Saturday, March 31, 2012

On conferences, birthday parties, being tired and being three

DPCON12 (the Digital Parents blog conference) was yesterday. I will have much - so much - to say about it, and what I've gained from it, in a couple of posts to come. I want to let it settle for a few days first, though. I think I'll be able to write more coherently about it then. At the moment, I'm too tired and buzzy from the manic few weeks I've just had, full of work and unusually hefty kid-wrangling things and social busyness, culminating in the conference itself. I don't think I'm in the right headspace to do it justice.

As a placeholder, though, let me just say - I really, really enjoyed it. It was a thoughtful and engaging program, presented by absolutely first-class speakers / bloggers. I learned so much from them all, and was moved by many of them.

(Also, getting to finally meet in person some of my blog heroes and Twitter buddies, like Kelley, Mrs Woog, and Eden, was a bit of a fangirl thrill for me :-) So was meeting again with the people I've come to know offline a little at various times - Shae, Janelle, Karen, Nicole, Kate, Kate, Suzie ... the list goes on. All just wonderful people, who I haven't linked to because I'm tired and my wireless is playing me up. Soon, I promise!)

Then, after conference, life resumes.

I took my 3 year old, C, to a birthday party today. It was a Pooh Bear party - a Hunny Hunt - and it was completely wonderful. My friend B, the birthday girl's Mum, is such a warm, creative person, and it showed in the beautiful, simple but lovely party she put together. There was an Expotition to find Pooh's hunny - with a pin-the-tail-on-Eeyore, popping bubbles blown from giant wands on the front lawn, and singing Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush around the tree that held the hunny pot, full of party bags. B had made the most adorable little craft bees, and suspended them from the ceiling, and her husband read a Pooh Bear story to the kids. There was a honeypot shaped cake, and toilet-roll binoculars to use on the hunt.

And there was food for me to eat, four things I could safely consume and enjoy. As a Coeliac, I am always so grateful when friends think of me like this. It makes me feel welcomed and wanted, and I appreciate it so much.

On the lengthy drive home, C and I talked and listened to music. Out of nowhere, she suddenly said, "Mummy, you know, that was the firs' party that I did go to with no big girls!"

"Yes, I think you're right," I agreed, slightly surprised to realise it. "It was just for you, wasn't it?"

She smiled. "Just for me ... an' Mummy," she said.

Life is good.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Being away from the kids

In the latter part of this week, I'll be away from home (and the kids) a lot more than I'm used to.

I'm working in the city on Thursday, necessitating the big kids to go to after-school care, which they are dead thrilled about, and C to have a longer than normal day at creche, which she is a bit meh about, but I'm sure she'll be OK. I'm really pleased to have picked up this work, to be honest - Thursday is the research day for what will follow on into a solid block of designing professional training programs, and I both like that and find it challenging.

Friday (day and probably evening) is DPCon. I'm looking forward to the conference itself - a lot - and to seeing friends again (and meeting some for the first time in person). I'm less hyped about the dinner, partly because I don't, on the whole, do well with evening functions (I am such a lark!), partly because I am a little concerned how G will manage with the three kids for such a long stretch, given that he's very tired at the moment thanks to C's night waking and overload at work. I'll play it by ear, I think.

Saturday, C and I are going to a 3rd birthday party for a friend of hers from playgroup whose family has moved 2 hours away. It's just C and I invited, so G and the big kids will hang at home. We'll be the whole day, I'd say. Then, in the evening, I'm out to a neighbours' for a Tupperware party. (How suburban can you get!)

Sunday, my parents are having the kids for the day so G and I can go out for brunch and to a matinee Comedy Festival show (it's a belated anniversary thing).

By Monday (the first weekday of the school holidays, and thus, by tradition, our pyjama day), I think I will be needing a concentrated dose of hanging with the kids. I'm planning nothing - we'll just let the day unfold as it does.

Yes, I struggle with my role sometimes. Yes, I complain about all three kids: their quirks, their needs, and their occasionally rotten behaviour. Yes, I get frustrated and fed up and tired with parenting. Yes, my life is imperfect and my parenting is too (and so are my children - and I!)

At the end of the day, though, I love to be with them, better than almost anything else in the world. I always realise it anew, after a few days away.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reading Notes: What we're reading

The last month has seen us all busy with books both new (to us) and familiar.

I've been working my way through Connie Willis's time travel novels. I'm read Doomsday Book, Blackout and All Clear, and am impatiently awaiting my copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog, on order from Booktopia.

For the first time, I've read the two sequels to Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (2010 and 2061). I felt a little ambiguous about doing so, for reasons I'll go into more fully in a post still germinating (about moral repugnance for individuals, and how it affects - or doesn't - one's reaction to their artistic works).

I've also revisited old beloved titles - Isabel Allende's Paula, Laurie King's Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes novels, and some Isaac Asimov for good measure.

A, my 8 year old, has been busy too. She's returned to Anne of Green Gables, which she dipped her toe into last year but didn't take to then, only to fall in love this time around. She's reading a lot of nonfiction with an emphasis on space / astronomy, returning to one of her major loves as she reads more advanced texts this time.

After I found a handful of them at an op shop, A has also embraced the Babysitter Club books with open arms. She's read 4 so far and is on a mission to find more.

She's also discovered a 3-novel volume at her school library - a collection of mystery stories "for girls". While I'm not such a fan of the "for girls" designation, there's no doubt that she's enjoying the books - Ellen Miles' 7 Sister Mysteries: Trouble in Paradise, Laura E Williams' Mystic Lighthouse mysteries: The Mystery of the Missing Tiger, and Christine Harris' Undercover Girl: Secrets. She's asked me to look out for other titles in all three series for her, which I'll happily do.

E, my almost 7 year old, has been on a reading jag this month (when not?) She's currently reading Pippi Longstocking, as recommended by several people a while back, and greatly enjoying it. She's just started The Rescuers, recommended for her, and reports it to be "GREAT"! Heidi is waiting for her next.

She's also been on an orgy of horsey book reading, chomping through almost every Pony Pal book in the series, and re-reading her Saddle Club books. (This is part of her overall horse obsession at the moment). Linda Chapman's various magic / horse series have also had another run.

