Sunday, January 30, 2011


It will come as no surprise to regular readers of the blog that Mark Bittman is one of my favourite culinary pin up boys men. If I had to nominate a top three there’d also be delicious Nigel and our own lovely Tony. But let’s not be heterosexist, my soft spot for Annabel also deserves a mention.

What all four of these cooking heroes have in common is a laid back attitude to home cooking. There's also a shared joy of homegrown produce and a relaxed approach to following recipes. All of which tick my boxes.

But back to Mr Bittman. I enjoyed his recent New York Times piece on whole-grain pancakes. The accompanying video showed him incorporating some cooked oatmeal (porridge) with a scant amount of flour, herbs, nuts and dried fruit. I took notes as I watched! I made guesses as to quantities. Why? Because at the time I couldn’t actually find the recipe.

As fate would have it, last weekend came around and I awoke to an unexpected dose of mild food poisoning (sadly from an oldish favourite on Brunswick Street). My partner suffered likewise, sealing the deal as to the source of the infection. Once my digestion calmed down all I wanted to eat was porridge. Which meant the next day, when I was fully functioning again, a cup or so of rolled oats slowly cooked with rice milk and a little banana sat waiting to be used in my fridge.

My version varies somewhat from the original but they look and I suspect taste pretty authentic. The notes in italics explain the variations. The quantities were more than adequate for two very hungry adults.

Super healthy pancakes with oats and cardamom

Combine the following dry ingredients:

2 tabs ground almonds
2 tabs raw rolled oats
I chopped the almonds roughly in the food processor then threw in the raw whole oats for a couple of whizzes. The texture in the finished product was lovely – but I really wonder if it needed the raw oats at all.
1/2 tsp salt
Seeds of about 4 pods cardamom
I pounded salt and herbs together in a mortar and pestle. The aroma was quite strong, so I used this as a guide to the amount of cardamom seeds I used. The cardamom was very subtle in the first pancake I cooked but was more noticeable in later ones.
1/2 cup unbleached flour
This was perfect, in both texture and binding of the batter.
1 tsp baking powder

Wet ingredients

Whisk together:
1 egg
1/2 c rice (or other) milk
I added a further 1/3 cup when mixing the final batter. to get to the right consistency.
1 tsp vanilla extract
As there was a trace of banana already in my porridge and I knew I’d be using the perfect runny apricot jam on top, no need for the addition of dried apricots. Even without that, I think they’d be over kill. The vanilla, though not in the original recipe, was a subtle flavour enhancer that I’d use again.

Stir into the combined wet ingredients:
1+ cups porridge
I had a bit over a cup of left over porridge cooked with a little banana and rice milk from the day before. As leftover porridge tends to congeal, using clean hands to break up the lumps through the wet ingredients was the most effective method.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir gently.
Despite my initial scepticism, it really does create a “batter consistency”, even with so little flour. They needed to be loosened a little more with milk. I decided to let the batter sit for half an hour. That’s the general rule for flour based pancake batters, the flour swells a little but more than that the cardamom has a chance to infuse.

Cook in rice bran oil in a hot pan. They needed at least 4 minutes a side. And like most pancakes I find it better to do a small one first, then the pan seems to get into its groove and the following ones cook more smoothly – or is that just me?

Served with a spoonful of the most heavenly, runny organic apricot jam a client had given me but maple syrup or a little honey would do the trick.

Verdict: When I first read the recipe I must admit my first thought was "crispy fried porridge". But my second thought was "crispy fried porridge could taste really good"! The oatmeal did make the pancakes a little damp in the middle, rather than the more cakey nature I'm familiar with. The ground nuts added a lovely texture that complemented the oats.

Overall - a delightful, very filling and healthy breakfast!

Though next time I might soak rolled oats over night, rather than cooking them to see how that works.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

What the? Part 2

Any publicity is good publicity, so I’m told. Though in the blogworld there’s a slight division between those who court being noticed (and lavished with free stuff) and those who are a bit like the punks I hung out with briefly in my teens. Their attire would scream for attention but would menacingly spit “What ya lookin’ at?” to anyone who cast a glance their way.

I guess at my heart, I’m just a kid with spiky hair. Notice me but let me decide whether I’ll let you get away with it.

Back in November there was a mass email that some of us dubbed “FYI What the F*ck”. My post about the communique prompted some lively commenting and a volley of off blog emails from the Production Director.

December came around and serendipitously I was eating at Pope Joan (wonderful place but a vegan-unfriendly menu) with another foodblogger when we came across the Holiday Edition of GRAM. What a waste of print was the general consensus but to be fair, I thought I’d wait for another edition or two to give it a go.

