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There’s a little bit of darkness in all of us, and I’ve just found it in edible form.

Welcome Domino’s to your Limited Time Only debut. NEW! Bolognese Garlic Baguette, only $6.95 each says the internet. Garlic and herb bread! Aussie ground beef! Rich bolognese sauce! As I suspected, Dominos have taken components that already exist on their bland menu and uncreatively mashed the two together, or rather, one into the other, and burnt it in the oven.

Here’s the thing: garlic bread ain’t bad. Garlic bread is good. As foodie as you aspire to be, no one can resist the allure of the loaf once it hits the table, the warped aluminum a basic blessing. It’s the terrible rich bolognese sauce which drags everything about this baguette through the mud: it tastes exactly like that foundational slop used on $5 pizzas, that snouty base-level meatlovers stuff. The thing opens and reveals itself like a nasty clam: greased up and clumpy. The paramount yet putrid and wet bolognese has made the garlic bread mushy. Add to this the unnecessary rubbered up cheese (the sort of cheese that clogs and clags rather than delights) and a condescending smattering of condescending shallots for that gourmet touch: Taste the colours the stained bag reads, but I feel nothing. Garlic bread and pizza sauce palmed off as something new, what an absolute shocker. No fast food is ever prosaic, but this is stupid and void of fun. Miserable and so sad.

To see the familiarity of garlic bread doomed by a pile of shit is unpleasant. That rich bolognese sauce represents that little bit of darkness in all of us. I have it, you have it, we all have it: the bad memories, repressed trauma, scars of past relationships, romantic or otherwise. All our insecurities, quiet suffering, the bad, bad things that move beyond #relatable #content our followers will never see. Why don’t you ever #tbt to the worst time in your life? This rich bolognese sauce is all of us at our worst. It’s me at my worst. It’s something bad ruining us from the insides, if we let it. On my worst days, as rare as they are, I can feel everyone who’s ever wanted me to fail living inside my head, just really crammed in there, and I spend all the energy I have fighting the urge to exist how people perceive me because giving into these dumb, bad thoughts is simply not an option. It’s momentarily arresting (you could say, for a limited time only), I foresee the end of an unsustainable career, I want to crumble because there’s no reset button. At my worst, my extroversion grabs a hold of me and won’t let go: it turns its defenses, fires inwards, and wreaks havoc. If I let it.

The most successful people in life keep this little bit of darkness inside themselves in check, manageable, and used as a tool for wonderful perspective. Sadness doesn’t define a personality, but anybody who claims to be void of sadness is lying (cough #blessed wellness warriors). Sadness isn’t a parasite, it’s the part in us that helps us understand the light and shade of life, it’s a window to a world of understanding, a scope so vast and clear.

But, Domino’s, if you let that darkness consume you or let it go too far you’ll end up too soft, confused, burnt… and most likely in the bin without having even tried.

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I promise it’s only coincidental my recent disgust with both my physical health and appearance has emerged on the first day of this year. I’m yet to splurge on a January Gym Membership but the copious amounts of whole foods in my fridge speak louder than perverse faux-spirational social media posts ever could. Despite this, a heart full of aspirations and a head bursting with shredded brussels sprout recipes had not hindered my curiosity surrounding Pizza Hut’s Doritos Crunchy Crust pizza.

A caveat: pizza is my least favourite fast food. Long story short, it made me vom as a kid and has left me subconsciously scarred and discriminatory against tomato sauce.

Anyway, despite my 2015 hopes and dreams for A Better Me™ I was delighted by the thought of enjoying a true slice of modern Americana, a campaign backed food and brand mash-up in my own home. Slowly but surely I felt the fedora descending on my head as my cursor hovered over a BBQ Meatlovers Doritos Crunchy Crust Pizza as well as a serve of Double Choc Cookie Shots to make up the additional few dollars of minimum delivery. “This had better be the best $25 I’ve ever spent”, I proudly declare to Facebook, relishing in the self-aware irony of a #foodie ordering a fad #pizza online and attempting to rid myself grubby feels. Likes began rolling in as I research what I’d just ordered: “As you bite into the crust you’ll be blown away by the crunch – it’s not only seriously loud, but delicious.” 20 minutes later, much like that fateful night when I was seven years old, the delivery guy raps at my door. This time there were no voms, just expectations of mind-blowing aural aesthetics.

