Monday, July 14, 2014

Rustic Tomato and Fennel Soup

Here's the answer to a chilly wintery afternoon. A gorgeous, thick soup, full of flavour and begging to be devoured with a chunk of crusty warm bread, drizzled with olive oil.

If tomatoes are in season (and oh so cheap), then this recipe is best prepared with fresh, vine ripened tomatoes. However, if you happen to have some large cans of whole, peeled tomatoes in your pantry (like we do, always), then this recipe is even faster to prepare.

Tomato and Fennel Soup
Serves: Oh, plenty!

2- 3 Tbs olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 large brown onion
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves finely chopped
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1.5 kg tomatoes or 2 x 800g cans of whole, peeled tomatoes*
3/4 cup vegetable stock**
sea salt and pepper
red wine vinegar
olive oil, crusty bread and parmesan to serve

To prepare the fennel bulbs, trim the stalks and base of the bulbs, quarter the bulbs and thinly slice. Slice the onion the same way.

Fresh thyme growing in my garden. Feeling proud that I haven't killed it- It's such a hardy herb!

In a large, heavy based pot (we use a large Le Chasseur french oven) heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until the onion becomes translucent. Add the fresh thyme and fennel seeds (smell that cooking, oh yum!).

* If you're using fresh tomatoes, remove the stalks, score a 'x' in the base of the tomatoes and blanch for several minutes in a large pot of simmering water. Drain and soak the tomatoes in cold water, remove the skin with a paring knife and quarter the tomatoes.

** You will need 3/4 cup of vegetable stock for this recipe if you use fresh tomatoes. I use fresh tomatoes when they're in season, otherwise prepare the soup using tinned tomatoes (below).

Using tinned tomatoes, add the liquid from each can to the pot and stir to combine. Smash the tomatoes in the tins with a wooden spoon, then add to the pot with one cup of water, stir. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for a further 50 minutes. The soup is ready when the fennel is softened and the tomato soup has a well rounded flavour. Add salt and pepper to taste, a splash of red wine vinegar will lift the flavour too.

Serve drizzled with olive oil, add finely grated parmesan for a non-vegan soup. Sometimes I like to serve this gorgeous soup with thick slices of gluten free toast topped with grilled parmesan. It's a little luxury to dip these cheesy pieces of hot toast into the thick soup.

Wholesome, organic ingredients direct from the farmer. Winter perfection.

How do you serve your favourite soup?

Bella xx

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bumpin'... 29 Weeks and Lazy Winter Mornings

Life has been pretty sweet lately. Lazy winter mornings have been spent dozing in bed with B and a snoring puppy curled up beside my feet. We've treated ourselves to sweet, buttery pancakes dripping with homemade lemony-orange syrup. I've enjoyed late night reading by warm lamplight and the occasional neck and shoulder massage from B.

Thick socks have been pulled over cold toes to protect us from the cool bamboo floors. I open the shutters every morning to bathe in the soft winter morning light. As the temperature gradually rises, I take Pecan outside to rest on the balcony for a few quiet moments of uninterrupted sunshine on my belly.

Sure I have to work on Monday but that feels like an eternity away...

Bella xx

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bumpin'... 28 Weeks in the Sun

Dear Friends,

I'm a month behind with the bump updates- That's what happens when you're getting busy living. The weekend of week 28 was spent at the Emerald Beach coastal fare, where we enjoyed freshly squeezed sweet, pulpy orange juice and I met a tall surfer named Todd.

Todd is a former colleague of Byron's, he cooks at a local restaurant and spends the rest of his days with his family by the beach. He shared several funny stories, including one where he caught a ferry, then cycled 12 kilometres on an old bike with a backpack containing a bottle of water and a couple of homemade sandwiches slung over one arm and his surfboard tucked tightly under the other. Todd spent the day surfing point breaks under a blistering sun and returned, famished to his bike as the light began to fade only to discover that some crafty currawongs had opened the zip on his bag and devoured his lunch.
We were in stitches! I could imagine this annoyed, tall bronzed, broad-shouldered surfer gulping down his water during a long 12 kilometre ride and hour long ferry trip before he could eventually eat.

