The lowdown on biodegradable coffee capsules

For the past month or so I’ve been exploring methods of reducing the household waste I generate — both that which goes to landfill and that which needs to be recycled.

Because, while it’s essential to reduce landfill, and recycling is certainly the better option, I believe the best option is to reduce waste all together. Recycling, after all, takes energy and resources that could be better deployed.

So… one of the first areas I’ve addressed is coffee capsules.

I would like to say that I’ve stopped using coffee capsules all together. I wish I could. But now that I’m all accustomed to flat white coffees at home (with my trusty milk frother) I cannot give them up. And my Nespresso machine with its capsules just makes it so easy and convenient and clean. (I simply detest dealing with coffee grounds.)

So I’m not giving up my coffee capsules.

The good news is that Nespresso’s aluminium capsules are recycled by Nespresso if you send them back via their stores (and participating florists). The coffee grounds go to compost and the aluminium is recycled. Excellent. Much better than landfill.

But recycling is a resource and energy-intensive process. There’s the collection and transport of the capsules, the machine to crack them open and separate the materials, then the melting down and reprocessing of the aluminium. All that energy. How much better is that than landfill?

coffeepod#1

As soon as I became aware of ecoCaffe, an Australian company that distributes Swiss-made Ethical Coffee Company biodegradable coffee capsules that are compatible with Nespresso machines, I resolved to give them a try.

According to ecoCaffe’s website, the capsules are made primarily from vegetable fibre and starch and degrade within 180 days in industrial composting. Sounds great, right? That’s way better than 150-200 years for aluminium capsules (if you don’t recycle them) and 500+ years for plastic capsules (which clearly should never be used again).

I ordered a couple of boxes. They came. I drank coffee.

Out of the two different roasts I ordered, I quite liked one and didn’t much like the other. Neither come close to my favourite Nespresso capsules (arpeggio — the purple one, and indriya — the olive one).

Disappointing.

This is not to say it’s bad coffee, but coffee is a personal thing, right?

coffeepods#2

The other thing that disappointed me was the packaging. The capsules themselves are fine — they feel a little plasticky and have a papery filter, but I trust them when they say they biodegrade, because the global standard is very strict. But the 10 capsules were double-packaged in a plastic bag and a cardboard box. With my current mission to minimise soft plastic packaging this was a big black mark.

When it comes to disposal of the used capsules, I have thrown all 20 capsules used so far into my worm farm. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw them all in there (assuming I purchase some more), but I’m interested to see how they go in a home composting situation.

coffeepods#4

Other disposal alternatives include: 1) to put them loose in my general garbage bin, although my understanding is that landfill conditions are not optimum for composting or biodegradation; 2) throw them in my green waste bin (according to their website), but I feel I should check with my council first before I start doing that.

Overall, I still have some things to work out, but I will persevere with another round of these capsules soon. I confess that in the meantime I’ve ordered another batch of Nespresso capsules, which will of course get recycled, but… I would really like to find a viable biodegradable option.


Update 18 July

From discussion generated by this post, I am now investigating stainless steel capsules! There are a few options on eBay can be refilled and reused unlimited times. I figure I might be able to handle coffee grounds on that scale. Will report back in time.

Mongolia journal ~ Rivers and words

Exactly two years ago I was in the middle of my Mongolian horse trek. TWO YEARS AGO! It’s so hard to believe… (I’m definitely due for a new adventure!)

This is a short post about our sixth day of riding, which largely involved following (and crossing) the Tuul River.


30 June 2015

Lunch – Day 6 (near Terelj NP)

We’ve retraced steps from Terelj NP to stop in the vicinity of the previous night’s camp by the Tuul River, sitting on a hill overlooking the distant valley and road. It’s a gorgeous spot. The horses are grazing peacefully and it’s quite windy with intermittent cloud.

We’ve been learning Mongolian words the past few days… first we learnt ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘my name is’ etc. Then we started learning how to count to 10. Yesterday we learnt 1-5 and we’ve just learnt 6-10. It’s fun. Burmaa (our guide) gives us spot quizzes from time to time.

This morning’s ride was very pleasant. We meandered long the river and forded it a few times. Awesome fun. I sang some songs while riding along in my own little world — it seemed like the time for it. The wide open spaces often make me feel like singing.

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Fording rivers is awesome fun.

Eventually we ended up at here at our lunch stop after a couple of hours riding, mostly walking with some trotting and cantering. I’m starting to understand my horse a lot more. He’s a lovely horse, docile and responsive. He goes downhill a bit slowly and has a slow trot, but he canters really well and seems happy enough to wade through water.

Evening – Day 6 (Tuul River)

Tonight we’re camping beside a different section of the Tuul River, this time right on its banks. We’re at a ford, with horses and cows crossing as we’ve been sitting here. Everyone has washed a bit (selves and clothes — our newly washed underwear is strung up to dry along an old paling fence), and it’s been a chilled-out couple of hours. As always when the sun fades (now) the temperature drops substantially, though.

trek_day6_tuulRford

Cattle fording the Tuul River

 

trek_day6_campsite

Camping on the banks of the Tuul River

The afternoon ride was pleasant, although rather long with lots of trotting and cantering. We are starting to feel the fast pace and long days. I like not having to rush around in the morning with the late-morning starts, but I’m a bit tired of finishing so late.

