Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Requiem for an Olympus C750

En route to the UK, my partner and I paused in Borneo to climb Mt Kinabalu - South East Asia's highest mountain. We were in Malaysia in the wet season. And boy, was it wet. We traipsed about Kota Kinabalu in the lovely drizzle. The drizzle is warm in South East Asia. It's near the equator after all. The UK drizzle is, at the moment, cold. It is hard to describe as 'lovely'. Matter of fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and call UK drizzle downright miserable. But I digress. Kota Kinabalun drizzle was a relief from the excessive heat and humidity. It sizzled off our hot skin.

The start of our ascent of Mt Kinabalu was from a tourist resort at approximately 1500 metres. When we arrived, the rainforest drizzle was more of a downpour. We were overnighting at this tourist resort and then starting our ascent the following morning. I had our lovely Olympus camera, a hand-me-down from my sister, which I bore much affection for (the camera, that is; well, I bear affection for my sister too, but that's de rigeur). It was encased in a Crumpler Sporty Guy 0.6 (can't find a picture of it on the interwebs, but it pretty much looks like this). I do not think that I have waxed lyrical about Crumplers on this blog before, so here I go.

I love Crumpler bags. Let's get that out of the way first. I am not objective. Their advertising is silly (at least it is in Australia) and it was a company started by two Geelong cyclists. They have adorable names for their bags, such as The Wonder Weenie (no longer being made), The Seedy Three (their original) and the Barney Rustle (an updated version of the Wonder Weenie and which is my everyday bag). Their logo is a stick man with wild hair. Their bags are made out of what they call 'Chicken-tex'. It is waterproof. Their bags - or at least the Barney Rustler - is waterproof inside and out.

I know this because, a while ago now, I put a 600ml bottle of water into my Barney Rustler without properly securing the lid and all the water came out. At the time, I was on the bus, heading into the city. I only discovered the water when my phone rang and I tried to locate my phone. I put my hand into what felt like a sink full of water. Withdrawing my hand in surprise, I began to quickly extract the usual contents of any bag I carry - wallet, keys, novel (oh oh), diary, phone (still ringing), miscellaneous receipts, pens, highlighters, water bottle (now mostly empty, usually full) - scattering them all over the seat beside me. As we were pulling into a stop, I leapt out of my seat and ran to the exit door calling out to driver, "Please wait!" (thereby attracting the attention of everyone who had not already watched me whipping random items out of my bag) and decanted the water in a slosh onto the road. My bag was only wet on the inside. No water had seeped outside. And if I had wanted to, I could have saved that water. That's how waterproof the Barney Rustler bag is. I got bemused stares and a few smiles from my fellow commuters as I returned to my seat. Oh, and one soggy novel.

Back to the main story -

The Olympus camera was inside a Sporty Guy, artfully worn around my neck and diagonally across my body in the time honoured way of tourism. Because I believed it to be inside a waterproof case, I just kept it about my neck while wandering around the rainforest. I did not take it out to take any photos, because then it would have got wet. I could have tucked it inside my lovely red raincoat, but I did not do that. Later that night, I took the camera from its bag, only to discover that the bag was waterlogged. So, the Sporty Guy is also waterproof inside and out. The camera is a wee bit bigger than the bag. The bag, therefore, does not close properly around the camera. Water seeped in at the edges and then stayed in, bathing the camera for goodness knows how long. Unsurprisingly, but sadly, the camera died. We mourn the passing of the Olympus C750.

It took me ages to buy a new camera. I um'ed and aah'ed and Googled this and that and read heaps of reviews. Eventually, I just went to the little camera store near my place of work, which I knew to be more expensive than the 'high street' chains but from whom I got great service. Great service and an independent store meant I was happy to pay a little bit more for whatever I ended up buying. I bought a Caplio R5. Mostly, I bought it because, for its size, it has a great optical zoom - 7.1 x - and its macro function was very impressive. I took lots of photos of my index finger in the store. I take rather a lot of photos of flowers, and the macro function is my favourite camera function.

The Caplio's case.
Two demonstrations in one: my love of macro and the little Crumpler guy.

I've had the Caplio R5 for almost a year now, and I don't love it as much as the Olympus. Matter of fact, I don't love it at all. I just tolerate it, and it, me. I do continue to be impressed by its macro funtion. And it is very compact: fits nicely into my hand. The Olympus was bulky. But that was just part of its charm.

And one other problem with the Caplio: my partner dropped it, so now there is a dust speck on the lens, which affects how we frame photos and also means we have to digitally manipulate photos before posting onto the web or printing. And that's a hassle.

I am contemplating purchasing another camera. But one part of me - the frugal part - is tsking about it because the Caplio works fine, and, if I'm honest, pretty well. Except in low light. It's really rubbish in low light. Another part of me - the gear geek part - really wants a new toy to play with.

