Monday, May 7, 2018

and the secret ingredient is....

Last year when sister Janet and I were in Australia, I discovered these yummy eats – the original vendor in Manly called them figgy seed bars. I was in love with them! We later went to New Zealand and visited Janet’s friend’s brother whose wife made ‘Sticky Seed Flapjacks’ from a recipe book she had. They were close to the Manly bars but something was missing and when I told her I liked to hack recipes, she offered me hers as a starter.
Apparently Birdseed Bars are a thing in NZ - in one of our lodgings (they all had cookbooks, Jamie Oliver being the most popular) I found a recipe by Angela Langbein which I unabashedly copied!
 Back at home in Thunder Bay, I began experimenting.
Spoiler Alert – these are not a cheap, quick snack but they are well worth the effort. I made them several times over the summer, getting progressively closer but something was still missing.
When I was out in Vancouver last October visiting other sister, Marnie, I found a homemade style granola bar at Meinhardt on Granville Street – they call it their ‘Grind’ bar (why, I don’t know) – it was quite different and not exactly my favourite thing but there was just something about it that triggered the missing component for me – theirs did have an ingredient list and there it was, staring me in the face – molasses!
After many batches and trials, here’s my last version:
Figgy Nutbars
1 1/2 C chopped pitted dates
1 1/2 C chopped figs
1 C cashews
1 C hazelnuts or almonds
2 Tbsp molasses
3 1/2 C old fashioned oatmeal
1 C pumpkin seeds
1/2 C sunflower seeds
2Tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F.
Roast nuts for 10 minutes.
Line half sheet tray (12” X 8”) with parchment.
Place chopped dates and figs in pot with 2 C water. Bring to a boil and simmer to soften. Take off heat and allow to cool slightly. Put into food processor (should now be about 4 cups). Add the molasses. Whiz/pulse 2-3 times – I like it chunky, so you still know there are dates and figs. Remove to large mixing bowl.
Put roasted nuts in processor bowl (no need to clean in between) with 3/4 C water and blitz till smooth. Add to date mixture.
In same processor bowl, put oats and salt and pulse about 1 minute to rough chop. Add 1/2 C pumpkin seeds, 1/4 C sunflower seeds and 1 Tbsp chia seeds and pulse for another 15 seconds. Add to date/nut mixture. Stir/mix by hand thoroughly.
Spread mixture in sheet tray to 1.5/2 cm. Sprinkle the remaining pumpkin, chia and sunflower seeds over and press down to set them into the mixture.
Bake for 35 minutes.
Cool for 1 hour before cutting into bars.

For more details and close-up photos check out my food blogpost at cooktasteyum.blogspot.com

Janet and I are off to Ireland at the end of May – we’d love for you to join us!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

home at last....

Tuesday - Thursday, March 14-16
The weather gods finally said enough of that good stuff, let it rain! We’ve had almost a full month of fabulous weather, so can’t complain. Two more days and we go home! Walked to Darling Harbour and around that area. Had breakfast on the way - organic granola with homemade berry sauce, Greek yogurt and a long black (that's what they call an Americano - 2 shots expresso with hot water). Janet had French toast.
 Lunch was a shared Portuguese chicken sandwich to get out of the rain. Spent a couple of hours in the hotel catching up on my blog while Janet had a nap. Out for another little walkabout and then down to the CQ for crepes for dinner.
One thing I forgot to tell you about is this strange vending machine they have all over here. I took a closer look and realized it’s selling flipflops at $35 per pair and there is a size chart below. We pondered about this and came to the conclusion – there are at least 4 to 5 cruise ships in Sydney Harbour at any given time. Most of the women are trotting around in the most ridiculous high-heeled footwear and I have thought to myself – where does she think she’s going in those? Well, obviously someone realized a huge sales potential – think about it – what would you pay if you were a mile away and your feet were killing you?
I finally finished that lame book, 'My brilliant friend' and just as I thought, it didn't get any better and had a really crummy ending, like someone ripped the last 50 pages out of the book or the author just gave up. Thanks Janet! Am starting 'Hillbilly Elegy' by JD Vance with higher hopes that it will at least keep me interested for that almost 24 hours of travel time going home...Janet is half way through my Elvis Costello, ‘Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink’ - she says it's a good story but he’s not a very good writer - she spent several years in England in the late 60s, early 70s so there’s some nostalgia there.
Thursday and we are at the airport - I have a strategy for getting through this flight...on the trip over, my knees were killing me before we got to Vancouver and by the time we got to Sydney I seriously thought I might have to stay rather than going through that again. Anyway, my plan is to slather Voltaren on my knees just before boarding – I know I won’t be able to do this on the plane (I have a 100g tube so it’ll make it through the scanning in case I need it again and you know, only WestJet in Toronto caught it but did let me go) and take a couple of Advil just as we get underway and repeat the dosage as necessary. Lucky for me, I scored a window seat and I'm not sure if that's the big difference - I can actually raise my legs one at a time and put them out to the side relatively straight every now and then and it's going well, no issues at all. The flight to Vancouver seems shorter than the way there, it's only 13.5 hours flying time which seems much less than what was supposed to be 18 hours of the way over (I didn’t keep track then – now I’m feeling totally anal!) but we still have to get to Toronto, another 4.5 hours - can't be too bad but Janet decides she should have the window seat this time. Home sounds really good about now!
I finished ‘Hillbilly Elegy’- based on the number of lumps in my throat and the tears welling up, my goodness, what a read – one of those books that you’re sorry to turn the last page and the thoughts that will return for some time – this is one of MAO’s picks!
Things I’ve learned for next time:
-Don’t take Elvis or any big book or one that you want to keep – make sure it’s disposable. The Elvis book is like 2 inches thick, it was a Christmas present that I haven’t read yet and at the airport in Toronto, set for Thunder Bay, after collecting all that stuff I left behind at Janet’s, that big duffle bag is extra huge – it weighs in just over the 50 pound allotment and the guy is going to charge me another $75 on top of the $28.75 I already paid unless I can take a couple of pounds out. I take out Elvis and the camo hoodie and stuff them in my backpack. It works but I can barely move with this thing on my back now!
-Fly to Vancouver, stay a few days (other sister Marnie lives there). Get in a visit and fly out of Vancouver, breaking up the lengthy flying time – not that I’m going back to Australia, but just saying…
-Pay whatever extra to get good seats.
-Pare down the wardrobe even further – I had an extra pair of heels, a dress, a pair of dress-up jeans and 4 tops that I didn’t wear – who am I kidding? Take a smaller suitcase!!
-Biggest lesson, when booking something on Airbnb, if it seems to be a real deal, no matter how good the reviews are, if it’s suspiciously inexpensive, do not fall for it!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Happy birthday, Janet!

