Sapphire Flutterer

Sapphire Flutterer

Sapphire Flutterer

Just because it’s so pretty, and because I didn’t find a good opportunity to write about it at the time, here’s a Sapphire Flutterer, Rhyothemis princeps. I took the photo beside Ross River near Aplin’s Weir in September last year. Since then, of course, we’ve seen a not-so-Wet season and, with it, the peak period for dragonflies, come and go.

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On autopilot

Green Path will be on autopilot for the next few weeks while I am away from home, unless I find free time (and free wi-fi) to log in and write something new. I will respond to emails and comments as soon as I can but you may need to be patient.

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Wasps in winter

brown wasps

Paper wasps sleeping amongst thorns

We’re well into winter, now, with the solstice only a couple of days away. We don’t get as much variation of day length or temperature as, say, Melbourne or Hobart but the change is great enough to affect the activity of ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures such as insects. I have noted before that our butterflies tend to go to sleep by mid-afternoon at this time of year, and here are some paper wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) doing the same. At least they have chosen a spot where no-one is likely to bother them!

The wasps and their nest

The wasps and their nest

The smaller picture (just click on it for a bigger one, as usual) shows the sleeping wasps and their comb-like nest on the twigs of a spiky little conifer.

It’s not a big colony at all, and I suspect it is not getting any bigger. As I said when I wrote about paper wasps’ life cycle here, the colonies do not normally continue from year to year.

It is impossible for the adults to feed themselves and their offspring without a certain level of activity and I think these adults have been caught by the poor Wet season, which has reduced the number of caterpillars in the garden, and the shortening days, which reduce their foraging time.

 

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Curries for all tastes

While frequently showing an interest in food gardening, this blog rarely ventures into the kitchen. A conversation over dinner is my excuse this time: four of us sitting around a table talking about curries had such a wide variety of preferences and sensitivities that I rashly said, “You can work around all of these, but only if you make your curry pastes yourself,” and then found myself having to back up my claim with details. Additional research was necessary (at times like these I love the internet) but it turned out that the extra information mostly amplified and consolidated what I already had in mind.

The basic curry paste

After looking at some dozens of curry paste recipes, a common pattern for all of them was apparent:

  • Something pungent: usually garlic, often with shallots as well or instead
  • Something hot: chili, sometimes with white or black pepper as well
  • Something salty: fish sauce, shrimp paste and/or salt
  • Something citrussy: lemongrass and/or Kaffir lime (peel or zest or leaves)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Ginger or galangal
  • Other herbs and spices: sometimes part of the paste, sometimes part of the recipe for the dish it is used in.

This basic pattern is amazingly widespread. The fact that Thai and Indian cuisines shared it was no great surprise, but it actually carries as far West as one can travel without a boat, all the way to Morocco where it becomes harissa. The preparation method is essentially the same, too: crush the dry spices, then add and crush the wet ones.

Variations

Variations and elaborations of the basic pattern are endless. Some are regional, as we would expect; others arise from a simple wish to have a range of flavours in any one cuisine; others again are religious; and so on. The immediate context of  my dinner-table conversation, however, was that all of us had different ideas of what is “too hot”, while one of us was garlic-intolerant and we know someone else who is allergic to onions and shallots as well as garlic – “all the alliums,” as she says sadly. Since all the recipes begin with garlic and chili, avoiding either of them is impossible in a restaurant curry or in a commercially prepared curry paste (sorry!). At home, though, there are (almost) no limits.

Avoiding too much heat: Some of us like the heat of chili for its own sake but if it is used sparingly it also has the function of bringing out the other flavours in the curry. Try cooking with a tiny amount of it and encouraging those who like the heat to scatter chili flakes on their food at the table.

Avoiding garlic: If garlic is the only problem, its cousins onion, shallot or spring onion are reasonably good substitutes. I mentioned religious reasons for variations in the basic recipe, and they centre on the alliums: the Jains, some Hindus and some Buddhists avoid them, so there is a vast repertoire of curries and other foods that don’t use any of them. Hing (asafoetida) is a standard substitute for garlic and onion in South Indian cuisine. If hing is also off limits, we have run out of options – but you may like to add more of the aromatic spices to compensate.

