It's the beaniest, vilest addition to tea and coffee, and it uses a soy isolate in its production. That simply means they use the outside of the bean to make the milk, and not the whole bean, usually because it's cheaper. This is a Western company that has no clue, or no desire, and certainly not much respect for the processes needed in order to develop soy into a healthy product with a full, flush taste. Soy milk like this wreaks havoc with hormonal balance in the body, especially in women, it's like a loaded gun to your ovarian cycle. Dodgy soy is not the only problem, so is overuse. Most people who like soy are a little soy crazy. They'll have tofu, soy yoghurt, soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy milk and all in careless amounts. Unfermented soy products work very differently in the body than fermented ones, such as miso or tempeh. Soy in its unfermented state is very disruptive for the energy of thyroid in the particular. The thyroid gland is associated with metabolism and heat in the body. A certain standout soy milk, which I will talk about later, addresses this quirk inherent in soy by tempering it with a recipe that balances out the nutritional effects. But that said, especially if you're a woman with some hormonal convolutions, soy is not something to be guzzled heedlessly.

Oat milk, another dairy free option, is nicer in porridge than in anything else I have tried. I used it for a few months but it was never a real favourite. Please, try it for yourself, if you are looking for dairy alternatives, this might be the one that works for you. It's slightly nutty/grainy in taste and is thicker than Rice milk for people who are very allergenic. Rice milk is okaaaay. A bit watery for my liking, even the best brand, Rice Dream, still doesn't do it for me. It's not the best milk to use in baking or smoothies or tea, it has too little a fat content, this translates into a general uncreaminess. I do know people who use it that are perfectly happy doing so, so don't discount the option. You can mix rice milk in with soy, goats or full cream dairy if you're looking to make either less heavy, in combination it's hardly noticeable. You can get fresh as opposed to shelf rice milk, try to seek this out if this is way you're going to go, if for no other reason than that it must be more vital if it has a use by date. Coconut milk is wonderful for cooking and baking, and for the occasional smoothie, if it's not too rich for you, the lauric acid, the major fatty acid in coconut, has attracted alot of scientific interest lately for the amazing health benefits it seems to possess.

Nut milks that are commercially available are quite lovely and sweet tasting, but every shelf brand I have tried has additives in them that i'd rather not be eating, they're also a little pricey at about $8 a carton. You can 'milk' nuts yourself, but lets be honest here, as bloody if. This is only really an option for people who are nuts about the taste.

Don't go all ADHD on me, i'm not quite done. We've talked sorts of milk, but we haven't really addressed the issue of quality. The type of milk you drink isn't nearly as important as what it contains and how it is made. Raw, unpasteurised dairy milk is so full of enzymes that it was used throughout the 50s and 60's as part of fasting regimes which were said to be excellent at reviving the body and goading it out of illness. Good organic or biodynamic milk is a must. This is one place where I want you to not make cost a priority. The commercial stuff has additives, preservatives, traces of antibiotics and, if you believe the filmakers of The Corporation: a nice dose of cow pus. The laws and the ethics that frame large scale dairy production are sadly lacking, you will not get a clean product when you buy the normal brands, some of us can get away with that, some of us just can't and don't even want to. Biodynamic or Organic milk is beautiful, creamy, lush, with a complete nutritional profile and is usually faintly reminiscent of vanilla in taste. If dairy is fine for you, than please try using a good milk in your cereal and in your coffee, it's only a couple of dollars or so more and with consistent use you are setting yourself up for a body that is vital and energized and which will encounter less problems in the long run. Or do it for the taste alone, it's so much sweeter than regular milk, you might even end up giving the sugar in your organic latte a skip.
Bonsoy is the bees knees of soy milk, no ifs buts or whats. It's the end product of a very Traditional, old and hallowed Japanese recipe which is heedful of macrobiotic notions of balance and harmony. Bonsoy contains organic soy beans, the beans, the whole beans, and a few other good things besides the bean like purified water and Jobs Tears, which, along with the malted cereal extract, do contain a little bit of gluten, but it's never really bothered me. It also contains, and you wouldn't believe it if you've ever tried it, a little seaweed called Kombu. Seaweed contains a great deal of iodine, something which speeds up the activity of the thyroid, when paired with the soy which slows down the thyroid, this product goes a good way toward ameliorating the negative effects of soy.

