Friday, March 27, 2015

Dirty Politics, Dirty Power and Dirty Chemicals

Three things have happened this week that have driven me to get my thoughts down on the page and hopefully this information shared will help you decide where  you will spend your dollar and who you will give your vote to.  Purse power, consumer consciousness and social media are real and powerful agents for change.

LITTLE STORY ONE:  At the post screening Q&A of the film 'Frackman' in Sydney this week Dayne Pratzky a.k.a Frackman the anti Coal Seem Gas activist,  said that we have two powerful means of effecting change in our society RIGHT HERE AND NOW - CHANGE BANKS and CHANGE POWER COMPANIES because they are not serving us, the environment or the future well - they do not have our interests at heart.  He asked us to look around the room and do a quick estimate of how much money we had invested or mortgaged to the big banks? A few million dollars suddenly invested in a more ethical provider is INSTANTLY going to make the big five sit up and think.   

DIRTY POWER and DIRTY POLITICS: We have a State election tomorrow and a huge debating point in the lead-up has been soaring energy prices and the lack of commitment to renewable energy targets (RET) by the major parties and the federal coalition government led by Tony Abbott - where he is actually leading us doesn't really bear thinking about.  Yesterday a GetUp campaign to switch to the NZ power company Powershop was endorsed by a former leader of the Liberal Party, John Hewson - it makes for powerful and interesting reading.  Maybe he too, like Malcolm Fraser, he has outgrown his party?

LITTLE STORY TWO:  Coincidentally I have, this week, been doing a survey of my neighbours to find out who their energy supplier was, how much they were paying and if they were interested in switching to a cheaper and greener supplier?  Then I got this from GetUp and found Powershop.  When I got back to our energy provider, Origin, and told them  that myself and 5 neighbours were switching to Powershop because of their cheaper pricing and green credentials they immediately offered my a 30% reduction on my bill!!  PURSE POWER!! - I  had great delight in telling them where to stick their power poles and their company.
Our recently retired and well respected Governor of NSW, Marie Bashir, also made a scathing attack on Government policy this week saying  the destruction of fertile Australian farmland for mining is a "crisis" that must stop, adding: "I have never been so emphatic or political in my life".

Roundup (glyphosate) is a broad spectrum weedkiller that has made the chemical giant Monsanto extremely wealthy. For the first time glyphosate has been listed by the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), which is part of the WHO, as a 'probable human carcinogen'. This was reported in the latest edition of the Lancet Oncology.

A probable finding is very serious as not many things can be proven beyond doubt to cause cancer (remember tobacco?) so this is only one step down from that in terms of the IARC classifications.

London street artist Louis Masai Michell telling it how it is.  Declining bee numbers throughout the world have reached crisis point.

As you would expect there will be much that Monsanto has to say about this but, if past revelations are anything to go by, their favourite tactic is to shoot the messenger and destroy their reputations. IARC is the independent, scientific authority on cancer classifications.

LITTLE STORY THREE: Many years ago I was asked to give a talk to a local gardening club about Genetic Modification of crops - or GM.  This was when it first came into the news and these gardeners wanted my to try and explain to them what it was all about.  In the course of my research I discovered some startling things - here is one example from the early days of GM in the US:
Genetically modified corn was engineered (by Monsanto) to withstand the weedkiller glyphosate.  This enabled farmers to blanket spray their crops - the weeds would die and the crops survive.  I remember a question from a member of the audience "How can eating food that has been sprayed with weed killer be good for you" - common sense tells you that it's not, it's just makes it cheaper and feeds the obese giant that is the industrial food industry.  Here is just one example how this radical and thoughtless destruction breaks the chain in the delicate cycle of life.   Increased use of GM crops and agricultural chemicals has almost totally wiped out the monarch butterfly, that was once a common sight in many parts or rural USA.  They feed on flowering crops and are pollinated by a weed that was being killed chemical spraying. - and now we have proof that it was killing us too. 

LITTLE STORY FOUR:  I had a young family friend, her husband and baby visit the other day and she was proudly telling me about the raised veggie bed they had put in and that they had covered it in mesh 'to keep the bugs out'.  When I asked them how anything would get pollinated and how she would actually get any vegetables - beans, eggplant, zucchini,  a look of total amazement passed between them.  In all my years of teaching gardening classes I'm constantly stunned by how much we DON'T KNOW about the world around us - educated people - about the fundamentally important things that make this beautiful planet of ours tick.