It must be around 9:30pm right now and we still haven’t had dinner. Although it’s nice not to have to do any of the cooking, we are somewhat at the mercy of the Stepperiders crew.

Tonight the horses are grazing around right outside our tent. They munch grass like machines. From within the tent, it sounds as though they’re right on top of us! We’re half worried they’ll trip over the guy ropes… (heh)

Mixadventures while entertaining and snacking

Another two months on and I’m still having mixadventures in the kitchen, although it would be fair to say things have slowed down a little, particularly when it comes to attempting new recipes.

I’ve made vegetable soup a few more times (I knew soup would become a staple for me!), plus I repeated both creme brulee and chicken cacciatore for my reading group when they came over a month or so ago — because they turned out so good the first time!

I will, however, continue to focus this series of posts solely on new things made in the Thermomix, or when I learn something interesting. And, rest assured, it will always be amateur hour on this blog!


CADA and muesli

CADA stands for coconut-almonds-dates-apple, and it has to be one of the simplest things to make in the Thermomix. Basically, you throw in 40g each of the first three, plus an apple, and pulverise it into chunks in a few short bursts. Takes about 5 minutes. (If that.)

It makes a nutritious and delicious snack on its own, or mixed with yoghurt (or porridge or custard or stewed fruit…) and easily lasts a week in the fridge (longer I daresay if you omit the fresh apple). You can of course throw in a mix of different yummy things — hazelnuts, dried figs, prunes, dried apricots etc…

There’s a fruit and nut muesli recipe in the basic cookbook resembling CADA and I made that too. Basically, anything in this family is quick and yum. I’ve made a few variations and have been eating it for either breakfast or an afternoon snack.


Beef Stroganoff

The beef stroganoff recipe in the Thermomix basic cookbook is delicious. I followed it more or less to plan, although I think I included more mushrooms (it was a month ago now!). Once again, it’s an ‘all in one’ pot kind of recipe, where you add ingredients and cook along the way. Very simple. And did I mention delicious?

The advantage for me of making these types of meals is they make three or four dinners, and if it’s yummy enough I don’t mind eating it all week.

beef stroganoff

It was good this recipe worked, despite my meddling with some of the quantities. I didn’t have so much luck with my attempted bolognese sauce, which I stuffed up completely when I tried to jam too many vegetables in and it wouldn’t all fit! I ended up chopping the vegetables in the thermomix but cooking on the stove. A trap for the unwary… Lesson learnt, I guess.


Entertaining

I mentioned earlier in this post that I hosted my reading group about a month ago. This event caused me to go a little catering crazy on the Thermomix front. (And I ended up a little crazy!)

I served the aforementioned chicken cacciatore with rice as a light meal or supper. Since cooking for friends is not something I usually do, this was a fairly big deal for me… But the Thermomix recipe is fairly foolproof (and I’d made it before)… ultimately it went down very well.

I also made a couple of fresh dips. One was guacamole, more or less as per the basic cookbook recipe. This was easy enough to make, but also kind of a fiddle… and annoyingly it needed to be made at the last minute. (Having said that, I made so much it lasted the entire weekend and was still delicious.)

dips

The other dip I made was a complete winner — capsicum and sundried tomato dip. I found this recipe on the Thermomix recipe community site, and I will definitely be making this one again.

It’s really easy to make: grate parmesan cheese then throw in the other ingredients (garlic, sundried tomatoes, fresh red capsicum, cashews, olive oil and vinegar) and pulse a few times. Once again, no more than five minutes.

This dip is yummy, nutritious and lasts for at least two weeks in the fridge. I made a double quantity, since I was going on a writing retreat to Phillip Island the following weekend, so there was heaps. While great on a cracker, it also made a great pasta sauce with fresh greens and diced tomato tossed through. Highly recommended!

Aqua Follies – book review

I was excited when Aqua Follies launched a week or so ago, not only because it was written by my friend, Liv Rancourt, but also because I was an early beta-reader on this book and have been following its journey from the sidelines. So I guess this book is close to my heart and I want to share it with you.


Aqua Follies – blurb

AquaFollies_Digital_LargeThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?


Aqua Follies – my review

There’s so much to love about Aqua Follies. The mid-1950s is not your usual setting for a male/male romance novel, but Liv Rancourt brings that era to life brilliantly well. There are party phone lines, jazz lounges, and pomaded pompadours. There are blazers and ties for the men, curled hair and red lipstick for the women. There’s the behaviour ‘accepted for a young lady’ and the girls struggling to break free of the shackles. And of course there’s the awful social and legal persecution of men suspected of being gay.

Aqua Follies is not a ‘sweetness and light’ read. It’s gritty and uncomfortable much of the time, because the society these young gay men are forced to live in is just so horrible. They’re forced to hide everything they feel, hide everything they do, hide in fact their true selves from the world.

For Russell, this results in denial and suppression, deep shame at being ‘perverted’, guilt when he succumbs. For Skip, on the other hand, raised among musicians and theatre types, it leads him to boldness and sometimes rash actions.

