img_7820This is perfect post holiday food. If what you need is tumble together platters that can be assembled over splinters of free time, served either hot, or at room temperature, are sustaining and gluten/dairy free/suitable for Meatless Mondays/the visiting vegans – I think I can help. This coconut quinoa platter-  joyous with spiced black beans, kale, blistered tomatoes and avocado has saved me over the last couple of nights and days. If you need the recipe post-haste, skip straight to the recipe at the bottom.

img_7823The only real quirk to this dish is the insertion of the coconut flavour into the quinoa itself, which helps make a fridge-staple a little more special. This came to mind this week, as our stowaway rounds herself out to the dimensions of a coconut in this edition of growing a poppyseed into a pumpkin. Cooking the quinoa in a combination of coconut milk and water adds a creamy texture and a tropical lilt to the taste. It was such a hit in this house that Will even consented to eat two tablespoons for dinner (wonders never cease). It would be a great basis for breakfast with sliced fruit and seeds, or an alternative grain for a spicy tomato based curry. But here in this almost-Caribbean scented supper it really shines.

These were the flavours I was craving as I returned to the family flock on Sunday. You see, last week I ran away to paradise. I ran north to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland with seven of my oldest friends. For three nights in a row I put on a dress, proper make up and ate at a restaurant. I did not cook a single meal.  I slept in a bed on my own, only woken by the early-stirrings of the bump or the birds outside the window, not an insistent pudgy hand on my shoulder telling me ‘MUMMY! SUN ON THE WINDOWS! MORNING TIME!’ I flicked through collectively purchased magazines and dozed in the sun.  I tumbled around in azure waters and caught up on the life-happenings of seven strong, brilliant women who have known me since I was four foot tall. It was glorious. (It was also glorious to be greeted off the plane by my boys, who thrived without me in a private little gang of two).

But then the week rolls on and it all starts again. There is washing to be done. There are toddlers to shepherd through dinner ‘One piece of broccoli please Will. Will, you have two choices. Eat your broccoli or straight to bed. Which is it going to be? No, there is no ice cream. No, we cannot go to sushi train. Eat your dinner’.  There are piles of Life Administration to conquer and deadlines to meet. And when you stare down the next few months what you see is the spectre of getting larger and larger, more uncomfortable, until the day when suddenly there are twice as many small people who depend on you. So what you need are simple assembly suppers where each element only takes a minute or so of prep time, but can be pieced together like a vibrant puzzle just prior to serving (or put 4/5 together, covered with foil and left in a low oven for an hour until such time when you have a sleeping child and can quickly adorn with coriander and avocado before sitting happily down to eat).

This is a dinner that serves many masters. It makes enough for lunches the next day. It is sneakily vegan, though if you wanted to adorn it with a little crumbled feta, coins of chorizo or pieces of chicken, it would stretch further and be stellar. You could easily double the kale and beans, swap the black beans for pinto or kidney beans, or add some diced marinated peppers to the tomatoes for another dimension of flavour. There are two things that are non negotiable – one is the ground cumin in the beans and kale- it adds a dusky earthiness which contrasts beautifully to the silky coconut. The second is having something which provides a textural contrast on top. If you can’t find coconut shards, then try some pumpkin seeds/pepitas, or chopped brazil nuts. Otherwise everything is just a little too plush.

I like to serve it family style with some hot sauce on the side, though it would also be charming with some warm corn tortillas on the table for swaddling. But mainly I like to eat it while flicking through photographs of a magical few days and dreaming of when next I’ll get to escape to paradise.

Here are a few other things that are going on

Watching: Season 4 of Nashville. Golly it’s grim there for a while, isn’t it? Thank goodness for the music.  Also, this fifteen minute piece by Ezra Klein on what it is that makes Hillary so powerful (and polarising).

Writing: This piece for Harris Farm on ‘Zen and the Art of the Cheese Platter‘. Conspicuously absent is the bit where I railed on about the need for enough knives and breathing space around the cheeses to prevent the camembert pashing up next to the cheddar (shudder). Anyone who knows me, knows this is a complete neurosis of mine. Luckily the kind folk at Harris Farm were sensible enough to reign me back in a little bit in the editing room. 