This is honestly the only soy milk I will drink. That said, I don't have it every day, maybe 3-5 times a week. Soy in its unfermented form does contain enzyme inhibitors, but the taste and the agreeableness of Bonsoy is a lovely addition to my diet in moderate amounts. If you're doing The Soy Thing, this is the only way to go. It tastes like a malted vanilla milkshake when you drink it plain, I have given it to people who've sworn they can't stand soy, and they have loved this. I am so enamored with this product that when we were traveling overseas I nearly got a little teary when I saw the bright yellow carton in a Barcelona health shop. It reminded me of shopping in Sydney, of home and my family and all the things I love. Bonsoy is great to bake with, unless you're going strictly gluten free, it's a full bodied soy that is a pale yellow, creamy colour as opposed to more crude forms of soy milk which are quite white and thin in appearance. Bonsoy, it's taken them centuries to perfect the recipe and me a few seconds to devour it.

Paris Creek Farm Make a beautiful organic, biodynamic milk, Rice Dream or Aussie Dream make the best rice milk, Jannei is a lovely goats milk, EcoMil make good nut milks, Spiral for coconut milk, PureHarvest do a nice oat milk and Bonsoy for soy.

You poor buggers, look at you! You came for an entertaining post and lots and lots of pretty, distracting pictures and all you got was a a scantily illustrated diatribe on the sins and virtues of milk. I am going to beg for your forgiveness by offering you a lovely, delicious and decidedly healthy recipe. I love what flax seed and flax oil do for my body, but I hate how they taste, this smoothie was my solution to getting a mostly daily dose of the good stuff (like omega 3, phytonutrients and fiber) while mixing in some probiotics and successfully hiding all the nasty tastes. If it's a little too cold for you to brave it in the current Sydney chill, save it for when you want to start fitting into your bikini, which, if you're a guy, I hope is never:

The BerryBananaFlax Thing (with or without Vanilla):
Bonsoy/goats/oat/good dairy/nut/rice milk (don't use much liquid for a thicker smoothie)
frozen/fresh raspberries (frozen makes gives a thicker consistency, Viking is a great brand)
frozen banana (freeze banana chopped in half in fridge, adds to the thickness if frozen)
1 tbspn of flax oil (stony creek is great)
1 tbspn flax seed (ditto)
1 tspn probiotics (Bioceuticals Symbiotique is great)
cinamon if you so please
Agave/honey/brown rice syrup (if you like it on the sweeter side, fruit is enough for me)
sometimes vanilla bean paste (vanilla pairs well with the sharpness of raspberry)
sometimes a dollop of creamy Marbrook Bush Honey Yoghurt
sometimes a little cold jasmine tea combined with milk which works great with berry flavours.

Whiz that little bad boy til it's a dreamy, thick, bright, blushing, Barbie pinkity pink, and drinkity drink: instant antioxidant, omega 3 rich rush to the brain with enough fiber to get you glowing (and going). Lured by the luscious colour of it, Danny saw me drinking some one day and wanted a sip, I warned him it had a taste he might not like, but he really liked it. It's a beautiful, nourishing and sustaining breakfast or afternoon pickyouup, in summer when I don't feel like eating much, this will do me grandly for lunch.

There's a wealth of options out there now, make sure you're milking them for all they're worth, just like me and my tragic little puns.


Thanks to Rebecca C for the email that got me going xx

Oh. My. God. (aka Ruchi South Indian Cuisine in Belconnen)

