Category Archives: Design

Australia Day dessert. 2010

I had a bunch of friends over for a dinner on the eve of Australia Day, which is 26th of January for all you non-Aussies.

The idea behind Australia Day is that it commemorates the landing of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788.  Needless to say, one man’s meat is another’s poison and some Aboriginals call the 26th, “Invasion Day”. Fair enough, but to be honest the average Aussie takes the opportunity to have the day off to drink and feast without much thought or reflection on the matter.

Like all young nations, Australia is still struggling with it’s sense of identity. For instance there isn’t what could be called an Australian cuisine in the sense of how the Italians can claim to have a national food culture  that is recognisably theirs.

So it was with these nebulous feelings of being culturally adrift that I started to think about what I was going to serve for dinner. It is generally accepted by many people here in Oz that lamb will be eaten on Australia Day, so the main course was a no-brainer. Trouble was, lamb is eaten by lots of other cultures and it’s not exclusively Australian. How was I going to put an intrinsically Australian stamp on my dinner?

When I studied design we were told to always research a theme before we put pen to paper, and it was with that advice that I approached making my interpretation of an Aussie dessert.

My first thought was about what foods are uniquely Australian or at least grew here before colonisation. As everyone knows, Australia was inhabited by Aboriginals before European settlement and about the only uniquely native food that they collected, that has gained international acceptance is the macadamia nut. Coconuts also occur naturally up north in the tropical areas, so I thought they and the macadamia nuts would be a good start.

I also thought about some of the incidents in Australian history that have shaped our collective sense of who we are. 

The early history of Australia as an English penal settlement is peppered with stories of convict misery and the corruption of the NSW Corps (the low quality semi-criminal soldiers sent from England to manage the prisoners), which became known as the “Rum Corps” and who were involved in the “Rum Rebellion”. So rum had to be in the list of ingredients as well.

For the first 100 years of white history in Australia, most Australians saw themselves as de facto English and were only too happy to jump into whatever wars England was participating in. One of the biggest military blunders of the First World War was Churchill’s decision to send Australian and New Zealand troops (known as ANZACS which is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) with the British Army to Attack the Turks. Thanks to criminal ineptitude on the behalf of the British navy, the ANZACS were landed on the wrong beach at the base of some fairly steep cliffs. This tactical blunder was further compounded by the incredibly poor British army leadership that delayed movement of the soldiers off the beach for so long that the Turks were able to send reinforcements and pin the ANZACS and the British soldiers down on the beach at Gallipoli for almost a year. The disaster at Gallipoli is seen by many Australians and New Zealanders as the watershed moment of our respective senses of nationhood.

Being the willing cannon fodder for the British had lost it’s appeal.

During WWI, the wives, mothers and sisters of the colonial expeditionary forces would send packages which often contained food, to their loved ones overseas in the war. A common food in those boxes of love from home were sweet, buttery oatmeal and coconut biscuits (probably based on traditional Scottish oatmeal biscuits) called ANZAC biscuits.

By the way, when I use the word biscuit, it should be interpreted as “cookie” by North Americans. What North Americans call biscuits, we English speakers call scones.

As I thought about the ANZAC biscuits I remembered when I was a child, a friend of my grandmother, Phyllis Budd, used to make a variation of an old Victorian era dessert out of ginger-snap biscuits and whipped cream.  The biscuits were coated on either side with whipped cream and put together to make a log. The biscuits and cream were left over night and the moisture from the cream moved from the cream to biscuits to soften them and as a result, the cream thickened to a ricotta cheese consistancy.   

I used to love visiting Phyllis.

Here’s the recipe for what I came up with.

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup plain flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (I use McKenzie’s “Moist flakes” for better flavour and texture) 
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
190g (almost 7oz) butter 
6 tbs golden syrup (you can substitute 2 tbs of treacle) 
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups of  fresh cream
1 cup of coconut cream
2 cups of roughly broken up unsalted macadamia nuts (if you can’t get unsalted nuts; wash salted ones)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Rum (I use Bundaberg Rum because it’s so quintessentially Australian, in a bad way!)
1 block of dark chocolate (I use Gold’s organic, fair trade 70% coca chocolate)
Baking paper
Several A4 or foolscap sheets of heavy card or paper (about 200 gsm or so)
Sticky tape.

