Friday, July 27, 2012

Cockroach Clusters: Chickens visit Honeydukes in Hogsmeade... and other nerdy ramblings

Uni started back this week… not that it means I was actually there. Ok, so I went for one day; that’s still more than usual. However I have made a decision to make a conscious effort to attend lectures this semester, except for on those days where time spent in transit is greater than the number of hours of lectures. Any of my classmates who are reading this – please help me follow through!! Love y’all <3 

Now you may wonder what I do when I don’t go to lectures and the truth is, I’m not entirely sure myself. In the winter I seem to just shuffle around the house in my pyjamas drinking coffee , while in the summer I collapse into the hammock with a book and inhale the sea breeze (while wearing pyjamas, of course).  During the most recent break I committed to being the world’s geekiest hermit and spent most of the time holed up in my room, watching Doctor Who, Sherlock and Downton Abbey. This followed two weeks of winter semester spent inside a laboratory. Needless to say, I had been receiving rather limited exposure to natural light over the last month or so.

To compensate for my vitamin D deprivation over this period, I went back to the garden for a couple of days instead of making my way to class. The seeds we planted two weeks ago had shot up and the wee cabbages needed to be transplanted to some new garden beds. I did this with a student who is currently volunteering at the garden as part of her placement for her degree in Public Health. Making new friends never gets old so I enjoyed chatting over a garden bed, although I’m sure everyone else would have preferred if she was a veterinary science student… Behold, Felicity the chick:

As you can see, the poor baby girl has a bung eye. And this is where it comes to eating cockroaches – or rather, why you may be better off not eating them.

An official diagnosis of Felicity’s condition isn’t possible without laboratory tests and whatnot but Pedro (one of our chicken experts and resident plumber) came to the conclusion that she had an eyeworm. Initially we thought that she was being attacked by the older hens but lifting up the eyelid revealed the presence of a ~15mm long nematode.

Nematode infections in birds vary between those that are species-specific and are transmitted directly from bird-to-bird through the ingestion of infective eggs or larvae and those that are require an intermediate host such as insects. One such critter, Manson’s eyeworm (Oxyspirura mansoni), gets inside the bird by reaching their infective stage in an intermediate host – the Surinam cockroach. When a chicken eats an infected cockroach (maybe Felicity thought it was a peanut?), the larvae are liberated and migrate up the oesophagus, up to the mouth and then through the nasolacrimal duct to the eye. The other half of the cycle involves the worm going back through the pharynx (again via the nasolacrimal duct), being swallowed and then being passed into the faeces. It is in this form that the Surinam cockroach ingests the worm.

Photo from web
Exactly as it says in the online vet manual, Felicity had “inflammation, lacrimation, corneal opacity and [although we don’t know for sure] disturbed vision”.  The poor chicky. Luckily Pedro realised what was going on and removed just over half of the worm.  Obviously this treatment was somewhat a “backyard job” but she is being given saline drops every day which seems in line with what is suggested:

As a treatment for Manson’s eyeworm, a local anesthetic can be applied to the eye, and the worms in the lacrimal sac exposed by lifting the nictitating membrane. A 5% cresol solution (1-2 drops) placed in the lacrimal sac kills the worms immediately. The eye should be irrigated with sterile water immediately to wash out the debris and excess solution. The eyes improve within 48-72 hr and gradually become clear if the destructive process caused by the parasite is not too far advanced.”

Felicity will probably lose the sight in her left eye but at least she’ll survive the experience. She lost a fair bit of weight when initially infected but has quickly put back on some meat, probably as a result of the love and attention she’s been receiving. Maybe she’ll return the favour by laying us some beautiful eggs in the future.

- Matilda

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Orange and Carrot Soup

The fruit shop down the road had navel oranges on sale at 29c/kilo. There had just been a carrot harvest at the garden. It was meant to be. This is yet another recipe from the Green Kitchen, although it is actually David’s mother’s recipe rather than one of their own. It’s one of their earlier posts and comes as part of an unintentional series of  carrot recipes a couple of years ago.  First was their ‘Sunday morning seed bread’, then was their ‘healthier carrot cake’ and now this ‘orange & carrot soup’.

