everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

A snack food revelation

So, last week when I was at the airport in Melbourne, I accidentally wandered into a little shop called The Chocolate Box. And, while I bought some chocolates for a friend, I saw a lady clear out a large number of bags (the entire range) of something at the counter. It caused a bit of a kerfuffle amongst the staff, I tell you.

When I asked the ladies behind the counter what the lady had bought in such dramatic fashion, they whispered, “have you heard of chocolate chips?” Errr derrr, ladies. I like to bake and I have a massive sweet tooth, there’s nothing I don’t know about chocolate chips. “We mean salt and vinegar crisps covered in chocolate.” Really? Yes. Apparently they are one of their best sellers.

Here they are. [image from chocolatebox.com.au]

Here they are.
[image from chocolatebox.com.au]

So, today I bought a bag (ok, maybe two) to bring in to the office so we could experience this phenomenon. The verdict was mixed – but I vote YES for this snack food. A bit too much chocolate masking the flavour, but every now and again there was an unmistakable salty/vinegary kick. Like chocolate covered pretzels, only better, I reckon.

If you’re in Australia, you can stock up at The Chocolate Box. Or I guess you could make your own, if you’re so inclined. Chocolate Chicken Crisps, anyone? Anyone?

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Bringing nonsense back

Hello, how are you? I hope you are well. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but I thought I’d try to get back into sharing more nonsense. That was always the intention of this blog, really: noticing and passing on everyday sorts of sparks that I saw and liked. Because sometimes it’s nice to have a light diversion from normal everyday life, right?

So, here’s some nonsense that I found last week – an excerpt from the menu at the not-so-great Melbourne hotel I stayed in whilst in town for work. The other dishes sound normal enough, but WHY HAVE THE APRICOTS INTERCEPTED THE LAMB CUBS? And what actually are lamb cubs? Offspring of bears and sheep? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

The other dishes sound normal enough, but WHY HAVE THE APRICOTS INTERCEPTED THE LAMB CUBS? WHY?

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Hello, Chocolate Mug Cake

I had read about these magical sounding chocolate puddings in a few different places on the internets recently. Put a few simple ingredients in a mug, pop it in the microwave for a minute or so and – hey, presto – out comes a delicious cake. Can’t argue with that for a quick and easy dessert. Or morning tea treat. Or midnight snack. Or, you know, breakfast. No judgement.

A little smaller than a normal mixing bowl...

A little smaller than a normal mixing bowl…

As always, Google generously provides about a bzillion recipes for cakes and puddings in mugs. I tried a chocolate peanut butter version last night, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And then there was cake.

And then there was cake.

The verdict? For a basic muggy dessert that microwaved in 1 minute 10 seconds, it was actually quite good. Definitely much better than I had expected. I have included the recipe that I used (from The Novice Chef blog) below – it’s well worth a try. Especially if you’re in rainy Sydney at the moment and need a bit of extra warmth!

When a cup of tea isn’t quite comforting enough, try a mug of cake, I say.

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[recipe from The Novice Chef blog]

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A Leprechaun Trap and other delicious stuff

As you may know, St Patrick’s Day is coming up on Monday. As a fan of Ireland and almost everything Irish (I’m sorry, Father Ted. I have tried, but I just do not like your show), I thought I would help you out with your preparations this week. I have gathered together some Oirish things that have caught my eye and today, the focus is food. You’re welcome.

First up, the incredible Leprechaun Trap Cake from Megan, who blogs a lot of very cool stuff (not just Oirish cakes) at Not Martha.

First up, attract your leprechaun with the lure of gold. [image from Not Martha]

1. Attract your leprechaun with the lure of gold (and help him out with a pretzel ladder).
[image from Not Martha]

2. Hide a pretzel trap under the gold, so the wee fella falls through. [image from Not Martha]

2. Hide a pretzel trap under the gold, so the wee fella falls through.
[image from Not Martha]

3. Enjoy the magical rainbow cake, with or without your leprechaun. [image from Not Martha]

3. Enjoy the magical rainbow cake, with or without your leprechaun.
[image from Not Martha]

Next, St Patrick’s Day Pancakes from the FashionPlaytes blog. Whilst they are not so quirky, they are very easy to make and I have never seen a batch quite so green…

