Monday, May 26, 2008

An Omnivore At Large: Michael Pollan at the Sydney Writers Festival

A Book Review for the Dedicated Foodie.

There is always such an array of good things to choose from at the annual Sydney Writers' Festival that often you just have to flip a coin to decide who to see. But this year, there was no doubt in my mind as to which writer was on the top of my bill: Michael Pollan was my man.

After discovering and reading each of Michael Pollan's five books over the last year, I have become his Number One Fan. Actually, that's not strictly true - there are probably a million other people who are also his number-one-fan - he is a New York Times best-selling author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, after all...
And judging from the way the crowd filled the cavernous warehouse at the end of Pier 3 at Walsh Bay on Saturday, there are a fair swag of Sydney-siders who are among the converted.

Suffice it to say, after reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma - A Natural History of Four Meals" c.2006 (gifted to me last year by Warren Salomon of Sustainable Transport here in Sydney) I went out and bought five more copies, just to give away - I thought it was that good!!!! Pollan's adroitness as a story-teller makes this book a pleasure to read. More like a detective novel than the serious journalism that it is, "The Omnivore" is a rollicking good read, packed full of solid research and interesting philosophical discussions about food, ethics and eating.

The book, as the title suggests, examines the food-chain right from the micro-organisms in the soil, all the way to the dinner plate, from the viewpoint of four different meals:

1. The McHappy Meal, eaten in his car with his son on a road trip.

2. The Supermarket meal, made from industrial agriculture and factory process methods.

3. The Organic meal - subdivided into Industrial Organic and small-farm Local Organic agriculture.

4. The completely wild Foraged meal.

The book takes you on a journey through the mid-western corn-fields of Iowa propped up by government surpluses, to the associated cattle feed-lots and industrial processing, through to an organic farm that has a strict policy of only selling locally to cut down on the oil consumed in transporting food around the world. The book ends up with Pollan hunting for wild mushrooms in the mountains, curing his own prosciutto with an old Italian man he befriends and cooking a very special meal for friends. Quite a journey!

I read his first book only last month (sorry, all out of order, I know... but better late than never). "Second Nature, A Gardener's Education" c.1991, is likewise an enriching read, examining humans' relationships with the natural and farmed/gardened environment. He visits the lineage of the generations of gardeners that come before us and the wisdom they have nurtured and passed on - something that we all benefit from daily in the foods we eat and the clothes we wear. His explorations of the importance of biodiversity and the imperatives of sustainability are particularly valuable.

This is a theme he again explored in
"The Botany Of Desire - A Plants'-Eye View of the World" c.2001
- another run-away best-seller - positing the idea that it is the plants that are farming us, exploiting our desires for what they have to offer - Sweetness, Beauty, Intoxication and Control - in their own quest for world domination.

You can see what a fun mind he has...!

His latest book, "In Defense of Food. An Eater's Manifesto" c.2008 is a little bit more of a technical read, but it too is chock full of good research and good advice. At the Writers' Festival "Future of Food" session that I saw him in at this weekend, Michael himself said that this book can essentially be distilled down to the following 'haiku':

Eat Food,
Not too much,
Mostly plants.

What Pollan says we should avoid are the "edible food-like substances" that fill the shelves of our supermarkets, with "fortified this" and "enriched that" and to avoid any product that makes loud claims to be a "health food", because it probably isn't! His rule of thumb is not to buy anything that has more than five ingredients listed on the side of the pack - which definitely includes: chemicals listed as numbers, 'flavour enhancers' like MSG, colourings, 'anti-caking agents' and the like. He says we should shop over in the section of the supermarket where the 'quiet' food is, the real food. Or better yet, try to find local growers of organic produce and support those ethical enterprises.

That seems pretty good advice!

Any way you look at it, Michael Pollan's books come as a well-recommended read - and you will want to lend them to all your friends when you have devoured them yourself - fortunately, books are recyclable!! They are also available as talking books.

At the end of the discussion panel at the Writers Festival on "The Future of Food", (which will be broadcast on ABC Radio National later this year), I spoke briefly to Michael Pollan and gave him a card about this blog - cheeky, huh?!

