Food

The Fab Five: December 2013

The Fab Five: December 2013 4

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For this month’s installment of the Fab Five, I’ll be featuring all my favorite goodies from my recent trip to Australia. Southern-hemisphere dwellers, you’re in luck! (Although you probably discovered these gems long before I did.) As for those of you up here with me? Let’s hope you don’t mind spending a small fortune on shipping….

1. Drinking Custard

drinking custardI was completely crestfallen upon learning that drinking custard isn’t actually something you drink. (While I couldn’t find a photo online, I swear the label actually reads “Drinking Custard”. Back me up, Aussie friends?)

In contrary, this delicious sauce is intended to be poured over pies, crumbles, fruit, and if you’re me, pancakes. Think of it as a far superior alternative to cool whip. It is decadent, flavorful, and in my opinion, totally worthy of drinking on its own. (In secret, of course.)

I still can’t get over the fact that we don’t have this in the states. Surely, it would be an instant, pourable sensation! While I’m assuming it’s nearly impossible to ship, I did manage to find a super simple recipe if you want to whip up your own batch at home. Think  of it as my Christmas gift to you.

 

2. Lorna Jane

lorna jane

Think Lululemon, only….less douchey? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Lulu…but I think we can all admit that founder and former CEO Chip Wilson is kind of a jackhole. In contrast, Lorna Jane Clarkson–the founder of this Australian activewear brand–is an incredibly positive role model on multiple levels.  The brand has a truly positive message–Move, Nourish, Believe–that feels legitimately empowering and genuine. As far as the clothing goes, the price and quality is right on par with Lululemon. I actually prefer Lorna’s stuff as they tend to embrace more color and pattern. (Those floral mania pants have my name written all over them. Also on my list? The 2014 Move Nourish Believe Journal.)

The good news? LJ has recently expanded to the United States! While they currently only have stores in California, you can shop till your blue in the face on their website. Did I mention the free site-wide shipping? Yes, please!

 

3. Weis Bars

weis bar

I discovered this tasty little treat on a hot day in Surfer’s Paradise. And it was heaven. (If heaven tasted like mangoes, vanilla ice cream, and macadamia nuts, that is.) These ice cream bars are made in Queensland with love — and real fruit! Surprisingly, they also aren’t too much of a splurge in the calorie department.

Obviously, shipping these frozen nuggets of delight to the states is out of the question, (unless you’re, like, Oprah or something), but I plan on recreating them at home with a scoop of mango sorbet, splash of cream, and tablespoon of chopped up mac nuts. (Sorry…that’s the best I can do.)

 

4. Bonds

bondsundies

Bonds. Bonds! How did I survive twenty-nine years without Bonds?

I learned about Bonds thanks to our Contiki tour guide, Carolyn. She informed us that all the ladies and gents in Oz swear by this Australian brand of underwear. “They are the most comfortable things you will ever invest in,” she claimed.

Turns out, Carolyn was right. I’ve since fallen madly in love with Bonds for the following three reasons:

  1. They ship to the U.S. Easy, peasy.
  2. By signing up for their free rewards program, you get twenty percent off every single thing you buy for, like, ever!
  3. They make granny panties suitable for someone under the age of 30. (And yes…I love me some granny panties.)

 

5. Dual Flush Toilets

dual flush toilet

I know, I know. Dual flush toilets exist in America. But they were absolutely everywhere in Australia. During my fifteen days down under, I don’t think I came across a single toilet that wasn’t dual flush. Congratulations, Australia — you have outdone us with your eco-friendly ways again!

Seriously, though. Think about how much water we Yankees waste every single day using a single flush commode. It’s kind of really insane. Let’s face it —  America needs more dual flush toilets. There. I’ve solved at least half of our nation’s problems!

While I have little control over the governments toilet mandates, I am able to made a difference at home. And Australia  has inspired me to jump on the dual flush bandwagon and never look back! Sure — there will be a bit of an up-front investment, but I’m hoping to save a bundle on  utilities in the future.  Particularly as I work from home — so I’m here flushing away all the live long day.

(Oh how I long for the days when our utility bills were lower as both Scott and I were at offices all day.)

(And yes. I realize that’s a really weird thing to think about.)

