Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Pudding: Take Two

Just before Christmas last year, I wrote a lovey-dovey post about how much I love my twinnies and thanking you all for reading my blog for a whole year. After reading over it again (yep I use my own blog as my source of recipes now  - I promise I'm not a narcissist) I realised, "HEY, this means it's now been TWO whole years since I started this blog!" And indeed it has been. So happy two year anniversary to me and to celebrate, I thought I'd share how to make a Christmas pudding pretty rather than the ugly mess I published last year!!

This year I have made this pudding four times. Yes, four. And if you count the double batch I made yesterday as two, the final count would be five. If I am to tell the truth, yes I am sick and tired of eating this pudding. However, my father, for whom this/these was/were a birthday cake/s, it seems that not even being buried alive by pudding will suffice. Anyway. When I made this pudding for the second time this year, I discovered both secrets number one and two (and a bonus third):
  1. Take the pudding out of the cloth THE VERY SECOND it has finished boiling. 
  2. Turn it the right way up (i.e. don't serve it upside down as I did last year).
  3. Buy super cheap yet delicious brandy custard from Aldi for serving. 
And it's as simple as that. Merry Christmas!

- Matilda

Monday, December 23, 2013

International Cricket Love & Cake

Just over 12 months ago, I started a cricket blog on Tumblr. At first it was a bit of a laugh and a way to file the hundreds (ahem, thousands) of cricket photos that had been piling up on my computer hard drive over the years. It's still a bit of a laugh but somehow it's become not only a filing system, but a way to 'meet' like-minded people  and go crazy over the amazing game that is Test cricket. Other forms of the game are also celebrated but the passion with which everyone discusses the proper stuff gives me hope for my generation and the future of the game. People who say Test cricket is dead should come on Tumblr and just have a look. They may however have to avert their eyes from the excessive fangirling that also occurs ;)

Being an international game, there is a fan base in virtually every country in the world. Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, West Indians, Brits, Aussies - it's just heartwarming to see how people of different nationalities and cultures can bond over something like cricket and celebrate the success of others, even if their own team doesn't do quite as well. Of all the girls I have met through Tumblr, the one to whom I am  probably closest is Sri Lankan and when I saw the recipe for "Sri Lankan Love Cake" in a page I had ripped out from an old Gourmet Traveler magazine, I had to ask her about it straight away. Zinara said she had never heard of such a thing as love cake in Sri Lanka and that it's simply called semolina cake over there. Well thanks, Gourmet Traveler, it's great to know I can rely on you for authentically named recipes. 

Despite my disappointment  upon knowing that love cake is not a thing, I ended up making this cake after Zinara assured me that semolina cake is a thing and that it is in fact delicious. And delicious it is. Or should I saw was, until it disappeared into my family's stomachs along with coffee over  a couple of mornings. The crunch of the cashews and the richness provided by the egg yolks makes for an extremely satisfying morning tea or a sweet finish to breakfast. 

Oh hey ugly little guy up the back, didn't see you there when I was taking the photo. 
Love Cake aka Semolina Cake (recipe from Gourmet Traveler) 
Makes approximately 36 squares


125g coarse semolina
125g butter
185g raw cashews 
6 egg yolks
200g caster sugar 
½ tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg 
2 tsp rosewater 
2 tsp vanilla essence 
1 tsp almond essence 
2 egg whites  


1. Toast the semolina in a dry pan until just golden and turn into a bowl. When almost cool, stir in the butter.
2. Chop the cashews very finely in a food processor but do not allow them to become a powder.
3. Beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and white. 
4. Add the cardamon, nutmeg, rosewater, vanilla, almond essence, semolina, and cashews. 
5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
6. On a low speed, mix the egg whites into the cake mixture. 
7. Pour the mixture into a lined 20cm square baking tin and bake into a very low oven (130°C) for 70 minutes. When a skewer is inserted, it should still come out sticky.
8. Let the cake cool in the tin and wait for a couple days (if you can!) before cutting [into squares] and devouring.

- Matilda

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cooked Cappuccino Cake

For as long as I can remember, my grandma has walked to the corner store to buy The Australian and its corresponding magazine each Saturday morning. She then reads it over breakfast and her morning tea, completes the crossword and browses through the magazine. It then comes to our house, where it is generally used for wrapping up rubbish. However, the magazine's 'food' section is always read in full (apart from maybe the wine list which is of no use to someone like me who can't handle more than a glass per night). Apart from the reviews of amazing restaurants I will never visit, the highlight of this part of the magazine is easily David Herbert's themed weekly recipes. 

