Advanced technology brings mandatory full-body scans to Australia

advanced technologyUsing advanced technology that makes passengers appear as stick figures, mandatory full-body scans are being rolled out at all of Australia’s major airports. Successful trials at Sydney and Melbourne airports last year signal the end of a loophole in legislation that had allowed passengers to request a pat-down instead of having to pass through a metal detector.

“I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can,” said Transport Minister Anthony Albanese in the Australian.

The new scanners, part of a $28 million overhaul, tested successfully year on more than 23,000 passengers in trials from August 2-19 in Sydney and September 5-30 in Melbourne.

The Australian government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing with few radio waves emitted.
Made by L-3 Communications, the same company used in the United States to supply the scanners, the unisex images are discarded after each passenger has been cleared, satisfying privacy concerns.

The proposed Aviation Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 will make it mandatory for any passenger selected, except those with serious medical conditions, to participate in a body scan and will be rolled out at a total of eight international gateway airports including Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns and Gold Coast Perth.



TSA Eliminates Nude Body Scans With New Software



Flickr photo by DWissman

Sustainable cities to watch in 2012

sustainable citiesThink of sustainability, and San Francisco is probably the first city to come to mind. But a new crop of green urban centers is emerging, and they’re not where you might think.

Leon Kaye, editor of GreenGoPost.com, recently published a list of his picks for emerging sustainable cities to watch in 2012. Some spots were to be expected, like Detroit, with its preponderance of urban renewal projects, and Accra, which recently topped Siemens’ and Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of Africa’s greenest cities.

But there were also a few wild cards. Mexico City made the list for its 10-point Climate Action Program, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million metric tones between 2008 and 2012. The plan included massive improvements to the public transportation system, including the construction of Latin America’s largest rail system and investments in green roofing, water conservation, and waste management.

Also on the list was Naples, Italy, whose trash crisis has made headlines since 2008. Once city residents started realizing that the government wasn’t going to take action, they started taking matters into their own hands. Through grassroots activist movements, like guerrilla gardening and flash mobs, Neapolitans are slowly beautifying their city, and this year will host the UN’s World Urban Forum.

The other cities on Kaye’s watch list were Adelaide, Australia; Belgrade, Serbia; Brasilia, Brazil; Doha, Qatar; San Jose, California; and Seoul, Korea.

[Flickr image of Mexico City via Alfredo Gayou]

Off-the-beaten path Australia: Kangaroo Island

kangaroo island When living in Sydney, Australia, I often took the weekends to explore other parts of the country. One place I vowed to visit was Kangaroo Island, an island in South Australia that I imagined to be full of wildlife and undisturbed nature. I’m glad I went, because my instincts were more than correct.

Know before you go:

Although there are a few luxury options for a visit to Kangaroo Island, such as the Southern Ocean Lodge and Lifetime Private Retreats, I definitely felt it was more of an eco-tourism/adventure destination. Conservation and National parks cover more than one third of the island, so you know you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring the outdoors, flora, and fauna. There are tons of activities in terms of active sports, wildlife interaction, hiking, and experiencing a more rural, laid-back way of life. If you’re the type of person who needs to be connected through technology all of the time, you may have a bit of a struggle here, as cell phone coverage is very limited (my Vodafone didn’t work at all, but I was told Telstra CDMA or 3G work pretty good). If you have friends or family who will worry if they don’t hear from you for a few days, I would definitely give them a heads up about this. One other thing worth mentioning is that there are no taxis on the island or real forms of public transport, so it is worth it to book a tour or rent a car.barossa valley Getting in:

If you have the time, I would recommend spending a couple days in Adelaide first and touring the Barossa Valley vineyards (shown right) and The Toy Factory, which is home to the world’s biggest rocking horse as well as a really fun wildlife park where you can play with birds, kangaroos, sheep, and other animals. From Adelaide, you can take a Regional Express (REX) flight, which will take a little more than 30 minutes. The other option is to catch a Sealink ferry from Cape Jervis to Penshaw on Kangaroo Island.

Where to stay:

My friends and I stayed at the Ozone Seafront Hotel, which had a really great location right on the water in the town of Kingscote, which is the biggest city on the island and has the best selection of restaurants, pubs, and stores while still giving you direct access to nature. This hotel also has a seafront restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating as well as various bars and wine tasting options. While it depends when you go, it is sometimes possible to get rooms here for a little over $100 a night. For backpackers on a budget, there is the Kangaroo Island Central Backpackers Hostel in Kingscote and the Kangaroo Island YHA Hostel in Penneshaw, which overlooks the beautiful Hog Bay.

Do and visit:

Again, I would definitely recommend booking an organized tour or renting a car to do these activities. It isn’t hard to find tours that encompass all or most of these suggestions. Click here to browse the different options. Here were some of the activities that I experienced and would recommend to others visiting Kangaroo Island:

Seal Bay Seal Bay Conservation Park

Seal Bay Conservation Park
is definitely a sight to behold. Visitors get the chance to see hundreds of sea-lions, bulls, females, and pups, in their natural habitat on the beach. You are mandated to take a guided tour, which is actually good because you learn a lot about the seals and their habitat. You will get really close to them, but just be warned, although they are extremely cute they also smell really bad. The cost of the tour is $18 for a child and $30 for an adult.

Scuba diving

Kangaroo Island is well-known for its ideal scuba diving location with an array of unique fish, beautiful Gorgonia coral, and historical shipwrecks. When underwater, you will be enveloped in a rainbow of colors, from red, white, and orange sponges to the florescent Blue Devil fish, neon Harlequin fish, and shiny silver and brown striped truncate coral fish. It is also likely to spot a very strange looking fish called the Leafy Sea Dragon, which literally looks like a bright yellow sea horse morphed with a leaf. Some tour operators that offer dives in the area are Kangaroo Island Dive and Adventures and Adventureland Diving & Sports Service, which you can e-mail at advhost@activ8.net.au or call at (+61) (08) 8553 1072.

kangaroo island Admiral’s Arch and the Remarkable Rocks

Located in Flinders Chase National Park, Admiral’s Arch and the Remarkable Rocks are an impressive sight as well as a vision that defies all laws of nature. Oddly shaped volcanic rock is fun to explore, and you can take loads of interesting illusion photos (who knew you could lift an entire boulder over your head?). Stand before the stalactite-adorned Admiral’s Arch for an unique view of the ocean and Remarkable Rocks, as well as the myriad New Zealand fur seals that live on the rocks below the cliff face. When I was there there were actually so many seals in the colony I had to squint to see them, as they all blended together with the rocks. There are also many hiking trails in the park itself, so it’s a great way to experience the outdoors. To enter the park, you can expect to pay $24.50 per family, $5.50 for a child, $7 for a student, and $9 for an adult.

clifford's honey farm Clifford’s Honey Farm

Coming from Sydney, Clifford’s Honey Farm felt like going back in time to when life was really simple. The farm started as a hobby for Dave Clifford in 1973 but soon became a business in 1993 when the family opened a successful honey shop, which you can still peruse today (and should!). Today, there are more than 300 honey producing hives on the farm, and you will get to see some of them upclose for yourself. With help from the family, Dave can produce up to 20 tons of honey each year, which is probably why there is such an array of products in the shop, from candles to cosmetics to candy to ice cream toppings and salad dressings. The honey flavors come from all different flowers, such as Sugar Gum, Bottle Brush, Mallee, Canola, and more. Make sure to sample the Chocolate Covered Honeycomb before you go, as it is one of the best things I have ever tasted.

Island Pure Sheep Dairy

This was one of my favorite experiences, not only because I got to see first hand what a day in the life of a sheep farmer is and how the sheep milk products are actually made, but because I got to take part in an extensive tasting session. Island Pure makes an array of cheeses that visitors can try, including Kefaltori, a creamy, smooth, semi-matured cheese, Manchego, a cheese with a mellow but rounded flavor, Haloumi (my personal favorite), a “twice cooked” cheese that originates from Cyprus, and Feta, a creamy textured, tangy cheese. You will also get the chance to sample fresh sheep’s milk yogurt. Entry costs are $20 for a family, $4.50 for a student, $4.50 for a child (children under 5 are free), and $5.50 for an adult.

Kangaroo island Emu Ridge Distillery

The Emu Ridge Distillery is more than just wildlife viewing, as it is actually known for its eucalyptus products and wine and cheese tastings. Eucalyptus oil was actually the first true overseas export for Australia, however, Emu Ridge is now the only eucalyptus oil distillery in South Australia and one of the only ones left in the country altogether. The farm itself sits on 650 acres, 250 of which is natural bush. There is a tiny, old post office which is really interesting to see, as well as a craft shop made from recycled materials that sells local handicrafts and eucalytus products. As for wildlife, you will see enormous emus, wallabies, kangaroos on the property as well as baby joeys inside the shop. Emu Ridge Distillery is free to enter, although if you want a guided tour a fee of $15 per child and $30 per adult will apply.

kangaroo island Pelican Feeding

This is a really interesting, slightly disturbing look at how pelicans eat. When “The Pelican Man” feeds fish to the pelicans the birds swallow the meal whole and you can see the fish go down their throats. While you may flinch a bit, the experience is actually pretty educational as The Pelican Man will tell you more about the birds themselves. The feeding takes place daily at 5PM at the Kingscote Wharf behind the Kangaroo Island Marine Center.

For more information on traveling to Kangaroo Island, please visit the Kangaroo Island Tourism Board website.

South Australian cattle station debuts tasting room

Australian cattle stationThere was a time when Wagyu beef was eaten by only the most sophisticated of travelers. True Kobe beef is from Wagyu cattle that are raised in a very specific manner in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. Technically, Wagyu is the Japanese term for all cattle, and Kobe beef comes from a strain known as Tajima.

Kobe Wagyu receive massages to reduce stress and muscle stiffness, a summer diet supplemented with beer as an appetite stimulant, and regular brush-downs with sake (which is reputed to soften their coats, not act as some bizarre form of on-the-hoof marinade). At anywhere from $200 to $300 a pound, Kobe beef is the most expensive in the world.

Wagyu have been raised in the U.S. since the mid-seventies, but the market really took off in the nineties. Today, it’s not unusual to find “Kobe” steaks and burgers on menus, but it’s a bit of marketing hyperbole. It’s actually “American Wagyu,” or “American Style Kobe,” or “Kobe American Style.” It’s still great meat, but it’s not Kobe beef, and most American Wagyu are crossbred with Angus cattle.

What has all this to do with a South Australian cattle station, you ask? Australia has its own burgeoning Wagyu industry, and in May I visited Mayura Station, a full-blood Wagyu operation just outside the Coonawara wine region. I’m a longtime advocate of the farm-to-fork concept, and Mayura produces some of Australia’s best Wagyu beef, supplying an impressive roster of restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, Penfold’s Magill Estate in Adelaide, and the Ritz-Carlton Singapore. As it happened, I’d tried Wagyu for the first time the week prior at Penfold’s, and it was delicious. But it was also obscured in sauce, and I didn’t have a real sense of what the big deal was. I was a bit skeptical, to be honest, so I made the trek out to Mayura to find out more.

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Australian cattle station

Mayura is owned and operated by the entrepreneurial de Bruin family, who first brought over live, full-blood Wagyu from Japan in 1998. Today, they have a sustainable operation that produces award-winning beef from one of the largest (1,700 head of breeders) full-blood herds outside of Japan. Most of the meat is exported to Southeast Asia and the UAE, but their newest business concept is likely to create a larger domestic fan base.

In May, Mayura debuted its tasting room, a professional demonstration kitchen equipped with a long counter in front of the flattop range. Visitors from all over the world can now let their tastebuds discover why Wagyu is such a big deal.

Explains manager Scott de Bruin, “We felt there was a strong need for visitors and valued clients to experience various cooking styles from a simple tasting ($80AUD/pp), through to a full degustation paired with local wines ($120AUD/pp). The tasting room is a serious take on the “paddock-to-plate” concept, designed to mirror a state-of-the-art Teppanyaki bar.”

I visited Mayura as part of a Limestone Coast excursion for Tasting Australia. The country’s largest food and wine festival, it’s held in Adelaide every other year. While there’s an emphasis on South Australia, which produces most of the country’s wine in its 16 growing regions (including designations within), it’s generally a celebration of all things edible and Australian. For one hedonistic week, there are tastings, pairings, classes, tours, dinners, seminars, demos, and a riverside “Feast for the Senses” with dozens of food stalls.
Australian cattle station
En route to visit some wineries, a group of us had arranged to visit Mayura and do a vertical (head-to-tail) tasting. The tasting room accommodates 14 to 40 guests by appointment (self-drive required if you’re not with an organized group, so call well in advance to see if you can fit into an existing booking). All visits include a tour to visit the cattle, so guests can learn more about the breed, industry, and Mayura’s animal husbandry practices. You can even buy packaged beef on-site, for domestic travel.

We were greeted by de Bruin and on-site chef Kirby Shearing. Our group of 14 lined up in front of the place settings running down the length of the demo area. A huge overhead mirror provided a bird’s eye view of Shearing, as he showed us the various cuts of beef we would be tasting, in order: tongue, flank steak, filet, bresaola (thin slices of air-dried beef), and strip loin. Then de Bruin talked about Mayura’s history and the Australian Wagyu industry.

The reason Wagyu is so tender (not accounting for feeding practices, which includes extra finishing time on a blend of specific grains) is because the cattle have a higher percentage of marbling, due to selective breeding practices over thousands of years. Most of the fat is monounsaturated, the meat high in conjugated linoleic acid, and Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Wagyu beef actually has myriad health benefits similar to those found in grass-finished beef. It isn’t aged the way some American beef is, because the fat will break down. The fat also dissipates throughout the meat as it cooks, making it more forgiving to work with.

Japanese beef is graded on a scale of one to five (highest), based on marbling, yield, meat color, firmness and texture, and fat quality. Wagyu should be at least 25% marbled fat (by comparison, USDA Prime meat must have six- to eight-percent, and our grading system doesn’t include a classification for Wagyu). Thus, Japanese A-5 Wagyu is considered primo, top-of-the-line. It should be tender, with lustrous fat and a sweet, fine flavor, even when eaten raw, as with a carpaccio.
Australian cattle station
Shearing started us off with a tasting plate of tongue that had been brined and poached. It was silky and mild, practically melting in my mouth. Next came flash-seared cubes of flank, a lean cut that is usually marinated, and cut across the grain to make it more tender. Not this steak. It was unctuously fatty, in the best possible way. Buttery. Juicy. Addictive.

Filet is already a rich cut, so I was especially curious to see how Wagyu compared to Prime.
The meat fell away at the touch of Shearing’s knife, it was so tender. Absolutely delicious, but as with regular beef, I prefer a ribeye or New York steak, because they have more flavor and a bit of chew to them. The flank steak had a little more complexity to it.

The bresaola was made from eye of round, and my least favorite, only because I’m not a big fan of the preparation. But the strip loin that concluded our tasting was a unanimous hit. While Wagyu is undeniably more subtle in flavor than standard grain- or grass-finished beef, it was deeply flavorful, and just slightly toothsome. Yet it still retained that glorious, fat-infused richness. Paired with a side of Shearing’s crisp, airy onion rings (his secret weapon: adding gin to his beer batter).

Our visit concluded with a tour of the open barns where some of the cattle were being finished on grain. They’re pretty things: Stocky and chocolate brown, with short horns that slant upwards. I was duly impressed with the property we saw on the tour. As a food and agriculture writer, it’s easy to tell when you’re dealing with a facility not on top of its sanitation or animal husbandry practices.

So here’s the thing about Wagyu…or Kobe beef. It’s pricey as hell, but get the good stuff, and it’s so rich, you can’t eat more than a few ounces. I now understand why true Kobe beef, and the cattle it comes from, have such a reputation. A little Wagyu goes a long way.

Getting There

The Limestone Coast is located in the southeastern part of the state. It’s a diverse mix of remote beaches and sand dunes, pine forest, ancient caves (including Naracoorte World Heritage Fossil Site, worth a visit, especially if you go caving), and farmland and vineyards. The adorable seaside town of Robe, in particular, is a great place to spend a weekend and feast upon the crayfish (actually spiny lobster) the town is famous for.

Of the Limestone Coast’s six wine regions, Coonawara is the most famous (primarily for its Cabernet Sauvignon). It’s a one-hour flight from Adelaide to the pleasant town of Mt. Gambier, famed for its stunning Blue Lake, which is actually a volcanic crater. Mayura, which is located just outside the town of Millicent, is a thirty-minute drive away (you can rent a car at the airport). The Barn in Mt. Gambier makes a good overnight base for Wagyu- and wine-tasting excursions. Just in case you return still hankering for a ribeye and a glass of red, The Barn Steakhouse wine list has over 400 selections from the region. .

Qantas and the South Australia Tourism Commission are giving away unlimited flights for two from Los Angeles to Adelaide for one year, in a contest running through December 31st, 2010. To enter, visit unlimitedflightstoaustralia.com.

Tasting Australia 2012 will be held April 26-May 3.

Adelaide’s Central Market offers the flavors of South Australia

“This is what Adelaideans do,” Mark Gleeson explained to me, as we wandered through Adelaide’s bustling Central Market. “The Market is a part of how we live, and has been since 1869.” Gleeson, a retired chef and owner of the Providore, a market shop selling pastry and picnic items, also leads public market tours. I’d hit the market on previous visits to South Australia’s charmingly provincial capital city. This time, however, I was his willing disciple as introduced me to vendors and gave me a detailed history of the state’s ethnic culinary influences.

The indoor public market, which is owned by the city council, is far more than a tourist attraction. That much was apparent from my first visit, in 2005. It’s always thronged with hungry locals shopping for weekend barbecues and beach picnics, sipping coffee, or savoring a bowl of Malaysian beef rendang.

As we walked, Gleeson told me, “Adelaideans are pretty savvy about food- we take an interest in how it’s produced, where it’s from. Knowing the vendors who make or sell it is part of the social fabric. We’re a multi-cultural city.” Unlike the rest of the continent, South Australia wasn’t settled as a penal colony, and the market reflects that.

The first German immigrants, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, arrived shortly after the colony was established in 1836, followed by Russians, Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians. The state (indeed, all of Australia) also has a considerable Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian population. This mash-up of ethnicities have had a significant impact upon the food of South Australia, but none more so than the Eastern Europeans (wine, beer, and charcuterie being the most obvious examples).

As we wandered the marketplace–a tantalizing cacophony of sights and smells–Gleeson brought me to some of his favorite shops so I could try some ethnic specialities. Because of him, I’m now into a half-decade-long affair with the delicate piroskhis at Taddy Kurgan. These ample, fried puffs of dough resemble yeasty, perfectly-made doughnuts, except they’re stuffed with savory fillings of ground beef and rice or braised cabbage, or spinach and feta. The original shop owners emigrated from Kazakhstan. They recently sold to a Chinese couple, after training them very carefully in the art of piroshki and pelmeni-making.

Over at Sevenhill Fine Foods, Mr. Waldeck, a Polish refugee, sells traditional tastes of his homeland, including makowiec, a poppy seed bread, and regional charcuterie like mettwurst and lachshinken. Sun Mi runs a small stall offering her Korean take on made-to-order sushi, while Tony O’Connell of O’Connell’s Quality Meats specializes in local product, such as lamb. O’Connell, 52, started in his family’s shop at 15, and treats his customers like relatives. The first time I met him, in ’05, he gently tucked a couple of extra-fatty lamb chops into the display case while we talked. “We’ve got a couple of older ladies who will be real happy with those, so we’ll keep them,” he murmured. You don’t find personalized customer service like that too often these days.

At Wild Oz, you can buy native game such as emu, kangaroo, and wallaby, and feral (aka, “environmental nuisances”) wild pig and goat. A number of shops sell regional and indigenous “bush tucker” ingredients such as lemon myrtle, wattleseed, and quandong jam, and flaky, red, Murray River salt. House of Organic sells pristine, sustainably-grown Australian produce: Mildura asparagus, Adelaide Hills beurre bosc pears, kipfler potatoes. Seafood shops display local Smoky Bay oysters, sweet, teal-hued, blue swimmer crabs, scallops in the shell glistening with neon-orange roe, octopus, and bugs, a delectable Australian slipper lobster.

At dough!, Turkish pide and Lebanese flatbread compete for space with quiche, pastry, and locally-made, whole, glaceed figs, clementines, and kumquats, and plump, dried muscatel grapes from Barossa Valley vineyards. Across the aisle, The Smelly Cheese Shop is one of Australia’s finest specialty providores, stocked to capacity with imported and Australian artisan cheeses and housemade condiments such as skordalia, oil-packed, dried tomatoes, marinated bocconcini, and other picnic and cheeseboard items.

You need to fuel up for all of this browsing. Local’s love “brekkie” at Zuma’s, a coffee house serving savory muffins and egg dishes. The first place I always head, however, is Asian Gourmet. This unassuming, somewhat dumpy restaurant inside the market is famed for its laksa, a spicy, coconut milk-thickened noodle soup (the Singapore version with egg noodle is my pick). I’ve never had a better version, and I’m not ashamed to admit I actually plan my schedule around market hours, so I can get a daily (sometimes twice daily) fix.

Speaking of Asian food, the Market is conveniently located in Adelaide’s thriving little Chinatown, also known as Gouger Street. It’s lined with cheap and upscale Asian eats, most of which have sidewalk seating. I adore Wah Hing; besides consistently excellent, deceptively simple Chinese dishes, it’s a sleek, lively place with a great regional wine list.

And that describes Adelaide in a nutshell: locals may refer to it as “just a big country town,” but that doesn’t do justice to this city of astonishing diversity and quality ethnic cuisine. The Central Market is a national treasure, and Adelaideans love of convivial, adventurous dining and their pride in regional products make it a must-visit on ever food-lover’s itinerary.

For a more in-depth South Australian food experience, put Tasting Australia on your 2012 calendar. One of Australia’s largest food and wine festivals, it’s a week-long orgy of eating and drinking. It’s held in Adelaide every other year.

The following recipe is about as simple as it gets, and is very reflective of the region. Haloumi, a mild, salty, fresh sheep’s cheese traditionally from Cyprus, is artisanally produced on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. Fried haloumi is a beloved regional treat. Serve as an appetizer, as part of a salad, or as a dessert course, drizzled with honey.

Fried Haloumi

recipe courtesy of The Market- Stories, History & Recipes from the Adelaide Central Market, by Catherine Murphy

Dust some slices of good-quality haloumi with flour. Fry quickly in olive oil until golden on both sides. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper.