Chestnuts

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Saturday morning at the farmers’ markets at EPIC has become a much-loved ritual for A and me, and is one of the times I feel most Canberra-proud: wonderful produce, unpretentious location, good coffee, fresh crepes and the inability to walk from one end of the shed to the other without running into at least one colleague each.

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Trips to the markets often result in some kind of ingredient-specific obsession in me for a few weeks. The latest is the chestnut: wintery, sweet, creamy and versatile; with an interesting nutritional profile: very low fat, super-starchy and with decent quantities of goodies like fibre and folate.

As you enter the markets, the chestnut stall is on the right and close to the entrance. The lovely stall-keepers give good advice (buy an easy-peel variety and keep the in the fridge) and are always ready with a roasted chestnut or two for you to nibble on. Chestnuts are pretty cheap, too – a kilo for $7 or so gives you a big bag that will give plenty of scope for experimenting.ImageI’ll post soon with a couple of more involved recipes, but wanted to start with simple instructions for roasting chestnuts. Last Friday night, I invited a bunch of colleagues round to my place on the night of the winter solstice for roasted chestnuts and mulled wine – perfect time of year for embracing this kind of food!

Roasted chestnuts

1. Score chestnuts with a sharp knife in the shape of a cross, as below. I’ve found it’s easier and safer to score the rounded side, allowing the flatter side to rest on the board. The cuts should just pierce the flesh of the chestnuts, to prevent them from bursting in the oven. (I had a few of those, two, causing plenty of hilarity at my place.)Image

2. Cook in a hot oven (220 degrees) for about 20 minutes. The nuts will open beautifully so that they are easier to peel.

3. Leave them for a few minutes before peeling the nuts out of both the outer (harder) and inner (more flaky) shells. If you have guests, let them peel them themselves – it’s easier for you and more fun for them – and serve with salt, which cuts through the creaminess.

4. If you are planning to use some nuts in a recipe later, peel them while they’re warm – it’s much easier – and then keep peeled nuts in the fridge.ImageImage

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London Bridge… in rural NSW

A and I have been doing some bushland exploring around Canberra recently (which sounds, appropriately, more amateurish than ‘hiking’ or even ‘bushwalking’). I think this is partly because the weather is perfect for it – chilled, crisp and sunny – and partly because too many tedious hours inside lately has meant I crave plenty of open space on weekends.

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It helps, too, that there’s plenty of outdoor wonders to discover within an easy drive of home, partly guided by the very useful Canberra Times blog, Tim the Yowie Man.

I was particularly intrigued by a post about London Bridge Arch, a naturally-occurring Saxon-esque arch made of limestone about 20km south of Queanbeyan in beautiful, hilly countryside.

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From Queanbeyan, the drive towards the London Bridge Walking Track takes you through Queanbeyan’s suburban back streets, industrial land, farmland and finally something rather sparser as you head towards Googong Foreshores (South). The final part of the drive is on a dirt road and requires stopping to open a gate (which, I learned the hard way, is locked during and after heavy rain). The London Bridge Arch track is about 4km long, though not very well marked. After walking past a few mobs of roos and wallabies, we soon found ourselves walking over London Bridge  (which must be at least 20m wide) before carefully picking our way through complex wombat-created tunnel cities in order to see the structure from below. Frankly, it’s extraordinary, and easily the highlight of the walk.

ImageThere is more to see though – and more to photograph. You reach the London Bridge Homestead, about two thirds of the way through the walk after crossing a hill or two (and in our case, accidentally, a river). It dates from the 1860s, and while the homestead itself is mostly fenced off, it’s interesting to explore the area around it, including abandoned sheds, cars and various other bits of rusted machinery from decades past.ImageAnd while it’s a beautiful place and a fairly easy, interesting walk, we saw only one other group while we were there. Take a friend, if you can – there is a beautiful loneliness about the country there.ImageImageMore information about the walk is available to download here. If you’re looking for directions on Google Maps, it recognises London Bridge Road, Burra, NSW. Meanwhile, this is the rather fascinating view of London Bridge Arch from the air: 

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Back again (with photos from Moscow)

 