Most well-known in Australia as former PM Paul Keating's personal chef, David Herbert publishes what are undeniably the most reliable recipes in terms of taste and ease. Without a fail, every dish my mother or I have made from his weekly column in the Weekend Australian Magazine has been a roaring success. They might not look like the styled creations that are published, but the taste  more than makes up for the lack of aesthetic appeal.

There has been, however, one exception to the general rule of Herbert's recipes being flawless. I must preface this by saying that I am absolutely certain that the mistake was completely my own fault. What happened was this: I carefully measured and weighed out all ingredients, followed all instructions to a tee, made the icing in anticipation of the cake cooling on the rack, went to carry the rack over to the other bench so I could ice the cake, and....... the middle of the cake fell through the wire rack and onto the floor. 

You can possibly imagine my panic as I rushed to put what was left of the cake back on the bench, before gathering the bits of raw cake batter off the floor before Pond could finish it all off (in the end Pond did end up eating it, but I wasn't to know that there was no chance of salvation at that point). Obviously I hadn't left the cake in the oven long enough (but the skewer came out of the middle cleanly?!) and so only the outside of the cake had cooked. To see whether or not this had been a problem for other readers, I did a quick search to discover that other bloggers who have made this cake seem to have had a 100% success rate. I still can't work out what it was that I did wrong, but hopefully whatever it was doesn't happen again...  It would have been an awful waste if all of the cake had been ruined but thankfully the edges - forming a nice circular ring of a cake in place of a solid cylinder - had cooked perfectly. And yes, they tasted amazing. So here is the recipe for what it's worth. I highly recommend you try it - and hopefully you will have better luck than I did!

Photo by Guy Bailey

Cappuccino cake (recipe from David Herbert, The Weekend Australian Magazine October 19-20, 2013)


Cake batter

220g unsalted butter, softened
220g caster sugar
220g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp coffee granules dissolved in 2 Tbsp boiling water
4 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

Pinch salt 

1 Tbsp coffee granules
200g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp cocoa, sifted, to decorate


1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line bases of two 20cm sandwich tins. 

2. Put all cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or hand-held electric beaters until just combined. 
3. Divide batter between tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden. 
4. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. 
5. To make icing, dissolve coffee in 2 tablespoons boiling water then beat butter, coffee and icing sugar with electric beaters until smooth and pale. Use half the icing to sandwich the cakes together; spread the remainder on top. Dust with cocoa.

- Matilda

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Gift: Rum, Raisins & Apple Cake

 Each year our next door neighbour makes us some sort of Christmas dessert as a Christmas present and usually we return in kind with a box of chocolates, fresh veg or some honey. This year though, chocolates seem boring, fresh organic veg is inaccessible to us, and honey is old news. And most of all, I felt like BAKING SOMETHING. 

There is a lot to be said for baking as a method of stress relief. As someone who has struggled with their relationship with food over the years, baking has, paradoxically, helped me overcome some of the issues I face. For starters, it makes me feel relaxed. I may freak out every couple of minutes because I've put an egg in where I wasn't supposed to or have spilled half the batter on the bench in the process of pouring it into the cake tin, but overall it is a calming experience. The measuring, the stirring, the churning, the pouring, the poking. I never liked lab work at school but that's what it reminds me of - high school science labs. Science has a basis and it makes sense, it's the same for cooking. I also enjoy the feeling you get when you have finished cooking: the cake is out of the oven so it's time to put your feet up ad relax. It is yet another paradox that standing is more tiring than walking, and an hour or two in the kitchen most certainly reminds you of that. 

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying that I like baking. Which indeed I do! I relish the chance to try something new in the cake or biscuit department (despite my habit of going back to old favourites time and time again). Originally I was planning on giving our neighbours a cappuccino cake but due to unforseen events (see next post) had to initiate plan B. Due to this recipe being one that Dad found, I wasn't going to just give it to someone without having tried it myself first. If any of you know my father, you'll know that he isn't the greatest in the kitchen and doesn't quite understand the detail of how the food preparation process works. Thankfully though, this recipe seemed decent in theory and put into practice... my oh my, wasn't it just brilliant. 