As for C, the current fascination for her is with Pamela Allen's books, especially the Mr McGee books, which I find mildly offputting but C adores. She's also right into the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories after being given a treasury of them for her birthday, and is loving Rod Clements' Olga the Brolga, Lauren Childs' Charlie & Lola books, A A Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, and her many Wiggles and Night Garden learning books.

Reading is like breathing, here - we do it every day because we sort of can't not. I don't know if it's my readers' soul that's directed my children to become such devoted readers, but if it has, this is one area that I'm completely happy to have influenced them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reading Notes: Paula

(This post is part of the Once a Month Book Club link up over at A Permanent Flux. This month's theme is Translation - a book originally written in a language other than your native tongue.)

I like Latin American fiction a lot. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my very favourite books - it'd make my lifetime top 50, certainly - and I've read a lot of works by Carlos Fuentes, Juan Luis Borges and Mario Vargas Llosa, and Laura Esquivel's wonderful Like Water for Chocolate has a special and enduring place in my heart.

One of the features of much Latin American writing that most appeals to me is its reliance on magic realism - that difficult-to-define aesthetic that blends magical elements into otherwise reality-based plots and situations. Unlike fantasy - another genre I enjoy - the magical elements of this kind of fiction are understated, subtle, and ambiguous. They colour the story rather than infuse it. I enjoy the almost dreamlike quality this lends to this kind of fiction, and the lushness of the prose that is born from refusing to be bound by what's really possible in the storytelling.

All of this is a long preamble to talking about a beautiful book, a tragic book, a life-affirming book: Isabel Allende's Paula.

"Listen, Paula. I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost."

This book is, effectively, one long love letter - and journey into the interior - written by Allende to her daughter, Paula, who lies dying in a porphyria-induced coma. The book is about more than Paula - and more than Isabel, for that matter; it explores family and history and the making of the self, violence and love and politics, the real and the unreal, magic and mundane, in equal measure. In many ways, it's a magic realist autobiography of Isabel herself, and her life, which has been eventful enough for 20 books, makes this an engrossing journey in and of itself.

But while the narrative flits and dives and weaves through many stories, it is threaded together with Allende's overpowering love for, and grief for, her dying daughter. It is to Paula that she is writing these things; to her, unseeing and (maybe) unknowing as she is, that she tells her tales, as if the potency of her words, the truth of them, will somehow draw her daughter back from the place she's going, and back into life.

Much of the book is affecting - as you'd expect, given the subject matter - but the final few pages, when Paula at last slips from life, is almost unbearably moving. The vision of Paula's family clustered around her, easing her passing, resonated so strongly with me, as did Allende's own realisation that the year of Paula's coma has been a training ground, an awful process that has somehow prepared her for this final step:
"In this year of torment, I had gradually been letting go: first I said goodbye to Paula's intelligence, then to her vitality and her company, now, finally, I had to part with her body. I had lost everything, and my daughter was leaving me, but the one essential thing remained: love. In the end, all I have left is the love I give her." (p 327)

All in all, this is a wonderful, wonderful book. Sad, of course; I never re-read it completely free of tears. Melancholy, raw, difficult in places, yes. It's also beautiful, engaging, lyrical, peppered with odd moments of lightness and humour, and life- and love-affirming.

At the end, Allende can write:
"Godspeed, Paula, woman.
Welcome, Paula, spirit."

It breaks my heart and lifts me, all at the same time, to read those words.

(NB: I am not 100% sure that Paula was written exclusively in Spanish first; Isabel Allende is Chilean and a US citizen, and writes in both English and Spanish, and both language editions came out simultaneously in 1995. However, I feel it still qualifies as the text is infused with Allende's Spanish language sensibility and feeling; the prose reads as un-English in some ways, more lyrical and softer and more lush than what I am used to from writers whose first language is English).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Light and shadow: a vignette

She kicks her shoes against the gravel at the edge of the path, making a tcha-tcha noise with her tongue against the gap in her front teeth.

"Don't scuff your shoes, E," I say mildly. "They'll get wrecked." She grins and nods a little absently, and keeps dragging her feet, lost in some internal dialogue that probably involves horses, magic, rainbows and astrophysics.

In the pusher, C exclaims, "YOOK! A butterfly! See, over there..."

A hitches her bag higher onto her shoulder and says, "Our shadows look so long today. Why do they look different sometimes? Is it because of the sun?"

E emerges from her dreamworld, interested. "Yes, is it?" she asks.

I nod. "Mmmmm," I say. "Because of the rotation of the earth, the sun appears to be at a different place in the sky throughout the day. Your body blocks out a different amount of light depending on how high above head the sun is - so your shadow is longer at the start and end of the day, shorter in the middle of the day."

We cross the road, the big kids' hands on the pusher handle. The sky is the most perfect clean blue, completely cloudless, and it's getting warmer already.

E says, "Look, your shadow goes over the top of mine. It's strange."

A says, "Everyone has a shadow, don't they?"

Tempted as I am to retort, Except vampires!, I simply nod. "Sure, unless there is no direct sunlight. Cloudy days don't make shadows."

C burst out in delight, "A pidgeon! I did see one! An' a minah bird too!"

E flashes her sudden grin and leaps forward, landing both-feet-down on her sister's shadow. "I stepped on your head! I stepped on your head!" she crows.

A growls and squeals, "I'll get you, you little -"

"A," I warn, my eyebrow raised half a centimetre. Just enough to let her know not to try it.

For the rest of the trip, A tries in vain to jump on E's shadow. Quicksilver, they dart in and out of my path, a lightning shell game, half in fun, half in earnest. They laugh, and shout. C laughs too, and says, "Where is MY sheddow, Mummy?"

At the gate, they break away, headed for separate friends and separate days. "Have a good day," I call after them.

E turns back and blows me a kiss. And A quickly, triumphantly, stomps on her shadow.

"THERE!" she proclaims, finally satisfied.

