Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Do you sci-ku? I do!

A couple of days ago I came across something called sci-ku.

"Sci-ku" you mutter in a perplexed tone, "What's that?"

It's the meeting of science and haiku ... sort of, but with the strict syllabic requirements of haiku put aside.

There's even an annual competition in Australia!  This year, there is a farming or agricultrual theme to celebrate the Australian Year of the Farmer!

Aussies, feel free to enter here, anyone else could post their sci-ku on Twitter (if it's short enough) or G+, with the hash tag #sci-ku.

The winning entries from 2011 are here.
Tribute to the humble Ferguson tractor,
showing the height of the 1956 floodwaters.
Wentworth, nineteen fifty six

Month after month of incessant rain.
Rivers rise menacing - floods inundate the region.
Fergies save the day!

Some more information about the devastation of the 1956 floods and the role of farmers with their Ferguson tractors in saving the NSW town of Wentworth is here.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The best way to visit Venice?

What's the best way to see Venice before it gets transported to China or the US to become a massive theme park?

One of my friends insists the only way to travel is by cruise liner, stopping a night, or at most two, at each port. She loves the security of knowing where she'll be sleeping, never having to find accommodation and wonder if it might be a bit too 'local' or unconventional. She happily anticipates a certain standard of food and service, and appreciates knowing what to expect at all times. For the same reason she prefers to frequent a specific chain of international hotels and stick with it where possible. She knows the layout of the room and facilities ahead of time, the staff will speak English, there are no surprises and the bed will be fine!

On a much anticipated trip to Europe a few years ago, the hubster and I chose to be a bit more random and travel only with a carry-on backpack and flexible plans. Where possible we chose local, non chain, owner-operated hotels and followed our noses to choose bakeries and restaurants.  We had some spectacular failures and jaw dropping "they've got to be joking" moments - but I wouldn't have changed anything for love nor money.

In Venice we arrived as passengers from a tourist liner were disembarking and got talking to a couple who were about our age. They quizzed us intently about travelling with carry on luggage, at first disbelieving and then with growing envy. They felt trapped, unable to explore at a leisurely pace and discovered that they disliked the shipboard culture and expectations which they'd expected to embrace wholeheartedly.

I'm not saying one way of travel is better than another. However, it's important to be in sync with your travelling companion so that one person isn't grinding their teeth with annoyance while the other is revelling in an adventure into the unknown.
This cruise liner dwarfs Venice.
How do you like to travel?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Meatless Monday: Mushroom Pie Floater

Food never seems to be far from my mind, whether planning meals, or wondering if I'm out of a particular ingredient necessary for a recipe, or thinking how a meal could have been improved.

So, there I was last week without any hint of an idea what to cook for dinner when my lovely neighbour (MLN for short) appeared at the door with a bundle of dried lavender to use in the fire so we could enjoy the wonderful fragrance.

Naturally we got to sharing recipes. MLN is a great cook, and generous sharer of home grown vegetables. She also teaches people on a tight budget how to cook nutritious meals .

I confess, my eyes bulged when MLN said she'd recently taught the class how to cook a Pie Floater.

Could I have misheard? It appeared not. I checked to see if she was joking, but no, she was quite serious. I was skeptical to say the least.

My first introduction to the concept of a Pie Floater was from a South Australian drooling over the memory of eating one at an Adelaide railway station on a cold winter evening. It sounded disgusting.

This did not bode well. But MLN is honest, reliable and, so far, totally trustworthy with recipes, so naturally I had to give it a go.

Here's her version, my vegetarian offering follows.

MLN's Pie Floater
Serves 2.

Purchase a 2 pack of good quality frozen pies
500 gm frozen peas (she liked the minted variety)
about 1 cup boiling water

Cook the pies according to the directions on the pack.

Meanwhile put the frozen peas in a saucepan, add boiling water to almost cover. Cook about 10 mins. Buzz with a wand or food processor. The soup should be very thick.

Ladle soup into bowls, place the pie in an elegant fashion into the soup, swirl tomato sauce on top and enjoy.
I had to eat my unexpressed comments! I'd been hesitant to sample this culinary weirdness, but it was not only delicious, the different textures of crunchy pastry, hot meaty filling and buzzed peas were brilliant together. It was also fun to make as well as being a visual delight.

And of course, being me, I just had to tinker with the recipe the second time...oh, ok the first time too ;-)

Verdant green soup - suitable for pie floater serves 4
  • About 500 gms frozen peas
  • olive oil - about 1 tablespoon
  • 1 onion - chopped
  • chilli
  • garlic
  • 1 vegetable stock cube & about 1 cup boiling water (or fresh stock) 
  • slosh of white wine (1/4 cup?)
Sizzle the onion, garlic and chilli in the olive oil 'till softened. Slosh in some white wine. Add the frozen peas and approx 1 cup boiling water and stock cube (or stock) Simmer for around 10 mins. Whizz with a wand or whatever implement you have - a bit lumpy is fine. (A potato masher would work well if you don't have anything else).

