Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Balcony Beehive

I’ve been promising to write this post for what seems like forever now so I will dutifully neglect my Clinical Sciences lab book in order to inform you about our dabbling in backyard beekeeping.

Much to my delight and my mother’s equally obvious consternation, Dad brought home an empty bee hive from the community garden where a talented volunteer carpenter works his magic building them a couple of times a week. That was nearly two months ago. Now, following the introduction of a brood hive, the hive buzzes with activity from sunrise to sunset.

My favourite thing about the bees is the way they carry the pollen… it’s just too cool! Little bags of white, yellow and orange hang off their back legs as they enter the hive, navigating their way through the traffic – reminds me of council road works gone mad (which they usually have)! 

They have also taken to using the glass that encloses that section of the balcony as a runway of sorts: they fly from the hive to the bottom of the glass, climb up until they reach the top and then take off (this also manages to keep them off the neighbour’s walkway, not two metres below). As a result of the bees having appropriated this piece of infrastructure, it is decorated with thin rivers of brown and gold. It’s become a source of entertainment and wonder for all of us here so we’ve learnt not to worry about such minor blemishes on the aesthetic features. Our dog has also learnt to avoid them… unfortunately, she had to learn the hard way.

The first night we got them, I experienced my first bee sting. In the panic of being stung, I hopped around like an idiot and screamed like a little girl… I must say, I’m not too proud to admit it. That first one got me in the back of my neck and the second came when I was hanging out the washing one morning and I stepped on one of the bees littering the balcony floor. That time though I was a little more cool about it and calmly removed the sting from my foot, leaving the screaming to my panic merchant mother. Apparently it’s important to flick or scrape the sting out rather than grab and pull, as the latter acts to send more of the toxin in.

Another thing I never noticed about bees was the way they age. They also do so visibly, becoming progressively more grey. Here’s a crotchety old grandma worker, on her last legs, crawling alongside one of the young'uns:

With 1500 bees hatching every day and with each of these bees having a lifespan of approximately 6 weeks, it’s not too hard to imagine what our balcony looks like on most mornings. As long as you don’t step on them though, you should be right.

Another fun fact: pollen tastes awesome. One of the bees died on her way to the hive one day while Dad and I were observing. Curiosity led us to picking the pollen off her back legs and popping it in our mouths. Yum-o! It’s different to the stuff you get in the health food shops in that it doesn’t have any of the bees’ goodies injected into it. That version – the ‘super food’ – is called bee cake. I’m yet to try some straight bee cake but by extracting honey by crushing up the comb as we do, there is always some bee cake within it.

Speaking of honeyextraction, we opened up the hive to have a look this weekend just gone and managed to scavenge a fair bit of comb from it. I still find it fascinating and terribly exciting that honey from different areas has a distinctive taste. The bees at home make a sickly sweet, nearly so sweet it hurts, honey which is so different to the mellow liquid that comes out of the garden. It’s still not bad though and I’m not going to complain. Better than store-bought rubbish any day!

That’s enough rambling from me. A couple more days of winter semester and I can give myself over to the oblivion of lazy-day sleep-ins, reading feel-good fiction and watching reruns of Doctor Who. My next project is to convince the carpenter at the garden to help me make a TARDIS bookshelf… check out this design I found on tumblr!

- Matilda

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes

It has been quite a while since I “baked”, in the traditional sense of the word. Since discovering David, Luise and Elsa’s blog Green Kitchen Stories, my kitchen experiments have taken a turn for the healthier and now hardly ever involve refined sugars and preservative-infused ingredients. These carrot cake cupcakes, which can also be made into a loaf or a cake or anything else you fancy, are yet another example of a recipe that excludes such things and are ridiculously easy – not to mention delicious. Although not a recipe from the Green Kitchen, if the Frankiels hadn’t opened up my mind and initiated the expansion of my limited cooking horizons, I would probably be celebrating the end of the uni semester with a  sugar-and-butter-laden-cream-plastered carrot cake. Not that there’s anything wrong with such cakes but, with this version, you can justify eating so much more than you would normally feel ‘allowed’ to do so ;-)