Their shadows trail long behind them as I watch them go.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gluten free and delicious #2: Parmesan tomato and tuna risotto cake

As I mentioned in my banana bread post, I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Coeliac Australia's recipe book and a basket of ingredients in order to trial two recipes for Coeliac Awareness Week.

The banana bread continues to be a huge hit - C and I made it again on Tuesday afternoon, in fact, and there was none left by Wednesday night. Freeze, schmeeze - it has no chance of ever making it that far around here :-)

My second recipe was a savoury one, and I wasn't, to be honest, sure what the family would make of it. I opted to cook the Parmesan, Tomato and Tuna Risotto Cake, because my family have never been willing to eat tuna but they do like risotto generally, and I am searching for more inexpensive fish meals to put into our regular menu. (They all like salmon fillets and barramundi, but we can't eat like that every night!) Tuna casserole was a total flop, and fish pie, which was a modified success (3 out of 5 liked it, 1 ate it reluctantly, only 1 refused it outright) is incredibly fiddly and time-consuming to make.

Here is the recipe, reproduced from the Coeliac Australia cookbook, Gluten Free Recipes, with permission.


50g butter or margarine
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups short grain rice (I used medium)
1 x 250g can tuna in brine
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
5 1/2 cups hot gluten free chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano
2 tsp dried oregano
shavings of cheese to top
(The instructions say serve with salad, but as my kids won't eat salad, I served it with baked veggies).


1. Melt butter in a large saucepan and saute onion. Add rice and tuna and stir for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 cup stock, stirring occasionally until all liquid is absorbed.

2. Continue to stir, gradually adding remaining stock until all liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked (approx 15 mins).

3. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding beaten eggs, cheese and oregano.

4. Pour mixture into a buttered and lined 20cm spring-form pan. (Or regular one if, like me, you don't own a spring-form :-) Bake at 200C for 40 min or until set.

Allow to cool slightly before taking out of tin. Cut into wedges, top with shaved parmesan or romano, and serve with side dishes.

Well, the recipe worked - the cake cooked and set, and sliced quite well. It smelled and looked appetising. But the million dollar question is, of course - did they eat it?

Husband loved it. He's requested it again next week.

I liked it. I wouldn't say it's a favourite dish, but I'd happily eat it on a semi-regular basis.

C, aged 3, scoffed all hers and asked for more. She was a huge fan.

A, aged 8.5, approached hers cautiously, but ruled it "not bad" and ate 3/4 of her portion.

E, aged almost 7, hated it. HATED it. She couldn't manage more than two bites. I thought this might happen; it's not a fault of the recipe, it's just that E does not do well with very "fishy" fish, and, other flavours notwithstanding, this is a very tuna-tasting meal.

Still, that's not a bad outcome - I can make this one again for the four of us who ate it and just give E a substitute protein (usually poached eggs) on the night. I certainly think it's a recipe worth trying for a relatively cheap, tasty, gluten free family dinner.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of Coeliac Australia's cookbook, and a basket containing all the ingredients for two recipes, by Porter Novelli on behalf of Coeliac Australia, with the understanding that I would trial two recipes during Coeliac Awareness Week. No payment was offered nor accepted for this process, and all views (and cooking mishaps!) are entirely my own.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This is not the post I planned for today

I was going to post the second of my two recipes tested from the Coeliac Australia cookbook today (parmesan, tomato and tuna risotto cake). I was going to write about cooking gluten free meals the whole family would eat. That's what's on my blog plan for this month, and in fact the post is already 3/4 written, sitting in draft, waiting to be completed and published.

It just seems that this post - fun, and useful (hopefully) as it will be - is not the post that needs to be written today.

Not when, like the rest of the world, I'm in shock over this. (16 dead Afghani people, most of them children, killed senseleslly in their homes. Unthinkable, yet, naturally, I lay awake last night thinking of it, imagining the terror and horror of it).

Or trembling with rage about this. Prosecution of women who suffer miscarriages? REALLY? The Handmaid's Tale is just around the corner; fiction and fact are about to collide, and I am still struggling to believe the depth and power of this anti-woman, anti-choice backlash. We do not live in progressive times.

Or incredulous about this. In Arizona, new legislation is on its way through the legislature that may allow doctors to not inform women of health problems affecting them or their babies while they are pregnant, IN CASE this might lead the woman to opt for termination. Women - infantilised, disempowered, child-bearing robots - are not, under this model, capable of being trusted with information about their own bodies - their own lives, for cripes' sake. As one commenter on that article put it, in Arizona, foetuses will now have more legal rights than BORN, ADULT WOMEN.

What I want to say is this -

Respecting life is a core and indivisible part of being an ethical human being, or an ethical society.

Respecting life does not mean that no lives - or lives-in-potential - can ever be ethically ended.

Respecting life means respecting the bodily autonomy of all people and their right to determine, insofar as disease and the rubs of life allow them to, what happens to their own bodies.

It does not mean that abortion is "good" or "desirable." It does not mean that I would choose it for myself (probably - but then I am lucky to have never been in the position where such a choice might become necessary).

It does mean that I respect the personhood - the full humanity - of women enough to say that "this is a choice that must be left to the individual to make, weighing all the circumstances and with all the relevant information."


Because women are human. They are not brood mares or robots. As human beings, they have the right not to have their lives determined by an ethos or philosophy they may not subscribe to, but is, in any case, external to themselves.

Because women matter. Their safety matters, their health (mental as well as physical) matters, their prospects for life matter. The putative desirability of an embryo potentially developing into a human being does not mean that women matter less, or magically vanish from the equation, because they are pregnant.

Because I do not want to live in a society that officiously controls the private lives, and intrudes with horrific legal penalties on the private griefs, of its citizens.

Because although I have never been touched by the need for reproductive intervention in either direction, precedents like this are awfully hard to control, and things that do directly affect people like me - health issues or autonomy issues that touch all women - may be next. (Martin Niemoller's famous words spring to mind).

Yes, it's Arizona, not Melbourne, Australia. Yes, the political climate here is very different, and it's hard to imagine these measures ever having legs in my country.

But that doesn't mean I should say nothing. That doesn't mean it's all OK, because it's not in my backyard.

Because one day it may be. And even if not, it's still not right, and women will suffer for it.