I was rather surprised today to see a mention on twitter; it appears one of my posts got "quoted" in GRAM. I hadn’t expected that.

So what is GRAM?

An A3 print magazine style (similar size to Beat etc) food-focused freebie.

Issue 2 comprised of:
14 full sized pages of advertising
21 x 2-3-sentence regurgitation of local food blog posts
1 full paged promo for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival
1 full page “piece” comprising of listing 10 local eateries and the name of the coffee machine they use
1 “about us” style page
8 full format photos (supposedly original as their blurb expressly says “All photography in Gram is copyright and may not be reproduced in whole or part without the prior consent of the publisher”.)

How they described the publication in the original email:

In the interests of integrity, GRAM doesn’t commission writers or works. Content isn’t product driven or based on any commercial directives. Instead it’s made up of positive, in-depth pieces with attractive photography, written by passionate and knowledgeable local ‘authorities’.

Does it deliver?

“In-depth pieces”? Sadly there were none. I could be wrong but the image of some work experience kid being plonked in front of a computer with the instructions to scour local food blogs for any interesting content comes to mind.

I'm more than a little confused as to who are the "passionate and knowledgeable local 'authorities'" who wrote the in-depth pieces. Not the person who clumsily compiles the quotes. So are the bloggers the writers they allude to? If so, I hope my cheque is in the mail.

So are these “in-depth pieces” quoting blogs in the manner that other print media or bloggers themselves do, or are they lifting free content for free?

GRAM claimed
A very similar premise to how a blogger might make reference to an external article they want to share - placing a link in their own blog and directing readers on.

Here’s an example from their site of how they do it:

131 Smith St, Fitzroy. Ph. 9419-5101
R&H @ Pepper. Salt. Sugar. Spice. found the menu at Huxtable “intriguing”. Deciding on the “plump and lovely” dashi-poached eggs with smoked salmon, and “spectacular” French toast with poached rhubarb, Istra bacon and maple syrup, they weren’t disappointed. In fact they think Huxtable is Melbourne’s best “café to have breakfast”…
Article Source:

Would I be upset if another blogger quoted me like that?

Apart from the bad writing? To be honest, I’d think it was just utterly lazy. Most quotes are often used in context. For example “R&H loved the French toast (link to post) but it was the amazing Japanese breakfast that sold me on the place”. Then there’d be ORIGINAL content about my own experience.

These “pieces” are not in-depth or add any original content whatsoever but what differentiates GRAM from another blogger writing the laziest post on earth is that the pieces are just mere wrapping to sell advertising.


I’m more amused than hugely annoyed about getting a mention. My understanding from the outcome of my extensive emails to GRAM in November were that they would contact me for permission to reproduce actual content but “quoting”, i.e.: a simple link, was ok. I can’t share those emails as they were marked “in confidence”.

Strangely, rather than being cutting edge, my post they spat out was from March 2010. Hardly recent.

I’ve seen no spike in hits, as the mass email suggested:
As a result, GRAMs featured bloggers will probably notice a marked increase in traffic to their sites, expanding the potential for those already advertising to capitalise on their work, and creating opportunities for those that yet don’t (through options like Google AdSense, Nuffnang and Foodbuzz).

NOTE: F*ck off adsense, nuffnang, foodbuzz I don’t want you.

But wait is that a knock at my door? I think it’s a publisher, who saw my blog for the first time today in GRAM and is offering me a 3 book deal!

As to the concept of GRAM?

Will anyone download the Microsoft software needed to scan the codes (I certainly wont)? And who would laboriously type a long url into their smartphone?

Overall I feel sad that so much money has gone into this magazine, that they’ve wasted the time, space and opportunity that could have created something worth of reading. Regurgitating unpaid pieces that other people have written, instead of commissioning talented food writers to create something new is a total waste.

Or just a cheap way to make money from advertising?

30.1.11 Update: Clarification

* As I said, I'm "amused" about my inclusion in this publication.
* I was surprised rather than upset, mainly because I tend imagine any feedback I give to a publicist/marketer et al that is not 100% positive potentially puts me on a blacklist.
* I quite possibly have an overactive imagination, or so I've been told.
* I am not a lawyer, nor am I pursuing one, I have not been plagiarised.
* Academically though, I'd like to know if a publication used it's "in-depth articles" as a sales pitch to potential advertisers - as in "(the publication is) made up of positive, in-depth pieces with attractive photography, written by passionate and knowledgeable local ‘authorities’" and they acknowledged that the pieces they refer to are the blog posts, if they commission the photos but not the pieces - is it misleading or unethical in any way?
* In the two days since the publication hit the street (literally, I found my copy in an unopened bundle getting very dirty, at lunchtime Friday outside a Degraves Street cafe) the post has had one hit from GRAM (hey the work experience kid has to do something :) but in the same period of time it has had four hits via Google, all from outside of Australia, therefor not remotely related to being "quoted".
* Speaking of links, quotes and mentions - GRAM take note, this is a good example of how most bloggers do it.
* Feel free to speculate on how many editions GRAM will run for. They've clocked up two so far. Do I hear advances on four? Was that a five at the back of the room?