Another thing (and sorry, I’m getting a little bit off-topic here!) I love about Green Kitchen Stories is the way they promote their values and beliefs. There’s a focus on healthy living and feeling good, rather than simply being food snobs and simply refusing to use butter and  other “traditional” ingredients in their recipes. Ok, so maybe I’m just in love with the family, the blog, Sweden, Denmark, Lego and all things Scandinavian… you must admit though, their blog truly is fantastic.

What’s more, David and Luise are putting out a book at the end of this (?) year!! I’m so, so excited. Guess what I’ll be asking Santa to bring me for Christmas? Oh yes, I still believe in Santa Claus. “Believe and though shalt receive”…  it’s worked pretty well for me so far!

All this talk of Santa and cakes has made me want to have a Christmas in July celebration; it’s been far too long since I last ate a hearty roast dinner.

Happy holidays everyone!! 

Vegan Carrot Cupcakes (adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)
Makes 12

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup shredded carrot
1T chia seeds dissolved in 3T water
½ tsp salt
5/6 cup applesauce or mashed banana (~160g)
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp milk of choice (or even just water if you’re too lazy – or as I like to put it, environmentally-friendly – to open the fridge)
Just under ¼ cup honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp baking powder


1. Preheat oven to 180C.

2. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl, then mix the the carrot and wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.

3. Transfer mixture to lined/greased cupcake pan (I went for bit-sized baby ones).

4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the degree of gooeyness you prefer (I love gooey because it gives a slightly buttery texture…).

5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

I suppose you could also ice your cupcakes with something (cream cheese or cashew-cream, maybe?)  if you would so wish but I love them plain. They’re perfect with a  cuppa, particularly on a dreary winter’s day.

 - Matilda

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fruit n Veg Exterminated

I was contemplating making some Dalek cupcakes but this might be a healthier option? The only thing I'm missing are some grapes... one of the community gardeners has an orange tree, the eggplant are starting to fall off the plant and I'm sure I could source a cucumber or zucchini from somewhere... that would give me an edible, organic Dalek! 

Source: Daleks of the Day 

- Matilda

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hello World!

Long time no speak! The first semester of the university year is over and I am relaxing, making the most of the first of four days of holidays. The exam period resulted in a few weird yet wonderful things coming out of the kitchen, not least of all a chocolate version of the sweet potato pie smoothie mid-last week . The cauliflower in the background was fresh that day from the garden - the first harvest of that particular crop! 

I made it to celebrate completing the end of semester exam for what is supposedly “the hardest subject you will ever do in undergrad”.  I reduced the amount of honey and chucked some cacao nibs on top to add another dimension to the texture and it really was a rewarding treat.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the afternoon was spent stuck behind a desk,  looking at course material.

The weekend separating the two week exam block was also marked by procrasti-cooking. Given the choice between immunology study and a deep dish cookie pie, it wasn’t exactly difficult…

I managed to get two of these little guys out of the recipe below, each about 15cm in diameter (I halved the original recipe) . The best part about them is that they’re gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free!! Which is probably a good thing, considering how much Dad and I decided to leave Mum for when she returned from work.

Woops :-)

Cookie Dough Pie (adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie)

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (250g)
½ cup quick oats
1/8-¼ cup mashed banana (depending on how gooey and banana-y you like it!)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup honey
½ cup chocolate chips


1. Preheat an oven to 180˚C

2. Blend the first 8 ingredients (everything except the chocolate chips) in a food processor until very smooth.

3.  Mix the chocolate chips into the batter.

4. Pour the batter in two greased mini springform pans (although I used baking paper) and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans.

I’ll be right back with the news on our balcony beehive.  In the meantime, take a look at the latest that’s been happening in permaculture in a little pocket of the Gold Coast, Queensland.