Monday, July 21, 2014

Meatless Monday: Beetroot and apple soup with horseradish yoghurt


That photo doesn't really do justice to the pinky-purple visual delight of this soup. I admit, quite a lot of the food I make is ugly, just not really very photogenic at all. This beauty though is a feast for the visual sense as well. It's also easy-as.

It starts with roasting beetroot, and a little bit of Lady McBeth peeling and chopping. Wear gloves if you're likely to get all 'out, damn'd spot' about stained hands. If you're time pressed, it can start with one of those vacuum-sealed packs of pre-cooked beetroot, but that's a lot less literary minded, don't you think?

Apart from the roasting beetroot, the soup starts in the way of most soups, with a well-chopped mirepoix of onion, celery and carrot, sauteeing in a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on the stovetop.

When that's softened, I add two grated apples, skins and all because pffft, peeling off fruit and vegetable skins you can eat is not my scene. I used Granny Smiths, but any tart and non-floury variety will work.

Add the cooked and chopped beetroot (about 500g) and then a litre to 1.5 litres of vegetable stock, depending on how thick you want your soup. Drop in a big piece of star anise and then let simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While that's simmering away, mix together a teaspoon or two of horseradish sauce (or your own fresh grated horseradish) with a few tablespoons of natural yoghurt. Set aside.

Fish out the anise, season with salt and pepper and then puree the soup in a blender or with a hand-held one, being very careful not to stain the white grout of your tiled splashback (oops).

Service with chopped chives if you have them or chopped baby spinach if you don't as well as a liberal dollop of the horseradish yoghurt.

If you're after a vegan and dairy free version, substitute the natural yoghurt with a non-dairy alternative or cut it altogether. If you do cut it go steady on the horseradish sauce and add to taste as the yoghurt helps to tone down the flavour and keep it out of your sinuses.

This one was toddler approved as long as he had handfuls of crusty bread to dip into it. But just be warned about the post-soup nappy surprise.

Have you tried a beetroot soup before? If you're interested in other kinds, check out Lila's Beeting Heart soup, which comes with chestnuts. Yum.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We made biscuits, he and I.


These are the bikkies of my adolescence, the ones I made in a kitchen with a terracotta tile floor and pine-wood table. The ones I beat together from soft butter and sugar, with vanilla, an egg, flour, bicarb soda and choc chips; the ones from recipe book that falls open to this page; the ones that never turn out the same way twice - mine usually fat and dry and others flat and chewy. We made them, he and I.

We sat in front of the oven and sang songs while we waited for them to cook and then cool, him digging around the bowl with a wooden spoon and licking it clean. We ate two each and shared a cup of cold milk, passing it back and forth until he turned it upside down and the last drops fell onto the wooden floor.





Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Criminal Stories



"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." - Robert McKee.

I came across these mugshots and blogged about them in 2011, back when my images were tiny and ugly and didn't do any justice to the stories in these photographs, to the stories behind their eyes. I'm recycling the photos here again because during a trip through my photo files, I scrolled through them, bam, bam, bam, and was struck by those eyes, those smirks, those clothes, all over again. There are a million new stories in them that I didn't see before.

I met, interviewed and ran into Peter Doyle over and over again during a two year period some time ago. My interest in him was his work as a crime novelist. His reason for being out and about was putting together an exhibition on Sydney criminals. He spoke often of the many surprising stories and photographic treasures he'd unearthed and we saw glimspses of mugshots on powerpoint. Then he showed up in a doco, Recipe for Murder (ABC TV), talking about the now familiar rat-poison crime spree, where a rat plague turned many down-trodden, angry women into husband killers.



Peter wrote an article for SCAN: Journal of Media Arts Culture back in 2005, which is the credited source for these photographs (although they're supplied courtesy of Historic Houses Trust NSW and NSW Police Service). They're the most amazing collection of photographs, not just as historical documents, loaded with intriguing stories, but as works of art, as a strange contradiction between the official photographs taken by NSW Police and the gorgeous lighting, the harsh settings and the almost lovingly flattering framing. Between 1912 and 1930, these 'Special Photographs' are an aberration of police photography, straying from the traditional mugshot style that Australian police had been taking from the 1870s. There is background and context, full body shots and self-posing. There is nothing formal about them. What did Alfred 'Tiny' Ladewig do, who was he, that the police were happy for him to slump in his chair, hands stuffed in his pockets, while they documented him?



These ladies are a wonderful story waiting to happen. As Doyle mentions in his article, it seems as though they've just popped by the cells for a visit before a trip into town. What a lark it seems to them. Compared to the women in the photo at the very top, Vera Crighton, they look like regulars, like sisters, like friends, like secret keepers and story tellers. C Hall, D Morgan and J Taylor walked after this photo was taken, with no charges recorded for them.

