July 29, 2012

You asked for it... Recipe for Finnish Mocha Squares

Happy Sunday dear friends!

Thank you for all the sweet comments on my previous post! As a thank you, I'm making an exception and posting a non-vegan and non-healthy recipe, the recipe for the traditional Finnish mocha squares you saw on the previous post. The mocha squares were a special treat for my husband, because - well, that's what us wives do :-)

On that note, you could always make this vegan by using egg substitutes, non-dairy milk and vegan butter. You could also try the slightly healthier version, recipe here.

PS. My apologies for the crappy iphone photo!

Finnish Mocha Squares
(Recipe adapted from Kotiruoka)

4 (organic, free-range) eggs
270g (raw caster sugar) sugar
150g (unsalted organic) butter
200ml (organic) milk
1/2 teaspoon ground pure vanilla
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cacao powder
350g (organic) plain flour


280g (natural) icing sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cacao powder
1/2 teaspoon ground pure vanilla
50g (unsalted organic) butter
4 tablespoons strong coffee

desiccated coconut, to decorate

1. Preheat oven to 200C and line a large (18cm x 27cm) baking dish with baking paper.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add melted, cooled-down butter. 

3. Mix vanilla, baking powder, cacao powder and plain flour in a separate bowl. 

4. Add the dry ingredients (through a sieve) into the egg and sugar mixture alternately with milk. Fold carefully after each addition to mix.

5. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake feels firm to touch. Leave to cool slightly.

6. To prepare the topping, sieve icing sugar and cacao powder into a bowl. Add vanilla, warm, melted butter and hot coffee. Stir into a thick(ish) paste (it shouldn't be too runny). Spread the topping on top of the cake, sprinkle with coconut and leave to cool before cutting. These cakes can be frozen.

July 27, 2012

Recent Projects

I am sitting in our living room amongst piles of clothes, bedding, boxes and furniture. We have emptied the contents of our bedroom and study in here whilst those rooms get brand new floor boards to match the rest of our apartment. Needless to say I'm pretty excited about this makeover! I've been on an interior roll lately; getting little crafty things done and buying some new furniture. It feels so good to finally be able to spend some time decorating our new(ish) home!

Since there hasn't been much happening on the cooking front lately, I thought I'd share some photos of these other projects that have been keeping me busy. Once all the renovations are done I will share more photos of our home, I promise!

Here's what I've been up to recently...

I've been enjoying the winter sun...
...and numerous cups of tea!
I've finished quite a few little crafty projects, including these coasters, oven mittens and tiny bags filled with lavender!
I also made these clay barnacles inspired by Design Sponge!
All things Scandinavian. The wooden bead decorations are another recent project of mine.
We ordered this wall sticker from Finland - birch branches!
A new floor lamp to brighten the dark winter nights
These willow branches look so dramatic - love them!
And I've earned some wife points with these Finnish mocha cakes!

Hope you will have a great weekend! I will be back soon...

July 22, 2012

A Glimpse of France in Photos

Hi friends,
Hope you are all having a relaxing weekend! As promised, here are some more photos from our honeymoon in France. We saw so many beautiful castles, cathedrals and gardens, but here is just a small glimpse of it all. 

Hope you enjoy!

Still in the beautiful Provence
Spot the daredevils!
Love the colours!
Provencal landscape

Mont Saint-Michel was amazing, definitely worth a visit!
Inside Mont Saint-Michel
Le ch√Ęteau de Chenonceau was my favourite. Absolutely beautiful!

Can you tell it was my favourite? Chenonceau.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens
Chenonceau again
More beautiful gardens at Chenonceau
Chambord was definitely big, but not as pretty as Chenonceau
The impressive gardens at Versailles
In the gardens of Versailles

Gloomy day at Louvre
Arc de Triomphe
 Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Au revoir Paris!

July 17, 2012

Wholesome Couscous Salad + A Slow Recovery

Hello dear friends!

Sorry for the silence here on the blog lately. I am finally starting to feel better after being hit hard with fever, chest infection and borderline pneumonia. I spent the whole weekend lying flat and was unable to even sit up without feeling nauseous. Not being able to eat well for days made me so weak that I fainted early on Saturday morning and my husband had to call an ambulance because I was not responding to him. Fortunately the paramedics didn't think it was necessary for me to go to the hospital so we just saw a doctor later that day and I was given a cure of antibiotics. Needless to say I have never been this sick in my life. I must have caught a super virus from our travels which then went, well, viral because I was already rundown from jetlag. I am starting to feel better already, but need to take it easy for a few more days.

This couscous salad takes me right back to Provence, once again. It is hard to believe that the wedding only happened a little over 5 weeks ago and that we've only been back in Australia for two weeks. It really feels like it's been ages since our time in my hometown and travels in France! This salad was inspired by all the local produce I was able to find fresh in season and those beautiful olives and olive oil we had everywhere in France. It is a definite summer favourite, but you could easily adapt the recipe and make it suitable for any season you like. Roasted root veggies in winter would certainly go just as well, I think.

I'll be concentrating  on work and home-improvements in the near future so things can be a bit quiet here for a while. I have quite a few more photos from our honeymoon to share with you, but they will have to wait until I get my laptop back. Hope you are all enjoying whatever season you are in and are all in good health!

Wholesome Couscous Salad
(serves 4)

250g couscous
vegetable stock
1 long cucumber
200g cooked chickpeas
2 small carrots
1/2 red onion
2 small eggplants
2 small zucchinis
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt, pepper, to taste
fresh parsley
fresh basil
mixed olives
1. Cook couscous in hot vegetable stock. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

2. Chop cucumber into cubes, peel and coarsely grate the carrots. Set aside.

3. Chop zucchini and eggplants into cubes. Heat oil in a large pan, add the zucchini and eggplant and cook for a few minutes. Stir in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

4. Mix together couscous, chickpeas, carrots, cucumber, finely chopped red onion and cooked vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, finely chopped fresh herbs and some balsamic and olive oil. Toss in the olives. Serve room temperature. 

July 11, 2012

Featured on Simple Blueprint

1636-Skin Beauty Salad 


While my laptop is (still) being fixed and I'm writing this wrapped under blankets with a fever, I urge you to head over to lovely Joanna's blog, Simple Blueprint. Joanna has just featured my Skin Beauty Salad, Provencal Tarts and more - hope you enjoy! 

July 08, 2012

Inspirational Friends: Kym and Kelly from Vegan Online + A Winner Announced!

Happy Sunday my sweet friends!

I'm so excited to continue my "Inspirational Friends" blog series today. This time I'm chatting with two very special ladies from Adelaide, Australia. Vegan Online is an online store based in South Australia selling all-vegan products. A mother-daughter duo, Kym and Kelly, founded Vegan Online in order to make cruelty-free shopping more accessible and effortless. Vegan Online offers “Shopping with conscience”, 100% vegan products from food to beauty, and ships Australia wide. Find Vegan Online at www.veganonline.com.au

What inspired you to become a vegan?

My first exposure to the cruel industries that exist in the name of profit was when I was thirteen years old and saw a pamphlet advertising vivisection.  I joined the anti vivisection union with the belief I was going to be breaking into laboratories and rescuing animals.  My awareness grew and at 17 when I left home and could cook for myself I decided to be vegetarian, thinking this is the most I could do to help the senseless slaughter of farmed animals.  It wasn’t until Kelly my daughter and Laurie my son had grown up that I eliminated all animals products and wished I’d done it years ago.

What do you love about being a vegan?

Having a clear conscience, knowing that my life choices do not affect another sentient being.  The health benefits and the wonderful array of food you get to eat on a plant based diet is fantastic and the great friends I have made within the vegan community.

Why did you decide to start a vegan business?

There wasn’t a great deal of shopping options in Adelaide when I first became vegan and I found myself driving long distances between shops just to get a varied selection of vegan goodies, so I thought if we could make one place that stocked a huge variety of vegan products and made it easier by doing it online it would provide other vegans with convenient shopping.

What is your favourite vegan product from your store?

