Sunday, August 12, 2018

Operation Duplo to Dili

The countdown is almost over! Tomorrow I depart for Timor-Leste. Woo hoo ;-) One of my fellow tour participants is a librarian and has collected HEAPS of Duplo and other educational toys to donate to kids in Dili. So the past week has featured some weird packing challenges. Here's what I'm carrying:

Ah well. At least I can unload it when I arrive. My luggage should be almost empty on the return journey!  To the chagrin of some of my regular editing clients, I'm not taking a laptop with me. So any blogging about my adventures may have to wait ...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sheer indulgence @ Shizuka Ryokan

Back in 2016 Andrew and I spent one night at a ryokan (traditional Japanese guest house) as part of our train journey around the island of Kyushu. It was spectacular and when we learned there was a ryokan in country Victoria we wanted to try that too! So here we are. I'll let the photos tell the story ...

When we went out to dinner the low table was replaced with a futon:

and after a fabulously relaxing sleep we were presented with a magnificent Japanese breakfast:

What a gorgeous place. Arigatou gozaimashita, Shizuka Ryokan!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Burger High Tea @ Beef & Barley

Well, yum yum YUM. What a feast.

I'd been to high tea a couple of times before. You know, where platters of savoury and sweet delights are presented, alongside tea or coffee, and perhaps a glass of bubbles? I'd always thought (perhaps erroneously) that the 'high' referred to the late part of the afternoon when the meal was served, but now wonder whether it actually means it is served on several tiers of plates. Hmmmm. Anyway, when the Canberra blog the Riot ACT recently announced that Beef & Barley at Kingston Foreshore had introduced a burger high tea ... who could resist? I no longer have colleagues of my own but my partner's office kindly invited me along when they tried the burger-y delights last Friday.

The three-layered stand featured beer-battered chips, popcorn chicken and haloumi bites on the bottom level, two different types of mini burgers, pickled peppers and coleslaw on the middle level, and a range of sweet treats on the top. The servings were very generous ... the stand pictured above was shared between just three people! Oh, and beer, sparkling wine and soft drinks were included too.

Cheers! If you try it, go with an empty stomach ;-) I went in a group of eight but it could also work for a twosome. You can book in advance on the Beef & Barley website.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Magic carpet cleaner

Our household has subscribed to Choice magazine (published by the Australian Consumers' Association) for over twenty years. The subscription has paid for itself many times over as the Choice team test and review all sorts of stuff: appliances, technology, food, cleaning products, service providers ... and we regularly consult back issues of the magazine when faced with a purchasing decision. Our washing machine, fridge, iron, vacuum cleaner and mobile phones were all selected based on Choice's advice. No regrets!

So, when a piping hot bowl of turmeric-packed curry and rice recently flew (seemingly in slow motion) through the air and upended on our light grey carpet (whoops) we consulted Choice for advice on carpet cleaners. They tested 26 different substances about two years ago and we were surprised and delighted to learn that a home recipe had outclassed all the commercial products! We tried it and it worked well. Here's the recipe (I'm going out on a limb and assuming that 'home recipes' aren't copyright):

2 tablespoons dish washing liquid [Choice suggested Fairy Platinum Lemon, as it had scored highly in other tests]
3 tablespoons white vinegar
0.25 cup water

Work the combined mixture into the stain, being careful not to over-wet the carpet. Blot it dry with a clean towel.

Thank you Choice! Excellent advice, as usual.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

The day we went a-truffling

Canberra has an annual truffle festival. How cool and quirky is that? Andrew and I have participated a couple of times in previous years, going to talks about truffles, hunting for native truffles at Mulligans Flat, and eating a truffle-packed dinner. This year we signed up for a Sunday morning truffle hunt and brunch at Turalla Truffles, near Bungendore. It was fun!

Of the nine people taking part in today's event we were the only two from Canberra, which surprised us. We didn't think people from other (warmer) parts of Australia would voluntarily come to the Canberra region in the middle of winter, so it was an impressive turnout. Everyone was well rugged up, luckily, as it was frosty (minus 2 degrees Celsius) overnight.

On arrival at Turalla Truffles we were greeted by several enthusiastic Jack Russell terriers, truffle farmers Damian and Lindsay, and chef Bec. We started with coffee, a shot of truffle-infused vodka (!) and some magnificent truffle-topped scrambled eggs:

then headed out, with truffle-seeking terrier Frisbee:

 in search of buried truffles:

Along the way, Lindsay and Damian talked about how they'd become truffle farmers and provided more information and culinary tips. After an hour or so of searching (during which the intrepid Frisbee led us to about one kilogram of ripe truffles) we headed back to the farm for brunch.