(Yes, I'd already chopped the tops off before even thinking of taking a photo... woops)

I am yet to try the bread (I tried to make bread once and the experience has left me traumatised) but I tried the carrot cake earlier this year with half carrot/half zucchini. I said back then that I wanted to try the recipe with just carrots but am yet to do so. It will happen one day soon.

It seems like most of the ingredients for this soup belong in a juice but don’t let that put you off. It’s a surprisingly delicious - both refreshing and satisfying - combination that I will most certainly be using again.

Photo from Green Kitchen Stories 

Oh and I didn’t take a photo before it all disappeared, so the above is David and Luise’s photo of their glorious soup. They always have such beautiful photos… sigh.

Orange & Carrot Soup (from Green Kitchen Stories)
Serves 4


1 clove garlic (chopped)
2 onions (chopped)
4-6 carrots (grated)
1 piece fresh ginger (chopped)
2 big oranges, preferably organic (juice and peel)
2 Tbsp olive oil
700ml vegetable broth
Sea salt & pepper


1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

2. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and stir.

3. Add the carrots and ginger and let the mixture simmer for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the vegetable broth and orange juice and let the soup boil for around 10-15 minutes.

5. Take the soup off the heat and puree it using a hand blender. If you like a chunky soup, don’t puree it completely.

6. Put the soup back on the stove and add the orange peel, salt and pepper. Let the soup simmer for a couple of minutes.

7. Serve with thyme and some more orange peel. A piece or three of crusty sourdough bread with butter doesn’t go astray here either.

- Matilda

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dirty Dozen

"Your choices will change the world" - consumer choices influencing the way our food is grown? (photo from web)

This morning I did a radio interview about the garden, permaculture and growing one’s own food, with a little bit of a focus on the “Dirty Dozen” – the 12 fruit and veg we should either avoid or only eat if they are organically grown. It was for a new online radio station that was developed along with a creative industries precinct just down the  road from where we live. The sound of is it a little bit hippie/alternative (something that seems to be ‘in’ these days and I therefore studiously try to avoid and ignore) but I’m keen to go and take a squiz at the markets they run.

It’s a scary thought when you read up on the internet, reliable or otherwise, and realise how many litres of pesticides one eats during a lifetime, particularly if the fruit and veg isn’t washed properly and/or access to organic food is restricted. Last week the ABC Radio National programme ‘By Design’ had an interesting segment on living in the city and the implications of this for food consumption and energy expenditure. Apparently Australians use so much energy each day (e.g. cars, electricity, etc) that it’s the equivalent of each of us having 8,000 personal slaves. Eight thousand. I’m sure a lot of that is also used for shopping, during which we spend more money on junk food and takeaway than we do fruit and vegetables. 

Even less again is the amount of money we spend on organic fruit and vegetables. And there are some things that you really should buy organic, no matter what. Here are the 12 worst offenders (as released earlier this year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)):

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries 
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Capsicums
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens
Conversely, there are some fruit and veg that we can eat without worrying too much about. The items that feature on the “Clean 15” list contain traces of no more than 5 different chemicals or pesticides… although I’m not exactly sure how that’s supposed to be reassuring.

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Sweet potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms

Although these lists are based on US agriculture, conventional farming methods in Australia are similar so the list can probably be applied in exactly the same order over here. The EWG recommends that, if it’s not possible to buy organic, that most of the fruit consumed comes from the ‘Clean 15”, reducing one’s pesticide consumption by up to 92%. More about the EWG and the compilation of the two lists can be read here.

Food is probably the most obvious example when we think of chemicals we are exposed to, but it’s also important to remember they are not the only things present in our daily lives that are potentially killing us from the inside out. Household products (e.g. cleaning products, air fresheners), cosmetics, pet products, lice shampoo, town water and swimming pools are but a few examples. It’s therefore important that we make informed choices when purchasing such products. Knowledge is powerful and by making a little bit of an effort and doing some reading we can influence the way food we eat is grown - and we even save our own health at the same time. 

