Crest of a wave... And I'm not talking about surfing!

If you bought the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, you'll have received a booklet, "real (food) handbook". Whilst animal vegetable mineral didn't get a specific mention, the booklet brought a smile to my face, starting with the title.

Whilst I hold no illusions (nor delusions) that Project Editor and blogger (elegant sufficiency) Stephanie Wood intended this as a tribute to me, I thought it cute owing to my (currently neglected) blog's title, get real! addressing many of my concerns when I started avm about the food we eat. Whilst some of this is slowly transferring into the avm site, if you're interested at my rants you can look at them here.

More importantly however, the booklet is an important acknowledgment of a trend occurring across the world, although Australians have been slow on the uptake - a possible complacency owing to our rich agricultural history. That trend is about getting back to basics with how we feed ourselves - sourcing and eating fresh foods - unprocessed, unadulterated. The proliferation of farmers' markets, chefs increasingly becoming involved in the cultivation of produce, the slow food movement, seed savers, perma-culture and balcony gardening, and concepts such as ethicurean, organic and SOLE are all a part of this change.

And this is exactly what I, and animal vegetable mineral as its vehicle, am on about!

The business models of our two national supermarket chains are unsustainable. The "fresh food people" aren't and quite frankly, "getting better every day" isn't good enough! Not everyone can or has the inclination to rear inner city chooks, grow a box of fruit and veg on their balcony and eat pork from Uncle Jim's farm, but what we can do, is pool our collective spend and eat great, fresh produce with flavour and variety affordably. And this is what animal vegetable mineraldoes.

The great thing is, that becoming an informed consumer and making sustainable choices doesn't have to come with the discomfort of hessian sack underwear! It can be enjoyable as long as we approach it that way. And that's what I'm trying to do - with great produce, tips and hints, meal makers and little helpers along the way.

"Skye Gyngell says it's hard to cook badly when you use good produce."

Once you hook in to a supply of good meat, veg, seafood, fruit, breads, poultry you realise how little you need to do with it - it taste's great on its own! Not to mention the health benefits of eating this way - since I began the business in concept I have barely had a sniffle - I haven't even been visited by my annual winter bronchial cough! And this is coming from someone that ate pretty well (as long as we were organised) in the first place.

So there you have it - by shopping with avm you're a trend setter, and you didn't even know it! Furthermore, it's come at an everyday price and you're benefiting from it. Now is the time to share the love. Whether it's healthy food, tasty food or just plain old convenience you and your friends are after, spread the word... we can't all do it on our own, but we can change the way we live if we so chose.

Happy eating,

Grocery inquiry

I'm late off the mark in writing about the outcome of the federal government/ACCC grocery inquiry but I've been so entertained by the ensuing knee-jerk reactions that I've held off writing anything (some links below for your reference).

In my opinion the inquiry was never going to find anything of much consequence from the outset. The Issues Paper released to guide public submissions ensured the inquiry would deal with only the bright glossy sheen of the fluorescent supermarket signage, perhaps giving it a dust and polish on the way.

My submission was prefaced as follows.
I actually think the ACCC is barking up the wrong tree. Grocery prices will continue to increase. For some time I suspect they will increase (in Australia at least) at a greater rate than CPI as other consumer goods have become cheaper through technology and production advancements in developing countries and because we have a low cost high standard of living for a very long time and as the marketplace continues along the pathway of globalisation, our economy will continue to align with those we aspire to compare to.

The ACCC was asked to look into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries.

Matters to be taken into consideration by the inquiry shall include, but not be restricted to:
  • the current structure of the grocery industry at the supply, wholesale and retail levels including mergers and acquisitions by the national retailers
  • the nature of competition at the supply, wholesale and retail levels of the grocery industry
  • the competitive position of small and independent retailers
  • the pricing practices of the national grocery retailers and the representation of grocery prices to consumers
  • factors influencing the pricing on inputs along the supply chain for standard grocery lines
  • any impediments to efficient pricing of inputs along the supply chain, and
  • the effectiveness of the Horticulture Code of Conduct, and whether the inclusion of other major buyers such as retailers would improve the effectiveness of the code.
Unfortunately when it comes to competition, the horse has bolted. The rationalisation of supermarket chains that occurred during the 1990s virtually resulted in a grocery duopoly. Certainly there are some exceptions, Franklins still exists in some limited form (albeit after Woolworths plucked the meat off the bones), there are the IGA "independents" and it turns out that 50%* of fresh produce goes to the independent and alternate retailers (as opposed to the 70%* stranglehold the major supermarket chains have on the rest).
*These figures don't add up if you look at the ABS domestic spend in this category, the turnover of the major players and the profit margins they achieve.

The supply chain issues were addressed by looking at the "horizontal markets" along the "vertical market" to ensure there was competition there. Anybody that has spent 2 days in supply chain management will tell you that this silo approach was deemed ineffective over a decade ago; instead of looking at how a supermarket could influence throughout a web of ancillary markets, the ACCC looked at each market (agriculture, manufacture, transport, etc.) in isolation.

The result of the inquiry? A 302 page document plus table of contents, appendices, transcript and excerpts from "confidential hearings". The outcome, steered by the issues list, is predictable.

The report addresses farm gate conspiracy theories and examines external influences over the price of groceries over the past 7 years, finding the latter has more to do with grocery prices. The findings of the report are summarised (without theatrics) in At last, the truth about the great grocery myths.

Ironically the report deemed that small independent grocers, perform a role akin to the now defunct Democrats (keep the bastards honest) however are less competitive as they are largely restricted to sourcing from Metcash (wholesaler) who in turn, was limited in purchasing power as it competes directly with the major supermarket chains (*ahem*).

Planning and development regulations and restrictive retail leases preclude competition launching in the marketplace (*ahem* horse? bolted? gate? anyone? Bueller?).

In regard to leases, developers are required to offer exclusivity to the major supermarket chains in order for them to commit to taking up residency in a developer's complex, and a major player is required to get shopping traffic.

The irony in regard to the findings on planning and development is that the major supermarket chains have enough money to make the laws suit them. Planning, ostensibly controlled at a local government level, is frequently (in New South Wales at least) hijacked by the state government, notably Frank Sartor, Minister for Planning and the Environment and ensuring the NSW Labor Party's coffers are suitably lined with developer dollars.

And finally, it's agreed that unit pricing is the way ahead.

The expertise of the ACCC, in its own words, "lies in consumer protection, competition, regulation and industry analysis," yet the scope of the inquiry was limited to the competitiveness of retail grocery prices. It seems to me the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs has missed an opportunity to look at the influence the major supermarket chains have over consumers and consumer behaviour, and instead has focused on academic market economics.

Sadly, focusing attention on horizontal competition in a vertical marketplace, and tracing the product to market of 8 specific products (of the thousands of unique category items (SKU) carried), is nothing more than an academic exercise. But then, what is the government to do when they are given the kitty for a two horse race?

Readers of this blog know I hold the two major Australian supermarket chains in contempt. Perhaps you think that it's my vested interest to put them down? The truth however is, that my interest in grocery retailing has developed from (a) a love of food, (b) ongoing discontent with the supermarket offerings in Australia (particularly after returning from living in the UK at the start of this decade) and (c) professional experience within the walls of these establishments.

Supermarkets have an undeniable role in our society. We live in clustered communities, we don't all grow vegetables (heck, my thumbs are as brown as they come!) and we don't all want to knit our own toilet paper.