If you've ever surfed, you will understand how hungry this guy must have been after a gruelling day of physical exertion in the water. Now one crucial piece of information I forgot to divulge is that Todd chases the big waves- The scary ones that freak out the average surfy Joe from the shore. His stomach must have been howling.


Following the markets we wandered along the coastal walk between several headlands. On the exposed cliff tops the cool breeze chilled our faces and tousled our hair. Every now and then we stopped to watch the kangaroos graze in the shade, we even stumbled across the old graves of two unknown souls, lost at sea during a collision between two ships. The danger of this treacherous section of the coast is very cleverly cloaked by it's haunting beauty.


28 Weeks: This week my energy returned, and then some. I felt new life return to my body with every breath of sea air into my lungs. Heart pounding in my chest during each steep ascent and steadying to a regular lub-dub during our descent to a quiet beach where we dipped our toes in the water.

Pecan, you certainly have grown and as we entered the first week of our final trimester together, I have never before felt your presence so strongly. You are most active during the evenings when I lay down to rest or after I consume a cool, sweet, pulpy orange juice...

Byron, your excitement at the growth of my belly fills me with joy. This week you have helped out so much at home, despite your longer working hours. I am grateful for the efforts and sacrifices you have made to accommodate me when I toss and turn in bed, flush the toilet in the middle of the night, and skip from one unrelated topic to the next with this crazy pregnancy chatter that fills our conversations.

I have to thank B for documenting this pregnancy for us. I love his enthusiasm for climbing sharp rocks to capture different angles. Most of the pictures in this post were taken by him.

28 weeks has been wonderful.

Bella xx

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Winter Food: Asparagus and Eggplant Slice

One chilly fortnight into winter and so begin the hot breakfasts, brunches and late afternoon snacks. On mornings like these it's best to start slow, to begin with long, deliberate yoga stretches and to inhale deeply down into one's belly.

On one of these chilly winter mornings I whipped up this little asparagus and eggplant slice before B had even rolled out of bed. Think one tall lady, with a round belly stirring together a bizarre combination of ingredients from the fridge, pouring the whole lumpy mess into a baking dish before sliding the dish into a hot oven.

There was time to clean up and have a relaxing hot shower to soothe my aching muscles and tired eyes before the timer rang with a sweet 'ding' (lacking a bit of sleep lately due to the miniature dance sensation in my womb- Thank you, Pecan!).

The aromas of melted cheese, egg, sweet corn and bacon wafted upstairs to Byron as I stepped out of the steamy shower, my hair wrapped in a thick bath towel turban. We met at the top step before floating down to the kitchen, led by our noses.

I carefully removed the dish from the oven and lifted the freshly baked slice from the dish by the baking paper before slicing generous slabs off for breakfast.

There's something so satisfying about plunging a shiny silver fork into a hot asparagus and eggplant slice.

Asparagus and Eggplant Slice

10 asparagus spears
1/2 large or 1 small eggplant, sliced into 1cm rounds
1 small brown onion, diced
2-3 rashers of bacon, roughly chopped (optional)
1 sweet corn cob, kernels only
olive oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup gluten free self raising flour
3/4 to 1 cup grated cheese
sea salt and cracked pepper
diced chilli (optional for the chilli lovers)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350F). Snap the ends off the asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths and parboil for 2 minutes, or until the stems turn bright green and slightly soften. Drain and set aside.
Heat a generous amount of oil in a large pan over medium heat and fry the eggplant, turning to brown on each side (alternatively, you may grill it). Chop roughly and set aside.
Sweat the diced onion until soft.

Sift the flour into a large bowl, whisk in the eggs until the batter is smooth. Add the remaining ingredients, stir and season to taste. Omit the bacon for a vegetarian slice. Pour into a baking dish lined with baking paper and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the slice is set and golden on top.

