Wednesday, May 28


I returned from my 5 days in Carefree with a tan and a deeper understanding of the networks of gene interaction involved in cancer! The conference was held at a resort in Carefree, Arizona, about an hours drive out of Phoenix and into the desert. It was over 45 degrees C when I arrived but had dropped down to 10 degrees and drizzly by the end of the week! So it was a relief to return to San Antonio where the temperature was (is) a consistent 35 degrees (heat index pushing that well over body temperature) dropping to maybe 25 at night, if we're lucky.

Arizona was exactly what I originally expected Texas to be like. Rocky, scrubby desert with 4-5 meter tall cacti towering overhead and not much of a tree to be seen. We missed most of the birds by a few weeks but apparently it is a good birding spot in the earlier months of the year. I did see a few local quail, woodpeckers working on the cacti and I was very lucky to see a baby (HUGE) owl chilling out on one of the villas. He was all fluffy feathers and bright eyes (bit too far away for my little zoom lens though).

My friend the baby owl. Sorry about the resolution, had to go to full digital zoom, not so good in the shade!

The resort was interesting. We were pretty much stuck there (you could shuttle into town and wait for a return) but it wasn't too bad...there was the gorgeous salt swimming pool conveniently located next to the insanely hot hot-tub. We had the first morning off so I spent a good 2-3 hours just floating in the pool. Silly Jac Jac who no longer ventures outside because it is too jolly hot forgot about the whole sunscreen thing...d'oh! While I did get a considerable tan, I also suffered some nasty burns to the tops of my arms and legs that not only canceled future trips to the pool but also killed any plans I might have had for evening campfires and s'mores. Who goes to a cancer conference and gets sunburned! Exhibit A.

The conference was also a great chance to catch up with an old friend, Liesel, who has finished her PhD (we thesied together at UTAS) and is not postdoccing it up in Seattle. It was great to see a friendly place in such an odd location!

The gorgeous salt water pool :)

You can see the size of these cacti! Well over 2 meters tall. The holes in them are made by the woodpeckers but all sorts of birds seem to live in them. They were in flower which was cool, but the flowers smell like rotting meat to attract the fruitbats (fruit smells no good?) So that was less cool...

These are the adobe villas where we were staying. Four rooms to a villa. My room was about the size of our apartment! I loved the adobe style though...the houses looked like rocks and the rocks like houses.

One of the conference events (that didn't involve campfires) was a film by the poolside so we got to watch Cat Ballou, very cute! It was supposed to be Strictly ballroom the next night (!) but it was canceled due to the insane cold front and accompanying winds that came through.

All in all a good trip. No mention of the food because it really wasn't mentionable but it was good to get another sample of a different US state. And Jo and I are off to San Fransisco next week!!

Tuesday, May 20

Random scratchings and a week in Carefree

I'm off to Carefree, Arizona for the week for a network (nerdwerk) analysis and genome-wise association conference so the blog will probably be a bit quiet. It's been over 100 degrees there recently! To make up for the impending silence I thought I'd post a few random sketches, some old some new, that I happen to have on this PC. You're mostly getting sketches because I don't have any other pics on here! Apologies if any of these have turned up before, I'm too lazy (read busy) to back-browse my own blog.

Monday, May 19

Austin for the weekend

So we spent last night on the rooftop of a fabulous 1960's American condominium in Austin watching fireworks and drinking good champagne! A friend of ours from Australia was in town, teaching at the university of Texas in Austin (history professor) so we hopped on down to catch her while she was still in town. Perfect weekend for it as it turns out...not only did we manage to miss the tornado that ripped through a few days earlier, it was also UT's commencement ceremony that night. Commencement is actually graduation, but it's the huge ceremony that kicks off all the smaller more personalised graduations. What that meant for us though was Fireworks! And since everyone loves fireworks I thought I'd share the videos.

Everything in this country has a brand.

Only a tiny section of the seating that had been arranged for commencement. It was like being at the Vatican again!

The Austin campus is passionate about two things, the Longhorns (football) and churches. Nice combo here.

I made a friend who wanted to follow me around campus :)

Gorgeous fish stew and champagne dinner! I was in heaven. Jo had some lovely ravioli but boy did I get lucky :)

View of capitol hill from our 17th story rooftop. It's so lovely to get some height in Texas!

Turtles at the lake on Sunday morning as we went for our pre-shop-at-wholefoods walk.

Walking round Austin while the rain was threatening. This is looking back toward Capitol Hill and my favorite lotus-like skyscraper. Our State's capital eh?

