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Beat the heat | Cinnamon Rose Horchata

Horchata is a naturally vegan Mexican beverage made with soaked almonds, rice and cinnamon. This recipe includes a touch of rosewater and honey to sweeten and it is deliciously cooling served over ice

What a confusing February it has been! Early in the month we were hit by a week of steady rain and unseasonably chilly temperatures that had me happily making lasagne, throwing on scarves, and turning off the ceiling fan at night. I loved it (of course) but knew that it couldn’t last. Sure enough, this “cold snap” was predictably followed by two weeks of heat and increasingly suffocating humidity. We had plenty of storm action during this time, but nothing like the summer downpours that normally bring some relief. There has been much blasting of the air conditioner, many wet towels lain over inert bodies and a whooooole lot of complaining going on. The only things worth living for right now are icy-cold gin and tonics, a new range of homemade fruit shrubs (my flavours this year are raspberry & mint, white peach & ginger, and muscat grape), and a divine new discovery called horchata.

Horchata is a naturally vegan Mexican beverage made with soaked almonds, rice and cinnamon. This recipe includes a touch of rosewater and honey to sweeten and it is deliciously cooling served over ice

Horchata is a creamy iced beverage common to Spain, but also found in Mexico and other Central American countries. The core ingredients differ by location, with a variety of nuts, grains and seeds used, although chufas (tigernuts) appear to be traditional. The recipe I’ve used here hails from Mexico and uses a base of white rice and almonds that are soaked overnight with a cinnamon stick, then blended and strained to form a lusciously creamy milk. A touch of honey and rosewater add sweetness and fragrance and the result is a gorgeous drink that reputedly has cooling properties. I can’t say that I noticed any dramatic cooling sensation but I do know that it was lovely to sip and savour and forget about the sweat and damp for a moment. Look at me; I can barely even write a decent blog post! Bring on the cold, clear skies of winter. Until then, Cinnamon Rose Horchata.

Horchata is a naturally vegan Mexican beverage made with soaked almonds, rice and cinnamon. This recipe includes a touch of rosewater and honey to sweeten and it is deliciously cooling served over iceHorchata is a naturally vegan Mexican beverage made with soaked almonds, rice and cinnamon. This recipe includes a touch of rosewater and honey to sweeten and it is deliciously cooling served over ice

Cinnamon Rose Horchata

From Tending the Table

1 cup almonds (with skins or without)
3/4 cup white rice (any sort will do; I used basmati)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp honey
1/2-1 tsp rosewater, to taste

Place the almonds, rice and cinnamon stick in a large jar. Fill the kettle/jug with filtered water, bring it to the boil and then let it stand for 10 minutes. Measure three cups of hot water and pour over the rice and almonds. Screw the lid on the jar and allow the contents to cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator to soak overnight or until ready to make the horchata (up to two days).

Pour the soaked almonds, rice and cinnamon stick into a colander or sieve and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a blender (cinnamon stick as well), add 3 cups cold filtered water and blend on medium high until smooth. Line a colander or sieve with cheesecloth and set over a large bowl. Pour half of the blended almond and rice mixture into the cheesecloth, gather up the corners of the cloth and gently but firmly squeeze to extract all the liquid. Place the pulp in a separate bowl, then extract the rest of the almond and rice milk. Discard the pulp (or do as I do and stash in the freezer, breaking off pieces to use as a gentle body/face exfoliator).

Transfer the strained milk to a blender, add the ground cinnamon, honey and rose water and blend for a few seconds, until well mixed and a little frothy. Add more or less honey and rosewater to taste. Serve over ice with a sprinkle of cinnamon and some rose petals.

