Thursday, January 28, 2010

grumpy old women

Warning: disgruntled rantings and not a single recipe in this post. I wont be offended if you skip over this one. I promise to return with more talk about food later.

With the New Year has come a flurry of unsolicited emails from Australian PR folk.

By the time I got number three this week I was feeling particularly grumpy. I’ve not opted on to any PR-friendly blogger list, nor have I signed up for any press releases. Yet I keep getting these insistent communications.

Often they say how much they like my blog then ask me to flog a product. Beer for instance. Yes I wrote a post about homemade ginger beer and years ago I wrote how didn’t like beer but had a pleasant experience drinking a radler in my homeland. So no, you wont see me writing about this great new lager I tried at a well known Fed Square drinking hole.

Nor will I respect any blogger who does so – well, not without a huge flashing disclaimer about it being a freebie at the behest of the promoters.

I’m more than ambivalent about SBS’s featured food bloggers. This is a straight swap for publicizing the channel on your blog. SBS is a commercial station, it runs ads on both its TV channels and the website, why should we give them free advertising? So, no offence, being a featured blogger is nothing special – all it means is that you have an unpaid advertising deal.

Bloggers will never be taken seriously if we promote without full disclosure. Anecdotally, I'd say it's currently something like 1:10 disclosures to mere gushings.

So, when I sometimes grit my teeth and say – please remove me from your email list, I haven’t signed up for your media releases – the odd PR person gets equally as titchy as me. I guess when you have a job that’s about giving people freebies you’re used to sycophants, not grumpy types who say they aren’t interested. I think I unintentionally offended one recently who replied by email:

“i was of the impression that bloggers were starting to be worthy of the same respect as other media and so have recently added a number of the key ones to my media database
i wasn't aware that you had to live in a city to be interested in writing” (this is a cut and paste; she used no grammar at all. Cool or illiterate, I’ll leave that to you?)

Trying to get someone to promote your product or service for free, is that about “respect”? I’m meant to be flattered to be as respected as a hack? I wouldn’t mind a journalists pay packet for my scribbling but that aint going to happen. The city reference was in response to me pointing out that what she was flogging was in Sydney and perhaps it was better to actually read people’s blogs to see if what they are promoting is at all relevant to what the blog is about. Sure I’m going to fall over myself to post about something in a different city that I couldn’t attend, just so I can feel worthy public relations respect.

I’ve grappled with this gnarly subject before, nothing changes - except the increase in numbers of emails for PR people. If you want to work with bloggers you need to understand us, we aren’t journalists writing to a deadline with space to fill, grateful for a press release to regurgitate. Most of us write for enjoyment, eschew advertising and have very specific niches.

And as you know – no publicity is better than bad publicity.

UPDATE 11/2/10: The latest offer to come my way has been jewelry - a complimentary piece to give an honest review or mention. I turned it down because it's something that wouldn't fit into any of my blogs. But I didn't mind the email. Why? It was personal, from a small business owner not a PR person. It was a short and honest email. The product was good, though not my style. I took the time to reply and wish her well.

Any one else had interesting offers lately?

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Friday, January 22, 2010


Vegans, avert your eyes right now.

I’m going to talk about the glories of flesh, food that stares back at you eyeball to eyeball and the smell of a once living creature caramelising on the grill.

I’m not really; I just needed to get those words out of my system. Despite abstaining from meat I love fresh fish, especially cooked whole on the bone. While I remember sharing with my brother the joys of a whole fish, deep fried and bathed in a Thai red curry sauce, for the rest of my family it has always been the anonymity of fillets with barely a hint of the creature that sacrificed itself for our pleasure. At Christmas when I barbecued a snapper, I knew I’d have to serve each of them the white flesh, free of any bones, with the eyes averted.

Such a thing is near impossible with sardines. Sure you can buy the dark fleshed, itty-bitty fillets. Tiny things that just take seconds to cook. But the fishmonger had the freshest looking sardines this week, just aching to be barbecued.

While on a moral level I understand that eating another being may be wrong, so I think it is important to be conscious when consuming them. I want to honour the noble fish, be cognizant of its unwitting sacrifice and fully respect its beauty.

The skin is glorious scale-free silver, with flashes of rainbow colours. It feels firm to the touch. The eyes are clear. Only a small slit is need to remove the organs from its belly, a quick wash in cool water, then pat dry. As you need at least half a dozen per person for a meal, it’s just as well the process is quick and easy.

