About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

My Complete Profile

Recent Posts
Hashed Potato Pancakes
Easy Tomato Soup
A Matter of Opinion
Ruby Blood Navel Oranges
Chicken Cacciatora
Goulash Soup
Fennel, Guanciale & Fontina Quiche
Soup aux Bernard Salt
Polenta with Cavalo Nero & Borlotti Beans
Sorrel Sauce

Links
1001 Dinners 1001 Nights
A Few of My Favourite Things
Abstract Gourmet
Apellation Australia
Becks and Posh
BurgerMary ATX
Cook (almost) Anything at least once
Cooking Down Under
Cook sister!
Cooked And Bottled In Brunswick
David Lebovitz
Deep Dish Dreams
Chef Paz
Chubby Hubby
Eating Melbourne
Eating With Jack
essjay eats
Food Lover's Journey
Gosstronomy
Grab Your Fork
I Am Obsessed With Food
I Eat Therefore I Am
Iron Chef Shellie
Just Desserts
Kalyn's Kitchen
Kitchen Wench
Lobstersquad
Matt Bites
Melbourne Gastronome
My Kitchen in Half Cups
Nola Cuisine
Not Quite Nigella
Nourish Me
Seriously Good
Souvlaki For The Soul
Stone Soup
Sunnybrae
Syrup and Tang
Steve Don't Eat It!
That Jess Ho
The Elegant Sufficiency
The Perfect Pantry
The View From My Porch
Thyme for Cooking
Tomato
Tumeric & Saffron
tummy rumbles
What I Cooked Last Night
where's the beef
WhiteTrashBBQ
Vicious Ange

Food Blog Resources
Food Blog S'cool
I Eat I Drink I Work
Kiplog Food Links

Food for Thought
Autism Victoria
Autism Vox
forget me now
Lotus Martinis
MOM - Not Otherwise Specified
St Kilda Today

Thursday, May 31, 2007
Guigal Tasting

The winery E Guigal, was started by Etienne Guigal in 1946 and has become the benchmark Rhone valley winery in France. Some consider that this firm are amongst the top five winemakers in the world. Etienne was rendered blind by an illness and handed over the reigns to his son Marcel in 1961, whose tremendous natural ability and hard work enabled the company to expand its portfolio, with one of the first wineries bought being Vidal-Fleury where Etienne had served his apprenticeship. Now Marcel's son Philippe also works in the family business.

The Guigal estate is in Ampuis and it is here that a goodly part of their wines are aged in cellars, from the famed northern appellations of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, Hermitage, Saint Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage and the fabulous southern appellations of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Tavel and Cotes-du-Rhone. The real beauty of the wines is that there is something for every pocket and taste and they epitomize what a Rhone wine should be like.

Australia is well known and loved for its rendition of the shiraz grape, as the vines really thrive in certain locations, with perhaps the wines from the Barossa valley in South Australia being the most highly regarded, sunshine in a bottle, as they are affectionately known. Because of the warm climate, there is generally no problem getting the fruit ripe, but unless care is taken, wines can become to big and alcoholic, resulting in flabby, lackluster wines, mostly the result of not enough acidity remaining in the grapes. It is of course possible to adjust the acidity by the addition of certain compounds, which is strictly illegal in France, but interestingly the French can add sugar (chaptalization) to their wines to promote a good fermentation, but that practice is banned in Australia.

All this leads to marked differences between shiraz from Australia and syrah as it's known in France. Our wines seem more generous and open while the best French examples are more reserved but have terrific structure. Another thing that gives the Rhone wines some interest is the French habit of blending different grape varieties to round out some of their wines, grenache and mourvedre being two permitted examples. It is here that the white grape viognier is also blended with syrah to produce greater complexity in the finished wine.

If you're interested in checking out what shiraz is like from its spiritual home and perhaps its greatest maker, this Saturday, Prince Wine Store is holding a free tasting of a range of Guigal wines including Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2005 & Rouge 2003 & 2004, Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2005 & Rouge 2004, St Joseph 2003, St Joseph Hospice du Beaune 2004, Cote Rotie 2003, Chateauneuf du Pape 2003 and Gigondas 2003.


It's a great line up that would be well worth the trouble of attending. There is also at the same time a sub tasting of better credentialed Guigal wines such as Cote Rotie 2003, Chateau Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis 2002, Chateau Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis 2003, Cote Rotie La Turque 2003, Cote Rotie La Mouline 2003 and La Landonne 2003. However, there is a cost of $75 for this option and you do need to book.


When: Saturday, June 1 (12pm– 2pm)
Where: Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9686 3033
 
  posted at 3:55 pm
  6 comments



Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Ugly Betty's Pet Fish



I love to catch my own fish, but when the weather turns cold or I'm after a variety that I don't fish for, you'll find me at the fishmongers. Even if I'm not after any, I always have a peek at what's on offer; fish are something that have interested me all my life, right from when my dad used to bring home buckets of fish from his trips when I was two or three years old. Any display of fish is endlessly fascinating to me.

But there was something especially noticeable about this particular display at Southland Seafood at Southland shopping centre. Can you see it? Come a little closer.





What the hell is that? Well, it's an Australian stargazer that some wit has artfully placed a pilchard in its mouth. It has got to be one of the ugliest fish I have ever seen. It is in fact so ugly that the fishmonger usually fillets them so that no one is too scared by them. He actually sells them as monkfish, which I've never had, but he tells me they are very similar, so maybe I can dust off those recipes that call for monkfish and replace it with stargazer.






As a bloke, I hope I never swim over a really big one in case I lose something near and dear. I saw a similar fish on Iron Chef one time and it was held in very high regard indeed by the Japanese. Apart from the massive head, it also contained a large liver that is a delicacy, but I don't know if this one is the same. The filleted and skinned fish do look like pictures of monkfish, with dense looking flesh, really meaty looking.

If indeed it is like monkfish, it would have to be an absolute steal at that price, this beast looked like 2.5 kg so would cost around $15 and would easily feed four after cleaning. I might have a go with one of these shortly.