Skip is a loveable character. He’s open-hearted and he follows his heart. He’s part of an accepting community, and although he has his own struggles, he’s fully accepting of himself and goes after love with everything he has.

It’s really Russell’s story though, and he is a lot more complicated, constantly battling himself, denying himself, despising himself. He comes across as an asshole a lot of the time as he tramples Skip’s poor heart again and again, but his fears are very understandable and real. I adored him in the first third of the book, really felt for him as he found his object of desire and battled certain dark thoughts while trying to conform to the hetero ‘norm’. Then I got mad with him during the middle — and felt every bit of Skip’s frustration as Russell blew hot and cold cold cold. By the end, though, he melted my heart with his eventual self-acceptance and earnest love for Skip, especially as he takes decisive action and changes things in his life to be with him. Even though his self-realisation takes a while to arrive, he gets there in the end.

Overall, it’s a fabulous book that brings the 1950s to life and tells a fairly difficult love story that continues to resonate in my mind. The writing is slick and accomplished, the supporting characters vivid and present, the sex scenes judiciously placed and by no means gratuitous.

This is a novel with depth and complexity at both the emotional and historical level — as much a novel of Russell’s coming of age and a portrayal of life in the 1950s, as a romance. I now want a sequel to see how Russell and Skip get on with their lives, because the ending seems quite open-ended, particularly given the precarious nature of such relationships at that time.


Buy links for Aqua Follies

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | More Stores

D&D Chronicles: Tomb of Horrors – part 1

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESIt’s our third day in this godawful place — the garishly (yet aptly) named Tomb of Horrors. It is by far the most treacherous maze we’ve faced and, so soon after my 20th name day, I can’t help wondering if I will see the next.

We’re currently taking respite after an encounter with three monstrous cubes of goo that somehow animated out of glass vats holding a weird, whitish liquid. Squirrel touched something, the glass shattered, and suddenly we were fighting against gelatinous monsters that eroded our weapons and damaged our armour.

At least I kept my new Longsword (+3) out of harm’s way, and my bracers survived intact, but my magical dagger will likely never be the same again. Others of my companions have damaged items too.

I wish we didn’t have to go on. I wish I knew how much deeper into this place we need to go to find the haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain — assuming it is even here.

entrance

image from pixabay

I cannot conceive of why the mages sequestered the haft here, since it’s clear from what we saw in the town that this Tomb of Horrors is some sort of training exercise — albeit a deadly one. Back in the town we discovered the remnants of a viewing hall, where interested onlookers could watch teams of challengers through the maze and wager on the outcome.

It makes me shudder to imagine the past people of this land cheering and jeering the challengers through this death trap of a place, which has tested us greatly.

During the past two days we have negotiated mechanical pit traps at almost every turn, and magical traps of many different kinds.

There was the misty gateway that conveyed Squirrel and Blizzard to a trapped room with nothing but three levers and a 100-ft drop. And the voices that lured Squirrel down a tilting corridor that nearly conveyed him (and subsequently us) into a fiery pit of death. (Thank Emrys for Nightshade and her dagger, is all I’ll say!) And there was the altar out of which exploded first an electrical strike, then a fireball, setting an entire temple chamber aflame for the best part of a day.

big-bang-422305_640

image from pixabay

It feels like one step forward, five steps round and round, then two steps back. I’ve lost count how many times we have retraced our steps and gone in circles, trying to figure out the next piece of the puzzle.

The inscription at one of the false entrances to the tomb is at once helpful and unhelpful:

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch and the second great hall you’ll discover
Shun green if you can, but night’s good colour is for those of great valour
If shades of red stand for blood, the wise will not need sacrifice ought but a loop of magical metal
You’re well along your march, two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall
So check the wall
These keys and those are most important of all and beware of trembling hands and what will maul
If you find the false you find the true, and into the columned hall you’ll come
And there the throne that’s key and keyed
The iron men of visage grim do more than meet the viewers eye
You’re left and left and found my tomb and now you all will die

What does that even mean?

We figured out the ‘loop of magical metal’ was a ring, which we sacrificed to open one of the many secret doors we’ve found; and the two ‘fortuitous falls’ have revealed themselves as secret doors at the bottom of pit traps. But the rest? There are so many green things in this place and we’re shunning them all. And checking ALL the walls… between Squirrel’s rogue talents and Alix’s magic we’ve found so many secret doors.

So far we’ve also found some keys, which bodes well if the riddle is to be relied upon, but we haven’t found much else. We have gained a mysterious opalescent oval disc smeared in invisibility paste… a potion of healing… and a magical surcoat. The healing potion will obviously be useful, but we haven’t figured out what to do with the other two items yet.

On the whole, I’m feeling fairly useless. Aside from battling the odd foe here and there (the giant skeletons were fun), there’s not too much for a ranger and a desert cat to do down here in the bowels of the earth. It’s dark and dreadful. Fleet hates it too.

That cursed haft of the flail had better be here. Assuming we survive long enough to find it.


The next installment of the Tomb of Horrors will be forthcoming. Wish us luck!

Visit the D&D Chronicles page for the full story.

 

Waging my own war on waste

Sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to make you realise that, despite all your best green intentions, you’ve developed some really bad habits.

