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How To Be A Better Consumer

How To Be A Better Consumer

Where you choose to shop is importantIt doesn’t take a genius to work out that your independent local grocer will care more about your business that the two dominant supermarket chains. By supporting the small guys with your shopping dollar, you’re disrupting the big supermarket stranglehold over farmers and growers. Even better in eliminating the steps between consumer and grower is to frequent accredited farmers markets, community co-operatives or farm gates but sooner or later you’re going to need toilet paper. Thankfully there is Who Gives A Crap, which is a great example of a socially responsible business fulfilling a basic human need. Smaller grocers will care more about you as their customer and often support local community groups in the process. Ask questions, demand action and vote with your dollar for the kind of system you want to be part of.www.farmersmarkets.org.auwww.afsa.org.auwww.whogivesacrap.org.auMeat-free Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday . . .)Meat production puts a range of stresses on our environment (greenhouse gas emissions, high water use, land degradation) so think about taking the pressure off a few nights a week. Increasing your consumption of legumes and other vegetable-based proteins will benefit your body as well as the environment.www.meatfreemondays.comEat foods as unprocessed as possibleWhen Michael Pollan said, ‘don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,’ he knew what he was talking about. Have you noticed that if you walk around the edges of the big supermarkets the food products are the least processed? This is a good starting point. Eating foods that have gone through as few processes as possible is better for your body as well as the environment. Less transformations means less energy used, less chance for wastage and generally is also cheaper.Embrace the buzz words – local, seasonal, ethical, organicLocal – Prioritising the locally grown means you recognise the energy spent bringing a product to the consumer is part of a greater cost than simply the dollar value. Even if you don’t consider the food miles, do it for your taste buds. Fresher product that has travelled less is always going to taste better. It’s just common sense that ordering seafood hundreds of kilometers from the coast isn’t a great idea.Seasonal – Celebrating the seasons will not only add variety to your diet but will lessen the drain on your finances as well. Tomatoes grow more easily in summer (and have higher nutritional value) but during winter require more resources to produce resulting in a higher cost and an inferior taste.Ethical – Stopping to think about where things come from is the first step, and thankfully it’s getting easier to decipher the route products make on their way to us. Respect for all involved, fair pay and a transparent process are key parts of an ethical approach to consumption.Organic – Organic farming systems respect the animal and the soil, ensuring a more sustainable farming practice.www.sustainabletable.org.au/all-things-ethical-eating/ethical-meat-suppliers-directory/www.sustainabletable.org.au/all-things-ethical-eating/industrial-vs-organic/www.ethical.org.au/theguide/Reduce your food wasteAvoiding buying food that you don’t need will save you money but also think about using all of the items you buy. Use vegetable trimmings for stock, get creative with leftovers for another meal a few days later and understand that best before dates are suggestions only.Compost your food waste. Whether you choose a worm farm, compost bin in your backyard or contribute to a community level compost system, your waste can be transformed into more soil, rich in nutrients. Which leads me to my next point –Yes, in your own backyardYou’d be surprised what you can grow in your own backyard. For the lowest food miles, get busy gardening. It’s easy to grow in a range of greens even if you only have room for pots. Harvest just what you need, getting the most nutrients possible as the time from picking to plate is mere minutes. Also, it will give you a real appreciation of the effort involved in growing things.Plastic exists forever. Yes, forever Go beyond bringing your own shopping bags. Choose products with the least amount of packaging. Bulk produce stores are your best bet for buying grains, nuts, dried fruit, seeds and legumes. Bring your own containers to bulk produce stores as well as butchers and delicatessens. It may take a few words of education on your behalf but any shopkeeper worth their salt will support your choice. You may not feel comfortable unpacking produce at the big supermarket and leaving it behind as some protestors do but you can choose not to use the plastic produce bags provided. Bringing your own take away coffee cup, water bottle and reusable containers is gladly becoming a more common sight.www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-12/what-you-can-do-to-reduce-plastic-pollution/9642352Reduce, reuse, recycleI’m going to add another one – Refuse, as in refuse extra packaging, refuse to participate in a system of mindless consumption, refuse to buy more than you really need.Reduce the number of products to those that you really need. It can be tricky in this capitalist society to ignore the constant advertising we are bombarded with, but you can simply ask yourself if you need an item before buying it.Reusing items means sometimes repairing or repurposing something from its current state. An item may no longer have use for you but maybe someone you know could use it. Some communities have lending libraries you may be able to donate to, or you could advertise the item on social media in a buy, swap, sell group.Recycling is an important step but one of last resort. Check out your local councils recycling facilities. http://www.recycleright.com.au/www.redcycle.net.au