Wonderful as a chilled lunch side, but best served warm from the oven with your choice of golden hash browns, fried, buttered mushrooms with garlic and thyme or oven roasted truss tomatoes.

The soft eggplant will melt in your mouth, between juicy, firm corn kernels and buttery asparagus.

Oh! How I'd love to grow my own asparagus. Has anyone tried it?

Bella xx

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why We Won't be Having a Baby Shower

First, let me preface this by saying this is not a post about knocking all those who have had or plan to have a baby shower. For many, a baby shower heralds a time to celebrate the upcoming birth and new life of their baby. It presents an opportunity for new or existing parents to be showered with the generosity and kindness of family and friends.

Over the years I have been invited to quite a few baby showers and from what I have witnessed, there appears to be one key feature of each that stood out as something that just doesn't gel with me personally: Unnecessary excess.

From plastic decorations and wall banners, tables filled with plates of artificially coloured sweets overloaded with refined sugar (generally an abundance of these at baby showers where the sex of the baby has already been announced), to pointless gifts that serve no purpose for an infant or their parent(s). Think processed and painted timber cut-outs of words such as 'destiny' to mount on the wall.

Somewhere along the way some of the fathers lost their invitations and the mamas-to-be were expected to organise a lift home for the father from the local pub. Thankfully, this was not always the case for every shower I have attended.

For us, the celebration of new life is just that and no amount of tacky, over-priced, environmentally unfriendly stuff should be celebrated in it's place.

For some, the thought of purchasing an item for a baby shower can be quite challenging. Especially when one does not have children of their own. What to purchase that will be considered generous and useful? How much to spend is enough? Is it likely that Mary and Joe might already have this item, but a shinier, more expensive version?

In the past I have gifted digital thermometers (as requested), nipple ointment and other natural products that have as minimal a detrimental effect on the environment as possible. I have ummed and ahhed and compared prices, shopped around for weeks and tried to present something that will be useful. Ideally, I try to purchase a gift that continues to give- Beyond the first six months because let's face it, babies grow up.

The stress and sadness I have felt when, as a motherless woman I have given something that I thought may be useful only for it to be cast aside in place of a 'birthing cake' (yes, this happened on one occasion where my gift was tossed aside in favour of a baby doll's head emerging from a chocolate cake covered in a cream-frosted vagina, complete with pubic hair sprinkles) or I have been ridiculed during a baby shower game because I didn't know how long the average length of a newborn baby was...

When did baby showers become so materialistic? I have never been to a baby shower where something was repurposed, up cycled or gifted as a preloved secondhand item.

I once suggested to the cousin of a mama-to-be that I was thinking of recycling a neglected wooden rocking horse. I found it at a garage sale and planned to sand, paint and repair the wonky little treasure. In all honesty, I wasn't expecting, nor was I prepared for the sound said cousin made. It was a combination of scoffing laughter laced with disapproval that I would dare to consider making a gift.

When I asked for assistance to be guided in the right direction, the cousin simply shrugged and said she hadn't even decided on a gift yet, but I could always purchase a $200 breast pump. We then discussed decorations and food, which entailed me being told which caterers to collect the food from (wait, we aren't preparing it ourselves?!) and what time to arrive to assist the other girls to hang the ribbons, balloons and other plastic-fantastic items (that inevitably ended up in the trash, not the recycling).

When mama-to-be was opening her gifts, her cousin had gifted her with a $300 rocking horse from a department store in the city (which cousin boasted about being a steal at 25% off the retail price).

I stayed to help wash up, then left feeling rather deflated. The whole experience was exhausting and rather disappointing. Instead of feeling thrilled for mama-to-be, my breast-pump sat on a table with two others (and a pair of baby high heels...seriously!) and I barely had time to talk to her to wish her my sincerest congratulations. I was happy for her and her partner and that's what the whole afternoon should have been about- Celebrating something so precious with friends who I had witnessed grow together on their journey to becoming a family.

