Autumn 2013

Uncle Chris logo

ON YOUR MARKS ... For fitness!

Uncle Chris and Tristan Thomas at the starting lineAll right, all right ... so you think the cartoon is funny!

Yep, it’s the hare and the tortoise all over again.

That’s young Tristan Thomas with the flaming red hair and obviously
that must be me alongside him. Well, I have to admit George Haddon’s cartoon is a good likeness of us both – but, hey George, I would never run in my kitchen clogs!

Now Tristan is a fine young Tasmanian athlete. He reached the semi-finals in the recent London Olympics, representing Australia in the 400m hurdles. Brighton Council has snaffled Tristan up as Community Youth Fitness Ambassador.

He’s already been on the job, giving coaching tips to the East Derwent Little Athletics Club at Weily Park in Bridgewater.

President of the local Little Athletics club is Margaret Lewis and she says: “It’s fantastic to have a Tasmanian Olympian to encourage our young athletes. While our focus is not about winning, but about having fun and being involved in a healthy and active lifestyle, Tristan provides an example of what can be achieved if our young athletes want to continue on in the sport.”

Some more words of praise for young Tristan ... “He’s a great role model for the youth of the municipality,” says Brighton Mayor Tony Foster. “He has shown through his dedication and hard work that you can enjoy your sport and reach the ultimate of representing your country.”

Tristan tells me that just a few years ago he was your average skinny red-head kid growing up in Hobart. “Until I was noticed by the good people at the Australian Institute of Sport in year 11,

I was just like any other kid who trained for a sport after school at the windy Domain track,” he says.

He says none of us has to make the Olympics to see the benefits of sport, exercise or activity.

But he’s passionate about people improving their health, whether it’s training at Little Athletics or those in their senior years taking the occasional stroll. And beginning inside this edition, Tristan will give us all some tips on achieving that goal.

MUSSELS build muscles!

Did you know that sleeping below the surface of Tasmania’s pristine coastal waters, there lives a gourmet’s delight? Did you know it’s sold around the world at a premium price? Did you know you can buy this wonderful seafood in our wonderful state for around $10 a kilo? And that, my friends, would feed a family of four!

Is it a fish? Is it seaweed? No, it’s mytilus galloprovincialis. It’s what?!? Sorry folks, I looked that up. We know it as the humble Australian blue mussel.

I have a mate called Phil, who’s in charge of Spring Bay Seafoods, that big mussel-growing business on the east coast of Tassie. The business has won several international awards for the quality of its mussels – and was the first shellfish company in the world (yep, the world!) to win the Global Gold Award for its ecologically friendly sustainable marine habitat.

These mussels are grown 2km offshore between Orford and Maria Island. They are suspended from ropes at depths of 25m to 35m. The water is fast-flowing, cool, clean and nutrient-rich – just what mussels love! Phil’s company is not alone in rearing mussels. There are several other Tassie companies doing the same thing with this little blue mollusc!

It builds muscles and is so good for your health.

Now these are farmed mussels. In the wild, mussels can be found in bays and estuaries where they often attach to rocks and jetties. I don’t recommend them. Occasionally, algal bloom can even affect farmed mussels – but happily for us shell-fish eaters, they are taken off the market until the problem has disappeared.

I have some great recipes on these pages, but first I want to tell you about a food writer in Europe 40 years ago who spread some wrong info about mussels.

In Europe in those days some mussels had been dredged from polluted mussel beds. The food writer warned against eating mussels that refused to open. This misinformation has spread around the world – even to this day.

It’s estimated that in Australia each year, because of that statement, around 370 tonnes of mussels are thrown away. What a waste!

Let’s do a bit of myth-busting about mussels. Those that don’t open are okay to eat!

Just over 10% of mussels will stay closed after being cooked. As they are steamed, the muscle in the shell breaks and opens. If that muscle does not separate, the mussel will not open. Separate them with a thin-bladed knife.

Don’t overcook your mussels. They take only three minutes to cook when steamed in a pot with a lid on.

WHERE and what to buy

Only buy from from reputable seafood retailers.

Look for mussels that are closed and full of water (ie, fresh).
If open, their shells should close when tapped. Don’t buy mussels with broken shells unless they are vacuum packed by the processor.

Don’t buy mussels that smell fishy or look open and dried out (they are dead mussels).

If you buy them pre-packaged they will have a use-by date attached.

