Cook this: 5 ingredient lemon coconut shortbread

We’ve all been in COVID-19 induced isolation, so we’ve all been spending some quality time with our kitchens. And when I noticed our lemon tree had gone bonkers a few weeks ago, I turned to my trusty, 888 page-long CWA CLASSICS cookbook for help. Classic shortbread is nice, but shortbread with lemon and coconut is better, so here’s my spin on a classic…

Ingredients:
• 250g softened butter
• ¾ cup icing sugar
• ⅓ cup desiccated coconut
• finely grated zest of one lemon (I used a Meyer lemon from the tree in my backyard)
• juice of one lemon
• 2½ cups plain flour

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a lamington tin with non-stick baking paper.
2. Beat the butter and icing sugar together until creamy, then beat in the coconut, lemon zest and juice.
3. Sift in the flour and stir to combine – you might want to use your hands to bring the dough together.
4. Press the dough into the lamington tin as evenly as you can, then place into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes – you want it  JUST golden, not browned!
5. Cool the shortbread in the tin for 2 minutes, then transfer it carefully (leave it on the baking paper) to a cutting board. Cut it up into squares while it’s still hot, then transfer the shortbread, still on the baking paper, onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

And we’re back!

Wowwww this feels so weird… it has been a really long time since I last sat in front of an empty WordPress post to start writing. Call it COVID-19 isolation madness, call it the often mind-numbing monotony of being a new stay-at-home-mum, call it the inevitable pull of my love of storytelling calling me back. But here we are, back in front of the keyboard. Now, where to start…

A lot has changed since I said my temporary farewell back in November 2018, and I guess the first thing you’ll notice is that I’ve changed up the layout of this site. The standard first step of the “fresh start, fresh look” routine. The other big change is that I am thankfully no longer pregnant – our little guy, Jasper, came along in January 2019, as planned… sort of.

In no way associated with the crippling sickness I experienced throughout the pregnancy, Jasper was born with a rare medical condition requiring an almost 2 month-long stay in NICU, almost 8 months of being tube fed, and a few rounds of pretty nasty surgery. He has a few more operations coming up and we still have a very busy schedule of regular specialist appointments. Which might explain why I’ve stayed away from here for so much longer than I’d originally intended; becoming not only a new mum, but essentially a low-level nurse overnight took up a lot of time and energy. That said, I didn’t stay away from writing all together – I’ve spent the last 12 months researching medical journals and writing a book about Jasper’s condition. It’s so uncommon that we struggled to find any information on it, so I decided to put my forced time at home to use and work on a resource that might help some other scared new parents in the position we were in. It’s almost done and should be due for release in the next few weeks, so watch this space! All the drama and continual medical appointments aside, I’m now an exhausted but proud mum to a very sweet, sassy, funny little boy who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up 🙂

There have been other changes, too, of course. But the one solid that’s remained is my love of travelling and documenting and story telling. It’s going to be a slow re-start for me, so posts will be few and far between for a while. Step one for me will be getting my blog’s Instagram account back up and running; over the next few weeks, you’ll start seeing some more action over at @ordinarygirl.blog – I’ll be posting some of my personal travel throwbacks, re-visit some of my older posts, share some of my favourite places, and post some great travel book recommendations to help everyone get their travel fix while we’re all in lockdown and start the ideas flowing for post-COVID travel plans. For those of you still receiving and reading this, thanks for sticking around 🙂 it’s good to be back!

How to brew different types of tea

Last week I took an awesome class through Laneway Learning called The Art of Tea Brewing, Flag & Spearhosted by the lovely Cheryl from . And it got me thinking that a big reason more people probably don’t enjoy tea is because they haven’t had it made properly. There’s actually a bit more to it than pouring boiled water into a mug and throwing in a tea bag, and there’s a hell of a lot more to it than those stale black tea bags your nanna has in the back of the pantry.

I thought I’d do a quick run through of a few different types of tea this morning, and how to brew them, based not only on some of what I learned last week, but also from what I’ve learned making and drinking tea around the world, so that you get the best tasting cup possible!