Stephanie Alexander has a simple suggestion on how to cook this little fish, simply wrap in a vine leaf, secure it with a toothpick and grill over the coals. When I first made these years ago, not long after I became the owner of the aging grape vine, I cooked them on a hibachi. As much as I miss old fashioned barbecuing over glowing embers, the immediacy of the gas model means we cook outdoors more often.

A simple BBQ dinner for two

Scrub the skin of two big, organic potatoes and bake in a hot oven for about 25 minutes, til half cooked. Cut in thick slices then toss with olive oil, fresh rosemary, sea salt and black pepper.

Turn on the barbecue.

Cook the potatoes on a hot plate for a good 10 minutes a side til golden. Toss a bunch of asparagus in the remaining oil and cook for the last minute or too as well.

The fishmonger also had some dear little whiting, so fresh and inviting. I figured on 2 whiting for the SE, 1 for me plus 4-5 sardines each. (The cats got some sardine sashimi and were very happy – 14 little fish cost about $2.60 so slipping them the odd few is no luxury).

On a hot grill cook the whiting (gutted, rinsed and patted dry with a slice or two of lemon in its belly) for about 4 minutes aside, likewise the vine leaf wrapped sardines.

To eat the sardines, remove the toothpick and pull away the now charred leaf. Hold the fish with your hands and slide the fragrant flesh off with your teeth, a side at a time.

Thank you little fishies, you made two humans and a couple of felines very happy.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

so why are there so many bad gluten-free products?

gluten-free biscuits (which no one really likes) opened jan 2010

The offending item was bought by the Significant Eater when we cruised the health food store near the Westgarth theatre, wanting to find something to munch on during a movie.

Too much vanilla essence and way too salty. The floury bits were fine. So why do they have to stuff it up with absolutely crap flavour balance?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

ginger beer

A special hello to those who've Stumbled on the blog. Scroll down to the end of the page for the ginger beer recipe or click on the recipe finder in the sidebar for other delicious, simple and healthy treats to make.

What happened to my summer holidays? Just as I was getting my blogging mojo back it was time to go back to work and dive into a different headspace.

Through the hot days I’ve been experimenting with cordials and non-alcoholic drinks. To start with there was the delicious lemon cordial (50:50 lemon juice and sugar syrup, a little citric acid to help preserve it and a dash of rose water) and an interesting attempt to make elderflower cordial from dried flowers (nice but still a work in progress).

But the biggest production of the summer was making ginger beer.

I love ginger beer, a dry NZ one in particular unavailable anywhere outside of my homeland and quite difficult to get even when you are there (sold only in cafes etc not over the counter). I first made it myself in my childhood with lots of help from my mum, then at least twice after I moved to Australia. There are memories of sticky bottling sessions and exploding glass bottles, though this time there was only some of the former and thankfully none of the later.

The Recipe

I used Pip’s ginger beer recipe as a template but skipped on the vanilla.

To make the ginger beer bug/plant

1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
1 rounded teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

Mix in a large jar that can hold at least 4 cups of water and cover with a piece of muslin (keep it in place with a rubber band).

Leave in a temperate place – remember yeast is activated best at body temperature. You want it to bubble a little; it’s a good sign.

Feeding the bug

Week 1:
Each day add 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and 1 tsp of sugar to the bug and give it a stir.

Week 2:
Add 2 cups of warm water to the bug.

Each day add 2 teaspoons of dried ginger and 2 teaspoons of sugar to the bug and give it a stir.

Making the ginger beer

After 14 days of feeding the bug it’s time to bottle. Timing is rather crucial so this might dictate when you’re going to start the bug. You also need to collect bottles. I did this the old fashioned way by using beer bottles (in this case Coopers which are good strong glass and don’t have a screw cap) plus some caps and a cheap gadget to knock the caps on with the help of a hammer. Pip used plastic bottles but I think glass is a healthier option (and the PET bottles I put in the dishwasher distorted with the heat). Whatever type of bottles you use make sure they are sterilized either through a hot dishwasher cycle (leave in there til dry) or use the sterilizing tablets that are sold for making beer. If I remember my chemistry correctly, a bottle that looks clean but has traces of bacteria can be one of the causes of exploding bottles.

This recipe makes about 14 litres of ginger beer so you need a big enough container to mix it all up in. Remember to make sure it is scrupulously clean.

Collect the gingery goop by straining the bug through muslin, give it a good squeeze. (You can use the goop as a started bug for another batch if desired).