Sydney skyline in the background
Today is Janet's birthday and I'm taking her to the zoo! It's a $46 ticket but on your birthday it's only $1, what a deal!  They give you a birthday badge that you're supposed to wear - I was hoping they'd give her a crown or something! But of course, she refused to wear the badge, but  somepeople must have liked the idea because I saw at least 6 other people with their birthday badges and I went out of my way to say happy birthday to them! It was an okay zoo but I think Toronto's is nicer and Janet told me later that she thought so too. Toronto's is much larger, area-wise at least and how many times can you look at a kangaroo, a wallaby, a
 wombat or a bilby and know which is which? They had no North American animals, no surprise because it's too hot for them here. Also the zoo is built on a quite steep hillside so we had a real workout even though we tried to go from top to bottom! The best thing was I finally figured out how to take a close up photo - duh! I was devastated to learn that Martha had been here on Saturday, performing! It turned out to be very warm, so after 4 hours we figured we had our money's worth and took the ferry back to Circular Quay.
potato bread/roe
There was a wine shop I'd been glancing in before and because it was her birthday, I figured I'd spring for a bottle to celebrate. Their wine prices are very similar to home, in fact Yellowtail is $12 here, same as in Canada. I had a nice chat with the girl in the shop and she recommended a Taylor Shiraz at $20. We had a chuckle about Yellowtail - I had been afraid to mention it previously because in Australia they think it's crap, while it's virtually a no.1 best seller in Canada mostly because that's all we get but when I told her it was like $6 in the US, she couldn't figure that one and I explained that it all had to do with taxes and duties.

my half of the salad
Then back to our hotel to do a bit of googling. After booking our dinner table at 'ester' which 'Lonely Planet' recommended and just happened to be in our neighbourhood, for 6:15pm, Janet wanted to find a shopping mall. I have my doubts as to whether one like she wanted exists. We did find really fancy malls that are mostly filled with tons of eateries and high end shopping aimed at the Asian market, nothing even remotely possible for aging, short, chubby Canadians like us. We finally gave up and sat around doing a little people watching until it was time to go to dinner.
'ester' is listed as trendy, modern Australian with eclectic dishes meant to be shared and LP has $$ on it, meaning $15-32 for a standard main course. The menu is not too helpful in knowing what you're getting but the waitress takes the time to do a bit of explaining (and we're still not too sure) but we end up ordering several things to share. Starting with potato bread, salmon roe and kefir ($22); leaf salad with pumpkin seed and praline ($14);  then king
roast cabbage
prawn, fermented shrimp paste butter, capers, ($32); cauliflower, almonds, sauce, mint, ($12); roast cabbage with some kind of foam with green stuff
lamb kebob
below? ($18); lamb kebab on homemade flatbread with parsnip shoestring fries, ($18) and followed it all with a dessert of licorice ganache with cream and pineapple ($16). Actually we were full but intrigued by the licorice business and after all, it was her birthday (thankfully, I picked up the tab the night before! ;-)). Final bill came to $140! It was all really good
cauli/mint/almonds
and I didn't care if it was gauche to photo the food - I
king prawn
had checked ahead with Janet to make sure she didn't mind either. I did refrain from telling them it was her birthday in an attempt to get a discount! A tip was mentioned when the bill was presented but none was added.
dessert
Fitbit, 13.75 km; MA, 11.75 km - you know, even though I may have dissed that Fitbit, I think I might be swayed...

