Wednesday, June 19, 2013

War on weeds

We have a very large yard, and a very large number of weeds that need to go. Weeding by hand is something I have neither the patience for nor the very many hours required. Wanting to get rid of the weeds in as an earth-friendly way possible led me to do some research into alternatives for the herbicide Roundup - the most well known glyphosate

Two main reasons for a safe alternative are that I wanted to remove the likelihood of any overspray into our vegetable garden, and I wanted no potential for chemical runoff from our weed-infested dry-creek bed / swale that manages overland flow through our yard. We are in the catchment for the much polluted Chesapeake - so every little bit helps! The areas I want (small seasonal) weeds removed are areas we will not be planting in as they are beds filled with a stone/pebble mulch. 

I came across a discussion and some alternative recipes for weed killers on this forum. I ended up using an amalgam recipe I found in this forum and through other discussions: 

1 gallon vinegar
1 cup salt 
1 tblsp liquid Dawn dish soap 

Mix together and spray on weeds on a hot day with no forecast rain. 

Paul bought me a large spray bottle with a battery-powered spray nozzle. Certainly avoids having to 'pump' the bottle regularly in order to pressurize the contents. 
above - weed just sprayed / below- one day after
Little Miss 4¾ came out to help me and I had no hesitation in letting her help spray the weeds, given the 'safe' ingredients. I must say, the smell made me feel a little like being in a fish 'n' chip shop!
above - healthy / below - not so healthy!
So far so good. I think I might need to repeat the application to some of the hardier weeds, but the amount of, and health of the weeds has significantly diminished after just two days. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sorbet... of the Strawberry Variety

I had some strawberries taking up valuable real estate in the refrigerator. These weren't at their best, but were perfect to puree... Voila. Sorbet!

I usually make sorbet using a heavy simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar), but in the interest of reducing our sugar intake, I made a light simple syrup (2 parts water to 1 part sugar). I have read about this product - a sugar and stevia blend - but have not found it as yet. Sorbets would be a great way to try it out. 

I pureed the strawberries and ended up with 350ml liquid. I added a teaspoon of Rose Water and the same proportion (350ml) of syrup. I chilled the combined liquid in the freezer to get really cold (but not frozen). 
Before I poured the strawberry syrup mix into our icecream maker, I stirred through one egg white. I started the machine and waited until it thickened and would churn no more. 
The addition of an eggwhite gives the sorbet a 'whipped' texture - very creamy. I had to extract half the sorbet mix before it overflowed from the top of the icecream machine! I think the maximum liquid for this machine might be about 500ml. 

The sorbet would have benefitted from some time in the freezer... but the kids were too eager to try it. I know from past experience that liquids to be frozen into ice treats such as popsicles need to be taste a little 'too' sweet - as the sweetness seems to disappear upon freezing. No one even noticed that this sorbet was 'less sweet' than usual. 

This sorbet was super creamy coming out of the icecream maker. Serving it the second night, it had a more icy texture. This forum discusses sugar ratio and the impact of this upon the creaminess of sorbet and ice cream. Another means of lowering the freezing point is to add alcohol... perhaps a little Cointreau might be nice.

Leaders can only lead by example

Paul forwarded me this video. Very timely given my recent post about the need for leaders to take 'the lead' in situations of systemic abuse. Lieutenant General David Morrison, the Chief of the Australian Army, is inspirational in taking a strong stand against any form of demeaning behavior. The passion of his message is clearly apparent. His unyielding stance can only result in an improved army culture, reputation and legacy. Bravo. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Beef and Barley Stew

We were inundated with weather warnings today. First we had a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, then a Flash Flood Warning... followed by a Tornado Warning! The NOAA system for storm notifications provides a 'Watch' - meaning beware. while a 'Warning' means 'this is real and imminent' in your area. The sky was dark, the wind sprang up, but thankfully the storm bypassed us. 

After all this, we were in need of something comforting for dinner. I have been doing some research into an Anti-inflammatory diet. Barley is a fantastic grain to use in this regimen, and I remembered a Rachel Ray recipe I have used for a Beef and Barley Stew. The recipe can be found here. This is a great one-pot, budget, comforting, easy to prepare, pantry-type dish. I included some cabbage to include a cruciferous vegetable and baby spinach for all the nutritional benefits of this leafy green, and I doubled the quantity of barley. I'd denuded my Parsley plants, so didn't have any of this to add... but I would if I did!

1 pound Lean Ground Organic Beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 tblsp chopped fresh Oregano
1 can (14.5oz) Diced Tomatoes in juice
1 cup Pearl Barley
1 quart / 4 cups Beef Broth / Stock
1 cup diced carrot 
2 cups shredded cabbage 
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt 
4+ cups Baby Spinach leaves, washed and dried

Over a medium-high heat, brown the beef in a large saucepan or cast iron pot, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally for 10 to 12 minutes until meat is browned and onions softened. 