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  posted at 9:19 am
  7 comments



Monday, May 28, 2007
Sauerkraut with Wild Mushrooms

Still there? No one suffering because of food poisoning due to incorrectly preserving basil leaves?

Good news.

It makes you wonder how our ancestors survived at all, given that preserving food would have been high on their lists of things to do, but the old timers knowledge of what can go wrong certainly wasn't as comprehensive at it is today - witness all the new food rules being brought in. Lately in Australia, butchers can no longer make their own salamis unless they have a purpose built fermenting room and can now no longer display these products, they must be kept under certain conditions, which means no more displays of hanging salamis, another bit of tradition thrown out the window for artisan makers.

And unpasteurized cheeses, don't get me started.

Thankfully somethings haven't changed. Take sauerkraut for instance. It's easy to buy this delicious, healthy cabbage preparation in most shops specializing in continental foods. I still can remember my first taste of this made up as choucroute, the French word for the German dish of sauerkraut, which is the the German word for both the fermented cabbage and the dish made from it containing a variety of smoked meats and sausages. There is a wonderful marriage between smoked, fatty pork and sauekruat. The first time I had kaiserfleisch cooked long and slow with the cabbage I was immediately hooked on a dish that most definitely says winter food like no other.

Fermented cabbage is at once both salty and with a pleasant, slightly sour tang that comes from the fermenting process that gives sauerkraut the ability to be stored for lengthy periods of time, an essential feature for cold, hard European winters when no fresh vegetables can be grown. Even though we no longer need to preserve cabbage this way, many love the taste of it just for itself and sauerkraut continues to be made in vast quantities.

The French and Germans aren't the only ones with a penchant for dishes made from this vegetable, the Poles have also come up with a national dish, bigos, that differs mostly in the way the meats are all chopped small, rather than left whole and the finished dish is more like a stew. Mushrooms are also an integral part of this dish, which gives it a mellow earthiness, due to the use of forest or wild mushrooms.

A while ago when I was shopping at BJP International, there were the usual jars of sauerkraut and right next to them were jars of sauerkraut with fresh wild mushrooms already added, a real bonus if you don't have access to them or are too timid or uncertain to pick your own. From what I can gather, the mushroom used is from the Boletus spp. but not the first class porcini (Boletus edulis), it appears more like one of the birch types, with a less pronounced flavour than the porcini.

If you are a sauerkraut lover like me, I highly recommend you try one of these jars with the mushrooms added, we had some the other night cooked and served as a vegetable and it was really delicious. It was easy to prepare and we had it simply with plain boiled potatoes and some wonderful kassler that will have its own post shortly. You can call BJP International* to find the location of your nearest stockist, or you can purchase directly from them.

Sauerkraut with Wild Mushrooms Polish Style
Kapusta Kiszona z Grzybami Lesnymi

2 onions, diced
200 g kaiserfleisch or bacon, finely diced
2 tablespoons lard or oil
900 g jar sauerkraut with mushrooms, do not rinse
1 cup water
salt

In the lard or oil, sweat the onions and kaiserfleisch until softened. Add the sauerkraut with mushrooms and the water, then slowly simmer for 1 hour, adding more water if necessary. Check for salt and season if necessary.

*BJP International, 21 Elma Road, Cheltenham, (03) 9553 5411

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  posted at 8:25 am
  6 comments



Friday, May 25, 2007
Basil Preserved in Oil
I've a short little entry to this weeks Weekend Herb Blogging being hosted by the lovely Ellie from Kitchen Wench.

Noodling through TimeLife's The Good Cook Preserving edition, I came across a short, not so much a recipe but technique, for preserving basil leaves. Now I know at least one or two people who absolutely adore this wonderful herb and Kalyn is one of them. She has a clever method for freezing basil, but this particular treatment gives you the flexibility of not having to defrost your frozen bounty if you only want one or two leaves.

I'm yet to try this method, but I have found that most things from this wonderful cooking series do work well. They suggest that basil preserved this way may be used wherever you would use salt and oil, as well as basil. That might be a cooked dish like a soup or it could be in a salad.

Basil Preserved in Oil
From Tina Cecchini - Les Conserves De Fruits Et Legumes

125 g (4 oz) basil leaves, stemmed, washed, spread to dry on a towel
12.5 cl (4 fl oz) olive oil
30 g ( 1 oz) salt

In a clean jar, place a layer of basil leaves and sprinkle with some of the salt. Continue to layer the leaves and sprinkle the salt until everything is used up and the jar is three-quarters full. Fill the jar with the oil, seal tightly and store in a dark cupboard. The basil will be ready to use after a month.

Edited to add: Isn't the Internet a wonderful place? A reader (thank you) has just let me know of an article by The Herb Society of America, where they in fact do not recommend you use this particular preserving method for the long term keeping of basil, due to the risk of botulism. They say you can store basil this way, in the fridge, for a maximum of two weeks. Two weeks for me means that this method is not really viable as there isn't much point to it, but the article did go on to say that preserving basil leaves in salt alone worked quite well and lasts up until the next season. Simply layer clean, dry basil leaves into a clean jar with plenty of salt between the layers, that's it.

I will leave this entry up as a window into our recent past practices, which unknowingly could have possibly made one very sick or very dead. You just can't be too clean or careful when preserving food.

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  posted at 7:56 am
  9 comments



Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Show & Tell
My wife D was asking M what she would like to take to school for her show & tell. Without a moments hesitation she replied that she wanted to take dad's happy birthday bottle, the one I mentioned a couple of posts ago that plays 'happy birthday' when you unscrew the cap...the one that is full of vodka.

I wonder if I might be suspended or expelled if M took it? It might be the best show and tell they ever have. A very naughty part of me can just imagine the stories they might share...as if echolalia wasn't enough.
 
  posted at 7:54 am
  6 comments



Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Wild Mushroom Foraging
For those of you whom expressed interest in wild mushrooms and mushroom picking tours, there is a great article in today's Epicure section of The Age newspaper.