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There you have it. My five favorite things from the land down under! Any Aussie treasures I left out? Of course, an honorable mention is given to my beloved runner-ups: Tim Tams and Harry’s meat pies. (Sorry guys. You just couldn’t compete with drinking custard.)

Psst! Want to check out Fab Fives of months gone past? Be my guest!

 

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Give tuna a chance!

Give tuna a chance! 2

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As a rule, I try to avoid eating anything that resembles tuna salad at breakfast time. Call me crazy, but it’s a guideline that’s seemed to serve me well thus far in life.  Unfortunately, it’s also the reason it took me nearly 30 years to try Bircher Museli.

It’s not that I’ve never had opportunities to indulge the Swiss-style oatmeal — I distinctly remember encountering it at several breakfast buffets during various trip to Europe over the past fifteen years. But did I ever once try it? Absolutely not. It looked like tuna with raisins in it!

Yet for some reason I still can’t completely pinpoint, I decided to give Bircher Museli a try when I spotted it at a breakfast buffet in Sydney. Leave it to me to discover Swiss food in Australia, of all places.

After one bite, I was sold. Why had it taken me so long to try this magical breakfast porridge? (Especially as I actually like tuna salad.) And perhaps more importantly, how could I make it at home?

Fortunately, the answer to that question was just a Google search away. As soon as I arrived back in ‘Sota, I put my findings to work.

Bircher Museli Recipe

Simply mix all the ingredients in a big ol’ bowl, refrigerate overnight, and prepare to be wowed the next morning.

Bircher Museli

Wowed by the taste…NOT the appearance. (Although to be fair, my homemade version looked WAY less like tuna than others I’ve seen.)

You can eat your museli plain, or with a bit of milk mixed in. The recipe is nearly fool-proof, and welcomes improvisations like different types of nuts, fruits, and various other goodies. I’m excited to try a “tropical” version with dried coconut, pineapple and macadamia nuts. The best part? It keeps for a week (I’d argue it tastes better each day), so it’s a great breakfast to prep on Sunday and grab quickly during busy weekday mornings.

The recipe I’ve listed makes about six servings, weighing in at about 300 calories a pop. Each serving also packs a ton of energy-boosting “good” carbohydrates, not to mention 12 grams of protein. Not as much protein as tuna salad, but close. (And much more palatable with a hot cup of coffee at 7:30 am.)

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I cuddled it. (And then I ate it.)

I cuddled it. (And then I ate it.) 2

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Out of all the goals I had set for my Australian holiday, (and yes, I set goals for my vacations), one aspiration stood out above the rest.

I wanted to see a kangaroo. In the wild.

After hours spent peering out the coach window, my eyes scanning the Australian bush for even the slightest form of movement, my dream was realized. On the way to a surf lesson outside of Coffs Harbor, our group spotted half a dozen ‘roos basking lazily in the early afternoon sunshine. We even witnessed one hopping! I may or may not have gasped so suddenly, I nearly aspirated a Tim Tam.

But it got better. So much better. Hours later, we found ourselves at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Within the first fifteen minutes, I was cuddling Aukkie the Koala.

holding a koala

Fact: Holding a Koala feels more natural than holding an infant. (At least for me.)

He smelled strongly of eucalyptus and body odor, and clutched onto me for dear life. I kissed his head three times before asking the Koala handler, “Can I give him some belly rubs?”

“Absolutely not.” he responded with sternness and confusion.

You win some, you lose some.

I didn’t think my day could get much better. A wild kangaroo sighting and three-minute snuggle session with Aukkie? I hadn’t been that content since July 1997, when my parents finally agreed to get cable.

And then, I walked into this.

kangaroos currumbin wildlife sanctuary australia

Words cannot describe the one-acre area where kangaroos, emus and humans alike roamed freely. To call it the best petting zoo in the world would be a gross understatement. I must have spooned a dozen different ‘roos, offering kisses, pets and ear scratches to even more. The best part? No one was there to stop me from giving them belly rubs.

I must have spent over an hour mingling with my favorite marsupials, yet it felt like mere minutes. Turns out, time flies when you’re witnessing first-hand how simultaneously disgusting and adorable a mama kanga’s pouch is. Also? The abundance of hopping–a truly impressive feat to observe up close–certainly makes the minutes whiz by.

