Thursday, 31 May 2012

Time for change... and some baked doughnuts


Time for change... and some baked doughnuts

Well this week has flown by as usual...  It seems there have been a lot of exciting changes this week for some reason.  Exciting piece of news #1: officially accepted into the doctorate program at UMass.  #2: We are officially moving to the beach this August!  It was not our original plan to have to uproot after a year, but due to some changes in how taxes impact expats in Australia it makes the most sense.  The more we have talked about moving, the more exciting it is becoming (and yes, I am aware most would love to “have” to move and be living near a beach).  #3 the hubby signed us up for City to Surf- Woo!  Time to get him into running form for August.  For those not in Sydney, City to Surf is a fun run they do here each year from the CBD to Bondi Beach.  I am super excited because we did not have the chance to do it last year since it was right after we arrived in Sydney.  #4 took my first zumba class (courtesy of Liz) and it was awesome.  I’m sure I looked a bit ridiculous but it was awesome none the less.


Future view from the new house... I will get some better pictures after the move.

Well, writing that all down makes me jam packed with change the week has been. Life’s changes seem to always make me think of seasons (I know that sounds cheesy).  This is still a source of confusion for me here with the backwards seasons from what we are used to in New England.  It is currently getting dark by 5pm and cool… think Octoberesque weather.  Since it is currently going into June, this just doesn’t seem right.  Although, this weather is quite condusive to baking and making all sorts of comfort food stuff in my crockpot… always a good time. 

As I mentioned before, I am obsessed with my mini-doughnut pan I bought at Kmart of all places (Kmart is a story for another post I believe).  I think I am a bit behind on this trend, but I love it anyways.  I’m not going to lie and say these taste anything like an actual fried doughnut- they don’t.  But they can be a really good baked treat anyways.   Because it is feeling so much like fall I’ve been having cravings for all those typical autumn flavors. 

I’m thinking pumpkin, ginger and strong spices… and of course, maple.  Well, let me tell you maple will win in my mind most of the time!  Spiced “doughnuts” with maple glaze it is!  Hmm… but the downside is the hubby does not share my obsessive love of all things maple.  Because I am such a good wife, triple chocolate “doughnuts” for him.  First up, the chocolate batch!

Triple Chocolate “Doughnuts”

Since I only have one of these cute little doughnut trays (and essentially we are making slightly dense muffins in the shape of doughnuts) extra batter can be made into either muffins or baked in a loaf pan.

Yield: 12 mini doughnuts and approx 6 muffins or small loaf with remainder of mixture

Ingredients
2 cups flour (plain or whole wheat would work well)
½ cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg (optional)
1 cup milk
¼ cup honey
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Glaze
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup powder sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
Sprinkles for decorating
  
- Preheat oven to 325º F (160º C)
- Mix all dry ingredients together in medium bowl
- Beat with a whisk all wet ingredients in large bowl.
- Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture in 2 batches.  Mix until just combined.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Here is the fun part.  Fill a ziplock bag with mixture and cut a small opening in the corner.  Pipe filling into greased doughnut and muffin pans.  Fill approximately ¾.
- Bake 10-12 minutes for mini-doughnut pan, 14-16 for muffins.
- Let cool completely.
- For the glaze: melt butter and mix with all other ingredients well.  Dip doughnuts into glaze and let cool to set.  If you want to put sprinkles on top, do so right away before the glaze hardens.


The line up of ingredients


Get the dry and wet ingredients ready...


Mix it all well.

 Ready to bake...


Spiced “doughnuts” with Maple Glaze

This is a combination of an old gingerbread recipe and apple bread that I had from my grandmother's recipe box, with a slightly healthier twist.

Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
1/3 cup applesauce
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon canola oil or melted butter

Maple Glaze
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons milk
1 ½ cups powder sugar
1 tsp maple extract (for a stronger maple flavor, but vanilla would work as well)
Sprinkles for decorating


- Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C)
- Mix all dry ingredients together in medium bowl
- Beat with a whisk all wet ingredients in large bowl.
- Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture in 2 batches.  Mix until just combined.
- Fill a ziplock bag with mixture and cut a small opening in the corner.  Pipe filling into greased doughnut and muffin pans.  Fill approximately ¾ full.
- Bake 10-12 minutes for mini-doughnut pan.
- Let cool completely.
- For the glaze: combine all ingredients well.  Dip doughnuts into glaze and let cool to set.  If you want to put sprinkles on top, do so right away before the glaze hardens.


Ah the final products.  Much to my dismay (and my stubborn love of all things autumn and maple) 
I actually enjoyed the chocolate best.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Vivid Sydney


Another lovely weekend

Eeks! Sorry about the delay of the last post... it is now one day later and I have my new weekend update.  I will try and be more on top of things!  Last week was just a bit strange.  It was great to have a bit of a break from running after all the training leading up to the half- marathon.  You would think it would have given me a lot more free time to catch up on things, but I don’t think I was really that productive!  Although, I did finally have time to catch up with a bunch of friends over lunches and coffee dates, which was quite nice particularly with the nice weather we are having.


Nice days around the harbour waiting for the ferry.