With all this rain, there should be plenty out there, though you need to hurry before it gets too cold.
 
  posted at 10:05 am
  6 comments



My Harem

Photo courtesy LifeStyle FOOD

It was one of those nights when not much was on the telly. I love those nights because that's when I'm allowed unfettered access to LifeStyle FOOD. We flicked across and there was Rachel Allen, as the promo says, Ireland's favourite chef. She was up to some mischief with a wok that was smoking away merrily. We watched for a while but my heart wasn't really in it; I'm sure Rachel is a great cook, but to me, she's not really engaging and doesn't come across as terribly friendly, there is something a bit Martha Stewart about her, almost if she is a bit of a clone and her food seems to lack spark, it's just everyday modern food that is very safe to make.

LifeStyle FOOD Thursday 8.30 pm


Photo courtesy Lifestyle FOOD


I said to my wife D that I wasn't really taken by her cooking and she then asked who I did like, knowing that there are a couple of female cooking show presenters that don't do much for me, particularly starting with Nigella Lawson, who in a previous post I compared to a Wusthof Trident knife. I may be fifty with everything in full working order, but Nigella's constant flirting with the camera is growing increasingly tiresome as is the sexually suggestive way she tastes her food. These sorts of things ought to be like seasonings to food - used judiciously, no one likes anything over salted or over spiced.

LifeStyle FOOD Monday 8.00 pm



Photo courtesy ABC Television


Well, to answer D, the first person I thought of was Maggie Beer. She is a marvelous Australian cook who has struggled to find the right show for her talents but now seems to have discovered the right vehicle. I've seen Maggie team up with Stephanie Alexander and no disrespect to Stephanie, she does seem to suck up all the available oxygen, but with Maggies new show and cooking partner, Simon Bryant, the amiable and slightly cheeky executive chef at The Hilton Adelaide, a real chemistry and spark has been created in The Cook & The Chef. Maggie can come across a bit like someones mum who likes to cook, but behind that image is someone who is dedicated to the art of food and between the pair of them, they draw you in with their tales and obvious love for what they are doing and they succeed in making cooking look very easy.

ABC TV Wednesday 6.30 pm, ABC 2 Thursday 7.30 pm & Monday 5.30 pm




Photo courtesy LifeStyle FOOD


D suggested that new girl, Laura Calder from French Cooking At Home. We've only caught one episode so far, the first one and Laura was coming across as a bit, I don't know, journalistic, when all of a sudden she dropped her guard and allowed a glimpse of the real her, which seemed just the slightest bit daggy, but in a nice way. Originally from Canada, she learnt to cook at La Varenne in Paris and now makes her home there. In the first episode, Laura tended to stick with the classics of France, so it will be interesting to see as future shows unfold whether she can put her own spin on things.

LifeStyle FOOD Tuesday 8.30 pm




Photo courtesy LifeStyle FOOD


Tamasin Day-Lewis is another presenter I have previously written about, possibly in a less than flattering manner. Well, I have been sticking with her and I probably need to adjust my assessment of her as I've gotten to know her. The earnestness is still there, but there is also a rather wry sense of humour. Also, she does manage to do interesting things with her food. Couldn't she just put on the tiniest bit of weight?

LifeStyle FOOD Wednesday 12.00 pm




Photo courtesy LifeStyle FOOD

No list of mine would be complete without that fabulous cooking mama, Lidia Bastianich. There is not a single thing I have seen her cook that I don't want to eat. All produced with warmth and love, not just for the food but the various family members she introduces from time to time. I've taken plenty from her shows, especially the episodes that feature pasta, but Lidia also delves deeply into Italian cuisine and creates family style dishes that get you wanting to invite the whole clan around for a Sunday feast.

LifeStyle FOOD Saturday 10.00 pm

So who are your favourite female cooking show presenters?
 
  posted at 7:27 am
  13 comments



Monday, May 21, 2007
Those Sneaky Poles
My birthday celebrations continued apace this weekend with a dinner on Saturday night with one of my very-hard-to-tie-down sons and girlfriend and a Sunday afternoon lunch with all the relations at the Cuckoo restaurant, a veritable Melbourne institution perched high up in the Dandenongs, Melbourne's closest mountains.

Seeing as I was driving, I only had two beers over the course of the afternoon, so when I got home, felt like a celebration drink. A quick perusal of the presents revealed a half litre bottle of Polish vodka, just the thing after a long, hard drive.

As I twisted the screw cap, a familiar tinkle of music could be heard, the damn bottle was playing Happy Birthday to me! Sure enough, under the cap was a small plastic bubble enveloping a tiny electronic player that started when the cap was unscrewed.

Well, I'll drink to that. Maybe that's the whole idea.
 
  posted at 8:01 am
  7 comments



Friday, May 18, 2007
The Wash Up
Well, it's has been a different sort of week for this blog, but when I first saw that autism awareness week was coming up, I did want to say a few things about it to help those who want to know more about what is after all a very common condition and to show it's very okay to talk about autism openly, so that for you gentle reader, the more you know about it, the better it is not just for you, but for my daughter M as well.

I know that yesterday's post may have been a hard slog to get through and there is something more I want to say about it for those of you that troubled yourselves to read mom-mos and Jim Sinclair's posts and that is none of us are right or wrong about what we said, we simply hold alternate views. I completely understand what it is they're saying, for me, what I saw in their posts was acceptance of autism; accepting it as a valid part of you or someone you know is one of the most powerful and motivating things you can do when you are dealing with it, it enables you to move forward in your life.

A lot of people get stuck for a time in thinking about how unfair, cruel and capricious nature is in giving their child or children autism, some people with autism can also think the same way. Unfortunately, it's a very destructive way to think and it's also wrong. Nature is none of those things and doesn't care at all what we think, nature is about continuation of life itself and will do it any way it can, our concepts of fairness have nothing to do with it. Autism is like a lump of clay that you can shape any way you want. No one fully understands autism and the part it plays, but it most definitely has a part to play in our lives, that apart from notable exceptions such as Bill Gates and Temple Grandin, we largely don't hear about. Autism's footsteps are all around, helping shape our lives.