Eating: Betty’s Burgers in Noosa. This is real holiday food. Betty’s is not everyday food. But by golly a good burger sometimes hits the spot in a way that nothing else does. Betty’s Burgers are the closest thing to the Shake Shack/ In and Out holy grail in Australia. The beef is meatily hearty, the bib lettuce full of frivolity and the buns are just soft enough, but not overly sweet and pappy (they also do a mean ‘bunless’ version, where the patty is nestled in sturdier lettuce leaves. The fact that it’s just opposite from the beach made it perfect lunch time fare more than once while we were away. Nb, it looks like Betty’s is set to soon open in Melbourne and Sydney. Keep your eyes peeled. And if you’re after a big more burger lore, the episode of Special Sauce podcast which interviews Danny Meyer about the Shake Shack origin story – and how and why they’re able to detect a true hospitality personality, is great listening.

img_77711Discovering: About a 45 minute walk/hike from the entrance of the National Park at Noosa, off the path and after a slightly perilous clamber down some jagged rocks are the Noosa Fairy Pools. We took a morning break from our pressing Spring Break schedule of reading books/window shopping to go on an adventure. The fairy pools are accessed at low tide and are like a magical mermaid glen. Sure, I slightly twisted my ankle on the way out, but we all convinced ourselves that this was a place of special, secret women’s business – and I felt very special being able to share it with the stowaway and seven of her fairy godmothers.

img_77701Buying: The perfect summer hat. After years of hats that were too floppy/ too stout in the brim to properly shade my neck and shoulders, too slim fitting to accommodate a ponytail/ lazy-post-swim-bun I finally found the perfect summer hat and purchased it in 3 minutes flat in Noosa, with some gentle encouragement from my dear friend Mel. This ribbon trimmed ivory fedora from Witchery makes me feel like I should be stepping onto a yacht in St Tropez, even when I’m schlepping two heavy bags full of wet towels, sand toys, an overtired toddler, four tupperwares of rejected snacks and an umbrella up from the beach.

Ogling: These ‘Now Playing – Wall-Mounted 12″ Record Holders by Jeremy Porter Designs. “Part of the beauty of owning vinyl is the artwork. Too often it sits in a crate. It should be displayed. Now Playing is a wall-mounted holder for your vinyl that displays the cover in all its glory. It holds 12″ records up to 3/8″ thick.  Available in beautiful Walnut with hand-applied oil finish and a dash of wax. Includes two brass screws.”. As much as I appreciate the ready accessibility of digital music in the house, I loved the artwork of my parent’s vinyl collection. If I had one of these, I would have the case of Nina Simone’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’ up on my wall, always. A great bespoke Christmas present (yes, it’s coming) for the music/art lovers in your life. You can get them from Jeremy’s site here.

Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans, Kale and Blistered Tomatoes

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Serves 4

Shopping/foraging

img_7797400 ml can of coconut milk
1 cup/ 250 ml water
1 1/4 cups/ 210 g quinoa
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 stalk of kale, finely diced
350 g cherry tomatoes on the vine
Pinch of salt flakes
1 1/2 tbsp coconut shards
Avocado and fresh coriander to serve. Hot sauce optional

Here’s how we roll

1 Preheat the oven to 210C/410 F. Place the tomatoes in an oven proof baking dish and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 30 minutes until blistered and soft.

img_78052) Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Place in a large tupperware or microwave safe bowl (at least 4 times the volume of the quinoa). Add the water and coconut milk and cook in the microwave with the lid on for 15 minutes. Leave with the lid on for another 5-10 to continue steaming.

img_7800 3) Fluff the quinoa with a fork. Alternatively cook using the absorption method on the stove – bring it all to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, clamp on a lid and simmer for 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed.

img_78074) Add the ground cumin to the bottom of a frypan and toast over medium heat for 1 minute until it smells nutty. Add the remaining olive oil and diced kale and sautee for 1-2 minutes until the kale is soft. Add the drained black beans and stir over medium heat until the beans are heated through.

img_7802 5 ) Transfer the quinoa to the bottom of a platter/baking dish. Top with the black beans and kale and the blistered tomatoes. If there are any juices left in the dish from the tomatoes, drizzle them over the top.  Top with diced avocado, coconut shards and a handful of fresh coriander leaves. Serve family style with hot sauce on the side.
 

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Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin

Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)