Crêpes with bananas, truffle-infused mascarpone and
cream! YUM. Oh, and a glass of bubbly ...

Today's haul, washed and drying in the sun

It was a most enjoyable and delicious morning. Thank you to Damian, Lindsay and Bec, plus their very smoochy dogs, for a fabulous outing. Oh, and I bought a 30 gram truffle to take home. We'll be eating more truffle-y delights very soon!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Vegan mince hits the shelves

When I lived in Sydney in the early 1990s there was a market research firm just up the road from my house. One day they popped a flyer in our letterbox and I signed up to occasionally take part in taste tests and focus groups. It was fun. Two or three times a year they'd call and ask about a product; if I used that type of product and fitted their demographic requirements I'd find myself tasting chocolate, or looking at shampoo ads, or describing the 'mouth feel' of biscuits, or whatever. One time they had a different proposition. Would I like to take a selection of vegetable protein (essentially, fake meat) products home, cook and eat the items over a week or so, and return to discuss them in a focus group? Why not, I said. They were ... weird. Vegetable protein manufactured to look and (sort of) taste like bacon and sausages and hamburger patties. I was unconvinced back then and still am. Plenty of simple, delicious vegetarian food options exist. There's no need for manufactured products masquerading as meat. (IMHO.) Anyway ...

... recently fake meat made it to the news here in Australia. The Woolworths supermarket chain was criticised by the meat industry for placing a vegetable protein product among its red meats:

Frankly, I think putting the product alongside actual meat was a genius marketing move. Whereas most people wouldn't even have noticed this product otherwise, the meat industry's bluster and outrage alerted us to it! The stuff looks remarkably like minced beef but consists of a bunch of vegetable products:

I tried cooking with it last night. My usual deconstructed samosas recipe worked well with vegetable protein rather than meat. My partner didn't even notice until I told him what we were eating!

I'm in two minds whether I'd buy it again, though, and whether it's a better option than meat. Yes, no animals died to make this product. Which is nice to know. But when you read the fine print it turns out it is made in Denmark and imported to Australia. What?! As someone who tries to buy and consume local food, I'm not comfortable with my dinner ingredients travelling right around the world. And ... again ... do we really need to eat artificial meat? Why not just eat legumes, or tofu, or tempeh ... or fresh veges?

On the other hand, I'm finding it hard to feel sorry for the protesting meat industry. They are complaining that calling the product 'minced' is misleading, and that the word should only be used for meat. I disagree. This is my mincer. I have used it to mince many foods, both plant-based and meaty:

Mincing is the process of cutting or chopping into very small pieces (thank you, Macquarie Dictionary). If manufacturers of finely-chopped fake meat want to use the term, then so be it ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dinner @ Sage

Back in April Andrew and I successfully bid on a couple of restaurant vouchers at a silent auction at our local primary school. (Well, strictly speaking, our friends bid on them on our behalf as we were out of town! Thanks, friends.) The vouchers were for Abell's Kopi Tiam (pics here) and Sage.

We went to Sage on Saturday. It was delicious. We opted for the five-course degustation, and although each course seemed small at the time, we were definitely full by the end. Here's what we ate ...

(he had) Kangaroo tartare, with baby gem, buttermilk and tarragon

(she had, eschewing kangaroo) Cured hiramasa kingfish
with mushroom dashi and wasabi root 

(then) Seared scallop with cauliflower, miso pear and caviar

(then) Roasted free range chicken with smoked
mushroom, almond and madeira

(then) Black pepper crusted beef, with bone
marrow, brussels sprouts and sherry vinegar gel

(and for dessert) White chocolate bavarois with apple sorbet

An excellent feast. Sage is at Gorman House in Ainslie, and has its own farm to supply the restaurant.

Friday, June 15, 2018

As the Timor countdown continues ... Portuguese tarts

As the countdown to my trip to Timor-Leste continues I'm ticking things off my list. Snorkelling gear borrowed (tick). Typhoid vaccination received (tick). Portuguese tarts made for tonight's dessert ... tick!

250 grams cream cheese
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons cornflour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 puff pastry sheets, thawed

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease 18 patty tins. Cut pastry into 7 cm rounds. Ease pastry into tins. Beat cream cheese and caster sugar in a bowl until light and creamy. Add eggs. Beat until smooth. Blend in cornflour and lemon juice. Spoon mixture into pastry rounds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Climbed off the hamster wheel. Best day ever!