I did manage to finally make it to Paddy’s Market in preparation for the trip back to the states and stocked up on all sorts of random souvenir things to give to people back home.  Hopefully I have a bit more structure to life this week since there actually is a bunch of stuff I need to get ready before we fly back.  I will also try to put up a few new recipes… I used my fun little doughnut pan last week to try some new recipes out and the hubby approved so get ready!

Thankfully, this weekend was much more relaxed and stress free than the previous.  Friday we had a low key date night at a Thai restaurant we had never been to.  Thai in general here in Sydney is pretty awesome.  Completely different than what I thought was Thai food in the US… that I think was more “Americanized” and this (usually) is the authentic stuff here.  Anyways, we have one of these Entertainment Books that you buy through charities and then saves you money at a bunch of restaurants.  The place was called The Tall Lemongrass in Crows Nest, and I highly recommend it if you are in the area. 

Saturday we spent with friends at their place for a birthday celebration.  As I have mentioned, living here we have become close with a lot of other expats from all over the world.  This particular group was 3 other French couples, a Belgian and us.  Good times!  It has been wonderful throughout our time in Sydney to spend time and learn about other cultures and what their Australian experience is like in comparison to our own.  I have found it has given me a different perspective on life to see so much commonality with people who come from different backgrounds.  In typical French fashion, the day included lovely breads, pastries, champagne and foie gras (which, much to my dismay, I realized through our French friends serving it to us on several occasions, I do in fact love).

On Sunday night we had a Living Social voucher for a harbour cruise it at night.  There is a festival of sorts going on in Sydney for the next few weeks called Vivid where they have all sorts of interactive light exhibits along with other shows/events.  The highlight for a lot of people is the light displays on the Opera House and other buildings.  We figured it would be a good way to see everything (and an excuse to be on a boat!).  Since we have been disappointed many times with the Living Social and Groupon vouchers in Australia, we didn’t have high hopes for the boat and dinner itself.

We ended up being pleasantly surprised!  It was a really nice boat with large windows and pretty solid buffet style food.  Our friends who took the same cruise on Friday night gave us the inside scoop to get there early to get a table to eat at- so us and another couple started up the que at the pier and it worked out well.  We even met the owner while waiting!

The cruise itself was fantastic and spent most of the 2 ½ hours in and around Circular Quay so we could enjoy all the lights.  Here are some of the nicer pics I took… although it is hard to fully appreciate without seeing all the different moving projections. 



View of the skyline.  A lot of the buildings had different images moving with the lights.


The Opera House with light projection.  I was hoping for a bunch of really bright colors... it was a bit more modern art style this year than last apparently.  Still pretty exciting to see like this though.


Me and the hubby enjoying the views from the top deck of the cruise.

When the cruise was done, we got out and walked around Circular Quay.  It was kind of a mad house with huge crowds everywhere.  However, it was completely worth weaving our way around everyone to see a lot of the exhibits.


This was my favorite!  Angler fish mini cars that drove around... so fun.  
Me and all the hoards of kids seemed to love it :)


Really pretty chandelier suspended over the harbour.


Yes, this is in fact a giant tick-tack-toe game.


Not sure what this is... I just thought it looked nice with the buildings lit up in the back.


This was one of the best displays on the the Museum of Contemporary Art building.  

Now we are on to our last full week before our first trip home.  I’m starting off right: first, by staying on top of posts for the blog (not a repeat of last weeks delay!).  Second, sitting here writing said blog post, with a free smoothie (excellent promotion: free smoothie at Boost today just for being named Kelly- woo!) and looking at this view. 


Not a bad start to the week :)



Saturday, 26 May 2012

Gelato, Star Wars and Half Marathons Oh My!


Gelato, Star Wars and Half Marathons Oh My! (A weekend recap a week late- a second )

I insisted on a low-key start to the weekend to be as mentally and physically prepared as I could be for the half-marathon on Sunday (a VERY patient and understanding hubby went along with my demands).  We cooked dinner in Friday and Saturday night and had a pretty relaxing day on Saturday spent running some errands (fun times as always) and at the Maritime Museum here in Sydney.  The museum was surprisingly good with lots of different exhibits.  We have been on a bit of a museum kick so to speak lately and have a new obsession with free tours that they all seem to have (who knew).  The few free tours we have done have been great- usually volunteers who take you around the exhibits explaining and telling stories.  Much more entertaining having someone explain everything to you!  


Yes.  This was a highlight of the tour.  A boat made entirely of beer cans.  And yes, it is mostly VB.

We capped Saturday night off watching Star Wars Episode 1, as we have decided to re-watch them all in order (yeah, we really are that awesome). The hubby kept falling asleep... so I guess it was actually just me watching Star Wars :)

Moving onto Sunday.  I did not sleep well at all… due mostly to the stress and anticipation of the run I imagine, and was up bright and early at 4:55am.  Made our way down to the CBD for a 6:45am start time.  It was crazy how many people were there… even waiting for the train to get to Town Hall was very crowded.  Something like over 13,000 were registered, which was a new record number for this half marathon.  Crazy pants indeed.


