You know what I love about cooking? The sounds. The clink of the spoon against the bowl, the bubble of boiling water, the hiss of escaping steam (beware escaping steam!) the whirr of the oven, the crackling of the plastic packaging, the crunch of the salt grinder.
I love music. I love a lot of different music, you may have even noticed a few songs I picked out to share with you on this blog, and I love cooking to music. Music’s a big part of my life. It helps us to connect to others, it takes us to another place.
It’s important to hear the music in everyday life. The sounds of baking delicious, egg-free brownies, the calling of one friend to another, click clack front and back, train choo choo, all of that. It’s important to listen to the cadence of another’s voice.
The science of noise is fascinating and completely confusing (although click here for a really cool, funny, not-too-confusing intro) but what interests me is how we all connect to it. We are all searching for something, but the weird, sometimes comforting, other times frustrating thing is that someone else has probably felt it before you, and even if you feel like you are all alone in the world, chances are that someone out there cares. It may be someone who’s been down your particular black hole before and so therefore can empathise with you, or it may be someone who’s seen someone not come back.
Perhaps it’s just that you don’t look hard enough in your own life to find the person close to you who cares that much about you and can have an actual conversation without being awkward about it. Perhaps you have online friends, who although they’re a million miles away or close enough, are closer to you than those you see everyday.
Hopefully you have some people you see, so you can share brownies and sad stories (or even hopeful ones) but have some virtual brownies on me anyway, and know that I care, and that maybe I even love you.
So originally these were vegan but I don’t keep soy milk or margarine around the house (sorry lactose intolerant and vegan people. It’s not that I don’t love you. I just don’t like the taste of those things) so I just made them egg free, which was what I was looking for anyway because I ran out of eggs. I also accidentally cooked them at 200 degrees for fifteen minutes and then realised my mistake and dropped the temperature to 150. So just try to keep it at one eighty, yeah?
**UPDATED** These do actually taste of coffee. A lot of the time the espresso is just put in to enhance the coffee flavour, but these do taste like coffee. Just a warning!
adapted from Milk’N Cookiezzz
4 ounces dark chocolate
3 ounces butter (substitute margarine for vegan version)
1/3 cup milk (substitute soy milk for vegan version)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line an 8″x8″ baking tray with foil and spray it with baking spray.
Melt chocolate and butter together. In a seperate bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, cornflour, coffee powder and vanilla.
Combine chocolate mixture and milk mixture. Sift in flour, baking powder and cocoa. Pour into prepared pan and bake about 20 minutes.
Well, unless your mama is Stella of Bravetart. Then, yeah, I stole your mama’s nutella recipe. However, I’m fairly sure Stella doesn’t have kids, so no, this is not your mama’s nutella. Really, it’s not nutella at all, because Nutella is trademarked.
This is a chocolate hazelnut spread that is much better than nutella. Trust me. I know. It took me a while to get there, but it was worth it. (Whether it was worth the procrastination it took – the time away from my essays – only time will tell.) Oh, it was a real hassle but we got there in the end.
So, why make chocolate hazelnut spread yourself, you ask? Good question. The thing is, I’m trying (slowly, painfully, with not much success) to bring my life back to the ground. The earth. So I’m planting stuff and making bread and sitting in the spaces but I don’t have a lot of time and I make a lot of lame excuses.
I want to eat less processed food, more local and organic food. I want to celebrate life properly. It’s a long hard slog but I’m getting there. Sometimes I feel like I say that WAY too much. I’m getting there. Getting to a place where I’m at peace. Getting to the end of my tether. Getting to the top of the mountain. Getting back down again. Getting to God. Getting further away.
Getting there is usually positive, however, because positivity breeds positivity. I am not great at being positive all the time, however, I do my best. And physical activity plus healthy food equals a pretty positive day.
Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Adapted from Bravetart
Dude, this was a fiasco and a half, let me tell you. I started off with my sister in the kitchen and I should say right here, I am not good at sharing a kitchen with anyone, let alone family. Then the brittle didn’t become brittle, which I figured out later was because I didn’t cook it enough (so either get yourself a candy thermometer or cook until lovely golden brown) so I got sticky non-brittle EVERYWHERE and then it was like nine o’ clock before I even started the dishes. Oh my goodness.
But was it worth it? Yes, definitely. It’s amazing. Make this, and you will never buy storebought Nutella again.
7 ounces (205 mL) water
15 ounces (425g)
6 ounces (170g) honey or corn syrup
3 ounces (85g) butter
1 vanilla bean
10 ounces (285g) hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed, chopped coarsely
8 ounces (200g) dark chocolate (72% cocoa is preferred) melted and cooled
1 ounce (28g) cocoa powder
3/4 tsp salt
6-8 ounces (170-225g) hazelnut oil (We couldn’t find hazelnut oil in the supermarket so we used macadamia nut oil instead and it was fine. I only used about 5 ounces all up.)
Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out all the lovely insides and put it into the sugar. Slice the two halves lengthwise again and mince them as finely as you can. Rub all that vanilla goodness into the sugar so you have vanilla sugar (this is also a good way to clean off your hands and knife from all that clingy vanilla bean paste.)
Place the sugar, butter, honey/corn syrup and water into a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and stir continuously until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil, not stirring, until the mixture reaches about 300 degrees (Farenheit, I think) on a candy thermometer (this is about 150 degrees Celsius) or pale golden brown. Or lovely deep golden brown, if you want to go that way.
Take off the heat and stir in the hazelnuts. As you can probably see from my pictures, I didn’t chop the hazelnuts beforehand but I chopped up my brittle fairly well after it set so it turned out ok.
Grease a baking tray and pour the brittle mixture in.
While you’re waiting for the brittle to set is a good time to melt your chocolate.
When it’s set, carefully remove it from the pan and break it into manageable chunks (I fairly well chopped mine because I was scared my small slightly-cracked-but-still-useable food processor might not hold up to the pressure.) Be careful not to cut yourself on the sharp brittle!
Pulse half the brittle in the food processor. As it keeps running, add in the rest of the brittle piece by piece until it’s pretty much powder. Stop the food processor and dump in the cocoa, chocolate and salt. Keep the processor running until it’s pretty well homogenised, then as it keeps running, carefully pour the oil in until it reaches your desired consistency.
Now is the time you dip everything you can get your hands on into this liquid gold and stuff it in your mouth. Soft white bread, crunchy baguette, chopped fruit – anything and everything tastes better dipped in nutella. Then pour it into jars, seal tightly and keep indefinitely at room temperature.
I say almost because I kinda forgot an important ingredient.
See, when you make muffins – even awesome muffins born from the cinnamon walnutty goodness of last post’s cookies – it’s kinda important to have some sort of ingredient that works together with the other ingredients and does some sort of scientific thing that not only helps it to taste awesome but makes it rise and makes the texture fluffy and lovely.
It’s a leavening agent. Yes, ladies and gents, I forgot the baking powder AND the baking soda. I am a very smart cookie.
But I’m a nuff nuff muff muffin.
They taste really really good, don’t get me wrong. They taste just as good as the cookies. (maybe even better. I don’t have a direct comparison. We ate all the cookies already.)
I get this feeling I’m missing something in my life. Flour one day, baking powder the next… I don’t know what’s going on. Baking still calms me down and makes me happy, but I think I need to … re-evaluate or something. Journal more. Be more. Just be.
This is why it’s a good thing that holidays are around the corner. This is also why I’m trying not to freak out about the fact that I’ve got two exams in the next two days, and I’ve been procrasti-baking and procrasti-cleaning and procrasti-tooling around on the internet for the past week. Or so.
It’s ok. I have almost-muffins. And hot chocolate. And Glee.
And I’ll be even more ok when I visit my Oma on Friday for her birthday.
It’s a pretty special occasion. She’s turning 21! No, that’s me next year. She’s… thirty! No, no one needs that freak out again. Or do they?