Candice is a secretive one. A porcelain skinned, spirited beauty with an elegance reminiscent of the renaissance who knows good food from bad food, and great food from good food. This is as much of her as you are allowed to see. I am sure that if Dracula were still with us today, this image would have driven him to some apocalyptic aneurysm of desire - and that's precisely what I am going to drive you to when I tell you about The Best Indian Food Ever. Forgive me for going a little photo crazy with this place, but I just had to do it justice.
Radhika and Raj are responsible for the paroxysms of delight that were spreading around our table with every beautifully anguishing bite. That's Radhika there. Upon observing her for a few moments I decided she was exactly my type of person. Intelligent with deep, compassionate eyes, efficient and bloody cheeky. You get the impression she is letting you in on their wonderful food rather than obsessively trying to please, her comfortable, easy nature and discerning eye make you feel completely at home and well taken care of. If this was home, I doubt I ever would have moved out. Ruchi is doing the best Indian Candice, Dan and Yoni had ever had in their life. After the year spent living in Pakistan when he was a little boy, my boyfriend's alimentary canal has become a living, breathing shrine to the spicy, sharp and creamy flavours of Indian food. Dosai in particular drive him dotty, and the best he had ever had was at this beautiful eatery in the backwaters of Belconnen.
The food was so good it hurt. The Chicken Biryani here was my introduction to this dish, and I loved it. The Masala Dosai came in the form of a perfectly crisp, golden and light rice and lentil crepe that beautifully eveloped a steamy mix of spiced potatoes. It didn't last long. The section off the menu which we selected it off is rightly entitled Dosa Galore, with a staggering ten dosai choices, whats a girl to do.
The Paneer Bruji continued the wonderful assault on our culinary senses. The description of this dish on the menu does it no justice: shredded cottage cheese seasoned with spices. Yeah right, and and the Mona Lisa was just a painting. This was simply stunning. Home made cottage cheese, screamingly fresh and creamy in texture, laced with perfectly balanced spices you can see and resting on a bed of fluffy, snow white basmati. At this point I was actually thinking that Candice taking us here was a gross, cruel unkindness, rather than the sweet and loving generosity of a dear friend: I live a ten minute drive from this food and you live about 3 and a half hours away!
Where's the beef? It's languishing, tender and yielding in a sweet smelling gravy with almonds. A soft, gentle beef that pairs perfectly with its sauce and mixes with rice in your mouth so wonderfully you will pounding your fists on the table. Lamb Nilgiri Korma is just as breathtakingly tender and bathed in fresh herbs and coconut. It melts into your mouth slowly and with a flavour that surprises and pleases, but never, ever overwhelms. The Lamb Nawabi is exactly the same, except with a gentle, creamy cashew nut gravy. Jesus. Cashew nut gravy. Don't even bother finishing the rest of this post. Get to Canberra now.
The naan. Oh my lord, the naan. The texture and the doughy creases of white folding into themselves with crispy patches of golden brown. A spongy, annihilatingly wonderful naan. Give-us-this-day-our-daily-bread type of naan. It was so photogenic I ignored the impatient stares of my fellow diners who wanted to attack the sultry warm break and took photo after photo. Here's another:
And another. Good looking bread, eh? It needs an agent. You could justify the drive to Canberra from Sydney based on this dish alone. It's a revelation when you try a simple food that you've had often that you always liked and someone takes it to a completely new level by making you feel like you'd never really tried it at all. Ruchi's does this. It's not just shining on the tricky spicy dishes, but also on the simple, humble ones. Every bite testifies to the quality, the ingredients and the know how that is the daily rhythm of this alchemical kitchen.
Radhika explained to me that they don't cook as though they are running a commercial kitchen. This is the same standard, the same method and the same quality of ingredients that she employs in her home. Again, it never fails to amaze me how many restaurants, too bent on making a dollar, have lost sight of the basic principals of success: feed people wonderfully, well priced food, serve it to them well and they will always, always come back.
Those of you who have had some experience with Ayurvedic philosophy know that alot of the spices used in traditional Indian cooking have highly medicinal properties. Even the fats used in cooking are beneficial for health (when they are of a good, pure quality) such as ghee, which is a warming food said to nourish the brain, and coconut, a fortifying fat that allows hair and skin to shine. Given that Ruchi's also uses very clean tasting meat and chicken and wonderful vegetables, this is healthy dining as far as I am concerned. Spicy chicken cooked in coconut milk, with beautiful white and unfatty chicken pieces for your health? Well, if you insist. Is anyone even still a vegetarian after all these pictures? Certainly not the well fed and discerning Yoni, just you look at that happy, red cheeked foodie with a full mouth. Something about this photo makes me want to pat him on the head and tell him he's a good boy for finishing all his dinner, but given that he sleeps with a gun by the bed (he's in the army), I was not going to tempt fate.
Dan, not to be outdone, also had the time of his life. He was smiling during the whole meal with a dreamy look in his eyes like he does when he's very, very satisfied. I think we diagnosed it as Curry Coma. No one could believe how much food we had, how great it all was and how little we paid for the experience. This is fine dining without the pretension or expense, and with a take away menu to boot, I am surprised anyone in Belconnen actually cooks for themselves.
I wonder what other delicious secrets Candice is keeping from the rest of us. Radhika and Raj's Ruchi, it's won Best Indian Restaurant from the Restaurant and Catering Awards in the ACT: Well, duh. Like any other place ever stood a chance. It's a good thing the venerable Mr Gandhi is not alive and living in Belconnen, hunger striking in such close proximity to unspeakably divine flavours would surely be unthinkable, or soul destroying at the very, very least.