- Matilda

Monday, July 16, 2012

If I were a vegetable

I would either be a sweet potato. Or an eggplant.

Because you know what they say; you are what you eat.

This was the title of my year 8 home economics book which I found when sorting through some of my old school books.  I had set it aside with the intention of attempting the dishes at home on my own. If I remember correctly though, the only thing I attempted again were mini pizzas (a fancy term for English muffins sliced in half, topped with sauce, ham, cheese, etc and popped in the oven). Back in those days, I was terrified of the oven and stove, requiring my friends to do everything apart from the chopping and mixing of ingredients. Oh how things have changed… and for the better, of course. I would never have dreamt of baking or frying something on my own back then.

Now back to the cricket: sweet potato and eggplant.

As I have previously mentioned, Dad has managed to kill every single sweet potato plant he has placed in the ground, both in the garden and at home. Dad’s mate and co-director at the garden even had a bet that should Dad and I both plant identical pots with sweet potato, mine would flourish while his would fall into disgrace. Luckily though, he’s had more luck with the eggplant at the garden.

I absolutely adore both eggplant and sweet potato. My favourite way to consume sweet potato is to dry-bake it, similar to how it is often sold in Asia (it is even better when plastered with peanut butter!). I’m not sure how that obsession developed, but my Japanese grandmother is to be blamed for my love of eggplant. It all started in the June of 2004, when she served us up eggplant tempura. There is nothing I love more than succulent Japanese eggplant in a crisp batter, dipped in my grandma’s special sauce and eaten alongside hot, fresh rice.

Photo sourced from internet
The eggplant from the garden is so good that I can easily eat it raw. My favourite way to eat it cooked at the moment is pan-fried in some olive oil and eaten with fresh white rice and miso paste. Mum also used to make a Chinese eggplant dish when I was younger, frying it up with oil and garlic. I’ve been too afraid to try eggplant cooked another way because I love these two versions far too much. However, there is a recipe from My New Roots that I am absolutely desperate to try.

For the moment though, I am more than content to stuff piece after piece of pan-friend eggplant with miso into my mouth until we get a decent oven in which to roast the aubergines. I also need to wait for the summer to come again as we just pulled out the last of the eggplant crop at the garden. In the meantime, I’m waiting for the cauliflowers and leeks to mature… it’s soup season!!

- Matilda

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MUN MUN MUN… sounds a bit like ‘om nom nom’?

Although it’s not related to food one little bit, the acronym ‘MUN’ makes me feel warm and fuzzy and satisfied. Otherwise known as ‘Mock United Nations’, MUNs are conferences where you pretend to be a delegate for a particular country on a UN committee. At the end of the Easter break this year, I attended my first MUN as the delegate for Denmark on the World Health Organisation (WHO). It was one of the best weekends of my year which may sound quite nerdy and extremely sad but the fact of the matter is, nothing beats being given an excuse to abuse the hell out of the USA, particularly when that excuse is “ just because you feel like it” ;-)

Getting into the spirit of things with my Danish-themed nails
The reason I bring this up now is that I am currently supposed to be in Melbourne and attending AMUNC, the Asia Pacific Mock United Nations Conference. I did, for all intensive purposes, go… but various reasons have resulted in me coming back home without having said a word or even having attended a committee session. Basically, what I’m getting at it is:


Photo from internet
On the way home one afternoon last week, I took a wee detour to a bookstore (where I found ‘The Dalek Handbook’ for a bargain price of $5!!) and then to a health food store to buy some carob Turkish delight… it comes from a health shop so it should be good for me, right? Well my tummy hasn’t been the same since. As one of my friends put it: “15 minutes of heaven for 10 hours of pain”… except that it’s been more than 10 hours :-(

I am significantly more than slightly devastated about flying to Melbourne, spending two days in my apartment room and flying home again. Since the MUN at Easter time, the only thing that was really keeping me going until the end of semester was the thought of AMUNC. However it wasn’t all bad, I still got to drink a cup of famous Melbourne coffee and eat a delicious bowl of linguine with chili mussels. I was probably a bit ambitious to eat the chili mussels so soon and I regretted it afterwards; it was great while it lasted.

