#14 Date selected: 11/3/16 Date completed: 12/3/16
Country selected: Nauru
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu:
- Coconut Mousse
Nauru might be the smallest state in the South Pacific and third smallest state (behind Vatican City and Monaco) in the world, but I can guarantee that almost every Australian will have heard of it. The reason for this is it has been the subject of a great deal of controversy here in recent years – the pinnacle of which has actually happened as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
The debate centres around an immigration detention and offshore asylum processing centre set up by the Australian government in 2001 in an attempt to stop refugees illegally entering Australia via boats (which are notoriously shoddy and ran by shady dealers). It was closed in 2008 to fulfil an election promise, then reopened in August 2012 after a large increase of maritime arrivals. Conditions are harsh and meant to be a deterrent to those deciding whether to make the perilous journey to Australia.
The detention centre has been described as like a concentration camp with only basic health facilities available, reports of attempted suicides, sexual abuse, self harm and hunger strikes. In 2013 there was a major riot sparked by the overwhelming sense of despair repeatedly expressed by the detainees of the centre. In November 2012, an Amnesty International team visited the camp and described it as “a human rights catastrophe…a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions.”
Most recently there have been nationwide protests about the return of 267 people seeking asylum (including 80 children) back to Nauru and Manus Island (the site of another controversial detention centre in Papua New Guinea). They had been brought to Australia to receive urgent medical attention and were terrified about being sent back. The Australian Human Rights Commission found that 95% of the children who had previously been held on Nauru were at the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and said that the children must be removed from the “toxic detention environment.”
There have been rallies all over the country protesting the return of the refugees with the Premier of Victoria even writing to the Prime Minister of Australia offering to house all 267 rather than see them returned to detention. The movement #letthemstay has been set up and has flooded social media. In an extraordinary move, a Brisbane hospital refused to release a 12 month old refugee baby from their care until “a suitable home environment” could be identified after staff decided that they could not in good conscience, send the child back to Nauru. This was as recent as a month ago and the debate is still very raw.
Whilst this blog has in no way been set up as a way to air my political viewpoints, if you are interested in the topic, I highly suggest looking up Australia’s controversial policies on offshore processing – policies that a great number of Australians strongly disagree with.
Sunday 13th March 2016. 11.37am
Politics aside for the rest of this post – I promise!
This week’s challenge involved (amongst other things) an electric drill, a hammer and an enormous screwdriver. But let’s back up a little….
It turns out that it’s virtually impossible to find a traditional recipe from Nauru online. I’m not sure if it has to do with the tiny size of the country, if they don’t have a tradition of writing down recipes or whether they’re just not as engaged with the internet as the rest of the wold, but finding anything was….well….challenging to say the least.
Funnily enough I came across quite a few other blogs from people who have tried similar cooking challenges to what I’m doing and they all bemoaned the same thing. Most ended up making up some kind of coconut fish recipe to try and at least stay true to the traditions of the country. With my aversion to seafood I decided instead to go with a Coconut Mousse recipe that I found. I have no idea how traditional the dish is (if at all) but it’s certainly delicious!
The author had written a nifty trick for opening coconuts in the preface which I really wanted to try. After tracking down some agar agar and fresh coconut at my local ‘stocks almost everything’ grocer, I decided to give it a crack (if you’ll pardon the pun!).
The author said to poke both eyes with a corkscrew, empty the water from the coconut, chuck it in a 400F oven for ten minutes. The result apparently was (and I quote), “And tada! It cracked open in two automagically! No need for a hammer or an ax!”
Well I have to say that unfortunately there was no ‘tada!’ for me and it certainly didn’t open ‘automagically’ like Aladdin’s cave. My process was more like this:
- Read process
- Work out what 400F is in Celsius via my nifty iphone app
- Set oven accordingly, wedge closed with broom (as the door doesn’t close properly – see my Liberia challenge post for an explanation and a picture of this ridiculous situation!). Pre-heat to the appropriate temperature.
- Hunt through the cupboards for a corkscrew. Realise that we either have no corkscrew or corkscrew is so well hidden that it won’t see the light of day for another six years or so (given the amount of wine that is drunk in this house – this is a particularly surprising event).
- Go to shed, get electric drill with corkscrew-ish sized bit. Wash bit to clear it of plaster and whatever other nasties are on it. Drill holes through eyes of coconut like a boss!
- Grab small bowl to empty coconut water into so it can be used later. Realise that the amount of coconut hair, dirt and shell coming with the coconut makes the water pretty much undrinkable. Tip coconut water down the sink.
- Put coconut in oven for the full ten minutes.
- Open oven door at end of allotted time expecting coconut to at least have some kind of split in it. Closer inspection reveals nothing of the sort.
- Bash coconut on a chopping board, with the blunt side of a knife and other such techniques hoping to set off something in the coconut that will cause it to split. Nothing happens other than me somewhat resembling a gorilla trying to get a snack out of some kind of puzzle toy.
- Grab screwdriver and hammer. Bash a hole in coconut. Find that screwdriver is too small to do anything other than make tiny hole in coconut. Coconut remains unsplit.
- Grab biggest screwdriver I can find. Almost put hole in the benchtop when coconut roles as I’m trying to drive screwdriver into it. Eventually manage to make a split in coconut.
- Make several splits in coconut that allow me to FINALLY break it in two. Success!!
Now I fully concede that the cooking of the coconut process may have made it EASIER to split, and I also acknowledge that it quite probably made the coconut flesh easier to peel from the shell. All I’m saying is that, if you’re wanting to try this dish and using fresh coconut, have a hammer and an appropriate-sized screwdriver on hand!
Luckily, the rest of the process was pretty easy and I was able to whip up the mousse fairly easily. I put it in the coconut shell to give it a nice container (note for future reference, try not to use the half of the shell that has the pointy tip of the coconut – it makes it awfully difficult to sit it straight and I had to use a bowl to keep it upright!). I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the half shell that I used was the perfect size for the half-mixture that I made.
Once set, I decorated the mousse with some chopped scorched almonds and some dried rose petals for no other reason than because I could, I had some on hand and they looked pretty. It turns out they also go really well with coconut mousse!
The mousse itself is very light and fluffy with small meaty bits of fresh coconut mixed through it. It was the right amount of sugary for my tastes and wasn’t too sickly sweet. One thing I did find is that a small amount of the coconut water separated from the mousse and settled at the bottom of the shell. It wasn’t enough to make it inedible or for me to deem it unset but did make for a slightly odd combination of textures.
Overall, this is a lovely dessert dish and one that I would happily make again if there was a way of making the process of getting fresh coconut easier. I wonder if there would be a way of substituting dried coconut (even some that had been soaked perhaps) or whether that would compromise the texture and taste of the dish? Something worth experimenting with.
But for now, time to pick another challenge….