Martha!

Sunday, March 12, 2017
It's going to be a fairly hot day, so we head to the Botanical Gardens, early, before the heat really tunes up. Near the harbour, it's lovely with a nice breeze. We wanted to go back to the garden centre to get some seeds to take home - I had them in hand two weeks ago when first there, but just in time remembered that we wouldn't be able to take them into NZ, so had made a mental note to come back for them. We get the seeds (Janet buys some too) and head back toward the Opera House to have lunch before seeing our show. When we came back to Sydney the other day, one of the things on our list was to see if there was some sort of performance at the Opera House that we could go to. We found out that Martha Wainwright was going to  be doing a little host/chat thing on Sunday afternoon, no actual performance, but it sounded like fun and would fit into our plans quite nicely - the tickets were $30 each.
She was funny, candid, irreverent, so totally Canadian, and she name-dropped shamelessly! She mentioned being good friends with Shawn Lennon who also has famous parents and, Norah Jones, who came over for dinner. They (her and Norah) cooked together, had some wine, did a little singing together and she was turning that into a cooking show, called 'sing for your supper' that is currently being pitched to different networks. She talked about being in an HBO mini-series (Olive Kitteridge) with Frances McDormand - I call her Frances, she says! She, Martha, plays an aging lounge singer and tells us that even though McDormand had her in mind for the part, she still had to audition but obviously got it. I can hardly wait for either of them! The host asked her about the political feelings in both Canada and the US and she made it clear she was living in Montreal and raising her Canadian children there! At the end, there was an audience question period - the audience (about 250 people in the small studio, very intimate and the perfect setting) was a nice mix of oldies, like us, and young people like David, a twenty-something (?) Asian man who came up to the mike and said he flew from Taiwan that morning just to see Martha. She asked him if he was coming to her show that night. He and most of the audience gasped (me too!) and he said I didn't know there was one! She said it was at another venue but she would make sure he got comped tickets. He was so excited he almost forgot his question! It was really sweet! By the end of the hour and a half she had everyone eating out of the palm of her hand. I wanted to rush right back to the hotel and google where she was going to be - she said that Rufus, her brother was flying in the next day too and I'm not sure if he was joining her tour or just being there for her.
We next went to the Art Gallery of NSW on the opposite end of the Botanical Gardens, so back through the lovely pathways. It was one of the best galleries I've seen for having a comprehensive collection of art through the ages from the Europeans as well as Australia and New Zealand - there were some incredibly large paintings and the space was really well laid out, an oldish-for-Sydney (1874), beautiful building, with some contemporary art mixed in and it was free! There was a special exhibit of Andy Warhol, pre-ad era, but we didn't pay the extra money for that, maybe another day because we were running out of time - closes at 5 pm.
Back through the gardens (we're really racking up the kms today!) to Circular Quay, catch the ferry over to East Balmain - we are going back to our old neighbourhood for dinner to the 'phamous kitchen' the Vietnamese place that we liked so much. It's Janet's birthday tomorrow so I'm treating!
Fitbit, 13.7 km; MA, 12.5 km

Bond-eye

Saturday, March 11, 2017
Bronte Beach
Coogee Beach
Saturday is supposed to be on the cool side, but that's likely to be hot for us so we are going to do the famous Bondi to Coogee Beach walk today. I did find out that Bondi is pronounced 'Bond-eye' rather than the 'bondy' that I was saying. The Lonely Planet book says there is no shade to speak of here so we  want to get out early and we've sort of forgotten that it's Saturday. Take the bus over to Coogee, about 20 minutes and we are planning to do the  6 km walk to Bondi and back, returning as we came. We soon realize that there is no wilderness here, even though it's following the coastline, it's totally built up, side to side houses, condos, etc and we are walking sidewalks, dodging people and dogs, families and groups - it's not much fun and really not the type of thing we like, so at Bondi, after having a nice lunch, we abandon the plan to retrace our steps, get a bus back to Circular Quay

Bondi Beach
and wander around there for the rest of the afternoon. We find a flea market at the Rocks area and have an enjoyable time looking at local jewelry, clothing and stuff. We also take in the Museum of Modern Australian Art...can't say that I get modern art but it was interesting, sort of.
An early evening in the hotel, planning our next few days!
Fitbit, 14.8; MA, 11.5 km

Oh manly, are we tired!

