Friday, March 24, 2017

Well, hello kitty

Another interesting feature of moving to the 'burbs has been meeting all the local pets. Soon after we moved last year this magnificent critter began visiting us:

We call him (or her) by various grandiose names as he (or she) has so much (c)attitude! Formal titles are usually involved, e.g. His Royal Fluffiness, Captain Fluffypants, and Brigadier-General Fluffybum. You get the picture.

The next visiting cat is a bit more shy, though still has distinct opinions. She tends to show up on our back deck, press her nose against the sliding door, and plaintively ask to be let inside.

Our house used to be a rental property so we're wondering whether, perhaps, she used to live there and wants to visit for old times' sake. We call her Slinky. Because she slinks.

Kitty-cat number three only recently appeared, and likes to pop by and drink from our bird bath.

We've dubbed her Ginger Lips as she has ginger fur on her lower lip.

Occasionally they have a squealing punch-up in the middle of the night, but mostly they just patrol.

As Dr Amy Farrah Fowler said so eloquently, 'I love cats. They're the epitome of indifference.'

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Malaysian bativersary

Ten years ago this month Andrew and I participated in our first Earthwatch expedition, a two-week stint in a Malaysian rainforest helping (we hope?!) on a scientific project investigating insectivorous bats. It was fascinating, eye-opening, bruising, delicious and enjoyable.

Working in a very small team (just the lead researcher, local research assistants and us) we hiked into the forest each morning and evening, recording details of bats that had been caught in harp traps:

We also helped out with tasks such as restringing broken harp traps and painting poles to mark trails.

Twice a day a lovely local family showed up on a motorbike to deliver delicious home-cooked curries. We were already fans of Malaysian food but this sealed the deal!

In the course of the two weeks we met eighteen species of bats including the newly identified Kerivoula krauensis, saw and interacted with all sorts of other flora and fauna, visited a village, learnt a few words of Bahasa Malaysia and were snacked on by many, many leeches.

Bats are gorgeous little critters. We enjoyed meeting so many of them and learning about their lives and activities, and have continued taking an interest in them since returning home.

Our first foray into 'citizen science' was a life-changing experience, and we ended up doing four more Earthwatch expeditions, one in Canada and three in Australia.

Ten years! We're still in touch with some of the people we met there. We were charmed by Malaysia and have visited several times since, to snorkel at Pulau Tioman, travel on an iconic train, and sample the diverse food options.

Terima kasih!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Choc chip cookies

An oldie but a goodie. I learnt to make these when I was about seven!

100 g butter
125 g sugar
2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
150 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
125 g chocolate chips
Optional extra: chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar, add condensed milk and beat well. Mix in sifted flour and baking powder. Add chocolate chips (and nuts if you like). Roll into balls, place on cool tray and press with fork. Bake at 160 degrees C for 15 minutes.

I made these to take for morning tea at work tomorrow.
There are pecan nuts in there as well as chocolate chunks ;-)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Autumnal delights

Autumn [fall] is always a delight in Canberra. A time to celebrate surviving another hot summer, to eat spicy food, to gaze upon exotic sights and to drag the boots and beanies out of storage. Over the past week we've enjoyed the Enlighten festival and the Night Noodle Markets; this morning Andrew and I woke super early to go and watch the balloons launch at the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular. As promised ... it was spectacular!

Happy autumn!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

My favourite (accidental) culinary discovery last summer

A lot of my recipes involve variations on a theme. Cakes and biscuits adjusted to be more healthy (or at least less unhealthy), meat dishes altered to accommodate vegetarians, ice cream and souffl├ęs tinkered with to feature different flavours and textures. So ...! Last month, while experimenting with what to put into a batch of rocky road ice cream, I stumbled across an incredibly simple recipe for coconut ice cream.

It is magnificent. I'm eating it as I write this.

600 ml fresh cream
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 cup shredded coconut

Whip the cream, add the condensed milk and whip some more, then stir the coconut through. Combine well and spoon into freezer containers. Freeze and enjoy. Makes around two to three litres.

That's it. A friend recently gave us some dehydrated figs from her parents' farm, and serving the ice cream with figs makes it even more sublime.

Summer is over now and Canberra is seeing its first glimpses of autumn. This ice cream is so good I think I'll keep making it, regardless of the changing seasons.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rocky road ice cream

Six months ago I made some rocky road. You can see the recipe and results here ... the general consensus seemed to be that it was delicious! More recently I'd found myself wondering about home made rocky road ice cream. What to put in it? Would the heavier ingredients sink to the bottom? I had a go at making it this week and it worked well. Phew ;-)

600 ml fresh cream
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup peanuts
200 g white chocolate, broken into chunks
200 g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
100 g small marshmallows
2 x 55 g bars Turkish Delight, chopped up

Whip the cream, add the condensed milk and whip some more, then stir the coconut through. (If I'd frozen the mixture at this stage, I would have had a very nice batch of coconut ice cream.) Add all the other ingredients, combine well and spoon into freezer containers. Freeze and enjoy. Makes around three litres.

More easy ice cream recipes here, here, here and here if you're interested ...

P.S. this recipe contains marshmallows (which contain gelatine) so doesn't qualify as vegetarian. You could omit the marshmallows, or find some vego marshmallows, if preferred.

P.P.S. it is seriously sweet! Maybe TOO sweet. I doubt I'll make it often, but it was a fun thing to try.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Really, really easy pizza

Our garden is bursting with fresh tomatoes and basil at the moment so tonight's dinner is a home made pizza. This recipe is really quick and easy, and doesn't require any faffing around with yeast, cake mixers or the like.