Method

Start this recipe two days before you serve.

Soak the raisins in the rum, over night in the fridge, on the  day before you start this recipe.

The day before you serve.

Preheat your oven to 160C (320F).

Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and pipe it out in 10 abstract grids onto a flat portable surface covered in baking paper that will fit into your freezer. Place them in your freezer while you deal with the rest of the ingredients.

Combine the oats, desiccated coconut and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter and mix in 3 tablespoons of golden syrup or 1 tablespoon of treacle at low heat. When the butter is completely melted add the bicarbonate of soda. The bicarbonate of soda will cause the butter to froth up so mix it in quickly and pour the combined ingredients onto the dry ingredients in your bowl to combine.

On a large baking tray (I used 300mm x 450mm or about 12″ x 18″) lined with baking paper, evenly roll out the biscuit dough until it covers the whole tray. This operation will be easier to perform if you cover the dough with another layer of baking paper. Remove the top layer of baking paper and place the tray with the dough in the oven for 13 minutes or until the biscuit just begins to turn a light brown. DO NOT cook the biscuits for too long as they will become too crisp.

The sheet of biscuit will still be quite soft after cooking but don’t worry as it will firm up  as they cool down. While the sheet of cooked biscuit is still warm use a 6cm or 2 1/2″  biscuit/cookie cutter to cut out 24 ANZAC biscuits.

While the biscuits are cooling down, make a tube of baking paper 9cm or 3 1/2″ high by wrapping it around your biscuit cutter and then wrap the same size of heavy paper around the baking paper to reinforce it. Make a total 8 of these tubes.

Place the Macadamia nuts in a folded tea towel (dish drying cloth) and break them up into large pieces with a rolling pin. Place the nuts under a grill until they begin to go brown. Keep an eye on the nuts as they brown quickly and can burn in a surprisingly short time.

Whip up the cream and slowly add 3 tablespoons of golden syrup or 1 tablespoon of treacle as you go. As the cream starts to thicken, add the coconut cream until until it is well mixed in.

In a large airtight container with a sheet of baking paper in the bottom, place your paper tubes on their ends and sprinkle a some macadamia nuts into them. Then place about 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream mixture into each of the tubes on top of the nuts. The next step is to  drop a biscuit into each tube and push it down until a little cream comes out of the bottom of the tubes (just so you know there aren’t any big air pockets).

Next you add the same amount of cream again.  On top of the cream drop 3 or 4 rum soaked raisins. Don’t go overboard with the raisins as rum will be the only thing you will taste.

The idea of the raisins it that they are a little hidden surprise and not the main event.

On top of the raisins and cream drop another ANZAC biscuit and push it down to flatten out the cream underneath. More cream and raisins are added again on top of the ANZAC biscuit. Again this layer of cream and raisins is topped with what will be the last ANZAC biscuit (3 ANZAC biscuits are used for each dessert).  

Spoon some more cream on the top ANZAC biscuit and then sprinkle some more macadamia nuts on very top of everything. Push the nuts down a little into the cream to level it all off (I used the tamper from my espresso machine).

Push the lid onto the airtight container with all the desserts in it, and put it into your fridge overnight. 

Just before you serve your desserts take them out of the airtight container with a spatular so you don’t squash or loose your desserts through the bottom of the tubes.

Place the tubes onto the plates that you will serve them on and carefully cut off the paper tubes with a sharp knife. I used an exacto knife to cut through the sticky tape holding the tubes together.

The last step is to carefully and quickly (so they don’t melt in your fingers) push the chocolate grids into the top of the desserts. If you like, you can put some passionfruit pulp around the dessert as a tasty garnish.

Here’s an amusing video by the talented American comic Rich Hall in the guise of his much convicted uncle Otis Lee Crenshaw, about Bundaberg Rum.

[youtube CIB6JGwADOo]

A different sense of what’s an appropriate present. Brugge, Belgium. 2009

One of the first things we did in Brugge was to buy decent sized box of handmade Belgian chocolates. We found a cute little stone bridge over one of the canals and quickly scoffed down the lot until we felt sick.
 