While the three hours spent at Carrumbin didn’t feel like nearly enough, I was able to leave the premises knowing I had achieved my primary goal.

Now, it was time to move on to objective number two — eating a kangaroo. (Clearly, emotional detachment comes naturally to me.)

Our tour manager Carolyn had informed Kayla and I that kangaroo is absolutely delicious, not to mention incredibly healthy. She cooked it at home on a regular basis and was able to provide some very helpful insight: kangaroo is best enjoyed when cooked medium rare.

Because kangaroo meat is so lean (similar to venison) overcooking it results in a tough, chewy, not-all-that tasty steak. In contrast, undercooked kangaroo can lead to some unsavory digestive issues which could prove particularly problematic while traveling. Medium rare, it was.

During our final night in Sydney, Kayla and I ventured to Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Darling Harbour, prepared to have our taste buds wowed. I’m pleased to report that our meal did not disappoint.

kangaroo steak from nick's seafood restaurant in darling harbour, sydney

Kangaroo loin with pan-fried polenta and sweet tomato chutney

I cannot say enough good things about Nick’s, or the incredible dinner we had there.  The atmosphere was lovely, the view was stunning, and the food was the hands-down best we’d had during the entire trip. I left the restaurant feeling deeply sad it was over, and even more discouraged that kangaroo meat isn’t readily available in the U.S.

Oddly, I didn’t feel at all bothered over chowing down on the critters I had so lovingly spooned with just days prior.

kangaroo steak

The ultimate betrayal.

But I have no regrets. The kangaroo steak was so delectable, its continued to haunt my dreams even after leaving the southern hemisphere. Literally. While stranded at the Dallas airport for three days, I was able to catch a rare moment of sleep — thanks to some much-needed Ambien — on the airport-issued cot I had acquired. My sleep was so deep, it involved an incredibly vivid dream where I was eating–you guessed it– kangaroo steak. Unfortunately, the meat in my dream had been prepared incorrectly. I took a large bite, immediately discovering the ‘roo had barely been cooked, still completely cold and raw in the middle. Carolyn’s warning of food poisoning flashing through my subconscious, I immediately spit the steak out, hoping to avoid a foodborne stomach bug.

It was at this point I awoke, realizing my shockingly realistic dream had caused me to spit at least three large mouthfuls of saliva onto my cot. Not wanting to waste my Ambien buzz, I wiped it up with my sweatpants before immediately drifting back to sleep. I don’t think anybody saw me…but something tells me those Kangaroos at the sanctuary were snickering with vindication at my unfortunate spit situation.

Once again — you win some, you lose some.

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Let’s talk about pie

Let’s talk about pie 5

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While I’m beyond thrilled to be leaving for Australia in just seven days, there’s a fairly substantial storm cloud hanging over my 15-day getaway.

I’ll be missing Thanksgiving.

While skipping my favorite holiday is probably good for my waistline, I’m really going to miss the yearly tradition of hunting down new recipes, forking over a small fortune on organic groceries, and spending the better part of three days preparing an autumnal feast that is up to Scott’s foodie standards.

I can’t help but dwell on what could have been.

One of us would have spilled the turkey brine, I’d mistakenly triple the recipe for my sausage stuffing, and Scott would have some sort of melt down–most likely involving our new convection oven screwing up his dinner rolls. We would return to the grocery store at least five times to round up forgotten ingredients. I would acquire a second degree burn on the back of my arm.  Scott would take cheap shots at the turkey frills I insisted on ordering. Sure, our culinary endeavor would almost end in divorce, but it would all be worth it when we sat down to an epic calorie-fest featuring Scott’s magical gravy that I still can’t replicate for the life of me.

Ah, Thanksgiving. I’m going to miss your football, the chaos you cause in my kitchen, not to mention the opportunity to finally use the wedding china we just unpacked after nearly seven years.

But most of all? Most of all I will miss your pies.

