An Abundance of Spearmint 1

September 21, 2017

 

I recently put out a plea on Instagram, asking what I should do with my spearmint. I planted the spearmint a long time ago and suddenly it is everywhere. Reaching, spreading, thriving, abundant. I’m new to gardening and this is how my growing goes. Nothing, nothing, nothing, SO MUCH OF SOMETHING. It’s either drought or overwhelm. It’s as though my garden is channelling my particular brand of enthusiasm: ALL!!!! or nothing.

 

You, good people, gave me some stellar ideas for utilizing my spearmint. Ideas for drinks and sauces and baking, just to name a few. I put several to the test and came up with a winner to gift back to you…

 

 

Abundant Spearmint – The Winner:

 

Chocolate & Spearmint Slice

Adapted from Chelsea Winter’s Peppermint Slice recipe, this slice uses fresh spearmint and is topped with a silky smooth dark chocolate ganache. The use of fresh leaves will make you look a bit fancy, but it’s not a difficult recipe to make, despite the three steps.

 

Ingredients

Base
225g butter, at room temperature, cubed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa
1⁄2 cup fine desiccated coconut

Fresh spearmint cream filling
3 1⁄2 cups icing sugar
50g butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp pure peppermint essence
1 big bunch fresh spearmint leaves, finely chopped

Chocolate ganache topping
150g good-quality dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
2 Tbsp cream

1tsp peppermint essence

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Grease a slice tin.

To make the base – cream the butter and sugars together, then beat in the egg until well incorporated. Sift in the flour and cocoa and add the coconut, if using, and mix until combined. The mixture will be sticky so press it into the tin in an even layer with a moistened spatula (or your hands)

Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin.

To make the spearmint cream – beat the icing sugar with the butter and cream until very pale and fluffy (about 5-8 minutes). Add the peppermint essence and fresh spearmint, and beat to combine. Spread over the cooled base and smooth out with a warm knife.

To make the ganache topping – break up the chocolate and melt in the microwave in short 10 – 20 second bursts, stirring in between bursts. Once just melted, add the cream and stir together until completely combined. Add the peppermint essence last and stir again until all ingredients are combined and silky smooth. Cool slightly, then pour or spread over the peppermint filling.

Cover the dish with cling film and set in the fridge for at least 1 hour. When set, cut into squares with a sharp knife. It’s pretty rich so you’ll want to cut the squares small (approx 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch).

Keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.

 

 

Abundant Spearmint – The Runner Ups: Spearmint & Rosemary Jelly, Spearmint Tisane, Mojitos and Mint Chutney

 

Aside from the delicious slice I really enjoyed making a spearmint and rosemary jelly, using this recipe. I substituted the mint for spearmint and added about ten big sprigs of rosemary during the final ten minutes of boiling. It is so good with lamb or served with quick-boiled peas – yom. A spearmint tisane shouldn’t be ignored either – simply soak in boiling water, like a tea, and voila. This is such a refreshing drink, my kids love it and the colour is a vibrant lemony-green. As an alternative beverage you could always make mojitos (and invite me over. Or else). Lastly, this recipe for a traditional mint chutney (pudina) was recommended to me, which I haven’t yet had the chance to try but is firmly on my list as the spearmint continues its relentless rampage.

 

All your great ideas for using my spearmint got me thinking about reaching out much more often when something in my garden gets presidential ambitions. I can ask you what to do with it, you can tell me your tips and tricks, then I can cook, mix, test and report back. That way you can check here when it’s your garden’s turn to get abundant and I can check back when spearmint is once again going bananas and I’ve completely forgotten what to do with the pervasive little beauty. Hey, look at that, it’s almost like a club! We both win! Well, apart from the spearmint.

 

Thanks again for all your tips, do keep ’em coming,

With love, in abundance,

Hannah

 

P.S. Thank you to author, John Green, for his book “An Abundance of Katherines” which inspired the title for this post. Mr Green, if you ever need more spearmint in your life please let me know.

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Baby’s First Roux 2

September 7, 2017

 

 

This is what happens when you brazenly bake and cook and concoct and discuss food around your children: they become mini foodies. They ask to take cooking classes. They announce plans to become bakers when they grow up. They want to create masterpieces in the kitchen using only water, Cheerios, salt and herbs snipped from the garden.  (I had to taste that one.)

Lately Little e’s been asking to bake things, by which she means stir some ingredients in a bowl and see what happens in the microwave. There’s been a lot of congealing and rubberiness. She’s been delighted.

 

 

So the other day I decided, when asked the same old question–can I bake something today?–to try to slot in a cooking lesson (disguised as fun, of course).