Autism also enables us to examine ourselves. I've lost count of the number of parents of children with autism that say at some point they can identify an autistic feature within themselves. When children are assessed for autism, some of them do what is known as a CARS test, which basically scores them on a range of behaviours and abilities, the score for autism is somewhere above thirty points. But what if you score just below this? It means you have a lot of autistic features, yet you are not autistic, but the thing is it's perfectly possible to say you are on the spectrum. If it is that some of us possess these features yet are not autistic, is that not a window into how the mind works? That autism is in fact a normal, though not well understood, part of the human condition.

We shouldn't be alarmed that autism seems more prevalent these days, with a given rate of about one in 160. Some researchers think the rate may well have been constant for a long period of time, it's just that we are better at diagnosing it these days, so more cases are coming to light. So what is autism exactly? Who knows, I'll leave that to the scientists and researchers to figure out. I'll just play with my daughter, read to her, talk to her, be with her, love her. That's all I need to know.

I would like to say a big thank you to all those readers who have stuck with me this week and special thanks to mom-nos, kitchen wench, limes & lycopene and I think I have a recipe for that for all recently pointing readers to me, thanks guys, it meant a lot. And very special thanks to Tanna, whose constant support is such an inspiration.

For those of you who have come here through autism links, just to let you know I only do occasional autism specific posts, though I do talk about my daughter M quite a lot, she is an extra thread I weave into my writing.

Right, now I'm off to bake a cake!

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  posted at 8:41 am
  6 comments



Thursday, May 17, 2007
A Way To Say It
One of the things I'm still learning about is the language of autism and how it's used. One of the earliest examples occured when I was corresponding with a fellow blogger, mom-nos about the way she was describing her son. She always wrote when mentioning autism that her son is autistic, but what I prefer to say and write about my daughter M is that she has autism. It's a very fine distinction that makes a big difference about the way we think of autism and the people who have it. Mom-nos pointed me at one of her posts which explained why she wrote and thought that way and also pointed me to a post written by an autistic person, Jim Sinclair, who mirrored her thoughts.

In a nutshell, it's about how autistic people view themselves, some take the position that autism is so intrinsic to them, so much a part of themselves, that it makes them the way they are, the way we view them and as such are more comfortable being called autistic as this defines their character, which can't be separated from them. What Jim would like me to say is "Jim is autistic" and I respect that and would happily do so, but what I'm really longing to say is "Jim is a person" and by calling him autistic, it's distracting me from the main game - his personality, who he really is, of which autism is just a part.

With autism there are several defining traits that need to be present in order to arrive at a diagnosis, some of them are easy to spot, speech delay, lack of eye contact or the inability to socialize with others. But some behaviours that are identified as autistic are also common to all people. Have you ever seen someone nervously rocking their leg up and down or another who likes to have their possessions lined up and ordered just so? What about someone who becomes obsessive about a hobby or interest and how do you feel when someone sits in your favourite chair, slightly uncomfortable?

There might be little bit of autism in all of us, which should come as no surprise, autism is the result of the brain being wired up a certain way and causes some behaviours and thought processes to be modified or amplified, the acme of which can be seen in autistic savants, people who have an extraordinary gift or abilities, the most famous of which would be Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for the movie Rain Man, with his eidetic (photographic) memory. But all us can recall detail to a lesser or greater extent and there is some evidence to suggest that you can train yourself to have total recall, so the latent ability may well reside in all of us, it's just that Kim's brain was pre-wired for total recall, he didn't have to work at it. But if you were to work at it, you could in theory get a part of your brain to wire itself up just like Kim's.

So if it's the brains internal wiring that is responsible for autism, yet it might be that all of us possess some of its traits, how is it possible for autism to define who you are? All of us a wired differently, no one is the same as the other; all people with an autism diagnosis are considered somewhere on a spectrum - precisely because they are not the same as each other, which is exactly like every other person on this planet, so when you tell me you are autistic, you are telling me nothing about yourself, other than you may have some qualities that are unique to you, just as I have qualities that are unique to me, some of which we might share. It's as if autism is hiding you in its shadow. But when you tell me you have autism I immediately see you as a person who has disclosed a part of who you are with me, you are saying to me that you have autism, it doesn't have you. That's what I want, to see you as a person.

Thinking like this was central to how I viewed my own daughter after we had received her diagnosis. It didn't change a single thing that I thought or felt about her though it certainly helped to explain a few things, but M was exactly the same person after the diagnosis as she was before it, nothing changed to make her different and I treated her no differently because of it. Sure, we had to learn a new way to approach certain things, for instance we used picture scripts of what we wanted her to do and she used those same scripts to tell us what she wanted, the pictures being easier for her to understand than language, but her essence, her character, her being, nothing changed.

When I look at M, I don't see autism, I see my daughter.

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  posted at 3:43 pm
  8 comments



Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The Autism Shield
One of the quandaries faced by parents with autistic children is how much to say about the condition to family, friends and strangers. When you first receive the diagnosis, in all likelihood, you will know very little about the condition and exactly where on the autistic spectrum your child sits. You will have a CARS score or some such thing, but that's more an indication of severity, rather than an accurate guide as to what your child's abilities might be.

For instance I've heard from a very reliable source that some kids with a high CARS score can communicate better than other kids with a lower score, when you would think the opposite was true. So in a very real sense, you are somewhat in the dark about it and the only illumination comes from reading all you can and from actually starting the journey with your child. One of the saddest things I've heard is of the occasional new parents, who after receiving the diagnosis, come to the autism school my daughter attends, are offered a place in the early intervention program, only to turn it down because they, for whatever reason, cannot accept the diagnosis for their child, delaying the start of their journey.

So it makes it doubly hard to explain to family and friends because one of the first things everyone wants to know along with can it be cured (it can't) is how affected is your child? The only real answer is to wait and see, but in this age of instant everything, no one wants to hear that, so you explain as best you can what might be the case and you talk about your child's current behaviours. But what happens when your child starts behaving, well, oddly in front of strangers? Naturally you want to explain as best you can and very often, other than ignoring any looks coming your way, the best thing you can think of is to say your child has autism, it's like a shield you can protect you and your child with.