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Eleanor Ozich’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican food - classic Jerk Chicken

The last two months have passed in a haze of summer heat and somehow, here we are in mid-February already. I’ve been MIA during this time – and not just from the blog. I’ve slowed down in general, barely lifted the camera, cooked only the simplest food, and hardly used social media. It’s been a bit inconvenient, actually. I had several blog-related summer projects planned: write up a backlog of recipes, learn a few new skills with the camera, set up a Facebook page; but it all fell by the wayside when I realised that, more than anything else, I needed to be lazy over summer. It was an uncharacteristically good decision.

Full ingredients for Jerk Chicken marinade

But lazy is as lazy does and I’m glad to feel that familiar pull to cook and write again. In truth, I also can’t bear to sit on this particular recipe any longer. I’ve had your future summer barbecues in mind ever since October, which is when I took these photos. Umm, luckily the warm weather isn’t over yet?

Coconut sugar, chilli, thyme, allspice, salt and pepper

Jerk is a classic Jamaican style of cooking that refers both to a particular blend of herbs and spices that is used to marinade meat (any meat), as well as a method of cooking over a smokey barbecue. Our barbecue is gas, not wood or charcoal, so I can’t vouch for that part of the equation, but I will (and do) rave endlessly about the marinade. Sure, you can buy Jerk seasoning and save yourself some hassle, but I don’t think that any powdered spice mix can ever come close to the freshly made version, which (bizarrely) makes me think of chocolate. There’s no chocolate in it, which confuses me no end, but perhaps it just beguiles the senses in the manner of chocolate? What I do know is that it’s a complexly layered marinade that sings with lime and chilli, warms with allspice and cinnamon, and clears the sinuses with an abundance of fresh thyme. It is so intoxicating that you’ll find yourself taking deep lungfuls of its heady aroma long before anything edible lands on your plate.

Delicious, fragrant and spicy Jerk Chicken

The recipe comes via Eleanor Ozich of Petite Kitchen fame, and can be found in her book My Family Table or online at Viva. Jerk chicken is traditionally made with meat on the bone, but Eleanor’s family- and waistline-friendly version uses skinless chicken breast. Yes I know that chicken breast is usually dry, tasteless and boring – we have all been there – but I promise that you will not suffer here. The marinade injects bucketloads of flavour and moisture, and to guarantee a delectable outcome, I also advocate bashing the meat with a rolling pin beforehand (as seen below). Chicken breasts flattened to a uniform thickness cook quickly without a dry edge in sight.

Flatten chicken breasts before marinading to maximise surface area and ensure even cooking

It takes about 30 minutes to prepare the marinade solution, another 10 to flatten the chicken and several hours (at a minimum) to let the chicken marinate. This might seem excessive but if you make the full recipe (8 chicken breasts) it makes a large quantity that’s great for a crowd, and if you give the meat a full 24-hour soak you can get most of the work done the day before. I’ve also made the full quantity for just Colin and I and frozen the leftover cooked chicken in single serving quantities. It’s just as good cold and scattered over salad as stuffed into warm pita bread, so you could think of this recipe as an investment in easy weeknight dinners.

Jerk Chicken is a classic Jamaican dish

If you have a little time up your sleeve (and I encourage you to try this at least once), the marinade will be especially good if you grind the allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg yourself (the allspice and cinnamon in a spice grinder; the nutmeg with a grater). The difference in fragrance and flavour is quite astounding; however, I stick to pre-ground most of the time and it’s still pretty special. I like to serve the chicken roughly sliced and scattered with fresh coriander. Eaten with garlicky yoghurt, warm flatbread, avocado and tomato salsa and green salad this is flavourful summer food at its best.

Thyme, orange, red onion, tamari, cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Slightly adapted from Eleanor Ozich, My Family Table

4 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp dried chilli flakes, or 2-3 hot fresh chillies (Scotch Bonnets are traditional)
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup coconut or muscovado sugar (or 2 Tbsp soft brown sugar)
Large handful of fresh thyme, leaves pulled off
2 Tbsp ground allspice (pimento)
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground black pepper
8 chicken breasts, preferably organic or free range

To serve:
2 limes, quartered
Fresh coriander

Place all marinade ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. A Magic Bullet is especially efficient but at my place I use a tall jar and a stick blender.