 Here is where I was before the start of the race.  The yellow group was the last to go, so there is a good view of the masses of people in front of us.

To be honest the whole morning went by in a blur.  Not sure if it was just being in “the zone”, being very tired or a combination.  I was nervous about not pacing myself well so I started off pretty slow, which worked out well as I didn’t really get tired the whole time.  It was a really nice run through the city starting and ending at Hyde Park.  Pretty much you run down towards the Opera House, under the Harbour Bridge, through Pyrmont and loop back.  It was a cool start to the morning (good for me!) and the rain held off until after the run.  My only complaint was because there were so many runners, it was hard at times to get around people.  There seemed to really be no rhyme or reason to where people were running in the streets (ie slow runners were not to one side, there was no side really to pass on either).  This of course is a minor complaint.  The hubby surprised me about 1/2 way through the race.  It was fun/exciting to see him at that point and gave me a boost of energy for the rest of the run!

It was a crazy feeling to actually finish the run.  Partly due to it being the first long race I have done, partly because it seemed like such a crazy goal.  If you had told me a year ago I was going to be living in Australia and running a half marathon I would have thought you were crazy! 

The day continued with Brekkie with some good friends, wine tastings in the rain, and gelato (at the casino, much to the delight of the hubby).  It worked out quite well where the boys went to play craps and the girls got to avoid this by going for Gelato Messina (the best gelato in Sydney as they always have peanut butter based options!).


We capped the weekend off with Thai food and Star Wars Episode II.  This is by far the worst of all 6 movies and I am glad to be done with it!  Now that the run is complete, I actually have time to think/plan for our US trip in less than 2 weeks!  I’m sure it will be a busy week with minimal if any posts… until next weekend anyways :)

Oh and in case anyone was curious about my time:

Net time (actual running time start-finish) 1 hr 48 minutes 26 seconds (not too shabby for my first one if I do say so myself)
   

Friday, 18 May 2012

Homemade Granola


Adventures in homemade granola

That sounds more exciting than the tale of my granola making trials actually has been.  I had tried to make granola several times years ago and failed (miserably).  Overcooked, soggy tasting, not crunchy and overly sweet… you name it and I had an issue with it.  I guess there are a lot of really bad recipes for granola out there.  I started trying again in Australia due to the lack of granola options here.  They seem to favor muesli instead.  I should switch since this is probably a healthier version (just oats, nuts, dried fruit- usually not toasted and no sugar).  However, I cannot give up my delicious morning granola and yogurt.

As a result of my stubbornness, I pretty much ended up combining ideas from several recipes to come up with my own.  I did not want too much sugar or oil, but still wanted the granola crunchy with some sweetness to it.  I think I have the perfect base now for all the different types of granola I make!  This recipe is super easy and you really can’t mess it up.  Just give it a go and you won’t be disappointed.  (For those who didn’t catch that, “give it a go” is one of my adopted Aussie phrases!)

Today I made 2 batches... feeling highly motivated! One of the Maple Almond and one Tropical Mix (see after the basic recipe for more details about specific ingredients in these).


At some point I promise to get better about taking pictures as I am baking/cooking.  For now these will have to do :)


Ready to go into the oven! 




Yum a couple of batches of granola (they look slightly empty because I packed some up for people).

Basic Granola Recipe
You can adapt most of this to use whatever types of nuts, dried fruits and extract for flavor.  You can add in seeds or shredded coconut as well.  The possibilities are endless really.  You will save a ton of money by not buying the pre-made stuff from the supermarket and have a tastier and healthier version to boot!

Ingredients
2 cups rolled oats
¾ cup chopped nuts
½ cup chopped dried fruit
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup OR honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

~ Preheat oven to 275°F (135°C) and spray a large baking sheet with oil
~ Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl (oats, rice cereal, nuts and fruit)
~ Combine all wet ingredients in a small bowl (maple syrup, brown sugar, canola oil and extract)
~ Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to mix well
~ Spread mixture evenly over baking sheet and put in oven
~ Bake 60 minutes, stirring mixture every 10-15 minutes to make sure it cooks evenly. 
~ Cool on baking sheet and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. 

* You can also incorporate ½ cup puffed rice cereal for added crunch and/or ½ cup oat bran, which will make it, form more “clusters”.  Make sure when adding these they get mixed with the dry ingredients.

Here are some of my favorite combinations for homemade granola…

Maple Almond (My favorite! Tastes like fall in New England)
~ Maple extract, almonds and a mixture of dried blueberries and cherries

Tropical Granola
~ Vanilla extract, macadamia nuts, mix of dried mango and banana (I use dried bananas, not the “banana chips” you can get at most supermarkets, but I would imagine those would be tasty as well) along with 3 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes.
~ This one is pretty amazing with Chobani pineapple yogurt!

Cherry Almond
- Almond extract, almonds, with a mix of dried cherries and dates

Fall Pumpkin Granola
~ Vanilla extract, almonds, and raisins
~ You will also add 2 tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the wet mixture and ½ tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to the dry mixture

Enjoy!





Sunset while on a little late afternoon stroll with the little guy I nanny for.  
Not a bad way to end the day.

