DIY-ing (and a cautionary tale)

I love doing things myself. It makes me feel capable and I get a real sense of satisfaction and achievement from it. When I was teaching Prep, many years ago, my classroom had electric blinds on the outside of the window. We had a recurring issue where one of the wires was loose and the switch for the blind stopped working. Each time it happened we had to get an electrician in. I became really tired of having to wait for the electrician to come, so when he turned up, I surreptitiously watched what he did from my desk. It was a very simple matter and it took about three seconds to correct the problem. So the next time it happened, I took off the switch plate and did what I saw the electrician do. The only difference between what he did and what I did was that I got a teeny tiny little electric shock. When I got myself back together, I put the plate back on and tested out my blinds. They worked. When it happened again, I told the principal and she called the electrician and the whole cycle began again. The moral of the story? DIY is good, but don’t DIY electrical work. That is dumb and you could die. Be patient and leave it to a professional.

Something that I feel great about doing myself (and that isn’t going to result in me getting electrocuted) is making my own food. I love to cook, and I love to make things from scratch. I’m learning to love growing my own vegetables and I’m trying hard to tolerate my chickens. I definitely don’t love my chickens. One of them attacked me when I went in to feed them yesterday and I am still dirty on her about it. They are a both a bit feral.

Today, after 20 days of fermentation, I transferred my Indian-style kimchi* into jars to go in the fridge.

I love this stuff. I have it with scrambled eggs and it makes the eggs so much more interesting. It’s great for the gut, super cheap and super easy to make. When I was working I used to buy it, but a jar like this will set you back anywhere from $7.95 to $13.95 in the shops. I made three and half jars and I think it cost me about $5 in total for the ingredients. I use this recipe and I use this fermenting crock that my awesome Dad gave me for Christmas.

I’ve also started making my own gluten free sourdough (using a recipe from the River Cottage Gluten Free Cookbook). The jars at the back are for Augie’s pumpkin, carrot and quinoa puree that was bubbling away on the stove when I took the photo.

So there you have it. Today’s food DIY, no electric shocks, only deliciousness. Money saving, health promoting and hugely satisfying.

What is your favourite food DIY?

*Now don’t get all mad about me calling it kimchi. I know it’s not legit Korean kimchi. That’s on the cards soon. I just don’t know what else to call it. Feel free to suggest an alternative name if you wish.

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Fig and Lemon Balls

Today is a cooking kind of day.  It’s blustery, rainy and cool outside, I have the day off (because it is school holidays!) and there is not much I need to do. Perfect for firing up the oven and turning some ingredients into delicious meals and snacks.

So far I have made skinless sausages (pork, fennel and thyme), roasted cauliflower, lemon and fig balls and coffee-chocolate balls. Still going is the slow cooked beef and sweet potato stew (in the oven), roasted pumpkin and beef jerky. Up next is grain-free crackers and some pumpkin hommus.

I just wanted to quickly share the recipe for the fig and lemon balls because I just created it, and it is pretty good. I had an Emma and Tom’s Fig and Lemon bar a while ago, and it was ok …but I thought I could do better. So I did.

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Fig and Lemon Balls

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Ingredients

1/2 cup of almonds

6-8 whole dried figs, depending on consistency of the mix

The juice and zest of a small lemon

Method

Put the almonds into the food processor and process until they are in tiny, even chunks. Take the almonds out and put the figs, lemon juice and zest in. Process for a bit, then add in the almonds. Process until it is of an even consistency.

If it is too dry, add another fig and some more lemon juice. If it is too wet, add some extra almonds. You might need to tweak this according to the size of your lemons and figs, but it will taste good either way. The mix shouldn’t be too sticky, it should hold together and mold nicely when pressed.

Roll the mix into balls and store in a container or a jar in the refrigerator.

My mix made about 10 but it depends on the size you make your balls.

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And now to the worst part of having a fun time making a mess in the kitchen – cleaning up.

Herbs ARE the secret ingredient.

Thats all there is to it.

One of the common themes in the best restaurants I’ve worked in is the use of a lot of fresh herbs.

Get a few flavour combinations under your belt and it will give your food complexity and class.