Personally, I'm loath to use this autism shield, especially in front of my daughter as I wonder about the effect it might have on her, if she were to ever wonder one day exactly why does dad say that? Not because I'm hiding her condition from her, but I want her to be able to think she is just as good as everyone else. But other parents often do say it and I completely understand the reasons why, it can be a real circuit breaker. But like all things everywhere, the autism shield can be prone to failure.

A friend of mine with an autistic son was at a well known local restaurant for a Sunday lunch. Like any kid in a restaurant, he got restless and wandered off a little way. At least as far as another table, where a man was seated with his car keys resting on the table. The keys caught the little boy's eyes and he reached out and touched them, nothing more and the man snatched the keys up and called out to my friend to control his child. My friend apologized and explained that his son had autism and meant nothing by it. The man retorted that he didn't care, that he was there at the restaurant to have a good time and my friend's son was spoiling it for him. My friend walked over to the table and reached out his arm to shepherd his son back to their table when the man leapt out of his seat and punched him in the eye, no warning, no provocation.

The police were called and the man was given a very stern lecture by a police women who had some coincidental experience with autism, but she reported to my friend that this person simply didn't give a fig. I ought to white hot with rage, but I'm not. I've seen it all before with my own daughter, in a pub bistro on a Sunday afternoon when the bistro manager took objection to her touching a fork on another table in a nearly deserted dining room. The shield didn't work then either.

Autism Awareness Week

The post I've got for you today is in a similar vein to the topic I wrote about, just with a lot more humour.

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  posted at 8:00 am
  6 comments



Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Barbecued Salmon
My nephew went fishing a couple of weeks ago and landed a whopper, a 3.5 kg salmon. He was never going to miss, fishing as he was in a trout and salmon farm at Buxton. Not only did the fish bite hard at his bait, it also bit hard at his parents wallet, costing a massive $65 at the scales. The fish was gutted for them but not filleted and when they got home, it was placed in the freezer, awaiting a suitable occasion and me - ah, the joys of being able to cook. Don't get me wrong, my sister-in-law is an excellent cook and is a dab hand at preparing fish straight from the boat, all the way to the pan, but a large, whole salmon is a daunting thing indeed.

So this Mother's day I was asked to cook this enormous fish for our extended family, but what to do? I had never cooked with a fish so large before and there was no fish kettle to cook it in, if there was, I almost certainly would have carefully poached it. I cast around for information when I saw not so much a recipe, but a simple technique for dealing with a large fish. First, the fish had to be filleted. I've seen the odd person do this at the fishmongers and elsewhere, with large fish, they usually insert the knife at the top of the fish, using the dorsal fin for a guide, working their way through along the entire length.

Well that seemed like a good idea, but then after making a long cut I realized that the dorsal fins on a salmon aren't really long enough to be a good guide and the result was one badly butchered fillet. Time for a rethink. I've been filleting fish all my life and I normally start the cut at the head and slide my knife down along the fish using the internal bones as a guide for the knife, so that's what I did and an almost perfect fillet was the result.

Then I got some aluminium foil, a double thickness, a bit longer than the fillets and laid the fillet on the foil, skin side down, then crimped up the sides all around, but not enclosing the fish, ensuring that any juices couldn't run away. Next I seasoned the fish, heavily with salt and generously with pepper, then I melted 200 g butter and to this added a great big handful of chopped dill and parsley and painted some of this on the fish and left it at room temperature for an hour, to take on flavour.

The barbecue was heated up on the grill bar side with the hood down and when it was hot, the foil packages were placed directly on the grill bars and the heat turned to low under the fish, the side burners were off, the hood was pulled down. I checked every five minutes and basted the fillets with the herbed butter until they were cooked through, which took about 20-25 minutes and the temperature under the hood was a fairly constant 125 c.

Do you know how it is when you try something for the first time and when you come to try it, the result is more delicious than you expected? My first taste of the fish was amazing, it was juicy and succulent with a mild herb flavour, one taste was definitely not enough. There was even a confirmed meat eater there who, well, tolerated fish, but ate up his entire portion and didn't eat the meat that had been specially cooked for him. I love it when a dish works out like that, and the bonus - I made four mums very happy.

Autism Awareness Week

Every day this week I'm going to point to a post that highlights some aspect of autism. Today's post was written by a father of an autistic child and tells poignantly how he actually felt about his child when autism was diagnosed and the subsequent journey and epiphany he later had.

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  posted at 7:06 am
  4 comments



Monday, May 14, 2007
Autism Awareness Week
This week in Australia is autism awareness week and for those of you who are interested, I'm going to attempt the daunting task of explaining a bit about autism. It's daunting in the sense that I am in fact not autistic and can never fully understand or comprehend what it really is like to have this condition. What I'm going to write about are observations and whatever information I've been able to gather.

First of all, what is autism?

Well, to give it its full title, it's autism spectrum disorder or ASD for short and it would be rather nice if someone were to get rid of the disorder part, for reasons that should become clear. What Autism Victoria has to say about it is this...

Definitions

The way people think about autism has changed in recent years. It is best described as a group of disorders with a similar pattern of behaviour in three key areas - communication, social interaction and imaginative thought.
The currently favoured term is Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the word 'spectrum' used because no two people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are exactly alike.


What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder?


As the term suggests, there is no one diagnosis or label. Rather there are several labels that place people at different points on the spectrum. At one end of the spectrum diagnostic labels such as "Asperger Syndrome", "High Functioning Autism" and "PDD-NOS" are used. At the other end of the spectrum you will find labels such as "Autism", "Classic Autism" and "Kanner Autism".


Diagnosis


There is no specific diagnostic test for Autism Spectrum Disorder. The best way to get a diagnosis is via a multi disciplinary assessment. For children, this involves having your child tested by a number of professionals, who will provide you with the information you need to make decisions about program and treatment approaches. For adults, either a psychologist or psychiatrist experienced with Autism Spectrum Disorders can make a diagnosis.
The age of diagnosis these days ranges from approximately 18 months through to adulthood, depending on circumstances. A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder will only be made if the 'autistic like' pattern of behaviour is apparent before the age of three years. Sometimes a provisional diagnosis is made if the child is very young, and a reassessment at a later date is recommended.


