Operation Chill: The rundown

In Australia, the season of spring starts on 1 September. So spring has definitely sprung.

But I think it sprung a while ago.

Two months of winter gone, and I’ve come to the conclusion that operation chill probably won’t work.

This is what Winter looked like:

Chill hours 2014

These are the cumulative chill hours recorded at a nearby weather station. From about mid-August it started to rain. Overnight cloud keeps us all warmer overnight – like a blanket – so the temperatures don’t drop as low as hey could.

I didn’t include June because it was cold overnight for most of the month except for the last few days.

Only 180 odd chill hours recorded so far, and I was trying to get to 700.

500m2 suggested that the warm May was the problem.

I was more focused on June, but she’s right. On current averages, I need five months of a Sydney ‘winter’.

The cherry tree hasn’t yet blossomed, so there may still be hope.

Or perhaps the cherry tree needs to fly west for winter holidays.

Other suggested backup plans included:
a) Genetically engineer cherry tree to be less fussy (yeah… if I could get my paws on one of the Minnie Royals!)
b) Move to Melbourne

Kale Chips

It’s winter. There’s a lot of kale around. My friend H has been making kale chips using my dehydrator for about the past two years.

So I had to laugh when the newspaper’s food liftout published a recipe for salt n vinegar kale chips. Welcome to the noughties, newsprint.

I had been resisting making my own, because I had thought that this was just so much effort. Then one of the glamourous hippie food stores that I frequent had a new product line opening special: alive & radiant food’s “Kale Crunch”, $4.95 for 63 gram. The special ran for about 6 weeks, enough to get me hooked, and then went back to RRP of $8.95. Ouch.

Yes I know, $78.57/kg versus $142.06/kg is still big bikkies to pay, but it is outrageous!

It’s Time.

I started off with the spicy and cheesy kale chips from eating bird food, because the ingredients seemed the closest to the recipe that H had been using, as well as the back of the packets that I had been buying.

The raw ingredients:

Kale Chips - ingredients

Everything I already had in the cupboard, apart from the kale that I had bought from the markets that morning ($3 bunch). The bell pepper/capsicum I grew in the garden.


Kale Chips Pre Mix

Kale Chips Post Mix

I found that the mixture was really sticky and left your hands covered in goop. So you need to plan ahead and make sure your baking tray and baking paper (foil is a bad idea) is ready.

There is no shame in licking your hands afterwards. Why let all that tastiness go to waste?

I used about 100 degrees C for one hour for cavalo nero, about 20 minutes for the curly kale. If you forget and use a higher temperature, you get an unpleasant charred burnt flavour throughout your chips.


Kale Chips - Finished Product

I made two packets of about 42 grams. I’m not sure how much in electricity or raw ingredients it cost me, but definitely not $6 worth!

Here is the actual kale, after it has been dried:

Kale chips - dried
Next time?

Make half the amount of mixture. It was way too much for my bunch of kale. I also only used about 3/4 bunch of the kale – that’s all I could fit into my zip log bags.

The kale chips go stale/soggy quite quickly, so only make small batches at a time.

Re-using those zip lock bags that the commercial product came in seems to be very good to keep the chips as a snack for later.
Also reusing those silica gel packets that you get with vitamins, will help keep the chips crispy.
Don’t overfill the bags – the air helps act as padding when you throw them in your bag.

The coating mixture keeps for up to a week in the fridge in an airtight container, but after that it goes off. It starts to grow.
Organic kale will also keep in your fridge for up to a week, but then it’ll start to turn yellow.
If you use a smaller seed or nut than a cashew, like I did, I don’t think you need to soak the nuts.

I’m also going to play around with the flavours, and see if I can replicate some of the other tastes available on the market. One of the Loving Earth flavours that I found quite intriguing included coconut vinegar and beetroot!

Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens

Recently rebranded as the Blue Mountains Botanical Gardens, I have driven past many times but never stopped to have a look see. Today was the day!

This juncture between winter and spring means Daffy’s!

There was a really lovely daffodil ‘lawn’ set out to the north east of the visitors centre. Lots of little clumps of different daffodil types. My favourite, perhaps because I hadn’t seen them before were these:

Daffodil My Gracious

Narcissus ‘My Gracious’

An early season, unregistered, large cupped cultivar from the J.N, Hancock & Co. nursery of Victoria, Australia. First recorded as flowering in 1976.

The nicest bit was walking out to the observation deck and seeing the staggering view over Bowens Creek across to Mount Wilson, down to Wheeny Gap and the shade sails of Bilpin. Fabulous.

Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens

I really enjoyed wandering through the gardens and watching the birds flitting about. This, I later found out was Erichum:


In the same family as the weed Patterson’s Curse. The photo does not do it justice. The bird’s were having a party in it.

I didn’t take any photos, but it was very peaceful walking amongst the the cedars, pines, junipers and a large redwood planted in world war two. That nice ‘pine-like’ scent permeated the air, which I haven’t really smelled since Yosemite or the Rose Mountains of Nevada. Yum!

Next time I visit, I shall have to make space in my tummy for the onsite restaurant that’s now run by a former Sydney high flying chef.

Laksa King, Flemington Melbourne

It was birthday boy’s choice, and he chose Laksa King. Luckily we booked, because it was three deep getting in. There were four sets of queues in the milling throng: those waiting for their booked table, those who hadn’t booked waiting on a table, those waiting to make their takeaway order, and those waiting for their ordered takeaway. The fact that it was a freezing cold winter night did not help, and everyone was huddled inside trying to keep warm.

We ordered:
– crispy baby chicken (a successful up sell by the waitress $16.80)
– roti chanai with beef rendang and one extra roti ($16.30)
– chicken curry and rice ($17.8)
– special crispy fish laksa ($12.20)
– nasi goreng ($10.50)
– chicken laksa ($9.80)
– Assam laksa ($11.50)

I also ordered cendol ($5.50), which was listed on the dessert menu. I thought it would be a nice refreshing drink to steer me through all the curries.
“Are you sure you want it first?” Asks the waitress.
“Yes” I say in blithe ignorance.

Today’s cendol is served….

In a shallow dish. Suitable for dessert. Whoops.

But it is cooling for the heat that follows.

Laksa King

The extra roti turns up first, naked, without anything to dip it into. We hoe in anyway. The roti is crispy and flakey, but also on the oily side. My first impression of the beef rendang is how salty it is. The beef falls apart as you scoop it up.

The nasi lemak looks like fried rice. The fried egg, instead of being served on top has been mixed throughout.

The coconut milk laksas all taste the same. The special crispy fish one has been dipped in batter, deep fried and then added to the laksa soup. It reminds me of the fish from M & J Thai.

Assam Laksa:

Laksa King - Assam Laksa

Unfortunately, the Assam laksa is disappointing. The waitress double checks that i have had it before (yes), before writing it down. It has a very strong pervading odour of fish, and the taste is muddy. The noodles are thick white wheat noodles: almost like udon. The woody stems of Vietnamese basil have been diced finely and placed on top as a garnish – it takes me a while to identify the familiar taste. I am the only one on the table of 8 who even dares to try it, the smell is too off putting.

The crispy skin baby chicken is a gem, and well worth ordering again.

To cleanse the palate, we order two mango custards to share. I forgot to take a picture, so I have drawn you one:

All I could think was: How westernised it looks. It tasted like a combination a mango and cream jelly.

The total bill was $150 for 8, including 5 beers and 3 desserts.

I may return to get another serve of that crispy baby chicken, but only after they reorganise the entryway. I felt very unsafe with the crush of people at the front entry, I really felt that if there was a fire or any sort of emergency, we would not have be able to escape.

Laksa King
web: http://www.laksaking.com.au/
street: 6/10-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington VIC 3031 (opposite Newmarket station)
phone: 61-3-9372-6383
Lunch Everyday: 1130 – 1500
Mon – Thu: 1700-2200
Fri – Sat: 1700-2230
Sunday: 1700-2200

The danger of leaping before you look

A picture tells 1000 words. Here’s my 5000 word essay. If only uni was that easy.


Before 1








Vital stats:
– 1/2 tonne of gravel,
– 1.5 tonne soil mixture,
– 48bolt/washer/wingnut combos (would’ve been more if I hadn’t decided to retain the same bed shape)
– 2 stupidly designed cross braces
– 3 very tired people.
– In the southern hemisphere, don’t place a garden bed up against a north facing solid fence, even if it makes the garden look neat.

Red Velvet Cake with beetroot

I’ve never quite understood the fascination with Red Velvet Cake. I’ve tasted a few cupcakes which have the red colouring, but don’t really taste like much. So what was the point?

Then I got this recommendation:
I had a beetroot red velvet cupcake from Organic Bread Bar yesterday – it was AMAZING. Strong beetroot flavour, really moist and so tasty! Definitely a fave.

I had seen a video post from working class foodies, who had used the juice of baby beetroots to create a natural food colouring for the cake. But then to get the flavour of the beets into the cake? I guess it contains pureed beetroot.