7.2.11 Update: Crikey writes about blogger backlash.

Amber Jamieson reports:
Cea says GRAM is now considering reproducing entire blog posts and paying writers for republishing posts after realising the backlash and negativity from the blogging community. Money has been received for ads, says Cea, but adds: “We’re not making money [yet], that’s for sure.”

While I'm a little skeptical about that happening (or if so, at anything nearing market rates), read the full article as there are lots of gems in it, as well as a good round up of what fellow bloggers are saying. The comparison between Saucy Thyme's actual writing and the GRAM rehash is a fine example of what many of us are on about. The GRAM precis written is so badly, who'd be inspired to visit the original piece?

On other matters, I was informed by GRAM last week that my link has been removed without a trace from their website. Though I've not asked for this, I'm other bloggers quoted in the magazine have suggested it.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

keeping calm and carrying on: urban survival kit

Just quietly, between you and me, after a couple of weeks off I’ve found going back to work this year a bit of a shock. Instead of the usual gentle plunge into the working year, it’s felt like an inundation.

Perhaps it didn’t help that my first day back coincided with rising floodwaters in Brisbane, where the latest sms from my cousin informed me he was sandbagging his new business and reeling from his insurance broker laughing when he asked if he was covered for flood damage. With an eye on the news and the excellent social media update via #qldfloods on Twitter during my lunch break, my heart felt like it was a thousand kilometres away.

But thanks to the twitter stream it soon became apparent that I live in a totally different world to some of the Brisbane tweeters. I was struck by some updates mentioning they’d rocked up to find empty food shelves at the supermarket and their cupboard at home was perennially bare as they “eat out most of the time and buy on the day if I cook”.

My mum was raised through hard times being a depression era child. Perhaps if she’d been a baby boomer I wouldn’t have done a sneaky audit of the bathroom one day in my teens and counted 24 rolls of toilet paper, 9 cakes of soap and 4 tubes of toothpaste, stockpiled away in the cupboards. Everytime the local stores discounted her favourite brands she’d buy a few extra, just in case.

I miss her old pantry, stupidly sacrificed in a really bad 80’s kitchen renovation, which always seemed packed to capacity. In autumn she’d bottle peaches, apricots and tomato sauce (the later flavoured with dried pimento seeds, unless my mind is playing trick on me). Throughout the year there’d be canned versions of the same, bought on sale, for when her own bottles had run out. There was always many kilos of flours and sugar in the deep drawers where the baking supplies were kept.

In the garage sat the ginormous chest freezer purchased in the 70’s when buying “a whole beast” with a neighbour came into vogue. For years half a pig's head greeted you on opening the freezer, until one day she quietly threw it out. Our family of five chomped through meat at least twice a day but our conventional tastes tended to stop far south of a snout.

The clay soil and challenging weather limited the vegetable garden but in summer there’d be a crop of runner beans and strawberries. Sometimes she'd try something new but our favourite would be the joys of running through rows of corn that would tower over me before the cobs were ready to pick. Throughout the year the rhubarb remained constant, along with curly leaf parsley and a small but proficient lemon tree.

I am convinced we could have eaten well for weeks on the pantry stores and garden, let alone remained clean, if disaster struck. During the odd storm that took the power out, the neighbours would pull their camp stove out and boil a billy for tea. There was no doubt that in the case of a major emergency the locals would pool resources and help each other out.

Here in Melbourne in the 21st century I’m not feeding a family of five but between kitchen, garden and neighbourhood connections I think I could make a fair stab of not going hungry for a month. While the barbecue gas remains on good supply – there’s kilos of dried beans, lentils and whole grains to feed the entire street plus a sizeable pile of canned legumes, tomatoes, packets of pasta and baking supplies. Arepas on the grill with refried beans and fresh salsa anyone?

So what do you stockpile? I’m guessing if you are a food blog reader/writer your own supplies aren’t too shabby.

And while we're at it, what do you have in your urban survival kit?