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Six Anchovies Worth Your Time

Six Anchovies Worth Your TimeWhen we talk about anchovies, we are actually talking about over 140 different species of fish from temperate waters. To get to a product you would recognise they are headed and gutted, then salted and weighed down for a minimum of six months. Once packed, they find their way to our grocery shelves. So, we’ve done the taste testing for you and here’s a rundown of 6 of the best anchovy products for your kitchen.Rizzoli Anchovies in Spicy Sauce – 90g $8.95Employing the traditional techniques of hand filleting and aging the fish packed in salt in wooden barrels, these anchovies weigh in at the mid-range of our tested products. The lucky gnomes on the gold tin are meant to bring good luck, health and longevity. What they definitely bring is a tasty little snack. Pop these guys on some crackers, making sure not to waste any of that zingy sauce and what you will have is one very happy mouth.www.rawmaterials.com.auOrtiz Anchovy Fillets in Olive Oil – 110g $19.95Okay, Ortiz is the one you bring out when you want to impress so make sure you open the package in front of your guests so they clock the name. From a small village in Northern Spain, these anchovies have become the go-to choice of many a chef. Consistently high quality with a buttery texture and clean, earthy flavour, these are best served with little adornment. Go full banderillas and skewer a toothpick with green olive, anchovy and roasted red pepper alternatively. This salty, nutty heaven on a literal stick deserves a sparkling white wine or lager.www.conservasortiz.com/enRaw Materials White Anchovies – 200g $11.50These plump anchovies are anchovies but not as you know them. Hand-filleted then marinated in olive oil and vinegar, their delicate, light flavour is ensured by their constant refrigeration. This is best bet for a Caesar salad. Better still, toast some sliced baguette slather it with crème fraiche, sprinkle some dill tips and choose a fat white anchovy to lay on top.www.rawmaterials.com.auCapriccio Anchovy Fillets in Olive Oil – 50g $4.95Sold in small jars up to kilogram-sized tins, this is the style of anchovy you’ll find in many a pantry. These small but meaty ribbons of flesh are tightly packed in oil. These slippery little suckers are the perfect pizza anchovy and make sure you drizzle that leftover oil generously around the crust.www.basile.com.auOro Azzurro Mediterranean Anchovies in Sunflower Oil – 170g $4.75This anchovy is proof that you can’t judge an anchovy by its price tag. Cheapest of the tested products, this big guy earns its place. It is presented with the skin on and closer to sardines than what most people assume are anchovies. Chop roughly then toss through some pasta with handfuls of fresh, sweet tomatoes and extra parsley. http://www.leosimports.com.auAnd the winner is –Conservas Cuca Anchovies in Oil 48g $5.95Frank Camorra, MoVida’s executive chef and driving force, was serving tins of anchovies in his award-wining restaurants long before Australia had any understanding of high quality tinned seafood. It was Camorra who spear-headed the push to import them on a commercial scale in 2007.Committed to responsible, sustainable fishing practices, Conservas Cuca, based in Rias Biaxis export a range of seafood and fish. Off the north-west coast of Spain, the catch is delivered to small, family-run canneries, where rows of women hand-fillet and pack the prime quality produce at the peak of their season.Little more than sturdy bread and a fork is required to make a meal of these imported fish. The fish have a clear, briny taste which would pair perfectly with a glass of not-too-cold, white wine – an Albariño would be perfect. Conservas Cuca are available in many independent grocers and food providores throughout Victoria.www.alimentaria.com.au/our-producers/cuca/

I entered my first writing competition

While I found the assessments for this subject a dense workload in an intensive format and also somewhat repetitive, I got an unexpected result out of taking this subject. I’ve seen writing competitions advertised and sometimes they don’t apply to my writing, but more often I just didn’t know where to start. It’s not that I felt my writing wasn’t up to scratch. It’s more that I didn’t know where to start talking about my writing. Like most things, you start by taking the first step.

For this particular competition, I needed to write a one page synopsis, a breakdown of subsequent chapters and a piece stating how winning the prize would benefit my writing career.

A one page synopsis? Bloody hell, I’ve only recently been able to construct one sentence about what I’m writing. “Eating America is an outsider’s look at the USA and its culture through the lens of food.” To flesh out the synopsis, I started with the who, what, where and why. Okay, done.

The chapter breakdown? Yep, I know where I’m going with that because it’s where we went in 2016. I name cities we visited, experiences we had and food we ate. In terms of the smaller story within the bigger story, I’m still getting there.