Habits that are derived from the endless quest for convenience in this capitalist world we live in, and which are now contributing to seemingly endless waste — waste food, waste plastic, waste stuff, wasted resources…

I’ve long considered I do my bit for the environment. I’ve never professed to be perfect, and I’m aware my lifestyle leads me to cut some corners, but I never realised how much more I could be doing (or not doing, as the case may be), until I watched the recent ABC (Australia) television series War on Waste

War on Waste has got everyone in my circles talking — and hopefully thinking and doing as well. It’s a three-part (so far) magazine-style show exploring the amount of waste in Australian society. So far it has focused on the subjects of food, plastic bags/soft plastic packaging, disposable coffee cups and fast fashion. But I’m pretty sure this barely scratches the surface of the waste we generate as a population.

If you’re in Australia, watch this show on iView. If you’re not… maybe the website will still be illuminating.

garbage-can-1111449_640

image from pixabay

The amount of waste produced in our society is horrifying. Even while I was patting myself on the shoulder for composting, rarely using single-use shopping bags, and wearing clothes more than once (I kid you not), my brain was whirring at all the wasteful activities I do regularly engage in — simply from laziness and a measure of ignorance.

Consider my pants kicked.

So I am waging my own war on waste, and I’m going to blog about it. Because we as a society need to be more mindful about just about everything — not only how we dispose of things we don’t need, but what we buy in the first place. And I believe talking about the measures we adopt in the quest for change is important.


First let’s talk about soft plastics

I’m pleased to report that I don’t often use single-use plastic shopping bags. For years and years I’ve used alternatives such as:

  • Reusable Envirosax shopping bags — I have at least one in my bag at all times (and they last YEARS)
  • A trolley on wheels — for when I’m buying more than one bag full
  • Supermarket ‘green bags’ — for when I have the car (which is rare)
  • Also, I don’t use plastic bags for fresh fruit and vegetables unless absolutely unavoidable

So far so good, right? Go me on the minimalist use of shopping bags!

[Side note: I’m appalled that Victoria is one of three Australian states that hasn’t banned plastic shopping bags. I didn’t actually realise other states had banned them, but full credit to them — and WTF, Victoria?]

envirosax

Envirosax shopping bags — don’t leave home without one!

But what I didn’t know is that I can recycle all manner of soft plastics via the RedCycle bins at Coles supermarkets. Any scrunchable plastic, in fact. It’s not just limited to plastic bags themselves. (Why don’t they promote this?)

So I have started putting these aside into… a plastic bag. And I’ve been astonished by how quickly it’s filled up. It contains:

  • plastic from around magazines in the mail
  • biscuit packet wrappers
  • plastic bags from my lite n easy delivery
  • chocolate wrappers
  • packaging from loose leaf spinach
  • toilet roll packaging
  • porridge/oatmeal sachets
  • peel-back seal from meat or fresh pasta trays
  • etc…

YOU GET THE IDEA! It feels as though every time I grab something it’s got soft plastic packaging associated with it. And all this packaging has previously been going into my rubbish bin, and subsequently to land fill.

soft plastics

All my soft plastics — check them out! (ugh)

Of course, now that I know I can recycle this, I will do so. But it seems to me it would be infinitely better to cut it off at the source.

My quest therefore is going to be figuring out how to buy stuff with less soft plastic packaging.

This is going to be difficult. But I remember, for example, there used to be toilet paper available in paper packaging. Is that still around?

And maybe I’ll have to stop buying individually wrapped food portions for the convenience and buy in bulk more. In fact, purchase fewer processed and packaged goods in general.

Soft plastics are insidious. They’re everywhere. They need to go!


I decided to kick off this series of posts with the problem of soft plastics, because it has been truly eye-opening how quickly that bag has filled up. But there are lots of other waste issues, and I’m planning to tackle them too.

Next up I’ll be road testing biodegradable coffee pods…

Mongolia Journal ~ Terelj NP

It’s been a little while between posts, but this is the fourth edited extract from my Mongolia Journal, covering day 5 of my two-week horse trek in 2015. With photos!

It’s hard to believe it was almost two years ago now.


29 June 2015

Morning – Day 5 (Tuul River)

Morning, best guess about 8:30am? Sunny and very pleasant. Ant crawls across my knee. Mixed herd of sheep and goats descend upon our site, much as they did yesterday at our previous campsite.

This is one of the things I love about Mongolia — the sharing of the land. There are no fences, so sheep, goats, cows, yaks and horses all roam freely, intermingling together. There’s a herd of horses roaming around our camp right now as well. It’s just so cool.

trek_day5_campview

Day 5 – Overlooking our camp near the Tuul River — sharing the steppes with sheep, goats, cattle and horses

(Later) We’ve just been on a morning walk around our camp… up the hills behind the camp to look down the Tuul River valley towards Terelj National Park (there’s a town on the other side of the hill from our camp), then along the ridge down to two ‘owoos’ (shrines) with ‘hatag’ (prayer flags). The hatag is used as a sign of respect for festivals such as the lunar new year, and Burmaa has just told us that when young couples decide to wed, the boy’s father gives a hatag to the girl’s father.

trek_day5_ouaa

Day 5 – Two ‘owoos’ (shrines) with ‘hatag’ (prayer flags)

Lunchtime – Day 5 (Terelj NP)

Great morning ride. We left camp by riding along the river,  then forded it on horseback. I confess I was apprehensive about this, but it turned out to be the coolest thing ever. So exhilarating! Then we crossed a road twice and followed it towards Terelj National Park. We did a lot of trotting and cantering this morning and I am getting better and more confident every day.