He said: "Great, thanks! A Food Photography blog - I'll have a look at that!" and put it in his pocket...

It felt nice to give The Master something, when he has been giving so much to so many...


PS: I have no vested interest in promoting these books,
(i.e. I don't make any money from this blog) except that I think the world will be a better place if more people know about this stuff!

It will be back to the usual Recipes and Food Photography next week!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Celestial Black-Turtle Beans


A warning to the fast-food enthusiast: this recipe is not fast!
In fact, it is the classic slow-food recipe, best left simmering gently on the back burner all afternoon. Perfect for the colder winter days and packed full of nourishment, these Celestial Black Turtle Beans create a warm feeling throughout the whole house as they bubble gently, releasing their goodness and aroma.

Based on a recipe by Celestina Swanson of Swansisters Fine Teas.

Celestial Black Turtle Beans Ingredients:
2 cups black turtle beans
10 cm piece of wakame seaweed
1 onion finely chopped
3 anchovies (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups pumpkin, chopped

1 small carrot, sliced (or optional: stamped into celestial star-shapes)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican red chilli powder
2 tablespoons salt, added to taste
water, lots of water.

Soak beans over-night in fresh water with broken pieces of wakame seaweed. Beans cook faster, are more digestible and have a creamier texture when pre-soaked and the seaweed neutralises the enzyme that causes the gas that beans have a reputation for. Rinse the beans a couple of times during soaking and discard the purple soaking water.

When ready to cook, generously cover beans with fresh water and cook on low heat for 2-3 hours, adding extra water if necessary. When the beans begin to soften, add all other ingredients and continue to cook until creamy inside but still unbroken. The cumin especially improves the digestibility and enhances the flavour of the beans. Add more water as necessary as older beans tend to need longer cooking times and all beans vary in size.

This is the prefect recipe for a slow cooker, where you can 'set and forget' for a whole afternoon of simmering. And like many of these kinds of recipes, these beans are even better the next day.

When beans are ready to serve, garnish with fresh Avocado and Coriander Salsa and enjoy.

Avocado Salsa Ingredients:
1 avocado, diced
1 small red onion, sliced finely
1 small tomato, diced finely
1 cup fresh coriander, chopped roughly
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of carob molasses or brown sugar

Gently scatter the avocado, onion and tomato together in a serving bowl. Combine garlic, lemon juice and carob molasses into a dressing and drizzle over the avocado mix. Serve immediately with the Celestial Black-Turtle Beans.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Rising Sun Miso Soup

Something Vital to Greet the Day.

The morning sun streaming in through the kitchen window was so glorious, I just HAD to photograph something... And it had to be something quick, as la luz del sol (the light of the sun) wasn't waiting around.

A quick look in the cupboard produced a bag of dried seaweed that I'd gotten at Alfalfa House, the Wholefoods Co-Op in Enmore.

A rustle through the fridge found a block of Earth Star Organic Tofu and a jar of Shiro Miso. Perfect: Japan - The Land Of The Rising Sun - is synonymous with Miso soup and this accompaniment forms an essential part of almost every Japanese meal, almost as ubiquitous as green tea. The picture of solar goodness would be completed with the pot of sunny yellow chrysanthemums I'd bought yesterday, when out shopping with Kaitlyn, from the Vietnamese grocer in Marrickville.

Miso Soup Ingredients:
(Serves 1 - multiply accordingly)

1 tablespoon of miso paste
1 teaspoon powdered Dashi (Bonito flakes)
1 soup-bowl of boiling water
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked & sliced
a few pieces of dried seaweed, soaked
silken tofu, sliced in 'Rising Sun' circles
green shallots, finely sliced
a splash of tamari, to taste


Mix Miso & Dashi with a little water to make a smooth, runny paste in the bottom of each serving bowl. Assemble other ingredients in the bowl and top with boiling water.

Serve immediately, with Temaki-Nori Hand-roll.

(Recipe to follow in a future Blog...)

A Note about Miso:

Miso pastes are made from grains & pulses that have been fermented with a live pro-biotic culture that assists digestion. To preserve the health benefits of the live culture, miso paste should never be boiled.