I think the main reasons that most home cooks don’t use many herbs are that they are expensive, they don’t keep well and they’re time consuming to pick, wash and store.

The best solution is to grow your own. Invest in seeds, pick what you need and there’s no need to wash organic herbs that you’ve grown yourself unless your dog pees on the garden.   I’m no expert on gardening but I reckon now would be a good time to plant your herbs.

We have lemon thyme, Italian flat leaf parsley, rosemary and mint growing in the garden all year round.  We grow basil and chillies in summer and that’s about it.  These herbs are versatile and easy to grow, and we use them in our everyday cooking.

Occasionally I’ll buy some herbs from the shop, but only to let ours regenerate.

If you do buy herbs from the shop it’s a good idea to pick the leaves into a sink of cold water.  It regenerates and washes them at the same time.  Put them through the salad spinner then into a container with dry paper towel on the bottom and damp paper towel on top.  This keeps them fresh and crisp for a surprisingly long time. Make sure you give the leaves plenty of room in the container, if they’re packed too tight they will decompose sooner.

As a general guide, eat lighter herbs (such as coriander, parsley, basil and mint) fresh, in salads or salsas and cook the heaver herbs (such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves) with meats or roast vegetables.

Put combinations of mint, parsley, dill, coriander and tarragon into your mixed leaves.  Season with salt, lemon juice and olive oil.  Cook meats with butter, thyme or rosemary.  It will add a whole new dimension to your cooking, and is sure to impress.

 

Hayley’s Whole30

I’m doing a Whole30 for the month of September! I’m super excited about it, looking forward to getting back to basics and having a bit of a detox. My last Whole30 was in August last year, and I really got a lot out of it.

For those who aren’t familiar with what a Whole30 is, it is basically a 30 day nutrition program that eliminates all foods that may be having a negative psychological or physiological effect on how you look, feel and live. This includes grains, legumes, dairy and sugar.

I didn’t want to jam up the Anarchy Road blog with my own Whole30 stuff, so if you are interested in seeing what I’m up to this September, you can check it out over here.

Happy September, everyone! Enjoy the sunshine!

How I Cook Steak Part 1: Choosing a Steak

Steak is about flavour and nutrition. My goal is to balance both.  In this series of posts I’d like to share my method of cooking steak and tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years. 
 
For the majority of 2012, I worked at the Ancaster Mill in Canada. It was a fantastic experience, working with some of Canada’s top young chefs.
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Hayley and Bryan Gibson (head chef), hanging out and eating steak.

 

I think Hayley and I will always remember this night.  Hayley had come to Ancaster to pick me up. The kitchen crew invited her in and we soon started talking meat and wine.  Chef Bryan explained the process of dry aging and told us everything he knew about beef. He grabbed out a slab of dry-aged strip loin (porterhouse), heated up a cast-iron pan and cooked it then and there on the stove top with butter and salt.  While it was resting Maria, the maitre d of the restaurant, brought in a bottle of British Columbia wine she was particularly proud of sourcing, and poured a glass each. Bryan sliced up the steak and we stood around eating it with our fingers. We got to eat the best produce Canada had to offer, chosen by experts in their field, as simple as it gets. Absolutely perfect. Words really can’t explain the generosity and warmth Hayley and I received while at the Mill. They put up with my relentless questions, inane and never-ending conversations about Crossfit / Paleo / food in general and my flighty work schedule.  I learned a lot, and in exchange I let the guys have my old jokes.
 
