Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Dear Thunderstorms,

I feel the urgent need to write this letter to you at a moment where my heart has been savagely torn from my chest – by endless sunlight and your sadistic love for silly games. Yesterday, I heard from your Public Relations group, the Bureau of Meteorology, that you were going to make an appearance over the hills. You could have told me yourself. I thought it was a little bit callous of you, quite frankly, to avoid my suburb. You know how much I care for you, and you’ve basically just skipped out on me, leaving me with endless heat and numerous invasive ants. But I of course felt somewhat thrilled that you would yet again romance me from afar, even if you couldn’t be here with me. I thought, I guess I will have to take second best.

But no! You teased me with distant cloud kisses, and then you took your leave! Why?

Please note that I have offered southern California a formal challenge – for the crown of Largest Number of Endless Boring Sunny Days In One Year. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to throw away all of the sunny days just to spend endless time with you. I’m simply not that kind of storm chaser; if I was too clingy and we were together constantly, perhaps your endless presence would overcast your own charms. Besides, I don’t want you to think that you’re the only important thing in my life, because that would probably make me look like more of a storm stalker than a storm chaser.

Oh god, I can’t take it anymore, I won’t lie to you. Even as I write this letter, I swoon and smile giddily when I think of your large, powerful presence and the electrifying touch of your energy upon my skin. Even the distant sound of your commanding, rumbling, deep and sexy voice brings unimaginable joy and anticipation…and when you electrify the air, setting my world on fire, I cannot deny that I am nothing but a lovesick stalker.

Please, bring me the rains. Bring me your adventurous, mysterious and dangerous presence once again. I won’t stay angry with you if you at least grace me with a distant but loving romance. You have other places to be and others who need you, I get that…but I’m frustrated, selfish and jealous and I won’t lie to you or to myself.

I love you, Thunderstorms. I love you so much that I will forgive you again and again, if we could just share a few moments on the balcony together. All of you, not just part of you, and not from afar! I will happily share you with my garden; even native Australian plants need some of your love from time to time.

Make an effort!!

Lots of love (and anger),

Jess.

xoxox

Thunderstorm Feature – ‘Positive CG’ by Kane Hardie.

'Positive CG' by Kane Hardie

'Positive CG'. Supercell lightning at Coffs Harbour. Image (c) Kane Hardie 2010; http://shear-atmos-fear.deviantart.com/

I found this image on Deviant Art. It was taken by Kane Hardie of New South Wales Australia. This amazing lightning photography is just one of many great artworks on Kane’s site, and this particular piece was taken at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. It bears the distinct shape of a supercellular thunderstorm and it proves that Australia is not devoid of fantastic weather patterns. Or devastating ones. We have floods, cyclones (hurricanes/typhoons), severe thunderstorms, hail, and yes, we also get snow and tornadoes. It’s a bit of a misconception that Australia gets very little snow or tornadoes.

I’d like to note that there is no such thing as a ‘mini-tornado’; it is either a tornado or it is not. This is a silly media term which should be disused.

Back to Kane’s photo! What I particularly like about this photography is the contrast of the lightning against the clouds, and the many shades that I can see in the clouds. The landscape surrounding it gives it a context, a place. The shape of the supercell is fantastic; those dark, menacing clouds hug the horizon as the storm tears the skies apart with sheer power. Storms can be devastating, but perhaps that is part of their appeal for me and for other storm addicts. It’s partly the beauty and the adrenaline they cause, and let’s not forget the intense energy they let off! A powerful thunderstorm can make a person bounce off the walls better than ten cups of strong coffee, if said person is receptive enough.

Visit Kane’s website here: http://shear-atmos-fear.deviantart.com/

American biscuit sandwich - egg, cheese and cracked pepper. Messy but tasty!

American biscuits aka scones – A multicultural recipe. Plus ranch fries!

Today, we play it multicultural – all from the same recipe! Last year, I went to America to see a few friends. It being my first time there, I had many things to learn about American food, which I sampled whenever I got my hands on it. Today, I am going to share a favourite recipe of mine: The American biscuit aka the scone. We had American biscuits at night and scones in the morning! Biscuits in America are generally served like bread alongside a savoury meal, but there are other versions. The Cookery for Young Australians book also suggests scones as a savoury dinner side.

