Sunday, January 25, 2009

From Eden to Heaven

After a few blissful days on the coast, it was time to head back to Canberra. So on Saturday morning I got up before the sun (thanks to daylight savings) and headed northwest. After a day spent shopping with Andy’s parents I was hungry and glad that I made dinner plans with Anna (of the now-offline blog Veganista).

Now, Melbourne may be the vegan food mecca of Australia, but Canberra has a few gems of its own. Vegan Heaven in Canberra goes by the name of Au Lac.

Anna and I ate here once last time I was in Canberra, and it was just as good as I remembered. We ordered a lot of food, and ate nearly all of it (though I think we ate more last time).

For starters, we had the sweet and pickly Au Lac Special Salad. It comes with vegan prawn crackers, which are delicious.

Also as an appetiser (though it came after one of the mains) was two steamed Vegetable Dumplings. I’m not quite sure what is inside of these, but whatever it is, it’s good. And the light and fluffy dough made me wish we had ordered more.

We ordered two main meals and shared. One of the mains was Soy Beef Ginger. The soy beef was amazingly meat-like and was covered in ginger.

Our other main was the interestingly titled Au Lac Eight Special. The menu offered no more information than “Combination Hot Pot” so we didn’t really know what to expect. Lots of different kinds of veggies were simmered in a brown sauce with various mushrooms, tofu, and mock meats. It was hard to tell what was what, but the blend of textures was a nice change and the sauce was really rich and yummy.

All of that, plus steamed rice and jasmine tea left us with no room for dessert. But, we did get a free treat while we were in the restaurant.

Apparently Chinese New Year celebrations started early in Dickson. This dragon and his accompanying drummers visited all the restaurants and put on a show. Two men, one of them bent over at the waist, managed to dance around a semi-cramped restaurant without knocking anything over or tripping over themselves.

Happy year of the Ox everyone!

Friday, January 23, 2009


Hello from Eden, the little town right at the bottom of New South Wales where Andy grew up. I’ve been here once before, but this time has been a bit more fun. For starters, it’s much warmer now than it was at Christmas 2006. Also, I have my future Mother In-Law taking me to see lots of different places in the area.

View Larger Map

Eden is a funny place. It is very close to some major holiday towns that feel like every other suburb, with chain stores and fast food. Eden somehow missed that style of development. It’s a more working class town, and the people who holiday here are the sort that stay in caravan parks rather than resorts. The town itself has a history of whaling and fishing, which is told in detail at the Killer Whale Museum—which houses the complete skeleton of Old Tom, a killer whale who died in the bay. Its role as a fishing port is dying down, and the tuna cannery and abattoir closed, thankfully, several years ago. Now all that’s left here from its very environmentally un-friendly past is the wood chip mill (the chips are sent to Asia to make paper).

As you might have guessed, Eden is a seaside town. It’s located on the shores of the ginormous Twofold Bay, which has several really nice beaches.

View Larger Map

A bit out of the main town is the former settlement of Boydtown. It was started by a wealthy whaler who was supposedly hoping to attract the Australian capital to the shores of Twofold Bay before Canberra was chosen. It is just about equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne, and it has a nice deep port. But, for some reason, they chose to build the capital in the middle of the bush (which has given it a unique charm, even though a lot of people hate it). Anyways, a few of the buildings at Boydtown are still standing, and have been turned into a nice restaurant, bar and café with some accommodation upstairs.

On the other side of Twofold Bay, just inside of North Head, is Aslings Beach.

As we walked along the rocks, MIL pointed out to me the places where Andy went snorkelling, back in the days when he wasn’t afraid of the cold water.

I haven’t been game enough to go for a swim yet (the water is in the low 20s), but I have had my feet in the waves. And yesterday we went for a paddle around Pambula River in some cool little kayaks, which are powered by pedalling, rather than paddling.

Foodwise, I’ve been completely spoilt as well. I haven’t taken any photos, but I’ve enjoyed being back in a normal kitchen. Collectively, MIL and I have made a lentil loaf, steamed silken tofu in ginger sauce, and felafels. And as I worked on a paper before dinner one night, she secretly made a batch of vegan brownies which came out of the oven just in time for dessert. FIL went through the wine cupboard reading labels and finding a few vegan wines to have with dinner.

Needless to say, I’m very glad I came down here. It’s been a while since I’ve had parents around to take care of me, since mine are so far away. And while I don’t need taking care of, it is kind of nice every now and then. (Also, it’s given me a bit more time for writing, and I’m getting a lot done in between beach trips.) Plus, they have a tv so I could watch the inauguration.