We are now sitting on the steppe beside the road, a herd of cattle surrounding us. Our stepperiders hosts are cooking lunch (we’re getting two high-carb cooked meals a day — so much for losing weight!).

trek_day5_lunch

Day 5 – Lunch stop by the road near Terelj NP (also later our camp site).

We took a stroll towards a nearby big rock with a cave inside. Apparently monks hid within when the Russian communists came. Otherwise we are just sitting in the sun (there being no shade). It’s pretty hot today.

30 June 2015

Morning – Day 6 (Terelj NP)

We camped overnight beside the road into Terelj NP after an epic day that left us too exhausted to write last night. It’s now a sunny morning and we’re waiting for water to boil so we can have coffee and then breakfast. It’s not a great campsite, having been chosen in desperation. In fact, it’s the same site where we had lunch yesterday. It’s right beside a road, and there’s no cover for any toileting — a bit stressful!

Yesterday afternoon we rode from here into Terelj NP to “see Turtle Rock”. K and I had no idea how long this “side trip” was going to take, but Ganaa (horsewoman) stayed behind with the car and David (our driver) rode her horse.

It took forever. And it was hot. I got really cranky, knowing we were going to have to retrace our steps (which I detest), so the further we went, the crankier I became. We had no idea of the time, but we think it took at least 1.5 hours to get there. Moreover, it was clear our “guides” didn’t actually know where they were going…

trek_day5_turtlerock

Turtle Rock. Yeah.

Once we finally found it (which involved backtracking), Turtle Rock itself itself was hardly worth the effort, although I guess it was an interesting rock formation. An added bonus, however, was the presence of a flushing toilet we could pay to use (worth EVERY cent).

By this time it was probably late afternoon, but we went on another 2km to see the Princess Monastery. This involved a long climb (on foot) to the building, but we elected not to pay the entrance fee.

trek_day5_terelj

Day 5 – Terelj National Park (from Princess Monastery)

Then came the long ride back to our lunch spot (now camp site). By then the shadows were really long (maybe 7 or 8pm?). On the way back we trotted and cantered a lot, because it was so late. I was absolutely exhausted, but managed a standing canter and gallop!

It was pretty late by the time we reached the car, at which point our tent came out and four of us raised it in about 5 mins. We were handed dinner — already cooked. Then we collapsed in our tent until it was dark… (Then we took it in turns to sneak out under the veil of darkness to take care of business. Ahem.)


2017: According to most of the Mongolian travel guides, Terelj National Park is one of the major attractions around Ulaan Baatar. I’m not surprised it was included in our itinerary, but I don’t really feel as though we saw much of it…

According to our itinerary, Terelj NP was one of the few specific highlights mentioned:

  • Day 3. Ride to Terelj National park and beautiful valley, camping next to river
  • Day 4. Explore Terelj National Park, which is located in Khentii Mountains… natural beauty and interesting rock formations… Massive woolsack weather conditions very well known. In Terelj National Park-forested alpine mountains, see you gigantic rock formations such as Turtle Rock. The area of Terelj National Park is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, climbing and photography.

So it’s fair to say we were expecting much more of Terelj NP. More at least than a scant half-day, during which I was too tired and cranky to fully appreciate what I did see. Considering the length of our trek (14 days), I’m still not sure why we got shafted on this one! It remains a slight disappointment.


So that was Terelj NP… Plenty more to come. I’m hoping to post more regularly for a while and keep the posts a little shorter. Stay tuned…

Mixadventures with chicken cacciatore and creme brulee

Ohmygoodness I’ve turned into a food blogger. Except not really, because this isn’t about the recipes and it’s definitely not about the food styling. It’s basically about the Thermomix exploits of someone who doesn’t usually cook. You’ve been warned.

week 3 – Chicken Cacciatore

After a most impressive opening fortnight with my Thermomix, I was on a roll, and when the next weekend arrived I perused the Basic Cookbook with gusto. World. Oyster. All that…

But the thing is, some of those recipes, albeit simple, use a helluva lot of ingredients. (Der, that’s what happens when you cook things from scratch.) All those herbs and spices. What are they exactly? Where do you even get them?

I decided to work up to all the herbs and spices and selected Chicken Cacciatore for my second Thermomix meal. It looked manageable in terms of both ingredients and procedure: chop, saute, a few stages of cooking… All done in about half an hour.

And it came out really well, even if I messed with the recipe again. (It called for white wine, but I have dozens of cases of red. Which turned out to be more than fine.) It made enough for four generous meals, so I was eating it all week. Not that I was complaining.

I ate it initially with a microwaved potato and fresh leaves — yum. But then a few nights later I was ready to put the Thermomix into action again to make… RICE.

week 3 – Boiled rice

I don’t eat a lot of rice, mainly because I can’t be bothered cooking it. That could be about to change.