I do however object to them exercising power above the law that applies to regular people and I am mesmerised by the mismatch between the messages they convey to the public and the cold hard reality of what they do in practice. ow do they get away with calling themselves "fresh food people" when even an apple can be 8 months old and an egg 5 weeks old?

Sadly we live in a society that is fat, self-indulgent and oblivious to what we are eating. Supermarkets aren't solely responsible for this, but they play an important role. The promotion of products (in partnership with manufacturers), the wasted food, the standardisation of "fresh" produce, and the complete waste of resources in air conditioning, refrigeration and transport are cause for concern as they are in the public interest such is there impact on our health system and our environment.

At the end of the day, we will all pay for this perceived convenience.

A few of the many articles written about the inquiry over the past few days:

Star struck

Does anybody remember reading "The Celestine Prophecy"? It came out over 10 years ago so even if you have early-onset oldtimers you should still have it in the recesses of your mind. The "Da Vinci Code" of its day, one of the key factors is "unexplained coincidences".

Whilst a work of fantasy, the book hit a note with many as it pushed the boundaries of conventional spirituality without defying them and explored notions often considered a bit "out there" despite some of the world's major religions acknowledging spirits, multiple dimensions and resonance, and the scientific discovery (mathematical proof) of worm holes.

Only recently I heard a piece on the radio about gut instinct and decision making, with top level executives cited as relying on gut instinct and that gut instinct decisions are frequently good and sound, based on information the subconscience gathers over a life time of experience and perhaps primordial wiring. I've tried to find the reference but a search on auntie only sends me to a similar discussion with Dr Norman Swan 10 years ago - clearly this isn't a new line of thinking.

On a personal level I find gut instinct a little confusing. The scientist in me is analytical and factual, wanting to weigh up the pros and cons. The legal eagle in me finds various angles and more often than not I am able to argue alternate sides to an argument, which tends to moderate my passion. Tangled in all of this is a further contradiction - my gut instinct. I frequently put this aside except where I have little to rely on in the facts, angles and arguments department.

Every now and again however, I get "awful feelings" in the same way that if my mother says she has "awful news" it's most probably of the mortal kind. These feelings are not premonitions, rather an ominous sense of foreboding sinks in. After my brother was in a car accident following one of these, I vowed I would not ignore my gut instinct.

10 days ago I talked myself out of a gut instinct - that I didn't know the person in question well enough, that I was over-reacting, and that I was imputing my emotions onto their circumstances. Sure enough, following the weekend, I discovered this person had fractured 2 vertebrae slipping over AND had been in hospital for 5 days as a result. I jumped in the car and headed to the hospital to pay a visit.

When I arrived my first thought was how wonderful the food from the hospital cafe smelled. My friend C had another friend with him, and she had brought him lunch. And then I realised this was not just any lunch, this was lunch from her restaurant, Bird Cow Fish.

I've previously mentioned Bird Cow Fish has long been my favourite Sydney Bistro. I admire Alex Herbert's approach to food and dining, not Haute Cuisine but excellent nonetheless (more on this another time). With her spunky husband (I can say that as I have my own) running front of house with some of the loveliest service staff in Sydney, I am a fan. Perhaps even more so because despite having two children (I've seen them at the restaurant) she still manages to get out to Flemington to chat with the growers and stallholders - I've seen her there, and wanted to say hello, but thought it was just a bit too weird even for me.

As I know all this (and more) about Alex, I felt conscious of appearing a sycophant. After all, I had come to visit an injured friend and just happened to be partaking in a conversation with someone I have admired from a distance for some time. With 2 chefs (C is a chef too) and little old me gathered around, much of the conversation focused on food and produce - from beef cheeks to churning butter, as well as sailing (C is also a sailor), dogs' names and anything else that amuses people in a hospital bed on loads of diazapam and a cheeky glass of kiwi pinot with lunch (C is also a kiwi). Despite the circumstances, it was kinda fun.

Later that day it occurred to me that perhaps there's an extra element to Bird Cow Fish and Alex's cooking that makes it so endearing for me. You see, despite C being a chef and the hospital being in a pretty hip dining area of Sydney where many of C's friends and contemporaries are based, Alex was the first to bring a meal in for him. She's obviously thoughtful, and emotion invariably adds an extra dimension to food for the sensitive soul.

Australians - world record holders through and through!

In May 2006 an obesity summit in Brisbane warned that Australia could overtake USA in the obesity stakes within a decade.1

By November 1997 a report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) singled Australia out for the country's sky-rocketing obesity rate. Australia had the fifth highest adult obesity rate, 21.7 per cent, behind the US, 32.2 per cent, Mexico, 30.2 per cent, the UK, 23 per cent, and Greece, 21.9 per cent. Australians were reported to be gaining weight even faster than people in the US, a notoriously fat nation.2

By 20th June 2008 Australia was crowned the world’s fattest nation with more than 9 million adults now rated as obese or overweight. Our so-called “fat bomb” is ticking loudly, with 72% of middle-aged males and 58% of middle-aged females overweight or obese.3

This is one "world title" we have much to be embarrassed about.

In Australia the the weather is often glorious, and to the European world we are seen as a sporty outdoor culture.

Our fresh produce is considered some of the best in the world - our beef and tuna earn top dollar on the Japanese markets, our fruits are air-freighted to asia's wealthy. Our geographical isolation our products are free of disease that blights other markets (anthrax, foot and mouth, etc.).

Despite being at the mercy of drought (and in fact this is what lead to the discovery of the el nino and la nina affect by Australian scientists) there is never a shortage of good food.

The equation is simple: (calories in) - (calories out) = (weight gain).

Overlooking the complications of metabolism, medication affecting physiological processes, the complication with respect to calories is consumed is that apparently people don't know what they are eating. Seems a little ridiculous when they're not bound and blindfolded for force-feeding, yet, as Jamie Oliver pointed out on Australian television last week, the contents of foods has changed and somewhere along the line people forgot to notice and think about it.

Currently our politicians and public service are intent on launching inquiries resulting in bureaucratic guidelines for advertising time slots and land development by foreign entities. Do you think this might be missing the point?

What is the point of having an inquiry into grocery prices and competition when the 2 major players in the market (controlling 80-90% of the spend depending on which statistics you read) barely even sell fresh food. What Australia might actually need is LESS VARIETY and LESS CHOICE - I mean really, do we need 85 different pasta & rice convenience side dishiz? And yes, there are 85 listed on colesonline!!!

Do we address advertising fast foods and snacks during children's viewing hours (do we even know what they are) or should we consider reaching beyond that and address the people that actually purchase the products for the children - yes, you know, the parents that have managed to was their hands of responsibility?

I understand that people are busy and under pressure, that children take up an enormous amount of time and effort (and Costello's baby bonus won't cover it), but I can't fathom why a family with 2 young children using a home grocery service will only buy 28 serves of fruit (enough for 2 people) and a $5 stir-fry pack (that hubby and I would get through in a night) for the week. I want to think that perhaps they'll do a supplementary shop, perhaps they were going away, but I know even still, that this family is not eating what they should be.

What do you think is the decision making factor that needs to be address in order for people to eat more fresh food?

the f-word

It's only 20 minutes into the premiere episode of this show and it's clear who the target audience for Sir Ramsay is. Love him, hate him, or just see him as another celebrity chef filling a market niche, Gordon inspires passion...