I thought I had decided that I would buy the Fuji Finepix s8000 - it has an 18 x optical zoom. But the reviews are less enthusiastic then I would like them to be and Amazon.co.uk don't sell it at the moment. Had Olympus' monster zoom camera got anywhere near the rave reviews of the Fuji Finepix, I would have bought it with barely a bat of the eyelids. On reading more reviews, I shifted my loyalties over to the Fuji Finepix s9600 - it has a 10x optical zoom and the reviews are very positive. And Amazon sell it. But Amazon don't sell the memory card. So, I am back to deferred position again, and thinking about what camera to purchase.

Do you have one you would rave about?

Caveat: I don't want an SLR. I hike and I don't want to carry a lot of gear. Because I need that precious weight for my food.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Bokashi Update

As I alluded to in my previous post, I am now living in a house, with a garden. This means that my little flat bokashi experiment has been hijacked. However, I did use bokashi quite successfully in my little flat for about a month and a half. I know you are all desperate to hear how that went, so I am selflessly updating you.

Bokashi is excellent waste management in a small space. I had my two bokashi buckets stacked on top of one another in our hall, just outside our kitchen. When I filled the first, I then swapped them around so that I was filling the most accessible bin.

It did not smell at all, unless I opened the lid to put more veggie scraps and bokashi bran in. The smell that the bokashi and food-waste mix did release was a sweet-sour pickly smell, and the bran continues to smell of guinea pig, but only ever so faintly. I kept the bran in a tupperware container because that's neater than a bag.

It took us about three weeks to fill one bucket. We are two people, but we eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and we probably cook at home 5 out of every 7 nights.

What did I pit in the bokashi bucket? Pretty much the same as what I would put in a compost heap, actually. Mostly fruit and vegetable scraps. In a compost heap, I would refrain from putting in onion and garlic, however I quite happily put this into the bokashi. I also eat a lot of citrus - probably five lemons a week - and oranges and mandarins every day. A few mouldy oranges and lemons went into the bokashi, without a hitch, even though people warn against throwing in mouldy veggies.

I have always put citrus peel into a compost heap, even though it is recommended not to do so. Usually, I refrain from putting citrus in until the worms are well established, i.e. when I open the lid, the critters are squirming everywhere (ew). Then, I will happily chuck in citrus peel because, they'll be fine. I would also occassionally, but not very often, throw onion and garlic skins into the compost.

An aside about worms:

When I was young, I used to believe that worms regenerated themeselves, so that if you chopped one worm in half, it became two. I think this belief may be my brother's fault, or the fact that I watched way too many horror movies in which creatures which were symmetrical in shape regenerated if you split them (on their symmetry axis). I also knew that worms were good, so whenever I found worms in the garden, I would cut them in half, expecting that they would regenerate and become two. There's still a bit of me that unthinkingly goes to halve worms that I find, in the expectation that I am somehow helping.

I did put some - but not a lot - of cooked food scraps in. Probably the main thing I put in was leftover minestrone soup, which I strained and then put the remaining cooked carrot, celery, potato, lentils and pasta into the bokashi. I put no meat scraps into the bokashi, nor bones of any kind.

I also put in a lot of tea bags. My bokashi leaflet told me not to put tea bags in, but I googled around (without much luck) and then emailed Al the Bokashi Man who gave me some great advice. (Thanks, Al!) I decided the warning not to put tea bags in was because of staples and the plasticated labels a lot of tea bags have. Very few of our tea bags are like that. Most of the tea bags I buy use recycled paper and are compostable. So I tossed in tea bags. Probably at least two per day, more on weekends.

You have to keep tamping the waste in, and topping up with bran. I would toss a little bit of bran in each time I put waste in, and then a layer of bran once a week or so.

I de-juiced the bokashi whenever I remembered to. This was usually every 2 - 4 days (give or take). Each time I de-juiced, I got about a cupful of liquid, which I diluted (very roughly 1 part juice to 10 parts water and oops, a bit more) and used this to water my windowsill herbs in pots and my one fern.

The fern was unhappy, but I think it's been unhappy for a long time (needs a new pot), whereas the herbs loved the bokashi juice. The leaves of my mint, oregano and laxoleaf became at least three times bigger. My rosemary, too, loved the bokashi juice. My chives did not - possibly because it was really difficult to water the chives without getting the diluted juice onto the chives themselves. I can now safely say that it is not the advent of spring and warmer weather which made my herbs (bar the chives) happier because I have never before seen them so abundant.

Happy mint

Happy oregano and rosemary

Just prior to our move, the first bokashi bucket was probably ready to be transferred ... somewhere. I deferred the decision, hoping our application for the house would be accepted because then I could just dig it into the yard. And that's exactly what I did.

The veggie etc scraps had been pickling for about 3 - 4 weeks, in pretty mild temperatures, and I had forgotten to dejuice for one and half weeks, while we moved. When I opened up the bucket, the sweet-sour smell was overpowering, but not unpleasant. This was lucky, because I managed to spill some of the waste all over our laundry room floor in trying to clean out the bucket. Note to self: clean bucket outside.

There was also a lot of white mould everywhere - on the lid of the bucket, on the tops of the veggie scraps, on the side of the bucket - but I had read this was not of concern, so I did not let it concern me. The Picky Vegan suggests using a layer of cardboard to deal with this issue, so I may try it next time.

In a few weeks, I will plant some late veggies, and some flowers. I'll let you know how that goes!