The third and final section regarding how winning the prize would further my career, I’ve got ideas on that too. I can honestly say that while the $10,000 cash prize would help, it is the 12-month mentorship with an editor from Hachette Australia that I imagine would be the most beneficial. Because that’s why I’m studying this course – to improve my writing.

Magazine 1

Our task for this semester was to devise our own magazine. Naturally mine was all about food because that is what makes life worth living. I also blame the podcasts I’ve been recently listening to and the websites I’ve been browsing. US-based Cherry Bombe celebrates women in food by sharing their stories and building communities. Their website, printed magazine and podcast will keep you busy for hours.

I credit Magazine 1 for pushing me to research what is already out there in preparation for my own magazine proposal. I discovered our own Australian version – Fully Booked Women. I made contact with them and even wrote a book review for them. I’ve also managed to secure ongoing content creation for them with an interview a week. I’ve begun the process and am really enjoying the research side of things as well as making contact with a range of awesome women in the food and hospitality industries.

Showing my magazine proposal to a few friends in the hospitality industry, they keep asking ‘When is it going to print?’ My response – ‘Are you going to become my silent financial backer?’ It’s not just money though, of course. The many hours of work require a dedication not all have and I recognise my own limitations in regards to this.

I have a great deal of respect for those that do take this path, but it’s not for me right here and now.

Creative Project 2

These last few months I’ve had the honour of editing a fellow student’s writing while she took on the task of editing mine. I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Editing someone else’s voice is both challenging and easy. The easy part is correcting spelling and turning commas into full-stops.
The challenge comes when trying to preserve the unique voice of the author. Rewriting sentences for clarity is a noble aim but censoring someone’s style is another thing altogether. This is a line I walk unsteadily along at times.

My editing partner and I were the only two in our class that were not writing fiction pieces. This means we were well partnered and found it easier to address each other’s work. Non-fiction writing still needs to address many of the same structures as fiction writing: the small story within the big story, stasis, inciting incident, turning points and resolution, active voice, no cliches or jargon.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I didn’t hate rewriting. I have to be in the right frame of mind to rewrite but it’s almost easier because you have clear direction. And yes, it is easier to cull and rearrange words once you have something down.

My partner is also well-organised and follows through on her commitments which I heartily appreciate. She graduates at the end of the year and yet I’ve still got at least another year to go. I hope she’s interested in a little freelance editing in the near future.

An egg is an egg is an egg – or is it?

Science

If you want an in-depth analysis of how heating eggs causes them to transform from a liquid to a solid then your best bet is to dive into Harold McGee’s treatise McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopaedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture. The short answer is that proteins bond more tightly to each other as the temperature is increased. The key is knowing when to stop to achieve a delicious creamy semi-solid rather than a rubbery, watery mess.

Hype

For several years, this ‘perfect’ egg has been popping up on menus everywhere from high-end London restaurants to suburban Sydney cafes, keeping food bloggers and magazine columnists busy. Chefs around the world love this egg for its maximum-impact, minimum-effort nature. This precise cooking method achieves a perfectly creamy result every time and in the high-pressure environment of restaurants consistency is everything. No longer relegated to breakfast, this soft poached egg is taking pride of place on salads, atop grain bowls, in soups and garnishing vegetable side dishes.

What do I need to know?

First of all, ignore the phrase “boiling an egg”. Whether you want soft yolks or a fully cooked yolk, eggs shouldn’t be taken anywhere near 100 degrees celsius, or boiling point. Some recipes recommend one minute per gram as a cooking time while others say a minimum 45 minutes to a maximum of two hours. Either way, this is more a weekend brunch than a quick breakfast before work.

The key to the whole deal is maintaining a precise temperature. Many kitchen thermometers struggle with the accuracy required for this but luckily for us, we spent more than we should have on a home brew system. It turns out we can also use this as an immersion circulator cooking system (often called a sous vide) to cook at a low and accurate temperature for set periods of time. You could try this at home with a pot of water and a thermometer, but it’ll probably be a bit hit and miss maintaining the correct temperature of the water.

As a rough guide, anything below 57 degrees is raw and I can’t recommend it. At 60 degrees the egg yolk and white are barely set and won’t hold their shape at all. At around 63 degrees the egg yolk firms to a point that it can be cut while the whites are still soft and custard-like. Between 63 and 65 degrees is the perfect stage for rich, thick yolks and quivering but not too runny whites. This is where you want to be. Above 65 degrees and you’re heading in standard soft-boiled egg territory like your mum would make you as a kid. Anything above 74 degrees is hard boiled and if you go any higher than this you might as well eat your spatula instead.