Hmm, a bit too much information maybe?

So now, instead of creating a definition of environmental refugees” and debating “the right of return of Palestinian refugees” from the view of the Mauritian government on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I am recharging my batteries and getting the pesky father-daughter bonding thing out of the way while I can. Just kidding Dad, love you really!! I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, but today we planted seeds and watched live duck porn over at the garden. The latter was a result of putting the newest duck, Jemima (not pictured), in with Henry, the white Aylesbury.

One thing about plodding around the garden is that it makes me detest big cities like Melbourne even more.  To be fair, I spent my time down there cooped up in a hotel apartment and the weather when I stuck my nose out the door wasn’t all that fantastic… but I still don’t really see what all the fuss is about.  If I was going to visit a city in Australia, I think I would choose Adelaide because at least they have lots of pretty parks and the place is aesthetically pleasing. Or Hobart because it’s in Tasmania and Tassie is awesome in general. Also, I’m the kind of girl who loves her trackies and hoodie and if you wear that sort of thing out on the street in Melbs, you stick out like dog's balls. So although I’m disappointed about the conference, it’s nice to be back home and bogan-ing it up with the family. There is always a next time (fingers crossed) and maybe one day I’ll even have the opportunity serve on a real UN committee …

- Matilda

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Koya Mountain

Last time, when I wrote about my trip toJapan in 2011, I spoke of my love of Kyoto city. I thought I would continue with my Japan theme (I’m missing it… can you tell?) and write about one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had over there.  This time, rather than the city, it was the mountains: Mt Koya (or ‘Koyasan’).

Koyasan is the name given to the mountains in Wakayama prefecture, just south of Osaka and where one of my aunts lives. It’s the home of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism and is the ultimate escape, with the township only being accessible by cable-car (unless you want the ultimate authentic experience and climb up there). It also happens to be a World Heritage site, as well as boasting a string of National Treasures … to be honest, it feels as if it’s not even part of this world. While I was there I felt as if I was in the world of Totoro, the forest spirit who gives his name to the Studio Ghibli film.

Totoro (picture from web)

The majority of the town consists of temples. Everywhere. And where there are temples, there are monks… another thing I decided while over in Japan was that I wouldn’t mind marrying a monk. In the olden days this wouldn’t have been allowed but most monks are married with families nowadays, it’s too hard otherwise. And where better to find a cute young monk than Koyasan? There’s a uni there for those wishing to become proper, hardcore Buddhist monks and the crowd it attracts is not too bad at all (from what I saw anyhow). Just walking along the street you’ll  pass young and old monks alike, going about their daily business (grocery shopping on the bike, etc). As an Australian, I was fascinated with these robed beings and let out a squeal every time I spotted one. By the end, I think even Mum had been convinced into playing the spot-a-monk game with me.

Local monks stopping for a chat in the central car park 
Considering the majority of infrastructure in town is temples, it would make sense to assume the accommodation available was also of the temple-y kind. Hosted by monks, Mum and I enjoyed a night and two days of comfort. They  were painfully polite, as well as being horrendously good cooks. If I could eat like I did there every day, I would become vegan without a moment’s thought.
A view of our room from the hall

Dinner (rice and tea not picture)
Stepping off the cable car, then onto the bus and off onto the ground at Koyasan is like stepping back in time. I don’t have the words, nor do I have the photos, to do the place justice. Kyoto and Nara both give it a run for its money but there’s just something about the feel of Koyasan that is so unique, even within Japan. I know I said I prefer Japan in the summer but I think I could even brave the freezing winter temperatures if it meant I could go there again. There’s nothing more I can say, except that it may be my favourite place in the world.