Yikes. [image from Fashion Playtes]

Yikes.
[image from Fashion Playtes]

And of course I had to look on etsy, just in case. I found these disturbingly named Irish Car Bomb Cake Pops from the shop Bella Roca Cakes. I then discovered that (maybe you already knew this?) the Irish Car Bomb is a drink that was invented in an American bar – by dropping a shot of Baileys + Jameson whiskey into Guinness. And I just gave an involuntary shiver as I wrote that. According to Wikipedia, you have to drink it quickly so it doesn’t curdle. Or you could just get these cake pops instead – they don’t curdle and they include chocolate.

Much nicer than the real thing.  [image from Bella Roca Cakes]

Much nicer than the real thing.
[image from Bella Roca Cakes]

Last, but not least, in case you want to keep your o’snacking healthy – here’s a “pot of gold” for you. But I’ve got to say, I’m more likely to be your friend if you make the leprechaun trap cake than this vegetable combo (although I do like carrots and they are good for your eyes, apparently).

The serving suggestion is to place the "pot o' gold" at the end of a "rainbow" of vegetables, with a "cloud" of ranch dressing.  [image from Spoonful]

The serving suggestion is to place the “pot o’ gold” at the end of a “rainbow” of vegetables, with a “cloud” of ranch dressing. To be sure, to be sure.
[image from Spoonful]

Bon appétit! Or, as they say in Ireland, bon appétit!

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The Camino Diet

As I’ve mentioned, it’s only around a month til my friend Steph and I leave for the Camino. A lot of well-meaning peeps have been giving us tips and hints, as well as remarking on how they can’t wait to see how fit and thin we are on our return. (Not that we are super unfit and ginormous now, I might add.) I remind those people that one of my favourite lunches on my last trip to Spain was a potato omelette on a giant bread roll – now that’s carb loading. And then there’s the wine – I am sure that it’s culturally insensitive to refuse.

So, we really don’t know what impact the 800km will have on us. Sure, it’s a lot more walking than we’d normally do each day in our office jobs, but then there are the delicious (and not always healthy) foods along the way, undoubtedly an important part of the journey. So maybe it’ll just even out and we’ll come back looking EXACTLY THE SAME. Just warning you now – it’s definitely a possibility.

One of the many books that I’m reading is ‘Guide to the Camino’ by an Australian lady, Trish Clark. Trish includes local delicacies in her book – food and drink that walkers should try in each town. As I read the list for one town, I felt the weight stacking on:

Fried bread with garlic and ham? Yes please!

Fried bread with garlic and ham? Caramelised custard & sponge cake? Yes please!

And then I read about another town and realised that – at least for me on my bull-free diet – this stop might be a lean one:

Cinnamon pancakes it is.

Cinnamon pancakes it is.

So, looks like there will be lots of exercise and lots of fried bread and pancakes (and bull hoof stew) – life is all about balance, right?!

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Soup-er winter dish

So, I know this isn’t a food blog, but it is a blog about everyday things that add sparks to our lives – and in winter, I say that includes tasty soup. And when I was sent a new flavour of Pitango organic soup to try, I told myself that it could only really count as an everyday spark if it was delicious. It was, so here we are.

I really like soup in winter – preferably when it’s cooked by other people. My mum is an excellent soup-maker, even if she can’t be completely trusted about the ingredients. She recently gave me some allegedly meat-free minestrone and, when I detected something chewy halfway through and said “um, is this bacon?” she looked genuinely puzzled for a moment and then said, “oh, yes, sorry – I didn’t put that much in there, so I forgot”. Now, if the surprise ingredient had been chunks of lamb or beef, things would not have ended well, I tell you.

A quinoa & black bean salad made by my brother Jimmi. He threatened to release a cookbook called "Listening to Quinoa".

A quinoa & black bean salad made by my brother Jimmi. Ever in tune with the market, he threatened to release a cookbook called “Listening to Quinoa”.

