Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tasmanian reflections: Hobart and surrounds

This is the last Tasmania-focused post, with the exception of a cafe review that will appear at some stage.

Suitably, this Bite, which is rather a big one, also touches on some of my favourite sights and experiences from the trip.

After nearly a week in small towns or national park areas, arriving in Hobart in the afternoon sun was beautiful.

We headed straight to Salamanca Markets, which are held every Saturday in the waterfront area below Battery Point...

And enjoyed taking in the architecture that makes Hobart city so attractive...

Hobart also provided us with the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which I had heard wonderful things about. It didn't disappoint. If you get a chance to visit - do. 

The entrance to MONA. The museum is built into the side of a cliff: enter at the top (through the black doors pictured) and descend down for art. It's bigger than it looks!

I wouldn't hesitate to deem this the best collection of art in Australia. For some inside shots, cityhippyfarmgirl presented a delightful summary a few weeks back. 

We also went up Mount Wellington, which overlooks Hobart, where I got very cold...

This photo doesn't show the wind. It was vicious.

...and visited a nearby wildlife park, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, where I got even colder. Intense, I think I might faint, I can't feel my feet cold.

At least the Tasmanian Devils were cute. Sadly, these were the only live ones we saw on the trip. The native population is seriously threatened by the currently incurable Devil Facial Tumour Disease, as well as traffic (we saw a number of dead ones on the sides of roads).

From Hobart, we visited Port Arthur, which was the largest penal settlement in Australia from 1833 to 1853. We spent a night there and absorbed culture and sad stories...

We also did the evening ghost tour at Port Arthur, which provided me with an opportunity to wear a large proportion of my clothes simultaneously. My outfit included tights under jeans, two pairs of socks, a long-sleeved thermal top, a long-sleeved fitted top, a zip-up sports jacket, another black jacket, my brother's ski jacket, gloves, and scarf.

I also wore the ski jacket hood. I'm sure I looked very trendy. But after the wildlife park experience I wasn't taking any chances!

Of course, Hobart also provided us with food choices. After self-catering and/or having limited eating out options, this was bliss.

Metz, in Sandy Bay (north Hobart), provided an amazing sweet blue pear, walnut & honey pizza. It would usually come with gorgonzola, but they helpfully omitted it for me - albeit after double checking that I really didn't want any cheese. I think the chef struggled to grasp the concept of a cheese free pizza :P

He did himself proud though.

It may have taken the Best Pizza Ever award.

We also ate Thai, Indian and Italian (no pictures I'm sorry), thereby navigating the world whilst skipping over Australia. I was disappointed to discover that Sirens, the acclaimed vegetarian / vegan eatery, had closed - apparently just in May this year. I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer to experience a dedicated vegetarian restaurant.

Jackson & McRoss Bakery in Battery Point, a 5 minute walk from where we stayed, went some way towards making up for the loss of Sirens. Bustling with customers and showcasing amazing breads and cakes, it was a delightful hybrid of bakery and cafe.

Of course, Hobart offers so much more than that mentioned here. But I think visiting is required in order to absorb it all, and that I would unhesitatingly recommend.

Previous Tasmanian posts: LauncestonCradle Mountain, and the West and East Coasts.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lemon risotto and vegan lemon cupcakes

Some weeks, life can seem unnecessarily complicated. I struggle to see the point of work, routines, day-to-day activities. Fewer things make me smile. More things make me sad.

I'm yet to hit on a fool proof solution for these weeks. I think sometimes you just have to ride through them and trust that the next week will be better.

I can, however, offer a solution to an excess of lemons. And if you're lucky, the results might even help improve your week.