My Iowan friends, Tammy and Ray, introduced me to a fast food meal which I never quite forgot: a Hardee’s breakfast biscuit sandwich. Hardee’s is an American restaurant mostly found in the Midwest and Southern/eastern states. Australia used to have a Hardee’s called ‘Hartee’s’. In the rest of the country (the western half), it has a sister restaurant called Carl’s Jr., which I saw in Hollywood, Los Angeles. To think all those celebrities live in the same vicinity as food with over 2 calories!

Hardee’s breakfast biscuits can contain bacon, egg, cheese, ham or bacon. Being vegetarian, I tried one without the meat and just had egg and cheese: just as satisfying! I only had a few of these biscuits while I was there; we tended to wake up in the afternoon (their work schedule is night-time based) and these are strictly breakfast menu! Of course, this year, I will be eating them as much as possible while there. I otherwise had ranch fries, which I make at home with Paul Newman Ranch Dressing and oven fries (see below for recipe). I wasn’t sure at first, but I guessed that they were just scones after a few nibbles. Bonus!

Shenanigans and Exploding Eggs

Gross! Egg exploded in the microwave!

Upset that we didn’t seem to get these breakfast biscuits here in Australia, I decided I would make some. So, the other day, I finally got around to it. Half a year later (fail)! Along with my partner in shenanigans, Kylie, I created our interpretation of Hardee’s biscuit sandwiches plus scones in the morning with honey as a bonus. This interpretation meant finding an online American biscuit recipe and using egg and American cheese. Sadly, we lack American cheese in Australia. It’s so processed that it’s probably for the better, but we really wanted it, so we bought some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and took out the tin. Check out the gross egg to the right! Make sure you prick the yolks. We did prick them, but I think the microwave has it in for me whenever I put eggs in it, no matter how closely I follow the instructions.

The Recipe

Link: http://www.joyofbaking.com/Biscuits.html I have paraphrased the recipe from this link. This link will take you to the demonstration video: http://www.joyofbaking.com/videos/BiscuitsVideo.html

This recipe makes 10 biscuits/scones with a 6cm diameter (2 ½ inches). We made ours bigger; we only got 8 biscuits in total, but they were very filling.

Ingredients:

–          2 ½ cups of self raising flour or plain flour.

–          If using plain flour, add 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt. I used self-raising.

–          1 tablespoon of white sugar (optional; for flavour). Healthy option: leave it out.

–          ½ cup (113 grams) of cold unsalted butter. Healthier option: margarine.

–          ¾ cup of buttermilk. Normal milk is also fine. Skim milk is a healthy option.

–          1 egg, lightly beaten. Don’t overdo it.

Topping:

–          1 large egg, lightly beaten.

–          1 tablespoon of milk or buttermilk.

American Kraft cheese - taken from a macaroni/cheese packet.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200-205°C (400°F). Line a tray with baking/parchment paper and set it aside.

1)      Sift flour into a bowl. If you used plain (all purpose) flour, you can use a whisk to thoroughly mix in the salt and baking powder. Whisk/mix the sugar in thoroughly. Sifting the flour will help to ensure the biscuits turn out light and fluffy.

2)      Make sure you don’t take the butter out until you need it. Measure it out, then cut it into small chunks. I didn’t use the fancy materials the woman in the video used; rather, I used the rubbing method which is in the Cookery for Young Australians. I cut the butter into little chunks the size of peas (no need to be perfect of course unless you have no life!) then tossed them into the flour mixture.

3)      Rubbing Method: Use the very tips of your fingers to ‘rub’ the butter into the flour mixture. This involves pinching the butter with the flour between your fingers until it becomes quite crumbly. Make sure it is mixed into the flour mixture – it will look yellower and crumbly and because I’m a pig, I loved the taste of it raw, so I ate some.

Scones/Biscuits fresh from the oven.

4)      Make a little well in the centre of the crumbly mixture.

5)      Add the milk and the slightly beaten egg (don’t over-beat it).

6)      Stir until just combined. Use a spatula to mix very gently, and as it becomes doughier, I suggest using your hands to mix the rest. The idea is to mix until it sticks together and all the dry bits are mixed in.

7)      Lay a sheet of baking/parchment paper on your bench, or disinfect your bench and use that. You could use flour, but I’m not sure if that would dry the dough out too much.

8)      Knead the dough. Do not handle the mixture too much or it will not be soft and flaky when cooked! You want to knead it gently until it becomes a soft, smooth dough with no lumpy bits.

9)      Roll the dough out until it is roughly 1.25cm (½ inch thick). I used my hands to do this rather than rolling it, and I never measure anything exactly, so I have no idea how thick ours was. As thick as I liked it!

10)   I used a scone cutter, but you can also use a cookie cutter (6cm or 2 ½ inches in diameter if you want 10 exactly). Put some flour onto it to stop it sticking to the dough, but I actually had no issues which dough sticking to the cutter at all. I was too lazy to apply flour.

11)   Topping: Mix the milk with the egg. Brush the tops of the biscuits/scones with the mixture. This makes them a gorgeous golden brown in the oven, which makes it easier to tell if they are ready or not. Be as generous as you like.

12)   Bake them for about 10-20 minutes until they are golden brown at the top. You can also test them by putting a skewer through the middle (test a few scones as some ovens don’t cook evenly on all sides!). It should come out clean. This is the same principle used for cupcakes and bigger cakes.

Method Alternatives:

–          Do not add salt for the below:

–          Add raisins, dates or other dried fruit for fruit scones.

–          Add chocolate chips.

–          Add mashed pumpkin to the mixture.

Spread the cheese on the biscuits before adding the egg.

Dinner: Jess’s version of ‘American Hardee’s Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches’

This is my own recipe, though it is based on Hardee’s breakfast biscuit sandwiches. This is still in the works; I have the feeling Hardee’s may have added some dressings to it. Ranch might be nice, I will try that next time! Ketchup is an idea, though I never did like tomato sauce with eggs, even though I eat it on everything else, including fish.

Ingredients:

–          American cheese or cheddar cheese. Australians: Use Kraft’s tinned macaroni cheese or Kraft cheese.

–          A large egg.

–          Cracked pepper.

Method:

1)      Cook your biscuits and allow to cool down, but they are best served quite warm.

2)      Fry your egg. Kylie and I used the microwave to fry ours so that it was healthier. It exploded everywhere. Prick the egg yolk if you use this method! We pricked the yolks several times, but I feel the microwave was getting revenge for some reason.

3)      Spread American cheese over both sides of the egg. I do NOT recommend adding salt. Kraft cheese is disgustingly salty to me. Americans: you can buy so many types of cheese in your supermarket that you may be able to get a version without so much salt.

4)      Americans and those using cheddar cheese: Mixed cheese packets with American cheese and other cheeses is nice (found in America but not Australia). Spread the cheese onto both sides of the biscuit/scone and microwave until melted. This may make your biscuit soggy.

5)      Place the egg onto the cheese-slathered biscuit.

6)      Add cracked pepper. Close the biscuit/scone like a burger.

7)      Add sauces if you want sauces. It’s been 8 months since I ate at Hardee’s, so I will have to ask my Iowan friends what sauces they get on their burgers. I found them fantastic without any sauce!

8)      Enjoy!

Breakfast: Scones

Ingredients:

–          Warm biscuits/scones.

–          Butter or margarine. Definitely don’t use salted butter. It will detract from the taste.

–          Honey, jam/jelly if desired.

–          Cream if desired. I generally use butter or margarine.

Method:

–          Microwave scones for 20 seconds if they are from the night before. Ours tasted amazing! But if yours do not work so well warmed up, it is best to eat anything straight from the oven, of course!

–          Spread butter/margarine.

–          Add honey, jam/jelly, cream etc.

–          This is how scones are generally eaten. You don’t have to close it like a burger, but if you want to, go ahead.

Hopefully you enjoy this recipe! I suggest checking out the video: http://www.joyofbaking.com/videos/BiscuitsVideo.html and I also suggest trying both versions and other alternatives of this recipe. For Americans, the scone recipes might be of particular interest. For Australians, other countries and Americans who don’t eat breakfast biscuits, I suggest you give these a go as well!