The coffee story


It has been a pretty hectic week here!  Lots of last minute stressing about the run on Sunday along with my usual stuff has kept me pretty busy.  However, I feel like I need to be sort of on top of doing these posts since I have so much to catch up on!  I have been thinking of how to best recap some of our early Sydney memories… I just figured I would start off some of my posts with these little gems of stories for everyone’s entertainment J (Also with some random photos, like my little/quite large spider friend here)


Moving on to my random story. Those who know me understand my coffee obsession… change that… coffee addiction.  Really though, it is the first thing I grab in the morning.  I don’t do anything before I have a cup of coffee… sad, but true.  I have also converted the hubby to a coffee lover.

In Australia, I feel that I am viewed as a lowly American when it comes to coffee.  One of our first “Australia’d” moments came our first morning in Sydney.  We were dropped off at the hotel we were staying at for the first 2 weeks and promptly needed coffee.  Both the hubby and I are big coffee drinkers back home.  We have this amazing Bunn coffee maker we use in the states that brews essentially the full pot in like 3 minutes or something crazy.  Anyways, we were in need of our caffeine fix. 

Our driver had suggested the café just outside our hotel… how convenient for us we thought!  In hind site, we should have been prepared for the shock of everything as soon as I saw that a bowl of fruit with yogurt was something ridiculous like $14.  But, we were tired and didn’t really care at that point.  So the waitress comes over (probably just because we looked like tourists, as we know now most cafes are not full service like that) to take our order.  We order our food and both ask for a coffee.  The conversation continued a bit like this…

Waitress: What kind of coffee?
Me: Just a regular coffee is fine.
Waitress: But what kind of coffee do you want?
Me: Ummm… a black coffee with some milk?
Waitress: A short black or a long black?
Me: A long black?

It was far to early for this conversation.  We really had no idea what was going on at this point, so just went with it.  As soon as it came out and I tried it, I knew it was what we would call an Americano back in the states (espresso and hot water).  Very good, but a cup of coffee it is not. So they do not do “brewed coffee” as it is called it in Australia. Only lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, long blacks etc.

Lesson learned. 

So anyone planning on a trip to Australia, be prepared for this more European attitude towards coffee… and stick with the flat white.


 Mmm the flat white. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Running and energy bars


Happy Monday everyone!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend!  Mine was great… relaxing night on Friday, dinner with friends on Saturday and a bush-walk (otherwise known as a hike) on Sunday.  Good times.  It was a beautiful day to be out and about yesterday… here are a couple pics from the walk.


A little walk through the gum trees... we had a random guy walking past us give us a tutorial on all the different trees.  Good times.


Just a nice view.  It is actually a crazy location for a bush-walk.  We took the train out to the suburbs, walked through a bunch of residential neighborhoods and then ended up in this park area.  A bit of a natural paradise in suburbia!  The view from these rocks here was almost spoiled by crazy kids running around pretending to shoot at everyone with sticks.  I was forced to practice my deep breathing.


The hubby was less than happy with the uphill climb to end the trek.  
Overall a good day of outdoor fun!


For those who don’t know, I am running a half-marathon in Sydney.  Now that I am thinking about it, most probably did not know about this I have been keeping it on the down low… due mostly to my own fears of backing out!  No longer an option…it is in less than a week- yikes! 

Running has become a huge part of my routine. Particularly since moving overseas it has been one of the best things for me to stay centered.  I truly love it.  Running gives me time to clear my head.  It really helped a lot when I was adjusting to living in Sydney in terms of stress relief and having some sort of schedule/structure to my day. 

It is pretty funny to talk about how much I enjoy running now.  I used to HATE it.  Every time I tried to start it up, it would last a max of 2 weeks before I was over it.  Not that I have ever minded exercise, I just always preferred going on walks, the elliptical or taking a spin class to running.  I did a 5 mile run in Boston last spring and for whatever reason stuck with it.  I’m not sure what was different this time around except maybe an increase in stress due to the move?  I think that I somehow finally got past that old point of cursing every minute I spent running and started to just enjoy.  There just seems to be that point you get to when running that causes that shift in thinking and I just never pushed myself long enough to get there before.  Maybe the combination of being in an amazing locale for running and the fact that it is free and I can do it whenever helps here. Who knows if this is something that will last when we move back home, but I really enjoy it now.

With all the extra free time I have- relatively speaking without working full time- I decided to run the ½ marathon.  Not sure what brought it on… maybe just setting a goal for myself, a new challenge… but here we are less than a week away.  A bunch of people have asked me my goal time… umm to finish?  To enjoy myself?  Yup I'm pretty sure those are my only goals at this point.  

I have no idea really what to expect despite trying to prepare well. I have been pretty good about sticking to a “beginners training schedule” recommended by the group that puts the ½ marathon together.  Let me tell you, this is a lot of work and takes up a ton of time!  Hats off to people who are disciplined enough to train with full time jobs/children etc.  I don’t think if I was working full time right now I would have been able to prepare for my first longer run… maybe after you get more experience things are a bit different.