If women are human, treat them as such. If women are adults, treat them as such. Not every decision made by another person will be one that you (from your particular ethical vantage point) agree with or like. But that's life, or at least it should be.

Women are not incubators. And that is all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Resources for living gluten free in Melbourne: Part 2

Yesterday I published Part 1 of my top 25 Resources list; today, here's my favourite cookbooks and retail / products, to finish off the list.


1. Irrestistables for the Irritable (Sue Shepherd)
Dr Sue Shepherd is one of the local legends in the gluten free and other dietary needs field, and I really like her two cookbooks in this series (there's a sequel, Two Irresistible for the Irritable, that I've also got). Her recipes are mostly simple and I have never had one fail, although there are a few I probably wouldn't attempt. (The lamb pilaf on page 81 of the second book is one of our family's favourite recipes).

2. Coeliac Australia's Gluten Free Recipe Book
As my banana bread post from Monday would attest, I like this book a lot too! The recipes are straightforward and non-fussy, and the section at the start of the book on reading labels and finding substitutions is a good refresher for me and would be invaluable to a newly diagnosed person.

3. The Eat Well Cookbook (Jan Purser & Kathy Snowball)
My brother gave me this book when I was first diagnosed, because he is kind like that :-) It is full of recipes that are both gluten free and dairy free, and contains one of my most triumphantly successful puddings of all time, the light and gorgeous Lemon & Lime Delicious Puddings (p 141).

4. Four Ingredients Gluten free

I know there are mixed views on the Four Ingredients concept, and whether it actually constitutes "cooking" as opposed to, say, "mixing". I am, however, a big fan, especially when pressed for time, and there are some corkers of dinner ideas in here.

5. From My Kitchen to Yours (Sally Wise)
My beautiful friend M gave me this book for Christmas, and I've been greatly enjoying it. I haven't made many things from it yet, but everything I have made has been wonderful.

6. 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes (Carol Fenster)
This is a treasure of a book, but it's really a cookbook, not a baking book - light on desserts, but full of excellent and delicious main meal ideas.

Retail / Products

1. Absolutely Gluten Free
Located in Werribee, this store is like a mini gluten free supermarket. I cannot begin to tell you what it feels like, as a Coeliac, to walk into a shop where you can choose ANYTHING ON THE SHELF without thinking twice! Owners Carleen and Shane are very knowledgeable and helpful, too, and having this shop within a reasonable proximity makes my life many times easier.

2. Muffin break gf muffins

When a major chain offers regular gluten free options, it's such a big thing for me; to be able to get something when everyone else does is so incredibly nice. Muffin break offers a good selection of gluten free treats and I have never been burned with contaminated product by them, not even once.

3. Macro range (Woollies)
The gluten free component of Woolworths' Macro range (organic / health foods) have been a godsend for me. I've used many products from this range and some of them have my undying devotion (to wit: the sponge cake!)

4. Silly Yaks Gluten Free
Back when I was diagnosed in 2007, mainstream supermarket chains carried little that was gluten free. One of the first product lines I discovered was Silly Yaks' pies, which a local cafe ordered in especially for a customer who was Coeliac. I used to buy the pies in dozens and freeze them, and I enjoyed every mouthful :-) With more options now, I don't spend quite as much on Silly Yaks, but I still think they're among the tastiest of all the g free pie-type products.

5. Orgran
Again, old habits die hard - when I was diagnosed, Orgran was the only pre-mix flour available in supermarkets, and I still like it better than the newer competitors, and still prefer it in my baking, because I know how it behaves! Moreover, Orgran makes a lot of other products that I really like - their crackers and crispbreads high among them.

So that's my top 25 things that I rely on in living gluten free in Melbourne. You input and thoughts are most welcome...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Resources for living gluten free in Melbourne: Part 1

One of the things that I have found most helpful as a Coeliac has been discovering a network of services, information and resources that supports gluten free living. There are masses of web pages, blogs and recipe books; there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of products, some available in mainstream supermarkets; there are plenty of great options for eating out. Sometimes knowing where to look, or how to narrow it down to the things that will be of most use to you with your lifestyle, can be the hardest part.

So I've put together a list of my own most-relied-upon 25 resources as a Coeliac living in Melbourne. These are all services / resources / products I've used over and over again; all things that make my life easier, more pleasant, or more fun. Of course, there are hundreds more I could've chosen, and your top items might well differ radically, but these are a good place to start.

(NB: One resource that I used to love, and would have topped the list, was Gluten Shmooten, a web page for Coeliac living in Melbourne. Tragically, it appears to be now defunct, as all the links are broken. Sadness :-(

I've divided them into 4 categories - Online Resources, Cookbooks, Retail / Products, and Eating Out. Today, I've put up the first two categories - Online Resources and Eating Out. Part 2, Retail / Products and Cookbooks, coming up tomorrow!

Online Resources

1. Gluten Free Girl and the Chef
Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern's beautifully written and photographed blog is probably my favourite of all the many gluten free food / cooking blogs on the Internet. While Shauna and Danny make some food that I wouldn't even attempt in terms of complexity, they also have a lot of simple, easy-to-prepare recipes, and general cooking tips and tricks, that I've found invaluable.

2. Nellbe's Gluten Free Kitchen
Janelle's blog is a gem, especially because, as a Melbournian like me, she's often writing about things like supermarket specials and local restauarants that are directly relevant. I love the gluten free menu plans too.

3. Coeliac Australia
As the peak body for Coeliac sufferers here, Coeliac Australia's site gave me a huge amount of help, encouragement and clear information when I was first diagnosed and really struggling with it all. I still find it a great hub of resources and visit there at least monthly to get new ideas and updates.

4. She Let Them Eat Cake
This is a baking site with a difference - egg-free, dairy-free and gluten-free all in one! I am neverendingly amazed at the variety and yumminess of the food that Maggie coaxes out of her apparently limited ingredients. Check it out, especially if baking for vegans; you won't be disappointed.

5. Gluten free eating directory
There are many gluten free restaurant lists and guides out there, but this is the one I use the most; it seems to be updated often and contains useful information about other aspects of the venue (eg kid-friendliness) that are relevant to me.