Verdict

Are they worth the effort? Yes yes yes. As long as you have the time and the inclination, these slow cooked, soft poached eggs will reward your effort. Bear in mind, both flavour and texture are crucial so start with a good quality fresh product and you’ll never look at the humble egg the same way again.

Upping Your Cheese Game

Cheese, cheese, glorious cheese. Sure, it’s a convenient way to preserve milk but it is so much more. It deserves to be celebrated, given its own basic food group and have societies dedicated to worshipping its glories. In fact, there is a local First Tuesday Cheese Club I’ve been trying to get an invitation to for a few years. With cheese’s worthy credentials established, it’s time to lay down some guidelines for improving your cheese game.

Cheese basics

The invention, or more likely discovery, of cheese will always remain in contention but it is highly probable that simple, fresh cheeses were the first man ever consumed. Milk stored in a bag made from the stomach of an animal would have separated and firmed up due to the natural rennin in the skin and the movement from transportation. There are as many cheeses in the world as there are names for pasta (this may or may not be statistically true) and they can be roughly divided into six categories.

1. Fresh cheeses: these are the basic building blocks of cheese making. Only a few steps away from milk, they rely on a good quality fresh milk product as their base and are best consumed within a few days of purchase. Examples – Mozzarella Di Bufala from Italy, Woodside Goat Curd from South Australia

2. Surface ripened: this style of cheese ripens from the outside in, thanks to the mould filaments that penetrate inwards breaking down the texture until it reaches a creamy point of perfection. Examples – Brie de Nangis from France, Holy Goat La Luna from Victoria

3. Washed rind: dependent upon a particular strain of bacteria (B.linens) for their distinctive terracotta colour and unique aroma, washed rind cheeses are often smell stronger than they taste. Flavour variations multiply when you consider these cheeses are then washed regularly with brine solutions, alcohol, and even herbs and spices. Examples – Mauri Taleggio from Italy, L’Artisan Mountain Man from Victoria

4. Semi-hard: curds are scalded and pressed to produce a cheese with a low moisture content. The magic of this popular style of cheese comes as the cheese develops flavour and changes texture over months of maturation. Examples – Geitenkaas from Holland, Heidi Raclette from Tasmania

5. Hard: curd is cooked at higher temperatures then pressed and matured over extended periods to develop both taste and texture. Examples – Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy, Pyengana Cheddar from Tasmania

6. Blue: ripening from the inside out, these cheeses are inoculated with a blue-mould culture, then spiked to allow air to activate and feed the microbes, creating the spidery webs of mould that are so distinctive and give them their name. Examples – Stilton from the UK, Tarwin Blue from Victoria.

So what makes each cheese taste different to the next one?

Everything. One cheese from the same manufacturer will vary in taste over the course of a year as the animal’s feed also differs – new grass in spring with the odd herb or wildflower consumed will produce different flavours in the milk compared to winter feeds such as hay and silage.

Cheese, particularly cheese made from unpasteurised milk, reflects its terroir, which refers to soil, season, pasture and more. At every step of the cheese-making process from milk, through addition of starters, heating/cooking, draining, pressing and salting to the maturation of the product allows for variation of flavour.

What do I need to know about buying cheese?

Finding a cheesemonger you like and trust is a great first step in buying good cheese. Someone who is willing to share their knowledge and to push you further than you may have thought you wanted to go makes for a great cheesemonger. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as a skilled professional/curd nerd will revel in the opportunity to take you over to the dark side of cheese life.

Well-labelled products will give a good foundation of knowledge – who makes the cheese, where it is made, what type of milk it is made from and how aged it is.

The best time to buy your cheese is as close as possible to the time that you wish to consume it.

What do I need to know about storing cheese?

The best way to store cheese is in the paper it is wrapped in, assuming you’ve bought from a reputable providore. If you need it for a few occasions, ask for a few extra pieces. Don’t plastic wrap it to within an inch of its life. Cheese is alive and needs to breathe. Standard domestic fridges are too cold and too dry. One of the best places to actually store your treasured product is in the vegetable compartment, as it is slightly warmer and more humid than the rest of the fridge. Eat your fresh cheeses first. Harder, cooked cheeses will last longer. Washed rinds can have a pungent smell so be mindful of buying these too early.

What do I need to know about serving cheese?

Ambient temperature is one key point to consider when serving cheese. A hot summer’s day requires different considerations to a cooler environment. Most cheeses can take time out of the fridge, and in fact often benefit, but one to watch is blue cheese. In the heat, blue cheese can develop overly spicy flavours. Love your Roquefort, but keep it cool.