Lemon Risotto

Adapted from here and here

Serves 3

  • 1 shallot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Bok choi, finely chopped (about the amount in the picture to the left!)
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 capsicum, diced
  • English spinach, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • ~1tsp lemon zest (from 1/2 - 1 lemon)
  • ~1tbsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Saute the shallot and garlic in a non-stick pan until tender and browned, using oil to taste.
  2. Add the carrot and capsicum and cook over medium heat until starting to soften; add the bok choi and reduce heat to low.
  3. Meanwhile, bring ~1 cup of the vegetable stock to simmering point in a large saucepan and add the arborio rice. Cover and keep on low heat. When the stock is absorbed, add a further cup of stock to the rice and continue to simmer on low heat. When the second cup is absorbed, add the final cup of stock.
  4. When all of the stock has been added, add the cooked vegetable mix (shallot, garlic, carrot, capsicum, bok choi) and the English spinach to the rice. Mix through.
  5. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and basil. Mix through.
  6. Continue to heat over low heat until the stock is absorbed and the rice is fluffy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Optional: Sprinkle with cheese and/or pine nuts, to taste, just before serving.

I served ours with brocollini.

The verdict? I enjoyed this dish, both hot at dinner and cold for lunch the following day. However, I hesitated over posting the recipe because Mr Bite was not a fan at all! As he is also not a fan of quinoa, brown rice or nuts (amongst other things, bless him), I decided to interpret this as a person-specific difference rather than a broader reflection on the dish. 

I will say, though, that the rice is quite lemony, so if you aren't a big fan of lemons, or strong flavours, you may want to reduce the lemon juice and rind. 

Or skip to dessert.

Vegan lemon cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes.

I don't own (yet...) the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World book, but the Vanilla Cupcakes and Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting recipes are available online.

There are also a few sites offering suggestions for how to turn the vanilla versions into lemon. I assume the book also offers a specific lemon recipe, but haven't seen it.

I took the vanilla cupcake recipe and substituted 1/2 tsp vanilla extract + 2 tsp lemon juice for the 2 tsp vanilla, and took the frosting recipe and substituted 1/2 tsp vanilla extract + 1 tsp lemon juice + ~1/4 tsp lemon zest for the 1 1/2 tsp vanilla.

I also made a half batch of frosting, which was more than enough.

The verdict for these? No complaints. The cupcakes themselves have a subtle lemon flavour, whilst the frosting adds a more tangy kick. As with all vegan cupcakes I've made, they're fluffy and light and delightful to both make and eat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Garden update II

When we came from Tasmania, certain vegetables seemed to have sprouted up and out quite dramatically.

Lettuce, in particular.

Lettuce last weekend (24th July)...

...versus the start of June...

...and two weeks after planting, mid-May.

I think we may need to eat some lettuce. Rapidly.

The bok choi and English spinach are also doing well, but sadly my coriander has gone to seed. I believe this is quite common with coriander, but I've always been fortunate with keeping it growing in the past.

Bok choi and spinach in the back left corner; leeks at the front left; lettuce on the right;
Coriander in front.

My snow pea and beetroot seed sprouts are also looking bigger, although I feel as if I should have some actual snow peas by now (I had 8 weeks in mind from planting to picking?). I think I can try pulling up the beetroot in another few weeks, so I'll see what is under the surface when the time comes for that. Hopefully something! 

I've never cooked 'real' beetroot (I've baked beetroot brownies with the tinned variety, but that is about all) so I'm quite looking forward to it.

Snow peas (back) and beetroot (front) on the weekend.

In early June - no real change in the snow peas since then...

...and two weeks after planting (mid-May).

On a non-gardening note, I've also had lemons to use up this week, so sweet and savoury lemon recipes will be appearing over the next few days. The sweet recipe may have involved cupcakes...

Details to come!

Do you have any experience with growing snow peas or beetroot from seed? Or any beetroot recipe ideas for me to try when I do (hopefully!) get some plants?

Monday, July 25, 2011

An active weekend

My best run in months, with beautiful weather and muscles that seemed to work without any effort at all...

...combined with a Sunday outing...

...with a (slightly cheating!) picnic...

...made for a delightful weekend.

I only wish there was another day in there before the working week rolled around again!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book updates and The China Study

Note - this is a long and wordy post. Consider yourself warned!