Not only will this now be my go-to apple cake recipe, it is most certainly fit for giving to neighbours as a Christmas present. :-) 

Wholemeal Apple and Rum Cake (adapted from Kate's Apple Cake)
Serves 12

60ml dark rum
120g mixed raisin, sultana and currants

2 cups wholemeal flour
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice

1 brown sugar
½ cup raw sugar
1 cup light olive oil or rice bran oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

3 large Granny smith apples, peeled, cored and diced 1.5cm
100g toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped


1. Place raisins, sultanas and currants in a bowl with the rum and leave to soak for at least 3 hours at room temperature. 
2. Preheat oven to 160°C and line a 26cm round spring form tin with baking paper.
3. Place flour, bicarb, salt and mixed spice into a large bowl and mix together with a whisk.
4. Using electric beaters, beat the oil, sugars and vanilla essence together until thick and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one is added.
5. Use a spoon to stir the flour mixture into the oil and sugar mixture until combined (the batter will be very thick) 
6. Stir in the fruits and walnuts and pour the batter into the prepared tin and flatten the surface.
7. Bake for 75-85 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
8. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove from the tin and serve warm.

- Matilda

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pumpkin, Chicken and Chickpea Salad

I found this post in my "drafts" section.. it had been sitting there for a good six months and I had simply forgotten to publish it! Hope you enjoy the belated recipe :-) 


My family goes through phases of eating the same sorts of meals for a couple of weeks at a time, reverting back to an old favourite and then trying another new lot of similar foods for another couple of weeks, and so on and so on. 

Last night we reverted back to an old favourite which was initially part of a 'new batch' of recipes. And yes, when Mum first started making this, we would eat it at least three times a week. You could even say it was addictive...

The other day Dad brought home a pumpkin from the garden and although we didn't want to hurt his feelings, both Mum and I were hesistant to cook with it initially because unfortunately, none of the pumpkins that have come out of that place have been outstanding. Apparently it's because "the soil is too good for pumpkin", but what would I know. Which reminds me - one day I should write about the way in which the garden beds at that place have been put together; it's phenomenal!

To be fair, this particular pumpkin wasn't too bad, particularly since the tahini in the recipe seems to bring out the sweetness of the squash, rather than dampen it like some sweeter sauces do. Also, instead of using canned chickpeas like we always used to, I soaked and cooked some dried chickpeas which provided a nice semi-crunchy texture instead of the mush that often comes out of cans. 

You could say that this was the best version of this salad we have had to date, so much so that it didn't hang around long enough to have its photograph taken. Mum added her own little twist by adding in some silverbeet and mizuna into it but below is the photo from ABC's Delicious magazine, the source of the recipe, without the pretty green bits. 

Photo from Delicious Magazine (minus the chicken)

Pumpkin, Chicken & Chickpea Salad (adapted from ABC's Delicious magazine) 
Serves 4

1kg pumpkin or squash (800g prepared weight), peeled, de-seeded and cut into 3-5cm slices, about 0.5cm thick
2 Tbsp olive oil
300g roast chicken 
400g cooked chickpeas, drained
½ small red onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp roughly chopped silverbeet and mizuna (or just some fresh coriander)
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt
3½ Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp tahini paste
2 Tbsp water, to taste
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat the olive oil in a fry pan and fry the pumpkin until soft and slightly brown on both sides (alternatively, roast in a preheated 220°C oven for about 20 minutes - this might be easier as it allows you to make the sauce while you're waiting. However frying turns out to be more efficient if oven space is lacking). Remove and allow to cool. 

2. Make the tahini sauce: mix the crushed garlic with lemon juice and add the tahini. Thin this mixture with the water and olive oil, adding more lemon/tahini to taste. There should be a balance between the nutty tahini and lemon.

3. Assemble the salad: salad, place the pumpkin, chicken, chickpeas, red onion and greens in a mixing bowl. Pour on the tahini sauce and remaining oil and toss carefully. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

- Matilda

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Winter has come.

Winter is coming.

For over a year, the context of those famous words of House Stark of Winterfell eluded me. Yet now, after reading only the first two books of A Song of Ice and Fire, I am engrossed in the world of Westeros and Essos, and the fight for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. I detest being in massive fandoms by principle (especially when it comes to joining them when popularity is already sky-high) but I like to think as long as I stick to the more intellectually stimulating novels rather than the televised series, I can remain separate from the masses. 