VOTE GREEN, SWITCH POWER COMPANIES, CHANGE BANKS, DON'T SPRAY and PLANT A GARDEN.  That's not much of shopping list for the week?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meringue - top tips for perfection!

It has taken me 40 years of trial and error, mostly error, to finally get this right so I thought I would pass on what I have learned about making the perfect meringues - it's really easy, once you know how - and it's really worth it!!

This all started because we were having a party and I had to make dessert for about 40 people - and I don't have a spare fridge.  It is forty years since we came to Australia with a suitcase, an eight month old and a dream for a brighter future!  We thought this was worth celebrating and I think that it is always the right time to be grateful - so party time it was!

Anyway, it was damn hot and numbers for party still very fluid - what to make?  This is where meringues come into their own.  WHY? They can be made in advance (up to three weeks), can be in any shape or size you like AND THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE KEPT IN THE FRIDGE - any airtight container will do, and you can, on the night, turn them into something impressive and delicious with a bit of fresh fruit and some whipped cream.  They were also in keeping with our Aussie theme - pavlova being a traditional Australian dessert - these were just going to be hand held ones to reduce the washing up.

  1. Use the freshest eggs you can lay your hands on (cluck, cluck!)
  2. Have them at room temperature.
  3. Use very clean and dry utensils and don't mix in a plastic bowl (they absorb grease - which is bad for meringue making).
  4. Make sure the sugar is lump free.
  5. When you are separating the eggs, make sure that not a skerrick of yolk gets into the white.
And most important of all - DON'T OVER-BEAT.  This is actually your secret to success and where I have gone wrong before. Over-beating usually means that the meringues will end up soft and chewy with globules of caramelised sugar on the outside, instead of crisp and crunchy on the outside and a bit chewy in the middle.

Ingredients (this will make 15-20 depending on size)
4 egg whites
220g caster sugar
pinch of salt

1.  Turn oven on to 150oC.
2.  Whip egg whites - electric hand-beater is best - until they begin to form soft peaks - now STOP beating.
3.  In a steady stream - with beaters on low - pour the sugar slowly into the egg whites (this is where an eager grandchild with a promise of post bowl-licking comes in handy!).
4.  When the sugar is combined, increase the speed to high and whip again until soft peaks form then STOP.  It doesn't matter if the meringue is still a bit grainy from the sugar.
5.  Spoon onto trays lined with baking paper (what did we do without this stuff?)
6.  Make a little nest in the middle to later accommodate cream/fruit/grated chocolate filling.
7.  Bake in oven for 35-45 minutes.  Meringues should be firm to touch.  Turn off oven, open door and leave meringues in oven to cool.
8.  When completely cool, store in airtight container until needed.

Serve with whipped cream and fruit.  Last year for Easter I thought I would do a different take on Easter eggs and made 'egg' meringues with poached peaches and passionfruit - they were pretty good.  For the party we had them with strawberries and mango - a bit of chocolate flake on top would have been even better.

Easter meringue eggs.  This batch were not as good as the perfected recipe above - they broke up really easily - not that anybody complained.

I have very few gadgets in my kitchen but one I couldn't do without is a simple electric hand beater.  This one was bought for me as a wedding present 43 years ago and has certainly seen a lot of whipping and beating, but finally telling me its' sentence was served and going up in a puff of smoke during its' last outing.  My knew one has an LCD display panel, timer, 14 speeds and very annoying beeping - can anybody tell me if this is progress and I seriously doubt that it will last for 43 years but, then again, I won't either.

My 43 year old Phillips electric beater - sadly now deceased.  I wonder if anyone has an older working appliance?

  • Make them any size you want!  They can be the size of a plate and piled up to make a pavlova.
  • We recently went to a Turkish film and dinner night at our local community hall and my clever friend, the chef, had turned meringue into tiny minarets - stunning and yummy!
  • Heard of Eton mess?  Well, it's just broken up meringue, fresh berries and whipped cream in a glass dish - easy eh!
  • And don't worry about wasting the left-over egg yolks - turn them into: omelette, fritata, creme caramel or custard for trifle.