Thankyou Radhika and Raj for a wonderful night, and Candice for the inside word. We will be back very, very soon xx.

At: U4/17-23 Oatley Court, Belconnen ACT
Ph: 6253 2506 (credit card taken over phone for takeaway, free delivery with conditions)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Canberra Raiders..

When Dan, our new Kiwi acquisition (the jazzy lovely lyre bird Katie) and I all jumped in a car and headed for Canberra, we weren't expecting much. Catch up with some friends, sleep in a little, drive around and see some really nice trees, that sort of thing, well colour me shocked. Not only did we have actual fun, fun in Canberra, but our taste buds casted a unanimous vote and elected this city of monuments, road kill and presumptive cyclists as: A Culinary Treasure. With the help of Rowan-in-a-poncho, Platoon-Sergeant-Levy, finance-journo-with-a-soul-Alex, a suddenly adult Paul, Drunken-bertrand-russell-loving Ben and the cacophony we call Candice, we took this city's flavour for all it was worth. Canberra never stood a chance. Part I of our travels is the products, part II is an inside restaurant tip of the Southern Indian kind that will change life, on earth, as you know it. Now, let's be serious for a moment.
Serious Salsa and Sauces is a brand i first spied at The Essential Ingredient in Sydney. Owner David Miller likes it hot, and thank god for us he does. With award winning concotions like Chili Jam, Chili Jelly, piri piri, Severe Salsa and Chili honey mustard sauce, this is a line of products worth getting very, very excited about. I love spicy food and have toyed a little, with some success, at making it from scratch. I am a label Nazi when it comes to buying things in a jar or a packet, if they have sugar, preservatives or weird sciencey words and numbers in their names that I can't decipher, then my money stays with me, this time, I almost gave them my ANZ PIN and the promise of my first born. These guys are amazing, they are producing the best pastes I have ever tasted with natural ingredients and they have a vegan option (yay for Erin). My Madras Curry Paste contains nothing but ground chilli, garlic, onions, coriander, pepper, cumin, mustard, feungreek, tumeric and salt, it comes with a handy little recipe and it tastes gobsmackingly divine. I have bought the red and green curry pastes and can not wait to start tinkering with them in the kitchen. The lovely lady who sold me these at the market informed me that the green paste has a vegan version that contains no shrimp paste, they have thought of everything! Upon arriving home cranky and tired from Sydney traffic, I whipped up a quick soup from the Laksa paste I bought today: Udon, Laksa paste, beef, tofu, baby peas, corn, enoki mushroom, spinach, coriander and some extra chili paste (from Simon Johnson) which, when bathed in some coconut milk and cream, procured a time halting, steamy, spicy bowl of winterdinnerperfection. I didn't even follow a recipe, just threw some things in with this phenomenal paste and let the rest do its magic. This is the real deal, a Thai chef consulted with the Serious people and gave them his mother's secret recipes for all of these pastes on one condition: that they not be altered in the slightest. Thank god for this Thai Mama's boy, because the results for us are clean, rich, incendiary pastes that wow you with depth and flavour. They are so absolutely wonderful and a great way to introduce yourself to Indian and Asian flavours without all of the know how involved in making dishes from absolute scratch. I am dying to try more in the range. These products can be bought online or at select shops (they turned down David Jones because they wanted to retain more control over their popular product) and all the pastes will keep for a year in the fridge. They cost me seven measly bucks for a bottle. Spice was the siren song at this market, and we followed it drunkenly from curry to tea.
Miss Anthea could sell me anything. A lovely, bubbly lady as sweet as the little brown paper cup of soy chai from her big, steamy thermos that she gladly poured for Yoni, Dan, Katie and I. I always run my nose along any packet of tea, especially chai, and I do this for two reasons: firstly, because I am a little messed in the head, and secondly, because if you can't smell a strong flavour emanating from the packaging, then don't expect it to do a cameo in your cup of tea. Anthea's chai smells amazing, it's about a meter from my noise right now and I am enjoying the scents dancing around in the air as cardamon, ginger, cloves and cinnamon battle it out for my nose's love. I adored this ginger heavy brew and want to try adding a little vanilla bean paste to the pot when I try making it at home.
Anthea is so kind she even has some thorough directions on how to brew the perfect cup on the side of her adorably packaged tea. Use 1 tsp per cup and 1 for the pot (god, how I love quaint little tips like that), 2 parts water to 1 part milk (bonsoy will be luscious with this), add chai, simmer for at least 5 minutes (i'd do much more and i'd keep the heat low), add milk, gently heat for 2 more mins, add 1 heaped teaspoon of honey per cup (brown rice syrup, agave or even a little maple would work too), pour the chai, then "stir, sit back, smile and enjoy"! I don't need to be asked twice! Anthea knows her chai, places that make the tea with all milk haven't really figured out how it works yet. The reason you use water first is because the tea won't fully infuse in straight milk. The other tip to pay attention to is the adding of the milk towards the end, this produces a beautiful infusion and ensures that your milk doesn't burn, milk that is burnt is one of the primary reasons that coffee and some teas taste wrong. Check out the chai bomb which you throw into a pot of tea for 5, or just a hell of alot of heavenly tea for 1. I have never encountered this product elsewhere, but i'll include Anthea's email at the end so you can all bug her for some. And from cloves drowning in tea to cloves drowning in cider...
I was a Hot apple cider virgin until today. Heated apple cider, with lemon, cloves and cinnamon. Jesus Bloody Chirst. Sublime. It was perfectly balanced, sweet with sour, so warming and so spicy. I want to try making it at home. I don't have a recipe but I am guessing you boil some apple juice with lemon juice and then add cinnamon and cloves in amounts to taste, any tips from any of you who have made it? It's like liquid apple crumble, alcohol and sugar free, and my new best beverage friend.

