Monday, February 27, 2012

Look Mum, No Nuts!

I’m not known for my domestic skills in the kitchen so I was bemused when Kellogg’s invited me to create a recipe based around their latest product, Kellogg’s All-Bran Fibre Toppers.
If I normally had trouble coming up with food the kids would eat, how would I go about creating a dish featuring a healthy new product that was actually good for them? From scratch? On my own?
But then I tasted the All-Bran Fibre Toppers. It immediately struck me that they were crunchy, and really very yummy. And there was something else. They tasted nutty.
Now I love nuts, but I rarely get to eat them. (Steady on, mind out of the gutter!)
Regular readers will know that Mr 11 has a deadly allergy to nuts and tree nuts (like cashews and almonds), called anaphylaxis. Not only is it very scary for Chase (and all who love him), but it means we go without a lot of my favourite foods rather than risk having them when he is around.
You see, it takes just a trace of nuts for a reaction to occur, which means kids like Chase can suffer anaphylaxis by touching something which has been touched by someone who has eaten nuts. Or eating food cooked in a pan which was previously used to cook nuts. I could even eat nuts on a night out, and then come home, kiss Chase good night, and unwittingly cause a reaction. So to be safe we just don’t eat nuts or have them in the house.
Instead, we cook foods like basil chicken and cashews, and lose the cashews. Home-made muesli slice without the nuts. Date and walnut muffins minus the walnuts. Which all gets a bit bland at times.
So imagine my delight when I discovered I could use the All-Bran Fibre Toppers in place of nuts. *
What’s more, Kellogg’s new cereal contains natural wheat bran, oat fibre and psyillium. So they are loaded with fibre and all kinds of other goodies, like vitamins and minerals. Oh and they are low in fat. So they are Boombah-Friendly.
Some of the family favourites where I’ve successfully substituted Kellogg’s All-Bran Fibre Toppers for nuts, include chop chip and macadamia nut biscuits, and banana and date muffins
And I’ve sprinkled them on top of salads, Thai green curry, in wraps and sandwiches, and on top of yoghurt and cereal too.
I’ve also used them in place of rice and bread in dishes like zucchini slice, home-made sausage rolls and meatloaf.
But my favourite recipe is the one I created just for Kellogg’s as part of a competition to win a return trip to New York for the Blog Her 2012 conference. Here, I substitute crushed peanuts for the crunchy texture of the fibre toppers.
Bronnie’s Beautiful All-Bran Pad Thai
Vegetable oil (non-allergic people can use peanut oil)
I pack rice noodles (200/250 gram packets are fine)
4 large cloves garlic (add more to taste, or if you have no friends)
3 or 4 eggs
About 250 gram of peeled green prawns, pork, tofu or chicken. I use tofu.
3 or 4 eggs
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 packet bean sprouts (about 2 cups)
1-2 bunches bok choy
2 or 3 spring onions
1 cup Kellogg’s All-Bran Fibre Toppers
1 lime
Chopped red chilli, vinegar and soy sauce mix in a bowl for individuals to add to their plates to taste

Chop and keep separate garlic, bok choy, tofu (or seafood/meat), and spring onions.
Mix fish sauce, sugar and vinegar together.
Beat eggs together in a separate bowl.
Heat oil in wok or large pan.
Fry the garlic, remove with slotted spoon and keep separate.
Mix the eggs and fry like an omelette. Remove and keep separate.
Cook tofu/meat/seafood.
Cook noodles according to instructions. (Usually you soak in hot water for about ten minutes, or put in boiling water and cook for a few minutes).

Add fish sauce mix to wok. Throw in bok choy, sprouts, garlic, and egg mixture. Gently add strained noodles and shallots, and stir through. (You can add extra fish sauce or water to aid mixing and for taste).
Sprinkle with Kellogg’s All-Bran Fibre Toppers.
Then mix them through ...
So you should end up with something like this.
Serve with a wedge of lime and a few pieces of coriander torn on top.
My kids don’t add the chilli mix, but I love it served on the side so that the spice-lovers can add it to taste.
Disclaimer: Kellogg’s sent me a hamper of Kellogg’s All-Bran Fibre Toppers and other goodies to try. If they like my recipe, I could win the trip to New York as detailed above. Hopefully your kids won't fight over them like mine do!

