Friday, September 19, 2014

Chickpea Delight

This recipe was given to me by a former colleague, Mary Anne, about eighteen years ago. Thanks Mary Anne ... it has become a favourite in my household!

sweet potato
chickpeas (canned or soaked overnight)
vegetable stock or water
red capsicum
coconut cream
curry powder or paste
olive oil
fresh coriander

Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add chopped capsicum. Add cubed sweet potato. Stir in curry powder (or paste) and fry for a while. Add stock or water and coconut cream. Cook for a while. Add chickpeas and cook till soft and thick. Add coriander at the end. Serve with rice or roti.

Sorry the quantities and method are so vague! It is a very flexible dish, and I've found that the quantities don't matter much  adjust them to your taste  and the method is also pretty flexible. You can cook this in a saucepan on a stove, or in a pressure cooker (one of my favourite kitchen toys) or in a microwave. It also freezes well so makes great lunches or week night dinners.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charleston, South Carolina

Six years ago this week (has it really been six years?) Andrew and I caught up with two American friends in Charleston, South Carolina. We spent a wonderful few days exploring the city and its surrounds.

We visited Fort Sumter, where the American Civil War began in 1861

Admired the tropical vegetation ...

... and wildlife at Magnolia Plantation

and marvelled at the gorgeous old houses in the historic district ...

... not to mention the churches

Charleston was a charming city, though we suspect the weather wouldn't suit us. It was autumn [fall], yet still very hot and humid. We also visited the farmers' markets and Charleston City Market, ate at some gorgeous wee cafes, and enjoyed a very upmarket dinner at the fabulous FIG restaurant.

If you want to get a sense of the city but avoid the air miles, may I recommend the tea shop mysteries by Laura Childs? They're set in Charleston and incorporate many local festivals, as well as historical and geographical tidbits. Good fun, if you're a fan of mystery fiction!

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Time Paradox

Just finished reading The Time Paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. You know what? It has changed my life!

Within the first few pages, I was captivated by these statements:

 ... in spite of the fact that time is our most valuable commodity, it is striking to note how little thought we give to how we spend it ...

Why do we often spend our money more wisely than our time? Perhaps it's because we cannot save time; it passes whether we choose to spend it or not ...

Food for thought indeed.

The book encourages readers to take a couple of online surveys (you can find them here: to find out their dominant time perspectives, and then looks at ways they might develop healthier or more balanced approaches to time. In my case, I did the surveys and found I am enormously biased toward a 'future' time perspective, scoring very low on all the other time perspectives. In many ways this has served me well in my life  I've achieved far more than I could have with a less forward-thinking agenda  but reading the book and doing the associated exercises has reminded me that it's time to rejig my priorities, and to become more skilled in 'present hedonism', i.e. enjoy life more NOW rather than putting pleasure off till next week or next year or never.

In no small irony, however, I found the book too long. It ate too much of my time. Tighter editing could have brought it down to about half its size by omitting laboured and unnecessary details. I would love to see a more punchy, accessible version produced ... perhaps in the same vein as Michael Pollan's Food Rules, which was another book that changed my life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On meal portability ... plus a recipe for stir-fried pork, cashews and vegetables

For a long time now, more than ten years, my partner and I have regularly met up with friends to share a home cooked meal. We've always taken it in turns so that one couple provides the main course while the other makes dessert, and vice versa the next time. In the early days we'd also alternate between houses, eating at the home of whoever had cooked the main meal. That became complicated when they had kids and we didn't, so now we always eat at their place. (Chaotic but fun!)

It has meant that I've had to cook dishes that are easily portable and reheatable, or able to be finished in someone else's kitchen. Often I end up making something that fits in one pot or casserole dish, such as boeuf bourguignon, lasagne, eggplant bake, ratatouille, or a hearty soup, curry or salad. Last weekend I tried something else. I wanted to make a stir-fry, but realised that precooking it at home then reheating at our friends' place could make it less appetising. So, I prepared all the ingredients, grouped them according to the order in which they'd be added to the pan, and cooked the meal in not-my-kitchen! It worked surprisingly well. The ingredients were:

carrots, red capsicum [bell pepper], celery
pork fillet *, soy sauce * (or tamari), cornflour *
fresh ginger, spring onions and garlic
olive oil
white wine
cashew nuts *

Firstly, I fried the chopped ginger, spring
onions and garlic in olive oil in our friends' wok

Then I added the pork, which had been
tossed in tamari and cornflour

Then I added the chopped carrots, capsicum and
celery. When they were partially cooked ...