Still in Sydney? Get yourself down to Canberra for a day or a weekend, the markets, the produce and foodie scene is well and truly alive and kicking. The freezing weather is the perfect excuse for hot cups of cider, spicy chai and a rainbow of curry paste purchases. Forget Parliament house, leave the art gallery and the culture for someone else, it's tummy time.

Serious Salsa and Sauces can be purchased from The Essential Ingredient or email

Anthea's Chai, email

Friday, July 25, 2008

About Life, Rozelle: The SuperDuperMarket.

About Life in Rozelle is 13 years old. Like most adolescents, it began as a small, well established, buzzy little thing with alot of potential, and blew out beyond measure, to everyone's surprise, into one of the biggest, busiest health/alternative operations in Sydney. People come from the East, from the West, from the South and from the North to converge on this Darling Street bastion of all things salubrious, 200 new customers find their way here every. single. week. This is the kind of place that even intimidates the experienced shopper, so vast, so full of choices, so full of pots and jars and packets and tubs and cartons of things you may or may not have heard of. About Life is all about options. Your cereal can be wheat free, full of nuts, rice, oats, your milk can be biodynamic, organic, soy, lite, full cream, your ice cream can be dreamy creamy, rich dairy free, sugar free, soy and fruity or carameliscious and toffeed to the max, your bread can be spelt, kamut, soy and linseed, sourdough, organic, full of raisins and walnuts, essene, gluten free or flat and ready to wrap. If you dare to order for an impressive, glow inducing selection of juices, smoothies, teas, coffees and healthy treats from the cafe, you will be well rewarded with new and exciting tastes that teach you how amazing natural products are when they encounter a little culinary imagination.
That's the manager Vladia. There is no better advertisment for this alternative powerhouse than her happy, glowing face. She has worked for the sister owners, Jodie and Tammie for years, and has nothing but sheer and unadulterated love for her work. What you see at About Life is what you get. What you see is a busy, charged, energetic place where the people that work there have often been on the staff for years and are happy, healthy people, eager to accommodate your every need. If the Haloumi on Turkish with relish needs to be gluten free, just say the word and if the cafe happens to be fresh out of gluten free bread, one of the bright staff will bound out, like a lithe, efficient oompaloompa and retrieve some from a distant shelf, rush it back and whip up a haloumi sandwich that is healthy, safe and happy. I've shopped here many, many times, and this is always the service you get. Food intolerances, allergies, and outright fussiness do not phase these people. 