If there’s one thing Scott and I take seriously, it’s pie. (And Nordstrom Rack…but that’s an entirely different blog post.) Last Thanksgiving, there were three people at our table, each of whom had their very own made-from-scratch pie. That’s the marvelous thing about Thanksgiving’s official pastry — the potential for pie-tastic leftovers! While one pie per person might seem like overkill, we ate several slices for breakfast the next day, and brought the remaining slivers along on a Black Friday visit to Duluth. We’ve affectionately dubbed our traveling dessert–which simply must be eaten without utensils–“road pie”.

Yeah. I’m really going to miss my pies this year. But just because I’m going without my beloved Thanksgiving confection doesn’t mean you have to. In need of some pie inspiration? ‘Sota’s got you covered. Below, please enjoy a curated collection of my three must-try pies for Thanksgiving 2013.

That’s right. I’m now a pie-curator. It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Chocolate Pretzel Pecan Pie

pie1

Pecan pie is my absolute favorite, and adding salty pretzels to this mix takes it over the top — in a good way. And if I were making it? I’d swap out the chocolate chips for melted caramel candies, kind of like this. Good for the soul, baaaad for the thighs.

 

Sweet Potato Pie with Gingersnap Crust


pie2

 

I made this last year as a fun twist on a traditional pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie has never been my favorite holiday treat — although let’s be real…that’s never stopped me from eating piece after piece covered in heavy whipping cream. Do I look like the kind of girl who turns down pie?

On second thought, please don’t answer that.

Anyway, this recipe was an absolute hit–particularly the  gingersnap crust. Everyone–including Scott who is frighteningly loyal to all things pumpkin–agreed he preferred this new alternative over a classic pumpkin pie.

 

Fruitcake Pie

pie3

I’m one of the bizarre few who harbors a deep-seeded love for fruitcake. Candied nuts, emerald-green things that are allegedly “cherries”, and all that sugar?  What’s not to love?! (Never tried fruitcake? Don’t be scared by its bad rap — it’s nothing short of magnificent. I highly recommend the ones sold in the Costco bakery.)

I’ve never made this recipe, but based on the ingredients, it’s safe to assume it tastes like a little slice of fruitcake heaven. Pineapple, dates, pecans and cherries? Yes please.

An added bonus? This pie is less extreme than a full-on fruitcake–a great option for diners who might still be on the fence about the holiday season’s most misunderstood baked good.

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A note about pie crusts:

I know what you’re thinking.

“Is it cheating if I use a pre-made store-bought crust?”

Yes. Yes it is.

I swear, preparing a made from scratch pie crust is fool-proof if you follow this recipe and abide by my five pie crust rules.

1.  Use butter. Do not use lard or shortening. Trust me on this one.

2. You must must must dice your butter into small cubes (about the size of peas) and put them in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so before mixing them in. Do not skip this step, lest you want to anger the pie gods. (AKA, Jolie and I.)

3. A pastry cutter is absolutely essential. It helps makes your dough coarse and crumbly without over working it. (Over mixing is death to pie crust.) If you’ve had problems with crust before, it’s probably because you didn’t use a pastry cutter. I picked mine up at Target on the cheap — here’s a similar version from Amazon.

4. It’s okay to use more water than the recipe indicates. For some reason, 1/4 cup is never enough to get my dough sticky enough to form a ball. Keep adding, one spoonful at a time, until you get there.  And yes, it must be ice water.

5. When you wrap your dough balls in plastic to refrigerate them, you should be able to see chunks of butter in the dough that haven’t been mixed in all the way. These are what will make your curst flaky. If you don’t see the butter chunks, you probably over mixed.

*****

There you have it–my trusty tips for Thanksgiving pastry excellence. Now go forth and make excellent pies that will impress your guests and force you to change into pants with an elastic waistband. And if it’s not too much trouble…send me some pie pics on Instagram? I’ll live vicariously through them while I’m traversing the pie-free outback.*

*I’m actually sticking to the East Coast and won’t be venturing into the Australian Outback at all…I just thought that last sentence sounded good.

**Apparently pies–particularly meat pies–are huge down under. So, while I may be missing Thanksgiving, I’m sure I’ll fit my favorite pastry in somehow.

***If Marie Calendar’s frozen pot pies are any indication, I may like this Australian meat pies even more than my beloved pecan. Blasphemous, I know.

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