There’s nothing like stuffing oneself with chocolate to put yourself off the stuff. Afterwards, over the next couple of days, it made us nauseous to even look at the elaborate displays in the numerous chocolatier’s shops in the old town .
 
I don’t think we ate any more chocolate for about two months after our pig out.
 
Having said how we had turned ourselves off even looking at chocolate, the display in the photo below caught my eye.
 
What can I say? Other than it sure was very different to all the other chocolate stores in Brugge. Talk about, “don’t compete, be unique”!
 
The writing, in three languages, on the white cards (which can’t be seen very well in size of image that I’ve put up here) says;
“KAMASUTRA
also ladies surprise.”
Ladies surprise……. gee I wonder (not really) what that is?
 
“A nice present for your father or friend.” 
 A nice present for your father? I bet that would make your mother happy.
 
Then again, am I missing something here?

The only thing that is constant is change #2. Paris, France. 2009

Eugène Atget’s photos of Paris have preserved forever, a part of Parisian life that is in the process of vanishing.

 

Paris, like just about everywhere in the world,  is in a constant state of renewal and many of the old store fronts are being replaced with a more homogeneous, “updated” look. Eventually the whole world is going to look the same.

Are we having fun yet? Brugge, Belgium. 2009

Segways have never made any sense to me.

Years ago while I was waiting in line at Disneyworld’s (Florida) Space Mountain, I saw a display sponsored by RCA. As we waited on a “peoplemover” (Disneyspeak for conveyor belt) to get on the ride, we passed various windows that showed with the aid of Disney animatronics, RCA’s vision of the future.

It seemed to me that RCA thought that our future would be spent doing nothing but sitting down and pushing buttons. One display showed a housewife of the future sitting down looking at a video screen to see who was at the door that was just behind her. Another widow showed a kid doing some virtual skiing in front of a large TV screen. In short, RCA’s prescient view of the future showed us all using consumer goods to live more sedentary lives. I can remember thinking to myself that the future that the “imagineers” had conjured up for us looked very boring and unhealthy.

Although I’m loathe to say it, RCA was right in a lot ways and many of us can no longer have a good time without first spending some money to buy a device so we can “interface” with the physical world. It would seem that for many of us, if it hasn’t got a motor, lens, screen or wheels we don’t want to know about it. How many people have to buy a powerboat to enjoy the water, or a dirtbike to enjoy the bush?

To me, the product that epitomes this attitude is the Segway, which I’d like to nominate as one of the most pointless transportation devices ever devised.

Even though the streets of Brugge are cobblestoned, I think a much better way to work off all the chocolate that one eats when there, is to cycle.

Water is life. Segovia, Spain. 2009

This little water spigot has been the object of a lot of attention. Firstly its design lends itself so well to a bit of ribald fun and secondly there is the acknowledgement of the fact that it is so photogenic.

What I also find interesting is what I see as the subtext of a low regard for fresh water.

What I’m constantly amazed at when I’m out and about near waterways is how so many short sighted and selfish people think nothing about polluting them. I’m not just saying this about Spain, I’m talking about the world in general. It would seem that just about anywhere in the world, people take water for granted. Even people in places that don’t have much water will pollute it.

When we were in Mostar in Bosnia, we saw a guy with a stick flicking plastic waste that was caught up in some rocks located in the middle of a tributary stream, into the main stream. I guess he thought he was cleaning up the place and the river would take the rubbish away. He didn’t appear to have the slightest concern about the people down stream or the health of the waterway.

Time and time again, we hear on the TV about how countries like Israel are stealing water from other countries by pumping out their aquifers near the borders, or how Turkey’s dams are stopping Syria getting enough water.

Here in Australia there is huge cotton farm (Cubbie Station) up in Queensland that has no consideration for the people downstream and has basically cut off with a huge dam, the seasonal waters from the Murray Darling basin. Vast wetlands have been destroyed while many ancient little rivers have dried up, not to mention siltation, salination and decreasing water quality downstream. Adelaide’s tap water is the lowest quality water in any major city in Australia and it’s just about undrinkable because of all the bad water management occuring upstream.  

Cotton farming with its high use of fertilizer, insecticides and water in the area where Cubbie Station is located, shouldn’t in my mind, be called agribusiness, but rather, “a bloody-minded act of environmental vandalism”.