*** I will preface this guide by saying that you should always check the instructions on your tea first, as they may specify the exact time and temperate for steeping – this guide is more a general rule of thumb for the most popular types of tea. I also generally use one heaped teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to make one cup, 2 heaped teaspoons to make a 500ml pot. ***

 

Black tea

Why drink it: For a great, caffeine-lighter alternative to coffee as a morning or afternoon pick-me-up, and for benefits that include digestive tract health and lower stress levels.
Water temperature:
Boiling water, 100°C. This is the exception to “it’s not all just boiling water” rule.
How long to steep: Depending on how strong you like it, around 3 – 6 minutes.
Favourites: Storm In A Teacup’s Breakfast Tea is my all-time go to. Also adore Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend for an afternoon cup,  Clement & Pekoe’s Assam Leaf Corramore for a morning cup, and English Tea Shop’s Organic English Breakfast tea bags when I can’t use a teapot.

 

White tea

Why drink it: To help with everything from oral health to anti-aging to diabetic symptom relief – it’s a versatile one.
Water temperature:
 Around 80°C.
How long to steep: 2 – 5minutes
Favourites: I’ve actually never gotten into white tea, so if you have any recommendations, I’d love to know!!

 

Green tea


Why drink it: Green tea is packed with antioxidants, will still give you a bit of a caffeine kick, and reputedly has benefits ranging from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving brain function.
Water temperature: Around 60 – 75°C. A very basic rule of thumb is to fill about a quarter of the cup or pot with cold water, the rest with boiling water.
How long to steep: Again, it can vary so check the specific tea’s instructions, but generally only a minute or two, otherwise it can get quite bitter. You’ll also find some green teas can be infused two or three times, but you’ll only need 10 – 30 seconds for the second infusion.
Favourites: Ippodo’s Genmaicha is a delicious blend of green tea with toasted rice, Storm In A Tea Cup’s Matcha Laced Sencha is a great way to try matcha without going the whole hog, Twining’s Lemon Drizzle is a delicious special treat cup, and my absolute favourite (and splurge purchase) tea is Ippoddo’s Mantoku Gyokuro, which is just heaven in a cup.

 

Rooibos tea

Why drink it: Because rooibos is caffeine-free, it’s the perfect option to drink at night – it’s also packed full of antioxidants, and helps support strong bones with higher levels of manganese, calcium and fluoride. 
Water temperature:
 90 – 100°C.
How long to steep: 5 – 7 minutes.
Favourites: The Old Tea Shop’s Rooibos Caramel, and T2 Tea’s Red Green Vanilla

 

Oolong tea

Why drink it: Not quite as high in caffeine as black tea, this drop is reported to help increase metabolism (therefore aiding in weight loss), and decreases inflammation. 
Water temperature:
 80 – 100°C.
How long to steep: 3 – 5 minutes – this is another one that can deal with multiple infusions, which are often said to get better as they go.
Favourites: Wall & Keogh’s Milk Oolong and The Spice & Tea Exchange’s Coconut Oolong

 

Herbal tea

Why drink it: Herbal tea benefits are almost unending – it all depends on what kind of herbs you go with! Herbal teas can be used to help in everything from detoxing the body from harmful nasties, helping to de-stress you before bed, assisting in healthy pregnancies and energising you before a big day.
Water temperature:
 100°C.
How long to steep: 5 – 8 minutes. Herbal tea is also great to cold steep for iced tea – just add cold water instead of boiling water, and steep it in the fridge overnight.
Favourites: T2 Tea’s Mint Mix makes an awesome iced tea as an alternative to plain boring water, Yarra Valley Chocolaterie’s Cocoa Tea Relax is a delicious dessert tea, and Monique’s Apothecary’s detox.me is amazing to help get your liver and kidneys working properly again.

 

And if you’d like some more tea-related business this cold, foggy Melbourne morning, we’ve got tea-infused porridge to make at home, matcha magic cake for dessert, some great winter teas, and my favourites from around the world!

5 Reasons To Renew Your Library Membership

Remember back in the day when you used to go to the library after school, pick up your books like it was the most exciting thing in the world, and head home to your juice box and teddy bears to read (chances are if you weren’t born in the 80s, you probably don’t)? Unsurprisingly, I had pretty high library attendance rates when I was a kid. I went through books like a pack-a-day smoker goes through cigarettes, and it wasn’t cheap for mum and dad to keep up with my habit. So I went to the library.

Many years later, not much has changed. I don’t smoke. I don’t really drink, other than the odd glass of wine. I don’t buy myself nice clothes, fancy shoes, new handbags or jewellery – my money goes towards books. That’s my guilty pleasure. But with my travel habit getting more and more expensive, something’s had to give. So I toddled on down to the local library, and signed myself up, expecting a half-decent collection of old books, at best. What I found instead, I was not expecting.