6. Gluten free goddess
Almost as famous as the Gluten Free Girl, I like this site a lot too, although I find the writing style a little less engaging. (But the recipes? Nom nom nom...)

7. Ali V, Gluten Free
A fantastic Australian site that draws together lots of knowledge about not just gluten free but FODMAP diets and related health conditions.

Eating Out

1. Nando's
Most fast food places are completely off-limits to Coeliacs, which, while not a bad thing in some ways, does make quick family takeaways a drag. I was very excited to discover that Nando's chicken, salads and spicy rice are all gluten free (you just need to avoid the chips).

2. MoVida
Discovering that one of our favourite Melbourne restaurants for a special meal out, Spanish cuisine oriented MoVida, could provide a wide gluten free selection was an unparalleled joy for me. It's not an everyday place for us but it is so nice to know I can have a fancy meal out for special occasions and eat beautifully without fear.

3. Yum Cha at the Red Emperor
One of my greatest loves, pre-children, was the work yum cha lunch. My husband and I also adored yum cha and ate it often on Sundays, frequently meeting friends to do so. Losing yum cha was one of my top five disappointments when I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease. Being able to indulge again, even if only once in a while, at the Red Emperor is such a treat.

4. Snappas Fish & Chippery (Werribee)
Gluten free fish and chips are getting more and more common, I'd pleased to say; I've eaten good gluten free food from fish and chippies in Bendigo, Geelong, near my parents' place, and so forth. Snappas is our most local one, though, and the service is always excellent. Restoring our monthly Friday night family fish & chips has been lovely for us all.

5. Fresh Chilli Thai
Thai food can often be gluten free by ingredient in any case, but when you find a restaurant that gets the contamination issue, you stick to them like glue :-) Fresh Chilli has three western surburbs branches, and their Pad Thai is my favourite thing in the wide world.

6. Sushi Sushi
This sushi chain, that operates all over Melbourne, not only does lovely sushi that is gluten free, they are now carrying gluten free soy sauce as well. Win!

7. So n So's
This Chinese and pizza restaurant (yes, you read it right!) has been providing a full gluten free menu to western suburbs diners for over a decade now, and not once have I ever been glutened by their food. I would say the Chinese food is nicer than the pizzas, but it's all pretty good, and such a relief to find locally.

I'd be interested to know what other Melbourne Coeliacs think of this list. What are your favourites and your best, to quote my 3 year old?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gluten free and delicious #1: Banana bread

One of the biggest hurdles for many people to overcome when they receive a Coeliac diagnosis for themselves or a family member is getting their head around how to adjust to baking with gluten free flour. Wheat flour behaves in predictable (and predictably desirable) ways when baked. It has qualities that non-wheat flours of whatever description (and there are many) simply do not possess. This can lead to outcomes that are both hilarious and tragic if one tries to simply cook a known recipe with a non-wheat flour in place of normal flour.

I could write you an epic screed on my early adventures with the pitfalls of gluten free baking - the cakes that didn't rise, the biscuits that tasted funny, the muffins that were hard as rocks. Yes, I know the gluten free flour mix packets all say that they bake just like regular flour, but here's a top tip, from me to you - THEY DON'T. They're getting better all the time, and some of them do a great job in some kinds of recipes in particular, but wheat flour they just ain't, and there's no two ways about it.

I have found that, as I've grown more experienced with it all, I have been able to adapt some of my old favourite baking recipes to gluten free. (My vanilla cupcake, shortbread, gingerbread and banana muffin recipes are cases in point). Other old reliables, such as date loaf, carrot cake and banana bread, just did not seem to want to work for me.

So when I was asked by Coeliac Australia to road-test a couple of recipes in their recipe book, I put my hand up to try out the banana bread recipe, in hopes that I might finally regain this once-much-loved treat. Upon receipt of the book and a basket of ingredients, I set to work to make it.

Here is the recipe (from p85 of the cookbook), reproduced with permission:


1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
A few drops vanilla essence
2 cups gluten free self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/2 teaspoon g free baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 175C (I used 165C as my oven is super hot)
2. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl
3. Beat in eggs. Blend in mashed banana, lemon juice & sugar.
4. Re-sift flour with bicarb soda, baking powder & salt.
5. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternatively with sour cream, beating well after each addition.
6. Stir in nuts. Pour into 9 x 5 inch loaf tin.
7. Bake until tester comes out clean (45 mins or so). Cool in pan for 10 mins.
8. Turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.
9. Let cool completely before slicing.

For a variation, you can substitute raspberries for the walnuts.

The first time I made the recipe, 3 year old C was helping, we were in a hurry, and I was knee-deep in contracting work, so had to keep racing from kitchen to computer to deal with emerging issues. Possibly as a result of this, I made two pretty dumb blunders:

- I put the bread in a flexible bakeware pan to cook, whereupon it promptly oozed and spread and became not so much bread-shaped as blob-shaped;

- I forgot to add the walnuts altogether. D'oh!

I also have to be honest - I didn't re-sift the flour, I just mixed the soda and baking powder in, and it was completely fine. (I am too impatient to sift, usually :-)

Despite my errors and my laziness, this first cut of the banana bread came out delicious - soft, cakey, sweet and perfect both by itself or toasted and with a little butter. C, my 8 year old, A, my husband G and I all loved it, and it lasted exactly one day before it was all gone.

The second time I made it, the circumstances were a little more conducive to not stuffing it up. My work was completed, I was cooking with C's company rather than direct assistance (other than her favourite job in all the world - mashing the bananas) and I wasn't under any great time pressure. I'd decided to make the banana bread as dessert for a meal that we were having a guest to (the main dish was roast chicken, which is quite heavy, so I didn't want anything over-rich for afters).

This time, I used a proper hard pan - hurray! And I remembered to add the walnuts. I still didn't double-sift though, as I am not made of spare time :-)

With the walnuts in, and in a hard pan, the banana bread came out nicely shaped and a rich golden colour. It smelled divine too.

