E is for Eggplant

eggplant

Research suggests that one legal way a family can reduce its carbon footprint is by getting rid of the dog. For me this seems a very large sacrifice as Tilly is a very cherished companion. So in a bid to keep the dog, and still have a conscience about the environment, I have been looking for beef replacers. Ingredients that I can substitute into meals normally requiring methane-producing beef.

Eggplant is an excellent option as the spongy texture of the vegetable soaks up flavours and allows you to coat it in whatever sauce you want.  Anyone who has tried eggplant moussaka, eggplant curry or eggplant parmagana will agree when with me that the versatility of this vegetable is only limited by your imagination.

Research into eggplant has also shown the presence of nasunin in the skin of the eggplant. Nasunin works to protect cell membranes from damage. In brain cell membranes this is especially important as strong cell membranes make us more capable of  receiving signals from messenger molecules.

Eggplant from an environmental perspective is difficult as 83% is farmed in India and China in monocrops and the vegetables tend to have a large quantity of pesticide residue.

As with most vegetables in today’s market searching for locally grown food to cut down on our carbon footprint and organic alternates is important.  Or, better yet, why not try growing this attractive vegetable at home?

Eggplants are best during Autumn. Look for eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size with vivid colour. Store the eggplants for 2-3 days in a vegetable crisper. Be careful with the skin as the eggplant will spoil if the skin is broken and can bruise easily.

For my eggplant recipe I have chosen a greek dish. This tomatoe and eggplant stew is best when served with bread,  rice or pasta. I added capsicum and zucchini as I had some I needed to use and this versatility is one of the reasons I adore this simple dish.

GREEK EGGPLANT STEW
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-1/4 pounds japanese eggplants or 1 italian eggplant, unpeeled
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, (28-ounces) drained, juice reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably italian, optional.

METHOD

Cut eggplant into 3/4- or 1-inch dice. Heat oil in heavy Dutch oven or large casserole. Add onion and sauté over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in garlic. Add eggplant, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, over low heat until eggplant is coated with onion mixture. Add tomatoes, 1/3 cup juice from tomatoes, bay leaf and oregano and cook over high heat, stirring, until bubbling. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with parsley.

D is for…Dates.

dates

Dates, dates, the musical fruit. The more you eat the more you… Well, let’s hope it’s not strictly true. Dates are healthy. When researching for this article I was genuinely amazed at the sheer variety of health benefits associated with eating dates.  They contain Vitamin A, Potassium, Iron, and as it turns out, they are an excellent source of dietary fibre. This means we can ‘toot’ more regularly and subsequently reduce harm to our colon membrane.

Not only that, there are few raw ingredients that have such a rich sweetness. All in all this is terrific news for me as one of my favourite desserts is Sticky Date Pudding. The thought of a fluffy, spongy pudding, with the tart richness of a caramel sauce, is already making my mouth water.  For a  dessert  with such complex flavours it is very easy to make and even easier to reheat in an oven or microwave, not that you’ll need to.

Fresh dates can be found from August until December but dried dates are available all year round and both store well for months. When choosing dried dates they should not be rock hard. Fresh dates should have no crystallised sugar on their surface and have a smooth glossy skin.

STICKY DATE PUDDING
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 375g (13oz) pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
  • 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
  • 90g (3 ¼ oz) unsalted butter
  • 230g (8 oz/ 1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 185g (6 ½ oz/ 1 ½ cups) self-raising flour
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice
  • caramel sauce (see link below), to serve

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°/Gas 4). Grease and line a deep 23cm ( 9 inch ) cake tin. Put the dates in a pan with 435ml (15fl oz/ 1 ¾ cups) water. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat, add the bicarbonate of soda and ginger and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Cream together the butter, sugar and 1 egg. Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour and mixed spice, add the date mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into the tin and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate. Serve immediately with the caramel sauce and ice cream or cream.