Shane's been one of the barristas here for as long as I can recall. We used to chat about Tool (4 degrees off Undertow is his current favourite track) while i'd wait for my signature 'wet' Calma Sutra Chai to infuse fully into a steamy pot of frothed bonsoy. Fast and fluent in the art of tea and coffee. Herbal, dandelion, eco, longshortflatblacks. Whatever you want, get it here, and with any kind of milk. Rice, soy, skim, full cream. I even had them once make my tea with some almond and brazil nut milk i'd just pulled off a shelf.
This is a smart set up. It caters for the home cook who wants to do it all from scratch, it also caters to the sometimes-sort-of-cook who wants to buy a marinated organic chicken and grill it with some beans they've blanched. They've even thought of the busy and lazy among us, who want good food but couldn't really be buggered: they have an express fridge, full of sandwiches, yoghurts, salads and sushi. They even have 2 little express pots of soup to go with little sourdough buns all cuddling together in a bowl near by for those of you who want to be nourished and wamred on the run. Dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, full of organic meat, carb free, laden with brown rice, every option you could ever wants comes at you in fridges, in class cases and in steaming pots. This is a like a twirling, swirling, colour splashed circus of all things healthy.
The product range is dizzying, I have had some hits and some misses, so take a while to find the products you really love, everything you could want is here. Bonsoy, Emundi smokehouse gluten free sausages and bacon, Sonoma sourdoughs and granola, Olive Green Organics trout (the best tinned fish you'll ever buy), Pure Life Essene bread, Stoneycreek flax, Tea Tonic berry green tea, Jannei goats yoghurt and milk, Marbrook Farm Yoghurt, Serendipity ice cream, Maggie Beer ice cream, Duchy Originals oaten shortbread biscuits (orange and ginger!), Dagobar chocolate, Green's chocolate, Spiral condiments, Pittango and Emundi soups, Tetsuya's salad dressings, Yulla dips, Larder Fresh Gluten Free falefal, Capel Cheddar. Beetroot chips, wheat free pasta, flatbread made from oats, marinated organic eye fillet, organic olive oils, almond oil, macadamia oil, walnut oil, dried fruits and dried nuts and dried goji berries with and without regal coatings of dark chocolate. About Life brand dips, the moroccan carrot all thick with lush orangeness. More brands of milk than I can count. Teas from all over the world. Toby's Estate coffee fresh to grind. The cheeses alone: roquefort, gorgonzola, pecorino pepato, bocconcini, havarti, goats curd, brie, camembert, aged cheddar, fontina, gruyere, friache, ricotta and more. The grocery section gleaming with organic and conventional avocados, bananas, leeks, grapes, custard apples, potatoes in orange and yellow and brown and red and pale cream. Bright fresh berries. Frozen berries.  Pet food, laundry products, beauty products, herbs, aromatheraphy oils, burners, body creams. You could look for hours without even buying a thing, it's a range I can only describe by calling it truly engrossing.
That's executive chef Pam. You can't tell from the photo, but she has the loveliest Irish accent and a cheeky sort of glint in her sparkling eyes. She's in charge of the menu that serves the cafe and the huge catering trade About Life meets the daily demands of. She's the health inspired houdini behind simple and satisfyingly clean dishes like organic chicken with broccoli and brown rice. The kitchen is a gleaming, silvery workshop where colourful vegetables, organic meats and gorgeous grains are being chopped and grilled and steamed and seasoned. 
The stellar range of organic baby food is a big, big seller. Most people actually become introduced to healthier ways of eating when they become a parent. An interest in the purity of their childs food begins to transform into a concern for what they themselves eat. People around Rozelle must be a randy lot, with lots of young children in the area the shop prides itself on swiftly and conslusively meeting a very high demand for baby products such as organic bottled baby food, porridges, yoghurts, special sugar free snacks as well as eco nappies and baby health and nutrition products. This is an About Life service I have no intention of enjoying for several years to come.
One thing I like about the set up here is that it's not at all preachy. It's got a great good philosophy. Enjoy eating meat, great, choose some beautiful chemical free, organic and well seasoned chicken, beef, lamb, pork, bacon, sausages fish, smoked fresh or frozen. Like dairy? Indulge in some wonderfully creamy, clean ice cream and lush vanilla tasting milk. Does cheese take your fancy? No plastic, synthetic stuff here, just rich, creamy, sharp, tangy, mellow flavours from all over the world. If you still enjoy snacks from a packet, you'll find healthy versions here, more interesting chips than plain old potato, preservative free and low/free in sugar and gluten.
Even the muffins on sale in the cafe can be gluten free or otherwise. They're full of fruits and fiber, all designed to be low GI, sustaining and delightful. They used to have famous ricotta muffins that Candice and I had many treasured, excited and duplicitous moments of gushed and open words over. The banana was amazing, so was the chocolate jaffa, and the apple cinnamon, and the berry, and so was she. Sadly, the man who used to make the muffins stopped (i've never really forgiven him), but Candice and I have kept right on babbling.
The groceries aren't the cheapest you'll find, but the quality is evident in both colour, form and taste. The vegetables and fruits show off their beautiful shades all year round. It's a select mix of the standard and the exotic, dates and custard apples and turnips and more types of potato than you usually spy in any one place. If something you have never seen or heard of before catches your eye and your fancy, don't be afraid. Some of the best advice I got on cooking came from Janella Purcell who told me to just cook things based on what they look like. I once tried roasting some Jerusalem artichokes in with my potatoes, lo and behold, a new vegetable to add to my belly and repetoire. Don't just browse the aisles of packaged foods, walk around the fruits and vegetables, look at them touch them, linger for a while, wonder what you could do with them and what they could go with. These label-less wonders open up world's of flavour and vibrancy you could never imagine. Take the time they deserve to discover them.