Think you don't know someone with autism? Think again. According to the first Australian survey on autism prevalence, the study has concluded that one in 160 Australian children aged between 6 and 12 years have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - for a full report, go to the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders webpage.

My daughter is amongst the one in 160, so I have a pretty fair idea of what autism is and I also have a few ideas about what it's not. The thing is, when you are born with autism it is an integral part of you and helps define who you are as a person - autism is not a separate part of you that can be treated and got ridden of, it becomes who you are, for there is no cure for it, only treatments and strategies that help autistic people to become part of society, if that's what they want, and adapt to dealing with what are referred to as neurotypical people, that's you and me, because from an autistic point of view, we, the neurotypicals, can be as unfathomable as autistic people can sometimes seem to us.

To illustrate this last point, imagine you go to a country where they speak another language and you start trying to communicate with the locals. You try so hard to make yourself understood and the natives try just as hard to understand you, but without a common language, it all ends in frustration on both sides, that is something autistic people have to with live with every day. But what makes it difficult for neurotypicals is that even if you do know someone with autism and manage to hammer out a common language, when you bump into another autistic person, your new language, in all probability, won't be comprehensible to them. That is why it is referred to as an autistic spectrum, no two people with autism are exactly the same.

However, there are some things you can do to make it easier to talk to someone with autism. One common feature is that often processing verbal information takes an autistic person a bit longer. If you ask a question, you need to allow extra time for a reply and resist the urge to repeat or rephrase the question, as this can cause the whole process to start from the beginning again. Because you in all likelihood don't know where a person is on the spectrum, don't be surprised by an answer that is not what you expected, autistic people can be very literal and take you at your word, when you in fact meant to say or ask something else.

There is no question that it takes patience to be with someone who has autism. I always thought of myself as a patient person but didn't learn the real meaning of patience until my last daughter was born. It was after an incident when M was about two, when she did something that tipped me over an edge and I'm now ashamed to say that I raged at her. But I had a concurrent out-of-body experience where I could see what I was doing and at the same time could also see that M had absolutely no idea why her dad had turned into some kind of monster. It was this insight that led me to understand patience was just not the ability to stand in a line uncomplainingly, but to be able to see past behaviours that M has no control of, and learn how to teach her to deal with them.

Shopping is one area that can give parents of autistic children the heeby-jeebies. It can turn into a nightmare in seconds, with their children grabbing things off the shelves, running amok or even having a meltdown right in the store. M was no different, so what I did was to take her shopping in increments. When I didn't really need to shop, I would take her to buy just one thing and leave straight away. This went on for months, sometimes it was great, sometimes it wasn't, but gradually over time we built up the length of the shopping trip, until we could buy several items at a time, then when M wanted to buy something, I would let her and like all kids, one thing was never enough, then it was time to learn choice, that she could have one thing and one thing only, but she had to choose. At the moment we are up to waiting our turn to be served. Sound familiar? It should, it's what all kids have to learn regardless.

And that's the point, my daughter is the same as every other child and responds just like everyone else to parenting. We have certainly had to break things down, to make them manageable, but at the end of the day she is a human being, expressing herself in her own unique way and perhaps the key to it all is acceptance. I think if you spoke to any autistic person, all they would ask of you is to accept them just the way they are.

If you would like to get some idea from an autistic point of view about how they are viewed, look here.

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  posted at 8:27 am
  3 comments



Friday, May 11, 2007
A Favour
I want to ask a favour.

For any of you who haven't voted in my survey two posts ago, would you mind taking the time to do so. I'm planning to write a letter to the department in charge of such things and I promise to share with you whatever answers I get. It doesn't matter where you are in the world.

It should only take a few seconds. Promise.
 
  posted at 2:03 pm
  6 comments



Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Good Cook

Well, I'm done.


I've been collecting the TimeLife series The Good Cook for nigh on twenty-five years and finally my collection is complete. It was first published in 1978 and there were both English and American editions. The chief consultant for the series was the legendary Richard Olney, plus a host of other well regarded consultants including Jane Grigson, Michel Lemonnier, Alan Davidson et al. It wasn't the first cooking series that I'd collected but it is certainly the finest. Each volume is dedicated to a single topic and is very much like being in a cooking class that teaches the foundations of good cooking, step by step. At the end of each book is an anthology of recipes which are a real treasure. All the classics are included with recipes from countries all around the world.


It is this series that I would credit for much of the knowledge and technique that I now possess and would instantly recommend it to anyone who wanted a comprehensive grounding in the culinary skills, it teaches every single area of cookery that you can think of, although some of the subjects covered are no longer in fashion, it can be said that for the most part, every book is timeless, a very rare quality indeed. One of Australia's foremost cooks, Stephanie Alexander, recently recommended the offal title and it is easy to see that the idea for one of her early signature dishes of stuffed tripe may have come from these very pages.


The Good Cook 28 volume series is long out of print, but its ongoing popularity can be gauged by the thriving market for it on eBay, which is how I completed my set after originally collecting about ten titles when they were first published. You can also come across copies at second hand book stores and school fetes are another source. Wouldn't it be great if someone updated and republished the whole set? I bet there would be a market for it.

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  posted at 8:07 am
  6 comments



Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Have Your Say
I'm interested in your experiences regarding food packaging and pictures and have created a poll so you can have your say. Please take the time to fill it out as I may seek some answers from the relevant authority in charge of overseeing food packaging claims and pictures. It's really quite topical, now that GlaxoSmithKline has gone into damage control with a new advertisement about the Ribena scandal.

Is There Truth In Food Labeling?
Have you ever been deceived by food labels or pictures?
Have you ever complained about it?
Should the relevant authority be more proactive in enforcement of the law?
Are you happy with the relevant authorities current approach?
Are you unhappy with the relevant authorities current approach?
Should changes be made to the relevant laws?
Should food manufactures be more accountable?
  
pollcode.com free polls

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  posted at 7:23 am
  3 comments



Monday, May 07, 2007
What's The Real Deal?
From the moment you are born, food manufactures are after your soul starting with shiny tins of infant formula, carrying subliminal messages carefully suggesting you would be a fool to use what nature has so thoughtfully provided. It is a barrage that will go on for your entire life with the message that processed foods are somehow superior to fresh, whether because they have been fortified with vitamins or just manage to save you time out of your busy schedule.

