Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beetroot, spinach and goat's cheese salad

Another winner from the fabulous Sydney Markets recipe cards!

The recipe is here. I used baby rocket [arugula] rather than spinach as that's what they had at my local organic shop. You could use any salad leaves, I guess.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Brekkie @ Močan & Green Grout

Močan & Green Grout is around the corner from the Palace Electric Cinema in NewActon, Canberra. We'd popped in a few times for their (excellent) coffee but hadn't ordered food before as the place always looked so crowded. Well, today we arrived early enough to get a table, and the breakfast was delicious. The menu was really interesting and we'll have to return to try a few more items, methinks.

He had:

Baked eggs, charred eggplant, harissa,
Meredith chevre and a side of bacon

She had:

Smashed eggs, smoked trout,
nettle, sorrel and parmesan

The coffee was good too:

Oh, and as it was a slightly cooler morning than you'd expect in late November in Canberra, they offered us a blanket. We didn't need it, but it was a nice touch!

Good food in cheerful surroundings. We'll be back.

Mocan & Green Grout Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato soup

My lovely vego friend Lisa recently recommended this recipe for lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato curry. It sounded delicious but I was in the mood for soup last night, so added extra water. Very nice! I made a huge quantity and have filled the freezer with meal-sized portions.

Thanks to Miss Messy and Lisa for sharing the recipe. It's sure to become a favourite in our house.

Lolly cake (seriously!)

Coffee shops in New Zealand often sell retro delights like Afghan biscuits and lolly cake. Lolly cake, as the name suggests, is a cake (an uncooked fudge, to be more precise) studded with lollies [candy]. Last week while at Sanctuary Cove I stumbled across a chocolate shop selling Eskimo lollies so bought some to make a lolly cake to take to our friends' place for dessert.

100 g butter
1 can (395 g) sweetened condensed milk
2 packets (400 g) malt biscuits or other plain biscuits
200 g Eskimos
desiccated coconut

Crush biscuits. Chop Eskimos. Melt butter and condensed milk together. Combine all ingredients, shape into a log, roll in coconut and chill for several hours. Slice.

Rather rustic looking logs

The resulting cakes are all different.
Somewhat reminiscent of Rorschach ink blots?

If you like this recipe you may also like to try my apricot fudge and marshmallow treats. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Scenes from the Truman Show

Back in the 1980s (before I moved to Australia) there was a bunch of dodgy businessmen colourful racing identities in Queensland known as the white shoe brigade. They made squillions from property development, and sometimes also lost squillions and scarpered. One of the properties developed during that era was Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast. Now Sanctuary Cove is a gated community geared to millionaires with a luxury hotel that offers (relatively) cheap facilities for conferences during the week, presumably to even out demand and supply. I spent three days there last week at a conference. It was a weird place. Felt a little like being a bit player in The Truman Show.

Anyway, it's good to be home. But here are a few pics in case you're interested ...

Friday, November 13, 2015

Wait ... what? In praise of distance learning

This morning I noticed a headline on one of my favourite blogs, The Big Think:

Can Online Learning Ever Beat The Real Thing?

I read and reread the headline. Was someone really implying that distance learning (or online learning, or extramural study, or whatever you want to call it) was not real? That the only way to gain knowledge was to sit in a classroom and listen to someone lecturing? Well, not exactly. The article noted that there were 'pedagogical advantages' in online learning environments that would be hard to achieve in a classroom situation.

The article got me thinking about how grateful I am for the existence of distance learning options. If it hadn't been for part time study my life would have been very different.

My first foray into part time university study was more than thirty years ago. Not in a position to complete high school or physically go to university, I took a full time job at 16 and managed to enrol for part time university studies via correspondence. Back then prior to the internet the deal was that the university would mail you a package of materials at the start of the term, and you'd buy the textbooks, read the photocopied notes, submit assignments using snail-mail, and attend in person for lectures, tutorials and exams for a couple of weeks each year. It was pretty confronting. I actually failed the first assignment I ever submitted, scoring 47%! I also felt terrified when the time came to attend my first on-campus week. Scared that everyone would be older, smarter and better-read than me. Somehow I persevered and muddled through. I graduated with an undergraduate degree after seven years.

In 1997 I waded into external study again. It was the early days of the 'net and the model hadn't much changed from the eighties: hard copy textbooks and notes, and a week spent at the uni each term, meeting classmates and doing stuff like dissecting brains. (I should probably mention it was a psychology course. I don't dissect brains for fun!) We used email and a primitive message board but couldn't yet harness the full power of the internet as many students didn't have access to it.

