Sunday, August 28, 2011

Social Media for Scientists - Science Under Siege

Dr Rachael Dunlop speaking at Social Media for Scientists (Photo: John Carney, with permission)
@andanin: Weeeee, #socmedsci tomorrow! How am I supposed to sleep? Far too excited! #nerd
Yes, Thursday night I was a hyper little bunny, and by the time midday Friday rolled around, I was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement. I was on my way to the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne to attend one of the most highly anticipated events on my calendar, a seminar on the use of social media for the promotion and communication of science. The speakers were all people whom I hugely respect, following their online personas religiously. Due to train timetabling, I arrived rather early, and ended up having to seek out coffee while waiting, in hindsight perhaps not a wise move in my already supercharged state. Incidentally, the guys at Royal Fig Cafe are lovely. After half an hour catching up on tweetdeck (sans internet connection), it was 3.42pm, and time to get amongst it!

What follows is a bit of a mash-up between what went on at the seminar, my own thoughts, and the twitter conversation both during and after. It's long, very long. Many of the tweets and comments by the panel are no longer in chronological order, as I've tried to group things into the conversation points they are relevant to. Note: If you feel I have quoted you incorrectly, or misrepresented your view, please let me know. I WILL fix it. Some excess hashtags & @'s have been removed to allow for ease of reading.
@embws Sitting w scientists & communicators ready to hear exciting talk of how we can embrace social media to tell others about our work
@MissPezaro I'm watching to encourage scientists to jump on board, share their work & engage with us. We want to learn from you!
The excitement was palpable in the filled-to-capacity theatre, with its dimmed lights, microphone checks, powerpoint presentation splashed across the front wall. From the outset, you could tell this was no usual scientific seminar, as everyone pulled out their phones, laptops, and assorted other nerdy paraphernalia. Discussion was initially hushed, as people quietly confessed to those sitting next to them the extent of their social media addiction, conversation quickly buoyed as each became assured of the knowledge that in this room, they were by no means alone. I was wired, my hands shaking, knots in my stomach. I could hardly hold my pen, almost out of place at this type of forum, but the only option given my inability to type well when hyperactive. I was starting to regret that latte. A bit of shuffling to incorporate the late-commers into our ranks, and Dr Krystal Evans called the room to order. Many know her simply as @dr_krystal, the bright twitter personality who came to the attention of the wider science community as a passionate advocate during the baptism-of-fire that was the "Discoveries Need Dollars" campaign. It is hard to believe that the rally was only 5 months ago. There's short burst of laughter at the realisation that we're actually being encouraged to use twitter (and any other social media platform we desire, so long as all devices are on silent) during the event. Yes folks, for the first time ever, people were ENCOURAGED to use their phone during a seminar.

I'll just let that sink in for a moment.

Unfortunately, not long before this came up, I'd made the sad discovery that there was no wifi in the theatre, and therefore I couldn't actually contribute to the online conversation. My disappointment was mercifully short lived, as Dr Evans introduced the afternoon's invited speaker, Dr Rachael Dunlop. First, let me say, this woman is an inspiration. Tweeting as @DrRachie, Dr Dunlop won the 2010 Shortie award for Health, is a brilliant science communicator, who has spoken on panels all over the place (Including Dragoncon, EPIC!), teaches science to kids through the "Mystery Investigators" program, is an important part of Australian Skeptics (including their podcast), blogs wonderfully, is the Research & Communications Officer for HRI, and somehow still finds time to pursue research in the area of environmental triggers of motor-neuron disease. I'm sure I've left stuff out, but it give you an idea of how prolific Dr Dunlop is.

Science Under Siege
Anyone who essentially kicks off a seminar with a PhD Comic about the science news cycle is a legend. It is also quite fitting to what we see unfold as scientists. We discover a possible link between two things, publish a paper about it, and go back to the lab to do more research. Meanwhile, the uni's PR machine picks it up, tweeks it slightly for a press release, and sends it off to the media. The media, as we all know, loves a headline, and "A causes B" sounds much more impressive, and sells more copies, than "A may or may not cause B, holding C to be true". The little changes snowball, and eventually the scientist who wrote the original paper is left beating their head against the wall, wondering how their work came to be heralded by doomsayers as the final sign of the upcoming apocalypse.

There is no better example of this miscommunication or misuse of science than the recent GM wheat 'scandal', and subsequent raid of CSIRO Canberra's test crops by GreenPeace activists in July. I've no doubt several hearts jumped on seeing Tony Jones at the start of the news clip, only to be disappointed that it was from Lateline, and not QandA. The attitude of GreenPeace in the days after the attack can be summed up as "We don't understand it, so we'll destroy it". A very good point was raised by an audience member later that GreenPeace were very familiar with the techniques used, but as they don't agree with the use of the technology, they took the theatrical route.