I wish that there had been more days to wander her streets (in high-quality thermals) and to get to know her. Another time!ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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The Eurobodalla Coast – photographic highlights

A’s family has a house near Moruya, around two and a half hours’ drive from Canberra, a land of mangroves, Saturday markets, rockpools and cold surf. This time, we headed out to Broulee Island for a beautiful late afternoon walk (pristine water, herons, long shadows) and an opportunity to try out the wide angled lens that came with my Canon 550D.ImageImageImageImageImageImageIMG_5566IMG_5597Image

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Quinoa patties

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I seem to be much better at doing Tuesday culinary experiments than writing about them. The fact that it is Tuesday and frequently rushed provides constraints that, I think, keeps the food realistic, though it turns out that getting time to upload photos and remember a recipe is a little harder. After all, no one gets to eat at the end of it.

I’ve been wanting to try quinoa patties for a while, and have now tried this recipe a few times until I got it right. They’re healthy, adaptable (us whatever is in the fridge), relatively quick, taste good cold and can either form the main part of a (vegetarian?) meal or go with whatever else you have planned. The below is really just a starting point.

Quinoa patties (makes 6ish, which is probably enough for two people and a small leftover snack)

3/4 cup quinoa
1 carrot, grated
40g parmesan cheese, grated
4 spring onions, chopped
half a capsicum, finely chopped
1/3 cup frozen baby peas
plenty of chopped herbs – I used mint, basil and parsley
3 eggs
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the quinoa according to instructions (I just cooked it with salted water). Once cooked, pour into a mixing bowl with all other ingredients, and stir to combine.

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To cook, scoop mixture into 1/2 cup measures, pat down and level off before dolloping gently onto a hot, oiled pan. Cook on both sides until brown.

These have plenty of potential – I think they’d be delicious at breakfast, with slighty different ingredients.

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Project 365 – Part III

Project 365 continues, and I find that it is getting easier and that I am enjoying it increasingly. Lots of bike riding means covering large distances with plenty of photo opportunities, and as ever there is plenty of food in the below, including freshly foraged summer produce. The harder I look, the more I find that Canberra is photogenic.

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Taking better photos

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I spent yesterday with five other keen amateur photographers and a very patient, experienced teacher in an artists’ retreat in north Canberra. The only distractions all day were cows, a brief but thunderous storm, magpies and a rather long wait for our coffees.  This was Bradley Cummings Photography and his full-day workshop, Introduction to digital photography, a very thoughtful Christmas present from A.

I’ve been using a DSLR now for almost a year, carry it around with me wherever I go, and have learned how to get certain kinds of shots from the 50mm lens that I have used almost exclusively since I bought the camera. I’ve had some very useful tips along the way, especially from my good friend S., who taught me to zoom with my legs and to look in all four corners of the frame before taking a picture (which I often fail to do).

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But this course, aimed at helping newcomers to DSLRs to get the most from their cameras, helped me to realise just how many more things are possible… like learning how to take the two shots below by using maximum and minimum aperture settings. It finally makes sense to my why photographers would choose to shoot on aperture priority mode.

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It was much easier to conceptualise the impact of shutter speed, aperture and ISO when Brad pulled apart an old film camera to show us exactly what was happening on the inside. There was plenty of time to try out what we were learning along the way, and assistance for each of us as we pottered around the gardens experimenting. The workshops are run at the Strathnairn Arts Association, a beautiful and ramshackled collection of artists’ cabins, finished and unfinished sculptures and lovely gardens, set in what felt like the middle of the countryside, a few minutes from Belconnen.

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Brad has a gentle, encouraging teaching style that helped us to cover a lot in a short time and in providing criticism that was helpful and kind. Indeed, he was so patient that the class ran over an hour over time, because he was answering every question as he guided each of us through the selection, editing and printing of one photograph of the day (mine is the go kart wheel, above). And while it was a full day, it was a fun day and not an  exhausting one, and I was glad to get so much done at once.

And while I’ve tried to date to be fairly organic about my photography, learning bits and pieces myself as I go, this has inspired me to learn more about the technical possibilities and, of course, to keep practising.

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