If all of these healthy foods and drinks and potions and lotions aren't making you bounce around permanently while annoying your hung over friends with chirpy howyagoing phone calls at 7am on a sunday morning, then make an appointment with the in house naturopath who can prescribe you a remedy from their own little, in house herbal hut, or some vitamins and minerals from a range that includes my favourite, prescription only Metagenics products. This is one stop shopping to the extreme, they've even opened up more parking downstairs. It makes you just want to hug random strangers.

Tammie and Jodie have understood their market exhaustively and brilliantly. They have created more than a shop or a cafe or a catering business, this is a huge emporium of health and food and ideas, it's where like minded people can converge to find the kind of products and ethos which reflect the way they have chosen to live, it's blossomed into something more like a community. This is a vibrant place to be, it encourages you to slow down and look around, to pause and to think and to be mindful of yourself, your body and what you put into it. It's an honest business that has carried out an ethical and laudable vision with perfect execution. It's also nice to know that the owners have are as sincere in their business philosophy as they are when it comes to food. Vladia raved to me about how much the owners respect the staff, how they appreciate them and look to them for ideas and opinions on how to make the business better, something I already gleaned from noticing that several members of the staff are faces I remember from years ago. That's just it, About Life could rest on its considerable laurels, but it strikes me strongly as the kind of business that is always looking at ways to do what it does better. It's inspired and inspiring. The public is rewarding this sentiment, this place opens from 6am untill 8pm during the week (7 til 7 weekends), and rarely sees a quiet hour.

And that what it's all about.

About Life
At: 605 Darling St, Rozelle
ph: 8755 1333