So, in light of these glaring gaps between scientists and the public (or groups that claim to support the public's best interests), what are we up against? Several key factors were raised here. The first was public apathy and a lack of science literacy in Australia. This was quite obvious during the #protectresearch campaign, when threats were made by federal government to slash NHMRC funding. Some of the comments that came out said that we should have come up for a cure for cancer already, and as we hadn't, why keep pouring in funding? Another asked why scientists need so much public funding, as they're all driving around in fancy, expensive cars. This got a few giggles out of the crowd, as so many of us ride pushbikes rather than drive, and those that do have cars certainly don't have flash expensive ones. I blame CSI.
@dr_krystal Public misunderstanding of science: Scientists are all driving around in expensive cars...
@brainsmatter Do scientists all drive in expensive cars and are in cahoots? Umm ... No
Other problems are internal to science. The current academic system does not reward outreach or communication outside of of journals, as evidenced by immense pressure to publish, or as we call it in our lab "Publish or perish". Too much involvement in communication and outreach can be viewed with suspicion by our peers, who may perceive such behaviour as being "unable to handle 'real' science". Karl Saigon is a good example of this, when he was denied membership of National Academy of Sciences because his involvement in media made him unpopular with other scientists. Finally, we also have to contend with the "critics" of science, with their anti-science rhetoric - Alan Jones with his constant attacks on scientists, Lord Monckton of climate denying infamy, and even our elected representatives, such as Peter Phelps of the NSW Govt, who likened scientists to Nazis (Godwin's Law, DRINK!). Recent foibles by Tony Abbott and co were not mentioned, though serve to further highlight the issue. And that is to say nothing of the damage being perpetrated by the Australian Vaccination Network and Nimrod Weiner!
@brainsmatter Politicians continue 2 misuse data 2 suit political ends-ensure that the public has a reasonable understanding of the real facts

So how to we, as scientists, stand up for ourselves? How do we break the siege? Two recent campaigns have sprung from attacks on scientists. The first, and perhaps most interesting, as the quickly mobilised #protectresearch "Discoveries Need Dollars" campaign. In a matter of days, scientists had organised rallies across the country, were lobbying politicians, and were taking their work to the world. Public support was huge, but and ultimately the campaign was successful: the federal government backed down from cuts to funding for health research. More recently, the "Respect the Science" campaign has been started, largely in response to threats made against climate scientists in the lead-up and wake-of the carbon tax announcement. But why did we need these campaigns in the first place? The answer is some what simple to identify, but much harder to address: Scientists simply are not engaging in communication of their work to the general population. A personal observation, since these campaigns have started, I've noticed an increase in scientists online talking about their work and why it's important. It has been, in my opinion, the biggest success of either campaign: it has shaken the scientists up, and gotten us out and talking to the people.

And our best medium for this? The interwebz of course! Dr Rachael gave us a stack of stats, and they are awesome. Pay attention, cause these are the one's you'll want to take to your supervisor to get them to shift their butt online! Consider for a moment that Australia has a population of around 22,660,000. 12 million of us are on Facebook, with around 10 million checking their account daily (Matt was shocked by this stat when Dr Rachael was talking to him later that night, non-believer!). 9.8 million are on YouTube (Do a search for lab/science/nerd/geek remixes, gold!). 1.8 million are on twitter, with a similar number utilising WordPress as their blogging platform. Youtube and Facebook are amoung the most accessed pages in Australia. All these people already engage in social media, so why can't we engage them through it? At the moment, it is a captive audience of untapped potential! Interestingly, it was mentioned that twitter has a slightly older demographic compared to Facebook, and Google was our most used search engine by a ridiculously significant margin (86% market share!).
@dr_krystal Who's using social media in Aust? 1.8 million on Twitter, 10 million on Facebook - a captive audience for science?
@dr_krystal  Australian use of social media statistics from @DrRachie here
Also check out Hitwise Australia for great stats on which websites we browse
So, how are we using our time on the internet? Apparently, we're a tiny bit obsessed with our health, with 1 in 2 using the internet to self-diagnose medical conditions (We've come a long way since my great-grandmother pestering my doctor grandfather about the her latest self-diagnosis courtesy of General Hospital). Two thirds use the internet to investigate medications. However, most will only read the first page of search results (~10 entries), which are often inaccurate (they also change, based on profiling of your previous searches). Seriously, go check out Dr Google, type in a random symptom, and see how deadly your condition is. After playing with that for 5 mins, you won't be at all shocked by this next statistic...
@brainsmatter 71% of self diagnosis search results on google are wrong
@dr_krystal Australian use of internet for health info from @DrRachie talk here
@cpezaro I'd love to be able to receive credible medical advice by #SocMedSci!!
@dr_krystal Do scientists have a responsibility to shift the balance of information available on the internet? To counter-pseudoscience?
@_vTg_ On this point, I think any scientist complaining about errors in Wikipedia should make he effort to correct them.