The view up the mountain from the cable car

Monks walking through the graveyards of Okunoin on their way to the main building, the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (founder of Shingon Buddhism)
The place where Kobo Daishi is said to rest in eternal meditation, awaiting Miroku Nuorai. The monks take him breakfast each morning and it is believed that he provides salvation to those who ask for it. 
- Matilda

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Country Bumpkin or City Slicker?

12 months ago, Mum took me to Japan to visit her family over there. I’ve been to Japan quite a few times during my life and, each time, I find myself falling deeper in love with the place. Last year was probably the clincher for me and resulted in me deciding that one day, I would like to live there (at least temporarily). Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to visit the place again at the end of this university year. If only it wasn’t for winter semester I could have gone back this July instead – I much prefer visiting in the summer!

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion
Higashi Honganji

Dragon painting by Joizumi Junsaku, spanning the roof of one of the buildings of Kenninji. These twin dragons occupy the space of108 tatami mats (approximately 200 square metres). I took the photo above but for a clearer shot, try this link.
The title for this post came from me reflecting on my first ever blog post here, ranting on about my country roots. However I also have city roots, with Mum having grown up smack-bang in the middle of Kyoto city. Traipsing  around Kyoto last year made me think that maybe I too would be suited to such a life. Kyoto is one of those cities where cultural and modern interact to form a hybrid life form – new, convenient and buzzing with activity, whilst still managing to maintain an air of finesse which you could only hope to find in the oldest of civilisations.

Unfortunately last year’s visit had a rather grim tone, with the reason for our trip being my aunt’s memorial service. She battled with breast cancer for 17 long years and last year, it finally beat her. It never stole her beauty though, for apparently she died looking as beautiful as she always had been. I admired my aunt, I really did. We were in Japan a couple of Christmases ago (a disaster where we tried with extremely limited resources, to make my grandparents a traditional Western Christmas dinner – “traditional” Christmas food in Japan is KFC, I kid you not) and she bent over backwards to cure my homesickness. It’s hard to describe in words what she did for me, but that’s not really important. Obviously it’s harder for my mum and my grandparents and I feel as though this last year has been a massive one for self-healing.

Ohtani-byo where my aunt rests, taking in the beautiful view of Kyoto city. 
Every cloud has its silver lining though and, for the first time for as long as I can remember, all of my Japanese relatives were in the same spot at the same time. My other aunt, my uncles (both blood and in-laws) and three cousins joined Mum and I at my grandparents’ house and it became a celebration of my aunt’s life more than anything else. It was also a time for family and, of course no celebration would be complete without it, good food. We shared many a good meal together for the short time we were united. Below are photo of some of the sushi platters we ordered for a light dinner one night. 

At the time of my visit last year, I was at my peak of fascination with looking at and eating food… now I like to make and eat it (looking at pretty pictures has become a little bit boring – I’d rather destroy the kitchen!). As a result, my camera memory card from that trip is packed with hundreds of photos of what Mum and I shoved down our respective oesophagi. It will probably bore you to death but, if interested, feel free to scroll down and take a squiz… the food in Japan is delicious, as well as being of fabulous quality and often ridiculously cheap (at least by Australian standards).

I’ve rationalised the collection a little bit for your convenience. Hopefully I’ll be able to source some recipes from somewhere/get Mum to work her magic and whip some of these things up.

Which reminds me, before I sign off I’d like to publicly voice my admiration for my Japanese grandmother… among other things, she cooks the best white rice known to woman and mankind. It is  cooked in a 20kg ceramic pot and tastes like heaven in a bowl. Amen. Love you, Obaachan. Stay strong and take care of Gramps too. <3

- Matilda

To start with, the best meal we ate out (an obscure little Chinese restaurant) and what I think of as the taste of a Japanese summer, matcha soft serves. 

Now an example of my grandmother's cooking... 

Grilled eggplant

Breakfast: natto (fermented soy beans), soup, tomatoes, kazunoko (fish eggs) steak, salad, rice and cherries

Dinner: fish, eggplant, squid, potato salad, rakkyo (pickled onions), veggies, soup and unagi -don (eel on rice)

Dinner: fried chicken, fried salmon, prawns, veggie stir-fry, soup and sekihan (red rice)

Dinner: edamame, a couple of veggie dishes, octopus salad, fish, squid sashimi, egg rolls, sekihan

Chirimenjako... teensy weensy dried fish that you eat with rice - super duper high in calcium!!