Between holidaying and general life-ing, I've been rather belated in updating my book list. It's finally up-to-speed though, with recent additions including:
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
  • The Valley of the Horses by Jean Auel
  • Daniel Isn't Talking by Marti Leimbarch
  • The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

I also just finished The China Study (T. Thomas Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell II) and feel the need to organise my thoughts about it in blog form. I am hoping others may have read the book too, and would be curious to hear your perspective if you have.

Before starting, I think it deserves note that this was probably not an easy book to market. The authors needed to translate scientific research into lay terms, and make it punchy enough to sell. They weren't offering rapid weight loss and they were challenging some popular dieting beliefs. They were also challenging the viewpoints and interests of several high-profile research groups and organisations.

The fact that they made a best-selling book, which reads well and can be understood without formal research training, is thus an impressive feat. That they have also inspired the Forks Over Knives documentary (which I really, really hope comes to Australia!) is frankly amazing.

The first author is also extraordinarily well established in the scientific literature, and holds the post of Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. Clearly, he is more qualified than I.

Despite all of this, I can't be completely positive about the book. I'd like to be, but I can't!

In summary

The China Study is one of the largest epidemiological studies ever done. It involved a survey of diet, health and mortality in over 2,400 Chinese counties, and was the culmination of more than 20 years work across Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.

The book The China Study presents findings from that research project, along with results from other nutritional studies. It focuses on links between diet and cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type I Diabetes and other autoimmune disorders, as well as life expectancy.

The overall message, and one which is convincely painted, is that intake of animal products (including meat, dairy and eggs - although little data is actually presented regarding eggs) is associated with a higher incidence all of the above diseases. Once diseases are present, intake of animal products is also linked to disease progression and health deterioration.

Conversely, a plant-based diet is linked to a lower incidence of those diseases and a longer life expectancy.

As an interesting side note, fish isn't given a lot of discussion, and the authors advocate eating it in moderation rather than avoiding it altogether (this is the only animal product where this is the case). But that's not my focus today!

The Positives

1. This is a comprehensive summary of some of the benefits of vegetarian and vegan eating.

As someone who believes in those benefits, it is nice to see some supporting data and science laid out in clear, accessible terms.

2. I found the explanations around the research to be well written and I admired the translation of scientific language into understandable terms.

This really is a good example of how academic research can be translated for general consumption, and I think everyone would benefit if we had more books that did this. Not everyone works in science, but we all deserve to know about key scientific findings.

3. The book was interesting, well set out, and certainly highlighted some of the significant problems inherent in the American education, health, and research systems.

When funding is provided by meat / milk / food / pharmaceutical industries with clearly biased interests; school-based nutrition education is guided by the same organisations; and pills are given greater merit (and are often more accessible) than sensible advice about nutrition, something is not quite right.

The authors highlight these issues in America (and by association, other Western countries), even when they know their message isn't popular. This also takes me to (4)...

4. The authors are obviously passionate about their research and mesage.

I think they genuinely believe what they write and the problems I identify below stem, in all likelihood, from that passion - just as we can all be clouded by things we feel strongly about and believe in.

Even if some aspects of their message can be questioned, they present what is largely sensible science and advice relating to food.

The problems
(in my specific, and not necessarily correct, opinon)

I debated writing this post, because I know my perspective on the book may not be matched by others. I don't feel informed enough to fully comment on all aspects, I'm not a nutritionist, and I am not intimately acquainted with this particular body of literature. As such, I have tried to state only things I can back up.

1. The authors tend to dismiss studies that show null effects - that is, studies that don't link diet with positive or negative outcomes.

Specifically, they state that if half (or so) of the studies out there show a significant link between animal product intake and health problems, it doesn't much matter that the other studies show no relationship. Their reasoning is that the studies showing no relationship don't show a negative association between animal product intake and health problems, and thus don't really count in countering out the other findings.