This is all fine and well, but how can we harness this power for good, rather than evil? Enter Prof Simon Chapman (@simonchapman6), from University of Sydney, with some very wise words: "I just can't see the point of doing research if no one is going to read it". He tested the impact of social media on the dissemination of information based on downloads (not peer reviewed). He had previously sold 200 copies of a particular book. After tweeting about it, it was downloaded 7,000 times. A paper on competing interests? 242 hits. Paper on peer-review refusal? 800+ downloads. My blog gets <40 hits a week, I'm more than impressed by his numbers. Then there's Paul Knoepfler, a stem-cell biologist and prostate cancer survivor, who wrote for the Nature News blog (may require registration) earlier this year on the growing acceptance of blogging as a medium for science communication. I won't spoil the read for you, but his message can be boiled down by his final statement: "Even if you choose not to blog, you can certainly expect that your papers and ideas will increasingly be blogged about. So there it is — blog or be blogged."
@dr_krystal How to increase the readership of your research papers? Put them online & tweet about it. Start a blog and write about it.

Can one person's blog really be the game changer though? Yes, it can. A paper was released in the International Journal of Oncology claiming that homeopathy was an effective treatment for breast cancer. Have a read, and tell me what's wrong with that picture. Dr Rachael got hold of it, and effectively ripped it to pieces, exposing it for the terrible piece of science it was. One of the authors even distanced herself from the paper, saying she had requested not to be a listed author. The original article was tabled in the UK parliament in support of homeopathy funding, a call went out from another MP who thought it was suspicious, Dr Rachael's blogged criticism was provided, and the motion was subsequently rejected. Win for common sense!
@embws Sensational & bad science can slip thru peer review & get media attention. eg. Homeopathy study published in Int j oncology '10. Dr Rachie exposed lack of statistics & issue w toxic solvent in homeopathy study through twitter

Finally, Dr Rachael left us with an excerpt of an interview with Prof Peter Doherty, in which he reiterates the need for scientists to communicate with the community through any means available, and that social media like blogs and podcasts are important for this. We cannot rely on traditional media in Australia, especially when several providers have vested interest in seeing some ideas shot down (i.e. climate change). With advent of digital media, print media is becoming obsolete, and 'new' media, such as is the way forward. Advice from a Nobel Laureate? I'll take it!
@embws Prof Peter Doherty urges us to get involved in because we can't rely on print media to get it right
Dr Rachael Dunlop was a wonderful speaker, beautifully engaging, and obviously passionate. Her contribution to science communication is inspiring, and her seminar was thought provoking in the extreme. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend listening to her speak, reading her blogs, and following her on Twitter. She's also fantastically approachable, and great for a chat. Legendary.

Coming Next: Social Media for Scientists Part II - The Panel Discussion.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cottage Pie à la Soup-Mix

Today’s recipe is real clean-out-the-cupboard material. I have rows of jars full of dried legumes, peas, and seeds, and brown paper bags of potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and garlic. Even though the solstice has passed, and the days are getting longer, it’s still pretty cold hereabouts, and I’m still all about the comfort food. Before the weekend, I’d soaked a heap of my pulses, and strung them up to sprout for a few days, and it was high time they were used. Originally, this was a big-ass stuff-up. The plan was lentil burgers. Unfortunately, after cooking and mashing the potato base, I added them straight to the still-raw pulse mix. Rather than despair, I threw it all into a baking dish, and aimed for potato bake. The result was more like cottage pie, and it was delicious! This recipe is from the second attempt, which was just as good, if better planned!
Declarations: Today’s post structure inspired by @dr_krystal. If you’re on twitter, she’s the science bomb!

•    4-6 large potatoes, peeled & roughly chopped
•    1 onion, finely diced
•    Two cloves garlic, finely chopped
•    1 ½ cups soaked & sprouted soup mix (Pearl barley, lentils, split peas)
•    1 cup soaked & sprouted chickpeas
•    1 ¼ cup full-cream milk or alt-milk
•    2 tablespoons gluten-free plain flour
•    1 tablespoon butter
•    A Pinch Garam masala spice blend (or any combination of your favourite spices)
•    A Pinch of chilli powder
•    ½ - 1 cup grated cheese (I used a combination of tasty + pecorino)
•    Salt & Pepper to taste

Pre-heat your oven to 180C, and lightly grease a baking dish big enough to hold all that delicious goodness!
Place the potatoes into a large pot of cold water, and bring to the boil over medium-to-high heat. Allow the potatoes to boil until par-cooked/al dente, then strain, and roughly mash (lumps are ok!). Set aside ¼ of the mash to top the pie later.
In a large bowl, combine the soup mix, chickpeas, potato, onion, garlic, and spices. Tip it into your pre-greased dish. In a small bowl, whisk your flour into the milk, and pour over the top of the lentil mix. If you’re lazy (or cleaning out the cupboard!), grab a packet of that instant potato-bake stuff, like Maggi potato-bake mix, mix it up, and pour it over. If you want it super cheesy, sprinkle a bit of your cheese over the top now! Place your baking dish in the oven and bake, giving it a good mix occasionally, until the lentils and chickpeas are al dente. Pull out of the oven, evenly spread the last of the mashed potato in an even layer, and top with your grated cheese. Replace in the oven, and cook until the cheese is melted and golden-brown.
Serve hot, with a side of steamed broccoli/asparagus/, or a tasty salad.