Libraries have upped their game since I was last a member back in the 1990s. They’ve got new books, old books, and so much more than books. I’m kicking myself for not having signed up earlier, because the easy access to books has meant I’ve been able to tear through 24 of them so far this year already! My habit is satisfied, and I’ve found a whole new world I didn’t know existed a few months ago. I’m really glad I went back to the library, and here’s why you should, too…

 

1. It’s not just access to your local library – it’s your whole council.
Say you live in the confines of the Whitehorse City Council. Say you live in the suburb of Blackburn. It’s not just Blackburn’s library you can borrow from; you can use your library card to borrow from Box Hill. Or Doncaster. Or Nunawading, Vermont, Bulleen or Warrandyte. You have no idea how nifty this is until you want to borrow a book on your way home and it’s way easier to drop into a different branch!

2. Easy reservations online or with apps.
You know how frustrating it is when you finally get to the library and they don’t have the book you want? Well that’s a thing of the past, now. Councils like Darebin have introduced an app you can download; from there, you can search the library catalogue and make a reservation! And, to prove step one really is efficient, it doesn’t matter which library the book is currently residing in – they can bring it to your library of choice for collection! AND you’ll get a handy sms to let you know when it’s ready for you, so you don’t have to make the trip down for nothing. Amazing!

3. They look after the kids.
Libraries have seriously upped their game when it comes to activities for the small ones. The City of Moonee Valley are outstanding, providing not only sessions for kids of all ages (rhyme time for babies, a mix of singing and stories for the toddlers, a story time program for pre-schoolers, and even an after school program for the older kids), they also have a gorgeous initiative called “Begin With Books” that gives a free book bag to all babies born within their council 🙂

4. Free community events.
Did you know that most libraries actually hold a ton of free events?! Libraries like those in the City of Yarra host regular events, ranging from social (crafternoons, Lego clubs and kids’ reading clubs) to educational (digital coaching and how to create your own food gardens), and all you have to do is register online and turn up!

5. Free books – duh!
Sooooo many books! All yours! For free! For a time, anyway. Oh, and it’s not just physical books that libraries lend out anymore; you can also get eBooks to download to your favourite electronic reading device! And as you can see on Moreland City Council’s library page, you can also get eAudiobooks, And eMovies. And eMagazines. Libraries are keeping up with technology to stay relevant and accessible, and that can only come in handy!

Eating the city: Hoi An, Vietnam

There is a truly ridiculous amount of great food in Hoi An, and as with most of South East Asia, the best of it is on the streets. Add these dishes to your “to eat” list when you visit…

White rose dumplings.
A shrimp-filled dumpling, wrapped in thin, translucent dough and shaped to look like a rose. Also usually served with a delicious sweet dipping sauce and sprinkled with fried shallots. This is a classic, served everywhere, and we didn’t eat a bad version.
img_6811

Cao lau.
Where have you been all my life?! A dish synonymous with Hoi An (the only city you’ll find it made in), it’s the perfect bowl of chewy noodles, fresh green herbs, tasty pork, crunchy fried noodles, and easily the most flavourful broth I’ve ever tasted. Again, we tried several bowls of this – you can’t get a bad version.
img_6763-12

Banh Mi.
They’re all over the country, and they’re all delicious. We found them to be the perfect breakfast, costing us only a few dollars for some crispy shelled, pillowy soft baguettes stuffed with BBQ pork and all the fixings. Take a stroll down the street in the morning and pick one up as you walk in to town.
img_6671

Pandan coconut sweets.
Every time we walked past this lady’s cart, we stopped so I could get one. Gelatinous, gooey, pandany coconutty goodness, they were the ultimate sweet fix in such a hot climate. But they’re sticky as hell, so bring some anti-bacterial gel with you, or you’ll stick to everything you touch for the rest of the day!
img_6763-14

Street food feasts.
There are a few places that’ll help you out here, but my hands down favourite is Bale Well. I wrote about it a few years ago when my sister and I visited, and it was one of the first places on my list to go back to. Rice paper to wrap, freshly fried spring rolls, pork skewers, kimchi-style pickled veg, a mountain of fresh greens, banh xeo, bowls of dipping sauce, and a drink each set us back all of about AUD$12.00. And we were utterly and completely stuffed by the end of it. Don’t be put off by it’s location down a dark alleyway – this is the best cheap feast in the city!
img_6594-26