Sunday, August 4, 2019

Fail to Kale

I am the youngest child in my family. By the time I was old enough to cook my Mum was past the “let us bake together, angel children, never mind the mess” stage and into “get out, get out, are you trying to get burnt”. So I haven't really been taught to cook food basics. This can be an issue when I am faced with standard foods that I don’t care about enough to learn how to cook. I do a mean butter chicken, for example, because butter chicken is delicious but fail every time at making vegetable soup because, ugh, vegetable soup tastes like used socks.

These days I have family of my own to feed - four people and a dog! - so obviously there's only one solution; exploring the wonderful worlds of malnutrition and massive credit card debt simultaneously by ordering takeaway all the time! Hah, but seriously no (as my partner says to me ALL THE DAMN TIME). Most nights I try to put together a home-cooked meal to give the impression that we are a functional family unit and not a near-riot of hangry rodeo clowns held together by a shared mortgage and the promise of yogurt for dessert.

I am super impatient and also have limited time between daycare pick-up and total toddler meltdown so speed and ease are of the essence. I have been looking up a lot of "fast" recipes on the Internet which is always a quick way to cook up a boiling rage. You click on something like "simple fast curry" whatever – expecting, you know, simplicity and speed – and after a carpal-tunnel-inducing level of scrolling past prose and photos you eventually find the actual recipe right at the bloody end. It’s after 5,000 words of (completely unrelated) anecdotes and by the time you find it, it is too late to cook anything and your children have gone to the pub for dinner without you.

Adding to the carpal-twinge factor is the sheer amount of photos involved. Why do three ingredient recipes need 20 pictures? Who takes that many photos while cooking? My gastronomic adventures involve staggering around the kitchen with a screaming toddler on one leg, the dog underneath the other, and demands for attention from the five year old who will set the house on fire if I take my eyes off her for too long. The only reason for twenty photos in my kitchen will be in the insurance claim as evidence it was the childzillas, and not my cooking, that burned the place down.

But anyway, food. One of the reasons I’ve been looking up a lot of recipes is that my fruit and veg co-op box (which I ordered in a fit of optimism, thinking we could be the sort of family actually used a veg box and not our local kebab shop on a daily basis) has delivered what I can only describe as small forest to me.


It turned out that forest was made of kale. It is embarrassing that after ten years of living in Sydney’s most leftie latte-sipping suburbs, I still had to google it. Twice. The first search being “what does kale look like” and the second “how do you do you even eat it, ugh”.

This is definitely the sort of thing you don’t share around my part of Sydney. People would spit their biodynamic eco-friendly hand-reared grass-fed coffee right out at you. I live in suburbs where they not only embrace the eating of “superfoods” like kale and quinoa, but also the naming of their children after them: Saffron, Sage, Kale, Quinoa and Gluten-Free.

On a sidenote, we all know that "superfood" is generally marketing-speak for "lesser known foreign fruit and vegetables that don't always taste great but we can put a huge price mark-up on, because we're not paying the people who grow them a living wage", right? Just checking.

Anyway, kale as a food. Sorry, just trying to get into the waffling spirit of cooking blogs here. Having googled, my number one tip for eating kale is - don't. It’s not worth it. Kale is 80% inedible stalks and 20% disgusting malodorous crimped leaves. It is the man-spreading of vegetables; it arrives, unwanted, to take too much space and fills the air with an unpleasantly organic smell. Unlike man-spreaders, you can at least put kale in your refrigerator but then it is taking up all the space for actual edible food. When you finally do get around to cooking it the first thing you have to do is remove most of it to get at the bits that are marginally more edible.

Seriously, fuck kale. Chuck the whole lot in the green bin and you'll be saving yourself an awful lot of effort. Go buy some broccoli or cabbage or bok choy or any actual edible green instead.


But suppose you have decided not to throw all the kale in the bin. I don't know why you would do this when supermarkets are full of actual bloody food. Maybe, like me, you've been trapped into purchasing it and your Irish famine mentality is preventing you throwing it in the fire or the sea or Mount Doom or wherever is handiest. I'm not judging you; I'm just reminding you that ordering pizza or walking out the door and never coming back is an option. You could also just let the kids set the place on fire. Dinners out, guilt-free, for MONTHS that way.

