The Hype
For the ‘I quit sugar’ movement, sugar is an insidious poison liberally and sneakily added to processed foods, rotting our teeth and making us all fat. What’s more, it apparently as addictive as cocaine or even heroin.

The Beef
Seem exaggerated? It is. But besides the hyperbole and lack of concrete scientific evidence to back it up, my main beef with the #iqs movement is that they don’t actually quit sugar at all. They quit fructose. ‘I quit fructose’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but iqs-ers never let the truth get in the way of a good hashtag. Because wtf is #iqf? Our #iqs chums really believe that fructose is poison, meaning that for them, it’s preferable to eat a half a cup of rice malt syrup to an apple, which seems insane.

The Fine Print
Is fructose poisonous? Fructose (not high fructose corn syrup) occurs naturally in fruit, but it is also present in many other foods; table sugar or caster sugar, for example, is 50% sucrose and 50% fructose. Fructose also occurs in high levels in many processed foods such as fruit juice (with juice you get all of the sugar, all of the calories and none of the fibre). Fructose may or may not be a problem for most of us (i.e. those of us without a sensitivity or allergy to it); the jury’s still out. Experts mostly agree that sugar is sugar, and that excessive sugar consumption does contribute to obesity and ill health. Substitutions for fructose such as rice malt syrup, the darling of the #iqs baking scene has an incredibly high glycemic index and a high glycemic load, higher than that of fructose or caster sugar. I question whether the spike in blood sugar caused by a spoonful of rice malt syrup (sugar) would be any better for you than that from a spoonful of golden syrup, which has the highest calorie-to-liquid ratio of all the syrups (and consequently is also my favourite of all syrups).

The Verdict
It would be so much simpler if we could just point the finger at fructose, or even sugar, and be done with it. But being fit and healthy is down to so many more factors than a specific kind of sugar. It’s true that sugar has overall been found to be quite addictive, blood sugar spikes are not good for you, and there is added sugar (and salt and god knows what else) in most processed foods. Obviously the food industry would love to have us believe that sugar ‘in moderation’ is fine, and let’s not worry too much about what ‘moderation’ means. But the ‘sneakiness’ of ‘hiding’ sugar in foods is not itself an argument for cutting out sugar or fructose from our diets.

So wtf should I do?
Sugar has been linked to obesity for the simple reason that sugar is energy; it is incredibly high in calories/kilojoules. It is also a problem because we often don’t take it into account day-to-day – bottled fruit juice, for example, has the same amount of sugar as coca cola, but we generally consider it ‘healthy’ and therefor ‘not fattening’, forgetting that ‘healthy’ foods can be incredibly high in calories; the fact that a food may be beneficial to your health tells you nothing about its caloric content whatsoever. Limiting or even cutting out added sugar completely can even out energy rushes and mood swings so that we may find we ‘feel better’ when we limit or eliminate it.

Sugar can be fun, it can be delicious, it can be addictive, it can be a lot of things, but it isn’t poison. So take the I quit sugar movement’s advice, or any nutritional advice from unqualified ‘experts’ (including me) with a grain of sugar. While it’s true we’ve overlooked the surreptitious sugar-ladening of our food for far too long, the solution is not to whip up a batch of rice-malt-syrup-and-ground-date-sweet-potato-brownies and scoff the whole pan. If you want to cut sugar or even just get a better handle on how much sugar you’re eating, then ditch highly processed foods and the baking altogether. It is really that simple.

It’s funny how in Australia we usually think of pies as savoury, while in the US sweet pies are the norm. As a result when I think of pies, I think of anything beef. When I think of sweet pies, I immediately think of my favourite, lemon meringue.

I haven’t made this pie since I was a teenager, but I was always a big fan of the combo of tart, sweet lemon butter and fluffy sugarry merignue. I remember dragging out my mother’s 1970’s Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook from which you could cook anything from scones to Beef Bourginon, falling apart at the spine and gaffer taped together, and making this time consuming but satisfying pie. I assume the recipe I’ve used here is the same one.

This pie is supposed to be served cold. I think if it were warmed, it would be too sweet even for me. To counter any sickly sweetness, I recommend serving with a side of whipped cream.

Lemon Meringue Pie (from AWW Bake)
For pastry:
1½ cups plain flour
1 Tbsp icing sugar mixture
140g cold butter, chopped coarsely
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons iced water, as necessary

For lemon butter and meringue:
½ cup (75g) cornflour
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup lemon juice
1¼ cups water
2 tsp lemon zest
60g butter, chopped into 1 cm cubes
3 eggs, separated
½ cup caster sugar, extra

The pastry:
In a food processor, process flour, icing sugar mixture and butter until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add yolk and 1 tablespoon of the water; process again until pastry begins to come together into a ball. If necessary, gradually add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until pastry does form a ball. To see the correct consistency for the pastry, view the crappy video below…

Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly until smooth, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll out pastry between 2 sheets baking paper. Press pastry into 24cm round pie tin.
Trim edges and prick base with a fork. Refrigerate a further 30 minutes.