A little further poking around on wikipedia shows that the original recipes probably used red food colouring during times of food rationing. Oh the joys of industry.

Why not try and replicate a cupcake I’ve never tasted?

I’m up for a challenge!

I settled for the recipe listed on the Red Cross’s “big cake bake” fundraising page. Poh Ling Yeow, I presume.

My trick with this cake? Roast the vegies the night before. I then mixed the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients in separate bowls.

No vegies hiding in here:
It's all chocolate

It was already 1030pm on a school night, so I decided to keep the ingredients separated and bake them the next morning. That way I got to take a warm cake to work, straight out of the oven. Of course I was hopping up and down, testing the cake every few minutes with the skewer, wishing it to cook faster, faster, or else I’m going to be late. As it was – I pulled it out of the oven *just* as the skewer pulled out clean.

Final result:

Red velvet cake

My changes to the recipe?
I don’t have a food processor, so I pulsed the beetroots with the stick mixer, so the pieces were about the size of a pea or smaller.

Wet mixture:
Red Velvet Cake Wet Mix

Instead of 70% dark chocolate, I used milk cooking chocolate (20% cocoa solids).
Instead of dark drinking chocolate, I used van Houten dutch process cocoa which has been in the cupboard for at least 4 years.
As I had roasted and chopped up the beetroots the night before, I found that the mixture was drier upon combining than expected. I believe the warmth of the roast beets would’ve probably helped the mixture combine in the proportions given. As it was, I had to add about 1/2 cup of milk to the mixture to make sure there were no dry spots.
I also only made half the amount of icing – I don’t normally eat icing, so I wanted it more as an option than forced upon the tasters.

Really dense, really delicious. Almost like a mudcake in texture , but without the overpowering sweetness that you get from a mudcake. There was no strong beetroot flavour – so strike one there. However, every now and then you got a little ‘pop’ from a piece of the beetroot. The cake was a favourite with the colleagues – but also really filling. I had one piece at 10am, and then couldn’t eat anything until 230pm where I forced myself to eat something so I had fuel for that afternoon’s boot camp.

Red velvet cake slice

I may have to visit the Organic Bread Bar to taste the inspiration… and adjust the recipe to match. Perhaps the use of buttermilk, or vinegar may help bring out the taste.

Add this one to the favourites list!

Caysorn Thai, Haymarket

I was in the Ultimo area for work, and it was time to have lunch. I had in mind a thai restaurant on a particular street, but when I searched the internet, I found something so much better.

Caysorn Thai had a rating of 92% likes on urbanspoon, it served southern style Thai food, it was closer than ‘Thaitown’, so why not?

Caysorn Thai, Haymarket

At 1230, the place was about 1/4 full and looked a lot classier than the places downstairs with the barkers* out front, and it had an interesting looking menu. They have boat noodle soup… Normally my favourite to order, but there were so many other choices.

I settled upon Eggplant salad ($14.90):

Caysorn Thai - eggplant salad

It looks like broth surrounding the edges, but instead it was a mouth puckeringly sour sauce. This was almost like a thai version of ceviche – with delicate sliced pieces of calamari and prawn. The eggplant was mouthwateringly soft and unctuous. The dish has finely sliced pieces of match stick thin boiling hot chilli – I had to pick these out so I didn’t accidentally eat them. The dish was hot enough for me. I think I picked it because I hadn’t seen it on a menu before, and because of the egg.

Chicken chilli basil ($12.50):

Caysorn Thai - chilli basil

I’m used to this dish arriving with a fried egg that has a barely cooked yolk. You can mush the rice into the egg. This looks very plain by comparison: but the dish contained a lot of the matchstick thin chillies, this time in green. My dining companion says that the dish did contain a lot of chilli, but was very tasty indeed.

I had to have something to cool myself down, so I ordered Thai milk tea ($3.50):

Caysorn Thai - milk tea

Instead of straight ice cubes, there are little ball bearings of ice. It’s almost like a slushie.

I will have to return to investigate more options on the menu. I later found out that they were listed in the cheap eats guide (good food under $30) with two stars in 2013. The opening description is: “A crash course in southern Thai food, it’s slap-in-the-face hot, sour, spice-driven and spiked with contrasts in texture, mixing fresh with fermented ingredients.”
And with that, I heartily concur.

*barkers = spruikers = touts touting for business. Such an apt description.

Caysorn Thai
web: http://caysorn.com.au/, menu available online.
street: Shop 106-108a, Level 1, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket
(the Burlington centre, take the escalator and then the stairs).
phone: 61-2-9211-5749
7 days: 1100-2200.


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