I hope you all are having a week as good as mine has been!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The museum

Hi everyone! For all my whinging about Canberra, I'm not even there anymore. After the first week, I decided to take a few days off and come down to the south coast of New South Wales, to Eden where Andy's parents live. I'm here staying with them (and being totally spoilt, with vegan brownies and trips to the beach)--and I'm getting some really good writing done here since they've set me up with my own bedroom and a separate 'office' with a big writing desk and wireless internet. I'll be here until Saturday, and then I'll finish up my trip with another week in Canberra. But in the name of not getting too far behind, I wanted to show some photos of my trip so far.

While I was in Canberra, I was working every day at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, or AIATSIS. They are located near the university, on the Acton Peninsula--right next to the National Museum. The other day I took an extended lunch break to poke around some of the exhibits.

I loved the look of this emu, made entirely out of barbed wire.

And seeing 20,000+ year old stone axes took my breath away.

The political cartoon exhibition was a funny way to review the big issues of 2008.

And the whimsical Garden of Australian Dreams was a nice break from the air conditioned exhibits inside (even though it was 38, I was more comfortable outside than in!).

In the garden is this figure of a gnome-like creature. It's called an Antipodean. Before Australia was seen by Europeans, they had this idea that there must be a large continent in the southern hemisphere in order to balance out the landmass in the north (or else the world would be top heavy and tip over, I guess!). They imagined these guys were the inhabitants of this mysterious southern land.
If you ever get to Canberra, I highly recommend a visit to the museum. It's a lot of fun!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eating in Canberra

The beautiful leafy-green ANU Campus.

As I alluded to in my last post, my cooking situation here leaves something to be desired. I received a grant to come here, which covers room and board at one of the colleges (dorms) on the ANU campus. When I told the grant-givers that I am vegan, they made sure to book me a self-catering college. The president of the organisation picked me up from the bus station and gave me a pile of groceries and some basic cooking utensils. She’s been really fantastic.

But, regardless of how accommodating the grant-givers are, the fact is that I am stuck in a kitchen where I am provided with one small cabinet and one refrigerator drawer. That, plus stoves, ovens, microwaves and toasters is all that is provided by the college. Since I’m only here for three weeks, it’s not worth going out and stocking up on everything I would like to have. So I’ve been eating some very basic meals.

The kitchen set up here in my college.

It hasn’t been all bad. One day I went out for lunch with a friend and I got the special of the day—minus the ham and the cheese. It’s a deliciously thin and chewy pizza base topped with tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, basil, and Spanish onions. I usually shy away from onions on pizza, but these were really yummy.

So here’s a question—if you had one saucepan, one skillet, a can opener, a knife and chopping board as your only cooking tools, what would you buy to stock your kitchen?

The first batch of groceries provided by the organisation was good but basic—sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli, soy milk, muesli, chickpeas, lentils, pasta, tahini, peanut butter and bread.

The next day I went out and got some oil, onions, garlic, soy sauce, tomato puree, and carrots. And that’s all I had for the next few days. I dreaded dinnertime because I had nothing with any flavour.

On Thursday I finally got out to a better supermarket and stocked up on a few more items. Fresh seaweed salad and soba noodles from an asian grocery were first. Then I got some Amy’s Lentil Soup, bananas, reduced-to-clear soy yogurt, tempeh, rice, veggie sausages, and a few other treats. To add some much needed flavour to my meals, I grabbed some dukkah—a bit expensive, but well worth it, in my opinion.

I also grabbed a pack of these vegan, gluten free biscuits. They are filled with jam and cream, and are delicious.

And for a last little treat, since I’m working hard here (most of the time), some of my favourite chocolate.

I’m happy with the way my mini-pantry is stocked now, but I’m curious what you all would fill your one cabinet and one fridge drawer with!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why Urban Vegan rocks my world

Okay, there are a lot of vegan cookbooks around. A lot of them are good, some are great. Urban Vegan’s upcoming cookbook, Urban Vegan: 250 Street Smart and Animal Free Recipes is a great one. I’ve tested 16 recipes, and I really wish I had my own kitchen—or at least some proper utensils and basic ingredients. But alas, I’m stuck in a college kitchen in which each resident is allocated exactly one cabinet and one refrigerator drawer—and expected to supply all of their own pots, pans, cutlery, plates, bowls, cooking/prep utensils, and food. And since I’m only here for three weeks, I’m eating pretty basically (I’ll tell you more about that in a future post).

