Monday, February 23, 2009

Brain food.

Andy and I have been working fairly hard since I’ve come back from Canberra—me on writing (I’m nearly done with a rough-as-guts draft of chapter 4!!), him on organising field trips (he’s currently at Orpheus Island and will be back in PNG at the end of March). Thus, much of our time has been spent at uni rather than at home in the kitchen. Add to this the crazy weather we’ve had. When it has rained, the highways flood in the blink of an eye, leaving us cut off from fresh fruit and veggies. When it’s not raining, it’s hot and humid. At least the bike paths are no longer too flooded to ride to uni. However, the conditions are perfect for growing mould—I’m thinking of starting some sort of commercial venture, since it grows so readily on every surface in our house, from the desktop to the outside doors to my clothes in the closet.

But unlike mould, kitchen inspiration has been a bit hard to come by this summer. Still, we have managed to come up with a few good meals...

An easy favourite, when the right ingredients are on hand, are burgers. This recipe for ‘Mexican Patties’, which we loosely followed, is from Wild Morsels and it was good. Beans, polenta, tomatoes and Mexican-inspired spices all combined into these yummy, easy to put together patties. Andy is the master of burger-assembly, and he didn’t disappoint. White bread burger buns, lettuce, tomato, beetroot and cucumber formed the base on which the patty rested. On top were onions sautéed with a few diced Spanish olives, and a generous scoop of Almost Sour Cream (from Hot Damn and Hell Yeah).

There have been a lot of nights when I haven’t felt like eating much more than a bowl of cereal, let alone cooking, so luckily there is someone else in the house to pick up the slack. Andy set out to make me a secret meal and set to flipping through recipes in the cupboard. He settled on SusanV’s mini-crustless tofu quiches. Our experience with these in the past has been tasty but structurally a mess, so he planned to add a crust. Unfortunately, we were out of frozen pastry, so the surprise was ruined and I was mustered off the couch to make pastry. It was worth the minimal effort—they turned out really well, all filled with spinach and love.

Speaking of love, who doesn’t love marked down food? Andy and I always scoop up reduced items, so when I saw the telltale green sticker on this soy cheese I got all excited. The texture is similar to the super-processed Velveeta cheese block, but a bit grainier.

I tried to dice it up to put on pizza, but it is pretty gooey and stuck to the knife. So instead I sort of crumbled it. It has a really cheddary flavour, and didn’t melt, but it made a nice addition to our usual repertoire of toppings (seitan, pineapple, tomato/bbq sauce, and parsley).

On the bright side, the first day of Autumn is in less than a week. On the not-so-bright side, that means almost nothing here in north Queensland!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

12 months

I'm currently in the final 12 months of my PhD. The past two years have been relatively leisurely--field work, reading, a little bit of writing. It's been busy, but it's work that I enjoyed doing.

Now, it's crunch time. My supervisors want to see a completed draft of my whole thesis by July. I've written three chapters already (in really rough draft form) but I still have five or six to go. That's about 60,000 words in six months. This is on top of a conference I will be attending in April (in Manchester!!), and a journal paper I'm trying to publish.

So I'll try to post semi-regular, so I don't get too big a backlog of food photos. And I'll try to keep up on all of your blog posts, but I may not be as comment-y as I have been in the past. Wish me luck in finishing on time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Product review

This is a few weeks old now, because I picked this up when the coach from Canberra to Eden stopped at the Snowy Mountain town of Cooma. There were a few cafes, a chinese place, and a fish and chip shop. I'm sure I would have been able to find vegan food somewhere. But, I had planned ahead and brought a sandwich. I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied, however, and went to the Cole's to find some fruit. Unfortunately, all the fruit was expensive, and it didn't even look that good. During a quick walk through the "health food" aisle, though, a special caught my eye. Three Leda Bars for $5.

Leda Bars are produced in a gluten and dairy free facility. They are, like, really super good for you. The main ingredients are chickpea flour and dates. I get seriously excited when I see the word 'vegan' on grocery store products, so I didn't really have any doubts about buying these as my post-sandwich snack. According to the back of the package, there are four flavours available--banana, apricot, choc chip and apple. Unfortunately, Cooma only had banana and apricot. And since I hate all things apricot, I got three banana bars.