Fair enough. But this isn't actually how science works. If you hypothesise that X is associated with Y, you don't need to find that X is associated with Z to refute that. You just need to find that X isn't associated with Y.

I agree that if 50% of studies link animal consumption to negative health outcomes, that's worth reporting. It would (and does) put me off eating animal foods. But it isn't fair or accurate to say that the other 50% of studies don't count just because they don't link animal consumption with health!

2. The casein link suggesting animal protein is associated with cancer is taken out of context.

One of the most compelling cited studies, when taken at face value, was the research that found rats fed a diet of 5% casein protein (a form of milk protein) did not develop cancer, whilst rats fed a diet of 20% casein did so at dramatic levels. These findings were reported in conjunction with those from studies that found high levels of wheat and soy protein did not produce similar effects - thus, Campbell asserts, it is animal protein that is problematic.


In a study that Campbell did not cite, he and his co-authors found that wheat protein showed similarly carcinogenic properties when combined with the amino acid lysine and delivered in high levels [1].

Lysine is an amino acid that typically occurs with wheat its natural form. Examining wheat protein in an isolated state, as done in the studies where carcinogenic effects were not identified, is an error of the sort Campbell criticises - viewing specific food components in isolation, instead of in the forms they typically occur.

What is more, whey, another milk protein, has been found to demonstrate anti-cancer properties, even when consumed at very high levels [2-4].

Given that milk products will typically be consumed in a form that combines casein and whey, it is inappropriate to separate out one and call it carcinogenic, when the other half of the product exerts anti-cancer properties. Again, as Campbell himself states, we need to look at the big picture and not specific food components in forms they do not naturally occur.

Campbell and colleagues also found (again, this was not cited in the book) that wheat flour intake is significantly related to cardiovascular disease, with a correlation of 0.67 [5]. If two things are perfectly related (they always occur together), the correlation would be 1.00. The correlation between animal protein intake and cardiovascular disease was 0.26.

Clearly, these results are quite different to those presented in the book. Effectively, these findings suggest that wheat flour intake is moderately associated with cardiovascular disease, whilst animal protein intake is only slightly associated with cardiovascular disease. The authors present some other data that may partially explain this finding (wheat flour intake is associated with greater intake of various other things, including salt, for instance) [5], but it still deserves note - and isn't mentioned in the book.

3. The China Study made use of a hugely impressive data set. However, because the data set was so big, and because so many possible associations were examined, the chances of finding "false" findings increase.

On page 40, it is noted that The China Study yielded "over 8,000 statistically significant correlations". Statistical significance means that these finding are unlikely, in theory, to have occurred by chance. The standard cut point for significance testing means that the probability of the identified relationship being due to chance is <5%.

In the book, this <5% probability is (appropriately) referred to as statistically significant and <1% is referred to as highly statitsically significant.

However, it was not noted whether adjustments were made for the extraordinarily large number of analyses and comparisons that were conducted.

Given this, I went back to check some of the original articles in the scientific journals in which they were published [e.g., 5]. These confirmed that adjustments were not made to account for the many correlations examined. I suspect today some objection would be made to that, but at the time of publishing (late 1990s) it was probably less common to adjust for multiple tests.

To grasp why this is a problem, consider that the 5% cut point means that if you examine a relationship 100 times, you should only have 5 findings (at most) due to chance. 

If you use 5% when you conduct 8000 (plus) correlations, you could find 400 significant associations due to chance. 

What is more, significant correlations are more likely to occur in large samples. This is because, in a large sample, there is more variation in behaviour / diet / health. In addition to exploring thousands of possible relationships, The China Study used data from thousands of people. This has to be accounted for when interpreting the findings. Unfortunately, though, it isn't.

For a more detailed critique of some other methodological / interpretational flaws, see an extensive online review by Denise Minger.  For crazy criticism from people with no apparent grasp on science, just google The China Study :)

I will repeat that I liked this book, and the problems I felt deserved mention don't detract from the overall significance of the work. I just don't think the results are quite as cut and dry as the authors reported, and I would have liked less sensationalism and perhaps more consideration of alternative perspectives.