With all the running I do here and especially with the increased miles due to training, I am constantly eating.  Seriously, I am always hungry.  There is the usual healthy pre and post-run snacks of bananas with nut butters, toast, oatmeal, yogurt etc.  But what I really like to have on hand are energy bars.  Yes I know they are glorified candy bars, but they are so convenient when in a rush!  I used to buy all sorts back in the states (as long as they were on sale or Trader Joes prices).  My favorites were Luna Bars, Larabars and Zone Bars.  I can’t buy either here in Australia and the energy/protein bars they sell are usually around $4 each!  No thanks… that doesn’t really work with my frugal mentality. So what is a girl to do?  Right then, just make my own.

You can find a fair amount of recipes for protein and energy bars online.  Some are pretty terrible and it took quite a bit of trial and error find some that were easy, tasty and actually healthy.  The easiest by far are imitation Larabars… the reason?  Only a few key ingredients, dried fruits, nuts, flavoring and in some cases some oats.  The binding ingredient in the recipe is dates (you could also use raisins).  You just need some sort of food processor/blender to mix and there is no need to bake them.  It is super easy and way cheaper to make your own. 



Homemade Larabars
Almond Chocolate (not actually a Larabar variety as far as I know... but very tasty anyways!)

As I mentioned, I did a lot of trials based off many different recipes online.  The closest that I based mine off of was from http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com
This is a super cute blog with lots of different healthy versions of baked treats... definitely worth looking through her site if you have the time!)

½ cup dates
¼ cup almonds
2 Tbs almond butter
½ cup rolled oats
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbs mini-chocolate chips

~ Combine the dates, almonds and almond butter into food processor and process until smooth.  This process will take several minutes.
~ Add rolled oats and vanilla and process another 1-2 minutes.
~ Add chocolate chips and pulse several times.
~ Shape the dough into bars.  I get 5 bars out of this recipe.  Wrap each well and store in fridge until ready to eat. 


Easiest recipe there is.  Blend it all together in food processor....


Shape into yummy bars and eat.  Done.

The great thing about these bars, is there are so many different flavor options.  Your base of ingredients always remains the same (the dates and nuts) but you can change the type of nuts, and nut butter you use, omit the oats, add different dried fruits to the mix and take the chocolate chips out.  Here are some other examples of tasty varieties...

Oatmeal Raisin
½ cup raisins
¼ cup walnuts
2 Tbs peanut butter
½ cup rolled oats
1 tsp vanilla extract

Key Lime Pie
½ cup dates
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup cashews
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice

Peanut Butter and Jelly
½ cup dates
¼ cup peanuts
2 Tbs peanut butter
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 tsp vanilla extract




I am still working on the other more "protein bar" recipes that would be similar to a Luna Bar or even a Clif Bar.  All the ones that I have tried are just not coming out properly... mostly a texture issue.  I will keep you all posted and hopefully will have a good version soon!

Now that I have spent the whole morning writing, snacking on all things almond butter and making a batch of Larabars I need to head out for one of my last runs before the 1/2 marathon... woohoo!  

Hope everyone has a good start to the week :)








Friday, 11 May 2012

Banana Bread and Almond-Maple Butter


* Quick side note: I have been thinking about how to divide up my recipes I post: particularly baked goods.  I will separate out the “everyday” stuff that I have modified to fit into a healthy lifestyle from my more “traditional” baked goods.  These are more once in a while treats, you know for game night or whatever… they are the recipes way too good to change around and really it is completely necessary to have a good cookie or cake every now and then.

The Banana Bread Saga

When we first arrived in Sydney the cost of everything, especially food was shocking.  We really do not know how good we have it back in the states.  Everything is so cheap!  Anyways, we (meaning me) are super frugal with the stuff we buy here.  To the extent that I think I have maybe bought 2 shirts on sale (for about $5 each) the entire time we have lived here.  The stores that sell things I would wear easily cost double what I would usually pay back home.  It has turned out to be a good way to save money I suppose.  I order in bulk from JCrew online and pick it up when we are in the states. 

This money saving scheme however does not work well with food… you know since we need to eat and we both have hearty appetites and all.  Therefore, we have adjusted and just don’t think too much about it anymore.  You can’t compare to how cheap you get stuff in the states because it will drive anyone crazy!  Because of my frugal nature, a lot of the recipes I will post I started making as a way to save money.  In the end, you save money and end up with healthier (with less preservatives) and most of the time much tastier versions than the store bought stuff.

Along this whole idea of crazy food costs, my favorite story is that of the humble banana. Before coming to Sydney, the poor banana was just added to the grocery cart every week as an afterthought.  Yes they turn brown quickly and bruise easily, yes if I don’t eat them in the first 2 days they will have brown spots and I no longer want them… but they are cheap!  And whatever I don’t eat turns into yummy banana bread! 
Fast forward to the move to Sydney last August.  Imagine our surprise to see bananas in the store selling for over $17/kilo… umm yeah that is close to $8/pound.  WHAT!?  For the humble banana?!  Apparently this was blamed on cyclones that had wiped out the crops.

I was sad thinking I was just not going to eat bananas while we were here. 
Luckily, bananas now are back to a normal price.  This means pre-run bananas with almond butter and fresh baked banana bread...