Marketers are hard at work behind the scenes, convincing us to buy, buy, buy.

Now, apart from outright lies, the marketers biggest weapons are words and pictures that give off strong, positive impressions of the product. But the thing is with marketers is they push the letter of the law as much as footballers do on a Saturday afternoon, but unlike footballers, there doesn't seem to be any umpires to adjudicate. Sure we have a department of consumer affairs, but they only act on complaints, there doesn't seem to be any active searching for companies doing the wrong thing or testing their claims.

Like the case of GlaxoSmithKline who were recently prosecuted for a false claim regarding the vitamin C level in their Ribena product. You would think that this prosecution was the result of rigorous scrutiny and testing of products by a relevant authority, but no, it was left to two schoolgirls to uncover the scandal and this is merely the worst of corporate behaviour. A while ago I wrote about a product that claimed on the front of the packaging that it contained leek and blue cheese as if these were primary flavours, but sadly this was far from the truth. I can understand that leek may be difficult to taste in a mix of ingredients but at 1.5% it would be downright impossible, though surely not blue cheese, but it seems my complaint fell on deaf ears as the product continues to be sold in this format with no word of explanation.

What about one of the most common claims, we've all seen it, that the food you have purchased from a shop is home made? What exactly do they mean? How is it possible? Is there a battalion of mums busily cooking away on the stoves in their kitchens?

Happily though, not all corporate behaviour is deliberately misleading, but can result from an error in the manufacturing process. Recently I bought some cheese that was labeled blue brie. When the cheese was cut, there was absolutely no evidence of any blue mould whatsoever, so I wrote to the company who explained that in the cheese making process, it was possible for the holes that are punched into the cheese, allowing the blue mould to form, to close up if the cheese is too soft, stopping the formation of a blue cheese. They also happily refunded my purchase price.

But contrast this with a picture of a berry and apple pie that I bought on the weekend. On the front was a photo of a luscious looking slice of pie, chock-a-block with berries and pieces of apple, the lattice pastry on top curved upwards to the centre, due to the amount of fruit contained within. Contrast this with the flat looking pie that came out of my oven with absolutely no sensual bulge of promise to be seen and worse was to come. When the pie was sliced, a thick, gooey sauce ran everywhere and there was hardly any fruit to be seen, in short it looked nothing like the photo. A check of the list of ingredients revealed the sad truth. The berries and apple constituted just 29% of the entire pie and third on the list of ingredients was water, listed in front of the fruit content, which is probably why thickener and vegetable gum had been added, to keep it in place.

But how had the photographer been able to take a picture of the pie with no evidence of the sauce that ran everywhere, even when the pie was at room temperature? There was only one way that could have happened. The pie must have been first cooked, frozen, then sliced and photographed, keeping those pesky juices from running and ruining the shot, giving an illusion of being filled to the brim with fruit, because you can't really see the water, which the pie in fact contains more of than either the berries or the apple, by their own admission.

Another interesting aspect of processed foods is how whole generations of people have come to expect that manufactured food and drink is the way things should taste, because often, people, unlike you gentle reader, have not much experience with natural home cooked foods anymore and can be quite shocked when confronted with real food, lovingly prepared, which I think Jamie Oliver's School Dinners program served to highlight. Personally I recall the time when I was first interested in cooking and tried to bake my own bread, and was really shocked and disappointed that it didn't come out like the loaves of bread we bought from the shop. Looking back, I'm sure that what I baked was easily superior to a bought loaf, but my idea was to copy that loaf and thought I failed miserably.

Just in the same way my daughter M thinks we failed on the weekend when she asked if we could make lemonade. We went to the greengrocer to purchase some lemons, which M personally picked, on our return home we made some sugar syrup, squeezed the lemons, adding their juice to the syrup along with some water to dilute. After it cooled down and M took her first sip, she looked at me and said it tasted nothing like Sprite (a brand of lemonade) and could we go and buy some.

I've got some serious work to do.

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  posted at 8:20 am
  7 comments



Friday, May 04, 2007
Cristom, Pinot Noir



Well it's not every day you turn fifty, so a special bottle of wine was in order. We were having Polish style roast duck - the bird was well seasoned with salt, pepper and marjoram, then stuffed with apples also seasoned with marjoram. Of course the classic wine partner for the gaminess of duck is pinot noir and because I only occasionally buy top end wines, I asked for the advice of Prince Wine Store.

Being a vague sort of Pinotphile and knowing their wine list I was half expecting a Premier cru Burgundy or perhaps something new world from New Zealand. As much as I like Australian pinot noir and although they are very drinkable, our wines seem somewhat simple compared to those from these two countries...the X factor just isn't there for us, except for two, maybe three producers. When you're talking about pinot noir, it is the X factor you're constantly searching for, there is something special about this grape variety that separates it from all others and makes it unique in the wine world.

It is the combination of terroir, vineyard management, winemaking skill and time in the bottle, that when it all comes together, makes you sit up and go wow like no other wine can. In a way it's unexplainable, but when you drink a great bottle of pinot noir, you just know that this is God's second greatest gift to mankind.

So when Michael McNamara suggested a Cristom pinot noir, a highly regarded producer from Oregon, USA, it was a bit from left field. I have never had an American pinot noir before, but then again, I had never turned fifty before either, so what the heck, the reason you ask for advice is so you can act upon it and I duly purchased a bottle of the Sommers Reserve from Willamette Valley.

At 13.5% alcohol, it is well within the range I look for in a wine, being no fan of much above 14%. The colour was a light brick red in the glass and on the nose were some spice and briar fruits. The first taste was amazing, the briar fruits were there along with a spicy cherry essence. The flavour kept building in the mouth and was well defined by fine textured tannins. There was immense power in the wine along with tremendous length, the taste lingered long after I swallowed, this was serious stuff indeed, not one for quaffing.