Now for the absolutely amazing mushroom pie. The original recipe came from, a wonderful site well worth spending time drooling over!

I'd planned to follow the recipe, truly! But .... well, it just didn't happen that way - I didn't quite have the right ingredients, and there were some useful leftovers in the frig that needed to be used up. Here's my version.

Marvellous Mushroom Pie - Serves 4

  • olive oil or butter - about 1 tablespoon
  • 1/2 large onion chopped (or 1 smallish one, or a leek)
  • garlic - I used 3 very large cloves
  • chilli - as much as you enjoy
  • a slosh of white wine
  • 2 large handfuls of button mushrooms - sliced
  • 1 large field mushroom - chopped roughly
  • 1 large handful of mixed exotic mushrooms - sliced (those wibbly unfamiliar ones from the supermarket unless you really know what you're picking in the wild)
  • flour to thicken - about 1 tablespoon
  • Stock or stock cube. I only needed about 1/2 cup
  • The original recipe called for yogurt, but I had about 8 ping-pong ball sized bocconcini left over from something else, which was an excellent addition.
Heat oil or butter, add onion, garlic, chilli. Sizzle. Add wine, stir. Add mushrooms. Stir. (There seems to be a huge quantity, but they soften and shrink)

Add stock (or boiling water and stock cube) Simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on top gently and evenly or it goes lumpy, and stir to blend it in. (The keen cook will make a swishy sauce, but if you're very careful, this is fine!)

Add the bocconcini and stir till more or less melted. It should be thick. Remove from heat to cool and till you're ready to put it in the pastry.  If you're using yogurt, remove the pan from the heat first. 

Pastry: (easy - honestly!) enough for a 35cm pie dish
  • 225 g flour (I used attar which mixes and rolls very easily and seems to stick together better than the standard type)
  • 115 g butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano (the original recipe used dried thyme which would be lovely too)
  • just enough cold water to bind - about 1/4 cup - add slowly as it's easy to overdo it.
I added the flour, a grind of salt and oregano then cut in the butter using two blunt knives (held together to make two blades) to make it look like breadcrumbs.

Add a trickle of water at a time and mix - it shouldn't be sloppy or too sticky.  Divide it very roughly into 1/3 and 2/3. The larger for the base of the pie dish, the smaller for the top. Roll the larger out on a floured board to fit the base of the greased pie dish. Fill with the marvellous mushroom mixture. Roll out the smaller piece and place on top. Pinch the top and bottom together. You could use a pastry brush to paint about a tablespoon of milk over the pastry. I didn't have one, so used my super clean fingers. Make a couple of vents with a knife to let the steam escape.

Cook in a 180 degree C oven for 30 mins or until brown on top.

The original recipe calls for chilling the pastry, but I was running late and didn't want to wait. It worked fine!

You'll notice that I didn't mention individual pie plates. I cut the cooked pie into quarters and collated the pie floater as above. It was stupendous, delicious, scrumptious and simply so amazing that I went out and purchased 4 little pie plates for next time... because there will be many next times!

I'm a convert to pie floaters, and now wonder at my undeniable prejudice toward this wonderful invention.

Sorry about the lack of photo of the marvellous mushroom pie floater, but you know how it is sometimes, food takes precedence over photography ;-)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A blast from the past, or how do you describe an EP?

"A what?" I hear you say with a politely perplexed tone of voice.

"An EP! There's more on them than on a single."

"Pardon?" you say as you scratch your head and wonder if you've missed some new whiz-bang electronic gizmo. "I have no idea what you're talking about." 

"It's what we used to listen to music on. EP stands for Extended Play. They're a bit like a USB...sort of. Or perhaps a better description is a portable music device, kind of like an iPod, but they only hold about 8-10 minutes of music...And you need a record player to listen to them on."

You can see how this is going to go. Parents living in the dark ages. The time of the dinosaurs. Blah, blah, blah. How did you survive etc. Gosh, singles and EP's were better than 78's! So portable! The freedom to play the music you wanted to hear when you wanted!!

We had some great music way back then. Just look at what I found in the boxes of mum's diaries that have been in the roof :-)  (I blogged about them more seriously here). Somehow these gems must have been tucked away amongst her diaries when we were packing the house. Whoohoo! 

Now, how to listen to them?


Still having formatting problems. Sigh.