When my partner and I see a dog out walking, one or both of us often say 'best day ever'! Dogs are nature's optimists. Maybe it's raining, maybe it is dark, maybe they have three legs and a limp. Whatever the misfortune there's inevitably a big, toothy grin on their face. Best day ever.

Four months ago, after trekking to an office most days each week for over 34 years, I took a leap into the (semi) unknown and left my day job. I'd been doing editing on the side, with my employer's permission, for about six years and eventually realised I didn't need to go to the office any more. Best day ever! It's not that I hated my job. My colleagues were lovely, and the work (and workload) veered between fabulous and blah. But it was time for a change.

Since then I have done all sorts of fun things. I've overseen a bathroom renovation:

Before ...

... during ...

... and after! I did the painting myself

I've expanded my editing business, done more volunteering, gardened, caught up with buddies, read books, listened to podcasts, cooked elaborate meals and rediscovered long-abandoned hobbies. Oh, and exercised. I worried that once I wasn't cycling 6 km each way to work each day I'd get less exercise. But I'm actually doing more ;-)

Life is different now. My income is far less than it used to be, but it doesn't matter. I still earn enough to cover my share of the household expenses (I've supported myself since I was 16 and have no intention of stopping) but frugality and minimalism are kicking in even more than before. Self-employment and working at home are so much fun! There are numerous small joys from not having a day job any more, such as not wasting time commuting, being able to hang laundry outside in the morning (and retrieve it before it gets damp again), hire tradespeople without having to grovel for time off work, and being able to step outside to potter in the garden between work tasks. Bliss.

Keynes wrote, almost a century ago, that technological and productivity improvements would lead to a 15 hour work week. I feel like I've finally achieved that! I think of it in terms of opportunity cost. Yes, I could have more money and more stuff (ugh) if I worked longer hours. But the satisfaction and flexibility obtained from working for myself far outweigh any material wants I may have.

Best day ever. Every day!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Kiwi-style, Nanaimo-style, Canberra bars

Nanaimo is a city on Vancouver Island in Canada. I haven't actually been there, but I have heard of its iconic dessert, Nanaimo bars ... hasn't everyone? My favourite Canadian sitcom Corner Gas mentions them in one episode but of course calls them Nanaimo-style Saskatchewan bars, as you can't call them Nanaimo bars unless they're from Nanaimo. So, here goes. I found a recipe for Nainoma Bar [sic] in my favourite Kiwi cookbook so had a go at making them yesterday. I halved the amount of sugar in the middle (custard cream) layer and think that was a good decision; they're definitely sweet enough, even with the reduced sugar.

Base layer

125 g butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups crushed malt biscuits (or similar)
1 cup shredded coconut

Melt butter and cocoa together over low heat. Remove from heat. Add beaten egg then other ingredients. Press into a high-sided baking tin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Middle layer

60 g butter
2 tablespoons custard powder
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon warm water

Cream all ingredients together and spread over base. Return to fridge.

Top layer

60 g cooking chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Melt together, mix well and spread over cake. Refrigerate until firm then cut into bars or squares.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Countdown to Timor-Leste

I've been fascinated by Timor-Leste for many years. The tiny country, just north of Australia, has had a fraught history. It was colonised by Portugal for hundreds of years, then occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. It was officially recognised as an independent nation in 2002. My interest was piqued firstly by horrendous news stories about the violence during the Indonesian occupation and transition to independence, then by reading and watching accounts such as the book A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmão and the film Alias Ruby Blade. I support Timorese charities such as the Alola Foundation and Maluk Timor and have also provided microfinance loans to Timorese entrepreneurs through Kiva.

Have I mentioned that I'm going to Timor-Leste in August? Just me (my partner doesn't want to go) and a small tour group. I'm excited about seeing the country and learning more about its history and culture. I booked my flights last week. To get in the mood I am trying to learn a few words of Tetum (the local language) and also experimenting with the cuisine ...

Last night we took an East Timorese lamb and tamarind stew to
our friends' place for dinner. (Pictured here with rice and bok
choy.) It was delicious!

Watch this space. As the countdown continues I'm sure there'll be more culinary experimentation ... apparently Timorese cuisine mingles Southeast Asian and Portuguese influences. Sounds like a wonderful combination.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Let's call it Pittsburgh Mess

Back in 2000 (escaping the Sydney Olympics!) Andrew and I spent three weeks traipsing around the USA. We spent a few days staying with our friend Lisa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which turned out to be a fascinating and friendly city. One night Lisa invited a bunch of friends over to meet the Australians  I'm guessing not too many Antipodeans visit Pittsburgh  and many of them brought food. One person brought a fabulous chocolate trifle and I so enjoyed it I asked her to email me the recipe. When it arrived I was a little taken aback: it was a mélange of processed foods! Store-bought cake, chocolate bars, pudding from a packet, cream from a can. I tend to make things 'from scratch' so never actually got around to replicating the lovely chocolate trifle. I've never forgotten it though, and recently stumbled across some imported Daim bars (which I think was the chocolate bar used) here in Canberra. So here's my (seriously belated) attempt at a chocolate trifle ...

First, I made a batch of my famous chocolate fudge pudding. It's usually eaten piping hot and slathered with whipped cream, but this time I allowed it to cool.

Then, I whipped 150 ml of cream.

Then, I mixed the chopped-up, cooled pudding with the cream and about 100 g of crumbled Daim bars.

Wildly unphotogenic but quite delicious. Oh, and it's a little reminiscent of a chocolatey version of deconstructed pavlova (a.k.a. Eton Mess), hence the name Pittsburgh Mess ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Experiments with coconut milk (successful and not-so-successful)

I really like coconut. Both in sweet dishes, such as wattalapam, black rice pudding and coconut ice cream, and in savoury dishes such as potato and pea curry and vegetable laksa. (There are links to a bunch of my favourite coconutty recipes here.) This week I tried a couple of experiments with coconut milk.

The successful ...

I'd never cooked with agar-agar before (it's like a vegetarian version of gelatine) but found some recently in a health food shop and decided to try making a coconut 'jelly'. Simple and delicious! I boiled 400 ml of (tinned) coconut milk with 5 grams of agar-agar powder, in a saucepan, for five minutes, then poured it into dishes to cool. Yum. I didn't add anything to sweeten the mixture, as I find coconut milk naturally sweet, but you could add some palm sugar or honey if you liked.

The recipe above made two dainty cups of coconut jelly

... and the less successful

Coconut yoghurt. Hmmmm. I usually make Easiyo yoghurt for breakfasts at home, as it is quick and easy, plus cheaper and less plastic-waste-producing than buying ready-made pots of yoghurt from the supermarket. On a recent holiday (separated from my Easiyo incubator) I bought a pot of coconut yoghurt ... that is, yoghurt made with coconut milk rather than cow's milk. I liked it and wondered how I could make it at home. A YouTube video suggested that you could make coconut yoghurt with just two ingredients: (tinned) coconut milk and probiotic (acidophilus and bifidus) capsules. I tried and failed. When I checked the 'yoghurt' after two days of incubation and one of refrigeration it was clearly dodgy. Grey and frothy and foul-smelling. A little reminiscent of a bad batch of camembert from my cheese-making days.

What went wrong? (As my partner Andrew would say ... 'are we not scientists?')

The video said to use two probiotic capsules with 600 ml of coconut milk, and to incubate the mixture for about two days then refrigerate for four. My tins of coconut milk were 400 ml each so I used 800 ml of coconut milk and 3 probiotic capsules. So maybe the quantities were wrong. Other possible sources of the failure include:

  • bacterial contamination  I had washed, but not boiled, the jar used to incubate the mixture
  • timing  it takes between 8 and 24 hours to incubate a litre of Easiyo yoghurt in the Easiyo maker, so perhaps 48 hours was too long
  • incorrect probiotics  we don't usually buy supplements, whether vitamins or probiotics. So maybe the capsules I bought (which boasted prebiotics as well as probiotics) were inappropriate for the purpose?

Ah well. Failures happen! We don't have a compost bin and I doubt the inhabitants of our worm farm would want to eat spoiled yoghurt. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to dig a hole in the garden to bury the stinking, bubbly mess ...!

Friday, May 11, 2018

A day fit for a gooey pudding

It's going to reach 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit) in Canberra today. Brrrrrr! And's it's only early autumn. Sometimes a cold day calls for comfort food. My mum called this 'Dolly Pudding'. I don't know why. All I know is that it's simple and delicious!

1 cup flour
1 cup dried fruit (such as sultanas or currants)
0.5 cup sugar
0.5 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 cup boiling water

Melt the baking soda and butter in the water. Mix in all other ingredients. Wrap dough in a cloth, tie top with room to swell. Place the bundle in a saucepan of boiling water (you may want to put a small plate in the bottom of the saucepan to prevent sticking) and boil for one hour, topping up the water in the saucepan as it evaporates. Serve with lashings of whipped cream.

Just before cooking ...

After cooking it'll be squishy on the outside and
cake-like on the inside. And yummy ;-)