I told her we’d make a white pudding. That sounded AMAZING to her, so off we went…to make a roux.

I know one of the things she likes about cooking–that we all like, I imagine–is the magic, the alchemy of it. We take separate substances and combine them, heat them, change their structure or size, and–abracadabra!–we have a whole new substance. A combination that’s more than the sum of its parts and is, hopefully, tasty.

 

 

I never think about this anymore. I’ve made too many hundreds of dinners, lunches, cakes and puddings to think about what’s actually going on. There’s an end result to get to (before everyone gets hangry). But cooking with kids slows you down, brings you into the moment.

We forget all that we know. All that we take for granted. Butter and flour, heated together into a paste, then slurried with milk? Yeah, that’s a roux, but look what happens! The hot butter cooks the flour, coats it with fat, so that when you add the milk, the flour expands and thickens the liquid evenly, into a smooth sauce. Or in our case, with less milk, a thick pudding. It IS magic. This is wheat and animal fats combining in a way never found in nature. Some ancient human alchemist-cook stumbled upon this strange bit of edible science and we’ve been making it ever since. It’s miraculous, and to my five-year-old, it’s that and more. It’s a symbol of all that she gets to discover, these small and bright secrets of the world.

A tadpole becomes a frog, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, teeth sprout from the smooth, pink gums of a baby. These are some of the things she’s witnessed, and now she’s seen how flour and fat can thicken into something delicious. She knows how to make a roux.

And eat it like pudding.

 

 

What recipes do (or did) your kids like to make?

XO

Ria

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(Happy Fathers Day to) Our Guy. 7

September 2, 2017

I am not a grown-up. Surely I can’t be a grown-up if I sulk at having to fold the laundry or stack the dishwasher. I can’t be a grown-up if I still don’t quite understand the stock market. I mustn’t be a grown-up if I can’t change a car tyre or properly control my own heating system and regularly go about with odd socks on. Right?? And yet, here I am, grown. And with three whole, smallish, growing humans I am responsible for. Ahem. Co-responsible for.

 

 

Matt and I met when we were even less grown-up than the faux (hahaha no way, really?) grown-up we are now. We met, we married, we made a family. I became a mother and he became a father and we fell neck-deep into impersonating adults. Parenting is an insane thing to share with another person I’ve discovered. It’s terrifying, exposing and incredible. It’s an experience of love so elevating mixed with fear so searing and banality so deathly dull it cannot adequately be described. It certainly cannot be prepared for. Through parenting Matt and I have never been more tested. Parenting has torn us apart and soldered us back together, a scrappy, patched-up mess. Our marriage, our grown up-ness, if you could see it, probably looks like something ungraceful and tattered, made stronger from its tears and scars, robust and delicate, worn and hopeful. At this point, almost ten years in and with three madcap daughters in tow, the love and laughter we share is earned and hard won. Magic and luck has run low and hard graft has had to make up for the shortfall.

 

 

As parents Matt and I are utterly imperfect. I shout too much and lose my cool too quickly. We are often on our phones when we should be paying attention. We say and do the wrong things, all the time. Except, of course, when we manage to the right thing, which does happen too. Before I had kids I thought that loving them would be enough and that loving them would see us through everything. I had complete blind faith in loving as the clear and simple answer to absolutely everything. Now I know that loving isn’t always enough. There are things that loving cannot miraculously, instantly fix. But it is something. It’s a big something.

 

 

Matt loves our girls and me; he loves us like crazy. Sometimes, when he’s staring at one of our daughters, I can see the love in his face, in his eyes; love so fierce and explosive he could spontaneously combust. Into rainbows. He is perpetually cuddly and steadfastly protective of us. He is probably more optimistic than I am, more likely to think that things are fine even when they are a bit not-fine. He works doggedly and in earnest, with unfailing integrity. He believes in us all madly; is completely convinced we are the best people on the planet. Even when he comes home grumpy or distracted he can still make us laugh, can still act like a huge, charming (somewhat irritating) toddler and have us in stitches. He looks at us like we are the most beautiful beings he has ever seen. He is, undoubtedly, a good Dad.

 

Matt wasn’t very keen on being interviewed but I persevered and eventually he paused the Netflix. That’s right, take note, he paused the Netflix for you guys. So you’d better read his answers and comment and make him feel good, or you might never hear from him again…

 

Hi Matt. So, who are you (other than what you do for a job)?

 

I’m a man who loves his family, who wants to enjoy life to the fullest and see amazing places and watch my children grow with my wife beside me.

 

What are some of your favourite things?