Image from web

Yes, I know. I'm a snob. My apologies. 

However, this post isn't about the consanguinity of House Lannister and the rest of them. With winter having already arrived in our little pocket of South-East Queensland, I am yet again struck by the lack of seasons we experience here. I am not complaining - far from it! This numbing cold is more than my poor bare feet can handle - socks and slippers around the house somehow annoy me and I insist on not wearing them very often - and I prefer the mild winters of the Gold Coast to the biting chills experienced elsewhere. But there is no denying that winter would be more enjoyable if it looked like the season had changed. 

Our summers simply melt into autumns which, by the time we know it, have already morphed into winters.  Not having traveled extensively, I can't say this holds true for the whole of Australia, but I know for certain that the distinction between seasons is far more pronounced in places like Japan - lush green foliage in the summer during the rains, maple leaves in autumn, snow in winter, and cherry blossoms in spring. 

Photo from web 

As many of you who know me are already aware, I am not a huge fan of the winter. The cold that we get here goes down to the bones, even if it a "mild" 15 degrees C. It's too cold for shorts and t-shirts, yet too warm for a trench coat  and all the other fancy winter fashion that is showcased in colder parts of the country. In short, it's just annoying. Too cold for the beach, yet too warm for houses to have fireplaces built into them. Too cold for getting out of bed early, yet too warm for it to be an excuse for not doing exercise in the early hours. The only consolation is that finally the set temperature for the air conditioning at uni is warmer than the air outside.

- Matilda 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Oat & Apple Scones

Note to self: scones are known, in American English, as "biscuits". I mean, seriously. Biscuits??

Biscuits are things like ginger nuts, Monte Carlos, Kingstons, shortbread...  Scones are the the wee cakes you can slather in butter, jam or cream (preferably all three) and enjoy with a cuppa in the morning or afternoon. Totally different. The day we begin to incorporate the word "biscuit" to mean scone in Australia will be a dark day indeed - even darker than the day the word "cookies" made it to our shores.

Image from web 

Before I get too worked up about how much I detest American English, first let me apologise for the state of the oven mitts - Mum was embarrassed when she saw the photo and then realised I was going to publish it. I would like to declare we don't live in filth but the oven mitts possibly do get used too often and not washed often enough. Needless to say, these mitts are now waiting for their turn in the washing machine. 

Now back to scones, biscuits, and cookies. For me, a scone is the fluffy (or not so fluffy, if you prefer damper-like scones) things you eat with butter/jam/cream. Biscuits are any sort of sweet or savoury cracker that do not collapse in a puddle of buttery goo with one touch, and cookies are anything that do collapse into said goo. The recipe I'm about to share is definitely for scones, although unfortunately I didn't realise until it was too late... by which time my scones were laid out neatly, ready to go in the oven, like little biscuits. Of course, it didn't matter in the end - they taste wonderful!! But the aesthetics leave a little to be desired. 

Reflecting back on my mid-week weekend - two days off uni to spend cooking, reading, watching tv and having fun at the beach with friends! - I realise this recipe taught me a bit about my self, namely that I still have not learnt how to follow instructions properly. >>Insert epic facepalm here.<<

I was the child in school who who buggered up a few too many simple maths problems because she didn't read the question properly. I am the twenty-something that still insists on beginning recipes before reading through the list of ingredients, only to have to stop halfway through and  salvage what I can. I also have a problem with imperial units and remembering the conversions of said units. All of those  things came into play with these scones... even the maths. 200g + 150g is... ok, yeah. I get it now. 

So basically my advice is this: keep reading if you want to know how NOT to make these scones. However, I do include the link to the original recipe so maybe you can scroll down just a bit more for that. Oh and look out for the soon-to-be-washed oven mitts making yet another appearance... 