Add the tomatoes and juice, oregano, barley, stock, carrot and cabbage. On a high heat, bring ingredients to a simmering point. Simmer on a low heat, with lid askew, for about an hour until barley has softened. Add Spinach leaves and stir through until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
This dish is great for cooking itself... I went out for a run while the barley softened! 
If I can find it, I would like to try this recipe again using 'Hulled' barley (highest fiber) or 'Pot/Scotch' barley - as these versions have far more fiber than 'Pearl' barley ('polishing' removes the beneficial germ or bran). I think I would have to soak these types of barley and/or precook them before adding to the stew. 
I used fresh Oregano from our rampant Oregano plant - for a garnish too. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Solar dreams

I have several Australian friends who smugly post images of their power bills on line. Of course, they have had solar panels installed and their power bills are negligible, or they have been able to gain credit by supplying power to the grid.

I was surprised to learn that more than 10% of Australian homes now have solar panels. This is an extraordinary uptake in the time we have been away. What is interesting to note, is that much of the uptake has been in communities that break one's preconceptions about who might be a solar power advocate: not necessarily the wealthy inner city progressive, but those within the 'mortgage belt'. 

Much of the research into alternative energy is spearheaded by Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). A statutory authority, the CSIRO is well respected for its rigor, emphasis on industry collaboration and is held in high esteem internationally. A key area of research is solar energy. One of the organizations breakthroughs has been the integration of photovoltaic cells and the CSIRO's own technology for printing plastic (adopted for plastic bank notes) - in conjunction with several universities and CSIRO's commercial partners. What has been most significant is the size in which panels are able to be printed - up from fingernail size to 30 cm wide - offering enormous scope for this organic technology to be more cost-effectively 'built-in' to new developments and products. 

Our dream is get ourselves solar panels - first for hot water, then general power.. then eventually to power an electric car. It is not inconceivable that one day we could print our very own!

I am very proud that Australia has been so active in adopting solar energy. In the words of Jon Dee, NSW 2010 Australian of the Year “When we move beyond politics and seek common ground together, instead of this adversarial approach which has taken over the world of politics, we can actually get some incredible results. I think Australia has an opportunity to take the lead and, when we do, the world really listens to us.” 

Of course, Australia does get a lot of sun... quite unlike the rest of the world ;-)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Soba

While on my world-backpacking safari in my 20's, I spent several months in Japan teaching English. I lived in a small town named Ugata in Mie-ken - famous for its seafood, Kashikojima Island and a thriving pearl industry.

One of my students, 9yo Kiri, turned up on my doorstep one evening and presented me with a tray of delicious food. She told me it was Summer Soba before scooting away. This is a classic Japanese summer dish - very refreshing as the noodles and all condiments are served cold. 

Soba noodles are made from Buckwheat. These are fast to cook, but must be thoroughly rinsed before being served. I change the rinsing water several times until the water doesn't look so 'starchy'. I used a bottled ready-made dipping sauce. In future, I would like to make my own sauce as the only one I could find included MSG. A great introduction to Soba Noodles can be found at Just Hungry
This is a fun dish for the kids to eat with chopsticks - if somewhat messy as the noodles are dipped into a bowl of sauce before being eaten. This dish is comfort food for hot days, and is typically vegetarian. Traditional condiments include: fresh Wasabi, chopped green/spring onions, Toasted shredded Nori (the seaweed mostly known for wrapping sushi). I seem to remember that my original experience with this meal also included Shiso (also known as 'beefsteak plant' or Perilla) - a plant commonly found in Japanese home gardens. 
The meal I served my family included some sliced cooked chicken (left over from Goi Cuon meal) sliced red peppers, green onion and Nori strips. I was the only one willing to sprinkle on some Shichimi

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Goi Cuon

My hometown of Melbourne has a very large Vietnamese population - and therefore access to some spectacular food. When living in Richmond, we used to frequent Victoria Street - home to many authentic/fusion/trendy Vietnamese eateries - where one could eat as much or as little offal as one could ever want! I became particularly partial to Goi Cuon - a cold and very 'fresh' tasting spring roll. The fresh taste is due to the abundant herbs included. It is a perfect Summer dish. 
I was about to have a rebellion on my hands as I served this dish twice... in one week! 
One night we all assembled our own, the other occasion, I made the rolls. I learned a very valuable lesson about the stickiness of rice paper.. with my 'stack' of rolls becoming somewhat 'fused'. 

An allergy to shrimp and no available pork, meant that my version included chicken. I baked several chicken breasts in the oven, basted with garlic, soy sauce, lemon and a little peanut oil. I reserved a little of this marinade (before coating the chicken), and dressed the cooked, shredded chicken with it before adding it to the rolls - as sometimes I find the rolls can be somewhat 'bland' or 'dry'. 

Our version included vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, mint, grated carrot, strips of green onion, baked chicken and thin slices of tomato (one evening) or red pepper (the other evening). This dish can easily become a vegetarian dish with marinated tofu used in place of pork and shrimp or chicken. 

