Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fairies' Chocolate Zucchini Cake

I discovered Tumblr a few of months ago, two nights before an Immunology mid-semester exam. It probably wasn’t the best timing but I needed something to distract me from the world of T cells, B cells and cytokines - and everything else that goes in the immune system. I can confidently say I’ve nearly forgotten everything since my final exam for the subject in mid-June!

I’ve found the best part about Tumblr to be the inexhaustible number of nerdy blogs and the equally inexhaustible amount of science-related news.

Being a nerd is something of which I’ve always been proud and when I sit down in front of the computer with a coffee in the morning, I can be guaranteed to be entertained with medical stories, the latest discoveries in genetics, photos of symptoms of rare diseases, human tissue samples, etc, etc. Of course, I also follow a few Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings blogs too - they’re my guilty pleasures ;-)

One of the first things I came across on this totally addictive social media site was a photo of a fairy ring. Somehow, this photo manages to remind me of my childhood; most of it seemed to be spent under the bed covers with a torch, reading Enid Blyton books until the wee hours of the morning...

Source: Geneticist
“A fairy ring is a naturally occurring ring of mushrooms. They are also known as pixie’s rings, faerie circles, or elf circles. The English believed that fairy rings were where fairies came to dance and celebrate; the mushrooms of the rings were used as stools for the fairies to recuperate during the evening’s festivities.”

It makes me sad to realise that the level of Enid Blyton’s books (e.g. The Famous Five and Secret Seven series) is now a little low for someone of my age.

The storylines are entertaining enough but it’s impossible to be as immersed in those worlds as I was when I was younger. It also makes me sad to realise that there isn’t as much time - at least we feel as if there isn’t - to devote to reading the printed word. I miss snuggling down at the end of each day, book in hand, under the covers. It’s just not the same as a big thick physiology textbook :-( Although, those can be quite soporific so are quite useful if I’m struggling to get to sleep..

However, Enid Blyton’s world of fairies is never very far away.  One of my family’s regular haunts is a wee coffee shop down the road that doubles as an art space. There is no cooking done there (though they make marvellous coffee!), but they sell a variety of baked goods, all of which - pastries, cakes and macaroons alike - are divine. Any attempt to wheedle the recipe out of Steph (owner and artist in residence) is always met with “the fairies made it.” Some of you may think it’s a silly response coming from a grown woman, but when you consider she has a young daughter and she is a
crazy artist, it seems a little bit more acceptable.  

I received the fairy response when I asked her if there was a recipe for the chocolate zucchini cake that I had with my coffee last week. It was a beautiful cake - not overly sweet, not too dry yet not too moist and light - yet rich where chocolate chips had lodged themselves. Unfazed by her reaction, I kept munching away until I had demolished the very last crumb.

Then it was time to go home and try to recreate it for myself!!

The recipe for the chocolate zucchini cake below is based on the original recipe I made nearly a year ago, with the first ever zucchini harvest from the garden. After completing that summer and coming nearly a full circle (it’s spring but it may as well be summer as it’s so darn hot!), it’s zucchini time again and it seemed fitting that I should welcome it with a new kind of cake to eat on spring afternoons with a cup of tea or coffee.

It’s a little bit more moist than the one I had at the coffee shop but I’m very happy with it nonetheless (as are my parents who also like to indulge).

Chocolate Zucchini Cake (adapted from So Good & Tasty) 
Makes one 8” cake or two 5x9 loaves


3 eggs
½ cup coconut oil
1 cup honey
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
3 cups whole wheat or all purpose flour
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips  (or ~120g block of chocolate, roughly chopped)
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I didn’t have any on hand so didn’t  put them in but it’s sure to be delicious!)


1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Line the cake tin or two loaf pans (mine were 3 x 7 and 3 x 6 due to my oven situation) with baking paper and set aside.

2. In a large bowl mix eggs, oil, honey and vanilla. Stir in grated zucchini.

3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet.
Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin (or equal parts of the batter into each loaf pan). Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack, dust with extra cocoa/icing sugar if desired, slice and serve.

Also, you may have noticed that quality of the photographs is considerably better than any of my previous posts… I had a visit from a couple of fairies myself you see. They (Mum and Dad - yeah, let’s not go there) happened to present to me a brand spanking new Canon EOS as a combined Christmas and birthday (probably for the next five years) + graduation present. Oh my parents are silly, but I love them for it nonetheless.  It is going to be an amazing piece of equipment to take with me when I go to Japan at the end of November!! I just have to learn how to use it first… I couldn’t even get it to snap half the time when I was trying to take photos of this cake :-|  It didn’t help that it was a dreary overcast day and the light was terrible - ok, so maybe now I’m just making excuses!

- Matilda

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Juicing Honey

All the way back in April, I wrote about using a potato masher to crush honeycomb in order to extract honey out of it and I also posted a link to Milkwood Permaculture’s method of doing the same thing, but with a fruit press. Inspired by this method of Milkwood’s, as well as the introduction of Warré hives across the board at the community garden, the crew at Gold Coast Permaculture ordered their very own contraption.

