Peak Phosphorus

Phosphorus is, while being essential to farming crops and an essential nutrient for humans (and other animals!), a relatively scarce resource – and it’s running out. Australian soil is particularly poor in phosphorus anyway, but the “running out” story is essentially global – it might just happen faster to Australia.

Two Australian researchers (Dr Dana Cordell & Prof Stuart White of the University of Technology, Sydney) won the 2012 Eureka environmental research prize for their work in this area. See the Conserving Life’s Building Block article.

See also the Wikipedia entry on Peak Phosphorus, with links to other resources. It correctly identifies that current large scale agriculture practises with artificial fertilisers is a big contributor to the problem – we actually know for a fact that that’s not the only thing where that method of farming is a problem. This use of fertiliser is known to only increase production for a short period, but then it really drops off. So it’s not a sane approach anyway.

My family sources its fruit & veg via Food Connect, which sources from Organic farmers in a 3-hour drive radius around Brisbane. There is also a  Food Connect operation in Sydney, and other similar business elsewhere. In addition to this we started a veggie patch of our own again at the new house, which is also fun! Once we’re done with renovations we’ll get a few chooks also – right now we just have a worm farm and compost, which works fine for producing great crops.

Based on past performance, I’m going to put the sad prediction here that in response to phosphorus depletion, Australia will import even more foods from Asia and elsewhere. After all, that’d be a net import of phosphorus, therefore avoiding the immediate problem. It’s not really a solution, it would destroy local capacity and capabilities even further, and that doesn’t even address the (IMHO) important issue of “food sovereignty”.

Australia can and should be capable of feeding itself. If we don’t, we’re going to be in deep trouble in the long-run. It’s fine to import and export, but we should be able to feed ourselves if necessary.

Africa Grows Too Hot to Grow Chocolate: Scientific American

Climate change may be disrupting the cocoa farms of West Africa

Woolworths Mental Misinformed Marmalade

Woolworths Homebrand Marmalade

I present to you two bits of info:

  1. “Made in Belgium from imported and local ingredients”. We’re talking about marmalade for the Australian market. Belgium is on the other side of the planet! Furthermore, oranges do not grow in Belgium, it’s too cold. So that key ingredient is definitely imported there first (from either a Mediterranean country or South America). This marmalade has travelled far to get to you which is beyond daft, considering I can grow any citrus tree in my back yard.
  2. Ingredients tend to be listed in descending order of quantity. The first item listed is “glucose syrup” extracted from wheat. Fine, marmalade and jam have huge amounts of sugar. But then we see the next item, oranges 55%. The order implies that there is more than that percentage of glucose syrup in the jar, making well over 100% and not leaving any room for other ingredients either. Unlikely scenario.

My conclusion: mental Marmalade, Woollies. Bad show.

Recipe: pasta with haloumi

Having to use up some fresh ingredients often makes for interesting new recipes and flavour experiences:

  • haloumi cheese (home made in my case), cut in to small slices, fry separately in virgin olive oil, set aside.
  • red onion
  • chopped fresh garlic
  • zucchini (courgette)
  • roma tomatoes
  • cracked pepper
  • some rosemary
  • toss haloumi in to the mix.
  • serve on pasta.
None of it needs much cooking, keep it fresh and quick!
Careful adding any salt, depends a bit on how you do the haloumi. A bit of lemon juice can also be good.

Popeye’s spinach story rich in irony – Dr Karl

Opensource edible landscapes: The Todmorden story
If you’re particularly into bad news, there are many places that will indulge your particular interest today. This is not one of them. Here, I want to spend a little time on things that give me hope for humanity, things that have an uplifting effect on me; things that remind me that I have much to be thankful for, things that make my heart sing with joy. Like Todmorden. Todmorden is a old Domesday-Book-mentioned market town that is in both Lancashire as well as Yorkshire (depending on which side of the Calder you’re standing), with about 15,000 people and almost as many ways to pronounce its name (though the locals apparently just call it Tod). I’ve never been there. But I will. Soon. This post will tell you why. Sometime in 2009, I’d seen coverage of something happening in Todmorden that intrigued me. Locals there had apparently agreed to work together to try and become self-sufficient from the perspective of food. Their initial focus was on fruit and […]

Arjen’s Chilli Chocolate Shortbread


A batch of Arjen's Chilli Chocolate Shortbread cookies

  • 250g baking butter (variety with salt and cream), softened
  • 2/3 cup icing sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup gluten free flour (contains tapioca as well as rice flour), this will create a nicer texture compared to the usual plain rice flour!
  • 1 tbsp cacao
  • 1 tsp chilli powder


  1. Mix all ingredients together until the texture of the mixture resembles breadcrumbs – food-processor or hand-held electric mixer work best.
  2. Form dough by pressing together.
  3. Roll a decent chunk of the dough out on board dusted lightly with flour (approx 5mm thick, but more will work fine too although it may affect baking time).
  4. Cut out shapes, transfer to baking tray(s) also lightly dusted with flour. Works best if you grab the off-cuts from the outside rather than from the side of the shapes.
  5. Recycle off-cuts (via step 2) until all dough used.
  6. Bake at 160’C for about 30 minutes. Cookies should be dry and firm but not gone dark.
  7. Cool on wire rack.
  8. Keep in a metal cookie tin to keep fresh – although I’m quite sure they won’t last very long ;-)


  • Quantity: number of cookies of course depends entirely on shape, size and thickness.
  • Vegan: use vegetable based butter (such as Nuttelex) – you may need to add a pinch of salt.
  • Gluten-free: substitute the regular flour with same amount of gluten free flour.
  • Recipe neatly in line with Arjen & Stewart’s essential food groups ;-)
  • Best not nibble the dough, uncooked tapioca (cassava) contains toxins. It’s fairly dry anyway, so quite unlike cake mix it won’t really stick to the processing equipment. Just bake and enjoy!
  • Creative Commons Licence This recipe is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Almond Pie

At the end of another ABC program, I saw a short item from 2004 called Wicked about chefs’ favourite dessert recipes. It had actor and food author Vincent Schiavelli telling about a recipe from one of his friends back home in Sicily. It’s in a book of his “Many Beautiful Things”. The recipe is also at It’s a shortcrust pastry with marmelade at the bottom then topped with an almond paste filling, and blanched almonds on top. So, this is a Sicilian recipe (almonds were introduced there about 1200 years ago from the Orient and have spread as far as Scandinavia since).

Now what’s really intreresting is variations of this pie are very common in The Netherlands for food around the time of St.Nicholas (early December). I can buy it at the local Dutch shop, but as you know I try to cook most things myself these days, so I know how it’s done. I know of two main variations, one is “filled speculaas” which is essentially two layers of gingerbread (with lots of cinnamon and cloves added) with an almond past filling in between. But the other one is more interesting: a roll of pastry, with almond filling inside, and generally on top: marmelade, blanced almonds, and optionally glace cherries. The shape is either a stick (resembling the staff of St.Nick) or curved in to an S (for Sint). It’s called a “banketstaaf” or “banket letter”. But isn’t the resemblance of these recipes remarkable… it’s like the pie has been adapted into another shape for the festive purpose!

By the way, it’s completely yummie. Not least, of course, because it’s full with sugar and butter, not to forget the almonds ;-)

And on that note, when I first made the stick recipe and ate some straight out of the oven, it tasted different from what I was used to. When I’d let it cool and warmed it again later to have more, it tasted exactly like I remembered from NL. So whatever I’d ever bought before had never been “fresh” out of the oven. Funny. But, the cooled-reheated actually does taste better! And guess what, the pie instructions also note that you should leave it cool/rest for about a day after baking. So there you go.

I don’t yet know how this fits in terms of the etymology of the Sinterklaas recipes, but there’s bound to be a connection somewhere…

Economic sense can taste better! Organic outperforms Conventional/GM

Organic outperforms conventional as well as GM over time – and is more profitable even when discounting the premium usually paid for organic produce (because of lower input costs, among other things).

The results are in from a 30-year side-by-side trial of conventional and organic farming methods at Pennsylvania’s Rodale Institute. Contrary to conventional wisdom, organic farming outperformed conventional farming in every measure.

Alternative Food Groups

A few years ago, my good friend Stewart Smith (a vegan) and I (omnivore at the time, now vegetarian) came up with an alternative to the traditional food pyramid for balanced eating, visualised here for the first time:

We both love food, and we figured that regardless of whether you eat meat or follow other dietary needs/choices, you will choose foods based on essentials like flavour and texture, and that’s what these groups provide.

Fat is key factor in food texture, sugar provides flavour whereas salt is an essential flavour enhancer (in moderation – you know you can even add a tiny bit of salt to hot chocolate/cocao to bring out the flavour?)

Stimulants (caffeine, alcohol) are not essential but do deliver a nice extra aspect to flavour, and chocolate (more accurately, cacao) can be regarded as a wildcard (depending on the purity, containing fat and sugar as well).

Still doubtful? Name me a food that does not contain one or more of the above, and what you think about it? Some food and drinks covers all groups – and aren’t they awesome!