Results & Discussion
This is a recipie that may require a bit of tweeking if you try it at home. I’ve not made this three times. The first two, at home, worked exactly how I wanted them, with the lentils and chickpeas developing a beautiful, meaty flavor, despite complete lack of meat. However, when I made it the third time, in someone else’s kitchen, no luck. I’m not sure if it was the amount of soaking/sprouting, the oven, or the other ingredients. Future studies are required to resolve this dilemma.
Also, in case anyone is wondering, I soak and sprout a lot of my grains, pulses, etc. I’ll admit, no references, it’s just something I’ve picked up through word of mouth, and some experimentation. Germination activates/deactivates some enzymes, whist the soaking is supposed to aid digestion, and remove toxins from things like beans. Basically, I place the dried peas/grains/seeds/etc. in a bowl, and cover with cold clean water, which is drained, rinsed, and changed every 6-8 hours for approx. 24 hours. They are then placed into a plain, homemade, muslin/cheesecloth bag, and strung up in a warm place (I use our laundry so they’re out of the way) for a few days in order for them to germinate. I also give them an additional rinse in clean cold water each morning and evening to keep them moist. When the sprouts have grown to your desired length (I usually leave them to 1cm), eat them in whatever manner takes your fancy.

My kitchen cupboards!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I know cupcakes are all the rage at the moment, but can you blame them? Sweet, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth morsels. One of my favourites is Red Velvet -  beautiful chocolate and buttermilk flavours, with a natural reddish tinge, and a delicious cream cheese icing. The reddish colour of the cake comes from a reaction between the low-refined cocoa and the acid in the buttermilk, so no food colouring needed! I’ve heard of people using all sorts to get a really deep red, food colour, beet juice, cranberry juice, but really, I think they’re beautiful as is. The time I made these, I got a bit carried away, as we were having people over for dinner, so I garnished with a few fresh blueberries and strawberries, which added a nice tart element, which cut through some of the sweet of the sugary icing. A huge hit with the family, and they go great when made with gluten-free flour.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
•    2 ½ cups plain flour
•    1tsp baking powder
•    Pinch salt
•    2 tbsp low-refined cocoa
•    ½ cup butter
•    2 eggs
•    1 tsp vanilla essence
•    1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 20ml apple cider vinegar)
•    1tsp white or apple cider vinegar
•    1tsp baking soda

Preheat your oven to 180C, and line a cupcake tray with papers.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. In a large, separate bowl, cream together the sugar and butter, then beat in the eggs, add the vanilla and cocoa, and mix until well combined. Add 1/3 of the flour mix, and half of the buttermilk, mix until combined, then repeat until all of the flour and buttermilk has been incorporated. Mix the vinegar and baking soda, and add to the batter. Divide amoungst the wells in your tray, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when poked into the middle.

Once the cupcakes are out of the oven and cooling, combine equal parts cream cheese and unsalted butter with icing sugar and a drop or two of vanilla essence, and work until there are no lumps. The ratios will vary depending on everything from the weather to the cheese you use, but I usual start with 125g each of cream cheese and butter, then add the icing sugar slowly until it is the consistency I’m after. If you’re using a piping bag, so go a touch stiffer than you think you’ll need, as the heat from your hands will cause the icing to soften. Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, transfer the icing to a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle, and apply with as much artistic flourish as you deem necessary. Once finished, you can leave them as it, add a dusting of cocoa, or a few berries. Enjoy with a creamy hot chocolate and a good friend.

Red Velvet & Berry goodness!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Midwinter Musings & Pasta Lunches

Midwinter, when the days are short, the mornings chill, the sun’s first light glinting from a thin layer of frost on the cables strung between buildings. The wind blows cold from the south, faces burrow into colourful scarves, hands warmed around cups of takeaway coffee, sheltered from the chill by delightfully thick coats, when layers become a necessity, rather than merely fashion. I really love winter. I love curling up under piles of blankets, waking up to misty streets, the initial thrill of cold feet when Matt climbs into bed, and all the delicious, rich, warm food that keeps us sustained through the winter months.
Unfortunately, cold weather means many more hours spent indoors, so to pass the time, I’ve decided to play catch-up with a few of the things that have been going on in my kitchen that I never got around to posting. First up, this delicious number from a few weeks ago. Typical cupboard raid stuff that proves that you can make something delicious in the time it takes to cook your pasta!