Line the pie crust with baking paper and fill with dried beans, lentils or baking beads. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove paper and beans; return to oven. Bake a further 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

The lemon filling:
Combine cornflour and sugar in a saucepan. Gradually juice and water; whisking to ensure mixture is lump free. Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring until very thick. Simmer for a further minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Take pan off the heat and stir in butter until melted, followed by the lemon zest and 3 egg yolks. Leave to cool slightly.

The meringue:
Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C fan-forced). In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Gradually add the extra sugar while beating.

Assembly:
Spoon lemon mixture into pre-baked pastry case, spreading evenly. Roughen the surface with a fork. Pile meringue mixture on top, ensuring lemon mixture is completely covered. Return pie to preheated oven and bake 5-10 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crisp. Stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Last week I talked about reliving travel through food. Taste is a powerful memory trigger and that almost explains why, about a week after my return from Argentina/Brasil I found myself showing up for drinks at a friend’s place in Newtown not with a 6-pack of beer but rather, sipping a pineapple filled with rum.

I’m not in any way implying that people in Northern Brasil show up to people’s houses with a pineapple dangling from their chops, far from it (and also, if they did, they’d use cachaça, not rum). But I couldn’t really get my head around not drinking a caipirinha and drinking it out of a pineapple, although touristy and tacky, was my favourite way to do it. This explains why Senhor R and I found ourselves hacking away at a pineapple one Sunday night to make a cup for our rum caipirinha. Sticky.

What follows is a recipe of sorts for how to turn a pineapple into a drinkable, alcoholic treat.

Caipirinha no Abacaxi
1 pineapple
3-4 dessert spoons of caster sugar
6 ice cubes
2 limes, quartered
Cachaça, or, failing that, rum
A couple of toothpicks

If the leaves of the pineapple are still attached, remove them. Chop the top off the pineapple and save it for a lid. With a long, sharp knife, cut around the inside of the pineapple almost to the bottom, leaving about a half inch border. Then cut a cross through the centre of the flesh that you hope to remove. Hack away at this with knives and spoons until you win.

In a glass or shaker, smash the hell out of the ice, sugar and limes, either with something blunt or by shaking the shaker until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into the pineapple and cover with cachaça, stir and taste. Add more sugar if needed.

Whack in a straw. Attach the lid with a couple of toothpicks. If you’re drinking your caipirinha on the beach, no worries but if you’re somewhere you don’t wanna get too sticky and your pineapple is quite ripe, you might want to put it on a plate or cling wrap it.

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These days, you can’t turn on the TV without the giant head of a celebrity chef glaring back at you. Food is one of the most popular topics on television, with Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules and a raft of ABC and SBS food programming available. It is also one of the top topics for blogs, after technology, fashion, celebrity gossip and…how to make money from blogging. In fact, in 2010, a total of 88 new food blogs were started in Sydney alone (*cough* Corridor Kitchen *cough*). Appearances by Jamie Oliver elicit Beatles-fan-like reactions of screaming and fainting. Nigella Lawson’s recent visit to Australia  had pilgrims flocking to Melbourne from a Master class. Visiting a café is considered an activity in and of itself. There is an entire pay TV channel, Lifestyle food, devoted to food. We are a nation of foodies obsessed.

As a food blogger, I feel a complicated mixture of fascination with and a desperate yearning to avoid this trend, even though I am clearly a participant. But I do have my favourite food-related productions, blogs and books, as does most anyone who enjoys food. I devoured Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defence of Food’ in an afternoon. When I discovered Lisa Fain’s blog Homesick Texan I read every single entry over the course of a month. And I watched every episode of Meave O’Meara’s Food Safari on SBS, my boyfriend later purchasing all three series’ on DVD. When they arrived, I scoured the special features for new recipes.

What works so well about the show is the way it reveals how people really cook in their own homes. Food Safari covers 35 of the cuisines you will find in Australia. Each episode covers basic ingredients, dishes and cooking methods as chefs and home cooks alike present recipes their own kitchens. Often these recipes are thought of as nothing special by those who make them, but through sharing them, they realise how special they really are. It’s also heartening to see how family businesses often start through necessity- e.g. through not being able to find kimchi or tofu or mozzerella in Australia, kimchi and tofu and mozzerella factories spring up!