Part 1: Choosing a Steak.  
My favourite cut of beef is the rib eye (scotch fillet).  It can be purchased whole or as an individual steak, bone on or off.  I think it’s best to buy individual streaks with the bone on, the bone adds flavour and it looks like something out of the Flintstones (which is cool).  Buying individual steaks for a group of people is more work, but the caramelised exterior of a cooked steak is the best part, everyone will thank you for it.   The photo on the right is a 500gm Cape Grim rib eye (notice the marbling), taken while I was working at Backstreet Eating earlier this year.
Generally speaking, the rib eye has more fat within the steak than most other cuts (that’s why I like it). The fat melts and keeps the steak moist while cooking and adds beefy flavour. Regardless of the cut you like, look for nice fat marbling (threads of fat within the meat) and a light cherry colour, not too dark nor too pale. The better quality ingredients you have the less work you need to do to make it taste good.
I don’t know what cut of meat is in the first photo and I don’t know what I was doing.  I do know it looks amazing. The second photo is a striploin (porterhouse) being prepared for service at the Mill.  Thirdly is a nice pare of Canadian eye fillet steaks.  These three photos show the marbling and colour that you are looking for when choosing steak.
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Of course, it is best to eat organic grass fed beef opposed to grain fed. Dave Aspery from Bulletproof Exec writes: ‘Steers (castrated bulls) can’t make nutritious meat if they aren’t fed the proper ingredients.  If a steer isn’t fed nutritious food, it won’t become nutritious food.  There is no magical transformation from stale gummy bears (part of the feedlot diet) into vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.  Feeding cattle junk food turns them into junk food.’  You can find the article this quote was taken from here – its well worth a read, actually, anything Dave Aspery writes is worth a read.

Once you choose your steak and take it home, I recommend giving it some age. Part 2 in the How I Cook Steak series: Ageing Beef.

How To Be A Modern Day Hunter Gather

In an ideal world, I would be the ultimate hunter gatherer. I’d grow all of my own fruit and vegetables. I’d preserve them lovingly and those rows and rows of jars would sustain us until next season. I’d raise chickens, cows, sheep and pigs with care and slaughter them with compassion. I’d go fishing and bring us home a tuna. I’d carry a kick-ass basket. I’d feed us with my skills and general awesomeness.

(via lego.wikia.co)

But that isn’t the real world. I work full time, with a long commute three days each week. I go to CrossFit. I have a family and friends and sometimes I like to have a moment to read a book or play with my dog or watch Buffy. So the vegie garden is neglected, the last time I went fishing I was wearing jelly sandals (apparently they are making a comeback – ew) and my poor chickens met their untimely end in December 2011. I can’t be a true hunter gatherer, so I have to do it the 21st century way.

On the long drive to work the other morning I was listening to my favourite podcast (Relentless Roger and the Caveman Doctor). I love those guys. They deliver good information in an accessible way … and they are bloody funny. Something that rang true for me in this particular podcast was the Caveman Doctor’s discussion on being a modern day hunter gatherer.

The essence of what he was saying was this. Rather than going to the closest grocery store or supermarket and buying stuff there, be selective. Be a hunter gatherer like your ancestors were. If you can’t get the organic, grass-fed butter that you want, don’t settle for margarine because it is all they have. Get on the Google and find out where you have to go to get the good stuff. Even if you have to spend a little more money or drive a little further to get it, it’s worth it. You are hunting your food like your ancestors did, admittedly, in a different way, but still a valid way.

I’m the hunter gatherer in this family. Tyson hates shopping with a passion, so I do it, because I don’t mind. When we first moved to Melbourne I’d hit the Preston Market. It is just around the corner and have everything I needed … in theory. They have carrots. I eat carrots. So I bought the carrots. Unfortunately, the carrots were crap. So was the meat. After one particularly bad experience, I decided that things had to change.

After a few (disappointing) trips to some other stores, I discovered Terra Madre in Westgarth, and that solved most of my problems. Fresh, organic produce, niche pantry staples, Istra smallgoods and high quality eggs and dairy available seven days a week. Easy.

The missing piece of the puzzle was MEAT. I firmly believe that if your food eats bad food, it in turn becomes bad food. I want my food to eat good, species appropriate, food. I don’t want my cows eating grain or my chickens eating soy. It’s just not natural. I also want to know that the food I eat didn’t die in a pile of poop and agony. If I eat that, I’m effectively taking that poop and agony into my body, and that is not what I want.

My sister, who knows about this kind of thing, recommended trying out meat from Koallah Farm, and when I checked out their website I noticed that one of their stores is about a 20 minute drive away. So I headed down to Rosanna and checked it out and have been shopping there ever since.