Fridge/pantry raid!
Pastalicious lunch

On the board

  • Olive Oil (I promise it's not really vodka in that bottle!)
  • 2 serves of short pasta
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • ½ spicy chorizo, diced
  • ½ eggplant, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2-4 marinated artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Baby Spinach
  • Fresh parmesan or goats chevre to serve

Bring a pot of water on to boil, and add your pasta of choice. A short pasta, such as fusilli or penne, works well for this sort of dish. In a frying pan, heat a little olive oil on medium to high, and sauté some finely diced red onion. You don’t need a lot of oil, as the chorizo will provide more than enough! Once the onions are glassy, add half a spicy chorizo sausage, diced, and toss frequently until it has released some of its beautiful juices, and is starting to cook through. Add a generous handful or two of diced eggplant, two diced tomatoes, roughly chopped artichoke hearts (drained), and a good slosh of balsamic vinegar (about a tablespoon?), then mix thoroughly. By the time the pasta has finished cooking, the tomatoes should have started to break down over the heat, and create a bit of sauce. Drain the pasta well, add to the frying pan with a good handful of baby spinach, and toss both through the sauce. Serve with a grate of fresh parmesan, or some crumbled goats chevre, and enjoy!

Ready to serve, delicious!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chocolate and Persimmon Goodness

The only photo I managed to get before the demolition!
Our trip to Sydney was hugely successful. The time Matt and I spent together was some of the best we’ve had (at least I think so), and seeing my dad’s family was good too. Then the meeting! While I’m not really allowed to say anything about what happened, let’s just say I was very happy with the outcome in terms of helping along my research into cancer cachexia.

Now, however, it’s back to the cold, hard reality of life, no more jet-setting around for a few weeks. But how can I be sad when persimmons just came back in to season? Autumn has always been one of my favourite times of year, both for the weather and the food. A few months ago, I read this guest post by G0lubka on Green Kitchen Stories for their wonderful chocolate and persimmon tart. It was love at first sight, speaking to all the things I wanted in my diet at the time (eating raw, moving away from all the meat in my diet, less sugary, no preservatives), and was visually just so appealing. I mean, look at that tart and tell me you don’t just want to gobble it up! Unfortunately, it was coming in to summer, and of course the star ingredient was out of season, and it went on to the ‘maybe later’ pile. So when I went to the grocer a few days ago, and saw them literally just taking the first boxes of this season’s persimmons off of the truck, this recipe immediately came to mind, and a picked a few up.

Now, with our allergy-rich household, I knew this could be a tricky piece of cooking. My housemate and best-friend Kimmy is allergic to every nut except almonds, not to mention a myriad of other random foods, and having never had persimmons, we honestly didn’t know if she would take a bite and be convulsing on the floor. She was quite brave, and said she’d give it a crack, after all, we all know where the epi-pen is! The issue of informed consent out of the way, I set to Kimmyfying the rest of the ingredients. (I also don’t have a dehydrator, but that’s less of a big deal =P)

I approached this dessert as a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could make something not only delicious, but visually stunning, all from scratch. So after a bit of shopping to pick up the few things that weren’t in my cupboard (coconut, coconut oil, dates and agave syrup), I set to the task at hand. I always have a kilo bag of almonds in my cupboard to snack on, so I decided to make the almond meal and almond butter from scratch. Almond meal was no biggy, but let me tell you that making nut butter from scratch takes a LONG time, especially if all you have is a stick-processor! Pretty sure that took me longer than anything else. My opening of the young coconut also became a source of entertainment for all, especially when we discovered the thing bounced if we threw it at the floor. Four knives and a hammer later, the water was sweet, and the flesh almost too good to save for the tart!

Not having a dehydrator for the casing was always going to be an issue. I ended up using a loose-bottomed cake tin instead of a tart dish, and put it in the oven on 110C for about 20 minutes, then turned off the heat and left it for a few hours, which worked brilliantly, though I’m sure is not quite the same. Thankfully my mini-processor held up to the task well, something that halfway through I was honestly not expecting. I was also quite concerned that substituting the cashews for almonds in the cream would overpower the whole dish, but other than it turning out a little grainer than I was expecting (most likely due to the differences in texture of the nuts), this was the perfect dessert!

A small note of warning, this is not a recipe that you can simply slap together in a few minutes, and serve. It requires effort and love to pull it off with any level of success. Doing everything from scratch meant that it took me all night, which was not helped by the lack of a normal sized food processor, but the end result was so rewarding that I would do it all over again tomorrow. Plan ahead! The result was greatly enjoyed by both my housemates (and was allergy-incident free!), and Matt (who usually dislikes sweets). Success!!!

Chocolate Persimmon Tart (adapted from G0lubka & Green Kitchen Stories)
Chocolate Crust
  • 1 cup oat flour 
  • 1 cup almond flour 
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons raw cocoa powder 
  • 1/2 cup raw almond butter (If making yourself, try this tutorial
  • 1/4 cup date paste (Soak dates for an hour or so in water, drain, then process into a paste, adding some of the soaking fluid if needed) 
  • 2 tablespoons water 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used less than the original recipe, but that’s just personal preference) 
  • The original also called for maple syrup powder, but was very hard to come by, so I added 1 tablespoon golden syrup, which I had on hand. 
Sift together all the dry ingredients. Add the almond butter and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl combine the date paste, water and vanilla extract (+ golden syrup). Add the wet to the dry and mix well. Line a pan with foil. Press the dough into the pan evenly, place in oven at 110C for 15-30 mins, then turn off oven and leave crust IN THE OVEN until the oven fully cools (The original calls for the crust to be dehydrated for 8-10 hours, I found this produced a similar result).