The people in these pictures are criminals and innocent bystanders, violent offenders and naive waifs. They demand attention and shrink from it. They are cocky and despairing, aggressive and ashamed. As Doyle puts it, they seem to "fully occupy the picture space, to powerfully declare itself in the medium, to ‘overwrite’ the frame."

Their stories overwrite the frame, leaking beyond it back into the streets of Sydney. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Meatless Monday: For the love of a toasted sandwich

Vegetarian toasted sandwich options // Lilybett and Boy

I love me a toasted sandwich for two reasons:
  1. I am a bread and cheese fan - together, apart, whatever, I love those guys; 
  2. Dear Boy eats them - my fussy little thing will munch through a whole sandwich with cheese and veggies with no complaints or stalling or wandering off. Magic. 
Toasted sandwiches used to be our weekend fare when I was younger. My mama had this standard sandwich based around grated cheese and carrot and pepper, with whatever extra veg were at hand. And man, that cheese/carrot/pepper combo has stuck with me. It's one of those transporting flavours, slamming me right back into 9 or 11 or 13 years old.

My new standard for my boy is a grated cheese and carrot combination with finely shredded baby spinach. Two veggies, one incredibly green, and I feel he's getting an okay meal. I've branched out from the standard though and love, love, love playing around with different flavour combos for myself.

My recent combinations:
  • Cheese and pickles (either mustard pickles or finely sliced cornichon/gherkin)
  • Cheese and sliced pear
  • Cheese and leftover roast veg and pesto
  • Cheese and whatever antipasto-type goodies we have in jars in the fridge
  • Cheese and smashed kidney beans, avocado and salsa (I'm currently using Aldi's green salsa - yum)
  • Cheese and disco munch salad (essentially a rainbow of grated veg)
I use whatever I have on hand for greasing the outside, including margarine, butter, softened coconut oil, olive oil or an oil spray. If you have a non-stick pan or sandwich maker, though, you don't really need anything. I'm a firm believer in a toasted sandwich maker (unless you're making quesadillas). Nothing beats the weird shaped and molded sandwich. We have a cheapo one, but it's been with us for a few years. 

I've done a little hunting around and have found a few more meatless toasted sandwich options that I'd like to try:

Savoury (I'm counting these fruity options as savoury):
Sweet:
Are you a traditional cheese sandwich person or do you have a favourite flavour combination? Have you ever tried a sweet toasted sandwich? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How well do you know your mobile phone?

I've been at a conference the last few days, mingling with my fellow academics and rubbing shoulders with the folks that write the books on so much of what we talk about in Australian communication and media studies. It's been great to get amongst it and look into new areas of comms research that intertwine with my online life - research on instagram and facebook and twitter and blogging and purely online communities...

We use so many of these things in our every day lives but very rarely ever think about them in a critical way. That was brought to the front of my consciousness again this morning with a keynote by Jason Farman who researches mobile media. Of course, this isn't a new area. Since we first wrote on stone tablets and papyrus, we've had mobile media - but there's something about the mobile phone - our mobile phone - that is different. They're an incredible tool for community building and sharing yourself with the world but they are intensely personal interfaces with those worlds. Think about whether you'd happily swap your phone with someone else - most of us would be hesitant, to say the least.

But what do we really know about these phones, these things that sit next to our bodies all day long and most likely sit next to our sleeping forms? We know their functions (or most of them), we know what they look like, we know the brand, we might know some of the specs.

One of the things Farman asks his students is to go and research their phones... really research them.

Have you ever looked at your phone as a material object made of components, components that someone put together, components that were created from various resources? It's a sobering thought, and one tied into how we consume and all manner of other tricksy human behaviours.

Materiality of mobile phones // Lilybett and Boy

I have a Samsung phone, made in either one of South Korea's multiple factories or in the super-mega factory in Vietnam (the largest mobile phone factory in the world). If it was made in South Korea, it was most likely made by a young woman, probably one straight out of high-school. According to this article by PCWorld, these women work in 'cell systems' of four, rather than traditional assembly lines.

Samsung has an okay record for environmentally conscious components. You can read their Greenpeace Guide To Greener Electronics reportcard if you're curious. All of their phones produced from 2010 onwards, for example, are free from PVC and brominated flame retardants. In other areas, yay for being open about and active towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not so yay for the Leukemia cluster in the Gi-Heung or On-Yang semiconductor plants (193 and rising). It wasn't until just last month that Samsung offered these people an apology but the fight for improved conditions and compensation is ongoing.

And what about coltan (and its derivative tantalum)? That evil stuff that is in all mobile phones and most consumer electronics that is primarily sourced from the Congo and is the primary cause of massive civil conflict and environmental strife? Well, Samsung say they're trying really hard to not use Congolese coltan. Although when you read their statement, it's a little hazy around the edges:

  • "We do not purchase coltan directly from the Congo nor from any other source in the form of raw material. A limited number of our component vendors do supply us with tantalum-based components. In the cases when Samsung does use tantal-based components, the company requires suppliers to take appropriate measures in order to avoid using tantalum sourced from the Congo region. We request that all vendors refrain from purchasing tantalum powder mined in the Congo and we regularly audit vendors to ensure compliance. Our component vendors inform us that they obtain tantalum powder from the U.S.A, Russia and Thailand, not from the Congo. We are making efforts to use substitutes for tantalum based components where possible."