I served the rolls with a sauce made from hoisin sauce, smooth peanut butter and rice vinegar, based upon a recipe I found here

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Farmers Markets

While in Santa Barbara, we visited one of Jenni's favorite Farmers' Markets. What a pleasure shopping in an organic market - where the food looked oh-so-fresh... and real! I have always been dubious about the authenticity of 'organic' food in this country - the perfection quite unlike the organic food found in other countries.  

I thought I'd share some images of the wonderful food I snapped. 
I have tasted Pluots before, but all of us were far more impressed with the luscious taste of Apriums. Each of these fruits being a hybrid of Plum and Apricots. The stall owner noted that a Mango-Apricot hybrid fruit would be available mid to late June. It is a shame none of us will be around to try this. 
'Nature's candy' as my kids are fond of calling brilliant looking Summer fruits. 
Grown in many a home-garden (including our parent's), Australians are more familiar with Silverbeet - named Chard in the US. This spectacularly-colored Rainbow Chard is known as five-color silverbeet in Australia, and is actually a mix of several species and not a single variety.
The orangey colored beets were grated into a delicious make-do salad a couple of nights later. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Backyard Bowls

my backyard quinoa breakfast bowl
jenni's green acai bowl
While in Santa Barbara, we had a DELICIOUS breakfast at Backyard Bowls before heading to the beach to let the children splash a while. This cafe is a Santa Barbara bred business, started by two men who loved this type of food (surfing sustenance), and loved Santa Barbara. They combined the two and Backyard Bowls was born. The food is fresh, local and/or organic. They do use frozen fruits (particularly the acai berries) for the acai bowls. 
sebastien's berry acai bowl
I was fortunate to have Jenni introduce me to this cafe. Without some notion of this type of food, there is no indication of what you will actually be served. There is a detailed list of the ingredients included in each dish... but what it actually looked like, I had no idea! The cafe would really benefit from some good photos of their products displayed - as the dishes really 'wowed' when they were delivered. 

I had a quinoa bowl made with steamed cashew milk, raisins, walnuts and covered with fresh blueberries, strawberries and agave. A great source of protein to start the morning. Jenni and Sebastien ate acai bowls and the kids ate hot muesli.

The cafe was very loud with Vitamix blenders... blending. We chose to sit outside, away from the cacaphony. Vitamix blenders, despite the raves I have heard from owners, are just too expensive an investment for us at the moment. Perhaps one day... then we will make our own version of these yummy dishes :-)
kids eating spartan museli

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Car crush

206 - image from
WRC 206 - image from
My background in Industrial Design has given me a real appreciation for automotive design and the importance of proportion, aerodynamics, performance and good looks. After spending some time in Europe in 2000, I returned home lusting after the Peugeot 206 - a very apparent new model. Attending a French car show at the University of Queensland after my return, and seeing a 206 CC merely cemented my desire. 

The 206, in it's time was a very smart design. The fact that the 206 won so many car rallies made it universally appealing: the first small car to really appeal to males. I love this commercial for the 206. After some investigation, I found a show room model for sale: a new car without the new car price tag. Woohoo. Breaking a 5+ year car drought, I had my own 206! One happy girl with her zippy 5 speed manual. I loved this car. It cornered brilliantly and was super fun to drive. A brilliant choice for inner city living. I even had a number of male friends eager to test drive my car. During one long drive, I was pulled over for a random inspection - the police officer just wanted to ask questions about the car!

Recently, Paul has been making suggestions about getting a larger car. The idea of a mini van sends me into apoplectic spasms. Seriously - I am NOT that kind of girl. SUVs *look* like they might be an option with 7 seats (ideal for catering for visitors), but with far less storage space than our Jetta. Four-wheel and All-wheel drive vehicles are a bonus for driving through snow. Having lived an inner city existence for many years, I can't abide really big vehicles: waste of space, waste of gas. An interest in hybrid and electric cars has altered my search criteria.... leading me to my latest car crush. A Tesla Model X
Model X - images from
Paul has been intrigued by the Tesla Roadster and has been following it with interest for some years. It is not a family car - and I don't think it has great street appeal - but with it, Tesla has been paving the way for the development and advancement of electric car technology. As a California start-up, Tesla is providing the expertise through partnerships with many established car companies (e.g. Mercedes, Toyota) to assist the development of electric cars and long life batteries. The Model S has recently been labeled the 'best car ever tested' by Consumer Reports. The Model X is not yet available and the expected price tag is way too steep, but this car really serves multiple criteria: seating for 7 adults, heaps of storage space, all-wheel drive, great-looking... and it can be plugged in at home! 

Bravo for Tesla motors - not only for their innovation, but for also achieving street cred and desirability all while beginning to turn a profit (largely through selling credits at this point), great investment potential and mass-production within their sights

My friend Andrew noted that if he were a child, he would like to grow up to be Elon Musk - a 'real-life Tony Stark'. Musk is the CEO of Tesla, a serial-entrepreneur and visionary. Musk was interviewed a few days ago - you can see this interview here or read it here