The ‘recipe’ called for 350g of rice in the ‘simmering basket’. However, I cooked half a cup (105g), which typically does me for two meals, and the reduced amount worked fine. It took 20 minutes and came out fluffy and fairly perfect.

I did freak out during the cooking, when the goopy water burbled out the top, but the lid is clearly designed to deal with this type of behaviour, because there was no overflowing.

week 4 – Torta caprese

It was only a matter of time before I got into the cake section of the cookbook. And since I’m a chocoholic from way back, it was a no brainer to try out this flourless almond chocolate cake. The excuse was a family dinner. (Much as I would have loved to make it just for meee.)

The fun thing about this was I got to grind almonds into almond meal! In six seconds. The recipe called for the chocolate to be ground up as well (10 seconds), then everything got mixed together before baking in the oven.

Stage two was making a chocolate ganache icing, which I had never made before. It involved grinding more chocolate and then melting it into cream at 50C for three minutes.

To my mind, this type of thing is where the Thermomix really shines. The ganache was quick as anything to make, and took no time at all. I like the fact the Thermomix controls everything and there’s no chance of stuffing it up!

week 6 – vegetable soup

Oh no, I missed a week! But I have an excuse: I went away for Easter. Which brings me to my sixth week of mixadventures. On Friday night I made vegetable soup for me and a couple of friends who came over for Gin Night (that’s another story entirely).

Since I don’t make a habit of cooking for other people, this was kind of a big deal… but not really because it was very casual and, well, I was cooking soup. It’s hardly cordon bleu. And since Thermomix soup is one thing I can see me making rather frequently, I was keen to give it a go.

Once again, it was extremely quick and easy. I even had a kitchen helper to peel and chop the vegetables, so all I had to do was chuck them into the Thermomix and press the right buttons: dice (onion and garlic) and saute to start, followed by cooking/stirring for some 25 minutes, then blend for 1 minute. Voila! Soup! All while hanging out with friends.

It tasted pretty good too. Not to mention I went ‘manual’ for the first time — that is, I didn’t rely solely on the pre-programmed recipe chip to tell me what to do. The cookbook gave optional instructions for chopping and sauteing the onion/garlic before adding the rest of the vegetables… Negotiated successfully! (Again, hardly rocket science…)

week 6 – creme brulee

I mentioned in the previous mixadventures post that I am rather partial to custard. Which is something of an understatement. More to the point, I became a huge fan of creme brulee (crema catalana) when I was in Spain several years ago. Yum yum yum.

But I’ve never actually made creme brulee before. It’s not like I’m going to make it for myself, right? Right? I mean, what would I do with six serves of creme brulee sitting in my fridge. Eat them ALL?

Ahem. I had a pint of cream I needed to use before it expired. That’s my excuse. (Ohmygod, how embarrassing.)

The worst/best of it is that it was so ridiculously easy that I will now need to control myself of there will be more. (Add cream, eggs, sugar –> cook for 15 minutes at a controlled temperature.) Once again, there was no chance of it going wrong. And it didn’t. I ended up with several ramekins filled with delicious yum.

Of course, the key thing with creme brulee is the torching and caramelising of the sugar on top. Needless to say, I do not have a blow torch of any kind, so I attempted the ‘under the grill’ method — which took far too long and with limited success. I did it once (see photo), but I think I’ll just eat the rest as they are!


You may note I ended the last post intending to make a risotto. This hasn’t actually happened yet. Maybe next month?

Right now, I’m off to eat soup and creme brulee – heh.

Mixadventures in Thermomix

It’s time for a new series of adventures (misadventures?) — this time along culinary lines. I recently acquired a Thermomix and will now proceed to torment you all with accounts of my hapless kitchen exploits.

I say “hapless”, because I am not a “foodie” in the sense of creating — only in the sense of consuming. (And I do LOVE to consume.) But that is all about to change (kinda).

thermomix1

First, why a Thermomix?

I have to admit people are asking why I, who doesn’t cook a lot, now have a $2000 mega-appliance sitting on my kitchen bench. It was, in fact, a very generous gift from my parents, but I thought long and hard about accepting it.

In the end, I was convinced by a few things:

  1. I really like the idea of getting back to basics — i.e. preparing foods from natural ingredients, rather than relying on jars etc from the supermarket. Examples of processed foods I’m hoping to eliminate from my diet include stock, pesto, dips, relishes, cakes/slices…
  2. I want to cook more frequently and more diversely. I’ve become too reliant on Lite n Easy meals (which are healthy and good quality for frozen foods, but still…), and when I do get around to “cooking” it’s very simple. (I always try to ensure I’m eating fresh salad/vegetables whenever possible, but my repertoire is not large.) If a Thermomix can cut out a few steps, not to mention time, then I’m more likely to make the effort.
  3. My sisters each had one and I got jealous.

Now, I know that most things made in a Thermomix can be made using more traditional tools — food processors, saucepans etc. If I wasn’t making the effort before, what would make me change?

I figure it’s all about habit. And confidence. Both of which could be acquired without a Thermomix, but probably with more rigmarole. After all, I’m far more likely to adopt new habits if they are more efficient.

OK, that’s enough rationalising. I have a Thermomix now. Deal with it. There’s no going back.