There are so many bits in these phones it's hard to really get an idea of its complete story, its history. Part of that is that I think we've gotten very good at ignoring those kinds of things. That's how documentaries like Blood, Sweat and T-shirts, and The Story of Stuff are so successful - because they shock us with everyday truths we don't see. Even those who make an effort to consume ethically, to be environmentally conscious, don't always see these issues.

When you don't think about all this stuff, it's much easier to upgrade to the newer model, it's much easier to chuck out the old handset and not think about what's going to happen to its battery. That's how 426 000 phones are retired every day in the US alone. That's how there are literally billions of them in the world, more than there are television sets.

My phone's a few years old now and I've been wanting to upgrade for a while, but now I'm less keen. How often do you upgrade? Are there any Apple fans brave enough to check out their own phone's history? What facts and stats did you find out about that thing in your pocket or your bag or even in your hand right now? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Intentional Play: Making Roads


For this month's construction and machine intentional play theme, we borrowed Sutton and Lovelock's most excellent Roadworks from the library. From planning and marking the road out on a map to tarring and shouting hooray, the book's a great how-to guide for a road building activity.


With book in hand, we read and clang and crunched and cracked, using his construction trucks to 'clear the path', tip the stones and pack it down. Then we stretched out a long strip of freshly made black play dough (I used a cake-decorator's icing colour to get it really black). We steam-rolled the 'tar' with a rolling pin and then stopped for lunch.


After our non-smoking smoko, we marked the road with bright yellow playdough strips, installed the road signs we had from our railway set, lit the road with carols by candelight candles, planted trees and cleaned everything away.


Then, of course, it was open for all the trucks and cars, zooming up and down our homemade freeway.

If you're interested in other construction activities or craft, take a look at our Intentional Play Pinterest board where I've been collected ideas for each theme. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

How we lost all their lives

I mentioned Helen Garner in a post last week on why I write. Her non-fiction is both domestic and sublime, telling and infuriating and her way with crafting the stories of real life, of the non-fictional, spoke to me. Her non-fiction collection, True Stories, included rich handfuls of freelance stories published in newspapers and magazines around the country. One of them won her the Walkley Award for journalism, recounting the murder of two-year old Daniel Valerio ('How we lost Daniel's life', titled 'Killing Daniel' in True Stories). The story is a court report, a question on the state of our society and how a young boy can be irretrievably lost.

I didn't know the story of Daniel Valerio until I bought and read True Stories in 2005. But the facts of his short life have resonated over the two decades since it was brutally taken from him. The circumstances surrounding his death led to the introduction of mandatory reporting in Victoria but that certainly hasn't prevented similar tragedies. Jaidyn, Keisha, Tanilla, Sean, a set a nameless twins... these are just the one's I can remember off the top of my head.

Last night I was scrolling through ABC News online and found the story of Daniel Thomas, a little boy my son's age who died in 2003 and whose body was discovered buried under a house in 2008. The Victorian Coroner has just now announced that the little boy's babysitter, in conjunction with his mother, was responsible for his death. His mother.

His mother.

His mother.

I'm not going to link to the story. The details of the story are horrific, as awful as the details of all the other child murders, of all the other child abuse stories that shuffle through the news feeds with alarming regularity.

This is one of the first of these stories that I've focused on since becoming a mother myself. A little boy, my son's age, who lived (briefly) not so very far away from where we live our lives now. I recoiled from the horror of the story as well the immensity of how you even begin to prevent this from happening. How can our services protect all the children when the Coroner is only now able to get around to a judgement in this case? I am sure the backlog of cases is immense, the resources to investigate growing scarcer, and the red tape to push through new legislation and new funding a nightmare I cannot begin to fathom. This is not even to touch on issues like mental illness and domestic abuse that are often entwined in these cases.

I closed down the browser and crept into my son's bedroom. He was tossing his snuffly head on his pillow, murmuring in his sleep about driving a bus. I pulled his blankets up around his shoulders, found his wandering dummy and closed his fingers around it. I touched his sweaty forehead and lay my hand on his chest. And I stayed there, hovering over him, unable to leave his side, contemplating how many nights a little boy just like him was able to sleep peacefully, how many nights were fitful, how many nights were wide-eyed and frightened, wailing behind the gag in his mouth, behind the door of a locked cupboard.

And then my boy turned in his sleep, clutched at the dummy in his fist, and mumbled 'oh Mummy, I love you so much'. And I cried, an open-mouthed, lurching, silent cry, and stumbled from his room.

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