Maybe you feel you should try it or you really shouldn't waste food. In that case, there's a recipe for kale that I strongly recommend. Hahahahahah nope, just kidding, I would never recommend a recipe with kale as a star ingredient. But in the name of using it up, here is one that will do so and also eliminate any sweet potato hanging around your cupboards taking up the space for perfectly good regular potatoes or better yet, vodka, which is basically fermented potato salad and therefore doubly good for you. Mmm. Probiotic salad in a glass. With a bag of cheese and onion crisps.

I feel I have managed to waffle enough so here is the recipe for a kale and sweet potato curry. Finally. Basically everything in this can be substituted apart from the sweet potato because that is all you can actually taste. A core component of most of the recipes I saw for kale had sweet potato in them, probably because they are one of the only things that can drown out the taste of kale.


Ugh, fuck kale curry

  • Some oil, coconut if you have it
  • An onion
  • Some grated ginger
  • Minced garlic
  • Curry paste (red would be best, or you could make a chicken curry and eat that instead, just saying)
  • A sweet potato
  • Can of coconut milk or cream
  • Some turmeric, cumin and any other spice you like the sound of. Go mad. It's not like you can make kale taste worse. 
  • Ugh-loads of chopped fucking kale
  • Some protein-y pulse-y thing; I used red lentils (soak first). Chickpeas, beans or cashew nuts would probably also be nice.
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and pepper. Let the onions get a bit translucent.
  2. Add the curry paste, give it a minute to heat up and get fragrant.
  3. Add the sweet potato, stir in well, and cook for a bit minutes more.
  4. Add the coconut milk, turmeric, and a pinch of salt and stir. Add water to just about cover the sweet potato and bring to a simmer.
  5. Once simmering, add the protein-y thing.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften the potato.
  7. Once the potatoes are softened, add the kale and lemon juice, and cover. Cook for at least 5 mins, or you can sod off and leave alone in a slow-cooker if you like. I went off for a few hours. The sweet potato etc will break down to mush but the kale DOES NOT GO AWAY because it can't take a bloody hint already.

Serve, salted, with rice/quinoa and the hope that the health and smugness benefits of actually using up your kale will make the dish taste better.

To really get into the whole cooking-bloggery thing, I did intend to take some photos. Unfortunately I only rememberred at the end when the resulting curry was complete and looked like it had been ingested, digested and then barfed back up into the pot. It tasted pretty reasonable, in the end, for all that it looked pre-eaten. You can't really mess up a red curry too much. Not even with kale.

So, eat and enjoy! Or just set the kale on fire and go to the pub. I know what I will be doing.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Published in MX : Jingle Balls - how not to do your Christmas shopping

This piece ran in MX, a daily Australian transport newspaper. Wishing you all a pleasant holiday season and see you in 2015!

Despite the tinsel and sparkly lights and fat bearded men in bright red suits, I find Christmas a sneaky season. One again, December has rolled round and I haven’t even bought my Mum a pressie yet.

Every year, all the magazines advise shopping early and taking advantage of the January sales. I read them, think “what a good idea, I’ll do that” and then forget. So, instead of basking smugly with a glass of wine, I’m gearing up to battle maddened parents and frazzled assistants who have been tasked with finding an intimate present for their bosses partner - or partners.

At the start it's easy to be optimistic and energized - ready to shop and roll, baby. You start thinking big. Wouldn’t it be great if you got everything in one shop? You’d be finished! The Queen of Christmas shopping. Then you can ditch the bags and the mad shoppers and go straight to the pub!

This all seems like a really good idea, but leads to situations like you trying to persuade yourself that your sister would like a socket wrench, or that your Dad would like a sparkly hair band, or that everyone you know would like Liquorland vouchers. Including your eight year old cousin.   