I also like quinoa (‘keen-wa’) – sometimes known as the rich man’s cous cous (not really, I just made that up). Quinoa gets a bad reputation because a lot of fancy pants hipster types have adopted it as the grain du jour. Which is kinda funny, since our South American friends have been using quinoa as a key grain in their diet for – like – ever. The Incas even considered it sacred, apparently. Long before our local organic store started selling it at extortionate prices.

As recommended by EverydaySparks.

As recommended by EverydaySparks.

Anyways, I digress. Back to the Pitango soup that I tried – it’s organic, gluten-free and made in New Zealand (a description that actually reminds me of my blogging buddy Jo at This Sydney Life), but please don’t let any of those things put you off. The new flavour that I tried was vegetable & quinoa and it was very tasty – with enough of a hint of Mexican flavours to make me add a dollop of guacamole to my next serving. I could be a Masterchef yet, my friends!

Yes, those chives are from my balcony herb pot. And I made that toast. So I feel like I contributed something here (but thanks for the gifted bowl and spoon, Pitango people).

Yes, those chives are from my balcony herb pot. And I made that toast. So I feel like I contributed something here (but thanks for the gifted bowl and spoon, Pitango people).

I was just looking on the Pitango website (it’s here if you would like to check out their range) and noticed the claim that the United Nations has declared 2013 ‘International Year Of The Quinoa’. Maybe you keep track of these things better than I do, but I totally missed that – and it’s already mid-July. Must talk to my brother about that cookbook: “Listening to Quinoa” could be an unexpected global hit! In the meantime, this Pitango soup is definitely a winner. The proof is below.

Yum.

Yum.

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Treats from Ireland

I wrote last week that some friends from Ireland were visiting Australia for the Lions tour, spending this past week here in amazingly sunny Sydney. I haven’t yet processed my feelings about the match on Saturday night, where I was the lone little Wallabies supporter in a block of hundreds and hundreds of Lions fans, but I’ll try to write about it another day.

Anyways, my lovely friend Gavan brought me out a bag of treats from Ireland as an international gesture of goodwill. I’m not sure who started this crazy contest – I have been known to send over hideous Austrayan goodies (mostly to remove them from our shops) from time to time – but this bag o’ crap from Dublin’s finest tourist store has really raised the bar. In fact, it has inspired me to put together a Diddly Dee Oirish showbag for next year’s Easter Show in Sydney. It will go off like a leprechaun in a pot of gold, so it will.

Here are some pics of my gifts – do let me know if you would like to borrow anything…

The bag. Off to a very good start.

The bag. Off to a very good start.

Complete with a tin whistle playing leprechaun, if you don't mind.

Complete with a tin whistle playing leprechaun, if you don’t mind.

They really would work with any outfit.

They really would work with any outfit.

Roll on, 17 March...

Roll on, 17 March…

Probably not so lucky if you actually eat them.

Probably not so lucky if you actually eat them.

An unexpected warning on the bag of ShamRock lollies.

An unexpected warning on the bag of ShamRock lollies.

I’ll stop there, even though I’ve only covered maybe half of the contents of the bag. But you get the idea. Although, I do need to add one more highlight – I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Tayto, the Irish crisps that backpackers miss so much that they have their family post out boxes to them (well, they used to, until an entrepreneur started importing them to Australia and charging extortionate prices for a taste of home). Anyways, the flagship flavour is cheese & onion and they’re pretty much a national treasure. So, what else to do but release a limited edition treat – embed the chips into chocolate bars and sell them to the general public. I’ve tried it and it’s pretty much as horrible as you might imagine: some things were just not meant to be, Tayto.

Limited edition indeed.

Limited edition indeed.

Huge thanks to my friend Gavan for this bag of treats – I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a thoughtful/generous/funny/scary/sickening gift all in one bag. Now the stakes have been raised, I’m off to find some hideous Australiana to further advance global cultural understanding and tolerance. Or something like that.

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Blog Crush: Sally’s Baking Addiction

I have a blog crush. The blog is Sally’s Baking Addiction. I want to make and eat pretty much everything on Sally’s blog – especially the things with brightly coloured sprinkles. Which is A LOT of the things, thankfully. According to her brief bio, Sally is a ‘food writer, recipe developer, picture-taker, lover of peanut butter, and obsessed with sprinkles’. Sounds pretty great to me!