Friday, May 16


I went to the dentist today at the insistence of my beloved who says we must do these things when we have good health cover. Must we? Now I feel all uncomfortable because my teeth no longer appear to bite down on the places they used to bite down on! Gah.

Anyhow, comfort me with soup! So I'm making french onion soup Delia style (but without the bread as I still have a love-hate relationship with bread). Going to watch some sappy chick flick and just wallow for a while!

Tuesday, May 13

A truly Texan day

Firstly, Happy Birthday Alastair! I thought I'd try to get a post out today since I know you'll probably be checking the blog and for some unknown reason you're at work on your birthday! What's the point of retirement?

Our friend Harry, international man of mystery, came to visit us a few weeks ago on his way between China, where he had been living, and moving to Africa(!) Really he was in the US visiting his fiancée, but we got lucky for a brief window.

While he was here we thought we'd take him to some of our favorite truly Texan places, including Gruene, the little German town just outside San Antonio that has been "gently resisting change since 1872" and is home to the the oldest dance-hall in Texas (which had a rocking local bluegrass/folk band playing when we were there). We also took him downtown to La Tuna (the little tin shed pub that I've written about before) and Liberty Bar!

Not going to go on, this is just an excuse to post some Texan pics really :D

The Guadalupe river at Gruene. Milky blue/green from all the limestone. This is looking down from where we had lunch. There were a couple of big turtles climbing onto the rock, sunning themselves, then plopping back into the water.

Part of the fantastic collection of bar signs and lights at Gruene Hall.

Part of the charm of La Tuna is its location, near the flour mill and grain silos...and with the industrial train line basically running right through the place!

Harry and Josie at La Tuna drinking with our dear "true Texan" friend Tom.

La tuna...the cactus that gives our favorite watering hole its name.

Pecan trees and powerlines.

More powerlines just near La Tuna. It's a truly industrial part of town but for some reason we both really like it. Perhaps because it is less plastic or artificial than other parts of San Antonio...

Maude...what can I say. She was gently parked out the front of La Tuna by an immaculately dressed old man...they were an impressive pair and I fell for her at first sight.

Sunday, May 11

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's days to all you mothers, motherers, and caregivers in general!

America is saturated in it; husbands taking their sons out to buy bunches of flowers, ipod speakers, perfume gifts sets or, of course, sugary treats. Yep, in this country intentions of love, admiration and appreciation are baked and frosted. Swirls of icing prompt you with whatever words are required for the given celebration, literally sugar coated.

These were all taken today, in our local supermarket. Mum, I'd buy you one of the cupcakes if I could, but you'd want to have a shot of insulin on standby! Hope the pics will satisfy (the heart shaped ones are giant cookies!)

By the way, this post is not to belittle mother's day, just the commercial institution that has latched onto it...perhaps more pronounced here. Much love to all our mothers <3

Saturday, May 10

Mushroom pâté

I just submitted this recipe to an online competition where the prize is a kilo of fresh morels. Not a bad prize but pretty unlikely. However, since I had it all written out I figured I'd post it here as well.

Divine wild mushroom pâté
I created this dish when a friend surprised me with a few pounds of morels and asked if I could create a three course feast to showcase them. The added twist being the entire meal had to be vegetarian!

Forget chicken livers, this pâté is simple to make, melts in your mouth and disappears within minutes of reaching the table. Best served with hot ciabatta toast.

1 cup dried wild mushrooms (porcini, shitake, chanterelle, lobster and oyster etc) – rehydrated and liquor reserved
2-3 cups of fresh mushrooms (cremini, shitake, oyster, morel etc) - sliced
4oz butter (1 stick)
2-3 cloves of garlic – crushed
¼ cup of sherry or white wine
½ cup cream
1 handful Italian flat leaf parsley and/or tarragon
Salt and plenty of cracked black pepper to season

Rinse the dried mushrooms to remove any residual grit. I use porcini for their amazing texture and shitake, chanterelle, lobster and oyster mushrooms for their rich flavor. Really any mushrooms will do but avoid using too many wood-ears because their texture is too gelatinous.

Cover with boiling water and allow to soak, then simmer them very gently for 10 minutes. Drain the rehydrated mushrooms but reserve the liquor as much of the rich flavor has been transferred there.

For the fresh mushroom, select your favorite combination. I primarily used morels when I had them, and bulked out with some milder cremini, white or honey brown mushrooms. When fresh morels are unavailable I use a mixture of fresh shitake, oyster and cremini mushrooms for the combination of tastes and textures.

