Dr Sister Outlaw’s baking career goes bung …

Having written extensively on the magic of flour-butter combos (which includes fabulous pastry for scallop pies), the seductive powers of fine desserts like Lemon Delicious Pudding and the charms of Christmas pudding, I think I have established I have quite a thing for working with flour.

Of all my kitchen skills I am most grateful for my skills as a baker and pastry chef. Over three decades I have gained a keen sense of how to emulsify flour and liquids into elastic doughs, or puff flour and fat into gorgeous cakes and desserts. I have celebrated these skills most when I have someone to impress; at a “bring a plate” do or, as has not often been the case, when there is an appreciative man around. I’m a baking nerd with a real thing for gluten – I know how to use it and how to play with it. And of course I love to eat it, as I confessed in my post about my food crimes as a single woman.

But now find myself in a quite a sad situation. Those who follow me on twitter will realise that I have, of late, developed a strong and quite dizzy making crush. This of course is not sad at all, for it seems the crush is reciprocated. No, what’s sad is all my mad baking skills are wasted upon him. He cannot eat gluten. Worst of all, I have not spent that much time cooking for people who are gluten intolerant so I do not know how to bake or make much at all without it.

The only answer to this problem, of course, is to develop some skills and knowhow in the area of gluten-free baking and cooking, which is why I have turned to you, denizens of the lazy web. I know you wise and learned Progressive Dinner Party readers will have heaps of good advice about how to develop mad skills in gluten-free baking. So, this is an open thread on pitfalls and dangers, tips and advice and, hopefully, a really good recipe for gluten-free bread.


Eat Drink Blog – Australia’s first food blogger conference

Along with Reem from I am obsessed with food … and another outspoken female from confessions of a food nazi, I’ll be talking at the upcoming Eat Drink Blog conference in Melbourne on “Why we blog” on March 21. I’ll just give you all a minute to get the “but you never blog, you lazy sod” jokes. It’s a small-ish event, with only a limited number of places due to the nice dinner and cocktails we’ll be getting (largely thanks to the connections and charm of Ed from Tomatom). But I’ll be in town for a day or two, so perhaps some Melbourne PDP writers and friends could meet up?

My abstract (which seems a very fancy name, but anyway) is:

There are a million reasons to start a blog, but most blogs are quickly discarded. What will keep you going? The answers are as various as the many genres of blog that exist, even within the food blogging world. Identifying what you want your blog to be helps you create a space that feels right for you and attracts the readers you want to engage with. The first step is identifying what you want to say and why you blog – whether it’s to stretch a writing muscle or show your photographic chops, to share your culinary skills or the latest news, or simply to become part of a community of like-minded food nerds.

And another outspoken female has also suggested that I should talk about group blogging, and the particular benefits of that approach. Part of the reason I wanted to be part of a group blog was to alleviate the pressure/guilt of not posting very frequently, but what I value about it most is the collegial conversations we have around here. It’s all I could have hoped for when entering the food blogging world.

I’ve been thinking too, about the power of images in blogging. There’s a photo competition and exhibition in concert with the conference, and I put a few photos in for the hell of it – there are almost 400 images in the competition flickr group. I’ve always resisted the desire to have very beautiful and styled looking photos – I’ve had to, as I don’t have the expertise, equipment or ability to keep the family waiting while I take pictures. Mostly though, I wanted to see people eating, and bring the world forced away from the food through bokeh and the like back into focus.

Yet having had a camera meltdown and not having replaced it yet (my work is casual, was not needed over the long uni break and my taste in cameras have become more expensive than it used to be) has really held me back. I don’t see why it should, as I’m certainly not a particularly good photographer, but I think that taking the pictures often sparks the thinking. It’s odd, because I am a writer not a photographer, but the interplay between illustrative and/or decorative images, texts and links has always seemed to me the greatest technical fun of blogging.

I’ve really wanted to post the abundance of my veggie garden and a few special dishes and meals. I’ve tweeted a couple, but you can see the quality of the images deteriorate before your eyes:

Both of these, by the way, were from Sean Moran’s Let it Simmer. The first a lake of chocolate mousse in the crater of a flourless chocolate cake (which is essentially a cooked mousse) and the second a custard tart with a finger lime glaze (and I added a layer of thinly sliced figs to the top of the tart, and some rose geranium leaves to the glaze). New camera soon, and then right back to it.

In the meantime, I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts on why food blogging is an activity worth doing, and what might be interesting to hear about.

2010 Australian Women’s History Month celebrates some female pioneers of agricultural food production

Women's History MonthEvery year the Australian Women’s History Forum runs a themed “Women’s History Month” in March. This year’s theme is music to the ears of a pointy-headed food nerd:

Demeter’s daughters: women’s harvest history
The history of food farming in Australia is much more than the record of agricultural production. When the focus is on women, the story starts with Indigenous food harvesting and includes the pioneering cultivation of familiar crops in unfamiliar soil by colonial women.