Variety of flavour and texture is important when designing your cheese platter, but don’t over complicate things. Sometimes one big statement cheese is the answer. A whole Camembert, perfectly ripe and unctuous, is a better idea than three meagre portions of a soft, a hard and a blue cheese. Allowing 50-60 grams of cheese per person per cheese is a good guide. Unless, of course, it happens to be a Friday which means cheese is obviously the main meal.

What are you serving with your cheese?

When looking at accompaniments, it’s important to know that there’s more available than just quince paste. Fresh seasonal fruit such as pears and apples, dried fruit pieces and even chutneys and pickles work well with a variety of cheese. Whatever you choose, it should add to, not distract from, the cheese. Mix up the carbohydrates – think oat crackers, water crackers, lavosh as well as bread, be it rye, white or fruit.

What are you planning on drinking with your cheese?

Rarely is the answer red wine with its problematic tannins. Belgian saison beers love an earthy washed rind. Fresh goat cheeses benefit from an off-dry Riesling, hard cooked Comte loves Marsanne, Roquefort and Sauternes are a well recognised match, and farmhouse cider with Camembert de Normandie are regionally taste-matched buddies.

So go forth and buy cheese with confidence. And if you need a hand eating it, I’m just an email away.

Top ten food podcasts worth your time

Top ten food podcasts worth your time

1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry – Lee Tran Lam interviews chefs, bartenders and more about their experiences – good and bad – in the food industry.

2. Gravy – Produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance, this podcast showcases food stories from America’s south.

3. Eat Your Words — Recorded live in Brooklyn, Eat Your Words’ host Cathy Erway navigates the world of food through its literature.

4. Good Food – Though Los Angeles focussed, Evan Kleiman does a great job bridging the local with the global.

5. The Sporkful – Dan Pashman’s tagline – ‘The Sporkful isn’t for foodies; it’s for eaters’ – says it all. Whether debating if a hot dog is a sandwich, or if tomatoes should be stored in the fridge (no, obviously), Dan does so with humour and insight.

6. The Racist Sandwich – An intersectional look at food through the lenses of class, gender, race and politics.

7. Ingredipedia – Ben Birchall and Emily Naismith tackle one ingredient per episode over three rounds in a bid to sway listeners’ votes.

8. Gastropod – If you like your food podcasts with a generous helping of history and science, then this is one for you.

9. The Pass – If you want an insider’s take on Australian restaurants served with honesty and wit, The Pass is top of the list.

10. Radio Cherry Bombe – Interviews with some of the most exciting women working in food and hospitality in America to inform and entertain.

Writing for Performance

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Summer intensive subject – Writing For Performance. I don’t consider myself as someone who is interested in performing. I don’t court the public eye. So, I was interested in the construction side of the performance, the writing of the pieces but not the other half. Turns out, they go hand in hand. The first assignment was a set of three letters based upon different themes or premises. These I enjoyed writing and redrafting more than I had anticipated.

A chance to address someone who cut me out of her life was an opportunity too good to pass up. The letter to my mother’s diabetes was a chance to reflect upon a common condition that affects many in our modern society with nutritional over-abundance. My final letter was a self-indulgent fangurl fantasy to a foodie icon.

I don’t plan to take up lyric writing, screen writing or play writing anytime soon but I did enjoy learning more about these arts. My second assignment came about from time spent with my daughter in hospital. The challenge was to capture the unique voice of the main character without resorting to charicature. I became quite fond of Eddie.

A one-on-one intensive subject can a bit confronting but I also enjoy the ability to follow tangents easily. And gradually I am ticking off my degree one subject at a time.

Check out the blog posts below for the three letters and feel free to comment and let me know what your thoughts are.

My quiet place

Everyone deserve a sanctuary, a quiet place where you don’t get mobile coverage, where you give yourself permission to do nothing. My place is a friend’s house in the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne. She ensures that I always know that I’m welcome. Trees are large and overgrown. Pots are full of herbs and other fledgling plants.  The bed in the spare room is made up in linen I now recognise. I know which cupboards house the towels and which house the wine glasses. If I arrive home before they do, I receive a text telling me where to find the key.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where there’s nothing you ought to do. A place where you can do but you don’t have to do. I bring wine and cheese to this house though it’s not expected of me. I do it because I want to share these delicious things with my friends. And in this sanctuary, I’m at liberty to crack open the wine before they arrive home. It’s how we are with each other.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where alarms aren’t set. A place where the demands of the outside world are unable to penetrate. I can see the outside world from my place on the sun lounge under the large shade trees. I can see hills in the distance, vines clinging to their contours and beyond them more buildings and signs of civilisation. It can stay over there.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary.