peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips and sea salt

peanut-butter-choc-chip-sea-salt-cookies-philippa-moore

I don’t know what it is about the taste of peanut butter, but it has an almost Proustian effect on me.

As a child, I rejected every other sandwich filling for my school lunchbox. In fact, I rejected sandwiches most of the time - they were dull in taste and vomit-inducing in texture, the opposite of everything I wanted and believed food to be. So for most of primary school, my usual lunch was a bag of carrot sticks and peanut butter on crackers. Peanut butter became a familiar, quotidian taste and I found it far from exciting. Once I was old enough to make my own lunch for school, peanut butter was off the menu. I’d had enough to last a lifetime, or so I thought.

But as an adult, I’ve found tasting peanut butter again quite ambrosial. I love it on apple slices, on toast, in stir-fries, in smoothies or even by the spoonful.

Peanut butter also makes a divine and, with the addition of a sprinkle of sea salt, very adult biscuit. But the method is so simple a child could make them (with a little supervision). I find making biscuits such a faff that I was determined to make these in one bowl/pan. Success.

Be warned, these are incredibly addictive.

Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips and sea salt

150g smooth peanut butter (I like Bega Just Nuts or Pic)
125g unsalted butter
65g rice malt syrup
125g brown sugar
1 egg
Splash of vanilla extract
100g dessicated coconut
270g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
120g dark chocolate chips
Sea salt flakes, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180 C (fan-forced). Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Place the peanut butter, butter and rice malt syrup in a large saucepan (you will use this to make the whole mixture, so make sure it’s a big saucepan) over low heat. Stir occasionally until just melted. Turn off heat.

Add the brown sugar, egg and vanilla, and beat well until combined.

Add the coconut, flour and bicarb soda and stir to combine.

FInally, add the chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed through the mixture.

Using a teaspoon and your hands, roll into balls of a size to your liking (just be consistent!) and place evenly spaced on the trays. Once all the mixture is used, use a fork to flatten the dough balls slightly.

Sprinkle the tops with a little sea salt (only a little - we’re not going for a hundreds and thousands look! Just a flake will do. Be restrained and judicious here). You could also put a few more choc chips on top (as I did).

Bake in the oven for roughly 8 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown. For goodness sake set a timer, otherwise you’ll pull a groin muscle running to the oven to rescue them.

Allow to cool slightly on the trays, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. You can eat them warm(ish) but I think they’re at their best cool. They are “crisp yet fluffy”, as Tom described them.

Perfect with a cup of tea or (I imagine) crumbled over some vanilla ice cream.

william, an englishman: a book for its time, and ours

persephone-book-1-william-an-englishman

William, An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton was the first book published by my beloved Persephone Books in 1999, a reprint from the novel’s original publication in 1919. If you don’t know about my love affair with Persephone, do check out this post to be brought up to speed!

I stockpiled a number of Persephones before leaving London and this was among them. I read it at bedtime over the course of a few weeks, not something I’d recommend, as it’s not an escapist read to send you off into a dreamy, calm sleep. But it is an incredible book for its time - and for ours.

William and Griselda are young newlyweds, both heavily involved in various causes and social justice, extremely earnest and ready to fight for what they believe in. But they are in actual fact very impressionable, have been swept up in these various movements that were rocking the social foundations of Britain in 1914 (namely socialism and suffrage), and parrot the beliefs of the movements they support, as opposed to analysing and considering them, determining their own moral compasses rather than blindly following a crowd. They think they know what “fight” means but really, they haven’t a clue.

They honeymoon at a remote rural cottage in Belgium in August 1914. After three weeks of contentment, they are blissfully unaware of the world around them (they don't know war has been declared, let alone that Belgium has been invaded) and they don’t even speak the language so they cannot understand the warnings from the farmer's wife who cooks for them (despite everything it's amusing that William and Griselda are so oblivious).

On the day of their departure, they go to the farmhouse nearby to arrange for the boy to carry their suitcases to the train station, as he did when they arrived. Instead, they find the house deserted, with all the people and animals gone, and a lot of evidence to suggest they left in a real hurry. Bewildered, William and Griselda begin their way into the village to the train station on foot, when they are captured by the invading German troops. They finally learn what has happened and from that moment on, are caught up in the brutal, cruel horrors of war - a real one.

Cicely Hamilton spent the entire First World War on the frontline in France - she wrote this novel in a tent during the hostilities. You can tell. This is a woman who saw the horrors of that war firsthand and was unapologetic about exposing the ignorance of so many people as to what was really going on, what "war" really means when you're caught up in the middle of it. As an Australian soldier I knew, who died of his wounds in Iraq some years ago now, said, "it's not beer and skittles."

At the same time, this novel is not entirely "anti war" - Hamilton actually goes after the pacifists quite a bit too, asserting that they live in a "paradise of fools", that the things that were happening in Europe were horrific and the British war effort was actually very important and vital to fight the evil that was brewing on the European mainland.

William and Griselda are initially taken prisoner by the Germans, and separated at this point. William eventually makes an escape and finds Griselda, whose clothes are torn and spirit is crushed, she is utterly traumatised. Hamilton doesn't spell out what's happened to Griselda - we’ve already worked it out. The restraint with which she writes this scene, when they are reunited, is quite extraordinary.

Weakened from injuries and lack of food, the pair attempt to get to safety through the Belgian countryside to the French border. They are helped by travellers along the way, managing to remain out of sight of the enemy. But a road accident weakens Griselda further - and a few days later, as a kindly villager gives them a lift in their cart, she dies lying on a pile of straw.

William then mercifully finds someone who speaks English and manages to get through the trauma of burying his wife. His Good Samaritan, Edith, helps him get the train to Paris and eventually another train and boat back to England, where he arrives a broken man.

Having seen the horrors of what is happening in Europe and determined to stop it, he attempts to enlist in the Army, but he is rejected because he doesn't meet the height requirement. "Oh don't worry, in a few months they won't care about that," William's friend Faraday consoles him. And oh how true that turned out to be.

In the meantime, William attends meetings that he used to go to all the time, full of fiery speeches to motivate everyone into supporting the socialist and pacifist causes, which he loved and felt a sense of community in. But now, he is appalled. These people aren't brave - he realises - for they have sacrificed nothing. They haven't got the first clue what he's been through, what thousands are going through, of the brutality, the horror of what he's witnessed and what he's so cruelly lost. And it must be stopped. Now is not the time for pacifism, in his opinion. He is incensed, enraged and utterly broken.

Eventually he does get accepted by the Army and ends up in what one might deem a communications job - he writes letters, takes dictation, files documents. But then William moves to the third phase of his character development - utter disillusionment. What difference has he actually made? He has done his duty, yes, but what has been the point?

“He hated the war as it affected himself, was weary of the war in general; all he longed for was its ending, which meant his release from imprisonment; but neither hatred nor weariness had blinded his eyes to the folly of that other blindness which had denied that war could be.”

Eventually, as was the fate of so many, he is involved in combat, suffers massive injuries, and dies quietly in a field hospital.


It is not a happy read, but Hamilton did not intend it to be. I think she thought people had their heads far enough into the sand and they needed a reality check. This book won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse, the highest honour bestowed on female authors in 1919 (probably the equivalent of the Stella or the Women's Prize today) and no wonder. It’s unforgettable. And I think it's just as relevant a read now as it was then.

to the east of your own island: remembering margaret scott

This is a piece I wrote for my old blog Green Ink, about 10 years ago. As today would have been Margaret Scott’s 85th birthday, I thought I’d republish it here.

When I was sixteen years old, my school held a kind of activity day in late October in the lead up to the end of the year and the Christmas holidays, when attention levels were drooping and we were in need of some fun, with the HSC (Oz equivalent of GCSE) exams on the horizon for most of us. The day was filled with workshops in various recreational activities designed around the theme of "Let Your Lives Speak", as per the Quaker ethos.

I signed up for the creative writing workshop which was to be run by Margaret Scott. Margaret was a poet, novelist and well-known intellectual, both throughout the state and on a national scale, and at this time she was a regular on Good News Week. Students and teachers alike were abuzz with excitement about her coming to the school - I, on the other hand, almost exclusively inhabited the world of nineteenth-century literature at that time (oh, how cool I was!) and didn't really know who she was. I was just interested in doing a creative writing workshop!

She gave us a topic to write on and we were given fifteen minutes to write a piece, and then we went around the room where everyone read theirs aloud. I was surrounded by students who I think quite fancied themselves as the top dogs of the arts at the school, and most of them eagerly volunteered to go first, with Margaret offering some brief comments, but nothing along the lines of "oh my goodness, that is amazing for one so young", which I think they were expecting! (I'm sure you all went to school with people like that!)

It came to my turn and I read my piece. When I finished, no one said anything.

Margaret started saying something, but then she trailed off and looked directly at me. Her eyes were so perceptive I felt like she could see right through me.

"Would you read that again?" she asked.

Being an insecure teenager with no confidence in my abilities, my immediate thought was "why? What's wrong with it?!" I felt very stupid! But I seem to recall the rest of the people in the room looking at me with a mixture of awe and envy. So, I read it again. Of the whole group, I was the only one asked to read again. And then the piece was discussed for almost the rest of the session, until one of the teachers supervising remembered that there were a few more people to get through! I can't even remember what it was about, but I seem to recall everyone's comments on the hidden symbolism in my piece making me sound far more in command of the craft than I actually was.

I never told anyone about it at the time because as I say, my first reaction was to be embarrassed, but I look back on that episode now with pride. Sometimes in my low moments I think back to it, and think that if a piece I wrote made a fine writer and scholar such as Margaret Scott have to think twice, then maybe I do have something.

It's a memory I treasure. Thank you, Margaret.

She passed away in 2005. It was only in the last few years of her life that I got to know her through her work, not just this memory. I love her poems, particularly the housework ones (which I'm trying to find a copy of) and I recommend trying to find her novel Family Album - if you're in Australia you should be able to get a copy from most libraries. It's a lovely book.

Do you have a moment like this that you look back on, to spur you forward?

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

CASTAWAY

 

Sometimes a neighbour's look, a post-card, a telephone call

will carry you up the shore of another life

and leave you gaping amazed at sudden jungle

a world away from the dolorous desk

the spruce back-yard, the brick-and-tile in Rosebud.

This glimmering shade's cacophonous with

unfamiliar names of long-dead pets and teachers,

side-streets in distant cities and faithless lovers.

The canopy's alive with flitting shapes unknown

beyond the confines of this island.

Here is the castaway's camp, his palisade,

contrivances he's fashioned year by year,

stores he saved from the wreck of his old ship

before it sank from sight beyond the reef.

Fragments of once-proud sails now patch his roof.

A saw, a pannikin hang by the bed

where every day he wakes alone at dawn

to a view of mountains. Those peaks rise

over the trees in a blue scrawl whose message

you seem to have read from a different angle

on the wall of sky to the east of your own island.

© Margaret Scott

tofu, broccoli, cashew and macadamia stir-fry

tofu-broccoli-stir-fry-philippa-moore

In an effort to demonstrate my diet is much more than soup and baked goods - though my most recent recipe posts on here would suggest otherwise - I’m sharing this amazing stir-fry that has found its way into my repertoire of late.

While London of course did have Chinatown, one thing I love about being back in Australia is the array of wonderful Asian ingredients you can get just in the local supermarket. Shao xing, for example - or Chinese cooking wine - I was never without it when I lived in Melbourne, and yet it proved elusive while I lived in London (and when I did find it, it was a lot of money!). I got a bottle for something ridiculous like $3 on my last trip to Woolworths. Not to mention the noodles! The sauces! The varieties of tofu and tempeh! Admittedly, Australia has a way to go when it comes to the availability of other vegetarian foods (I so miss Alpro single cream) but when it comes to the proliferation of delicious Asian ingredients, I can’t complain!

I had also forgotten the delight of macadamia nuts. I buy a mix from Woolworths of unsalted cashews and macadamias, which is what I use in this stir-fry. You can use any nuts you like. Always good to have nuts and tofu in a vegetarian stir-fry for extra protein!

My favourite tofu so far has to be Coles own brand Hard Tofu. It’s made in Australia, so bloody cheap and easy to cook with! It’s my tofu of choice for this stir-fry but you can of course use your favourite.

Or, if you’re my parents, use chicken. Amused face.

Tofu, broccoli, cashew and macadamia stir-fry

Makes 3 large serves

4 dried noodle nests
Rice bran oil, for frying
1 x 300g pack hard tofu, cut into cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1 large head broccoli, chopped, including the stalk
3 stalks silverbeet, chopped
1/2 cup cashew and macadamia nuts (or however much you want)
Splash of shao xing (Chinese cooking wine), or cooking sherry, or vegetable stock
Vegetarian oyster sauce (made with mushrooms - although apparently oysters are vegan, that’s a post for another day)
Sesame seeds, to serve (optional)

Boil the kettle. Put your dried noodle nests in a heatproof bowl and when the kettle is ready, cover the noodle nests with boiling water. Set aside while you do the rest.

Place a generous splash of rice bran oil in a large wok or frying pan over high heat. Add the tofu. Cook the tofu for a few minutes, stirring/turning occasionally until it is light brown on both sides. If you want it crispier, cook it until it is golden brown all over.

Then add the onion, garlic, chilli and broccoli/silverbeet stalks (reserve the florets and leaves until last). Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until soft. Add a splash of shao xing to get all the yummy flavours talking to each other. Add the nuts, continuing to stir. You can put a lid on at this point to get the stalks of the vegetables cooked a bit more, I find it speeds things up. Otherwise keep stirring and cooking until the stalks are tender.

Add the broccoli florets, silverbeet leaves, another splash of shao xing (or soy sauce, or vegetable stock if you’d prefer) and the oyster suace (as much as you like). Stir everything to combine. Keep stirring as the broccoli cooks, or alternatively you can put a lid on the pan and leave it to cook on its own (purists will tell me technically this then makes this dish not a stir-fry, but hey!).

At this point, drain the noodles and then add to the pan.

Toss it all together until thoroughly combined. Add some more oyster sauce if you like (or any other asian sauce you might have lying around that you want to use - I have a chilli soybean one that’s very good). Toss again until everything is mixed together and piping hot.

Spoon into giant noodle bowls, sprinkle with sesame seeds, maybe add a bit more chilli if you like it hot (like I do) and then tuck in. I do enjoy the frisson of greedy pleasure that a delicious noodle dish inspires - you just want to keep shovelling it in! (or is that just me?)

I don’t know what it is but the combination of spongy tofu, crunchy nuts, wholesome broccoli, slippery noodles and spicy chilli is an absolute winner. Serves 2 for dinner and leftovers for one lucky person the next day. Be prepared to fight over who gets it!

pumpkin, feta and silverbeet muffins

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I’m a huge fan of the savoury muffin and while I have provided a receipt for one previously, I made them in a different way to use up some roast pumpkin and feta I had lying around and OH MY WORD they were good.

I always roast pumpkin with the skin on - with this batch of muffins, it was butternut but with other pumpkins such as Kent, with thicker grey skin, you might want to double check that it’s soft and not too tough.

You can use any combination of roast veg, cheese and herbs you have lying around. You can also sub a generous handful of flat-leaf parsley or spinach for the silverbeet leaves.

Be warned, these don’t last long. You will regret only making one batch.

Pumpkin, feta and silverbeet muffins

Makes 6 large or 12 small muffins

350g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh or dried sage leaves, chopped
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, needles chopped
275ml almond milk
135ml Greek yoghurt
115ml olive oil (I used some of the chilli oil from a jar of yoghurt cheese I bought, it worked beautifully)
2 eggs
200g (roughly) chunks of roast pumpkin
150g feta (I used a combination of feta and soft goats cheese)
2-3 large leaves silverbeet, shredded (not the stalks, just the leaves)
Grated parmesan, to sprinkle on top
Hemp seeds, to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C fan-forced). Line a muffin tray with cases.

Combine the flour, bicarb soda, salt, pepper, sage and rosemary in a large mixing bowl.

Combine the wet ingredients in a jug.

Add the roast pumpkin chunks and the feta to the flour, and make a well in the centre. Pour the wet ingredients into the centre, sprinkle the silverbeet leaves over the top. Stir gently to just combine - over-mixing will give you tough muffins, which no-one wants! A few lumps of flour are fine, don’t worry.

Spoon the mixture into your muffin cases, ensuring each one has a good few chunks of pumpkin in. Sprinkle the tops with grated parmesan and hemp seeds - “drugs?!” asked my horrified mother when I told her what was on top of the muffin she was enjoying! - this is optional of course, but I find it adds greatly to the flavour. Hemp is full of protein too.

Bake in the oven until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean - in my temperamental gas oven, I found the large muffins needed about 35 minutes. If you’re making 12 smaller ones, you might only need 18-20 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and go from there!

Allow to cool briefly in the tin then turn out on to a wire rack.

You can eat these warm or cold. They are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup.