activated nuts

Activated nuts. What’s the deal? And are they just another ploy to hike up the price. Because I am telling you, free range organic grass fed activated almonds. They are worth their weight in gold. Gold, I tell you. 

But. Apart from confronting the public with a four syllable past participle adjective, why is an activated nut any more flash than an inactivated, or we may like to use the term pre-activated, nut?
According to the activated nuts advocates, as great as raw nuts are for us nutritionally, they apparently contain certain phytochemicals that prevent is from getting the full benefits of their essential ingredient-ness: vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, fibre and protein. They taunt us with the possibility of feeling goodness course through our veins without actually allowing us the pleasure of it. They give, those little nuts, and yet they also take away. 
Enter activation. Soaking the little nuts for 24 hours in water and a little salt will start the germination process, thus the growth cycle of the nut, and in so doing, denatures the phytochemical party poopers. 
Nuts for Life…yes, this is an actual organisation which represents the Australian tree nut industry and very carefully thought about their name…are fairly sceptical of all the hype. They say there’s little or no research which proves that activation improves digestibility or nutrition in a nut. 
Activating a nut is like sprouting a grain. It converts some of the starch into a simpler sugar, and some of the protein into a simpler amino acid. 
In a world where we long for the simpler things in life, perhaps an activated nut is the answer. 
And perhaps it is not. 
The choice is yours. 


spatial awareness

Today I had to learn how to drive the school mini-bus and be assessed by an RACV instructor.

When they say mini, it really does not feel that mini to me. It goes a long way back.

So. Me in assessment-type situations. My amygdala combined with my pre-frontal cortex both send distress signals to my hypothalamus, which then goes into some kind of frenzy at the perceived threat of failure and I believe it very elegantly shuts down, rendering all common sense null and void.

This is not so good when driving a long mini-bus and pretending that you have students in the back. Although possibly this scenario is much better than if I had actually had students in the back.

First step to hypothalamus shutdown: step up into the high driver’s seat in front of two colleagues, bang first knee on entry, shut second leg in the door as it swings shut. I know, how is this manoeuvre even possible? Don’t ask me, but I do have the bruises.

Next, struggle to locate which are side are the indicators vs window wipers on…yes, yes, I have a French car, I’m a French teacher…I knew my clichéd lifestyle would get me in the end… also struggle to locate brake and accelerator…where is the clutch, oh ok it’s automatic…and what do they mean, press button to release handbrake? What button?? Reddening cheeks, breathing a little faster. And I haven’t even turned the key. Do I need to adjust the mirror? Yes, probably. What about the seat? OK. Turn key. Did I properly check the blindspots? The van is extra long, you know? Breathing. Now, turn into this narrow street with parked cars on either side. How do you feel about reversing into a driveway and turning the van around? Um what? How do I feel? I feel like No…? Apparently an option is indeed no, and allowing a colleague to reverse the minibus if it will ensure the safety of the students is a good choice. I think if I still have students actually in the van with me, safety is not a word they are going to be using. So No, may be an option but furious scribbling on the assessment page does slightly suggest otherwise. Ok. Back out on wider roads. Possibly a good idea to indicate before changing lanes, not as you are changing lanes. Yes. Of course. And, did you just fail to give way to a person turning left when you were turning right into the same road? Ummm. Yes. Is that a thing? Did I just break a rule? Because you see the rules are different in New Zealand…voice tapering off to very small voice as hypothalamus-impaired brain doesn’t want to, and yet must acknowledge that I have been a) driving around in Melbourne for three years and b) they actually changed that rule in New Zealand to align with everywhere else in the world. Because it’s a stupid rule that makes no sense. To the whole world except me. Apparently.

Time to let someone else drive. Relief floods my body as a burst dam floods a parched desert. Or something.

But the pop quiz does not stop for Jo. Oh no. On the Freeway, luckily not driving or having to change lanes and relive the whole indicating vs window wiper vs time between indicating and moving debacle…Jo, what would you be looking for when you drive under an overpass? Picture rabbit in headlights, stricken-type look, lots of blinking. What’s the correct answer? Um. In winter, there’s more shade, so um is there more potential for ice? No? The overpass might collapse? Also no? Oh right, someone might throw something off the overpass onto the vehicle. Ten people died last year because of that very action. Note to self, be more cynical, trust no one, expect the worst. Jo: where are your tyres positioned on the road when there are tram tracks. Um. Not on the tram tracks? Well…yes, but to the right or to the left? Again, is that a thing? We don’t have tram tracks in New Zealand…small tapering off voice.

I have won myself and my impaired hypothalamus an extra hour and half in the mini-bus with the RACV instructor and I am probably lucky I still have my licence.

Moral of the story: if you hear that I am going to be driving somewhere, perhaps take public transport. And do not put me in any kind of situation where you are asking me hard questions or watching how I do something. I am not very good with practical life stuff. I am an academic. But the kind of academic who needs time to think about things and write them down, not a sitting exams type.

Look, they didn’t even have cars in Medieval France…


Named after its owner and head chef, Shu restaurant provides a modern take on Sichuan cuisine and dining. Shu Liu is originally from Chengdu, the provincial capital of the Sichuan province. With a background in fashion and a love of cooking for his friends, Shu is not classically trained, but combines his adopted city’s range of good quality and often organic produce with his mother’s recipes and his own flair to produce exceptionally clean and fragrant flavours.

There is an à la carte menu, but much better to just go with the dégustation menu and allow Shu and the team to create a feast based on the daily procured vegetables, meat and fish. For $45, you get an array of little palate cleansers and refreshing salads and larger dishes packed full of chilli and Sichuan spice.

 Organic beef dumplings with chilli sauce.

 The above photo ended up a lot more phallic-looking than I had intended…flathead cakes with two dressings.

 Thin slices of peppered beef with kale.

 Eggplant rolls with ground cashews.

Succulent chicken wings and tiny diced vegetables with spice in an endive leaf.

And then a tofu and fresh broad bean salad.

Finally a lamb and fennel dish. Smoky and rich.

All in an industrial and psychedelically-lit space. Shu was a surprise to me, from the fit-out to the flavours. Soooo good.

cooking tea

Last night I got a train and a tram and crossed the river from North to South and hopped off at Middle Park. Which is not the same thing as Middle Earth at all, but it does exist.
The Middle Park Hotel was hosting a dinner showcasing the outstanding food, wine and produce from the greater region Daylesford.
Annie Smithers, and I’m going to say, doyenne of growing and cooking good food, joined forces with Michael Dhillon of Bindi Wines in the Macedon Ranges.
Annie trained under Stephanie Alexander, whose uncompromising dedication to good food has shaped her life and changed Australia’s eating habits. Author of fourteen books, chef and owner of two renowned Melbourne restaurants and founder of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden programme in schools, Stephanie Alexander was the perfect mentor for Annie Smithers. After working in a number of top Melbourne restaurants, Annie opened her own place in Kyneton, Victoria, in 2005. Last year, she handed that over to new owners and moved down the road to Trentham to cook out of a tiny restaurant and to Malmesbury where she grows the vegetables and fruit she cooks with.
Annie is an extremely modest and appreciative chef. She said she had dragged herself out of the mud of Malmesbury to come to Middle Park to cook, but that she hadn’t been the only one cooking  the dinner. She described her night as working with a beautiful team of men, which she is not used to because she cooks on her own. She thanked the Middle Park Hotel for inviting her and Michael to come down and cook tea. 
Cooking tea is what she says she does.
Annie describes her food style as one that she has moved to after many years in the restaurant industry. Thirty years of being on the stove, in fact. An awfully long time, she reflects. She has done a lot of restaurant cooking and about 5 years ago started gardening to grow produce for the restaurant, which has changed her world in an extraordinary and very beautiful way. She feels as though she has been taken back to the very roots of classic provincial European cooking; food that’s based on beautiful produce, good ethics, good farming practices, good animal husbandry, all the things she is really passionate about. It’s food that is, and here, she pauses to find the right word for her food…it’s dinner, it’s tea. It’s not fussed with, it’s not ramped up. It’s something that’s comfortable. It’s something that’s convivial and it’s something to share with friends and family. And in the current world of food where there’s a lot of extraordinary performance art, good old-fashioned dinner still has its place.
One of the great things about what Annie does is the fact that she grows about 90% of the fruit and vegetables used in her restaurant. So she knows everything she cooks with from a seed right through to the finished product. This creates a level of respect, the appreciation of how hard it is to grow food. But there is also a sense of how easy it is. And anyone, anywhere, whether they have a window box or they have a bit of dirt in their backyard can know the joy and pride of putting something in the ground and seeing it all the way through to the dinner plate.
Matching food to wine or wine to food? For Annie, Michael’s wines are extraordinary. She describes them as having a complexity and a love that is unmatched in the region. She recounts ringing him and asking what he imagines might go with each of his wines. He gave her a bit of a rough idea and they took it from there. Good food can stand alone and good wine can stand alone, but when the two of them are matched carefully and lovingly together, it really is one of the great things in the world.
When asked about a must-have dish at Trentham restaurant, Annie couldn’t answer that. The menu changes every week and it’s whatever is on on the day. It’s a tiny little venture. Annie goes out there on a Thursday morning and she sees what she has and says that hopefully she has enough it to pull it together and make something beautiful.
If last night’s dinner was anything to go by, I imagine she does.
The Dinner
Smoked Ocean Trout, beetroot, apple and manglewurzel salad
2011 Bindi Composition Chardonnay
Roasted Hapuku, Jerusalem artichoke purée, prosciutto
2011 Bindi Quartz Chardonnay
Quail, white polenta, Roquefort, pear
2013 Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir
2011 Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir
Braised and grilled lamb shoulder, roasted garlic
2009 Bindi Kaye Pinot Noir
Barossa valley Cheese Company – “La Dame”
2011 and 2012 Bindi Pyrette Shiraz

what i thought about today

This morning as I was walking around in the crisp autumn day, I looked up to see a proposal in the sky. It made me smile. It’s a grand alternative to going down on one knee. And I wondered whether Caroline had seen the fluffy white question and how the person who had paid the signwriter had orchestrated the whole thing. And did she say yes? 
Then I walked a bit further and just happened to look up and see the completion of a heart. I felt lucky to have thought to look up at the right time as the plane made its final stroke. Because the expression of love in the sky dissipated almost as soon as it was made.
That’s what can happen with expressions of love. They are made and they mean something and then they are gone. And the time in between can vary. But just because they are gone does not mean they didn’t happen. I have evidence in the above photo that someone of a romantic and extravagant nature loves Caroline. The fact that two minutes after the statement was made, there was nothing, except my photo to prove it, is a moot point.
People love. They make statements about love. They mean it. Then sometimes they don’t mean it any more. Or they still mean it but they just don’t say it all the time. Or they have a different way of saying it to how we might say it or how we might need them to say it. 
The expression of love, whatever its form and duration, always contains beauty and golden-ness and soul-filling wonder.
Often, when we see only the space left once the expression fades, the idea of love can also contain fear and apprehension and a certain wariness. The past is a story we tell ourselves. And we don’t always tell it right.

 “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” Maya Angelou

sometimes it just is what it is

Sometimes we…I…make too much of things.

I’m trying to learn from my niece and nephew.

It’s a grey day with the threat of rain, and you may well be wearing canvas shoes which could get wet, but just ride your scooter through puddles anyway. Because it’s fun. And it feels good. And shoes can dry.

Or spend 3 hours looming, like my 6 year old nephew and create a three metre multi-coloured chain. Who knows what you might use it for, but that’s not the point. It’s the joy of the idea, the creating, and the spectacular end product, which, in this case, I am sure, surpassed his wildest dreams. And then it’s sharing that with the people you love.