Clean and roughly slice the mushrooms and cook them until they are nicely browned and reabsorbing their released moisture. Use at least half a stick of butter to sauté the mushrooms, if not more. The more butter the creamier the pâté and the better that cool, smooth mouth feel when it first hits the palate. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper as you cook them and add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic towards the end of the browning process, so that the garlic doesn’t burn but remains a major player in the flavor stakes.

Deglaze the pan with sherry or white wine, depending on your preference. I like sweet sherry, especially if I’m going with a peppery pâté, but use white wine if you prefer a slightly lemony edge.

At this point you can turn the heat down to a happy simmer, add the rehydrated dried mushrooms, half a cup of good quality cream and a little of the mushroom liquor. Be careful not to add any of the sediment that may have settled at the bottom of the mushroom liquor because you don’t want any grit in the pâté.

Allow the whole mixture to simmer and infuse until the cream reduces. Use the mushroom liquor to stop the mixture reducing too much. It’s a balancing act but you want the mushrooms well coated in the cream mixture but not swimming in gravy. The cream mixture should thicken slightly. At this point add as much cracked black pepper as you can handle, and season with salt as required. Remove from the heat and continue to stir occasionally as it cools so you don’t get a skin forming.

Once the mixture is luke-warm, and a good handful of chopped Italian flat leaf parsley and/or fresh tarragon and blend the whole mixture in a food processor until smooth but not total paste; it should retain some fine mushroom texture. Taste and season again if required. Transfer to small serving bowls and top with cracked pepper and/or some more finely chopped herbs. Chill for a few hours or overnight then serve with hot ciabatta toast or on melba crackers.

Leftover pâté is also amazing when mixed through pasta as if it were a pesto, or a dollop can be added as the finishing touch to a creamy mushroom soup, or used as a filling in home made ravioli, and melted over a freshly grilled rib-eye…priceless.

You know, I think I might start posting more recipes here...hmmm

Thursday, May 8


So, Jo and I recently spent two weeks in Australia, mostly in Tassie, which turned out to be one of our worst traveling experiences to date! That doesn't mean we didn't have some fantastic times, because we sure did, and the wedding we went to (the point of the whole trip) was simply one of the most perfect wedding we have ever been to! The bad side of the trip is that we were both horrendously sick! I came down with everything from fevers to vomiting to migraine and spent more time crashed-out on various friends beds and couches than I did actually socialising with people! Jo wasn't much better off, and came crashing down just as I was getting better! Not what we traveled thousands of miles to do >_<

Ok peeps remember, just been horrendously sick, ya.

However, one of our most perfect days (aside from the wedding) was the very last day of the trip where we took a ride down the channel, through Snug and towards Woodbridge. Thems who know us know that this turf is near and dear to our hearts, so seeing the outcome of the Snug fires was pretty sobering. We'd been meaning to do this drive for the entire trip so we were both so glad that we could finally fit it in on the last day, that and we were both finally feeling well enough to enjoy life again!

Aside from meandering through familiar countryside, the point of the trip was to get to Grandvewe...A sheep cheese farm whose produce Jo had sampled previously. She had been talking this trip up for months so when it looked like it wasn't going to fit in we were both devastated, but never fear, we made it!

View from the Grandvewe deck, and grand it was, even in the rain!

Grandvewe went above and beyond my expectations. I had no idea that such a gem was lurking just 30 mins from the city. Oh to live in Hobart again! The first thing we did was a tasting, cheese and wine, of what was fresh and on offer at the moment. There were several incredible cheeses (primarily sheep since that's the point!) but lucky for us one of those was a cheese known as "the diplomat"...part sheep, part goat, part white mold and part blue mold...Basically all the good stuff in one! From the tasting we could select a cheese platter, paired with their own wines, so we selected the diplomat (of course) combined with the pinot paste (gorgeous, like quince paste but richer) and the fermented mutton sausage which was out of this world! I can't really remember the wine pairings because they were both a bit fresh but had potential, I think Jo had a chardonnay and I something light and sweet (the rose?) While we waited for our platter to be arranged we hung out in the 'dining area'...a covered in deck overlooking the farm which consists of hills rolling all the way down to the channel, edged by forest and just so beautiful (especially after the dust and concrete of Texas). There were so many birds and the rain was sweeping across the river in squalls leaving rainbows in its path.

When the platter arrived bliss turned to perfection! I'll let the photo speak for itself, but needless to say sitting on that deck, sipping wine and eating wonderful food surrounded by the view and the the rain/sun tag team...It was truly one of the high points of the trip. One of Tootles' marbles.

