Thursday, April 02, 2015

Are bikes disposable now too?

I'm a big fan of the blog Not Always Right, where members of the public send in tales of dumb things customers say. I had a vague sense I was in a Not Always Right situation myself recently ...

Me: (on phone to bike shop) I'd like to book my bike in for its six monthly service please.
Bike Shop Dude: You mean three monthly service ...
Me: Oh? Sorry. I thought it was six months. You'll just have to do more to it if necessary ...
Bike Shop Dude: (rather snippily) Oh, will I?
Bike Shop Dude: I can't find your name in the bike sales database.
Me: I didn't buy it from you.
Bike Shop Dude: (splutters)
Me: The bike's not new. I've had it for years. I just want to book it in to have the gears and brakes serviced ...
Bike Shop Dude: Oooohhh, OK!

The bike shop, on its website, recommends six monthly servicing. So what I took away from this interaction was a sad little feeling that maybe no-one else gets their bikes serviced beyond the (free) three month check-up. Maybe bikes are considered disposable these days and people (with more money than sense) toss them out when the gears slip and the brake pads wear out. Certainly, the bike shop I called seemed surprised I wanted to get my bike tuned up.


It's getting harder and harder to get things repaired. I've written before about being frugal, preferring to make do and mend rather than waste resources and create landfill. I'd rather own one good item, and get it fixed over and over again, than buy multiple crappy things that break or fall apart.

My bike will be celebrating its seventh birthday this year and is my main means of transport. Here's hoping I can squeeze a few more years of use out of it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Step-by-step Shakshuka

Each year my workplace welcomes two or three young people, from a wide range of countries, to Canberra to work with our team for a month or so. My role includes managing the paperwork, answering all manner of questions, and finding a friendly homestay or temporary share house for them. Sometimes I struggle to find the interns a bed and on more than one occasion they've ended up camping out in my spare room. Luckily our student visitors are invariably delightful and sometimes we bond over a hot stove! The recipe I’m sharing here comes from an Israeli guy called Tomer and is called shakshuka. Apparently shakshuka (or shakshouka, or שקשוקה) is often eaten for breakfast in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, but it has become a dinner favourite in my household. I make it with plenty of home-grown chillies and sheep’s feta cheese, and always raise a glass of red to the absent Tomer when I tuck into it. It’s not the most photogenic of dishes, but is absolutely delicious. Cheers!

1 onion
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
1 red capsicum
splash of olive oil
about 800 grams tinned or fresh tomatoes, diced
1 red chilli, preferably fresh
parsley, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika (to taste)
4 to 6 eggs (2 per person)

Chop the onion, garlic and capsicum into 1 cm cubes.

Fry the capsicum and chilli in the olive oil until soft.

Add the onion and garlic and fry until yellowish. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, cumin and paprika, and stir well. Cook for a few minutes over low to medium heat, till some of the liquid evaporates.

Break the eggs on top of everything, trying to keep the yolks intact.

Spread chopped parsley over the top.

Cover pan and let cook for a few minutes until the egg white is actually white and the tomato sauce has evaporated some more. Ideally the whites will be soft, the yolks will still be a bit runny, the tomatoes not too runny and the bottom of the pan not too burned. Serve with bread (or serve without, if you need it gluten free.)

Serves two to three. Some other options are to spread small pieces of feta cheese on top just before serving, or (for carnivores) you could add spicy sausage pieces right before adding the onions and garlic.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Swedish pizza salad

Late last month we visited friends in Newcastle for a long weekend. We had a lovely time! One night they made delicious home made pizzas for dinner, and these were served with 'Swedish pizza salad'. Errr, what? They explained that they knew some Swedish people who referred to coleslaw as 'pizza salad', as apparently in Sweden coleslaw is often sold alongside pizza. Why not? So last night, when some Canberra friends invited us for home made pizza, this salad went along.

The ingredients were cabbage, carrots, spring onions, and a dressing made of a combination of mayonnaise and natural yoghurt, plus pepper and salt to taste. (Which reminds me ... have you seen That Sugar Film? Well worth a look. If you use commercial mayonnaise, check it's not riddled with hidden sugars. The brand I use has 1% sugar. Phew.)

Oh, and here's an easy pizza recipe too ...


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Black pepper tofu with snow peas

If you're a fan of salt and pepper anything (salt and pepper calamari, etc.) you'll love this.

800 g firm tofu
vegetable oil for frying
50 g butter
about 5 spring onions, chopped
fresh red chillies, chopped (to taste)
fresh garlic, chopped (to taste)
1 tbsp fresh root ginger, chopped
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp black peppercorns, coarsely crushed (use mortar and pestle)
snow peas, chopped

Cut tofu into bite-sized slices or chunks. Heat oil in large frying pan. Toss the tofu in cornflour and shake off the excess, then fry the tofu pieces in the oil, turning until they're golden and crispy all over. Transfer tofu onto paper towel to remove excess oil.

Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then melt the butter in it. Add the spring onions, chilli, garlic and ginger. Sauté until ingredients are soft. Add the soy sauces and pepper and stir.

Add the tofu and snow peas to warm them up in the sauce for about a minute. Serve hot. Serves four.

(Thanks to Liana for sharing this recipe with me!)

Not the most photogenic of dishes, but it tastes, and smells, amazing

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lunch @ Ricardo's Cafe

My friend Elizabeth and I have a lovely tradition of taking each other out for lunch on our birthdays. For Elizabeth's recent birthday she suggested we try Ricardo's Cafe at Jamison Plaza, Canberra. I was vaguely aware of Ricardo's as its high tea has been recommended on the wonderful Her Canberra blog, and Elizabeth was interested in trying the food there as she'd heard they have plenty of gluten free options. They certainly do! Lunch was a delight.

Elizabeth had:

Breakfast fritters: zucchini, corn and haloumi fritters with poached
eggs, beetroot hummus, harissa yoghurt, quinoa and roasted corn salsa

and a chai tea brewed with soy milk

while Karin had:

Pulled pork salad: pulled pork with pearl couscous,
mandarin, rocket, feta, almonds and mint with harissa yoghurt

and a flat white

We were absolutely stuffed. (That's not a complaint, just an observation!) While we'd planned to have dessert too  they have some magnificent looking cakes  neither of us could eat a morsel more. So Elizabeth picked up a couple of cakes to take home:

All in all, a fabulous meal. We'll have to return for the high tea someday ...

Ricardo's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 09, 2015

Canberra Balloon Spectacular 2015

Yesterday we hauled ourselves out of bed early to go and see the annual balloon festival. Us, and several thousand other Canberrans! When we arrived at Old Parliament House, though, we could see quite a lot of trucks with balloon baskets on the back leaving. Uh-oh. Turned out there was insufficient wind to take off from there, and the ones that had sold tickets for flights were off in search of a breeze.

The novelty balloons stayed put, were inflated, and offered 'rides' to young kids while tethered to the ground. I especially liked the Yoda balloon ...

As we were leaving we decided to go and look for the other balloons. We found them, in various stages of inflation and departure and flight, near the Lindsay Pryor Arboretum.

Up, up and AWAY!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mini chocolate mud cakes

Go on, you know you want to!

125 grams butter
1 tablespoon ground coffee
0.75 cup boiling water
100 grams dark cooking chocolate, chopped
0.5 cup caster sugar
0.75 cups self-raising flour
0.5 cup cocoa
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt butter in large bowl, stir in combined coffee and boiling water, then chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Gradually beat in dry ingredients. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Pour into greased or silicon muffin trays. Bake at 130 degrees Celsius for about 40 to 50 minutes (check with a skewer after forty minutes). Allow to cool a little before turning out of muffin moulds. When cold, top with chocolate icing ...

50 grams dark cooking chocolate, chopped
50 grams unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter together, cool to room temperature; beat with wooden spoon until thick and spreadable.

Makes about nine to twelve muffins/cupcakes, depending on the size of your muffin trays.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday night treat ... coriander and green pea dip

Not sure of the etiquette of  errr  stealing recipes from other people's blogs, so here is a link to a wonderful dip recipe:

Peacamole on 'Chocolate and Zucchini'

For those of us in the Antipodes, cilantro is called 'coriander', and when I made the dip I used a whole bunch of fresh coriander (rather than the oil), and frozen baby peas. It is delicious, nutritious, and a gorgeous green colour. Perfect for your next dinner party.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dal Makhani

I asked Andrew what special treat he'd like me to cook for Valentine's Day this year, and he replied 'Dal Makhani'. A lentil curry ... how romantic!

We first tried Dal Makhani at the wonderfully-named Bollywood Masala in Dickson. It quickly became one of Andrew's favourite curries, so I decided to try making it. Turns out you can buy the perfect spice mix from Bharat International, along with the black lentils (urad whole) and red kidney beans required to make it.

I tend to make a double batch then stow meal-sized portions in the freezer for quick week day dinners. Serve with basmati rice or roti. Yum.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let's talk about longevity

The Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey, recently noted that people born today might live to be 150 years old. He was trying to use humans' expected greater longevity to justify making budget cuts and require people to pay more of their own health costs. I don't really want to discuss politics or economics here. I just want to say ...

... why the hell would anyone want to live to be one hundred and fifty, or even one hundred?


An exit strategy is required!

When I was born in 1967 the Earth's population was about 3.5 billion. Now it is more than 7 billion. In addition to humans churning out more and more humans, life expectancy is increasing. Why? Because infant mortality has reduced, many infectious and parasitic diseases are now less common, nutrition has improved (junk food diets notwithstanding) and clean drinking water is more widely (though alas, not universally) available. Oh, and medical technology keeps finding new ways to keep people alive. (Dare I say, whether or not they want to remain alive?)

So, I've been thinking about mortality lately. As you do. It sometimes feels like modern society (Western modern society, at least) tries to deny death. Whereas once death was commonplace  sad, but not unexpected  there's now an assumption that we should all live (and work) for a very long time, that we should go to extraordinary lengths to cheat death, and that there's something wrong with us if we don't want immortality.

A recent piece of research (Hutchins et al., 2015) asked people whether they would risk living a shorter life rather than taking a daily pill to prevent cardiovascular disease. Apparently about 30% of survey respondents said they wouldn't take the pill. The authors of the study surmised that taking a daily pill would be perceived as an annoyance. Many of the media outlets that covered the story sounded incredulous and rather judgemental. They couldn't understand why anyone would forgo hypothetical years of life just to avoid taking a daily pill. I wanted to turn the research question upside down. Maybe the respondents who declined to take the daily pill were happy with their expected lifespan and saw no need to extend it? Maybe they weren't so much rejecting the idea of medication, as rejecting a longer old age? Surely quality of life is more important than quantity of life. Particularly on such an over-populated planet.

I'd rather have sixty good years than one hundred mediocre years. How about you?


Robert Hutchins,  Anthony J. Viera,  Stacey L. Sheridan  and Michael P. Pignone (2015) Quantifying the Utility of Taking Pills for Cardiovascular Prevention. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes; first published on February 3 2015 asdoi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.114.001240.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Singapore ... the affair continues

We first visited Singapore in late 2001, a few months before we moved to Canberra. We're still entranced by both cities. They're friendly, clean, safe and packed with cultural and culinary delights. Dare I say, we're in a stable, long-term relationship with Canberra, but still like to have the occasional fling with Singapore?! We were there again last week, and enjoyed a mixture of old and new delights.

The new included ...

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, where we met monitor lizards (above), mudskippers, squirrels, turtles, fish and birds




 and Gardens by the Bay, where they were celebrating
the upcoming Year of the Goat.

The old favourites included ...





... and (of course) street food

We also had the privilege of visiting one of Singapore's famous black and white bungalows, stocked up on books at Books Kinokuniya and browsed the magnificently eccentric Mustafa Centre. Farewell Singapore. Thanks for a great week!

Singaporean cooking class @ Food Playground

A couple of years ago Andrew and I attended a Nyonya cooking class in Penang, Malaysia. We enjoyed it, so decided to do a Singaporean cooking class when we were there last week. It was excellent!

The school, Food Playground, is in a heritage shophouse in Chinatown, and we spent a delightful morning with several other tourists, a teacher and two helpers, learning to cook a range of local foods. The instructor was very knowledgeable and shared many tidbits about Singapore's history and culture, all while gently guiding us through making the dishes.

At the end of the class we sat down to enjoy the lunch we'd prepared:


Chicken satay (cooking)


Chicken satay (being devoured)


Char kway teow ... oh my!


Hoon kueh ... delightful little coconut/corn 
sweets in handmade pandan boxes


Andrew at work chopping ingredients

The school provided recipes and we'll definitely be making all these dishes at home. It was a lovely morning. We didn't need to eat again all day ...

We booked through Viator Tours. Their website shows the menu planned each day, so if you have a particular favourite dish you may be able to plan your trip so you get to learn that dish.

Tiffin @ Raffles

Last week we were in Singapore and we tried something different ... the North Indian curry buffet in the Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel. (Cliché or icon? You decide.)

We've visited Singapore a number of times and always enjoy the street food. It is plentiful, inexpensive and delicious. Our lunch at Raffles was plentiful, expensive and delicious. We booked ahead (a good idea; we know people who've tried to get in at short notice and missed out), read up on the dress code (posh frock for her, long pants and collared shirt for him) and had a lovely lunch.


View of the entrance to the restaurant


Our fellow diners (the buffet tables are in the distance)


My photos of the food didn't do it justice! Sorry


Yet another picturesque nook at Raffles

Some online reviews of the Tiffin Room say the food isn't spicy enough. It was pretty mild. But if you want hot food, go to Little India, not Raffles! I made up for the mildness by loading my plate with chilli pickles.

The wonderfully elegant buffet tables offered soup, curries (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), condiments, salads, and some fabulous desserts. Raffles is a weird place to dine as there's a constant stream of tourists taking photos of the building and gardens.

Nevertheless, a fun splurge!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jen's mum's muesli slice

This recipe comes from a former colleague named Jen. (Thanks, Jen!) It is a nut-free muesli bar that's easy to make and delicious. The first time I tried the recipe I omitted the sugar, but that made the mixture very crumbly so I've added it back. Further experimentation may be required ...

50 grams butter
0.5 cup raw sugar
0.25 cup honey
200 grams pepitas
0.5 cup rolled oats
1 crushed Weet-Bix
0.5 cup self-raising flour
0.5 cup sultanas or currants

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line a 20 cm square tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan. Cook until dissolved, stirring regularly. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and add the butter mixture, stirring till well combined. Press the mixture into the baking tray with a hand in a plastic bag (it is very sticky). Bake for about 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting into squares or bars.

I'm taking these to work tomorrow
to celebrate a colleague's birthday

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dinner @ Lilotang

Last night we had a unique experience. (Yes, I know the word unique is often misused. But this really did feel like a once-in-a-lifetime gig.) As fellow Canberrans will know, this town practically shuts down for a month over summer. People go to the beach or wherever, and many venues are closed. A friend celebrated her birthday this weekend and when her husband tried to book a table at her favourite restaurant for a birthday dinner he discovered it was still closed. However ... he found the owners were in the process of opening a new restaurant, and was offered a table there instead.

So ... Lilotang. The latest venture by the people who run three other iconic Canberra eateries (The Chairman and Yip, the Lanterne Rooms, and Malamay), Lilotang is in the Burbury Hotel in Barton, and offers a modern twist on traditional Japanese cuisine. As some of the earliest guests we were treated to a very personal experience: a degustation dinner comprising about twelve artistically-arranged courses, each explained by the very charming chef. I didn't take photos of all of the courses, but here are a few to whet your appetite:

Umami-jime snapper with white peach and heirloom tomatoes

Sashimi tuna and avocado with wasabi okra soy

Roast umami vegetables with orange miso in orange pot

Chargrilled Wagyu sirloin marinated in Japanese herb miso

Sticky mochi-mochi tofu with brown syrup and green tea ice cream

Houji tea smooth pudding with sweet potato

The décor was cute too. Rather than our usual red wine  which could have drowned the flavours – we tried several different sakes. There are plenty to choose from.

One of our fellow diners described the meal as edible art. It was indeed a most memorable and delicious evening. We hope Lilotang does well!

 Lilotang Japanese on Urbanspoon