Three years later I embarked on distance learning yet again, completing a two-year diploma entirely from afar. This time the internet played a major role; we used it to download course information and upload assignments. I was able to attend my exams in the city where I lived (hundreds of kilometres from the university) and in fact the first and only time I went there in person was to attend my graduation ceremony.

My most recent experience of formal distance education was about four years ago. By then, widespread access to high-speed broadband meant online learning could use a wide variety of tools including interactive message boards and downloadable audio and video lectures. Despite the course being taught entirely online the students made efforts to interact both virtually and in person and I can happily report that I'm still friends with some of the lovely people I met on that course.

Two of the major advantages of studying from afar rather than attending lectures are that you waste much less time getting to and from classes, and if you prefer to learn via the written word rather than by listening to others talk, it's also more efficient.

While feeling fairly determined not to undertake formal university studies again, I've discovered the joy of MOOCs over the past year or so. They're wonderful! Short, free (or nearly free) courses taught entirely online. I've completed about five so far, enhancing my knowledge and understanding of a wide range of interesting topics. They've all been through Coursera though there are other MOOC providers out there too; a colleague recommends edX.

To paraphrase Hugo Weaving's magnificent character in The Dressmaker: Distance learning, you've enriched my life!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wonderful, windy Wellington

Following a few days in Wanganui (or should that be Whanganui? The signs vary) last week, we spent three nights in Wellington, the charming and quirky capital city of New Zealand. Wellington is famous for its windy weather. It didn't disappoint.

We did a lot of walking and eating in our three days! I'd heard there was a new international food market called Capital Market so we gave that a go. It felt a bit like a Singapore hawker centre, and we could choose from many different cuisines. Rather predictably, we opted for Malaysian!

He had:

Nasi lemak with beef

while she had:

Vegetarian roti canai


Still craving spicy foods, we caught a bus to the eclectic suburb of Newtown the following day, and enjoyed lunch at Planet Spice:

Dal makhani, navratan korma, rice, and butter naan

Something we've noticed, on this and previous trips to New Zealand, is that Indian curries seem creamier than at home. Mmmmmm! We suspect it's due to the plentiful grass leading to well-fed cows and super-creamy butter ...

We also caught the Wellington Cable Car up the hill to Kelburn twice, to eat at our old favourite Caffe Mode.

The Cable Car. Still cute!

In case you think the visit was all about food ... we did do some other stuff! There's a fabulous exhibition called Unfolding the Map, about the cartography of New Zealand, currently showing at the National Library. There were some wonderful old maps on display and we liked this sign showing some actual New Zealand place names:

We also visited the Wellington Museum, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa), and the Great War exhibition at the Dominion Museum.

Andrew usually likes to stock up on local-interest books when we visit other cities and was dismayed to learn that several local book shops had disappeared since our last visit in 2012. Despite this we did manage to gather (ahem) about ten books in our travels! Bizarrely, as Wellington has lost book shops it seems to have gained shoe shops. There are SO many lovely shoe shops on Lambton Quay. Have Wellingtonians given up on reading and developed a shoe fetish? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Brekkie @ the Yellow House Cafe, Wanganui, New Zealand

Still in Wanganui ... a big rugby match turned the city into a ghost town on Sunday morning so we (not being footy fans) took the opportunity to escape to a cafe for a spectacular breakfast. The Yellow House is seriously cute. Based in an old house on the corner of Dublin Street and Pitt Street, it has an interesting menu and cheerful staff. Great coffee too.

He had:

The big breakfast: toasted multigrain bread with
chorizo sausage, oven-dried tomato, portobello mushroom,
streaky bacon, hash browns, fried eggs and black pudding

She had:

Mushroom, tomato and haloumi stack: oven-dried
tomato, portobello mushrooms and grilled haloumi,
on sautéed baby spinach with spicy greens and a poached egg

Coffee in Wanganui is often served with jaffas on the side. Mmmmm:

All in all, a delightful rugby-free interlude. (NZ won, by the way.)

