Even though I understand coconuts are available year round, for me they are the essence of summer. Just the scent of coconut transports me straight to the beach no matter how far from one I may be. Conjuring memories of road tripping the NSW north coast with my surfer brother, coconut surf wax drifting through the haze from the boot outwards, coconut is the emblem of vacation. It also recalls golden days of childhood adolescence reaching for the
third fourth piece of coconut slice in that special tin of Mum’s, always and ever a family token. Memories aside, coconut has also captured my imaginations of the present this summer, and it’s been the feature ingredient on my mind these past few weeks. A morning tea at work this week gave me the perfect excuse to bring out an old and treasured family recipe for coconut slice that is so easy and quick to make that it can be done in half the time it takes to get to the supermarket and back.
Since I can’t be on a proper holiday this summer I’ve been making the most of what my home city has to offer, and Sydney in January really isn’t such a bad place to be. The roads are quiet, the nights are long and there’s plenty going on around town as part of the annual Sydney Festival. I couldn’t resist including some pictures from a recent trip to Palm Beach, Sydney’s northernmost beach and a beach haven/heaven for lovers of sunshine, surf, beach walking and lazy summer days.
My tips for this recipe are to make the slice a day ahead and to let the slice cool completely before icing. I tend to pour the icing on to the slice and pick up the tin to move it around, because if you use a knife or spatula the crumbs from the slice will mix into the icing. After icing, store in the fridge overnight before removing to slice and serve. This will ensure that you get nicely cut, even squares (or rectangles, if that’s how you like to roll).
125g unsalted butter, melted
1 cup self raising flour
1 cup desiccated coconut, plus extra to serve
1/2 brown sugar, firmly packed
~2 cups pure icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Grease and line a 28 x 18 cm slice tin. Combine the flour, brown sugar and coconut in a bowl. Add in the butter and mix well. Press into the slice tin and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in the lemon juice. You may need to adjust the amounts to get the consistency you are after, which should not be too thick. Scatter the desiccated coconut over the slice and set in the refrigerator.
*Makes 18 squares.
It seems I just can’t get enough of the beach this summer, and I’m wondering how it is that I managed to spend the last five or six summers of my life living away from the coast. Since moving back to Sydney I’ve been taking every opportunity I can get to head to one of Sydney’s many spectacular beaches to explore new spots and rediscover some old favourites. This morning I headed over to Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and took a walk from the south end of the beach, which took me around the headland and over to the north end of Longreef Beach. There’s an aquatic reserve along this stretch between Collaroy and Longreef, and a rocky reef plateau perfect for wanderers (and wonderers) like me. The headland at Longreef is a popular spot for paragliders, and on a morning like this I could definitely be tempted to give this sport a try. Definitely Maybe, that is. For today though, a walk and a swim was the perfect way to start a summer Saturday. The water has warmed up significantly since I first started swimming in the ocean again in September and if I had come better prepared with sunscreen I could have stayed on the beach all morning.
A summer swim can’t be without a summer breakfast, and this muesli provides the perfect sustenance for a Sydney summer’s day. Surprisingly easy and satisfying to make, I wonder why I haven’t been making this myself until now. The best thing about making your own muesli is that you can make it just exactly how you like, and not have to deal with ingredients you find offensive. I can’t say that I have any specific aversions for my muesli ingredients, but I will say (again) that the simplest combinations are often the best, and there is definitely a place in my heart for the humble dried apricot. Here’s my recipe for homemade apricot muesli, which you can adapt or adhere to as you please.
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups wheat-bran sticks
3/4 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
150 ml fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup sultanas
Preheat oven to 150°C. Combine all of the dry ingredients except the slivered almonds and dried fruit. Heat the orange juice and honey together over a low heat until warm, then mix through the dry ingredients. Spread the mixture out on a large baking tray or shallow dish and bake for 30 mins or until the mixture is lightly toasted. Toast the slivered almonds separately in a dry pan over a medium heat until just toasted. When both mixtures have fully cooled, stir to combine with the apricots and sultanas added. Store for up to one month in an airtight container.
This weekend I spent a lazy Saturday morning at the Dawn Fraser Baths at Elkington Park in Balmain. It seems that this little pocket of the inner west is a treasure trove of hidden gems like this spot. Built in the early 1880s, the baths is Australia’s oldest pool and home to Australia’s oldest swimming club. The first game of water polo was also played here in 1888 and it continues to host the International Water Polo games. It’s the old school vibe of the baths that makes it so special, and as it’s (thankfully) on the heritage list of the National Trust it looks as though it’s a Sydney institution that is here to stay. When I went down it was the first open day of the season, as the baths are only open from October through to April. Although it was only the first day of the season, it seems that there were many like me who were keen to get down there and soak up the sunshine before a dip in the pool. The soaking up of the sunshine took up the majority of my visit though as the water was pretty chilly, although not as cold as the water at Bondi last week. The baths is a great place to go on an outing with family and friends, as there is a huge expanse of decking and plenty of shaded seating, not to mention a great view of the harbour. It was fairly entertaining watching people work up the nerve to jump in and then swim furiously for a lap or so to adjust to the chilly temperature. It seemed that every time somebody jumped or waded in everybody stopped to look on and gauge their reaction (and their own readiness to brave the water!). There are lanes for lap swimmers and also a large area with a sandy beach which is great for kids. Standing in the shallows I saw heaps of jelly fish and other schools of tiny fish as well as some not-so-tiny fish! The baths is lifeguarded and the water quality is tested by Harbourwatch. It’s the perfect place to head with a group of friends or the family, or even just by yourself with a book – something I intend to do a lot of this Spring and Summer! The baths also runs yoga classes every Wednesday at 9.30 am and every Sunday at 8.00 am during Summer.
All this warm weather we’ve been having in Sydney has me particularly excited about spring and summer flavours – fresh herbs and tomatoes especially! Here’s my recipe for a delicious and healthy thai beef salad.
Simple Thai Beef Salad
300g rump or fillet steak
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
80g salad mix
12 cherry tomates, halved
1 cucumber, sliced,
1/2 carrot, julienned
1/4 spanish onion, finely sliced
1 small handful of mint leaves
For the dressing:
1/3 cup lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
Marinate the steaks in the soy sauce, 1 tbsp fish sauce and the garlic for 1-2 hours. When ready to cook, sear the beef fillet in a hot pan on both sides for 3 mins, or until cooked to your liking. Leave to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad.
To prepare the salad, simply combine the salad ingredients. To prepare the dressing, combine the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and adjust the amount of sugar to your taste. When ready to serve, slice the beef thinly across the grain and add to your salad. Bon appétit!