I would have to say that my favourite vegan product is the Adorn Mineral Makeup. To have and use a product that is not only cruelty free but looks and feels fantastic on your skin is a major plus, also the fact that you can apply your whole face in 3 minutes is a huge bonus being so busy.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a vegan business?
I would say go for it, the more vegan business there are the better.  Expansion is great as the more business there are then the more awareness will be made in the community with the hope of being able to educate more people into a healthy eating habit.

What are your future plans for Vegan Online?
At the moment Kelly and I run Vegan Online and we hope to expand to be able to offer employment with us and in the long term to open a retail shop.

Besides following a vegan diet, what are some simple things one can do to promote a compassionate and cruelty-free lifestyle?
People could change their lifestyle in small ways by buying cruelty free products such as cleaning products, toiletries, cosmetics and other products that are not tested on animals.
Support local animal liberation organisation or contact organisations such as Animals Australia to see how you can learn more about animal rights issues.
Follow animal sanctuary websites like our Freedom Hill website which shows a life through the eyes of a farm animal.
Support no kill animal shelters.
Join a group that promotes cruelty free ideals where you are able to feel welcome to converse amongst other like minded individuals.
What tips do you have for people wanting to make the switch to a vegan diet?
At first the idea may feel to daunting to cut out all animal products quickly, gradually phase out and cut back eating meat, chicken or fish might be easier.  Eating out is the hardest when trying to change to a plant based diet so getting a good recipe book and experimenting with some delicious flavoured dishes always helps. Communicating with other like minded people and exchanging ideas is great.  Anyone who is contemplating changing to a more compassionate lifestyle can always contact Kelly or myself via email at admin@veganonline.com.au  or logging onto our website at www.veganonline.com.au to view our extensive range of cruelty free products.

Who is your vegan inspiration?
Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.  His direct action approach to marine conservation has to be admired. I also have a huge admiration for Lyn White, campaign director for Animals Australia.

What is your favourite vegan meal to prepare?
My favourite vegan meal is Coconut Korma from the Now Vegan recipe book by Lynda Stoner, it’s delicious and quick and easy to make.

Thank you girls!

Whilst talking about inspirational friends, I'm so glad to announce the winner of Jessica's e-book "Make Peace with Your Plate". Once again I was truly overwhelmed by the quality (and quantity!) or replies and choosing a winner was no easy thing to do. There was one reply, however, that really resonated with me and so I had to go with that one. Congratulations to Wendy Thomas for winning Jessica's book! Can you please email me your details and I'll get a book organised for you? Thanks!

Here's Wendy's winning reply to "What does making a peace with your plate mean to you?"

Making peace with my plate means living in agreement with nature and at peace with myself. I first became vegan in September of 2011 and my vegan journey began simply for health reasons. I was in dire need of transforming my lifestyle and after reading several books and watching several documentaries on the subject of food, it became clear that my obesity problem could lead to many horrible diseases. I became increasingly aware of how programmed most American's are...most of us live on auto-pilot and look for convenience in all areas of our lives. Unfortunately, we are also manipulated through the millions of dollars spent on advertising to look for convenience in food…hence the term fast food.

When I finally chose to take control of my life and the choices I was making, a switch went off in my head and becoming vegan made the most sense to me. As I mentioned earlier, initially, my decision to become vegan was for health reasons, but as I began to live the lifestyle, I became increasingly aware of not only the cruelty and disease that exists in the production of animal products but also became aware of how choosing to consume these products has a domino affect on the sustainability of our earth. How land and forests are having to be cut down just to be able to fit more livestock on that land to feed all the people who consume it. How fish are having to be farm raised in unnatural conditions just to keep up with consumer demand. Our population is over 7 billion people right now and growing.

The ironic part in all of this is that we don’t need animal products to live happy, healthy lives. There is plenty of protein, calcium and all the other necessary nutrients in a plant-based diet. So, I grow the majority of my food in my yard. I ripped up my grass and instead, I grow food. What I don’t grow, I buy from my local farmer’s markets or local health food grocer. Imagine what would happen if we all made the switch and decided to start growing our own food and chose 1 day a week to be a meatless day (Meatless Mondays), what a wonderful step toward preserving this beautiful earth we would make.

July 04, 2012

Vegan Travel Tips + Warm Potato and Green Bean Salad

Hello from wintery Sydney, mes amis! 