So if you live within driving distance of Woodbridge and you haven't been to Grandvewe yet, get your butt in gear, seriously. The restaurant is closed at the moment but it is my understanding that they do tastings, coffee and platters year round. Sheep milking starts again in August and the full restaurant (which has had good reviews) will be back in November.

Drambuie vs the Bogans

This one is for Hamish and his Nemesis...

You may have seen it before (it's kind of old now) but this was a classic piece of marketing done by Drambuie in Australia.

A language warning though, there's some Aussie pub talk in here (ie. you got the meat raffle tickets wet you dipshit!) that probably shouldn't be piped through the speakers in your office!

Drambuie Research

Watch the video. The executive summary is cute too :D
The best thing about birthdays is realising how much your beloved is loved by everyone else.

Somehow cards and packages continue to find their way into our letter box and my dear one is writing lists and cards with fervor and the odd "I'm crying but I'm happy crying" tear.

I guess I just wanted a chance to say thanks, from one who gets to see the impact of all that love. So Grazie, Durdaladawhy, Liels paldies and Muchas gracias!

Wednesday, May 7

JoJo's frocktail birthday bonanza

So I am well aware that I've totally neglected the blog. I have written hundreds of super interesting posts in my head but somehow none of them made their way here... Life has a way of getting away from us! However, I'll do my best to catch up somewhat.

Yesterday was Jo's birthday and our apartment is now semi forested in gorgeous birthday cards. The princess treatment will continue on and off for at least a week yet! On Saturday we had a 'frocktail party' to celebrate the birthday with our wonderfully eclectic Texas friends.

It was rather a last minute affair, which was probably good because it meant I couldn't get too stressed about the planning! It seems many of the Americans were confused by both the terms 'frock up' (the boys were worried they were required to wear dresses) and 'swan about', but once the expectations were thoroughly explained all was well.

John and Jo kindly agreed to let us use their fabulous house for the event, which also became the christening of the outdoor area for the new year, however that did mean that we spent Saturday afternoon outside wiping down the outdoor furniture, restringing lights etc (which is why I have a picture of the birthday girl up a tree!)

Anyhow, long story short, the outdoor area looked amazing. I swear that house is nicer than a freaking hotel (decent pics coming soon...I got distracted). I wanted to plan the whole thing so that:

a) Josie didn't have to stress about anything (she hates planning but loves dressing up)
b) we could afford it and
c) people would be able to have a good time chatting and swanning about without being encumbered by environmentally unfriendly plates and plastic cutlery...

so with those simple guidelines in hand I embarked on one of my biggest planning adventures yet!

I'm not going to go into huge detail over the food (shock horror I know!) but basically I wanted people to be able to eat with one hand without too much mess. I also knew there'd be one vegan and at least two vegos there. So here's what turned out to be the final menu:

Spicy white bean hummus
French onion dip
Artichoke and lemon dip

Crudités, bread and mixed olives

Insalata caprese sticks (with balsamic reduction dipping sauce)

Pork, cilantro, snow pea and mango sticks (with sweet chili soy dipping sauce)

Sugar pea, ginger and shitake sticks (with sweet chili soy dipping sauce)

Prosciutto and melon sticks

Mushroom pate and melba toasts

Wasabi peas and chili rice crackers

Spicy glazed chicken wings

Aussie sausage rolls

Herbed mixed mushrooms and garlic

Grilled lap chong with Szechwan mayonnaise

Red velvet and black forest birthday cake duo

Katy's handmade liquor truffles

The biggest travesty of the night was that I was too distracted to photograph anything much, especially the food (which actually looked really good) or our frocked up friends, so now I have to do some serious begging to see if I can scam photographic evidence of the event from other people! I did catch one pic of the caprese sticks just before the last of them disappeared!

Similarly, I wanted to keep the drinks relatively simple ingredients wise, as well as not ridiculously alcoholic! Not to mention easy to make since Matt and I were going to tag team the bar. In then end Matt turned out to be a born bartender and I didn't get a look in! Thanks to the Meadies for their simply divine recipes for Bongos and Sangria, both of which went down a treat with the punters! We also managed to take advantage of the fact that our mint plant has been in overdrive for the last few months leaving us with a bountiful harvest just in time for mojitos! The following drinks list was laminated and taped to the bar...obsessive much?

Needless to say the party was brilliant fun, everyone dressed up and looked amazing! The temperature outside was perfect and only started dropping out after midnight.

Josie and the gorgeous Vikings!

Hopefully I can post some more pics if I can track them down. I also have a bunch of other stuff to post about if I can get my butt in gear! Whip, crack, away!