So I hunt. I arrange my spare time around getting to CrossFit, the butcher and Terra Madre. I gather what I need from the sources I have found to be reliable. It doesn’t take much to be a modern day hunter gatherer – armed with a little research and a desire to give yourself something better, you can be one in an afternoon. You don’t have to wrestle a mammoth or wait for some seeds to grow. It’s all out there waiting for you.

Just not at the supermarket.

Not Eating for Productivity.

Eat-Stop-Eat-Intermittent-FastingBefore I get to the core of this post I’d like to share a little back story.
I left University with a Bachelor of Music, a stack of unread books, a catalogue of lecture notes and a to-do list the length of my arm. I was overwhelmed with the enormity of my ambition.  I contemplated my options and made a plan.  I decided to invest one year of full-time study/practice at home, working only weekends and nights.  This was for the year 2010.
My first task for the year was to study the process of learning.  I figured that if I could improve my quality of learning I could get more done in less time.  Under the umbrella of learning I studied health, nutrition, fitness, sleep, meditation, happiness, task management, goal setting, art and art related theory, Alexander technique, presence and nootropics amongst other things.  Although I did get a lot healthier and a lot happier I wasn’t getting anything done.  I knew exactly what to do and how to do it but study itself became a form of procrastination.
So, my brain working the way it does, I decided to study productivity…….
Then, about two years later I started to get things done.  I started writing my own music.
Regardless of your goals and ambitions, how you think and process the world around you has a huge impact on your life and how you go about getting things done.  Clarity of thought, focus and energy can all be enhanced with small considerations to your diet and nutrition.  I’d like to share a few things that I have experimented with that may help you stay sharp and be more productive.
First things first, you’ve got to get your base-line diet under control.  The aim is to eliminate peaks and troughs and maintain consistent energy though out the day.  Avoiding sugar, grains and high GI carbs should do the trick.
Plan your meals.
If you know what you are going to eat (and roughly when you are going to eat it) you don’t have to waste energy thinking about food during the day.  Like will-power, decision making is a limited resource and when it’s up for the day – it’s up. Save your brain power for your work.
Bulletproof Coffee. 
I’ve been drinking Bulletproof Coffee every morning for the past two months now and it’s had the most impact on my day-to-day productivity than anything I’ve ever done.  Coffee stimulates the brain, the butter gives you energy (about 6 hours) without affecting the balance of your hormones and the MCT oil cranks your body into fat burning mode (the key to intermittent fasting).
Intermittent Fasting.
When you fast you tell yourself you’re not getting any food until a specific time, and until that time, work gets done. Different people recommend different periods for fasting based on an eating window. The most common is 16-8, 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating.  Whatever 8 hours suits your schedule.
If you are interested in intermittent fasting I would recommend taking a look at Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof fasting, Leangains, Paul Jaminet or James Clear.
Supplements and Other Specific Foods.
I find that most supplements that claim to boost memory, focus and clarity of thought are not really measurable.  Because you are sitting down and doing your work, you’ll never know if the supplements are helping or you are just practicing the process of focusing your brain.  This is similar to specific foods recommended for brain health, like blueberries, wild caught salmon or mixed nuts. They’ll get you on the right track to a clean diet but they won’t make you sit down and do your work (what is actually important).
Once you have your diet and sleep under control you may need a little help getting the work done.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. 
Regardless of what you are trying to get done this book will help.  It’s short and beautifully written.
The Seinfeld Method. 
James Clear wrote this excellent post on the Seinfeld method and it is well worth a read.  Basically, your aim is to do your task every day and be accountable.  Seinfeld recommends a yearly calendar, when you start crossing off days with a red X you won’t want to stop.
 
If you would like any more information or recommended reading leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Lemon and Blueberry Cheesecake

After a delicious dinner of pulled pork and roasted vegetables, Tyson was saying how much he would like a lemony dessert (hint, hint). We argued a bit about making apple crumble – I really wanted to try out a pie or tart base and he just wanted the usual crumble we often eat for breakfast. BORING.

At the same time, we turned to each other and said ‘Don’t we have some cream cheese in the fridge?’

It was a bit weird. So we took it as a sign. Lemon cheesecake all around. I made one, loosely based on this recipe.