Ranch Fries

Then there is this recipe! ‘Ranch fries’ is another favourite of mine. I tend to make homemade versions of fast food or other restaurant food, so when I was in America, I bought oven fries and ranch dressing. Saved us going to Hardee’s! Australians love ranch dressing salad. So why not hot chips/fries too? I like to have steamed vegetables with it as well to make it healthier. Also, I’m a glutton with veggies. Not for health reasons, either; I just love the taste!

Ingredients:

–          Paul Newman’s ranch dressing. Don’t buy any fat free crap, even if watching your weight. It tastes like raw egg.

–          Oven fries. Try heart healthy if you want a healthier type. The fatter the chip, the healthier, and get ones cooked in canola oil. Not palm oil!

–          Steamed vegetables as a side, or salad. Ones grown in your country.

Method:

–          Cook the fries/hot chips.

–          Drench them in ranch dressing.

–          Steam the vegetables or make the salad.

–          Serve!

Variations:

–          Most people add bacon bits. You can buy these in most supermarkets in the states. Probably also in Australia, but I’ve never really looked. If not, fry your own up.

–          Melted cheese instead of ranch dressing is popular in the states. Being Miss Experimental, I had already tried this before going there, and when I went there, I realised it was quite common in the US.

Thank you:

* Thanks to Kylie of course for daring to try these with me!

* Species thanks also to Tammy and Ray, my amazing Iowan friends who introduced me to some of these recipes!

* Also thanks to my mum: we used to make scones all the time! Yum! We’ll have to make time to make them again!

References:

Biscuits/scones recipe: http://www.joyofbaking.com/Biscuits.html

Dawe, M. I. (1970). Cookery for Young Australians. Whitcomb and Tombs: Australia.

Other Links:

Hardee’s Restaurant: http://www.hardees.com/

Penguin Island

Penguin Island; where’s that, you say?

Unless you live in Western Australia, you may never have heard of Penguin Island. In fact, I can safely say that many people who have lived in Perth all their lives have never been there. Apart from visiting the islands on the family boat with my dad, I had never actually taken the tours myself! Shame on me.

Osprey

Osprey surveying the seas on Penguin Island, Western Australia

Penguin Island is one of several wildlife islands situated just off the coast of Rockingham, South West Western Australia. It is part of the Shoalwater Island Marine Park, a nature reserve formed by the Department of Environment and Conservation in 1987 (the year I was born, which makes it doubly important of course). Other islands include Shag Island (where piebald cormorants rest and breed), and Seal Island (where you will find lazy, rare Australian sea lions and large pelicans). What’s so special about Penguin Island? It is not only home to around 600 breeding pairs of little penguins and many other bird species, but it is also the only island humans may step on in the nature reserve. It is an offense to step foot on any of the other protected islands. Seals, by the way, are quite dangerous and large despite their clumsy appearance; never approach them.

As the name suggests, Penguin Island is home to little penguins (Eudyptula minor). They are the smallest penguin species in the world and are also known as ‘blue penguins’ and ‘fairy penguins’. They can be found on the southern coasts of Australia and their range extends all the way to New Zealand. Penguin Island hosts nearly 2000 adult penguins, around 600 of which are breeding pairs; amazing considering the island is only 12.5 hectares. The island has no foxes, cats or dogs; these are their only real predators on land, although baby penguins have a high mortality rate. The island is closed during the winter months whilst they are breeding. It is open to the public between mid-September and June and is a fantastic, educating experience which is also budget-friendly. Along with my partner in crime, Kylie, I visited the island and spent just $31 Australian dollars on the Penguin and Sea Lion Cruise tour. We got all-day ferry access to and from Penguin Island from the mainland, a penguin feeding demonstration at the Discovery Centre, plus a 45 minute tour to Seal Island. We were also able to wander around the island at our leisure. There are other tours available, including dolphin watching (see links below for more information).