Urban survival kit

Enough food and water to last a week (for each member of the house)
Canned beans, fruit, fish and vegetables
Dried grains (rice, oats, quinoa etc) and legumes
Raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit (great high energy snacks)

Crackers, mountain bread and other floury goods.
Flours, sugar, oil, sauces
UHT milk/tetra packs of alternative milks

Wind up or battery powered radio (cos the batteries in your smart phone won’t last for long if you’re streaming audio)
Wind up or battery powered torch
Spare batteries
Barbecue or camp stove
Old fashioned landline phone (not requiring electricity)
Basic first aid kit – especially bandages, dressings, antiseptic
At least a fortnight’s supply of any essential medicines (and condoms for those who use them, it’s amazing the amount of babies conceived during the aftermath of disasters!)
Mosquito coils

What would you add?

PS: not a necessity but my friendly organic grocer suggested I stock up on ginger, anticipating a shortage in the near future as it's a Queensland crop.

Or instead you could donate the money to a plethora of flood funds - not just in Australia but around the world

No specific funds as yet for the Brazil and Sri Lanka floods but Oxfam suggests becoming a 365 Emergency donor

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

not quite a year in review

New loves
Serendipity sorbet (from downtown Marrickville) – fell in love with their coconut and kaffir lime served with some of those sour cherries in juice from a jar. Their chocolate sorbet wins best dairy-free creamy chocolate hit of the year. Oh and I’ve just discovered passionfruit and chilli – oh my!

Tofu in gingery tomato sauce, definitely the most made new recipe of the year. I’ve done all kinds of variations to add some vegetables to it, all fabulous, though eggplant is still the best for it’s melty texture and sponge like quality to suck up the flavours.

Green coriander seeds. I just wish I could have fresh seeds all year round.

With so many new eateries in my neck of the woods it’s hard to pick a favourite newcomer. Hats off to Munsterhaus for providing casual, healthy food that makes me crave more. I also developed a soft spot for breakfast in the sun outside the quaint Miss Marmalade. Honourable mention to the latest in the Vue family – Café Vue at the Melbourne international terminal. Leaving the country has never tasted so good. Considering the paucity of decent food in the entire airport, let alone when you are held hostage in the departure hall, the luxury and great (though rather rich) food at Café Vue is a gift from the goddess. If you are on a cut-price jaunt, I suspect their breakfast/lunch/dinner boxes beat anything you could get onboard. The toasted olive bread and tuna sandwich that I ate there just before Christmas made it easy to ignore the horror of a meal Air New Zealand attempted to serve up.

Out of town finds– Black Star Pastry (Newtown, Sydney) and the queue-worthy Mamak (Haymarket, Sydney). I suspect I’ll be eating in Sydney even more in 2011, so feel free to tell me your favourite casual haunts in the harbour city.

Falling in Love Again
Best new old friend Annabel Langbein. Despite so much of her food being dairy or meat rich, I loved her program The Free Range Cook for her casual attitude towards cooking and simple recipes – so much so I dusted off her cookbook and actually made the recipes I’d earmarked.

In a similar vein, in a moment of boredom on a visit to my family in NZ, I jazzed up my mum’s chocolate rough recipe and fell in love with a decidedly adult twist on a childhood favourite slice.

Other foods I fell for all over again included kale, New Zealand whitebait, ginger beer and mushrooms on toast.

A couple more “best ofs”
Best experiment – harissa prawns. Homemade harissa paste has become my favourite “fridge fixing” – other than tagines it goes into chilli bean dishes, mayonnaise to accompany carrot fritters and smoked eel but best of all was using to marinate prawns. Drooling in memory of it just typing this…

Best food related meme – most likely the only one I did but I loved Jill Dupleix’s life in 10 dishes so much, I did it myself.

Social media high and low lights
The Foodblogging event of the year was certainly the inaugural Eat, Drink, Blog. A spectacular event, wonderful participants, incredible cocktails and a delightful meal at St Ali. Best of all was hanging out with fellow bloggers and forming new friendships.

Foodblogging meets old media epic fail of the year – how could we forget the evil Judith Griggs and Crooksource?

What I want more of in 2011
Home cooking. I buy fresh, seasonal organic fruit and veg each week. It’s a pity to waste them. I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with big bang, expensive restaurants over the years. But perhaps that’s because in Melbourne we are lucky to have so many small, understated, quality neighbourhood eateries like The Commoner in Fitzroy and Da Noi in South Yarra. Neither new kids on the block but both provided my favourite dining experiences of the year – the perfect blend of the best company to eat and drink with, waiters who know how to do their job and talented chefs.

What are you food highs of 2010 and what are you hankering for in 2011?

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