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So we’ve been busy. Really busy. Busy as in I can’t remember the last three months of my life busy. Busy as in I can’t really remember when I last cooked or what I might have made.

Actually, I’m not sure that I remember how to cook, to be honest. We didn’t eat too poorly during the last few months. Carlo cooked some good stuff, but we relied heavily on our stuffed-to-capacity freezer. I also used the blender a lot. If it wasn’t in the freezer or I couldn’t whiz it together in the blender, we didn’t have it. Wooden spoons, spatulas, pots and pans languished in their drawers while I whirred fruits and nut butters together with milk. I’ve had a LOT of smoothies.

No, this isn’t high-style eating. My mouth is bored, I admit it. But a nice smoothie makes up for a lot of ills. The following is very, very nice.

Blueberry-Vanilla Almond Butter Smoothie

I like this smoothie because I don’t have to add any sugar to sweeten it. The blueberries taste bright and light, and the almond butter is discernable but not overpowering. I suppose you could use milk instead of vanilla soymilk, but then you’d probably need to add some extra sugar.

1 cup frozen blueberries
1-2 tablespoons almond butter
1 cup vanilla soymilk

Blend. Drink. Go to work. Repeat.

Today’s recipe is a previously mentioned gift from Farhan at happygrub. When she sent me a package of amazing goodies from Singapore, she wasn’t allowed to send the tin of cardamom milk that she had planned to include. However, it made the 10 000 km journey anyway, straight from the note Farhan tucked into the package into my idea bank. As soon as I read about this milk, I was intrigued, so I asked for more details. Farhan told me “masala tea is made by boiling cardamom pods which are crushed with the tea and milk, then strained before serving. The cardamom milk is just a shortcut and can be poured straight into the mug from the fridge. It’s nice. You should make a large batch and store it, have it with Indian tea and condensed milk. That’s how tea/coffee is drunk all over Asia. No one drank fresh milk in coffee or tea till Starbucks came.” (Hope it’s okay that I’m quoting you, Farhan!)

Today was  particularly gloomy in Edmonton, without even a hint of sun from morning till night. Just varying shades of grey. Not to mention the abbreviated day–sunrise at 8 AM, sunset at 4:30… and it’s only getting shorter. If ever there was a day that needed spicing up, it was today. So I decided to make a batch of cardamom milk. I added it to Indian tea (straight out of my Singapore package, and brewed strong), and it was lovely. I made a big batch, just like Farhan recommended, so I’d have more on hand. When I was recipe planning, I thought a bit of sugar added to the milk would be a good idea, to help with preservation (does that make sense at all? I don’t know, but it tastes good!) The milk added to tea gave a hint of the exotic without being over-the-top complex, like chai is. It’s a perfect antidote to winter cold.

Cardamom Milk
I didn’t have a recipe for this, so I winged it. Feel free to experiment with your own proportions. And let me know if you come up with something divine!

3 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
10-15 green cardamom pods*, slightly crushed

Combine all ingredients in a saucapan, and warm over medium-low heat until milk seems like it’s going to start boiling any second. Remove from heat and allow the cardamom to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Strain cardamom seeds and pods out of milk and store your finished product in the fridge.

To use this milk with tea, I brewed strong tea and filled my cup 3/4 with tea, topping up the rest with cardamom milk. Next time I’ll try some condensed milk, although I found this mixture to be plenty sweet for me.

*if you’re looking for cardamom, try finding it in an Indian market, or the “ethnic” aisle of the supermarket (in Edmonton, Superstore has it cheap). Cardamom is WAY cheaper there than in specialty markets. By cheaper, I mean $5 compared to $13, at least in Edmonton.

Last week I got a package in the mail. It travelled a long way to get to us, all the way from Singapore. My friend Farhan, from the blog Happygrub, found a few things a little while ago that she thought I might like, and thought she’d send them off to me. How sweet and generous is that? She sent Balinese vanilla, a bag of mixed spice (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, star anise… amazing! I can’t wait to try it in a curry.), some pretty mini muffin cups (they’ve already made an appearance here), and tea.

One kind I haven’t tried yet– “Taj Mahal” tea (which I assume is Indian-style, and Farhan advised me to serve with milk). The other I have tried, and immediately started rationing. Two tea bags in and I’m worrying about when I’ll run out! This tea is “teh Prendjak,” an Indonesian tea. It has a mild rose-y flavour and a warm aroma, and what I love is that it has no bitterness to it at all, unlike regular black teas.

One thing that didn’t make it into the package (Farhan said the post office said it wasn’t allowed) was a tin of cardamom milk. But the cardamom milk is still a gift, because the idea is one I’ve never encountered before. Farhan tells me it’s possible to make at home and that the tinned stuff is just a shortcut. So I’m going to give it a try this week, combined with strong tea and condensed milk, which is how she drinks it. Seriously. This is why we write this blog. Without this venue, I might never have heard of cardamom milk, and I certainly never would have met my friend from Singapore. I love the package, don’t get me wrong, but the ideas are just as much a treasure. That’s what I love about happygrub. Almost every post, Farhan mentions something I’ve never heard of before. I’ve got a whole library of things to discover thanks to her: prata, sugee cake, rempeyek, etc. etc. etc….

Thanks so much, happygrub! I can’t wait to send you a housewarming gift in return!

