I am not used to winter weather anymore. At least in the city. I do love winter in the mountains, but only when it snows and we can spend our days skiing and enjoying the crisp fresh air.

In the suburbs of Sydney, things are different: it is mostly overcast and cold. Bitterly cold. According to the news last month, NSW recorded its longest cold spell in 26 years. Boy, did we feel it. Our house is not the best insulated home around, so not only did we have the heaters cranking, but the oven worked overtime in an effort to raise the temperature to a comfortable 20 deg C. Not looking forward to our next gas bill!

Unsurprisingly, our menu rotation has included a lot of slow cooked casseroles and roasts, and while I love warm comfort food as much as anyone else, I admit I am reaching saturation point. I keep thinking of spring, supposedly just around the corner. Detox recipes are starting to pop inside my head, the ones that include tons of vegetables and invigorating spices.

A few days ago, I was sorting thru some of the photos of our latest cruise and nearly cried when staring at pictures of pristine sun-drenched Vanuatu beaches taken 10 months ago.

Anchored in Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu

Anchored in Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu

One of the accompanying notes was a recipe I quickly scribbled after cooking a vegetarian stir-fry, back then. I still remember that day: we had just said goodbye to guests onboard, and after 2 weeks of indulging I stopped at the Port Vila market to stock up on fresh island produce and cooked up what I called “Detox Stirfry” at the time.

Tiny green peppers, from the Port Vila market

Tiny green peppers, from the Port Vila market

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Can’t get fresher herbs: parsley, sawtooth coriander (same as Thai coriander), dill, mint, basil…herb salad in the making!

This is quite a light dish, so full of greens it makes you feel virtuous, but it can be hearty enough for a winter’s night, just double the quantity or/and add meat or seafood of your choice! I particularly like serving this with a fried egg on top, loving how the soft egg yolk oozes thru the vegies!

Green Vegetarian Stir fry

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Serves 4, as a main

Ingredients:

200g firm tofu, cut in 3cm cubes

4 tbsp soy sauce

2 cloves of garlic crushed

5cm  knob of ginger, grated

a splash of sesame oil

4 tbsp olive oil

¼ head of white cabbage

1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-2 cm bites

1 green capsicum, diced

a handful of coriander leaves, chopped (preferably the sawtooth variety, the flavour is stronger)

  1. Make a marinade: in a bowl, combine the soy sauce, crushed garlic, grated ginger, and sesame oil. Add the cubes of tofu and leave to marinate for 15 minutes or so.
  2. In a wok or large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the vegetables and stir fry for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the soy marinade from the tofu and 1 cup of water. Stir.
  4. Add the tofu and the coriander, stir for a few more minutes, until tofu is cooked thru.
  5. Serve with boiled rice and a fried egg on top, if desired.

It’s official, we have been bitten by the protein ball bug!

For years I have been resisting the appeal of these balls, bars, bites…whatever people call them. I think I could not go past the appearance of brown, knobby, sticky balls and the health food label! In my books, food must not only taste good but also LOOK good for one to want to eat it.

Then we started this fitness challenge, and I started to pay more attention to healthy eating talks. Not that we didn’t eat healthy before, I’ve never been a fan of junk food and always prefer to cook from scratch rather than reach for the processed items in the shops. I just found myself in a rut and decided to look at alternatives to fruits/ nuts/cheese sticks for snacks. They had to be free of added sugar, low carb but fibre rich, and provide energy. So I decided to revisit the idea of protein balls, sampled quite a few in various health food shops and cafes, poured over countless recipes to finally come up with my own version. The choice of ingredients is the product of convenience: I happened to have all of them in the pantry, since they are standard items for granola making. Also, I deliberately omitted any nuts, since our local schools have adopted a nut-free policy. Feel free to add them, if you do not have to such constraints.

I am the first to admit that these balls look anything but pretty, resembling raw meatballs I was told! I think the “nuts and bolts” appearance comes from NOT grinding the seeds first, will have to remember to do it next time! So, yes, appeal is a work in progress and I have designs in mind for a chocolate coated version as well as a toasted almonds one….BUT, let me tell you, they taste amazing. I know I am on a good thing when Terry’s 4 year-old grandson asks for some to take to kindie and Marc snatches them on his way to school (quick breakfast on the go!). I love to have them as a morning treat with coffee or simply as an afternoon pick-me-up before heading to the gym (my least favourite activity!!)