Oat & Apple Scones (from Green Kitchen Stories)


Dry ingredients 
1 ¾ cup (200g) oat flour 
¼ cup (150g) plain flour (or buckwheat flour, for a gluten-free version)
3 tsp corn starch 
1 tsp baking powder 
½ tsp baking soda 
1 tsp sea salt 

Wet ingredients 
6 Tbsp (75 g) extra virgin coconut oil, chilled and cut into small cubes 
4 Tbsp nut butter (I used peanut butter, GKS used almond) 
1 cup plain yoghurt (use soy yoghurt for a vegan version)
3 apples, shredded with peels on (approximately 1 ½ cup apple shreds) 


1. Preheat oven to (including baking tray) to 230°C. 

2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and add the coconut oil cubes and but butter. Combine the mixture with your hands until it is crumbly in texture 

3. Add yoghurt and apples and stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon until it can be handled. GKS says the mixture should be crumbly (but come together when kneaded  at this stage but I think my apples weren't crisp enough so I ended up with a regular gooey scone mixture... Depending on how yours turns out, add more flour if too wet and more yoghurt if too dry! You really can't go wrong though. 

4. If your dough is quite wet, scoop 3 tablespoons full and plop them onto the baking tray before flattening with the palm of your hand. If - like the original recipe says - you end up with a more biscuit dough texture, gather the dough into a ball and flatten it out onto a floured surface until it's about 2.5cm thick (I ignored tis) and use an 8cm (I also ignored this) biscuit cutter to cut out as many scones as physically possible.Gather the remaining dough, and repeat. 

5.  Remove the baking tray and cover it with baking paper before placing the scones on it. Bake for 15–16 minutes or until golden and crusty on the outside and slightly moist on the inside. 

6. Remove from oven, pile on some jam or marmalade, eat. 

Back to the real world tomorrow I'm afraid. Hurrah for not being prepared for tomorrow's class! And double hurrahs for being too exhausted from two big days relaxing to be able to do anything about it... :-S
- Matilda 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Turtles, turtles, everywhere!

Yesterday was the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) National Day of Action in Brisbane. The purpose of the even was to let the pollies know that the youth of Australia want a sustainable future and that if the proposed coal expansions go ahead, it is game over for the Great Barrier Reef and our climate in general. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get to the event but I heard it was a great turn out and great day in general. Here is a video some of the AYCC guys and girls at uni made to raise awareness about the event. 

Even though sometimes I can be shy and reluctant to go to rallies and things such as these, I like to think that I still contribute in at least some little way to conserving the natural environment around us. I suppose people find one area about which they are passionate and they focus on that. While someone else focuses on something else. And someone else focuses on something else again... And so on. This is, in a way, in line with the well-known phrase "think globally, act locally." For the AYCC-ers, this focus is climate change and raising awareness about it among fellow youths, as well as letting politicians know that we actually care about this and it is a topic that will influence where our votes go come election time. For others, the focus can be something as specific as turtles. This is the case for Dr Col Limpus. 

Col is probably THE most famous marine conservationist Australia has ever been able to lay claim to and his conservation, management and education work has touched people and marine animals alike - from Australia to the USA, West Indies, Greece, South America, Saudi Arabia, India, the Pacific, and Japan. His current research focuses on the environmental impacts, population dynamics, ecology and conservation of turtles, crocodiles, dugons, and other marine life.

In January this year I was lucky enough to be able to spend a week in Mon Repos, one of Col's research bases in Queensland, helping out with turtle research. It was one of the most exciting - not to mention exhausting - experiences of my life and I am desperate to have another go at the end of this year or the beginning of next. Everyone who comes to volunteer at such places have similar mindsets and it's always nice to work towards a common goal with people who, at the beginning of the stay, were just strangers. Most of us were from Queensland but there were a couple from NSW, the ACT, and New Zealand, as well as some Brazilian exchange students. There is no better way to make friends than going crazy over turtles and becoming sleep-deprived. You only needed to spend one or two nights at the campsite to be able to participate in the sleep-induced-hysterical  banter that would be thrown back and forth. 

I just realised that maybe the way I'm describing my experience isn't exactly what you would call convincing... However, there really isn't a way to romanticise it: a week at the beach looking out for turtles, beach night walks interspersed with measuring turtle carapaces and weighing turtle eggs and hatchlings... yeah it was a tough time.  (Please read maximum amount of possible sarcasm into the previous sentence.) The second night shift from 12am-7am was a bit of a pain but like I said, makes for hysterical fun the next day. The main reason for the sleep deprivation was the heat - it's impossible to sleep inside a tent when it's 30+ degrees! I wouldn't change anything about my experience for the world though. 