Passion from the senators of our federal government who clearly haven't walked the streets most of Australia for a long time. I mean if you heared my effing neighbours get a bit effing excited then you effing wouldn't wonder what the effing deal is about...

Gordon's money clearly comes from the 40+ horny houswife set as we see him walking down the corridor in his smart Brit-dress (is it Ben Sherman or Paul Smith he's wearing?), performing an evocative strip to his pecs before putting on his whites.

However, once you get past this, there are two things that happen - some great dishes that would inspire husbands to drool (as mine did), thus keeping the married women on tap, and a bit of swearing to prove to us all he is still at his manly "tuffness".

I don't think the swearing is great, I don't think it's necessary. I do think it's a character he adopts and it's obviously rather lucrative. We argued about this at brunch on the weekend. My mum thinks it's unnecessary and uncouth, my thoughts are already expressed here, my sister who works in marketing says he knowingly accepts the brush he is tarred with, and my brother sees him as an actor.

Whatever your opinion, he's obviously onto something...

get real!: all packaged up

The Visy-Amcor packaging stitch up continues.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Richard Pratt faces charges for telling pork pies to the ACCC.

He faces a possible 4 x 12 months jail or a little fine if found guilty of the 3 charges. He'll probably walk. If he's fined it won't make an iota of difference to his back pocket expenses. And if he is sentenced to jail, he'll probably get a house arrest style sentence.

The relevance? As with most industry sectors in Australia, packaging is a duopoly and at the end of the day the end consumer (that's us buying anything from a cucumber to a can of soft drink) pay for it...

Perhaps renowned philanthropist, Mr Pratt could extend his generousity to the general public by not ripping them off?

get real!: all packaged up

God save the Queen, English cuisine...

Let's face it, the British get little credit for their culinary culture. With smell and taste being the most evocative and best remembered senses, why would they - they compete with pizza over the harbour in Naples, or croissant by the Eiffel tower, souvlaki on a Greek Island, and so on!

In their own austere way the Brits have had a food culture all along. It's steeped in cosy corners of the local inn where local ales are still served with pride. Forget the sea-side pubs and their deep-fried brie with cranberry sauce and goujons of fish or chicken with chips - the stamp of mediocrity can be found globally.

In the country lanes of Suffolk, or perhaps any county, inns serve up comforting, welcoming, honest food. I recall arriving at one of these places on a Sunday in Yoxford, to be told the kitchen was closed, but the staff would just have a look at what the chef had left...

We could have some lamb broth and bread. Whatever - we didn't care. We were cold and hungry and plonked ourselves down at a table to soak up the heat of the open fire with a pint of Adnams.

Broth was an understatement; steaming as they hit the table our bowls were filled with thick chunks of lamb and vegetables in a flavoursome soup; someone had heated this up in a pot as it was without the trademark "cold spots" (the antithesis of the public pool) a microwave leaves behind. Had it been summer, I dare say we would have been given a ploughman's plate, that would have been excellent too.

It seems to me that the British have a strong foundation in "travelling food" - either the things you want to eat when you're weary from being on the road, or the things you want to pack to take with you. I'm thinking of ploughman's plates with regional cheese or meat, served with some fresh bread and a locally made relish or pickles and whatever greens might be in the garden, a hearty stew with spuds, or a portable pork pie with a slurp of hot english mustard.

Last weekend (the Queen's birthday holiday weekend - you know, that Queen we have, many say we don't want, and the mother country doesn't even celebrate her birthday) with a group of friends, the boys (all of whom grew up north of Lancashire) began talking about scotch eggs. Did I have a recipe?

Well no I didn't, but the next morning I read a few bits and bobs about scotch eggs online and by happenstance had the relevant ingredients. Using pork mince blended with onion, salt, pepper and nutmeg (and some leftover roasted fennel) I made a "sausage" mixture which is then wrapped around boiled eggs and crumbed. I put these in the oven although most recipes call for deep frying.

It's not something I'd make regularly, but the scotch egg is a classic - it's an all in one, sausage & egg buttie, ready to travel!

Mission not impossible - cooking for a vegan and a carnivore...

I have been on a promise to entertain some friends as a thank you and the "connecting friends" couple who, had given us a strong impression they don't do dinners. I think it's just to avoid awkwardness as one is a (not entirely strict) vegan for medical reasons and her partner is more carnivore than omnivore (and fussy with the omnivore bit). I needed to get creative...
We started with some homemade antipasta of grilled eggplant, fennel and artichoke (blanched first) tossed through EVOO, garlic, lemon rind and a few slithers of a dried chilli. The Erskineville deli provided the last-minute additions of olives and dolmades.

With that we followed up with hot smoked salmon, homemade aioli and pizza breads - one using the olive marinade oil, a rosemary one, and a plain one.

Racks of lamb marinated overnight in EVOO, garlic slices, lemon zest and fresh rosemary were cooked on the weber - they'd been a "blackboard" special last week, with apple and mint jelly. We had back up by way of Quattro Stelle lamb & rosemary sausages.

I made a fennel and savoy cabbage slaw with red wine vinaigrette and a cauliflower salad inspired by a post on the stonesoup for "winter tabouli" with pearl barley, my take on several recipes for baharat, almonds, an orange juice based dressing and pomegranate. On finding the carnivore didn't eat fennel hubby quickly sorted some diced potatoes for roasting.

I made pumpkin and chickpea fritters for the vegan.

We finished with a baked custard tart with whipped cream (and defrosted mango cheeks for the vegan). Coffee got a bit weird with golden rum and whiskey venturing from the cupboard, and then we were spent.

I know it's not Everest, but reflecting on this earlier today I felt a mild sense of achievement in putting together, what I thought, was a fluid meal for eaters at each end of the dietary spectrum.

Gob Smacked

Today I received an email from an international FMCG giant using the contact email from my business. Ironically I was in the process of relaunching via a blogspot owing to a technologically awkward week, however the email came through the former email.

On first instance I'm chuffed - I've done something good enough to register on the radar of such a powerful company.

And then... I read the email. They think, based on my "blog" (even though they came through another site) I might be interested in what they are doing - launching a corporate website an Ambassador website aimed at promoting balanced nutrition. Behind this is an impending launch of a product (of which I may receive free samples) called "vegie pourover".


Yes, I am interested, but not in the way they think I am. I find the entire concept repugnant. A company that has nothing to do with fresh produce is purporting to be an ambassador of balanced nutrition is morally reprehensible.

And finally, I am insulted. Is my message so queer, is my writing so obscure that I could be mistaken to tout this brand? Or do they think I am that fickle, that desirous of their attention that I will promote their product for nothing? I would not promote their product for cash, it is exactly what I think is wrong with the way food is marketed and retailed.

And that, dear readers, is where we have the power... These companies are starting to realise that a thinking minority of consumers, people who are bold enough to stand up and express an opinion - bloggers, have some influence and power on the future of consumerism.

And that is a complement indeed!
Stickyfingers has also received the same email. As a professional marketer she has some interesting thoughts on the subject as well.

Reality Check!!!

One of the motivators behind this blog was to cut through the crap - to get real!

In a country where our standard of living is high, what we eat is not just a matter of subsistence, but is treated as a form of entertainment (more on that another time, perhaps). As a result, competition for the consumer dollar keeps advertising executives and "marketeers" (yes, that's deliberate) cleverly buzzing about. The result? A mal-informed, mis-educated and confused audience frequently overwhelmed at the simple task of cooking dinner.