I have been baking banana bread since college.  I had always used my mom’s old recipe, which is great.  Over the years however, I have adapted it to make it easier and healthier.  This banana bread is good.  Really good.   It does have a “healthy” taste to it with the oat bran and is not overly sweet.  But the chocolate chips make it taste like a treat! This is a quick and easy breakfast we always have on hand.  Often times I will double the recipe and put half the batch in the freezer.  It is really good with a bit of homemade almond butter… 


 Start by mixing the honey and eggs together like so...



Whisk all the dry ingredients together...


Combine the honey mixture with the dry ingredients.  The batter will be thick.


 Mash up all your bananas...



 Add milk and vanilla to the mashed bananas...


Mix it all together until just combined... don't over-mix the batter!


At this point you can add in nuts, dried fruit or in my case mini chocolate chips- yum!


Pour it into your greased pan and it's ready to bake- easy :)


I usually have a bit extra batter... which I usually turn into a couple muffins.  I wanted to try out my new mini "doughnut" tin this time.  How cute are these?!  I'm gonna work on some baked doughnut recipes and get back to you with those (although these were delicious and gone right 
after I took the picture!)


Healthy Banana Bread

Ingredients
2 cups whole-wheat flour
¾ cup oat bran
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup honey
3 large eggs
3 large or 4 small bananas, mashed
½ cup skim milk (you could also use whatever milk or non-dairy milk you have on hand)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup mini-chocolate chips or chopped nuts (both optional)

~ Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)
~ Spray a loaf or muffin pans with cooking spray.  I use a 9” x 4” loaf pan and usually have a bit extra batter for a few muffins.
~ Whisk together the honey and eggs in a small bowl.
~ In a separate large bowl and whisk together the flour, oat bran, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix the honey mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well.
~ Mix together the mashed banana, milk and vanilla. 
~ Add the banana mixture to the batter and mix until just incorporated. 
~ Add chocolate chips or chopped nuts. 
~ Pour into greased pan and bake until top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Baking time approximately 20 minutes for muffins and 55-60 minutes for a loaf pan. 
~ Cool and enjoy!

 Since I mentioned having this with almond butter, I figured I would add the recipe I use.  No pictures of the actual process right now because I have a lot on hand already, but this is the finished product.  Yes, with Mickey.



You can get good nut butters from natural food stores, but they can be really expensive.  It is much more cost effective to buy large bags of nuts (often times the raw variety are the least expensive) and make your own.  It is really simple and the only thing that takes any time is the actual grinding in the food processor… so no real effort is needed!  I usually can find decent quality natural peanut butter at a good price, but not so much almond butter.  This is the one I usually make on my own.  The especially yummy part about this recipe is the maple flavor!  Clearly growing up in New Hampshire left me with an unhealthy obsession with all things maple.

Homemade Almond-Maple Butter

Ingredients
2 cups almonds
½ tsp maple extract
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp maple syrup (optional and can be omitted)

~ Pre-heat oven to 325°F (160°C)
~ Spread almonds over a baking sheet and roast approximately 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes to roast evenly.
~ Cool slightly on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.
~ Process in food processor until smooth.  This process may take some time.  It will look like sand at first, then appears clumpy before starting to get creamy.  Scrape down the sides several times during the process.  Once it actually gets creamy, add the extract, syrup and salt and process an additional 2-3 minutes. 
~ Store in an airtight container in the fridge. 



Phew, this has been a lot of posting the past few days.  It's really just to get all my early thoughts out there since I procrastinated so much in starting the blog.  I think I will probably aim for 2-3 posts/week though.  We are also going to be getting a new camera, so hopefully this will motivate me to practice my photography skills and improve (there clearly is plenty of room for improvement).  

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Transition



Culture shock?  No way will that happen in Australia!  Isn’t it just a more laid back version of America where everyone is just relaxing by the beach and drinking all the time?  (gotta love stereotypes!)  No way it takes me six months to adjust… I’m so easy going, so open to new people and situations, excited for the adventure of it all…

I’m not sure how many times I had that conversation with people just before moving and when we first arrived.  Umm yeah, it does take that long.  If I could slap my former self and make it so I was more prepared for the crazy range of emotions you feel I would.  As I have mentioned before, it is a very good thing I did not start a blog when we first arrived.  I was a hot mess!

I was definitely NOT prepared for the stages of culture shock.  Yes, you can find sites that describe actual stages similar to stages of grief.  Lets go through a quick recap shall we…

1. The Honeymoon Phase

I would say this lasted for us for the first 1 ½ weeks before the hubby started work.  Pretty short period of time I know.  This just felt like we were here on vacation.  Taking on Sydney by storm!  New restaurants each night, exploring the city, taking those big red double-decker sightseeing buses all around… it was exciting and scary all at once.  I especially loved at this time because it was “winter” here everyone was in full length puffer jackets, hats and gloves.  Umm it was 65°F and sunny.  We were in shorts and t-shirts.  Ah yes.  These were good days.