My pledge

To help create my new habit, grow confidence, and avoid my fear of harboring a dormant Thermomix, I have pledged to create at least one thing every week from one of the Thermomix cookbooks.

These do not need to be new — it’s OK if I repeat recipes, but I figure the more confident I get with using the machine and creating particular dishes, the more I’ll want to try new things. Simple is fine as well. As long as I make something.

So how did the first two weeks go?

Day 1 — Vegetable stock

My Thermomix was delivered on 16 March. As part of the commissioning process, we made vegetable stock. This involved roughly chopping a bunch of vegetables and herbs and throwing them into the Thermomix with a little oil and a heap of salt.

veggiestock

It cooked for 20 minutes, then we zhooshed it while still hot. I now have SO MUCH vegetable stock for soups, casseroles, pasta sauces, risottos etc. It will last in the freezer for months, and because of the salt doesn’t freeze solid. It’s freaking cool.

  • I was really really glad I made this under supervision, because that thing growled and nearly jumped off the bench when pureeing (which took a minute). I would have freaked out and turned it off.
  • The ability to cook and blend all in the one machine is magnificent. It’s quick and easy and I will be using this functionality for soup repeatedly. Can’t wait!

Day 3 — Vitality Truffles

I went for something really easy for my first solo effort. Vitality truffles are essentially blended dried fruit (apricots/peaches, dates, figs, raisins), hazelnuts and rolled oats. The most time consuming part was the (manual) rolling into balls.

vitalitytruffles

  • I daringly made these under some time pressure, since I was taking them to our afternoon D&D session. The making of them was fine. What I neglected to take into account was the cleanup time. (Note to self!)
  • Not that cleanup was particularly arduous or time-consuming. But it was the first time, so I was naturally more tentative and careful.
  • My D&D team enjoyed the vitality truffles and I would definitely make these again as a quick and healthy snack for when I need to take a plate of food for some event.

Day 11 — Chocolate custard

I’m going to get so fat. The Thermomix has three built-in, fully automatic recipes, one of which is custard. Thick and creamy custard. I adore custard. Basically, you follow the prompts when adding ingredients (milk, cornflour, sugar, eggs, cocoa – if desired) and then press “go”. Less than 10 minutes later, there is thick and creamy custard. Noms. (You still have clean up, though. Bleurgh.) But custard!

Day 12 — Pasta in tomato sauce with ham and chorizo

Made last night, pasta in tomato sauce etc was my most daring mixadventure yet. I diligently went shopping for all the ingredients on the weekend, and made sure I started cooking before I was tired and hungry. It involved more steps than the previous recipes — grating parmesan and setting aside, chopping the meats and setting aside, then a few chopping and cooking steps involving onions (sauteed), canned tomatoes, pasta. But everything was cooked in the one vessel and it tasted delicious. MUCH more tasty than it looks. (Food styling is clearly not my thing.)

pasta

  • I’m still using the “assisted cooking” process via the Basic Cookbook electronic chip. In other words, the Thermomix touchscreen steps you through the addition of each (weighed) ingredient and cooking stage, and automatically sets the temperatures and times.
  • Even though I know you’re not supposed to mess with the recipe the first time, I messed with the recipe. I added additional vegetables and meat and considerably less pasta. It came out a little more runny than it should have (I didn’t adjust the water), but cooked perfectly and tasted delicious. It will still do me three meals. (I didn’t particularly want four meals worth.)
  • It took me an hour from start to finish — at which point I stuck it in the oven with the parmesan cheese on top to make a pasta bake. The recipe says it should take 20 minutes. Considering there is more than 20 minutes cooking time in the recipe, I think the book is delusional. You still have to gather your ingredients, wash the bowl after the parmesan, peel the onions etc. I daresay I would get quicker, but 20 minutes? No.

So I think the first two weeks went pretty well!

I’m serious about my pledge to make something at least once each week, and will continue to work my way through the Basic Cookbook (which comes with the Thermomix) as a starting point. I might try a risotto next.

My intention is to drop in from time to time to let you know how I’m going! Until the next mixadventure…

D&D Chronicles: To Kyam by water and dust

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain is to be found in the Tomb of Horrors. Or so the wizened creature Oramoot says.

The Tomb of Horrors. The very name makes me shiver.

Oramoot has produced a map to the tomb, which is a long-forgotten Vhadrim testing place near the town of Kyam, just outside Vhad. It lies deep in the Dust Plains — another name to give me chills —  beneath a hill shaped like a skull.

I can hardly wait.

After a few days of rest, we leave the relative safety of Kham Jhara for our long trek to Kyam and the tomb. First we head to the river and arrange for some locals to take us downriver on a barge.

luca-bravo-149740

Downriver by barge

The river soon borders the Dust Plains, the air blowing hot and bleak. But our journey passes swiftly and uneventfully until the second night, when we are attacked by three fearsome eight-limbed creatures, while Blizzard and I are alone on deck keeping watch…

SQUIRREL

When it works, it’s magnificent, isn’t it?

Raised as a spellcaster, then left to make my way with the resident miscreants, my path has been akin to that of two men hobbled together, Faldhu god of thieves and Elloran god of knowledge not being the best of buddies.

But on the river, in the dead of night, it all came together.