Chocolate Cream
  • Fresh meat of 1 young Thai coconut 
  • 1 cup soaked almonds (original called for cashews) 
  • 1/2 cup fresh water of young Thai coconut OR purified water 
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil 
  • 1/2 cup raw agave syrup 
  • 5 tablespoons raw cocoa powder 
In a high speed blender, mix all the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Let set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Persimmons Soaked in Vanilla Agave
  • Ripe persimmons 
  • Agave syrup mixed with a few drops of vanilla extract 
Slice persimmons into rounds, pour vanilla agave over the slices and let soak for 2-3 hours.

Spoon the chocolate cream into the crust evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Arrange the agave soaked persimmon slices on top of the cream. G0lubka garnished with pistachios, but as that was out of the question, I covered the whole top with the fruit. Yummy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jam packed week with Rhubarb Jam

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks at the Observatory! For a start, my birthday was on the 4th, and aside from a massive pub crawl the night before, the highlight was the party, in which we sat on the roof drinking, cooked up a mass of steak, and generally got rowdy, not to mention the amazing mouse cake that my amazing friend Liesa made! Seriously, the woman is talented, she’ll be dragged in to make every novelty kids cake my future offspring ask for! IN addition to the birthday shenanngians, I’ve spent this week in Sydney with Matt. Whilst officially I was here for a two day Palliative Care meeting, we went up two days early, spent Tuesday running around the city, catching the ferry, spending hours getting lost in the Botanic Gardens, and generally having a great time. We stayed in a small hotel in Potts Point, just down from Kings Cross. That night, we had an amazing dinner at a small pasta place in Darlinghurst (well worth a look if you’re ever in town!), had a few beverages at The Sugar Mill whilst listening to a table of guys singing karaoke, then discovered the gem that is Goldfish. The guys there were great, and even though it was quite busy, took the time out to discuss their cocktails, make suggestions, debate benefits of certain alterations, and generally deserved a much bigger tip than I could afford that night. The Mika is highly recommended!

Wednesday saw Matt being incredibly brave, and meeting my father’s side of the family. After breakfast in the Cross, it was off to the nursing home to see my Nana, who we took out for a lovely lunch. Unfortunately completely forgot to take photos, as we were having such a great time talking. Hard to believe she’s turning 90 in less than 3 weeks, she’s so on the ball, and if it wasn’t for a bad hip operation, would probably get around town better than me! Then it was off to The Rocks with Matt and dad for a bit of exploration (read: pint @ the Irish pub), back to Paddington for a wander around the old strip (my Nana used to live just off of Oxford St), and another pub visit before dinner with Dad, his wife, and my half-sister at the most amazing backstreet pub (500g NY steak, bleu, with pepper sauce? YUM!). The night was topped off with delicious ice cream from the strip, before collapsing in to bed and instantly falling asleep. Apparently Matt was all geared up to go out, and was trying to convince me to get up again, oops. Probably just as well, with my 7.30am train trip to the airport for the meeting that started today. Matt goes back on the last plane tonight, while I’m still here for another meeting fun-filled day on my own!

Since doing all this trekking around, all I wanted for breakfast this morning was toast with rhubarb jam, but couldn’t get the toast, let alone the rhubarb! I love rhubarb, it really just screams summer for me. I used to hate it as a kid, but my matured palate can’t get enough of the stuff. I had two big bunches the other day, and rather than see it go to waste waiting to be eaten, I decided to make a batch of jam. I do this every year, and it lasts me for ages, mostly because of forgetting it stashed up the back of the fridge! Whilst sweet, I don’t tend to use much sugar (relatively), and it has quite a tart bite to it, which is divine. Mmm, first thing going in my belly when I get back Saturday morning.

Rhubarb Jam

What you’re going to need
  • 2 bunches fresh rhubarb 
  • Sugar (I use raw or similarly low refined sugar) 
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Spices (I use cinnamon, ginger, star anise and all spice) 

Wash your rhubarb, and trim off the tough ends and leaves, leaving you with the stalks only. Chop these up into 1cm lengths, and place into a heavy-based saucepan that holds them comfortably.

Sprinkle some sugar over the top, I usually find ¼ cup works well at this stage. Throw in your spices (I leave the cinnamon quills and star anise whole, and grind any other spices I use), and give it all a good mix. Cover, and leave on the bench overnight to macerate. You shouldn’t have to add any more liquid, and by the next morning, there should be a nice syrup starting to form.