40? She is looking pretty good for her age.
Keep going… Ok, no, we’re actually going to stop there. Let’s just say that it’s rude to ask a lady her age, and my Oma is grand and wonderful and mature and sometimes giggles like a schoolgirl with me and my sister and our mum.
And her party is going to be so much fun! But I can’t think about it until after my exams.
Well, after these two anyway. I do have another (yep, I chose four subjects that have exams in my first year of university) but it’s not for a couple of weeks and I’m going to smash it out of the water. Just like I’ll smash these and the one I did today.
Ok, time to stop talking about [exams] and tell you about these muffins you absolutely have to make.
Just don’t forget the baking powder. And soda.
P.S. Please tell me about them! I was totally going to make a new batch but I’d run out of walnuts. And dates. And there weren’t any apples. And my nose is cold. And this blanket is warm.
125g butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup greek style yoghurt (I’m sure other plain yoghurt would work just as well)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped
about 3/4 cup dates, chopped
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla and scrape down the bowl, beating until fluffy again. Stir in the yoghurt and milk.
Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients (you can sift ‘em first if you want to … or not…) and the walnuts and dates. Scoop tablespoonfuls into patty cases lining muffin tins (I have a feeling these would be brilliant in the kind of huge, Muffin Break-esque texan muffin incarnation. Try it. I dare you.) Bake… in a 180 degree oven… well, mine took about twenty-five minutes but I don’t know how leaveners change the baking times. So, check them regularly. Then eat them.
I know what I’m having for breakfast.
One of the things that was really difficult for me this week was that in living below the line, I was doing probably as much harm as good. Sure, I’m raising money for ant-poverty initiatives, for education to help people get out of the cycle of poverty, something better than just throwing money at the problem and thinking that’s my bit done. This is a way to help change my outlook on life so that I think about my actions and how in every way I can do better, in every way I can act righteously (more on that later). It’s made me think and it’s made others think. I’ve had some really interesting discussions regarding whether people can buy me food (no) does this mean it’s ok for me to steal (no) does free food, such as from food vans, count (yes) can I use the veggies from my garden (unsure, but we’ll say no just in case) and it all basically revolves around the fact that I’m not just doing this because I have to, it’s a choice to raise awareness for myself and others.
These are all good things that happen because of this initiative. But to live on less than two dollars a day in Australia, I’m supporting organisations I don’t like or want to support. I’m buying unethical produce.
See, to afford enough food to feed myself for this week, I had to buy no-name brands. Flour, butter, pasta. Sure, I got my fresh food from the fruit and veggie market, but only because it was on special – in the discounted section. I was lucky in that way. But what home brands do, the brands like coles smart buy or Woolworths home brand or Black & Gold, they lower their prices, get monopoly over the market, then when it’s all theirs, they’ll jack up their prices so they get more and more money, while conning the producer out of what’s theirs.
And that’s just a part of it. So while I love what Live Below the Line are doing in terms of awareness and projects, it kinda sucks in this sense.
I don’t know what the answer is. We do what we can, and we let God take care of the rest. Although I have to say, what we can do is much more than we give ourselves credit for. We make so many excuses but we could be doing so much more for those less fortunate than ourselves.
I mentioned in my earlier post today about the fact that I have lots of food and everyone, while it’s lovely that they’re taking notice and caring about whether or not I’ll faint, doesn’t really get it. I feel like I’m cheating a little, because I really do have enough food. That said, it’s less than what I’m used to and I have to ask myself, how much of the time do I eat just because I feel like it and how much because I’m actually hungry? I’m not saying that eating is bad – I love food, and I love eating. I often eat too much just because it all tastes so good. But we complain (and by we I mean me) about the lack of this or the fact that we have to have our second-favourite flavour milkshake or whatever, and we’re just covering up the fact that we’re spoilt, western brats.
But we do what we can. And we’re all working on our personal issues and hang-ups. No one is perfect; we just strive to follow Jesus as closely as we can.