Bird feathers

Penguin feathers cover the island during moulting season

Kylie and I spent a little time between the penguin feeding demonstration and the sea lion cruise looking around the island. There is a 2km track which I suggest walking. We saw an osprey (a bird of prey which feeds almost primarily on fish) perched on a branch, majestic and unruffled by the attention. You will also see a huge population of bridled terns. These terns are not shy of humans and breed in the Australian spring and summer months. They make great photo opportunities, but stick to the boardwalk; they are nesting! If you look underneath the boardwalk around the time we were there (February), you will notice wild penguins hiding from the sun. This is their moulting season; you will also see their feathers strewn about the place. As they are losing feathers, they are unable to enter the water and hence cannot feed for around 2-3 weeks. They are nervous (and hungry) and should be observed quietly and kindly (remember to keep those camera flashes off!). You may also see pelicans, crested terns, shags and other bird species. You can buy a guide book in the gift store, but it does not have all bird species in it (I was a bit miffed not to see my osprey in there).

Penguin Feeding Sessions and the Discovery Centre

Get in early if you want to secure a good spot. We arrived 20 minutes early. The penguins will already be there in the pond and they are quite funny to watch. If you are doing photography, getting there earl

y is crucial. You can take good photos from anywhere in the room, but you will be reminded to leave your flash off. This is because Little Penguins have highly light-sensitive eyes (much like nocturnal creatures), and bright light can damage their sight.

You will be presented with a speech about the habits and biology of little penguins, and one of the staff will feed these

Little penguins

Little penguins wait to be fed at the Discovery Centre

cute little birds. Some of them are quite showy; they groomed each other, performed a few tricks in the water, and chased fish when they were thrown into the pool. But do not be fooled; these are wild animals and our presenters firmly told us that the penguins had trained them to feed them properly, not the other way around! They are rarely handled except when being weighed and they can deliver a nasty bite. Little penguins only eat fish head-first. In the wild, they turn the fish around so that they can swallow it with the head going down the throat first. This is because fish have sharp spines which point backwards, and these can get stuck in their throats. Little Penguins have a lifespan of 12-13 years in the wild, but in captivity they may live up to 20 years. We were introduced to ten penguins in total. Piggy is their oldest at 17 years.

Sea Lion Tour at Seal Island

Australian sea lions

Australian sea lions on Seal Island, Western Australia

Get in early so that you can secure yourself a good seat or photography vantage point. Don’t stress about staring down at the glass bottom; it is mostly sea grass. You can move around inside the boat, particularly to take photos. Tour attendees are given a speech about the islands and their geological history, which we found quite interesting. The islands have fantastic rock formations and you will see birds everywhere as these islands are prime nesting and perching spots. You may also be lucky enough to see dolphins!

Sea lions are dangerous; it’s not wise to go onto the island and is illegal. The skipper will take you as close as possible to the edge of Seal Islandand will go back and forth (as the ferry drifts in the water) for some time so that everyone can get a good look. To the tourists’ collective amusement, they mostly sat there like fat dogs with gulls and pelicans standing nonchalantly between them. As Australian sea lions are a migratory species, they will spend several months feeding, developing their fat stores for the long journey ahead.

Sand Bar and Snorkelling

There is a popular sandbar which runs from the mainland to the island. Recently, people have died crossing it. Do not take your children across it! Do not go across it if you cannot swim or if it is at high tide, no matter how benign it looks!

Pelican and beach goers

A regal pelican remains unruffled by the presence of sand bar crossers at Penguin Island.

Snorkelling is another popular activity around Penguin Island along with swimming and diving. It is quite pretty under water and the sea grass beds teem with life. Sea grasses are keystone species. They are integral to the survival and life cycles of many marine animals, including whiting, octopus, squid, crabs, mullet and herring. Another feature of the islands which makes snorkelling so appealing is that they keep the waters on the eastern side flatter than the waters out in the open oceans.