Dinner at the Rutland Arms, Wanganui, New Zealand

We've spent the past few days in Wanganui, New Zealand. Not the most happening of places, but as I grew up here (and the remainder of my nuclear family still lives here) I visit now and then! On Saturday night seven of us, ranging in age from seventy-something to nine, enjoyed dinner at the Rutland Arms. The Rutland used to be a fairly rough and tumble pub but has gentrified in recent years and now offers brekkie, light meals, dinner and accommodation. Cosy and civilised. I didn't take photos of everyone's meals, but here are Andrew's and mine:

He had:

Bratwurst sausages served on creamy potato
mash with mushy peas and brown onion gravy

She had:

Slow braised New Zealand lamb shank
served with roasted garlic mash, seasonal veges,
roasted button onions and a rich lamb jus

Delicious! We were too full to eat a whole dessert each so we shared:

Chocolate mousse cake served with Kapiti vanilla
bean ice cream, and garnished with berry couli and cream

Great ambiance and wine list too. A nice spot for a family night out.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

I love Canberra in the springtime

Having spent Canberra's winter in an injury-related fog, I'm delighted to finally be out and about and back on my bike. Spring is gorgeous in Canberra. Not too hot, not too cold, and bursting with exciting things to do.

This year was the 28th time Canberra hosted the Floriade flower festival. We attended both ...

... during the day ...

... and after dark

Our own garden has blossomed lately too!

The Canberra Museum and Gallery currently has an exhibition of dolls dressed in historical fashion:

The craftsmanship (craftspersonship?) is magnificent!
exhibition runs till 22 November. Don't miss it

Something else that's relatively new to Canberra and very cool is the Windows to the World embassy and high commission open days. The open days ran for the first time in 2013 during Canberra's centenary celebrations, and were so popular they're now running every two years. This year about fifty embassies and high commissions participated  over four weekends. We were a bit busy (what with trips to Goulburn and volunteer commitments) but managed to make it to four embassies. Absolutely delightful! We chose some countries we knew little about. At the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan we watched traditional dancing and were treated to a feast of plov [pilaf], stuffed vine leaves, kebabs, pakhlava [walnut pastries] and shakerbura [sweet crescent pastries].

I came away with a recipe book so plan to
recreate some of those fabulous delicacies!

At the Embassy of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria we learnt about the country and enjoyed some traditional snacks:

Baklava and nougat

We're so lucky to live in this fascinating and multicultural city.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

When life gives you lemons ... make lemon butter

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
50 grams butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or more, to taste)
0.5 cup lemon juice

Whisk the eggs, sugar, juice and zest together in a two-litre glass microwave jug. Add butter. Microwave on high power for eight minutes, stirring with a whisk every two minutes. Cool for a few minutes then pour into hot dry jars. Seal when cold. Makes about two cups.

Lemon butter is delicious spread on hot toast, and can even be used to fill lemon meringue pies.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lunch @ 98 Chairs, Goulburn

Goulburn's not a town we usually associate with fine dining, so when a foodie friend recommended this restaurant a few months ago we sat up and took notice. We took my partner's parents to 98 Chairs for a belated father's day lunch today and it was a delightful meal. The place looks pretty modest from the outside but is elegant and spacious on the inside. The restaurant opened in November 2013 and the menu changes every twelve weeks to take advantage of local and seasonal produce. Here's what we had ...

For the main course, two people had:

Beer battered flathead and chips, with garden salad and tartare sauce

one person had:

Beef burger, with fresh beetroot, double cheese, bacon,
tomato relish, caramelised onion, lettuce and chips

and one person had:

Sweet potato wrap, with roast sweet potato, swiss
cheese, avocado, salsa verde, greens and chips

We were all pretty full by this stage but splashed out and had dessert anyway! It sounded too good to miss, and was both artistic and delicious.

One person had:

White chocolate and cardamom ganache, beetroot, orange
and chocolate mousse, almond meringue, chocolate soil and lemon gel

Two people had:

Popcorn sundae, with buttered popcorn, ice cream,
peanut brittle, caramel sauce and a waffle cone

and one person had:

Apricot tart with ice cream

Oh, and we enjoyed a fabulous bottle of wine with the meal. Andrew chose it because it was local (made five minutes from Goulburn) and a shiraz, and we really liked it.

Kingsdale Emma Shiraz 2011

This was a very enjoyable meal. We'll have to go back for Sunday brunch sometime.

98 Chairs is at 98 Auburn Street, Goulburn (about 100 km north of Canberra and 200 km south of Sydney). Cheers!

98 Chairs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Greek-style meatballs with tomato sauce and green olives

For the meatballs
3 slices bread, with crusts removed
0.5 cup wine
700 grams lamb mince
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
0.25 cup plain flour
salt and pepper
olive oil

For the sauce
800 grams tinned crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons oregano (fresh or dried)
1 cup green olives, rinsed and drained

Soak the bread in the wine for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Break up bread and combine in a bowl with mince, garlic, cinnamon, flour and egg. Season with salt and pepper. With damp hands, mould walnut-sized amounts into balls. Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry meatballs until golden brown. (This may need to be done in two to three batches.) Place meatballs in casserole dish and keep warm in oven. To make sauce, combine ingredients in a bowl. Pour sauce over meatballs. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir, then bake for 20 minutes more. Serve with a salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, feta cheese and olives.

Last night's dinner

Friday, September 18, 2015

Championing education (for the umpteenth time)

I've often ranted expounded here about the importance of education. (Growing up in an anti-intellectual family, town and country can have that effect on you.) So I was delighted when a recent episode of the Health Report on ABC Radio National detailed how education could prevent or slow the development of dementia. The wonderfully-named Professor Carol Brayne said:

'Many studies have shown that exposure to more education appears to reduce our risk of developing dementia in later life. And other research, including research that we've done in Cambridge and the UK, suggests that that is not necessarily a reduction of risk of, say, vascular changes in the brain but more compensation, more that in the presence of pathologies such as Alzheimer's type dementia underlying pathological changes, that we can compensate, our brains can handle some pathology and that education plays a role in that.'

Then the show's host, Dr Norman Swan said:

'So if a government decides a policy which reduces the education level of the population, you can expect in 50 years' time the dementia rates to go up again?'

and Professor Brayne replied:

'Well yes, that would be consistent with all of the evidence … many, many studies have found that education is associated with lower risk.'

Hah! I knew it ...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lunch @ Retro Café

It has been five months since I broke my arm and only a couple of weeks since I was able to start riding my bike again. It is soooooooooo good to be back on the bike! In the past five months I've walked a lot and caught buses a lot and really come to appreciate just how much quicker it is to be able to jump on a bike to get from A to B to C and back to A, rather than getting around on foot and waiting at bus stops. Anyway, yesterday was a glorious spring day in Canberra and I had a free hour before my scheduled volunteer work, so I rode to Retro Café at the University of Canberra to meet Andrew for lunch.

We both had this yummy dish (sorry, I forgot to copy its name down)
featuring pork cubes, fried bean curd, peanuts and a touch of chilli

It really was delicious. Retro Café is in the Innovation Centre (building 22) on University Drive South at the University of Canberra. We can also recommend the food at Zierholz, which is also on the University of Canberra campus!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Crème brûlée

1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split
4 (extra) tablespoons caster sugar

Place cream and vanilla bean in saucepan and bring to boil. Remove vanilla bean and allow to cool 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with sugar until well combined. Pour cream mixture into egg mixture and combine well. (Some recipes say to strain the mixture at this stage; I prefer not to as it's fun to see the tiny vanilla bean seeds in the finished dessert.) Pour into four ramekins, place them in a baking dish and add enough cold water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 160 degrees C for about one hour. Cool at room temperature. Refrigerate until cold. Sprinkle one tablespoon of caster sugar on to top of each custard and grill (or use blowtorch) to heat the sugar until it caramelises. Serve warm or cold.

The word 'brûlée' means burnt, so until you add sugar
and 'burn' it they're just little baked custards

I don't have a blowtorch  culinary or otherwise  but get
pretty good results by grilling the desserts for about three to five minutes

You can vary this recipe in many ways ... for example, by placing some fruit (passion fruit pulp, or mandarin segments, say) in the bottom of the ramekins before pouring the cream mixture in. Or you could leave the vanilla out, and add either a tablespoon of Japanese (matcha) green tea powder or a tablespoon of instant coffee to the warm cream to make green tea or coffee flavoured crème brûlée.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Havering about havering

Last year I went to the cinema to see the fabulous Scottish film Sunshine on Leith. It is a musical featuring songs by the Proclaimers and it was so good I not only saw the movie twice (or was it three times?), but bought an album by the Proclaimers. They're probably best known for the songs 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' and 'I'm On My Way', though the whole album is great. The band's thick Scottish accents shine through.

Anyway ...! There's a line in 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' that says 'And if I haver ... I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you'. What does haver mean, I wondered? Looking in my trusty Macquarie Dictionary (and yeah, I see the irony in looking to an Australian dictionary to find out about a Scottish word) it says:

haver (pronounced hayvuh)
verb, Scottish to talk nonsense; blather

How cool is that? What a great word. I'll stop havering now.