Adapted from Julie Goodwin’s LBL recipe
300g plain flour
Sift the flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Melt 20g of the butter and place in the well, and add water (not too much). Stir, adding more water if needed, until it’s shaggy and mostly stuck in clumps. Knead until it forms a smooth ball.
Melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Take a small piece of dough and stretch it out (you can roll in if you want it to end up a little prettier) until it’s fairly thin, and fry in the butter. Repeat with the rest of the dough (you can fry several flatbreads at a time).
Dip in your soup and imagine a better world. It can happen!
I dreamt about food last night. I think it was a sort of Masterchef type deal, where you had to make a meal out of what they had there. I don’t remember it much, except the food was delicious.
See, the funny thing is that everyone assumes that you just don’t eat much on Live Below the Line, but there really is enough food for five days. Most of it’s carbohydrates, yes, it’s not all nutritionally the best for you, but there’s plenty. There’s even taste in most of it, from the garlic, the natural sweetness of the fruit, the salted butter. Not much variety, but there isn’t often variety in many people’s food.
The problem here is, that the people who live below the extreme poverty line, those that actually live on $2 a day, day in, day out – they don’t get to spend it all on food. They have to spread it out between food, bills, transport, medicine, every little expenditure throughout the day.
How can we let this happen in our world? How can we make someone choose between feeding her whole family or allowing one child to live, sacrificing meals for medicine? Walking kilometres to get to a source of clean water that won’t make them all sick. Sharing a tap with 200 other people, eating the same food, day in, day out, and very little of it, too.
‘In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.’ – Edward Burke
What I am doing is a small, small effort. But it is an effort. And I am continually striving to turn my life to God, and to people – to do better every day.
Please make an effort. Donate here.
And thank you to all who have already donated – it means so much to see that people care.
Pumpkin and Potato Pasta
This is another of my staple meals. As you can see, lots of carbs for energy, but not much protein. I think that spinach would make a good addition, pine nuts, salt and pepper and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Take out some of the potato, perhaps. But it does smell good – all that garlic!
250g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, cubed
500g potato, scrubbed, cubed
3 cloves garlic
250g pasta (I used large spirals)
Chop garlic finely. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and fry the garlic, pumpkin and potato until crispy and tender (I think perhaps baking would work better, but this was fine for me).
Heat a large saucepan 2/3 full of water until boiling, and tip the pasta in. Cook approximately 7 minutes.
Add about a cup of starchy pasta water to the pumpkin and potatoes. Drain the pasta and combine the two. Eat immediately, while still hot, with thoughts of starving children on your mind.
The Hunger Games (and its following books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay) are a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and they are a shot to the heart. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where the country is drastically shrunk by rising sea waters and is now called Panem, a country made up of the Capitol and twelve districts. Each year, a boy and a girl are drawn from each district to participate in something called the Hunger Games.
Our heroine is a girl called Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her sister’s place in the games. This is because the object of the Games is to be the last one left alive. Yep, these people pit kids against each other (keeping in mind the children could be anywhere from twelve to eighteen years old) for sport. And everyone has to watch and celebrate the victor.
I don’t want to spoil the books for you because I really think you should read them yourself. I stayed up past midnight for three nights, one for each book. I told myself each time that I wouldn’t do that, I’d read some and save the rest till morning, I’d be a good girl. I never lived up to these promises though, because these books just caught my heart.
The thing about these books, though, is that they are about our world now. We in the West are the rich Capitol, whose children are safe and who don’t see the Games as bad, just as entertainment. Operating under the motto Panem et Circises, as long as we are fed and entertained, we don’t look past the screen to see the pain and suffering of the rest of the world. The Districts, who feed and support the Capitol, who once rose up against them but were crushed and are now continually stamped all over by the Hunger Games and the order of the system, are the Second and Third Worlds, struggling to survive and doing anything to keep their families alive.