I completely disregarded the instruction to wait until it was fully cooled before slicing, and carved it up still warm, dabbing a wedge of butter on each piece.

And was it good?

It was better than good; it was the nicest banana bread I've ever had (and G, who still eats the normal kind, agreed). The crunch of the walnuts just added that certain je ne sais quoi that lifted it to the next level. (Lesson learned - Don't leave out the nuts!) G and I finished it off the following morning for breakfast, lightly toasted and smeared with butter.

So if you're baking for a Coeliac - or are one! - consider this as an option. Apparently it freezes really well, although I wouldn't know, as it didn't last above a day in my house.

It's a definite winner around here, and it's going on my regular baking schedule for lunchbox treats, morning tea contributions and weekend breakfasts.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of Coeliac Australia's cookbook, and a basket containing all the ingredients for two recipes, by Porter Novelli on behalf of Coeliac Australia, with the understanding that I would trial two recipes during Coeliac Awareness Week. No payment was offered nor accepted for this process, and all views (and cooking mishaps!) are entirely my own.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Selections: Lighthouse

As I mentioned in my holiday post, we visited the Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet last week, and were able to do a tour, which was quite fascinating. My husband took a lot of photos on the day, and later used Hugin to stitch together some pretty impressive panoramas, such as these:

Looking up at the lighthouse from the ground, with the clouds scudding by, made for some interesting shots and also delivered a convincing sensation of movement (and for me, more vertigo than looking down from the top!)

I love the spiral staircase photos. So freaky :-)

And C's eye through the piece of crystal we were given to examine ... ahhhhhh.

Kim at frogpondsrock runs Sunday Selections each week, a photography meme for people to show off shots that might otherwise never see the light of day. There's always good links to follow if you like beautiful photos!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Coeliac Awareness Week, 13-20 March

Coeliac Awareness Week is coming up soon (next Tuesday, in fact) and I am planning a series of posts that will be all about gluten free food and gluten free cooking - the good, the bad and the surprising! Those posts will feature recipes, cooking tips and substitution ideas.

Before that starts, however, I wanted to cover a little bit about Coeliac disease for anyone who might not be familiar with it, or who may have symptoms that are puzzling them (or their doctors) where Coeliac disease might be a potential culprit. Coeliac disease diagnoses are massively on the rise in Australia, as more and more medical professionals become aware of the wide-ranging presentation of the condition, and include it in investigations for people with persistent and unexplained health complaints in many areas. More people are also requesting testing, realising that Coeliac disease is a possible source of their discomforts and maladies.

Despite the growth in diagnoses, many people with Coeliac disease are still undiagnosed. It is expected that up to 5% of Australians have the condition, but only around 1 in 5 are diagnosed (1% of the population).

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. Essentially, people with the condition react when exposed to gliandin, a prolamin (gluten protein) found in wheat and other grains of the same tribe (including barley and rye and an ancient wheat variant that is now gaining renewed popularity - spelt.) Coeliacs produce an enzyme, tissue transglutaminase, which modifies the protein and the immune system then causes and inflammatory reaction in the small bowel, causing villous atrophy (that is, a truncating / flattening of the villi, tiny finger-like projections in the intestines which are responsible for absorbing many nutrients from food).

With the villi out of action, malabsorption means that Coeliacs can manifest a wide range of symptoms, many of them ambiguous. Common ones include nausea, bloating, intermittent diarrhoea, reflux and indigestion, but there are plenty of others, raging from a skin condition called dermatitis herpetiforma (scaly, red, and very very itchy) through exacerbation of nerve and skin disorders, extreme fatigue, mood disturbances, and so on. The key problem in diagnosis is that every single one of these symptoms has multiple potential causes, and there is a significant comorbidity (ie chance of having more than one thing wrong with you!) between Coeliac disease and other conditions like colitis, Crohn's disease, and IBS. Because the other conditions tend to be a bit more flamboyant in their presentation, they can mask the Coeliac - sometimes for years.

Moreover, some people - like myself, for instance - have vague, mild symptoms only, and none of them digestive. The giveaway is really in the bloodwork, which will show deficiencies well outside the normal bands for healthy bodies. Most Coeliacs are radically deficient in the minerals that are typically absorbed by the villi - iron, the B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium among them. (Chronic unexplained anaemia in the absence of bleeding is one of the red flags for a possible Coeliac diagnosis in people without other symptoms.) Long term, these deficiencies, and the prolonged gut damage that causes them, render Coeliacs many times more vulnerable to lymphoma cancers, osteoporosis, and permanent bowel malfunction. Coeliac disease might not be as spectacular a killer as peanut anaphylaxis, but, undiagnosed and unremediated, it's a potential killer nonetheless.

Coeliac disease is diagnosed via a blood test, which shows an elevation in the IgA and IgG levels (antibodies that the body produces against transglutaminase) and a gastroscopy, which visualises the small bowel and allows the surgeon to actually see the flat villi. (Gastroscopy is the gold standard test in this area). After diagnosis, Coeliacs usually are advised to meet with a dietitician to obtain advice on modifying their diets, and to have a bone density test to measure how far osteoporosis may have progressed.

The single and only treatment for Coeliac disease at the present time is: Total avoidance of gluten. The end :-) This sounds simple until you realise that gluten is in a multitude of foods, many of which are completely unexpected, and, worse, is often a contaminant even in foods that are gluten free by ingredient. Because Coeliac is an autoimmune disease, not an intolerance, it's not a matter of "a little won't hurt you." Most Coeliacs will have a reaction to gluten once they have ingested the the equivalent of 1/48th of a slice of bread. That is an extremely small amount!

Over the next week, I'll be running a series of posts on living as a person with Coeliac disease (and, more specifically, eating as a Coeliac). It can be a challenging condition to manage, because it is poorly understood and often socially stigmatised, and because there is so little margin for error (1/48th, remember...) It's easier, though, if you have resources to help you, and ways to still make your food enjoyable and nutritious.

For now, I'd simply say this - if you are a person with chronic, maybe vague, health deficits, especially if they include chronic mineral deficiencies, it is worth talking to your doctor about the possibility of Coeliac disease. A simple blood test is the first step, and may be the start of your journey to repudiating bread but gaining a great overall improvement in wellbeing. Think about it...