A few years ago I was at a Christmas party with some seriously rich people (with hundreds of millions to their name) and I was talking to them about the doing the right thing by the environment, and their response was, “the government should subsidise the private sector to make it worthwhile for business to clean up their act”.

Do these people come from some other planet? Do they think that the mess they make isn’t going to affect them and their offspring at some stage?

It just goes to show that the old question of, “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” Is such a stupid proposition. I’m beginning to think that to be filthy rich, one doesn’t have to be that smart, just sociopathic.

A pox on all their houses!

Some interiors from the Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris, France. 2009

Engogirl and I went to the Centre Georges Pompidou today as an antidote to going to the Prado a few days ago. We just had to see something that was more expressive than the visual catalogues of possessions owned by the rich and powerful from years gone by, that makes up most of the Prado’s collection. Let’s not even talk about the mountain of stuff with the guy nailed to a cross and his bummed-out friends.

It was just the same thing over and over again.

I’ve never been a fan of the outside of the Pompidou center. It just looks like a industrial plant that has become a little shabby over the years, but some of the interiors are fun. There are sections of the restaurant on the top floor that look as though they were lifted straight out of Kubrick’s “2001,  A Space Odyssey” and then crossed with Roger Dean’s designs.

Although the price of the automatic machine produced coffee was scandalously high (a whole family in a developing country could be fed for a week, for what we paid for our two drinks), it was a pretty cool place to hang out in for a while, just to soak up the design ideas.

A short while after we finished our coffee, a staff member came by and sprayed scent on all the roses. No, it didn’t smell anything like roses but the roses themselves were real.

Go figure?

This next shot is of a little bar (not open at the time we were there) that was tucked away in a little bubble-like silver dome structure.

Around the corner from the bar are restrooms, which have to been seen to be believed.

The whole place was mirrored and you can have the dubious pleasure of watching yourself on the can from four different directions……..

nice!

The mountain that stares into the sky. Antequera, Spain. 2009

Both my wife and I are quite interested in European pre-history.  Me, because I feel genetically and culturally adrift in Australia, knowing that I wasn’t really designed for where I live.  The aborigines can claim to truly come from Australia but I know my roots are in Europe.  Engogirl, on the other hand, is fascinated by early forms of technology.

Antequera in Andalucia has some of the best preserved and largest dolmens in all of Europe, so we decided to go there.  About 20 or 30 kms before we reached Antequera, I noticed a very interesting geological formation that I later found out is called La Peña de los Enamorados (“The lover’s leap” based on an old story of a Christian boy and Moslem girl who throw themselves to death because of family disapproval).  Coming from Granada, the formation looked a bit like a high saddle with two limestone peaks and an alpine meadow in-between. 

It just stood out in the landscape, and when I saw it I asked Engogirl “how far are we from the dolmens?” 

She replied, “we’ve still got some way to go”. 

I then said, “I bet that place has a lot of local cultural significance, it just stands out as being important”.  

As we drove along and got closer to Antequera, we swung around the peak, Engogirl said “you know, that looks like a face”.

After a nightmare time fumbling our way through a small Spanish town with very thin streets, many of which were under reconstruction, we finally made our way to the Archaeological Park of Cueva de Menga, which houses two excavated dolmens, the best preserved of which is the Menga dolmen.

The dolmens in this area of Spain are thought to have been constructed about 5,000 years ago.  The stones used in their construction are massive (the biggest being 180 tonnes), and thanks to a very informative video in the reception centre it was explained how they were put into place. 

As informative as I found the video, Engogirl with a much more educated eye than mine about such things had problems with how they came to their conclusions as they didn’t offer any evidence for their suggested methods, although the hypothesis seemed reasonable.

It’s not really known what the dolmens were used for (Wikipedia, bless them, do have a bit more to say on the matter but of they aren’t all that rigorous so I won’t quote them on this matter), but the openings face La Peña de los Enamorados, which looks like a giant person’s face staring up into the sky.

On such a cold and moody day as today, it wasn’t  hard to imagine such an amazing sight having an effect on a person’s mind.

In the reception centre is an enigmatic carving that the archaeological student serving time at the counter suggested was thought to be an idol. 