Mix the strained fluid with:

48 cups warm water
1 cup lemon juice
7 cups (original recipe recommends 8 cups) of sugar*

Now start bottling. Do this with a friend as it’s a lot easier having one person bottle and the other to bang on the seals. I used a mix of stubbies and long neck bottles plus a jug and funnel to pour in the fluid. Leave about an inch of air at the top of the bottle.

Leave in a cool place for a week. If using glass, considering the small risk of exploding bottles, I'd not leave it in the house. After a week, test a bottle and see if it’s matured enough. I found it needed another few days to brew just the right amount of fizz.

However if you are making this in hot summer weather, like I did be warned. I transferred half the bottles to the fridge (a energy wasting beer fridge turned on just for this purpose) within a week of them maturing but left the others unrefridgerated in the shed for another couple of weeks – half of those fermented, so be warned.

* Modifications

I had a few issues with this recipe – the cup business being one of them. Are they teacups, US cups, whatever? Even when you work out what cup measurement you want to use, different sugars measure different weights. We used organic, raw sugar and calculated that 7 US cups of sugar = 1.75g. I.5g raw sugar would be the maximum I’d use again, probably less. I like my ginger beer drier.

If I make this again I’d cut down further on the sugar and make it even gingerier. I’d like to grate fresh ginger to extract the juice and add some of that (a couple of tablespoons?) to the final mix. I’ve also enjoyed ginger beer made with honey and more lemon…so there are infinite possibilities.

All drunk, the only record of the beer now are some empty bottles and these hastily scrawled labels done late at night with no finesse!

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Friday, January 08, 2010

prawn cocktails

Finally got the time and energy to catch up on a bit of blogging housework!

In November when I mused about making prawn cocktails I got an enthusiastic response. Zoe it turns out is an old hand at the PC, knocking them out en masse at family Christmases for as long as she can remember. Considering her experience I took on her words of advice, “iceberg should be shredded superfine”.

I kept it simple; this was partially because the perfectly selected avocado purchased a couple of days before Xmas went off in the hot weather preceding the day. The other reason to keep it on the easy side was the nasty virus that laid me low for the good part of 10 days.

I must have unintentionally tuned into the zeitgeist with the PC being cover girl for January’s Gourmet Traveller though I reckon my cocktail sauce would taste even better!

So to the recipe, if you can call it that. This is so basic that quantities are not included so you can adapt it to the number you need to produce.

New old-fashioned prawn cocktails

Iceberg lettuce, 2 leaves per person, finely sliced
Cooked prawns, shelled with tail on, 3-6 per person
Lemon wedges
Avocado, cut into a fan, 1/4 of a large avocado per person (optional and not for the traditionalists)

Cocktail sauce
Good quality mayonnaise (best if you make your own but Thomy was fine for the job and a lot easier)
Tomato ketchup
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper if desired

To make the sauce use about 3 parts of the best mayonnaise you can lay your hands on, to other ingredients. The next ingredient is ketchup, for a cup of mayo I used about 2 tablespoons. Stir well. Add a generous shake of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce and squeeze in some lemon. Taste it. Does it need more spice (I was surprised at how much Tabasco it took til I got the right balance)? I know this is a very imprecise ‘recipe’ but it’s all about flavour and the variety of your base mayo is going to affect the over all taste. The resulting sauce should be a browny-pink colour, have a discernable hint of tomato sauce without it dominating and a decent tang. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Assemble your cocktail. In a bowl or wide mouthed glass per person, start with a decent layer of shredded lettuce, then top with prawns and avocado fanned on the side (optional). Place some sauce on the cocktail or serve on the side in a jug. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley, in our house it had to be good old-fashioned curly parsley, not the modern flat leaf variety. Add a wedge of lemon affixed to the side of the serving glass or if you want to be ultra-fancy a whole prawn with its head still on.


On boxing day there was some cocktail sauce and leftover barbecued prawns in the fridge, begging out to be eaten. It became a great sandwich with the prawns sliced and tossed with the sauce, some finely sliced spring onions and parsley. Fantastic!

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I've been hanging out for this all holidays

A day in the sun, not too much heat, not too little, a good book...that's all I've craved since I stopped work before Christmas. Family now flown, the heat/cold wave passed. Finally - breakfast at the newly enlarged Dench's (they do the best rosti/egg/smoked salmon breakfast in Melbourne, I swear), the old banana lounger, some shade from the grapevine and the good book. What more could I ask for?

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