CARAMEL SAUCE

For perfect caramel sauce I recommend this excellent blog by The Purple Foodie.

Media mapping

This week I was required to head around my town photographing my media environment.

ANTIQUE SHOP, WILLIAMSTOWN 

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DESCRIPTION

The fancy lettering leads you to believe that inside there will be a meticulous and glamorous array of Antiques. Sadly, for most of it’s life it was a mis-match collection of bits and pieces. Today, if you visit the shop there is a small family of garden gnomes sitting underneath the sign.  When it was first written this sign achieved its intended purpose of communicating the contents of the shop with large and stylish text that is succinctly written.

PET SHOP, ALBERT PARK 

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DESCRIPTION

Clearly the author of this has a great sense of humour.  It beautifully conveys the whimsical scenario of  grass forcing it’s way through the footpath.  It effectively creates a reminder about the pet shop as well, as this amusing scene makes you want to walk past and see it again.

SEA SHEPHERD JUMPER, WILLIAMSTOWN

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DESCRIPTION

I found this man in Coles. The Sea Shepherd boats are moored in Williamstown and this jumper is a poignant reminder of Williamstown’s connection to the sea.  The black of the jumper, contrasted with the white of the symbol,  also serves as a striking image.  Sea Shepherd are serious and the somber colour of their clothing is a testament to this.

RESIDENTIAL HOUSE, WILLIAMSTOWN 

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DESCRIPTION

I have walked past this house countless times and never seen anyone come out.  The resident clearly doesn’t want any papers, but I have always wondered why the paper tube has still remained? It is a very effective communication and the slanted white writing is a reminder of the human inhabitant hiding somewhere inside.

CONSTRUCTION SITE, WILLIAMSTOWN

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DESCRIPTION

OHS is out in full force here but I think that the crumpled danger tape underneath, and the slant of the sign, shows that whoever put it up did so quickly. It is a very clear communication and a sign that people see so often they don’t have to read it anymore to know what it says.

COLES NOTICEBOARD, WILLIAMSTOWN

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DESCRIPTION

We have a new Coles in Williamstown and the fancy architecture did not include a noticeboard until recently. These little signs slide between two metal runners and they are filled with things for sale in Williamstown. I like this one because of the underlined TAKE THE LOT. I think Mark has finally lost patience with the tiles, and it’s nice to see him doing something about it. It is very emphatic and conveys his impatience.

LIBRARY, ALBERT PARK

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DESCRIPTION

There is a new Library in Albert Park and I love this sign. The neat hand writing is evidence that they have just opened and haven’t had a chance to make up a sign yet. I hope they never do.  It has been well thought out with the placement of the text and it serves it’s purpose admirably.

TROUBLED DRIVEWAY, WILLIAMSTOWN 

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DESCRIPTION

It has been very interesting watching this situation develop. Obviously the purpose of the sign is to stop the dog poo ending up in the driveway, but the campaign has been progressive. First, there was the sign and now bags to make sure there is no excuses. It is a very effective sign and it makes an emotive plea: “Show some respect for your neighbours!”

SIGNAGE, ALBERT PARK COLLEGE, ALBERT PARK

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DESCRIPTION

When the College first opened it employed a graphic designer to do the signage. It is very striking how this has been achieved. By using minimal text and colour the locations of rooms around the school are sign posted. It is very effective and the minimal approach is very clever and means there is little cause for confusion.

NUMBER PLATE, WILLIAMSTOWN 

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DESCRIPTION

Frogg is a great name for a car that is as green as this one.  By adding the number plate the driver has shown that he has pride in his ride and despite the car being an older model, it shows that there is still a very close relationship between Frogg and his driver.

C is for Clams

clams

Delicious, salty, and inexpensive clams have a fantastic natural flavour that is  scrumptious with the addition of chilli, lemon juice, and parsley.  There are many things I could have chosen for C: crab, calamari, cottage cheese, or celeriac but clams remind me of days at the beach as a child, searching for shellfish with my toes in the sand.