For the past two years, good mornings in the SiS household have hinged on two drinks. One is coffee. The other is Hanne’s genius invention: The Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie. Yeah, you’ve seen it around, but Hanne came up with it first. It might be SiS’s most unoriginal original recipe, but the other PBBS recipes you’ve seen online are all gross.

SiS’s PBBS is more milkshake than globby smoothie. Don’t worry, it’s all illusion. Frozen bananas only seem to turn into ice cream when blended with milk. It’s a healthy drink. Protein from the peanuts and milk. Calcium… Bananas… they’re good, right? One morning I put leftover whipped cream on top, which was awesome. But I digress…

So first, you’ve got your frozen bananas. Buy lots. Peel them, split them in half and freeze. Second, you’d better use real peanut butter. Don’t make this with the sugary pretend stuff. You need to use the creamy, chunky, pain-in-the-ass natural peanut butter that takes some stirring before use. Sucks, but it’s worth it.

TIP: get as big of a jar of real peanut butter as you can so that you don’t have to do this too often. Spatula the PB out into the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the dough mixing attachment (the curly spike). Once the machine’s done the work for you, spatula the PB back into its jug. Refrigerate it or it’ll separate and you’ll have to mix it again.

So how to? Combine two banana halves, a cup or so of milk, a generous spoonful of peanut butter, a dash of vanilla and blend. Don’t overcomplicate your morning by measuring. If you must, the recipe’s below. Experiment with proportions until you get the taste and consistency you like. The only way to mess this up is to use bad milk (guilty) or accidentally blend a loose blender seal into the drink (again, guilty). Otherwise, this drink is idiot proof.

SiS’s Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
Serves 1.
Ingredients:
1 frozen ripe banana, halved
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons REAL peanut butter
1-2 teaspoons vanilla

Method:
1. Put stuff in blender and blend.

AND, if you have a blender that blends in the same cup you drink out of, then there’s hardly any mess. Unfortunately, the only product I know that does this is the Magic Bullet. It’s cheap and also built cheap. We’re on our second machine in two years. I had to plug my ears while running the last one, which is why it didn’t make the cut when we moved from Montreal. I hope another company that makes good blenders copies Magic Bullet’s single cup style and I hope that happens before the Tasmanian devil busts out of our appliance. Man dies from Magic Bullet shrapnel?

Did you think we were gone? We’re still here, though it seems that we’re barely eating and barely keeping up with life as we anticipate some big changes that all of a sudden are sitting there like mountains, just feet away. Oops.

Anyway, I’m breaking the silence to tell you about Arfi and her interesting blog HomemadeS. After having so much fun browsing through someone’s back recipes with last month’s Taste and Create, hosted by For the Love of Food, I couldn’t wait to play again. This month I got to browse through an exotic (to me, anyway) collection of recipes. Arfi posts a lot of Indonesian recipes, and I can’t wait to go through her archive and do some more cooking. Bubur Injit, Sambar Telur Manis, and Empal Panggang are on my must-try list now, but I have to admit that I settled on slightly less adventurous choices. I couldn’t resist making two things: corn fritters and ginger tea.

The corn fritters were lovely. Arfi brought exciting flavour to a nice simple base of corn, flour, and egg with the addition of crispy fried shallots, feta, and celery leaves. Yum! I can’t wait to make them again. The only change I made to her recipe was the addition of some buttermilk, which I added because I found the mixture a bit too dry to work with. I liked the tangy flavour it added, and I thought it went well with the creamy feta. We ate the fritters alongside tomato soup.

After finding the corn fritter recipe, I did some more digging and found a recipe for ginger tea concentrate. Again, nice and simple with a great result. I mixed the concentrate with straight lemon juice and diluted it with water in a one-to-one ratio. I loved the combo of lemony sour, spicy ginger, and sweet palm sugar. I just wish it were summer, so I could appreciate it from a sun-dappled picnic table in a park somewhere. Thanks so much, Arfi!

Sorry about the lack of updates. It’s my fault, and it’s also Herman Melville’s fault, and Robert Browning’s, and more than a few others. Their books just HAD to be long and involved. But… it’s all over now, and none of my reading has to be for exams anymore.

Anyway, here’s a quick coffee trick that got me through the mornings of studying when heating up the espresso machine seemed like far too much wasted effort (yeah, I’ve been a little on edge). I learned about cold-brewed coffee first on another blog (sorry, I’ve forgotten where), and it seems the word has spread– it’s been everywhere. It’s great for summer and very time-efficient, as long as you plan ahead. Too bad summer’s over… I didn’t do such a great job with the plan-ahead posting, clearly. I’m thinking it might be good for the winter months too, on those days when you’re leaving the house with your coffee cup and you just know your coffee’s going to get cold before you get the chance to savour it.

The flavour is great too, especially when you use half-decent coffee. It’s mellower than regular brewed coffee, and a little nutty tasting. Perfect for a hot day! Yes, I know it’s fall. I’m sorry.

All you need to do to make your very own batch of cold-brewed coffee is dump some freshly ground coffee in a container and pour water over it. Leave it overnight in the fridge, and in the morning, you’ve brewed your coffee! I don’t measure my grounds, but I think I use about a 1/4 cup of coffee for 1 1/2-2 cups of water. You could alter this to your own tastes. When the coffee is ready, I pour it into our Bodum french press to get rid of the grounds detritus. That’s it!

Trust me, it’s worth a try, just for the flavour difference. Try it even though it’s not really summer anymore.

P.S. Happy National Coffee Day!