So for now, I’ll just have to reminisce about the yummy Urban Vegan eats I have tried recently.

Like this deliciously thick and creamy chickpea paprikash.

Served with a bowl of chewy homemade spatzle (not a tester recipe and fairly ugly but yum!).

And finally, coconut-orange bars—a variation on coconut-lime bars. Crunchy, nutty base topped with sweet chewy slice.

With the cookbook deadline looming, I hope I can squeeze in a few more tests when I get back to Townsville!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bean queen

Last week we pressure-cooked a batch of cannellini beans for dinner. We always make a double batch and freeze the leftovers in jars or tupperwares for easy dinners later on. We left a container of cannellinis on the bench to cool a bit while we ate dessert, and Nacho discovered the beans and wanted in.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that she carried on like this for a good 10 minutes.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I've often wondered which is better for the environment--buying new, energy- and water-efficient products, or using old ones. While the newer products may have higher energy star or water star ratings, those values don't account for the amount of energy, raw materials, and transport that goes into making new products.

Thankfully, I haven't had to agonise over this too much, as finances have made the decision for us. So it was two years ago, when the techie in my department sold her washing machine for $120. It was about ten years old, she told us, but worked beautifully--she was only getting rid of it because she traded it in for a front-loader. We snapped it up (anything beats handwashing and laundromats) and it's been with us since then.

But in the end of September it just... stopped working. Out of the blue. Like, I washed a load of clothes and hung them out on the line and it worked fine. When I came back in to load up some sheets and towels, it made all kinds of funny noises and wasn't filling with water. Andy and his dad figured out what was wrong with it, but we just decided we would keep using it as is. Afterall, it worked fine so long as you filled the wash basin directly from the hose (rather than letting it come through the machine).

That started to get old in December. Plus, we learned that the Queensland government's waterwise rebates were ending at the end of the month. We'd kept an eye on bulletin boards and classifieds and found no used machines that were affordable... so we took the plunge and bought a front-loader.

It was on sale, and it had a $200 rebate courtesy of the state, so in the end it wasn't much more expensive than buying a used machine. I'm not sure it was the most ecologically sound decision, but it is much quieter. Andy's not sold on it--I think he's still cranky that it was so much heavier than our old washer. It takes a lot longer than the top-loaders, but it really uses very little water. I think we made the right choice.

edit: Oh! I should mention that we're not throwing out the old one. We've offered it up on freecycle and it's being taken away and repaired by a school-leaver who is getting ready to move into her own house. So it will live on!

P.S. Hi from Canberra! I got in yesterday and it's been lovely and sunny--and so dry. My hair is so much straighter here than it is up in the tropics. I'm not doing much in the way of excitement here--just working in some libraries and archives, and getting some writing done away from my research site--but I'll keep you informed if any fun does come my way.

Friday, January 09, 2009

December and January meals...

In the midst of travelling, holidays, and mango season, I have been cooking and eating at home. I just haven’t posted about it. But I’m heading off this weekend to Canberra for a three week visit to do research in the archives, do some field work (tent embassy on Invasion Day!) and get some writing done. Thus, I feel like I should get caught up a little while I still (vaguely) remember what these photos are showing!

Creamy pumpkin spaghetti. The sauce is so simple, and easy to mix up. This one has mushrooms, onion and spinach. Then mashed spinach and soymilk were mixed in to make it a sauce, and some herbs and seasonings.

One slice of a yummy pizza. My half had mashed and herbed silken tofu, seitan, olives, fresh tomato and “tropical spinach”. Andy’s half had all that plus BBQ sauce. This piece was near the centre, so you can see the dividing line between the two halves.

This is not a great photo, but it was a pretty great dinner. We found cauliflower for pretty cheap a few weeks ago and wanted to recreate our cheesy cauliflower casserole—without using the oven. So I followed the recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook for ‘Cheez Please Soup’, leaving out some of the extra liquid. I also added some nut butter and miso to make it a bit tangier, since I found it was a bit bland. Then, after the sauce was blended smooth, I added some cauliflower and let it all simmer until the cauli was tender.

On the side, I sautéed some garlic with “tropical spinach”, grated carrot and soy sauce. We picked up a giant bunch of this greenery from the market for $2, thinking it was a great deal. Well, let me tell you—it’s not. “Tropical spinach” must be the term for tough leaves on inedible stalks. We had to pull all the leaves off the stems, and they stayed chewy and stringy after cooking. $2 not well spent.