 

The ocean, the snow, my children, my family, markets, farms, meat, barbecue, soup… I have this idea lately of cooking heaps of onions and making a French onion soup.

 

What are some of your least favourite things?

 

Selfishness, egos, judgmental people, balloons, wind, Auckland winters – being hot one minute and cold the next.

 

What’s the best thing about your kids?

 

They are thoughtful with each other. They respect each other. They are kind people.

 

What do you wish for?

 

To see my children’s children, with my wife by my side. To travel places with my wife by my side. For my wife to take up skiing and love it.*

 

How did you meet Hannah?

 

She worked with me in my first job in NZ. She came into my office and I remember thinking “Wow.”

 

Tell us something funny about your love story…

 

Something funny about it? I’m not sure it’s really funny but we did snog at a Christmas party. I shared with her that I’d had lightening bolts about her. That seemed to do the trick. We got married two years later.

 

Describe your marriage in three words

 

Love, laughter and gratitude.

 

Anything else you’d like to say

 

I believe you get one life and you should live it how you want to, don’t listen to anyone else. Be nice to people. Be polite. Love a lot.

 

 

Thank you, Matt. You are a good Dad and bloody decent grown up. We love you a lot. Happy Fathers Day to all the great Dads out there, being imperfect, being great.

 

Hannah x x x

 

* Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No.

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The scales, the number and me – Part Two. Post Confession. 5

August 15, 2017

 

Pressing the “Publish” button on my last post took a bit of deep breathing. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to share more about that part of myself – the fearful and dysfunctional – with more people. I confessed to a few friends about my personal struggles with body-image, eating and weight, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to write about it. I’d tried, several times over many years but it never felt right and I was never brave enough. Finally, finally, the post happened! But then what?

 

As I mentioned, the few days before I published the post I checked my weight more often than usual. Then I didn’t put up a link to the post on facebook until the next morning and I didn’t link to it on Instagram for another few hours after that. I was jittery and vague. More than usual – that’s saying something. I waited for feedback in a sweaty whirlpool of anxiety. I don’t know what I was expecting? Men brandishing a straitjacket at my door? The FBI? Pitchforks and lit torches? (If you too are considering confessing something about yourself you consider to be fearful, weak, imperfect or dysfunctional, may I offer a spoiler? There were no pitchforks and lit torches.)

 

Instead what happened, very quickly, was that I was in tears, overwhelmed by the kind feedback I received. So many people understood the obsession with the scales and got the fear and the trauma. People told me that they squeeze their eyes shut when they have to use the scales at the doctor’s surgery and feel physically nauseous. People reported that they no longer keep scales in their own homes. A personal trainer said that she never weighs herself or her clients and suggests they use measures of energy and confidence and happiness as indicators of success. Several people said they were going to move their own scales into the garage, or hide the scales at their parents houses. Many told me to chuck mine out completely, to ceremonially burn them or smash them. Oh, how I adore you all.

 

The whole day after posting it felt as though layers of skin had been razored from me. You know that feeling when your skin is sunburned and you are suddenly aware of every breeze, the fabric of your shirt, every brush up against it? I felt like that all over. Vulnerable and raw. I kept wanting to cry. I went to the supermarket and saw a woman, probably in her seventies, putting a box of “Light” cereal on top of a Harper’s Bazaar. Two women, beside me at a café, chastised themselves about how much desert they had eaten the night before and then argued over who should finish the cake they were sharing. I could not stop noticing all the things I had previously not noticed. It made me ache. People, everywhere, exhibiting the silent symptoms of hating their bodies, mistrusting their intuition and hungers and disliking themselves. A viral shame. Every time someone said “I shouldn’t”, “I’ve been so bad” or “Like I need the help, har har har” I was the dog with a collar that gets zapped when they leave the confines. It hurt. I had left my confines. I dropped by a friend’s place and was completely normal (pinky-swear I was)… except for the fact that I couldn’t stop shivering. I could no longer bear all the normalized suffering and self-hatred. It was all, suddenly, very not okay.

 

Post-confession has been weird. I keep slipping my toes beneath the bathroom cabinet searching for the scales; I don’t think I fully realized how often I used to check my weight or how strange I might feel with the scales banished. I do sometimes feel as though I am free-falling off a cliff and get petrified that I will wake up one day the size of a turbojet. I’m confused and feel out of control. But I also feel slightly newly wonderful, like a dark raincloud with sunrise at its edges. This life business just refuses to be simple, doesn’t it? Because, when I’m not confused or convinced or alternating between the two? I’m furious.