"Celebrity Chefs" have done a lot to bring food entertainment to the masses, and many of them have been great advocates of getting people to cook at home - an irony when you consider they come from the restaurant game. Yet even these guys can send off some mixed messages.

Take Jamie Oliver for example. Love him or not, he has inspired a nation not known for great cooking to get up and have a go. His recipes are frequently conversational (think, two lugs of olive oil) yet structured enough to be able to glean the requirements without going through it with a fluoro highlighter. However when I see Jamie Oliver on television, I can't help but think "and who is going to clean that up?" - he's here and there and everywhere with a bit of this and a splash of that.

Bill Granger on the other hand comes across as very organised. His recipes are pretty good, but after a while seem all too sanitised. I dare say there are women across the country wondering how on earth someone can spend a day in the kitchen with children all dressed in white and remaining that way.

From time to time newspaper and magazine writers depart economic reality when dreaming up their contributions. A case in point popped up on my screen just the other day - a recipe for beef stroganoff as I was browsing the morning news with the caption,

“Once considered a fashionable dinner party dish in the 1970s, we take another look at this old favourite.”
The recipe is by Cindy Sargon, published in Epicure last year. I had never heard of this person but via google I am informed she is a "celebrity chef". One thing I know for sure is that she looks a lot better naked than I do these days!
This casserole is a saute rather than a braise, and using eye fillet makes this a quick dish to cook as the tenderness of the cut reduces cooking time...
get real! With beef fillet costing upwards of $40/kg these days, who on Earth can afford to cook like this? And even if you've got the dosh, wouldn't you... I don't know... think of something else to do with it?

You see, I can understand people not having time to braise a stroganoff, and a quick sautee is just the ticket - agreed. Where I differ (apart from finding use of words like caramalise in the context of sealing beef stupid), is that I want people to find cooking approachable, and throwing $40 worth of steak into a quick dinner is, for most people, unfathomable.

Coincidentally, days before, I had prepared my own contemporary and accelerated version of stroganoff, that had been designed to use up left overs from various bits and pieces. Unlike Sargon, my fledgling business does not afford me to fritter away money (not just yet anyhow - order up folks!).

Instead of beef, I used a pack of veal scallopine ($14.50), tender owing to the youth of the beast, cut into thin strips and quickly seared.

In a mixing bowl I threw together roasted tomatoes and mushrooms, 2 lightly beaten eggs, a splash of cream, garlic, some finely grated parmigiano, salt & pepper.

Once the veal strips had cooled (we don't want scrambled egg-coated veal strips on this occasion) these went into the mixing bowl as well. By this stage it looks a bit like chunder, but stick with me...

All of this is then tossed through cooked pasta and (if not warm enough) lightly heated before serving.

It might not be authentic, and I won't be posing in Black and White anytime soon, but this was delicious, quick, easy and relatively cheap meal to cook - it's the kind of thing I hope will relay what can be done at home by an untrained cook with good produce, a little creativity and a slap of commonsense.

Things that make you go hmmmmmm...?

EIGHT out of 10 parents want the Government to regulate the marketing of junk food to children, a survey released by the consumer group Choice has found.

Nearly nine out of 10 respondents said junk food ads made it harder for them to promote healthy eating in the home.

However, the survey failed to unearth whether parents would support a total ban on junk food advertising during children's television hours, an outcome Choice has been pushing for, or whether they had alternative suggestions.
Conversely, Collin Segelov, executive director of the Australian Association of National Advertisers says his organisation's research had found that parents blame themselves first for not being strong enough, followed in descending order by schools, government and food manufacturers.

Clearly both parties have vested interests in the debate and are going to push the story most suitable to their needs.

A tidal wave of thoughts ensues. Many of them I know will not be shared by the community at large, some of them are without the experience of raising children, yet I cannot accede to such broad-stroke reports.

I could debate for and against the above, which means that clearly some middle ground needs to be found. But for me, the most important thing is for parents to undertake the responsibility of parenting. Health initiatives, advertising guidelines and school breakfast programmes our nanny state adopts are only knee jerk fix to the absolution of responsibility by the great unwashed.

First things first - how much television do kids watch these days and what are they permitted to watch? As a child, my access to television was restricted by my mother, particularly during the week. The little television we did watch was primarily on the ABC. Instead of watching TV our recreational time was spent playing with toys and/or siblings and friends, riding bikes, kicking footballs, ballet, music lessons, and at the neighbourhood park. In the evenings after dinner and before lights out we read or were read to, and on occasions a made up (or real) story might get told.

It's amazing what is learned and absorbed at this age. I have never read any of the old testament of the bible for example, yet in the final years of school I attended a Church of England and one day the reverend delivered one of his spiels which was all-so-familiar. At home that evening I asked mum and she laughed, "Oh I used to read the bible stories to you as a kid, I thought they were fun!"

Even if times have changed, even if parents aren't always available to supervise the outdoor activities, even if recreation time for children is more dominated by technology than ever before, surely parents have a role in determining what kind of media their children are tuning in to? Whilst I am not in favour of hours in front of the TV, wouldn't it be better to sign up for cable and get the kids in front of the discovery channel and other factual but interesting material, or invest edutainment DVDs?

The second thing that grabs my attention is the content of food advertising across the board - not just that leveled at children. Marketers with linguistics degrees cleverly use a variety of means to lead the viewer to infer the desired message - a message the brand and advertising gurus have decided will sell the product, such as "with all the goodness you add" which in isolation means there's very little goodness in it at all. Convenience food is more con than food!

Regardless of advertising guidelines there is already significant legislation in place to curb advertising claims under the Fair Trade Acts of the states and the Trade Practices Act at a federal level. To date, the ACCC sits on its hands for the most part.

The incidence of cross marketing, FMCG aligning with entertainment and cult childrens' items, is certainly a challenge for parents to navigate. But is reeling that in without addressing the issues mentioned above putting the cart before the horse?

view the full article at SMH

other posts on this topic:

idiot box, idiot jar

what's in a name

edutainment - you'll never look at slugs the same way ever again!

fussy eaters

Do you have fussy eaters in residence? We do! The little creatures have been brought in by hubby. They were supposed to come to eat our organic scraps. I am starting to suspect that they are here as hubby has aspirations to be a farmer, and in our inner city apartment a worm farm is as good as it's going to get!
The little creatures are the fussiest eaters in the household! We eat a healthy amount of fruit and vegetables, purchased fresh in minimal packaging so I would have thought the worms would fit in with our culinary habits.

It turns out that the vast majority of our organic scraps are not liked by the worms - onion and garlic peel, the eyes of potatoes, anything citrus peel. They don't mind tea bags, are partial to the odd egg shell and apparently love melon (wtf?). They also like leafy greens, but they get through it a lot easier if it's chopped up I am informed.

Since getting the worm farm I have two extra jobs - sort the organic waste into worm friendly and not, and then chopping the worm friendly food into worm bite-sized portions. Does this strike anyone else as a little... ironic?

Beef & Mushroom Pies

Some cooler weather and a glut of David Blackmore's wagyu beef shin in our fridge has caused a dramatic increase in slow-cooked beef dishes at the Garden Club. With some excess mushrooms at hand, I thought it would be a good idea to cook up a beef and mushroom braise knowing that hubby would be eager to launch the first festival of the pie for 2008.