I used the rest of the cauliflower (we got a pretty big bunch!) to test a recipe for Urban Vegan's upcoming cookbook--Gobhi Aloo. More cauliflower than potato, deliciously spiced and healthy!

This is a pad thai-style stir fry with rice noodles, carrot, zucchini, tofu and tomato. Always yummy.

And finally, the only actual January meal of the bunch, and a joint effort. Andy made potato pancakes, below the olives. I made a tabouleh-style millet salad. We collectively made some falafels (not from scratch, but a just-add-water mix), on top of the millet. And we collectively sautéed some onions, mushrooms, and broccoli. A very filling, very yummy dinner.

I’ve got a few more catch-up posts coming your way!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Locally Grown Produce.

Although Andy and I live in a unit with a very small, not-so-sunny back paved-area/patio, we always try to grow things. One of the first things we planted after I moved back to Townsville in 2006 was a pineapple. We simply chopped the top off of one we got from the market and stuck it into the ground. Somehow it managed to survive several transplantings and a few moves, and earlier this year you may remember my excited post about the mini-pineapple growing from the centre of the spiky plant.

We watched it grow, with absolutely no idea how to tell when a pineapple is ready to be picked.

Turns out we didn’t have to worry about it. In one of the almost nightly rainstorms we’ve had since the end of November, the weight of water and pineapple got to be too much for the stalk to bear and the little pineapple tipped over. Andy tried tying it up, but on closer inspection it looked like ants were getting into the base of the fruit, so he chopped it from the plant and brought it inside.

It was pretty green, and for some weird reason Nacho liked chewing on the spiky top.

But, thanks to 34 degree weather and 90% humidity, it didn’t take long for the pineapple to ripen on our benchtop. We peeled it, removed the bad spot where the ants were more ambitious than us, and were left with a small but good-looking pineapple.

Look how small it is compared to this mango. Sure, it’s the biggest Bowen Mango I’ve ever seen, but still. It was a small pineapple. The perfect snack size.

We cut it up and ate it all in one go.

I’ve found that a lot of pineapples are good, but not great. They are either too sweet, or too tart. This one was the perfect combination of sweet and sour, tangy but not too harsh. I may be biased, because it’s come from my backyard, but I think it was the best pineapple ever.

Pineapple isn’t the only thing we’ve gotten from our sad-looking garden. The herbs are still going fine, as always, and we’ve even gotten some small but good Hungarian Wax Peppers (not spicy).

Our eggplant, however, bears many pretty flowers but refuses to set any fruits.

Everything else is sort of struggling along, except for the catnip plant, which Nacho loves.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Going troppo

The christmas season seems to be the best time of year for tropical fruit in North Queensland. Of course, it’s mango season, but you also find other random fruits in the markets or for sale on the side of the road.

We found watermelons at 49 cents each from the fruit and vege shop, so we got the smallest one we could find. When we got up to the check-out we found it weighed in at 10 kilos. We drank a lot of watermelon juice.

Our favourite people at the market, a really nice old couple with a farm in Paluma, were selling mamey sapotes so we got one of those, too. They’re ripe when they’re really soft.

We cut ours in half.

Part of it became a smoothie. Last time we had a mamey sapote the smoothie tasted like strawberries. This time it kind of tasted like sweet potato, which wasn't that nice.

And the other part was mixed with mango and Sabayon Sauce (an Urban Vegan tester recipe).

As mango lovers, though, our energy is largely spent trying to find the best deal on mangoes.

We got these early-season chok annan mangoes—three for $1. They’re organic, grown by an old hippy in nearby Giru. They’re very sweet, but were possibly picked a bit early since they went a bit wrinkly before going ripe.

On Christmas Day we got some mangoes from the side of the road in Alligator Creek. After putting our $5 in the honesty box, we grabbed a bag of eight giant R2E2 mangoes. These have been scientifically bred by the CSIRO to be big and not stringy, but somewhere in the science they lost a crucial facet—flavour. This batch wasn’t too bad, and is especially good for juicing.

The Sunday after chrissy we found a guy at the market selling a trailer full of Bowen mangoes, grown in Giru. We nearly bought a tray of them, but then we saw his sign—1/2 bushel for $12. We couldn’t say no.

After getting them out of the box, we counted 28 mangoes of various sizes (including the biggest bowen mangoes either of us has ever seen).

We’ve been eating several mangoes a day, drinking them, and including them in dessert. I don't think I'll ever have too many mangoes.