I added the mushrooms and wine ...

... and last but not least, the lightly-toasted cashew nuts went in


* This recipe is very flexible. You could exchange the pork for a different meat, or leave it out altogether for a vegetarian option. Leave the cashews out (or offer them on the side) if someone is allergic to nuts. The recipe is gluten free, provided you use tamari (rather than soy sauce) and gluten free cornflour. Be creative ...

Monday, September 01, 2014

Happy spring! Salad season has arrived ...

The first of September is often called the first day of spring here in Australia ... so, happy spring! The local flora and fauna seem to have decreed that spring came early this year. We've had blossoms blossoming, wattles blooming, and birds breeding in our fence for several weeks now.

Anyway, now it's not so cold I'm feeling inspired to make and eat salads. Salad is an interesting concept. When I was growing up in New Zealand, it usually referred to sliced or torn iceberg lettuce, mixed up with (say) chopped tomatoes, grated carrot, and maybe some cheddar cheese or hard-boiled egg. Yep, not so appetising. I've gathered  from visiting the USA and watching sitcoms  that sometimes Americans use the word 'salad' to mean a protein-based food mashed up with mayonnaise to make a sandwich filling, e.g. 'tuna salad', 'egg salad', 'chicken salad'. This post is not about that sort of salad!

I like to make salads that are a meal in themselves. They'll contain a range of crisp, delicious vegetables, maybe some special cheese and/or nuts, and perhaps meat, fish or fruit. Here are a few ideas ...

Spicy Thai salmon and lychee salad
Tandoori tofu salad
Chunky avocado salsa
Rocket and haloumi salad
Crispy bacon salad
Warm pasta, feta and pine nut salad
Rocket, avocado, pear, blue cheese and pecan salad
Pumpkin, feta and pine nut salad


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pumpkin scones

Pumpkin scones will be forever associated with Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, the wife of one of Australia's most notorious politicians. Her recipe is here, but I prefer mine (adjusted over the years) as it has more pumpkin, no sugar, and is easier to make.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
4 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir the butter in so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then beat the eggs in. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well, adding up to half a cup of milk if required to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 20 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to take to work for lunch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lunch @ Zierholz UC

Zierholz is a Canberra success story. After a long career as a scientist Christoph Zierholz took the plunge into small business about eight years ago, starting a microbrewery in Fyshwick. You can now buy his beautifully crafted European-style beers at a range of venues around Canberra, and the family also runs two restaurants, one adjacent to the brewery and one at the University of Canberra (UC).

Andrew and I have been taking German classes lately (why? why not!) so we took ourselves to Zierholz UC today for a delicious and hearty German-themed lunch. You can download the menu here. We went with two friends, and we all enjoyed our meals!

Two of us ate:

Crackling roast pork belly served with creamy 
mash, braised red cabbage and apple sauce

while the others had:

Pork belly pizza (yes, really), and

Footlong kransky roll (uh huh!)

The food was fabulous and the portion sizes were generous ... perhaps a bit too generous, given that lunch was about seven hours ago and I still feel full! We're lucky to have this great local business in our midst.

Zierholz @ UC on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Oh. My. Goodness. Bacon maple cookies ...

My other half is a big fan of bacon. He LOVES bacon. Our Sunday mornings usually feature an outing to a cafe or restaurant that'll serve him bacon. So when someone on a (US) blog mentioned bacon cookies recently, I had to try whipping some up! Firstly I chopped about 100 grams of bacon into small pieces, drizzled it with maple syrup, and baked it at about 250 degrees C until it looked crispy and caramelised (around half an hour). After the maple-drenched bacon had cooled I stirred it into a basic shortbread mixture:

100 grams butter
1 heaped tablespoon icing sugar
100 grams flour
0.25 cup ground rice or cornflour

Cream butter and sugar, add dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into small balls and flatten gently onto baking sheet. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown.

Makes about one dozen.

The taste testers approved!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tootling around the Top End

Earlier this month my partner and I visited Australia's Northern Territory for the first time. We'd already explored the six states and one other territory, but neither of us had been to the 'Top End' before. We spent three nights in Darwin before catching the fabulous Ghan to Adelaide. It was delightful, if a little weird, to visit tropical Darwin in the middle of the Canberra winter!

While in Darwin, we took a bus tour to learn more about the city's experiences in World War II, ate at plenty of local eateries, and wandered around on foot.

Tropical vegetation at Government House

Spotted at Java Spice Cafe (where the coffee and cakes were yummy)

We ate Sri Lankan curries on Mindil Beach and watched the sunset

The trip on the Ghan was good fun and included tours at Katherine and Alice Springs.