Flatten the chicken breasts by placing each one between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the thickest parts of the breast with a rolling pin until the entire chicken breast is uniformly thick (see photos above).

Place the flattened chicken breasts in a large container or baking dish. Pour the marinade on top, making sure it thickly coats all parts of the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 3–4 hours, or preferably overnight for maximum flavour. If you remember, turn the chicken over halfway through its soak.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess. Grill the chicken on a hot barbecue or in a grill pan on the stove over medium high heat for about 4–5 minutes on each side (longer if you haven’t flattened the chicken). Make sure that the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer or knife and checking that the juices are clear. Remove the chicken to a plate and let it rest for a few minutes.

Carve the chicken into slices about 1cm thick. Serve warm, with fresh coriander and wedges of lime.

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Fancy food | Blackcurrant-Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Salmon fillet before and after curing with salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder

I actually mean it – make this dish and you will feel so, so fancy. It’s elegant. It’s delicate. It’s raw fish, dyed purple and eaten on thin slices of sourdough bread. There’s even herb flowers in there; I mean, come on! We are talking classy. Classy doesn’t come easy, mind you, so it’s only fitting that the recipe should contain an obscure ingredient that you will need to hunt down, but trust me on this one: imagine this purple salmon served as a starter at Christmas Day lunch or a canapé for your New Year’s Eve party. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon served with herbed cream cheese

I don’t normally do fancy – I’m sure you’re well aware of that – but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a food snob (I am) or I won’t be wowed by a new idea (happens all the time). I’m not going to be forcing the latest food trend on you any time soon (I don’t want to eat egg-flavoured marshmallows aka “cloud eggs” or rainbow-coloured unicorn food anymore than you do) but I am so into food that looks gorgeous and is actually very simple to make.

Home-cured salmon (also known as gravlax) is hardly new – I’ve wanted to try these gin-cured  and beetroot-stained versions for ages – but I’m really not the type to hurry. Way back in January I was in New Zealand dipping into a local food magazine and came across an article about the local blackcurrant industry. Apparently New Zealand’s relatively unpolluted environment and high ultra violet light intensity produces blackcurrants with high levels of anthocyanin, which is a potent antioxidant. Lately blackcurrant farmers have been experimenting with products other than whole fruit and most brands now offer a freeze-dried powdered blackcurrant that can be added to smoothies and such. The article featured a gorgeous photograph of blackcurrant-cured salmon and I just had to make it.

Soft fresh herbs for chopping, sprinkling and mixing with cream cheese

One short shop on the way to the airport later and I had a bag of blackcurrant powder stashed away in my bag. It took several more months before I actually made the fish, but that’s because I needed an occasion. Curing salmon is hardly something that you’d do for a mid-week meal, but a dinner party with friends in May provided the perfect excuse. It was as good as I had dreamed and everyone LOVED it; of course, I then waited another five months to make it again and share it with you.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon with herb and lemon cream cheese

The recipe is so simple but you do need to cure the salmon for a total of 12 hours: no more and no less. This means that if you want to serve the fish at 7pm, it will need to be nestled into its curing solution by 6.30am of the same day. You could cure it overnight, store it and avoid an early rising,  but it’s my opinion that a story of dedication and self-sacrifice always makes food taste better. There’s also the fact that your guests will love to see you pull their entree from the fridge as a murky, blackish lump before being rinsed and sliced to reveal its true beauty.

Texture is important in this dish and slicing the fish as thinly as possible really does improve the flavour. Use your sharpest knife and shave that fish whisker-thin. The curing process draws out a lot of the moisture in the fish so this is easier than it sounds, but try to be your most-patient self and shave, shave, shave. The salmon is served with a smear of cream cheese, delicately scented with lemon and herbs. Slices of sourdough are available for spreading and gorging purposes and that’s about it: beautiful, raw, purple fish!