We were asleep inside our cabin on the barge deck, Zillah and Blizzard minding the way forward, the young chap on the tiller. The alarm was sounded – we’d been boarded! And then, Zillah, yelling, “there’s one of the roof”.

In the light of my hastily cast spell, beaming out the door, we could see the foredeck messed in webs and in the midst, Zillah in battle with two spider-like beings. No sign of Blizzard. A couple of magic missiles helped Zillah dispatch the two against her opponents. And then she was trying to throttle Blizzard! And doing a pretty good job of it, looks like.

Charm spell, eh. Cast by the one on the roof. In the kill zone, above our door, most like. Exit there, get stuck, get garrotted. Not bloody likely.

I’d been wanting to use the gaseous form spell for months. Conjuration cast, and me and all my gear were vapour. Weird, but somehow invigorating. Out I snaked through the port hole, and onto the roof. In time to see the spider thing return to its perch, enjoying the battle on the foredeck.

Closer I drifted, unseen in the moonlight, until I was right behind it. I coalesced into flesh and blood once more, and – wham! My new dagger, minted by the master smith Astra Khara, slid smooth as you like into the thing’s back. A twist for good measure. Blooded!

That got its attention.

I dropped the daggers, dodged and ducked, and conjured – magic missiles. It didn’t like that. It swiped me, and I staggered, felt some poisonous itch that failed to penetrate, then cast again. The creature fell, Zillah snapped out of it, hugs all round.

And I had the satisfaction of seeing two paths combine, spell and blade in deadly concert. Finally, I think I’ve found my calling.

ZILLAH

Blizzard hasn’t yet forgiven me for trying to throttle him the other night. At least I didn’t kill him this time. The way he’s acting you’d think I attacked him intentionally, despite him knowing I was under a charm. I think he just doesn’t like the fact he was bested by a woman. But I wish he would forget about it. Since his conversion to Emrys, we have been almost in accord.

We arrived in the (mostly) abandoned city of Reyim Baal today. The city, which is engulfed by the Dust Plains, is currently home to a few dozen priests of Bahal and their attendants, who have invited us to stay with them. For worshippers of the god of death they are surprisingly mellow.

We have learnt that Elliana and Tob entered the Temple of Bahal some weeks ago and never emerged. While there is a chance they left via the portal, it is believed more likely they fell to the darkness infesting the temple. The priests believe the temple is overrun by the spectres of priests – those priests of Bahal who remained to defend the temple during the great war with the Vhadrim. After two decades, they are powerful and malevolent — even to their own kind.

To make matters more complex, we now believe the Left Eye of Varrien, which Elliana stole, also lies within the temple of death. We briefly entertained notions of liberating the temple, finding the Eye, but the dangers seem more than we can handle. Particularly since apparently most of our spells will not work inside its walls.

So tomorrow we head deeper into the Dust Plains towards Vhad and, beyond it, the Tomb Of Horrors — which is probably just as bad.

dustplains

Into the Dust Plains

*

Vhad. Once the mage’s city, the city of Vhadrim. Now a cloud of darkness engulfs it, and we are taking care not to get too close to its dark magic.

It has taken us several days to get here from Reyim Baal. Days in which Blizzard managed to get himself killed by foolishly falling for a deception — requiring Alix to resurrect him. (More gold owed to Shadrath.) We also encountered a great burrowing earth elemental, giant skeleton creatures and more besides.

Oh, and apparently a couple of days ago was the festival of Vash. I am now twenty years old.

But there is no time to dwell on naming days…

As we circumnavigate the city of Vhad, yet more strange creatures launch themselves towards us, throwing up dust. These look like giant scorpions, about thirty feet in length. Their poison is debilitating and almost does for Squirrel, but ultimately we prevail against them — only to see them dissipate into thick black smoke. Their poison, alas, is real.

Monster_dust

Creatures out of the dust

After meeting one of these scorpion creatures, and then two more, we eventually make it to the town of Kyam by nightfall. Poor Squirrel is staggering, barely able to walk, and we are carrying his gear among us. But Kyam promises to be a refuge for tonight at least. It is surprisingly intact, given the war that happened here two decades ago, and we bunker down for the night in what looks to be a community hall.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to find the Tomb of Horrors.

SQUIRREL

I am reminded again of the weakness of flesh –- my flesh –- by comparison to the mind. Although it was the mind that cast me into the hand-to-hand battle against the scorpions when my magic was low, some ill-considered thought of helping Blizzard as he looked to be dying alone.

As if my dying with him would have been an improvement! He is already polluted by his turn to the treehuggers, all pragmatism lost. Just look at his suicide in the old inn, despite the warnings about the waiting trap. And now I have been infected as well, so desperate to “be of one accord”?

If ever there was a warning from the god of thieves to remember my calling, it was there, in the thin veil between life and death. Here on the doorway to the tomb of trials, it is a good time to remember it as I await my poison-leached strength to return. Bravery is for the bold; survival is for the cautious. I am alone in the shadows, but that is the way of the shadows. There can be no light without them.


Next… the Tomb of Horrors, and hopefully the haft of the Flail. We can only hope.

Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for channelling Squirrel. Check out the D&D Chronicles page for a full list of posts in order.