As the South Pacific's largest loggerhead turtle rookery, the conservation of the loggerheads, along with other turtle species, at Mon Repos is a particularly important one. The increasing tourism and development in recent years (especially 5 minutes down the road at Bagara) has resulted in the disruption of the turtles' natural breeding ground. Although things like eating turtle eggs and riding turtles for fun don't happen anymore in this part of the world, the artificial lights from surrounding areas confuses the hatchlings when they are trying to go to sea for the first time. 

The 'Cut the Glow' campaign in Bundaburg and surrounding coastal regions. 
A woman sitting on a turtle's back at Mon Repos in the 1930s. Photo from Wikipedia. 
The aim of the conservation programme run by Col Limpus isn't just about maximising turtle hatchling survival rates or trying to understand what turtles do in their spare time, or how best for us clumsy humans to handle turtle eggs. It was clear after my first night on the beach that Col, his wife, and his dedicated core of volunteers want spread awareness of the plight of the turtles and engage people in their conservation by making people want to do something. Whether this 'something' be changing their vote in the next election, donating time or money to Col's project (read: life passion) or simply turning off unnecessary lighting after dark, it didn't matter. They achieved this through both the turtle information centre near the beach, as well as through the guided turtle-watching tours run by the park rangers. 

I promise that if you can watch a turtle  dig her nest, lay her eggs and cover them back up again without feeling some kind of shiver up your spine at the raw beauty of it all, you are not human.  The patience of a female turtle as she carries out these tasks is remarkable and it took my breath away every single time I saw it happen. And once the hatchlings come out... well, that's just a totally different story. I think the camp staff were actually terrified one of us girls would smuggle a hatchling or two into our backpacks to take home. They are just so unbelievably gorgeous. And yes, I do want one. ALL of us wanted one. 

Afternoon beach patrol with Haz.

Afternoon beach patrol with Haz.
Releasing the freshwater turtle hatchlings in Bundaburg. 
Releasing the freshwater turtle hatchlings in Bundaburg.
Releasing the freshwater turtle hatchlings in Bundaburg.
With the coastal python that snuck into camp.
Possum outside the camp kitchen.
One of the girls comes up to lay her fifth clutch of eggs for the season. 

Invasion of privacy... 

Measuring the carapace while the loggerhead mum lays her eggs. 
One of my night patrol buddies measuring the carapace. 
Second night patrol buddy digging and measuring the depth of a turtle nest. If the turtles laid their eggs too far down the beach, we would dig them back up, count them, dig an artificial nest and bury the eggs again. 

Taking a few loggerhead turtle hatchlings up the lab for weighing and measuring.

My first flatback turtle -  easily the most beautiful species of marine turtle we saw at Mon Repos.

Anddd again... we christened this little guy "Knox". 

Training home at 4am: Bundy sunrise.

Training home at 4am: Bundy sunrise.

Thank you to Col, Lisa and Bill for looking after me during my stay up at Mon Repos. And to the wonderful fellow volunteers - thank you for your friendship and trust. You all made the experience something really special. 

- Matilda 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Maple Leaves and A-Bombs

A couple weeks ago I posted the recipe for okonomiyaki, the Japanese pizza/pancake for which Hiroshima is well-known. I think I possibly made my visit to that city sound light-hearted and enjoyable (which it most certainly was) but as you would probably be aware, everything has not always been rosy for the capital of Hiroshima prefecture.

8:15am on August 6, 1945: the US Air Force became the first country to employ nuclear weapons as an item of war. Looking at the city today, it’s hard to believe that 70 years ago there existed nothing but rubble. The only reminder of the atrocities of that day is the Hiroshima Peach Memorial Park that lies at the centre of the city, a location which was once the city’s busiest commercial and residential district. The buildings that were once there were levelled in the bomb blast and today there are a number of museums, memorials and monuments in their place. These include the famous A-Bomb Dome, the skeleton of the former Industrial Promotion Hall and a concrete protest against the use of nuclear weapons. Another famous monument is the Children's Peace Monument that is dedicated to the children directly and indirectly killed or affected by the bombing. It's construction was inspired by the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a 12 year old girl who believed she would be cured of her leukaemia (caused by radiation from the bomb) if she folded a thousand paper cranes. Her story, and the story of many others, are detailed in the museums that are scattered around the park.

The A-Bomb Dome: a concrete protest against the use of nuclear weapons.