* It's really important to point out here that for legal reasons, Kellogg's, like other Australian companies, basically can't 100 per cent guarantee that there isn't some tiny chance that some trace of nuts will contaminate one of their products which don't contain nuts. So there is a disclaimer on the box, as there is on most products found on the shelves in Australia these days.
On the All-Bran Fibre Topper Box, the statement is that the product 'may contain traces of nuts'. This is because it is produced in a building in which other cereals which do contain nuts are made. Even though all the machinery pieces and parts are completely washed and cleaned in-between, and all traces of nuts removed, the company likes to point out that they can't absolutely guarantee that every trace has disappeared.
Now as a parent of an anaphylactic child, I've had to do my research and make a call. I've done this by talking directly with companies like Kellogg's, Chase's doctors, and also with allergy awareness and support groups. And we know that in Australia, where food and production standards are extremely high, it's pretty much guaranteed you'll be safe eating something from a good Aussie company like Kellogg's.  
So we take the 'risk'. Otherwise, we pretty much would have to highly limit Chase's diet because many unlikely things from crackers to ice-blocks may contain traces of nuts.
And we've never had any trouble. Touch wood, cross fingers, and pray to God. 
Eating cheaper products, imported from overseas where standards may not be as high, is not as safe.   
I wouldn't actually feed Chase Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes - which DO contain nuts, for example. But I'm happy to feed him the Cornflakes, which may contain traces of nuts. And he's never had a reaction eating those.
That's my choice, other parents may feel differently.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cocktail hour ...

Most people keep recipe books in their kitchen.

Perhaps it's because he has a live-in maid, perhaps it's because a world of cheap and delicious food is available on his door step, so cooking is often unnecessary.

Regardless, my Bangkok friend, Ian, has no need for traditional recipes in his kitchen. Instead, taking pride of place, is a well-thumbed copy of a cocktail book.

Ian's partner Lee travels regularly for work, so their bar is well stocked with every alcoholic beverage from every country imaginable.

And when friends and family come to visit, Ian loves to ply his guests with liquor be the ultimate host by declaring cocktail hour*, and taking requests.

Why cocktails?

Well, mixers like tonic water are scarce in Bangkok. So much so, that when a supply is found, an alert goes up on twitter and Facebook, and that particular venue is bombarded by expats who pillage the supply in minutes.

A Good Friend is one who will carry home a few extra cans or even a case of coke zero, sprite or tonic water for a mate. A Bad Friend will hog his or her stash to themselves or worse, offer just two cans from their supply. (Gasp! Apparently, that's almost insulting!).

Wine and champagne are expensive by Thai standards, and while the local beer is often cheaper than water, there is only so much a lady can drink without, erm, bloatage. But spirits, particularly the white and local variety, and juices are cheap.

So cocktails and mocktails are the drinks of choice. And apparently, the ruder the name, the better.

A typical evening at Chez Ian (at least during the holidays) begins after a busy day of sightseeing, followed by perhaps a massage, a rest, and maybe a swim. Then it's time for a shower and cocktails.

Often, Ian's chef Pun would cook us a delicious dinner, before we headed out on the town or for more sightseeing, shopping, or even a real (ie, non-Ian) bar.

Whilst in Bangkok, we managed to work our way through a few of Ian's favourites, including:

I think these were called Absynthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. Containing Abynthe obviously, and various other vile drinks. Tasted like Waterbury's Compound, a tonic Mum used to give me when I was a kid. Shudder.

Sunset from Ian's balcony ... always a good excuse for cocktail/mocktail hour

A Purple Penis. Ian first made these for us to help celebrate Valentine's Day, the romantic! (Let's face it, they were the only penises Carolyn and I were likely to see, having ruled out any 'boom boom' shows while we were in Bangkok). These were a firm favourite (hee hee), and contained vodka, blue curacao, and cranberry juice. Good for the Lady Parts too.

An apple martini, which contained real apples, just to be good for us.

Throughout the week we also worked our way through Smurf's Piss, Leg Spreaders, Comfortable Screws, Mojitos, and Margaritas.