Nitmiluk Gorge cruise (near Katherine)

My bed on board the train

Sunrise seen through a train window

Panoramic shot of Alice Springs from the top of a hill (click to enlarge)

We also enjoyed the food on the Ghan! This included ...

Wild peach and vanilla parfait

Tasmanian corn bread with smoked salmon

... and many more delicious offerings. Well worth a visit ... especially during a chilly Canberra winter.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Who needs an editor?

Or: how your friendly local editor can help you!

While this blog is mostly an online recipe collection, from time to time I feel the urge to write about something else. Today it is editing. Why? Because I work as an editor, and have felt a little overwhelmed by the number of language errors and typos I've spotted in books and on signs lately. There's no need to be afraid of editors. Most of us are gentle, friendly souls who just want to help others communicate more effectively. Someone once described editors as ‘invisible menders’, and that describes my role quite well.

So, why do I have a bee in my bonnet?

It’s been a long time since I've read a book from cover to cover without spotting any mistakes. Sometimes I notice inconsistencies (e.g. a word or character name written in two different ways, or with and without a hyphen), sometimes it is typos or transposed characters, or weird mixtures of past, present, future and conditional tenses. Sometimes there are inconsistencies in the story or narrative. For example, my partner recently bought a book about the construction of a major rail line, and the text darted back and forth between saying it hadn't been completed yet and saying it had. There had been multiple editions of the book, and it seems nobody checked whether material brought forward from previous editions was still correct. In another example, we read a book where the author appeared to have done a global 'find and replace' process where certain letter combinations occurred, resulting in absolute nonsense. Clearly no human eyes had read through the book between writing and publication.

Types of editing

 Substantive editing – concentrates on the content, structure, language and style of a document
– Copyediting – removes mistakes, inconsistencies, ambiguities and possible embarrassments from a document (most of my work tends to fall into this category)
– Proofreading – final checking and correction procedures before a document is signed off for publication

Things a copyeditor might look out for

– Layout
– Punctuation
– Forms of words (e.g. with or without spaces or hyphens)
– Capitalisation
– Spelling (in accordance with agreed version of English, or publication’s style requirements)
– Typos 

These types of errors are my bread and butter! You wouldn't believe how often I see them …

– complement/compliment
– there/their/they’re
– where/wear/we’re
– affect/effect
– principal/principle
– dual/duel
– vial/vile
– extend/extent
– its/it’s
– discreet/discrete
– lead/led
– elicit/illicit
– waive/wave
– appraise/apprise
– rational/rationale
– ordnance/ordinance
– metre/meter
– pallet/palate/palette
– stationery/stationary
– form/from
– woman/women
– peak/peek
– faze/phase
– potable/portable
– apostrophes in plurals
– scare quotes (putting things in quotation marks, unnecessarily)

Ahhh, scare quotes!

How to get the most out of your editor

– Allow enough time for the task
– Ideally, editing should be factored into projects from the start, rather than a last-minute idea
– Be clear about what you need … a quick check for typos, or more thorough grammar and fact checking?
– If there are rules your document needs to follow, let the editor know. For example, does the publisher have a style sheet or guide? What version of English is required?

So … who needs an editor?

Anyone who publishes. Whether you’re writing a novel or a thesis, a journal paper or a restaurant menu, a museum sign or a sandwich board, it is a good idea to ask someone else to read through your material to check it makes sense and point out any embarrassing bloopers. It is also a good idea to use an actual editor rather than just a pedantic friend. Qualified editors tend to have tools and checklists they can use to ensure fewer errors make it into print. We're also remarkably good value. My hourly rate is about half as much as I pay my electrician or car mechanic, and about one-sixth what I pay my dentist! Don't think of editing as an additional expense. Think of it as an investment in making your book, thesis, report or website a pleasure to read.

Sign-writers need editors too ...

Parking for David Tennant, perhaps? Oh, they mean tenants

Such a professional looking sign. What a shame no-one ran it past someone who could spell

Brekkie @ Thyme in Adelaide

It has been a while since I've reviewed any breakfast joints, so here's one we like in Adelaide! Andrew and I visited Thyme Cafe Restaurant on Victoria Square last December when we were showing my Mum around Adelaide, and we ate there again earlier this week. It is a cosy little place with delicious food, good coffee and great service. What more could you ask for?

This time ...

she had poached free range eggs with roasted mushrooms on
char-grilled pesto bread topped with Danish feta, and a flat white

while he had eggy cinnamon French toast with
bacon and maple syrup, and a long black

All was good! I can also recommend the eggs royale, which I enjoyed on our previous visit. Check out the menu here.

Thyme on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Salted caramel

Salted caramel sort of sneaked (snuck?) up on me, rather like red velvet cake did. One minute you've never heard of it, the next it is everywhere. The other day my friend Elizabeth treated us both to salted caramel chocolates at Koko Black and I decided to try making it at home. Here's a basic caramel recipe:

125 grams butter
1 can (395 grams) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Melt butter and sugar over a low heat. Add condensed milk and golden syrup. Stir continuously until mixture reaches soft ball stage* and is golden brown. Remove from heat. Pour mixture into a greased 15 cm square tin. Cool until set and cut into squares.

* I don't have a candy thermometer and find it fiddly testing the mixture in cold water. If you can complete a figure eight with your spoon while stirring the caramel (i.e. the start of the eight is still visible when you finish drawing it) that's also a reasonable approximation of 'soft ball stage'.

As a final step, grind some sea salt over the caramels

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Luscious legumes

Hmmm. I always think of this dish as vegetarian shepherd's pie, though the name doesn't really make sense. No sheep or shepherds are involved in its construction! Suggestions for a new name are most welcome ...

1 kg potatoes
1 cup cheese, grated

1 cup red kidney beans (tinned, or rehydrated)
2 large onions, chopped
1 tablespoons butter
1 green capsicum, diced
2 tablespoons wholemeal flour
1 cup vegetable stock
basil, oregano, paprika and/or parsley (to taste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
corn kernels
baby corn spears

Boil the potatoes, and when they are soft mash with the cheese and milk. While the potatoes are cooking, combine all other ingredients in a large microwavable container, and cook on high for about seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Put the vegetable mixture into a large casserole dish and top with the potato mixture. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 minutes. Serves four to six, and is reheatable.

For a gluten free version, use tamari instead of soy sauce, and either omit the flour or replace it with a gluten free thickener such as rice or potato flour. For a vegan version, you could replace the cheese, milk and butter with vegan-friendly alternatives.

I took this dish to our friends' house for dinner last night, and we enjoyed it. The red kidney beans got me thinking about legumes, and what a delicious and versatile ingredient they are. Some of my other legume-y recipes include:

Dal makhani
Potato and pea curry
Hearty vegetable soup
Mushroom, lentil and rice casserole
Potato, leek, bacon and cannellini bean soup
Pea and tofu soup
Chickpea delight

All of these dishes freeze well so in addition to being nutritious evening meals they make excellent microwavable lunches. We've noticed that several Canberra cafes and restaurants now offer frozen dinners to take away. I like to keep the freezer stocked with home made frozen dinners ...


Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday night treat ... cheese soufflé

My job is pretty cool. Not only do I get to work with a great bunch of people who do really interesting research, but we regularly host visitors from other countries, leading to fun cultural exchanges. Lately we've had a visitor from South Africa. She wanted to see some kangaroos before she headed home, so this afternoon we went to Mount Majura ...

... where the 'roos were very cooperative and posed for plenty of photos!

We also talked about cooking and ended up heading back to my place to collaborate on a cheese soufflé:

3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 cup grated cheese
freshly ground pepper

Separate egg yolks from whites and leave at room temperature. Make a cheese sauce by melting butter, mixing in the flour and cooking till it bubbles, then adding the milk and cooking till it thickens, then stirring the cheese in. Mix well and allow to cool. Beat egg yolks with pepper and fold into cheese sauce. Beat egg whites until stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the egg whites with the cheese sauce. Pour into an ungreased baking dish and bake in a pan of hot water at 180 degrees C for 45 to 60 minutes, or until mixture is firm.

Yum. Not a morsel remains!

Thanks Christelle, and safe travels. We hope you enjoyed your sojourn in Canberra.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Potato and pea curry

Brrrrr! Winter has come to Canberra. Today I made a big pot of potato and pea curry ... some to eat tonight and some to freeze for another day. No quantities, sorry, as I just made it up as I cooked ...

potatoes, diced
onions, diced
olive oil
curry powder (Indian, Malaysian, or whatever you like)
cumin seeds (or ground cumin if you don't have seeds)
curry tree leaves
coconut milk
frozen peas (you could use fresh ones if available)

Sauté the onions in a little oil, then add curry powder, cumin and curry leaves, and fry a little more. Add the potatoes and stir until well coated in the curry mixture. Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil, and simmer until potatoes are tender. Add peas and boil for a few minutes more. Serve with basmati rice, naan or roti.