It also involves meat producers, dairy and poultry farmers, and market gardeners of Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese and many other nationalities. Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture, also symbolises women growing food in the Depression and those of the wartime Women’s Land Army; women in wartime ‘victory gardens’ when food was still rationed, those who pioneered viticulture and those whose hand was on the plough of agricultural education and research.

The poster shows a portrait of Lu Moo (‘Granny Lum Loy’) by Sydney artist Karolina Venter. Chinese-born, she arrived in Darwin in 1894 and became a very successful market gardener, so beloved that her funeral in 1980 was “one of the biggest and longest in Darwin’s history” – which given the Territorian’s propensity to party on must have been something to see.

Other featured women include Yvonne Aitken, an agricultural scholar and scientist and the pioneering winemaker Mary Penfold.

There’s a growing list of relevant resources, and a calendar of events searchable by area, and a blog, where they’re seeking community input. They’ve already attracted the interest of the Gooloogong Historical Society who are searching for Women’s Land Army members and their descendants, so if you know someone who dug for victory, they’d love to hear from you.

My only sadness is that they have kept the theme to food production, rather than to other forms of women’s economic activity around food – there’s some very interesting work to be done on the Australian female chefs of the late 1970s and 1980s. (And if anyone’s doing that work, I happen to have a really awesome collection of old food mags and forgotten volumes on the subject …)

Streetsmart in Canberra, and elsewhere

Following a holiday mishap, I am awaiting the return of my cook’s knife. I blame my blogging absence on this, which I have been calling “knife block”. One day I’ll think of something to write (and then actually write it) but in the meantime, you should know about Streetsmart.

They’re a small Australian nonprofit organisation focussing on homelessness. From Monday 9 November until Christmas Eve, they’re asking diners in participating restaurants to make a $2 donation, 100% of which will be used to assist people who really need help – see the grants they made in NSW/ACT after last year’s campaign.

Two Canberra restaurants are participating, Flint Dining Room and Bar in New Acton and Mecca Bah in Manuka. You can find a participating restaurant in your area here. and suggest to your favourite cafes and restaurants that they get involved, too. Don’t forget to leave your tip, too. That would be stingy.

If if doesn’t suit you to do it they way, they suggest other ways to get involved and have an online donation facility. They’re on Facebook and Twitter, and there’s a great deal more info at their site.

How very fucked it would be to not have a safe place to lay your head at night.

Dr Sister Outlaw, sullying the food blog with an open thread on … (whisper) dieting

I am prepared to admit this is not appropriate talk for a food blog, because, like most contributors and commenters here, I believe Prog Dinner Party is about celebrating food, not restricting it.

However, in recent weeks a friend and I have put ourselves on diets, as we prepare for a wedding and try to fit into the frocks we’ve chosen (the bride, btw, is a tiny elegant little thing who has to work to keep weight on).

My weight loss method is loosely based around the CSIRO diet, which is a great sort of boot camp on how to cook with less fat, even if I can’t afford to buy all that meat and I don’t eat pork. My version is to follow the formula of two or three small serves of carbs a day, loads of veges and salad and some fruit and low fat dairy and oodles of lean red meat, chicken and fish (up to 350 grammes a day!). Of course I also restrict fats (not much of a problem as I’m not really into cheese or chocolate) and I cut down on carbs and (sob) alcohol. Let you know how it works in a few weeks. 

But, in the mean time, I thought it might be interesting to ask PDP readers what they give up when they are faced with the choice of either losing weight or buying a whole new wardrobe. Conversely, if you have the opposite problem, of unwanted skinniness, you might want to reveal what you eat to gain weight. Folks, it’s time to share …

Keith Floyd’s wake

Twitter has brought bad news (thanks @ninjamoeba, we share your pain).

I hereby call on all members of Progressive Dinner Party to pay at least a minute’s silence to the great Keith Floyd, who has passed away quietly at home after what appears to be a series of illnesses, at the fairly young age of 66 (well, that would be young if you were not Keith Floyd).

We will miss you Keith. We adored your alcohol-sodden shows and your irreverence. The last made it possible for all of us, no matter how ordinary or, erm, Australian, to embrace your plummy accent along with the knowledge and passion that went into your food. Good on ya Keith, we’ll miss ya.

Raise your glasses please. Time to share our favourite Keith stories! In fact, just pass me the bottle will you?

floyd and ivana

Image of Keith Floyd and Ivana Trump sourced from “Wives, wine and fame … my recipe for self destruction” by Keith Floyd writing in The Daily Mail