Thankfully I was able to share my time after her baby was born. I held her baby girl whilst mum showered and had a nap and I left a moussaka in the fridge with some homemade iced tea.

So that particular shower left me feeling a little off put. The next was better, although very similar in terms of theme and the overall overspending and general waste. I was surprised at the number of disposable nappies and chemical-laden products labelled as 'natural', 'bio' and 'baby safe' with images of happy babies on the packaging. The sheer number of clothing items made from polyester, nylon and other non-organic materials that have possibly been sewn together by tiny blistered fingers in third-world factories and scented detergents, fragrant baby shampoo and perfumed alcoholic baby wipes astounded me.

The last baby shower I attended I brought with me a gluten free cake, warm from my oven. I gifted cold-pressed coconut oil, clary sage essential oil, cloth nappies and cotton baby clothes from the local opportunity shop, which I had pre-washed.

Now to explain our decision: We simply do not need all the unnecessary excess. We've been in the process of decluttering our lives for the past couple of years. This has been a challenging but liberating process as we learn the value of less-is-more, minimalism, and giving. We share, we donate and we recycle what we can. We don't make purchases on a whim, nor do we wish to willingly part with our savings for fad-purchases, which let's face it, are very easy to make when you're expecting your first child.

We don't claim to have it all figured out, for us that is an ongoing process. We don't need no-tears, pH-balanced baby products. We will use the natural products that we use on our own skin for our baby. We don't need an off-road, all-terrain buggy pram in addition to the secondhand one I purchased off gumtree. We do not, I repeat, do not want battery operated toys that take the imagination out of childhood.

We don't want friends and family to feel pressured to purchase us gifts to attend a gathering to celebrate our little family of two, growing to three this winter.

We don't need and don't want to accumulate any more things. We've been carefully selecting items for a little while. The majority of baby clothes have been gifted as hand-me-downs. Our beautiful neighbours donated their timber cot (itself, a secondhand gift to them for their now two year old), cotton sheets, outgrown clothing, and a high chair. The condition of these items is impeccable, some as-new and others barely worn or used.

My mother gifted us with a secondhand baby carrier, infant car seat and some silicone bottles. As for the rest, well if we need it, we'll source it. Ethically and responsibly.

There is no need for plastic banners announcing the impending arrival of Pecan. We don't serve junk food and carbonated sugary drinks to our friends and family at other gatherings.

We simply want to be surrounded by love and support. Generosity for us comes in the form of time given, rather than items purchased.

People are more important than things. Respect for our environment and our future are just as important as the next generation and for this reason, we won't be having a baby shower.

Have you ever been to a baby shower where gifts were handmade, refurbished or donated pre-loved items? I'd love to hear what those items were...

Bella xx

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bumpin'... Week 27 and Wild Mountain Adventures

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair.
-Kahlil Gibran

This week saw us travel across the tiny apple state to ancient Huon pine forests and freshwater lakes stained deep gold with the tannins of the woods. We ventured across rugged rocky outcrops, along forgotten walking trails and explored the green natural environment set against silver lakes and azure skies.

The chilly mountain air of the Tasmanian Wilderness filled our lungs with each wholesome breath of our steep climb through the alpine forests. Crimped leaves of deciduous beech trees glowed in various shades, from dark emerald to bright ruby and soft yellows. Here, we rested against white boulders to marvel at the glassy bodies of water between steep peaks.

Pecan slept in my swollen belly as I rocked my sweet babe gently for hours upon hours of hiking amongst delicate mosses that covered every surface from fallen green giants to the damp earth. The only cravings came in the form of fresh icy water and crisp, delicious sweet apples.

Together with B, we made unwritten plans to return to this place at a different time of the day in a different season of the year to witness new colours, foliage and wildlife. These forests are forever changing and here, in the heart of the wilderness we feel a deep connection to nature.

Not visitors but tiny parts of a larger ecosystem. Part of Mother Earth.

Bella xx


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