If you buy them loose, to keep them alive, store them covered in ice – water from the ice must be able to drain away.

The tap-tap technique

Mussels should be alive when bought from a seafood retailer. There’s an easy way to check that those with open shells are alive. Just tap them gently: if alive they will start to close. If not, discard them. Mussels with broken shells should also be discarded unless you buy them in a sealed pack from a retailer.

Do not store mussels in airtight containers or plastic bags without holes – they will suffocate!

Well-stored mussels can be kept for up to a week.

A BLOOMING nuisance!

We lucky Tasmanians are surrounded by the sea. That means a bountiful harvest of a variety of seafood – both those with scales and fins and those little beauties encased in shells. Much of the seafood is exported to mainland Australia and overseas – and that’s big business for our professional fishermen and seafood processors.

Over the years, however, algal bloom has interrupted the harvesting of shellfish along different parts of Tassie’s coastline. It happened recently – just weeks ago – in the Huon estuary. And late last year my mate Phil’s big shellfish business on the east coast was shut down for a month, through no fault of that business. And the east coast’s commercial rock lobster and abalone processors were also closed as a precaution.

All manner of shellfish can be affected by algal bloom. Bivalve molluscs, such as oysters, mussels, pipis (clams) and scallops, are filter feeders and they can accumulate biotoxins if they are present in the water. Abalone, crabs and rock lobster can also be affected by algal bloom.

Scientists say the recent algal bloom affecting the Huon was different to last November’s bloom on the east coast, but they had similar toxins, making shellfish dangerous to eat. Cooking or freezing will not render the toxins harmless.

I like my mate Phil’s comment after reopening for business in early December: “It was something Mother Nature threw at us. It’s behind us now and we’re back to harvesting. We hope it’s not something we’ll have to deal with again.”

Tassie’s Public Health director, Dr Roscoe Taylor, says: “Always buy shellfish from recognised food outlets. The shellfish you buy from shops is safe because we closely monitor Tasmania’s commercial shellfish industry.

MUSSELS – my favourite recipes

Did you know that around the world more than 1 million tonnes of mussels are consumed each year?
In some parts of Europe, each person eats 1.3 kilos each year – in Australia, it’s only 300 grams. So let’s get eating! Mussels are little packets of goodness – an excellent source of omega-3, iodine, fatty acids and provide the ‘good oils’ beneficial for the heart.

For the recipes here, 50 mussels (that’s about a kilo) will feed four people. And remember, don’t overcook your mussels. They should take only a few minutes, whether steamed, barbecued or whatever. You’ll know they’re cooked when their shells open

“When our routine tests alert us to a problem, commercial shellfish farms in the affected area are closed until we are sure the shellfish have got rid of all their toxins and are safe to eat again.”

So, what that means to me, is the shellfish is good to eat.

WHY mussels have beards

Mussels grown on suspended ropes, as is the case with Phil’s babies, have to hang on against the strong currents. They develop a thread (or beard) to help them hang on.

The beards must be removed before cooking. Phil’s mob give each mussel a clean shave – well, 90% of the beard is removed before you buy. But I recommend scrubbing any remaining whiskers off and then rinsing before cooking.

MOULES mariniere (or, in plain English, mussels cooked the seaman’s way)

I kilo mussels
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves crushed garlic
3 spring onions chopped
3 plum tomatoes chopped (or can of crushed tomatoes)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch parsley chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Add garlic and fry for 1 minute, but do not brown.

Add spring onions and tomatoes, cook until almost tender.

Pour in the white wine and stir in the butter and parsley.

Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce by half – about 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the mussels to the pot, cover with the lid and allow to cook until most of the shells are open. Open the unopened shells as described above

Transfer the mussels to a large serving bowl and pour the sauce over them.

Crusty bread and dry white wine are excellent companions.

CREAMY mussels 1 kilo mussels

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 red capsicum chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
juice of 1 lemon
250 ml white wine
100 ml cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil, fry the capsicum, then add garlic and paprika and stir in well. Add mussels and lemon juice and white wine, put on the lid and steam for about 3 minutes. Shake the pot, remove the mussels with a slotted spoon on to a warm serving platter. Reduce the liquid and add cream, salt and pepper to taste, pour over the mussels and serve.

MUSSELS with fettucini

1 kilo mussels
500 g fettucine
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
6 teaspoons parsley
chopped 1 bay leaf
1⁄4 teaspoon thyme
2 cups white wine

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes (check instructions). Drain when al dente and keep warm. Meanwhile in another pot heat 2 tablespoons butter, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, thyme and white wine and bring to the boil. Add mussels, cover and cook for around 3 minutes. Do not overcook.

Divide pasta into four bowls and spoon the mussels over pasta. Strain mussel liquid, return to pot, add remaining butter, heat until it melts. Pour over the mussels and serve.

BARBECUED mussels with curry butter

1 kilo mussels
3 tablespoons softened butter
2 cloves garlic crushed
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of salt
1 cup red capsicum chopped
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
1 lime thinly sliced
1 lime cut into 4 wedges

Preheat the barbecue, high-medium heat and lightly oil the surface

Whisk together the butter, garlic, curry, cumin and salt.

Place four sheets of aluminum foil on a flat surface.

Divide the mussels into four and place one portion on each sheet of foil.

Dot the mussels with the curry mixture, sprinkle the capsicum over the top of each portion, and top each with lime slices.

Wrap foil tightly around each portion.

Place on the preheated grill and cook for 3-5 minutes or until opened.

Serve with lime wedges.

MUSSEL soup with coriander

1 kilo mussels
25 g butter
1 sliced onion
4 tablespoons dry white wine or verjuice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot finely chopped
1 carrot finely diced
1 leek, white only sliced
small bulb fennel sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 sprig thyme or teaspoon dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon coriander seeds crushed
2 ripe tomatoes deseeded and chopped
1 small potato peeled and finely sliced
100 ml dry sherry or vermouth
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion and wine. When it bubbles, add mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes or until open. Shake the pot a few times, and use a paring knife to open any closed shells. Drain into a bowl, reserving the liquid.

When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and set aside.

Discard the shells and onions.

Heat the oil in the same pot, add shallot, carrot, leek, fennel and garlic together with the thyme and coriander seeds, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes and potato and cover again and sweat for another 5 minutes.

Add the vermouth/sherry and reduce by cooking to half the volume.

Stir in the reserved mussel juices, half the mussels and 750 ml water.

Season lightly and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes

Remove from heat, discard the thyme sprig, then add the fresh chopped coriander and infuse for about 5 minutes.

Pour into a food processer and blend until smooth. Pass through a sieve into another pot. Add the rest of the mussels, reheat gently, check the seasoning and serve.

 

EXERCISE? Its worth the sweat and tears

Tristain enjoying the smell of Uncle Chris's  foodGetting fit is much more than checking your weight on the scales

Exercise means different things to different people and opinions on being active seem to have changed a lot over the years.

Gone are the days when survival relied on being fast enough to run away from a dinosaur or strong enough to carry all the food home from the harvest.

In the 21st century, technology has advanced so much; with television, cars and even internet shopping, exercise is no longer part of survival at all. On top of this, jobs these days more often involve sitting at a desk for hours, and with kids or goldfish to look after, people will often say there’s 'no time' to exercise at all.

The body is like a pet dog – it will get used to life depending on the way you treat it

So why bother exercising? It's hard, sweaty and makes you sore when you start, so why is it worth doing?

This is where I hope I can help. I know not everyone can run around a track here and overseas, but I also know that people don't need to do that to get the same benefits.

Over recent years, as TV watching and video games have become enmeshed in our lives, we seem to have forgotten how much fun being active can be.

I grew up pretending to be Shane Warne (on the field that is). Today it seems many people are happier to play Shane Warne cricket on the Play Station. That’s not cool and it doesn't cost a penny to get outside and do it yourself.

As more and more magazines publish ‘miracle’ diets, it’s important to focus on the output (your exercise routine) as much as on the input (the food you choose to eat). I believe this is where the real magic happens. Being healthy isn't just eating lettuce, even if it's gluten free; it’s about taking that energy from food and using it to do things that help your body excel.

I won't lie to you. Anyone who hasn't done a lot of physical activity since school is not going to enjoy the first few weeks of getting active.

The body is like a pet dog – it will get used to life depending on the way you treat it. Your body will get a real kick up the backside when you start to get active, but trust me: just as the body gets used to not exercising, it is also fast at adapting to exercise. After all, we were designed to be active and we need it.

My focus here isn’t necessarily on losing weight. There is a much greater benefit to activity than the reading on the scales.