There is a part in the books where the people who had previously won the Hunger Games are asked to vote on whether there should be one more viewing, one more Games, where the rich Capitol’s kids are made to play. And the consensus is yes. These people who have been crushed all their lives, who fought to survive people set out to kill them, who had to live with the consequences of killing and being hunted, who lived through a revolution, decide to keep the cycle of violence alive – just one more time, because revenge is sweet and it’s the only thing they can think of to take their minds off the pain.
That we live in a world where this happens is no good for anyone. That we think that violence and death can somehow solve problems, heal hearts and minds, vanish guilt and ease pain, is a product of what our world has become and it’s what’s keeping us all sick, keeping our world spiralling downward.
See, after I’d finished reading the last book, crying at the end because it’s not all black and white, and every death is etched in the minds of those who executed it, I was reading the paper and I saw the articles written by people who had lost loved ones to terrorists and people who were so downtrodden and in pain, the only way out that they could see was to inflict that pain on others. And they thought that more death could heal their hearts. Not that they could forget the pain but that revenge could somehow soften the blow.
That we live in a world where violence is the answer, that death solves problems, that we cannot see what harm we are doing to ourselves by living this way, makes my heart sore, and it was all I could do yesterday not to burst into tears over the dishes.
I’ve never felt the pain of losing a loved one to a deliberate attempt to cause harm. I don’t know how it feels. But when I see this pain and heartache, I turn to those who have and have come out with love, arms open, forgiving and full of grace. This beauty that can come from the ugliness of violence and hate pierces my heart and reminds me of the hope that I find in Jesus.
These are the people that give me hope. These are the people that, if I were ever in a situation to choose between vengence and justice, I would turn to to point me towards the Way, the Truth and the Life.
A story in the book Plan Be by Dave Andrews. Just buy the book, we’ll talk later.
There are more, but for now just check these out. Forgiveness is hard, but love is the only way.
A cup of tea is a wonderful thing. It will soothe your aches and pains, make you feel cosy and happy. It will be your best friend, your shoulder to cry on, your ear to listen to all your worries. If shared, this cup does everything a hundred fold. If you are feeling blue, have a shower or a bath. Dry yourself down and pull on some warm fuzzy pyjamas and a dressing gown and slippers. Brew yourself a cup of tea and snuggle down somewhere with a good book. I promise you won’t regret it.
Many people argue about how to make a cup of tea – it’s apparently very important to do it ‘right’. I feel that you make your tea the way it makes you feel best. Now while teabags in mugs are easiest, they are also saddest. A pot helps with the cheering up process the best. A tea cosy (or, where unavailable, a woolly hat) helps to prolong the joy of tea by keeping the pot warm. This is also helped by warming the pot. I have milk and sugar; many people don’t. It’s up to you.
I direct you to George Orwell to learn about tea from an Englishman, while I go off and have a cup of tea.
Today I took myself out for coffee.
You may think that this was a token for holding the lonely at bay but I am, in fact, trying to get to know myself. I am in the process of becoming friends with myself, of believing that I am, in fact, worthy of friendship. Because I am.
I’m sure I will believe it fully one day, but for now I must be patient.
Because as I try to be better (and remind myself do or do not – there is no try) I believe that to do so, I have to believe that I can. And to do that, I have to love myself, because you don’t believe in people you don’t love. Or at least, there is always an underlying belief that it won’t happen and if it does, it doesn’t mean much.
So I went for a drive, because we all gotta go places, and I bought a coffee and sat for a while and watched the people; I saw a couple who had matching converse on and a girl with a motorbike and several skateboarders and some really cool shoes. I walked for a while and went into bookshops and vintage clothing stores and bought ice cream. And I drove again and sat again and wondered.
Because wandering around aimlessly is toxic if you wonder what the point of it all is, if you really have no purpose and aim simply to fill in time or rather, not; but if the point is the sun and your own company, wandering and wondering can be quite therapeutic.
So hold your heart and move, gorgeous and affecting, to your music. Believe in yourself. Dance like no one’s watching; because they’re probably not. Enjoy your company, because you’re stuck with it. Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you!
But if you do decide to take yourself out for coffee, dress up. Be nice to yourself. Impress yourself. Be happy.