And to prove we just didn't drink alcohol, we also tried a variety of Thai drinks, including iced lemongrass and ginger tea, iced rosella, butterfly pea drink, and a ginger and cinnamon calming drink.

I liked most of them except the butterfly pea, which like the penis drink was a pretty purple, but the similarities ended there. In fact, this one contained a slimy, jelly-like substance which made me gag.

Readers, what's the weirdest named cocktail/mocktail you've ever tried?

* At Ian's house cocktail hour could be at any hour of the day. After all, he says, it's 5 pm somewhere in the world ...

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Queens hit Bangkok

When I booked my trip to Bangkok, it was after weeks of agonising.

Guilt over leaving the children, even though they would be safe at home with their Dad.

Guilt about doing something purely for myself, rather than family or work-related business/interests or study.

Worry about money and timing.

But then the planets aligned, and Carolyn and I were able to take time off at the same time as Bangkok-based Ian had a week's holiday. Better yet, he was willing to devote it to showing us around, and in his words, 'spoiling us'. It seemed like a sign.

It came to pass that Thai Airways were offering super cheap flights at the same time. And one day, with a few clicks of the mouse, and via the magic of Zuji, the tickets were ours.

 Oh my goodness, this thing was finally happening. We'd been talking about doing it for years, but it was one of those things that had been put into the 'one day' basket.

And then the emails between Thailand and Australia began flying back and forth.

We were all friends from high-school, who had found each other via the magic of Facebook. Living in South East Queensland, Carolyn and I had caught up a few times in recent years, and even attended a high school reunion together.

But we hadn't seen Ian in around 25 years, although, of course, modern technology made it easy to revive the friendship.

Still, that's not the same as flying to another country to see that person, spend a week with him, stay at his home, and be a part of his life. Practically 24-7.

It could have been a disaster. And yet, it was magical.

Since high school, we'd all gone on to achieve incredible highs, and unendurable lows. We had each made small humans, all now at various stages of growing up. Hell, Carolyn is even a grandmother to an adorable one-year-old. She is the grooviest grandma I know.

And I discovered that our life experiences had made us even more awesome than we were in high school. With even more in common. And there was much to admire all round.

There were no awkward moments. The moments that could have been awkward, were met only with laughter. Or understanding. Or both.

And the laughter. I only have to look at the expression on my face in photos taken over the past week, to see that I've rediscovered the old Bronnie, the Bronnie I thought I'd lost when life belted it out of me.

Yes, my inner child is back. The inner well of fun. loving kindness to self, and fulfillment has been topped up. And happiness rediscovered.

Carolyn and Ian say they feel the same.

Another highlight, was meeting Ian's partner, Lee. I can't say enough about Lee, who is one of the most clever, kind, talented and funny people I have ever met. Lee put up with our antics with good grace and humour. And so our holiday was about reconnecting not just with an old friend, but making a new one as well.

Then there were Ian's expat family: A group of fabulous and funny people who made us feel at home instantly. No wonder they are like family to him.

The funny thing is, I travelled through Thailand many times in my younger, more cashed-up and adventurous days, but I've never enjoyed it as much as I have on this visit.

Visiting with locals, I saw and learned more than I did in months of backpacking as a keen young traveller Way Back When. Or staying at posh hotels, doing guided tours, and eating at 'safe' restaurants when I was more financial.

With Ian and his friends' help, we learned so much about the culture and way of life, that we could never have otherwise experienced. From the best (and cheapest) Thai food at the most unlikely 'rickety' restaurant, to the poshest bar in the city, Bangkok's famous Sky Bar, we experienced it all.  We even learned a few rude Thai words!

I am sure I spent less too. It was amazing how the price drops when someone speaks Thai! But Ian and Lee also made sure the Thai people got good deals too, which made it fair all round.

Last night, at midnight, Carolyn and I said our goodbyes, boarded another Thai Airways flight, and winged our way back to Brisbane. And reality.

A world where a wonderful woman named Pun will not teach me how to make traditional Thai dishes (and do my laundry when I'm out). Where handsome and clever gentlemen will not open my door, or hold my hand whilst I'm stepping off and on boats,or falling into ditches (and there are a few in Bangkok). Where women with magic hands will not massage me into a blissed-out version of my usual self.