Friday, March 9, 2012

There and back again

We got home at 3pm today from a 6-day holiday in Anglesea, a little beach town at the start of Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Like last year, we stayed at the holiday house of family friends, and took the kids out of school for a week to have some family downtime away.

I wondered if it would feel a little same-y, revisiting the very place of our autumn holiday last year, but, in fact, it was a really different vacation. The weather was much cooler, and we only got to the beach and into the water on one day. We did a lot more walking, a lot more shopping, a lot more exploring, and a lot more lunching-out than last year. A highlight there was G and my anniversary lunch (14 years, wow) - we took the kids to Growlers, in Torquay, and had a stupendously good 2-course meal, with champers for G and I and milkshakes for the kids, for just under $100 for the five of us. The rain was falling softly as we were eating and the ocean was just out the window. The kids had their best restaurant manners on and the whole experience was just perfect.

We also got to climb the Split Point Lighthouse in a fascinating tour (I highly recommend it, if you're ever in the area) and the girls fulfilled their dearest wish - they went horse riding. The big kids had a 45-minute lesson and were both avid pupils, listening well and confident with their horses. I led C around the property on a stolid Shetland pony, and she was delighted beyond words.

We also did lots of that hanging-about stuff that makes a holiday a real break. I took a couple of the craft kits that C got for her birthday with us, and the three of them had fun with them. C discovered a motherlode of toys stored under the stairs, and spent happy hours playing with them, while the big kids indulged in an orgy of comic-book reading once they found the bookshelves stocked with Hagar the Horrible, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes and the Wizard of Id. G taught the big girls how to play table tennis, and they got very enthusiastic about that.

We watched a few kids' DVDs, including the rather disappointing Scooby Doo on Zombie Island (more on that in a later, rantier post), but G and I didn't watch any adult TV or movies at all; at night, we read books and newspapers, talked and (in my case) wrote poems. Internet access was patchy but the trusty tablet gave me a handy, and welcome, writing tool; and I did one blog post, in honour of International Women's Day yesterday.

It wasn't without its ups and downs, our holiday - the sibling conflicts between the kids didn't magically vanish because we were away from home, and G was sick for 2 days with a mysterious viral-type illness that made him shivery, achey and exhausted, as well as headache-ridden. I didn't sleep well, which was a surprise, as I did last year and C was up at night much less this time, so really I should've had more sleep, not less. Thus, I'm more tired than I'd ideally like to be at the end of a holiday, and am looking forward enormously to hitting the sack in my own bed tonight!

Overall, though, it was a lovely week. We all had a chance to do things we loved and forget about everyday life, and we got that concentrated family time that seems so important for us to reconnect and stay bonded. I'm so glad we went... and I'm glad to be back again.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Supporting women on International Women's Day

Today - 8 March - is International Women's Day. First recognised in 1909 in the US (as National Women's Day), for over a century, 8 March has been a day for celebrating womens achievements, highlighting the challenges faced by women around the world, and focusing activism and aid for women-centric social and political endeavours.

A well-meaning male friend asked me recently why there was an IWD when there is no corresponding International Men's Day. (What he in fact meant, when questioned, was that there is no Day that celebrates his particular demographic - ie International Middle Class Able Bodied White Men's Day - because, clearly, this is a very marginalised and unrecognised cohort. /end sarcasm :-)

My answer to him was that, while women in the first world have certainly made great strides in many areas in the past century, there is still some distance to go before women and men are truly equal (or, at least, where biological sex and expressed gender, which may or may not equate, are no longer determining factors in how people are treated, the opportunities they have, and the respect they are accorded). Women do not have pay partity with men, even in first-world economies. Women suffer disproportionately from crimes of violence globally. In many countries, women do not have legal rights that are equivalent to men's, or even close to it. Women are constrained in many ways that men are not, and are subjected to much closer and crueller scrutiny (and not just in regard to appearance, although, certainly, in that area too). Women, far more than men, must deal with an attrition of their social standing and perceived worth as they age.

And even in countries that we are accustomed to regarding as equal, such as the USA, issues of reproductive freedom that have been considered more or less settled for decades - not just abortion, which has never been entirely uncontroversial, but, dismayingly, access to contraception - are suddenly back on the table as debatable rights (debatable, naturally, by men). Women bear the burden of reproduction in a way that men do not and cannot; issues of family planning and choice impact them more profoundly, and interference with a womans freedom to decide her own reproductive life is a very fundamental restriction on a woman's right to be a free human being.

I am a white, reasonably intelligent, able-bodied cis-gendered woman - born into a healthy female body, raised in Australia, a country with good opportunities for women generally and bright white women in particular. I was reared by lower middle class conservative parents who loved me and valued me and encouraged me to pursue an education and a career, but also taught me that marriage, family and child-rearing should be a part of my life (a major part). I have been generally fortunate in my employers and my relationships, but I have been discriminated against, both subtly and overtly, because of my gender, and I have been constrained in some of my choices in a way that I might not have been, had I been male.

For all that, I believe my life has been wonderful - I am lucky in my partner, blessed in my daughters, privileged in my economic status and my career opportunities. I hope my three girls will have even more oppportunities and freedoms than I do. I see a major part of my life's work, insofar as I have a real sense of that, to be in helping them to find their paths and in developing tools to overcome any obstacles; to help them to understand privilege, in its multiple axes, and recognise their place in it (they, like I, are privileged in so many ways); and to become ethical human beings with the committment and capacity to achieve their potential without injury to other people. I have no ambition to raise good women, with all that phrase implies; rather, I want to raise good humans (I would've wished to do the same if I'd had sons!)

I know, however, that many, many women around the world don't have the incredibly fortunate set of circumstances that we have. On International Women's Day, I'd like to draw attention to just three of the many initiatives that are available to let women help other women - to stretch out a hand or a thought to a woman whose life is probably really different to yours, but who deserves no less in terms of opportunities.