For this auspicious event we decided to be more diligent than usual and use differing pastries for the case and lid - short and puff respectively. And with that in mind, we then thought we'd go the (mostly) whole hog and get the pastry everyone's raving about...

Having done the legwork, I passed the reins over to hubby - a pie fiend of English origin and owner of a Sunbeam Pie Maker (an admission that has been met with incredulity by other bloggers domiciled in Australia and USA). As we don't even own a microwave, this may seem like a strange household appliance, but it was given to him (by me) on our first Christmas - I thought it would really tickle him, and seven and a half years on I think that's what keeps him with me!

After some lacklustre pies reviewed over at PiEcon, these pies packed with natural flavour were a refreshing change.

The pie maker has its limitations, the first being what it does with the pastry. Unlike an oven the pie maker has some level of contact with the surface of the pie, thus the lid does not develop the proper puffy flakiness it should. The case is less impeded, although blind baking in a pie shell would certainly give a better result. Hubby noted that the case "shrinks" as he fills it and I explain the blind baking principle (with the help of the back of the packet) to him.

The second frustration with the pie maker is the size of the mould - it's about 2/3 of the average pie. This makes it small for a chunky filling and as you can see, the moisture seems to be squeezed out of the fillings.

To address this, we chucked the mixture into the food processor, resulting in a filling with less texture, but a vastly more portable pie.

Longrain recipes

I have been a fan of Longrain for a very long time. For a white girl of European descent on all sides, I have an inexplicable place in my heart for Asian cuisines. The increasing popularity of some of these cuisines (the shift from Chinese to Vietnamese to Thai in Sydney for example) has resulted in a lot of disappointment - faddish food that doesn't capture the essence of the cuisines purported to be served.

Longrain is an exception to this rule. With the best mojitos I have ever had and sensational betel leaves (only rivaled by ones eaten in a fancy place in Hua Hin) Longrain always gets off to a good start - even if it's a long wait until the next act.

Chic and contemporary it is still comfortable; it's range is comprehensive and I never know who I will see when I'm there - friends from my childhood, their parents, my parents, people from my neighbourhood, models from Australian fashion week, and Michael Klim and his wife are just some of my co-diners on occasions. I figure, if this place is good enough for a Thai princess, it's good enough for me!

With a recent foray into the wonders of Blackmore's wagyu beef shin selling over at animal vegetable mineral, my sister reminded me of the braised beef at Longrain. Having put a stop to buying cookbooks for myself some years ago (I wouldn't see daylight if I bought the ones I think I want), I hoped that some naughty blogger had posted a copy of it, or failing that an adaptation from one of the food publications knocking around.

A search on google lead me to "Google Book" - a feature I was unaware of until now, with previews of books with links where to purchase. The preview of Modern Thai Food: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes From Sydney's Famous Longrain Restaurant, is literally a page by page glimpse of what the book contains - enough to get the recipe out of it.

(photo from Longrain's website)

Guess what I'll be making this weekend?

organic - naturally confusing!

organic adj 1a of or derived from living organisms b of food, farming, etc: produced or carried out without the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. 2a of or arising in a bodily organ. b affecting the structure of an organism. 3a forming an integral element of a whole. b having systematic coordination of parts. c. resembling or developing in the manner of an organism. 4 containing carbon compounds, esp those occurring in living organisms, or denoting the branch of chemistry dealing with these.

The Penguin Concise English Dictionary
Without a doubt, the green market is established in the retail arena - everyone making anything from washing detergents to home brand tinned tomatoes has an "organic" or "eco" product. No longer a concept derived at a hippy love-in, green marketing is worth big bucks - in Britain, the organic grocery market is estimated to be worth more than £2 billion ($4.2billing) per year according to a recent media report.

But before the bandwagon becomes a runaway train, should we pause to consider what we are buying into? Is the "green revolution" a serious recognition of the dynamic between global economy and ecology, or is it an attempt by global corporations to re-capture the attention of jaded consumers?

I firmly believe that keeping things natural is the way forward. I am a reducer, reuser, recycler from way back. I eat very little processed food, and Al Gore II patrols our house turning off power points he deems not in use (despite whether I hold this opinion or not).

Some days however, I can't help but feel a bemused grin creeping across my face. It can be brought on by a visit to a "growers" market, a market research expedition, reading the papers and perusing the many opinions espoused on the internet.

Take for example "organic tinned tomatoes". Tomatoes are inherently organic; what does the label tell us? I think it's supposed to convey the impression that they are grown and produced in a more natural manner, using non-synthetic growth promoters (fertilisers) or pesticides.

Certified organic tomatoes could mean a scientist examined the molecules of my tomatoes to determine that they are indeed from a growing organism. Do I question whether the omission of certified means that they might not be organic, or tomatoes? And what to the tomatoes that are not identified as organic - are they laboratory conjured?

Consumer groups like Choice lobby the ACCC to provide regulation in labeling products "organic" in order to give consumers a clear understanding of what they are buying. Substantiating claims on products is a good thing, yet I can't help but think that we are getting lost in marketeers playing on words.

Perhaps if our society placed less importance on sporting prowess and entertainment, and promoted vocabulary and independent thinking as important skills our population would be better positioned to recognise marketing hype for what it is.

tautology n (pl -ies) the needless repetition of an idea, statement or word, or an instance of this.
The Penguin Concise English Dictionary

cook's privilege

I come from a food-obsessed family.

Growing up it wasn't always clear that was how it would pan out. My mum was a great educator in all things culinary (not to mention the Chinese cooking classes she ran) and her talent for this is obvious when you meet our family - our 21st birthday parties are still talked about in some suburbs of Sydney!

Her greatest achievement in this realm however, has been with my dad. Food for dad was a necessity - gobbled as quickly as possible before the 6 brothers and sisters had an opportunity to start tucking in to his share. Mum grew up on a farm with one brother; food was their livelihood and valued.

When my parents met (in the early 1970's) my dad was yet to sample a pizza and his idea of chinese food was the chop suey grandma would get in a pot from down the road! My mother, a country lass, was far more cosmopolitan. Within 5 years the two would be married and living in Tokyo!

As I was growing up, dad continued to be a fussy bugger when it came to food. Fortunately he traveled a lot for work, so mum flexed her culinary mastery in his absence and we traveled the world at dinner time.

Over the years dad must have become suspicious of the food choices the rest of were making as he started trying some of them. We now wish he had never been introduced to some - an extra rocket salad must be ordered these days if anyone else wants a look-in! He's now mastered not only eating but preparing many cuisines, an expert at gyoza and sui mai, home made flour tortilla and pizza, not to mention his life long passion with fire (the barbecue of course!).

Back then however, dinner when dad was in residence was much more anglo and conservative - roasts, corned beef, grilled chops, steak, etc.

Mum and dad had common ground when it came to food - it had to be fresh, natural and good quality, so it was always good, even if we complained it was boring. I get great amusement that these dinners we moaned about as kids now fetch big bucks at slick city diners - you won't see me shelling out $35 for corned beef!

Lamb shanks are another restaurant anomaly for me. Back in the olden days, the shank was left attached to the leg, and as the lamb roast was nearing readiness and left to rest, the cook or, at least in our house, the carver, devoured the juicy, tender shank. Nowadays the shank has usually been removed from the lamb leg, reserved for sale in its own right.