Salmon cured with blackcurrant powder and served with herb cream cheese

[A word about the photos – I’m currently forcing myself out of my comfort zone to use the manual settings on my camera. It hurts a bit, I’m not going to lie, but I know it’ll be good for me in the long run. Most of these photos came out blurry because I used a slow shutter speed to keep it moody. I should have used a tripod I know (gahhhh), but I’m not exactly going to run out and buy a new piece of salmon as you’d be waiting another year for the recipe if I did. Taking better photos is a process. Mistakes will be made and there were plenty here to learn from.]

Slices of blackcurrant-cured salmon

Blackcurrant Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Slightly adapted from Miles Drewery’s recipe, featured on Food to Love but originally published in Taste Magazine (NZ).

For the cured salmon:
500g salmon fillet, pin bones and skin removed
2 Tbsp sea salt
2 Tbsp raw sugar
2 Tbsp blackcurrant powder

For the herbed cream cheese:
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
2-4 Tbsp finely sliced soft herbs, such as mint, apple mint, sorrel and/or marjoram
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

To serve:
Finely chopped chives
Finely grated lemon zest
Herb flowers, such as chive or rosemary flowers
Sourdough bread (I used a rye and walnut sourdough)

Inspect your salmon and ensure that any excess fat on the skinned side of the salmon has been trimmed away as the cure can’t penetrate through fat. Place the salmon fillet in a glass or ceramic dish large enough for it to lie flat. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder (break up any lumps in the blackcurrant powder). Sprinkle the mixture generously over both sides of the salmon, but reserve 1 Tbsp for later. Use your fingertips to pat the curing mix into the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours.

After 6 hours turn the salmon over and sprinkle it with the remaining blackcurrant, salt and sugar mixture. The salmon should be very dark in colour and liquid will be gathering in the dish as the salt draws out the moisture. Re-cover and refrigerate for another 6 hours.

Mix together the cream cheese, soft herbs and lemon zest until smooth, and season with salt and pepper. Start with the smaller quantity of herbs and taste the result. You want it to taste fresh but delicate, with no single herby flavour dominating. The cream cheese can be prepared ahead of time and stashed in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove the salmon from fridge and rinse off the excess curing solution under cold running water. Pat the fillet dry using paper towels. Using your sharpest knife, slice the salmon very thinly. Place a dollop or smear of cream cheese on each plate, top with a ragged pile of salmon slices and sprinkle with chives, lemon zest and herb flowers (if you have them). Serve with thin slices of fresh sourdough bread.

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What to do with sad and mad | Nature photos | Part 2

Evening sky in Far North New Zealand - August 2017

Evening sky in Far North New Zealand – August 2017

I saw a film recently that lingered like the taste of bitter medicine. Beatriz at Dinner is the story of a Mexican immigrant (played by Salma Hayek); her roots firmly in the wilderness of her childhood home, but living and working in sprawling LA. The film opens in her bedroom at daybreak as she sits on the floor to cuddle an agitated pet goat. Eventually we come to understand that a disgruntled neighbour has recently murdered one of her goats, leaving its bloody carcass on the lawn for her to find.

Beatriz leaves for work. She’s a healer who uses her hands to massage away the troubles of her clients, but through the day we feel the heavy burden of her grief. At the end of her shift she drives her battered car through dense traffic and eventually pulls into an affluent gated community. Beatriz is there to give a massage to a private client, Kathy, who wants to relax before the dinner party she is hosting in celebration of her husband’s successful business deal.

After the massage, Beatriz’s car fails to start and all options for an emergency repair are found to be impossible. Kathy has a soft spot for Beatriz (believing that she helped her daughter recover from cancer) and graciously insists that Beatriz stays for dinner. As the wealthy guests arrive Beatriz is clearly out of place. Her plain clothes, brown skin and lack of adornment keep her on the invisible periphery of the group. Kathy remembers to introduce her but even then, Beatriz’s sincere, unaffected manner raises more than one eyebrow. At one point a guest mistakes her for the hired help and we cannot help but cheer as Beatriz remains stoic. Rather than giving into the anxiety we feel for her, she gently turns the conversation to deeper matters. Her desire for genuine connection is palpable.