Even if you’re not into baking, you can surely appreciate the food porn value of Sally’s blog – and it’s calorie-free if you just look at the pictures. But don’t just take my word for it – check out these photos of some of my favourites…

This tie-dye cake makes me wish we celebrated 4th of July in Australia...

This tie-dye cake makes me wish we celebrated 4th of July in Australia…

 

'Easy homemade Funfetti cake'? Yes please!

‘Easy homemade Funfetti cake’? Yes please!

Salted Caramel Choc Chip Cookies. Uh huh.

Salted Caramel Choc Chip Cookies. Uh huh.

S'mores Brownie Pie. Yes, that is a toasted marshmallow topping.

S’mores Brownie Pie. Yes, my friends, that is a toasted marshmallow topping.

Ok, I have to stop now or I will go into a virtual sugar coma. But if you’re looking for some sweet inspiration, including healthy(ish) options, gluten-free options, no-bake options and lots of sprinkles, then Sally’s Baking Addiction is the place to visit. The recipes are detailed and easy to follow, supported by amazing photos. As with any temptation, EverydaySparks of course urges moderation in your consumption of Sally’s treats. But there’s no harm in looking…

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The Pancake Man

This post was made possible by our EverydaySparks correspondent in Dublin (aka my Irish sista Aoife), who somehow stumbled across this site and thought I might like it. And I do. A great find, thanks AB!

The site in question is Jim’s Pancakes and I was pretty impressed by the home page header alone, where Jim has taken word art to a whole new level and made his site name out of little pancakes. Then there’s the understated tag line: ‘just trying to make some cool pancakes for my daughter’. And that’s what he did…

Jim made Star Wars pancakes:

20130626-113346.jpg

Jim made a romantic gift box pancake stack for his wife:

pancakegiftJim made candy cane pancakes for Christmas:

pancakecandycane

Jim made a burger and fries pancake extravaganza:

pancakeburger

And probably my favourite. Jim’s bling pancakes – a whole chain of pancakes worthy of any sweet rhymin’ rapper.

PancakeBlingYou can check out Jim’s Pancakes here and if you’re feeling particularly inspired, Jim has a book for sale, with a very exciting title: OMG PANCAKES!

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The best chocolate product in the whole wide world

According to the good people at Haigh’s Chocolates here in Australia, it’s ‘Marshmallow & Coconut Season‘ from April to October. And that is indeed great news. I know they’re telling the truth about the limited season as I once went into their shop in Sydney looking for their rocky road (the subject of this blog & my vote for the best chocolate product in the whole wide world) and the young lady behind the counter looked at me as if I was a poor simple visiting from another planet. Very slowly, she explained: “Ummm…we don’t actually sell rocky road now, it’s just too hot for marshmallow’.

Compliments of the season. [image from haighschocolates.com.au]

Compliments of the season.
[image from haighschocolates.com.au]

I can’t believe I had lived ’til that point without knowing about marshmallow season. But now I do and, from April to October, I do like to celebrate the season from time to time with Haigh’s milk chocolate rocky road (they also have dark chocolate, if you’re so inclined). I bought some yesterday – my first for the season, I swear – and was reminded again of just how awesome it is.

Haigh’s is a bit of an Australian institution for chocolate. According to their website, they are ‘the oldest family-owned chocolate manufacturing retailer in Australia’. Sure, that’s a pretty narrow niche, but I love that there are still Haighs running the show and churning out their amazing chocolate. They only came to Sydney relatively recently – when I was a wee graduate working at a major bank, it was a treat when one of the big wigs in our area went to Adelaide or Melbourne as he’d bring back Haigh’s chocolate frogs. Good times.

'Tis the REAL season to be jolly, I tell you. [image from haighschocolates.com.au]

‘Tis the REAL season to be jolly, I tell you.
[image from haighschocolates.com.au]

Anyways, if you are in Australia during Coconut & Marshmallow Season and you haven’t tried Haigh’s rocky road, I reckon you definitely should. You have until the end of October, peeps. Enjoy! (You can also have a calorie-free look at their website here if you’re from another land…or if you’re in Australia, but you don’t like delicious chocolate.)

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