2.5 cups plain or wholemeal flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
about 1 cup warm water

Combine the flour and baking powder, make a well in the centre and pour the oil in. Mix together, and gradually add water until you have a dough. Roll or pat the dough until it is about 1 cm thick, then brush with oil, add toppings of your choice, and bake at around 220 degrees C for about half an hour. (Makes enough for two hungry people or four not-so-hungry people.)

Usually I just put tomato paste, fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella on top. Maybe a few anchovies too. But be creative – add whatever you like! You can also mix herbs such as thyme or rosemary, or chopped sun dried tomatoes, into the base to liven things up.

Splashed out tonight and used slabs of blue cheese
instead of mozzarella. This is what the pizza looked like BEFORE
it went into the oven. It was much more melty afterwards ...

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Fifteen years in a fabulous city

In the very early 2000s Andrew and I decided it was time to move. We'd each lived in Sydney for more than a decade and the gloss had worn off. The city was crowded and polluted, the cost of living atrocious and the commute tedious. It was time to move to a country town. But where? Reluctantly, we realised that Canberra (population then around 320,000) was probably the nearest thing to a 'country town' that could accommodate two fairly specific professional careers. So Canberra it was. Fifteen years ago this month we packed up our stuff, rented out our shoebox-sized flat, farewelled our colleagues and moved to the country.

Canberra is a fascinating and quirky place. As it's the national capital there are heaps of interesting (and cheap or free) national institutions to visit ... and as we're pretty geeky we DO enjoy regular visits to all the galleries, archives, museums and parks. There are mountains to climb, bike paths to ride on, rivers ideal for swimming. You can see magnificent critters like lizards, kangaroos and colourful parrots in everyday locations. The restaurants are plentiful and the people friendly.

Soooo glad we moved here.



 Thank you Canberra! It's been a blast.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

'Tis the time to eat tomatoes

One of the many joys of having room for a garden is being able to grow vegetables. And fruits. (Technically, tomatoes are fruits rather than vegetables.) We were very lucky to have not one but two friends give us tomato plants this season: one person showed up with a tray of seedlings in October, and another presented us with a bunch of plants – some of them already fruiting – before moving interstate in January. I hurriedly created a little 'kitchen garden' near our front door:

and over the past week or two the tomatoes have started to ripen. They're delicious not only as snacks and sandwich fillings, but in all sorts of recipes ...

Chunky avocado salsa
Vegetable soup
Pasta sauce

and salads like this one and this one and this one. Yum.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Avocado salsa wraps

It's really hot in Canberra right now! Too hot to cook, but luckily there are plenty of fresh, local vegetables available so we're enjoying some cold meals. Vietnamese rice paper rolls last night and avocado salsa wraps tonight.

spring onions
fresh lime juice
fresh coriander (optional)
garlic (optional)
chilli (optional)

Chop ingredients roughly, combine and refrigerate till the flavours have mingled. Enjoy as a filling for wraps or just eat as a salad.

The most important book I've read all year

Yes, I know it is only January! But still ... this book may have changed my life. It has certainly provided much food for thought.

Overdiagnosed, by H. Gilbert Welch, Lisa M. Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, is a book about medical screening. The sort that happens when a healthy person, without symptoms, is tested for tiny abnormalities. The authors argue that technological advances are allowing doctors to find more and more 'abnormalities' and that the treatments used to supposedly cure them are often more injurious than the condition ever would have been.

The book was a wake-up call for me. Over the past twelve or so years my GP has assiduously screened me for all manner of conditions, due to a family history of heart disease. There have been a number of false positives – scares around hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer – and these have led to unnecessary anxiety, expense, pain and wasted time. Admittedly, I'm quite risk-averse and regret-averse, so submitting to the regular barrage of tests felt like the right thing to do. I'm not so sure anymore. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

A celebration of coriander

From what I've heard and read, people either love or hate coriander [called cilantro in North America]. It's one of my favourite summer flavours and seems to be featuring in two or three meals per week at our place at the moment. If you're a fan of coriander/cilantro too, here are a few things you may like to try:

Vietnamese rice paper rolls
Spicy Thai salmon and lychee salad
Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto
Carrot and coriander soup
Chickpea delight
Coriander and green pea dip
Chunky avocado salsa
Kelp noodle salad

Enjoy ...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Spicy Thai salmon and lychee salad

Tonight's dinner. A perfect summer recipe!

1 tablespoon fish sauce ('Squid' brand from Thailand is good)
1 teaspoon palm sugar, grated
2 small red chillies, chopped
2 salmon fillets
2 Lebanese cucumbers, chopped
10 spring onions, thinly sliced
10 mint leaves, chopped
1 bunch coriander [cilantro], chopped
1 cup roasted peanuts (unsalted)
20 lychees, peeled and halved
2 limes

Marinate the salmon in the fridge in the fish sauce, palm sugar and chillies for a couple of hours. Make the salad by combining the cucumbers, spring onions, mint, coriander, peanuts and lychees. Grill the salmon fillets, cool briefly, then flake the salmon into pieces (removing any skin or bones) and stir through the salad. Squeeze the limes and pour the juice over the salad. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish or two as a generous main course.

Note that the lychees can be replaced with seedless grapes, blueberries or other seasonal fruit, or the fruit can be omitted altogether if you like.