I was reminded of all this last night as I cooked Thit Heo Kho (Braised Pork with Egg and Coconut Juice) from SBS food safari's Vietnam episode. As the pork belly bubbled away, and the husband was out with the dog, I tucked into the 3 tiny ribs that had been attached to the belly and cooked in the "sealing" stage of the recipe. I didn't tell them - that's my little cook's privilege!

slideshow from animal vegetable mineral

Nigella Lawson, eat your heart out!

Dear Nigella,

Happy Easter! I hope you have used this long weekend as an opportunity to consume as many cups of tea in bed as you possibly can.

I also have used the peacefulness of the Easter weekend to relax and indulge in a few domestic goddess activities of my own.

As you may already know, I am not much of a baker. I don't have a sweet tooth, so there's no reason to bake for myself, and as I don't have a family there are too few mouths to share the goodies with on a regular basis - I can hardly turn up to the dog park with a cake several times a week can I?

Recently however, I have experienced cravings of a kind never known to me before - chocolatey goodness cravings. As I don't stock chocolate in the house the best I have to work with is some cocoa, which set me into baking mode.

My first effort, some chocolate cookies, were overcome by the oven on steroids, as I was working downstairs and baking (upstairs) at the same time. Despite eating some of the cookie mix and supervising the second tray that went in the oven, the following week I still had an inexplicable desire for chocolatey goodness.

Armed with a Jill Dupleix recipe for chocolate cake I set about another exercise in baking. I don't have an electric beater so i was able to get elbow deep in butter and sugar until it was gooey enough for the whisk to do the rest of the work. I don't have a cake pan either, so I used the friand tray I have - quite impressively the cakes look rather Easter-y in the oval shape. And then, I heated the oven and turned it off, before the cakes went in, and stood by in disciplinarian mode to ensure nothing was spoiled. Success was mine (as was the remaining batter) and we have had Easter cake this weekend.

This then inspired an effort and Easter quiche. Armed with Quattro Stelle bacon and Fountaindale free range eggs, I prepared my first quiche. So 1980's I know, but food has a fashion and revival will be ours sooner than you can say "bastardisation of a chicken caesar salad". The quiche was made mini and in 2 shapes round (muffin tin) and oval (friand tin). As I said, I rarely bake so my baking equipment is very limited. Again, I loved the oval quiche in keeping with the Easter theme.

Whilst hope you are enjoying your tea whilst lolling about in bed, do remember that there are other bossomy brunettes about the world partaking in domestic divinity.

Kind regards,
Princess Quiche Lorraine

The final word on nutrition

Nothing serious here, just a little email doing the rounds that my mum sent me.
After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here's the final word on nutrition and health:

1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
4. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
6. The French eat foie-gras, full fat cheese and drink red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Here endeth the Lesson.
Enjoy the easter weekend everyone!

Village says "no" to Woolworths

Erskineville village is nestled in between the better known areas of Redfern, Alexandria, Eveleigh, Newtown and St Peters and now falls under the Sydney City Council. Our Lord Mayor, the dog collar wearing Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and her council have the mantra "city of villages" and as Clover noted this weekend, Erskineville typifies the end goal.

There's limited on street parking and the streets are narrow with large islands in the middle and several pedestrian crossings to boot. The little village has no "super" market but a small grocery store, greengrocer, deli, bakery, pub (2 on the main strip), florist, cafes (several), thai food (again, 2), hairdresser, post office, vet, chinese takeaway and a few patches of grass and seats all within spitting distance from the train station. It's a very pedestrian area for "the big smoke" with a great community vibe and friendly smiles and nods between passers by. Hubby, puppy and I have found it a great place to live, and certainly enjoy Sydney all the more for it.

The area is traditionally working class and post war slavic migrants (the Serbian Orthodox church, technically in Alexandria, is still a steady business). Being wedged in between Redfern and Waterloo has kept housing prices in the area at bay, but over the past decade the last bastion of affordable housing within walking distance of Sydney's CBD has been getting pricier. In fact, at the end of last year, despite the slump in Sydney's housing ascent, the inner west of Sydney was the only area in double digit price growth.

Having ignored inner city pockets like this since starting out, our little community is now looking attractive to the opportunistic, notably one DA before council after the previous development on the site fell through, is for a 2 story supermarket (nominally Woolworths from the DA, yet Woolworths is not the developer). This has a number of locals up in arms and a community group has formed to "save Erskineville village".

Between you and me, and whoever else reads this post, I don't think Erskineville is going to need "saving" but I certainly agree that the village atmosphere we have should be preserved, and I believe that the proposal flies in the face of that namely owing to the proposed location a block with 3 one way lanes for boundaries, 3 blocks from the current village "strip", the "mixed use" zone encouraged by our "city of villages" plan, and the ludicrous "impact statements" that have been manufactured to support the DA (I don't know what hole they live in, but 4pm on Thursday is not peak hour traffic in Sydney).

Who knows what commitment Woolworths (or Coles) have given to the developer; having walked the halls of both companies I know they will not put their necks out for this and the current accessibility (which will not change unless they take the railway line between Redfern and Strathfield out) will give the transport manager and his contractor a headache or two.

I have submitted my objections to council without aligning myself to the aforementioned community group; I don't see the relevance a fast food retailer nominated on their leaflets alongside Coles and Woolworths has to do with the issue at hand, and when questioned I was told that they're anti big business. I am not. Big business has a role to play in our society, it is the merits of things that should be taken into account, not who is doing them.

On Saturday the village group hosted a sausage sizzle to raise awareness, raise a bit of dosh, meet and greet, and "our Clover" came to say a few words. This community happy clapping, back slapping isn't my cup of tea, but I am glad I went along because I got a real kick out of it!

Minutes before the Lord Mayor arrived I spotted a former colleague. She'd aged a lot over the 3 years since I last saw her (as we complained about our employer in her office whilst I waited for a meeting) but she confirmed indeed it was she. I was rather surprised to see her as I didn't think the sausage sizzle would be her cup of tea, and she explained that she was looking at moving into the area and signaled her Saturday newspaper as research. Talk about shitting in your own backyard-to-be... it was none other than Clare Buchanan, Woolworths Corporate Communications Manager & public spokesperson!

Beef and Pea curry

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

meat & 3 veg

Confused about what's healthy to eat? Wondering whether you're meant to eat like a Cretan peasant or a Paleolithic hunter gatherer? Walkley award winning health writer Paula Goodyer dishes up her ideas on eating smarter.
Chew on This, Sydney Morning Herald
I have been critical of Chew on This over at Fairfax. In concept I like it, but too frequently the scope becomes murky and the blog becomes a place for radical vegans and animal activists to air their (not entirely informed) opinions.

For the second week in a row Paula Goodyer has kept on track with "The (healthy) fast food kitchen - saving time with the right tools." It seems a study in USA found 70% of participants' meals were cooked at home, but in doing so a large amount of "convenience" items were used - sauces, vegetable mixes, etc., although these convenience items made no significant difference on the time it took to prepare a meal than to prepare from scratch.

Instead of recommending the americans put their can opener in an easy to remember place, Goodyer advises that he secret to getting meals together quickly is by having the right (low tech) tools such as knives, grater, zester, stove-top steamer.

Gleaning the reader comments it appears that the most used tools are plastic containers and the freezer. Most of the comments were about getting organised, doing a big cook up, and freezing batches, which is in itself, better than passing the buck.