After all that, a recipe … Fish Amok, a mild curry I encountered on my first visit to Cambodia. It was love at first bite, and I now cook it fairly often. My recipe is a composite based on one from a Cambodian cook-book which has unfortunately vanished from its former site.

Fish Amok (Cambodian Yellow Curry)

Serves 3 – 4

Ingredients

  • Yellow kroeung paste
  • 350g firm white fish fillets
  • 2 tsp ghee, coconut oil (or other veg. oil)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 handful of coriander, Thai basil, basil and/or mint, roughly chopped
  • 400ml / 2 cups full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream
  • green vegetables to serve

Yellow kroeung paste

    • Lemongrass, around 4 sticks – remove outer leaves and mince or roughly chop the white part
    • 2 – 4 kaffir lime leaves – or use 1 tsp juice and ½ tsp zest from an unwaxed lime
    • 1 tbs of fresh galangal or ginger, chopped or minced
    • 1 tsp of turmeric (fresh or dried)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced, plus 3 shallots or 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (or 4 cloves garlic, minced, but no onion or shallots; or hing)
    • 2 tsp fish sauce plus (optionally) 1 tsp shrimp paste
    • 1 tsp palm sugar or cane sugar
    • 2 tsp red curry paste, or some fresh chilli (or chilli flakes as a condiment)

Blend all these together until smooth – you might need to pulse a few times first depending on its strength of your blender – and set to one side. 

Method

  • Dice the fish into large cubes about 2cm x 2cm and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oil or ghee in a medium saucepan, add the kroeung paste and cook on a medium heat for 30 seconds, stirring regularly to stop the bottom from catching.
  • Add the coconut milk and bring to a medium simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the fish cubes to the sauce and gently poach for about 4 mins with lid on, until cooked through.
  • Sprinkle the bottom of 2 bowls with most of the herbs and then gently ladle the Fish Amok over them. Garnish with the remaining herbs and serve.
  • Serve with: sauteed bok choy, or snow peas, etc.

Making up the kroeung paste is labour-intensive enough that I generally make a double quantity and put half in the fridge for next time; it keeps for a couple of weeks.

I have used the same method for pork and chicken, increasing the cooking time as necessary, with good results.

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Having kittens

It is an embarrassingly long time since my last post but a large part of the reason is that I was busy doing other good things, so I don’t feel quite so bad about the gap as I would otherwise have done. My major project was setting up the website for Kittens for the Reef, a cute video which I think everyone should watch:

Kittens for the Reef was launched on May 31 by one of its stars, Dr Charlie Veron (Fluffy couldn’t make it) at Townsville’s Eco-fiesta, an annual event which brings together all sorts of greenies. I attended and enjoyed it, as I have in previous years.

There is usually a new gadget or idea which catches my attention more than the others, and this year it was a cleverly designed and engineered portable solar power system from SolairForce. As their brochure (pdf) says:

The Solairforce PPS is essentially a Solar charged battery system with a pure sine wave inverter which is portable and able to be used in a variety of applications. It is able to be charged via solar or a mains battery charger and has a deep cycle battery storage component. The Solairforce PPS has 12v DC, 240v AC and USB capabilities.

But that sells the engineering short. Everything except the panels sits snugly in a weatherproof, waterproof plastic chest that looks like a heavy-duty Esky, with air vents on each end and a row of weatherproof outlets on the front.

When it comes to applications, the brochure is much better:

The Solairforce PPS has a wide variety of applications which include but are not limited to:

  • Off Grid system able to be connected to domestic houses to save buying grid power
  • UPS system for computers and servers
  • Emergency power (including medical devices)
  • Remote area power supply?
  • Camping , RV’S, Caravans
  • Tradesmen and builders on job sites
  • Disaster relief?
  • Boating
  • Mining, underground or confined spaces
  • Power supply for transportable buildings

I have bolded the applications in which I think it is going to be particularly valuable and, of these, disaster relief is the stand-out. MSF, Red Cross, Oxfam, etc, please take note!  The developer doesn’t have a full web site devoted to the system but is on Facebook.

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