Different goodies I found in the chirimenjako packet. Only the little fish (like the ones in the bottom right corner) are supposed to be there but sometimes other small ocean critters find their way in.

My aunt's cooking...

Bukkake somen with natto, okra and egg

Eating somen

Hijiki and abura age

THE best cherry tomatoes I have, and probably ever will, eat. Wakayama prefecture where my aunt lives is famous for its fresh veg and our short stay there certainly didn't disappoint.
Wagyu, shiitake mushrooms, shallots and assorted greens in a hot pot. 

Buying a sweet snack for the road or to eat at home...

I am yet to try fresh waffles but the takeaway ones from Manneken will do me fine... so many varieties, too! Plain, chocolate, strawberry, matcha, etc

My first ever mont blanc.. I absolutely love chestnuts and wish they were more widely available in Australia :-(

Minazuki (a sweet rice powder cake topped with adzuki beans that is traditionally eaten in Kyoto in June)

"...a delightful bit of ice cream covered in chocolate for you to enjoy anytime"

Yomogi mochi (glutinous rice with yomogi leaves)

Yomogi mochi.. a bite reveals they are filled with red bean paste.

Imokko (sweets shaped like a potato filled with sweet white bean filling)


A few pieces of bamkuchen, my favourite type of cake in the world. My uncle bought this at  a very famous bamkuchen store in Osaka and the only cake that comes close to it is my mum's earl grey chiffon cake (which I request on my birthday each year)

Two varieties of nama yatsuhasi, or raw yatsuhashi (unbaked glutinous rice pockets filled with red bean paste)

Coffee jelly bun from a 7-Eleven. Walking into a 7-Eleven in Japan feels like all your Christmases have come at once... so imagine the overwhelming sensation when setting foot in a supermarket!

Random store-bought cheesecake - better than any cheesecake I have ever had in Australia. 

Mister Doughnut doughnuts! These are baked, not fried, and have a refined taste. They're not too sweet  and are far too easy to eat. My grandma happens to be obsessed with doughnuts so I had no problem convincing her to buy some...

More doughnuts. This photo was taken just before I placed them on a platter in front of the ancestors' shrine that resides in the tatami room of my grandparents' house. It's customary to offer nice foods to the ancestors first, before getting stuck into it yourself. Actually, most of the foods here were offered to my ancestors before they were consumed by yours truly and my equally Jap-food-deprived mother.

Mochi filled with red bean

Warabimochi (starch jelly) without kinako (sweet toasted soy bean flour)

Warabimochi with kinako (and half eaten)

Matcha KitKat 

Don't forget seasonal fruit!!

Figs and biwa

Another fig... this was only my second time eating fresh figs (they're so expensive in Australia!) and the first time I had eaten a sweet one. I was foodgasming like there was no tomorrow. Amen. 

Peaches. Along with the matcha soft serve, this is another food I strongly associate with summers in Japan. They are  huge, round and unbelievably sweet. 

One hundred dollar square watermelon in the shops

An equally ridiculously priced mango. The prices on the watermelon and mango made me realise that maybe Australia isn't all bad. I think that price tag says 5,600yen?

Our final meal, at the airport...

How come sandwiches never taste this good in Australia??
Hotcakes with some sort of special Japanese syrup 

Parfait. The most impressive part about this dessert for me was the canned mandarin pieces... you just don't get them over here! And they are so delicious!

And last but not least, an every-day bakery at a train station in Japan...

Cheddar cheese buns

Camembert cheese buns
Camembert AND cheddar cheese bread (!!)

Spinach, curry and cheese gratin buns

Soft-boiled egg curry doughnuts
Sweet mango rolls

Chocolate horns

Apple cream pies

Dark cherry Danish 

Almond pretzels 

Mr Turtles :-) 

Biiiiig melon bun