The thing that surprised me however, was that in this bbq touting society we live in, not one person mentioned grilled meat with salad / vegetables. Surely this would have to be one of the most straightforward, easy to prepare, easy to clean up, quick to cook, no fuss and still delicious dinners? I don't mean slowly stewed leather boots and 3 veg boiled for 1 hour while nana watches the news. Simple cuts of meat char grilled and served with or on vegetables or a salad.

Think, chicken scallopine dressed with lemon juice and served with butter tossed green beans, pork fillet marinated with soy, honey & ginger, char grilled and served on steamed baby bok choy (i even do this by wrapping the veg in foil and sending out to the bbq). Or what about a piece of wagyu sirloin (David Blackmore's, no less) char grilled without adornment, atop mashed potato with a mesclun mix tossed with marinated olives. Healthy? Quick? Easy? Delicious. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick!

knickers in a knot

The new Australian federal government has stuck by its election promise to conduct an ACCC inquiry into grocery retailing in Australia owing to inordinate inflation in grocery prices - unaligned to our national consumer price index (CPI) and grocery price movements in other, developed countries.

Meantime, spare a thought for people in Zimbabwe, where inflation for food and non-alcoholic beverages for the year ending January 2008 has been 105,428.0 % as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Have you ever wondered how they do it? How some retailers are able to offer food at significantly lower prices! Well, here's an example of what lengths some people will do to be price competitive. The moral to the story? You get what you pay for!

Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A Sydney meat retailer has been fined $8500 for dosing chicken in a chemical used to disguise old or substandard meat as fresh.

Obo Trading of Ashfield will have to pay $11,970, which includes costs, for illegally dosing old chicken mince with the presentative sulphur dioxide (SO2), the Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, said.

The company has also been added to Government's "shame list" of dodgy food outlets on the NSW Food Authority website, he said.

The fine was issued by magistrate Pat O'Shane in the Chief Industrial Magistrates Court after an inspection of the shop by a NSW Food Authority officer last March.

"The practice was not only deceiving consumers, but it could also be dangerous for people who are allergic to the chemical," Mr Macdonald said.

"This illegal practice will not be tolerated, and the Iemma Government will continue to crack down on illegal food practices.

"NSW Food Authority officers routinely test for SO2 whenever they inspect meat retailers and, if businesses are doing the wrong thing, it's only a matter of time before they will be caught.

"Most meat retailers are doing the right thing, but those few rogue operators will be caught and prosecuted."


broken record

Not wanting sound like a broken record, but it really is this simple. Eat fresh, natural foods, and source them as freshly and immediate to harvesting as you can!

Today Paula Goodyer talks about it again the Sydney Morning Herald...

favourite things - laksa

There are times when I seriously begin to wonder whether laksa is addictive...

I was introduced to laksa at a school friend's house. Since going to university beside china town there's been no turning back!

Laksa is "first date" food, a leveller. It's virtually impossible not to flick a curried speckle across the table while slurping on the rich and spicy coconut based soup, trying not to inhale blobs of sambal, and fishing out the filling with the choppies.

My favourite laksa is at To's and my emergency laksa is home made using "asian home gourmet" laksa paste as the base.

To's Malaysian Gourmet, Shop 3, 181 Miller St, North Sydney

old dog, new tricks

I love food. Not just eating it. Not just cooking it. Not just buying it.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. Too much time. But before you sign me up for the next season of "Biggest Loser" I don't necessarily spend this time devoted to the thought of eating.

I find it amazing that the planet hosts such an array of edible items, animal vegetable & mineral all uniquely evolved to the ecosystems and microcosms they reside in. And then, and this is the interesting bit for me, the "humanoids" have adapted culture and cuisine around these evolved edibles.

Food of just about any ethnicity is fascinating to me (even if I'm not prepared to try everything) and love seeing what people bring to work/school for lunch - especially in a multicultural work place.

The other thing I catch myself wondering is, "whoda thought?" What brave person put his hand in the mangroves to pull out the first crab ever eaten? Who thought to whip oil and eggs together? Were they surprised when they ended up with mayonnaise?

I am not a technical chef. I am a cook. Possibly a little more intuitive than most, but an untrained home cook. I have done one cooking class (ever) and I spent some time hanging around the kitchen when working at a (then) trendy pub. And my parents were all about fresh food and good quality.

When I cook, more often than not, it's ad lib - based on recipes books and magazines I've inhaled, things people have told me, dining out, what I see and smell, and what's in the fridge. The great thing is that from time to time I surprise myself.

It was with great pleasure then, that wanting some won ton soup for lunch and knowing I had no stock nor chicken bones in the house, that I recalled some "black beans" in my fridge. So I boiled them up for 10 minutes and ended up with a flavoursome soy based stock, worthy of my (frozen) won tons. Delicious.

carbon labeling

On face value, it sounds like a great initiative - supermarkets labelling products, which would allow customers to see at a glance how much greenhouse gas was used to produce the product.

However further into the article, the real story is simply:

"Woolworths and the Australian Food and Grocery Council will examine the benefits of carbon labelling."
The cynic within is screaming "bandwagon, bandwagon!"

Let's face it, supermarket retailing in itself is a particularly ugly business. The carbon footprint of supermarkets within themselves is fundamentally obscene - think of the open refrigerator cabinets groaning under the weight of an array of products that come in all shapes, sizes and packaging.

Do you really think analysing the carbon footprint of a product from go to woe, is going to be in their best interest? Do you really think the benefit of such labeling (to whom the benefit falls I am uncertain) will be a cost effective exercise?

At the end of the day, these corporations are interested in profit and shareholder returns, and share price.

To quote from the article,

"Only 8 per cent of Australia's largest companies believed climate change posed a present threat to their business, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found, but there is an emerging market for "green" businesses.

Last year, consumers spent $12billion on LOHAS goods - a marketing term for lifestyles of health and sustainability."


So easy! So simple! So cheap! So perfect!
So why is it so hard for so many people to put simple food together for themselves?

ripe roma tomatoes with parmigiano reggiano on sourdough dinner rolls

mushrooms cooked in garlic butter with thyme, salt & pepper and parmigiano reggiano on sourdough dinner rolls

frothing mad!

Would you like some extra milk protein with that?

"A SMALL revolution has occurred on the Australian dairy scene, symbolised by the humble milk crate. In Sydney, the dark blue Dairy Farmers crate, versatile fixture of Darlinghurst cafe street furniture and student decor, has been joined by a green version."

With a grandiose opening like this, the (rather lengthy) article in the SMH is bound to be a let-down. In summary, a dairy company called Procal has been working on enhancing milk for it's frothability. Milk varies from season to season and the properties exhibited have different impacts on the forth forming factor.

As protein is a major influence in forming froth, Procal has released a gold-labelled Extra Frothy Milk by adding protein in the form of skim milk solids.

Messing about with milk, actually messing about with just about everything we eat, has been going on for a long time. It sounds pretty harmless, but why bother? What's wrong with good old fashioned milk? Why is variability unacceptable?

With the song and dance going on about GMO in the media, one might want to think a little harder. Where is the extra protein coming from? Is it local or is it imported? If imported is it coming from breeding or cloned beasts?

And as a consumer, how much do you really know about what you're being dished up? Do you care?

little gems

When I first introduced myself to the world of food blogging a post by PG grabbed my attention with a very simple turkish pizza dough.