Add a few splashes of vinegar to the mix, to preserve the beautiful pinky-purple colour of the rhubarb, then place the pan over low heat. Keep an eye on the pan, mixing occasionally until the fruit is stewed down to your desired consistency. I like mine to be a little bit chunky, but still spreadable. I highly recommend tasting along the way, and adjusting your spice and sugar levels if needed. If the cooked mix just resembles stewed fruit, and has little syrup, you may need to add more sugar.

While your jam is cooking, sterilize some clean jars by filling and surrounding them with boiling water, then popping them into a warm oven to dry and stay warm. Once your jam is ready and still hot, pull out any large bits of cinnamon or star anise*, then transfer it into the hot jars, trying to ensure as few air bubbles as possible. Put the lids on their jars, then turn them upside-down, and leave them on the bench to cool. I label each jar, and then keep them in the fridge, mostly because I don’t have a whole lot of cupboard space, and partially from habit of living in a crazy hot climate.

Enjoy with some toasted sourdough and goats cheese, added to a cocktail, on your morning muesli, straight from the jar with a spoon…

* If you’re like me, and forget to pull out the chunky bits, never fear, the flavours of the spices will just continue to infuse in the jar, and you may have to watch out for sudden crunchy, flavourful surprises when sucking the spoon. I have a jar that tastes more like licorice than rhubarb =/

Thursday, February 24, 2011

From one joint to the next

Don't let the laugh fool you, this was my hell for most of 2009
In January 2009, I injured my knee quite severely. I spent the best part of a year on crutches or wearing a brace, not able to bear weight. I went from 5 days a week at the gym, softball, baseball, triathalon and rockclimbing, to nothing, losing 10kg in 4 months, my thigh wasting to half its size within that time. Despite visiting naturopaths, physios and surgeons, having MRIs, CT scans and gods only know how many tests, no one was actually able to tell me what was wrong. There were plenty of theories, ligament damage, ruptured ACL, meniscus tear, cartilage damage, but none seemed to cover the complex range of problems I was experiencing. I iced, heated, strapped, massaged, drugged, herbalised, rested, exercised and stretched, with very little improvement for many months. Eventually, my body adapted, and the other parts of my leg took over from whatever the injury was. I went to the local community physio once a fortnight. Eventually I was able to walk without aids, and even run (very!) short distances, but I didn’t regain the strength or stability. Rather than helping me toward my old form, the community physio refused to see me once I regained function, i.e. I could walk. Things like rock-climbing or triathalon were, and still are, completely out of the question. I still have issues with pivoting, balance, loading, and couldn’t walk for 3-4 days a few months back because of jarring my knee on a wet floor.

This morning, I actually got a definitive answer.

I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist since dislocating my shoulder a month ago today, about 7 visits in that short time. Thanks to a highly intensive program, it’s back to 80%, which is great, as it hasn’t been 100% for years, and now it feels like it might actually get there. Basically, short of my doing more stabilization, endurance and strength exercises at home, there’s nothing more we can do for it. So, we moved on to the knee. He had read its convoluted history during the week, put me through the motions this morning, and within 10 minutes was shaking his head…

“How did they not pick this up as a meniscus tear?”

I swear, I bounced… on the good leg. Of course, there is a long road ahead. In order for me to be able to walk, other muscles had changed their usual function. We have to retrain everything from the hip down to go back to their original state. Even the two small and relatively easy exercises I was shown today had me fatigued and breathing hard after only 5 reps. It might be tiring, but I’m excited, I’m hugely motivated to get my body to where it should be, and I’m fueling my recovery with yummy creations like this! 

Monster tower of an organic lunch.

Local leg ham, grilled zuchinni, eggplant and sweet potato, vintage cheddar, baby spinach, sundried tomato and basil pumpkin hoummas on a fresh crusty roll. Delicious lunch, and great fuel for rebuilding muscle!

Hopefully I'll have some new recipes to put up in the next week or so, including rhubarb jam and maybe something involving a rabbit. Might also throw in to a conference wrap-up from my fun weekend in Lorne if I can pull anything non-sciency out of it! In the mean time, enjoy the last of our sunny summer weather, cause autumn starts next week!

Love Neysa xo

Monday, January 31, 2011

Physio and Pizza

I seriously forgot how much work physiotherapy can be. This morning I had my second appointment in 3 days, with another scheduled for Thursday, and whilst I am already seeing the benefits in terms of an expedited recovery, I would not want to be doing it if I wasn't working from home this week! Every two hours, I have to lie down with a rolled towel along my spine, arms stretched out, and ice packed around my shoulder for 15 minutes. On top of that, I'm doing a number of isometric exercises, and some other fun things involving a pulley and using my own body as a counterweight. Time to do anything other than physio – approaching zero.

It's not so bad. I have actually managed to be rather productive today aside from that. Grant writing and eye checks for the win! I also tried getting a bit acquainted with the Nike+ application/gadgetry I've had sitting around since I got my Macbook Pro back in December. Hooray for pre-Christmas deals! Basically it's two parts – the receiver, that plugs into your iPod, and a sensor that goes in your shoe. I've heard good things, and figure once I start running (waiting for the green light from the physio), it won't hurt to have a decent way of keeping track of workouts. If anyone has had any experience, I would love some feedback on how you use it.