Miso pastes range from the palest blond Shiro-Miso made from white rice, to the red Aka-Miso made from barley, through to a dark & chunky black-soybean Hatcho-Miso.

Eggs For Breakfast

And a Visit to the PhotoShop Beauty Parlour...

It’s the terrible irony of the food photographer in-the-making: I woke up all excited about exploring my new camera and lenses, but was so hungry I didn’t feel like I could wait hours fiddling around with ingredients. That’s what a food-stylist is for, hey. But the fresh organic eggs I had picked up from the market, along with the Organic Rye loaf from the local IGA agreed to collaborate: I could have my cake (or eggs-on-toast-for-breakfast in this case) and eat it too. Or so it seemed…

You will understand my disappointment then, when my eggs didn’t exactly turn out looking like Marie Claire… They did in fact look pretty awful, full of bubbles and pock-marks and a bit green around the gills from where I had improperly set the white-balance in my camera. Not something you'd want to take home to meet your mother.

I surmised that this happened because:

a) I’m not a regular maker or consumer of fried eggs on toast,

(I like Omelets better, or Fried Rice With Egg)
b) because I didn’t manage the temperature of the frying pan very well – still getting to know the stove in the new studio kitchen.

Suffice it to say, they looked like they didn’t egg-xactly get out of bed sunny-side up…

I wept quietly into my cup of tea:
“I’ll never become a food photographer, what was I thinking??”

Nevertheless, it dawned slowly on me that perhaps the food one sees pictures of in magazines may arrive at the studio in a less-than perfectly groomed state. So I decided, after eating my poor benighted eggs – at least they tasted good: the free-range chickens had held up their end of the bargain – that a trip to the Photoshop Beauty Parlour might be just the trick for my two googies.

Ten minutes on the Cloning Tool, a bit of tweaking with the Colour-Balance and voila! Behold, gorgeous eggs, sunny-side up, smiling for the camera.

Pumpkin Soup

Visiting the Orange Grove Organic Markets in Rozelle, the Autumn pumpkins looked just so perfect, so seasonal... dusky skins and just the right rap-rap tone when we knocked our knuckles against their sides...

Pumpkin Soup Recipe:
(100% Vegetarian / Vegan)

1 onion
2 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons of Stones Green Ginger wine
1 pumpkin
salt & pepper

Chop onion coarsely and fry lightly in vegetable oil in a large saucepan. When onion begins to turn slightly golden and the bottom of the pot is browning slightly, add the Stones Green Ginger wine and stir to deglaze the flavours from the bottom of the pot, cooking until the wine is almost evaporated off.

Peel the pumpkin and chop into chunks, then add to the onions, with enough water to just cover. Bring to boil and then simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Blend with a stick-mixer until smooth.

Serve hot with crusty rye-bread. Garnish with chopped parsley and season with Maldon sea-salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Non-vegans could add a dollop of goat’s yogurt.

Enjoy. Yum-oh!

Zucchini Muffins with Date & Almond cream

The first weekend's Adventures in Food Photography.

Deciding what to make for the
inaugural photo-shoot with the new camera was quite a decision. In the end, I chose to go 'back in time', settling on some baking - making these yummy little afternoon-tea cup-cakes. They were first made for us by my friend Phillip's mum when we were about eight years old - she wouldn't tell us what was in them until after we ate them - picky eaters that we were, we couldn't believe something so delicious had vegetables in it!

In starting out on this project, the ethical considerations seem equally important as the aesthetic, so I decided that we should
"Go Green" from go to whoa, leaving Petroleum out of the equation as much as possible. Riding my bicycle to the shops seemed a good start - and cycling up the hill to the Norton Street Grocer in Leichhardt was a good way to ground my excitement over the possibilities of the project in the here and now. I had already had more than one restless night, dreaming of the wonders of the Olympus E510 and the lenses that I eventually settled on...

- one-pedal stroke at a time -
- one recipe at a time -

that could become
my new Mantra.

The ethic and aesthetic pleasures continue at the green-grocers - selecting the most vibrant looking zucchinis, the freshest organic eggs, picking up a selection of paper muffin-cases from the Italian catering store, before pedalling the ingredients back to the studio to whiz together...