We are finally home, after five and a half weeks! We had an amazing trip, but boy o' boy is it good to be back home!

As many of you may know, this was also my first big trip as a vegan. Before my trip, quite a few people 'warned' me that I would find it challenging, if not very difficult, to 'stay' vegan whilst travelling. Now, after my travels, I thought I'd share some of my experiences and tips on vegan travel and perhaps get some tips in exchange from some of you more experienced vegan travellers as well. 

These are just some of the things I experienced, please feel free to share your thoughts!

Commuting - Airport and flights

Come prepared;  bring some snacks (or a lot of) for the trip. Apples, carrot sticks, brown rice/quinoa/multigrain cakes, raw and unsalted nuts and some good quality 100% or raw chocolate are all great snacks and will keep well. Remember to bring an empty water bottle that you can refil at the airport. My favourite bottles are from Lifefactory, and although a glass bottle is heavier to carry around, the wide mouth makes them easy to refil and clean. 


I would also recommend bringing a travel mug. I don't go anywhere without my Keep Cup and it was the best thing to have on this trip. I had herbal tea bags so I could just ask for hot water in the plane and enjoy my tea at anytime. Bliss!

Be organised; remember to book special meal for your international flights. Different airlines have slightly different options, but "vegan", "raw vegetarian" or "dairy-free vegetarian" are all good options. Yes, it's still airplane food so if you want to be better off, just bring enough food to have during the flights as well. 

Eating In and Out

Lets start with the obvious: vegan food is everywhere. No, really, just look around you: vegetables, fruits, grains, olives, legumes, seeds, nuts, you name it. They're all free of animal products. Look for local specialities and local, fresh and seasonal produce. Often times you'll find these ingredients so full of flavour that there is nothing you'll need to do to them, just enjoy them as they are (raw). 

I do recommend renting a holiday home, if you can, with cooking facilities. I would recommend this even if you're not vegan. Eating out three meals a day throughout the whole holiday can get a bit too much, especially if you're used to lighter, healthier meals. If you have the opportunity, buy local ingredients from the markets and cook with them. Salads are obviously the easiest way to go as you won't need much cooking utensils, but you can certainly experiment with fancier meals as well. 

I love shopping at organic stores and discovering new products that are not available here in Australia. On this trip I was indulging in some good quality 100% chocolate - organic and fair-trade and insanely delicious. I also found delicious local and seasonal vegetables and fruit, organic almonds, olives, bread, etc. There was certainly no shortage of great vegan food!

If you're in a restaurant, I found it easier to ask "does it have any milk or eggs in it?", than "is it vegan?". Not all people know what vegan means, so there is not much point trying to use the term everywhere. On that note, however, you'd be surprised how well people can respond to your dietary choices. I was so impressed how informed my family was: mum had even bought soy cheese (which I don't normally eat, but it was a nice treat to have) and she was very understanding and curious about the way I prepare food and eat. On another occasion, my uncle's wife made me a special batch of pancakes (with coconut milk and whole wheat flour) during our visit to their house. She had also prepared a big load of vegetables and fruit for everyone to share; I was so impressed!

But finally, being vegan is not some sort of a purity contest. What matters to me is to stay consistent. You don't take a holiday from being a vegan, but since you're eating food prepared by others it can be impossible to know every ingredient in your meal. I'm not going to fret whether the vegetables were cooked with butter or oil (chances are they were cooked with cheap vegetable oil anyway), when the main ingredients are clearly vegan. So stay positive and enjoy your holiday!

I made this simple potato and green bean salad from local ingredients back in Provence. It is the simplest meal in terms of ingredients and seasoning, but somehow it works a treat. Served with some fresh bread and olives, it is definitely a satisfying and tasty meal.

Warm Potato and Green Bean Salad
(serves 4)

5-6 potatoes, peeled
200-300g green beans, cleaned
1 red onion, very finely sliced
good quality extra-virgin olive oil
good quality balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook the potatoes until just tender, let cool slightly and cut into bite-size pieces. 

2. Lightly steam the green beans and cut into pieces. 

3. Toss the potatoes, beans and onion in a large bowl with olive oil and balsamic. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.