 

 

I see now that for many years a lot of my anger has been directed inwards. Growing up my parents never fought, they barely raised their voices (unless a hammer found a thumb) and conflict has always left me dazed and giddy. I hate it. I see now that frustration and anger and a sense of a lack of control simply turned itself around like a boomerang. I was mad at my body, mad at my lack of willpower and furious at all my imperfection. Now that I’m attempting not to turn the anger inwards it is coming out in all sorts of unexpected ways. Like at a café last week when a staff member voiced his surprise at my ability to eat a whole sticky date pudding. Or at the museum when someone told me to “please control my children”. Instead of scurrying or apologising or silently seething I voiced my opinion. This is completely new behaviour for me, confrontation generally makes me so rattled. I’ve felt angry before, sure, but I’ve always just turned it on myself instead of at the problem that made me mad. And then I usually smother and numb the whole lot with a packet of mallowpuff biscuits eaten in quick succession.

 

Brene Brown, researcher and TED speaker, hits the nail on the head when she talks about what happens when we turn our feelings on ourselves and numb the shame and discomfort. She says: “You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vunerability, here’s grief, here’s fear, here’s disappointment; I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin… You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects…you cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable and we are looking for purpose and meaning and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.” That’s exactly what I have been doing for years. And it just so happens that I really like banana nut muffins.

 

 

I’m just leaning into this stuff. I’m no expert and I’m unsure what happens next. But I do want to say that I am so grateful for the support, love and encouragement I received. Thank you for being so open and for sharing your stories with me. For all the obsession and talk about weight and food, so little of it is this kind of talk. The kind that says ‘I’m scared”, “I don’t know what to do” or “I think there might be a different way”. The real stuff. I know how hard it is to share, I know how uncomfortable it is. If you sent me a text, left a comment, quietly liked my post or shared your own story with me, know that I have folded it up and tucked it away safely. I am treasuring it. I know it sounds corny but I can honestly say that I can feel your vulnerability and your support. Your stories and encouragement have bolstered and buoyed me up every day since I wrote the post. I don’t feel so singular with this. All of the “us” you gave me, letting me know that I’m not unique or alone, I gathered up and I will be putting to good use.

 

I’m armed and vulnerable. Watch out world.

 

Love,

Hannah x

 

P.S. If you haven’t yet, please watch Brene Brown speak about vulnerability. You won’t regret it.

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Chocolate…Spheres… 2

August 10, 2017

Have you noticed the proliferation of balls these days? (Ahem.)

Coconut bliss balls, pineapple balls, power balls. All these things are rolled into spheres and exude health and trendy seeds–and every time I pass by a counter with things on a square plate labeled ‘balls’, my mind goes immediately into the gutter. Yes. Sorry. I can’t help it.

 

 

Perhaps you are familiar with (or have been happy to forget) the South Park ditty of yore that did a lot to cement this toilet-thought tic of mine? If not, you may look it up. Or you may not. I won’t offer any more info. Regardless, I find I am now quite unable to keep a straight face when describing a rolled, sticky confection of dried fruits, nuts and other usually-wholesome ingredients. I just couldn’t title this post chocolate balls.

I’m a odd human, I know.

 

 

BUT! These…spheres…are very delicious! You should make them. Let’s now talk about how righteous they are with toasted walnut, deep cocoa, just enough maple syrup to keep them from being savoury and enough chew to satisfy the biggest chocolate fudge craving. They’re easy to put together and even easier to devour. If you’ve read this far, thank you for humouring me and my silliness, and please, go get yourself set up in the kitchen with these ingredients. Chocolate balls await.

!!!

 

 

Chocolate-Walnut Spheres

 

Ingredients

1 cup coconut flakes (medium length, unsulfured is best)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

8 dried dates, pitted and chopped

1/3 cup cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup almond butter (or cashew, or hazelnut…)

1 tbsp psyllium husk (or sub wheat germ)

3 tbsp maple syrup (a little more if you like it sweeter)

large pinch salt

 

Spread a piece of waxed paper over a cookie sheet.

Toast the walnut pieces over low heat in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them. Let them cool to room temperature before using, or they’ll make the mixture much stickier. Put the coconut and the chopped dates into the bowl of a food processor and run it for 5 to 10 seconds, scraping sides, then running again for 5 seconds. Add cocoa and walnuts and pulse to chop the nuts. Add remaining ingredients, including walnuts, and pulse several times, until the mixture gets sticky and pulls into a ball. It’ll be very soft, but still rollable.

Using your palms, roll walnut-sized balls of dough until smooth and round, and place on the cookie sheet. You should be able to make about 16 at this size. Chill in the fridge to set. To store, separate layers of the spheres with wax paper in an air-tight container in the fridge.

 

XO

Ria

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