At first bite, I wasn't too sure about these. They are really super dense and chewy. The flavour was good, if a little bit chalky. After a few bites, though, these bars really grew on me. The texture makes the bar feel filling. Plus, these bars were full of nuts, dried banana, raisins, and some other stuff so there was some variety in each bite.

By the time I finished my first one, I sort of contemplated opening another. I'm glad I didn't--they fill you up pretty well. Plus, I was glad to have something semi-sweet later on in the week for an easy snack. I would definitely buy these again, and especially if the other flavours were available. I don't think I would pay any more than $2 for a single one of these, but then I'm a bit of a tight-ass. But the next time you're stuck for food and there's a grocery store near by, have a look for these. Because if they're stocked in Cooma, chances are good they'll be available anywhere in Australia.


Australia is currently in a pretty bad state.

North Queensland is under water. 63% of the state has been declared a disaster zone--that's an area larger than the state of South Australia. It didn't rain yesterday, and it's dry today (except a little burst of rain just after sunrise), but more rain is predicted for tomorrow. We're fine, just a bit sick of gloomy weather and fighting a battle against the mold that's growing on every surface, and the ants who have moved indoors to get out of the rain. A lot of people are not okay, since their homes are flooded. A lot of cattle have been shot because they are stranded by rising flood waters. And a few people have drowned when their cars are flooded.

Much worse off are the Victorians, who not only have had to suffer unbearable heat--but are now either burnt out or at risk of fire. Nearly 200 people are confirmed dead so far, which apparently makes this Australia's worst recorded natural disaster.

Sorry to be so glum, but I just felt that I couldn't continue posting vegan food as if none of this is happening. Is it a sign of what we have in store in future, or just a freak year?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cyclone food

I got home from Canberra on Saturday afternoon, just a few hours after Cyclone Ellie formed off the coast (she had previously just been a tropical low). It started raining on Sunday and they were predicting that Ellie would cross the coast at Cardwell, about 90 minutes north of Townsville, at midday on Monday. There were lots of warnings on the radio to "ready yourselves for the cyclone", so Andy and I took stock of what we had--a camp stove we bought last cyclone season and have yet to use; batteries; two little battery powered radios that tune into the ABC with ease; lots of tinned tomatoes and spaghetti; and a few packs of gnocchi, which are quick to cook if the power goes out. We don't have much in the way of veggies, because the markets have been cancelled for weeks, and the grocery stores are unable to get new orders because the highway is flooded north, south and west of Townsville. What we did have was about three kilos of carrots.

A rainy day and cool weather (it's all relative--29 degrees feels cool in summer), plus the threat of power failure sounds, to me, like an invitation to bake. It was the perfect time, in fact, to try a few recipes from my newest cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking.
I made banana muffins, with crystallised ginger instead of chocolate chips. We threw a loaf of multi-grain bread into the bread maker in case of future power failure. And, to use some of the many carrots, I made a carrot cake. In place of the oil in this recipe I used mango puree, which made for a really moist, sweet carrot cake. We froze half the cake and the muffins, because 90+% humidity means things go mouldy fairly quickly here.

We haven't been eating only sweets, though, as good as that may be. We've been filling up on lots of cold weather comfort foods. This lentil loaf from Wild Morsels was the best bean-loaf recipe I've made. It was very tasty, and it actually held together in loaf shape. Instead of grated sweet potato, we used carrot and it worked just fine.

The only silly thing I did was to put a layer of tomato paste on the top, like my mum used to do with meatloaf. The baking paper I used to line the pan got soggy, so we had to flip the loaf over to slice it--and the tomato ended up on the bottom, instead of the top.

One night for dinner we had gnocchi, tossed with a hearty tomato-aniseed-roasted garlic sauce. A quick salad of our meagre vegetables filled the plate and added some variety to our diets.