You need to look in a few more shops. Initially, all you can find are inappropriate gifts. You find yourself looking at designer bags, plasma TVs and licensed weaponry. Yes, they’d love it, but you can’t buy it due to cost, size or piddling little legal issues. You have to remind yourself that no one will thank you if you decide to get your ten year old cousin a longbow and real arrows, not even them after they end up hospitalised. The shops are noisy and crowded and full of despairing souls, like hell with Jingle Bells playing in the background. You’ve already wasted a few hours…

Demoralised, you decide to get a few old faithfuls like clothes. You find affordable items that would be perfect if you knew size they take. Is she a twelve or one of those girls who gets insulted when you get past a size ten? The only thing worse than watching your mate trying to squeeze into something two sizes too small is your mate realising that you think she’s a size bigger than what she like to wear.

The next thing you know, you have a size eight in your arms, and you’re looking for the six. You’re having difficulty finding something for your friend, but you have found some adorable things for you. It’s Christmas, after all, and you deserve something nice!

You leave the shop on a high, having spent fifty bucks on another cute top. Then you realise you still don’t have any presents. Your feet hurt. It’s crowded. They’ve got the flaming Mariah Carey Christmas CD on in every shop in town. All she wants for Christmas is you, but all you want is a nice cool drink.

Determined to speed things up, you start really looking. You find the completely appropriate gifts, if you never want anyone to speak to you again. T-shirts that say “I’m with Stupid”. Packs of bath salts and deodorant. A Gutbuster machine. Books called “He’s Just Not That Into You”. Undoubtedly useful and accurate, but you’d like to still be speaking to people on the 26th.

Running out of ideas and time, you end up looking at the huge shiny gift boxes containing such delights as potpourri, candles that smell like a three month old fruit bowl, and fake perfume. If they don’t like the smell, it’s nearly pure alcohol so they can just drink it.

Mmm. Alcohol. You could do with a drink. So could everyone. Might as well just get them a Liquorland voucher, they’ll probably appreciate it.

And if they don’t, you can always drink it for them.



Monday, November 3, 2014

Bitten by the Rottnest Bug

"Turn around really slowly and carefully," my biking partner says as I stoop to put down my helmet. "And look at what's behind you." 

As an Irishwoman in Australia, it's got to be the phrase I least wanted to hear. There are others, including “is that log a crocodile" and “I’ll just put on my budgie smugglers” but in terms of I'm-in-the-place-with-the-most-poisonous-animals-in-the-world-and-they-all-hate-me, this one's got to win. That's it.  My number is up.
 

And I haven't even seen a quokka yet.


I’m blaming the travel tips I have got from every Perthite and tourist who has ever been to WA. As one, they all said I needed to see Rottnest Island. Nicknamed Rotto, the island is just an hour from Fremantle; a stunning environmental refuge with white sand beaches, no cars and the infamous Rottnest quokka. And, because there’re no motor vehicles allowed on the island, it’s pedalling all the way.

We hire bikes to get around the twenty-four kilometre circuit of the island. It's a decade since I've been on one but I am sure it will come back to me like – well, like riding a bike. We pick them up at the jetty. I remember bikes, although this one looks like a re-welded coat hanger.

Brakes.  I remember BRAKES. Why aren't there any brakes on this bloody thing? Why do only discover this after I decide to go for a brisk pedal on a pier? Why am I whizzing along about a foot off the ground on a bike apparently designed for a midget that is scared of heights? The bike appears to be a re-welded coat hanger, my seat is so low that my legs are sticking out to the side at chin level, the chain is making a horrible crunching sound and I'm heading for the end of the jetty and I can't bloody STOP.

One bike swap later, we are on our way. Rotto is stunningly gorgeous but not urban. The sun beams down on narrow roads, unused to heavier traffic than people on bikes. The island is known for its beaches and beauty, and there are signs everywhere about the unique flora and fauna.

Quokkas. Entirely made of SQUEEEEE!
I want to see the animal synonymous with the island, the quokka. Quokkas look like they were designed by a Creator who was worried that koalas and wallabies weren’t cute enough. “Let’s make ‘em tiny. Really small, with fat furry cuddly bodies and little paws that they use to gesture cutely.” Under a foot tall and blessed with tufted ears and cute snuffly little noses, the resident marsupials of the island are meant to be so tame that they’ll graze around your ankles. 

But I need to concentrate on the road. Cycling after a ten year absence turns out to be fun. My balance comes back, and I stop being a danger to stationary objects. One hour later, I am a confident cyclist again. 

