Thursday, June 17, 2010

Melbourne, Melbourne!!

I love pictures and this picture tells a story. It's taken from the AIS data for Melbourne and Port Phillip. AIS is a system for ships that's like aircraft transponders. It broadcasts a range of data including course and speed, type of vessel and destination.
This picture shows why the Port of Melbourne is the busiest port in Australia. The green ships are all cargo vessels - most, but not all of them container vessels.
The most interesting "vessel" in this picture though is the little turquoise coloured vessel on the left of the picture near the word "Lara". When I interrogated that vessel it informed me that it had a speed of 124 knots and a course of 187 degrees. It also informed me that it was a "SAR aircraft" so that explains the speed I guess. It's very close to the position of Avalon Airport so I suspect some training is going on.

Healthy, Fast Food

You know the feeling, you've had a hard day at work, you're tired and you really can't be bothered cooking something sensible. The temptation to eat some fast food, some generally unhealthy fast food, is huge.
We've found a bit of a way around that though. The meal turns out to have several of the food groups, it's fast and it's low in fat. Our current specialty is a chicken burger, simple and healthy. We also do a steak sandwich a similar way and it's equally healthy.
Buy a couple of chicken breast fillets, some tomato and salad and some hamburger buns - wholemeal if you like and if you can find them.
Firstly deal with the chicken fillets. Trim off any fat and lay each fillet out on a cutting board. Take a very sharp knife and cutting parallel to the board make each fillet into 2 or 3 slices depending on size. This means that the pieces will fit into a burger easily and cook quickly. Marinate the chicken with your choice of marinade some hoy sin sauce, or soy sauce - whatever works for you. Light the barbecue and cook the chicken (see note).
While that's cooking split the buns and toast them, spread with some mustard, sauce or mayonnaise if you must, and add the salad and sliced tomato. When the chicken is cooked put it on the salad and put the other half of the bun on top.
This is a tasty and simple meal, total time from unpacking the shopping bag to sitting down to eat is about 15 minutes. Is it haute cuisine? Of course not but it's simple, quick and modestly healthy. You get some carbs, some protein, some reds and some green leaves.
Note: The barbecue that we use is very small and very simple. We only have a small outdoor deck on the roof, so we have very limited space for a barbie. The key to success is that it has a cast iron grill so any fat drains away and it has a closing lid which keeps food moist. Almost all of our meat is cooked on this barbecue, it keeps cooking smells out of the house and it's a great way to cook. Legs of lamb, steak, chicken, sausages, pork roasts all end up on the barbecue. Careful management means that you get food without all the bad charring that is so common with a barbecue but you still get the lovely smoky taste that you associate with a barbie. We particularly love a slow cooked leg of lamb. We use a very low heat, wrap the seasoned leg in foil and cook for a long time. It comes out lovely and moist and falling off the bone. Just brilliant.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young Solo Sailors

A conversation sprang up here last night. My 22 year-old son said that he thought it was inappropriate that young people set off to sail solo around the world. Certainly at the age of 16. I told him he was a conservative old fart!
It got me thinking however. What are the rights and wrongs of allowing or more correctly supporting your child to go off and do something like this? Is it dangerous? Is it foolhardy? I came to a split decision and here it is.
Firstly I think many of the issues which kids face today have, at their root, the fact that we don't challenge our kids enough. I mean that kids don't face physical and mental challenges and they don't face controlled danger. Somebody described the kids of today as leading meaningless and insipid lives. I believe that that's true to a large extent. I also think that leads to kids seeking out their own challenges - often inappropriate challenges like violence and drinking.
The problem for parents, teachers and others is this: as soon as you support your children to take on challenges and risks you begin to worry!! It's inevitable, you care, you feel responsible and you worry. My personal view is that the worry is part of your job as a's your responsibility to work with your children to try and make sure that the risks are proportional and that they are equipped to manage them. It isn't your job to stop them taking those risks. Indeed as they get older the notion of "stopping" your children from doing something becomes simply irrelevant. They'll find a way. So you are much better being part of the process than a powerless bystander.
In short that means that I'm not against young people trying to sail around the world at the age of 16. It's not for every young person and I'm sure those parents agonise over it, lose sleep over it and worry more than I can imagine.
Part two is where I have problems however. I mentioned above, that I think it's part of a parent's role to make sure the risks are proportional. In the most recent case of Abby Sunderland the story is interesting. I'm not trying to judge either Abby or her parents in writing this - that's not my role. Rather it's to tell you how I think about it and I'd be interested to hear how you think about it.
Two things are of concern to me: Firstly in January - mid-summer in the Souther Hemisphere - in the area where Abby has been dismasted, the frequency of gales is less than 5 days per month. In July (the nearest month with data) the frequency of gales is greater than 10 days per month, the gale area stretches further north and the extreme limit of icebergs is also further north. Not by much, but by enough to now become an issue at her latitude. So we have over double the incidence of gales and added iceberg risk. (Data from Ocean Passages for the World). Ian Kiernan, a solo circumnavigator himself, has gone on record as saying that it's not the place for a 16 year-old to be in winter. I'd certainly hesitate to go there myself at this time of year. Too cold, too rough, too windy!!
The other issue is the choice of boat. In my view, it's no accident that many successful solo circumnavigations have been in S&S 34s. These aren't modern boats, they're not extreme in their proportions and they're not fast. They are however sea kindly, strong and safe. The Open 40 that Abby is sailing is a more extreme hull form, faster, designed for fast running and perhaps not as sea kindly. There's no doubt that they are perfectly capable of circumnavigating, many have. Indeed Mike Perham conducted his recent solo circumnavigation in an Open 50. But whether they are the ideal boat for a young solo sailor is in my view questionable.
So if I had to sum all that up, I'd say I'm heartily glad that young people like Jessica Watson, Mike Perham, Zac Sunderland and Abby Sunderland are having a go. I do have some questions however about planning and timing in some of the cases.
Whatever the case Abby will have had some experiences that will nourish her soul and her spirit for the rest of her life. Good on her.
What do you think?