Date Energy Balls

date protein balls

Makes 36 balls

Ingredients:

2 cups seeds ( I used ¼ cup puffed amaranth, ½ cup pepitas, 1 cup sunflower seeds, ¼ cup linseed)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 cups dates, soaked in warm water

2 tbsp coconut milk

  1. In a food processor, chop the soaked dates until they form a coarse paste. Add the seeds, shredded coconut, and coconut milk.
  2. Mix until everything is combined into a smooth paste.
  3. Scoop a tablespoon in your hand and shape into a ball (this is a very messy affair!) Place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat until all the mixture has been used.
  4. Place the tray in the fridge until balls are firm. This helps with the handling later on.
  5. When the balls are firm enough to handle, place them in a container with a lid and keep in the fridge. They will last a couple of weeks, if not devoured beforehand! They can also be kept in and eaten straight out of the freezerDSCN2005
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July in Sydney: sunny and cold. Chilled to the bone, I am going over the thousands of photos taken during our last cruise and back in time when we spent the summer of 2012 sailing along the US East Coast.

I’ve said it before, the great thing about cruising is the opportunity to meet local people other than thru tourist eyes. Once we anchor or tie up at a marina, the first job is generally to locate the markets, banks, hardware stores and good restaurants…not necessarily in that order. In the process, unlikely circumstances have led to incredible encounters and even better eating/cooking experiences. From a 4th July cookout at the Washington DC Capital Yacht Club

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to a Labor Day picnic in NYC Central Park,

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our American journey is full of fantastic memories. One particular one is meeting a delightful old couple in Noank, CT, Mr and Mrs Farrington, keen sailors and prominent members of the local community. We didn’t meet by chance, their son David, works for Lagoon and we have been in regular contact for years. As it happened, we needed a boat part delivered, and when David heard that we were stopping by near his folks, he arranged for us to collect it from them. Not only were Don and Rose Farrington nice enough to hold on to our stuff for weeks, but they welcomed us into their home twice and offered to become our mailbox  for the whole duration of our cruise around New England and beyond (it may not mean much to land lubbers, but cruisers will understand the convenience of having a reliable and trustworthy contact on foreign shores…)

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It has been a few weeks since we started our family fitness challenge, and my mention of letting you in on the fun of reward dinners. So far, we’ve had 3 themed feasts. With 11 participants gathering around our table every 2 weeks, we’ve ditched the concept of a formal dinner in favour of a potluck affair, much like we used to do on the boat: everyone is in charge of a dish and bring their own alcohol.

Our second theme in May was Mexican. Besides Terry, everyone in the family loves it, and it always brings fond memories of our stay in Puerto Aventuras a couple of years ago. That night also happened to be Tania’s birthday (Terry’s middle daughter), so a proper fiesta was in order.

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Have you ever cooked a dish with ingredients you know other people in your house/boat/camping party don’t like/won’t eat so you go ahead with it in a very selfish “more-for-me” kind of way?

I did last night. It was not out of nastiness, quite the contrary. You see, we have been on this Fitness Challenge for a few weeks now (all good, thanks for asking) and with 6 people sharing the cooking, it’s meant adjusting the dinner menu to accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary requirements. Some would say it would be easier to let everyone cook for themselves, but I am pretty particular about dinners: this is the only time the whole family is home, and a nice meal around the dinner table is the best way I have found over the years to spend precious moments together. It wasn’t always easy, and there were many testing times, especially when the kids were babies and toddlers. Back then, we used to have two seatings: 6.30pm for the kids and 8.00pm (or later) for us parents. The one thing I always insisted on though, was one dinner. As a new mum, I only ever had time to cook one dish, so whatever the kids ate, we ate, and vice versa. The trick was to adapt the plate so that everyone would find the dish appealing. Examples: chicken curry soup (chili on the side), bangers and mash turned into smiley faces, boat lettuce leaves for san choy bow, and never underestimate the power of caramelised apples  with ice cream (that goes for a lot of fruits!)!!! This went on for a while, until around the age of 5, when both children realised that they would not die from eating “grown up “ food and took a liking to Caesar salad, duck breast or vegetables fritters. Sure, there are stuff they still won’t touch, but same with us. Anne gives her mushrooms to Marc, who passes his olives to Terry, who pushes prawn tails my way while I hand him the anchovies. No one’s perfect!

Anyway, all I am getting at is, that I am a very big fan of the single menu dinner, even when faced with different eating requirements. Lately, I have had great fun expanding my repertoire to more “wholesome” food thanks to the low-carb/gluten-free/nut-free/chili-free/no shellfish eaters among us (they know who they are, and I love them to bits!). While it’s been an eye opener, and I am sure my body feels better for it, my carb-deprived mind slowly started to entertain the idea of cheese on toast and juicy succulent pork ribs… Read More

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