Navigating the delicate topography of this pizza… it tastes exactly like a usual BBQ meatlovers pizza. Where are the brain crushing acoustics? Where are all the Doritos I was promised? The grandeur of immaculate lashings of cheesy crisps has been replaced by a minuscule amount of burnt crackers barely crowding the rim of my pizza. What the hell, Pizza Hut? The outer diameter tastes like a 50c cheese melt from the school canteen, but burnt. Nostalgic, but inappropriate. The dual textured delight of molten mozzarella and crunchy Doritos covered in cheddar fell flat – if that Apple / young-startup keynote inspired advert is anything to go by then this is the iPhone 6 Plus of pizzas. A severe letdown. Oh, and those Double Choc Cookie Shots? They look like just the turd emoji, and tasted, without sounding too much like a disgruntled Urbanspoon user attempting to describe a lacklustre coffee again, burnt.

As I remove what remains in the pizza box to a more appropriate receptacle, the slices reveal my greasy, pizza horoscope – a bloated figure trapped within a rounded frame. Story of my 2014? Maybe, but hopefully not a premonition of 2015.

In the cruel light of day the next morning I send a message to my brother offering the rest of the pizza sitting in the fridge – “I have two slices left if you want them, or else they’re going in the bin”. Hours later he arrives, hot, starving, craving leftovers. “This crust is amazing”, sighs the student-who-lives-out-of-home, “so much better than the last hotdog and cheeseburger crusts, they were disgusting“.

Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all? Have I lost touch with my junk food appreciation roots? Are my cries of joy surrounding fried things, oily things and sugar-laden things all just a farce?! Maybe the part of myself that exists as a sad girl Tumblr-esque snackcore scenester claiming a stake in the bachelor frog game is but a facade hiding the disgusting reality I’m not as scandalously gross as I often make out to be, in my yuppie home, on my yuppie iMac, surrounded by my yuppie things. Has the Dyson lifestyle ruined me?

That being said, when my brother arrived expecting two pizza slices there was only one left – I claimed it was “for science”, “for research!”, but deep down I knew I wanted to get that soggy burnt cheese in and around my mouth to savour the flavour, once again perpetually stuck, like so many of us are, oscillating between self-loathing and the person we want to be.

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I’ve always felt a strange affinity with one of the photos below and I was so glad to find it in the latest Broadsheet print issue this afternoon. So, guess what, I’m posting a whole lot more because #feelings.

The kitchen will always and forever be the heart of the home to me, and with a kitchen as open as this I feel the flames of Da Orazio are the most real thing I’ve ever encountered in the yoga mat wielding town of Bondi. And that’s probably why I love this photo so much, it’s a delicious Sydney juxtaposition.

(Also, when Maurice Terzini insists you take a pizza home with you, and when you finally put your feet up and ease into the cheese, and it happens to be the greatest slice to grace your face — you know it’s been a good day.)

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Welcome friends to my Middle Eastern and completely photo-heavy extravaganza of a post! The very nice people at Essential Cuisine were kind enough to send me a wonderful basket of goodies last week to participate in a little friendly cooking competition to put their new range of gourmet stocks to good use. Although I completely and utterly dig making stock from scratch when I have the time the reality is sometimes we’ve all just got too much on and unfortunately a lot of supermarket substitutes just won’t suffice. I think these guys have tapped into a much desired and appreciated niche of the home cooking world.

My food genre of choice for this challenge is Middle Eastern since 50% of my genes hail from Egypt. Obviously these dishes aren’t strictly Egyptian but our general mentality has something to do with a lot of spice, sweetness and FLAVOUR. How awesome is flavour?! Prettyyyyy, pretty good.