One of the Food Safari recipes I often cook is Bun bo xao, a rice noodle salad with stir fried beef. The recipe is presented by Chef Luke Nguyen, chef at Surry Hills’ Red Lantern and host of Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam on SBS. Because I am a lazy cook at heart, and perhaps because I was a vegetarian for 10 years I cut the meat after I cook it. This makes my version a little more like your standard Sydney Thai beef salad than a Bun. I can’t make any claims about how food in Thailand or Vietnam is prepared- unfortunately, I’ve never visited either country.

A quick tip: The nuoc cham will keep for ages in the fridge so don’t worry that you’ve made too much. The Food Safari recipe makes about enough for 4 people.

Bun bo (adapted from Luke Nguyen’s recipe as featured on Food Safari)

Serves 2

200g – 300g sirloin or rump steak or any lean, boneless steak at least 2cm thick
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 tsp finely chopped lemongrass
Canola spray
200g thin rice vermicelli
Boiling water
2 large iceburg lettuce leaves
1/2  small bunch mint
6 perilla leaves (optional)
1 carrot
1 spring onion
1 lebanese cucumber
Nuoc cham

Pour the fish sauce and lemongrass over the steak. Cover and 5-10 minutes in the fridge.

Make the nuoc cham as per recipe.

Soak the noodles in boiling water for 2 minutes, chop up with scissors, drain and rinse with cold water.

Finely shred lettuce, perilla and mint, finely slice carrot and spring onion and slice cucumber lengthways and chop. Place in a colander with rice noodles and rinse. Be sure everything is properly drained so the salad won’t get soggy.

Heat a frying pan to very hot. Place whole steak in and sear. Cook for around 2 minutes and turn to cook other side. It really depends how you like it as to how long you cook it. The important thing is that it is cooked on a very high heat.

Separate the vegetables and noodles between 2 large bowls. Immediately slice the steak into thin strips, across the grain and divide between the bowls. Spoon over some nuoc cham and serve. The idea is for each person to stir up their salad themselves, adding more nuoc cham to taste.

What’s you fave product of foodie-ism?

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Yesterday Lorraine over at Not Quite Nigella described the special treat of being given 20 cents to buy something at the school fete and tossing up between honey joys, pikelets, toffees and other assorted goodies, eventually choosing whichever was the biggest. This reminded me of another nostalgic gastronomic occasion – kids’ parties, where the unfettered appetites of small children are allowed to run wild.

When I was a child, my parents would let me and my brothers have a party with our friends every second year, and we’d always get to choose a cake out of the Australian Women’s Weekly Kids’ Birthday Cake Cookbook, which, incidentally is one of The Age’s most influential Australian Cookbooks. The cake, be it a train, a Disney character, a doll or a swimming pool filled with green jelly (this was way back in the olden days before blue jelly was invented) would take centre stage amongst the mini frankfurts, party pies, sausage rolls, butterfly cakes and fairy bread on the table. This was one of my favourites, I think I had it for my 5th birthday.

Kids’ parties were never the place to worry about nutrition. Many a picture of me graces the family albums wearing a crooked party hat and an insane sugar-fuelled grin, my mouth smeared with tomato sauce and a trail of hundreds and thousands down the front of my party dress. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fairy bread is another of the few Australian/New Zealand recipes, along with Pavlova and Lamingtons that are entirely unique to their region. It’s something you just take for granted and never give a second thought until someone presents a plate of it to you, and then it takes you back to that place of sugar-fuelled madness not exclusively reserved for children. I have wanted to post a recipe for fairy bread for a while but it’s so easy to make it hardly seemed worth recording. Then I realised that there are probably thousands of recipes that have been forever lost because people thought they were ‘too obvious’ or ‘just common sense.’ To be fair, fairy bread has appeared all over the web, even on U.S. superblog The Kitchn, an arm of Apartment therapy so it’s in no danger of being lost any time soon. But I still want to post it myself, because I love it.

The key to fairy bread is soft, mass produced bread- no other kind will do. Also, make sure you use hundreds and thousands, the round, crunchy rainbow sprinkles rather than the flat ones. Always be sure to spread the butter all the way to the crust. And finally, rather than sprinkling the hundreds and thousands over the thinly-buttered bread, pour them onto a plate and dip the bread in, allowing the sprinkles to stick.

Fairy bread
1 loaf of fresh, soft, white bread
Softened butter (or margarine if you must)
1 large packet of hundreds and thousands

Pour the hundreds and thousands into a plate or flat bowl. Spread as many slices of bread as you like with a layer of butter.

Dunk the bread into the hundreds and thousands, butter side down. Shake off any excess. Cut the bread into four triangles.

Serve to whoever is closest. It’ll be demolished in 5 minutes flat.

What’s your favourite childhood party food?

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