Honey flowing out of the fruit press

The fruit press is indeed an effective method for extracting honey: it squeezes nearly every last drop of the stuff out of the wax. The only problem (if you can call it that) we have found with it is that it takes a painstakingly long time to complete. Although, you’re able to leave it on the bench/floor and let it do its thing so it’s not as if you have to be there for the whole time.  You do have to go back and screw it down some more though. As I’ve said before, the advantage of crushing the honeycomb rather than spinning it is that it allows the nutrients from the hive (pollen, etc) to become part of the honey you eat. It also gives the bees an opportunity to reconstruct the wax every extraction, thereby reducing the chance of disease occurring in the hive from the recycling of old wax and also takes pressure off the bees in terms of honey production. It's a busy time of year for the bees and there have already been a couple of swarms that have had to be collected this Spring. 
All in all, the fruit press is  a nice new toy that we’ve had fun playing with and will be used many times in the years to come (all those bees swarming in the photos above have to go somewhere - and that somewhere is new beehives!). We probably won’t be using it to make fruit juice though… honey is messy enough, let alone fruit pulp! We've also introduced selling a "new" product - honeycomb! As well as being great fun to munch on for a sugar boost, it will hopefully also decrease the amount of work we need to put into the fruit press! :-P 
On a side note – Gold Coast Permaculture holds workshops at the community garden on most Saturdays and last weekend (13 October) there was a soap-making workshop followed by a cheese-making one. They guy who runs cheese-making is seriously fantastic and I was a little bit disappointed I wasn’t able to drag myself out of bed (had a late night at a symphony orchestra concert – I apologise for not being you’re stereotypical Gen Y) . We did however reap the benefits of it with 4L of fresh, raw milk. Mmmm. The best part is using the cream that floats to the top for a rich hot chocolate! I often get an upset stomach from the rubbish in the supermarket but I could seriously drink this raw stuff forever. 

- Matilda

P.S. After straining the honey into large buckets, there was still some honey stuck in the wax and to the sides of the honey sieve. So, we brought it home for the balcony bees! It was absolutely amazing to watch them feed... 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Indian Chicken Curry

Spring hit us fast and hard this year, with Brisbane city recording temperatures in the very high twenties from early September, with the weather creeping up into the thirties as we progress through October. The last couple of days however have seen a sudden dip and I’ve had to drag a couple of extra blankets out from the cupboard where I had packed them away, hoping it would be nearly another 12 months until we saw each other again.

As always, the food on the dinner table changed quickly to try and suit the climate and we went from craving salads with fresh sourdough bread to hearty curries with comforting Japanese-style rice to go with it.

 Mum learnt this curry at a cooking class run by an Indian couple, who had lived in Japan for a good number of years, nearly ten years ago. They were both fluent in Japanese and had chosen recipes they thought would suit the tastebuds of arguably the fussiest eaters in Asia. Even so, apparently Mum was the only one who loved the spices and enthusiastically ate their creations … the other mothers were the wives of rich retirees and apparently decided they possessed finer taste buds.  For example, this recipe was made in the class using cabbage; the rest of the class was horrified at the mere thought of serving such a cheap dish to their respective husbands and families! Luckily for me, my own mum is the ultimate stinge (she’s one of those people for whom “feed your family for under $10” recipes are written for) and she embraced it. So here we are, still eating this delicious curry a decade down the track.

As well as being cooks who were the source of centuries’ worth of traditional family recipes, both the husband and wife were yoga teachers and naturopaths. Unfortunately the only piece of information that Mum can remember with regards to naturopathy is that it’s bad for your body to fry onions until they go brown… so I had this hammered into me the first time I made this curry, nearly a year ago now.  I’ve lost count of how many times Mum has made this curry for us but the first time she did so at the cooking class, it (the curry) was whisked off to the local hospital where the son-in-law of the Indian couple was waiting for the arrival of his first child. I find it amazing that we become briefly entangled in the lives of people we don’t even know and then, as quickly as we become a part, we are a part no longer. Mum may have helped in making this new dad-to-be dinner and attended his parents-in-laws’ cooking class but that was as far as it went. I suppose that there seven billion of us here on this earth after all and it is of course impossible for us to know everyone. But the sheer number of people, and in particular all of whose stories we will never know, simply overwhelms me.

The discovery that komatsuna (or Japanese mustard spinach, a turnip relative ) is perfect in this curry was made by one of the other mothers (obviously one who saw the light) who went to this particular class. Komatsuna is currently bouncing out of the ground at the community garden.