2. The Negotiation Phase

Here is where “anxiety becomes apparent” (oh no!) and one starts to notice the cultural differences no longer in a romantic light.  You are living here after all and not just visiting!  Thank goodness there was no full on language barrier as many experience moving to other countries.  I will comment that sometimes we did have trouble understanding Aussie accents and slang and vice versa.  Here are some examples         
  • What do you mean arvo? (Translation: Afternoon)
  • A fortnight?  (Translation:  Sounds like we are in 19th century England, but that just means every other week)
  • Want to meet for brekkie? (Translation: Breakfast… I have adopted this and I love it)
  • Good on you! (Translation: Good for you! I also love this one)


The food issues are considered a big thing during this “phase” as well.  More of that to come later, but suffice it to say we are spoiled with options in the states and the available choices for food in the supermarkets here is much less.  It is also super expensive compared to what we are used to (what, no Walmart?! Ugh).

I am usually a pretty positive person, but this was a trying period for me.  I guess it lasted about 3 months or so and I couldn’t get past constantly comparing life here to back home.   And it really was never in a good way.  I would try and be really positive, but fail.  Clearly not trying hard enough.  Little things like making a doctor’s appointment, finding an apartment, buying stuff for the apartment… all eerily similar to the states but different enough that it was a challenge.  Christmas time was a challenge. It was warm out. There was no snow. 



One more example before I move on.  We shipped most of our furniture from the states here.  It was a great moving package through the hubbies work and it was paid for, so we figured why buy all new stuff?  The shipment was crazy pants. It took close to 3 months to get from our condo near Boston to Sydney (although it did travel by boat so I suppose I understand).  That is a long time to go without our things!  I’m getting off track though.  The point of the story is because we shipped most of the furniture, we were only looking at unfurnished apartments.  Very interesting point to note that no one bothered to tell us until we were with an agent looking at apartments… unfurnished really means unfurnished.  No fridge, no microwave, no washer/drier and no dishwasher.  Ummm…. What?! We need to buy all that stuff for just 2 years?!  We got really lucky and found a place where all we needed was a fridge.  It is interesting when talking to a lot of Aussies, they do not realize all that stuff is included in rentals in the States… their reactions are pretty funny because they think it is gross that we would use the same fridge as someone before us!

And just like that, we got Australia'd.  This term I coined myself to describe these ridiculous situations, which really come down to cultural differences (that often are surprising).  These are situations which clearly are stressful at the time, but make for entertaining stories after the fact J  I really could go on and on with stories about this phase, but there is always more time for that later.  Keep reading the blog and there will be many more mentions of getting Australia-ed in the future!

3. Adjustment Phase

Here you become accustomed to the new culture and start to have your own routines. For those who are moving or recently moved to a new country, or even a new state in some regards, this was the best thing for me.  I have always been a creature of habit and really struggled being away from supports back home and surprisingly more of a struggle was not working.  I went from having my career be a big part of how I identified myself to not having it at all.  It was hard.  Really hard.

Developing interests here and things that I could do to have a routine during the week made such a huge difference in my overall attitude towards life here.  Taking online courses, nannying, and other interests like running and baking really take up a big part of my time and it is great! 

Instead of crying and being upset about missing friends and family, I look forward to skyping and visiting home (really soon in June!).

I have stopped comparing in a negative way and try and see the good things that are different.  We certainly did not have these views back home nor would we be able to travel to places we have.  

I laugh about getting “Australia'd” now.  The differences are what make things interesting and make us grow and learn more about ourselves along with other cultures.  I think the key is to be able to take it all in, process it, and still maintain your own sense of identity from your home country as well.



Ah yes, look at us all well adjusted now.  These are some photos from our recent trip down to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.  Good times.

4. Mastery Phase

These are persons who were able to participate fully in the culture, while keeping traits from their earlier culture as well.  Not quite sure I am at this point… but I would like to think I am close.


That’s it for the phases.  Those who have lived away from home I’m sure can relate. I can look back at the first few months we were in Sydney and laugh at everything because it is so ridiculous.  Not that your emotions seem crazy at the time… of course it is logical to have a breakdown about not being able to buy peanut butter M&Ms at a reasonable price…


I couldn't find my picture of the expensive peanut butter variety, but here is the $10 bag of Christmas M&Ms.  And no I did not buy them.

Better late then never...


Past Travel Adventures

Since I was slow to start this blog after moving here, I missed out writing about a couple trips we have done.  Here is a quick recap.

Christmas in Bali December 2011



This was the hubby trying to be all artistic and what not... good attempt.  I believe this was the day I was a bit "under the weather".  Really no trip to Asia is complete without some gastro issues... or you are not being adventurous enough with eating!


Ahh yes, like a mild form of India... Bali was like India-lite.  Not quite as crowded or polluted, but the same kind of feel to it.  Lots of people, lots of energy when you are out, great food and lots of people trying to sell you stuff.  

We did a ton of sightseeing while in Bali.  Here are some of the temples...




We hung out with some wild life like elephants...


This one was a bit hungry and did not enjoy when I ran out of food.


We also went to "Monkey Forrest" in Ubud...