Pengos Café and Burger Bar

Pengos Café and Burger Bar is situated on the mainland next to Wildlife Encounters (where you book your tickets and buy cute penguin souvenirs). It is your only food outlet. You will want to eat before going to Penguin Island, or take your own food to the island! If you have a lot of kids with you or others to pay for, I suggest taking your own food. Pengos isn’t too cheap. A burger will set you back between $11.50 and $13.50, and a Panini will cost you $9.90. There is only one vegetarian option; a Panini with roasted vegetables, which I want to try next time I go. I eat fish anyhow, so I purchased a fish fillet burger for $11.00. I was quite pleased with it, though it was quite small for the cost and may not fill some people up. Tip: buy a small hot chips to go with it. The kids have their own meal corner; meals are $8.50 each with a choice of chips with a beef burger, fish or chicken nuggets. Kylie tried the kids’ burger meal; other than a lack of vegetables, she found it tasty. The restaurant is family-friendly, with most of the seating outside. There was also an attractive breakfast menu, but we arrived too late to sample it.

Pengos sells quite a range of snack foods as well. It sells chips (crisps), Pringles, hot chips (fries), buckets of lollies (sweets/candy) and baked goods such as muffins and salad/meat wraps. It sells iced coffee; this is a great option for a hot day, but drinks will set you back $5.75. It also sells a range of ice creams and other drinks.

Rock formations

Beautiful rock formations on an island in Shoalwater Marine Park in Western Australia.

Getting There

To get to Penguin Island from Perth City is easy. Catch the train from Perth City to Rockingham train station on the Mandurah line. Kylie and I grabbed the 551 bus, although the 552 and 553 will also get you there. The 551 and 552 will take you closest with a minimal walk. The bus driver will tell you where to get off if you are as unfamiliar with Rockingham as we were. It was very popular with foreign tourists when we went; Kylie and I were two Australians among a mix of Asians and Europeans, which shows that Penguin Island has international significance as a tourist destination in WA. We found the bus drivers friendly and enthusiastic, which is important for tourism. The ferry will take you to the island and runs at ten minutes past every hour until 4pm.

Arrival and Tickets

Bridled Tern

A bridled tern draws attention to the 'do not walk' Rehabilitation Area sign.

When you arrive at the bus stop, it is a quick walk down the road to the jetty. There is a gift store and Pengos Café and Burger Bar as well as public toilets. Since there are no food outlets on Penguin Island, I’d advise you to buy food before you go or pack lunch.

Next door to the restaurant is Wildlife Encounters; this is where you buy tickets. Information on tours is readily available and the staff is quite friendly. The gift shop is pricy, but that is to be expected at your average tourist destination. It sells cute stuffed toys: pelicans, penguins, sea lions; even sting rays, sharks and turtles! It also sells jewellery, seaside things to put around the house, mermaid frames/figurines and ocean wildlife apparel. You can buy cute penguin pens, bouncy balls for the kids and ocean-themed snow globes for friends and family back at home. Put $2 into a machine near the back and receive a collector’s Penguin Island coin! Postcards are $2 each and there are some nice birthday cards available. It is a fantastic spot for tourists and some of the things were quite unique (not as generic as most Australian souvenir stores). You can also snag brochures and business cards for other WA sight-seeing information.

For more information and other tours, visit Rockingham Wildlife Encounters: http://www.dolphins.com.au/index.html.

 

References:

– Penguin Island staff/ferry operator speeches and http://www.dolphins.com.au/index.html.

– Pictured photography (c) me 2011. Contact me for use of photos by commenting here.

G’day g’day!

Celebrations on my first actual blog post that isn’t a test!

Tame silver fox

Tame silver fox. Photo by Anna V. Kukekova. Source: http://genome.cshlp.org/content/17/3/259.full

After mucking around with choosing a theme and making a little personalised background (Paint Shop Pro 7 might be old, but it’s still great!), I think I may have finally settled. The banner isn’t permanent; currently, you can see a rainbow lorikeet, a native Australian bird which is, unfortunately, not native to Western Australia (where I reside and where I took the photo). Its colourful plumage, however, is as inspiring to me as the species’ theft of native bird nesting hollows is uninspiring.

What will this blog be about? Well…as the title says, it will be a blog about things in this world, mostly through my eyes as I am the blogger. I might also post interesting news articles, hence things not seen through my eyes but which interest me nonetheless and still count.In addition, I like to recommend songs, recipes, films, other blogs, art, photography etc.

What’s with the dog-like fox playing with a ball? Well that’s something I want to write about a bit later; it’s a random picture I was using to test layout (resulting in a lot of frustration). Yes, that animal is a fox, not a dog.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.