The body is also like a car and we all know that when you leave a car too long without driving it (like the old bomb in my shed) it won’t run properly or even start. Being active allows all body systems to work better. It clears the pipes and, like putting oil in the car, it stops you from getting stiff.

Perhaps more importantly, other benefits of being active include releases of hormones that lower stress, improve morale, help you get to sleep and make you more energetic.

No tricks or wonder fixes, just simply doing something for our body from time to time can make a big change. This gets addictive and, let’s be honest, anything that decreases overall stress can’t be a bad thing.

Being active is something you have 100 percent control of and you will gain more benefits as you continue being active. You will begin to notice the difference once you begin a program of physical activity, so have faith, give it a go and have fun with it.

I’ll be back next edition with some tips on finding the best activity for you. Good luck and go bowl some Warney leg spinners!

GROW a vegie rainbow

I get narky this time of year. Autumn is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But I know it’s really just a downhill plummet into the depths of dark, colourless winter.

I reckon we all need to jolt ourselves out of the gloom as things get icy – inject some blazing colour.

Grow some of those amazingly coloured vegies now available – purple carrots, yellow and green cauliflowers, rainbow silverbeet, and yellow, purple and even red cabbages. You can turn your vegie garden psychedelic.

And it gives new meaning to telling the kids to eat their greens.

Once you could only buy most of this colourful bunch in shops, but now they’re out there for all to grow – and autumn’s a ripper time to get started. Grow them from seed and you’ll save money.

So where do you start? You’ve first got to get your vegie
beds up to scratch – well dug soil, plenty of organic stuff, good drainage and whatever sun you can get. And you might need some frost protection when you raise your seedlings.

Rainbow silverbeetI reckon those weird coloured carrots are a good start in the rainbow stakes. There are a couple of purple ones around with names like Cosmic Purple and Purple Dayz, and there’s a yellow called Solar Yellow (sweeter than the orange ones).

If coloured cabbages float your boat, try one of the red ones, such as Red Express. It’s compact growing, looks stunning and is yummy in coleslaw.

Rainbow silverbeet (or rainbow chard if you prefer) is a must, and you should try some red stemmed spinach. There’s one called Reddy that’s promising. Got to confess I haven't tried it myself yet but they, whoever they are, say it’s a winner.

Then there’s red-stemmed chicory, purple-podded peas, red-leaf pak choy (a little bit of Asian fare never goes astray) and purple sprouting broccoli.

Chioggia beetrootAnd the colour isn’t only on the outside. I like the Italian chioggia beetroot – when you cut it open has red circles throughout its white flesh. Looks a little bloody but it’s a definite headturner!

And don’t get me started on lettuce. It’s now in a kaleidoscope of colours.

Oh, and don’t forget some yellow and purple cauliflowers.

If you fancy something a little prehistoric looking, grow some Tuscan kale. It sometimes has fancy names like nero di toscana, and lacinato kale boasts foliage that reminds me of a dinosaur’s skin yet tastes a treat, especially when shredded and added to a hearty winter soup.

If you get some of this lot in you’ll have one of the most colourful winters imaginable.

Tuscan-kaleYou could seek out a few pictures of this amazing bunch of vegies and challenge your kids to grow some. It’ll save you some of the labour and, who knows, it could get them hooked on gardening.

Then come spring you can plant some of those quirkily coloured tomatoes. There are heaps of them.

Good for you

The best bit about growing these rainbow vegies is that the science boffins reckon they’re great for our health. Being a bloke whose blood pressure sometimes gets a mite high,

I was impressed by a report from a Queensland professor a couple of years back.

Coloured vegies  - carrots and broccoliFor eight weeks he fed purple carrot juice to rats suffering high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and heart and liver damage brought on by being fed a typical western diet high in fats and carbohydrates.

And guess what. The rats’ blood pressure dropped and all symptoms seemingly vanished, despite the high fat/carbohydrate diet remaining.

Seems most of the good stuff comes from the higher levels of pigments and nutrients in strongly coloured vegetables and fruits.

They reckon red vegies often contain substances thought to help reduce prostate cancer, high blood pressure and tumours, while blue and purple ones are said to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, improve calcium absorption, help fight digestive tract cancers and reduce inflammation.

The orange and yellow ones are supposedly good in lowering cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, reducing prostate cancer risks, reducing age-related macula degeneration and promoting healthy joints. Now I could do with some of that last one.