1. Good Return
Good Return is an Australian not-for-profit with a difference - instead of soliciting donations, it facilitates micro-loans from people who want to help to people in need of assistance. In March, Good Return is running the Connecting Women, Building Better Futures campaign, aiming to loan money to 200 women-led initatives in the Asia-Pacific region, which will benefit over 1,000 people directly and more indirectly.

The great thing about Good Return is that the money you commit is a loan, not a donation. When the money is repaid (and so far 100% of loans have been), you can keep it, reinvest it into another loan project, or donate it to a more traditional charity, as you think best.

Good Return's website is at

You can start with as little as $25. My daughters and I have decided to contribute to the loan amount needed by Kalpana Poudel, a Nepalese vegetable seller who needs to access a bigger range of wholesale vegetables to enable her roadside stall to support her family and pay fort her children's schooling. The girls are excited that we'll be receiving reports on Kalpana's business and her family's progress towards achieving their goals.

2. Amnesty International's Women's Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights program
Educating yourself about the issues in this area is important, and Amnesty's multiple programs are a great place to start. When women's reproductive rights are limited or controlled, this has huge impacts for women's health, economic and social status, and ultimately survival. Amnesty's projects in this area are many and varied, and the website offers lots of opportunities to get involved - writing letters, joining groups and organising, as well as donating money.

3. Fitted for Work Australia
One of the key areas of disadvantage for women as compared with men is in the economic area. It can be extremely difficult even for professional, qualified women to maintain careers in the mix of child-rearing and family duties; many women leave the workforce, believing it to be temporary, then find getting back in hard.

This is massively exacerbated for women who have other vectors of disadvantage, to the point that some women mayh never be able to enter or re-enter the workforce without assistance. Fitted for Work gives such assistance in a very practical way - outfitting women with clothing suitable for job interviews and work, mentoring women and helping their transition to employment, and advocating for employment opportunities and access.

Fitted for Work accepts donations of both suitable clothing and money through their website and their locations in the Melbourne CBD and Morwell. I think this is one of the most practical ways to support women that I can imagine in our own community.

So on this International Women's Day, I guess I would just reflect, as that great feminist (not!) Rudyard Kipling wrote, that 'Julie O'Grady and the Colonel's lady are sisters under the skin.' Supporting other women is an imperative for me; an integral part of my feminism and my humanism. We are many and we matter, and let's celebrate that today.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jamais vu

Sometimes at night, driving
the road ghost-lit with street lights and reflected neon
children quiet in the backseat, gazing out the windows
or sleeping,

I forget.

The road, slipping past like a tar ribbon, is strange,
a moon-soaked cipher. a place I have never seen or been before.
alien and cold.

I stare and stare
my myopic eyes straining after a grace note of the familiar
my mind grasping at shadows, hunting up the pattern

Because I know, in my rational mind
(the part that debates and makes lists and runs imagined scenarios, that provides words and logic and being)
that there is nothing strange here. I have travelled this road before, many oh many times,
in daylight and in starlight. I know it. I know it.

Except, in that moment,
I don't. The pattern is 404 in my head, my brain scrabbling at it
like a climber grasping at falling shale
as it refuses to give purchase to the hand.

It passes, this. The strange-known becomes merely known again
The pattern is restored, and my car
sliding quietly on into the night
wends its way home.

And I tell myself: It's just because I'm tired. Or: I've had so much going on in my head.
True enough, but too,
a shout of defiance into the dark
that endless nighhttime of the damaged mind that claimed my grandmother
took from her all remembering, all understanding, and in the end
all she was.

I want to remember.

- Kathy

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Notes: Books for an advanced reader, aged almost 7

My secondborn, E, will be 7 in May. She's in her second year of school (Grade 1, where we live, in Victoria).

E is a bright spark in most areas, but one area she's particularly proficient at is reading. She is well out of the reading "levels" used in schools, and has been reading self-selected books since term 3 last year.

She likes and has read a wide range of books in the past year, including (but not at all limited to):
- Everything ever written by Roald Dahl. (Both my kid kids are Dahl devotees).
- Classic like The Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, and Treasure Island.
- Most Enid Blyton titles (including the Famous Five) and many Trixie Belden books
- Several assorted series on ponies & horse-riding (I can't, I'll admit, recall all the titles / authors - horsey books all tend to bleed into one for me)
- The Go Girls, Magic Ballerina, and Little Princesses series.
- The Narnia books (I read them aloud once and then both big kids re-read them to themselves)
- A series of books on Australian girls at different periods in history, Our Australian Girl (these are actually really good, both 8yo A and 6yo E have really enjoyed them and I find them well-written and engaging)
- The Olivia Stage School books by Lynn Gardner
There are many others, but they are all somewhat blurred together for me now.

The problem I'm having now is that E can read just about anything in terms of language complexity (she might struggle with, say, Derrida or Joyce, but then who doesn't). She gets impatient with what she calls "baby" language or "too easy talking." She's not happy with storylines that are too linear or simplistic, or ones that feature a lot of repetition. (Hence her total disinterest in revisiting the Rainbow Magic books of her early-reading days).

Nonetheless, she's still a little girl, and she's not ready for - or interested in - books with adult or teenage themes, plots or issues. She wants a story for a little girl, that's exciting and fun and satisfying, written in "proper" (ie complex) language, with good characters.

So far, I've suggested mostly older / more classic titles to her; she's just finishing Arabian Nights, for instance, and we have a version of the the tales of King Arthur that she wants to read next. I've dug out my old copies of Heidi, The Little White Horse, the Silver Brumby books and The Chalet School books for her to try in coming months.

What I'm wondering, though, is if anyone has any great suggestions for books that are thematically appropriate, well written and fun for a girl who's 6 going on 7, but reads like a 10-11 year old good reader (according to her testing)? (I'm also catering to an 8 year old who reads like an 11 year old, but she tends to hunt for her own stuff a bit more, I've found). Ideas I've had given to me already, that I'm following up, include:
- the Babysitter Club books
- the Ramona books
- some of Judy Blume's titles
- Pippi Longstocking
- the Betsy Tacy books
- Anne of Green Gables (although, rather to my disappointment, my eldest A didn't really take much to Anne when she sampled it recently)

I'd be very interested in any ideas!