Two hours later, I am in agony. Ouch, my bum. Standing aches, sitting hurts and I’d rather sit on a cactus than on that saddle again. We stop to rest and that’s when it happens. I’m going to die by spider bite or snake venom or platypus poisoning and I haven't seen a quokka yet. I mean, how much does this suck?

Incidentally, if you do get bitten, sucking is pointless. What you should actually do is bind the whole limb as tightly as you can, starting at the bite point, and stay calm as you are whisked to hospital with your Aussie friends cheerfully reminding you that “you didn’t want to get bitten by one of those, mate, they’re really poisonous”.
Communing with the locals.
Of course, Rotto being a rural paradise where conservation is the word of the day, there’s no hospital. There’s a twenty four hour ranger service to help the animals, bless their poisonous little faces, should they break their huge venomous fangs. Humans, however, are on their own. The nearest hospital is in Fremantle, twenty kilometres away by sea. And now I have a snake or possibly spider ready to bite my poor unfortunate bum, adding unsightly swelling, puncture marks and death to the various other complaints I currently have about it. 

Bugger. This time I actually am going to die. I start to turn while stepping back really slowly and carefully, aware that no matter what I do, my bulk moving about is probably going to frighten the animal into thinking I’m attacking. 

And I haven’t even seen a …

Yep. It’s a quokka.




Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The bunnies are restless: business names and 5Bunny

Image from FreeFoto.com, creative commons. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
Some of you may have noticed rustling in the bushes and strange noises on Twitter. Don't be alarmed. That's just my new business name, getting ready to emerge.

While as a freelancer I'm lucky in having a distinctive and unusual name, being called Sadhbh comes with one big disadvantage. 

No one can say it*. A small sample of the recent guesses made by people trying to work it out include Saba, Sadvie, Sadhabah, and, of course, “Yo, Irish”. Some resorted to changing my surname as firstname and calling me Warren. Others just stand there, twitching and wide-eyed like rabbit in the headlights, until I put them out of their misery and explain how to pronounce it.

It's a very traditional Irish female name and actually pretty easy to say - like the number five, but with an "s" instead of an "f". It might look like the victim of a tragic consonants shortage, but it trips off the tongue quite easily. Sive.

But for those that don't know this, it's intimidating to call or email, and some clients have told me they were initially put off contacting me. So I've been tossing around the idea of a new business name for my writing work, and have settled on 5Bunny Productions.

Five like Sadhbh, and bunny rabbits live in warrens. Put them together and you have the easy way some people use to remember how to say my name. There will be five bunnies, all writing about different things. I hope – much in the manner of bunnies – to get down to populating the website and bringing in lots of new arrivals in the next few months.

Thanks to Linette and Peter for helping me think through the process, and the many others who offering input and advice, even if that was only checking I didn’t plan to dress as a Playboy Bunny while writing. Work is underway on a website, and a logo, and business cards and all the other things that are so much fun about building a brand (no, really, I mean it) but in the meantime you can still catch me here or tweeting over at @5thBunny.

I, for one, would like to welcome our new leporine overlords. Especially if they'll get on with getting their act together and getting some content up.



* Unless they've met me, are Irish, or preferably both.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Destination wedding: do or don't? Here's how to tell.

Get married in Mauritius. Tie the knot in Tahiti. Have your special day in Fiji, Bali or even the North Pole. There's lots of information on where to have a destination wedding, but remarkably little on who should have one.

Like a groom in a top hat or arriving at the church in a horse-drawn carriage, a destination wedding can be fun but it's not for everyone. So, should you consider one for your own nuptials? I've come up with a remarkably easy way to tell.

Destination weddings have unusual drawbacks.
(First off, a clarification. When I say destination wedding, I mean somewhere that you and most guests will need to fly to, or spend at least a day traveling - if you can get there and back in a few hours, while it may be a bit time-consuming, there's nothing to stop you popping out several times to check details and your guests from heading home to sleep in their own bed if they really want to.)

  1. Sit down with your partner and decide who are the "key people" you feel absolutely have to be there for it to be the day you want. Ask yourself if these people could, assuming all does well, realistically afford both the cash and the time off. If not, the idea is dead in the water before it starts. 
  2. Still interested? Once you both have these guests squared out, ask yourselves one simple question to find out if tying the knot in a far-away paradise is your perfect day or an accident waiting to happen.
  3. Here goes: do you or your partner believe that "if our friends and family really love us, they'll make it there anyway somehow"?
If you answer is "yes", stop considering a destination wedding right now. 

I can't put this strongly enough; if you can't give your family and friends the complete and ungrudging freedom to say no, or to say yes and then have to change their mind due to money/illness/unavoidable issues, then you shouldn't have a destination wedding. Unless you can take a big deep breath and say, "I would be disappointed, but would get over it, and would still feel the same way about them after", don't even consider it.

Real life happens. People get ill. Employers refuse leave. Finances fail. With all the good will in the world, making it to your wedding simply may not be possible for some people no matter how much they want to. And if you can't smile, and tell them you understand and really mean it, you are setting your wedding and your relationships up to fail.

It's not fair on your friends and family, and you stand a high chance of being made miserable on the day looking at gaps where there should be people you love. Don't do it to yourself, your partner, and your loved ones.
    Much like this pic, our wedding was perfect apart from some teeny details.
    Practically perfect in every way -
    our wedding in Fiji.
    Full disclosure: we got married in 2012 in Fiji. I am Irish, my partner is Australian, and our wedding location was inconvenient for everyone. We were delighted with the day, and with the place we picked (which we'd previously visited), but it was a long and rocky road to get from start to finish and the hardest obstacle to deal with was guests who couldn't be there. 

    Out of 50 or so invitees, 10 said they couldn't make it immediately (no dramas, as many of them were in Ireland and I had guessed the trip would be too far and too expensive). Another 6 or so wanted to come but cancelled in the months leading up to the event, and 3 cancelled in the last three months, one after we had lost the deposit on their accommodation. 4 nearly couldn't come due to last minute dramas, and one key family member who had agreed to come was taking about backing out until a few months in advance. One was horribly ill on the day and another nearly got concussed by a falling coconut.

    We invited 50 people. 27 made it. And you know what? Each and every one of them could make it there was a wonderful gift from them to us, and each and every one that didn't are still as firmly our friends. Except perhaps the one who nearly got brained by a falling coconut.



    Still considering a destination wedding and have a question for someone who's been there, done that, and forgot to pack the t-shirt? Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing a series of blog posts on destination weddings so feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you want to know.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Showing Off WA's Little Creatures

    This beer piece was written for Perth tourist guide, PerthWalkabout, when I was still living in Perth and could pop to the Little Creatures brewery whenever I wanted. I miss those days sometimes...

    Little Creatures has been in the news recently as it has been taken over by Lion, who brew and distribute other Australian beers including Tooheys, XXXX, Hahn and James Boag. Will the Little Creatures thrive in Lions stable? Only time, and lots of taste-testing, will tell.

    If you’ve ever taken time out on holidays to send a postcard home just to make people jealous, you’ll understand the appeal of the Little Creatures Brewery.

    Just 30 minutes drive from Perth, the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle is one of those places that you take out of state visitors to just so you can show off how wonderful life is in WA. You lead them into the brewery, and gesture at the beer hall and the sun-drenched decking with its glorious ocean backdrop in a dismissive way as their jaw drops. 

    Image courtesy of Little Creatures Brewing.
    “What, this little old place?” you say nonchalantly as the visitors turn first green from envy and then slightly pink from sitting out at the benches in the warm afternoon sun. And that’s before they’ve even had a beer.

    The name "Little Creatures" does not refer to some gang of wonderful beer-brewing elves who make magical beer, no matter what Perthites might tell you after your fourth glass. It was inspired by a song lyric from the Talking Heads album called Little Creatures and refers to the live yeast cells that turn the sugars in malt wort into alcohol. The brewery is right on the water, built on the shell of an old boat yard in Fremantle (which had also been as a crocodile farm) and was opened in the summer of 2000/2001.


    It became an instant favourite and has turned a lot of heads since then. They have won a number of Australian International Beer Awards, including Champion International Brewery and Champion Australasian Brewery in 2002, and the American style Pale Ale has picked up several accolades of its own, including Champion Ale (2002, 2007) and Champion Bottled Ale (2001). If you’re looking to make your visitors even more jealous, let them try a glass of this crisp citrus-y and slightly bitter beer. It’s preservative and additive free, so you can drink deep of this lager without worrying (too much) about a sore head in the morning.

    For those of you who aren’t lager fans my Perth friend insists that their amber ale, Rogers, is the only way to go. Being called Roger, I think he may be just a little biased but there is no doubt that it’s a darn fine tipple whatever you call it. Light with a citrus hint at first, it changes mid-taste to a deliciously nutty brew with a hint of caramel that is still clean and easy to drink. Perhaps a little too easy to drink. It’s not named after my mate Roger but two other local brewers - Roger Bailey and Roger Bussell - and it’s an excellent tribute tastefully done.


    Of course, it’s not just about the beer. (It’s not?) The brewery also does some truly excellent food, including some really excellent pizzas that set off the beers (back to the beers again, sorry) wonderfully. Their food is delicious – they’ve also opened a dining hall in Melbourne so you can sample a taste of it there, and are also building another brewery in Geelong, and their beer is available all over the country.

    But only WA is lucky enough to have the full brewery experience available right on their doorstep, so we can go there whenever we want. Don’t forget to remind visitors about that. Not that you're trying to rub it in or anything.

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Feral-ly Delicious - The Best Breweries in WA



    At one Australian company I worked for, we needed to buy the perfect gift for a big client. The Managing Director had a great idea - we would buy them a six-pack of Swan lager, which the client loved. The only issues were:
    1. we were in Sydney;
    2. the beer was in Perth, 4000 miles away (same distance as London to Tehran for the sake of comparison); and
    3. the visitor was German, and now safely at home with his bratwurst and weiƟbier.
    Feral Sunset, from Flickr/Anthony Georgeff
    We couldn't find a drop of Swan in Sydney and due to various licensing laws you can't just post alcohol from WA to New South Wales. We had to bribe a member of our staff who was in Perth - on holidays - to take a cab from Perth airport and buy some, and bring it in their clicking hand-luggage on the plane.

    So, between the cost of the beer (plus another six pack for the Director, who was using this as an excuse to get some himself), the taxi fares, a small bribe for the buyer (which was also a six-pack of Swan lager), and the secure wrapping and courier to Europe, I reckon those bottles came in at around $25 a pop each. Expensive, but - given the delighted reaction from the German when he received them - worth it.

    This round-about story is my way of sharing with you a simple truth – everyone knows that Western Australia does some of the planet's best beers. The Germans are no slouches in this area themselves, and they recognise a great brew when they drink it (or indeed, wrapped in approximately 40 square kilometres of bubble wrap). If you make it to WA, you have access to the fruits of some of Australia’s best breweries. It would be a crime not to partake in a tipple or two.

    Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

    Everyone knows about the big guns, such as Little Creatures and the Old Brewery, but also deserving of a mention – and multiple visits - is Feral Brewing in the Swan Valley, which brings both dry Aussie wit (its slogan is “undomesticated but sophisticated”) and a wide variety of excellent beers to the market.

    My favourites are the Hop Hog, an American-style IPA with strong and sharp beer with a dry finish, or the Belgian style Feral White, which comes laced with coriander and orange peel. Fantapants is another winner, and not just because I'm a wannabe redhead, but because the contrast between the initial sweetness and lingering sharpness has you going back asking, “Did I really taste that?” right until the bottom of the glass. 

    Drivers can enjoy a glass of the Mild Child, which weighing at just 3.5% alcohol by volume, and would be well advised to steer clear of the English-style barleywine Razorback and the jet black Russian Imperial Stout called Boris, which at 10.0% and 11.5% respectively will have you barred from your car.

    You don’t have to drive to the brewery, of course, as you can catch the ferals at many pubs and bottle shops in both Perth and further afield, including in NSW. But really, why pass up a perfectly good excuse to go there?


    This was originally written for WA site, Perthwalkabout, but I worried you people might not be drinking enough beer so here you go. :D