My normal recipe disclaimer applies – this is how I made it. I’m not a recipe tester or pastry chef, and I’m not saying this recipe is perfect. It might not work for you. It might be too dry, or too moist, or too crumbly. You might think it tastes like crap. I made it and I liked it and this is how it was done.

Filling

250g full fat cream cheese

3 teaspoons of honey

1 egg

zest and juice of one lemon

blueberries

Crust

120g almond meal

70g melted butter

Method

Put the ingredients for the filling (except for the blueberries) into a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste it, and add more honey or more lemon as you like. Go nuts and add some vanilla if it makes you happy.

Mix the almond meal into the butter until it makes a thick paste but is not too dry. If it is too dry, add more butter. If it is too wet, add more almond meal. Press into your cheesecake receptacle (I used a tart case) all the way to the edges.

Pour the filling onto the base and spread out evenly. Try not to eat too much of the filling mix or your cheesecake will be too skinny.

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Artfully arrange the blueberries onto the top of the filling.

Bake at 180 degrees until it looks ready, light brown around the edges but not burnt. Mine took about 45 minutes.

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While the cheesecake is baking, lick every utensil you used to move that filling around, then use a spatula to scrape out the last tiny bits of filling that are in the food processor and lick that too. Don’t be a clown and try to lick the blades of the food processor, it will only end in tears. That’s how good the filling should taste.

Here is the hardest part. Once it is out of the oven, you are going to have to wait for it to cool. If you don’t, the base will crumble and the filling will be too gooey. It’s going to need to spend some time in the fridge. When it is cool and set, it is ready to eat. Enjoy!

cheesecake slice

Four Ways I Improved My Health

I’m an experimenter. I like to try different things and see if they work for me. If they don’t, I ditch them. Sometimes I may be a little hasty in doing so, but I don’t see the point in sticking with something if it is clearly not right for me. That being said, here are four changes I have made that have undoubtedly improved my health, and that I have stuck with, and will continue to stick with.

1. Cutting out gluten

Not minimising gluten. Not eating gluten on cheat days. I just don’t eat it. That isn’t to say that I will never eat it again. When I go to France, one day, I plan on eating a bootload of baked goods and enjoying every bite. I also plan on spending the following 24 hours locked in a little room, holding my tummy, groaning, cursing and dealing with other unmentionable side effects that make it impossible for me to be around other humans. Until then, I’ll skip the gluten, thanks.

2. Increasing my healthy fat intake

You probably read Tyson’s post on bulletproof coffee. I’m a fan. It lets me jam in maximum fat in minimum time, and I thrive on that stuff. I physically can’t eat as much butter as I would like to – I put butter on everything. Think I’m exaggerating? Pop around one time and watch me eat butter on cheese, I dare you. How do you like your apples? Buttered, thanks. After I eat butter (or other healthy oils) I feel satisfied and rarely am I left craving sweets. It reduces the amount of food I eat but it makes it taste so good I don’t mind.

An important side note here – I’m talking about butter. Real butter. Organic butter from healthy cows. I am most definitely not talking about that monstrosity that pretends to be butter, the devil margarine. I would never encourage anyone to eat margarine. It tastes like crap because it is crap.

via tappmd.com

3. Minimising my consumption of processed food, grains and sugars

This is a bit of a no-brainer. I like having steady energy throughout the day. I like my unpregnant belly not to look pregnant. I like not turning into a demon because I am craving sugar. I like eating real food.

4. Keeping a food journal that details what I eat and how I feel after eating

This keeps me accountable. I regularly visit a Chek practitioner, Vanessa, who has access to my food journal (thank you, Google Docs) and she lets me know if and when I am getting out of balance or letting things slide too much. For example, without the journal and Vanessa’s expert eye, I would never have questioned the amount of sweet potato that I was consuming. Let’s just say it was a lot. Multiple times each day. I was taking in far too many sugars from carbohydrates through the level of sweet potato in my diet. So now I am aware, I am eating less sweet potato. Easy.

Different horses for different courses, my friends. As always, what works for me might not work for you. But what have you got to lose?

What changes have you made that have improved your health?  We’d love to hear about it!