"Mix 250g of Self Raising flour and 200g of natural yoghurt. knead until elastic. Place in a bowl, cover and allow to sit for 30 mins."
With some diced lamb snoozing on oregano sprigs, lemon, garlic & olive oil in the refrigerator, I recalled this recipe and thought it worth a try. Needless to say, you must give it a go as it's a little gem.

More detail on what was served can be found here...

"pasta caesar"

Without wanting to harp on about the misnomer of slow food, and the questionable appeal of marketing the slow food movement to the mentality of modern day, fast paced society, convenience society, I want to revisit this concept.

There is something remarkably satisfying about preparing meals "from scratch". Using natural ingredients, fresh and good quality produce, makes sense at a spiritual level as well as the physical . Let's face it, if I don't eat for a week, I'm not going to die!

Take for example, home made pasta. It's not a difficult thing to make. It's not even that time consuming once you get the hang of the pasta mangle thingy! And the satisfaction derived from a bowl home made pasta is something that the packet stuff cannot replicate.

This bowl of pasta, I dubbed "pasta caesar". Once the pasta was cooked it was tossed with prosciutto, cos, toasted pine nuts, chilli & p.reggiano, then topped with a poached egg.

The pasta is no longer "the carbs" put together to carry the sauce or toppings; the pasta is now a feature in its own right, with texture and flavour that packet pasta does not carry. And yet whilst this is a more-ish outcome, the desire to over eat that often presents when eating this kind of comfort food, is not there. Doubting Thomas is already thinking, "Of course there's no urge to keep eating, you'd have to make more pasta!" but that's not it.

You see, anyone girl that's been to a private school knows a little about anorexia, and one of the things about anorexia is that it creeps up on the sufferer's friends and family.

"Of course she's not anorexic, she even cooked the family dinner last night!"

"Don't be silly, she was baking cookies on the weekend!"

"Look for yourself, she's in the kitchen right now..."
One of the habits employed by people suffering from this mind boggling illness is an obsession with being around food - cooking it, presenting it, buying it. But never eating it.

And if you think about times when prepared food is prepared en masse (for an occasion) at serving time the cook is frequently not hungry, or at least not particularly interested in eating the food they prepared - after all they've been surrounded by the smell of it all day.

So, whilst slow food advocates eating natural and wholesome foods, preparing and assembling ingredients with minimum bastardisation, it also discourages, albeit inadvertantly, over eating.


A seemingly simple comestible, pizza is fraught with complexity. Whilst thought of as an Italian food, many Americans claim it as their own, and to be fair, the pizza, I've had there could well be a species of its own. A "good pizza" seems to be a matter of opinion, and therefore the definition of "a good pizza" is a little slippery to lay one's hands on.

Even in Italy however, pizza is variable, and it is possible to travel the country sampling variations on a them. From the pizza bars in Rome to the cafes of Naples, not forgetting the ovens in Pompeii, it is impossible not to be drawn in to sampling this fine food. Until of course day 4 where, if you're not a big bread/dough eater like myself, cramps may start to set.

Of course I speak from personal experience - my first holiday with my now husband was a touring trip of Italy, and we covered a lot of ground (and quite a lot of pizza). I'm not a big bread eater, and have only really started to enjoy bread since the revival of artisan baking techniques - bread that I enjoy and doesn't seem to bother me afterwards.

Which brings me to the first point of distinction for good pizza - the base. An American food chain (ironically in Australia owned by a company called Yum!) introduced the concept of thin or thick to the masses. This categorises the pizza lovers rather well.

Whether you are a thin or a thick crust person, it's then possible to define a good pizza within these categories. If you sit on the thick side of the fence the dough you are looking for is bread-like, not spongey, and not too dense (lest eat one slice before blowing up like a Buddha).

On the thin base side of the fence, it's not simple either. A too thin base burns at the edges, and unable to hold itself in the middle. Too thick, and it's not a thin base. And then there's the issue of how close to the edge the toppings are distributed. A recent wood-fired experience in Mullumbimy had damn good pizza, but the almost 2 inch border for the topping made an extremely cripsy, roof of the mouth lacerating experience (not to mention the bit that flung across the room when I tried to break it in half).

Toppings are the next point of distinction and can then be subdivided into quality and density, which are usually inversely proportional. Good quality ingredients sparsely arranged on the pizza can be delicious, the converse not so.

Topping combinations are contentious (think "gourmet pizza") - chicken, bbq sauce, satay, smoked salmon, tandoori and corn chips do not belong on pizza. Enough said.

The third defining feature of pizza is the method of cooking. The fashion of all things rustic has brough the wood-fired oven back to the fore, yet there are great pizzas to be had from the electric ovens too (Arthur's in Paddington, now young Alfreds in Circular Quay, I believe has always been electric).

Some purists will view the wood-fired oven as the benchmark, whilst others don't weigh in heavily on this. The wood-fired oven pizza certainly has more going for it in terms of the experience - the glowing embers, the heat as you walk past it, the deftness of the pizza cook juggling the paddle without dropping the pizza or poking the service staffs' eyes out (not as easy as it looks let me assure you), the glowing embers, the wafts of smokey pizza flavours in the room, the glowing embers... Clearly a favourite with the pyromaniacs!

*NB: the picture of the wood-fired is from the bloggers' banquet photos on flickr

The pizza experience at home is not entirely straightforward to replicate, but not difficult either. The toppings are a cinch - make the tomato base with a tin of Italian whole peeled tomatoes, add oregano, some crushed garlic, salt & pepper and leave to sit for a while. Toppings can be as easy as rifling through the crisper and the pantry to come out with anchovies, tuna, capers, mushrooms, rocket, onion, tomato, peppers and a trip to the deli can complete requirements - salami, salumi, bocconcini and/or mozzarella.

The dough is easy to make - there are plenty of recipes online; they all read similar and yet the results are variable, and I believe impacted as much by the rolling and cooking (heat, method and duration) as anything else. If you're a thin base fan, don't be tempted to roll the base out too thin - it needs to be thick enough (a few mm) to still have some spring.

For most, the cooking method is restricted to the household oven. For some, achieving a hot enough oven will be difficult for pizza perfection however if you have the standard apartment issue smeg, as I do, you will learn that the oven on steroids can have its advantages. I have recently experimented with cooking pizza on a sandwich press with fairly good results - it's not hot enough, but that's partially compensated by the direct contact with the base (don't forget to put the grill lever up or you'll have contact on the toppings as well and that will be a big mess!).

Unless you're really lucky, or are very good at making friends with spare wood-fired ovens (and can find someone move and to install it - Ella you truly are amazing!), or have attended a bloggers' banquet in St Kilda's veg out garden, it's unlikely that the home pizza experience is going to be wood-fired.

Until now...

Ladies & Gentlemen, I present you with...

the weber pizza

Some time ago, I began musing whether the weber could be extended to pizza. With a little encouragement (thanks girls) and a willing taste tester (he's just so good to me!!!) we gave it a shot. Whilst not technically wood-fired (coal fired doesn't sound attractive, does it?), cooking the pizza on the weber does impart that certain rustic smokiness that the wood-fired experience has. I am sure a mix of wood and coal would go even further, and it's worth pointing out that we NEVER use the "easy lighting" coals as anything cooked on them has a funny petrol tang to it.

The point is, that with a little thought, a little lateral thinking, and some fresh ingredients, it's possible to eat really well. It might not be the perfect pizza, but I reckon it's a "good pizza.

I think we'll be doing it again!