Saturday, 24 August 2013

Australian Federal Election & Adults Only Gluten Free Brownies

Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition
Liberal Party

Julia Gillard, first female PM
ousted Kevin Rudd to become PM &
then recently ousted by Kevin Rudd
Labour Party
Kevin Rudd, current & past PM
Labour Party

On September 7, the federal election will be held in Australia. The current Prime Minister ("PM"), Kevin Rudd, called the election on August 4, which was only a little over 1 month beforehand and less than 2 months after he ousted Julia Gillard to become PM again - yes again. Julia Gillard was Australia's first female PM and she overthrew Kevin Rudd in 2010. So, in less than a 3 month time span, Kevin Rudd overthrows Julia Gillard and calls a federal election to elect the ruling party and possibly have another PM. The leader of the Opposition is Tony Abbott and opinion polls currently show that the Liberal Party will win and he will in turn become PM. At least 2 PMs and possibly 3 PMs in 3 months? Have I moved to Italy?! How does this happen in Australia, a country with the world's most stable economy for the past 20 years? The country that again was #1 on the OECD Better Life Index? Possibly 3 PMs in 3 months is well, interesting to say the least to this Yankee girl. While Australians are use to their political system and don't find these events abnormal, I am fascinated. 'The Daily Show' also was interested and had a great clip on the Australian election with the hilarious John Oliver. Click on the link, give it a go and have a laugh!

To write this blog, I had to go back and do some research. (Perhaps this is why it takes me so long to write these blogs :)) The US is a republic with the President elected indirectly by the voters and directly through the Electoral College. Election day is set on the first Tuesday in November, every 4 years. No US President may serve more than 2 terms. So comparatively (and that's what I am always doing as an ex-pat) it would take at years to have 3 different leaders in power. Australia is a constitutional monarchy and the PM is chosen internally by the elected members of the party/parties that have won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. The Australian House of Representatives serve a 3 year term but the Australian PM may dissolve Parliament and call an early election. There are no term limits down under as long as the public vote to keep the ruling party in office and the ruling members continue to allow the PM to lead. The longest running PMs are Sir Robert Menzies who served a total of 18 years and more recently, John Howard who served a total of 11 years. Both of these men served disjointed terms with time on and off as PM which I find again...very interesting.

While I am still learning how this constitutional monarchy works, I am amazed that a federal election can be called and held all within a 4+ week time frame. On US political shows, they're already discussing who might run for President in 2016. Yes, 2016 - that's 3 years away! Closer to the date (and year!), the candidates will get scrutinised until the media and America knows the exact number of gray hairs they have and who their first girlfriend was in 6th grade. The final candidates will be rock stars, protected by the Secret Service and travel around the country under tight security with flocks of aides at their side. Meanwhile, back in little Australia (little in population, large in land mass), I see Mr. Abbott at the beach, in his budgie smugglers (see these images ) and at the coffee shop, chatting with the locals like your average Joe. There is no pomp and circumstance, no security. He appears like every one else, enjoying the beach with only an occasional nod. I haven't seen him in Manly lately as he is on the campaign trail. However, if he becomes PM, he will have a small security team and hopefully will chose to wear longer, less revealing swim trunks. At least I hope so.

Some may think since the election is being called so quickly, why bother voting? In the US, voting is voluntary and the voting statistics over the past 50 years shows voter turnout to be between 38-55% of the voting population. In Australia, that number is close to 100% as voting here is compulsory. If you don't vote, you have to pay a fine. I remember when we first moved here and I was driving past our public school on a Saturday. I was gobsmacked (more lingo) wondering why there were so many "parents" coming out of the school on a Saturday morning. Did I miss the school memo? Did something happen? But no, it was an election day; local citizens had come out to vote. I wonder if  US Presidents and in turn, US history would've been different if there was compulsory voting in the US. Then again, with a population of 23 million in Australia and a much smaller voting population (>18 yrs old), it is easier to monitor and fine voters than in the US, with an exponentially larger population of 305 million. Anyway, it is great to seeing people exercising their democratic rights even if they're forced to. Oh wait, that doesn't sound right but either way, I'm glad everyone is voting.

Since voting is compulsory and many public schools serve as polling venues, schools often hold bake sales to raise money. Parents are asked to donate baked items for sale and I have been more than happy to bake for the school. As a baker, this is my sort of fund raising. Given this, I've decided to bake Gluten Free Brownies ("GF") for this blog. GF products are popular in my Sydney suburb. You can easily find GF breads, cereals, pasta, crackers at the regular grocery stores and grocery store giant, Cole's has just introduced their own GF food line. At Coles and other shops, GF brownie mixes are priced from $6-$8. My favourite cafe has GF brownies for $5 a slice....seriously? This is crazy expensive and I'm sure they both wouldn't taste as good as fresh homemade brownies do. So, I decided to experiment with a few recipes and make a good GF recipe from scratch, in my home kitchen.  I call these brownies, "adults-only" since my daughters said these brownies are too strong and not sweet enough. I did use dark chocolate chips, instant coffee and less sugar than my usual brownie recipe. They are rich, delicious and full of flavour. You don't need a big slice to feel satisfied. Then again, I ate 1/2 the pan of GF brownies in 15 hours minus 8 hours of sleep:). I actually cut up the rest and brought them to my neighbour. They are dangerous and taste great plain or with ice cream.


200g Butter/14 tablespoons, chopped into 5 pieces
200g bar/8oz Dark Chocolate (60%+) or Dark Chocolate Chips
1 tsp instant coffee granules
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup White Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Gluten Free Flour
2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Xanthan Gum (natural stabiliser for GF baking, found at health food store, inexpensive)
3 Eggs
Nuts (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Grease standard square 8x8in or 18cm brownie pan.

2) In saucepan, melt better, chocolate, instant coffee, brown sugar, vanilla. Keep heat low as you don't want any ingredients to burn. Stir constantly until all ingredients are melted and mixture is glossy and smooth.

Set aside, set timer for *45 minutes* and let cool
(The first time I made these, I didn't let it cool long enough and ruined the brownies)

3) In small bowl, mix together gluten free flour, cocoa and xanthan gum.

4) In mixer or with electric hand beaters, whisk eggs and white sugar for 3 minutes on HIGH until thick and creamy.

5) Add *cooled* chocolate mixture and flour mixture to eggs in 2 batches. Add nuts if using and mix by hand or with beaters on LOW until just blended.
(Too much mixing will result in tougher, less fudgy brownies)

6) Pour into greased pan and bake for 20 minutes. It is often hard to tell if brownies are done. Check to see if the edges are clearly cooked and there may be some cracks across the centre. Give the pan a little jiggle; brownies should be firm. LET COOL FOR AT LEAST 1 HOUR. Taste best when they have been sitting for several hours.

7) Dust with powdered/icing sugar or cocoa. Serve alone or with cream or ice cream.

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