From here on in, I will have a yard and a compost bin to add my bokashi to. I intend to continue with the bokashi, because I think it could speed up the decomposing process and I like digging holes in the yard. However, even if I had not moved to a house, I would have happily tramped down to the local allotment on a nice sunny Saturday, looking for someone to take my beautiful bokashi waste.

Update to the update: I bravely put into the bokashi the bones of one whole baked Scottish rainbow trout. Let's see what happens...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Bun Bo Hue - The Recipe

After extracting ingredients and instructions from my brother in law, I went to acquire the items that I did not have at home at the Asian grocery nearest to me. I wandered around and around the aisles - it's only a small store, but I find its logic incomprehensible. I picked up my ingredients and went looking for the stock cubes. I just had to see them, and ponder why and whether to use them. I found the cubes. One for pho, one for Bun Bo Hue, one for Bun Rieu, one for canh chua (sour soup). And they were hilarious. Their ingredient list? Salt, MSG, spices. All of them listed those three ingredients and nothing else. Definitely not going to buy stock cubes (but thank you for the offer, Hedgehog).

What you will need if you want to make Bun Bo Hue

For the eating:

Noodles - I used pho noodles because that's what I had in the cupboard and I wanted to use it up, but thick round rice vermicelli is best.

Thin slices of beef and meatloaf that you can buy from most Asian grocery stores. It's called cha lua in case you want to buy it. I didn't because there was plenty of meat on my soup bones and we don't eat that much meat. You can also add liver (ugh) and blood cubes (also ugh), but not having them is okay too. I'm a laissez faire kinda diner.

Herbs - you will need holy basil, spring onions, coriander

Bean sprouts - it ain't no Viet noodle soup without bean sprouts! I have a Viet-Australian friend who shares my family name - but, no, she is not related to me, really and no, we're definitely not sisters, or twins and nor do we look like each other although we do both have long hair and wear glasses - and who cannot abide bean sprouts. I find this thoroughly shocking.

Fish sauce.

Shrimp paste mixed with chilli and lemon.

Nice large soup bowls! Chopsticks, spoons, etc. Oh, you will need serviettes or tissues handy, as this is a runny nose kinda soup.

For the soup:

Beef (or pork, if you prefer) stock bones. Oxtail is best (I channel my bro-in-law) but I again just used what I had in the freezer.*

Lemongrass - mince some finely (about half a cup full) and some chopped into approximately two-inch long sticks. I tend to mince mostly the thick white base, and use the long leafy bit of the lemongrass for the sticks, with a few of the thick white base bits.

Chilli - depending on taste and fieriness of chillis, three or five finely minced.

Shrimp paste - this will stink out your fridge once you open it, so I store mine in its glass jar, inside another plastic container, thereby jailing its pungency.

Oil. I use olive, but any would be fine. Except perhaps sesame or peanut.

Chilli oil - for cheating with (all will be made clear).

The three essentials: onion (one), ginger (thumb-sized knob), garlic (um, half a clove?) - charred

About two litres of water.

A big stockpot

A frying pan

Another saucepan for pre-parboiling of stock bones

How to make it:

Parboil the stock bones first; boil on medium-high heat until a brownish froth appears. Then wash the bones in warm water and discard the boiling water. Set aside until its grand moment.

Char onion, ginger and garlic.

Using the flat of a large knife, squash the lemongrass sticks. This releases their lovely flavour.

In a little bit of oil, fry up about a teaspoon-full of the shrimp paste with about a quarter of the minced lemongrass. Don't let this burn (add little bits of water if you're worried that it will). Add stock bones and fry them in the shrimp paste for a bit. Add the lemongrass sticks, onion, ginger, garlic and water and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and let simmer for an hour or so.

Fry minced lemongrass and chilli in about a tablespoon full of oil and add to the stock. The soup should have a lovely red tinge. If it doesn't, add some more chilli oil. Red tinge, ta dah!

Simmer again on even lower heat for as long as your patience or hunger will permit, and taste the stock. If too bland, add some fish sauce but remember that fish sauce also gets added at the eating part so don't over flavour the stock. You want it to taste of your lovely ingredients.

The soup is ready when the meat on the bone is soft and tender, and falls nicely away with only minimal persuasion on your part.

Assemble your bowls and eat with relish.

As I was eating, I couldn't quite remember what Bun Bo Hue was supposed to taste of. I could not call up any memories of eating Bun Bo Hue with my family. I don't think I've ever ordered it in a Viet restaurant (I find pho on the menu difficult to resist if I want to eat a noodle soup). But my version was yummy. The household food-critic (my partner) declared it delicious but that pho was better. As always, he is right.

*So, why all this 'using up'? Because I'm moving!** Woo hoo! To a house! With a yard! Hurrah!

** Post-lude:

After such a promising end to my last post, I neglected. I am sorry. I'm rubbish. The reason I'm rubbish is still the same, but in addition: I was moving and then I did move. From my little flat, into a house. I'm off internet connection for a bit, and I have photos to go with this post, which I will update later. I'll also respond to comments from the last post, later. Later.

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