On the plus side, I get to hug my kids again, who I've missed desperately. And I hope that the new Bronnie, complete with Inner Child, I found in Bangkok boarded the plane too.

And next time, I'm bringing the kids with me!

At Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thailand's largest.

At DJ Station, a drag queen show in Bangkok. Because Whitney Houston had died that day, they did a tribute show featuring Whitney at various stages of her life. (I cannot believe I knew the words to all of her songs ...)

Carolyn and I on the river on our way to visit some of the temples.

Dressed up with somewhere to go

Shopping at a REAL floating market, about 2 hours out of Bangkok. This one is not included on the package tours and was a fabulous experience.

The Sky Bar, one of the world's best bars, which was also featured in the Hangover 2 movie. Amazing.

Clearly, there are more photos and posts to come. You have been warned ...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Maid In ...Bangkok!

I can't tell you how good it feels to finally be here.

In a post that proves that friendship is forever, and that Facebook can be used for good and for not evil, one of my besties from highschool joined me on a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok to visit another dear friend we have not seen for oh, about, 25 years.

On arrival, there he was, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the people waiting in the arrivals hall. (He's a very tall Aussie so is kind of hard to miss in a roomfull of Thais). There were big hugs all round, and then we were off to enjoy what has so far been a fabulous holiday in the Land of Smiles.

Smiles? I have barely stopped laughing since the moment we arrived.

But first we had to get to Thailand ...

Starting our journey at Brisbane Airport. One coffee in, a little duty free shopping done, and lots of anticipation ...

Our flight on Thai Airways was exceptional. Even stuck down the back in economy, our seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of leg room.

The check-in lady generously made sure we had a seat in-between us so there was plenty of room for handbags, pillows and reading materials; and all passengers had their own mini-media screens with free-to-view movies, tv, games and other entertainment.

Importantly, there were plenty of little girls' and boys' rooms and they were always clean and available. (Miracles do happen).

And the service was impeccable. Water was brought regularly, and the staff were friendly and efficient.

The food was delicious and plentiful.

The first meal, served promptly after take-off, was warm and tasty, and we got real cutlery. (Gasp!)

Everyone got a salad of barley, corn, salery and ham. *

For mains, there were two choices:

Carolyn went for chicken sliced with bamboo shoot in red curry, Thai Hom Mali rice, stir-fried green bean and carrot.

To be different, and to share with you, dear reader, I chose the barramundi with tomato and tapenade crust roasted potatoes and stir-fried vegetables.

Both came with a roll, butter, cheese, ginger syrup cake, and tea or coffee.

There were also red and white wines and a selection of drinks from the bar. Though the wine appeared to be served in glass thimbles, rather than glasses.

I knocked myself out watching movies I hadn't had a chance to see in the theatres, and probably embarassed Carolyn by laughing aloud in several places.

Then it was time for a Nana Nap - I don't think I snored - and another serving of food and drinks prior to landing.

This time, there was no choice of meal, which didn't matter because it was simply delicious. (If this is what they serve in economy, imagine what they get at the pointy end of the plane? Yes. Just imagine.)

 Where was I? Oh yes. The meal. It was fresh fruit, chicken fried rice with pineapple and spring onion, wattle seed anzac biscuits, and tea and coffee.

We didn't need it, but ate it anyway, because it was yummy.

Then we landed and were effortlessly processed through customs and baggage claim, to where Ian was waiting for us as if nothing had changed since we all wore daggy blue uniforms and dreamed of our futures after Kingaroy High School.

All fears of: Would we recognise each other? Would we have anything in common after all these years? and the like quickly evaporated as we chatted away like the old friends we are.

Except that Ian now has a rather posh English accent and also can speak Thai fluently. (Though he insists his accent isn't great, but it sounds impressive to us).

He showed us around his house first, which is an amazing, lovingly furnished apartment with fabulous views.

This is my room:

Isn't it fab?

Ian, being a consummate host, had laid out a selection of fresh towels, toiletries and even chocolates on the bed. It was the first hint we were about to be spoiled within an inch of our lives.

Our Bangkok adventures had begun!

To be continued...

*As with any airline, passengers can preorder vegetarian or other special meals