Unfortunately we couldn’t have much of a discussion because of language difficulties, but I tried to explain to him that it looked like a butterfly or moth chrysalis to me, and since the insect’s metamorphosis would have seemed quite magical to a stone-age person, I think it would be reasonable to think that perhaps a chrysalis might represent rebirth.

If I had anything to do with the research into the “idol” I’d be contacting biologists specialising in butterflies and moths and asking them to identify the species.

On a side note, the bogong moth in Australia was an important seasonal food for the Aboriginals.

As the cave paintings at Lascaux in France have shown, although prehistoric people didn’t have the advanced technology we do, they did have an intimate knowledge about the pyshical appearance of the world around them. Many people think that Stone Age people weren’t very smart, but by evolutionary standards they”evolved” as us and were just as smart, and therefore fully able to represent the world around them in either drawn or sculpted form.

So you heard it here first folks.  If you come across a paper that some professor has written about their discovery of the meaning of the ‘idol’ at Antequera being that of a chrysalis and rebirth, they stole the idea from me…

A few shots and thoughts from the Alhambra. Granada, Spain. 2009

Back in 1982 I was in such a hurry to get to Morocco that I just went past Granada without stopping. Over the years people have told me about the Alhambra and how it’s such an amazing place.

Well, today, many years later I finally visited the much lauded Alhambra and I have very mixed feelings about the experience.

Firstly the Alhambra is one of those very famous places that so many people from all around the world want to visit. Even though it’s autumn and the off season, there large crowds of people waiting to get into the place and as I’ve said before, I’m no fan of crowds.

 The Alhambra gets so many visitors that the custodians limit visits to either the morning, afternoon or night and control the numbers that can enter for each time. This all means lines and waiting around. A word of advice to anyone thinking about visiting at this time of year, don’t bother ordering your tickets through the internet, as you have to go through the rigmarole of retrieving your tickets from machines that take longer to operate that buying the tickets from the ticket office.

 Now that I’ve had my little bitch about the crowds, onto the main event.

From my experience in Morocco years ago I can tell you that the Moors aren’t that into creating beautiful exteriors, as most of their structures I’ve seen, tend to be high walled boxes. What the Moors excel at is interiors and the decoration of surfaces.

 Sure the Alhambra has some gardens with water features,

or reflecting pools, but to my mind they aren’t all that interesting.

I heard a guide telling a group nearby that the moors used the water features as a method of cooling down the buildings during the hotter months. To me, all the water on show also seemed to be a dessert people’s way of displaying wealth.

Over the last couple of months, here in Europe I’ve developed a real dislike for palaces. I always thought that the old TV show, “Lives of the rich and famous” was a sad indictment of the consumerist society in which I live. I hated the idea that there were so many people who wanted to vicariously live a life of so much conspicuous consumption the result of which was an ostentatious and vulgar display of wealth. It really sickens me to think of how these old rulers lived in relation to their subjects. The only thing that helps me get over my revulsion at their greed and insensitivity is the fact that all these great piles of hubris manifest, provided employment for many skilled people that would not have had an outlet for their talents anywhere else.

Although the Moslems are prohibited from creating depictions of animals or humans they make up for that with their calligraphy and patterns.

Just about the whole of the palace is covered with carved plaster and stone.

There were signs asking people not to touch anything but that didn’t stop many thoughtless people from pawing the walls. It never ceases to amaze me how selfish some people can be and how much damage they do. 

Where there aren’t carved surfaces, there are tiles.

 For me the Alhambra got more interesting as I walked through the archways into the rooms inside.

 

The walls were covered with patterns and prayers but it was the ceilings that really sang. Sometimes looking up was like being in a stylized cave

 and other times it was like peering up at a bejewelled night sky.

Of course the Christians finally won back their lands and the Alhambra with them. Surprisingly much of the Islamic decoration was left intact but the new rulers did do a bit of redecoration in their own much heavier and cruder style as in the ceiling shown below.

As sublime as some of what we saw in the Alhambra was, both Engogirl and I felt it was all too much of the same kind of thing and both felt that perhaps the magpie tastes displayed at Randolph Hearst’s much critisized folly, “La Cuesta Encantada” weren’t so off, after all.