At dinner things take a turn for the worst. Kathy’s husband’s business parter, Doug (played by John Lithgow), reveals himself as a capitalist of Trumpian proportions – grandiose, vulgar, sexist and entitled. As the other guests laugh along and suppress the odd cringe, Beatriz’s Latin blood begins to simmer. Despite Kathy’s efforts to diffuse the tension, Beatriz becomes increasingly impassioned – much to Doug’s amusement. Soon Doug is sharing a photograph of the rhinoceros he killed on safari and Beatriz cannot contain herself any longer. Kathy is shocked and embarrassed. Beatriz apologises and agrees to retire to the bedroom to rest.

Alone with her sadness and anger, Beatriz dreams of her childhood home. In her memories she is a girl again, drifting along sparkling waterways lined with dense green foliage. These scenes are a welcome respite from the ugly reality downstairs but they are all too fleeting – a metaphor in itself for a planet approaching crisis. The respite is short lived when Beatriz starts searching the internet and discovers that Doug’s real estate empire is responsible for the destruction (environmentally and economically) of a community near her home in Mexico. Beatriz rejoins the party, confronts Doug, and this time his attitude of amused condescension fails him: he is rattled and angry at Beatriz for revealing his guilt. The film continues in this vein to an end both inevitable and unfinished.

Beatriz at Dinner has received mixed reviews, but like C.C. Ford for the Daily Review and Max Cea for Salon, I’m a fan. This is Trump-era cinema and uncomfortable viewing at its best. Like Beatriz, I was left both sad and mad. I can do something with mad because every little action counts (support issues you believe in, challenge attitudes that are just not cool, reduce, reuse, recycle etc, etc, etc). Sad is harder. It can really get to you.

Long-time readers will know that I’m a country girl living an urban life in the heart of a major city. I love the pace and excitement of my world, but I need regular doses of peace and beauty to feel like a human. Last year I published a post featuring 16 nature photos taken over six years and today I’m publishing 19 nature photos taken over a six month period. Each moment depicted was and is a lungful of air. Be mad, but never forget to breathe. Peace out people ♥

Above the clouds, over the Tasman Sea

Above the clouds, over the Tasman Sea – August 2017

Surfers at Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast

Surfers at Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast, March 2017

Sunrise through the bush, near Enoggera, Brisbane

Sunrise through the bush, near Enoggera, Brisbane – May 2017

Palm trees against deep blue sky, Newstead, Brisbane

Palm trees against deep blue sky, Newstead, Brisbane – June 2017

Rose garden in New Farm Park, Brisbane

Rose garden in New Farm Park, Brisbane – June 2017

Beauty in the city, Chinatown, Brisbane

Beauty in the city, Chinatown, Brisbane – July 2017

Cool green ferns, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Cool green ferns, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Water iris, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Water iris, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Rainbow foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Rainbow foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Green striped foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Green striped foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Winter sunset at home, Far North New Zealand

Winter sunset at home, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Bare winter branches at sunset, Far North New Zealand

Bare winter branches at sunset, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Misty morning down by the river, Far North New Zealand

Misty morning down by the river, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Flowering magnolia, grey day, at dusk - Far North New Zealand

Flowering magnolia, grey day, at dusk – Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Snowdrops in the bottom paddock, Far North New Zealand

Snowdrops in the bottom paddock, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Misty morning in monochrome, Far North New Zealand

Misty morning in monochrome, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Setting sun after the rain, Far North New Zealand

Setting sun after the rain, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Lemon tree, Far North New Zealand

Lemon tree, Far North New Zealand – August 2017