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

What difference 12 months make. May last year saw us making landfall in one of the most remote parts of the world, the Marquesas Islands, after spending over 3 weeks at sea. A time of sheer solitude and peace for us adults, it was lived as a challenge for the kids. Hot and bothered, no friends, seasickness…all Anne could think of was the prospect of her upcoming birthday, for which she begged her father to arrive on time so that she could have a party with friends. Luckily the gods of the sea cooperated and indeed, we caught up with cruising buddies in the islands in time for Anne’s big day. It was a great day, spent in a typical “cruising” style: tube riding in Taiohae Bay, lunch and play at the local snackbar, cakes and drinks on the boat…just the memory of it reminds me of what is great about cruising life. Expectations, if any, are very simple.

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Last year’s birthday party onboard!

Take throwing a party for example. In a remote anchorage, with a dozen boats around: invitations are made casually “doing the dinghy round”, dress code is “tropical casual” (meaning everything goes, from bikini and a sarong to cocktail dress, as long as it will survive a dinghy trip!), everyone is asked to bring a dish to share (very much like an American potluck dinner) and BYO drinks. The latter is most important, since most yachties have a limited supply of drinks on board, and while it is expected that the bigger the boat the bigger the cellar, it is just good form to bring your own drinks. The fun element is provided by the various guests happy to tell their sailing stories while the kids spend hours jumping off the boat. We have followed this entertaining format for years on VOAHANGY and I am still to recall anyone who didn’t enjoy themselves (though I do remember a European guy once, expressing surprise at the BYO concept).

Trying to stick to the formula this year was a challenge. It started with Anne initially wanting a “Lasertag” party for her birthday: 10 pre-teens running around a dark room shooting laser at each other for 1 hour, fed a slice of pizza, a soft drink and some birthday cake. Hummmm…not so sure. After years of hosting parties on the boat, I suggested a house party instead, and I got more than I bargained for when she asked for a pool party. May in Sydney is notorious for impredictable weather: cold and rainy one day, balmy and sunny the next. I crossed my fingers, and instructed Terry to ensure the spa heater was working. In the meantime, the one and only birthday party had kittens, when Anne asked to have not one but TWO family dinners ( making up for these who could not attend on the day, Mother’s Day,…don’t ask, too complicated!) So here I was, spending most of the week planning a pool party for 16 kids, one dinner menu for 14, another for 7…It was frantic: kids being dropped off and picked up, thankfully one mum stayed to help watch and keep me company, and luckily the potluck and BYO concept  is well embedded in our family, so there wasn’t too much slaving in the kitchen. Just a lot of washing up!

Here is how the weekend unfolded…

Anne’s Pool party ( for 16 )

Fruit platter, chips and popcorn

Lemonade

10 Pizzas catered by Pizza Hut (I know, I know…)

Ice cream sundae bar*

Birthday cake (vanilla sponge)

A beach cake for a pool party

A beach cake for a pool party

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Family dinner # 1

Guacamole and corn chips, pork sausage rolls, chicken triangles in filo pastry ( generously prepared by our guests)

Beef Burgundy served with elbow pasta

Birthday cake (chocolate fondant*)

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Family dinner #2

Witlof and calamari salad

Baked whole salmon

Bacon and green beans parcels

Mashed potatoes

Birthday cake (vanilla cupcakes with marshmallow icing*)

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 Ice cream sundae bar

This is more a concept than a recipe. The idea came from Anne, as a fun alternative to a birthday cake ( though in the end, she had both, since you can’t put candles on ice cream after all!):   choice of 2 ice cream flavours (chocolate and vanilla), choice of 6 toppings (sprinkles, toasted coconut, gummy bears, smashed oreos, M&Ms, sour patch), chocolate sauce, mango sauce. Scoop out the ice cream in individual cups (or cones), present the toppings in attractive dishes and let the kids create their own sweet masterpiece!

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Chocolate Fondant

Every one has a favourite recipe for chocolate fondant, this is ours. It was given to me many years ago by a French friend, Fabienne, another cruising mum whose family we travelled with for over 6 months, from the Canary islands to Brasil. I have tried a few others but as the kids say, “Fabienne’s cake is the best”.

chocolate fondant

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

200g (1 packet) dark chocolate

100g (1/2 cup) sugar

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

120g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

4 eggs

3 tbsp full cream milk

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C
  2. Melt chocolate, milk and butter in a medium saucepan over a pan of simmering water.
  3. In a large separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Add the sifted flour, cinnamon, salt and chocolate mixture. Fold the lot until combined.
  4. Pour into a 25cm cake tin, lined with baking paper.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. The cake should be dry on the outside while still soft to the touch and gooey on the inside. Cool and Keep at room temperature, it actually tastes better the next day.
  6. Serve dusted with icing sugar. Enjoy!

Vanilla Cupcakes with marshmallow topping

These cupcakes are pretty basic. However the topping is what makes them sooooo nice. It makes use of marshmallows, which I would never have thought of unless I read about it in one of Anne’s Cupcakes cookbooks! Add cream and coconut and you’re in heaven…

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Serves 12

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes

120g (1/2 cup) butter, softened

110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g (1 cup) self-raising flour

1 tbsp milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Put 12 paper liners in a shallow muffin pan
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract. Sift the flour into the bowl. With a metal spoon, fold the flour into the batter until well incorporated. Be gentle with it, otherwise the mixture will become heavy. Add the milk and gently fold into the batter. It should have a smooth consistency and drop easily from the spoon when tapped on the side of the bowl.
  4. Spoon the batter into the paper liners. Do not overfill or they will rise and form little mountains (as mine did!)
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes are risen and golden, just firm to the touch.
  6. let cool in the pan for approx. 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the topping

12 white marshmallows

2 ½ tbsp milk

1 cup heavy cream

40g (1/2 cup) unsweetened dried shredded coconut

  1. place the marshmallows and milk in a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until the marshmallows have melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. In the meantime, whip the cream until firm peaks form. Fold into the marshmallow mixture with ½ of the coconut. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Spread the topping on top of the cupcakes and sprinkle over the remaining coconut. Alternatively, sprinkle baby marshmallows! Enjoy!!
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