So now I present to you:

Zucchini Muffins

Zucchini Muffins Ingredients:
(Wheat-free / Gluten-free / Dairy free)
3 eggs
1 cup rice-bran oil
1/2 cup rapidura

(dehydrated sugar-cane juice; ordinary sugar will do)
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups rice flour
1 cup sticky-rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts


Beat eggs until foamy. Add rice-bran oil, rapidura sugar and vanilla and beat until thick and mousse-like.

Stir in the grated zucchini and fold in the sifted flours, baking powder, bicarbonate soda, cinnamon and walnuts.

Pour into muffin tins 2/3 full - they rise well - and bake at 250 degrees for approx 10 - 15 Min's, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack and ice with Date and Almond Cream.

Date and Almond Cream
(sugar-free & deliciously sweet)

1 cup raw blanched almonds
5 Turkish dates, seeds and skins removed
juice of 1 lime

Blend on high speed in food processor until smooth and creamy, adding just enough water to make a smooth paste. Ice the cakes with a palate knife, or decorate using a piping bag.

The Results:

I tried out a few different presentation styles, in paper cases / without paper-casing - not sure which one would make the best photo. And for sure I would put the CWA to shame with my dodgy piping technique... oh well, always good to have room for improvement!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Welcome to Yumoh

Adventures in Food & Photography - the journey begins!

Hello Fellow Foodies,
Welcome to Yumoh...!
We decided to create this blog
to document our ongoing Adventures in Food,
Photography & Creativity.

After much excitement researching cameras and equipment and techniques and styles - I took the plunge and upgraded to DSLR, which is a journey in itself - and we are finally ready to throw our hat in the ring and blog the results of our creative efforts.

When I say 'we', it's me and my friends - mostly me taking the pictures, in collaboration with my sweet and clever friends acting as 'guest stylists', muses, kind critics and general sharers in the milieu of all kinds of creative endeavour and expertise.

We have a loosely defined aim to work towards a cook-book for publication, but as with life, it is the Journey that matters as much as the final outcome. So what you will find in the e-pages on this site is a document of the creative development of our style of recipes and image-making. Besides recipes, there will also be occasional posts regarding creative practice, documenting the technical and artistic discoveries we make a long the way, as well as sharing pictures of the things that inspire our vision.

Our Philosophy?
Food is primal; along with shelter it is a basic need for survival and is an inalienable human right. But beyond survival, cooking and eating with the 'tribe' - our friends and family from around the world - is fun, creative, pleasurable, joyful and life-affirming - that's basically the idea behind this blog: sharing really good food is what it's all about.

The recipes you will find here arise from the kitchens of friends and family, day-to-day in our houses and apartments in Sydney Australia and from around the world when we venture further a-field on journeys and adventures. No fancy studios and no trickery with the styling: just passionate people who love cooking and creativity and getting together to share the fun.

The recipes are gathered from diverse sources, from the many different cultures that our friends arise from. What unites these recipes however, are the universal values of cooking really good food. By the notion of “Really Good”, we mean not only food that looks and tastes good, but food that is truly good for us: good for our bodies and good for the planet.

One of my favourite books from the 80's furnished this quote:

There are two Mantras:

Yum & Yuck

- Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker. 1980

Eating well and enjoying the good health that follows really does depend on being able to distinguish between what's good for us and what is not - knowing the difference between Yum and Yuck.

But as Michael Pollan wrote in The Omnivore's Dilemma, this is not always obvious with modern pre-packaged food and mass-marketing of junk "foods".

So we think it is doubly important to share ideas for producing, cooking and eating real food with each other, to pass on the wisdom that has been shared with us by our families and friends from diverse and long-standing cultures around the world. We like to 'walk-the-talk' and really put into these principles of sustainability into practice – using organic ingredients and seasonal produce, sourced locally wherever possible and processed without artificial chemical additives, cooking and eating food that is really, truly Good.

We hope you enjoy the journey as much as we do in making these meals to share and we welcome your comments and contributions.

kindest regards, Kyle
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