You should always choose clams that are tightly closed. This means the shellfish are still alive and that the seafood is fresh.  When cooking the clams it is equally important to make sure they snap open, as this will indicate that they are cooked. There are mixed opinions about the shellfish that don’t open. Some people believe that they should not be eaten. It is up to you whether you feel they have failed the test or are merely a clam incarnation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Before cooking the clams allow them to sit in a bowl of fresh water for upwards of an hour. This gives them time to spit out any sand they may still have within them. You also need to give the outside of the clam a good scrub and get a good recipe. Simple is best, seafood should not be overcomplicated as it drowns out the flavours that we value it for.

clamstable

When buying clams pay attention to how they were harvested. The use of hydraulic dredges when gathering clams, particularly the hard shell variety, causes damage to the seafloor.  Clams are grown in aquafarms  so try and buy these or if you are buying the ‘wild’ ones search for clams that have been gathered using rakes and handheld dredges.

This delicious recipe is one of my favourites and something I prepare when I have company and want something flashy, delicious, and easy.

LINGUINE WITH CLAM SAUCE
Serves 4

The key is to undercook the pasta a bit so it finishes cooking in the sauce. It will soak up a lot of flavour.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 12 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds clams
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine (you can substitute a good quality clam juice)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juice
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Heat 8 quarts of water for the pasta.

METHOD

While the water is heating, get the other ingredients ready. Scrub the clams. Slice the garlic. Chop the parsley. Measure out the pepper flakes and wine. Chop the tomatoes if they’re whole.

When the pasta water is ready, add the salt and the pasta. My linguine said to cook for 10 minutes, so I set the timer for 9 minutes.

In a large pan, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds. Add the clams and red pepper flakes and stir for about 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes and ½ cup of parsley. Simmer, uncovered, until the clams open, about 7 – 8 minutes.

Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the clams. Stir and cook for about a minute more, until the pasta is done. Add some of the reserved pasta water if it seems too dry.

Remove from heat, add the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil, teaspoon of pepper flake, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and serve.

Great Expectations for… Lizzie Bennet?

happylizzie

Last week I watched something interesting on Twitter. It was a Q and A session with a modern day Lizzie Bennet.  She is an upbeat red head answering social questions put to her via various social media pages.

Frankly it is rubbish. It is a heavily scripted romance between Lizzie and the cunningly named ‘William Darcy’.  She answers questions, gives us updates on her life and they both speak in a resemblance of a Georgian manner. Grotesque as I find it, I admit. I just can’t look away.

Maybe this has less to do with my taste in ‘quality’ media (I have been known to fall into this trap before) and more to do with the emergence of ‘publics’.

No, not the public that has always existed. The ‘public’ where we as strangers become connected by a shared desire to voluntarily participate in something.

This sense of connection with strangers enables new concepts such as Open source resources; Linux, Wikipedia and Reddit and even YouTube, to a certain extent, help us to connect with strangers in ‘publics’ and share our knowledge of what we know and what is out there.

Yet, how different is this from Ye Olden Times, where Mrs Bennett would hear gossip at Church and then run home all in a fuss with Kitty at her heels?

Now with online content being a participatory source and something that is regularly available it is easier to choose what we wish to read. It becomes easier for us to be grouped, creating connections between people with like-minded interests or concerns that may share expertise or personal experience.

Maybe this is why I keep watching modern Lizzie. I read Pride and Pejudice as a young adult and like all of us, wanted to keep reliving the magic of Lizzie and Mr Darcy over and over again.

I don’t like the Lizzie Diaries, but I admire the concept and despite myself I am drawn to the ‘public’ by my connection with the story and my admiration for literature and history.

I will participate, watch it, write this entry but that will be it. In this modern age if I love or hate something, I can choose to become involved. Despite this sometimes we become tempted to something like a Siren song and we just can’t look away. After all we are all aware of a single truth “that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”.