And on the food front – amazing pizza for dinner today.

How can you say no to something like that? I feel a bit guilty for buying the base, when I already had the stuff to make one at home, but I was being impatient, and didn't want to wait for dough to prove. Tomato paste base, chorizo, mushrooms, sliced fresh tomato, kalamata olives, topped with the epic cheese combo of tasty, pecorino and bocconcini, and torn fresh basil. Mmmm, heavenly. Of course when Matt finds out I didn't make the base, I'll be hearing all about it. His pizzas are always outstanding, mostly because he wouldn't be caught dead buying a base, and gets amazing, crispy crusts on his pizza stone. For that dedication to the pizzariffic cause!

Right, off to ice my shoulder and have dreams of pizza.

Love Neysa xo

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shoulders, Sumac Salmon and Salad

Strapping tape + hot weather
So I've blown my shoulder.

No idea how, as seems to be the case with every single one of my major injuries in recent years. Physiotherapist can neither confirm nor deny the possibility that it was a subluxation (partial dislocation) that caused the damage, all we know is that it's painful, I'm lacking movement, and I'm not allowed to start the training regime I had all figured out. Boo. Hopefully time, rest and physio will solve all my problems, but in the mean time...

After discovering him on FoodBuzz, I've been reading The Kitchen of A Runner, though blogger Matt has recently started up a new blog, The Athlete's Plate. He's one of the few bloggers I still follow religiously (And I promise it's not just cause his name is Matt!). Reading his blog over the past several months has really inspired me to take up the fitness mantle, especially the way he seems to manage to balance uni, work, family and his training, something I'm still trying to get a handle on. I also really enjoy his style of blogging, and his use of the medium to record workouts, interesting food, and all that good stuff. I was hoping to do something similar when I started training properly (instead of just the occasional swim or jog), but we'll see how long the shoulder takes to heal. However, while we're waiting for that situation to run its course, I can maintain the yummy foody side of things!

When my boyfriend came home from Thailand/Malaysia this week, I was rather keen to have him around for dinner. I seriously miss cooking for two people, and food is a great way to rebond. He'd not been terribly happy with the lack of vegetables during his stay in Malaysia, so when he got home, I wanted to make something healthy and green. While he was away, about 3 weeks, I had seriously cut back on my meat-based proteins (other than fish, only had meat 3 times in 3 weeks!), and had been eating a lot of raw food, and I wanted to stay true to that form as well. Enter this yummy number!

Sumac-crusted Salmon with Summer Salad

I've been making lots of trips to the green grocer and farmers markets lately, trying to avoid supermarkets and maintain healthy eating. Salads usually consist of whatever is on offer, which when you're buying from these sorts of places, tends to be more seasonal, and better for you! This super salad had the following:

  • 3 large radishes, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium sized tomatos, diced
  • 1 lebanese cucumber, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3-4 handfuls baby spinach leaves
  • A generous handful of kalamata olives and alfalfa sprouts

This was all thrown in a bowl, and then had a simple vinaigrette tossed through: a few tablespoons olive oil, 15-30ml apple cider vinegar, one chopped red chilli, two tablespoons passionfruit pulp, put in a jar, and shaken till well combined. Yum! I'm a bit weird, I like my salads better the next day, once all the flavours have had time to meld, but the greens are still fresh.

For the fish, I had two pieces of fresh Tasmanian Atlantic salmon, boneless but with the skins still on. Heat a pan over high heat, and lightly spray with a little bit of olive oil (you won't need much). Pour some sumac onto a flat surface, such as a plate, and then coat the skin-free side/s of your fish. Once the pan in hot, place the fish skin down until it goes nice and crispy, then sear the other sides. I prefer my salmon quite rare, so I find an inch-thick piece will be fine with about 20-30 seconds a side. The sumac should turn a very dark red, almost black. Allow to rest for about a minute, then serve alongside salad.

  • Sumac is a red/purple spice from the Middle East and Mediterranean, slightly tangy with citrus notes. And we all know anything red or purple is good for you thanks to all those antioxidants like anthocyanins and resveratrol. Mmmm.
  • I'll admit that I borrowed the sumac-crust idea from work's menu. At Mr Hyde, we have a sumac-rubbed tuna served on a white anchovy and caper dressing with micro-herbs to garnish. Salmon, tuna and lamb cutlets are all amazing with sumac, and it just gets better if you pop them on the BBQ!
  • If you're just after salad, but want something a bit more substantial, I've recently been making the same basic salad, then adding things such as grilled sweet potato, Meredith goats chevre, or shaved pecorino. Use what's local and fresh, and you can't really go wrong!

So where's the photo?
Oops. I started writing this before Matt arrived for dinner, and was so excited to see him I promptly forgot the camera. Bad habit I must break! Will update soon. In the mean time, would love to hear about other people's experimentation with sumac!

Love, Neysa xo