If you have got this far (congratulations!), have you read The China Study? Any thoughts? Or read any other scientific reflections on meat vs. vegetarian eating?


1. Schulsinger DA, Root MM, Campbell TC (1989). Effect of dietary protein quality on development of aflatoxin B1-induced hepatic preneoplastic lesions. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 81, 1241 - 1245.

2. Parodi PW (2007). A role for milk proteins and their peptides in cancer prevention. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 13, 813 - 828.
3. Bounous G, Batist G, Gold P (1991). Whey proteins in cancer prevention. Cancer Letters, 57, 91 - 94.

4. Bounous G. (2000). Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment. Anticancer Research, 20, 4785 - 4792.

5. Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J (1998). Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of coronary artery disease: The Cornell China Study. The American Journal of Cardiology, 82, 18 - 21.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tasmanian reflections: West and East coasts

I am deviating from chronological order here, because Hobart deserves a post of its own, but fell between our exploration of the West and East sides of Tasmania.

Fortunately, I think I'm allowed to break chronological order on my own blog.

After leaving Cradle Mountain, we wound our way down the West Coast to Strahan, stopping briefly at Zeehan and Queenstown en route.

Map courtesy of Google

Zeehan was once, apparently, the third largest town in Tasmania. I'm embarrassed to admit we did not take a single photo. I can describe it most aptly as a ghost town: we saw no one on the streets, no cars moving, very few shops or open places, and the only signs of life were on the way in when we passed some mining accommodation.

The entire West coast has experienced a dramatic fall in fortune since the mining booms of the 1890s to early 1900s ended. For us, Zeehan captured that fall most succinctly.

In Queenstown, we found an actual town, with people and shops, which was a slight relief. It had a faded feel to it, but it did feel present.

The barren hills on the way out of town also provide a stark reminder of the toll mining took on the environment: smelter fumes killed the vegetation and some decades later, they are yet to recover.

Hills around Queenstown. Spot the effects of mining? 

It was with some relief that we found Strahan to be sleepy, quiet and with few shops or restaurants, but nonetheless nice in a small town way.

I think most people use Strahan as a base for taking a Gordon River cruise, which are one of the few (but very expensive) ways to get into the midst of the Franklin-Gordon River national park. We didn't do this, so pottered around the small town centre and waterfront instead. We had only one night in Strahan, and this was probably sufficient in the off season!

After Strahan, we drove through the middle of Tasmania, along the northern edge of the Franklin-Gordon National Park, to Lake St Clair. 

This forms the bottom of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and is where Overland Track walkers would finish their journey.


Franklin Gordon Rivers national park

We stayed a night at (tiny) Derwent Bridge, which allowed us to visit the lake, and have the place almost entirely to ourselves as the light faded and dusk fell.

Lake St Clair

After our time in Hobart, and a visit to Port Arthur, we then wound up the East coast. 

Map courtesy of Google

The East is reported to be warmer  and more peopled than its western equivalent. We found this to be true, although we had clear weather on both sides of the state.

We stayed at Bicheno, mostly using the town as a base for visiting the Freycinet national park just south of Coles Bay. 

The Freycinet peninsula includes the acclaimed Wineglass Bay, with the view from the Wineglass Bay lookout reportedly the most photographed vista in Australia. Given the lookout is a steep 45 minute climb uphill, this is quite a statistic! 

Wineglass Bay is actually around the corner, but the view from this peak was quite impressive too

Unfortunately, the lookout itself was closed for repairs when we visited. But as we had planned to walk down to the bay and beach itself, it didn't matter too much (the lookout point branches off the main path).

The beach was beautiful.


The following day we also walked along the Bicheno beachfront, in sparkling sunshine...

 Bicheno Blowhole, blowing!

...before ultimtaely driving back to Launceston for our flight home.

There was one final treat in store on that drive (hint: it involves food!), but that will appear another day.