Sunday, June 6, 2010


You're getting a bit of cooking must be the colder weather!
Use the pasta recipe from the previous post to make some delicate tagliatelle or pappardelle.
Take two leeks, top and tail them so that you are left with the white, tight part of the leeks. Split them down the middle and then slice each half very finely - transversely. Throw about 25g of unsalted butter in a pan and gently sweat the leeks. You want them to be soft and translucent but not in any way browned.
Take 4 large, brown mushrooms, start at one side and slice them thinly, including the stalk. Add them to the leeks along with a dollop of olive oil and continue to cook on a low heat until very soft and well cooked down. There should be only a little moisture in the pan.
Put on your pasta water.
In another pan heat about 50ml of olive oil and add 2 finely sliced small, hot, red chillis and 4 anchovy fillets. Fry off until the anchovies disintegrate. Add 600g of chicken mince and cook on a moderate heat until cooked but still tender. Add the leek and mushroom mixture, and 3 finely chopped sage leaves, mix and cook on a moderate heat.
Put your pasta on.
Add about 80ml of pouring cream to the chicken and vegetable mixture, adjust the seasoning and mix through.
Drain the pasta. Take the chicken sauce off the heat and sprinkle a quarter of a cup of finely chopped broad leaf parsley onto it.
Serve the pasta and sauce with a bottle of good olive oil for sprinkling and some good grated parmesan.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Magic Pasta

This is a wonderful pasta dish. First make the pasta: put 500g of strong flour and 5 large eggs into a food processor. Pulse process until it comes together in a crumb. Turn it out onto a board and knead until it forms a silky dough. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and set aside at room temperature to rest for an hour.
After the pasta has rested process it through a pasta machine, making sure that it is well laminated. Then progressively work the pasta down to the finest setting on the machine. Once it is thin enough, use the die of your preference to cut into strips - tagliatelle, parpadelle or whatever you prefer.
Meanwhile take 8 or 10 leaves of cavolo nero and strip the leaves from the stems. Roll the leaves and cut into a coarse chiffonade. In a fry pan add a good dollop of olive oil, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, six anchovy fillets and a finely chopped hot red chilli. Saute until fragrant and then add the cavolo nero. Put a lid on and braise for 20 minutes, you probably won't need to add any water.
Put on the water for the pasta and when it boils salt it and add the pasta.
Meanwhile steam two heads of broccoli until very well cooked. When it is well cooked crumble it and add to the cavolo nero along with 200g of finely sliced smoked salmon. Mix well and warm through.
Drain the pasta when al dente. Serve with the cavolo nero sauce, freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, grated parmesan, ground black pepper and a good olive oil to sprinkle on top.
Buon appetito.
Note: The word "laminate" may be alien to you when used with respect to pasta. In my view it's the key to getting good home made pasta. Maybe the real experts get to the same place another way, but if they do I'm not aware of it. Lamination is a simple process. Set the pasta maker on the thickest setting. Take pieces of dough and run them through. As they become wider fold the two sides together and put them through again. As they become longer fold the two ends together and put them through again. You need to put the dough through about 10-12 times. At the end the dough will have changed. It will now be durable and flexible, not like a biscuit dough as it may have been at the start. The dough should be about 1/3 to 1/2 the width of the pasta machine rollers and ready to be rolled thin. This is in my experience the way to get pasta that is delicate yet robust at the end of the process, when it's cooked.