Indian Chicken Curry (from my mother’s cookbook)


Chicken thigh cutlets with bones and/or chicken drumsticks (skin removed)
45ml oil
5ml sugar
1 brown onion
1 heaped Tbsp of each of cumin, coriander and turmeric, all dissolved in 600-800ml water
3 big bunches Komatsuna (or half a cabbage), cut into bite-sized pieces
~2 cups beans (the more the merrier!), cut in half
15ml chilli powder
1 or 2 tsp salt (start with 1 and add to taste if necessary)
15ml tomato puree or 1-2 tinned tomatoes (nicer with lots of tomatoes – can reduce water if adding more tomatoes)
Coriander leaves, extra (add at the end if desired)

1. Fry onion in oil without browning; add chicken and fry until surface is white.

2. Add spice mixture (dissolved in water), then add vegetables, chilli powder, salt and tomatoes.

3. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender.

We eat this with medium-grain rice cooked to perfection in a rice cooker but that choice of carbohydrate might be frowned upon in this recently-and-increasingly health conscious society. I’m sure it would be equally delicious with a side of quinoa or black rice.

- Matilda

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dream Birthday Date

Only now do I realise how odd that middle candle looks... to justify my choice of candle arrangement: candles above the "Happy Birthday" sign are in the 'tens' column, the random lone candle is in the 'ones' column! 
I write this smiling at the memory of the grins on my friends’ faces as I presented them with a  plastic takeaway container holding six slices of cake at uni this morning. It is one of the things I love most about my group of close friends: they appreciate the little things in life. Sure, we get caught up in the hype surrounding the release of a new piece of technology, we wish we had this, we wish we had that… but in the end, it’s the newest episode of Downton Abbey or a gift of free food that makes life worth living for us as second year university students.

This cake was made to belatedly celebrate Mum’s birthday upon her return from a school trip to Japan and the recipe comes from… My New Roots. So I only really adapt recipes from a grand total of three blogs. Yes, I am adventurous. Yes, you are probably better off simply reading the original sources because let’s face it – their photos are awesome!! By the time I made this cake, I had the normal compact camera back so no longer had to rely on my phone camera but Dad took the photos... so that’s probably just as bad ;-) The original cake is tinged with the flavour of oranges and uses apple sauce but the lack of such ingredients in our house resulted in the outcome being more of a banana date cake. However I loooove banana cake (who doesn’t) so didn’t mind in the slightest.

Mum insisted she looks old and ugly in this photo so I'm not allowed to show anyone.... but Pond looks cute so I had to stick it in!

Sarah B from My New Roots starts her post on this cake with the following:
“What dream indeed…wheat free, dairy free, sugar free! Does it actually taste good?! Well, you know it wouldn’t be here if it didn’t. You can have your cake and eat it too.
Mmmm. She had me hooked from the title and the first photo – no need to promote the relative healthiness of this cake when compared to others out there! I needed no further encouragement.

Dream Date Banana Cake (adapted from My New Roots)


2 ¼ cups soft, fresh dates (soaked overnight if necessary)
1 ½ cups raw almonds, (plus more for garnish)
5 Tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Generous pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 packed cup mashed banana
2 organic, free-range eggs


1. Preheat oven to 160C.
2. Prepare an 8” round or spring form cake pan. 
3. Put all ingredients apart from the mashed banana and eggs in a food processor and blend until rather uniform, leaving some almond chunks in the mixture.
4. Slowly add the mashed banana (~quarter cup at a time) while the blender is running. Add the two eggs in the same manner as the banana, one at a time. Add applesauce slowly, ¼ cup at a time while blender is running.
5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and spread until even.
6. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a knife inserted comes out clean. 
7. Let cake cool completely before removing it from the pan, chop up some extra almonds and scatter them on top (which I didn’t do because I’m lazy). Serve. And eat.

My family cut 13 slices out of this cake, which is part of the reason I was willing to give some away – usually Dad and I simply eat the maximum total of six gigantor slices ourselves. Our usual strategy of eat-a-cake-in-one-sitting failed on this occasion due to this one’s rich nature. It is super dense and super moist and, as the original recipe warns, nearly like a pudding. It was a weird concept to not have a huge chunk of sweet stuff on my plate but a small slice really does go a long way… not only is it filling, it is satisfying and heart-warming, particularly if eaten accompanied by a cup of Earl Grey tea. 

- Matilda

P.S. I wrote the directions for the making of the cake in the order in which they were intended. However… I must admit, I did the unthinkable… I broke one of the two MOST important rules* of baking: follow the order of instructions (the other being put the exact amount of ingredients in as the recipe instructs). I felt absolutely terrible for doing so but my poor food processor simply couldn’t handle the load! So instead I took three quarters of the mixture produced in step 3 out of the food processor and then proceeded to step 4. After adding the banana and the eggs, I slowly added the date and almond paste back in. The baking gods must have been feeling kind that day though, for they allowed my cake to turn out fine nonetheless.

* Whovians out there will know that these are not in fact the most important rules… Rule number one: the Doctor lies. Hope all of you lovelies have gotten over the Ponds’ heartbreaking send-off xx