This stick-to-your-ribs meal is cannellini beans, peas and carrots in a vegemite gravy, served with brown rice, cucumber and tomato.
And most recently, Andy requested that I make Urban Vegan's chickpea paprikash again. This time I put in grated carrot instead of capsicum, and served it over spaghetti instead of spaetze. The homemade noodles are definitely better, but this was still tasty and filling and just what we needed. On the side, we had leftover lentil loaf, some sourdough baguette, and a bit of fresh tomato.
Although the rain has slowed up a bit, and the wind has died down, there are still lots of flooded roads and, more importantly, flooded bike paths. We've had to drive to uni every day, which is leaving us both feeling a bit antsy. And there are two lows in the Coral Sea that are predicted to turn into cyclones in the near future, so it looks like we'll be eating too much and exercising too little for at least a bit longer...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Online feminist community

I just wanted to give a quick plug to the new online feminist community, Rebellissima.

It's new and doesn't have many members yet, but there are opportunities for discussion via forums and personal pages. There are already at least a few vegan/AR women involved, and it would be great to see more... so come join us!

It's easy to register, just enter a bit of info and answer some optional questions and you're welcome to take part in discussions!

Hope to see you over there (and friend me when you join!)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Canberra: a recap.

In addition to getting a fair bit of work done, and going to the coast for a few days, I was able to see some of the sights that Canberra has to offer. I caught up with some Canberrans, and I ate out more than I do in Townsville because the kitchen was a bit undesirable.

Most days I walked to the archives, which meant trekking across this creek...

And past this beautiful hedge of lavender...

And finally past this art-tree.

For lunch I usually ate leftover dinner, and sometimes some fruit. This mixture of pasta, dukkah and soy sausage was yummy and hearty.

Or this rice and beans concoction, which used a bit of everything in my pantry—fava beans, tomato puree, broccoli, dukkah, soy sauce, peanut butter, tahini, onion and garlic.

When I really couldn’t be motivated to go over to the very non-vegan kitchen, I got takeaways, like this vegetable curry from an Indian place.

Usually I worked in the mornings, until my brain was very full of information, and then I did some touristing. It worked out quite well, and I got to see lots of things. Like Parliament House, which of course accommodates both branches of the Australian government, but is also home to a few very important historical artefacts, like the Yirrkala Bark Petition from the Aboriginal inhabitants of Arnhem land, protesting mining on their land in the 1960s.

From the grassy roof, there were also pretty good views of the city.

One afternoon I strolled along Lake Burley-Griffin to the Captain Cook Memorial Fountain. Even though he is highly symbolic of colonial aggression and expansion, I’ve been fascinated by him and his travels since I read the book Blue Latitudes a few years ago.

On the 26th of January, I gathered with a few dozen others in Garema Place.

After a smoking ceremony, and some singing and speaking, we all marched to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was set up on the lawns of Old Parliament House in 1972. At the embassy, our numbers swelled and there was an even bigger ceremony, led by one of the original Tent Ambassadors—who last year was arrested trying to save some kangaroos from a government-sanctioned culling program.

On another day I visited the National Portrait Gallery, where I watched a video-portrait of Pam Aherne, founder of Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary.

At the National Gallery I looked at art from around the world, including the visiting Degas exhibit, but got a bit sick of the crowds. Outside in the sculpture garden, however, it was just me and these three swans.

Old Parliament House was a good, cool place to spend a few hours on one of the 38 degree afternoons.

I had some dining-out highlights, as well. Of course Au Lac with Anna was good. I also enjoyed some tagine and couscous with Cristy, P and Lily. On a Sunday afternoon I was taken to Bungendore, just outside Canberra, to a wood-working gallery and café, by the organistion which funded my trip. One day for lunch I was treated to a delicious basil-chilli tofu from Lemongrass Thai (at the email suggestion of Marnie, a Melbourne vegan). I didn’t take any photos, since it was a business-y lunch with an anthropologist my supervisor put me in touch with. And I went out for noodles with a friend from undergrad. Despite my early misgivings about my food situation in Canberra, I actually did quite well.

I am, however, glad to be home. I made it home just in time for Tropical Cyclone Ellie which has given us plenty of wind and rain, but has already been downgraded to a tropical storm. But cool, rainy weather means baked goods, which I will leave for my next post...