School children pay their respects at the Children's Peace Monument 

A view of the Memorial Cenotaph and A-Bomb Dome from the museum.

Frozen in time: a pocket watch recovered from the rubble, the hands stuck at precisely at 8:15 am. 
It was very surreal for me to visit this place after many years of reading about WWII and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Standing in from of the Dome, it was like I had been transported into the pages of my textbook. It was surreal. 

The various exhibitions at the main museum also left me lost for words. Possibly the most powerful item was the pocket watch (see above) and another larger wall clock, frozen at the exact time the bomb hit  the city. Others included the photo of a man's shadow which the heat had burnt into the wall behind him and a lunch box still containing charred rice, a meal a child worker never got to eat. Perhaps I was lucky in the sense that I had just come from Nagasaki, the other Japanese city to have an atomic bomb dropped on it, where I had been to the other atomic bomb museum and therefore had been able to mentally prepare myself for what was to come in Hiroshima. 

One thing that struck me, both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the resilience of the survivors. Surely you would want to give up after so much destruction and death? Apparently not. The reconstruction of both cities was a truly remarkable process and really does go to demonstrate the power of the human spirit. It makes me wonder why we bother with it all though. I was so close to being born in a nuclear age myself now I go back and look at history and it just makes me think: why. Why does the human race do such terrible things to each other? And how do people find the willpower and strength to carry on after such terrible times? On days such as ANZAC Day on the Thursday just gone, we commemorate the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in war.  I feel as though the civilian populations of affected regions deserve the same respect and admiration often reserved for those who "fight for their country". 

But my visit to Hiroshima wasn't all about okonomiyaki and being confronted with the horrors of war. I also had the opportunity to get out of town and head to Miyajima, a wee island in the Inland Sea of Japan, just northwest of Hiroshima Bay. The island is famous for being the site of the Itsukushima Shrine, UNESCO World Heritage Site. During high tide, the ocean washes under the shrine and the gates look as though they have been built in the sea. Why go to Venice when you can go to Miyajima? 

While I was traveling in Japan, I aimed to try at least one  dish for which the region was famous.  Even though it is part of Hiroshima prefecture, Miyajima has its own menu: yakigaki (grilled oysters), anago meshi (conger eel on rice) and momiji manju (baked maple leaf-shaped pastries with various fillings). The momiji manju traditionally only come filled with sweet red bean paste but with tourism and the general westernisation of the Eastern world has resulted in a whole variety of different fillings - apple, cream, custard, almond, strawberry and chocolate, to name a few. I also ate the most amazing sweet potato ice cream while I was on the island, although I'm not sure how traditional that one is. Needless to say, I didn't need much dinner upon my return to the youth hostel. I was pretty much food-ed out by the time I had tried everything I possibly could. Traveling alone means you don't have anyone to share the meals with either! Such a shame ;-) 

Apart from the food that is unique to Miyajima, I found a few other quirky/amazing-for-the-bogan-Aussie things as well: the beautiful red maple leaves, deer and monkeys hanging out in the parks, a shamoji fetish  (a shamoji is a wooden spoon used to serve rice and it wasn't really a fetish, it's just that the monk who invented it supposedly lived on Miyajima) and a troupe of super fit grandmas and grandpas who like to hike up mountains in their spare time. Unfortunately it was an overcast day so I wasn't justly rewarded after I made it to the 535m peak of Mt Misen, but I imagine the view would be quite stunning when the sun makes an appearance. 

Itsukushima Shrine

The famous 'floating' gates of Itsukushima Shrine

A view of the gates from inside the shrine

The process of making a shamoji from a block of wood (from right to left)

The Big Shamoji
Deer in the park next to the island's aquarium 

Deer in the park

Maple leaves littering the trail up Mt Misen

The view from the top of Mt Misen 

Anagomeshi lunch set 

Yakigaki from a street vendor 

Not-so-traditional-but-no-less-incredible sweet potato ice cream

Tools used to create the maple shape of momiji manjus back in the good ol' days
Tough decisions: a selection of the available momiji manju flavours

Since I've started, I think I may as well bore you with some other details of my Japan trip! They will probably come in dribs and drabs, related to the recipes I post... so watch out! Those of you who have been whinging at me for not putting my travel photos up on Facebook, these will be your opportunities to see what I got up to :-P

- Matilda