There are some pinots that gain their character from a forest floor kind of gaminess that you either love or hate and even though wild yeasts were employed in the fermentation, the Cristom has avoided all that and made a wine of great purity and finesse. Now having no experience of American pinot noir, I can't say what the aging potential would be, but guessing from what I had, ten years plus would be no surprise. In fact the only criticism I had and it's hardly that, is the wine I drank was too young.

Will I buy American again? You bet.

Cristom, Willamette Valley, Sommers Reserve pinot noir, 2004, Au$90.
Available Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne

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  posted at 8:08 am
  5 comments



Thursday, May 03, 2007
Do The Math
25 + 25
10 + 10 + 10 + 10 +10
900 - 850
100 x 0.5
7 squared + 1
1000 divided by 20

It doesn't really matter how you work it out, today I'm there.
 
  posted at 7:25 am
  15 comments



Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Where's The Meatloaf?
Have you seen that scene from Wedding Crashers, where John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) is seeking solace from the breakdown in his relationship and goes to see Chaz (Will Ferrell), who is meeting girls by crashing funerals? In the scene, Chaz explains to John how he does it and offers him some food, repeatedly yelling to his unseen mother, "Ma, bring some meatloaf", at the top of his lungs.

You wouldn't think that would make a very good parenting strategy, now would you?

It's just that some nights when we try to settle M in bed, she constantly shouts in a way similar to Chaz for mum to come and so we would jokingly whisper between ourselves that she must want some meatloaf, at least we thought we were whispering until the night she called out she didn't want any meatloaf. We continued with our joke for a little while, but M was the equal of us. One night my wife was sort of ignoring her calls, when M said, "Ma, I want some meatloaf!"

In order to give D a break, I went to her room saying in as feminine voice as possible that I was the 'real' mummy, we all had a laugh at that including M, who is used to me being in character as a pirate and cajoled me to bring the other mummy, but I insisted that I was her. This went on for a few months, whenever I gave D a rest.

Then last night something amazing happened. D was watching her favourite program when M called out for her from bed. I got up and called to her in my 'mummy' voice that real mummy was coming. When I got to her room, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I don't want real mummy, I want regular mummy." Now that might not seem much to anyone, but I'm here to tell you, for someone young with autism, that's an absolute triumph of language skills coupled with the ability to understand an abstract concept, two key areas that are affected by autism.

We both laughed and I almost cried with happiness.

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  posted at 10:26 am
  5 comments



Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Special Thinking Blogger Award



Bah to the rules, I could put a hundred of you in, but there is one blogger I really missed out on and that's Ellie from Kitchen Wench. She is a student, chemical engineer, architect and raconteur with a penchant for turning song titles into posts. There is no challenge to small or offbeat for Ellie to perform and it's the way she does it that gets you thinking...did that really just happen? Presentation is key to her breathtaking photos and they have got me thinking in new ways about serving (and photographing) food.

There you go Ellie, consider yourself tagged!

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  posted at 12:03 pm
  3 comments



Thinking Blogger Award


Look what I got from my good friend Tanna from My Kitchen In Half Cups. And it must be true too, because when Tanna sent me an email to let me know, I thought she was just sending something nice to me over the weekend, but then I really thought about it and checked her blog, it was then I knew I'd been tagged!

This cute little meme was started here and the idea is, you get to say which 5 blogs really make you think. It's not about which blogs you like to read because they make you laugh or whatever, it's about the blogs that stay in your mind long after you've read them, maybe those that even change the way you think.

Now, I'd have to say that Tanna would be in my list for sure. I love the way she works out recipes, changing and adapting, always for a reason. Sometimes reading her is like listening to an extended guitar solo and wondering how the artist is ever going to get back to the tune, but Tanna always brings you back and in style, you rock girl. But as she has been nominated at least twice, I'm sure she won't mind if I leave her off my list.

#1 What I Cooked Last Night - My friend kitchen hand ranges far and wide in his writing about food and other subjects. His wonderful insights are coupled with a dry sense of humour that is shot off like arrows, they always find their marks. But the one thing that stands out, not just for me judging by the comments he elicits, is his wonderful writing style. Kitchen hand will hate me for this, but his prose is gorgeous, he manages just with the minimum of words to conjure colour and movement and always the right emotional context.

#2 The Elegant Sufficiency - Stephanie's day job is writing and it shows, there is not a single wasted word anywhere, her points are made quickly and concisely and with the one thing you can't fake, understanding. Her posts range far and wide, covering an assortment of topics and always with emotional depth. Today is also a very special day for Stephanie's blog, go on over and wish her a Happy Blog Birthday.

#3 Matt Bites - Matt is one of the nicest people with a blog and also one of the cleverest. He doesn't mind sharing his knowledge and is constantly on the go, not only in his real life but there is the persistent tinkering with his blog design, it seems Matt is never satisfied and looking for that perfect combination of colours, design and content, and just by watching I'm learning so much. For some reason, and Matt, I mean this nicely, he reminds me of Tassie from Bugs Bunny, a real whirlwind of activity.

#4 Seriously Good - Kevin is one of the deepest thinkers on food amongst all the bloggers I know; it can't be too much longer before there's a book by him. His knowledge of food is encyclopedic as well as having an amazing grasp of the issues and politics of it. A more complete food blogger would be hard to find and such is his dedication, Kevin somehow manages to find the time to write for at least two other blogs, besides being a personal chef and consultant to ChefsLine. How on earth does he do it?

#5 MOM - Not Otherwise Specified - or mom-nos for short, even her title gets you thinking, it is a clever play on a type of autism diagnosis and is one of the pre-eminent blogs covering autism. Here is a blog that is not afraid to present the harder issues surrounding autism, but is also capable of lighthearted moments. It is possible to disagree with her and argue your point unlike some other blogs, though on the whole there is nothing much she says that I find myself disagreeing with. If you have any interest in autism and its issues, this is one blog you won't be able to stop reading.

Okay, there's my list. If you'd like to play along, here are the rules for this meme.

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

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  posted at 7:03 am
  3 comments



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