Friday, March 10, 2017
I got over my little snit and things are fine! Yesterday, after we got installed in our new hotel digs by noon, Janet wanted to get her hair and nails done. We found a shopping centre within 3 blocks of the hotel and while she was taking care of business, I had a chance to go out and familiarize myself with our new neighbourhood and get my bearings. Circular Quay is the main hub of Sydney. The trains, ferries and buses all go out from here. (That quay word, my brain keeps reminding me that it  is pronounced 'key' but my mouth still wants to say kway!) The weather here is back to quite warm, like high 20sC, getting close to too warm for us so we want plan our days to get the most out of the time we have left.
toward Sydney from North Head
Even though we left Manly, the district, yesterday, in somewhat of a huff, we still want to go back and take in the hiking and the atmosphere. We head out early in the morning, walking the 2 km to Circular Quay, after all, we're going to hike, so might as well get warmed up! Get the ferry over to Manly and we are going to hike the North Head which looks to be about 10 km. But before heading out to the wild, we get a couple of those birdseed bars at the same coffee kiosk as before. Janet has one this time and she agrees they are pretty good!
Shelly Beach
The path today is past Shelly beach and is a varied, up and down, fun hike - no one to give us the elevation gain here, but it is a bit challenging at times. Lots of scenery and lookouts back over to Sydney, plenty of birds and unique vegetation, a really good day, but we are kind of weary by the time we get back to Circular Quay. We have dinner on the way home's walk, at Jamie's Italian on Pitt Street. Pretty good Mr. Oliver!
Fitbit, 21.4 km; MA, 18.5 km

Saturday, March 11, 2017

when things go wrong...

March 9, 2017
Our flight from NZ back to Sydney got in at 5 pm local time, meaning we lost 2 hours. We take the train into Sydney, change to the ferry at Circular Quay, get the local bus up 5 stops to our new home for the next 8 days, all dragging our suitcases - we booked this place Airbnb before we left for Christchurch and thought we were getting a bedroom with sitting room/kitchen with shared bath. Huh! Went you think you got a deal, think again! If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is! All the way here, I've been thinking how nice it will be to be able to unpack this green bag and not have to worry about repacking for 8 days.
So, what we get, after hauling our suitcases up 2 flights of stairs to the first floor (we would call it the second floor) is a room, about 10 ft X 9 ft, with a double bed jammed into the corner - you can't walk around it and you can only get out one side. There is a large pane of glass leaning against the full-wall wardrobe and John, our thirty-something 'host' assures us we can fit it into the window if we choose to close the window. The traffic and neighbourhood noises make it difficult to hear and it is quite warm in there in spite of the 'fresh' air. There is room on the one side of the bed to carefully place our suitcases with room to get in and out but upon inspection, all the cupboards are jammed full of stuff - no room for us to unpack or put anything. The bathroom that we are supposed to be sharing is beside our room, but it is bare bones with no place to even set anything down. There are two rather scrubby-looking towels on the bed that appear to be slightly larger than hand towels. There is a surfboard at the end of the bed, leaning upright against the corner, balanced precariously into the corner. I am shocked and speechless. Janet is listening to John and seems quite satisfied with everything. It is by now about 7:30 and it's getting dark out and we have not eaten. We go out to find somewhere to eat, John having assured us there will be something within 2 km or so. By the time we get to a restaurant (any restaurant as far as I'm concerned) we choose a Thai restaurant (sushi and Chinese were the other choices and Janet is not big on Chinese) and Janet says although she thinks it will likely be a fast-food version of Thai (not like the good one we had in the old East Balmain neighbourhood from 2 weeks ago) it will be good for me to know the difference. I am not a Thai food expert. After we order, I decide I'd better just blurt it out and tell her this is not acceptable, I cannot spend EIGHT days like this and we need to find something else. She looks at me, shocked, like she has no idea what's wrong! She finally says well what can we do now? I said I guess we have to spend the night but first thing tomorrow, we're out of here. She tries to convince me it won't be that bad. I don't say much, we eat and head back to the 'room'. We are assured by Chang, John's wife, that we are welcome to sit in the living room and share the kitchen etc. They will be out all day because they both work, but not on the weekend of course. We do have free wifi. Anyway, I won't bore you with anymore of the miserable details but next morning, I say we have two options. Move to a hotel or pay the $200 per person to change our flights and go home early. We find a hotel downtown Sydney and move there for about $2000, a little bit more than the $700 paid for John's place. He had told us they were in NZ 2 weeks ago and as Janet is applying to Airbnb for a refund - she will only get a partial, like a little less than half what was paid, I say I hope they had not prebooked another holiday on the strength of our booking.
Airbnb has not asked us to rate John's place but they did approve our partial refund.