Ever since taking a course called Primates in Psychology while an undergraduate, I have been a bit obsessed with monkeys and other primates.  However, these little guys are a bit too used to human interaction and quite aggressive... this was as close as I wanted to get.

We did an amazing bike tour as well... it was pretty much the entire day spent with the guides who took us to the middle part of the island and biked our way back through villages and rice fields.  It was really an amazing experience to see and interact with villagers, especially children, who were so happy and welcoming.  At one point during the ride it started to pour and really did not let up for the rest of the time, but somehow made it seem even more magical (Yes, I said magical. It is my love for all things Disney coming out).




And did I mention the amazing food?  Since moving to Sydney I have a new appreciation of all asian cuisines, but really had not tried much Indonesian prior to this trip.   Like in most other asian countries, you can get really amazing food for very little money.  


Take for example this massive plate of chicken sate with rice and vegetables.  I think the whole thing was under $5.  And it was amazing.

Although I don't watch nearly as much television here, I was obsessed with No Reservations back in the states and would pretty much listen to anything Anthony Bourdain said in terms of food while traveling.  We hit up most of his suggestions in Bali, but the best by far was Ibu Oka for some Babi Guling (roast suckling pig).  Oh my, this was good.  Almost worth traveling to Bali just for this... 


 

Not as amazing, but just as exciting was finding a Dunkin' Donuts- Woo!  None of these in Australia let me tell you.  It was very different than those in the states.  No "brewed coffee" as we know it and no ice coffee, except for the premixed stuff.  However, they did have peanut butter filled doughnuts, so all was forgiven (hence the 3 trips we made in our 10 day trip).



To round off the trip we did some cooking classes.  Fun times touring around the local markets, learning about ingredients I have never heard of and how to cook some traditional Balinese food.  The hubby also put in a good effort with the Nasi Goreng...



Hunter Valley January 2012
This area is the closest “wine country” if you will to Sydney.  It was pretty much our first trip more than 40 minutes outside of the Sydney area in Australia.  

The hubby braved driving on the left and handled the 2+ hours of driving quite well.  I drove to and from dinner one night and that was all I was allowed :)


The area is really beautiful and quiet.  It is really amazing how close you are to Sydney, yet feel like you are in another world.


We did our fair share of wine tastings.  And ended up bringing back more wine than I care to mention.


We stayed at a brewhouse while in the Hunter.  It is pretty different than in the states how the accommodations work here.  Although there are always some hotels/motels, many stay at the wineries/breweries as they have their own accommodations as well.




Yeah.  We are this awesome.


 We saw our first kangaroos in the wild while on this trip.  A women we met working at one of the cellar doors had suggested an area to drive around at dusk to look for the kangaroos and it worked!

Tasmania April 2012

Okay last big trip to update since the move was to Tassie.  For those who don't know, Tasmania is a state in Australia that also happens to be an island located South of the main continent.  It is known for outdoorsy type activities and has pretty much all different climates from rainforest to mountains to beautiful beaches.  We encountered pretty much all seasons while on our trip as well from hot summery days when we first arrived, to comfortable autumn weather (perfect for hiking) and then even had some snow!

We spent the first few days exploring Hobart, a fun little city on the southern coast. Not sure what is going on with this ship, but it made for a fun picture. 


I saw this while we were walking by and loved it. We ate dinner here one night as well... good food and crazy pirate decorations.  Very Disney-esque and I loved it.


View from the top of Mount Wellington looking down to Hobart.



Sadly, we did not actually see any Tasmanian Devils on the trip.  Just these signs.  Everywhere.



I was a bit excited to see some foliage.   Although nothing in comparison to New England, it was still nice :)


One of the highlights of the trip was a place called Kate's Berry Farm.  Oh my goodness.  We stopped in for ice cream (all homemade with different berry flavors) after a hike one afternoon.  We ended up there again for breakfast the next day before we drove to our next location.  Nothing beats pie and ice cream for brekkie!


View of Port Arthur.  This was one of the convict settlements in Australia and now a big tourist stop.


View from a lookout point down to Wineglass Bay.  It looks much cloudier than it actually was that day... it was much sunnier when we were down on the beach as well.




We saw this little wallaby on the hike.  So cute!



Bay of Fires


 We all loved this sign.  I'm pretty sure it is supposed to be showing you wrecking your car by hitting a kangaroo... but I like to think that it is just a really angry kangaroo flipping the car over.


View of Cradle Mountain.   This was the surprise day of snow.  We were pretty excited at first, but then it was a bit much doing the walk around the lake at the national park.



On the drive to the mountain, we saw some snow on the side of the road.  Of course a couple from Boston and another from Britain would need to pull over and make a snowman.


And then move him to the side of the road for others to enjoy.



I also found the promised land on a morning walk.  Oh Bruce why are you not touring in Australia?


Our last day was at Bruny Island.  Back to warmer weather and sun.  Not to mention some amazing views to cap off the trip. 


Phew.  So those were our big Aussie trips thus far.  Hopefully I will stay on top of posts now so I don't need to to a massive one like this again!  Thanks for visiting the blog and check back soon for some fun recipes and stories of living in Sydney!