The original plan was to have four recipes up for you all to try however, most unfortunately, this crazy week involving too much work and a computer crash (!!!) has contributed to the demise of a few folders of images, mystery dish included. It’s a massive shame because it’s mighty fine! I promise to re-shoot and get it up as soon as possible because I’m sure you’re going to love it. And if you don’t… come at me bro. So in lieu of my disasterously hectic week I’ve come up with three publishable dishes! Firstly is a Lamb, Fig and Date Pizza. Oh my gosh. Since this challenge was about being creative I thought “why not throw a tagine on a pizza?!” Genius. You don’t even need to make, or add, pizza sauce. When I made it for my family the other night their faces literlly melted off… really truly. I had some for lunch and dinner and my brother polished off the leftovers for breakfast the following day. It’s seriously good. I also have a couple of sides; Buttery Pomegranate Couscous and Spiced, Roasted Chickpeas, they’re like ethnic wasabi peas! The couscous would have made a little more sense with the other dish I was going to post, but, yeah. Massive apologies again. :(

And, as always, I am always photographing for my book project so without further adieu, here’s a whole lot of photos!

Lamb + Fig + Date Pizza with Minted Yoghurt (makes 3 pizzas)
Lamb Tagine
3 tsp cumin
2 tsp crushed corriander seeds
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp saffron powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 tsp cardamon pods, seeds removed
2 tsp peppercorns
1 cinnamon quill
2 onion
3 cloves garlic
30g fresh ginger, grated
1 kg diced lamb (I used leg)
250ml lamb stock
50g dried dates, chopped
80g dried figs, chopped
2 tbs (heaped) honey
Olive oil

Pizza Dough
14g (2 sachets) dry yest
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 cups flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
60ml olive oil

Truss of fresh cherry tomatoes
1 cup natural yoghurt
Handful of finely chopped mint
Handful of pinenuts

For the lamb tagine
1. In a mortar and pestle crush the fennel seeds, cardamon and peppercorns. Combine with the rest of the spices. Dice onion, finely slice the garlic and mince the fresh ginger.
2. Drizzle olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook through, continually stirring, until beginning to soften (around 5 minutes). Add the spices and cinnamon quill and, once fragrant, add the diced lamb. Once it is nicely browned pour in the lamb stock and add the dried dates and figs. Turn the heat down, cover and allow to simmer for an hour.
3. Remove the lid and add the honey. Bring heat up to a vigorous boil for a few minutes to reduce the liquid. It needs to be of a thick, stewy consistency as this will also double as the pizza sauce. Once ready, decant to a shallow bowl and break up the lamb pieces with two forks, roughly shredding.

For the pizza dough
1. Combine warm water with yeast, sugar and salt. Cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes in a warm area. If the mixture does not become frothy discard and start again.
2. Add yeast mixture to flour and knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes. Roll into a ball, cover with a damp towel and allow to rest in a warm place for 30 minutes. The dough should double in size.
3. Punch the dough to remove air and knead for a couple of minutes. Divide into thirds and roll out as pizza bases.

For the assembly
1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Place truss tomatoes on a baking try and roast for 20 minutes. Remove and turn up oven to 250°C.
2. Place pizza bases on a baking tray and divide the lamb tagine between them, leaving a border of a few centimetres. Sprinkle with pine nuts and dot with cherry tomatoes once removed from the truss. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until dough is browned and cooked through.
3. Combine yoghurt with mint and dollop in the centre of the pizzas.

Buttery Pomegranate Couscous
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground corriander seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tbs butter
1 pomegranate, deseeded
Chopped coriander (optional)

1. Heat chicken stock in a saucepan until just beginning to boil. Place couscous, spices and salt in a heatproof bowl and pour over the warmed stock. Cover immediately with plastic wrap for 5 minutes. Gently fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in the butter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander.

Roasted + Spiced Chickpeas
375g dried chickpeas
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground corriander seeds
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp sumac
2 tsp chili flakes (optional)
2 tsp salt
50ml olive oil

1. Pour dried chickpeas in a bowl and cover with double the amount of water. Leave to soak overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 180°C. Drain chickpeas into a large saucepan. Cover with water and boil for an hour or until beginning to tender.
3. Decant into a bowl and toss through spices, salt and olive oil. Move to a baking tray and bake for 1 hour, stirring the chickpeas occasionally to ensure they’re cooked consistently. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika.

Phew! I hope your monitors have survived this epic lamb pizza post. I promise to post up that mystery recipe soon as well with another Middle Eastern inspired dessert I prepared very soon. Thanks again to Essential Cuisine for allowing me to try their stock! You guys are just too cool for pushing me to create such tasty things for my family.

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